Morning Fizz

Jayapal to Announce She's Running for Jim McDermott's Seat

The state senator is set to jump in to the U.S. house race.

By Josh Feit January 21, 2016

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UPDATE: Jayapal officially announced her candidacy this afternoon in a crowded room filled with supporters at Seattle Central Community College.

She got a rock star feting from her supporters, including her husband, United Food and Commercial Workers union leader Steve Williamson who emceed the event. Jayapal's liberal colleague, state senator David Frockt, also spoke. Frockt said Jayapal had "the whole game," referring to the fact that he believed her progressive politics were matched with the ability to get into "the nitty gritty" of politics and get things done. An example, hyped by another speaker, a reproductive rights activist, was Jayapal's IUD bill (getting state Medicaid to cover reversible contraception) which Jayapal managed to get through last session from her position in the minority party in the state senate. 

Jayapal prioritized three issues she wanted to tackle in congress: expanding social security and Medicare, ensuring debt free college education, and raising the minimum wage. She told me she believed there was bipartisan interest in all three issues.

Jayapal also took a shot at Donald Trump, accusing him of "whipping up hate...[that results in] a rise in antiMuslim violence."  She added: "I know like you do that America's biggest strength is our diversity."


State senator Pramila Jayapal (D-37, Southeast Seattle) will announce this afternoon that she's running for longtime U.S. representative Jim McDermott's (D-WA, 7) open seat. McDermott, a liberal icon in Seattle who was first elected to congress in 1988, announced earlier this year that he's retiring. McDermott's announcement came just one month after first term state representative Brady Walkinshaw (D-43, Capitol Hill), a young Cuban American, broke a Democratic party taboo and declared he was running against McDermott. It's been a Seattle political parlor game for years to guess who would take McDermott's seat when he retired. Walkinshaw's uncouth chutzpah got the actual ball rolling.   

Jayapal, 49, the founder and former executive director of the state's go-to civil rights organization OneAmerica, has been in the state senate for one term, first getting elected in 2014. She doesn't live in McDermott's district, though that's not a requirement; Jayapal lives in Southeast Seattle which was redistricted in 2012 into U.S. Representative Adam Smith's (D-WA, 9) district which stretches from Tacoma northeast to Renton and Bellevue while taking in Jayapal's 37th state legislative District in Southeast Seattle.

Viewed as a leader in the social justice community, she co-sponsored last year’s minimum wage bill with liberal state representative Jessyn Farrell (D-46, North Seattle) and  co-sponsored the ACLU’s body cameras bill to stipulate that camera footage can only be used for police accountability not police work. A recent social justice report card from the Washington Community Action Network ranked Jayapal number one in the state senate citing her bills to fund more interpreters for department of health programs and  to help students who weren’t from English-speaking homes.

She also led the fight to strengthen the state transportation package from an environmental and transit POV.

Other names on the list of people who were expected to jump in have started to fall off. State senators Reuven Carlyle (D-36, Queen Anne, Ballard) and David Frockt (D-46, North Seattle) both announced earlier this month that they were out. High profile socialist city council member Kshama Sawant has also said she won't run.

King County council member and former state legislator Joe McDermott (no relation), who reportedly has high ID and strong polling numbers in the West Seattle district he's served since 2001 as either a state legislator (through 2010) or KC council member, announced his candidacy yesterday.

McDermott, who is gay, is a policy wonk and strong transit advocate. His campaign announcement focused on gun control and repealing Citizens United (as a state legislator he helped pass campaign finance reform allowing local jurisdictions to enact public financing.) He says he wants to regulate guns as a public health issue. "It is past time that we pass tough background checks, ban military style assault weapons plaguing our communities and once and for all hold gun manufacturers liable for the over thirty thousand deaths they cause in our country every year,” said McDermott, who as chair of the Seattle King County Board of Health, helped classify gun violence as a public health crisis.

When Jayapal jumps in today (excellent sources nodded their heads vigorously in the affirmative all day yesterday, though Jayapal herself wouldn't confirm or deny), she's presumed to be the front runner. (She sent out a press release this morning announcing an announcement.)

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Image: Mike Kane

Meanwhile, McDermott and Walkinshaw, who is also gay, will likely duke it out for the second spot in the top-two primary. (Another supposed candidate, former U.S. attorney Jenny Durkan, is not running I am told.)

Editorializing here, but it does seem to me, based on recent local  elections, that progressive Seattle is partial to people of color and women as opposed to white guys like McDermott. Witness: In north Seattle's city council race last year, Debora Juarez handily (and a bit inexplicably) beat Sandy Brown even though Brown had a stronger resume and Juarez was a corporate (gasp!) lawyer. Otherwise, their politics were similar. Meanwhile, in the at-large council race, Lorena González obliterated Bill Bradburd. McDermott should also take notice of this: In his home turf, West Seattle, his own legislative aide, Shannon Braddock, lost to the more left wing woman in last year's council race, Lisa Herbold. It's been pointed out to me that none of those races featured anyone with a known legislative record like longtime legislator and council member Joe McDermott. Fair enough. But in a progressive city like Seattle, there's a recognition that it's important to elect people of color.

So, despite the  likely Walkinshaw/McDermott standoff for second, the Jayapal/Walkinshaw standoff is more intense. Both Jayapal, who was born in India, and Walkinshaw, who's Cuban-American, are popular with progressives and social justice advocates. And they will immediately begin fighting over Seattle's all-important left wing endorsements.

For a perfect example of how loyalties are going to be tested: the longtime board chair of Jayapal's OneAmerica  (and new Seattle city council member) González, endorsed Walkinshaw two weeks ago. I'd chalk that up to Walkinshaw and González's work together with the local Latino political PAC. And state representative Farrell, Jayapal's cosponsor on the minimum wage bill, has also endorsed Walkinshaw. However, Jayapal, widely recognized as the state's leading civil rights champion, is sure to have some impressive endorsements of her own.

And I wouldn't be surprised if Jayapal gets the biggest prize of all: (Jim) McDermott's endorsement.

Jayapal's OneAmerica, formerly known as Hate Free Zone, actually got its start in part thanks to McDermott; as a burgeoning activist 15 years ago, Jayapal organized a press conference with McDermott the week after  9/11 to call attention to antiMuslim violence and bigotry.

From a 2014 feature story I wrote for Seattle Met about Jayapal:

One week after 9/11, Jayapal organized what turned out to be a resonant press conference at Seattle Center with U.S. representative Jim McDermott to call attention to the outbreak of jingoist racism. A friend who worked at Microsoft got her a meeting with McDermott. “I’d never spoken to an elected [official],” Jayapal remembers. “And the night before I met him, I was nervous. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I need to have something to say to this guy.’ ” 

At ten o’clock on the night before her scheduled Monday meeting, Jayapal drew up a memo of points to persuade McDermott. Across the top of the document, she wrote “Hate Free Zone Campaign of Washington.” McDermott was sold. And at the press conference the next day, glomming on to Jayapal’s impromptu phrase, McDermott introduced her to the media as “Pramila Jayapal of Hate Free Zone Campaign of Washington.”

Jayapal nudged McDermott, “No, no, you don’t understand, congressman. There is no group.” McDermott just looked at her and said, “Well, I guess you’d better make it happen then.” 

There was also this fortuitous line from the conclusion of that 2014 article: "Having successfully transformed her organization from one that fights the system from the outside to one that crafts legislation to change the system from within, Jayapal is taking the final step in that trajectory by running for the state senate. She is one of a new wave of candidates and legislators—like Cuban American state representative Brady Walkinshaw, who the Democratic Party appointed earlier this year—that is extending the party’s platform."

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