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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 23, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 39
Superintendent candidates steal the show at GSBA candidate forum
Section One
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Superintendent candidates steal the show at GSBA candidate forum

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Chris Reykdal and Erin Jones, candidates for Superintendent of Public Instruction, stole the show at the GSBA's September 21 candidate forum with a 15-minute discussion of educational philosophy and policy.

Running for an important but relatively obscure position managing the state's public schools, both Jones and Reykdal are alike in having childhood experiences that inform their political outlooks.

Jones is African-American and was born in the United States but moved with her adoptive parents to the Netherlands when she was five years old. She then returned to the US at 18 to attend college.

'When I returned here to an elite private college,' she recalled, 'I realized kids who looked like me weren't getting the education I got.' She then decided to follow her adoptive parents into the field of education.

Reykdal had a harrowing childhood.

'Because of alcohol abuse and other issues, we grew up extremely poor,' he told the audience. 'My youngest siblings were in foster care.' He himself was taken in by an older brother.

'It made me realize how much injustice there is across the state,' he added.

Jones currently sits on the board of Girl Scouts of Washington and said she is proud that last year the board returned a $100,000 donation rather than comply with the limitation that it not be used to benefit Transgender scouts.

Reykdal has been a member of the Washington State House since 2011 and, although straight, has been a firm supporter of LGBT rights. He was a co-sponsor of the state's marriage equality law and drafted an early version of the bill to ban conversion therapy.

Asked how the state's schools could uphold anti-discrimination laws in the face of attacks like the abortive I-1515, the candidates showed interesting differences is emphasis.

'We have to defend the Human Rights Commission guidelines,' Reykdal insisted.

'And that is going to be a forever fight. There will be a full assault on LGBT youth in this [legislative] session,' he predicted.

'We should encourage school districts to adopt the state standards - because that is still optional. And we need better professional development. It's not enough to have standards. Teachers have to be trained to implement the standards.'

In contrast, Jones emphasized cultural issues.

'It's about leadership,' she said. 'Yes, follow the guidelines, but go further. You have to have models.

'I want to talk about how we build community. We should stop talking about tolerance. As a black woman, I don't want to be tolerated. I want to be affirmed!'

Podlodowski, Walkinshaw, Macri, Shih Reykdal and Jones took the stage last of all the candidates, following Tina Podlodowski, Brady Walkinshaw, Nicole Macri, and Daniel Shih.

A former Seattle City Councilmember, Podlodowski is running for Secretary of State, the official charged with running the state's elections and its corporate registration office. Her Republican opponent, incumbent Kim Wyman, was unable to attend the GSBA forum so Podlodowski had the stage to herself.

'I got engaged when I saw the 2015 voter turnout,' Podlodowski told the audience. 'It was the lowest in the history of the state. Six out of ten eligible voters don't vote. We've gone from twelfth in the nation in voter turnout down to twentieth...

'There are 1.6 million people eligible to vote but not registered, and most of them are women, people of color, and people making under $50,000 in income...'

Podlodowski's solution to low turnout is to make ballot envelopes postage-paid, so no one would be forced to buy stamps in order to vote in Washington's mail-in voting system. The suggestion drew applause from the audience.

Brady Walkinshaw's opponent for the 7th Congressional District seat now held by Jim McDermott, immigration rights activist and current state Sen. Pramila Jayapal, was also unable to attend the forum, leaving the stage to Walkinshaw.

Acknowledging that both candidates are 'progressive Democrats,' Walkinshaw ran out of time before he was able to finish telling the crowd what made him different from Jayapal.

He was able to mention his 'record of building bridges,' citing his work as the sponsor of Joel's Law, a measure to facilitate interventions on behalf of mentally ill individuals. His ability to work with Republicans on issues of common interest would be helpful in passing the federal Equality Act - civil rights protections for LGBT Americans - he said.

Walkinshaw also committed to working toward a certification program for LGBT-owned businesses, 'so they get the same treatment as other minority-owned businesses,' he said.

Nicole Macri and Daniel Shih are running for the 43rd Legislative District House seat Walkinshaw had to give up to run for Congress. Both are Democrats, and judging from their presentations at the GSBA forum, they have almost identical platforms.

More a joint appearance than a debate, 'I agree with Nicole' or 'I agree with Dan' seemed to be the theme of their 15-minute segment. Both agreed that greater legal protections for Trans people and homeless youth should be on the legislative agenda, and both agreed that new revenue sources would be necessary to fully fund the state's schools.

By way of differentiating themselves, Macri emphasized that she would be the first Lesbian elected in the district, while Shih noted he'd be the first Asian-Pacific Islander Gay man.

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