by Cliff Cawthon
Updated 12/6/16 at 2:28pm
One thing was clear at 5:50pm last night: the 37th Legislative District is always exciting.
At the meeting to determine which of a deep bench would move forward in the nomination process to fill the seat vacated by Pramila Jayapal’s election to congress, Precinct Committee Officers (PCOs) rolled into the Rainier Arts Center five minutes before 6pm with a palpable frustration, anticipation, and ambition in the air.
It began with a was a small scuffle just to get in the door and continued to feel tense and emotional from there.
This meeting is the first step in seeking the appointment to the 37th, each candidate has the next 30 days to persuade members of the King County Council of their qualifications to hold the seat.
The LD was faced with a large and diverse range of candidates—some of whom would be groundbreaking for the Senate. The current chamber, excluding the outgoing Jayapal, has no Women of Color nor Black men, two points cited by the campaigns. Dr. Sheley Secrest, one of the well-known candidates in the race, characterized the potential of a victory by one of the people on this diverse range of candidates as, “opening the floodgates to those who have been disenfranchised, marginalized and told that they just don’t belong”.
The process was muddled, though, due to allegations beforehand that the County and local party conspired to suppress the votes of the appointed PCOs, many of whom were aligned with Former Rep. Jesse Wineberry. When the Emerald contacted the new King County Democrats Chair, Bailey Stober, he had this to say about the issue, “I’ve inherited the situation that my predecessor was involved in and I want what is the most fair and equitable solution for tonight’s appointment.”
In spite of the confusion and concern, the other campaigns came out in force.Candidates for the appointment were excited almost across the board—but five out of the seven candidates made early appearances, shaking hands and making their case with every PCO.
The process features a kind of run-off, wherein PCOs cast their ballots; the first round surprisingly yielded Rory O’Sullivan as the top-ballot candidate. Many of his supporters, who passed out stickers beforehand, came from outside the legislative district to lend their support. The surprise upset was not without its controversy given the fact that O’Sullivan doesn’t necessarily represent the demographics of the 37th, and neither did most of the PCO’s in the room last night who were white, relatively middle class and much older; a stark contrast to the 37th multiracial, young, and working-class population.
Other candidates, including Shasti Conrad, Juan Cotto, John Stafford; and a last minute entry, Bob Rosenberg, waited eagerly for the second round.
While waiting for the second round choice to be announced, the Emerald spoke to O’ Sullivan, whereas he declined to give an analysis of his results but talk about his agenda, “One of my biggest priorities has always been homelessness,” he said. “The federal government has had a huge disinvestment in housing over the last couple of decades” noted O’Sullivan.
The second round went firmly to Puget Sound Sage Executive Director Rebecca Saldaña, an early favorite in the race.
“I feel great,” she told the Emerald. When asked about her next steps before the King County Council selection process, Saldaña said, “I’m still considering what the best option is, but I’m definitely committed to running and representing the 37th because I do believe that I’m a strong candidate and that I have a lot of relationships and that I can do a lot to advance the values and priorities of the 37th.”
One of her supporters, Bre Wieder, said that “[PCOs] want to appoint someone who can hit the ground running, know the other legislators, know the other lobbyists.” She went on to say that Saldaña’s victory was a sign of the importance that state legislative politics has at this political moment and that “I hope this isn’t a blip, I hope that this is a movement.”
After two rounds of voting, Shasti Conrad was selected as the third pick, a surprising victory to some; Conrad, though experienced in Washington D.C., is a lesser-known name locally than others in the field.
According to Conrad, the last-minute win was a sign of the political climate being favorable to outsiders.
“We’re so thrilled. This is kind of proof that you stand up for what you believe in, you go for it and then good things happen,” she said. “I think that people are looking for energy, they’re looking for youth, a unifier, and they know that the status quo doesn’t work.”
According to observers, the common thread between O’Sullivan, Saldaña, Conrad was that all of them have a strong housing or homelessness message which resonated with the PCOs.
In the 37th legislative district, the rising rents and costs to purchase and maintain homes have been a daunting issue for voters. Due to dispalcement, shelter in the once overlooked and underserved Rainier Valley has been hard to find—as a result more and more low-income former residents of the area are being pushed into the suburbs and unincorporated areas, such as Skyway.
With the field narrowed considerably, the candidates now have until Monday, December 12th to appeal to the King County Council. In addition to their positions on housing being important, the Councilmembers will judge each of the potential appointees by how much the represent the demographics and interests of the district. Another factor to their decision may also include how much support can a potential legislator muster in Olympia to bring much-needed funding back to the county in order to support unincorporated areas, such as Skyway, which the county provides services for.
In addition to an appeal of each of the candidates, the mobilization effort of each campaign reflected the energy that will be present in the district for days to come leading up to the King County Council’s decision on who will replace Congresswoman-Elect Jayapal.
Featured photo courtesy of the Rainier Chamber of Commerce