Got Your Ballot? 37th Legislative District Positions 1 and 2 Candidates Speak at Community Forum

by Mark Van Streefkerk

2020 is more than halfway over, and in a short amount of time Seattle has seen significant movement on issues such as Black Lives Matter, defunding the police, and progressive tax initiatives — much more so than in recent years. It only took a pandemic and an unemployment rate that rocketed to 15.4% in Washington state in April to raise greater awareness about these issues and other systemic inequities, many of which disproportionately affect the 37th legislative district. Encompassing Beacon Hill, the Central District, Rainier Valley, Columbia City, Rainier Beach, and Renton, the 37th district includes the most diverse parts of Seattle. As demands for racial justice and equity are amplified through almost daily protests, marches, and demonstrations, selecting our district’s two representatives to Olympia requires careful consideration.

Hopefully, you’ve already received your ballot in the mail. If you lost it, use this link to get a new one. Remember to have your ballot postmarked by August 4, or drop it off at a dropbox before 8 p.m. August 4.

Here you’ll find a summary of where each candidate stands on key issues. The candidates’ responses were taken from the July 18 online Community Candidate Forum hosted by the Coalition of Immigrants, Refugees, and Communities of Color (CIRCC).

37th District Position One

Sharon Tomiko Santos and John Stafford are both Democratic Party candidates for the 37th’s first representative position. Santos is a 22-year incumbent running for reelection and is a lifelong “champion of community-led leadership.” Stafford’s platform advocates “bold structural change, not just incremental reforms.”

Both candidates support I-1000, which if passed last year would have reinstated Affirmative Action, but voters overturned it by a margin of less than 30,000 votes. When it comes to balancing a state budget that faces an $8.8 billion deficit over the next three years, both Santos and Stafford agree that the regressive tax system has to go. Currently, the wealthiest pay three percent of their income, while working class earners pay 18 percent. Stafford urges use of the state’s three billion dollar “rainy day” fund to pay some of the deficit and supports Frank Chopp’s three-pronged proposal. Santos works through an equity lens: “Those who are most vulnerable are the ones we protect the most, and we work out from there,” she said, adding “Our 10.1 percent sales tax is really not tenable any longer, especially when we have prolonged unemployment. Progressive tax reform is absolutely necessary.”

One thing that could help the deficit is the creation of a State Bank, long championed by Senator Bob Hasegawa. Both Santos and Stafford support the State Bank, noting that keeping revenue within the state means there will be more to support communities and infrastructure. Addressing systemic inequities made worse by COVID-19, Stafford favors prolonging unemployment benefits, implementing better protections and extra pay for workers most at risk, and supporting a $100 million fund to help undocumented residents during the crisis. Santos wants to treat systemic problems with systemic solutions, which include creating more educational opportunities for BIPOC students and using the office of equity to evaluate proposed legislation.

The candidates explained where they stood on the demands of the Black Lives Matter movement and calls to Defund the Police. Stafford said, “I do support police reforms — I don’t support abolishing,” and instead proposed unbundling 911 calls so police aren’t always the ones who respond to mental health crises, for example. He also supports an analytical look at defunding, with the resulting revenue funneled into social and community programs. Santos cited her work on I-940, legislation that required police to learn de-escalation and mental health training. Now, she says, “we can do more,” such as putting a halt to the “surplusing of military-grade equipment into our civilian law enforcement” and supporting training and appropriate funding choices that confront the “biases that are baked into the system.”


Addressing barriers to Housing and Homeownership, Santos advocates a land bank, where land is leased to nonprofit developers with the goal of building affordable housing and mixed-use housing and promoting home ownership. With this strategy, the land belongs to the public, but the housing on top can be owned. Stafford wants to see more accessory dwelling units, tenant protections, rent and utility relief, and increased investment in Section 8 vouchers. She also supports the JumpStart Seattle plan.

