by Mark Van Streefkerk
Incumbent Sharon Tomiko Santos and Kirsten Harris-Talley were the lead vote-getters in their quest to win Washington State’s 37th Legislative District Positions 1 and 2, respectively, according to early returns Tuesday night.
Santos, who received 76 percent of the vote for Position 1, will face John Stafford, who advanced with 12 percent of the vote. Harris-Talley, who received 50 percent of Tuesday’s vote for Position 2 will face Chukundi Salisbury, who received 21 percent of the vote.
In a truly unprecedented year marked by a global pandemic, unemployment, and widespread protest for Black lives and racial equity, candidates were confronted with urgent issues that centered around COVID-19 aid and police reform.
The 37th Legislative District encompasses the Central District, Beacon Hill, Columbia City, Rainier Valley, Rainier Beach, and Renton — some of the most diverse parts of Seattle.
As revealed in a virtual Town Hall on July 28, south Seattle’s BIPOC communities are at a disproportionate risk for COVID-19. Representatives from the 37th District are instrumental in ushering in legislation for equitable COVID-19 resources and support, as well as representing constituent’s demands for police accountability in Olympia.
“I’m so deeply proud to represent this district because this district is what shaped me into the woman that I am now,” said Santos, who has served in the seat since 1999. “It has been a great privilege to represent this district and I am looking forward to [being] able to continue to represent our very diverse community and to champion some of the unique challenges that we experience.”
Running against Santos was John Stafford, who also campaigned to represent the 37th district in 2010 and 2014. Stafford’s platform is “Bold Structural Change, Not Just Incremental Reform.” He hoped to address the looming deficit in Olympia, climate change, and supported police reform, however, Stafford said, “I don’t support abolishing,” in a July 18 candidates forum.
Shortly before the election results were in, Stafford said, “I enjoy the campaigning process, largely because effectively addressing major policy issues is of such importance to my district and our society … I am a high school history teacher, and I am involved in climate change activism. Irrespective of what happens in the election, I will continue to focus on these endeavors.”
According to a July 18 online forum hosted by the Coalition of Immigrants, Refugees, and Communities of Color (CIRCC), Santos wants to treat systemic inequities with systemic solutions, focusing on education and access for BIPOC communities. She is in favor of reinstating I-1000, the Affirmative Action Initiative that was narrowly overturned by voters last November. She also said “Progressive tax reform is absolutely necessary,” referring to Washington’s regressive tax system where working class earners pay 18 percent of their income in taxes, while the wealthiest pay three percent. Voters can also expect her to advocate for Senator Bob Hasegawa’s State Bank, as well as the creation of a Land Bank, where land is leased to nonprofit developers and homeowners who will own the buildings while the land remains publicly owned. Having worked to promote I-940, Santos said, “We can do more,” and mentioned the halting of military-grade equipment in the police force and choosing appropriate funding to address the biases within the system. As Chair of the House Education Committee, Santos says that looking ahead to the fall, “Going back to school is going to be a big, big deal this year,” noting that the future of education during COVID-19 raises important questions.
“I am humbled and grateful for the outpouring of support from our community” Harris-Talley wrote in an election night Instagram post. “While an important milestone, this was never going to be the end. If anything, this marks the start of a three-month campaign … we’re through with the status quo power arrangements that benefit those at the top. We deserve leadership that fights for all of us, so everyone has what they need to care for themselves and their families.”
Chukundi Salisbury, who advanced to the Position 2 general election, enjoyed the endorsement of Andrea Caupain after she announced the suspension of her campaign in June. His first time running for state representative, Salisbury’s platform was “True Representation,” reflective of the fact that he has lived in the 37th district all his life.
Salisbury boasts three decades of community service and involvement, including his work with the Urban Vote Project (URBVOTE) and nonprofit Service Is A Lifestyle.
“For many people that grew up here, it’s been a long time since they saw a person on the ballot that they knew from school,” he told the South Seattle Emerald shortly before the election results were in.
“Regardless of the outcome tonight, we’re going to run the same campaign that we’ve been running, which is making connections with community-based leaders and business owners and neighbors,” Salisbury said.
Kirsten Harris-Talley was one of the most progressive candidates for the 37th Legislative District Position 2, campaigning on a social justice framework that centered the most vulnerable communities first.
Harris-Talley is endorsed by progressives like Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, Senator Rebecca Saldana, and Councilmember Tammy Morales. Harris-Talley advocated for universal healthcare and child care as well as green infrastructure. Harris-Talley is also an outspoken Black Lives Matter activist and police abolitionist, with a detailed divestment/investment plan, starting with an audit of the Department of Corrections $2.6 billion dollar budget.
During an Election Night Virtual Happy Hour event via Zoom, Harris-Talley recounted pivotal and entertaining moments during her campaign and the last few months, including the Juneteenth show of solidarity between BLM and I.L.W.U., where the longshoremen closed every port on the west coast.
Other key races
Early results show incumbents Governor Jay Inslee and Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal advancing to the General Election. Inslee will most likely face Republican Loren Culp, the Police Chief of Republic, Washington, and Jayapal, who has 81.41 percent of the early vote, will likely run against Craig Keller, whose platform includes protections against “illegal aliens” and urges community members to invest in gold and firearms.
Frank Chopp, a 25-year incumbent for the 43rd Legislative District and former Speaker of the House, whose Five-Point Agenda includes Apple Health Care for all, affordable housing, and early childhood education initiatives, also advanced alongside first-time candidate Sherae Lascelles. Lascelles is endorsed by Nikkita Oliver and Kirsten Harris-Talley, with a campaign based on “mutual aid, harm reduction, and representation of the most intersectionality marginalized.”
Current results for all districts can be found here.
Mark Van Streefkerk is a South Seattle-based journalist living in the Beacon Hill neighborhood.
Photo of Sharon Tamiko-Santos is a Wikicommons photo
Photo of Kirsten Harris-Tally by Giovanna Orecchio