Native candidates advance in Washington state's primary
Four Native Americans running for local office advanced Aug. 6 to the general election in Washington state, bringing to 13 the number of Native candidates on the Nov. 5 ballot.
Here’s who advanced to the Nov. 5 general election:
- Chandra Hampson, Winnebago/White Earth Nation, was the top finisher in her bid for Seattle School Board, District 3. Hampson, an economic development consultant and non-profit manager, received 56.28 percent of the vote; the other two candidates received 23.53 percent and 19.45 percent respectively, meaning Hampson is in a good position to win in November. She faces Rebeca Muniz, a social justice advocate with a master’s in education policy and leadership from the University of Washington.
- Debora Juarez, Blackfeet, was the top finisher in her bid for reelection to Seattle City Council District 5, receiving 43.13 percent of the vote. She faces attorney Ann Davison Sattler, who received 27.87 percent of the vote.
- Cindy Webster-Martinson, Suquamish, an educator and former tribal council member, received 52 percent of the vote in her bid for reelection to the North Kitsap School Board. She faces Kim Gerlach, retired maintenance lead for the school district who received 26.86 percent.
- Jenny Slagle, Yakama, was the top finisher with 41.71 percent of the vote in her bid for Spokane School Board Position 2. She is director of community service for a non-profit that connects people to health care. She faces Kelli MacFarlane, a substitute teacher received 36.80 percent.
Other Native candidates on the Nov. 5 general election ballot:
- Ashley Brown, Nooksack, is unopposed for a position on the city council in Everson, a city of 2,481 located eight miles south of the U.S./Canadian border.
- Jessie Deardorff, Lummi, is unopposed for a position on the school board in Ferndale, a community that neighbors the Lummi Reservation. Ferndale, population 14,000, is 83.1 percent white, 2.6 percent Native American.
- Meghan Jernigan. Choctaw, is challenging incumbent Michael Jacobs for the District 1 position on the Shoreline School Board. Jernigan is a public health researcher at Washington State University.
- Steve Oliver, Lummi, is unopposed for a fourth term as Whatcom County treasurer, where he directs an office that handles $1.5 billion in financial transactions annually for local taxing districts; bills and collects more than $250 million in property taxes each year; and manages a $250 million county investment pool.
- Attorney Chris Stearns, Navajo, is unopposed for a position on the city council in Auburn, a city of 70,180 located south of Seattle; a portion of the city is within the Muckleshoot Indian Reservation. Stearns is president of the Seattle Indian Health Board and former chairman of the Washington State Gambling Commission and the Seattle Human Rights Commission.
Diversity is one of the reasons Stearns said he ran for Auburn City Council. The city has a diverse population, 24.68 percent people of color, according to the U.S. Census. Plus it's located next to the Muckleshoot Indian Reservation.
“The makeup of the city council doesn’t reflect that diversity,” he said.
Stearns said he loves Auburn and wants to make a difference. “I’ve lived all over the place, and I’ve come to feel Auburn is home,” Stearns said Aug. 9. “It was really, ‘What can I do for my community?’”
- Teresa Taylor, Lummi, has one challenger in her bid for a second term on the Ferndale City Council. She is the economic development project manager for the Lummi Indian Business Council and is a director of YWCA Bellingham. She faces Paul Shuey, an advocate for lower taxes and improvements in the city’s water management system.
- Edmonds School Board president Diana White, Potawatomi, is one of two candidates for city council Position 6 in Edmonds, a city of 40,000 located 15 miles north of Seattle. She faces Susan Paine, a retired regulatory adviser and court administrator.
- Two Swinomish women are candidates for the same school board position in La Conner, across the channel from the Swinomish Reservation: Janie Beasley, who is seeking reelection; and Marlys Baker, community health representative for the Swinomish Tribe’s health department.
The following candidates did not advance from the primary:
- Labor law attorney Carrie Blackwood, Chicana, finished third out of four candidates for the state Senate from the 40th Legislative District.
- Seattle School Board member Zachary DeWolf, Chippewa Cree, finished fourth out of six candidates for Seattle City Council District 3.
- Katherine Festa, Haida, finished third in her bid for City Council Position 7 in Federal Way, a Seattle suburb of 89,000 located within the boundaries of the Puyallup Reservation.
- Environmental and social justice advocate Christopher Peguero, Menominee, finished fifth out of eight candidates for Seattle City Council, District 2.
- Kimber LyAnn Starr, Cherokee, finished third in her bid for City Council Position 4 in Fircrest, a Tacoma suburb of 6,500 people.
Julie Sa’Leit’Sa Kwina Johnson, Lummi, a member of the state Democratic Party’s executive committee, said Aug. 8 she is “extremely pleased” by the Native representation on the November ballot. Barring a successful write-in challenge, Stearns will join the city council in Auburn, the 15th largest city in the state. “That’s a big deal,” she said. And she’s confident Taylor will win reelection to the city council in Ferndale, which is next to the Lummi Reservation.
Taylor’s candidacy is also “a big deal.” Ferndale and the Lummi Nation’s interests have often clashed, yet in 2015 Taylor defeated the two-term incumbent by 60 votes.
Chris Roberts, Choctaw, a city council member in Shoreline, a city of 53,000 next to Seattle, said Stearns’ sole candidacy and likely election are testaments to his work on the local and state levels. Stearns, an attorney, is president of the Seattle Indian Health Board and a member of the Washington State Gambling Commission; served as chairman of the Seattle Human Rights Commission; and on the federal level, served as director of Native American Affairs at the U.S. Department of Energy and counsel for the House Committee on Natural Resources.
In Seattle’s 5th Council District, Juarez’s challenger is giving the council some heat over the city’s homeless crisis and has presented several plans to get homeless people off the streets. But Juarez has a record of accomplishment for her district, Roberts said, and she will win in November.
In her campaign, Juarez points to a pedestrian and bicycle bridge over Interstate 5 to improve access to local services, schools and work; a new community center; redevelopment of Seattle Center Arena to attract an NHL team to the city and create jobs; cleanup of local streams and salmon habitat; and support for a $15 minimum wage.
“She’s done a lot of community outreach and that shows in the [primary election] results,” Roberts said.
Equity and understanding
There are 29 federally-recognized tribes in Washington state. According to the U.S. Census, the state’s population in 2018 was 7.5 million. Of that, the population was 1.9 percent American Indian/Alaska Native, 0.8 percent Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander and 12.9 percent Mexican and Central American ancestry. One-third of “Hispanics” and “Latinos” identify as Indigenous, according to the Pew Research Center, boosting Washington state’s population of Native peoples to 7 percent.
Roberts said it’s important local government reflect the diversity of the people it serves. “It builds trust in the system,” he said. “And it’s inspiring. You see the people serving in government and you say, ‘I can do that job.’ It’s important that the diversity of voices are being represented.”
Richard Walker, Mexican/Yaqui, is a writer based in Anacortes, Washington