When Jessi Murray decided to join the Amnesty International Club at her Massachusetts public high school, her twice-George W. Bush-voting dad said it would brainwash her.
Now, she’s running to unseat one of the most powerful political figures in Washington history in Rep. Frank Chopp, the longest serving Speaker ever who gave up that gavel last year. Murray’s race begins now with a run into the August primary with hopes of making it through to the general election in November.
Murray moved to Seattle in 2010 after attending the Olin College of Engineering, a school with about 350 undergraduates a year, and put down roots in Capitol Hill the next year. She works for a small tech consulting firm and wants to focus on “software for good,” but couldn’t talk about the project she’s working on now.
She has a long history of local activism, starting with Seattle Clinic Defense for Planned Parenthood and helping organize the Seattle SlutWalk in 2011, emboldened to work on issues of reproductive rights and sexual assault given her own experience with sexual assault before she moved here.
“There’s just been kind of a sense of trying to get to justice in this world,” Murray told CHS at Victrola Coffee and Art earlier this week while wearing a Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg sweatshirt with the words “Fight for the things you care about” printed on it.
It was the same coffee shop where she had felt out Chopp (who she just calls “Frank”) about his possible retirement months earlier. He said he wanted to run one more time, according to Murray. We’ve reached out to Chopp and his campaign about the account but haven’t heard back. UPDATE: Chopp told CHS they had coffee in September and Murray told him she wanted to run. Chopp say he told her he was going to run for reelection. He said he’ll decide how much longer to spend in the legislature after November.
“I’m very committed to running this year,” Chopp tells CHS.
In recent years, Murray has helped with Rain City Rock Camp, which is designed to build positive self-esteem for girls. She took some time off from overt activism, but came back in 2016.
“I canvassed until I literally bled through my socks,” Murray said of that election. Her grandmother sent her a card shortly after Donald Trump’s victory, saying that Americans have shown how they truly feel about people of color and other marginalized groups.
From there, Murray almost burned out from protesting so much after Trump’s inauguration, going to four protests in eight days at one point, including to SeaTac Airport in opposition to the Muslim Ban.
“It just felt like we were screaming into the void,” said Murray, the former co-chair of Seattle’s LGBTQ commission. “Part of that realization was that activism is such a powerful tool, but it’s so much more powerful if you have people on the other end who are receptive to it, if you don’t have to battle the lawmakers themselves.”
Murray’s main priorities in Olympia would be health care, specifically behavior health, and climate change. Much of why she is running is very personal to her, wanting to feel more like the state is making progress instead of “treading water.”
Last month, incumbent Chopp announced he would seek reelection to the seat he has held since 1995, highlighting his part in building “a 20-year Democratic majority that passed significant legislation to expand health care, build union membership throughout Washington, raise teacher salaries, safeguard reproductive rights and women’s health care, reduce gun violence, and so much more.”
Chopp’s recent run of election victories could be a model for establishment Democrats facing an onslaught of challenges from the left. In his most recent race, he faced tepid competition from a Republican challenger who could only claim around 10% of the vote. But before that, he twice fended off Socialist Alternative challengers including in 2012 when he defeated upstart candidate Kshama Sawant in what for Chopp was a squeaker — a 71% to 29% victory.
Murray made clear that her campaign to the left of Chopp isn’t really about her opponent.
“I think he’s done some great things; I think he’s done some other things that I haven’t agreed with,” Murray said. “I think we’re at a point where we’re facing some really tough issues, some of which we really don’t have that much time left on, and we need to be pushing further and further to get those bold solutions.”
For example, she wants to push for climate action rather than just goals, saying that both of her brothers don’t want to have kids because of the crisis. And she thinks, noting her own experience with behavioral health issues, that policy in this area hasn’t centered the humans dealing with it, despite being well intentioned.
Murray thinks there are a lot of life experiences that aren’t represented in the legislature that she could bring, such as an organizing background and her connection to the issues she wants to make policy on.
Murray, 32, a technical program manager at GenUI, a current commissioner and former co-chair of the Seattle LGBTQ Commission, and a Precinct Committee Officer with the 43rd Legislative District Democrats, is facing criticism for not waiting her turn, but she said “you can’t continue to encourage young folks and women to run and get mad when they run.”
Murray’s friends have been expecting her to run for a while. She said there’s been times where they’ve asked if they could give their Democracy Vouchers to her yet.
Now that she is running for public office, Murray’s family and friends have been supportive. Her dad “has since come around” after seeing then-Sen. Barack Obama speak in 2007 and has even said he wants to fly out and canvass after making a contribution — $2,000, according to Public Disclosure Commission filings — to her campaign.
Whether or not he’ll bleed through his socks remains to be seen.
You can learn more about Murray at electjessimurray.com.
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