Speaking about pollution from air traffic for those in the flight path or near Boeing Field, Stafford said he wants the flight path to be shared among other areas, and Santos committed to “advocate for our communities under the flight path.” Neither Stafford or Santos are in favor of charter schools.

37th District Position Two

The three Democratic Party candidates for the 37th’s second position are Andy Goeres, who emphasizes economic empowerment and smart investments, Kirsten Harris-Talley, who brings “over two decades of experience in progressive political wins,” and Chukundi Salisbury, who aims to “really stem the tide of gentrification and to make sure the progressive wins actually make wins for the people of color.”

All three candidates support I-1000, the Affirmative Action initiative. “Our laws have been so explicitly racist in the past that we need to have explicitly antiracist policy in place,” noted Harris-Talley. When considering the $8.8 billion deficit the state faces over the next three years, as well as Washington’s tax code, Goeres wants to protect health and human services from cuts and focus instead on the income disparity between highest and lowest earners. Salisbury said, “We need to overturn the tax code” in favor of a progressive income tax, reimagining budget priorities, and transitioning to green energy. Harris-Talley is in favor of closing capital gains loopholes, “protect[ing] our communities, and mak[ing] sure big corporations are paying their fair share first.” She suggested progressive revenue be reinvested in communities, in areas such as universal child care and green infrastructure.

Both Harris-Talley and Salisbury are in favor of a State Bank. Salisbury said, “When we rely on banks, whose motivation is profit, the people will always lose.” Goeres said, “I think the concept of a state bank can hypothetically work,” but expressed some misgivings about how it would be funded. In addressing systemic inequities exacerbated by COVID-19, Harris-Talley recommended universal healthcare, expanding protections for workers, bridging the digital divide, and following the lead of teacher unions in education. Salisbury said he is all for community solutions, but wants to make sure promises are followed through. Oftentimes, he observed, funds are funneled through larger organizations before the crumbs get doled out to community groups.

Holding officials accountable is something that Salisbury wants to do when it comes to Black Lives Matter demands and Defunding the Police. “I want to finish the job on I-940 at the state level,” he said. “We have in fact trained a lot of officers, yet still things happen.” Salisbury advocates taking funds from the police and reallocating them into communities. Identifying as a BLM activist, Harris-Talley detailed a thorough plan of divestment/investment, including auditing the Department of Corrections’ $2.4 billion budget, addressing inequities in cannabis policy, and ending bail, private prisons, and youth detention. She also called into account the Northwest Detention Center, wanting to “move away from incarceration of our immigrant refugee neighbors,” and expressed concern for the use of technology and facial recognition in the hands of law enforcement. Goeres advocated for more police accountability, de-escalation training, and more funds shifted to mental health services.

When it came to making housing and homeownership accessible, Goeres didn’t necessarily agree that government guidance is always a good thing. He said that since “we pay enough in property taxes,” part of that could be used to help fund down-payments. Salisbury proposed creating a separate entity that holds city officials accountable “that will make sure we get a fair shake at these [housing] resources.” Harris-Talley pointed out that a land trust model would increase affordability of housing, including ownership for more business owners.

When it came to talking about the income gap between Black families and white families, Harris-Talley said, “this is just one of the most glaring considerations of how policy generationally adds up,” going on to recommend investing in Skyway, “which has the largest number of Black families anywhere in Washington state.” She also wanted to address corporate predatory practices and have them pay their share to “heal those communities and make amends.”

Corporate accountability extends to air pollution as well, Harris-Talley said, advocating for polluters to be held accountable for clean up and searching for ways to change flight patterns. Goeres recommended planting more trees and investing in technology to help with pollution. When the topic switched to charter schools, Harris-Talley was opposed. Goeres said charter schools can be equitable, but more research needs to be done, and Salisbury admitted they could possibly help BIPOC students, but right now it’s public education that must be prioritized.

Stay tuned as we continue our coverage of the 37th district elections.

Mark Van Streefkerk is a South Seattle-based journalist living in the Beacon Hill neighborhood. 

Featured image by Sharon Maeda