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In District 7, A Race To Replace A Longtime Congressman

Brady Walkinshaw and Pramila Jayapal are running to replace retiring Rep. Jim McDermott in Washington's 7th Congressional District.
Campaign Handouts
Composite by Parker Miles Blohm
Brady Walkinshaw and Pramila Jayapal are running to replace retiring Rep. Jim McDermott in Washington's 7th Congressional District.

Washington state has 10 Congressional districts. But this year, only one of them has an open seat. The 7th District includes the western half of Seattle and everything north of the Ship Canal, along with Shoreline, Mountlake Terrace and Edmonds, plus Vashon Island and Burien to the south.

Both state Rep. Brady Walkinshaw and state Sen. Pramila Jayapalare Democrats, running to replace Congressman Jim McDermott in a deeply Democratic district.

"It’s safe to say you’re in for life if you don’t really screw up," said Todd Donovan, professor of political science at Western Washington University in Bellingham.

McDermott is retiring after 28 years in Congress. That’s 14 terms. Before him, Mike Lowry held the seat for five terms. Voters might look at their ballot this November and wonder if they’re picking someone for the next two decades instead of the next two years.

"Yeah, it’s hard to think that way but in a sense, in a district like this, you might be," Donovan said. "I don’t want to say it’s just because as an incumbent you’ll have all  that fundraising advantage. It's also, you have the spotlight. You can be an activist. You can be a policy wonk. But it’s getting you name recognition in the district, and it gives you the ability to bring benefits back to the district.”

But Pramila Jayapal says if she wins, she doesn’t expect to be automatically returned to Congress decade after decade.

“I think voters should make the choice for now, for who they think is going to really move the ball forward," she said, "recognizing that of course the power of incumbency is strong, but I really hope we’re incredibly respectful to voters in saying, ‘You know what, this is a choice for you, every two years, and if we’re not doing the job that we should be doing, kick the people out.’”

Jayapal says if elected, she’ll work hard to earn re-election every year. Walkinshaw says the same thing, and that he wants to be a “partner” with his constituents.

"And that means a partner who will be there so that five, 10, 15 years down the road we’ve built a transportation system in this community that’s 21st century, and [a partner who] is innovative – that takes on ideas about the future and where we’re headed.”

Where we’re headed is very much on the minds of both candidates. They represent similar policies. On the environment, both believe in moving away from carbon and fossil fuels, and toward renewable sources of energy. On the economy, both favor a higher minimum wage and investing in infrastructure, with Jayapal also listing opposition to the Trans Pacific Partnership.

Walkinshaw is a Fulbright scholar and worked for five years at the Gates Foundation before being appointed to the state House in 2013. He lives on Capitol Hill with his husband, a biologist for the state, and was raised in rural northern Washington, near the Canadian border. His father’s family has been in the state for generations.

“My mom’s side of the family emigrated to this country from Cuba in the 1960s," he said. "I grew up in a bilingual household – my mom spoke to me only in Spanish until I was 5 or 6 years old.”

Jayapal is an immigrant who came to the United States from India at age 16.

“These things matter not because identity alone defines who you are, but the depth and breadth of the experience we bring – as women, as people of color, as immigrants – allows us to make better public policy decisions," she said. "That is part of what people are investing in, is the ability for all of us to move forward as a country.”

Jayapal worked as a financial analyst and in the medical equipment industry, before leaving the private sector to work on social justice issues. She was elected to the state Senate in 2014. She and her husband live just outside the district boundaries, but her spokesman says she’ll move into the 7th, if elected.

Both Democrats are looking toward the U-S House with optimism, at a time when their party is in the minority, Congressional approval ratings are in the basement, and Congress feels hopelessly gridlocked. So … why would anyone want this job?

“I don’t blame you for being pessimistic," Jayapal said. " There are many days when I wake up pessimistic. But also, I’m not a complainer. When I see something wrong, I try to fix it, even if it’s some of the most complex and controversial issues that are on the table. And that’s my history.”

And Walkinshaw?

“I’ll tell you what inspires me," he said. "There is a generation of leadership, it’s in Olympia, I believe it’s in Washington, D.C., who believe our system is too polarized, that our system isn’t working, and the vast majority of Americans don’t believe in our political process.”

Both candidates say changing that feeling is possible, and something they aim to do if the people of the 7th District send them to Washington D.C.

Ed Ronco is a former KNKX producer and reporter and hosted All Things Considered for seven years.