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September 22, 2008

The Race for the Open State House Seat in the 36th LD – An Embarrassment of Riches

Washington’s new Top Two Primary has created a difficult choice for many Democrats in the 36th Legislative District, which covers much of Ballard, Magnolia, Queen Anne and Belltown.  It’s a well-organized, strongly Democratic district, which of course is why we are in this predicament – we have two excellent Democrats running for State House Position 1, formerly held by Helen Sommers. 

The Republican in the Race, Leslie Bloss, a local real estate agent, received only 15.41 percent of the August 19th primary vote.   So, the 36th was one of those districts where two Democrats won in the primary and are now going up against each other in the General election. 

John Burbank, a highly-respected Seattle organizer and consultant and former Chair of the 32nd LD Democrats, when it included a portion of what is now the 36th, received 40.08 percent of the vote in the primary.  Reuven Carlyle, a bright and energetic telecom entrepreneur, former Democratic staffer, and dedicated Seattle volunteer, received another 44.51 percent.

Both Reuven Carlyle and John Burbank are great candidates and either one would be a fine replacement for the retiring Helen Sommers.  Both would likely be more reliably progressive than Sommers and either one could wind up being a strong Democratic leader in the state. 

So, which do we choose? 

As we move from the primary to the general, Reuven can tout the 4.4% win over Burbank in the primary, a larger win in a contested primary than any in decades.  But Burbank can tout the endorsement of the 36th LD PCOs, the voters in the Sept. 11th official endorsement meeting for the 36th LD where 74% voted for the sole endorsement of John Burbank.

Both men have great endorsers.  Senator Jeannie Kohl-Welles, Port Commissioner Gael Tarleton, Regional Progressive Majority Director Dean Nielsen, and just about the entire Seattle city council are supporting Carlyle; Representative Mary Lou Dickerson, Majority Leader Lisa Brown and Ron Sims are supporting Burbank.  So is Leslie Bloss, the Republican in the primary.  Both the Sierra Club and the Washington Conservation Voters endorsed Carlyle although a number of prominent environmentalists have endorsed Burbank.   The Municipal League gave Carlyle an “Outstanding” and Burbank a “Good” rating.  And both the Seattle Times and the Stranger endorsed Reuven (is that a first?) in the primary.

Both men agreed to sit down with me in the last couple weeks and I had a chance to talk with a few other folks as well about their reactions to each man.  Here’s what I came up with.

About John Burbank

John is organized, persistent and persuasive, some might say driven, when he feels he is right.  Getting that sole endorsement from the 36th LD was a triumph of campaigning, similar to what he’s done several times over the years as he has sought to impact the movement of progressive issues.   

In 1998 John founded the Economic Opportunity Institute, which is described at their site as “an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit public policy center dedicated to advancing new ideas to make Washington a better place to live, work and do business”.

John and the Institute have years of working with activists and legislators to pass a series of initiatives in Washington State focused on improving economic security for working people. The Economic Opportunity Institute was responsible for the policy research and design of several critical initiatives and public policy advances over the years.  These have included the Minimum Wage Initiative, the Basic Health Initiative, the Family Leave program and the Washington State Early Education Career and Wage Ladder, all of which have or will improve life for people in Washington State, sometimes quite significantly.

For John, moving into the legislature seems to be the next step on this path. 

While Burbank has been quite successful and people are very appreciative of what he has done, the hit on him, amongst a few of the folks I talked with, is that he can be “prickly” to work with.  I have no experience of that personally but I did hear that term or a variation of it several times.

About Reuven Carlyle

People really like Reuven, and his energy and his innovative approaches to tackling problems.  He is very comfortable in his own skin.  Carlyle seems to have thrived despite what some would see as a in an eclectic background.  In his website, he says,

“I'm inspired to run for the Legislature because I spent the first 5 years of my life outside the care of my family. I grew up as the only child of a single mother consumed by the turbulence of the 1960s. I grew up on food stamps and free lunches at school. Those experiences form the DNA of who I've become as a progressive citizen activist, as a business entrepreneur, and as a husband and father of four great kids.”

Carlyle was a page for SenatorsWarren Magnuson and Scoop Jackson as well as House Speaker Tip O’Neill while still a teenager.   Then, after college, he went on to work for a couple Washington State legislators, including Gary Locke.  He also has a graduate degree from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

Reuven then worked as a senior executive in a number of early stage technology companies in Seattle in wireless, software and clean technologies.  He stayed focused on service on the side, co-founding the organization, City Year, which encourages and aids young people to get into service.  It’s a huge interest of Carlyle’s.  He’s worked on passed laws to help foster children now and is now on the board of the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges.

