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Volume 34
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Jamie Pedersen candidate for the 43rd speaks with the SGNJamie Pedersen candidate for the 43rd speaks with the SGN
Jamie Pedersen candidate for the 43rd speaks with the SGNJamie Pedersen candidate for the 43rd speaks with the SGN
"I don't feel any sense of entitlement to the seat just because I am the only Gay candidate in the race. I really do think that people should elect the person that they believe will be the most effective representative. I think I am that person," said Jamie Pedersen, candidate for the 43rd Legislative District.

by Robert Raketty - SGN Staff Writer

In a race full of progressive candidates, Jamie Pedersen has been fighting to be heard above all the others. Despite the apparent similarities between them and their positions, however, Pedersen believes he's the best man to fill the vacated House seat in the liberal 43rd Legislative District, which includes Capitol Hill, University District, Wallingford, Fremont and Downtown.

Since the campaign began, Pedersen has been highlighting his record as an advocate for civil rights, a guardian of civil liberties, and a true problem-solver. Recent coverage of the marriage equality litigation - of which Pedersen played a major starring role as one of the lead attorney's in the case - has only helped to raise his public profile.

According to Pedersen, he's knocked on 13,500 doors and engaged in an extensive mail program trying to drive that message home. His ads, brochures and website stress the wholesome image that many friends and colleagues have come to know him by.

A fourth-generation Washingtonian, he shares his Seattle home with his partner, Eric Cochran, a high-school assistant principal. Pedersen is also a partner at the law firm of Preston Gates & Ellis and a long-time member of the Seattle Men's Chorus where he sings tenor.

He is an avid volunteer and has provided a variety of free legal services to nonprofits, such as the Pride Foundation and Lambert House. Recently, he chaired the board of Lambda Legal. He is also active in his church, having served as the past President and current Treasurer of Central Lutheran Church on Capitol Hill in Seattle, where he had helped to establish a community lunch program that feeds hundreds of people each week.

He grew up in Puyallup, graduated from Puyallup High School and worked at McDonald's to help put himself through Yale College. He graduated summa cum laude and, later, graduated from Yale Law School. He clerked on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and then returned to Seattle 11 years ago to practice law.

As a volunteer and a lawyer, he says he has worked on issues of important to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community and the people he one day hopes to serve. He spoke with the SGN this week about his candidacy.



SGN: It is a pretty crowded field. What differentiates you form all the other candidates in this race?

JP: I think there are three main things that make me stand out from what really is - not only crowded, but a very good field of people. First, I have been working on civil rights issues for the last 10 years, particularly with gay and lesbian civil rights issues. What I hear from people as I go around and doorbell in the district is that it is a time for folks when - not just on gay and lesbian civil rights, but more broadly on civil liberties - people feel their rights are under attack. That is true if you disagree with what the Bush administration has done as far as privacy and its attacks on privacy, such as the Patriot Act. If you look at the issue of choice and what is happening nationally in places like South Dakota or right here in terms of our own Pharmacy Board. It is true of immigrant rights and the fairly broad scale attack on immigrants that is going on in our country right now. And, its true with Gay and Lesbian civil rights. I think that it is a time when we need strong defenders of civil liberties - people who have proven records of being advocates for civil rights - to be serving in the Legislature and guarding everyone's civil rights. So, that is one thing.

The second thing is that I am the only candidate in this race who thinks health care is a central issue and a top priority. I have been working as the outside general council for the Pac-Med Clinic, which is the old public health hospital on Beacon Hill for the last five years or so. As I helped them through a fairly difficult financial period and reorganization, I became really aware about how many people in our society are without insurance or don't have access to good, affordable, quality healthcare. So, I am really committed to making that a top priority in my work. Third, of the six candidates in this race, I am the only one who works in the private sector. I think that gives me a little different perspective over some of the other candidates and, hopefully, the ability to work with different communities across party lines on issues that are most difficult. The marriage issue is one of those kinds of issues that for us to be successful is going to require working with every person we can get - regardless of party.

SGN: What are you doing in the final days of the campaign to sure-up a victory?

JP: At this point, I have knocked on about 13,500 doors or so. So, I am trying to work through the last precincts and make sure I have gone to the home of every primary voter whom I can get. We are also doing a fairly extensive program of mailing - both to a broad group of voters and also to specialized groups of voters in the district. We sent out a letter to all identified gay and lesbian voters in the district that we had and also a different mailing to all the GSBA members. In addition to that, now that I gotten the endorsement of both Equal Rights Washington and Stonewall Democrats, I am anticipating that they are going to be doing some outreach to their members to help get out the vote.

SGN: The 43rd Legislative District has been represented by openly Gay Legislators for a long time. Do you think it is important that our community have representation from the 43rd?

JP: Let me say two things about that. First, I don't feel any sense of entitlement to the seat just because I am the only Gay candidate in the race. I really do think that people should elect the person that they believe will be the most effective representative. I think I am that person. Specifically on the issue of gay and lesbian civil rights, I do think that it makes a difference to have people at the table who are gay and Lesbian, who can - through their example and through their lives; getting to know the other Legislators - put a human face on gay and lesbian people and what discrimination means. I think it could and would make a difference to have me down there. I hope I would be a good face for the community. Over and over again, we have seen studies that show that the number one correlator between people who support gay and lesbian civil rights is whether people do know a gay or lesbian person.

