Editor’s Note: On Friday, June 24th and Saturday, June 25th, the Washington State Democratic Party held its 2022 convention in the City of Destiny at the Greater Tacoma Convention Center. The staff of the Northwest Progressive Institute traveled to Tacoma to speak with party leaders and elected officials about the work they’re doing in advance of the midterm elections.
This is one of those Convention Conversations, featuring Washington State Democratic Party Chair Tina Podlodowski. Press play below to listen to the audio, or read the transcript below. You can use the link in this paragraph to access the other installments that we recorded from the convention hall.
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Note: Transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
CAYA BERNDT: Welcome to Convention Conversations, a special limited podcast series from the Northwest Progressive Institute recorded live from the 2022 Washington State Democratic Convention in Tacoma. I’m your host, Caya Berndt; we’re glad to have you with us! For this installment, we are honored to be joined by Washington State Democratic Party Chair Tina Podlodowski. Welcome!
TINA PODLODOWSKI: Thank you so much. I’m so happy to be here. Thanks for having me.
CAYA BERNDT: Of course. Yeah, we’re really happy to have you here too. First question: We’re in the midst of a heated midterms cycle, but last year we had a number of exciting local elections across the state that yielded some important victories for Democrats. What stood out to you as the party’s biggest wins last year?
TINA PODLODOWSKI: Oh boy, that’s a fantastic question. And I have to say, we were so excited as a state Democratic Party to participate in over 4,825 different local elections around the state of Washington. It’s really an important component of building our bench and making certain that Democratic voices and values are at every level of government, whether you’re talking about school board, public utility districts, city councils, county councils, all the way through.
I guess I’ll start with Sarah Perry — the incredible Sarah Perry! — winning her race for King County Council against the long-term Republican incumbent Kathy Lambert. Finally, there is representation that truly represents that particular district at the King County Council. And Sarah is a tremendous and experienced politician, but [also an exemplary] community member. The work that she’s done within that particular district has been lauded on both sides of the aisle.
So having her on the King County Council is just a tremendous win.
But I also want to say say we’ve done such great work in a lot of great places, [like] in the Walla Walla area. You know, returning Norma Hernandez [to be] Mayor of College Place was fantastic and making that happen. To making certain that we have Latinx representation on the Walla Walla City Council.
We ran the table with the Vancouver City Council and it now has a progressive majority. And then, I think [a victory] everyone is so proud of too, is in Sequim, Washington, where, working with the Sequim Good Governance League, we were able to get out Q‑Anon city council members and put in a progressive slate.
So it matters. It matters what’s happening there as well as a variety of school board races. So many great races to mention all around the state!
CAYA BERNDT: Yeah, that’s fantastic. So members of both parties, including Governor Jay Inslee, are calling on longtime incumbent Mike Kreidler to step down from his position of insurance commissioner, following the revelations of his abusive behavior towards staff while in office. If he doesn’t resign, will you be working to recruit a credible Democratic challenger to run for his office in 2024?
TINA PODLODOWSKI: Yeah, I think Democrats need to walk the talk and in Mike’s case, it definitely… this is an incredibly serious situation in his office. When we heard about this particular situation, Mike assured everyone that he would get training, that he would deal with the situation. I think everyone was concerned. And certainly I issued a statement saying, I think that this is one of those things where the trust is just about gone. So let’s see what happens here.
But then the whistleblower who started this entire complaint was then fired by Mike. And to me, that’s the last straw. We don’t do things like that.
I mean, the Republicans refused to, [for example], you know, kick out Matt Shea from his seat [in the State House], when they had the opportunity to do that. They removed him from the caucus, but certainly they didn’t remove his vote, and they depended upon him, and still continued to work with him, despite the fact that it was very clear he was working with white supremacists and extremists.
We appreciate the entire career that Mike has had. He’s done amazing things for the people of the state of Washington, but it is time.
I’ve called for Mike to step down.
I am still going to call for Mike to step down and for us to find a replacement. And I know that we will have incredible Democrats running in 2024, if we do not replace [Mike Kreidler] prior to [that election].
