State rep candidates Macri, Shih fight for recognition on Capitol Hill as voting begins

Even in the final weeks of the 43rd District state Legislature race, Nicole Macri and Dan Shih are finding that convincing voters still starts with the basics, like explaining who you are and what you’re running for. The result: two campaigns with a blunt focus on boosting name recognition instead of homestretch strategies.

Macri won 52% of the vote in the primary, making her the presumptive frontrunner in the race (even though Shih has raised more money) with a geographic base of support in the denser areas of Capitol Hill and the U-District. Shih performed better in the more residential, single-family home precincts.

But the candidates tell CHS they are not putting much stake in the August results given how many people are still unaware of the race. “You have to go out and earn the votes all over again,” Shih said.

It’s also a race that has featured few positional differences between the candidates, where earning votes has primarily meant making a case based on past experience. Housing and homelessness have dominated local political discussions in recent weeks and Macri has positioned herself as the housing policy wonk that can deliver solutions. As the deputy director of Downtown Emergency Services Center, Macri has been a leading proponent of housing first policies that seek to rapidly house homeless people before starting other interventions.

However, education funding will be the top issue facing legislators in Olympia in 2017 as the State Supreme Court is breaths down the neck of Legislators to meet the demands of the McCleary decision, which found the state was not adequately funding teacher pay.

That’s where Shih says he can be a real asset, leaning on his background as a trial lawyer who can make sense of complex legislation and debate it on the floor of the Legislature.

In recent weeks, the top local political issue has been over legislation to expand protections for people sleeping in unsanctioned encampments around the city, which some have seen as a distraction from Mayor Ed Murray’s housing first plan.

Macri and Shih agree the city should be pursuing housing first strategies, but differ slightly on the path Seattle should take when it comes to regulating encampments. Recognizing the difficulty of defining suitable locations for people to live outside, Macri said she was still supportive of efforts to legislate protections and locations for people living in camps.

Arguing the city needed significant discretion in handling encampments, Shih said he would prefer to see encampment protocols set through city departments rather than by ordinance.

When it comes to building more affordable housing, Macri and Shih have both called for adding more money into the state Housing Trust Fund as the primary way to create more low-income units in the district. Macri is also a proponent of raising a fee on certain real estate documents which provides flexible funds for affordable housing programs. The fee has been cut in previous years.

Shih cautioned against an “over focus” on subsidy programs. “Those funds can move the needle, but it is not going to be a comprehensive solution,” he said.

Shih has emphasized on creating market rate development to ease the pressure on affordable units. By working to adjust the state’s population forecasts, which Shih says have come in far too low, Shih hopes to trigger zoning changes in the district to allow for higher and denser market-rate development.

Macri and Shih also differs on how they plan to vote on Initiative 732, this year’s carbon tax initiative that has split environmental groups and editorial boards. Macri is against the measure while Shih has endorsed it. Proponents say it is a crucial step towards disincentivizing carbon use while opponents say it will lower the state’s tax base while doing little to encourage green industries.

No matter who wins in on November 8th, the 43rd District seat will be occupied by an openly gay representative for the fifth time in a row — a feat that some have said will be a world record for an elected office. Past representatives have included Cal Anderson and Ed Murray, pioneers in the state’s marriage equality fight.

“It’s an important legacy and comes with great responsibility,” Macri said.

Macri has advocated for expanding protections to victims of domestic violence and said she will be a strong opponent to legislative attacks against the state’s trans community.

Shih has proposed funding special prosecutors to handle domestic violence situations and furthering anti-discrimation protections in retirement communities, which he said are often not as accepting. “Many people are having to go back into the closet,” he said.

Shih, a father of four, said he also wants the state to allow for regulated compensation of surrogacies, which many other states allow.

King County Elections sent ballots in the mail week. You can return your ballot via mail or try out Capitol Hill’s new drop box location at Seattle Central College.

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