SGN: There has been some controversy in the community over a duel endorsement that Lynne Dodson and yourself received from the Seattle Metropolitan Elections Committee (SEAMEC). What is your feeling about that?

JP: I would have been pleased to get the sole endorsement from SEAMEC, but, that said, one of the pleasures of this campaign is getting to know the other five candidates better. I am pleased that all of them have spoken up as being supportive on various issues that are of concern to the community. Hopefully, that is one of the affects of my campaign. I also do think there is a qualitative difference between the work that Lynne Dodson - who is the person who got the co-endorsement with me - has done and the work other candidates have or haven't done on a variety of issues. Lynne has done a good job in a variety of ways. So, I think it is not at all inappropriate that she received the highest rating as well and an endorsement.

JP: You worked on the marriage equality case before the Washington State Supreme Court. What importance does that issue have in this campaign?

SGN: I will tell you that I find among the people that I am talking to out at their doors that there is overwhelming support for marriage equality throughout the district. I think the only question is where that falls in terms of people priorities. It is pretty clear to me that there are some people that for whom that is the issue. There are other people who don't think it is a big deal at all; who are sort of supportive, but don't want to spend any political capitol on doing that. They just think there are other things that affect a broader group. For me, I think it is a critical issue for the Gay and Lesbian community and for me personally. Eric's and my freedom to marry is at stake in this fight and I am really committed to getting to the right answer on that. More broadly, I think that the marriage issue a bellwether for whether we are going to build a society where everyone is respected, where everyone is treated fairly. So, I do think it is a big and critical issue and I have been very frank with people as I have been running that fixing that inequality that the Supreme Court perpetuated would be a major priority for me - if I am elected.

JP: If you were elected the Legislature, do you think it would be reasonable to look at other options other than marriage, such as domestic partner registry or civil unions?

SGN: I think it is really premature to talk about that right now. We are in a two and a half or a two month period now where we are electing the people who will be in the next Legislature. We have a real opportunity to change the landscape of people down there. There are - in addition to my race - a number of Senate and House races where we have a chance to increase the Democratic majority and actually make a working majority of progressive people who would be a supporter of gay and lesbian equal rights. So - for right now - my top priority is to get the best number of those people down there. Once we know what the landscape looks like down there, then I will be very open with people about how I think we should proceed. There will be no question what the end goal is going to be and that is full marriage equality. I think that reasonable people can differ about what the right tactics are for getting there and what are strategy will be. I am open to considering alternatives along the way.

SGN: Recently, state officials rewrote the rules to say that they will not pay for gender-reassignment-surgery. Do you believe that it is a decision between a patient and their doctor or is that a decision that Medicaid rules should decide?

JP: From my perspective that is absolutely a decision that aught to be guided by patients and doctors working together to get the best possible outcomes. From what I understand, Medicaid funds have been used in a very small number of cases and I don't know that there is any question that those uses were appropriate in the cases where they happen. I think that this is just another example - besides from marriage - where we do have and continue to have ongoing assaults on our civil rights - whether that be in Medicaid funding for gender reassignment surgery or whether it has to do for funding for HIV/AIDS or related social services or whether it has to do with protecting youth in schools or the right of gay and lesbian couples to adopt, establish families or serve as foster parents. We are going to have to continue to be vigilant to make sure that our families are protected.

SGN: A few years back the Legislature passed an anti-bullying bill, also known as the Safe Schools Bill. My understanding is that no funding was provided for that or it was vetoed. Do you think providing money for additional training in schools regarding harassment and bullying would be helpful?

JP: Absolutely. My partner Eric has been an assistant principal in the Bellevue School District for the last six years. Soon after the bill passed, he actually put on an in-service for all of the eighty teachers and other staff at his school; at Interlake High School in Bellevue. It was amazing what a difference that made in the climate of the school. Safe schools posters went up in the school; rainbow stickers were distributed. That really had the affect of creating a climate at that school where there was no tolerance for harassment of gay and lesbian students or any students. I think that they were lucky to have an out Gay principal that was in a position to do that without needing any outside resources. Clearly, there has been great work done by Safe Schools Coalition - in terms of outreach and training - but there are a whole lot more schools than Safe Schools has speakers for on a volunteer basis. It really would be a great thing if there where funding available to make that happen.

SGN: What else do you want our readers to know?

JP: This is an election that is - given the number of candidates and the likely turnout - that is probably going to be decided by a relatively small number of votes. So, good turnout among the readers of the SGN could well make the difference in the election. I am the only candidate who really sees gay and lesbian civil rights as a top priority and a central mission of mine. It is a significant part of why I decided to run for this seat. I will work as hard as I can - with every piece of energy I have - to try to get our community to full equality. So, I would be very grateful for high turnout among our community and the support of our community.

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