A surprisingly contentious Senate race is unfolding in the 48th Legislative District this year, where Senator Patty Kuderer and perennial party switcher Rodney Tom are vying to see who will advance to the November general election with the most votes in the qualifying round, which ends this Tuesday, August 7th.
The district encompasses neighborhoods in Redmond, Bellevue, and Kirkland, as well as Clyde Hill, Yarrow Point, Hunts Point, and Medina.
Constituents there have until 8 PM this Tuesday to decide between Kuderer, a steadfast progressive who previously served in the state’s House of Representatives and was elected as a State Senator in 2017, or Tom, a Republican-turned-Democrat-turned-Republican again. When he was last in the Washington State Senate, Tom engineered a power coup that delivered the Washington State Senate into Republican hands and installed himself as Majority Leader.
A victory for Tom could threaten the progress made in its successful 2018 session and jeopardize any chance of progressive tax reform in the 2019-2010 biennium.
In an interview this week with NPI, Kuderer emphasized that Washington has already seen the disastrous results that divided government produces.
In 2017, the Legislature was in session way past its April Sine Die date and came very close to shutting down state government because the Republicans wanted to run out the clock in the hopes of extracting a more favorable budget deal.
And not only did Senate Republicans waste the public’s time and money for their own political ends, Kuderer says, but they killed off a lot of bipartisan bills that had majority support and could have passed the Senate if they’d been given a vote, just as they had during the preceding four years.
“That’s what you got under Republican control of the Senate — you got ruling,” said Kuderer, “What you got this year was governing.”
Kuderer noted that this last 2018 session (in which control flipped to the Democrats thanks to Manka Dhingra’s special election victory last autumn) was remarkable for a number of reasons. “First and foremost, ninety-eight percent of the bills that came out of this session [had] bipartisan support,” she explained.
This total includes six bills that she introduced. While she is proud of all the bills she introduced, two in particular are really important.
With Senate Bill 6160, the State of Washington took major steps forward to reform its juvenile justice system. “I’m a former prosecutor,” Kuderer explained, “so I was really alarmed about the one in three recidivism rate. This bill aligns with the science that says the brain doesn’t fully mature until the age around twenty-five, so it extends juvenile court jurisdiction [to that age].” SB 6160 also front-loads services like mental health, family dysfunction health and education.
“Education is really crucial here,” Kuderer told NPI. “Because, again, as a former prosecutor, I know the correlation between lack of education and incarceration. And as taxpayers, we pay for this.” She believes by tackling the issue in the beginning, with easier access to education and mental health services when criminals first enter the system, tax payers actually pay less. “We’re going to be paying a lot more on the back end with the one in three recidivism rate… Everyone should be alarmed by that. I mean, that is a really high recidivism rate,” she said.
“So that bill is designed to make a dent in that rate and also to address the racial disproportionality that we have in our prison system,” Kuderer continued.
“This is part of the inequities that we have in the criminal justice system.”
She pointed out that while tackling these issues from the start may save tax payer dollars, ultimately for her, it’s about saving lives.
“We’re not just keeping [people] out of jail, we’re actually returning them to the community as productive members. They pay taxes, get jobs, buy homes and have families, so it’s critical that we’ve done this.” She observed that only a handful of states have decided to move in this direction and other states are looking at Washington’s success to potentially move for the same kind of bill.
Should she win another term, Kuderer hopes to also create a young adult court for those aged eighteen to twenty-five and put them on a similar path to set them up to be productive members of their communities.
“The other [bill] I’m really, really proud of,” Kuderer said, “is [one] that was part of a slate of bills that expands access to voting.”
This slate of bills, known as the Access to Democracy package, was designed to lower barriers to voting to expand participation in our elections. Kuderer, the Vice Chair of the Senate State Government Committee, was the prime sponsor of one of the Access to Democracy bills, which establishes same-day voter registration beginning in 2019. In the states that already allow same-day registration, it has been shown to increase voter turnout by up to ten percentage points.
Some Republican-dominated states are moving to restrict participation in elections by imposing voter ID requirements and other schemes to suppress turnout.
“Not in Washington. We’re not doing that,” Kuderer declared.
Here in the Evergreen State, we’re not just moving towards implementing same-day voter registration. Thanks to Kuderer and the Democrats, the Legislature also passed a bill providing for pre-registration of voters aged sixteen and seventeen, as well as automatic voter registration. And, after being stuck in the Senate Republicans’ Graveyard of Progress for many years, the Washington Voters Rights Act was passed to empower fair elections at the local level.
Kuderer noted that during her time has a trial attorney she handled complicated problems which have helped her as an elected representative. “I take assignments because I’m not intimidated by complex problems and I’m a natural problem solver,” she explained. “I also understand that sometimes problems don’t require one solution, they might require a lot of different solutions.”
Should she win another term, Kuderer hopes to improve access to healthcare for Washingtonians, as well as strengthen public education (preschool, K-12, and college). She also hopes to adopt sensible gun laws.
And Kuderer is ready to fight hard to reform Washington’s upside down tax code, which happens to be the most regressive system in the country.
“We’ve lost [the voters’ trust] when it comes to taxes because all we ever do is keep increasing them,” she explained, “So what I would like to do is lower property taxes and implement a capital gains tax [on the wealthy]. That’s the first step towards completely overhauling our broken tax system.”
Kuderer’s other top revenue reform priority is establishing a public co-op bank, an idea that has been discussed in Olympia for quite some time.
In 2017, Kuderer served on the State Bank Task Force and they wrote a bill that made it out of committee with bipartisan support.
This was the first time that happened for a public banking bill.
The public co-op bank model would allow local governments to borrow from the bank at a lower interest rate than for-profit, privately owned banks currently offer.
Kuderer says this race will decide whether ideas like those get a true opportunity to advance, or whether the Senate returns to being a place where good ideas die.
“If I go back, we will continue to govern, and we will not be mired in gridlock and disfunction like we were the last five years thanks to what my opponent did.”
Tom’s treachery five years ago is still fresh in the minds of Democrats everywhere, but especially in the 48th District. At their urging, Tom was censured by the Washington State Democrats for “gross disloyalty” and “perfidious behavior.” Tom has had no access to party resources since he defected to the Republicans.
“[Rodney Tom] never asked any of us for permission to do that,” said Kuderer,. “We gave him the authority to be there and to represent us.” She noted that she in fact knocked on doors during his campaign to persuade others to vote for him. “I didn’t vote for him […] so that he could go caucus with Republicans,” she said.
Kuderer’s re-election campaign is out in full force this weekend leading up to Tuesday’s Top Two election, with a goal to knock on at least 25,000 doors. She says she recently spoke with a constituent who said they were voting for her not because they disliked Rodney Tom, but because they believed in her.
“That’s a big motivator,” said Kuderer.
The 48th District Senate race is considered to be a competitive contest that might determine which party has a majority in the Senate, making it one of the top races of the cycle. As mentioned, ballots are due back this Tuesday, August 7th. If you’re a Washington voter, be sure to get your ballot to a drop box by 8 PM or to a post office that day by the last outgoing mail collection time.