EDITOR’S NOTE: A month has passed since the August primary, and general-election voting is a little more than a month away. Our election coverage continues with a closeup look at both candidates running for the open 34th District State Senate seat. We interviewed Shannon Braddock and Joe Nguyen separately before Labor Day, and are presenting the stories tonight and tomorrow.
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Of the 11 candidates who were on the primary-election ballot for the 34th District State Senate seat, Shannon Braddock was the only one who had run for office before.
Three years ago, she finished a very close second in the first-ever District 1 City Council election, losing to Lisa Herbold by just 39 votes.
Now, Braddock is campaigning again, this time to represent a larger area – the 34th Legislative District, which includes West Seattle (where she lives), Vashon and Maury Islands, White Center and part of the rest of North Highline, and part of Burien. Its senator is one of three legislators for the district; the two State House Reps., Eileen Cody and Joe Fitzgibbon, both ran for re-election this year, both unopposed. Sen. Sharon Nelson, the outgoing Senate Majority Leader, chose to retire.
Why does Braddock want the job? was our opening question when we sat down to talk at Fauntleroy Schoolhouse. (You can see and hear our entire conversation, unedited, in the video above.)
“I think it’s really important (for there to be) more moms in elected office,” replied the mother of three, adding that “good public policy is important to me” – it’s the field in which she’s been working, as deputy chief of staff to County Executive Dow Constantine and, previously, chief of staff to County Councilmember Joe McDermott. Before she decided for sure to run, Braddock said, her sons were circumspect about the idea, but, she says, “my daughter jumped up and down and clapped her hands and got giddy about the idea … she said, ‘You have to do it, you always tell us the hard things are the things you should go out and do’ … She was really the person who tipped me over the edge.”
Something else her daughter said has motivated her, too, Braddock says: Fear stirred by the current climate regarding immigration. Her daughter was born in Korea, and was worried she’d be sent back there – without her mom. “I had to sit her down and explain why that wouldn’t happen to her,” and what’s being done in our state to “try and push back against” federal policies. She also heard concern from her eldest child, who she said has just started college and who came out as gay when he was 16 years old. “And we’ve seen what some people in this (federal) administration … and even in this state, and Legislature, have tried to do to erode the civil rights of the LGBTQ community … so it’s very personal to me.”
She says she wants to “go and fight on behalf of the district” in Olympia. Yet she also says she feels she could work well in “the bipartisan environment that is the State Legislature” because she already has to work in that type of environment in her current job.
What will she work on first in the Legislature?
*A capital-gains tax – fixing the tax structure overall. “(A capital-gains tax) really just affects this very top layer of people. … And I think we should lower a bit of the sales and property taxes.” She recognizes that’ll be tricky maneuvering and says she’s ready to help figure out how to sway more legislators to the cause by helping win over their “influencers.”
*Housing and homelessness
*Access to health care (“single-payer, universal access”)
*Access to child care
That one in particular fuels her passions and ideas. “It’s a very real issue that’s just now starting to get a lot of attention. … When I was asked once at a forum what my biggest, oldest idea (is), I said, ‘universal child care’.” She says that may not be achievable – at least not by legislative action – but she sees ways to move in that direction, such as “tying some corporate tax breaks to corporate responsibility” such as on-site child care or child-care subsidies. A capital-gains tax could be used in part to fund some pilot programs, she suggests. And she brings up “state regulations around opening an in-home day care,” suggesting that they should be reviewed because they may be so onerous as to discourage many people – herself included, at one point – from offering the service. Also, she suggests there might be other ways to help potential in-home-day-care operators, such as loans. But above all, Braddock says, “the important thing to me is that we start talking about it” because the lack of child care “holds back working families.” She says there’s “a little bit of momentum” with a Child Care Task Force formed already in the Legislature and she’d “like to light a fire under it.” That includes legislation, though she’s not sure yet what form it might take.
We segued into a discussion of her background and what she does now in her government job, noteworthy since she touts that as a differentiator. She noted that she was a stay-home parent for about 10 years and worked “part time on and off in governmental affairs for a (startup) company that made automated external defibrillators.” Concerned about future career prospects, she decided to go back to school for a graduate degree. She studied at the University of Washington‘s Evans School of Public Policy and Governance and got a degree in public administration. “It took me seven years to finish a two-year degree,” mostly studying at night.
