Is everyone picking on Seattle? It's hard to feel sorry

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OLYMPIA — I’m sure it has nothing to do with his declared intention to run for mayor of Seattle.

First, no one is that cynical.

And second, who isn’t running for mayor of Seattle?

So it must be heartfelt when state Senate Minority Leader Ed Murray laments that too many people are picking on his hometown.

“I am very disappointed with the divisive geographic language that has once again seeped into this Legislature,” the Seattle Democrat said during an argument over Senate rules this week.

What kind of language would that be? Something hateful, mean-spirited, perhaps alluding to race or gender or income levels?

Actually it was when Democratic Sen. Rodney Tom – the man who would replace Murray as majority leader of the Senate – said his ascension to power will make the Senate less “Seattle-centric.”

Other members of the ruling coalition have said repeatedly they are a better alternative to Democratic leadership that is dominated by Seattle lawmakers and their proposed committee structure that was dominated by King County chairs.

“Seattle-centric” apparently is a fighting phrase in Seattle.

“Regrettably, what we’ve seen is, you know, we can’t have leadership from Seattle,” Murray said. No one complained, he said, when Eastern Washington lawmakers dominated Senate leadership or when Tacoma lawmakers ran just about everything.

“But, you know, somehow if you happen to live in Seattle, that’s a problem,” Murray said.

No one shed any tears for the beleaguered souls in the state’s dominant city. Feeling sorry for Seattle when it sometimes loses political power is like feeling sorry for the Yankees when they sometimes lose the World Series.

Murray’s target audience might well be those back home, not in the Senate. But he touched on one of the undercurrents of this state Legislature and most state legislatures – resentment of the big city.

Many in the other 38 counties think Seattle and King Country are condescending, that they treat everyone south of IKEA as yokels. Years back, I asked Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, why it was so easy to resent Seattle. At the time Hargrove was a leader in the property rights movement that focused mostly on environmental regulation.

“They have a great economy because they filled their wetlands and poured concrete,” he said. “They messed their litter box and now they want to turn my district into a park.”

It all gets a bit silly at budget time, like when lawmakers from regions that could never produce enough tax revenue to cover what they take back in state services complain that they are subsidizing Seattle. In return, King County lawmakers whine that they are subsidizing everyone else, that King is a “donor county” (as though they don’t benefit handsomely by being the economic hub of the region).

The state’s former top economist Chang Mook Sohn once said none of this makes sense economically, that it is impossible to separate economic activity along 19th Century county lines.

“That’s a political argument and a special-interest argument,” he said.

Murray is correct in one sense, that terms like “Seattle-centric” can be code for words and phrases less acceptable in public discourse. Some who use it really intend to communicate things like “too liberal,” “too permissive,” “not like the rest of the state.”

Like when Tom said the best thing about his 23-Republican and two-Democrat coalition is that “instead of a totally Seattle-centric approach to both policy and the budget, we’re gonna have a couple of options for people to look at and to figure out what is the best option for middle-class Washington in moving us forward.”

Seattle isn’t middle class, says the guy who lives where? Oh right, in that middle-class enclave of Medina.

Murray ended with his concern that picking on Seattle just isn’t “healthy.”

“I don’t think we should stereotype ourselves that way,” he said.

I agree.

And maybe as mayor, Murray can help his city take the lead by abandoning the stereotypes that far too many Seattleites use to shove the rest of us into neat, condescending and oh-so-clever pigeon holes.

Peter Callaghan can be reached at peter.callaghan@thenewstribune.com

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