Up for debate

While the primary election is still more than two months away, the contenders to replace longtime Congressman Jim McDermott in Washington D.C. are already on the campaign trail to secure one of the top-two spots to advance to November.

On Wednesday evening, the trail stopped at the University of Washington’s Kane Hall, for a debate hosted by KCTS 9 and Crosscut.

Six candidates for the 7th Congressional District seat were in attendance for the hour-long session: state Sen. Pramila Jayapal, state Rep. Brady Walkinshaw, Metropolitan King County Council Chair Joe McDermott, former Burien mayor Arun Jhaveri, community activist Donovan Rivers, and Leslie Regier.

While each of those candidates — sans Regier (with no party affiliation) — identify as Democrats, they had different priorities when it came to what issues were at the top of their agendas. When asked what they what the top priority should be for House Democrats in their first hundred days in office — assuming that the House ends up with a Democratic majority — the candidates had different, albeit still liberal, views.

For Jayapal, it was comprehensive immigration reform, “so we can bring 11 million people out of the shadows,” along with raising the minimum wage and improving access to health care.

McDermott stressed the need for campaign finance reform and overturning the Supreme Court’s ‘Citizens United’ decision, while both Jhaveri and Walkinshaw mentioned addressing climate change. Walkinshaw said his first piece of legislation would be a federal carbon tax.

“I think climate change is the most pressing issue that our generation faces,” he said. “It’s why I got into this race.”

With Washington being one of the most trade-dependent states in the country, the candidates were also asked whether they supported a pair of controversial trade agreements in NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Every candidate except Jhaveri is opposed to both.

“There is no way we should become isolationist again, and make sure that the trade is between is between parties that will benefit mutually,” he said.

For Rivers, there was a distinction between his disagreement with the trade agreements, and the need to collaborate internationally.

“I’ve never seen Seattle grow so fast, and because that’s happening, we have to be culturally competent and ready to work with everybody,” Rivers said.

Meanwhile, Walkinshaw said he has seen first-hand through his work in South America the consequences of unfair trade policies.

“I believe we can get to a place where we have good trade policy,” Walkinshaw said, “but the type of trade policy we have been negotiating have not put our climate and our workers first.”

Jayapal noted the promises of job increases and better jobs for Americans in previous trade agreements have not come to fruition, and that workers need to be at the table moving forward.

“These agreements have been negotiated without labor unions at the table, and only with the largest corporations at the table,” she said.

McDermott compared the country’s approach to trade agreements to how a local employer has handled their staffing needs.

“When we lose Boeing jobs to South Carolina, it’s not because they built a better airplane, it’s because they pay their workers less,” he said. “That’s a race to the bottom within regions of our own country, and it’s the same dynamic when we enact free trade agreements like NAFTA and the TPP. We end up taking a race to the bottom in the larger international community, communities that don’t have the same labor and environmental protections that are hard fought in this country and serve us well.”

Campaign finance reform was also addressed in Thursday’s debate, with all six candidates expressing a need for change in the current system. 

Jayapal and Walkinshaw both made note of their respective campaigns not taking money from corporate PACs, and the former said while overturning Citizens United is an obvious decision, there were problems before that ruling as well.

“I believe that the system right now is rigged for the special interests and against working people,” she said.

Walkinshaw also said the region has an opportunity to be at the forefront of public campaign financing.

“This is another place where this region — which is so much more progressive than the rest of the country — when you think about what the 7th Congressional Districtcan do, it’s lead,” he said said. “And we can lead on some of these values we have here, and move those into the mainstream nationally, and public campaign financing is just another example that we can really lead on from the Northwest.”

However, the King County Council Chair took it a step further, and called on every candidate to agree to a “people’s pledge” rejecting all independent expenditures, “that secret money that is corrupting our democracy.”

“We have a chance to lead,” McDermott said. “I invite you to join me.”

Near the end of the evening, the candidates were asked what sets them apart from the rest of a field that is predominantly democratic.

Jhaveri said it was his background in science, technology, and engineering, while Jayapal said it was her experience organizing, and ability to deliver results, even on positions that aren’t always popular.

McDermott cited his 15 years of experience in local government, achieving progressive results on campaign finance reform and transit, along with civil rights for the LGBT community. Regier said she brings an open mind to the table, and would listen to everyone and represent everyone rather than just those who supported her.

“I’m for everyone, that’s what makes me stand out,” she said.

Rivers mentioned his work in resolving criminal justice issues and dealings with law enforcement.

“I get police chiefs fired,” Rivers said. “It’s not a problem if they’re not doing they’re job.”

Walkinshaw said Washington’s 7th District representative in Congress needs to focus on how to take the resources of the Northwest and Seattle, and think about how we can enact change nationwide.

“If the rest of the world looked more like the Pacific Northwest, if more parts of our country shared our values, this world would be a better place, and this country would be a better place in which to live. And I believe that to my core.”

The debate was moderated by KCTS 9’s Enrique Cerna, Joni Balter of the Seattle Times, and Drew Atkins of Crosscut.

To watch it online, go to kcts9.org/programs/vote-2016/live-stream-7th-congressional-district-primary-debate. It will also be televised on KCTS 9 on June 1 at 7 p.m.

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