State Senator Pramila Jayapal is running for Seattles 7th Congressional District. As her campaign has gone on, shes made some untrue statements about her achievements.
State Senator Pramila Jayapal is running for Seattle's 7th Congressional District. Heidi Groover

In the final days of the campaign to represent Seattle in Congress, Pramila Jayapal and Brady Walkinshaw have been waging a war over one word: effectiveness.

The fight over which of these lefty Democrats can get more done is ongoing and complex—want to get deep in it?—but how about a simpler question: Are the candidates telling the truth when they talk about what they've accomplished?

In Jayapal's case, the answer appears to be not always.

Video and audio recordings obtained by The Stranger, as well as publicly available documents, show that in a series of campaign statements this year, Jayapal has stretched the truth about her role in killing a bad payday lending bill and about the impact of a policy she supported to expand access to contraceptives for people on Medicaid.

Before you keep reading, full disclosure: I was a member of the Stranger Election Control Board who voted to endorse Jayapal. Unlike Dan, I stand by that vote. The issues I’ve explored here may not change your mind, either. They're not Watergate. They're not fabricated military accomplishments. They may seem wonky or semantic. But facts do matter and Jayapal has been stretching some facts about her record in Olympia. So let's get into it.

PAYDAY LENDING

Throughout the campaign, Jayapal has taken credit for helping to “kill” a payday lending bill in the state legislature last session.

The controversial Moneytree-backed proposal would have replaced two-week payday loans with loans that spread repayment out for longer. Opponents said this would hurt low-income people and weaken the state’s strong payday lending protections.

Lynnwood Democrat Marko Liias sponsored the bill in the Republican-controlled state senate. Some other Democrats in the chamber were supportive, too. But several Democratic state senators, including Jayapal, fiercely opposed the bill and introduced dozens of amendments to try to kill it.

However, they didn’t succeed in their effort to kill the senate bill. They lost that fight and the bill passed out of the senate, 30-18. It was later stopped in the state house, where lawmakers who worked on the effort say House Speaker Frank Chopp, who helps decide which bills get considered, consistently opposed the bill.

On the campaign trail, Jayapal has often brought up the payday lending bill fight as an example of her willingness to stand up to her own party.

“I stood up and introduced 87 amendments to kill that bill, against a democratic caucus member,” Jayapal said in an interview aired on the Laura Flanders Show on October 25. “And it was challenging, but we killed it.”

On The Stranger’s Blabbermouth podcast in June, Jayapal highlighted her accomplishments, including “introducing 87 amendments to kill the bad payday lending bill.”

But the legislative record shows that Jayapal introduced only 13 amendments. In total, senators introduced 40 amendments. The characterization that Jayapal and other senators successfully killed the bill is also misleading because the bill did not in fact die in the senate; it passed.

In a statement, Jayapal’s campaign said she and Senator Sharon Nelson wrote 87 amendments. Of those, “40 were introduced; the rest couldn’t be introduced because there was a last minute striker.” In other words, Jayapal did not actually introduce 87 amendments.

In a statement on November 1, Jayapal’s campaign said: “It has not been disputed (at least not before today) that the floor fight put a spotlight on the payday lending bill which led to its death. The anti-consumer nature of the bill was spotlighted in the senate and the bill was sent to the house to die. Pramila and her colleagues’ coordinated strategy protected thousands of Washington State families from higher interest rates from this predatory industry. It’s what happens when you work together—you win.”

Senator Mark Mullet, who fought the bill and supports Walkinshaw, says he and other senators gave speeches “to make sure people understood the flaws of the bill,” but “it was always clear Speaker Chopp was not supporting it [in the house].”

“It’s super accurate saying [Jayapal is] passionate against payday lenders,” Mullet says. “But, like a lot of stuff in Olympia, you can't say one person is responsible for killing something—especially when that person is in the minority in the chamber that the bill passed out of.”

Marcy Bowers, executive director of the Statewide Poverty Action Network, which lobbied against the bill (but does not endorse candidates in political campaigns), describes Jayapal as “the champion in the senate. She organized the floor fight.” Bowers says senators’ public fight against the bill added pressure on the house to not let it move forward.

“It’s potentially an overstatement to imply she alone killed the bill,” Bowers says, “but she certainly played a key role in it. I can’t point to any one thing that was the key to killing the bill… We were using all the tools we had available to us.”

While Jayapal has increasingly strayed toward taking credit for killing the payday lending bill as her Congressional campaign has progressed, she was somewhat more clear about what happened during a June primary endorsement interview with The Stranger.

“I pushed back against bills and ran my own little filibuster on the senate floor with the payday lending bill,” she told The Stranger’s editorial board. “[I] introduced 87 amendments to kill that bill, which we were able to use that as the movement that then stopped payday lending from moving forward in the house and made it impossible for even Democrats to want to take that forward.”

While the “introduced 87 amendments” statement was and is false, the rest of her June statement is a closer-to-accurate description of what actually happened. Still, even we at The Stranger have been confused by all of this; in our general election endorsement of Jayapal we initially wrote that she’d “fought and won against more senior Democrats in her chamber who tried to push through a destructive law backed by predatory payday lenders.” We’ve recently corrected our endorsement to make clear that Jayapal lost her fight in the senate.

EXPANDING CONTRACEPTIVE COVERAGE FOR WOMEN ON MEDICAID

Jayapal has taken credit for “expanding access to contraceptives for women on Medicaid” but has varied in how she explains exactly what happened. She has also greatly exaggerated the number of women affected by the change.

