By Kai Curry
Northwest Asian Weekly
A pleasant energy was in the air as audience members settled into their seats for the 7th Annual Asian/Pacific Islander Candidate Forum on Oct. 9 in the International District (ID). There was a collective feeling of excitement that participants were getting better informed in order to make the most of the political process. Signage extolled everyone to vote, while a table manned by the International Community Health Center provided the paperwork needed to register, or re-register for language-appropriate voting materials. Moderator Michael Itti, executive director of the Chinese Information Service Center, made sure the candidates stayed on track, while interpreters spoke into headphones for Vietnamese- and Cantonese-speaking attendees.
While the forum was not organized as a debate per se—candidates were given pre-set questions that the candidates themselves had not seen in advance, and everyone answered in turn—a debate-like atmosphere did evolve in particular between Port of Seattle Commission Position 2 hopefuls, Grant Degginger, former mayor of Bellevue, and up-and-comer, Sam Cho, as each responded, in a rather pointed way, to the answers made by the other. While Degginger emphasized his prior experience with large projects and large budgets, Cho honed in on how his campaign took the AAPI community into account.
“We need a commissioner on the Port who understands the needs of communities of color.”
When Degginger said that “a lot of what the Port does is welcome people to our communities,” Cho came back aggressively that the Port was not at all welcoming.
Cho pointed out that the signs in the airport are mostly in English, which got a round of applause from a good portion of the audience, especially the younger voters who made their alliance with Cho known throughout the conversation. When Cho asserted that he was the only candidate between them with both federal and state experience, having served former President Obama as a political appointee and state Sen. Bob Hasegawa as a legislative assistant, Degginger fired back that he, too, had federal experience, and wasn’t afraid to go directly to D.C. to advocate for Seattle.
“I worked on the Hill for four years, at the federal level…I also have worked, as a mayor, going back to D.C. and getting results for people in the community that I serve,” Degginger reminded the audience.
Cho said that the Port should be “a port of the people.” He was consistent with this agenda, getting behind unions, and agreeing that quality of life had gone down for residents inside of Sea-Tac’s flight paths. Not all progress is good progress, Cho insisted. “For those of you who live in South King County or Beacon Hill, you know that as Sea-Tac Airport has expanded…your quality of life has gone down.”
Degginger also expressed his support for unions and mitigating the effects of the growth of the airport on nearby neighborhoods. He said that he wants to “make sure that we have a competitive sea port that continues to provide jobs,” and improve accountability and transparency at the Port, which he proposed, “needs some attention.” In his response to unions and jobs at the Port, Cho got more specific, citing a recent meeting he’d had with airport union members currently bargaining with Hudson News who, Cho claimed, was bargaining “in bad faith.” Cho continued, “This is when I talk about making sure that the Port is working for the people, and not for big corporations.”
The room calmed down a little when the next speakers took their places, which is not to say there wasn’t any tension—because people get tense when it comes to making sure their kids are taken care of. More than one Seattle School Board race was on the agenda for the evening. In the case of visiting School Board candidates, each recognized that it was important for them to assure the ID audience that, no matter where they lived, they would support the community as a whole. As each of them promised, anything they did for their kids and their neighborhood schools was a win for everyone. As might be expected, School Board hopefuls laid out prior experience with schools and children. Big topics were the challenges of English Language Learners and of schools in King County properly disaggregating student data.
Liza Rankin, position 1, recognized, with all of the School Board candidates, “how challenging it can be for parents and families to make sure that their children receive the services that they qualify for,” and she promised “to find ways to engage and empower families that are often left out of the conversation.”
A lot of that engagement has to do with being able to understand the school materials that are handed out. Position 3 candidate Chandra Hampson, a member of the Ho-Chunk of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, was adamant about providing non-English language materials to students and their families. She feels getting more materials in more languages is an investment “we need to make not just as part of a human community, but because this is a global city.” Her counterpart, Rebeca Muñiz, a child of undocumented parents, also pushed for “greater focus on racial equity and inclusion.” In the case of candidates with their own backgrounds of being sidelined or disadvantaged, the emotion was clear behind their views.
One of the most important steps to ensuring that students and their families are represented is properly disaggregating school data. Such as with the approaching census, if people are not counted properly, the right funds and programs will not be put into place. In schools, if students are not identified correctly, they will not get the resources they need.
“Asia is 60% of the world’s population,” pointed out Eric Blumhagen, position 1. “By lumping everybody together as ‘Asian,’ we’re not answering the questions that we need to be answering.” Hampson struck a chord when she talked about “decolonizing the data.”
“We are missing so many important characteristics and valuable peoples within that API category.” Muñiz agreed, “We need to make sure that we know which students are furthest from educational justice.”
It was a lengthy evening full of riveting discussion, and the audience was getting tired when former Seattle Deputy Mayor Hyeok Kim, representing the Washington Fairness Campaign, stepped up to talk about Initiative 1000. In short order, Kim woke everyone back up with her energy and passion regarding the issue. According to Kim, reinstating affirmative action would, among other things, relieve the teacher of color shortage. Rather than being discriminatory, as opponents of I-1000 are proclaiming, Kim insisted that I-1000 does not entail quotas, and that “each and every one of us…who believes in the values of fairness and equal opportunity and inclusion” should not be “fear-mongered” into voting against I-1000 by those spreading misinformation.
Kim concluded that I-100 can benefit not only “public agencies, but…our communities, our children, our families.”
Kai can be reached at email@example.com.