A Letter To Sheila Brush and QSPS: Four Votes

Ms. Brush is the founder of Quiet Skies Puget Sound and a member of the Des Moines Aviation Committee.

Dear Sheila,

Thank you for your time yesterday. Nice soup. We talked about many things. But the one thing you did not ask me is this: what can you do to help me? I’m wounded. 😀 Not really.

But at the risk of being rude, I’m going to give you an unasked for answer, because it’s a question that should be asked by all your members. In my opinion, everyone around Sea-Tac Airport should be asking their electeds, “How can we support you on airport issues?” And then wait to see what kind of answer they get.

I know that sounds self-serving. And it’s probably rude because it’s the same advice I’ve given you many times before. Except that this time it’s  in a slightly different package because now I’m one of the elected.

Four votes

Here is how your people can best help the cause: Get me four votes.

The single biggest thing that you or your followers can do to help reduce the negative impacts from Sea-Tac Airport is get me four votes on the Des Moines City Council.

At the end of the day, the problems of Sea-Tac Airport will be met by electeds. Behind every wall you run up against is always an elected who is either uninformed or unsympathetic. We spend countless hours trying to educate and convince these people to see our point of view. But the harsh fact is that most of our current electeds are irredeemable. They will never take the negative impacts of Sea-Tac with the same seriousness as they do more typical issues such as public safety, economic development, etc.

The answer is simple: replace these people with electeds who place the airport at the top of their legislative agenda. How is that task any more difficult than the task you have engaged in for so long? (Convincing people to care is a tough job.) Rather, I would suggest that it is much easier to replace than to persuade.

Create QSPS candidates

I’m asking your organisation to do as other successful advocacy organisations do. Start spending a significant portion of your time and treasure by identifying, grooming and then actively supporting the candidates who will achieve the goals you’ve set. Even though it will take away time and energy from other activities, the net effect will be much more effective in the long run because you will be bringing your proposals to genuinely sympathetic ears–connected to bodies that can actually change law.

This means publicly calling out all the City Councils for what they are:  uncommitted and ineffective. As I told you last night, to one degree or another, current electeds engage on airport issues exactly the way the Port Of Seattle does with Cities: with the appearance of engagement. Regardless of what they may say,  electeds tend to only do things they think will not put their Port Of Seattle grants at risk. The fact that they act with that desire upper-most in their minds should tell the public everything they need to know. In short: your Cities value those relatively small grants far more than they do protecting the public from the noise and pollution. And that is why we have so much trouble making progress. Despite what any electeds may say, their actions demonstrate that their priorities are 180 degrees out of alignment with protecting their residents from the negative impacts of Sea-Tac Airport.

My experience

I ran for City Council in Des Moines because my City is performing terribly on airport issues. I had no great desire to run or hold office. I decided to run ten minutes before the deadline because it dawned on me that someone needed to start acting on my advice. During my campaign, I knocked on close to 6,000 doors. And until they met me, most residents had no idea what was going on with the SAMP, or if they did, they felt that the problem is intractable.  I blame the City for that.

But other people would push back. They would explicitly mention that the City had partnered with QSPS, the amazing Sheila and the wonderful Steve. “Look at all the committees they are working on so tirelessly on behalf of the City Of Des Moines! JC, you should stop lying about this stuff just to get elected and give the City credit for everything it’s trying to do.” (I’m quoting a person with a green ‘Fight The Flight’ lawn sign.)

That rubbish has to stop. The public needs to understand how weak the City’s responses to Sea-Tac have been and how they have used your group and your hard work as a shield to avoid doing anything really useful. In fact, the City Of Des Moines has made our situation much worse because every month we do nothing is another month where the Port Of Seattle  keeps building. What people never seem to bear in mind is that the Port first informed the Cities about the SAMP seven years ago. And if not for people like you raising the alarm, they still would not be.

Now what?

