As program director of Health Care for All Washington and then later as president of the larger nonprofit, Alliance for a Healthy Washington, McLeod spent a lot of her time pushing lawmakers in Olympia to stand up state and/or regional universal health care programs. Last year the Legislature passed a law establishing a permanent universal health care commission, which spits out annual recommendations to lower costs and increase access to health care and also grants agencies the authority to implement those recs if they can. Now McLeod wants to expand her progressive vision to include and improve all "the social determinants of health," she said in an interview.
"The health care delivery system is only one piece of the pie. We need quality education, quality homes people can afford, and we need food security. We’ve siloed these issues for too long, but the reality is it’s all connected. We can’t have healthy food and water to feed growing minds if we don’t have sustainable environmental policies as well," she added.
McLeod said she moved to Seattle with her son "pretty much sight unseen" in 2009. Since she and her kid had nowhere to land, they started off living in a Motel 6 while she attended classes at North Seattle Community College. She left academia with a couple economics degrees from the University of Washington in tow before delving into the nonprofit sector.
As a staffer for the Institute for Washington's Future, she and others worked with minority farming communities in Yakima to access federal funding, "navigate the organic certification process," and train people in marketing and business administration to help them get produce over the mountains. "I was really able to see first-hand the racial divide that is the Cascade mountain range, and the intrinsically racist packing houses that are exclusionary to small and beginning farmers," she said.
In 2016 she wanted to start "facilitating change in the policy world," and so ran state House Rep. Shelley Kloba's campaign up in Bothell. After that win, she got into health care policy, where she lobbied the Legislature to make health care cheaper for everybody. Most recently she took a job doing community engagement work in the office of Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz.
Working as a single mom that whole time, McLeod said she relied on the social programs low-income families need to survive: food stamps, bill pay assistance, subsidized housing, free and reduced lunch at school. "As a parent who needed all of that for my kid, I don’t know what the story would have been if it hadn’t been for those supports," she said. If elected, she would aim to protect and expand those kinds of programs not just because she cares, but because she's "walked through it."
McLeod said education policy dominates her conversations with neighbors in the 46th. Aside from "significant issues" fully funding education, she said the Legislature still has "so much work to do when it comes to violence in schools, the value of the education students are receiving, and supporting teachers to teach a robust curriculum to our kids," and she looks forward to "collectively coming to the table and digging into what’s working and what’s not working." Affordable housing also ranks as a top concern in the district. But when forced to select her number-one-major-ultimate-battle-royale priority as a lawmaker, she said she'd prioritize passing the recommendations that emerge from the universal health care work group.
But she's not the only Democrat gunning for the senate seat, which opened up back in October when state Senator David Frockt announced his plans not to seek another term in 2022.
She joins the race alongside state Rep. Javier Valdez, who represents the 46th LD in the House, and who started running for the seat shortly after Sen. Frockt's announcement.
The King County Council appointed Valdez to his House seat in 2017 following Jessyn Farrell's decision to step down to run for Mayor in Seattle. Farrell took fourth in the primary that year, and Valdez went on to successfully defend his seat against (no offense) no-name Republican challengers in 2018 and 2020.
According to the Washington State Wire, he was raised in Moses Lake as the "son and grandson of farm workers and laborers" and became the first member of his family to graduate from college. On his website, Valdez touts his "work to improve our state’s hate crimes and gun safety laws."
When asked why she decided to run given Valdez's announcement, McLeod said "the district deserves a dialogue," rather than, presumably, a choice between a Democrat and a Republican with little chance of victory.