Yelling from the Alley about Kitsap SEED

In the mid 1930s my dad’s older brothers had gone to a movie in downtown Denver and were walking around the area afterward. From the alley they heard a man swearing about FDR and Benjamin F. Stapleton, who had recently regained his mayor job after four years away. My uncles went into the alley to see who the man yelling was, and it turned out to be their own father.

Blaine Elmer Gardner had worked for the city of Denver in an inspector role on the highways. He’d blow a whistle and the big trucks would have to stop. He took my dad, who was no older than 4, to work with him from time to time and let him blow the whistle. Dad got a kick out of having these adults obeying his command and later became a police officer, which probably wasn’t as fun.

Grandpa worked for and campaigned for George D. Begole, a Republican who won the job away from Stapleton the Democrat because Denver had ranked choice voting and Stapleton gambled by telling voters to pick him only and no second or third choices. He was by far the first pick among voters, but lost by 900 votes when everything through fourth choice was counted.

Begole was a budget slasher. In 1932, when the nation’s mayors were asking the federal government for a $5 billion loan, Begole argued against it, saying the money should be sent to the states and that the cities would essentially be picking their own pockets, according to a New York Times story.

Begole got to open Denver’s palatial city hall building that had been championed by Stapleton.

When Stapleton was re-elected, hanging on to an employee who had campaigned for the incumbent was a low priority. My grandfather got the boot, sparking his bender.

Here’s some of the irony in the story. According to this site, Stapleton liked the spirits even more than my grandfather.

“It became well-known that Stapleton had a drinking problem both during and after his time as mayor. Stapleton’s peers recalled that he would sometimes eat an entire stick of butter before a night of drinking, allowing him to enjoy more whiskey while avoiding a hangover.”

Grandpa later got work in the WPA, the works program set up by FDR in response to the Great Depression. So in the course of a few years he went from a government job that needed people to relying on a government program based on people needing jobs.

Today’s situation pales in comparison to the Great Depression, but no doubt you’ve heard comparisons to that era in the current climate. When we interviewed those running for Congress prior to the Nov. 4 election, we had a hard time asking them about anything else. FDR’s legacy was debated all over again.

Bringing the issue closer, last night’s town hall on Kitsap SEED brought similar questions to the table. The SEED incubator concept involves creation of a building and a program to help those who might have to build their businesses out of garages in a shared space instead, using the same office staff and equipment.

Some of those opposed to the SEED concept last night, including port commissioner Larry Stokes, based their opposition on the idea that government shouldn’t be assisting new businesses in this way. Stokes wouldn’t have liked it, he said, if someone competing with his business had been boosted by government when he built his business with his own resources.

It’s a fair comment, but this goes back to the question you can ask about other things local governments do, like accepting federal money for local programs. In Utah I covered a city council that deliberated how to disburse CDBG money. One councilman was against the Community Development Block Grant program, but wasn’t going to turn the money down when other cities would gladly take his city’s share.

So would Kitsap voters, assuming this really did go to a vote, or commissioners reject Kitsap SEED based on the argument that government shouldn’t be doing serving that role? Some would, but right now I don’t see that being the deciding factor. I do tend to read the state law as saying ports are about economic development, which is why they’re supposed to do all those things enunciated like improving harbors, rail lines and other channels.

There could be the anti-port default reaction in a vote, but we could hope that voters and commissioners would decide based on the merits of the program being proposed. If you support SEED, the one piece of good news last night was that despite Larry Stokes’ objections to the project, if voters or even just the commissioners in a 2-1 vote go for it, he’ll have the project’s back. He said the three commissioners have agreed to work as a team and support whatever gets approved.

If you’re against SEED, the good news you could take from last night would be that from my perspective, I’m not sure how the commissioners would vote on a vote or the project itself.

What no one seemed to deny last night was that there is no time like now to pursue the kind of technology and energy solutions that a place like SEED could create. The appetite for it hasn’t waned and the election would seem to have ushered in a body politick more bent on firing up the engine than what we’ve had.

Incubators are job machines, said Rand Riedrich, a business adviser with the Small Business Development Center in Bremerton. Businesses that start and succeed typically create permanent homes close to where they launch.

For supporters it’s government creating jobs and expanding the local economy beyond defense. For opponents, it’s picking our own pockets.

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