The 2020 election cycle has been dominated by the fiery rhetoric and polarized stances of the federal elections. The Sammamish Youth Board sought to remedy the overshadowing of local races by hosting a town hall to shine the spotlight on candidates running for seats in the Washington state legislature.
Held on October 23, the event featured incumbents Rep. Roger Goodman (D-45) and Sen. Lisa Wellman (D-41). But much focus was on two other participants ― Sen. Mark Mullet (D-5) and his more progressive challenger Ingrid Anderson ― two Democrats who are competing for the 5th district’s state senate seat.
The town hall was a more mellow contrast to the presidential debates, with candidates expressing agreement on the majority of issues and continuously building on each others’ answers. However, on a few topics, a clear difference emerged between candidates representing the moderate and progressive wings of the Democratic Party.
The most significant split of the night concerned Washington’s tax structure, which is the most regressive state tax system in the United States, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.
“Rather than introduce some new tax on some new group, it is critical to revise, reform, and rebuild our entire revenue system,” Goodman said. “This is the most important issue in our state because the unfairness and instability in our tax system makes it difficult to fund the essential programs and services of the government.”
Goodman caveated that he would support some new taxes including capital gains taxes and payroll taxes for large corporations. Both Anderson and Wellman expressed support for Goodman’s statements and progressive taxes like the capital gains tax. However, Mullet stood out by opposing tax increases. Rather, he emphasized the need to lower the regressive sales tax.
“I’m all for making our tax system fair…It doesn’t just mean making new taxes and saying that makes our system more progressive,” said Mullet. “I have a huge fear of just creating new taxes that go into the state general fund. We should either lower the sales tax or revenue should go to a specific program that we know is going to change peoples lives.”
Mullet, a small-business owner, introduced the perspectives of small businesses throughout the debate, while Anderson, a nurse at Overlake Hospital, wove healthcare into every discussion. Both Mullet and Anderson tried to draw contrasts against each other.
Mullet described himself as “socially liberal and fiscally conservative” and touted his bipartisan cooperation as a strength for his district, especially when it comes to passing municipal bonds.
“Having someone in the middle who has proven that they have the ability to work with both Republicans and Democrats has a benefit for people who live in the district because anything that issues bonds has to be bipartisan,” Mullet said. “I can represent our district better by not being a bomb thrower down there, working in a positive way with Republicans, and making sure they’re going to support the projects in our district.”
Anderson refuted accusations that she is a far left candidate, and spoke of working with people from all walks of life as a nurse and community advocate. She also highlighted her healthcare experience as an asset.
“We’re in unprecedented times and uncharted waters with a lack of perspective in the healthcare field represented in the State Senate. And that is something I am uniquely qualified to address,” she said. “Because I have seen the structural flaws in our system, and I know firsthand what would translate to actual improved outcomes.”
The race between Anderson and Mullet has become one of the most expensive in Washington history, with independent expenditures alone exceeding $1.5 million for each candidate. Anderson has been endorsed by Governor Inslee and unions including the Washington Education Association. Washington Cares, a labor-backed PAC, has contributed more than $800,000 in support of Anderson. Mullet is endorsed by many mayors and state legislators, and supported by many business-backed PACs. The Committee for Proven Leadership, a PAC backed by Puget Sound Energy, Washington Realtors and other business associations, has spent almost $1 million for Mullet.
While Anderson’s website contains a long list of criticisms against Mullet, most of it did not surface in last week’s town hall.
“There is more that we have in common than divides us,” Anderson said, seemingly acknowledging that differences among Democrats pale in comparison to the deep political divisions in the broader political landscape.
For the rest of the town hall, that agreement was on full display. For the COVID-19 economic recovery, the candidates had agreed that more needs to be done to provide financial relief to businesses and to reskill unemployed workers. On the issue of homelessness, everyone concurred that more preventive measures need to be taken, such as opening a drug rehab option, identifying homeless children and creating a housing trust fund. All candidates also recognized systemic racism and white privilege and emphasized the importance of bringing in more voices to guide legislation.
On education, the consensus was to get younger kids, special education students, and English language learners back to the classroom first to prevent enormous learning gaps from developing. As for climate change, Goodman, who was formerly an environmental lawyer, spoke for all the participating candidates, stating “the climate crisis is here and now.” All candidates expressed support for a clean fuels standard. Mullet and Wellman shared an interest in turning the King County waste management facility in the 5th district into a waste-to-energy facility. Mullet did differentiate himself by expressing a willingness to explore nuclear energy in Washington state.