Campaign finance reform. Climate action. And racial justice.
Those are the issues that Joe McDermott, Brady Walkinshaw and Pramila Jayapal say would lead them to stage their own sit-ins on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives.
They are the top contenders seeking to replace retiring congressman Jim McDermott in the 7th Congressional District, which includes part of Seattle.
CityClub and the Downtown Seattle Association sponsored Thursday’s debate at the Seattle Public Library. Carl Lawrence was one of the undecided voters sitting down front. He said national events have prompted his crash course in civic participation.
“My wife had to drag me down here to fight downtown traffic,” he said, “and the motivating comment was, we’ve got Donald Trump as presidential potential, we should be more involved in local politics.”
This week saw funerals for victims of police shootings as well as for the law enforcement officers killed in Dallas. All three candidates for the 7th District said they’d support banning assault rifles and requiring a federal investigation whenever local police shootings occur.
Beyond that, King County Council Member Joe McDermott – no relation to Congressman McDermott – said he’d seek to address institutional racism. “In the time I’ve been on the County Council, we have cut in half the number of youth in our juvenile justice facility,” he said. “And recognizing that we need to do more in disproportionality, have invested in mentorship programs for at-risk youth.”
State Rep. Brady Walkinshaw said he’d seek to change a structure that sends too many people to prison. “An area I care deeply about, and I actually think is an area where we’re seeing more bipartisanship, is more broadly around criminal justice reform,” he said. “I was able to bring people together to pass legislation this last year that changes the way people can get access to jobs as they come out of incarceration.”
And State Senator Pramila Jayapal said she’d support a proposal to gather more data about when police shootings occur. “There is an act called the Pride Act that Cory Booker has sponsored in the Senate that would require police departments to actually report their shootings to the federal government. That’s another very important step,” she said.
One of the moderators, KIRO 7’s Essex Porter, asked the candidates to name an issue that forced them to change their minds. McDermott said it took time for him to become aware of the plague of money in politics. “When I was first elected I was probably not as aware or concerned about the appearance or reality of how much influence it has,” he said. “That we’re spending as much time as we are fundraising today is a travesty in this race.”
He said his top priority would be a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United case.
Jayapal said she has been conflicted about the trend toward body cameras for police officers. “We’ve got so many videos out there, we see that videos aren’t necessarily bringing us justice. But on the other hand is it helping to have the videos out there so people see the injustice over and over again?” she asked. “And can we regulate them in a way that makes sure we are not putting more surveillance on communities of color, and hurting communities of color?”
Finally the candidates were asked how they would get anything done in a Republican-controlled Congress. Walkinshaw said when he was appointed to the Legislature, he went with his husband to visit Republican colleagues east of the Cascades. “And the reaction I got from the people I visited was, we’ve never had a Seattle liberal come visit us in our homes,” he said. “And I think that that matters, it matters for building relationships and it matters for results.”
But Walkinshaw said Democrats should also not give up the dream of recapturing the majority in the U.S. House.
This debate excluded six other candidates for the 7th District. They sat in the audience during the event. One of them was Republican Craig Keller.
Keller said the debate should have included all the candidates. He complained to the Seattle Public Library and the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission. “It’s disgusting,” he said. “The three candidates, McDermott, Walkinshaw and Jayapal, did not join us in our plea to the Seattle Public Library to open this event to all filed and official candidates. And it’s an affront to all voters in Seattle.”
Officials with Seattle’s City Club said they have a longstanding policy of selecting candidates for their debates based on each candidate’s fundraising, endorsements and standing in current polls. Two candidates for the 7th District will go on from the August 2 primary to the general election in November.