Why Forward Seattle Failed

Now that Forward Seattle’s anti-$15 minimum wage referendum has failed*, it is useful to explore the reasons why, especially with some of its business supporters now alleging foul play and/or incompetence on the part of City Attorney Pete Holmes as a major contributing factor. Oh please.

The argument goes that Holmes’ 13th hour revelation that voter proposed charter amendments could not go to the ballot in even-numbered years, unexpectedly set back Forward Seattle’s efforts, leaving them with little time to complete a successful signature drive. But that’s just plain silly. While it is true that the confusion cost them a few days of signature gathering, the charter amendment they had originally filed would have required almost twice as many signatures to qualify for the ballot. If they couldn’t collect 16,510 signatures in four weeks, they were never going to be able to collect 30,956 in five. Never.

Either way, Forward Seattle started gathering signatures too late. Had they followed $15 Now’s lead, and started gathering signatures on a futile charter amendment a month earlier, they might have a legitimate complaint (though more with their own attorneys than with the city’s). But they didn’t. They clearly underestimated the time, effort, and money it would take to buy the signatures necessary to qualify for the ballot. And that’s totally on them.

Which raises the question: Why was it so difficult for Forward Seattle to collect the requisite signatures? Other campaigns have gathered far more signatures in even less time. Why couldn’t Forward Seattle?

Part of the credit (or blame) must go to labor-backed Working Washington for running a somewhat effective “decline to sign” campaign. Working Washington did a great job of publicizing the lies Forward Seattle’s signature gatherers were telling. But why was it necessary for Forward Seattle to sell its referendum with lies?

Because it lacked public enthusiasm and support.

Had Forward Seattle truly enjoyed broad support within the small business community it claimed to represent, let alone with voters, it would have had an invaluable advantage. Imagine hundreds of small business owners stocking petitions at their checkout counters, their own employees personally asking their tens of thousands of loyal customers for their support. They could have collected twice as many signatures in half the time at a fraction of the cost.

But they didn’t pursue this populist approach, because they rightly understood that such a public display of opposition to $15 at their place of business would have alienated customers and destroyed employee morale. So instead they went the mercenary route, hiring the same shady signature gathering firm that Tim Eyman uses to qualify his mercenary initiatives for the ballot.

Forward Seattle’s backers lacked the confidence to go directly to their customers for the same reason their paid signature gatherers resorted to lies: the referendum wasn’t popular. And that is the primary reason why Forward Seattle failed.

* Over at PubliCola Josh cautions that the signature verification process isn’t final and that some of those set aside could still be validated, and all that is true. But it makes no difference. The gap is simply too big. Even if you were to add in all of the signatures from the other referendum, and subtract none of the several hundred signature withdrawal requests, and validate 100 percent of the remaining signatures, and rehabilitate 100 percent of the “signature miscompares,” Forward Seattle would still fall short. Some signatures just can’t be cured: A blank signature line will always be blank. An out of district voter will still be registered out of district. Forward Seattle has failed.


  1. 1

    Craig spews:

    How did they end up with two signatures that were over a year old (per your graphic from yesterday) , yet didn’t have enough time?

    How many more thousands of dollars will they spend to deny paying a living wage to their employees?

    truly shameful.

  2. 2

    Sloppy Travis Bickle spews:

    A lack of public enthusiasm and support may be part of it. A lack of substantial financial backing and coordination probably was a greater reason for the failure. Unions are pre-existing entities and generally well-funded, and a disorganized, quickly assembled effort to qualify a referendum didn’t stand a very good chance in the face of that organized opposition.

    Obamacare never had public approval over 50% – RCP has it significantly below 45% approval at every temporal point, before and after passage. It passed because it had political backing, and because some incredibly, er, rare methods of legislative maneuvering were employed. If what the public thought about it had mattered, Obamacare would not exist.

    Nice series of posts on the failed referendum effort, thank you.

  3. 3

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    Raising the minimum wage has widespread public support. National polls show roughly 75% of Americans favor a higher minimum wage. Of course, this is in the context of the $7.25 federal minimum wage, which Republican obstructionists shamefully refuse to allow to go up. The result is that numerous states and cities have taken action on their own to raise local minimum wages.

