NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Monday, October 1st, 2018

Jessa Lewis, Kay Murano, and Dave Wilson hope to bring progressive change to 6th LD

The upcom­ing gen­er­al elec­tion in Novem­ber will decide whether Democ­rats keep their Wash­ing­ton leg­isla­tive majori­ties in the House and Sen­ate, allow­ing them to advance pro­gres­sive caus­es beyond what they accom­plished ear­li­er this year.

The par­ty cur­rent­ly holds slim, one vote majori­ties in both cham­bers, but has an oppor­tu­ni­ty to change that in just a few weeks.

For the first time in many elec­tion cycles, the par­ty is almost exclu­sive­ly focused on pick­ing up seats thanks to a favor­able elec­toral land­scape. No Demo­c­ra­t­ic incum­bents are con­sid­ered to be in dan­ger this year, while many Repub­li­can-held seats are up for grabs, includ­ing some due to retirements.

The 6th Leg­isla­tive Dis­trict is an exam­ple of a dis­trict with two open seats this year (one in the House, one in the Senate).

The 6th is locat­ed in East­ern Wash­ing­ton; it encom­pass­es a large slice of west­ern Spokane Coun­ty, includ­ing neigh­bor­hoods in the City of Spokane as well as the com­mu­ni­ties of Air­way Heights, Med­ical Lake, and Cheney.

The 6th is cur­rent­ly rep­re­sent­ed by Repub­li­cans Michael Baum­gart­ner, Mike Volz, and Jeff Holy. In Feb­ru­ary this year, Baum­gart­ner announced he would not seek reelec­tion to the Sen­ate. Holy is vacat­ing his House seat in the hopes of mov­ing up.

Demo­c­ra­t­ic activist Jes­sa Lewis is Holy’s oppo­nent. The two fin­ished less than a thou­sand votes apart in the Top Two elec­tion; Holy end­ed up with 52.22%, while Lewis cap­tured 47.78%. A for­mer evan­gel­i­cal Repub­li­can her­self, Lewis explained she hopes this com­mon ground and her abil­i­ty to con­verse with those right-lean­ing vot­ers, many of whom have nev­er vot­ed Demo­c­ra­t­ic in their life, will be the deter­min­ing fac­tor in which can­di­date comes out on top in November.

“My back­ground isn’t tra­di­tion­al,” said Lewis. “But because of it, I under­stand a broad­er range of the human expe­ri­ence and I’m able to talk to people.”

Jessa Lewis speaking at the autumn meeting of the Washington State Democrats

Jes­sa Lewis speak­ing at the autumn meet­ing of the Wash­ing­ton State Democ­rats (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

Lewis described her frus­tra­tion as a con­stituent when she says she could not get a meet­ing with eiither Sen­a­tor Baum­gart­ner and Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Holy to dis­cuss the district’s lack of afford­able health­care and her work to pass health­care reform as East­ern Wash­ing­ton Direc­tor of Health­care for All Wash­ing­ton.

“As a con­stituent, I couldn’t get a meet­ing,” Lewis recounted.

“We need to get away from this par­ti­san­ship and actu­al­ly rep­re­sent the peo­ple [we] are sup­posed to rep­re­sent, and that means meet­ing with every­one. That’s not only the peo­ple who can cut you big checks.”

Should she win in Novem­ber, Lewis said she’ll seek to improve health­care in Wash­ing­ton State by advanc­ing leg­is­la­tion to cre­ate a uni­ver­sal, sin­gle-pay­er health­care sys­tem and enact coun­ter­mea­sures to shore up the Patient Pro­tec­tion Act, which Repub­li­cans have been try­ing to sab­o­tage at the fed­er­al level.

Mean­while, on the House side, Demo­c­rat Kay Mura­no is chal­leng­ing Repub­li­can incum­bent Mike Volz. The can­di­date said one of the pri­ma­ry issues that inspired her to run was the hous­ing cri­sis fac­ing the 6th Dis­trict, spurred on by the deci­sion by Ama­zon to open a ful­fill­ment cen­ter near Spokane Inter­na­tion­al Airport.

Spokane-area hous­ing prices have been on a steady increase and the rental vacan­cy rate is around 1%. Ama­zon plans to employ local res­i­dents to work at the new ful­fill­ment cen­ter, but it will still be most­ly min­i­mum-wage jobs. Mura­no explained that it’s still caus­ing prop­er­ty man­agers to dras­ti­cal­ly raise rents. The dis­trict also does not have Just Cause Evic­tion pro­tec­tions for renters, so prop­er­ty own­ers can evict ten­ants with a twen­ty-day notice at any time for any reason.

“Obvi­ous­ly we need to build more low-income hous­ing, so we need to increase the amount of mon­ey that would go into the hous­ing trust fund,” said Murano,

“But we also need to have some ten­ant pro­tec­tions, because you should­n’t be allowed to raise rent three times in six months.”

Mura­no not­ed that the dis­trict is diverse, encom­pass­ing afflu­ent neigh­bor­hoods in Spokane, as well as rur­al, sparse­ly pop­u­lat­ed areas.

From hav­ing been out talk­ing with vot­ers, she said afford­abil­i­ty (or the lack there­of) is an issue every­one is grap­pling with. “When we start talk­ing about the cost of things like hous­ing and how it’s increased, the cost of health­care and how it’s increased, the cost of edu­ca­tion with high­er edu­ca­tion and preschool and every­thing in-between. Every­one says: ‘Yeah, I can’t afford it,’” said Murano.

Mura­no and Volz had the clos­est results of the district’s three races; Volz man­aged only 50.26% of the vote, with Mura­no net­ting 49.74%.

In the oth­er House race, for the posi­tion Holy is giv­ing up, Demo­c­rat Dave Wil­son secured the top spot in the Top Two elec­tion, with 40.05% of the vote. Repub­li­can Jen­ny Gra­ham came in sec­ond with 33.35%.

Both Mura­no and Lewis described their deter­mi­na­tion to make sure East­ern Wash­ing­ton does not get for­got­ten should Democ­rats increase their leg­isla­tive majori­ties, as they are wide­ly expect­ed to do.

“I think the main thing is we’re putting peo­ple first,” said Lewis, “[Peo­ple in the 6th] are tired of the fight­ing, and they’re tired of being for­got­ten. And they’re tired of it being so hard to get by. That’s the thing, they’re not afraid of work. I’m not afraid of the work either. We just want a chance to be heard.”

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