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September 29, 2006
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Volume 34
Issue 39
 
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Jamie Pedersen wins Democratic primary race, speaks to the SGN
Jamie Pedersen wins Democratic primary race, speaks to the SGN
by Robert Raketty - SGN Staff Writer

Former Seattle City Councilmember Jim Street conceded the 43rd Legislative District Democratic primary race to Seattle attorney Jamie Pedersen on Monday night after ballot tallies made it mathematically impossible for him to win. Pedersen, who is Gay, had maintained a narrow lead over Street in the six candidate race since election night.

Pedersen is expected to win the November general election easily in the overwhelmingly Democratic 43rd District of Seattle, which includes Capitol Hill, the University District, Fremont and Wallingford. He will succeed State Rep. Ed Murray, who is running for a seat in the state Senate.

"Jamie's win reflects what we've seen in the election of openly LGBT candidates across the country. He'd given back to his community through his work helping local organizations, and brought to the table tremendous experience and understanding about issues important to his district," said Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund President and CEO Chuck Wolfe, in a written statement. "Voters saw that he had fought hard to protect the rights of others and would do the same for them as their representative. Jamie's years of leadership, hard work and the relationships he forged with so many diverse communities will serve his constituents well in Olympia."

The Victory Fund, an organization that seeks to elect openly Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people to public office, has financially supported Pedersen's campaign and also provided staff support in the final week of the primary. Likewise, The Seattle Metropolitan Elections Committee (SEAMEC), which rates candidates based on their record and opinions on LGBT issues, and the pro-marriage equality organization the Legal Marriage Alliance of Washington have endorsed him. Equal Rights Washington, a statewide LGBT political organization, not only endorsed Pedersen, but donated $1,000 to the campaign and actively sought to turn out its supporters.

A graduate of Puyallup High School, Pedersen went on to earn his B.A. from Yale College summa cum laude in American Studies and Soviet-East European Studies in 1990 and his J.D. from Yale Law School in 1994. Today, he is a partner at the Seattle law firm of Preston Gates & Ellis, where he practices business law.

Like a true Eagle Scout, Pedersen has helped out nonprofit organizations with their corporate contract issues and getting their nonprofit tax status. A few of his nonprofit clients include the Seattle Men's Chorus, the Pride Foundation, Lifelong AIDS Alliance, Lambert House and Seattle Gay Clinic. He has also helped people who are applying for political asylum as a volunteer attorney for the Northwest Immigrants Rights Project. Further, he had been a member of Lambda Legal's National Board for over seven years and now serves as chair of Lambda's National Leadership Council.

Recent awards and honors include: Seattle Pride Festival Grand Marshal (2005); Greater Seattle Business Association Special Recognition Award for Collaboration for Social Change (2005); Northwest Women's Law Center Cynthia Gillespie Award (2005); LGBT Community Center Fruit Bowl Award (2005); and Washington Law & Politics' Rising Star designation (1999, 2000, 2001, 2005).

However, Pedersen is best known for his work as a lead attorney in a landmark challenge to Washington's ban on marriage for same-sex couples. A recent Washington State Supreme Court ruling upheld the 1998 law.

The Seattle Gay News spoke with Pedersen this week about his campaign, his legislative agenda and his youthful political aspirations.



Seattle Gay News: Can you talk more about your conversation with Jim Street when he conceded the race?

Jamie Pedersen: Jim and I have talked regularly through the race. I called him the day before the election and we had a very nice conversation. I think it is fair to say that he and I developed a healthy respect for each other and each other's abilities. So, he called me last night when it got to the point where it was mathematically impossible to pull ahead anymore. I asked him how he was doing and he said he was feeling sad, but he wanted to congratulate me. I told him who much I had enjoyed getting to know him and how much I respect I had for him. I asked him to consider whether he would be willing to sit down with me about some of the issues that he has really spent time exploring. He said that he would be more than happy to do that. We are going to meet next week some time. I am very much looking forward to that.

SGN: Has it been difficult for you to wait and watch the returns?

JP: It's actually been easier than you probably would think, for two reasons. It has been a long and tiring campaign. It is nice to have that phase of the campaign over. It is also easier to be in the position of leading. All of the candidates in my race were very good, talented, capable, people and they have all been working incredibly hard. So, I can imagine it must be just an incredible disappointment for the others. I feel sorry about that. It is, I guess, the nature of the business. Only one of us could end up winning. It hasn't been as hard as you would think. Obviously, I am very grateful, humbled, and honored to get to this point and to be selected as the Democratic nominee for the House seat.

