Immigration activist Pramila Jayapal to run for state Senate

Pramila Jayapal

Former OneAmerica head (and occasional Crosscut contributor) Pramila Jayapal announced today that she will run for Sen. Adam Kline's soon-to-be-vacated Washington state senate seat. The 37th-district representative, who has served parts of South Seattle, Renton and Tukwila for the last 12 years, announced his retirement in early January.

As Publicola reports, other candidates seeking to replace Kline include attorney Rory O’Sullivan, head of the Housing Justice Project; Louis Watanabe vice chair of the 37th District Democrats; and PTSA activist Linnea Noreen Fichter.

Jayapal, who has had a long history of organizing around race and immigration issues, is excited at the prospect of uniting her inner organizer with her inner policy wonk. "I believe that if you're in elected office," she said, "half of your job is to figure out how to put forward smart, progressive policy solutions and then [the other half is to] really get people there."

A Democrat who admires the work of Sharon Nelson and David Frockt, Jayapal claims not to be intimidated by the Senate's contentious party politics or the current Republican-dominated majority coalition. The Democrats' momentum, she says, is shifting. "There is an attempt to really make the [Democratic] caucus about a vision …  There is a desire to really move in a really strong way."

In the meantime, she says she's not one to sit around twiddling her thumbs, just waiting for Democrats to grab the majority back. "I'm also interested in how we can use our time in the minority to move some other ideas forward," she explains, "so that, when we have the majority, we're out of the gate running."

And as for working with Rodney Tom? He too, she says, will be up for election this fall. "I don't think he's representing the values that a lot of people stand for."

There's no question Jayapal's politics will give her a boost in the highly-diverse 37th district, but she says it was the encouragement of others that really pushed her over the edge and into the legislative fray. "People have been asking me to do this for a long time."

Among those, apparently, are Seattle's new mayor, Ed Murray; former County Executive Ron Sims; County Council member Larry Gossett; and City Council members Sally Clark, Mike O’Brien, Tim Burgess and Tom Rasmussen — all of whom are among Jayapal's list of early endorsers.

Jayapal's mettle as an organizer is apparent in the crowd of, well, other community organizers — many of them women of color — who have also publicly taken her back. The InterIm Community Development Association's Hyeok Kim has endorsed her. So has Diane Narasaki of the Asian Counseling and Referral Service and Centro de la Raza's Estela Ortega. Citizen University's Eric Liu and Tim Harris of Real Change round out the gender dynamics a little. 

Though Jayapal is obviously good at playing the game, she hasn't forgotten exactly who it is she would be representing — the residents of Washington's 37th district. "I want to make this campaign not just about electing me," Jayapal tells me. "I want it to be about electing us."

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