    The minimum wage issue has been vehemently debated on investing blogs I regularly read. Comments on these blogs tend to be from young white males on the financial make who have a conservative ideological orientation, and they are heatedly against minimum wage laws. Their focus is making as much money for themselves as they can — from a job, business, or investments — and they seem to feel there is no room for simple human compassion in the realm of money-making.

    The arguments you usual get from this crowd are: Minimum wage laws distort free markets; the market decides what a person’s labor is “worth”; employers have no responsibility to provide a “living wage.” They usually ignore the question of how a worker paid less than subsistence is supposed to survive, but if they answer it at all, the common response is make up the difference with some form of government assistance (from taxes someone else pays, because these people don’t want to be taxed, period).

    It’s useless to counter-argue, or point out that every one of these arguments is bogus, because these aren’t open-minded people. But for the record:

    1. Minimum wage laws, like other workplace regulations (e.g., child labor laws, safety laws, etc.) do indeed create “market distortions.” That is, they change behavior. But that’s a red herring. We need such laws precisely because, if people were free to behave as they wish, they would engage in behavior that is intolerable to society. Minimum wage laws and other workplace regulations exist because government has a legitimate role in protecting some of its citizens from the unregulated behavior of other of its citizens. Minimum wage laws are like speed limits: We don’t let drivers go 90 mph because that action can hurt others, and we don’t let employers pay $2, $5, or (in Seattle’s case) $10 an hour to their workers because that action is deemed to hurt their employees and society in general.

    2. The market doesn’t decide what a person’s labor is “worth.” It does no such thing. The market mediates the relative bargaining power of the parties. A given worker may be able to command wages of $75 an hour in one locale but only $7.25 an hour in another locale, for the same skills. (E.g., a welder in Alaska’s North Slope versus a welder in Alabama.) What makes this argument especially hypocritical is the fact that conservatives put great effort into breaking unions and other actions to weaken the bargaining power of workers. (E.g., employer rules that prohibit employees from disclosing their pay to each other.) Employers have always try to stack the wage bargaining deck in their own favor. That’s an argument for, not against, government intervention on behalf of workers — and especially on behalf of the most vulnerable and least powerful workers. Further undermining the “worth” argument is the fact that minimum wage jobs often involve dirty and physically hard work — anyone who has worked his way up from the bottom in America knows that very often the lowest-paying jobs are the most unpleasant and grueling jobs. (See, e.g., Yakima slaughterhouse jobs paying $9.23 an hour.)

    3. Many employers would accept no responsibility for anything, if we accepted their version of a social code. They want to live in a world in which employers are absolute masters, employees are required to be totally subservient, and employers’ sole responsibility is to themselves and their bottom line. This is the kind of employer who dumps toxic chemicals into rivers, who burns old tires (belching toxic black smoke over entire communities) instead of paying to get rid of them, and locks fire escape doors in ramshackle tenements housing sweatshops. You’re damn right the rest of us are going to get together, organize a government, and crack down on these predators and the depradations they would inflict on society if we allowed them to act out their libertarian impulses. Paying below-subsistence wages may not be exactly at the same level of predation as the behaviors listed above, but it is nevertheless a social ill which society has a right to remedy through its governmental mechanisms.

    The practical effect of below-subsistence wages is to transfer employers’ labor costs to taxpayers, because it’s the latter who have to make up the difference. You have no right to do that, pal, and we’re not going to let you. That’s the real message of Seattle’s $15 wage ordinance.

  4. 4

    headless lucy spews:

    re 2 — “Obamacare never had public approval over 50%….”

    Maybe it was the shining honesty of Republicans in pointing out some of the drawbacks of Obamacare — like death panels.

  5. 6

    tensor spews:

    “A lack of substantial financial backing and coordination probably was a greater reason for the failure. ”

    Amazing how inefficient the private sector can be, eh? :-)

    Small businesses can and do organize to protect their interests. Many business owners have correctly deduced that being labeled poverty-wage payers will hurt their bottom lines in Seattle; others support the $15/hour minimum wage. The reason Forward Seattle was a hasty, ad-hoc effort was because of the diversity of thought amongst Seattle’s employers.

    Hopefully, the poverty-wage crowd will now see they wasted their money on Forward Seattle, and elect not to waste more.

