Jessyn Farrell doesn't look like another soldier in the gray-haired army of pantsuits running for elected office—this candidate for 46th District representative looks more like a Scout leader.
Until she opens her mouth.
"Seattle legislators need to formulate a cohesive agenda for ourselves, and then we need to leverage that into a voting bloc," Farrell explains when I ask how old she is. She doesn't want to talk about her age—she wants to talk about a plan for cities to seize control of the state's agenda. For too long, Seattle lawmakers have been marginalized as radicals, impotent on many issues, while suburban moderates and Republicans hammer out the budget. If elected, Farrell envisions a coalition of urban lawmakers that includes Spokane and Tacoma representatives working with Seattle lawmakers to advance an urban agenda: more transit funding, tax reform, women's health care rights, etc.
"I think with really tight numbers, like we have in the senate, you just need four or five folks who dig in their heels and say, 'This is a priority.'"
"Oh," Farrell adds, "and I'm 38."
Clearly, building coalitions for issues she cares about comes naturally to her. As a mediation lawyer, Farrell knows how to reach consensus; as the former executive director of Transportation Choices Coalition, Farrell has a record of winning over her opposition.
For example, Farrell successfully lobbied the transit-wary Bellevue City Council in 2011 to approve light rail accommodations across the SR 520 replacement bridge against the wishes of powerful anti-transit real-estate mogul Kemper Freeman. She also chaired a committee for the Puget Sound Regional Council that was filled with elected officials from Puget Sound's 82-odd cities and towns who had to decide—and agree upon—which projects in the region are worthy of receiving nearly $87 billion in transportation investments. "This process had the potential for being very contentious," recalls Seattle City Council member Mike O'Brien, a bona fide transit supporter. "She had to deal with people like me and the Tea Party and everyone in between, all fighting for our interests, but she had a way of shepherding the process so that everyone was engaged."
Farrell is running for the seat being vacated by retiring state representative Phyllis Gutiérrez Kenney in North Seattle's 46th legislative district, which encompasses Greenwood, Laurelhurst, Lake City, and Northgate. She has already landed an important victory in the race, winning 30 percent of August primary votes against five other challengers. Her closest opponent, Sarajane Siegfriedt, collected 22 percent of the vote on a nearly identical platform. The Stranger endorsed Siegfriedt during the primary based on her strong economic and business background.
But Farrell's own unique qualifications shouldn't be overlooked. Besides hearting the shit out of transit, Farrell has already built strong relationships with a wide swath of legislators in Olympia, her boosters say.
"Most freshmen have a steep learning curve—I just don't think she'll have it," says Bill LaBorde, who left Transportation Choices Coalition to advise Seattle City Council member and transportation committee chair Tom Rasmussen. "Her relationships are already set up. I'd expect her, even in her first year, to have some legislative accomplishments."
So what's on Farrell's agenda if she wins? Paving the way for expanded light rail routes through Sound Transit and renewing and expanding on King County's $20 vehicle license fee, which is set to expire in 2014. "Transit should have funding from the state as part of its funding mix," Farrell insists. The license fees fund a large chunk of King County Metro's operations; without it, Metro could be facing upwards of 17 percent cuts in services.
For Farrell, these issues circle back to her dream of crafting an urban caucus. "I don't want to introduce bills, I want to get bills signed," she says. "The way to do that is to get our leaders voting in a bloc. I know how to do that people-work in the legislature—the hornet's nest—and in the community. All [my constituents] have to do is give me a chance."