Seattle billionaire and Democrat financier Nick Hanauer is very upset over what he believes is the militarization of King County’s police force. But, to everyone’s surprise, he has refused to publically comment on the topic until after his meeting with King County Sheriff John Urquhart.
It all started one evening when Hanauer drove by a “scary sight” near his home in Shoreline—“SWAT officers with full body armor, military-style weapons and an armored vehicle surrounding a house.” Hanauer’s response to the scary sight was to text King County Executive Dow Constantine, who was quick to respond. Revealing his ignorance of the structure of county government, Hanauer demanded answers from a clearly confused Constantine. The Seattle Times,
On Aug. 8 at 12:41 p.m. Hanauer texted Constantine: “What the hell? There was an army of armed soldiers in my neighborhood and a thousand police cars. On greenwood and 150th. Is this your doing? What is going on?”
Constantine replied 16 minutes later: “I have no idea what you’re talking about. Also, I am not the Sheriff.”
Hanauer: “Don’t these people work for you? Do we often call out armed soldiers in our county to settle disputes?”
Constantine: “Again, what are you talking about? Was it SPD? WSP? As for the Sheriff, I sign their checks but all police authority was transferred, by public approval in the 1990s of a charter amendment, to an independently elected Sheriff. So no. They don’t.”
The events in Ferguson appear to have reminded Hanauer of his anger because, on August 14, Hanauer resumed his conversation with Constantine via text. He wrote, “I presume you have seen what is going on in ferguson. Do we have police in our county to dress like these idiots? Is that what I saw in my neighborhood??”
Constantine—delaying his response a couple of days—let Hanauer in on just what the police were doing in Hanauer’s neighborhood on the night in question. The Seattle Times,
Constantine responded a couple days later with information he got from the sheriff’s office, saying the police response Hanauer had seen was a raid on a known drug house. Quoting the sheriff’s office response, Constantine said the operation, which involved about 20 deputies, “netted 12 suspects, at least 2 with previous convictions of violent offenses.” He said most of the suspects left the house after deputies surrounded it and gave a verbal order. Others didn’t leave until a flash-bang device was detonated.
Unfortunately, not even an explanation justifying the use of police force could pacify Hanauer’s outrage. The Seattle billionaire decided to merely change his tune. All the while revealing even more of his ignorance of county government, Hanauer proceeded to lambast Constantine over what he views as a “militarized police force” and even threatened to “politically shame” those he views as responsible. The Seattle Times,
Hanauer: “My objection isn’t to the raid. My objection is to a Militarized police force. This is a horrible trend in our country and if it is happening in our area then we need to end it. Now. Rolling military vehicles into neighborhoods is totally unacceptable. Who is the sherif (sic)? Who gave them the authority to do this?”
Constantine: “John Urquhart. You likely to voted for him. The power is the police power of the state. It was vested in a separately elected sheriff by a voter approved charter amendment in the 1990s.”
Hanauer: “I’m on it. If this guy has militarized our police force then I am going to make sure that the good people of Seattle know that. And then the shit is going to hit the fan. Find someplace to hide.”
Constantine: “OR we could begin a rational conversation about the militarization of police forces following 9 11, and the contrast with our proven strategy of community policing which is employed throughout the region.”
Informing Hanauer that he had “a couple conversations with Urquhart about police militarization,” Constantine appears to have arranged a “sit-down” between the upset billionaire and the county Sheriff.
According to the Seattle Times, Urquhart said he “wished Hanauer had contacted him directly to begin with instead of texting the county executive to complain.” He then said, “when Nick Hanauer calls, Dow answers.”
While the story is amusing for a number of reasons (Hanauer’s ignorance and Constantine’s obvious annoyance), it does shed light on just how much power a major political donor has over the recipients of his/her generosity. Constantine—however annoyed he is while doing it—bends head over heels to soothe the ruffled feathers his billionaire benefactor. That reality renews the question SHIFT recently asked, how will Democrats like Matt Isenhower owe Tom Steyer, if elected?