Reuven wants to bring his business and technical acumen and collaborative style to overhaul the way government functions. Carlyle is passionate about so many things, it is hard to keep up with him.  He is passionate about educational opportunities for young people.  He wants to work on clean energy.  He wants to build the public infrastructure that unleashes the entrepreneurial passion of the clean energy market.  Mostly he wants to set up systems that encourage individuals to solve the problems that need solving.

It is Carlyle’s connections to business that has leads to the biggest hit on him – that he is too related to business.  He has taken money from business while Burbank has not and therefore might be beholden in ways that Burbank would not.  I also heard a complaint that he was too focused on market solutions.  Of course, others think that his familiarity with business is a good reason to vote for him.

Contrasting Styles

Given that we can assume that both men would vote right 99% of the time, the issue becomes how well they will lead on our behalf.   I talked with both John and Reuven about my primary concern – that we elect transformational leaders who will be capable of leading in an upcoming time of rapid change and a need for collaboration, for pulling people together around agendas that will move the issues forward. 

Reuven talks readily and unprompted about opening up governmental processes to simpler and more effective ways of functioning.  He calls it the elegance of simplicity. When I ask him about how he will break through the incrementalism of the current Democratic legislature to get things done more quickly, he said that he has learned that real accomplishments come from hearing the silence and tapping into people’s sense of resolve.  During his years of working in Congress and the legislature as a page and an aide, he saw which folks had moral strength and got listened to.  He said it is a matter of understanding the issues that matter to people and applying oneself to the ones that are important.

John has been building coalitions across the state to pass and forward each of the issues he has been involved in.  He considers that the work he does is the true entrepreneurial work.  John was very convincing and it was hard to know whether his picture of entrepreneurial leadership is what I am talking about. 

What I do know is that the 36th will be well-served by the election of either John Burbank or Reuven Carlyle and it is unfortunate that we have to choose.

Posted by Lynn Allen on September 22, 2008 at 07:34 AM in Candidate Races | Permalink


Nice piece, Lynn. You're absolutely right - Reuven represents a new generation of progressive politics. I'm looking forward to having him represent me!

Posted by: 36thCarlyleFan | Sep 22, 2008 10:10:26 AM

In the last month both Ruven and John came to my door and at first I found them both to be interesting and good people. At the end of my talk with John he started to pressure me into putting up a yard sign and I said that I wasn't so sure, and had to check with my roommates. The next day one of his yard signs was put up in my yard without my permission, and now I see John burbank signs all over the pace and know how hee pulls this junk.

Posted by: Nordic Submarine | Sep 22, 2008 10:50:13 AM

"New generation of progressive politics" is just the usual yuppie-speak, untroubled and unburdened by any substance, from someone who should know better, but apparently doesn't.

We already know that Carlyle's bizarre desire to tear down the Viaduct would have a devastating effect on the District he seeks to serve.

I'd like to know his positions on the Employee Free Choice Act and charter schools. if it's "well, I'd sit down and listen to both sides," I'd run from him as quickly as I could.

Carlyle is a good guy and, as Lynn says, probably would be good on 90 percent of the issues (99 percent is too charitable). In such a situation, voters need to drill down a bit more.

Voters in the 43rd (those who were paying attention) found out that their bright, young, "progressive" new State Rep, Jamie Pedersen actually OPPOSES the Employee Free Choice Act, and thinks it's perfectly OK for employers to have "captive meetings" in which they can intimidate employees out of organizing unions.

There's no evidence that Carlyle shares this view, but at this stage of the campaign, it's a legitimate question that he should answer. We have no such issues with Burbank; he would be a 100 percent vote for working people.

Posted by: ivan | Sep 22, 2008 11:20:59 AM

Great post, however I would like to stress that John is the only one of the two who has dedicated his life to pushing through progressive legislation. His track record proves not only where his heart is, but also that he can get things done!

Posted by: QAQA | Sep 22, 2008 11:25:43 AM

I have a serious issue with Carlyle, as pointed out in the article. A lot of questionable businesses like out-of-state pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, big banks, polluters of the Sound, and others like this are contributing to his campaign. Those enterprises are probably expecting something from Reuven for their bucks. Wonder what it could be?

