Candidates at CIRCC’s 5th Annual Candidate Forum got up close and personal in roundtable discussions. • Photo by Jeanie Lindsay
Candidates at CIRCC’s 5th Annual Candidate Forum got up close and personal in roundtable discussions. • Photo by Jeanie Lindsay

Candidates and communities came together Saturday, July 9 for a lively forum where hotly debated questions surrounding immigration, housing affordability, and safety challenged potential office holders.

The Coalition of Immigrants, Refugees, and Communities of Color (CIRCC) hosted their 5th Annual Candidate Forum that brought candidates from statewide and local district elections to the table to answer questions from community members. The day kicked off with a Q&A session for two of the three candidates for Secretary of State. Followed by a packed table of candidates for the 43rd Legislative District, the morning of the event moved smoothly, and was predictably dominated by Democrats.

During the first session, former Seattle City Council member Tina Podlodowski answered questions about her background. Her opponent Tim Turner responded to questions by asking for the audience and community to guide and inform him of where their most pressing needs lie. He promised to work with them throughout his campaign and potential term in office.

Although their responses differed in baseline knowledge, both Podlodowski and Turner made a point to note the lack of understanding for communities of color and inaction from the current officeholder, Secretary of State Kim Wyman—as well as her absence from the event altogether.

Once the audience settled into their seats after lunch, candidates for the 9th Congressional District’s seat (Doug Balser, Rep. Adam Smith, and Jesse Wineberry) took their turn answering the set of questions formed by the CIRCC community, and, as moderator Dominique Stephens put it, “fireworks” flew.

Questions regarding gentrification revealed that all three candidates present support affordable housing measures, though Basler hopes to incentivize business rather than go after improving education like his fellow candidates. Later, when asked about obstacles facing immigrants, each of the candidates highlighted different keys to solving the issue.

Smith, the current 9th Congressional District congressman, said that improving enforcement of immigration laws remained the best course of action, whereas Basler supports improving legal pathways to citizenship, and Wineberry, a former Washington state Legislator, emphasized the need for humane laws to be put in place that cannot be struck down by any court.

Though much of the conversation consisted of the candidates agreeing on things like the importance of affirmative action to increase access for marginalized communities in education, the candidates dissented when it came to how the current congressmen interacts with constituents and would still “hear” these issues if re-elected.

While answering a question directly from the audience about how the candidates might represent the community, Smith punctuated his responses with what he later referred to as realistic expectations. A congressmen isn’t god, he told the audience, and while many candidates who run make promises out of their range of legitimate influence, he asserted that his values align with CIRCC.

Balser and Wineberry were unimpressed with Smith’s answer. Wineberry grilled Smith about the ethnic and racial makeup of Smith’s staff in D.C. to reiterate the importance of representation while Basler criticized the congressman’s response to constituents.

“I send [Smith] emails all the time, and I get back stock standard emails telling me, ‘Thanks for emailing me’ and then telling me how stupid I am,” Basler said.

In the midst of the criticism, Smith interrupted Basler to say that he was just telling lies, calling his attempt to discredit Smith’s office “ridiculous” and asking for proof.

Once the excitement of the 9th District’s forum drew to a close, the day concluded with a full table of candidates for the 7th Congressional District race. Currently occupied by Rep. Jim McDermott, who has held the position for nearly 30 years, the open seat has drawn several candidates—including a McDermott with no relation to the current congressman.

Although many of the candidates’ opinions mirrored one another for a majority of the session, Craig Keller stood out from the rest, repeating his disapproval for “illegal aliens,” as well as the name of his campaign’s website in his responses.

After CIRCC representatives posed a question asking how candidates might address the increasing incidents of racism, xenophobia, and homophobia in a political landscape, Keller rejected the notion that institutionalized racism existed in the first place, and called it a “cheap analysis” of the nation’s problems at hand.

Don Rivers, in stark contrast to Keller’s statements, told the crowd that opportunities for Black Americans are not accessible enough, and that the key to job creation starts with a deeper understanding and a fair playing field for communities of color.

Many of the candidates agreed that the issues at hand were not being dealt with through a number of broken systems and institutions. To make significant changes, King County Council Chair Joe McDermott said that we start by coming to an understanding through one-on-one conversations and providing more educational and political opportunities.

“We also do this by making sure there is justice in our society,” McDermott said.

Current state Sen. Pramila Jayapal echoed McDermott’s thoughts, and presented the importance of culturally relevant housing in a discussion about the displacement of families and immigrants. She also went on to discuss the vitality of education when it comes to improving the state of our nation and opening a dialogue about the injustices that come with the school to prison pipeline.

“We’ve got to address education,” Jayapal said. “We’re building prisons based on third grade test scores of our children, and that’s what it means to have institutionalized racism.”

Brady Walkinshaw, state representative for the 43rd legislative district, expressed similar concerns for the current state of our justice system, in addition to keeping families together despite their individual citizenship status. He expressed support for increasing population density within Seattle.

The remaining two candidates who attended the forum, Leslie Regier and former Burien Mayor Arun Jhaveri, agreed with a majority of the points made by their counterparts, and both advocated the importance of uniting communities to make meaningful shifts in policy and enforcement of those policies.

In closing, moderator Stephens asked each candidate whether they would meet with CIRCC representatives within 60 days if they were elected into office, and all candidates answered with a resounding yes—some even offering to meet within 30, or the day after the election.

Primary elections for Washington state will be held August 2, and the top two candidates from each race will then be on the ballot in November. To find your voting or district’s information, visit the King County Voter Guide at http://www.kingcounty.gov/depts/elections.

Candidates attended CIRCC’s 5th Annual Candidate Forum on July 6, 2016 for debate and discussion. • Photo by Jeanie Lindsay
Candidates attended CIRCC’s 5th Annual Candidate Forum on July 6, 2016 for debate and discussion. • Photo by Jeanie Lindsay

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