Sarah Smith (D-WA) is the serious, and very grounded, progressive candidate running for Washington State’s 9th Congressional District in 2018. She’s in for a fight. Her opponent is a long-term Democrat incumbent. The state DNC is barring Sarah’s access to voter data. She relies on small donations from living, breathing people (i.e., no corporate funding).
In practical terms, you might think Sarah doesn’t have a chance of winning. But that would be before you get a sense of her burning, steadfast spirit — partially inspired by Boudicca, the fearless Celtic warrior queen.
An email interview with this remarkable young woman lifted my political hope and vision. (I see her in D.C.) Sarah is smart, brave, tireless, and good to the core — exactly the kind of person we need in Congress. She answered my questions thoughtfully and generously, giving us the refreshing view of a clear-sighted, “unbought and unbossed” political mind.
Get to know Sarah Smith…
A Regular Person with Inspiration
JC.COM: Five years ago, Sarah, did you imagine you’d be running for Congress in 2018? When, why, or what event made you decide to run? What does your family think of it all? Are they Progressives? How have former teachers and bosses reacted to your new career path as an elected public servant? Has anyone, in particular, been a great inspiration to you?
SMITH: I have always been involved in some capacity politically or philanthropically because in general I just really like to help people. I enjoy doing things that make others’ lives better. I have always been a political person, but I never thought I had the “pedigree” to run for anything. Five years ago I had no idea I would be running for Congress today. I struggle with a fear of public speaking, so in my head I had ruled it right out as a path for me.
But at the beginning of 2016, prior to the presidential election, I started getting more involved through the Bernie Sanders campaign. It was the first time I had ever donated to a campaign and the first time I had ever believed strongly enough in a candidate’s message that I became an active promoter for them. After the election, my husband and I had a long conversation about how we had the ability to become more involved, so we had an obligation to do so. I looked at city council positions, started to become more active in my Legislative District, and started helping with efforts for the organization Brand New Congress. It wasn’t until February, though, that I got a call from a Brand New Congress representative. Someone in my community nominated me as a potential candidate to run with this new organization, which is geared to put people over party — a message I feel very strongly about. There were talks back and forth about the realities of running for Congress, what my passions were, my background, and, finally, if I would be interested in doing something big.
I’m a regular person. I work 7-4 helping to manage a mechanic garage. I have a husband, a dog, and a mortgage payment. The idea of running for Congress as just a regular person was really intimidating, but my being intimidated was less important to me than doing the right thing for the people around me. After a few long nights talking with my husband, I decided that I had the drive, thick skin, and moral drive to run for Congress — so I had a duty to put all of those things to work and actually do it.
Regular people representing other regular people is important. The perspectives that we bring to the table are widely significant. We need far more people in Congress who can fight knowledgeably for workers, because they are working people themselves. I’m hoping my perspective and fresh vision can help apply that correction to Congress, to better represent regular citizens like you and me.
I have a professor I am very close with – she actually officiated my wedding to my husband, who I met in her class – who thinks my running for office is just perfect. She is very encouraging and always keeps me positive when I start feeling sluggish. I also work full-time doing work for a mechanic garage and my boss is very aware of my run for Congress, so are most of my coworkers. My boss has been very, very accommodating and encouraging. My coworkers have started calling me Congresswoman and asking me about news articles they read; it’s really sweet. I also sat down and explained the military budget to one of them, and have had the chance to talk about complex things most people don’t have a strong understanding on. I like how engaged they are and I am so flattered they would actively seek me out to talk about the big picture. Knowing how aware they all are of what’s happening around the country is really positive for me, even if we don’t always agree.
Wow, I have a lot of inspirations, actually! Historically, I admire the Celtic warrior Queen Boudicca, she kicked the Romans out of Britannia after raising an army of 80,000 – mostly women – when they left her and her daughters for dead. She died in battle, but she was fierce and unafraid. That sense of obligation – if I can do good, I should do good – and the fearlessness with which she took on an army is absolutely incredible to me.
I also look up to a number of my fellow candidates. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York-14 is really amazing; she works so hard and is so dedicated to her District. Cori Bush in Missouri-1 is incredible; her activism and her work for social justice are energizing. Our Revolution President Nina Turner, of course, blows me away every single time. I have had the good fortune of doing some video conferences with her, and every time she speaks with so much power and conviction. She really believes in the power of people to change the system. She thinks anybody who steps up to the plate, and takes a swing, deserves a fair shot. Her integrity is just eye-opening and inspiring. There is also an awesome woman named Georgia, committeewoman for one of the Legislative Districts, who is just totally fearless. When she wants something done, she just goes out and does it. She’s a woman of total action who doesn’t let anything or anybody intimidate her, and I just think that is so amazing. I try to channel pieces from all my inspirations every single day.
