Joe Nguyen and Shannon Braddock, candidates for state Senate, will debate at 8 p.m. Monday, Oct. 22 on the Vashon High School theater stage in one of their final appearances together before the Nov. midterm election.
The debate is sponsored by Unifying for Democracy and the VHS Riptide, which are fundraising to benefit 11 young reporters for the student newspaper so they may attend the Columbia Scholastic Press Association annual journalism conference in New York City next spring.
Doors will open at 5:30 p.m. The event will include live music, baked goods, a discussion between representatives and opponents of each ballot initiative followed by an audience Q&A at 6:30 p.m. and a chance to speak with the state Senate candidates later that evening.
Nguyen, who finished ahead of Braddock in the Aug. primary, said that he has more faith in his campaign than ever, with appearances planned at an upcoming fundraiser hosted by islander Lisa Devereau, and a stop at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 20 at Gather Vashon.
Among his top issues are health care, affordable housing, and education, resonating as much in Washington state as they do on Vashon. Nguyen emphasized that many of the issues facing the 34th legislative district are complicated, citing the island’s Neighborcare clinic as one example.
“It’s tough when you’re ferry-dependent to not have a proper medical facility that can offer you adequate support, because that’s literally a life or death situation,” he said, noting that the final sailing schedule chosen by Washington State Ferries could also impact off-island students and enrollment in the schools — an oversight that could jeopardize millions of dollars for the district.
Nguyen said he was concerned about “regionalization” — the name for a plan in the McCleary funding structure to reserve additional money for the support of teacher salaries, which legislators based on median home values. He said he believed the plan will likely result in more educators leaving communities where they are most needed so they can better support themselves.
“There’s a whole host of things we can do to support our teachers which then supports our kids,” he said, alluding to his endorsement by the Washington Education Association.
Nguyen said he supports the county’s new secure firearm storage law as well as ballot Initiative 1639, the state’s proposed major gun reform package. “At the end of the day we can find common ground and make sure people don’t die unnecessarily,” he said. “A lot of it is just codifying what responsible gun owners are already doing.”
Threats to the environment, Nguyen said, are also high on his priority list — naming his support for Initiative 1631, the carbon fee for businesses. He also expressed concern for the ailing southern resident orcas and said he is interested in ideas about reducing excess noise in Puget Sound that interferes with their habits while possibly curtailing whale watch excursions, reducing vessel proximity to the whales.
“There’s a whole lot of things we can do right now to mitigate that urgently,” he said, acknowledging that his perspective is limited, as he is not from areas which depend on the Snake River dams — found to impede chinook salmon migration, which the southern residents depend on. But he said that providing a healthy environment for the orcas will, in turn, provide Washington state the same.
Distinguishing him from his opponent, Nguyen said, is the lack of ambiguity among his donors and supporters — campaign contributions have come primarily from individuals, according to the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC).
“I believe that politics is about people and not careers,” he said, adding that literature for his campaign was printed in 4 languages to be as inclusive as possible. He said that as a new face in politics and a person of color, he was proud of his victory in the primary, but discouraged by the lack of representation among fellow political candidates at large. It’s “the reason why we do everything the hardest way possible,” he said.
Braddock held a fundraiser in the Land Trust building last Thursday, attended by King County Executive Dow Constantine and Sen. Sharon Nelson. She has frequently engaged with voters at the Vashon Farmers Market, stopping by last Saturday morning before a meet and greet at Gather Vashon. On Aug. 25, she participated in a human mural on Lisabeula Beach, organized by the Backbone Campaign, to honor the southern resident orcas.
“As we’re out doorbelling, and as we’re out talking to communities, things I hear the most about are the need for tax reform, homelessness, housing affordability, and climate change issues,” she said, including her support of the carbon Initiative 1631. Like Nguyen, Braddock said she appreciates the acknowledgment of the initiative’s impact on working families and urban communities, as well as the sponsors’ ongoing conversations with labor.
Among her other priorities if elected to the state Senate, said Braddock, is gun responsibility, transportation — including ferries — and education. She said the McCleary decision neglected Vashon at a pivotal time when sensitive contract negotiations and lower projected enrollment in the schools have threatened to sink the district’s budget.
“For this island especially, the funding formulas, the fact that Vashon did not get enough, I think that’s something that needs to be addressed,” she said.
Commending Sen. Nelson for helping to establish Neighborcare Health on the island, Braddock said that a long-term solution to shore up the clinic’s finances was the next objective.
“It’s a really challenging issue, but one that we have to address. Failure is not an option here,” she said. “I’m optimistic that we will find a solution, but we really do need all these people — providers, patients, residents, policy makers — helping at the table.”
Braddock, a single mother, has spoken often of her work supporting children and early education initiatives. She said that every dollar invested in treating childhood trauma saved an average of $17 in costs of services, including hospital visits, the juvenile justice system and long-term care institutions from adolescence into adulthood, citing the work of David Johnson, chief executive director of the Washington-based community behavioral health care organization NAVOS.
“It has a huge, real impact on that human being, but it also has an actual positive economic impact too, when we address mental and behavioral health issues,” said Braddock, adding that the state should continue to invest in additional resources.
Relating mental health to gun safety, she noted her support of the gun reform Initiative 1639 and referred to her endorsement from the Alliance for Gun Responsibility.
“I do believe that there are many responsible gun owners, that’s very true. Unfortunately, they’re just not all responsible gun owners, right? To me, the impacts of that are important enough and impactful enough that I want to be certain we address that,” Braddock said.
Braddock said that any assertion her campaign is funded in large part by special interests and PAC money is inaccurate. She said that donors who contribute to her campaign, available to view online via the PDC, are aware of her positions but selected her because of her qualifications for the job — and the belief she can work across party lines.
“For me, if you want to get things done, you can still hold those principles and values in a way that can actually have action implemented,” she said.