CAYA BERNDT: Thank you! Switching gears a bit. Washington is applying to be one of the first states in the 2020 fourth cycle to hold a democratic presidential primary. This past week, the state made its pitch in the other Washington to the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws committee. How did that presentation go?
TINA PODLODOWSKI: It went great. I think that there are so many things that the State of Washington brings to a presidential primary discussion, but let me set the stage initially. So the entire DNC Rules and Bylaws committee is looking at changes to the states that would hold those early presidential primaries.
I think everyone knows that Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada have been those states. What’s clear in [the wake of] this last cycle is potentially that a state like Iowa no longer [effectively] represents Democrats and no longer represents America in that vote. There is not a lot of diversity in the folks in Iowa who are taking that [first in the nation] presidential primary vote.
And in fact, in Iowa, it is not a primary. It’s a caucus.
Here in Washington State, a couple of things are at play. Number one is there has to be one state from each particular region who is represented as an early presidential primary state. And there’s an opportunity for a fifth state to be added. The Rules and Bylaws Committee gave themselves that leeway.
So in the west, there are only three states who are competing for a slot. It’s us in Washington State, it’s Nevada, and it’s Colorado. So that’s step number one.
If you take a look at the diversity within the State of Washington and how it stacks up against both Colorado and Nevada, there are many, many advantages with Washington State. The first is not just in the west, but among any state applying to be an early caucus state: Washington has the largest Asian Pacific Islander population of any of those states.… over 800,000 people. That is a group that is historically underrepresented in presidential primary votes.
We haven’t done that here in Washington State. If you take a look, [you’ll find] incredible legislators like Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, the first South Asian woman to be elected to Congress. And one of the few immigrants in Congress, if you look at Maryland Strickland, the first Black and Korean congressperson to be elected here in Washington State, and then incredible legislators like Manka Dhingra, and My-Linh Thai, and a whole host of different folks that are incredible.
So we have that diversity going for us that puts us in a number one slot.
Number two is the number of Native American tribes that we have here in Washington state. We have relationships and there are twenty-nine federally recognized tribes in Washington state. That is more than any other state under consideration with the exception of Oklahoma.
And we’ve been able to increase the vote in those tribal communities by 40% over the course of the last four years. So that’s an incredible opportunity and a great group that need to be represented as well.
And then finally, there’s labor. We have 630,000 union members in Washington state, including everyone and myself who works for the state party.
Labor is a key Democratic ally. We are the most unionized state participating in this process, and we have twice the amount of union members of Colorado and Nevada combined here in Washington State.
We also have 160,000 more union members than the number two state in competition — and that’s Michigan, [competing] in the Midwest region for a slot.
So we believe all of those things give us an opportunity, potentially not to get the Western slot. We believe that Nevada brings Latinx representation to the table that no other state does as well. But certainly looking at that fifth state slot is a huge opportunity for us. And one that brings those voices of the AAPI community, the Native American community, the labor community to the forefront.
And one last thing: Washington has the gold standard voting system. It is the system that we believe the DNC should be replicating and working to replicate all throughout our country. We have an all mail-in system, eighteen days to [cast a ballot]. We have postage paid ballot [return envelopes]. We have automatic voter registration, same day registration pre-registration for sixteen and seventeen year-olds. And we have recognition of former felons being able to vote.
So we wanna make sure that all of those voices are there. And everyone has a chance to cast their ballot. We are not Texas. We are not Georgia that is laboring under incredible and heinous voter ID laws, and other sorts of voter suppression efforts. So we believe we bring things to the table that represent the best of democracy, as well as diversity. We’ll see how it goes.
We’ll find out by August 6th, but Washington State definitely made a strong case and made a lot of people in the room sit up and take notice.
That’s it’s really exciting to hear.
CAYA BERNDT: Boosting Washington’s voter participation has been a top priority of the party during your time in leadership. How are Democrats planning to motivate and energize voters to elect democratic majorities this summer and fall?
