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Washington state’s future depends on saving Seattle from itself

By now, most Seattleites should realize that some of the goo-goo-eyed infatuation the outside world has had for the city is fading.  That is what several years of very bad government can do.

It turns out that cashing in more than a century of prestige equity – an image as a friendly hub of culture and innovation that is many generations in the making – to gamble on a pure vision to remake the town as a progressive playground, well, it has risks.

Seattle is on such a remarkable streak of bad news that it could achieve the impossible and unseat Berkeley, Calif. as the right-side media’s whipping post of first resort, or at least take first position in the Western US.  In addition to becoming a recurring clown act in a national media circus, the Seattle City Council’s evermore extreme liberal policymaking has revived the cachet of being a “Seattle hater” within the communities of our interconnected regional and state economy. This is not helpful.

While flogging Seattle may be a useful short-term technique for nearby cities to draw favorable comparisons and encourage businesses or residents to relocate, in the long term the prosperity of businesses across Washington state is fused with having a healthy, functional, sane Seattle.

It’s vital that in-state rivals recognize that the short-term gains made by piling on to demolish the city’s reputation are not going to solve the long-term problem.

While Seattle’s value to Washington state is can clearly be measured in economic terms, that is not it’s only value add.  It is a cultural hub.  It has grown to become a true city – albeit a small one on the global curve.  It is a burg of international note, one that has the necessary density and plurality of human experience to catalyze that special urban buzzing that fuels creativity and captures the interest of people who have never set foot here.

Yes, much of what the world thinks about the Emerald City is a kind of mythmaking – a romantic notion that borrows from reality – but the effect of bringing commerce and people through the gateway of Seattle is real.

Yet unbelievably – almost as though in protest of this responsibility to the rest of the state – Seattle has been doing its very best to make any thought of coming to its rescue less than appealing.

To wit: enacting the highest minimum wage in the nation.  Misguided taxes on soda pop.  A risky scheme to open government-sanctioned sites for injecting illegal street drugs.  Normalizing homelessness as a lifestyle.  The biggest headlines were, of course, the imposition of a head tax that makes job creation more expensive, a move pulled off by villainizing the city’s largest employer.  And undeterred by the lashings the Seattle City Council took from virtually everyone who isn’t a member of Councilperson Kshama Sawant’s socialist brigade over its head tax vote, the 9-person Cherry Street cabal began cooking up plans for a new “LID” tax on almost 7,000 properties. What could possibly be next?

Other dubious choices include: carving up, painting, re-routing, and otherwise engineering downtown streets into a corn maze-like mess for vehicle traffic, or sanctioning a prevailing dank weed-stench that now hangs over the city like smog.  Tourists are reportedly unconvinced that marijuana smoke is just part of the city’s charm.  These things are hastening Seattle’s cultural isolation from its neighbors and lending urgency to a growing anti-Seattle movement.

Oh, and wedged into that timeline was the forced resignation of a mayor after months of lurid allegations about sexual crimes became too difficult to ignore.

It’s somewhat understandable that Seattle’s detractors have capitalized on bad news.  Most of non-Seattle Washington experiences the city’s political heft as its power to cram its preferred policies while forcing others to share the cost.  Disgruntlement and disdain are especially common reactions east of the Cascades, sentiments that are increasingly prevalent within the communities of the Central Puget Sound that directly or indirectly suffer the economic and social consequences of errant Seattle policy.

Yet for all of Seattle’s super-sized influence, it is inarguable that the fortunes of the entire state converge there.  The entire region has benefited from Seattle’s prestige.  Sticking a shiv in her side when she’s down is only an opportunity for rival cities and towns to get ahead if you wrongly believe that regional economics are a zero-sum game and that the role Seattle plays in the success of Washington’s other cities can be convincingly mimicked.  Neither is true.

With cities as with people, it’s important to know one’s strengths and limitations.  If Seattle falls, neither Tacoma, Bellevue, or Bellingham would just slide over and assume its full role, like a runner-up beauty pageant contestant acquiring the crown and sash should the queen collapse into the gutter.  Why is Seattle irreplaceable?  It’s overly simplistic to say it’s because of its globally recognized physical landmarks like the Space Needle and Pike Place Market, but the appeal of these things should be recognized.  It is a city that has managed to earn a place in the imagination of people thousands of miles away.

When the world does business with Washington – even overseas merchants doing trade with Eastern Washington – the mental mapping of those trade routes run through Seattle.  The size of Seattle’s consumer market, its retail footprint, and the revenues generated from prestige-connected activities (professional sports, tourism, prominent conventions and meetings), all radiate warmly into the state economy.  Deep down, most everyone understand this.  If not for Seattle’s importance, it’s eccentricity would be nothing more than annoying.

Washington state needs a successful, sane and stable Seattle, not one that has been abandoned to collapse in a progressive implosion à la Detroit.  Regional leaders should purposefully engage to  organize an intervention – beginning with a series of correctives and stopgaps in the state Legislature – and we can hope that such action may save Seattle from itself.

Bryan Myrick is a native Washingtonian who has written about state, local and national politics since 2008, and has worked as a consultant on a number of high-profile ballot measure and candidate campaigns. He graduated from the University of Washington with majors in Political Science and Communications.

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