Editor’s Note: This is the second in our series of interviews with the candidates- 5 Democrats and 1 Republican- who are vying to replace retiring State Senator Adam Kline in the 37th District. The top two candidates chosen in the primary election- held on August 5th- will continue on to the general- which takes place on November 4th. The winner of which will represent the 37th District in the Washington State Senate. The 37th currently comprises almost the entire South Seattle area.
It’s enticingly easy to dismiss Rowland Martin’s candidacy to represent the 37th District as its State Senator. As the only Republican running in the deeply blue district – that has yet to come marginally close to sending anyone other than a Democrat to Olympia in the past 20 years- to say that the odds were heavily stacked against him would be an understatement’s understatement.
However, unlike the majority of his predecessors who have attempted to wage a legitimate battle in the traditionally progressive stronghold, Martin is equipped with the belief that he can win. When taking into account that over 20 percent of the district self-identifies as conservative, the low voter turnout inherent in non-presidential year elections, and a throwback brand of republicanism that excuses itself from divisive social issues, while attending to economic growth and civil liberties – that belief may just prove warranted.
Emerald: Historically the 37th District has overwhelming supported Democrats at almost every level of government. Why did you decide to run as a Republican for State Senator? Many people, for lack of a better term, perceive any Republican candidacy in this race as a “fool’s errand.”
Rowland Martin: I think that there are a number of people who by their nature are more conservative. I think that we have an incredibly diverse community, politically as well as ethically. I was recently talking with a vietnamese man in the area – who was literally a boat person- and he asked me what party I was affiliated with and I said, “I’m a Republican.” He said, “Good! Otherwise I would’ve been really upset.” (laughter)
I talked to another man in Bryn Mawr last week. I came into his living room, and we spoke for a long time and he agreed with me on most of my points. I think that at the root there’s a lot of people who are conservative, and I just don’t think they’ve had anyone who can articulate a rational, conservative message in this district. I think that some headway can be made here. Maybe people look at me as the guy just trying to get the message out, but you have to start somewhere. I’m here to give people that alternative, let these so called progressives know, that not everyone is completely satisfied to the point of a no opposition district, and that message needs to be heard loudly.
Emerald: A lack of good, quality jobs is a huge concern amongst South Seattle residents, as its unemployment rate is higher than in any other portion of the city. If you were elected state senator how would you address that concern?
Martin: I would do my best to get rid of what I think are barriers to getting businesses started, along with barriers to young people entering professions, and what I think is a broken education system that doesn’t give them many initial opportunities. So, what specifically am I talking about?
I’m talking about a state that rejects new businesses, that agonizes over whether they’re going to allow coal or oil that’s brought here from a train, and is opposed to even shipping these things,. Right now the Panama Canal is being expanded, ships are already built, they’re going to be able to fit through this larger canal, and we already know that the amount of shipping traffic coming into Puget Sound is going to drop -because if you can ship it directly via boat to the large population centers along the East Coast or Europe, you’re not going to bring it into Seattle or Tacoma, and put it on a train and ship it across the country.
We just keep saying no, even to little neighborhood projects. There’s some little neighborhood project up by the Home Depot, where Sick’s Stadium used to be. For some reason, there seems to be controversy about building it. I look around at the businesses in that area, and a lot of it is in really old buildings – that frankly needs to be rejuvenated or torn down. We can’t keep making it hard to do that, by making permitting difficult, by agonizing over whether you’re going to change the character of a neighborhood, or going to tear down some building that is way out of date.
The other thing is, we are subsidizing really ineffective technologies with this green energy focus. Windmills, are not high tech. There’s some technology that obviously goes into the blades, but putting a generator on a pole to generate electricity, there’s a bunch of things wrong with it. Foremost being, your subsidizing tax dollars to pay for it and the ratio of energy produced to tax dollar subsidy is really bad, with wind energy.
You’re taking people’s money out of their pocket, to say: “We’re going to subsidize a few little jobs to do these technologies that aren’t efficient.” There’s a technology this state used to believe in, nuclear power, we need to start doing that again. I do believe that we should start subsidizing our energy production and distribution, because that’s the kind of thing that’s going to bring industry in and create jobs.
Emerald: This area has not sent a Republican to the State Senate in quite some time, and is associated with being a progressive area. That being the case, why should someone in the 37th, who traditionally votes left of center chose you to represent them?
Martin: I’d ask that person, how many decades have you voted for a Democrat? And then I’d ask, what’s their bottom line for their families and themselves? Democrats are telling you all these nice, wonderful things, but has any of it really been delivered to you? What’s your bottom line? Why are you continuing to listen to the same party? The same group for decades has been saying, “Oh! We’re going to solve all these problems,” and they’re not solving them.
What have they shown you? Why do you keep voting for the same thing? Why do you keep identifying with them? It just doesn’t make any sense to me. If you look at a chart of wealth disparity since 1947, it’s been the same straight line up to more disparity. It’s not been solid Republicans since 1947, and it doesn’t go dropping down when there’s a Democrat in charge of things. It’s the same trend, and they aren’t solving the issue.
