Last Night

On higher ed funding, immigration, gun control and the failure of the Democratic Party.

By Josh Feit May 2, 2013

My "Last Night" isn't nearly as exciting as Erica's, probably because, rather than being about a pepper-spray riot, it's about a panel discussion I was on called "Civic Cocktail" where people like Seattle Times editor Joni Balter showed up and paid $15 to watch people like me talk about urban agriculture and higher education funding. And, of course, my theory about why the NBA told Seattle "No": it's because the current voting owners didn't want to sign off on a deal that set a precedent where they couldn't rely so heavily on public money and instead had to make a personal guarantee.

I didn't actually talk about urban agriculture; that fell to a couple of wonks from the city's Department of Neighborhoods. (I don't know anything about urban agriculture except that Seattle's P-Patch program is pretty cool. [Editor's note: Josh thought they were called "pea patches," for peas.]

Both higher education budgets merely aspire to fund the maintenance level, which actually represents a 15 percent cut from pre-recession levels. But there was a conversation about:

1) Higher ed funding.

State house appropriations chair Rep. Ross Hunter, D-48, Medina, was in the front row to weigh in on my assertion that while higher ed advocates prefer Hunter's budget, slightly, to the Republican budget (because his budget doesn't rely on an international student surcharge that will actually backfire as a revenue source, nor does Hunter double count a tuition freeze as increased student aid funding like the Republicans), they're sour on both the Republicans' and Hunter's budgets. Why? Beause both merely aspire to fund the maintenance level which actually represents a 15 percent per student cut at the UW from pre-recession levels. 

2) Immigration reform.

OneAmerica Director Rich Stolz was on the panel too. I went overboard and called the senate Republicans "racist" for tabling the DREAM Act and the Voting Rights Act, and failed to give the house GOP props (as we did on PubliCola) for supporting the DREAM Act. However, the house Republicans were, like the senate, overwhelmingly against the Voting Rights Act—probably because they realized it would hurt their numbers in places like Yakima.

3) Given what was happening in the streets, we also had a kind of remote conversation about SPD reform.

You can watch watch us pontificate here.

But what stuck with me most about last night were some things from the audience.

1) Best audience comment. One woman—okay, former Peter Steinbrueck aide and onetime state house candidate Stephanie Pure—had an excellent grrrl power moment (Pure was a college student in the '90s)—with a reality check on all the Sonics rhetoric. "I'm pretty happy with our world championship basketball team that we have right here—the Seattle Storm." The Storm won the WNBA championships in 2004 and 2010.

Everybody's always talking about "we haven't had a professional world championship since 1979," Pure told me afterward, "but we have."

2) Another thing I noticed about last night's audience: Nobody really cared about the Sonics. Team McGinn might have been counting on a "Yes" decision to amp his reelection campaign, but judging from the general audience shrug, it doesn't seem like there's much there. (That's either good news or bad news for McGinn.)

3) And one from the irrepressible Ross Hunter. During the meet-and-mingle portion of the event, I told Hunter that despite all the Republican bashing I did during the panel discussion (Seattle audience), I actually blamed the gun control loss on the Democrats. Why? Because it was the majority Democratic caucus that couldn't even bring Rep. Jamie Pedersen's (D-43, Capitol Hill) background check bill to the floor.

Sure, they couldn't count on any GOP votes, but that's the point. If the majority caucus had its act together (like the Republican-dominated Majority Coalition Caucus in the senate) they'd be able to stick together on caucus priorities and run the table even when one or two members don't agree.

Photo by Erica C. Barnett

Look at the MCC. Despite the fact that Sen. Steve Litzow (R-41, Mercer Island) and Rodney Tom (D-48, Medina) support the DREAM Act and the Reproductive Parity Act, they've locked down with their caucus in a show of impressive power. Not so the house Democrats.

Hunter smiled and quoted a well worn aphorism: "If I wanted to be a member of an organized party, I wouldn't be a Democrat.."

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