I now have one vote. I need three more to flip my Council to people who will put airport issues at the top of their agenda. That is what it will take to stop the nineteen gates, to get useful mitigation, to do all the things that need doing to secure the health of our community. Maybe that means new people in 2021. Or maybe groups like QSPS can simply put the fear of God in the current Council Members. I honestly don’t care so long as I get four votes.

And that’s just Des Moines. The same problems exist, to one degree or another, in SeaTac, Federal Way, Burien and Normandy Park. Some cities are doing better than others, but all could do with at least some change in personnel. And anyone who wants my help to get four votes in any of the six communities will find me more than willing to donate my time and energy.

Your job is to get your people to understand that if you want to win you all need to become political activists. This has been the problem all along. The issue is not noise and pollution, it’s politics. You never needed more ‘facts’. You simply needed to  get electeds who can actually hear you.

The organiser problem

Frankly, one great difficulty for organisers is that most people, they do what they want to do, not what is actually most useful for a given cause. As adults, we get to choose where to volunteer. We get to choose which charities to donate to. No authority tells us how best to spend our time. And that generally works because there are enough people to cover all the bases.

But there simply are not enough people working on airport problems to allow everyone to do as their heart sees fit and actually get something accomplished. Your goal, the goal of every successful organiser is to lead. You have to tell your followers (yes, I used the word ‘tell’, you’re the boss) what you need from them.

And what you need–what I need–is four votes in Des Moines; and then in all the other airport communities.

All politics is local

There’s one other thing you can do for me, which I should have said before. You can educate your followers that this is our problem. From my perspective it looks as though all the Quiet Skies groups focus on national legislation on the problems that all major airports seem to share. That all sounds very nice, but it creates the appearance that the only fights are national fights. In my opinion, the most important fights are here at Sea-Tac. And they will be won or lost by City Councils; not Senators and Congressmen.

You cannot get the public engaged by branding this primarily as a national problem. All politics is local. None of the residents care about the vast implications of FAA rules concerning Metroplex Airspaces. They just care about the bullshit raining down over their house and their kids.

Sure it’s tempting to think that someone like Adam Smith will craft a piece of legislation that solves our problems from on high and cut through the decades of inaction at our local level. Not gonna happen anytime soon. But even if it did, it would still be left to locals to implement and monitor for compliance. So even then you need good local electeds or you’re sunk.

QSPS is key

Your people need to start believing again that the answer is right here. They’ve lost heart because they don’t see clear goals at the local level. Here is the goal: get me four votes. Get four votes on every City Council. And I promise you, the situation will improve dramatically and quickly.

Your organisation is the key to winning. You’re the regional brand.  Use your great talent and that brand recognition to get the people we need in office. Not just for the next election cycle, but for every election cycle from now on.

It’s a culture going back sixty years

The thing your people do not seem to grasp is that this is a conflict that has gone on for almost sixty years. Groups like Quiet Skies have sprung up for every airport expansion since 1961. Citizen groups spring boldly into action, then die off after the building is done. And we’re left with the same politicians who don’t think too much about the airport. That is why the Port always wins. It’s not that they are so powerful, it’s that we forget! The single best thing you could do for our region would be to help change this culture: Make it so that every jerk like me who runs for any office in this area has to address airport issues. Work to make ‘airport issues’ as important to getting elected as ‘public safety’ now is. Above all, don’t be passive. Don’t be an idiot like me and decide to support someone ten minutes before the filing deadline. Identify the people you need years ahead of the next election. Groom them. Get them across the finish line. You can do that as well as anyone.


Am I being bossy? Maybe so. But we’ve run out of time. Waiting for people to organically come round to the need for political engagement is no longer an option. But for what it’s worth, I just drank my own own kool-aid. My idea of entertainment is not working on an openly hostile City Council for the next four years. So I think I’ve at least the right to ask others to help me to succeed on their behalf.

And what I need is four votes in 2021.

Best Regards,


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