Rep. Adam Smith (D) and his opponent, Sarah Smith, met Thursday at Rainier Arts Center in Columbia City to discuss issues vital to Washington’s 9th Congressional District. The district is 21 percent Asian and Pacific Islander.
Sarah Smith (no relation to Adam Smith) is a Democratic Socialist and Justice Democrat trying to unseat a long-reigning incumbent. Accordingly, her candidacy has drawn numerous comparisons to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s upset victory in New York in June against Joseph Crowley, the fourth-highest ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives.
In August, Sarah Smith became Rep. Smith’s first general election challenger from the left, edging out Republican Doug Basler with 26.86 percent of the vote compared to his 24.71 percent. Rep. Smith, meanwhile, received 48.42 percent of the vote.
Sarah Smith and Rep. Smith agreed on a number of issues during Thursday’s forum, which was hosted by the Columbia City Business Association and KVRU 105.7 FM. The candidates were in solidarity on topics such as Initiative-1631, a Washington state carbon fee on the ballot in November that both candidates support, and a $15 per hour minimum wage, which Rep. Smith strongly supported with SeaTac Prop 1, among others.
“I know what it’s like to grow up in a working class family, so equality of opportunity has always been critically important to me and I think this is the number one issue facing our country right now,” Rep. Smith said to a predominately pro-Sarah Smith crowd.
Rep. Smith, who would become chairman of the House Armed Services Committee if Democrats win a majority in that chamber, faced repeated criticism during the forum for his 2002 decision to authorize the use of military force against Iraq.
“When I was in high school, I was busy having sit-ins and walkouts in high school for a war that George [W.] Bush lied about and Adam voted to send us to,” Sarah Smith, who is endorsed by the Washington State Progressive Caucus, said.
Rep. Smith repeatedly expressed his regret for the vote, but that was not enough for some of the audience.
“Bro, you’re fired, you are fired,” one attendee shouted during the event before leaving. “I’m tired of burying my kids, you’re fired. You’re fired. Go home Adam, go home Adam. You’re fired bro and I ain’t done with you.”
Sarah Smith faced her own line of criticism from the Congressman for claiming she voted in February against the Kent education levy, part of which will pay for “one in five of all district employees and bridges the gap between state funding and community expectations,” according to the Seattle Times.
“Public schools are fundamental and I think you ought to be able to support that,” Rep. Smith said.
Candidate Smith, who told The Stranger that she dropped her ballot in the mail, did not have a vote counted in the special election.
During the forum, both Rep. Smith and Sarah Smith said that they don’t think charter schools should be a part of the education process.
On the topic of health care, both candidates noted their support for universal health care, but differed on the method for achieving that goal.
“Single-payer is the only way forward,” Sarah Smith said, referring to a plan where the federal government pays for all residents’ coverage. “It ensures that every single person has coverage when they need it, and doctors can provide care and not deal with insurance bureaucracy.”
Adam Smith, who says he has a “masochistic fascination with health care policy,” believes other ways of covering more people could work as well.
“I’m going to be a little bit more flexible if it gets us to getting everybody covered,” Rep. Smith, who cosponsored House Resolution 676, which would establish a Medicare for All program, in April 2017 said.
The 9th Congressional District is the only majority-minority district in Washington and Rep. Smith has in the past said that “there are 160 different languages spoken” in it.
“This isn’t quite your run-of-the-mill congressional district,” forum moderator Crystal Fincher, who hosts KVRU’s “The Fifth Estate,” said.
Both candidates stressed how important it is for officials to reach out to minorities.
“Their voice needs to be heard,” Rep. Smith said. “We need a representative who knows how to listen to people that aren’t like him or her.”