Burbank is maybe appears a little more boring at first but has a proven record of working with coalitions to get progressive legislation out. I fear that Carlyle (whose qualifications are primarily that he is an entrepreneur) if sent to Olympia, would spend a lot of time thrashing around before he realized that the way to get things done with a collaborative process involves a lot more than generating a lot of ideas and expecting everyone to follow along.

And, BTW, there are a lot of Burbank signs around that stay up because people wanted them, I think.

Posted by: Noz | Sep 22, 2008 1:56:23 PM

I don't find the idea of dismantling the viaduct bizarre in and of itself. My concern is what the viaduct will be replaced with, and on what schedule. One of the options that seem to be gaining increased favor among local politicians is "nothing" - no replacement that will handle anywhere near the traffic the viaduct does. If either of these guys favors that plan, I'd vote for the other one if I were in that district. There don't seem to be any really good options here, but relying on I-5 for all north-south thru traffic is a really bad option.

Of course, I live in the South Sound region, so I'm biased. I think that there are quite a few folks who'd be inconvenienced far more than I would be by such a plan, and most of them live in Seattle.

Posted by: Cujo359 | Sep 22, 2008 2:56:47 PM

This was a good post that seems to be relatively fair to both candidates.

One thing should seriously be noted about the endorsement vote of the 36th District PCO's. The vote of 74% does not represent an even play field and in fact it has been pointed out to the executive board of the district that the endorsement meeting was flawed, but I'll get to that second.

First, the difference in the vote represents the abuse of district resources by Burbank.

As a PCO, he has attended trainings where he was told that any list given to him by the district organization is for use to organize the district for ONLY the organization AND NOT for any personal gain, and it was not to be shared with anyone without the expressed consent of the Executive Board. Burbank even received an email from the chair of the district telling him this information.

After the February caucuses, John received a list of caucus attendees that included attendee emails. He then forwarded that list to one of his campaign surrogates who is a PCO in Magnolia. This surrogate then sent out a Burbank campaign email, TWICE. My personal friends that attended the caucus received these emails, but were and still are not members of the district. Both of these emails were undoubtedly campaign emails attempting to sway voters to support Burbank and not Carlyle. Trying to claim that Burbank was the only Democrat in the race and other campaign malarky. If that isn't use of a list for personal gain, I really don't know what is.

This issue of data use and the protection of personal information was discussed at the same district meeting, but not until after the endorsement vote. And well over half of the room had cleared out and gone home. I believe that if this misuse and abuse was discussed prior to the endorsement vote, that the numbers would have been different.

What angers me further about the blatant misuse for personal gain by Burbank, is that I received a call from him the following day. (I sit on the district executive board, and John knows full well that I don't support him in this race.) I couldn't believe that gall of Burbank's voicemail, where he admitted that he had used the list and that he would refrain from such use unless he got the permission from the district beforehand. All from a man who had early on in this race questioned MY professional ethics, twice in as many weeks...but then doesn't follow his own.

Another issue with the endorsement vote is that the entire membership should have been notified of the meeting and that it was an endorsement meeting. However, only about half of the district received proper notification of the meeting. We already discussed the admitted fact that John has possession of the district list, so it isn't a far stretch to say that this gave him an advantage in campaigning to turn folks out to the district meeting.

It is undoubtedly a hot race, but I think that the Burbank supporters gravely marginalized the district in ignoring the voters that we serve. Prior to the election, the district took no action on the endorsement of the race. And yet, with the primary results certified, the district Democrats now take the position that is contrary to the voters clear decision.

As far as the claim that Reuven will be beholden to the corporations and businesses that he has accepted campaign contributions to - I find it a false attack by a campaign that is grasping for things to attack the opponent. A search of the PDC online database, will show that the Senators and State Representatives that Burbank loves to list as his endorses any chance he gets have also taken money from those very same corporations. Is Burbank prepared to lob those same smear attacks at those endorsers? I think the answer is a resounding no. He wants to impress with the names he can list.

Reuven does not accept campaign contributions from any company that has not also given to Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles, Representative Mary Lou Dickerson, and Representative Helen Sommers. This is a fact that is easily found by again searching the PDC.

I just cannot support Burbank. Regardless of the good policies that he has helped shepard through the Legislature, he has shown a real lack in working to accomplish his goals through meaningful and ethical ways. His work ethic will decrease his leadership ability, particularly if he can't play nicely in Olympia. Reuven has a record of collaboration with members of the legislature and in the business community that do not call into question is own principles and professional ethics.

