State Representative Brady Piñero Walkinshaw (D-43, Capitol Hill) released a campaign ad this week in his run for U.S. Congress against state senator Pramila Jayapal (D-37, Southeast Seattle) that Jayapal supporters condemned as racist and sexist. Watch it here. The ad highlights a study that ranked Jayapal as the most ineffective state senator in Olympia. The ad, featuring an array of women who support Walkinshaw, also criticizes Jayapal for being absent during too many votes, including the final budget vote. (I reported on that accurate charge before and gave Jayapal the microphone to explain.)
In response, Jayapal supporters like state senator Sharon Nelson (D-34, West Seattle) said Walkinshaw had crossed a line.
As a woman in office, I’m really saddened to see desperate, Trump-style attacks on women and their accomplishments being used here in Washington state. Sen. Jayapal’s opponent and his allies have launched demeaning personal attacks on Pramila, diminishing her accomplishments. I call on Representative Walkinshaw to stop the dog whistle language, stop the dark money attack ads, and get back to talking about his own record. The 7th Congressional District deserves a positive campaign on real issues, not the same baseless attacks we see at the Presidential level.
(The two progressive state legislators are running to succeed longtime U.S. representative Jim McDermott [D-WA, 7], who’s retiring after nearly 30 years in office.)
Other Jayapal supporters—such as city council member Lorena Gonzalez, union members, social justice advocates, and a couple more of Jayapal’s state senate colleagues—held a press conference yesterday criticizing Walkinshaw for going negative.
And Jayapal criticized me. I went on KUOW Monday evening and said I didn’t think Walkinshaw’s ad was negative; I said I thought Walkinshaw was simply playing offense.
“Seriously?” Jayapal said in a message she sent me at midnight last night.
She wanted to know why I hadn’t fact-checked the study Walkinshaw cites in his ad. Walkinshaw’s ad cites FiscalNote, a nonpartisan group in DC that uses a data algorithm to measure the success of legislators at the state and federal level. (The Democratic Governor’s Association and Planned Parenthood are among their clients.) They rate Jayapal “very ineffective as a primary sponsor” and in “the bottom 98 percent.” (Footnote, the “bottom 98 percent” actually doesn’t make much sense to me as a stat because that would mean Jayapal’s pretty much on par with every other legislator. I think they mean, she’s in the bottom 98th percentile or bottom two percent; they rank her 49 out of 49 senators.) By the way, they rate Walkinshaw himself as being “in the bottom 51 percent” and “fairly ineffective as a primary sponsor” in the house.
Additionally, Jayapal pointed me to a Facebook post where a voter criticizes the FiscalNote study for missing the fact that Jayapal focuses on legislation that helps marginalized people. Jorge Baron wrote on Facebook:
“If you look at the bills for which Pramila was a prime sponsor in the last two years, you'll see that many focus on issues that disproportionally affect communities of color and which were unlikely to be popular in a chamber controlled by Republicans.”
Anyway, it’s unfortunate that KUOW had to edit down our 15-minute interview to three minutes for radio. In the unedited interview, I actually did challenge the accuracy of the FiscalNote’s report. First, I said I wasn’t familiar with their study’s methodology nor metrics. And second, I pointed out that Jayapal had actually been an effective legislator, specifically talking about her key role improving this year’s giant transportation package and her work passing pro-choice Medicaid reform. And I said that while many of her banner issues like the minimum wage and body camera legislation didn’t pass, they certainly represented Seattle’s progressive values well. Additionally, I pointed out that the state senate has been controlled by the GOP for Jayapal’s entire two years in Olympia.
Given that FiscalNote heavily weights against freshman, it’s no surprise Jayapal got a poor ranking. Having said that, she was being compared to other Democrats in the senate in the same situation—and she did finish last. So Walkinshaw wasn’t making stuff up; it's based on the findings of a credible, nonpartisan group that says his opponent isn’t effective.
