Among all elected offices, Congress is somewhat unique, bearing both local and national responsibilities. Over the past few months the two candidates running for Seattle’s 7th Congressional District seat have come to represent those opposing roles.
On Saturday, Sen. Bernie Sanders headlined a rally for Pramila Jayapal, a prize endorsement given the former presidential candidate’s overwhelming popularity in the district. It also showcased Jayapal’s stronger national presence in the race.
Her opponent, Brady Walkinshaw, is hoping to overcome a large primary deficit by appealing to voters as the community-focused candidate. His strategy has relied on playing up the Capitol Hill-ties in bills he passed in the state Legislature and criticizing Jayapal for her outside-Seattle fundraising.
During a Thursday night debate between the candidates, the issue was further highlighted when a moderator asked how they would be different from retiring Rep. Jim McDermott, who was occasionally criticized for using his position to insert himself into international issues.
“Let’s be clear, United States Congress is a national position,” Jayapal said. “How do you deliver at home … also being able to articulate the values of this country?”
“I’m running because of our extraordinary home,” Walkinshaw said. “We need members of Congress who are rooted in their communities.”
Despite the division, the race thus far has been exceedingly polite — both candidates are essentially aligned on most major issues. That made one moment during Thursday night’s forum at the Seattle Central Library standout: moderators asked the candidates to turn to each other and question one another on a specific issue.
Not surprisingly, Walkinshaw asked Jayapal to explain her outside-the-district ties: 70% of her contributors come from beyond the 7th District, her home is outside the district (it was redistricted out), and she missed a budget vote in the State Senate because she was at a fundraiser in New York City (she said she could not control the timing).
Jayapal asked Walkinshaw how he could reconcile his environmentalist positions with his work with the Gates Foundation, which has been criticized for not divesting in fossil fuels (Walkinshaw said they are working on it).
One of the few sharp differences between the candidates is their position on this year’s statewide carbon tax initiative. I-732, supported by Walkinshaw, would make Washington state the first state to pass a carbon tax and aims to be revenue neutral by lowering the state sales tax by 1%. Opponents, including Jayapal, say the measure would burden families with increased gas prices, pull funds away from education and healthcare, and reduce state revenues. Environmental groups have backed both “yes” and “no” campaigns.
The candidates also differ on what they want to focus on once they get to Washington D.C. Walkinshaw has positioned himself as the candidate who will do the most to move the needle on climate change, homelessness, and mental health. He has pledged to deliver a comprehensive federal homelessness response package for cities dealing with the issue most acutely.
For Jayapal, immigration, women’s issues, and minimum wage are her top priorities. She has pledged to fight to increase the national minimum wage and work on passing comprehensive immigration reform. Jayapal was the founder of the immigrant rights group OneAmerica and was part of a successful lawsuit
With few positional differences between the progressive Democrats, endorsements seem to have taken on a outsized role this year’s race. In Seattle’s newspaper editorial board contest, Jayapal won The Stranger’s endorsement while Walkinshaw got the nod from the Seattle Times.
During a Thursday night debate, candidates were asked what endorsements they were most proud of. Both looked back to the August primary. For Walkinshaw, it was Joe McDermott, who made his endorsement after he was whittled out in the race’s primary. For Jayapal, it was her 79,000 primary voters — about double that of Walkinshaw’s.
The answers underscored some of the key endorsements Walkinshaw has received, but also the massive advantage Jayapal has heading into the November election.
Thursday’s forum also included a lightning round of questions.
Q: What are the first and last websites websites you check daily?
Jayapal: New York Times, Twitter
Walkinshaw: Talking Points Memo, nature websites
Q: Who are you most looking forward to working with in Washington D.C.?
Jayapal: Rep. Suzan DelBene
Walkinshaw: Sen. Patty Murray
Q: What are you are reading right now?
Jayapal: Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything
Walkinshaw: The New York Times
Q: What surprises you about the 7th District?
Jayapal: The strength of neighborhoods.
Walkinshaw: The optimism.
Q: What person or event led you to run for office?
Jayapal: Political activism in the President George W. Bush years
Walkinshaw: Working for the Victory Fund. “It helped me understand its possible to be openly gay and run for office.”
Both candidates also agreed on the importance of safe injection sites, a federal rule should mandate police body cameras stay on at all times, and charter schools are bad. They also agreed to reject a military intervention in Syria, which has been mired in a brutal civil war for the better part of six years.
If Walkinshaw, a 32-year-old gay Cuban-American who lives on Capitol Hill, is elected in November, he would be the first openly gay member of Congress from the state and the first Latino Democrat from Washington elected to a federal office. Jayapal, a first-term senator serving the state’s 37th District, is vying to become the first Indian American woman elected to Congress.
King County Elections says ballots will be sent out this week so it’s time to make up your mind on any remaining undecided races so you can get a stamp and get your ballot back in the mail ASAP — or drop it off at the new Capitol Hill drop box outside Seattle Central.
Our latest coverage on the races is here capitolhillseattle.com/tag/elections/