Howard Schultz wants to run for president as that curious but hardy perennial, the un-politician.
“I strongly believe we are living in a time that demands a re-imagining of our current political system,” Schultz said. Politics in America is “broken” and in dire need of repair, from the outside in, he said.
So it wasn’t too surprising to discover that he personally is a practitioner of un-politics. As in: not voting.
State and county election records show that going back to 2005, Schultz has cast a ballot in just 11 of 38 elections. This isn’t the worst voting record I’ve seen in a political candidate. But neither does it suggest someone actively involved in ballot-box democracy over the years.
Schultz has at least voted in every election for the office he’s now seeking, the presidency. He also voted in the most recent midterms, in 2018. But he has skipped most of the state and local elections over the years, as well as some of the big midterms (such as in 2014, when Republicans retook the U.S. Senate, and 2006, when Democrats “blue-waved” the Bush administration).
He also passed up voting in Seattle municipal elections for mayor and city council most years, including in 2005 — right when he was petitioning City Hall for money to rebuild a basketball arena for the Sonics, which he co-owned. In fact, he sat out all the municipal elections in the period he owned the Sonics — 2001, 2003 and 2005.
He also didn’t vote during an election that featured a measure targeting him. Initiative 91, which passed in Seattle in 2006, sought to bar public subsidies for sports arenas. Schultz had sold the Sonics a few months before the vote, so maybe he didn’t care anymore at that point.
This is all a little awkward, because a couple of years ago, when Starbucks rolled out a voter participation drive, Schultz said this: “It’s not just about who will be the next occupant of the White House. More Americans should participate in all elections, even those for city councils and school boards.”
Now many of you are probably reading along and saying, “Dude, the current president pays off porn stars and files for bankruptcy like a two-bit casino boss! Which he also was! And you’re slagging Schultz for … not voting?”
Fair point. Lowering the deviancy bar is Trump’s great gift to politicians for years to come.
But Schultz’s lackluster voting history does suggest a certain trope — the business executive who’s above the messy political fray, but also somehow most qualified to swoop in and fix it.
“There is a particular type of personality and ego type that ends up being a charismatic business leader,” said Nick Hanauer, another Seattle gazillionaire who waded into politics. “These people are usually the last people you would want to put in charge of a democratic process.”
Hanauer wrote on Twitter, referring to Schultz’s candidacy, that the two disciplines require “profoundly different skills.” Business execs get to “define the goals, the culture, the terms of service, everything. If people do not comply, you fire them.” Whereas in politics, power is diffuse, “where literally no one has to do what you say, and many people actively are trying to subvert you.”
Recently a slew of big-name business execs have made political bids pitching roughly Schultz’s same “fix it from above” approach. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but they were all weak voters, too.
Such as former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, who ran for Senate and the presidency but got dinged for voting in only six of 14 elections. Or former eBay executive Meg Whitman, who ran for Senate but apparently went without voting at all for decades.
Trump himself had voted in 20 of 41 elections, according to The Washington Post, at the time he announced his campaign in 2015. That’s low, but still a higher voting rate than Schultz.
To compare, I checked our other wannabe presidential candidate, Gov. Jay Inslee. You probably could guess: Sunny Jay, the golden retriever of state politics, is a perfect voter. He cast ballots in an incredible 38 of 38 elections going back to 2005, including in the most tedious off-year affairs, for things such as county fingerprint systems and school-district director.
Of course, it doesn’t mean Inslee would make a good president (or that Schultz necessarily wouldn’t). But it does show a certain respect for the old-fashioned ballot-box grunt work that, we tell ourselves anyway, is still supposed to be the backbone of this entire enterprise.
Danny Westneat is an opinion columnist for The Seattle Times.