Fighting Systemic Political Corruption
JC.COM: Sarah, I see you support an Article 5 Convention to fight systemic political corruption and to restore American democracy. In fact, you list “End Corruption” as the first item on your platform. Why is political integrity so important that you put it before all the other problems we need to solve?
SMITH: On a personal level, I hold integrity extremely high. My husband told me a long time ago, “All you have is your word. If you don’t honor your word, then you have nothing.” That advice has stuck with me ever since. I always try to keep my word, even on small things like dinner plans, because it’s important to me that I hold myself to a high standard of integrity. How we set ourselves up in our personal lives lays the foundation for who we become in our social and professional lives. I want to be someone who can be counted on and who can be trusted, so I aim to be that person every day by keeping to my commitments.
Being a Senator or a Representative is public service, not a corporate career. We need people in office who take the call of public service seriously, who can be trusted to act with integrity long enough that we can fix the broken political system. We need representatives who will hold themselves accountable until we have a system that can do it for us.
JC.COM: What is your opponent Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) like? Where does he stand on Progressive issues like minimum wage, Medicare-For-All, and free college tuition?
I have two major concerns with our current representative that are worth discussing. First, he drags his feet. It is difficult to get him to commit to any kind of progressive legislation until there is a fire underneath him. I am the first real District challenger Adam has had during his congressional career. Coincidentally, the first year he has a real progressive challenger, is the first year he starts supporting progressive legislation. My problem is that we have been waiting 21 years for Adam to step up and champion progressive legislation, yet he has failed to do so. We do not have another 21 years to wait for him to decide to vote for it, too.
My second concern is his receiving over 65% of his funding from PACs and special interest groups. 35% of his funding, alone, comes from the military industrial complex. Adam has voted favorably for increasing the already astronomical military budget, for the Iraq War, repeatedly to support the PATRIOT Act, to sell cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia, and more — always in favor of efforts that conveniently line the pockets of the same military contracting companies who donate considerable amounts of money to his campaign. I find it impossible to call somebody a progressive who supports the war industry and isn’t using their position as a ranking member of the Armed Services Committee to rein in military spending.
Sarah Creates a Distinction
JC.COM: I guess I want to really understand how you are distinguished from the 9th District Democrat incumbent. By comparison… How active are you on women’s rights? Or environmental protections? What are your views on foreign policy and national security? Is it true that you refuse all corporate, Super PAC, and lobbyist funding?
SMITH: I am very active on women’s rights. I have been a longtime Planned Parenthood Defender and consider myself a strong feminist. I believe firmly in a women’s right to choose, fair wages, and fair representation for all women. I am also very strongly committed to environmental policies. Adam Smith, as of the time this was written, has failed to co-sign or discuss any of the three major pieces of environmental legislation currently in the House (HR2242, HR3671, and HR 3314), which I find extremely disappointing since Washington is such an environmentally conscious state.
On foreign policy, it is my firm belief that we must commit to humanitarian efforts abroad in order to rebuild our image on the world stage. We must remove ourselves from the seven undocumented wars abroad that we are involved in, end our support to countries that prop up terrorist organizations, and take action to remove the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) that essentially allows the President to declare war whenever he/she likes, without the approval of Congress. A key Congressional power is the ability to debate and declare war, but we surrendered that Congressional power after 9/11 and it has led us into an era of constant wartime spending, almost a trillion dollar military budget, and military contractors making billions off of our tax dollars. It has severely damaged our reputation around the world and has created a culture of war and fear mongering among our own people. We must remove ourselves from these occupations and double down on attempts to rebuild some of these troubled nations we helped to destroy.
Adam Smith is the ranking Democrat of the House Armed Services Committee, and it took pressure from our campaign to get him to cosign HR 81, a bill drafted by my fellow Justice Democrat Ro Khanna to remove United States assistance from Saudi Arabia in their efforts against Yemen. This is one more instance of Adam dragging his feet until a fire gets lit underneath him. We cannot afford to keep waiting for our representative in one of the most vocal, progressive Districts in the nation to take a stand for something. We need representatives who are proactive, not reactive.
Blocked from Voter Data
JC.COM: Sarah, you’ve been denied access to Democratic voter data (VAN) and blocked from purchasing 3rd-party voter data (TargetSmart). Presumably, such limitations put your campaign at a competitive disadvantage. What is happening with that situation right now?
SMITH: The VAN data issue has been very contentious for a lot of reasons with the Washington State Party. We were denied VAN access on the basis of endorsements. I must be endorsed by 50% plus 1 of the Legislative Districts AND have the approval of the state party chair – under the guise of this being a party bylaw. Initially, we said okay, but it turns out a majority of our Legislative Districts either do not endorse until after the primary, many do not endorse at all, and the remainder do not endorse until after May, which puts a grassroots campaign like this one at a significant disadvantage.
