Seattle city council elections decided

The Daily Brew
Welcome to the Wednesday, August 14, Brew. Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. Seattle City Council general election candidates set after primary
  2. Phoenix voters to decide citizen initiatives on light rail, city pensions
  3. Department of Justice seeks to decertify union representing immigration judges

Seattle City Council general election candidates set after primary

All three incumbents running for re-election in Seattle’s seven nonpartisan city council elections on August 6 advanced to the November 5 general election. Results will not be certified until August 20 from Seattle’s vote-by-mail process, but media outlets have projected winners—that is, the top two finishers—in each contest.

Re-election races for incumbents Lisa Herbold and Kshama Sawant will each feature an opposing candidate endorsed by the local Chamber of Commerce’s political action committee. Incumbent Debora Juarez was herself endorsed by that group.

The elections are occurring a year after the city council unanimously passed and then repealed a head tax proposal that was opposed by the city’s business community, including the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Amazon. Sawant voted against the repeal, and Herbold was a main supporter of the initial proposal.

One candidate backed by the Chamber of Commerce and one endorsed by the King County Democrats advanced to the general election in each of the four open-seat council elections. Between seven and 14 candidates ran in each.

Overall, the seven primary races saw $874,000 in independent expenditures, which was more than the 2015 primary and general elections combined—the last time these same seven seats were up for election. The Chamber of Commerce’s political action committee, which raised $250,000 from Amazon, spent more than $377,000 in support of nine endorsed candidates and opposing Herbold and Sawant in the primary.

This is also the second election in the last 100 years in which councilmembers are being elected by district. From 1910 to 2013, all Seattle city councilmembers were elected at large.


Phoenix voters to decide citizen initiatives on light rail, city pensions

Voters in Phoenix will decide two citizen initiatives that would amend the city’s charter in a special ballot initiative election August 27. Proponents of each measure needed to submit 20,510 valid signatures—15% of ballots cast in the previous mayoral election—to qualify their initiative for the ballot. 

Proposition 105 would:

  • end construction of light rail extensions;

  • redirect funds from light rail projects to other transportation infrastructure improvements in Phoenix; and

  • prohibit funding other light rail development, with an exception for PHX Sky Train—an automated electric train that serves the area around Phoenix International Airport.

Building a Better Phoenix sponsored the initiative petition effort and is leading the campaign in support of Proposition 105. Proponents say that many city roads are in urgent need of repair and funding is being wasted on light rail when it should be directed to roads, and that light rail use is declining. Opponents state that the initiative would reverse previous decisions made by voters to approve funding for light rail expansion and that the city would lose federal and regional funding for light rail development. 

Proposition 106 would:

  • require annual assessments of the city’s pension debt based on generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) and the 10-year average return on investment;

  • limit budget growth if pensions are not 90% funded;

  • earmark revenue over the budget limit to paying down pension debt, with exceptions for police, fire, and first responder services; and

  • require city officials to reimburse the city for pension benefit employer contributions.

Responsible Budgets Inc. led the initiative petition drive for Proposition 106. Proponents of the measure state that it requires accurate accounting and transparency of the city’s pension liabilities and a long-term solution to the city’s pension obligations. Opponents say the initiative would prevent the city from fully funding services—such as parks, libraries, senior centers, and homeless services—and would reduce the value of the city’s pension plan for fire and police employees and other city officials.

Invest in PHX, Vote no on 105 and 106 is leading the campaign in opposition to both Proposition 105 and Proposition 106. 

Phoenix voters approved six charter amendments in 2018 that were placed on the ballot by city council vote.  

Department of Justice seeks to decertify union representing immigration judges

The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) announced August 9 that it was petitioning the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) to decertify the National Association of Immigration Judges (NAIJ)—the federal labor union representing immigration judges.

Immigration judges are a type of federal administrative adjudicator employed by the DOJ to preside over special classes of administrative proceedings pertaining to immigration, including removal proceedings. The department employed 424 judges as of May 2019 and requested funding to hire up to an additional 100 judges in 2020. 

Although immigration judges and other types of administrative judges have the word judge in their job title, they are part of the executive, rather than the judicial branch. They are not judges as described in Article III of the U.S. Constitution.

The Department of Justice claims that immigration judges are management officials and, therefore, cannot legally participate in collective bargaining activities. Federal law defines management officials as “any individual employed by an agency in a position the duties and responsibilities of which require or authorize the individual to formulate, determine, or influence the policies of the agency.” Decertification of the NAIJ could give DOJ officials more control over the work schedules and caseloads of immigration judges.

Immigration Judge Ashley Tabaddor, president of the NAIJ, said in a statement, “We are trial court judges who make decisions on the basis of case specific facts and the nation’s immigration laws. We do not set policies, and we don’t manage staff.”

In March 2018, the Department of Justice instituted a quota of 700 cases per year for immigration judges. As of May 2019, there was a backlog of 892,000 immigration cases. 

The FLRA rejected a similar application by the Department of Justice during the Clinton Administration to decertify the NAIJ in 2000.