Kshama Sawant: Educating through debating
  • KELLY O
  • Kshama Sawant: Educating through debating

Short answer: For your benefit.

After weeks of hounding by the area's conservative talk radio stations, Kshama Sawant has agreed to two different engagements with conservative talk radio hosts—one on-air and one in a debate forum at McCaw Hall—to discuss her plans for a $15/hr minimum wage. And while it seems a bit like she's voluntarily stepping into the lion's den at a time when the debate is really getting heated, her staff says that having "real debates" is a learning opportunity.

"We're not trying to win over the hardline supporters who are coming to see the con side," explains Sawant's legislative assistant Joshua Koritz, "we're going to be demonstrating for supporters how to pose things and have these conversations."

First, Sawant will be speaking live with confirmed anti-urban right-wing radio talker John Carlson on Thursday morning. This isn't her first time at the KVI rodeo; Sawant was on once before she was elected, wherein she was cast in opposition to the "buttoned-down" Richard Conlin. A main focus was how lefty/socialist she was and how difficult it is to pronounce her name.

It's a debate at McCaw Hall hosted by KTTH that could elicit the most interesting outcome. The lineup includes National Employment Law Project deputy director Rebecca Smith, and KTTH personality/Breitbart senior editor-at-large Ben Shapiro.

Strategically planned for April 9—when, Koritz says, Sawant's office expects the Committee on Minimum Wage and Income Inequality to have released their recommendation for how to implement a minimum wage increase and thus, for more concrete proposals to be in place—the debate is expected to be "civil, but vigorous."

My first instinct was that this was a terrible idea and that I was very worried for Sawant; these things have a tendency to go very, very wrong, very quickly—especially when the audience is packed with potentially-hostile AM radio listeners. But after attending last week's Town Hall, where testimonies by those on both sides had a tendency to go off the rails and become completely unfocused, it actually seems like an example of a civil debate on the subject could be valuable for this complex situation.

Both sides seem hopeful that the conversation will be productive and educational, rather than heated and shout-y.

KTTH has already come out "decidedly against" an increase of the minimum wage, but station manager Jason Antebi says they've also, in recent years, shifted focus their focus to be more conversational and open to discussion.

"We're not ashamed to be conservative, but we enjoy civil debates with others...We have no intent of doing the typical cable news shout-match."

"This will be an actual debate," agrees Koritz, explaining that the ticketed event, which will be recorded by both KTTH and KING 5, will be more focused on modeling conversations and talking points for supporters, rather than trying to sway the opposition. If Sawant had her druthers, she'd likely be debating a lot more; during her 2012 run against Frank Chopp, she readily stepped up, and, more recently, she's challenged the head of the Seattle Chamber of Commerce to discuss how a $15/hr minimum wage benefits labor.

The debate will be followed by a Q&A with the audience, which, again, if it's anything like last week's Town Hall on the subject, could be the most colorful part of the evening. The event costs $7.70—which goes to cover the cost of renting out McCaw Hall—but Antebi says he's working with Working Washington and Sawant's people to make some free tickets available, as well.

"It's important to make sure the other side, and people who would be the most impacted by this debate, are present for this," Antebi said.

You should go, if only to help balance out the audience.