Longtime state legislator Bob Hasegawa, who was elected to the state senate in 2012 after serving 10 years in the house, is proud of his status as the underdog among the frontrunners in this year’s race for mayor. Unlike his legislative colleague Jessyn Farrell, who resigned her seat in the state house so she could raise money for her mayoral bid, Hasegawa says he plans to keep his day job, which means he won’t be able to raise a penny until the legislature is no longer in session, which could put him out of the fundraising game until July. Hasegawa has a reputation in the legislature as an iconoclast who supports Republican efforts to stymie Sound Transit, and as an advocate for a state-run bank, a proposal he wants to translate to the municipal level. We sat down at Victrola Coffee Roasters on Beacon Hill.
The C Is for Crank (ECB):You’re running in an incredibly crowded field, and you can’t raise money as long as the legislature remains in session. You have some name recognition in your district, but you aren’t necessarily known more broadly as a civic leader. Do you see a path to victory?
Bob Hasegawa (BH): I absolutely do. When I ran for the [11th District state] senate seat in 2012, I did it with no money. So to me, it’s the opportunity to show that people united can defeat money in politics. Having this bar against fundraising really provided a way to put an exclamation point behind that concept, because people right now are so disenchanted with the political system, they think, what does their one vote count when people are throwing so many dollars into campaigns? The political machine tries to disorganize the people because they see organized people as a threat. So I’m about reversing that political paradigm.
[At this point, we’re interrupted by a young man who tells Hasegawa, “Bob, you have my vote, without a doubt.”]
BH: You know what was so cool? When I had my announcement of my campaign at the steps of the Wells Fargo building downtown, there was a bus driver who saw us on the steps there and he opened his door and said, “Go get ’em, Bob!” Then a couple of minutes later, I was talking and I got interrupted again by a UPS driver—”Give ’em hell, Bob!” It was really cool. I think that’s where the people are, at the city level. The city has become nothing but top-down. The people are not being involved meaningfully involved in the decisions that are coming down on top of them. If you talk to people around the neighborhood, you’ll see this whole neighborhood gentrifying. The city wants to do a lot of good work increasing housing stock, paving sidewalks, all that stuff, but their solution to do that is to keep going to the same regressive tax wells that they’ve always gone to. A lot of these things should be paid for out of the general fund, but they’re adding excess property tax levies, sales tax increases, and all these things that are making it just too expensive for regular working people and low-income people to stay in the city.
“The political machine tries to disorganize the people because they see organized people as a threat. So I’m about reversing that political paradigm.”
ECB: The mayor’s proposed soda tax is arguably more regressive than any other, because it’s not only a regressive sales tax, but a regressive sales tax on a product [sugar-sweetened soda] thats disproportionately purchased by people of color. Do you oppose the soda tax?
BH: I’m open to it. I know that the Teamsters oppose it and some of the community groups are split on it. Some support it as long as the revenues from those taxes come back to improving access to healthy foods that they don’t have in places like Southeast Seattle. I don’t want to say that I’m for it just yet, but as long as the revenue sources are appropriately appropriated, I could easily be supportive of it. [ECB: On Monday, Hasegawa issued a statement denouncing the soda tax.]
ECB: What do you mean by the same regulatory well?
BH: Sales tax increases, those kinds of things, where there’s no means testing to them. The general fund is supposed to be the source for providing all these services. But they outsourced the metropolitan parks district, then they passed the housing levy, then the transportation levy—it’s just piling things on top of each other.
ECB: The argument in each of those cases was that the general fund couldn’t provide adequate revenues for parks, housing, or transportation on its own. What’s your solution to that problem?
BH: Creating a municipally owned public bank that’s owned by the people. It just allows us to keep control of our tax revenue here locally, so we control how we want to invest that money. And it provides not only access to our own tax revenue, but it allows us to leverage those tax dollars on an order of magnitude. For instance, if we’re able to capitalize a municipal bank with even just $100 million, that leverages out to a billion dollars worth of lending capacity, and that’s within standard banking practice.
“I think they were like kids in a candy store. They got the authority to pass something without limitations, so they shot the moon.”
ECB: You’ve been pushing for a state-owned bank for many years, yet it hasn’t happened. Why not?
