A Seattle Central Community College economics professor and Socialist Alternative candidate for state representative is challenging Democrat Jamie Pedersen in Capitol Hill’s 43rd District.
“As an economist I can tell you the problem is not that we don’t have the resources here to fund these programs, it’s that neither party is willing to fight for them,” state representative candidate Kshama Sawant tells CHS. “They’re bending over backwards to make big business happy … and the people are suffering.”
Sawant is a living, breathing socialist and she’s got the demands to prove it: Create a single-payer health care system in Washington. Raise the state minimum wage to $15/hr. Make Metro ride-free system-wide. And pay for it all through a “Buffett tax” on high income earners and revoking corporate tax exemptions. UPDATE A campaign representative says we didn’t get the tax part quite right: “The article says that Sawant plans to pay for her policies using the Buffett tax. While we agree with the Buffett Rule, what we propose is a far more progressive tax. For instance, the Buffett Rule targets only wage income, not capital gains and dividends. We think the Buffett Rule will be set up in a way as to create loopholes for the rich to avoid paying.”
You may have seen Sawant and supporters handing out fliers at the Broadway farmers market (like we did) and gathering signatures at community events. Her campaign materials include slogans like “Break with the parties of big business,” “A voice for the 99%!” and “Reverse budget cuts, tax the rich!” The Occupy-style rhetoric certainly puts her at odds with Pedersen, but beating 2-term incumbent won’t be easy.
Pedersen, who is unopposed among Democrats, has already raised $40,909, including a $1,000 donation from Bill Gates Sr. Thus far the Sawant campaign has raised just $1,245 – Sawant says she’s shooting for $10,000.
Sawant faces a herculean political battle as well. Pedersen, who was first elected in 2008 and considered popular in the district, has major name recognition coming off his marriage equality win this year. And aside from being openly gay, he’s got the politicians pedigree: bachelor and law degrees from Yale, work as an attorney, and comfort courting major donors and political players.
Sawant is no politician, and proud of it. She has never run for office. Her approach to the campaign is unabashedly activist (no corporate donations, openly anti-big business). She’s part of a number of candidates nationwide who have, in one way or another, come out of the Occupy movement, although that’s by no means where she got her start.
Born in Mumbai, Sawant says she was socially and politically conscious from a young age.
“From the very beginning I have been consumed with the question of why it is that there is so much wealth disparity in the world, even though millions of people I could see around me were working so hard, they were not even able to make enough money to keep body and soul together. Massive levels of starvation, hunger, unemployment.
“When I came to the US, based on what you hear, you think this is the wealthiest country in the world and everyone will have a really high standard of living: Nutritious food, access to the best education and very high quality health care. It’s quite shocking to find out that even in such an affluent city like Seattle, there is such a divergence of income and wealth and opportunities for even the most basic things.”
Sawant has taught economics at SCCC since last fall and is a part time adjunct professor at Seattle University. She’s held previous teaching stints at the UW-Tacoma.
Sawant is running as a candidate for the Socialist Alternative party. Although primarily an activist organization, Socialist Alternative is a registered party in several states, including Washington.
She’s not the only politician you’ll find on the Hill this summer with a longshot candidacy. CHS talked with Andrew Hughes earlier this spring as he began to mount his campaign to join the House of Representatives against long-time incumbent Jim McDermott. Both of their races, by the way, look like tight ones compared to the run Capitol Hill resident Dick McCormick will need to muster.
Like Hughes, despite the political odds, Sawant is hopeful 43rd District voters are ready to break the district’s status quo.
“We’re seeing a very interesting change in the political consciousness,” she said. “Not only are people becoming more politically active, but they are becoming active because they are more conscious of the great unfairness of the recession.
“Just walking around Broadway I can see people who weren’t homeless before are now homeless. We know conditions are getting worse and people are starting to recognize that.”
Sawant says decades of corporate tax exemptions and kowtowing to the states largest private employers have gutted public services.
“This is one of the most wealthy states. We have some of the most profitable multinational corporations, the state is flush with billionaires, and the state legislature, which is Democratic controlled, is telling us that we have no money for basic health, for community colleges. But we refuse to accept that,” she said. “It’s high time people start questioning business as usual.”