Should We Fear the Unhappiness of Bill Gates?

I think I mentioned that a reporter from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution came out and interviewed me (and many others) about I-1240.  This vote is national news as Washington State is not only doing this again for the fourth time but is the ONLY state in the country to have ever had the issue of creation of a charter school system on our ballot. 

Sidebar to the "41 states have charter schools" argument:
- Washington state voters have said no three times to charter schools.
- 44 states have an income tax.  Washington State does not.
- 42 state legislatures have come out with some kind of statement/legislation against gay marriage.  Our Legislature?  Voted for gay marriage.

Whether you like or agree with ANY of those stands, it does point to one thing.  Washington State voters are an independently-minded bunch.  We are NOT followers and we take our time to consider an issue.  Personally, I like that in a state.

Back to Bill Gates.

So the reporter, Wayne Washington, asked about funding for both sides.  I explained that Bill Gates had funded the election in 2004, funded I-1240 getting on the ballot and yes, was the primary funder of I-1240.  He stopped me and asked if it was okay to print anything I might say about Bill Gates. 

I said, well, yes as I thought we were already speaking on the record. 

He said he thought I might not want to speak out publicly about Bill Gates.  I smiled and told him it was okay and we went on.

Afraid to speak out against Bill Gates?  Especially in this state?  Yes, I could see that.

Mr. Gates, via his company and his foundation, has done a lot for this state and the world.  It is a good thing when wealthy people give back (but you really should watch the History Channel's "Men who made America" - not such a pretty picture).

But we ALL know that Gates and Allen and now Bezos and Sinegal cast a huge shadow over our region.  They give and they take and they certainly expect elected officials to see things their way.  Always.

I think that it takes political courage for any elected official to take a stand on a controversial issue.  And, it's tough to be the first couple of people who put their hand up to be counted (and shout out to Gerry Pollet, Marcie Maxwell, and many others who did).  So I can see why the Mayor and other city officials might be cautious (or even worried) about who they might offend if they put their hand up.

But does Bill Gates really rule our region?  Is that where we are truly at that a reporter from another state perceives that someone might be afraid to speak openly against Gates and his stand on charter schools? 

It's not like he's the Godfather and will have me rubbed out but I think for others, the loss of standing/money/communication with Gates would be a terrible outcome.

I get that but it's still wrong.  We elect officials to think about ALL voters, not just the wealthy and powerful ones.  Is Bill Gates a more important voter than me?  Or you? 

We are now seeing that our initiative process is being taken over by wealthy interests (some of them from out-of-state).  The initiative process was supposed to be about citizens, grassroots citizens, binding together for a common cause.  That's now in danger.

We also see huge funding from a limited number of individuals being able to dwarf any grassroots efforts in the initiative process. 

And we see fear from public officials to even speak up on issues where they wealthy have taken a stand.  (I've had elected officials demur from even talking about 1240).  

This isn't really anything new but it continues to grow and grow.  We will lose control of our democracy if we allow ourselves - and our elected officials - to be silenced by anyone. 


mirmac1 said…
Our democracy has been lost for years. Government has been bought and paid for (yes, Obama in particular). By speaking out, we might not get beheaded in the Tower, but they may try some mischief. That's why I like to publish their dealings, when possible. Let them fear exposure by the (few) media outlets that still care about truth.
Patrick said…
The initiative process has been broken ever since paid signature gatherers have been allowed. Since there seems to be no prospect of having that reversed, I'd rather the initiative process was scrapped completely.
Anonymous said…
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Anonymous said…
I love that Bill Gates is pro-vaccine, and anti-malaria, and pro investment in solutions that will help developing nations (from vaccines to the fabulous toilet contest ran recently by the Gates Foundation).

I also love that there are plenty of people who don't worry about offending him, and I'm glad that this blog is one of those places.

I am intrigued that reporters in Atlanta would presume that you would be afraid to go on the record opposing Bill Gates. It makes me wonder whether many Seattlites they encounter take such a view, or, alternatively, if they're projecting the social structure in Atlanta (with Coke, Georgia Pacific, Southern Company, and other big corporate players and their families and the influence they wield).

