Photo depicting the front exterior of the Washington State Capitol Building in Olympia, Washington.

Forum Highlights Opportunity for More Black Representation in Olympia

by Chetanya Robinson

Seven Black candidates hoping to represent parts of King County in the Washington State Legislature introduced themselves to voters in a candidate forum hosted by Rainier Avenue Radio Tuesday.

The goal of the forum was to acquaint voters with the candidates and their issues and highlight the importance of representation in local politics. 

“Elections matter, and issues such as healthcare, economic recovery, and police accountability have a huge impact on our local elections and the people who we elect locally,” said Maya Manus, civic engagement coordinator for the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle, which helped organize the forum.

“The second part is to know that Black people can run for office,” Manus continued. “You have the power and the voice.”

The number of Black candidates for the state Legislature stands out this year, said Manus, and it could bode well for better Black representation in Olympia. “It would allow a seat at the table,” she said and could help the Legislature come up with innovative solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic and related economic crisis. “I think what it would show is a different perspective and a different way of thinking towards issues that are facing Washington adults, families, and youth right now.”

There are four Black state representatives in Washington. In January 2019, they established a new Black Caucus. There have been no Black members of the state Senate since Rosa Franklin retired in 2010.

Black candidates in Pierce County introduced themselves to voters in a forum hosted by Rainier Avenue Radio last week, and a Black candidate forum for Snohomish County was scheduled on Oct. 14.

Jamila Taylor, who is running for state representative in District 30, said during the forum that she wants to inspire more Black people and People of Color to run for office. “We’re part of the fabric of history here, and our leadership should reflect that.”

During Tuesday’s forum, candidates introduced themselves one by one and answered questions from moderators and the online audience.

First-time candidate David Hackney is running against incumbent Zack Hudgins in the 11th District, which includes South Park, Georgetown, Tukwila, and parts of Kent and Renton. Hackney said his priorities, including gun control and addressing economic equality, come from personal experience and his varied career, which included working as a prosecutor for the U.S. Department of Justice.

In high school, his best friend was shot to death by another teenager “who should never have had a gun.” When Hackney’s mother was diagnosed with cancer, the medical cost crippled his family financially. He supports stronger protections for workers and a social safety net.

Hackney prosecuted civil rights cases, including one involving a Black family who purchased their first home only to have it firebombed. “I want to use that same power now as a representative to end institutional racism,” he said. Hackney wants to improve re-entry plans for incarcerated people, such as removing the requirement that people’s incarceration record appear on their ID cards.

To help struggling Washingtonians, Hackney is in favor of using the rainy day fund and opposes cutting budgets, which he said will only prolong the recession. He favors a slate of progressive taxes, including on wealth, inheritance, and capital gains, and a stronger social safety net.

Rep. Debra Entenman is running for reelection in the 47th District against Republican challenger Kyle Lyebyedyev. The district includes Auburn, Kent, Covington, and parts of Renton and unincorporated King County. 

On police reform, Entenman wants to take the lead on a bill to improve independent investigations of law enforcement, as well as creating an independent prosecutorial branch of the government housed in the Attorney General’s Office. She wants to help pass police accountability legislation, including decertifying officers who misuse their authority, requiring bias and de-escalation training, and age and education requirements for officers. She also wants trained crisis counselors to respond to 911 calls and better data collection to identify officers who evade records of misconduct by moving through different police departments. While she said there are limits to what can be achieved in Olympia, she wants the Legislature to investigate the Washington State Patrol for what she described as a failure to recruit African Americans.

On education, the state has “already failed” to mitigate the digital divide and its impacts on children learning, Entenman said. Initially an opponent of charter schools, Entenman now believes “there is a place for charter schools.” 

Two Black candidates are running for representative in District 30, which includes Federal Way, Des Moines, and part of Auburn. Jamila Taylor is running against Republican Martin Moore for the seat in Position 1, while Rep. Jesse Johnson is running for reelection in Position 2 against Republican challenger Jack Walsh.  

Taylor is a public interest attorney who has worked as Advocacy Counsel for the Northwest Justice Project. She said her work in violence prevention allowed her to see the disconnect between community needs and decisions from cities and the state.

