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January 7, 2014 at 12:09 PM

Kshama Sawant’s hell-no speech recalls tea party

One of the questions swirling around Kshama Sawant’s improbable victory for Seattle City Council is her interest, and ability, to translate her activism into legislation. That requires tolerance for the oft-grinding process of law-making, and most importantly, getting four other votes on the council to pass a bill creating a citywide $15 minimum wage.

Seattle City Council president Tim Burgess welcomes Kshama Sawant / BETTINA HANSEN / SEATTLE TIMES

Seattle City Council President Tim Burgess welcomes Kshama Sawant. (Photo by Bettina Hansen / Seattle Times)

Judging by her inauguration speech on Monday, she’s not all that worried about it.

Here in Seattle, political pundits are asking about me: will she compromise? Can she work with others? Of course, I will meet and discuss with representatives of the establishment. But when I do, I will bring the needs and aspirations of working-class people to every table I sit at, no matter who is seated across from me. And let me make one thing absolutely clear: There will be no backroom deals with corporations or their political servants. There will be no rotten sell-out of the people I represent.

That’s a fine speech, but it implies no path toward anything but her sole vision, and implies that her colleagues on the council, and Mayor Ed Murray, are the “servants” of rich.

In a city where political egos bruise like pears (to steal a phrase from The Stranger’s Dominic Holden), that’s a recipe for political isolation within City Hall.

It’s possible she may not care, because her grassroots base can exert influence on Murray and council. But as the novelty of Sawant’s victory fades and Murray’s $15 minimum wage advisory committee works toward its goal, she may find old-fashioned negotiating is actually productive.

Listening to Sawant at City Hall yesterday, her rhetoric oddly recalled a tea party forum I attended two years ago. The tea party’s hell-no negotiating positions – its radical hostage-taking over the federal debt limit and the government shutdown – proved its members are ill-suited to governing. “It makes tea party legislators seem like reckless ideologues who operate inside an information bubble, not principled men with pragmatic governing styles,” wrote Conor Friedersdorf in The Atlantic.

Sawant should be judged on her work as well as her rhetoric. She’s remarkable at the latter. We’ll see on the former.

Comments | Topics: kshama sawant, Seattle City Council

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