Seattle City Councilmembers Should Be Boring

Well, they need to be boring a lot of the time at the very least.

As the City Council races heat up this summer, it’s important to take stock of what makes a good councilmember. One key trait is a love of tedious soul-crushing wonky detail.

Our Councilmembers should make us feel like this a lot of the time…

Our Councilmembers should make us feel like this a lot of the time…

Why? Well, do you know what a Seattle City Councilmember actually does? Broadly speaking, they write and pass the laws that govern our city. It’s kinda like the federal system. The Mayor (Jenny Durkan) carries out the laws passed by the Council. The difference being that the City Council is “unicameral”—one chamber—instead of bicameral like Congress.

The rules of governing the Council are prescribed in this mind-numbing document, also known as the Seattle City Charter. Anesthesiologists should read it allowed in pre-op. Their patients would pass out drug free—I mean, unless they were a good councilmember. Then they would eat up every last bit of subsection part c, paragraph ii, in the addendum to title 8…

So, given how most people don’t even read their credit card terms of service, ask yourself: how many people running for Council actually went through that monster of a document? How many candidates do you think have a handle on the rules and the nuances laid out in this doc? Reading this document might be more unpleasant than a root-canal for most of us, but it shouldn’t be for councilmembers. We want eager wonks.

The dullness goes beyond knowing the rules of the Council too. If elected, a councilmember faces an endless barrage of technical details that define lawmaking (assuming they don’t farm it out to some national political party). Those little nuggets of dry code, hardly ever spoken about in public political discourse, are actually what affects our lives and our city.

It doesn’t matter what a law is called or what a politician claims a law will do publicly. The meat of the law is what actually matters. Voters hardly ever bother to read the deets, so you’d hope the lawmaker hawking a new law knows those details inside and out…don’t hold your breath.

If you’re not careful, the actual outcome of a law or a project can be entirely counter to the name of a law, or the narrative used to sell it:

Rent control —> Higher rent

Deficit cuts will pay for themselves —> The debt explodes

Mandatory minimums —> More people in jail, arguably more crime

Freeway lane widening —> More traffic

The Seattle Streetcar —> Few people use it, it’s expensive, and it’s slow

Perhaps we would avoid these follies if we elect boring lawmakers who dive into the nuances and detail of issues and shun simple but thrilling narratives. The Council needs people excited by minutia, but we often vote for people emotionally. This deprives us of the boring technocrats the Council should have. They can be fun and passionate too, but they must have a deeply tedious side to them if we want good laws that do good things.

Not shockingly, D3 Incumbent Kshama Sawant has it backwards:

Nathan Chaffetz