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Claire Wilson: Washington’s 30th District deserves an effective progressive senator

Although Washington’s 30th Legislative District has a history of voting for Democratic candidates up and down the ballot, there was a time not so long ago when the district’s entire delegation in Olympia was Republican.

The year was 2016; the month was January. Democrats had just lost a 2015 special election for the state House to the Republicans and Teri Hickel. Hickel and fellow Republican Linda Kochmar were the district’s representatives. Republicans figured that with their victories in the 30th, they had a viable path to securing a House majority in the 2016 presidential election — or at least forcing a tie.

To their surprise, Democrats recruited two extraordinary candidates to run against Kochmar and Hickel later that year (Mike Pellicciotti and Kristine Reeves). Both won, and thanks to their victories, the 30th LD went from being represented exclusively by Republicans to mostly Democrats again. The twin wins also kept the House in Democratic hands for another two years, to Republicans’ disgust.

The 30th consists mostly of neighborhoods in King County, plus a few precincts across the border in Pierce County. Major cities within it include Federal Way, Des Moines, Auburn, Algona, Pacific and Milton, Washington.

The 30th is diverse and becoming more populous; it is a district where Hilary Clinton won by twenty-one points in the 2016 presidential election.

Given its strong Democratic lean, it may seem surprising to those unfamiliar with the region that it is represented by a Republican in the State Senate.

But that senator, Mark Miloscia, actually identified as Democratic for decades until 2014, when he switched parties and ran as a Republican for the Senate. He won that election over Democratic candidate Shari Song by eleven points.

Claire Wilson, Miloscia’s Democratic competition, is an outspoken supporter of women’s reproductive rights and LGBTQ+ rights, two issues that Miloscia never agreed with his old party on. On those issues, Miloscia has a typical Republican voting record. He voted against the recent bill that banned conversion therapy, as well as against a bill requiring state insurers to cover abortion and contraception.

Wilson was one of two Democrats who filed against Miloscia back in May. She secured 38.3% of the vote in the Top Two election, while fellow Democratic challenger Tirzah Idahosa garnered another 13.6%. That left Miloscia with 48.1% of the vote, while the Democrats cumulatively achieved 51.9%.

Democratic strategists say the results show Miloscia is in big trouble.

Wilson proudly identifies as a lesbian and believes Miloscia no longer represents the increasingly diverse 30th District, especially when it comes to LGBTQ+ and youth issues. “I think there’s a lot of change that could happen in my district,” said Wilson. “We need some different perspective and that’s what I’m ready to [provide].”

The Senate hopeful, who has a long history in education and is currently serving her second term as the Federal Way School Board President, told NPI that education is a major issue in the 30th. She hears about it constantly while canvassing.

She cites the unintended consequences the Legislature’s McCleary response bills had on Federal Way schools. Several years ago, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that the Legislature had continuously and detrimentally underfunded public schools, neglecting its paramount duty. The Court even held the Legislature in contempt for failing to comply with its orders to remedy the situation.

The Legislature took years to purge its contempt, in large part because obstinate Republicans chafed at the Court’s rulings and blocked proposals to reform Washington State’s horribly inequitable, worst in the nation tax code. Eventually, the Legislature did adopt legislation increasing teacher compensation and school funding. But at the same time, the Legislature also adopted a Republican scheme to restructure property taxes, which are a principal funding source for our schools.

This levy swipe scheme, as it has sometimes been called, created a host of new problems for school districts like Federal Way.

Wilson has talked about these problems on many occasions, including how Federal Way was shortchanged on funding. She also cites a lack of special education funding and evaluation assessments as other unintended consequences.

Wilson believes that a capital gains tax on the wealthy could be part of the the solution to the continuously underfunded Federal Way Public School System, citing fair revenue as another major issue for the 30th.

“We need to look at [our] regressive tax system and how we change things so that the people who make the most money pay their fair share,” said Wilson.

Last May, NPI research found that 58% of Washingtonians surveyed support a capital gains on the wealthy to fund public schools and higher education. NPI has asked about support for a capital gains tax for four consecutive years and has found a majority of Washingtonians in support of the idea every single time.

Many legislative candidates running in the current election cycle have voiced concerns about Washington State’s tax structure, which is considered the most regressive in the country because those with the least have to pay the most. For example, in Seattle, a family making $25,000 pays an average of 17% of their income in state and local taxes. A family making $250,000, however, ends up paying about 4.4% of their income in state and local taxes.

Wilson hopes to, in the short term, close loopholes written into the state’s tax code that benefit big corporations and special interests, as well as levy a capital gains tax.

Progressive tax reform is the answer to our funding problems, not cuts to essential services, Wilson explains. “It’s not about cutting services to do that, it’s looking at how and what it is that we’re doing and how we’ve created systems that are upside down,” she observed. “The people that make the least should not be hit hardest because of the cost of what it takes to stay in their home, buy food or medication. We have to create a system that is not so upside down.”

Wilson is also concerned that the 30th LD has historically been contributing to service improvements that haven’t yet reached the district.

The 30th, like most populated areas in Washington, is dealing with more and more congestion and projects like Federal Way Link remain years away from completion.

“Folks in this district and in South King County as a whole have paid for a number of years for transportation [improvements] and still have not seen any benefit from the dollars they put in. They understand it takes a number of years and the light rail [expansion] is what we have to do, but we have to have other options so they can get where they need to go,” Wilson told NPI.

Education and transportation aren’t the only issues people in the 30th are worried about, of course. The 30th could benefit from investments in public health, too, especially mental health and services to assist those struggling with addiction.

“So really it’s anything we can do,” Wilson noted. “Whether it’s early learning, as we look at education, or creating solutions to drug and alcohol addiction… all those people [who are struggling] get blamed and shamed. There’s work to be done to leave this place a bit better than it is right now.”

With so many critical issues awaiting action by the next state Legislature, it’s imperative that Washingtonians vote this autumn. Ballots have been mailed to voters across the date and must be postmarked by November 6th or in a drop box by 8 PM that same day. Ballots being returned through the Postal Service do not need a stamp, as all ballot return envelopes have prepaid postage.