David Hackney wants to be an advocate for the people of south King County, not just a reliable Democratic vote.
David Hackney wants to be an advocate for the people of South King County, not just a semi-reliable Democratic vote. Laura Masson

On Tuesday Washington State Human Rights Commissioner David Hackney launched a primary campaign against Rep. Zack Hudgins, a former tech program manager and campaign consultant who has represented the 11th Legislative District in South King County since 2002.

Over the phone, Hackney said he's running on reducing income inequality and increasing protections against discrimination in government contracting and housing, all of which "impact people of color and people in South King County more," he said. "There's a need for leadership and advocacy in this seat. I didn’t see that, and I thought I could provide it," he added.

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Hackney grew up all over the place (Ohio, Texas, Jersey) thanks to his father's job at a large oil company. His grandparents were subsistence farmers (one was a sharecropper in Tennessee) who climbed their way into the middle class after landing good union jobs. "They worked hard, saved for the future, and provided the opportunity for me and my sisters to go to college," Hackney said.

Hackney went to Cornell University, but said his mom's terminal cancer diagnosis nearly forced him to drop out at the end of his junior year. His dad had lost his job and was rehired by a new company, but the new company didn't accept his mom on his insurance because of her pre-existing condition. The illness and lack of insurance "crippled them financially," Hackney said, which meant his dad could no longer support him in college. After making a personal appeal to the university President, however, Hackney ended up finishing up his studies at Cornell.

He went on to graduate from Harvard law and to work as an attorney for 25 years. During that time he practiced employment law, worked on a team that prosecuted war crimes at the Hague, and served for a decade as a federal prosecutor.

In 2016 Hackney took a job in employee relations at Amazon, where he conducted internal investigations whenever discrimination or harassment claims arose. He ended up leaving shortly after taking the job. "My values and Amazon’s values did not match, and it was not a comfortable spot for me," he said.

Just last month he moved into an apartment in Tukwila. He admitted the recent move might be a bit of "an Achilles' heel," but said he was "willing to stand up and run anyway" and to "learn the issues of my district and represent them as best I can."

Hackney has never been elected for anything before, but he has worked in politics. He said he worked on Jessyn Farrell's mayoral campaign in 2017 (RIP), and on her legislative campaign before that. He was also "active in the passage" of I-1000 (a bill to repeal Washington's affirmative action ban that passed but got rejected by voters in a referendum) and I-1639 (a modest gun safety initiative that passed in 2018).

Hackney now works as general counsel for an unnamed nonprofit that aims to build a national organization to address income inequality. The group is funded by Civic Ventures, Nick Hanauer's think tank.

He also serves as chair of government affairs at Tabor 100, an "association of entrepreneurs and business advocates who are committed to economic power, educational excellence and social equity for African-Americans and the community at large."

Hackeny said he plans to champion legislation that would extend benefits to gig economy workers, provide health care for all, and implement progressive taxes. "We're doubling down on stupid by passing more regressive taxation," he said. "It hurts people on the lower socioeconomic spectrum, and the corporations are not going to close if we pass progressive taxes."

Drawing a stark contrast to Hudgins, a landlord who voted against modest tenant protections last session, Hackney also called himself a "big proponent of rent control."

"I find it unconscionable that we don’t have anyone fighting for renters in the 11th District," he said. "Renters deserve certainty. If you own a home, you get a 30 year mortgage—that’s montage control. People who rent deserve the same stability."

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Hackney said his time as a federal prosecutor spurred him to want to reform the criminal justice system, so he's also for decriminalizing nonviolent and low-level drug offenses, eliminating cash bail, and increasing police accountability.

"What people in the 11th need is not just a reliable Democratic vote but an advocate," Hackney said. "We need a candidate who is going to put the 11th first."

Hudgins hasn’t faced a Democratic primary challenger since 2012, when he beat Jim Flynn with 77% of the vote. In 2015, however, Hudgins lost his bid for King County elections director against Stranger-endorsed candidate Julie Wise, who beat him with 72% of the vote.