Six candidates for retiring Democratic Rep. Jim McDermott’s seat debated in Seattle at the University of Washington.
That’s because it spoke to the makeup of the race to succeed McDermott, who has represented most of liberal Seattle for 28 years, while the question also revealed some variation between the candidates.
In the Aug. 2 primary contest with several left-leaning Democrats, they were asked: “What would you say is the most conservative position you hold?”
The question won chuckles from the audience at the University of Washington’s Kane Hall and a grin from Pramila Jayapal, the Democratic state senator and national leader among immigrants-rights advocates who replied first.
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“That is going to stump me. Honestly, I am a bold progressive that has been advocating for working families, for women, for people of color for 25 years,” Jayapal said, rejecting the question. “I’m going to fight to make sure we’re not just talking about conservatives or progressives but about how we represent working people in this country.”
Joe McDermott, a Seattle Democrat who chairs the Metropolitan King County Council and a former state representative, offered some semblance of an answer after branding himself a “proven progressive” over 15 years in elected office.
“Maybe the most conservative thing I’m willing to do is to talk to conservatives, to reach across the aisle … and where you can, find common ground,” said McDermott, who isn’t related to the congressman. He touted his work on county budgets, bus service and protections for transgender people.
For the second time in the debate, state Rep. Brady Walkinshaw, also a Seattle Democrat, mentioned the part of the state where he grew up, rural Whatcom County.
The first mention referenced presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump’s recent rally in Lynden, near Walkinshaw’s childhood home.
“Maybe the most conservative thing I did was grow up in a place that was deeply, deeply conservative. That shaped me a great deal,” he noted, saying it would help him build bridges with Republicans on Capitol Hill.
Arun Jhaveri, a former Burien mayor, cited a commitment to balancing the U.S. budget as his most conservative position, while Leslie Regier, a political independent, said she would work to preserve the country’s traditional identity.
Seattle resident and 2010 Jim McDermott challenger Don Rivers has conservative friends, he said, though, “Some can’t golf worth 2 cents.”
The rest of the debate hosted by KCTS 9 and Crosscut was characterized by agreement, as Jayapal, McDermott and Walkinshaw each criticized the North American Free Trade Agreement and Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact and said they would fight for stricter gun regulations.
Walkinshaw, 31, argued the United States needs a new generation of leaders to combat climate change.
McDermott said he would push to double funding for Head Start, the early childhood education program.
And Jayapal staked out ground on public health care, indicating her support for a single-payer system.