Three candidates are seeking the appointment to fill the soon-to-be-open state rep seat in Seattle's 43rd Legislative District; current Rep. Jamie Pedersen (D-43, Capitol Hill) is a shoo-in to fill mayor-elect state Sen. Ed Murray's open seat.

The district's roughly 200 precinct committee officers (PCOs) will make their pick tonight; the King County Council officially makes the appointment, but is sure to sign off on the district's choice.

The three candidates are: King County budget staffer and education activist Cristina Gonzalez; 43rd District Chair, former techie, and UW law student Scott Forbes; and Gates Foundation program officer and Princeton grad and Fulbright scholar Brady Walkinshaw. (Walkinshaw, who is Cuban-American, has been endorsed by Rep. Pedersen.) The first candidate to get a simple majority wins; with three announced candidates, it will probably take a couple of votes to get there.

In anticipation of tonight's meeting, where the candidates will first be grilled by a trio of 43rd activists, including the ebullient and acerbic co-Vice Chair for Communications Michael Maddux, we had a few general and customized questions for the candidates ourselves.

The general questions:

1) What was the biggest legislative success of the 2013 session? (Everyone's a critic, and so we thought it'd be too much of a softball to ask what the biggest failure was and get hit with a bunch of platitudes about the DREAM Act or gun control or the Reproductive Parity Act; and we have different question about the transportation package anyway. More important, forcing the candidates to identify a success among the disappointing session is a good way to get a peek at what's truly important to them and also let's us know if they were actually paying attention.

2) What's your assessment of Gov. Jay Inslee's first year?

3) Given that the pending transit package overwhelmingly focuses on roads ($9 billion out of the $12.3 billion package would go to new road construction and $1 billion would go to maintain roads with only $114 million going to transit, plus, if voters go for it, a local option to save Metro), should we just skip it go w/ Dow Constantine's alternative Vehicle License Fee and sales tax option for Metro instead? This of course, offers a bit of a Solomonic Choice: The VLF and sales tax are regressive.

As for the tailored questions, we based those on the candidates' personal statements.

• We asked Gonzalez, who's all about education, what she thought about this year's K-12 budget (did the legislature take a good first pass at meeting the State Supreme Court's McCleary mandate to fully fund education? ... we broke down the numbers, and we don't think so ...) and if she thought the levy swap (in which state property taxes would supplant local funding) should be in the mix.

• We asked Forbes, whose personal statement was kind of vague, to offer more specific to-dos.

• And we asked Walkinshaw, who had the standard rap about fixing the regressive tax system, for his actual plan to fix it.

1) What was the biggest legislative success of the 2013 session?

Forbes:

I don’t know if “success” is the right word, but I thought it was important that we increased state funding for higher education by 12 percent in the 2013-15 budget.  Last year Washington dropped to 49th out of 50 in per-student funding for higher education, and state funding dropped from covering two-thirds of the cost of getting a four-year degree to putting two-thirds of the burden on students instead. We need to restore higher education funding to pre-recession levels, and that’ll be my top priority in Olympia.

Gonzalez:

I believe that for our region and our state to remain economically competitive and for our residents to maintain a high quality of life, we need affordable access to health care for ALL our residents. Currently in King County, life expectancy differs by ZIP code and income level by as much as 10 years and students in south King County have lower graduation rates; these outcomes are inherently and morally wrong and I believe that the lack of affordable and equitable access to health care for some communities plays a major role in producing these outcomes.

I believe that being medically insured should not depend on your income level, and that as a basic human right, it should be equitably distributed.

So, I think the legislature's decision to expand Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act is one of the greatest accomplishments in 2013 and one on which we should build. It is exciting that Apple Health will cover 250,000 newly eligible low-income people in the new year (at no cost to the state for the first two years). This increased access to health care will help to decrease health and life expectancy disparities in our region. I hope that states that haven’t increased Medicaid due to political strife (e.g. Texas, Louisiana, etc.) will follow our lead.

Walkinshaw:

In the last session, I was glad to see the Legislature reach bipartisan agreement on $300 million of new revenue. These funds put new money into higher education, preventing year-over-year tuition increases for the first time in decades. While this is a welcome development, we need to continue pushing to return state funding for our Universities to pre-2009 levels. 

2) What's your assessment of Gov. Jay Inslee's first year?

Forbes:

I think Gov. Inslee is leading our state in the right direction, and deserves credit for (among other things) making our state's health-care exchange one of the major success stories of the Obamacare rollout.  I think Inslee's “Working Washington” budget proposal set the right priorities for our state government—investing in education, growing our economy, improving efficiency, and delivering vital services for children, seniors and the disabled—and he played a vital role in getting our state budget passed.  Gov. Inslee also continues to be a leader on clean energy, as he has been throughout his political career, and I look forward to working with him on energy and environmental issues.

Gonzalez:

I appreciate Governor Inslee’s long-term vision, especially his understanding of education, the economy, environmental protection and how they each individually and collectively play a role in creating a healthy economy and sustainable communities. He understands the long-term nature of these challenges (to provide equitable access to education, to protect our environment from economic externalities, and our need for a strong middle class in order to have a strong economy) and he has, in my opinion, laid the groundwork for creating impactful course trajectory in each of these.

