by Chetanya Robinson
David Hackney’s victory over 18-year incumbent Zack Hudgins to serve as a representative in Washington State’s 11th Legislative District was decisive, with Hackney earning 61% of the vote.
For Hackney and his supporters, it signalled that the 11th District — which encompasses Renton, Tukwila, part of Kent, and a slice of South Seattle that includes SoDo, the Industrial District, Georgetown, and South Park — wanted new leadership. “I think they were ready for change,” said Hackney in an interview with the Emerald. “I think they saw in me the energy of an organizer — someone that was going to be fighting inside and outside of Olympia on critical issues.”
David Fleetwood, a planning commissioner in Renton and member of the 11th District Democrats, which endorsed Hackney in the general election, said Hackney impressed him with his nuanced approach to issues. “He’s really interested in deeply understanding what’s going on here and trying to both provide support and make the changes needed to really fix things,” Fleetwood said. “I think this is a great thing for the 11th, and I think it’s going to raise the bar here considerably.”
Hackney has never served as an elected official before. He worked as an attorney for 25 years, including 11 years as a federal prosecutor for the U.S. Department of Justice. He also taught trial advocacy at the United Nations Mission in Kosovo and worked at The Hague on a legal team that convicted a detention camp commander of crimes against humanity.
Hackney was born in Cleveland, Ohio. Both his grandfathers were longtime union members, which he has said helped his family rise into the Black middle class during the Great Depression. His parents moved frequently, living in neighborhoods that were costly so that their children could afford a good education.
Hackney attended Cornell University but almost dropped out during his senior year due to a family tragedy: his mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and his family struggled financially as a result. Hackney graduated only after receiving a personal loan from the university president. Hackney subsequently attended Harvard Law School, where he earned a masters in public administration from the JFK School of Government.
After the U.N., Hackney worked for The Nature Conservancy and in 2019 was appointed to the Washington State Human Rights Commission by Gov. Jay Inslee.
Over the next six weeks, Hackney is interviewing prospective staff, completing an orientation for members of the House Democratic Caucus, and speaking with House leadership. Lobbyists and organizations have also started calling, seeking to start relationships with his office.
Hackney is also deciding which committees to join when the legislature convenes remotely early next year. His top choices include committees that deal with civil rights, public safety, labor, and the environment, as well as ones that control spending on the capital budget, finance, the tax system, or transportation.
To address the COVID-19 pandemic, Hackney wants the legislature to convene an emergency session and draw $1 billion from the Rainy Day Fund to stimulate the economy, help small businesses stay afloat, and help people impacted by the pandemic with rent, mortgages, childcare, and expanded unemployment benefits.
Hackney started his campaign before the pandemic, and there was a moment after COVID exploded when he wondered if it was possible to continue. But seeing the Trump administration’s response — “a disgrace” — compared to the public-health-oriented response from King County and the State, helped encourage him. “I think this crisis has, in my mind, focused me more on why I want to be part of the decision-makers.”
His other priorities include building more affordable housing, passing tougher gun control laws, lowering healthcare costs, and protecting the environment.
Hackney is in favor of implementing some combination of progresisve taxes on high-earners and corporations and is wary of corporate tax breaks.
“In a regressive tax system, the benefits go to the wealthy, and the costs go to the people with the lowest income. That’s backwards,” Hackney said. “Everyone benefits from a progressive tax system.”
Hackney wants to address the economic impacts of the pandemic in the district, including helping small businesses, especially restaurants and childcare providers, so they don’t close. Hackney believes business closures will lead to a longer and deeper recession.
“The 11th District is a working-class district — people work hard,” Hackney said. “And during this pandemic, they are suffering more.”
Hackney wants the State to go beyond the eviction moratorium so that renters and homeowners aren’t left with debts they can’t pay back. “We need to think about retiring these debts or forgiving them.”
The best thing the legislature can do for COVID-19 relief, Hackney said, is to “stimulate the economy so that we continue to have demand for goods and services.”
“The key is building demand by making sure that Washingtonians have the earning and spending power to impact the economy,” he said.
The COVID-19 public health crisis is an opportunity for the legislature to revisit things like universal healthcare that were “off the table and were not able to get passed in previous legislatures,” Hackney said.
Hackney said his mother’s cancer diagnoses shaped his belief in affordable healthcare.
“I believe that we do need a health care [system] for all,” he said. “I am agnostic on how we do it, whether it is increasing Medicare or a single-payer system.”
He also wants to reform criminal justice, including reducing the number of people Washington incarcerates and supporting those transitioning out of the criminal justice system by helping them get jobs and housing.
Hackney said the 11th District needs more affordable housing, especially near transit hubs, and to allow for residents to walk and bike between destinations.
Gentrification is creeping into the 11th district, said Brandon K. Hersey, who serves on the Seattle School Board in District VII, which includes southeast Seattle. Hersey, who endorsed Hackney’s campaign, lives in Seattle and works in Federal Way, where many students have been pushed from Seattle. “It’s becoming more difficult to even live in the district,” he said. “If we don’t have safeguards in place for our communities of color, educational outcomes will be impacted; health outcomes will be impacted.”
Hackney also sees affordable housing as a tool to help fight homelessness. Many homeless people are “working people — they’re just not making enough money to pay rent or pay back-rent consistently,” Hackney said. “Everyone has this myth that they’re just sitting around outside and they don’t want to work.”
Fleetwood of the 11th District Democrats was impressed by Hackney’s wide-angle analysis of housing in the district and homelessness. Fleetwood appreciates that unlike leaders in other cities, Hackney does not describe homelessness as a problem, he said. “He describes it more as opportunities — places where we can improve and bring up the quality of life for everybody.”
Hackney believes the legislature should provide more incentives to transition to a green economy and getting CO2 out of the atmosphere. “We know that Black and Brown communities and low income communities suffer from breathing diseases and pulmonary diseases at a much higher proportion than their white counterparts, even when you take into account annual income.”
He said he will see if a state law can be implemented to set stricter regulations for water and air pollution and increase enforcement of those violating natural resource laws.
Hackney hopes to be a more responsive legislator for the 11th District and address the specific needs of 11th District residents, who are predominantly working-class renters and a large number of whom are People of Color.
Joseph Todd, deputy chief technology officer for King County and former chief information officer for the City of Tukwila, supported Hackney’s campaign because he believed Hackney would address the needs of the district and Black communities.
“He was speaking to all of the issues that I saw as a worker, as a resident, in my community,” Todd said.
Todd said Hackney’s election as a Black representative is meaningful for an area like Tukwila, which has a high concentration of immigrants, Latinos, and African Americans who have been disproportionately represented by white lawmakers. Many in the 11th District experience “undercover racism,” said Todd. “You have councilmembers who won’t outright say things against Black people, but they’ll make sure that they’re not meeting your needs when it comes to Black issues.
Hersey of the Seattle School Board endorsed Hackney’s campaign because he felt Hackney’s life experience would make him a better representative for the diverse district.
“We need more people that look like us in our system, and for all of our lawmakers I think there should be a very resounding call to action,” said Hersey. “What does it mean to legislate in the interests of those who are in many ways furthest away from justice in every magnitude of the word?”
Hersey hopes Hackney will address transportation funding and special education funding in the next legislative session, as well as municipal broadband, ensuring schools can re-open safely, and address the looming mental health problems children will face as a result of racism and the pandemic.
Chetanya Robinson is a Seattle-based journalist.
Featured image courtesy of Washington Representative-Elect David Hackney.