The West Coast has a pretty solid reputation for leftist politics. Calling some of their more kooky leftists “socialist” is a bit of a cliche, but let’s face it — there’s so much truth to the stereotype. Take Seattle, for example. This is the city where police passed out Doritos to attendees of the annual Hempfest, where Occupy protesters dumped $5,000 out a hotel window, where lawmakers closed a budget deficit with $5 billion in tax hikes. And now this year, we have a literal socialist making inroads in a city council election.
Following the latest ballot count Tuesday night, Kshama Sawant had a 41-vote lead over 16-year incumbent Richard Conlin.
Given Washington state’s mail-in voting system, a winner won’t be named for days or even weeks after the Nov. 4 election.
Still, the strong showing by Sawant, a college economics professor and prominent figure in Seattle’s Occupy Wall Street movement, has surprised many people.
Sawant, 41, drew attention as part of local Occupy Wall Street protests that included taking over a downtown park and a junior college campus in late 2011. She then ran for legislative office in 2012, challenging the powerful speaker of the state House, a Democrat. She was easily defeated.
This year, Sawant’s platform includes raising the minimum wage to $15.00/hour, rent control, and levying higher taxes on millionaires to pay for public works. She has seized on what she calls “economic inequality” to get the attention of her fellow leftists:
“This is one of wealthiest cities in the wealthiest country in the world,” she said. “For people to struggle for basic needs is absurd.”
City Council races are technically non-partisan in Seattle. Sawant, however, made sure people knew she was running as a Socialist, a label that would ensure defeat in many areas of the country.
The last time a self-declared Socialist ran for office in Seattle was 1991, when Yolanda Alaniz emerged from the primary in second place but was easily defeated in the general election.
“There were certainly populist candidates,” said Cline, the city archivist. “I don’t think any of them you could remotely call Socialist. Certainly there has never been anybody who has run as strongly as Sawant has.”
Go figure. At a time when the rest of the country appears to be turning more toward conservatism, we can count on Seattle to keep the stereotype of the loony Left Coast alive.