County Council Selects Rebecca Saldaña For 37th District Senate Appointment

by Cliff Cawthon

After a contentious process that included an 11th-hour lawsuit by party activists, the King County Council appointed Puget Sound Sage director Rebecca Saldana to represent the 37th District, which includes South Seattle and parts of Renton, in the state senate.

Three candidates—all “extremely well-qualified,” as council president Joe McDermott put it, answered council members’ questions about their legislative agenda, which includes lifting the state-wide 1 percent cap on raising property taxes, which McDermott called an obstacle to accomplishing their other priorities, such as education, road maintenance and providing services to unincorporated areas like Skyway.

In her testimony, Saldaña described her accomplishments at  Puget Sound Sage, which led the fight for $15, worked to pass Sound Transit, fought for education funding in Olympia, supported programs to support youth in South Seattle and lobbied for affordable housing legislation. 

Saldaña came in second in a vote by precinct committee officers at the 37th District Democrats’ meeting earlier this month, which made the council vote unusual; typically, the council defers to the PCOs on legislative appointments. However, council members said they were concerned that the candidate who came in first, former 37th District chairman Rory O’Sullivan (who is white), didn’t represent the diversity of the district, which is populated mostly by people of color. (A lawsuit filed Friday, which charged that the PCOs engaged in “ethnic discrimination” by excluding some party members from voting, may also have been a factor).

Council members said the fact that the 37th district was originally designed to give a voice to marginalized people in the predominantly white legislature was a major factor that led them to choose Saldana over O’Sullivan. The PCO’s who voted on Dec. 5th were mostly white and older—a stark contrast to the population of the district. After the vote, O’Sullivan congratulated and embraced Saldana, as did third-place candidate Shasti Conrad.

Council member Larry Gossett, whose district overlaps with the 37th, said that appointing a person of color was particularly important because “both the house and senate is 92% white and 8% people of color.” Council members Jeanne Kohl-Welles (who voted for O’Sullivan in the first round of voting, but went on to enthusiastically support Saldaña) and Claudia Balducci also shared experiences of being women in the male-dominated field of politics.

In a statement to her supporters after the vote, Saldana said, “I’m eager to get to work. I am going to Olympia to help make our district an even better place to live, to stand up against hate, and fight for a more fair economy and equitable society”.

Saldaña said she plans to run to keep her seat next year. Jesse Wineberry, who also sought the senate appointment and initiated the legal effort to prevent the council from voting, has already declared his intent to run against her.

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