BH: One wonders why that is. Public banking is a standard tool all around the world. Other countries that have had public banks have ended up privatizing, just because that’s where the political pressure is. If you don’t have enough people power to protect your public institutions, then you get them taken away from you. and that’s what it’s basically been here. We don’t have the grassroots people power to protect u
ECB: You told the South Seattle Emerald that you felt the vote on Sound Transit 3 last year was “rigged.” Can you explain what you meant by that?
BH: “Rigged” probably wasn’t the right word. I think people think of “rigged” as, you’re changing vote counts. I wasn’t saying that at all. What I was saying was that it’s kind of a gerrymandered district, so they know what the outcome of a vote’s going to be before it happens.
We were told by Sound Transit and all of the advocates that the full ST3 package was $15 billion. We had sticker shock when we heard $15 billion. That was larger than even the basic transportation budget that we were going to pass. which also included the largest gas tax increase in the history of the state at 12 cents. Then Sound Transit claimed that an adult owning a median-value motor vehicle would pay an additional 43 bucks a year on the [motor vehicle excise tax]. Forty-three dollars doesn’t sound like the average MVET that I’ve heard from constituents. It’s in the hundreds. So then what ends up on the ballot? Fifty-four billion dollars.
ECB: That’s in year of expenditure dollars—it includes inflation.
BH: No I don’t think so. I think they were like kids in a candy store. They got the authority to pass something without limitations, so they shot the moon. [ECB: The $15 billion figure Sound Transit used referred to the amount that Sound Transit would collect in taxes, in 2017 (uninflated) dollars, over 15 years. However, the tax was not limited to 15 years and the $54 billion figure includes inflation over 25 years.] They’re accusing me of being anti-Sound Transit and anti-Sound Transit 3. I want to make it clear I’m pro-Sound Transit and pro-Sound Transit 3. I used to be a bus driver. I’m an ATU 587 member [the Metro Transit union]. I was. I drove a bus.
So I voted for this bill [SB 5001, which would have made Sound Transit’s board an elected body], which is the basis of the accusation of me being anti-Sound Transit 3 . This is a Republican bill, by Senator [Steve] O’ Ban, but this is what the bill does: It changes the board of Sound Transit from appointed to elected, because I don’t like being lied to.
“Everybody’s so intent on trying to entice developers to do the right thing, and developers will never set aside more than they need to for affordable housing. We’ll never be able to set aside enough to make sure that no one is homeless unless we start to build public housing.”
ECB: That bill would have completely disrupted the board and taken away power from Seattle.
BH: Of course it would. That’s democracy.
ECB: When [then-King County Council member] Rob McKenna was on the board, it was so disruptive the future of light rail was put in jeopardy. Do you want 18 Rob McKennas on the board?
BH: If you think democracy is not worth fighting for, then yes, you would take that position. People want someone who will be a voice for our city. Why does it take forever for Ballard or West Seattle to get their spurs? You can’t get to either location from anywhere. The way Sound Transit came through [Southeast Seattle] originally, there was no sensitivity to the community’s needs. It was a creature of somebody’s vision that a world-class city needed to have light rail from downtown to the airport. So they just blew something through the surface level—whatever el cheapo way to get from downtown to SeaTac—and I had a bill that would have helped with parking mitigation. They were anticipating what they call hide and rides, which are suburbanites who come into the city, park in neighborhoods, and take the light rail downtown. So to mitigate that, the city of Seattle created these restricted parking zones [RPZs], where you have to have a permit to park in the neighborhoods around these light rail stations, which is fine. But in south Seattle—and this is the poorest part of the city of Seattle—they want to charge you $60 for a permit to park in your own neighborhood. One might argue the equity of that in and of itself, because in low-income neighborhoods, you’ve got lots of people living under one roof to try and consolidate resources, so you’ve got at least one car there. So you’ve got multiples of 60 bucks to park in your own neighborhood. But the real social inequity is that in other areas of the city, they’re free. That’s not right.
ECB: Where are RPZs free?
BH: Capitol Hill, Montlake, Laurelhurst, North Queen Anne—places where they have a major disruptor, like Group Health. They require the major disruptor to subsidize a lot of the cost. In the south end, they didn’t require the major disruptor, which is Sound Transit, to subsidize any of the cost. The city of Seattle is saying, ‘We’re only doing an RPZ because Sound Transit caused the problem. So meantime, as they point the finger at each other, the residents are the ones who are having to pay for it.
