A 31-year-old sophomore state representative from Capitol Hill will be challenging 14-term Congressional incumbent Jim McDermott for his seat representing Seattle in the U.S. House of Representatives.
State Rep. Brady Walkinshaw says he's running against McDermott in 2016 because "there’s an exciting opportunity here to bring a new perspective into Congress that captures all the change we’re seeing in the region.” Both men are Democrats.
The move is a surprise since McDermott has said he has no plans to retire and intra-party niceties tend to dictate that another Democrat shouldn't announce a run until the sitting one has bowed out. The 7th Congressional District covers much of Seattle, Shoreline, Edmonds, and Vashon Island.
In an interview with The Stranger, Walkinshaw hesitated to speak negatively about McDermott, for whom he said he has a “great deal of respect." Walkinshaw said he “would have voted similarly” to McDermott on most issues. But he gently hinted at the idea that maybe, after so many terms in D.C., the incumbent is checked out.
“He has been on the right side of history during his time in the legislature,” Walkinshaw said of McDermott. “However, I think priorities have changed and the region is in a spot where we’re ready for the next progressive leader.”
Among those new priorities, which Walkinshaw plans to make centerpieces of his campaign: criminal justice reform and federal funding for transit infrastructure.
McDermott, who's 78 and has served in the U.S. Congress for 26 years, is about the furthest thing from a conservative you can find in the House. He was against the Iraq War from the start, he's a supporter of Obamacare (but wishes we had a single-payer healthcare system), and at one of his most recent Seattle appearances he spoke out against the panic over Syrian refugees. He's currently a senior member of the House Ways and Means and Budget committees and has made plenty of Republican enemies during his time in D.C. He won his last election with nearly 80 percent of the vote.
Walkinshaw, on the other hand, is a relatively new face in state politics. He's been in the state legislature in Olympia since 2014, having gotten there after Ed Murray won the race for mayor of Seattle in December 2013 and then-state Rep. Jaime Pedersen was selected to replace Murray in the state senate. That left Pedersen's state house seat open, and Walkinshaw got the appointment. He was then elected to the seat by the voters of Seattle's 43rd District in 2014.
Since he would have been up for election again next year, this announcement will leave his seat representing the 43rd wide open—which could create an interesting local free-for-all.
Walkinshaw grew up in Whatcom County, graduated from Princeton, and later worked at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, according to his online legislative bio. His mom immigrated to the United States from Cuba as a child. He now lives with his husband on Capitol Hill.
Two bills stand out among Walkinshaw's work during his first years in Olympia: A bill loosening restrictions on heroin overdose medication and Joel's Law, which allows families to petition a court to involuntarily commit a family member for mental health treatment. That law, which was named after a man who died in a police encounter on Capitol Hill in 2013, was supported by some in the mental health advocacy community but opposed by the ACLU.
Walkinshaw isn't delusional. If elected, he would be a brand new Congressman in a dysfunctional DC, where Republicans control the House and that’s unlikely to change for a while. And to even get to that point, he’ll have to beat an enduringly popular Democrat whose basically the embodiment of your average Seattle lefty.
“Yes, this is disruptive,” Walkinshaw said. “I’m bracing for the news stories and comments.”
Walkinshaw said he’ll soon announce support from a dozen of his fellow legislators and the heads of groups like El Centro de la Raza and Casa Latina. He said he’s spoken about the run with McDermott as well as Mayor Ed Murray and County Executive Dow Constantine (who’ve both at various points in time been rumored to want McDermott’s seat), but he wouldn’t elaborate on those conversations.
When I cornered Murray about all this after an event at Seattle University last night, the mayor said, with an infuriatingly noncommittal smile on his face: “Obviously Brady is a personal friend. I performed his wedding. And Jim McDermott is someone who I’ve worked with. They’re both good Democrats.”
Murray claims he doesn’t “have any plans at this point to endorse” in the race. (Yawn, Ed.)
Walkinshaw said he won’t take any PAC contributions during the campaign because “money is corrosive in politics." He also wants to "use this campaign as a way to talk about race” because “as a state, we’ve never elected a Democrat of color to federal office.”
The 2016 elections will be massively important for progressive causes in Washington state, with multiple legislative seats up and potential measures about sick leave, a higher minimum wage, and a carbon tax on the ballot. (Plus, of course, the presidency up for grabs.)
A competitive race in the 7th Congressional District, Walkinshaw said, “will only help boost turnout in the place we need it most.”
The next question will be: who's going to file to run for the state house seat Walkinshaw is vacating. (“Everybody who wants to run for office lives in the 43rd,” Murray joked about the district he used to represent.)
One of those people, Michael Maddux, recently lost his bid for city council and said he’s considering a run for Walkinshaw's seat. But he hasn’t decided for sure.
Expect to see a bunch of other people jump in for the 43rd District state house race—and possibly more people making a move for the 7th Congressional District seat—in the coming weeks.
This post has been updated.