It has been called Seattle’s closest, most contentious legislative race. The bid for the 36th District, Position 2 seat, vacated by retiring Democrat Mary Lou Dickerson, who served in the position for 18 years, is a hot one.
Party lines won’t help voters decide. The 36th District Democrats have endorsed and Gael Tarleton, both Democrats with the liberal views popular in the district, which includes Queen Anne, Ballard and Magnolia. For example, both have voiced support for a state income tax and say they’ll protect the environment.
With so many apparent similarities, Gael Tarleton, who serves on the Port of Seattle Commission, and Noel Frame, Washington state director for the national political action committee Progressive Majority, agree the race comes down to who would be a better leader.
Tarleton said her experience working for the federal government (she was a senior defense intelligence analyst for the Pentagon) and her two terms as elected port commissioner demonstrate she knows how to translate ideas into results.
“I’ve had four employers in 30 years of working, and my opponent has had four employers in the last eight years. That’s since she got out of graduate school,” Tarleton said of Frame.
“And, of course, I’ve been elected several times by my constituents [Tarleton is serving her second consecutive term on the Port Commission], and that does matter.”
But Frame has attempted to use Tarleton’s record as port commissioner against her. Frame said Tarleton failed to show leadership on the job by not supporting an effort to improve the plight of truck drivers at the Port of Seattle. The drivers, who are independent contractors, sought to unionize to improve their pay and working conditions.
As port commissioner, Tarleton “had the opportunity to help refugees and immigrants, and she turned her back on those workers,” Frame said.
Not true, Tarleton said in response, because it wasn’t actually her call. In a written statement from her campaign, Tarleton said she abstained from voting on a resolution drafted by the Teamsters because public ports cannot ban private truckers from operating at ports, according to federal laws later upheld by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
As for improving working conditions for truck drivers and other Port workers, Tarleton said that’s among her accomplishments. Her Clean Trade Solution, passed by the Port Commission unanimously in January 2011, “reduced diesel emissions by more than 700 metric tons, improved the health of thousands of people in South Seattle and cost $7.5 million in the first year — $5 million of which came from a federal government grant.”
Both candidates say they’ve hopped aboard the anti-coal train, and dispute the other’s record on it.
Frame said she has the more authentic anti-coal stance: “Gael’s been on the Port [Commission] for five years, and she’s had a proverbial bully pulpit for five years. And she’s not using it.”
Tarleton said some “perceive that there’s a difference between myself and my opponent [on coal] because [Frame] tried to create a difference.”
Not only has she gone on the record against coal trains, but Tarleton also stated her opposition to public funding for infrastructure related to coal transport, she said.
Frame has stated her opposition to coal trains, “but she’s never said how you stop it,” Tarleton said. “I have stated how you stop it. You don’t use public money.”
Both candidates cite deeply personal motives for seeking office. Frame said she’s running to improve access to education, which affords the chance to “level the playing field” for people, such as herself, who grew up with fewer resources. The state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision, which found that the state is not adequately funding public education, provides an opportunity for change, she said.
“I feel like there’s no better time for a public schools champion to be in Olympia,” Frame said. “I wanted to be that person.”
For Tarleton, health care and the task of implementing the Affordable Care Act is paramount.
“I’m the only candidate, from day one, who was talking about health care in this entire campaign,” Tarleton said. “That issue is so predominant in the minds and lives of every voter. I’ve been responsible in my family for taking care of health care because my husband has a preexisting condition and can’t get health care. When I think about my life and my family’s life, I know affordability and access to health care is essential. And we almost didn’t talk about it in this race.”
Another issue the candidates almost didn’t talk about is what they would do to help improve the lives of the poor and homeless. Both candidates said it was unfortunate that the subject did not receive greater attention during the campaign.
“Those are the kinds of questions that I wish the reporters and the media were asking about more,” rather than endorsements, Tarleton said.
Frame said that she knows the challenges people face with mental health and housing, and it’s part of the reason she’s running for office.
“My two cousins that I’m helping to raise were mostly homeless,” she said. “These are things I understand.”