What I learned at the 34th District Democrats' endorsement meeting

The 34th District Democrats (West Seattle, Vashon, Burien) held their endorsement meeting last night and I was there. It was very revealing.

First, the results. They gave a dual endorsement to Suzanne Dale Estey and Sue Peters in the District IV school board race and an endorsement to Stephan Blanford in the District V race.

The most important thing I learned is that Stephan Blanford, whose election is practically assured, supports Teach for America, opposed the MAP boycott, and opposes the litigation over I-1240. Yeah, take a moment with those. The first two positions were revealed during the "paddle" or quick answer section of the interviews. When asked "Do you support TFA?" Ms Peters and Ms Dale Estey signaled "NO" and Mr. Blanford signaled "YES". When asked "Did you support the MAP boycott?" the results were opposite, with Ms Dale Estey and Ms Peters signalling "YES" and Mr. Blanford signalling "NO". Then came a question about the litigation to find I-1240 unconstitutional and Mr. Blanford, speaking, bemoaned the "Seattle Process" of discussing and discussing a decision instead of just moving forward. He said that the charter school question has been decided and we just need to move forward now.

All of this is very troubling. I suppose the support for TFA could be explained - there are areas of the country that suffer a shortage of qualified teachers. Opposition to the MAP boycott, however, can only indicate an authoritarian perspective in which people - including professionals - are supposed to follow orders, no matter how bad those orders. The suggestion that the process for initiative 1240 is finished before the constitutional challenge reflects either support for charter schools or a naivete about the initiative process. The final stage of the process is the constitutional challenge. That's just part of the process now. Besides, if you really believed that a matter is settled after a vote, then I-1240 would never have come to the ballot since charter schools had been voted down three times in the past.

I think people should talk to Mr. Blanford and ask him some close questions to clarify his positions on these questions - and others. Not that there is anything that can be done about it. His election is, as I wrote, practically assured. He'll be on the Board and there's no realistic opportunity to prevent it. We should just get a clearer view of what to expect from him. You know, so the shock doesn't kill us.

Now, what about the District IV race? It is driven almost entirely by loyalties.

Ms Peters and Ms Dale Estey expressed essentially the same positions on all of the issues. So what's the difference between them? Two things: the nature of their experience and how you feel about Ms Dale Estey's supporters.

They both have lots of valuable experience. Ms Peters has 15 years inside the district. She knows the programs, the history, the people, and the issues. Ms Peters has endorsements from people on the inside, including three continuing board members. Ms Dale Estey has equally long experience outside the district with elected officials at the state, county, and city level and with corporations and non-profits. She has endorsements from her connections in that arena including lots of elected officials and leaders of non-profits. Some people think that the inside experience and the institutional memory are more valuable; some think the outside connections and experience is more valuable. Both perspectives have merit and can be supported and defended. Very few people based their decision on this difference in experience.

The real division is rooted in how you feel about Ms Estey's endorsements. Is it good or bad that she is endorsed by Tim Burgess, Stephanie Bowman, Michael DeBell, Peter Maier, Barb Schaad-Lamphere, Greg Wong, Juan Cotto, Matt Griffin, Heidi Bennett, Seattle Metro Chamber of Commerce, the Seattle Times and others with Education Reform connections. She told the 34th District Democrats that she refused the endorsement of Steve Sundquist, which, of course, means that he offered it. She is his choice for the job. She is not endorsed by Harium Martin-Morris but has a campaign contribution from him. She is also his choice for the job. She has endorsements from a lot of other elected officials and community leaders, but those who are sensitive to Education Reform are disturbed by these.

To what extent do you judge people by their connections? To what extent do you think that Ms Dale Estey, who has espoused positions essentially identical to Ms Peters', shares the perspectives of her Education Reform supporters, will owe them some debt of loyalty, or will grant them more access than other constituents.

