Brady Walkinshaw says he can build bridges to get Washington, D.C., working again. For now, the 7th Congressional District candidate is working to bridge the gap between him and Pramila Jayapal, the rival Democrat who won their primary election.
There’s a story Brady Walkinshaw likes to tell about himself — so much that he tells it just about every time he speaks to voters, sits down with reporters, knocks on doors.
When the 32-year-old was appointed to a Washington state House seat in 2013, Walkinshaw and his husband jumped in a car, waved goodbye to their Capitol Hill neighborhood and trekked over the Cascade Mountains to visit Republican lawmakers.
“The first thing I did when I got into office was drive across the mountains to visit people on the other side of the aisle,” the Whatcom County-raised Democrat told a skeptical Wallingford homeowner last month after ringing his doorbell. “Everyone said, ‘We’ve never had a Seattle liberal come and visit us.’ ”
Where they stand on the issues
Should voters pass state Initiative 732, which would enact a carbon tax while cutting the state sales tax?
Jayapal: No. Supports putting a price on carbon but says I-732 isn’t the right way.
What should the federal minimum wage be?
Jayapal: $15 an hour.
Walkinshaw: $15 an hour.
Should assault weapons be banned?
Should the Trans Pacific Partnership trade pact be ratified?
Jayapal: Not in its current form.
Walkinshaw: Not in its current form.
Who should be U.S. president?
Jayapal: Endorsed Bernie Sanders early on, now endorses Hillary Clinton.
Walkinshaw: Caucused for Sanders, then endorsed Clinton.
Seattle Times research
Supporters in the race to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott in Washington’s 7th Congressional District say the story illustrates Walkinshaw’s humble character and commitment to “building bridges” — that’s the candidate’s preferred lingo.
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Others might wonder whether the ambitious, young Princeton University grad tells the story as much as possible for a strategic reason. Portraying himself as an amiable aisle-crosser may be what he needs to differentiate himself from Pramila Jayapal.
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Jayapal, a Democratic state senator who peddles a brasher brand of progressivism, shellacked Walkinshaw in August’s top-two primary, winning by 21 percentage points.
She raised $2.2 million as of Sept. 30, compared with Walkinshaw’s $1.5 million.
“When you get into the pure politics of the race, 42 percent to 21 percent is going to be a hard margin to overcome,” said state Sen. Jamie Pedersen, whose departure from the state House led to Walkinshaw’s appointment in the 43rd Legislative District.
But Walkinshaw is a shrewd operator. He surprised many last year by challenging McDermott, then saw the move pay off when Seattle’s liberal lion decided to retire.
So what, again, does the road-trip story reveal about the candidate? Honest peacemaker or smooth operator? Both interpretations are probably accurate.
Walkinshaw is polite and earnest in a golly, gee-whiz kind of way. Door-knocking last month in sneakers and a dress shirt tucked into bluejeans, he bent forward when talking to voters, almost bowing as he suggested they might want to support him.
Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-University Place, who teamed up with Walkinshaw to pass Joel’s Law last year, describes him as “delightful to work with.” Inspired by Joel Reuter, killed in a standoff with Seattle police after his family tried 48 times to get him help, the law allows people to request and courts to approve involuntary detentions of mentally ill relatives.
The issue wasn’t overly partisan, and ranking Democrats in the House were eager to see it approved. But it had some opponents in the Senate, O’Ban says. That meant Walkinshaw wound up sticking up for O’Ban, according to the GOPer.
“Brady and I worked together on how to explain to his people why they needed to be patient. He was committed to the end result and willing to trust a Republican, and we ultimately got it done,” O’Ban recalled. “I don’t think he’d want to put my endorsement in his TV commercials, but if I was in Seattle in that district I’d be voting for Brady.”
Which underscores a major challenge for Walkinshaw. This is the first competitive 7th District race since the boundaries were redrawn, and twice as many voters — 400,000 — are expected to cast ballots in the general as in the primary. The district lost Southeast Seattle and gained suburban territory.
But conventional wisdom says you can’t win in Seattle running to the right of an opponent. Walkinshaw is a liberal at heart, anyway. So he’s dancing a two-step, matching Jayapal on most issues while promising to be more effective than her.
“We’re two progressives in this race. I believe the question is, ‘Who’s going to deliver for this place we live in?’ ” he said in an interview, arguing he would work harder than McDermott has to combat the area’s mental-health and homelessness crises.
On Wallingford doorsteps, voters were most fired up to talk about matters related to Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and the City Council — growth, zoning, property taxes.
The candidate was able to cast himself as locally driven but struggled in some cases to draw direct connections between his agenda and their pressing needs. He says his No. 1 priority in Congress will be putting a price on carbon pollution, nationwide.
Walkinshaw, who was Fulbright scholar in Honduras, uses his middle name, Piñero, in some campaign literature. His mother immigrated to the U.S. from Cuba. He would be Washington’s first openly gay member of Congress.
To beat Jayapal, he’ll need to pick up voters who supported Metropolitan King County Councilmember Joe McDermott (no relation to Jim) in the primary.
Joe McDermott has endorsed Walkinshaw, as have more than two dozen Democratic state lawmakers and a majority of the Seattle City Council.
Before joining the Legislature, Walkinshaw worked on agriculture policy for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. His non-lawmaker job is with the Meridian Institute, a public-policy nonprofit based in Colorado.
Former Seattle City Councilmember Martha Choe, who recruited Walkinshaw to Gates, says she called him crazy when he first told her he planned to run for Congress.
She remembers asking, “Why do you want to go to the most dysfunctional, paralyzed, toxic place possible?”
But Choe says Walkinshaw threw the question back at her.
“How do we change it?” he replied. “Don’t we change it one person at a time?”
Information in this article, originally published Oct. 25, 2016, was corrected Oct. 25, 2016. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Brady Walkinshaw had been in the Peace Corps in Honduras. He actually was a Fulbright scholar there.