ECB: I think the response from Sound Transit would be that they’re providing mobility to people who would otherwise have to drive, which makes them the opposite of a major disruptor. You don’t find that argument compelling?
BH: No, not at all. It costs them nothing to do it. There’s only a total of 2,500 of these permits. It’s like budget dust in the $54 billion authority that we just gave them, but they are just adamantly opposed to it.
ECB: What is your definition of gentrification and how would you deal with it?
BH: I don’t know if there is a definition. It’s the loss of the economic, ethnic, and cultural diversity—what the city has always had. The income inequality that’s facing the whole country right now is being demonstrated to an extreme in Seattle, because you’ve got so many people making six-figure salaries moving in and displacing minimum-wage people.
When you look at the [Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda] set-aside for South Lake Union, they only require 2 percent of the units to be affordable, whatever affordable is. I think other cities are at 25 percent or above.
ECB: So what’s your alternative?
HB: A public bank.
ECB: How does that provide affordable housing?
BH: It can provide the financing for it. [It can provide] short term loans. It can help purchase property, or develop on properties that we already own, or refurbish existing properties to put them into use for affordable housing. What I’m interested in is building more public housing, because I don’t think anybody’s been focused on that. Everybody’s so intent on trying to entice developers to do the right thing, and developers will never set aside more than they need to for affordable housing. We got away from public housing back in the day. People were saying we’re just building slums or whatever, and there’s some truth to that, but I think we can manage that with better regulation and administration of the programs. We’ll never be able to set aside enough to make sure that no one is homeless unless we start to build public housing.
“We have to give [the neighborhood councils] a significant budget and empower them to make the decisions on implementing those budgets locally through their council structures, but they have to show that they are actually representative of the neighborhoods that they claim to represent.”
ECB: What do you think of Mayor Murray’s decision to cut ties with the neighborhood councils? That was an effort to get more new voices included in city planning, including, importantly, people of color.
BH: I think we need to be going the opposite direction from dismantling the neighborhood councils to empowering them more. The city’s argument was that the community councils don’t necessarily represent the diversity of the people in the community, and I think that’s true. They’re pretty much white, middle-class, older—even in the Rainier Valley. That’s the people that have the time to do it. I think grassroots organizing is the hardest job in the world, and the most underappreciated, and that’s why it never gets done. But it is the only way democracy can succeed. So if we are going to reverse our top-down structure, which is what the city has become, to a more bottom-up structure, we have to put a lot of work into it. So I want to fund the neighborhood councils so they can go into the neighborhoods and start organizing.
ECB: Don’t you think that the people who current run the neighborhood councils have a strong incentive not to organize the people who’ve been left out?
BH: Of course.
ECB: So how are you going to motivate people who like things the way they are to go out and organize to change it?
BH: Well, we have to give them a significant budget and empower them to make the decisions on implementing those budgets locally through their council structures, but they have to show that they are actually representative of the neighborhoods that they claim to represent. So once you reach some kind of a threshold to prove that you do have true community engagement from everybody—all sectors of the neighborhood that you’re in charge —and give them a significant budget. Do we want a new community center in this area? Sidewalks? What do you want to do with that money? You make the decisions, but with that privilege comes some responsibly too. You have to acknowledge that you have to accept some share of the growth that Seattle is inevitably going to have to deal with, and each neighborhood council has to accept the responsibility that comes with the privilege of making those decisions.
ECB: What do you think of the mayor’s response to homelessness, particularly the homeless encampment sweeps?
BH: Sweeps – man, that’s a horrible strategy. We need to have someplace for them to go even if it’s a temporary home .When you’re getting booted around here, there, and everywhere and chased around like the Keystone Kops. I mean, it’s stupid. It’s so undignified. It’s not treating people with respect. And every time they move, they have to leave half their stuff behind. The city, as a bare minimum Band-Aid, should provide litter pickup, sanitation facilities, and whatnot. Let them hang out until we can actually get them permanently placed someplace, but the strategy of just chasing them around from place to place—that’s just dumb.
If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the substantial time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as costs like transportation, equipment, travel costs, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support!