Voters in Seattle’s Queen Anne, Magnolia and Ballard neighborhoods are going to elect a Democrat to replace Washington state Rep. Gael Tarleton, who vacated her 36th Legislative District seat to run for secretary of state.
They’re going to pick a working parent who supports a tax on capital gains, a clean fuel standard, an assault weapons ban and affordable child care. The question is: Which one?
Liz Berry, 37, and Sarah Reyneveld, 41, agree on most issues, and they’ve moved in some of the same circles. They once both joined a 36th District Democrats book club that read “Becoming” by Michelle Obama.
There are some differences in experience, priorities and policies, however, with Berry taking a harder line against budget cuts and Reyneveld taking a more cautious approach on density.
Fundraising and endorsements also could matter, and a negative mailer recently shook up the race, as Reyneveld criticized some past support by the political action committee (PAC) of the organization that Berry now heads for a far-right politician who allegedly took part in domestic terrorism. The PAC disavowed state Rep. Matt Shea last year.
Berry won their three-way primary with 51%, while Reyneveld had 42%.
Berry, who lives in Queen Anne, grew up in Arizona. She worked at the Women’s Campaign Fund, then with U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, serving in D.C. when the congresswoman and others were shot in Arizona, some fatally.
Having relocated to Seattle, Berry worked on political campaigns, lobbied in Olympia for the Washington State Association for Justice (WSAJ), which represents plaintiffs’ trial lawyers, and became president of the National Women’s Political Caucus of Washington, which helps women win elections. She served on the board of NARAL Pro-Choice Washington and in 2017 became WSAJ’s executive director.
With Giffords during the Great Recession, “I had a front-row seat to what worked and didn’t work 10 years ago, and I can bring that lens to the Legislature,” Berry said.
A Ballard resident, Reyneveld grew up in California and Queen Anne. She worked as a state Senate aide and on a public-education study commissioned by then-Gov. Christine Gregoire.
She was a graduate-student leader at the University of Washington and now serves on the UW’s alumni board. Since 2012, Reyneveld has worked in the state Attorney General’s Office, where she helped organize a union and manages a team that enforces labor rights. She also has served on the Washington Conservation Voters board and campaigned for a carbon tax.
“I’m running to my government work for the people,” said Reyneveld, stressing her background as a “public servant.”
Priorities and positions
Berry says what happened to Giffords and her co-workers would drive her to champion gun regulations in Olympia. Police accountability would also be a priority, she says, mentioning WSAJ’s work on a 2019 bill allowing parents to sue over the wrongful deaths of adult children. Berry says she wants to press for the Legislature to bypass the “qualified immunity” doctrine that shields police from civil-rights suits.
State Rep. Nicole Macri, D-Capitol Hill, says Berry has the relationship-building skills to maneuver bills through the Legislature and a bold attitude to match.
“In these D on D races, it’s never going to come down to issues. It’s going to come down to style,” Macri said. “We need someone willing to push the envelope.”
A public school parent who serves on the board of Washington’s Paramount Duty, which advocates for education spending, Reyneveld says she would lead on that issue, with an eye toward racial equity. Every child should have small classes, counselors, nurses and librarians, she says. Reyneveld also would make climate justice a focus, she said.
Metropolitan King County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles, who appointed Reyneveld to the King County Women’s Advisory Board, described her as rooted in the community and “devoted to causes that people can relate to, especially families with young children.”
Both candidates say they believe duplexes, triplexes and quads should be allowed on more blocks. Berry sounds more eager to do so in neighborhoods like Magnolia, while Reyneveld says she would want to first “engage the community” about the best approach. Until now, density has mostly been added near transit, and Magnolia lacks light rail, Reyneveld notes.
With the state budget eroded by the COVID-19 crisis, Berry says she would oppose cuts, period, arguing taxes must instead be raised on those who can pay. Reyneveld agrees in principle, she says. But voters deserve to know how the candidates would handle a cuts scenario, Reyneveld says, promising to target nonessential services.
That answer, said Kohl-Welles, who also likes Berry, reflects Reyneveld’s attention to “policy wonk” details. Berry has said her opponent’s stance is too weak.
Berry has raised more than $360,000, thanks partly to contributions from lawyers outside Seattle. She’s spent more than double what Reyneveld has.
Both candidates have healthy endorsement lists, though Berry has support from more unions, including those representing hospital, supermarket and child care workers. She also has support from more current state lawmakers.
“I’m trying to carve out that niche as the progressive champion,” Berry said.
Reyneveld is backed by several unions representing construction workers, and other endorsers include the 36th District Democrats, the Sunrise Movement environmental group and the Washington Conservation Voters.
“I want to bring a Green New Deal to Washington,” she said, calling climate change “an existential threat.”
Reyneveld’s mailer slammed WSAJ, and Berry by proxy, for contributing to Republican Matt Shea’s campaigns and working with him on bipartisan issues like the wrongful death bill. “Liz looked the other way and worked with a domestic terrorist.” the mailer says.
Berry has never met nor lobbied Shea personally, and she doesn’t support him at all, she says. She didn’t direct the contributions between 2014 and 2018 to Shea’s campaigns by WSAJ’s PAC, “which is a separate legal entity,” she says. The PAC waited to disavow Shea until after a state House report on his actions was completed because WSAJ’s members are lawyers and “They believe in due process,” Berry says. The mailer, Berry says, “was a lie and deeply offensive.”
The negative turn may bother some voters, said 36th District state Rep. Noel Frame, who condemned the mailer, as did Planned Parenthood’s regional PAC and many unions. “To insinuate that Liz … supports domestic terrorism and white nationalism because of a very weak link … is RIDICULOUS,” Frame wrote on Facebook.
Reyneveld has stood by the mailer, arguing voters “have a right to take a closer look” at Berry and WSAJ, which could have spoken out against Shea after his extreme views were more widely exposed in late 2018, rather than in 2019. “We need to be able to hold each other accountable,” she said.