SGN: As a young boy growing up in Puyallup, were you interested in politics?

JP: I served on the student council when I was in junior high school and I was a student body officer when I was in high school. I went to Boys' State (an American Legion program that trains high school students about state and local government) and was elected Mayor of Fir City (they have 8 imaginary cities) and served in the Senate (I was actually the majority leader). When I realized that I was Gay that was something that I thought I had to give up - that interest in politics. Over the course of the next 10 or 15 years after that, I didn't have much involvement with politics at all. In some ways, this is the end of my coming out process; both in the sense that I have come out to tens of thousands of people and, also, in the sense that the realization that one of the last dreams or hopes that I had before I came out - that I thought would be prevented by my coming out.

SGN: Our state legislature has four Gay legislators in Olympia, how do you think your addition will affect the fight for LGBT equality?

JP: There are some really great people down there. I have had the pleasure of working with Ed, Jim, Dave and Joe. I think that my addition just makes a larger, better, team to work on all of the issues and, I hope, it speeds up the process of getting us all to full equality.

SGN: Do you believe that having more Gay legislators in Olympia will help to create more visibility of the issues that LGBT people face?

JP: Absolutely. Every one of the four who is already down there has a different personal style and their own connections. The way that change happens in a relatively small group, like the body that is the House and the body that is the Senate, is by having people who serve on committees and go to dinners and receptions with their significant others and get to know each other and get to know each others lives. The more of us that there are down there that can open up people's eyes to whom Gay and Lesbian people are, the better chance we have of moving those people and helping them to understand that supporting Gay and Lesbian equality is the right thing to do.

SGN: Ed Murray endorsed your campaign. Cal Anderson had represented the 43rd in the past. How do you feel now that you know you will follow in their footsteps?

JP: It is humbling and quite an honor. At the party at my house on election night, Ed presented me with a gift of a pin from Cal's first campaign. I never had the pleasure of getting to know him because he passed away about a month or two before I moved to Seattle in 1995, but obviously there is a very long and proud tradition of having Gay legislators from the 43rd District and I will be working very hard to uphold that tradition.

SGN: Having worked on the marriage issue first hand, you will have the opportunity to look at it from a different angle - in the legislature. What does the future hold for marriage equality issue in the legislature?

JP: I think the outcome in the end is unquestionably that we are going to get marriage equality. I don't know how long that's going to take and I don't know what the path is, but I don't have any doubt in my mind that eventually it will be possible for Gay couples and Lesbian couples to get married in our state. I am going to be working as hard as I can to make it happen as quickly as I can. At the same time, I will work to make sure that real people who have real problems don't suffer. If we can get us more quickly to marriage equality by also providing some benefits along the way that will help out people with the problems that they are facing, then, I would be very interested in looking at that.

SGN: Do you favor any particular strategy to gain legal equality for same-sex couples and their families, such as civil unions or domestic partner recognition?

JP: I think it is too early to say exactly what the best way is going to be to do that. I need to sit down with and talk with the people who are going to be my colleagues - Ed, Dave, Joe and Jim - and have serious discussions about that. We need to work with the leadership in the House and the Senate to talk about how to move relationship recognition issues forward and to talk with the Governor as well. Of course, we need to spend time talking with individuals and groups in the community to figure out what it is that they would like us to do. I will say that I am anxious about civil unions, because in the two places that have civil unions it seems it turned out to be sort of a stopping place. So, I am open to an incremental approach to get to marriage. I just want to be clear that the end goal is marriage and that we are going to be working very hard to make sure that marriage is available to everyone.

SGN: Have you put together your legislative agenda yet? If so, what are the highlights?

JP: I think the answer would be the broad outline of my goals that I have been talking about through out the whole campaign. I have been talking about trying to make sure that everyone has access to affordable health care. I will be pushing for that as soon as possible. I will try to improve and better fund the public education system. I am interested in working on building our mass transit and transportation infrastructure and making much more serious investments in those ways. I am interested in working on civil rights generally and marriage equality in particular. So, those are the big goals that I have. In terms of specifics on those, I am still in the process of developing that. I do have another election to face here in another six weeks, so, I will be focusing on that. In November and December, in the run-up to the session, I will be working my colleagues to figure out how I can make the biggest contribution in terms of moving along the issues that I have heard from voters in the 43rd are their highest priorities.

SGN: The state faces budget issues. Do you think this could affect your legislative agenda?