The 34th District Democrats meeting was an interesting demonstration of how the lines of loyalty influence political decisions. Ms Dale Estey got endorsements from her connections. They granted these endorsements out of loyalty to her. That's how these endorsements are given. They are given to those who ask for them without much thought about the other candidates in the race. They are awarded with as little thought as most votes - not after a close review of the candidates. It's really kind of discouraging to learn how casually elected officials treat their endorsements. It is reasonable to fear that they decide their votes as capriciously. Ms Dale Estey won support at the meeting from delegates based largely on their loyalty to the elected officials who endorsed her, including King County Executive Dow Constantine (who came to the meeting to speak on her behalf) and two of the 34th District legislators. She lost support from delegates at the meeting also based on her endorsements - her endorsements from people with Education Reform connections - assuming that she will be loyal to them.

It seems to me that loyalty - in one way or another - will be the driving factor in this race.


Pretty much how I see this playing out as well. (The third candidate, Dean McColgan, seems to have gone AWOL.)

"He said that the charter school question has been decided and we just need to move forward now."

Actually, no. There are real and valid constitutional questions about 1240 (the writers of it say it will pass muster). I can only say that on the point of the petition to takeover a school - there is no other one like it in the country (not that I can find). So I have no idea how they know it is legally valid. Even members of the Charter Commission have expressed dismay over it and are not happy with it.

I agree with Charlie; Estey has so many supporters (who have given her money) that I can't see that she's just going to ignore their stands.
Maureen said…
Ms. Dale Estey rejected Sundquist's endorsement, but not Maier's? Has anyone heard an explanation for that?
Charlie Mas said…
Suzanne Dale Estey rejected Mr. Sundquist's endorsement due to Mr. Sundquist's position on charter schools. Mr. Maier has not spoken as publicly in support of charter schools.
Sue Peter Supporter said…
99% of the 34th District Democrats supported a dual endorsement for Sue Peters and Suzanne Dale Estey.

Estey may have loyal political connections, but those same people saw that Sue Peters is a highly qualified candidate.

Well, Sundquist was against charters when he ran again for School Board. When he lost, he became for charters. Wonder if that might be the case for Estey?

As for Maier's endorsement as a seal of approval, both Estey and Blanford do not realize how Maier betrayed both the district and his own Board members. If they did, they would have refused his endorsement. That they didn't means they have not been paying attention or that withholding information from other board directors is okay with them (and would tell you something about what they might do on the board).
Charlie Mas said…
I don't think that there is anything that Ms Dale Estey can say or do that will end the suspicion that she is a stealth Ed Reformer. Is there?
Carol Simmons said…
I was so impressed when I spoke with LaCrese Green. Her positions were:Better Math Books, Save Indian Heritage High School, opposition to Charter schools and her knowledge and familiarity with our District. She has been a tutor and supports alternative schools and Spectrum Programs. HOWEVER, she did not have the support which Dr. Blanford had so I asked him privately if he supported Charter Schools. He said emphatically "absolutely not."
Later at the MDC meeting he declared openly that he did not support charter schools.

The fact that Sue Peters received a dual endorsement from the West Seattle District proves that she has a strong following even without Dow or Peter or big money donations or Reform support. Congratulations Sue.
Charlie, that's a very good question and one likely to dog Estey. I find her statements so vague and that, along with her endorsers, make me very wary.

It will be interesting to see this play out as it is the only real race left to watch.
Charlie Mas said…
Most people who vote for School Board candidates don't know anything about them other than how plentiful their yard signs are. A few know what the Times or the Stranger said about them. There is just a tiny number of people who actually know the issues and the candidates' positions on them.

Consequently it doesn't pay for candidates to take positions on those issues. It is better for their campaigns to mouth empty platitudes about motherhood, the flag, and apple pie.

That's just smart campaigning.

Cheryl Chow's campaign web site had a page called "positions" that was blank for the entire campaign. She never stated a position on any issue. Not once. She won big.

The candidates who want to win all do it that way.
Anonymous said…
"Ms Peters and Ms Dale Estey expressed essentially the same positions on all of the issues. So what's the difference between them? Two things: the nature of their experience and how you feel about Ms Dale Estey's supporters."

If this is the tipping point, then I think Ms. Estey ultimately would have my support because of the endorsement from Dow Constantine.

-Going with Dow
mirmac1 said…
Having known Dow since before he was even semi-famous, I would vote for anyone BUT his endorsee. I lump him in with the sell-outs.
Charlie Mas said…
Honestly, since there is probably nothing that Ms Dale Estey could possibly say or do that would overcome people's suspicions about her as a stealth Education Reform candidate based on who has endorsed her, then there is no point in her expending any effort in trying to do so.