She got involved in local organizations including the 34th District Democrats and West Seattle Food Bank. Through subsequent networking, she said, she met McDermott, who hired her to be his chief of staff after he was elected to the King County Council. That job involved managing the office staff and his legislative agenda. “He was budget chair for three years of the six years I worked with him and I was his chief budget staffer.” That involved a lot of detail work as well as coordination and interaction with other staff and other councilmembers as well as stakeholders whose concerns also needed to be addressed.
Currently, as deputy chief of staff for Constantine, her accountabilities include managing relations with the County Council, and strategizing “about policies that we’re going to be sending over and how we’re going to navigate” making it happen.
Unresolved issues into which she’d be jumping, if elected, include education funding. It seems no one’s happy with the property-tax increase that was supposed to resolve the funding deficit identified in the McCleary lawsuit. Braddock says she’s glad “the lawsuit … is not looming over the Legislature” but doesn’t consider the funding problems resolved. She pointed to the teacher contract controversies (at the time of our conversations with the candidates, Seattle teachers had not yet agreed on a new contract) and special-education funding, for two examples. “In many ways, I think we’ve been funding based on buildings, not students,” and that should be re-focused, she thinks, on outcomes. She thinks fixing the tax structure overall will help resolve the problem.
Then there’s the Sound Transit car-tab tax issue (the court ruling upholding it had yet to happen when we spoke); she feels “we need to look at something there” but not something resulting in reduction of funding or a slower timetable for ST projects. She does sympathize that “people are not happy (because) it wasn’t clear to them what the cost was going to be.” She says State Sen. Marko Liias had been championing a proposal closest to what she would support.
Also on the subject of transportation, with two legs of the Fauntleroy-Vashon-Southworth ferry route in the 34th District, we asked Braddock about Washington State Ferries issues. Funding “another security person” for the Fauntleroy queue and considering reinstating “the bypass lane” are points of interest, as is money to build two new ferries. “We need to make sure we’re not just maintaining infrastructure but increasing capacity” for the marine highway system, she adds, while also saying it’ll be vital to be “guarding the budget.”
What committees would she want to serve on?
-Ways and Means
And, she mentions that there’s been talk of creating a committee focused on housing affordability and homelessness, and she would be interested in serving on that, if it’s created
Speaking of which – what does she believe state legislators can do about homelessness?
For one – get the Housing Trust Fund back up to 2009. For two, behavioral-health help that can keep more people from becoming homeless due to those issues. Other types of homelessness-prevention help could be possible with more caseworker availability, Braddock says. To increase housing supply, she would like to look at expanding state involvement in surplus-property programs.
Before our conversation concluded, we asked about the differences between her and her opponent – both running as “progressive Democrats.”
“I’m running as a single working mom, as a woman – I do think it’s more important that we elect more women to our Legislatures … I have been very engaged in this community for many, many years.” She mentions again that she’s been involved with local nonprofits, including the WS Food Bank and WestSide Baby, and that she has been to Olympia to lobby for educating funding with the PTA. “I’ve also been able to practice this work in my career .. in really trying to work on policies that move things forward, in a bipartisan body. … I’ve been on the front lines of passing things like the Veterans, Seniors, and Human Services Levy …” She also muses about the teams of people engaged in getting things done in government, on her experience working with different municipalities – King County has 39 of them – and what it takes to move ideas, policies, legislation forward, “and to be willing to change tracks when you need to.” That kind of work is what she believes the State Senate job is about.
Before we concluded, we brought up one very local issue – White Center annexation, and the role of the Legislature in continuing to make a state tax credit available for a potential annexer (currently Seattle is the only contender, though not pursuing it aggressively, and it hasn’t come up since Jenny Durkan became mayor). She said that, whatever the issue, she thinks it’s important that White Center be given the chance to be annexed “if they are so inclined … because I really do feel they’d be better served if they were annexed.”
Tomorrow (Wednesday) night, we’ll publish our conversation with Joe Nguyen, the political newcomer who topped the primary vote. Also Wednesday night, you can see Braddock and Nguyen debate during the 34th District Democrats’ meeting, 7 pm at The Hall at Fauntleroy (9131 California SW). Ballots for the November election, including this race, will be mailed October 17th.