The following is a Letter to the Editor from Sen. Bob Hasegawa and Sharon Maeda.
This November, Seattle voters will have the opportunity to pass Initiative I-122, also known as Honest Elections Seattle. During a time when political campaigns are won with large amounts of money, I-122 will set strict limits on “big money” in elections. And I-122 will reinstate political power in our communities by giving all voters the power to contribute to the candidates of their choice.
The problem is clear: In 2013, only 1.3% of Seattle’s total population contributed to political races. Most of this money originated from the highest income neighborhoods in Seattle. Even in the 2015 Primary Election, political candidates that raised the most money within their districts were the same candidates that have moved on to the General Election in November. Clearly there is a link between large campaign contributors and the candidates who gets elected. Conversely, Seattle most diverse and lower income neighborhoods have far less political influence. And, the system should not be rigged against candidates who raise small donations from many people.
The Asian Pacific Islander community represents around 15% of Seattle’s total population, however barriers have made it difficult for us to fully participate in the political process. Currently, less than half of APIAs are registered to vote in Washington State, voting materials are only available in two Asian languages (even though our community collectively speaks over 40 different languages and dialects), political candidates and campaigns never reach the majority of our community, and our community generally has less disposable income to put towards political campaigns.
Our voices have been overwhelmed by money and silenced too long. We deserve the right to equitable campaigns and political access. Our voices need to be heard.
I-122 makes several much-needed upgrades and improvements to the election process. I-122 will:
• Limit corporations and wealthy contributions and their influence on city elections.
• Keep elected officials honest by closing the revolving door of top officials and their aids taking lobbying jobs immediately after leaving office and require they disclose conflicts of interest.
• Increase participation of everyday people, allowing Seattleites to run for office based on the strength of their qualifications and platforms, not their ties to wealthy donors.
• Allow Seattleites to support the candidates of their choice with four $25 “democracy vouchers” each election cycle, funded through the smallest levy in Seattle’s history. Voters can assign their democracy vouchers to the candidates of their choice.
• Increase transparency, accountability, and fines on rule breakers.
I-122 ensures that our voice is heard and that our elections are in the hands of the people. We deserve an elections system that encourages people from all walks of life, including New Americans, to run for office, not just the wealthy or those with wealthy friends.
Public officials should represent our communities, not the corporations that fund their campaigns. The APIA community in Seattle deserves equitable representation. We have elected API officials in the past. But, as big money continues to increase it’s power and drive elections—even with the new Seattle City Council district elections—it makes it harder and harder for a new generation Wing Luke or Dolores Sibonga or Martha Choe to even consider running for office.
It’s a matter of racial equity: For a community that has been historically underrepresented, we deserve and should demand a political system that is accountable, transparent, honest and inclusive. I-122 would give a whopping 67,100 APIA’s in Seattle access to political power.
Creating a fair election system is both cost-effective and promotes democracy. Vote YES on I-122.
Senator Bob Hasegawa and Sharon Maeda