Fourteen-term U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott will face an intraparty challenge in 2016 from a fellow Democrat: state Rep. Brady Walkinshaw.
Since he was first elected to Congress in 1988, U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott has faced mostly token opposition and coasted to easy re-election victories in Seattle’s solidly liberal 7th Congressional District.
But 2016 could be different, as the 14-term congressman will face an intraparty challenge from an ambitious Democratic state lawmaker.
State Rep. Brady Walkinshaw, D-Seattle, confirmed in an interview Wednesday he’ll run for McDermott’s seat.
While stressing he has “incredible respect and admiration” for McDermott, Walkinshaw said it’s time for a change. “I believe this region is ready for its next progressive leader,” he said.
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McDermott said he has every intention of seeking a 15th term and has been fundraising and meeting with voters. He said he welcomes the competition.
“The district is entitled to good representation, and good people should run,” he said. “Norm Dicks used to kid me about being ‘congressman for life.’ I said, ‘Stop that stuff.’ People should have choices.”
Taking on McDermott is an audacious gamble for Walkinshaw, 31, a relatively new legislator who was 4 years old when McDermott was first elected to Congress.
A former Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation program officer, Walkinshaw was appointed to his 43rd Legislative District seat in 2013 to fill a vacancy. He ran unopposed for election the next year. In order to run for the federal office, he won’t seek re-election to his state House seat.
Still, the political calculation for Walkinshaw is that he’ll have a better shot at the seat taking on the incumbent than he would in an open-seat free-for-all that would ensue if McDermott were to retire.
During his short time in the Legislature, Walkinshaw has had some successes, including passage of “Joel’s Law,” which gives families the ability to petition courts to involuntarily detain relatives who are in danger due to mental illness.
As a relatively young, gay Cuban American, Walkinshaw said he can appeal to the region’s changing demographics. He’ll be a contrast with McDermott, 78, who is of Irish heritage and hosts an annual “Potato Festival.”
Walkinshaw said he doesn’t so much disagree with McDermott on issues — he could only cite McDermott’s long-ago vote for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Instead, Walkinshaw said he wants to focus on bringing Seattle’s progressive ideals — such as raising the minimum wage and decriminalizing marijuana — into the national mainstream.
He’s already obtained endorsements from some Democratic legislative colleagues and lined up veteran Democratic political consultant Christian Sinderman to help run his campaign.
But Walkinshaw likely will face a tough battle to unseat the locally popular congressman, who was last re-elected in 2014 with 81 percent of the vote.
While McDermott critics labeled him “Baghdad Jim” for a 2002 Iraq visit, McDermott’s local popularity only grew as he became known for strong denunciations of President Bush and the Iraq war.
McDermott is a senior member of the tax-policy-writing House Ways and Means Committee and is ranking member of the Subcommittee on Health. A former Navy psychiatrist, he was elected to the state House in 1970 and the state Senate four years later.
Despite being in the minority party, McDermott said he remains committed to working on policies he’s passionate about, such as changes to the Affordable Care Act to bring down costs and add subsidies for more people.
Experience matters in Washington, D.C., McDermott added. “Around here, we’ve had a lot of people come in with no experience, and you see the good luck we’ve got,” he said, referring both to tea-party Republicans and President Obama.
“You wouldn’t give a Maserati to a 15-year-old,” he added. “This is the government that runs the world.”
Some Democratic insiders said there have been quiet efforts to recruit someone to take on McDermott, who has been grumbled about by some who believe he isn’t an effective representative. That included calls to other potential candidates, who declined.
Walkinshaw said “a variety of folks” encouraged him, but he was motivated by his own carefully considered belief the region is ready for a competitive congressional election.
“This is disruptive,” he added. “But it’s an opportunity for new leadership.”