7th Congressional District contenders face off in CityClub debate

The start of last week’s Washington 7th Congressional District forum in downtown Seattle was underscored by the recent gun violence nationally and abroad, with candidates fielding questions mere hours after news broke of the Bastille Day attack in Nice, France.

Moderators for last Thursday’s City Club forum, in partnership with the Downtown Seattle Association, started off a series of questions based around the tragedy in France and the divisiveness nationally regarding police accountability and racial justice. Since then, six officers were shot — three fatally — in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, following civil unrest around the shooting death of a black man there earlier this month.

Brady Walkinshaw, who is forgoing a run to keep his 43rd District representative seat this year, said the country and world are grieving, and the best response is to use the United Nations to collectively respond to systemic issues around terrorist attacks.

He said ISIS is a global threat, but the United States’ actions abroad can have negative effects, and the country should cease its longterm occupations of countries in the Middle East.

King County Councilmember Joe McDermott was critical of the continued detentions at Guantanamo Bay, calling it a recruitment tool for extremists. The same can be said about indiscriminate killings by U.S.-led drone strikes, he said.

Pro-immigration activist and 37th District Sen. Pramila Jayapal said people are waking up every day national and international tragedies, calling for the formation of international coalitions.

“We can’t fight wars based on locations anymore,” she said, “and I fundamentally believe that war should be the last, and absolutely the last answer and never the first.”

She said global investments in health, human services and infrastructure should be seen as solutions for giving people options to better their lives and not resort to terrorism.

Addressing a number of police-involved shootings across the country just this year alone, moderators asked candidates whether the FBI or Department of Justice should be charged with investigating these matters in the future.

All three candidatesfelt federal review would be a good response.

“Longterm though, we need to change society in addressing institutional racism that exists here, that drives the doubt and lack of confidence in our police and our system,” McDermott said, adding part of that would involve ending for-profit prisons, closing school achievement gaps and doubling funding for the Head Start program.

Walkinshaw said he anticipates more bipartisan support now around criminal justice reform, adding there are 10 times more people in the U.S. prison system than in the 1960s. He said the current system is not economical and is inhumane and unjust.

The candidates were likewise in agreement that assault weapons and open carry should be banned.

“I think if we just look at where gun responsibility legislation is going, the American public is in step with the reality that the way that we allow access to firearms in America is absolutely wrong,” Walkinshaw said.

Jayapal spoke about her sponsorship of the Child Access Prevention bill that would keeps guns locked up and away from children.

“To me, that’s just simple common sense,” she said, “and I think we are in this culture of violence. I frankly think that we have, I mean, if you look at our statistics, we are the only developed country that in the world that has the kind of gun deaths that we have today.”

“It is a public health crisis,” said McDermott, who serves on the King County Board of Health, “and to address it, we should ban assault weapons. We should have national comprehensive background checks and, most importantly, we should hold gun manufacturers liable for their weapons on our streets.” He added the goal shouldn’t be to put manufacturers out of business, but there is currently a lack of financial incentives for creating safer products, such as guns with built-in locks and fingerprint technology.

Each candidate also received a personalized question from moderators during the July 14 forum.

Jayapal responded to a question regarding her push for fair immigration reform, stating she thinks she would be able to accomplish such a push within a two-year term. She said her vision for immigration reform would inject $1.5 trillion into the U.S. economy over the next 10 years, adding even Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan is now an ally. She hopes legislation the Senate passed in 2013 will make a resurgence.

“I helped write pieces of the bill that passed the U.S. Senate in 2013, and I’ll tell you that, while it’s not the perfect bill, it does provide a path to citizenship, it does increase work visas for businesses, it does protect families and unifies families and protects civil rights.”

McDermott was asked to speak about his push to repeal Citizen United through a constitutional amendment, which is a very difficult process for overturning a Supreme Court decision.

“It would be my first bill as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives; my first piece of legislation,” he said. “And that is because independent expenditures, that outside money that flows into a race, into an area, unrestricted, unreported, secret, really corrupts our democracy.”

He is asking all candidates to sign a people’s pledge to support this undertaking.

Walkinshaw was questioned about his support for stronger legislation to address growing concerns around climate change. He said the Northwest has an opportunity to serve as a model for what sustainability in urban centers look like in the future.

“We live in the most dynamic, innovative, changing urban center in the United States,” he said. “and I think that we have this opportunity here as a community here in the Northwest to really shape and influence federal issues, but also deliver back home in some really concrete ways.”

Only two candidates will go on to the Nov. 8 general election following an Aug. 2 primary vote. While Jayapal, McDermott and Walkinshaw were given a platform during the City Club event, a number of lesser-known candidates seeking to replace outgoing Rep. Jim McDermott were not. Some, like Democratic candidate Don Rivers, attended the forum and attempted to reach potential voters afterward.