Mini-Debate, Major Difference

Mini-debate over soda tax highlights major difference in approach between McGinn and Murray.

By Josh Feit October 14, 2013

The Seattle Times ran a front-page article on Sunday about the mayor's race that allowed the challenger, state Sen. Ed Murray, get away with a bit of a whopper.

McGinn has floated the idea of a one-cent-per-ounce tax on soda to help fund parks. Murray, the Times reports, "opposed the idea—though only because he'd backed a similar tax at the state level and saw it repealed by voters."

Why is Murray deferring to statewide preferences? The soda tax that the state legislature passed in 2010 was repealed by voters statewide.

In King County, though, voters supported the tax 53 to 47. And more important, Seattle voters supported the soda tax 70.4 to 29.6.

To me, this highlights a larger point that the Times article missed. The premise of the article was that there isn't a real difference between these two candidates. But as the mini-soda debate shows, there is actually a major difference between the two—one that is defining Seattle as the 21st century begins to unfold in earnest and as innovation at the local level becomes more relevant. It's the job of cities and metro regions to define themselves in the global economy without being held back by their less progressive neighbors. 

It shows that McGinn is thinking more like a city leader than his challenger is.

With that urbanist formula in mind: McGinn's impulse to embrace a soda tax vs. Murray's impulse to shrug it off, places Murray on the conservative side of modern politics. It also shows that McGinn is thinking more like a big-city leader than his challenger is.

The Washington Beverage Association, the soda industry political committee, has contributed $5,000 to an independent expenditure group that's supporting Murray and has given $700 directly to Murray's mayoral campaign.

Footnote, though. The article did highlight a major win for Murray. When this election started, the McGinn camp was dedicated to pushing the idea that Murray was an establishment conservative.

However, the front-page framing in Sunday's article didn't even hint at that forgotten meme. The Times' thesis: Both candidates are super liberals. "There's little to separate the candidates ... in terms of policies or how they view the future of the city," the article begins. "The future sketched by both men is a liberal utopia of increased rail transit, a high minimum wage, [and] general social services for people in need."

In the battle of the messaging to date, Murray's team has won big. 


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