  6. 7

    headless lucy spews:

    If you mount a campaign to take Seattle back a step and call it ‘Forward Seattle’, many people will assume from the get-go that you are of a devious mind-set.

  7. 8

    Theophrastus spews:

    dangit Goldy! i keep checking your site to see what you’ll have to say about duhSlog backing Frank Chopp over Sawant-partII. and now you’ve made me clutter up your nice (unrelated) comments(!)
    (i can’t honestly guess which side of this you’re going to come down on and i can’t wait to see – and i’ve run out of popcorn)

  8. 9

    you gotta be kidding spews:

    But had Forward Seattle had a 5th week they likely would have gotten the 16, 510 needed for the referendum at their current rate of signatures. And had the city attorneys office filed 15NOW’s intiative within the required 5 days back in April when they were first filed, both sides would have then had months to gather whatever amount of signatures required. But Pete Holmes office f*cked up and that is why he is on record apologizing for the mistake. It is also a little odd timing that Pete Holmes office found out about the odd/even number year thing 1 day after Forward Seattle filed but had overlooked it for months after 15NOW filed theirs.

  9. 10

    ChefJoe spews:

    It’s a very slow roll-out and certainly can be brought to the ballot next year, as a charter amendment.

  10. 11

    you gotta be kidding spews:

    @10 Chef Joe, I think we will see a statewide challenge rather than a city challenge. So in reality I think for those who oppose the Frankenstein $18 minimum wage plan of the Mayors this referendum not making the ballot actually is a good thing. I think the referendum would have failed further cementing this law and giving $15NOW the legitimate argument of the people having spoken. Now the climate is right for a statwide challenge next year along with local challenges to the city council. I would like to see how Jess Spear and Sawant peddle their socialism and demonizing of all businesses as the 1% in Bellvue or East of the mountains. I don’t think Seattle has enough votes to counter the rest of the states.

  11. 12

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @11 Uh-huh. Never mind that states and cities across the USA are raising their minimum wage. Ignore the fact that Gallup and other pollsters show three-fourths of the American public believe minimum wages are too low and should be raised. But I have a better idea than demonizing business — let’s hope voters demonize the GOP instead, who obstruct everything from raising the minimum wage to immigration reform — preferably at the polls, and preferably this November. A rousing Democratic sweep at every electoral level would be nice to see. Then we could get America moving again.

  12. 13

    you gotta be kidding spews:

    @12 3/4 of America thinks $7.25 is too low, there has been no polling of America about an $18 min wage as mandated by Murray’s plan. I also think a state wide challenge that raises the minimum wage and applies evenly to all business is the best chance over flat out repeal.

    Feel free to demonize the GOP, I think they are hypocritical dueche bags that use their Christianity as a cudgel to control women’s bodies and dictate who can marry who, but quickly forget these same Christian values when it comes to helping the poor or starving kids. Though I am wary when one party controls too much and prefer a sane counter balance that works to compromise. Unfortunately it’s been quite a while since the GOP was sane.

  13. 14


    Well, Gates scored 1590 out of 1600 on his SATs and derppod out of Harvard, which means he’s so brilliant AND a shrewd businessman that he didn’t need the degree from Harvard. He certainly could have completed it if he wanted to, but he had better ideas. So it depends on the type of business you want to start, and it also depends on how much backing you can get for it. If you’re going to build a business that designs operating systems, you’d better be really educated in computer science and math. Technical subjects like that require technical knowledge, which must be learned. Even Gates didn’t just hack into a TRS-80 one day and figure out how to write code out of the blue. If you’ve got the capital to HIRE people like that from the git go, then it’s a different story.But if you’re starting a business in something like agriculture or industry, for example, and you have knowledge of it, then no you don’t need higher education.I would get the multi-million dollar revenue dollar signs out of your eyes. Building a company from ground up to that point often takes decades. The secret to building a good business (beyond luck) is by first having a really good idea. What do you got that’s better than your competitor? How can you get people to buy your product or service? As a business founder, it’s your IDEA, and your passion for the idea, that are most important. You then have to decide how much you know about the subject, if you are willing to learn what is required if you have to, and whether or not you should create a partnership or hire employees that DO know. But that can be risky at first. You have to work with people you trust. And to gross multi-millions someday, you will definitely be a corporation that has quite a few people on the payroll. Was this answer helpful?