I will eagerly watch Governor Inslee’s implementation of Results Washington, his performance management system. I’ll be excited to see how he uses data in order to make our state government more efficient, effective and accountable to the taxpayers. I believe that this system is focusing on the most important issues, including education, services for safe communities, the environment, and the economy. And as an economist and budget wonk, I’ll be excited to see how he uses this data to improve budget decision-making and service delivery.

Walkinshaw:

Governor Inslee has engaged on a range of important issues, and I am most excited by his emphasis on addressing climate change, from exploring a Washington State cap-and-trade program to the recent western-states agreement on CO2. These are important steps in the right direction, and I believe they will pay dividends in the months and years to come.

3) What do you make of the pending transportation package? Should we just go with King County Executive Dow Constantine's local Plan B to save Metro?

Forbes:

Yes. The Senate’s transportation package is a non-starter, with 76 percent of $12.3 billion spent on building and expanding roads, only 17 percent on maintaining existing roads, and less than 2 percent on transit, bicycle, and pedestrian projects.  The Senate package doesn’t address our 21st-century transportation needs, doesn’t do enough to maintain our existing roads and bridges, and isn’t a reasonable starting point for negotiating to a pro-transit outcome.

I strongly believe the legislature should authorize a progressive funding option for King County transit, and the package does provide a Motor Vehicle Excise Tax option—but that carrot alone doesn’t justify a package that fundamentally fails to meet our transit needs.  King County’s “Plan B” proposal, which funds Metro with regressive-but-available sources, allows us to come back to the table in Olympia when our existing Metro services aren’t being used as a bargaining chip.

Gonzalez:

A state transportation package that focuses on roads and ignores the real transportation needs of this entire region is unacceptable. The long-term solution for this region’s growing population, climate change challenges and economic mobility goals is increased and safe, reliable transit. We need Metro to be fully funded; we need the taxing authority to fund Sound Transit 3 so that we can build light rail to the heaviest travel corridors; we need Metro to be fully funded and to work in complement with light rail; we need funding to maintain our existing road and bridge infrastructure (e.g. South Park Bridge); we need for our transportation legislation to not gut our existing environmental protections; we need increased funding for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.

We need the state’s transportation legislation to address these needs, especially our dire need to save Metro in the immediate future. A viable transportation package from the state should give King County voters the option to appropriately fund Metro; the county’s preferred option is to ask the voters to increase the motor vehicle excise tax (MVET). If there is no local option, then the county should look for appropriate ways to save metro, including considering the transportation benefit district (TBD), which (as you point out) would fund Metro bus service and roads in cities and unincorporated King County via a sales tax and a flat annual vehicle license fee.

Walkinshaw:

The pending transportation package has many deficiencies, from its repeal of prevailing wage provisions to its diversion of funds for stormwater systems. As a legislator, I would work in good faith to achieve a better package that addresses these deficiencies and includes immediate tax authorization for King County to avoid Metro cuts. However, if we cannot negotiate a better package, I believe that the Seattle delegation should support King County in pursuing the proposed ‘Plan B’ to close the Metro funding gap.

And now the customized candidate questions.

Here's Forbes, who I asked to get more specific, not getting more specific:

My legislative priorities are to restore higher education funding, provide stable funding sources for King County Metro, promote investment in clean energy, pass the DREAM Act and the Reproductive Parity Act, raise the state minimum wage, and improve our state’s regressive tax structure.  I’ll also be working to build a better Democratic Party:  I think that making our party more effective and more progressive is the key to solving many of the issues we’re facing, and the work I’ve done with the 43rd District Democrats reflects that.

Here's Gonzalez, who ignored our specific question about the levy swap, on education funding:

The "first pass" at meeting McCleary is just that—I believe that it is a solid first pass at meeting our "paramount duty to make ample provision for the education of ALL children residing within its borders" but that we still have a long way to go. This first pass didn’t do enough to decrease class size or to effectively fund costly transportation/bussing. We have much work to do, per the ruling, in order to fulfill the requirements of funding full-day kindergarten by 2018, decreasing class size, and funding operating costs. We should be proud of having one of the strongest constitutional mandates in funding education and own up to that commitment.

And here's Walkinshaw, asked to get specific about fixing our regressive tax system, proposing a capital gains tax:

In the short term, I believe that we need to pass a Washington State capital gains tax to make our revenue system more fair. I think that the McCleary ruling offers us a lever to negotiate this tax. Sooner or later, majorities in both houses will have to accept that we cannot meet our obligations under McCleary without additional revenue. We should propose a modest capital gains tax that directs its proceeds to K-12 education. The 2013 Washington State Supreme Court ruling striking down the supermajority requirement for new revenue puts this option within reach.

In the long term, we need more comprehensive revenue reform through a Washington State income tax. I think that our first attempt at an income tax should be revenue-neutral: any income tax should come with equivalent reductions in sales and/or business and occupation taxes. Practically speaking, this will require recruiting and defending legislators who favor an income tax, persuading legislators who don’t, and extensive lobbying by citizens for a more progressive tax code.

Tonight's meeting is at 415 Westlake Ave N. at 7:00 p.m.

And, says one of tonight's inquisitors, Maddux: "Assuming there are no major hiccups, we are aiming for the final vote to occur before 9:00 p.m." 

Seattle's liberal 43rd represents: Pike Place, Denny Regrade, Capitol Hill, Broadway, Madison Park, Washington Park, Broadmoor, Montlake, University District, Wallingford, Fremont, and downtown Seattle.

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