International Examiner: Candidates make their case to represent the CID and south Seattle in state legislature

International Examiner: Candidates make their case to represent the CID and south Seattle in state legislature

To read the full International Examiner article by Chetanya Robinson, visit here. 

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Candidates vying for two seats as Representatives in Washington’s 37th legislative district — which includes the Chinatown International District (CID), the Central District, north Beacon Hill, Rainier Valley, Columbia City, Renton, and Skyway — made their case before voters in the 8th annual AAPI Candidates Forum, hosted on Zoom this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A Facebook livestream of the forum can be viewed here.

Four candidates for the two seats, one of them a longtime incumbent, discussed how to address the state’s looming budget crisis, how to help renters and prevent evictions during the pandemic, and possible new taxes on corporations and the wealthy.

After Rep. Eric Pettigrew retired at the beginning of 2020, the contest for the 37th District’s Position 2 seat was without a long-time incumbent.

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Two candidates for District 37, Position 1: John Stafford (bottom left) and Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos (bottom right). Screenshot from virtual candidate forum

Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos, who has held the district’s Position 1 seat since she was elected in 1998, defended her record against challenger John Stafford. Both candidates are Democrats.

Stafford, a high school history teacher and 20-year resident of south Seattle, said the multiple crises of the pandemic, state budget, the economy, climate change, and racial inequities, demand “bold structural change.” His priorities include progressive taxation, police reform, and balancing the state budget without austerity measures.

Santos, who has represented the district for 20 years, said she is aligned with Stafford on progresisve revenue, but said her experience and deep knowledge of the district set her apart, as the daughter of an immigrant, a school child who qualified for reduced lunch and an anti-poverty program, and a community activist. “These and other formative experiences are the foundation of my passion for equity, for opportunity, and for justice.”

To prevent evictions and create more affordable housing, Santos has proposed creating a land bank requiring government bodies to set aside some surplus land for nonprofit developers, such as InterIm CDA. To address zoning and density, she favors inserting equity principles into Washington’s Growth Management Act (GMA), which she believes is out of date, and using the Housing Trust Fund to create a variety of housing units in every 37th District neighborhood. “Communities of color, historic communities, are increasingly targeted for displacement and gentrification,” she said.

Stafford said to keep housing affordable, the state should introduce regular minimum wage increases and jobs programs, such as accelerating the Sound Transit program. The state should push for zoning changes such as allowing Accessory Dwelling Units and Detached Accessory Dwelling Units, and an increase in the number of affordable housing units developers must build under the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) program. He believes the City and State government should provide public housing, and supports the City Council’s JumpStart Seattle big business tax. To address homelessness during the pandemic, he suggested the City could use unused stadiums to provide shelter.

Both candidates support progressive revenue to fix Washington’s regressive tax structure. Stafford supports State Rep. Frank Chopp’s proposal of a capital gains tax on high-income individuals, a second tax on high-salary earners at corporations, and a payroll tax. Stafford said Santos did not do enough for progressive revenue while in office.

Santos responded that she has sponsored progressive revenue proposals, including pushing for the last income tax ballot measure as a member of the finance committee and founding the Washington Tax Fairness Coalition. Santos favors an individual income tax, but also believes more progressive business taxes are necessary, rather than relying on the Business & Occupation tax, which is “grossly unfair” to small businesses in places like the CID. She would also seek a reduction in sales taxes if a progressive tax on individuals and businesses is implemented.

Moderators asked how candidates would protect healthcare and dental programs designated for Washingtonians (COFA) Pacific island nations.

Stafford outlined his plan to address the budget crisis, and said legislators should prevent cuts to healthcare and welfare programs. Stafford favors using $1 billion dollars from the state’s rainy day fund, followed by a new progressive revenue source.

Santos said the state should reevaluate tax relief for big businesses and perhaps sunset some of this. Santos said she was proud to be the prime sponsor of the COFA healthcare bills in the House. “It’s important for us to remember that the peoples from the COFA communities were literally human sacrifices by the United States military,” she said. “We have a moral obligation to support the health of these people.”

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