Not to throw any shade on any of our earlier contenders, but last night's installment of Stranger Debates was the best one yet.
Both former interim NARAL director Kirsten Harris-Talley and Seattle Parks project manager Chukundi Salisbury drew clear, meaningful distinctions between the types of offices they'd run in Olympia and the kinds of policies they'd push out of those offices, and both candidates played Dungeons and Dragons with the level of skill and imagination we want to see in politicians. Seriously, if you can't work together to save the gnome people from the lizard people in a fantasy dream world, then how the hell are you going to pass a wealth tax???
Anyhow, as usual, we ended up learning a lot about the two candidates running to fill former Democratic Rep. Eric Pettigrew's seat in South Seattle's 37th Legislative District.
We learned that Harris-Talley voted Warren and that Salisbury voted Bernie. We learned that both candidates believe rosé is underrated and that Ellen DeGeneres is overrated. We learned that they both recently disappointed their children. We learned that Harris-Talley delivers warm and thoughtful tarot readings, and that DJ KUN LUV can transform a Zoom call into a dance party in like 15 seconds.
We learned that they both agree on several issues, including extending good cause eviction legislation statewide, passing a tax on excess compensation, legalizing apartments in single-family zones, banning high capacity magazines, and choosing magic-wielding characters when roaming the Forgotten Realms.
But we also teased out a few more policy differences worth noting.
While both candidates supported legislation to stabilize rents, Harris-Talley confidently said she'd like to cap rent increases statewide at 2%, whereas Salisbury seemed unsure and tossed out 3 to 5%. If they got their way, both those caps would be lower than the ones lawmakers in Oregon and California set in the last couple years, which would make life much easier for Washington renters.
Drawing a sharper distinction, Harris-Talley said she'd cosponsor legislation to decriminalize knowingly transmitting HIV. Salisbury said he wouldn't. Last year the Legislature reduced the penalty for exposing or transmitting HIV from a felony to a misdemeanor, or else a gross misdemeanor if someone lied about their status. Nevertheless, Washington remains one of 29 states with HIV-specific laws on the books, even though such laws perpetuate stigma—which discourages people from coming forward and getting tested—and do little or nothing to deter the spread.
Harris-Talley also highlighted differences between the two candidates' dispositions toward charter schools. KHT opposes them and any other "partly private" schools full stop. She argued that charters "underserve" Black and indigenous students, "undermine" unions, and "take over" states that embrace them.
Salisbury said he was "against charter schools," but he seeks to bring back institutions "with union teachers" such as the African American Academy (AAA), which Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson closed in 2010 due to budget deficits, according to the Seattle Times. In an email, he added that we should bring back AAA and the Indian Heritage High School "on steroids with a K-12 track."
But that's not what Salisbury told the King County Young Democrats. In the group's candidate forum last May, Salisbury said, "Yes, I do support charter schools with limitations...with the caveat that there's local oversight via the school board... I do believe some charter schools can help communities of color in a real way, but there needs to be oversight." KHT also noted that Salisbury took $1,000 from Stand for Children WA (a charter school PAC), a fact he downplayed during the debate.
In an email, Salisbury described his comments during the King County Young Democrats forum as being "open to other solutions for [African American] students who are wasting away in buildings with people who want to 'focus on supporting their cultural identity in their existing schools,'" he said, quoting a line from former Seattle School Board director Jill Geary with a little more than a hint of sarcasm. He claimed he supported bringing back those kinds of public option schools "as opposed to charter schools," though he added that he "takes exception to the fact that African American Achievement is never part of this charter school discussion."
That's likely because those schools weren't charter schools but rather "public option" or magnet schools within the public system, but they cost the district a lot of money to run. The district could vote to bring them back, but they'd need more $$$ to run them effectively.
In terms of their approach to governing alongside Republicans, Salisbury said he'd draw on his experience as a project manager with Seattle Parks and "meet people where they're at." KHT agreed that the caucus system requires lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to work together, but said such collaboration should never come at the expense of "watering down policies."
This Thursday we'll close out the Stranger Debate series with a battle for Capitol Hill (and the surrounding areas) between noted establishment figure Rep. Frank Chopp and insurgent soup can artist Sherae Lascelles. Get your tickets here, and get them now. Stranger Debates are sponsored by the ACLU Washington, who want to remind you to vote like your rights depend on it! Learn more about voting rights and accessing your ballot at aclu-wa.org/vote and aclu.org/vote.