From left, Shannon Braddock and Joe Nguyen.

In the race to become the next state senator for the 34th Legislative District, one candidate could be the only single mom in the Senate; the other would be the state's first Vietnamese legislator, and first person of color to represent the 34th.

Both Democratic Senate hopefuls—Shannon Braddock, deputy chief of staff for King County executive Dow Constantine, and Joe Nguyen, senior manager at Microsoft—are making their case about why representation matters in what might be the most progressive legislative district in the state, which includes West Seattle, White Center, Burien, and Vashon Island. 

"It's really important that women run and women win," Braddock said. 

"The reason why I'm running...it's making sure that [people of color] here have the opportunity to have a voice at the table," said Nguyen. 

Braddock, 49, added that her 11-year-old daughter's excitement about her campaign is "what tipped me over the edge." Among her top priorities: childcare and pay equity. And, touting her experience in government, she said she knows what it takes to pass bills. 

"The problem statement is the easy part. It's the solving the problem, and taking all of that anger and motivation, and turning it into action that is the hard part," she told PubliCola. "I know how to work with people I don't agree with all of the time...and be bold, but do it in a way that can actually move legislation."

Nguyen, 35, said he grew up in public housing, his parents are Vietnamese refugees who struggled financially. He believes representatives are disconnected with issues the district is facing, like people being displaced and unable to afford health care.

"I don't believe anybody is fighting on their behalf," Nguyen said. "A person that serves in the 34th has the privilege but also the responsibility to be very progressive, and to be very bold in their actions. It is up to them to push the narrative."  

The August top-two primary eliminated nine other challengers in a crowded race to replace state senator Sharon Nelson, who announced she's stepping down at the end of her term this year. Nguyen came in first with 31.1 percent of the votes; Braddock received 24.7 percent.  

Braddock ran for Seattle City Council member in 2015, having out-raised Lisa Herbold but still lost by a 39-vote margin. Before she worked under Constantine, she was chief of staff for King County Council member Joe McDermott and was a legislative representative for Lafayette PTA. 

So far she's out-raised Nguyen—he said he refused corporate money from lobbyists—by more than double. She's received $168,000 in contributions, compared to Nguyen's $74,000, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission. 

For key issues though, the two candidates don't differ too much. Here's where they stand on some of the biggest challenges facing the state.

A state income tax: Both candidates say they support it, but that they don't see it happening anytime soon. They say they want to implement a capital gains tax and close corporate loopholes. 

State initiatives: Both candidates support all the state initiatives on the November ballot, with one exception—Braddock opposes Initiative 1634 (which prevents local governments from taxing raw or processed foods or beverages), while Nguyen supports it. 

"I actually do believe local municipalities should be able to tax soda," Braddock said. "I do believe there are some equity impacts we should be talking about with these kinds of taxes...[but] I would rather focus on taking taxes away from diapers or tampons." 

"I would vote yes to support the ballot initiative, but only because I think it's done in a way that's not inclusive to the community at large," Nguyen said. While at first he said he would support repealing Seattle's tax, he said he'd still support the measure after clarification that the measure wouldn't repeal the tax but simply prevent other cities from enacting one.

He said growing up, a liter of Sprite soda was his treat because his family couldn't afford cake for dessert. "I want the outcome that they want, but I don't like the way that it's being done...It's done in a way that's obviously affecting communities of color." 

Corporate dollars: Nguyen has criticized Braddock for taking donations from corporations and said he's refused money from lobbyists that have wanted to contribute to his campaign. Like state senator Bob Hasegawa, Nguyen wants to pursue a state bank and said the state would help harvest billions more for public services that's going toward interest right now. (Braddock said she also supports a state bank.)

"I think that people donate to me because they know I'm willing to have a conversation," Braddock said. "I have always supported campaign finance reform."

She has criticized Nguyen for self-financing his campaign, but the PDC shows very little of his contributions are self-funded. Nguyen himself has paid $1,527 in in-kind contributions.

Top priorities: Both brought up progressive taxation as a top priority for them, which included a capital gains tax, education equity, and health care access; Braddock said she'd try to close corporate loopholes and find money for the "working families" sales tax exemption, legislation passed in 2008 meant to help low-income households but never funded. Nguyen said he'd want to decrease sales and property taxes, as well as business & occupations tax for small businesses.

Braddock said she'd prioritize acting on homelessness and housing affordability; childcare access, which she said has a direct impact on pay equity; and investing in preventative work through behavioral health. She said the state needs more frontline workers to assist before individuals getting to the point of needing care from institutions like Western State Hospital. 

Nguyen said he would prioritize affordable health care access by enacting a health care trust and working toward a single-payer system. Other top issues for him are police reform; repealing Initiative 200, which prevents affirmative action (racial or gender preferences in state or local government); and codifying language that prevents agencies from collaborating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Education funding: Nguyen, whose wife is a public school teacher, said he wants to improve teachers' salaries to better improve morale and avoid turnover, and to also address the opportunity gap between students of color and white students in the state's school districts. 

Braddock said the state must stop relying on sales and property taxes to fund education and look again at how the state allocates money for special education and the region; she said it was unfair that Vashon Island received less money, which makes it more challenging to recruit teachers. 

Public records: Both candidates said they want records at the state legislature to be publicly disclosable and support media outlets' attempts to access hundreds of important records. 

"We have to absolutely support it and I have," Braddock said. "I live under these rules at the county. Where there are state exemptions, there are not exemptions at the local level."

"The reason why there's a lack of faith in our local leaders right now and a lack of faith in their ability to spend the money wisely is because there is a lot of politics at play that's done behind the scenes," Nguyen said. "I want to make sure that our politicians are held accountable. That means making sure that stuff is public record and is transparent."  

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