JP: We are in the fortunate situation right now of now having budget surpluses. I think there is no question that we need to make sure that, even with surpluses, we are spending the money on the most important things. So, the mere fact that you have enough money to pay for everything that you are currently spending money on isn't a good stopping place. You have to be really careful to make sure that the money is going for the things that are the highest priority. As long as I serve in the legislature, there is going to be a need to be disciplined to make sure that we are spending on the highest priorities and being willing to cut programs that aren't working as well and redirect that money to other things. If we got everything working well and we need more money to invest in public education and healthcare; I'll be out there making the case for people to consent to tax increases to pay for those services.

SGN: Do you think we may need to change the tax structure to help solve these budget woes?

JP: I am and have been a vocal advocate for a state income tax and fairly far-reaching tax reform in this state. I think we have a system right now that is both unjust - in the sense that it is very regressive - and also unstable - in terms of the amount of revenue it provides for the state in the economic cycle. It is also, coincidently, bad for small businesses. So, I am very supportive of looking at broad tax reform that might include the imposition of an income tax, the elimination of the B&O Tax, reduction of the sales tax, reinstatement of the motor vehicle excise tax (probably with a different appreciation schedule than we had before). All of those are very knotty complicated problems that are going to take quite a bit of time. The lynch-pin of it - the state income tax - actually requires a constitutional amendment. I think there is very little question that to get to that point - two thirds majorities in the House and Senate - requires a lot of work at building coalitions and bringing people along. We are not there yet. It is a multi-year process to get to that point, but I hope to start exploring that and working toward developing that coalition.

Yes. Absolutely. In the next six weeks I am going to be doing everything I can to reach out to supporters of the other candidates; to the environmental, labor and other groups that supported my opponents. I am going to try and reassure them to the extent that I can that I intend to be their advocate in Olympia too and look forward to working with them. It is not really in my nature to hold grudges against people. I hope everybody realizes that I really do want to represent everybody in the district and I am going to be working very hard to earn the confidence and trust of the people who supported other very good candidates.

SGN: In general, are their any groups of people that you feel it will be important to reach out to achieve your legislative agenda and secure LGBT equal rights?

JP: I think there is no question that the people who are most important to reach out to are in the suburban crescent around Seattle. We don't have enough votes in the legislature just from the Seattle districts and the Tacoma districts and Spokane to get LGBT equality passed. So, where we really need to move hearts and minds - we saw this last year with the Civil Rights Bill - is with the people who are in the suburbs. That is both true for the legislators and for their constituents. So, one of the things that I am going to be doing in the next six or eight weeks is to work on a couple of legislative campaigns for people in the suburbs. I know Equal Rights Washington is working very hard to try to get people out doorbelling for and contributing too those other candidates. I hope people take that really seriously because that is the most important things we can do; to reach out to and build coalitions with those people.

SGN: Finally, is there anything else you want our readers to know?

JP: I hope that the readers appreciate how much SGN has done to help me along. It is probably a truism in a race that is as close as this, but I really think I couldn't have done it without the support that I have had from [Publisher] George [Bakan] and the folks at SGN. I am really very grateful for that support and that advocacy. I hope that I exceed everyone's expectations and really make people proud of me as their representative.

want to represent everybody in the district and I am going to be working very hard to earn the confidence and trust of the people who supported other very good candidates.

SGN: In general, are their any groups of people that you feel it will be important to reach out to achieve your legislative agenda and secure LGBT equal rights?

JP: I think there is no question that the people who are most important to reach out to are in the suburban crescent around Seattle. We don't have enough votes in the legislature just from the Seattle districts and the Tacoma districts and Spokane to get LGBT equality passed. So, where we really need to move hearts and minds - we saw this last year with the Civil Rights Bill - is with the people who are in the suburbs. That is both true for the legislators and for their constituents. So, one of the things that I am going to be doing in the next six or eight weeks is to work on a couple of legislative campaigns for people in the suburbs. I know Equal Rights Washington is working very hard to try to get people out doorbelling for and contributing too those other candidates. I hope people take that really seriously because that is the most important things we can do; to reach out to and build coalitions with those people.

SGN: Finally, is there anything else you want our readers to know?

JP: I hope that the readers appreciate how much SGN has done to help me along. It is probably a truism in a race that is as close as this, but I really think I couldn't have done it without the support that I have had from [Publisher] George [Bakan] and the folks at SGN. I am really very grateful for that support and that advocacy. I hope that I exceed everyone's expectations and really make people proud of me as their representative.

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