Another day, another candidate forum in Washington's 8th Congressional district, where the state's tightest and most flippable national contest has been playing out for well over a year at this point. For this event, NARAL Pro-Choice America teamed up with its Washington chapter to bring the trio of Democrats together at the YWCA Issaquah Family Village for a discussion of women's reproductive health.
The meeting marked the first time all three Democrats had come together in one room publicly after The Stranger reported on a House Majority PAC poll showing Jason Rittereiser and Shannon Hader with the best shot of winning a head-to-head race against anti-choice, anti-gay, anti-immigration Republican Dino Rossi. Unsurprisingly, the poll came up.
As has been the case at many of these forums, the three candidates transformed into one perfect candidate capable of addressing all the complexities of the issue at hand. Whoever the moderator called on first normally laid out the correct answer to the question, the second candidate then went into more detail on a policy point related to the issue at hand, and the third candidate mentioned a tangential point related to the issue, but one that everyone agreed is still important to consider.
Rittereiser, Hader, and Kim Schrier, who currently leads in fundraising and endorsement heft, earned high praise from NARAL president Ilyse Hogue, who extolled the candidates as "champions" of women's reproductive health on more than one occasion throughout the morning. "We don't always see a full slate of candidates who are so throughly immersed in not just the policies, but also the value systems at play, having wrapped their heads around not only the moral and ethical imperative of running on these issues, but also the strategic value of running on these issues," Hogue said in an interview with The Stranger following the forum.
If you don't want to watch the whole forum embedded above, here's a little rundown of their views on women's health.
In their introductory remarks, Hader reminded the audience of her time in government as a global health doctor managing the HIV/TB unit at the Centers for Disease control. She claimed that if elected she'd be the only doctor in Congress who had "spent a career dealing with comprehensive women's health issues in multiple settings, seeing the best of interventions and the worst of deficits inside and outside the clinic." Schrier said that reproductive rights have been a "lifelong passion" of hers. Referring to her career as a pediatrician at Virginia Mason, she said, "There’s no place for the government or someone else’s religion in my exam room." Rittereiser said that everyone running on the Democratic side of this race will fight for reproductive rights in Congress, but pointed to the HMP poll to support his claim that he's the only one who can actually get there.
Do the candidates believe they can win by running on choice? Of course they do. "It’s baloney that you can’t win in this purple district" by running on choice, Schrier said. "Shying away from it is exactly the wrong approach on this issue," Rittereiser said. Hader said she doesn’t like to just stop at "yes or no" when talking about family planning or abortion. She likes to spend time “unpacking for people the death by a thousand cuts that’s happening to women’s healthcare.”
None of them think religious freedom should be used as a "guise to discriminate" against women, as Rittereiser put it. All think that "access matters" when it comes to overcoming financial barriers to family planning, as Hader put it. As for parental consent? They all know that's really a bill used to restrict women's access to healthcare. "I dismiss parents from the room on a regular basis when birth control or abortion come up," Schrier said.
Hader was strongest on the question of how she'd leverage her power as a first-year Congresswoman. Instead of falling back on the cliche of pushing bipartisan legislation and/or "controlling the conversation" by putting forth bills Democrats like but Trump won't ever sign, Hader brought up other legislative powers she hopes to use on day one. "We also have oversight, appropriation, convening power, and constituency services," she said. She worked under the Trump administration in the Department of Health and Human Services, and said she saw how lifetime staffers butt heads with political appointees. Money is being appropriated in fucked up ways, and Hader said she wanted to get in there and “ask where the bodies are buried so we can uncover those things."
Schrier reminded the room not to "undervalue the resistance," nor to discount a congressperson's ability to "get on TV" and "talk about issues that matter."
How are we going to get the youths to vote? Schrier and Hader said to talk about student loan debt and climate change. Rittereiser said to send young people like him to Congress. He mentioned that Wednesday was his 34th birthday, and that he'd be the seventh millennial on the Hill if he won the seat.
What about paid family leave? They like it, but you have to be careful about how you implement it. Fathers should get leave, too, so moms don't have to choose between their career and raising a kid.
The most interesting moment came at the end, when the candidates were asked how they each planned to beat Rossi.
Schrier said she'd "built up the resources needed to take on Dino Rossi" and touted her early endorsement from EMILY's List.
Rittereiser brought up the poll again. "I beat Dino 50 to 46 if I get through the general election, Shannon is even, Kim loses by 5," he said. "Here’s why I think it is. It’s because I was born and raised in Ellensburg. I understand fundamentally how hard it is to get ahead."
"The reality is,” Hader said in response, lightly jabbing Rittereiser for using that phrase approximately 20 times during the course of the forum, "2016 told us a lot about trusting polls." The audience giggled, and then she laid out her case: "I’m the only candidate in this race—and that includes Dino—who brings a professional lifetime making federal people, policy, and dollars work for us down to community level up to national level and even out to global level, and people recognize that here in this community." She also mentioned her labor endorsements east of the mountains and her sole endorsements from Democratic Legislative Districts west of the mountains.
Hogue maintained a neutral position when I asked her who she thought won the day. "Each one had a moment where they really shined from their own platform of expertise," she said.
As for that poll? "Viability in a head-to-head match up is one important criteria," Hogue said. "Those instruments are something we’re looking at, but I think the audience was sympathetic to Shannon’s response about 2016 showing the limitations of polling. There’s a lot of human error."