The question of education reform came up at the 34th District meeting. Sue Peters went first and handled it beautifully saying that no one is satisfied with the status quo, but that one set of mostly top-down reforms is getting pushed by corporatists, union-busters, and privatizers while another set of mostly bottom up reforms have the support of education professionals. Ms Peters put herself in the second category.

Ms Dale Estey, going next, agreed completely with Ms Peters and also claimed to be in the second group. She expressed her opposition to high stakes tests, to charter schools, and TFA.

So why do the Ed Reformers support her?

I don't know. I cannot claim to know or understand their motivations. However, I might guess that it could be because she will talk to them. She won't completely shut them out. And given the choice between two people that disagree with them, they would prefer the one that appears less unwelcoming. Of course, it is also possible that she's a stealth candidate. It is also possible that once getting the endorsement of one of them - any one of them - all of the others gave her their endorsement as well based on the ones she already had. That's how endorsements work. "Oh, my friend endorsed you? Then so will I."
Anonymous said…
I'm a straight-ticket Dem from West Seattle, but the 34th Dems lost ALL credibility with me after they endorsed Marty McClaren for school board. While a perfectly pleasant person, she's a COMPLETE lame duck on the board. We might as well have had no one to represent us during these chaotic couple of years in which West Seattle has been completely abused by the district.

McClaren has been naive, passive, ineffectual and a complete non-starter as a school board rep. She spends 10x more time praising the district reps than questioning them or representing her supposed constituents. I'll never pay attention to the endorsement of the 34th Dems again. They should be ashamed of themselves.

-West Seattle parent
West Seattle, could have it worse - we are stuck with Sherry 'not accountable' Carr.
Ugh said…
W. Seattle Parent could have atleat gotten his representative's name correct.

I'll take McLaren over Sundquist-any day.
I'll have my update done on my thread about the candidates by the end of the day.

I think Charlie is wrong that there is no real difference between them and I want to pound this home (and I will do so over and over).

The learning curve to be a director CANNOT be underestimated. New directors come in and have to learn a system, a history( if they are smart they do), staff, the wide cast of education characters in this town and oh, the schools of our districts and what they need.

I've heard from many directors, who said it ruefully, how they underestimated that curve.

We have so much to get done that we need Sue Peters who can hit the ground running. Estey won't be able to do that.
Anonymous said…
@WS Parent,
Yes, I'm a straight ticket WS Dem too, but the 34th Dist. Dem's lost my confidence long ago. It was disheartening at first to realize what I assumed would be a group that represented my interests have miss the mark of my own beliefs more than once. I guess I can't complain too much because I dont show up to their meetings and voice my opinion. Although I'm feeling I should start to since as a straight 34th Dem their votes have been missing the mark in representing me.

A 34th Dem endorsement or non-endorsement of anything or anybody doesn't mean much to me. But I'll still stand by my statement of going with Dow as a tie breaker. I know nothing of Dow Constantine "before he was semi-famous," but I am impressed with his politics and work. Sue Peters may have the right philosophy, but Estey seems to more practical experience. Especially if Director's need to hit the ground running. Havent seen either of them speak, but Estey looks better on paper to me. As the saying goes, that's just my 2 cents. I haven't
followed this more than just gut reaction, and can't vote
on it anyway. Grain of salt to you all tracking these things more closely, but chiming in to express my outsider's opinion.

-Going with Dow

Charlie Mas said…
Lots of people don't think very much before they vote and, as I discovered, lots of elected officials don't weigh the options before they endorse.

Does anyone believe that Dow Constatine - or any of the other elected officials who have endorsed candidates - actually took any time to learn about all of the candidates in the race? They don't. Consequently, their endorsements really shouldn't be taken very seriously.

I have asked a number of them about the endorsements and I have yet to hear one of them say it was a thoughtful choice.
Going with Dow, I hear your points but let me make sure I understand.

You want someone who has the experience to run the trains on-time but not know why they are doing it or if running the trains is the best goal to accomplish?

Knowing how to do something in general doesn't' mean you know how to do it in specific.

That's my worry with Estey - she's not going to understand and may vote based on getting things done.

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