1. In a staff email this morning, the mayor announced some personnel changes. The biggest announcement: Murray's lobbying chief Nick Harper, head of Murray's Office of Intergovernmental Relations, which lobbies in Olympia, is being replaced by Murray's former chief of staff and current special projects chief, Chris Gregorich. Harper has taken a job as the lead lobbyist for the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties.
Murray failed to get his top priority in Olympia this year—a tax incentive for landlords to preserve affordable housing.
Staff "changes" typically follow Murray's defeats. Gregorich himself was moved from his original chief of staff spot to his current special projects role after Murray got cremated in the Seattle Times for initially advocating zoning changes in single family zones. Murray's team says flatly, though, that Murray was very happy with Harper and the change was not related to any misgivings about Harper's work. Gregorich will remain on Murray's eight-member executive team, the inner circle that includes the budget director, the policy director, his legal counsel, his chief of staff, and two deputy mayors. It also includes his communications director.
Speaking of which: Murray also named Benton Strong as the replacement for his former communications director Viet Shelton this morning; Shelton, Murray's second communications director in two years, announced he was leaving for Microsoft in March. Strong, who is African American, was the spokesperson for the Washington state Democrats coordinated campaign in 2012 during Jay Inslee's campaign and during the marriage equality campaign; Murray is up for reelection next year.
Strong, who's originally from Seattle (he went to Garfield), was also the national press secretary for the environmental group Climate Action Campaign, and he's currently communications director at progressive DC-based advocacy group, the Center for American Progress.
Murray's former former communications director Jeff Reading is going to serve as the interim communications director before Strong starts in August. (Reading, who originally worked with Murray in the state senate, is currently a VP of communications at PR firm Strategies 360. Stepping back in from the private sector certainly raises access and conflict of interest issues. Reading's gig at Strategies 360, for example, included a contract with CenturyLink through this February. However, Reading currently has no contract with any companies that have business before the city.)
2. I have been trying for several months to get state representative Brady Walkinshaw (D-43, Capitol Hill), one of the three main candidates running for retiring U.S. representative Jim McDermott’s (D-WA, 7) open seat, to answer the defining question in the Democratic Party right now: Bernie or Hillary?
Walkinshaw’s two opponents, state senator Pramila Jayapal (D-37, Southeast Seattle) and King County council member Joe McDermott (no relation), answered the question promptly when asked back in January.
Jayapal? Sanders. (Sanders, in fact, returned the favor, endorsing Jayapal and sending out a fundraising letter on her behalf.)
Joe McDermott? Clinton.
Look at that, Brady. Easy.
This seemingly superficial question is actually helpful for getting a bead on these three liberal Democratic candidates, whose answers to policy questions are otherwise hard to parse. Watch the recent KCTS debate and you’ll see that all three candidates share the progressive agenda: repeal Citizens United, pass gun purchase background checks, create a path to citizenship, "fair trade over free trade" (no on NAFTA and TPP), and go with a single payer health care option.
(If you watch the debate, you’ll also be okay with the editorial decision here to stick with Jayapal, Joe McDermott, and Walkinshaw and ignore the other candidates. Wow.)
What Walkinshaw eventually told me last February about the Bernie or Hillary question was that he wasn’t backing either presidential candidate until he got some answers from both camps on a few nerdy policy questions, including, he said, getting some clarity on the candidates' views about Federal Transit Administration guidelines.
Washington state’s March 26 caucus and May 24 primary have come and gone since I asked Walkinshaw the Bernie or Hillary speed dating question back in January.
The Walkinshaw update?
Here’s what he told me, unequivocally, yesterday: “I’m looking forward to having a public statement on Hillary versus Bernie.”
And as for that televised debate, the candidates were, in fact, asked by KCTS political analyst Joni Balter to identify what position separated them from their equally liberal competitors.
Jayapal, who founded the civil rights group OneAmerica in the wake of 9/11, flagged her detailed work on immigrant rights fighting the Bush administration; she went on to help pass the long lost 2013 senate immigration reform bill. Jayapal tied her immigrant rights work, such as stopping deportations of Muslim men, to her current role "working in the minority" (the state senate Democrats are currently in the minority), saying she's willing to "take on issues when they're not popular."
McDermott said he had more experience (15 years) as a legislator than the others, citing his 10 years in the state legislature and his five years on the King County council. (He also used the question, noting his legislative work on LGBT rights, to press play and go to his scripted sound bite—right down to holding up his left hand on cue and showing off his wedding band. "That last one [LGBT rights] is actually rather personal for me because it meant that after ten years together, my husband Mike and I were able to get married.")
Walkinshaw pointed out that he actually announced his candidacy while venerated incumbent U.S. representative Jim McDermott was still in the race. "I actually ran for this seat before it was an open seat. I started this race in December."
It was also helpful to see how each candidate answered the first question (from Crosscut managing editor Drew Atkins) that nudged them to state their top priority.
Jayapal ID'd immigration reform. (She also flagged raising the minimum wage to $15 and extending health care coverage beyond Obamacare.)
Joe McDermott called out campaign finance reform and repealing Citizens United.
Walkinshaw distinguished himself as the environmentalist calling for a federal carbon tax and saying "climate change is the most pressing issue."