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caption: James Burdyshaw at Egg Studios.
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James Burdyshaw at Egg Studios.
Credit: Photo courtesy of Jim Tillman and James Burdyshaw

Washington views on the 2020 election: The evolution of a Seattle musician and his vote

As the 2020 election approaches, KUOW is asking Washington state voters what they think about the candidates and the issues that are important to them.

KUOW is presenting these voices as the opinions and the perspectives which inform people's votes in 2020.

James Burdyshaw is a Seattle musician and consistent Democratic voter. He was born and raised in Seattle; the longest time he spent away from the city was an eight-week trip to Europe.

Issues/perspective: Joe Biden was not his first choice for the Democratic presidential nominee, but he will still vote for him. His top priority is to get Donald Trump out of the White House. He fears that many progressives won't vote where it counts this time around because their preferred candidates aren't the nominee, and that will help Trump win again.

caption: KUOW is speaking with voters across Washington state, from very different perspectives, about the 2020 election.
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KUOW is speaking with voters across Washington state, from very different perspectives, about the 2020 election.
Credit: Dyer Oxley / KUOW

James Burdyshaw has evolved over the years – politically, musically, pragmatically. But whether he was working a minimum wage job, playing in a band at the height of the Seattle ’90s scene, or contracted as a business analyst, one thing has remained the same – he votes Democrat.

“I always vote. I’m a Democrat, liberal …. I’ve never voted for a Republican in my life because they seem to be way too corporatist,” Burdyshaw said.

For those familiar with the Seattle music scene, Burdyshaw’s name may sound familiar. He's played in a range of bands since he was a teenager in the 1980s, such as 64 Spiders, Cat Butt, and Sinister Six to name a few.

“When I was young I worked crappy jobs, minimum wage work. I never saw a way out of it,” he said. “The things I cared about, I loved, were writing and playing music and I didn’t see a path to financial success. Even though, obviously being in a Seattle band I played shows with guys who got really rich. I can tell you, they didn’t think they were going to get really rich. Matt Cameron (Soundgarden/Pearl Jam/Temple of the Dog) is an old friend of mine. Back in 1986, he and I were in the parking lot of the Lincoln Arts Center drinking beer and a cop car pulled up in front of us and we had to toss our beers. And I can tell you for a fact, he did not think that he would be in the position he is now.”

caption: James Burdyshaw on guitar.
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James Burdyshaw on guitar.
Credit: Photo courtesy of Andrew Kvenvolden and James Burdyshaw

Growing up, Burdyshaw adopted much of his mother’s politics. She was a single mom, working as a waitress and bartender to raise her son.

“She always felt the system was tilted against her … discriminated against and victimized by society,” he said, adding that there was a “permeating sense of ‘glass half-empty;’ not a lot of opportunity, not a lot of hope because the powers that be which were tied to money, wealth and privilege, were denied to me and my mom. I mean, we were white, but it was very classist. So I had that indoctrinated in my brain all growing up as a kid.”

“When I was young, I was very far left – pro-Socialist politics.

"I grew up around unions. I grew up poor so I had, and I still have, a pretty strong stance in terms of social responsibility for the good of the whole,” Burdyshaw said.

"I find it hard in my pragmatic mind to believe that the largest capitalist country in the face of the Earth, with as much of a corporatist mindset as the United States has had, can become a left-of-center social democratic model in the vein of European countries.

"I don’t think there is enough will from people who earn six-figure salaries and higher to make that kind of sacrifice so we don’t have rampant poverty, and health care and things like that.”

Burdyshaw attended college, and while still playing in bands at night, he began a career managing business accounts and data reporting, starting at the United Way.

“I realized that once I put as much of my energy into making more than minimum wage as I put into getting my college degree in my late 20s, early 30s, it changed my perspective about what was possible,” he said. “I don’t think my mother ever felt that way. Part of that was that she liked what she did, but it was never going to make her any money.”

“Working at the United Way, I really got first-hand exposure people who need services, who are a lot worse off than I ever was. And I just never forgot that I used to be on free school lunch and food stamps as a kid growing up.”

It’s that experience that informs Burdyshaw’s votes, which he says he aims toward creating a more equitable society. No matter the election year, his core issues are generally the same: Working to get people to pay their fair share of taxes. Then using tax money on services for people who need them, schools, housing, college programs, and health care.

But most important to him in 2020 is voting Donald Trump out of office.

“What’s important to me is that we get rid of the current occupant in the White House,” Burdyshaw said. “That gentleman has no business ever being elected president. He’s a complete fool, and a racist, misogynist, completely idiotic, vain, narcissistic. It’s just embarrassing.”

2020 election

Burdyshaw is currently concerned that many of his fellow left-leaning voters will give their votes to candidates who, in his opinion, cannot win. He says that will ultimately help Trump stay in office. He likens the situation to the 2000 election – also a tight presidential race with high-profile, third-party candidates. The election ultimately went to Republican George W. Bush.

“If you are going to vote for Bernie or Warren and nobody else, or a third party … (it's) a vote that does nothing … at least if you vote for a Democrat, the overarching philosophy for most Democrats is to invest in social programs that help the less fortunate,” he said.

Burdyshaw favored Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary, but he knew that no matter who the Democratic nominee was, he was going to vote for them. That candidate appears to be Joe Biden. Burdyshaw is aware that it is a bit ageist, but he worries about Biden’s age, and feels that he is not always the strongest candidate.

Those concerns have been eased since the addition of Kamala Harris as the vice president on the ticket. He notes that in her short time as a senator, Harris has worked across the aisle on bi-partisan goals. That is encouraging to him.

“I was never a huge Joe Biden fan, but I loved Barack Obama so I can see why Obama brought him on the ticket and I think he was a decent vice president. He’s got some good values. He’s a good, solid centrist Dem. But I’m glad Kamala Harris is the vice presidential nominee. I would have voted Kamala Harris for president if I could have.”

“I know some people who are very, very ‘Bernie or nothing,’ or ‘Warren or nothing’ and they are all upset,” he said. “They think Kamala Harris is some kind of centrist, neo-liberal. I’ve even heard people say she is just as bad as a Republican. There’s a very easy way to see how she’s voted or what she’s done as attorney general of California, and it’s a lot more liberal than people realize …. She’s really intelligent. I think her positions, deep down, I think she has a liberal, socially-minded conscience for the country. But she’s still a capitalist and she’s not going to go hog wild.”

“I think voting Democrat is a sure fire way to getting some stuff done, maybe not everything … I think Progressives should keep pushing for more, that’s good, but I don’t think Progressives should be so dogmatic that it’s ‘revolution or nothing.’ That’s my biggest fear, is that there is going to be so much of that, like there was in 2016, they are going to let more of the clown, populist right wingers like Trump ascend to power and screw things up.”