SEATTLE — The two candidates vying to succeed Jim McDermott, who forged a reputation as one of the most liberal members of Congress while representing Seattle for nearly 30 years, tout their progressive accomplishments as they try to distinguish themselves to voters.
Brady Walkinshaw and Pramila Jayapal are both Democratic state lawmakers, Walkinshaw having been appointed to the House in 2013 and Jayapal elected to the Senate in 2015.
Jayapal is pushing for a single-payer health care system run by the government to reduce costs and increase access, favors increasing the federal minimum wage and wants to find a way to move the millions of undocumented immigrants in the country toward citizenship. Walkinshaw wants to ban fossil fuel extraction on federal lands and offshore and wants to tax carbon emissions to develop alternative energy sources to deal with climate change.
They both have compelling personal stories.
Walkinshaw, a former Gates Foundation staffer, grew up in Whatcom County, graduated from Princeton and was a Fulbright scholar who worked to prevent violence in the slums of Honduras. Jayapal arrived in the U.S. from India when she was 16 and attended Georgetown University before working as a Wall Street financial analyst. She got an advanced degree from Northwestern and worked for many years as an advocate for immigrants and human rights.
Their resumes and policy positions are appealing to voters of the 7th Congressional District, which encompasses much of Seattle and reaches north past Edmonds and south to Normandy Park and Vashon Island, but how would the two operate in a U.S. House that is likely to still be controlled by Republicans?
Jayapal said she’s no stranger to being in the minority party. The state Senate is controlled by Republicans and she said she become “very good at playing defense” while advocating for things like expanded access to contraception and bringing higher education to the Rainier Valley. She says lawmakers in the minority party need to find ways to get their ideas into broader legislation like budget measures and to not insist on taking credit for all their accomplishments.
“There are smaller things you can get done when you get the opportunity,” she said.
Walkinshaw says the key to working with political opponents is to build relationships. He said after he was appointed to the Legislature he and his husband drove to Eastern Washington to meet with Republican lawmakers. He said the response was positive.
“They said we’ve never had a Seattle liberal come and visit us in home districts,” said Walkinshaw, who worked on things like fighting opiate addiction and creating affordable housing around transit hubs during his time in Olympia.
In the August primary Jayapal emerged with 42 percent of the vote and Walkinshaw advanced with 21 percent. Jayapal boasts a wide range of formal backers. Her most high-profile endorsement came from Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator whose Democratic presidential campaign inspired millions of followers. Jayapal has also been endorsed by former Gov. Gary Locke and more than a dozen members of Congress. Walkinshaw has been endorsed by the third place finisher in the primary, King County Councilman Joe McDermott, as well as many of his state legislative colleagues.
McDermott, first elected in 1988, became nationally known as a liberal firebrand, but the retiring congressman was often criticized for not doing enough to represent the specific interests of his district. Both Jayapal and Walkinshaw said they felt they could balance local concerns with a broader national agenda, and they said the two need not be in conflict.
“I think that distinction between local and national is a bit of a false choice,” Jayapal said. She and Walkinshaw both pointed to the environment and transportation as local issues that could most effectively be addressed o the national level.
“We are so uniquely positioned with the innovation here,” Walkinshaw said. “We have two progressive candidates in this race. Who can effectively build the bridges?”