Election excitement, summer smoke, and COVID conundrums, this week
Bill Radke reviews the week's news with Stranger editor Chase Burns, Seattle Times senior investigative reporter Patrick Malone, and independent journalist Jane C. Hu.
Correction 8/6/2021: in this episode panelists mention that voter turnout in this year's primary election is around 27 percent; but that number reflects the percentage of ballots counted at the time of airing. The current voter turnout totals are around 42 percent.
It looks like we have our mayoral candidates for November’s election -- votes are still being counted after Tuesday’s primary, but Bruce Harrell and Lorena Gonzalez are leading the pack, with Colleen Echohawk a distant third. Incumbent City Attorney Pete Holmes is not sitting pretty as of now, trailing challengers Nicole Thomas-Kennedy and Ann Davidson. There are of course other races to look at as well, between the Seattle and King county council positions, King County Executive, and the Best Start for Kids levy. What do these (early) Seattle results say about what voters want?
Plus, this week King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht ordered non-public facing employees in the King County courthouse, administration, parking garage, and corrections facilities to return to remote work, citing safety concerns. Courthouse staff have planned a Friday rally to draw attention to the issue of violence against employees, which is longstanding but reached a breaking point after an attempted rape in the courthouse bathroom last week. Violence downtown is a frequent concern for locals and city officials as well. “I wish there were 10 times more police officers downtown,” said Trevor Boone, owner of Emerald City Guitars in Pioneer Square, after it took 30 minutes for police to respond after Boone called in a knife robbery. After a string of shootings in the area, SPD actually stepped up patrols in areas like Pioneer Square -- but those patrols stopped on Monday. Mayor Jenny Durkan has placed the blame for long response times on staffing shortages; the SPD has lost 250 officers over the last 17 months. Former-SPD Chief Carmen Best wrote in a Seattle Times op-ed that the city lacks a comprehensive plan to address crime and improve public safety. What’s leading the surge in violent crime downtown? Any insights as to how the recent election might influence the city’s approach to violence downtown?
In addition, you’ve likely noticed the smoke lingering in the air these last few days. It’s coming from Oregon and California, including the large Bootleg and Dixie fires that have burned hundreds of acres in both states. While air quality this week has so far held at good/moderate, the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency warns that we could see more smoke, and lower air quality, as early as Sunday. And we’re not just smokey -- we’re also very, very dry. By the time you’re reading this description, you could be experiencing some of the first measurable rain Seattle has seen in almost two months. Currently forecasts predict rain moving into the area on Thursday night, remaining throughout Friday and into the weekend. If that actually happens, it’ll stop Seattle from breaking it’s record of days without rain - 55 days. Currently, we’re at 52. At this point, is it safe to say Washington’s climate is changing? That dry and smokey summers are the new normal? If so, how should our city and region adjust for that new normal? Plenty of free smoke shelters, masks and air filters? Can we remain the tourism hot spot Seattle in the summer has always been if we’re dealing with smoke and higher temperatures?
Oh, and a new variant just dropped. Just as the delta variant is taking pushing a surge in COVID infections, the delta plus variant has been discovered in Indian and the UK. This brings with it a host of questions: how effective will vaccines continue to be as new, potent variants spread? Governor Inslee has said he doesn’t want another shutdown, but won’t abide hospitals being overrun -- what options does he have? How has public messaging on the dangers of variants, coupled with capricious mandates and recommendations, led to confusion on how the public should treat the seriousness of current pandemic conditions? While Washington hasn’t doubled back on quarantine phases, there are fresh reversions on returns to work. Amazon, Microsoft, and Redfin are delaying their initial back to office dates, and Microsoft has announced it will require employees to be vaccinated in order to return. Is this delta resurgence just another delay, or will it cause long term changes in office vs. remote cultures, health mandates, vaccination acceptance, or anything else? And how are you processing not really being ‘post-pandemic’ at this point? Are you clear on good ‘pandemic behavior’ right now?
Lastly, newly released documents show that King County Sheriff’s deputies requested an Extreme Risk Protection Order against former Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman months prior to his arrest. The order bans Sherman from purchasing or possessing handguns for one year. In Washington state, family members or law enforcement can request them if a person is a danger to themselves or others. Sherman’s wife, Ashley Moss-Sherman, had already removed five guns from their home, and the order prevented Sherman from purchasing another gun in January. Washington voters overwhelmingly approved the Extreme Risk Protection Order back in 2016, through ballot Initiative 1491. Some are pointing to this incident as an example of why ERPOs are necessary, and work as policy. But should they be? Are there examples of the ERPO not working? Have they just gotten less attention, since a famous athlete wasn’t involved? Does this situation tell us anything about the law that we didn’t already know?
And very lastly, what's making us happy this week, including canoe sprints and Olympic skateboarding.