This morning Washington Education Association board director and 11th grade Foster High School history teacher Stephanie Gallardo announced her bid to replace Rep. Adam Smith in Seattle's 9th Congressional District.
Smith has proven a resilient incumbent during his 24 years in the seat. In 2018, he successfully fended off Sarah Smith's spirited challenge from the left, and he easily swats away Doug Basler's endless challenge from the right. But Gallardo's connection to one of the more powerful labor unions in Washington may shake one of the Congressman's many pillars of support, adding some institutional heft to her progressive campaign.
Gallardo's participation in a couple candidate training sessions over the years, including the Washington State Labor Council's Path to Power program and a session with the National Women's Political Caucus, gave her some of the tools she needed to get going, but a dream, conversations with her students and her educational community, and an unproductive discussion with Rep. Smith all conspired to push her into the race.
Today, before a body of 1200 @washingtonea educators, I'm announcing my run for Congress in WA's 9th Congressional District. Contribute to our historic campaign here: https://t.co/UmCSPexTsi pic.twitter.com/acOum7KMml— Stephanie Gallardo (@ElectGallardo) April 16, 2021
The chat with Rep. Smith happened roughly three months ago, when Gallardo and other teachers' union leaders met with the state's congressional delegation about students returning to in-person learning. Some of those meetings took a turn for the worse, and she counted the meeting with Smith among them.
"Most of us educators were wanting to stay virtual for the rest of the year, but he was pushing to go back as soon as possible," she said. "He was telling us about a lot of different data about x, y, and z, but most of us know what our schools' capacities look like. I teach in Tukwila. Tukwila has some of the worst leadership in the area, and so we're feeling not prepared to go back."
Gallardo believes the classes she's taught on U.S. history and human migration have given her a window into what young people expect from their leaders in Congress, and she plans to incorporate those expectations into her policy proposals. "Really, my students asked me to run," she said.
Though she calls it "kind of corny," a dream about her father, who died a year ago from cancer, made her feel as if he was backing her up, too.
She said her dad was a Chilean refugee whose family immigrated to the U.S. in 1976, a few years after the coup. Though he legally resided in the U.S., he wasn't able to become a citizen "for something like 17 years," she said.
His struggle, and the experiences of her spouse, who is also an immigrant, inspired her platform.
If elected, she pledged to support legislation to build a "moral immigration system" that would create a "quick and humane pathway to citizenship" for immigrants.
Gallardo cited "educational justice" as another high priority, which might include a suite of proposals to put more nurses and counselors in schools, add more funding for teachers working through credential programs, eliminate all student debt, provide free childcare and pre-K for all, and offer tuition-free public colleges to all.
She also wants to tax the rich, build union membership, make sure workers "get their fair share," and repeal the Taft-Hartley act to ensure union members can strike in solidarity with others.
Getting those policies through the current Congress would be exceedingly difficult, and doing so in the next Congress will probably be impossible. Though it's still obviously very early in the 2022 election cycle, most analysts think Republicans will retake the House next year through gerrymandering alone. An expected midterm turn away from the party in power will likely give the GOP a decent majority.
Nevertheless, Gallardo believes she could work with a Republican-led House on education, so long as that work didn't entail sending any funding to charter schools. "Everyone wants a public education system that works for everyone," she said, adding that her experience as an educator might give her a leg up on those discussions.
But of course, getting to Congress in the first place will also be exceedingly difficult. Rep. Smith supports a lot of progressive legislation, and he holds a powerful position as chair of the House Armed Services committee. In that role, he serves as the lead negotiator on a "must-pass" defense spending bill, which he tries to stuff with Democratic priorities. Voting to replace him with someone else risks losing that powerful voice in that powerful position.
Gallardo, however, believes the district is ready for change. "I’ve been in conversations with long-term supporters of his, and I haven’t told folks I’m running, but the sense I get from them is he is 100% status quo. He’s literally creating immigrants and refugees through his funding of the military-industrial complex, and to me he’s the antithesis of what the 9th Congressional District needs," she said.
Gallardo said she has won at least one tough electoral battle against an incumbent. Over two years ago she ran against a shoe-in "incumbent from Franklin-Pierce area" for a dual role at the Washington Education Association, serving both on the state board and on the national board as a representative of Washington. Gallardo won over the union's 1,200 members in a landslide victory following a rousing speech in which she called out white supremacy, gate-keeping, and chauvinism within the union. "A lot of folks would say it was a turning point in our union," she said.
As it stands, Gallardo enters the race with endorsements from the Seattle Democratic Socialists of America, Sarah Smith, Aaron Garcia of the Highline School Board, Bridgette Agpaoa Ryder of the Tukwila School Board, and University of Washington-Bothel professor Wayne Au.