There is an irreverence to wealth in Seattle, that, in my opinion, is part of the reason that Seattle, practically on the other side of world from the old power centers, has been a center of new wealth in the new Millennium. I hope the city can keep that independent streak.

Anonymous said…
I agree that paid signature gatherers have broken whatever value the initiative system might have had in the distant past.

I'm used to political systems in which initiatives are nearly impossible, and have seen little value to the way they seem to play out here in WA. Sometimes the initiatives are fine, but even then, I generally feel they're allowing government to avoid the tough task of governing (I'm still confused about why we're voting on 74, for example; and the revision of the liquor laws was clearly a job for the government, not the initiative process).

Anonymous said…

Pro I-1240 Campaign = 9.93 Million

Against I-1240 Campaign = 17.1k

Factor = 580 to 1.

Please stop referring to this as a "democracy." Democracy is dead.


Anonymous said…
I don't fear Bill Gates' unhappiness as much as his ambitions. I think he wants to fix the ills of the world except he's getting old and doesn't have the time to watch the meandering, trial and error, and the waiting it takes for people to figure things out on their own. And there's the issue of trust. Can he trust us- we, the fickle and unpredictable mass to get it right (or what he thinks is right)?

It's hardly a new concept as my daughter has discovered in her learning about the elctoral college. What a shock for her to find out it's not the popular vote that determines who's president. Our founding fathers have similar fears about the common people. Fear that these uninformed, poorly educated mass can be easily manipulated and where there are large population of them, they would have too much control of this nation's fate.

So rich, powerful, well educated people always had a hold and control of our republic. They do it individually and as a group. Sometimes with good intention and other times to consolidate more of their wealth and power (as these 2 go hand in hand).

I think that's why we see what we see today. A city government that can come up with $200 million funding for an arena and bypass the referendum process entirely because it serve the interest of one man. Yet the seawall and the fingerprint ID system is on the ballot for votes. It's far easier to serve the interest of one powerful and wealthy man (or a small group of them) than we the people.

In times of war and economic gloom, people are more afraid and easily manipulated. It used to be we had the fourth estate to check the excesses and be the source to daylight corruption and obsfucation. These days despite the much ballyhoo 24/7 news a finger tap away, it often provides more shades than light. I know I can't be the only one to notice the (contrived or is that too cynical?) neck and neck presidential horse race with its $2+ billion ad budget will go far in enriching the 4th estate. R-74, 1240, the governor's race will do the same for our local media.

That's why our one newspaper is no longer the voice from which we can expect impartial, well researched, quality news. It's not rich nor powerful enough to be independent. So its editor and owner must do what it must to keep it alive for another day.

seattle citizen said…
Democracy may well be dead, and here, WSDWG, is what is also dead if I-1240 is succesfuly purchased by the wealthy few.
KG said…
Microsoft pays no taxes to this state and it has cost between 1.2 and 6 billion just for education.

Then Billy Gates says education is not doing well enough. Check John Burbanks articles on the web at John Burbank Microsoft tax evasion.

Bill Gates is evil and so are the very wealthy.

Why isn't the liberal media covering this issue/

Oh because Bill Gates prepaid to sin now. Kind of like Mitt Romney.
Anonymous said…
Melissa -- I can only add -- You Go Girl!

Concerned Teacher Educator
Anonymous said…
gates works within the system, can't judge him for that. however, his ability to shape policies that affect large groups who have no say is wrong. his agricultural programs are highly controversial and they are designed by him and his people. It's just like the charter thing. He decides it is "good". he's an unelected government, a dictator. if he wants to buy islands or yachts, fine, but there needs to be a method to vet money from rich donors incorporating real stakeholders.Or tax the crap out of him.

Anonymous said…
I was in the ferry line and a guy came up to me with two petitions. One for charter schools. The other one was to further limit the state budget. Wanna sign either one, he asked?

Ok, let's see: schools suffering because of bad budgets. Let me vote for charter schools and then slash the budget some more.

He didn't even get it, just went on to the next customer.

signed: incredulous voter
Unknown said…

I tried to find the article from the Atlanta Journal Constitution, but I would have to be a subscriber. Did you get a copy? And how did the pro and con sides fare?

Unknown said…
Mary, still waiting for my link. I haven't seen it either.

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