By Kai Curry
Northwest Asian Weekly
The 8th Annual Asian American Pacific Islander Candidate Forum on July 22 gave candidates for the U.S. House of Representative Washington’s 9th Congressional district and Washington State Representative 37th legislative district, positions one and two, a chance to respond to questions from the community in a conversation broadcast via Zoom and Facebook.
During the forum, candidates addressed concerns on issues about systemic racism, healthcare, housing, and taxation, all of which have grown even more urgent due to COVID-19.
It felt like an in-person debate as state Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos and Democrat hopeful John Stafford, a high school history teacher, retorted to each other’s claims. Stafford pointed to Santos’ lack of progress in correcting the state’s taxation system during her years in office.
“It’s an area where I feel my opponent should have done far more over the past couple of decades. Now we are in an economic crisis and we still have this problem.”
Stafford was referring to the fact that those in our state who make less than $21,500 a year pay disproportionately more towards taxes than people who make more than $500,000 a year.
Santos responded by highlighting her experience with tax reform and reminding her opponent that it takes a team to push through change.
“He seems to think that it takes only me to implement some of these progressive tax ideas. Unfortunately, I am 1 of 147 and that is not…a majority to be able to pass any significant taxes.”
At the forefront of the tax reform platform for all 37th district candidates present was relief for working, lower, and middle classes, as well as small businesses. Most supported a capital gains tax or lowering the sales tax.
“I would like to see a working families tax credit,” said Chukundi Salisbury, candidate for State Representative in the 37th, position 2. “It comes down to closing the disparity in our particular district and making sure that resources that do come to our working families here in the district are, in fact, applied.”
Salisbury’s opponent, Kirsten Harris-Talley, emphasized that efforts to right wrongs in our state’s tax system, or address the large deficit in our state’s budget, should not be at the price of vital resources, such as COFA Islander healthcare.
“We’re going to need to put protection around those dollars,” she insisted. “So much of what’s come forward in the Black Lives Matter movement has been a consideration of divestment and investment. For too long, we’ve continued to divest from these systems of care and support for our communities.”
While the conversation between Santos and Stafford had the flavor of rivalry, Stafford and Harris-Talley largely agreed on the issues, with variations in approach.
On the difficulty community members are facing making their rental and mortgage payments, Harris-Talley, who introduced herself as a “Black, queer, PTA mom” prioritized a “green infrastructure of affordable housing and more density in our district so that the Black, brown, indigenous folks, and poor folks and working families know that they have the security to stay in their homes.”
On the subject of revenue, Stafford, who called himself a “servant-leader” and who has been active in support of police accountability, supported defunding prisons and bringing back the cannabis tax to get “that money back to our community.”
The 37th legislative district discussion drilled down into specifics about budget and revenue, housing and healthcare, while the 9th Congressional District conversation centered around national partisan division and anti-China sentiment.
Rep. Adam Smith said, “[Trump] wants an enemy…The president’s attempts to blame China for the virus, and to focus on China, is just an effort to distract from his own colossal failure in trying to address it here in the U.S.…Also, because of this, he gives people an excuse to act upon their racism…He’s done this with his attack on immigrants. He’s done this with his attack on Muslims. He’s done this now with his attack on China.”
Smith’s Republican challenger Doug Basler suggested the Democrats have a history of racism.
“The Jim Crow laws were Democrat laws…it’s pretty well documented that the Ku Klux Klan was a Democratic organization. And these Confederate statues they’re pulling down? Those guys were all Democrats! If we want to do something about systemic racism…Let us take over Seattle for a while. Let us take over Washington state for awhile…Because we’re not trying to divide us. We’re trying to bring us together.”
Basler, a former youth pastor whose campaign website calls the coronavirus the “Wuhan coronavirus,” suggested that people should follow the Golden Rule of kindness. “We’ve got to change our hearts,” he said.
A slightly different view was taken by Libertarian Jorge Besada, also running in the 9th Congressional District, who believed that lockdowns to stem the tide of COVID-19 were a mistake, but agreed that “President Trump calling this the China virus is reflective of this inherent tribalism that is very dangerous.”
Somewhat in line with Basler, Besada stated he “would not have any specific legislation to deal with this. If any human being is harmed, in any way, whether it’s because of racism, or because of the coronavirus, or whatever, somebody is committing a crime, so I really do not see the need to go out of the way to do something like that…we want people to understand and respect freedom and really fight for it…A crime is a crime. I do not like to add a whole racial aspect. I think that is counter-productive.”
Another 9th Congressional District Republican candidate, Joshua Campbell, allowed that China was “our number one threat” towards the economy and foreign policy, but added that he has family in China, and that “there’s a difference between the PRC, the government of China, and the few in there that are seeking goals, and their motives are totally different than the Chinese people, citizens of China.”
Campbell was not optimistic that anything could be solved prior to the elections, as too many power games were at play by those seeking to satisfy their constituents. However, he hoped for unity in government and in the nation.
“That’s one of the reasons I’m running. This pandemic has exposed a lot. If they would just come out unified and calm everybody down and show we’re all working together, we’re all able to do it, I think most of the public would realize that ‘oh, if they can do it, then I can do it.’ We’re one team. We’re America. We can get through this. But it’s going to be difficult. It’s going to be really difficult to get over this.”
Kai can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.