TINA PODLODOWSKI: Yeah, I mean, think about it: We are coming out of a pandemic. Probably something that’s endemic, if you think of the, the spread of COVID, but that’s probably another podcast. I am not an epidemiologist, but definitely, when you looked at that 2020 election, we could not do the things that Democrats normally do in a presidential year that give us such grassroots strength. We weren’t able to door knock. We weren’t able to do events. Instead we made over four million phone calls to turn out voters, as well as text banking.
In this cycle, we have that opportunity to door knock. We have that opportunity to have events. We just had 1,200 delegates here, participating both in person and virtually around the state of Washington [in the 2022 Washington State Democratic Convention] and people are excited and fired up. So we are putting together neighborhood programs in every part of the state.
We have been door knocking since October, particularly in [key legislative] districts. For example, the 26th Legislative District where Emily Randall has a tough race to make sure she returns to the state Senate.
She is an amazing champion for women, for education, for reproductive rights. And she’s going up against, Republican Representative Jesse Young — somebody who can’t even be in the same room with a staff member by himself because he’s been censured for his behavior. So he has to have at least two people in the room with him. I mean, it’s ridiculous who the Republicans have running.
So I think all of those things coupled with Roe coupled with the recent decisions on guns, coupled with everything that we’re seeing because of the January 6th [Select] Committee and the efforts that they’re doing, and really the big lie that’s out there from Republicans. The insurrectionism… this idea that they are indeed tearing down our democracy and doing that every day and reducing rights for folks. Well, that’s a motivator. It’s just doing that and making sure that we get people to turn in their ballots. And I think we do that better than anyone else.
So door knocking, phone banking, text banking, events, a combination of all of that. We’re also hiring. So if folks are listening to this podcast, go to our website. We are hiring and we are working through a variety of different diverse communities. Our efforts in Spanish language communities, our efforts in immigrant communities, our efforts with young people, our efforts, all the way through are, are really something that has turned out the vote for Democrats in every single county, over the course of the last five years and resulted in a six to 16% increase for Democrats in every county.
In the state of Washington, if I were the Republicans, I would be really worried about what this election is going to do to Republicans.
CAYA BERNDT: You have long been a champion of unions and organized labor, being a “union kid” yourself. How can champions for working people capitalize on the momentum generated from organizing successes at companies like Amazon and Starbucks to grow the union movement?
TINA PODLODOWSKI: Absolutely. Well, we work hand in hand with the union movement. I was so excited to be someone [whose] dad was a UAW shop steward. My mom was a UAW machinist. I grew up at the union hall. I’m very proud that all the Washington Democrats and our staff are IUPAT members.
We’re with the painters, ’cause we’re painting the state blue.
We’re having a lot of fun with that. And it is important. Every worker deserves a union. So we work hand in hand in those organizing efforts.
And we applaud the efforts that are happening at both Amazon and Starbucks and other companies to make that happen.
Look, in Washington State, we added almost 80,000 unionized workers in 2021 alone. It’s one of the competitive advantages, frankly, going back to the convention and early primary discussion that we had… both Nevada and Colorado actually lost union membership while we increased it. And our unions are diverse. There are over a hundred different locals here in the state of Washington.
So whether it’s teachers, whether it’s folks building airplanes, whether it’s folks who are baristas and working at Starbucks, whether it’s folks who are in healthcare, whether it’s folks who are our public employee union members, our firefighters, our incredible teachers, all the folks. We stand with them, and we continue to do that work and advocate for those organizing efforts.
At the federal level, our Washington delegation stands strong for the PRO Act, [which is aimed at] giving the right to everyone to be able to organize. And here in Washington State, we are not a “right to work” state. We are a right to organize state. So Democrats have made that definitely happen at the legislative level and support our union rights and membership at every level.
CAYA BERNDT: Chair Podlodowski, it’s been great to be able to catch up with you. Thanks for taking the time to talk with us about the work that you’ve been doing for the people of Washington. If you enjoyed this podcast, we invite you to check out our other Convention Conversations. For NPI, I’m Caya Berndt.