“This ad is about legislating, and we’re running to be legislators,” Walkinshaw, who calls the ad a "contrast ad," maintains. “We’re running on our records and if you dig in to our records in state government, you’ll find a difference in what we’ve gotten done.” He notes that his ad isn't just about Jayapal. It cites all his endorsements, particularly one from The Seattle Times, which hypes his legislative successes. Walkinshaw does have an impressive list of things with his name on it such as criminal justice reforms like sentencing reforms for juveniles, Medicaid guarantees for people who’ve served their time, and job discrimination protections for people who’ve served their time. He’s also done good work fighting for drug reform, like getting law enforcement to carry Narcan. And his biggest win is a 2015 piece of legislation known as “Joel’s Law,” which allows families to involuntarily commit loved ones.
I understand why KUOW edited out my largely positive assessment of Jayapal’s record, which also includes a $5.25 million funding win for apprentice programs for women and people of color and a righteous fight against scaling back payday loan regulations. KUOW was doing a campaign tactics story, focusing on Walkinshaw’s political choice to go on the attack, and they didn’t want a he said/she said on whether or not Jayapal was effective. That’s their editorial call. And that’s fine.
As to whether or not Walkinshaw’s ad would work (that was KUOW’s $64,000 question), I concluded that I’d rather be in Jayapal’s shoes right now than in Walkinshaw’s in terms of who’s likely to win.
However, yes, I also said I didn’t think the ad was “negative.”
I wasn’t the only one to say the ad wasn’t negative. Two other middle-aged, white guy pundits like me, Danny Westneat at The Seattle Times and The Stranger’s Dan Savage, both defended Walkinshaw and criticized Jayapal for denouncing the ad.
And therein may be a huge clue that I’ve missed something. Jayapal and many of her supporters hear racist and sexist dog whistles that I likely missed.
Pointing to one of her supporter’s Facebook posts, Jayapal tells me Shetha Alaskar “sums up why many women and POC feel that what Brady did was deeply harmful.”
I'm supporting Pramila Jayapal for Congress, but I view Brady, his campaign team, and many of his supporters as friends and progressive advocates. I think that they fail to understand what it means, in this time of incredible prejudice and bigotry, to have a Muslim woman, an immigrant, running for Congress. They know Brady as a wonderful guy, and they're right, but they don't get how important this is to many of Jayapal's supporters. It's more than politics, it's safety and personhood and a way of advocating for our communities' worthiness of those things.
So going negative, criticizing a woman of color on television, implying that she's incompetent, lazy, and an outsider is let down for all of us. Not just for Pramila's supporters, but for Brady's too. This started as a campaign about values and good people, and I hope that we don't lose that moving forward.
Jayapal isn’t a Muslim, but she was born and raised in India. So Alaskar’s point about coded language against women of color is a worthy critique.
Again, I didn’t hear all that in the ad. And I imagine Walkinshaw, the gay son of Cuban immigrants with a youthful, diverse support base, isn’t intentionally making a dog whistle ad either. He pointed me to this editorial from a Latina writer who criticized Jayapal’s supporters’ response.
But just like I hear antisemitism when Donald Trump leans ominously on Sidney Blumenthal’s name, or felt my Spidey Senses tingle in Walkinshaw’s ad too when we’re told Jayapal was “in New York” raising money, I don’t imagine most people hear what I hear either.
So I’ll defer to communities that did hear racism and sexism in Walkinshaw's ad.
Ultimately, it is shitty that middle-aged white guys like me get to sit back and pontificate about the tactics and nuances in a campaign between two people of color. I believe part of what’s bothering Jayapal’s base is that it’s probably pretty nerve wracking for communities of color to have two people of color facing off in a high stakes election in a largely white city where every sentence, position, and move by the either candidate is monitored. How convenient then for white dudes like me to let a Latino man like Walkinshaw criticize an ascendant woman of color like Jayapal. And then have people of color criticize Walkinshaw back. And then have Walkinshaw criticize them back. And then...