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7th District race for Congress gets going with labor-focused debate

With the race for his old seat in the 43rd getting crowded, Capitol Hill’s Brady Walkinshaw faced his first debate with opponents to claim Seattle’s 7th Congressional District seat in Washington D.C. this week. It was much more a cozy forum and less of a debate.

The three mostly like-minded candidates for the 7th position being vacated by retiring veteran congressman Jim McDermott gathered Wednesday night at the forum organized by Working Washington at the King County Labor Temple in Belltown. It was the first time the threesome — One America founder and current State Senator representing the 37th legislative district Pramila Jayapal, King County Council member Joe McDermott and house representative for the 43rd legislative district Walkinshaw — have been put on the stand to sell themselves before voters.

Walkinshaw played up his parents Cuban immigrant roots and his childhood in in rural Whatcom county where he worked in agriculture, noting his efforts to push through legislation in Olympia to improve farm worker safety following the death of a Yakima Valley dairy farm worker who drowned in a pond of manure.

“This is a personal issue for me,” he said. “I worked in the fields picking berries. I still have the pay stubs from that first job in rural Whatcom county.”

Jayapal laid out her credentials on immigration reform policy, highlighting her work with the One America immigrants rights advocacy organization and how she helped draft the 2013 immigration reform bill that passed the U.S. senate but died in the Republican controlled congress, as well as her involvement in writing Washington’s voting right act. “Nobody knows the politics and the policy of immigration reform better than me.”

The trio answered questions from members of the local labor community about how they would fight for comprehensive immigration reform, organizing rights for independent contractors, and against the Trans Pacific Partnership and racial inequities in the criminal justice system, in addition to some yes or no questions from online viewers and a few anonymous (yet tame) questions from the candidates themselves. The candidates were also asked to hold up Black Lives Matter signs and lead the crowd in personal labor chants.

Substantively there wasn’t much they didn’t agree on. All three said they wouldn’t take money from the Seattle Chamber of Commerce. Jayapal said she was feeling the Bern while McDermott and Walkinshaw said in so many words that they’re supporting Hillary Clinton. Walkinshaw and Jayapal said they don’t support the SODO arena street vacation while McDermott said he did (this received a mix of boos and cheers). All were (supposedly) stumped when asked to come up with an issue they’d flip-flopped on.

On supporting the rights of independent contractors like rideshare drivers working for Uber and Lyft, all agreed that Seattle’s model of giving contractors the right to organize should be replicated. Walkinshaw said the National Labor Relations Act should be amended to cover contract workers and farm workers.

There was a playful follow-up from Jayapal who made sure the room knew that she also had the endorsement of local union machinists and had signed a letter sent to congress from Washington state house democrats condemning TPP after Walkinshaw cited those same achievements in response to a question about TPP opposition. McDermott got in a good line afterwards talking about the local and global economic race to the bottom enabled by free trade agreements. “When we lose Boeing jobs to South Carolina, it’s not that they make a better plane, it’s that they pay their workers less,” he said.

But things got a little personal when an anonymous question from another candidate asked Jayapal to justify her former career working on Wall Street in her early twenties. Jayapal called it an educating experience. “The fact that somebody like me who was 20 years old can go work on Wall Street is illustrative of the mess we’re in now,” she said.

You can watch the full debate here.

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