The Urbanist Elections Committee invited state legislature candidates in the Seattle metropolitan region to fill out our questionnaire to participate in our endorsement process. We based our endorsement decisions on those responses plus follow-up Zoom interviews. Below are the questionnaire responses by Kirsten Harris-Talley, who is running in an open seat in Legislative District 37, Position 2.

What lessons about government revenues and fiscal priorities from the wake of 2008 would you apply in responding to the Covid-19 crisis? (200 words or less)

COVID-19 finds our governments of all levels find themselves working around the clock in emergency mode trying to care for our communities and keep the worst impacts at bay. This pandemic has also illuminated in stark contrast the cracks in our public service system. All the socioeconomic inequalities of our collective society are now viscerally obvious as our neighbors go without work, food, or education. While some are already eyeing budget cuts and austerity measures, we cannot expect to slash and cut our way out of this economic and public health crisis. I firmly believe that COVID-19 presents a generational opportunity in that it will force us to shift the way we see government. Instead of a burden of “red tape”, government is the method through which our society builds and recovers collectively, together. We must commit that lesson to memory and govern in Olympia accordingly. Nothing short of foundational, structural change in government, policy, economics, and society will build the low-carbon future we desperately need. The lessons to learn from COVID-19 are to be bold and unafraid to attack the root causes of suffering, and strengthen the public services we all depend on. Not slash, cut, and defund.

Would you vote for a bill that ends the ban on rent control in Washington? Why or Why not? (50 words or less)

Yes. The 37th LD has a large number of residents who are renters, and we are also ground zero for gentrification and displacement. We deserve rent stabilization policies. We must lift the statewide ban on rent regulation to stop economic evictions and keep families together.

What role do you see the state playing in enacting land use reform, and what should that reform prioritize? (200 words or less)

Our state was very forward-looking when we worked to pass the Growth Management Act into law many decades ago. However, our land use policies desperately need updating especially as we stare down a shortening timeline to fight the climate crisis. Every community across our state has an urgent need to build dense, liveable neighborhoods with more types of housing for more types of families. We should reform our land use policies, and I believe that should include key policies such as: legalizing multi-unit dwellings on all residential plots across the state, encouraging transit-oriented developments, and must include anti-gentrification policies like the right to return for residents. We should also include more pedestrian and multi-modal transportation oriented reforms into our land use policy as well. Reforms should prioritize biking, public transit, and de-prioritize the use of single occupancy vehicles.

What should be the major components of a climate package? (50 words or less)

Progressive revenue reform and taxes on big polluters that funds:

  • Expanded public transit and bike infrastructure
  • ST3 completion
  • New funding for State Housing Trust Fund to build low-carbon social housing
  • Pollution caps
  • Change state procurement to buy clean and buy union
  • Pass the Clean Fuels Standard
  • Invest in forest health

What should be the top strategies for the state to fix the cycle of segregation, disinvestment, gentrification, and unaffordable housing in our cities? (200 words or less)

The 37th LD is in so many ways ground zero for all these intersecting issues. We are one of the most diverse districts in the state with a majority of residents identifying as a race other than white. We are also a historically redlined district and we still experience the impacts of segregation, redlining, gentrification, disinvestment, wealth extraction, and the housing crisis. Historically oppressed communities like those in the 37th should be first in line for investments from the state as well. We must center those most impacted within our state policies. Myself and our neighbors have been on the receiving end of these forces, and I am committed to building up our neighborhoods in Olympia – not standing by while gentrification displaces more community members. Some of the top strategies I’m in favor of to stop this destructive cycle are:

  • Land use reform to build denser, mixed-income neighborhoods
  • Right to return policies state-wide
  • Lifting the ban on rent regulation, and rent stabilization policies
  • Building new, low-carbon social housing in every neighborhood (preferably to passivhaus standards!)
  • Orient development around transit and multimodal transportation options

What’s your roadmap to fixing educational inequities in Washington state? How can Washington state comply with its constitutional duties regarding education? (200 words or less)

Our family is a proud public school family with two young kids in the Seattle Public Schools. I am proud to serve on the PTA of the Friends of Hawthorne association and co-chair our Equity Committee. We see and experience the brilliance of public school teachers, staff, faculty, nurses, paraeducators, custodians, food service workers, and bus drivers every single day. There is no question in my mind it is a moral imperative to fully fund education in our state for every single community and school district. I emphatically support full funding of K-12 basic education that includes robust professional compensation and benefits for educators and mental health staff. We must also fund pre-school and childcare that prepares children for school and protects workers. And the investment in post-high school programs – for college and most importantly trades – is the lifeline for our growing and transitioning workforce. Additionally, I will champion:

  • progressive revenue to fully fund K-12 education
  • more nursing staff in rural and urban schools
  • increasing pay for paraeducators
  • increasing teacher pay and benefits
  • supporting teachers and staff when they strike
  • decreasing the technology gap in low-income communities
  • funding and building free, public wifi so all kids have access

Do you think Washington state should have an income tax?If yes, what is the legislative path? If not, would you pursue any tax reform? (100 words or less)

Yes. Progressive tax reform has been a passion of mine for over a decade. I served on the All In for Washington coalition and on the Seattle Progressive Revenue Task Force. Our path to progressive income tax is to engage in strong outside/inside strategy with real organizing and mobilization of community members. We must use the power of the public demand to reconstruct our tax system, and we must make it clear what public services it will fund. It won’t be used to give tax breaks to corporations – but instead must be used to fund healthcare, housing, education, and more.

While California and Oregon have passed a clean fuels standard aiming to meet their climate goals, Washington did not, as the bill stalled out last session. Would you vote for it? If not, what is the route to meeting our climate goals? (150 words or less)

I absolutely would vote for it. The fact that the Clean Fuels Standard has yet to be passed is honestly quite frustrating. When I serve in the State House I intend to lead on this urgent matter, in addition to championing additional robust climate measures that will make our state meet our emissions goals and lead with equity for oppressed communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis.

What percentage of the state’s transportation budget should be for alternatives to cars, such as transit, biking, and pedestrian infrastructure? (100 words)

A lot more than is currently, that’s for sure! We have to re-prioritize our spending to public transportation, biking, and pedestrian infrastructure. Our own transportation leaders in our state government have told us that we cannot widen roads any more, it’s impossible and impractical. Considering we are effectively at capacity for car infrastructure, we need to significantly balance our state’s transportation budget to get folks out of the cars and into fast, frequent, affordable public transit and bike/pedestrian modes of transport.

What should be a higher priority: electrifying personal vehicles or reducing the number of trips made in personal vehicles? Explain how to achieve your priority. (50 words).

Reducing the number of trips in personal vehicles must be our priority. Prioritizing personal EVs does nothing for congestion or traffic. We must invest in policies and infrastructure that actually gets folks out of their cars and onto public transit or bikes/their own bodies. It’s healthier for our communities.

The Urbanist Election Committee’s Take: Vote Harris-Talley

Read our endorsement post to see why.

We hope you loved this article. If so, please consider subscribing or donating. The Urbanist is a non-profit that depends on donations from readers like you.

The Urbanist was founded in 2014 to examine and influence urban policies. We believe cities provide unique opportunities for addressing many of the most challenging social, environmental, and economic problems. We serve as a resource for promoting urbanism, increasing political participation, and improving the places we live. The Elections Committee consists of various staff members of The Urbanist and is a standing body representing the political values of our organization.