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Here’s what actually happened:

While the Affordable Care Act already required that Medicaid cover all forms of birth control in Washington, the reimbursement rates for long-acting contraceptives like IUDs were so low that some clinics were not offering those forms of birth control to patients on Medicaid.

In 2015, Jayapal introduced a bill to try to fix this by raising reimbursement rates for long-acting contraceptives. Republican senators balked and Jayapal’s 2015 bill didn't go anywhere. Later, Governor Jay Inslee included the increase to reimbursement rates for long-acting contraceptives in his budget proposal. Again, Republicans weren’t having it. So Inslee simply directed the Washington State Health Care Authority to find a way to pay for the increased reimbursement rates—about $1 million a year—in the authority’s existing budget.

Jayapal did play a role here. She introduced the 2015 bill that Republicans refused to entertain. Then, according to Planned Parenthood representatives and the governor’s office, she kept consistent pressure on the governor’s office to get the effort funded by other means.

“I also credit the governor, but I give [Jayapal] a lot of credit for elevating this through that months-long process,” says Planned Parenthood lobbyist Jennifer Allen. (Planned Parenthood’s political arm has endorsed Jayapal.) “Nothing is written down with her name on it. She never did it for the glory. She did it because it was the right thing to do.”

In some cases, like a recent debate at Seattle University, Jayapal has referred to this effort as an example of her successfully passing “legislation,” which isn’t true.

In an interview for this story, Jayapal acknowledged that while she tries to refer to the increased reimbursement rates as a “policy” victory, she may have used the word “legislation.” (She did, twice.) This is significant beyond the semantic level because passed legislation is state law. Unless it’s repealed, it lasts forever. In contrast, policy victories that rely on a particular governor’s decision—victories like this one—are only safe until a governor who disagrees comes into office.

At other times, like at this campaign event and in this Reddit AMA, Jayapal said the increased reimbursement rates for long-acting contraceptives benefited “millions” of women. But there are not millions of women on Medicaid in Washington, and estimates from people close to the contraception coverage expansion process put the number of women affected by that policy change at somewhere between 7,000 and 30,000. Allen says the state estimated at the time that every year about 26,750 women on Medicaid would switch to long-term contraceptives like IUDs if they were available. The Jayapal campaign did not respond to a question about this discrepancy.

Like on the payday lending issue, Jayapal was more clear about exactly what she’d achieved on long-lasting contraception reimbursement rates during the primary election. "[I] have been able to expand access to long-acting reversible contraceptives like IUDs for tens of thousands of women across our state by raising Medicaid reimbursement rates,” Jayapal said during her June endorsement meeting with The Stranger.

Both of these issues come on top of the clip Dan recently used here on Slog to attack Jayapal for taking too much credit for the passage of Seattle’s $15 minimum wage. In that clip, she says, “Some of you know me for actually passing a $15 minimum wage here in Seattle.” (Members of the city’s minimum wage task force disputed her involvement. The task force’s co-chair, David Rolf, meanwhile, credits Jayapal for making the issue central for Mayor Ed Murray during his election campaign. Jayapal’s campaign says she regrets the misstatement.)

Asked about the stretched truths concerning her record in Olympia, a spokesperson for Jayapal’s campaign provided some responses by e-mail and said: “It’s sad that this race has suddenly turned into the world's pettiest gotcha game. It doesn’t serve anybody.”

To be clear, Jayapal is not the only candidate for political office to ever exaggerate her record. In fact, she’d be something of an outlier if she didn’t. Passing policies happens as the result of lots of people—not least among them activists—pushing for certain policy changes and a lot of lawmakers voting for them. Then, those lawmakers go out and run as individuals, along the way taking individual credit for policies that they know were a group effort. But here, Jayapal’s statements about her achievements have, at times, veered from overgeneralizations into factual inaccuracies.

WHAT ABOUT WALKINSHAW?

If you haven’t been shouting this question at the screen already, you’re probably asking by now: What about Walkinshaw? Well, Walkinshaw, too, has run his campaign—and made his effectiveness argument—largely on the basis of legislation he sponsored in Olympia. And he’s certainly made sweeping statements and taken credit for bills he sponsored but that ultimately passed with the help of the entire legislature.

“I've started the state's work on opiate addiction over the last three years and it's led to a set of results that are pretty far ranging, that are the reason the Seattle Police Department is able to carry naloxone,” Walkinshaw told The Stranger during an endorsement interview.

“I fought for the authorization of Sound Transit and did it in a way that [Representative] Jessyn Farrell and I passed legislation in the authorization of the transportation package that requires the development of affordable housing around light rail stations,” he said later.

Walkinshaw’s website describes one piece of legislation he supported, the Certificate of Restoration of Opportunities, as “the single most important piece of criminal justice legislation to come out of Olympia the past five years.” And he has taken credit for “legislation that expands access to emergency contraceptives” for people leaving prison. He did sponsor that proposal, though it was the bill’s senate companion that actually passed the legislature.

But those statements don’t involve an untruth about whether and how he killed a bill (as with Jayapal’s statements about payday lending) or a huge exaggeration of the number of people affected (as with Jayapal’s claim that “millions of women” benefitted from increased reimbursement rates for long-acting contraception).

“Campaigns are about communicating our records and how we've represented those to voters,” Walkinshaw says. “Whether [the] claims we're making are supported by the facts is important. We’re electing a legislator. Legislative records matter.”

When I asked Jayapal’s campaign whether they had heard Walkinshaw exaggerate his record, a spokesperson said: “We don’t have hours of taped footage on Brady to compare notes and mince every word.”