You have to let people have more of their money. You have to have less crony capitalism, and you have to get the government out of the way. You also have to expect that people are going to have to make their own opportunities, and we’ve gotten away from that. Again I’d ask them what’s their bottom line? Are you really getting anything out of it, or is it just enough to barely get a place to live and have a television?
Emerald: Education is another prominent concern of area residents. Many people have been very vocal about the inadequacies of some South Seattle area schools. At the college level, you have many complaints about higher education becoming more and more cost prohibitive. How would you address this at the state level?
Martin: I’m going to say that I think it’s so bad that we’re going to have to start trying much more radical solutions. When I say radical, let’s go over the facts. Young men are faring worse now. Hooray for women getting the opportunities to go into careers. That is great, absolutely! But, you look around the world and where you have serious social problems is where you have young man who are not educated, not brought into the civic society, and don’t have opportunities. It’s going to be a really bad problem in our own area unless something really radical is done, so what is that?
I think that we’ve come this kind of credentialistic society – we focus a little too heavy on do you have a college degree or not? Frankly, a lot of degrees aren’t necessary. The figure is 45% of recent college graduates are either unemployed or underemployed, many are working a job that they don’t need a degree for.
You have too many young people thinking that they have to go on this college track, and then they get into college and maybe they get a liberal arts degree- something that’s in high demand, and then they think, “Well maybe I have to get my master’s degree.” So that’s more time, and more debt, and they become stuck in this escalating battle, thinking that they have to get all this stuff before they’re worthy of getting a job, and I say no! This credential escalation has to end.
At the pre-college level, we used to take students who came out of High School and let them teach the younger students. They would look and they would say who’s the smartest kid who just came from our school, and they would put them to work as the teacher for the lower grades. They would eventually get better and better they’d move up. I think this allows students to relate better to their teachers as they’d be closer in age. You listen to your peers a little more.
I’m also supportive of a voucher system, as I think parents should be given some choice and variation of education. It would be much more cost effective than what people think. We currently spend $12,000 on each child, so for 20 kids that’s over a quarter of a million dollars. The max teacher salary is about 65,000- add in benefits and you’re at 100k, I think that you could find a teacher pretty easily for your voucher school at that kind of pay rate, and I don’t think it’s going to cost another $150,000 to find a class room to rent.
Emerald: As you’ve been branded the extreme underdog in the 37th District Senate race, you haven’t garnered the same level of media attention as many or your counterparts. What do you hope, besides being the only Republican in the race, that people identify you with?
Martin: I’d share that I’m not afraid of challenging the orthodoxy of opinion. I’ll state things as truthfully, and as accurately as I can see. I’m willing to compromise, but on the other hand I think that some better solutions than just more of the same are necessary. I think that people need to understand that I will articulate some new ideas and I think that I’ll be able to explain how those kinds of ideas will give them a better bottom line, which will lead to more individual liberty, and more choices in their lives. I’m practical, I’m pretty well read in American history. I know what kind of country we’ve been- in terms of growth and opportunity, and building wealth for every body who wants to put the time in.
Emerald:There’s been a lot of conversation, of late, in regards to our state’s tax structure. As many with lower incomes pay a higher percentage of their earnings in taxes than a more affluent person, such as Bill Gates, does. What would you do to fix that discrepancy?
Martin: I think I would say to people who think that, “Okay, my burden is relatively higher than someone else’s burden,” I would say to them, “You know, this mutual navel gazing about how much this person has, and how much that person has, was caused by having an income tax. So, we’re now all so focused on, is this person better off, is this group better off? We’ve gotta get out of that mode.
I’d also say that if you want to be a citizen, you should want to pay some, even if it’s not a large share. You should want to say that, “I paid some, and I’m participating as a citizen. The whole government service equation isn’t just flowing to me, but that some of my work does contribute to what should be, a minimal government.”
In terms of income disparity, it’s grown since we’ve implemented the income tax, it hasn’t shrunk, it’s gotten worse. The income tax resulted in a separate society, into people who are very wealthy and people who aren’t, and we’re starting to lose our middle class. The people who you hurt the most are the ones that are striving to get from the lower side of that equation to the higher side, and the thing is the very wealthy will always be able to use political power more effectively than the lower income people, the thing about the income tax is that it tends to wipe out the people who are trying to make that transition. You’re never able to get quite enough saved up to move into a place that you can focus on politics or public service. I would tell people that see that that this whole problem has been caused by the solution we put in place, that gets us all so focused on envy, and makes it hard to get to where we want to be.
Emerald: If elected, what would you want someone to be able to say about you at the end of your term?
Martin: That he at least did his best job to tell them the truth about what was going on, and that the information that he presented back to them was accurate and easy to understand, so that they’d know where the money was coming in and where it was going out.
Emerald: We’ll end with a softball. South Seattle is obviously known for its diversity, which extends to its restaurants. What is your favorite place to eat in South Seattle and why?
Martin: I absolutely love Maya’s in Rainier Beach. The food there is amazing. Whenever I want to take my wife out for a night, that’s the place I go to!