Vouching for Democracy

González Faulted For Not Appearing At Enough Debates During Primary

Appearing beside opponents is a requirement of Democracy Vouchers. The city has ruled Gonzalez didn’t meet it.

Courtesy M. Lorena Gonzalez

The Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission has found Councilmember M. Lorena González did not participate in enough debates during this year’s primary election season to satisfy the requirements for the new Democracy Voucher program.

However, rather than booting her from the program, the Commission on Thursday decided to use it as a learning experience in the voucher system’s inaugural year. That decision follows recommendations made by Wayne Barnett, executive director of the elections oversight office in charge of Democracy Vouchers.

“It was important to say she did not comply,” Barnett says in a followup interview. But “I didn’t see the nuclear option as being the right choice,” referring to kicking González out of the program.

Per the voter initiative passed in 2015 that created Democracy Vouchers, candidates who want to collect them must participate in three “public debates” before both the primary election and the general election. “Debates” are defined as “a live event, open to the general public, at which all the candidates in a particular race have an opportunity to respond to questions.” However, several of González’s opponents for the Position 9 seat say she was largely MIA on the campaign trail leading up to her large primary night victory.

“It was always like, ‘Where’s Lorena?’” says David Preston, who came in third in the primary race. “She thinks she’s too good to meet the people.”

Pat Murakami, who placed second in the primary and will face González in the general election, says González has continued to be scarce at public events.

“She’s not been to one forum since the primary—she sent a staff person to one forum during work hours,” Murakami says.

It’s typical for incumbents to limit the number of debates they participate in, lest they give their opponents more media exposure and open themselves up to damaging gaffs. That said, the voucher program is designed to work against that conventional wisdom. Preston says the intentions are clear.

“The purpose of it is to get candidates out there speaking to the public with other candidates present, so the public gets a chance to compare and contrast,” he says.

Candidates must self-report what candidate forums they attended to fulfill the requirement. In González’s form filed shortly after the primary, she listed a “women of color in politics panel,” the 36th Legislative District Democrats straw poll, and a neighborhood forum in Delridge as her three events.

Preston, in a complaint filed to the SEEC, argued that González was the only woman of color in the primary race, meaning it could not have fulfilled the law’s definition of “debate;” he also argued that he was not invited to the Democrats event.

In a response, González said it’s not up to campaigns to determine who is and isn’t invited to various events, but the organizers.

Barnett wasn’t persuaded, writing in a memo that González should have known that Democratic Party events are not open to all candidates (he leaves alone the women of color event, though the same logic would presumably apply).

However, in the same memo he argues that this year is the “maiden voyage” of the program, and so the commission should be judicious about kicking people out—especially since many voters have given their vouchers to González.

“If the Commission terminates the candidate’s participation in the Program, it will invalidate the choice of more than 2,100 residents to date who have assigned their vouchers to Councilmember González,” Barnett wrote.

Murakami says she’s unsatisfied with that logic. As a lawyer, González should not have trouble complying with a provision.

“It’s disappointing that there’s not a standard of quality for the program,” she says.

We have a call into González’s campaign for comment.

dperson@seattleweekly.com

A previous version of this story stated David Preston is a Republican. He is not.

More in News & Comment

Bellevue Votes to Permanently Ban Safe-Drug Sites

Leaders say the sites make “no sense” for their city.

What Jenny Durkan’s Time as U.S. Attorney Says About Her As a Candidate

She made some progressive reforms. But she also leaned on activists and declined to prosecute anyone involved in the WaMu collapse.

Beds at Recovery Place, a new substance abuse and mental health treatment facility in Seattle. Photo by Sara Bernard
In Effort to Tackle Opioid Epidemic, New Facility Will Host Detox and Mental Health Services in One

The facility is designed to address drug addiction and the root causes of homelessness.

Sebastian Burns, left, and Atif Rafay, right, when they were arrested at age 19. Contributed mug shots
‘The Confession Tapes’ Re-Opens the Triple-Murder Case of Sebastian Burns and Atif Rafay

King County prosecutor Dan Satterberg says the show is bunk. The creators disagree.

Flickr/Chris Sampson
Union: Airline Caterer Kept Paying Sub-Minimum Wages After It Was Hit With $300K Fine

And because of a new settlement, the city is unlikely to go after wages the workers say they are entitled to.

Nikkita Oliver at a campaign’s-end press conference at Washington Hall on August 15. Photo by Sara Bernard
Nikkita Oliver Will Moderate a Mayoral Debate On Oct. 29

Oliver announced plans to hold a debate during her concession speech in August.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal
What to Look For Next Week When the State Supreme Court Hears the Latest McCleary Case

As each side argues over school funding, the schools chief pushes for more special education money.

Most Read