Campaigning before The Breakfast Group, a civic organization for African-American men, Brady Piñero Walkinshaw admitted that they had a choice between “two great progressives.”
He was referring to himself – a state representative from Capitol Hill – and Pramila Jayapal, state senator from Columbia City.
Those gathered at Seattle’s First AME Church on a recent weekday morning wanted to talk about police relations.
Retired attorney Lem Howell said he was concerned about the difficulty prosecuting police involved in shootings, starting with the case of John T. Williams in Seattle in 2010.
“We’re told by the prosecutor there’s absolutely nothing he could do because the state law requires malice" to convict a police officer of wrongdoing, Howell said.
Walkinshaw said having to prove an officer acted with malice makes Washington state an outlier nationwide. Both he and Jayapal sponsored legislation to remove that language, but it didn’t pass.
Jayapal told the group their best hope is through a ballot initiative.
“It’s tough, there’s not a lot of money in that initiative right now,” she said. “But I would really urge everybody in this room to help to do what’s possible to move that initiative forward.”
As Seattle progressives, Jayapal and Walkinshaw have a lot in common. And they both point to key traits – perseverance, building bridges and a degree of modesty – for getting ahead.
They say they’ve learned those lessons working across party lines in the Washington state legislature. Now the two are competing to represent the state’s 7th congressional district, vacated by longtime Rep. Jim McDermott.
Walkinshaw: Prison focus
Walkinshaw says dozens of professions exclude people with criminal convictions. And of the 8,000 people released from prison each year in Washington, 42 percent return within one year. Those statistics motivated him to work with Republicans to open up more fields to released felons.
“What it does is it brings down the occupational barriers, the licensing barriers, for people to find employment after prison,” he said.
Walkinshaw worked with state Sen. Mike Padden, a conservative from eastern Washington, to craft the legislation.
“The first year we introduced it, it didn’t get very far,” Walkinshaw said. “But after three years of perseverance, we were able to find a compromise that is now being implemented across Washington state.”
They had to negotiate how the law would affect people convicted of different crimes. It does not apply to sex offenders, for example.
Walkinshaw also worked with Republicans to pass “Joel’s Law,” named for Joel Reuter, who was shot by police after his family’s requests for help with his mental illness were denied. It gives families the ability to petition a judge if their relative is denied hospitalization while in crisis.
Speaking at his campaign headquarters in Wallingford, Walkinshaw said these laws show his ability to work across party lines and build relationships.
“We need to elect leaders who don’t accentuate the partisanship in our country but who are able to bring us together,” he said.
“That is why the vast majority of colleagues who work with both of us in the Washington state legislature have endorsed me. It’s why the majority of the Seattle City Council has endorsed me in this race.”
Jayapal: No ‘trickle-down equality’
Walkinshaw and Jayapal are split on one issue, however: the carbon tax measure, Initiative 732 on the November ballot. Walkinshaw said he supports the measure, which would tax fossil fuels and cut business and sales taxes, saying “it’s come time to act” on climate change.
Jayapal said I-732 is flawed, although she supports the concept of putting a price on carbon.
“If we’re going to fight the biggest fossil fuel companies, we’re going to have to bring together a very big and powerful movement to take them on, and that means having all of us at the table,” she said, adding that she expects environmental groups, unions and communities of color to put forward another ballot initiative in two years.
She also touched on proud achievements as a state senator, like legislation to train people for ironworking and other types of construction jobs.
“Even in a Republican-controlled legislature,” she told the group at the First AME Church, “I have been able to pass legislation that invested millions of dollars into pre-apprenticeship programs specifically for people of color and women to get jobs in the transportation sector.”
Back at her campaign office on Western Avenue downtown, Jayapal said she had to win over lawmakers opposed to targeting apprenticeships to specific groups.
“I don’t believe that you get trickle-down equality,” she said. “You actually have to target resources at specific populations: low-income populations, people of color, women, in order sometimes to get the benefits to really accrue to those folks.”
With so many issues in common, Walkinshaw has tried to distinguish himself as the truly local candidate.
He’s criticized Jayapal for the money she’s received from outside Washington state, partly through fundraising appeals from former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
In their latest filings with the Federal Election Commission, 78 percent of Walkinshaw’s contributions came from within Washington state. For Jayapal, 45 percent of contributions came from the state. Jayapal responds that her average contribution is $25.
She said she does envision a role in Congress that goes beyond the 7th district.
“United States Congress is a national role,” she said. “You make policy for the country. A local politician would be the city council.”
Walkinshaw lives on Capitol Hill. He has noted that Jayapal does not live in the 7th congressional district; Jayapal rebuts that her Columbia City home was in the district until the lines were last drawn, when it was placed in the 9th.