Guest Opinion

State Senate's Only Woman of Color Sets Big Agenda for Her Freshman Year

Bring on 2017 says Rebecca Saldaña.

By Rebecca Saldaña December 30, 2016

We asked a handful of local leaders that had big showings in 2016 to reflect on the year ahead.

Not only did Puget Sound Sage's executive director Rebecca Saldaña win the appointment to the state senate in Southeast Seattle's majority minority district to replace Pramila Jayapal (Jayapal is going to D.C. to serve in the U.S. house), but Sage itself took center stage this year.

Emerging as a force in city politics, Saldaña oversaw the group's starring position at the center of a series of overlapping issues like workers' rights, affordable housing, transportation, and the environment. Or more to the point: Saldaña and her group called attention to the connections between those issues. Most prominently, Saldaña herself, as Sage's ED, took the lead coming out against I-732 , articulating a position that woke up traditional environmentalists to the social justice priorities of green policy. Meanwhile, her all-star program director, Ubax Gardheere,  emerged as a powerful advocate for this year's winning light rail initiative. (Saldaña was a big light rail advocate too, taking the microphone at the campaign kickoff  and putting the symbolism of a regional transit network into practical terms by arguing that our local “history of racism and segregation” would be broken down by a system that reconnects us.)

Bittersweet for Puget Sound Sage, but the organization became so damn relevant that Saldaña (and Gardheere too) were scooped up by the city and the state; Gardheere is going to work for the city's Office of Planning and Community Development (to oversee implementation of a Sage initiative) and Saldaña's going to Olympia.

Here's Saldaña's ambitious 2017 list of state senate To Dos. (And here’s the rest of PubliCola’s New Year’s resolution series from our other 2016 big deals: incoming U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, incoming 43rd Legislative District state representative Nicole Macri,  Seattle City Council member Lisa Herbold, and King County Council member Claudia Balducci.)

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The people of Southeast Seattle's 37th Legislative District expect a lot from this newbie who's taking outgoing state senator, now U.S. Rep-elect, Pramila Jayapal’s shoes. They want their state senator to stand up for black lives, immigrant rights, a fair economy, a clean environment, housing justice, local labor standards, increased revenue to serve community priorities, and protecting our populations from our president-elect’s hostilities and threatened violence. I’m ready to do that, and I’m going to Olympia to deliver strategic wins for the people of Renton, Skyway (currently unincorporated King County) and Central and South Seattle. 

It won’t be easy in a Republican-controlled state senate, but as a woman of color growing up in Seattle, I have lots of experience being in the “minority.” Now, as the newly elected minority whip, and as the only Latina and woman of color, I’m ready to bring the 37th Legislative District’s values of fairness, equity, multiculturalism and mutual respect to the state senate.

 My to-do list is long, but the issues making their way to the top of the page include:

1. Advance our local wins for equitable development and transportation equity. It’s time to build on Jayapal’s past win to secure $3 million for the Economic Opportunity Center, and Puget Sound Sage’s most recent win to secure a $16 million city investment toward Equitable Development Initiatives in the 37th District.  Continuing the last five years of work with a coalition of diverse partners through Puget Sound Sage, we can leverage the wins of Sound Transit 3 to ensure new growth prevents displacement and improves opportunities for housing, high roads employment, and an improved environment for the enjoyment of everyone in Washington State.

2. Fund public education to give all students an opportunity to thrive. As a daughter of a public school employee, and now as a parent, I know schools and teachers are doing the best they can with limited resources in a state with the most regressive tax structure in the nation, but we all need to do better to close the education equity gap. Giving the very rich the opportunity to pay their fair share through a capital gains tax and closing the tax loopholes for big corporations are key to the funding solution.

3. Defending our transgender and gender-diverse family members, friends, and neighbors from discrimination. Last year a bipartisan coalition in the state senate narrowly defeated a bill, similar to North Carolina’s controversial HB 2, intended to roll back our state’s decade-old non-discrimination protections for transgender people. This year one of the first pre-filed bills, HB 1011, would write discrimination into state law by allowing transgender people to be prohibited from using the restroom consistent with who they are. We cannot, and will not, allow our state to fall for the scare tactics and hate behind this effort.

No, it won’t be easy, but I’m looking forward to fighting for the future of our state and the 37th District. .

Rebecca Saldaña is the incoming state senator for the 37th Legislative District which represents Rainier Valley, Rainier Beach, Columbia City, North Beacon Hill, Mt. Baker, Leschi, Madrona, Skyway and part of Beacon Hill and Renton  

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