One of her priorities as a legislator is ensuring that Black families are able to stay in their homes after Washington’s eviction moratorium expires. She wants the state to provide more rental assistance to people who have lost their jobs, framing it as a public health issue.

Rep. Jesse Johnson, a former Federal Way City Council member appointed to the Position 2 seat in January 2020, is also an education advocate, having built his career working at Garfield High School, Seattle Public Schools, and Highline Public Schools before serving on the Federal Way City Council. Johnson wants to close the opportunity gap and end intergenerational poverty. For this to work, he wants to see families’ baselines needs, including mental health care and childcare, met.

Johnson also wants to end private prisons, remove police officers from schools, and provide equity training for all school staff. Noting that generational wealth is often passed down along racial and economic lines, Johnson wants to boost small businesses and hold large corporations accountable.

First-time candidate Sherae Lascelles is running for District 43 Representative as part of the Seattle Peoples Party. She is challenging Rep. Frank Chopp, who has held the seat since 1994. The 43rd District includes the Seattle neighborhoods of Capitol Hill, South Lake Union, Fremont, Wallingford, Eastlake, Ravenna, Belltown, and the University District.

Lascelles, who is disabled and a sex workers’ advocate, wants to represent communities they belong to who have long been neglected. They could be the first state legislator to publicly identify as gender nonbinary, according to Crosscut

For Lascelles, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated crises that already existed. The health and economic crisis of the pandemic, they said, are inextricable. “They’re the same. If you don’t have any economic privileges, you are constantly having a health crisis in your life,” Lascelles said.

Kirsten Harris-Talley and Chukundi Salisbury were the only two forum participants who are running against each other, each hoping to represent District 37, which spans from the Central Area in the north through the Chinatown International District and much of southeast Seattle east of Beacon Avenue, as well as most of Renton.

Salisbury, a 23-year Seattle Parks Department employee, entrepreneur, and DJ, said his experience as a lifelong resident of the district and a small business owner allows him to understand the district’s needs. “True representation is when the rhetoric meets the receipts,” he said.

Salisbury owned a barbershop on Martin Luther King Way that was forced to close due to the impacts of light rail construction. Because of this experience, Salisbury wants to prevent adverse impacts from “amazing policies that sound great.”

“What’s happening in Washington, and most certainly in Olympia, is the impact has not met the intent,” Salisbury said. Despite being a blue state that touts progressive values, the state has not risen to the challenges of police accountability or housing affordability, he said. “When I look around, my neighbors, we’re being gentrified out.”

Salisbury wants to reform Washington’s tax system so that it relies less on sales and property taxes and is in favor of progressive revenue. He favors a capital gains tax and using revenue from cannabis sales and defunding prisons to invest in the community.

Salisbury’s mother, the Rev. Harriet Walden, founded Mothers for Police Accountability. He wants to abolish qualified immunity, remove police accountability from collective bargaining, and end no-knock raids and chokeholds. He also wants to see more unarmed community resource officers.

Kirsten Harris-Tally is a reproductive justice advocate who worked as executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Washington and served temporarily on the Seattle City Council for 51 days in 2017. Harris-Talley said she is an activist at heart and believes this year has been a “moment of clarity,” showing the ways government should help take care of people.

“This moment is really making clear, particularly for the 37th, how we need to take care of our Black families,” she said.

Harris-Talley’s top priority is reforming Washington’s tax system by introducing new progressive revenue. She also favors rent forgiveness after the eviction moratorium ends. She supports OneAmerica’s demand for $100 million to help undocumented people, who are otherwise shut out of COVID-19 relief funding. 

To address the digital divide, Harris-Talley supports building internet as a public utility using schools and libraries in the district as hubs. She supports creating a state bank that could help create public infrastructure.

Harris-Talley is opposed to charter schools, and her campaign is refusing funding from police unions, fossil fuel companies, and corporate PACs. She pointed to her experience on the Seattle City Council managing the budget. “I know that budgets are moral documents, and that’s where our impact really happens,” she said. “If we don’t resource the good policies that are there, people’s lives aren’t better on the other side.”

Chetanya Robinson is a Seattle-based reporter.

The featured image is attributed to cmh2315fl under a Creative Commons 2.0 license.