State senator Ed Murray, a Democrat from Capitol Hill’s 43rd legislative district, is best known for passing last year’s historic gay marriage legislation. But Murray, who’s gay, is more of a Democratic policy nerd than a culture warrior, having passed a historic transportation package in the mid-2000s.
Murray was elected Democratic majority leader this year, but then two renegade Democratic senators, Rodney Tom of Medina and Tim Sheldon from Potlatch, joined with the Republicans to form the Majority Coalition Caucus. Since then, Murray’s been making political stands—some quixotic, such as his capital gains tax proposal, his fight for the Washington Dream Act, and his advocacy for the
Reproductive Parity Act—all session long.
Voters have questions about Murray—Does he have a vision for the city? Can he transcend his reputation as a hothead?—but at least one question appears to have been answered: Can Murray, barred from raising money while the legislature was in session, catch up? Reality check: Shortly after he declared, and before the session fundraising freeze kicked in—basically a week—Murray raised a whopping $123,000.
PubliCola: Tell us about your own political trajectory. How do you explain to voters who Ed Murray is in a way that expands on your reputation as a gay rights champion?
Ed Murray: I would point right to transportation, which is one of the challenges the city faces. I became [house transportation] chair after Referendum 51 [a 2002 proposal to raise $8 billion for roads and transit] failed by 20 points. And within a few months, we put together a coalition that had fought each other and got agreement around the nickel package [the 2003 gas-tax increase]. So what did we do there? It had been the longest time in state history without new revenue. Tim Eyman had passed I-695 [which limited car-tab fees to $30], and the Republicans were in control of the state senate and had an all-roads package. And what did we walk away with? We walked away with restored money for transit, restored money for pedestrians, money for the streetcar. Then we went on, two years later, and expanded on that and passed the 9.5 cent gas-tax increase.
PubliCola: Given the current budget constraints, what’s your vision for Seattle’s transportation future?
Murray: We have a major backlog of things that are falling apart that have got to be addressed, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t move forward on transit. There’s going to have to be some prioritization, and I believe we in Seattle can’t simply do it ourselves. I think we have to partner with the region, we have to partner with the state, we have to partner with the feds. We’re a progressive city where great things are happening, but on the civic level, there is not a united, strategic vision for how we move forward on transportation.
I also believe that there is a limit, even in Seattle, to how much we can afford all at once because there are other things in the city in addition to transportation that we’re going to have to go back to the people for.
PubliCola: You have a lot of experience in the partisan state legislature. One concern we have is that you don’t have any experience working at the city level, where the government is nonpartisan.
Murray: I would argue that I’m actually the most experienced candidate in the race as far as experience in government. I’ve worked at the city, I’ve staffed the city council [for former city council member Martha Choe]. I’m the only legislator in history to chair all three budget committees. I’ve worked with the federal delegation. I’ve worked with regional leaders. I think I bring a skill level that is typical of people who I think are very successful mayors.
PubliCola: The issue of excessive force by the police and racially biased policing comes up again and again, and not just with mayor Mike McGinn. What is the police department doing wrong?
Murray: What I think happened is that we elected a mayor who wasn’t com-fortable with and did not understand public safety issues and had a fairly hands-off approach to the police department.
PubliCola: Do you seriously think this is only about McGinn?
Murray: I think it begins there. It is the mayor, the leadership of the police department, that creates a culture, and if people don’t know what’s expected of them in what is basically a semimilitary organization in how it functions, then you’re going to have problems.
First of all, we need to get out of the police academy in South King County, where all the police officers are trained, and open up an academy here and train our own police officers for the city. -Policing in suburban cities—it’s a very different situation than policing in an urban city. If you’re in a suburb, you’re mostly going to be in a car. If you’re in the city of Seattle, we’ve got to continue to move more and more toward policing that isn’t in cars.
I also think that there’s more of a conservative military culture at the police academy. It’s a good academy, it trains good people, but I don’t think it’s getting at working in a multiethnic, urban, dense city.
PubliCola: What do you think of the various plans in South Lake Union? Do you support requiring developers to pay for more workforce housing in exchange for additional density, as the council has proposed?
Murray: I don’t necessarily think we’re asking the right questions, so we end up with this sort of Denser Seattle vs. Lesser Seattle debate, and I don’t think that necessarily has to be an either/or situation. [On South Lake Union] I probably lean more toward where the council is at this point than the McGinn plan. The people who are moving here to work at Amazon and the South Lake Union biotech companies—these aren’t the people who are screaming, “Don’t change things.” These are the people who are saying, “Why can’t we have more [density]?”
“I want a progressive city that is not involved in petty divisions
on issues where people mostly are on the same side.”
PubliCola: Speaking of growth, what do you think of microhousing, or “aPodments”?
Murray: It’s a great idea. I think they could work in many parts of the city. We need to make some strategic decisions about where those developments—whether they’re slim houses or smaller apartments—happen. I don’t think we need a moratorium [on aPodments] to do that, though.
This is what we did in college or right out of college—we got old houses and four or five people would live together. So you can continue to destroy old housing stock or you can actually develop a model that people have been using forever.
PubliCola: How did you first get politicized? Was it during the gay rights movement or when Cal Anderson got elected?
Murray: I’ve been obsessed with politics forever. I was sixth-grade class president, then student body president of my high school.
PubliCola: What was your platform?
Murray: I can’t remember—“I’m not a jock”? There are kids who grew up with me who will tell you this is exactly what Ed said he’s going to do.
The other strain of that is that when I was five, and JFK was running for president, and through those next few years leading up to the assassination, that meant so much to my family—my grandparents all being Irish Catholic immigrants and the sense of second-class citizenship that they all felt. It gave them a sense of affirmation that they were really, fully Americans.
When I first came out, I didn’t do politics. I thought, you can’t be gay and do politics. It was 1980, and there wasn’t anybody.
And then when Cal Anderson went for the appointment as 43rd District state representative, in ’87, and got it, it was like the bookend of the JFK experience for my family. [It showed] someone like me can actually be in politics.
PubliCola: Some people would say, “Ed Murray really screwed up this session. He was the majority leader of the senate, and the Republican-dominated Majority Coalition Caucus pulled the carpet out from under him.”
Murray: My response is that we’ve been mostly successful at messaging, which is one of the things the minority does, and stopping some of the things they wanted to do, like their attack on middle-class programs. They wanted to kill the Guaranteed Education Tuition program, and GET’s going to survive. A bunch of education bills that were a direct attack on our public school system either got better or they died. Most of the workers’ comp bills died. So I think we’ve been effective in the minority.
PubliCola: As someone who’s never served in city office before, what’s your vision for Seattle?
Murray: I want a progressive city that is not involved in petty divisions on issues where people mostly are on the same side. I think we’ve become about small things and not big things. You’ve always got to take care of the small things—basics do matter, because when infrastructure fails, it’s the poor who suffer most—but if you only hang out in the potholes, if you only hang out in the traffic circles, then you miss a big opportunity to move forward as a city.
I want to challenge the city to think bigger than petty little beefs about my version of transit versus your version of transit, my version of how we want to end homelessness versus your version of how we want to end homelessness.
I heard the mayor on the radio recently slapping down the council over some aspect of a plan to end homelessness. It was like he was the savior of homeless people and they were against homeless people. That’s just got to stop. Maybe one [strategy]’s more effective than the other, but to question the commitment of the council towards the homeless in the city—it’s a game that is being played throughout the city among all sorts of groups and at all sorts of levels, and we’ve got to be bigger than that.
Published: June 2013