I have a lot of background in the legal realm. I used to negotiate claims, settlements, foreclosures, and bankruptcy contracts for about ten years, so am very acquainted with the importance of verbiage and written rules. I requested a copy of the bylaw that was being cited to review and, much to my surprise, this request caused escalation between my campaign and state party leadership. Due to the lack of compliance to my requests for this bylaw, I am left with no choice but to believe the bylaw doesn’t exist and is actually just a “tradition” that has never been formally recorded or ratified. It appears to be the kind of “tradition” that can be flexibly applied between campaigns as the state party sees fit in order to control which candidates are effective and which are not. It’s very disappointing, but unsurprising. The incumbent I am running against is a top fundraiser for the national Democratic Party. Naturally, they would want to preserve his seat to fundraise for the party, instead of support a young woman who refuses to beg corporations for money. This is another example of why ending corruption and having a strong sense of integrity is so important to me, and such a key part of my platform.
As of now, we have signed a contract with PDI, a 3rd party tool that is about 4 times the cost of VAN, but did not require a rejection letter from the state party like TargetSmart did. Having experienced firsthand how important voter data is, I have made it my obligation to continue pursuing the issue. While I am able to switch to PDI, the issue is bigger than me and my own campaign.
This VAN issue is a problem for all other progressive grassroots campaigns to come after mine, all across the state of Washington. We are working with the Oregon State Democratic Party and are talking to the California State Democratic Party to build a coalition around this topic, create resolutions we can share, and focus on making sure the West Coast and the Pacific Northwest honor our commitment to free and fair elections. We have also been in contact with many Legislative District and County chairs, including a few people in the state party itself, who are also committed to this message and improving our processes. I am a strong supporter of free and fair elections ranging from eliminating corporate corruption, ending gerrymandering, and creating competitive opportunities for grassroots candidates. Ending corruption in all our processes, whether it be at a federal level or a party level, is absolutely necessary if we want to save our democracy.
JC.COM: You are endorsed by Brand New Congress and Justice Democrats. Why not Our Revolution?
Why Establishment Voters Should Join Progress
JC.COM: One last question, Sarah… Currently, the Democratic Party establishment does not care for left-leaning, change-creating, progressive policies. What is your Progressive Argument to Democratic establishment voters who are wary of change and young whipper-snappers like millennials?
SMITH: Change is scary. Especially in the climate of animosity we have now. It’s easy to be nervous or wary of a newcomer or a new political challenger to representatives we have previously had no issues with. But times are changing, whether we want them to or not.
We have compromised a lot as a party over the years, probably too much when we should have been digging our heels in. People are frustrated by it. We need to revitalize the Democratic party, and the way we do that isn’t by sticking to the same routines and doing the same things over and over. If we want to save the party we love, we must make real changes to bring young voters in and engage people who feel disillusioned with the system. We have to prove our party can be trusted in a time when trust is a rare commodity. Bringing in young people and the next generation of Democrats is essential, if we want to survive. Shutting out young people and new faces is the surest way to guarantee we do not last. Millennials are now the largest voting pool, the largest workforce, and under the most debt of any generation in American history. They are an age group that feels left behind. They want to see representatives that reflect them and know what their struggles are like, not just talk about what they imagine millennial struggles are like.
It’s hard to put your faith in someone new when you feel like they haven’t been tested yet, but this is the time to take bold steps to secure the future of the party. We are in an era of immense upheaval and change, and if we want to survive the challenge, we must stand together. We must include fresh ideas, new vision, and new faces in our strategy. After all, both millennials and older generations want the same thing: Action. However, we won’t get action, if we keep doing the same things over and over. Change has to happen sometime, it needs to start someplace, and there is no better time or place than right now, with us, in a District that is vibrant, progressive, dedicated, and fierce. We have an opportunity to boldly take the lead. We must seize it now, for the sake of generations coming after us.
Young people are the future, though, and the future members of the Democratic Party. They are future Senators, and future Governors. Therefore, our experience, our stories, and our voices are important. Party members and voters must embrace future leaders with open minds and arms — with encouragement, instead of fear and scorn. The Constitution states that to be a member of Congress, you must be 25 and a United States Citizen. That age wasn’t arbitrary, it was deliberate. The voice of young people ensures that future generations are heard, that they have a seat at the table.
We cannot discount someone as a credible, powerful voice for the people simply because of their age. It matters what kind of policy that person supports, how committed their message is, their integrity, their moral compass. There are so many more important things to focus on for a candidate or a representative than how old they are. We need to care about platform, tenacity, and willingness more than identity politics — because that is the only way our party will weather the storm we’re in.
~ The End. Thank you for the interview, Sarah! ~
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Sarah Smith for Congress