Election contests in Seattle, South King County, Tacoma, Spokane, and Yakima show how far the debate has shifted
Even before all the elections have been decided, one thing is already clear: big business interests are running scared. All throughout the election season, lobby groups like the Chamber of Commerce and the Washington Restaurant and Hospitality Association have been desperately retreating in the face of a statewide movement which has transformed the debate over living wages and workers rights. Just consider that both candidates running for State House in the swing 30th Legislative District were moved to express support for raising the minimum wage, and business groups were moved to sink six-figure investments in ballot measure campaigns in the Spokane and Tacoma against low-budget, truly grassroots efforts.
In Seattle, big business groups like the chamber of commerce, the lobby for chain hotels & restaurants, and the real estate industry sunk more than a half-million dollars into city council races — despite the fact that candidates expressed universal support for the $15 wage, and many specifically called for further expanding workers rights. In fact, business support itself became a key negative for the candidates they backed — sometimes the only negative. There was vast citywide attention to the role of business money in this year’s elections — tens of thousands visited our own runforthemoney.org website, and from KING-5 to The Stranger to the Seattle Times to the Seattle Weekly, media attention crystalized the issue into a key focus for voters.
- In Tacoma, we saw a first: the restaurant lobby and the chamber of commerce spent $100,000 in support of a 25% increase in the minimum wage. Their big investment in making Tacoma one of the highest-wage cities in the nation was an attempt to avoid an even higher increase brought to the ballot by a small & truly independent grassroots group of activists who spent almost nothing on the effort. In a 2-part ballot question, the minimum wage increase is winning 58% support overall, with 28.6% choosing an immediate $15, and 71.4% backing a phase-in to $12.
- In the 30th Legislative District, the campaign narrative in this key swing district focused so much on incumbent Carol Gregory’s decisive House votes for a statewide $12 minimum wage and paid sick days that Republican Teri Hickel was pushed to state her support as well. If elected, Hickel would be the only member of the House from her party with that position. Hickel currently leads by 54.5% to 45.5%.
- In Spokane, business lobby groups raised $91,000 through October and even put two counter-measures on the ballot to try and defeat an extremely wide-ranging workers rights ballot measure — more than ten times the amount contributed by supporters of the grassroots Envision Spokane initiative. The ballot measure is unusually broad and some say it would raise minimum wage about $20 in the city. The huge spending is especially notable because the ballot measure is likely to be subject to a long court fight, regardless of the outcome of the vote. It currently has support from 38% of ballots cast.
- And in Yakima, a newly representative city council has been swept into office in the first year of district elections. Meanwhile, a new campaign for a $15 minimum wage there has already gathered 1000 petition signatures.
As we await the final in these races over the next few days, one thing is clear: across the state, election campaigns were waged over issues that put big business interests in retreat.
Workers are winning. Our movement has broad public support and we will continue to change the debate in the year ahead.