SGN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Congressman Adam Smith
 

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posted Friday, January 13, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 02

SGN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Congressman Adam Smith
by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Within 24 hours of Washington's new congressional district boundaries being published in the press, Congressman Adam Smith was on the phone introducing himself to his new constituents.

'I'm no shrinking violet,' he told SGN. 'I want the people in my district to feel they're being represented. You don't have to agree with everyone, but you have to give people an opportunity to be heard.'

Because Washington gained one congressional seat as a result of reapportionment following the 2010 census, all the state's congressional districts were redrawn.

Smith's 9th District now includes Seattle south of Madison Street and east of I-5, as well as Mercer Island, Bellevue, Renton, Tukwila, SeaTac, Kent, Des Moines, Federal Way, and a piece of northern Tacoma.

The new 9th District includes what used to be parts of Jim McDermott's 7th District and Dave Reichert's 8th District.

'I'm excited about the new district,' Smith told SGN. 'It's more compact - less spread out. I used to have parts of three counties, now it's a mainly King County district. I grew up in SeaTac - I know King County, I understand King County.'

Although Smith will have to introduce himself to many new constituents in Seattle and the Eastside, he is a political veteran.

'I've been involved in King County politics since I was 13 or 14 years old,' he said.

At 25, he defeated a 16-year incumbent Republican to win a state Senate seat. He served in the Senate from 1991 through 1996, becoming chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

In 1996, he defeated Republican incumbent Randy Tate to win the 9th Congressional District back for the Democratic Party. Since then he has had no serious opposition. He is now ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, the committee's senior Democrat.

The new 9th District is a so-called 'minority majority' district. In other words, people of color will make up a majority of the voters. Even as Smith was introducing himself to new constituents, rumors surfaced that Seattle City Council member Bruce Harrell would challenge him in the Democratic primary.

'No, it's a misunderstanding,' Smith said. 'Bruce Harrell called me. We talked. He's not running.'

Responding to reports in The Stranger that Harrell's niece and campaign manager had dismissed the assertion that Harrell would not run, Smith insisted, 'No, she's still operating on assumptions from before we talked. Bruce is not running.'

In his 15 years in Congress, Smith has co-sponsored every piece of pro-LGBT legislation introduced in the House.

Asked about the House's inability to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), even when Democrats had a majority in both houses of Congress, Smith agreed with Barney Frank that the Transgender protections in the bill were still problematic.

'There's still a remarkable amount of ignorance about Trans issues,' he told SGN, 'and that makes some Democrats more scared of it than they should be.

'It's the old philosophical question posed by [British political philosopher] Edmund Burke: Am I elected to represent my constituents' values, or my values?

'I've always leaned towards representing my values,' Smith continued. 'In 1993, when I was chair of the [Senate] Judiciary Committee, I tried to get the [Cal Anderson] civil rights bill passed - we failed by one vote.

'On 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' my chairman on the Armed Services Committee, Ike Skelton, was opposed to repeal. We had to force the issue to get it done.

'[Skelton] was from a district in central Missouri. A very conservative district. Now there are fewer Democrats from conservative states, so we've made some progress.'

Smith admits to some frustration being a Democrat in a Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

'It's not just being in the minority,' he says. 'It's that the Republicans are extreme. It's funny to look back at where Republicans were in the '90s - we thought they were very conservative. Now they're so much worse!

'Look at the budget debate. The debt ceiling. The Republicans think there's no amount of cuts too extreme!'

Asked what he saw as the major challenges Congress will have to address this year, Smith shot back, 'Income inequality! Income inequality - that's the biggest issue.'

LGBT workers should be especially interested in a fairer economy because they tend to earn less and be unemployed more than their straight counterparts, Smith said.

'That's why it's important to pass ENDA,' he said. 'It gives you a legal right of action, and it helps to change public perceptions.

'It's not just an economic issue, it's a fundamental civil rights issue. You're supposed to get a fair shot at a job and security. That's the legacy of the civil rights movement, the women's movement, the LGBT movement.'



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