And to the person to asked about charter schools - Reuven would be one of the handful of Seattle area Legislators that actually has a school age children - and they are attending school at a Seattle public school.

Posted by: Kelly | Sep 22, 2008 5:06:07 PM

Isn't Burbank the same guy who did the Latte Tax? I LOVED the Latte tax idea. Screw the rich. YEAH.

We need more class warfare these days, not less.

Oh wait, didn't Carlyle grow up poor with a single mom, and manage to make something of himself?

Posted by: Thomas | Sep 22, 2008 6:56:54 PM

Kelly says:

"And to the person to asked about charter schools - Reuven would be one of the handful of Seattle area Legislators that actually has a school age children - and they are attending school at a Seattle public school."

That person would be me, Kelly, and you know me well. I'm not imputing any position on charter schools to Carlyle, and where he sends his kids has nothing to do with how he might vote. Let the candidate speak, and make his position known.

Posted by: ivan | Sep 22, 2008 7:49:03 PM

As the person Kelly descrbies as "one of [John Burbank's] campaign surrogates who is a PCO in Magnolia, I 'd like to comment on some of what Kelly has said.

First, a couple of relatively minor points: I live in Crown Hill, not Magnolia. And I'm hardly a "surrogate" for John Burbank. I initially sent out emails to folks on my pesonal email list, including over 500 labor activists, just prior to the Washington State Labor Council convention. After I'd sent the first email, John Burbank contacted me. He'd heard from a mutual friend about my email, and asked that I sent him a copy. My subsequent emails were essentially updates of the earlier ones.

Second - and also a side issue - in fact only one email went out to the caucus list that Kelly refers to. Despite Kelly's implications, the officers of the 36th District concluded, following a brief investigation, that although it shouldn't have happened, no one deliberataely ignored District protocol. I did send out subsequent emails to 36th District Democratic activists, but from other email lists.

But all of this is really an effort to divert attention from the substance of the emails. There are two remarkable things about Reuven Carlyle's corporate financial support. First, PDC listings show that fully 41% of his funding (not including the $10,000 that he gave his own campaign) is from businesses, business associations and self-identified business executives and owners. This isn't a case of someone getting a little bit of corporate backing - this is a candidate who would have a financially struggling campaign without business support. And we're not talking about mom-and-pop outfits. Carlyle's contributors include Amgen, Eli Lilly, Schering Plough, Bank of America, Washington Mutual, AT&T;, Verizon, Qwest, T-Mobile, Primera Blue Cross, Safeco and Pemco. They include the Rental Housing Association PAC, Washington Multi-Housing Association, Washington Association of Realtors, Washington Medical PAC, Washington Dental PAC, Washington Bankes Association, Washington Financial League and Washington Independent Bankers PAC.

In contrast, John Burbank doesn't accept corporate contributions. About 13% of his contributions are from labor unions and plaintiffs' attorneys groups. Another 5% is from self-described business executives - heavily management at Group Health, and small business owners. The other 82% comes from individuals.

Second, although it's true that lots of the corporations that have given to Reuven Carlyle have also given to incumbents, what's unusual is for these corporate interests to give to a non-incumbent Democrat - particularly for so many of them to do so. If you look through the PDC records, you'll find that some of these corporations give money to incumbents, Republican challengers - and Reuven Carlyle.

Reuven proudly defines himself as a "pro-business Democrat," a term that some folks wish were a contradiction in terms. There are, obviously, plenty of pro-business Democrats. John Burbank isn't one of them. His life has been dedicated to fighting for poor and working class people. He's worked for the Washington State Labor Council, for Solid Ground (formerly Fremont Public Association) and the Economic Opportunity Institute. He's been a leading advocate for increased minimum wage, health care for working people, housing for the poor and tax fairness. And that's part of why John Burbank has been endorsed by the State and County labor councils and dozens of labor unions; by NOW, Women's Political Caucus and NARAL-WA - and by the State, County and District Democratic Party organizations.

Posted by: Paul | Sep 22, 2008 8:56:08 PM

that's crap, Paul, and you know it. you sent it to "Dear Caucus Delegate." Your recived the caucus list from John, which he recieved by accident and shouldn't have passed on. if you'd paid attention at the last meeting you'd have known that.


you and Burbank will say anything to get elected.

so much for "the people."

Posted by: calling it crap, Paul | Sep 22, 2008 9:02:17 PM

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