PubliQuestion and Answer: Dorsol Plants

By Erica C. Barnett August 17, 2009

picture-27The twelfth in a series of Q&As with the candidates for city council.  (Previously on PubliQ&A: Position 6 incumbent Nick Licata and challengers Jessie Israel and Martin Kaplan , Position 4 candidates David Bloom and Sally Bagshaw , Position 2 incumbent Richard Conlin and challenger David Ginsberg , and Position 8 candidates David Miller , Jordan Royer , Bobby Forch, and Mike O’Brien .)

Iraq vet Dorsol Plants, the head of the Highland Park Action Committee in West Seattle, is running against two strong candidates (Sally Bagshaw and David Bloom) for City Council Position 4, the seat being vacated by Jan Drago. Plants has a few things going against him in this race: He's a first-time candidate; he's raised far less money than his two main competitors, who are both running ads on cable TV this week; and he's a recent transplant to Seattle, having moved here just two years ago. And in a plus and a minus, he's also just 25 years old—nearly two decades younger than Sally Clark, the council's youngest member.

That said, for a newcomer, Plants has an impressive command of the issues. His resume—five years in the Army, including combat duty in Iraq, volunteer work in a domestic violence program, and a job as a case manager at a downtown service center—is unassailable. And he's received several major endorsements, including the King County Young Democrats, the 34th District Democrats, and The Stranger.

In person, Plants is warm, smart, and likable—the sort of person you can easily see marching into a neighborhood council meeting and instantly taking over.

We sat down at a Starbucks in Belltown.

PubliCola: On a lot of issues—particularly housing, homelessness, and density—you seem to align closely with your competitor David Bloom. Can you tell me a few areas where you differ from David,  in terms of either your position or your style?

Dorsol Plants: When it comes to the homelessness issue, if all you watched was these 30-second (snippets at) forums, you'd think we line up perfectly, but we don't. David wants more money specifically for affordable housing and low-income housing. But we have people waiting on the street for two or three years. We need to put more money into shelter beds. The majority of people who are on the streets can't just transition right into permanent housing. [At the downtown service center where I work], we have one gentleman who had been on the streets since he was 16 years old. Every time we would get him into permanent housing, he would stay there for a week or two and then go back on the streets. He just wasn't used to living in an apartment. Having walls around him made him claustrophobic.

Even when it comes to our definition of affordable housing, we differ. When he talks about affordable housing, he's talking about rent and the cost of living in a house. But you also have to talk about property taxes, about utility costs, about transportation costs. Those are all part of the cost of housing. There are a lot of people in the south end in particular who can't get to the grocery store. There are people who can't get to work. That means they don't have affordable housing. You have to factor those things in when you're talking about affordable housing.

PubliCola: Do you think the Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness has failed?

Plants: The foundation of the Ten-Year Plan is that good concepts will work with every person. [But] the way I understand social work is that you meet a person where they're at right now. The Ten-Year Plan says we've got a hole we're going to push you through, and if you don't fit we're going to bend you until you do.

Some people aren't going to be able to go right into housing and some people are never going to be able to live in permanent housing. Some can—if you lose your house to foreclosure, you can go back right into a house. But that's not always the case.

When it comes to the homelessness issue, [Mayor Nickels] has taken so many steps to make it illegal. I knew a guy who had been waiting two years to get into permanent housing. While he was waiting, he slept out on a park bench one night, and he got arrested. So he was denied permanent housing because they found out he had a criminal record. And now he's back on the street again, and he'll probably end up up sleeping on a park bench and getting arrested again.

PubliCola: One argument against the 20-cent bag fee [also on the ballot August 18] is that it disproportionately impacts poor people. As someone who provides direct services to poor people, do you support or oppose the fee?

Plants: I do support the bag tax. I can attest personally to the fact that I've been contacted by the Green Bag campaign to give [clients] free reusable bags. I myself have a pile of reusable bags, and I didn't buy any of them. The city has done a great job of offsetting any impact it could have on the working poor.

Where I come from, we have things called sin taxes, like the tax on pornography. If it's a detriment to society, you pay a little more. I would not support a complete ban on plastic bags, but I would support a tax, because [disposable bags] have a detrimental impact.

PubliCola: You're 25—incredibly young to be running for city council. Why shouldn't voters say, "Let's wait a while and give this guy time to familiarize himself with city issues, and take another look in a few years"?

Plants: When it comes to the city council, you want someone with life experience on the council, but you also want someone whose life experience mirrors the life experience of the people they represent. The fastest-growing demographic in Seattle is not 50- or 60-somethings with a lot of life experience. It's people in their 20s and 30s. A lot of the issues we're facing are not two-, three-, or five-year issues—they're 20-year decisions. We're going to be the people who bear the consequences of the decisions that get made now.... If [people my age] wait until we're "old enough" to deal with those issues, then we're going to be dealing with the consequences in 20 years.

Things have changed drastically since David Bloom was my age, since Sally Clark was my age. People in my age group were in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are coming back scarred, emotionally and physically. They need services. The city has a lot to do with dealing with the county to negotiate to keep those [service] agencies here in Seattle.

Right now, if you come back from Iraq or Afghanistan, you can get a job at the Port of Seattle for the first six months. I've been working with [Port Commission candidate] Rob Holland to expend that program, because a lot of veterans coming back are not prepared to work right away. You have to have some time to get readjusted to the world. A lot of times veterans who've been back for seven months are ready to rejoin the world but they can't get into this program anymore. I want to extend it to at least a year.

PubliCola: And how do you address the fact that you're a recent transplant to the city? Are you qualified to represent the citizens after just two years in town?

Plants: I think anyone who gets elected to the city council is going to have a learning curve. It's just a matter of finding someone who has energy and drive and willingness to meet that learning cure. I've learned a ton since beginning this campaign. I run into people all the time who say I've really developed in just a few months as a candidate.

PubliCola: As a first-time candidate, what have you learned during this campaign that has surprised you the most?

Plants: One of the things that surprised me the most is how much money is a factor here in Seattle. There's a huge amount of support for campaign finance reform here in Seattle, but as soon as you step forward to run, the only thing that matters is how much money you have and how much support you have from special interests. For a city that has so many grassrrots organizations, it seemed that running a grassroots campaign would be a natural fit in Seattle, and that did not turn out to be the case.
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