With the August primary inching ever closer, the race for representing Seattle’s 43rd Legislative District in the state legislature is slowly shaping up.
It’s a crowded race, but one that hasn’t been particularly noisy so far. Since Brady Walkinshaw—a 31-year old gay Cuban American and one of the standing state representatives for the 43rd district alongside long-time Speaker of the House Frank Chopp—decided to run for retiring congressman Jim McDermott’s seat in the 7th district and opted out of seeking re-election in the 43rd, eight candidates jumped into the ring to represent Capitol Hill, the University District, and Wallingford.
None of the 43rd candidates names ring a bell? Unfamiliar with their campaign platforms and personality traits? Don’t worry, you’re not the only one.
“At this point it’s a relatively low voter education race,” said Michael Maddux, a longtime Democratic party activist in the 43rd and former candidate for City Council who has endorsed Macri in the race. “Nobody has really had a chance to get to know the candidates.”
Danni Askini, executive director of the Gender Justice League and former candidate who had been considered one of the frontrunners given her name recognition, lefty political leanings (she is a strong supporter of Kshama Sawant and Bernie Sanders) and potential status as the first openly transgender individual to hold public office, dropped out of the race in May. Seven candidates remain: Nicole Macri, housing director for the Downtown Emergency Services Center (and the only female candidate left in the race), trial lawyer Dan Shih, longtime 43rd District Democrat Scott Forbes, labor organizer Marcus Courtney, campaign associate for the Washington Environmental Council Sameer Ranade, LGBT advocate Thomas Pitchford, and self proclaimed “longshot candidate” and Microsoft social media expert, John Eddy, who is running as an independent.
Voters haven’t had much to go off of so far. The August primary is coming soon and candidates are just starting to ramp up their doorbelling and voter outreach. There has only been one public candidates’ forum held so far, which didn’t reveal much substantive policy differences between the array of liberal candidates candidates in the staunchly liberal 43rd District — with the possible exception of Courtney, who split with the herd by supporting speaker Chopp’s decision to block a bill to give property owners and developers a tax break for setting aside units as affordable, a major pillar of Mayor Ed Murray’s HALA recommendations.
“I don’t think you’re going to find significant variety among the candidates in terms of the policy positions they take,” said State Senator for the 43rd, Jamie Pedersen. Pedersen has endorsed Shih. “Some people will vote based on particular issue emphasis of candidates.”
“Sameer is running as the environmental champion, Nicole is running on her record on human services and housing issues, Dan is running on education,” Pedersen said.
“When you meet all the candidates, Scott is the most charismatic person on the stage, and Sameer is great. Nicole is very wonky and knows all the details. Dan is talking to all the leaders in the room,” said Maddux. “Then some of them are kind of weird, and I mean that in the nicest way possible,” he said.
Observers and endorsers in the race for the 43rd District say the degree of emphasis candidates place on which issues, their endorsements, doorbelling efforts and fundraising will be the main distinguishing factors between candidates for voters, and what will help get them through the August primary and into the general.
Issues like state-level tax reform, fully funding K-12 education, climate change, sustainability, housing affordability, and homelessness are all on the priority list for 43rd district.
Shih has dominated the field in fundraising so far, raising over $140,000 — Shih has spent close to $30,000. Most of his contributions come from outside Seattle, from areas like Mercer Island, Bellevue, and some outliers like Beverly Hills in California. Many of his donations come from Asian Americans and Asian American organizations like the Issaquah-based Chinese American General Chamber of Commerce and Pike Place Chinese Cuisine. Shih talked up his fundraising capability at last month’s forum as evidence that he can gather financial resources for causes he believes in.
Maddux says Shih’s fundraising blitz is similar to how Senator Pedersen got through the primary back in 2006 when he first ran for the State House in the 43rd.
“Dan is raising a boatload of money. He’s trying to go the Jamie Pedersen route of what he did in 2006 which is trying to get through the primary by raising more than anyone else,” he said. “Dan [always] talks about how much money he can raise for the caucus.”
Macri comes in second, having raised a little over $60,000. Her contributors are largely from Seattle, with names like Real Change director Timothy Harris, City Council member Lisa Herbold, and local political consultant Sandeep Kaushik among the donor list. Courtney came in third with $32,000 (a lot of which came from unions), and Ranade and Pitchford fourth and fifth respectively.
The endorsement list of each of the candidates match their histories and self-crafted images for the campaign season. While not many candidates boast organizational endorsements, quite a few individuals have aligned themselves with candidates already.
Macri has a robust list of endorsements from seven out of nine Seattle City Council members, the affordable housing and human services sector, including Pramila Jayapal, who is currently running for Congress in the 7th District, as well as her former opponent, Danni Askini. Shih has former governor of Washington Gary Locke, local lawyers, and the executive director of API Chaya, a local non profit focused on supporting Asian survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. Ranade, fittingly, has the blessing of the Washington Conservation Voters, and the environmental caucus of the 43rd District Democrats, who dual endorsed Ranade and Forbes. Forbes’ endorsement list is almost entirely members of the 43rd District Democrats.
Brady Walkinshaw told CHS via email that he does not plan to endorse any candidate in the race for his seat. “The 43rd has a long history of being at the forefront of progressive change, and we have candidates in this race who, hands down, have the promise to carry on these legacies,” he wrote.
Both Maddux and Pedersen speculate that Shih and Macri will make it through the August primary given all the factors, though Maddux noted that Ranade and Forbes have the “outside chance of getting through.”
“People [among the 43rd District Democrats] like him [Scott], and Sameer is knocking doors like there is no tomorrow. He is a beast at the ground game portion of this,” he said.
But naturally, Maddux plugged for Macri, his candidate of choice. “She has an edge in this race because she’s raised the second most amount of money, she’s got the most increasing amount of supporters, and she’s getting more progressives.”
PeDersen says endorsements don’t really mean squat in hyperlocal legislative district elections for state house. “Unlike some obscure statewide office, when you’re running for the state legislature, a huge percentage of the people will have met you personally.”
“And the endorsement of one of the sitting legislators is probably about a big of a deal as he’s [Dan] going to have,” Pedersen said.
Maddux said that the eventual endorsement made by The Stranger—who he thinks will pick Macri—will have a major influence in the race.
One of the bigger organizational endorsements is coming up next Tuesday evening, when the 43rd District Democrats will hold their endorsement meeting for the August primary, where a conversion of factors will be in play to decide which candidates (if any) meet the magic 60% vote majority threshold to receive an endorsement, such as how many supporters each candidate can get to come out and how their votes overlap with candidates in other races.
Maddux predicted that Macri, Forbes, and Pitchford will have “good showings” at the endorsement meeting.
“In the end it comes down to how well people who are there work the room,” said Maddux.