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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 11, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 11
SGN exclusive interview

Danni Askini, candidate for 43rd District House seat
Section One
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SGN exclusive interview

Danni Askini, candidate for 43rd District House seat

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

If elected to the state House, Danni Askini will make history as the legislature's first-ever openly Transgender member. The significance of the race is not lost on her.

'Of course I think about the historic nature of this campaign,' she told SGN recently. 'I've been thinking about this for the last couple of years, but it took me months to decide to do it.

'I talked to Brady [Walkinshaw] and I talked to [state Rep.] Laurie Jinkins, and they encouraged me. I feel it was the right decision. I've gotten messages of support from all over the world.'

Walkinshaw currently holds the 43rd District House seat Askini wants, but he is leaving the state legislature to run for Congress. Laurie Jinkins is also a House member representing the 27th Legislative District in Tacoma.

'As a community, we have to show that we have strong leaders,' Askini continued. 'And people need hope. 'Give them hope,' Harvey Milk said.

'I think the timing is right too. Maybe it wouldn't have been possible a few years ago. The community is ready for new leadership.'

Danni Askini is perhaps best known to SGN readers as a founder and current executive director of Gender Justice League and Trans Pride Seattle, but her experience as an advocate for the Trans community goes back several years.

She was the former national program director for the GSA Network in San Francisco, the policy director for Basic Rights Oregon, and the first Transgender health program director at Seattle's Verbena Health, where she ran the Transform Health Project.

'I have experience with grassroots organizing,' Askini told SGN. 'I know how to build movements. I just don't feel like I can sit on the sidelines. People have to step up.'

Askini forged an alliance with Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant and endorsed Sawant's protégé Jess Spear against House Speaker Frank Chopp in 2014. Challenging Chopp - arguably the most powerful man in Olympia - is not the best way to begin a career in the state House, but Askini seemed unafraid.

'I take decisive stands,' she shrugged. 'That's my job as an advocate for the community. But I think it will be fine. I plan to reach out to Frank and try to build bridges.'

Like Sawant, Askini sees housing affordability as a key issue for the 43rd District, which takes in Capitol Hill, South Lake Union, Wallingford, and part of the University District.

Seattle housing activists have been stymied by a state law that forbids municipalities from enacting rent control ordinances.

Asked if she believed there were prospects for the state enacting legislation to benefit renters, Askini grinned.

'It's hard to see prospects if no one puts forward a bill,' she said. 'But that's only one plank. There are a lot of different approaches.

'We also need to pay attention to affordability for small businesses. They drive the economy and employ a lot of people. I think there are smart ways for government to intervene. The state can do a lot to mitigate damage done by macroeconomic forces.

'And I have the energy to push for it too. Sometimes fervor is needed. I know how to be relentless.'

Askini also wants to tackle the state's notoriously regressive tax system.

'We need to end corporate tax breaks - like the $9.8 billion Boeing got - and make corporations pay their fair share of taxes so we can fund education and address our gender pay gap - the worst in the country,' she said.

'There are ways to do it, an income tax, a capital gains tax, but we have to stop relying on regressive taxes.'

Askini says she has found campaigning to be both easy and hard.

'The easy part is knowing that I have support. The hard part is that it will subject the community to public scrutiny. It's scary to put yourself out for public scrutiny.'

One thing Askini does not find difficult is asking for support.

'I try to make it about the issues and not about me personally,' she said. 'I've been asked to support candidates many times. It feels good to know your values are being represented, and you're asked to help.'

Askini is one of six candidates for the House seat. Her rivals include labor organizer Marcus Courtney, attorney Daniel Shih, political consultant Thomas Pitchford, affordable housing advocate Nicole Macri, and environmentalist Sameer Ranade.

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SGN exclusive interview

Danni Askini, candidate for 43rd District House seat

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