SEATTLES ELECTIVE GATEKEEPERS
By Bob Hegamin March 29, 1999
This paper was originally made public on June 3, 1997 and is reproduced at this time with a few revisions. The purpose of the piece was to identify those Seattle organizations that lobby us to vote for their political candidate. It was written in generic terms and the assessment remains as true today as it did then.
OUT OF THE WOODWORK
Voters of Seattle have been electing their Mayor, members of the City Council and the City Attorney in "non-partisan" races from the same pool of candidates and for the wrong reasons. "Gatekeepers" have manipulated the elective process, which explains why voters are left after each election feeling as if theyve elected the "lesser of two evils." And, it also explains why they find difficulty in comparing incumbents and challengers, finally deciding that "it doesnt make any difference, theyre all the same."
" . can the evaluation of office holders be done reasonably when citizens do not have the relevant facts or are badly misinformed?" Professor Walter Williams, Graduate School of Public Affairs, University of Washington, in a special editorial Misinformed Voters Head Toward Misguided Policies to the Seattle Times (April 23, 1997).
Indeed, can Seattles electorate also deal intelligently with this years municipal election while lacking relevant facts? Unfortunately, it cant. And, it follows that voters of Seattle will again have to depend on "gatekeepers" -- the media and self-serving "good-government" groups to analyze and rate candidates for them. Typically, these groups religiously fight to maintain the status quo by defending our elected officials and portraying Seattle as a city "without a problem to speak of."
During this municipal election, Seattles voters will be bombarded by a generous crop of "good-government" groups, purportedly interested in the political welfare of the voter. In the name of serving Seattle, they will make endorsements and rate candidates without, however, making any real effort to provide credentials to show they have the ability or knowledge to do the job. Instead, they will only contend that their methods are unbiased and objective. Subsequently and unfortunately, the media will publish the results as the "gospel truth" regardless of how limited and biased they may be.
WHO ARE THEY REALLY WORKING FOR?
Who asked them to screen our political candidates?
Do they ask questions reflecting the publics interest?
How valid are the assessments made by these groups?
Good-government groups? What do they do between elections? Well, they certainly arent known for reporting any wrongdoing in government. Essentially, they use the time to develop their political agenda which they translate into action during an election. They screen, support and promote candidates in their own socio-economic class and who are sympathetic to their unpublicized agenda. However, that generally places their chosen candidates into one or more of five group categories, which can be classified informally as:
VESTED INTEREST BUREAUCRATS: This group evaluates and endorses only their own members and political allies. No one else need apply!! The media then reports those endorsements without also reporting the unfair procedures used.
SOCIAL ENGINEERS: This group has pre-determined those candidates who are "acceptable" and "electable" to them. By their standards, they publicly subscribe to the philosophy that government with its resources and workforce has been mandated to be a guinea pig for social experiments. In their hands, government has the duty to create its own social order at the expense of taxpayers. From their perspective, those who govern have the responsibility to establish precedents such as "political correctness" and "civility", as defined by them then demand submissive compliance from the general population or find them in contempt.
POWER BROKERS: This group does not interview or rate candidates. By edict, they individually or collectively lend their names or the names of their organizations to "anointed" candidates who, very early in a campaign, can sport the names of these "supporters" on their literature.
PURE OF HEART: Set apart from the others, which have an obviously vested interest in the election of candidates, there are those who pride themselves with being impartial and nonpartisan. In the promotion of an undisclosed agenda, they establish themselves as the epitome of fairness, then broker their ratings to skew the election. Essentially recruiting their evaluators "off the streets", the following procedure is generic to that group.
MEDIA: This group has become the ultimate propaganda machine and apologist for all four groups described above. They perpetuate the myth our elections actually present us with the best possible candidates for office. They further contribute to this travesty by simply limiting or excluding any reference to "non-viable" candidates in their stories and reports. In explanation, "viable" is applied to only those candidates who generate vast amounts of campaign contributions or boast a large organization. In past elections, despite its public appeals for individuals to file for office, the media has generally trashed them from the outset. Its power has deprived the electorate of the choice from among many otherwise worthy candidates.
- It advertises for civic-minded individuals through newspapers, in fliers and by mail. Newspaper editorials also promote the group and its process.
- No previous experience or qualification in candidate evaluation is necessary.
- The applicant is screened by the groups staff or volunteers and, if accepted, is "taught" to evaluate candidates.
- The applicant is assigned to evaluate, say, Seattle City Council members.
- Local issues are developed and explained by the staff or volunteers.
- The evaluation takes place in an interview format with superficial and abstract questions.
- Candidates are rated from "Outstanding" to "Not qualified."
- Soliciting endorsements and contributions discredits and demeans the elective process. Historically, they have simply been advance payments for future favors expected from a candidate, if elected.
- Candidates, once elected, have a fiduciary duty to the people of the City of Seattle.
- Elected officials cannot simply be a skillfully packaged and marketed commodity, bought for a price.