Anne Levinson has had an impressive public service and civic career. Among her notable successes, she chaired the statewide campaign that stopped the attempted repeal of the state’s domestic partnership law. The repeal effort was defeated, making Washington state the first state in the nation to affirm family recognition for LGBT families by a public vote and included several campaign finance and disclosure lawsuits, including the case of Doe v. Reed that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The case was initiated when anti-LGBT organizations collected signatures to get the referendum on the ballot then sued to keep the names on those petitions secret, arguing that if the names were public record “The Gays Would Do Bad Things” to them. By an 8-1 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed Washington state’s obligation to publicly disclose the names of those who sign initiative and referenda petitions.
Levinson was recently appointed to a five-year term on the Washington Public Disclosure Commission by Gov. Jay Inslee.
Levinson, a lesbian, was one of Washington’s first out public officials. She served as a judge, as the Chair of the state’s Utilities & Transportation Commission, and in several roles for the City of Seattle, including Legal Counsel, Chief of Staff and Deputy Mayor for Mayor Norm Rice. Since retiring from the bench, she has consulted for governments and courts, and currently is in her second three-year term as an advisor to the City of Seattle providing review of police misconduct investigations. She also led the effort to keep the WNBA Seattle Storm in Seattle and was the initial chair of the local ownership group.
My conversation with Levinson on her new appointment follows.
What are some important issues that you think you will be reviewing as a part of the PDC?
Our state has strong laws requiring public disclosure of contributions and expenditures for campaigns, candidates, elected officials and lobbyists. The PDC is responsible for helping ensure the laws are complied with through education, information and enforcement. The public and the media need access to accurate, immediate information in order to help voters make informed decisions about who may be influencing elections and legislation. Campaigns need robust data in order to make sure everyone is playing by the rules. In today’s world, lag time in transparency doesn’t meet the public’s needs. The PDC has a critical role to play in making sure information can be tracked, viewed and analyzed in as close to real time as possible.
How do you think the Citizens United ruling has affected elections locally and nationally?
It was the latest in a series of decisions from this Supreme Court knocking down campaign finance laws that collectively have significantly affected public trust in government. Corporations can now give money for specific purposes that were prohibited before. Donors and amounts are even more opaque than they were, which is concerning to anyone who cares about the integrity and transparency of government. Citizens United left the average voter or small donor feeling even less able to have a voice while giving more unrestricted access to those with wealth who are unanswerable to any institution.
Campaign spending is among several elements of our governance systems where many feel the rules are not fair and even. Whether it is disparity in wages, housing foreclosures, criminalization of poverty or excessive influence by large donors with regard to elected officials, we are increasingly seeing frustration from people who don’t have the same access or resources who are feeling like the systems within our society are rigged and that their voices are not being heard.
Do you feel with the greater of amount of money flowing that it makes the job of the PDC harder?
Absolutely, it’s opened the door to a greater influx of money that is harder to track and to understand its impact and influence. It affects local, state and national elections and makes disclosure requirements even more important.
As far as Doe v. Reed goes, do you feel that anti-marriage/anti-LGBT advocates were discouraged by having their names disclosed?
In my experience, people who want to narrow rights of others don’t get frustrated easily. These folks tried time after time with multiple attempts through initiatives and referenda to roll back the progress we had made toward equality and dignity for all Washingtonians. Just since 2006, we kept them from rolling back the non-discrimination law, the domestic partnership law and the marriage equality law. In Doe, the Court required them to comply with open records laws and none of the terrible consequences they predicted would happen to signers ever occurred.
How do you balance the need for objectivity and independence in the court room while acknowledging your own political distinction and views?
When in a judicial or quasi-judicial role, one must set aside personal and political views and make decisions based on the law and facts. It’s imperative that all parties are treated fairly and that decision-makers understand the tenets of procedural justice. For these PDC appointments, the Governor selected two former judges who brought that experience and who also have an understanding of the political and legal landscape regarding the issues addressed by the PDC.
What challenges do you think the LGBT community still faces in Seattle?
The larger challenges facing us as a community are national and international. While marriage equality is a huge victory, on the immediate horizon the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling portends a wave of attempts to allow discriminatory behavior through so-called religious exemptions to laws protecting LGBT Americans.
We still need to pass a federal law prohibiting discrimination in employment, address ongoing inequities and safety issues for the Trans community, reform the child welfare and juvenile justice systems’ approach to LGBT youth in their care, tackle issues faced by LGBT seniors, minimize harm caused by hospital consolidations that threaten access for LGBT health care needs, and stand up for those in countries where their very lives remain at risk simply for being LGBT. And addressing income inequality, racial and gender disparity and reproductive rights should be an integral part of the LGBT community’s advocacy.
Do you feel that the LGBT community locally and statewide has enough representation in government?
We’ve been fortunate to have folks in both local and statewide positions, but we need to take care not to get complacent. Having a voice at the table in elective and appointive office always matters.
What do you hope to accomplish with your new appointment?
I hope to play a role in helping empower voters and the public by making sure there is as much transparency and accountability as possible in elections and in governance.