PRIMARY WEEK RE-AIR: Becka Johnson Poppe, Candidate for King County Council District 4

PRIMARY WEEK RE-AIR: Becka Johnson Poppe, Candidate for King County Council District 4

On this Primary Week re-air, Crystal chats with Becka Johnson Poppe about her campaign for King County Council District 4 - why she decided to run, the skill set she brings from overseeing half of King County’s $16 billion budget, and her thoughts on addressing human services sector wages, issues plaguing the King County Jail, housing and homelessness, drug possession and substance use disorder, climate change and air quality, and budget transparency and efficiency.

As always, a full text transcript of the show is available below and at

Follow us on Twitter at @HacksWonks. Find the host, Crystal Fincher, on Twitter at @finchfrii and find Becka Johnson Poppe at @votebecka.

Becka Johnson Poppe

Becka has been putting progressive ideas into action across our region’s largest public entities for more than a decade. Currently, Becka oversees half of King County's $16 billion budget and leads a team that works to advance environmental, transportation, and racial justice priorities. Previously, at the University of Washington, she promoted equitable access to higher education and led state budget and policy analysis as the Director of Policy, Planning & State Operations. Becka volunteers as a Director on the Board of YouthCare, working to end youth homelessness, and chairs the Race Equity Justice Committee.  She also volunteers on the Board of Doney Coe Pet Clinic, supporting the animal companions of people experiencing homelessness. Becka is an elected Precinct Committee Officer, a member of the Jackson Foundation Leadership Council, and has served on the King County Democrats Endorsement Committee.  She previously worked in mental health research for Stanford University and has mentored students from diverse communities over the last two decades. In her free time, Becka enjoys traveling with her spouse and their cat, Edgar, as well as spending time outdoors and cheering on the Mariners.


Campaign Website - Becka Johnson Poppe


[00:00:00] Crystal Fincher: Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm Crystal Fincher, and I'm a political consultant and your host. On this show, we talk with policy wonks and political hacks to gather insight into local politics and policy in Washington state through the lens of those doing the work with behind-the-scenes perspectives on what's happening, why it's happening, and what you can do about it. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get the full versions of our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, the most helpful thing you can do is leave a review wherever you listen to Hacks & Wonks. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at and in our episode notes.

I'm very pleased to have King County Council candidate Becka Johnson Poppe joining us today. Welcome to the show.

[00:01:01] Becka Johnson Poppe: Thank you so much, Crystal. It's really nice to be here.

[00:01:04] Crystal Fincher: Great to be here with you. So I guess just starting off - what made you choose to run for this King County Council position?

[00:01:12] Becka Johnson Poppe: Thank you. Yeah, so I've lived in District 4 for over a decade. I was born and raised here in the Puget Sound region. I'm the granddaughter of two veterans, daughter of two public servants - and they really taught me what it meant to be tough and what it meant to serve the community. Growing up, I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do, but I knew that I wanted to take care of my community. I studied biology and psychology in college and spent a couple of years doing mental health research at Stanford after that. While I was there, I volunteered as an after-school program leader in a low-income community - and between my work and my volunteering - I saw a lot of challenges that people were facing with navigating mental health issues, economic injustice, the first effects of climate change, and really all the societal structures and policies that do an unfortunately impressive job of inhibiting social mobility and access to basic services. In many cases, the only thing keeping people afloat was having a supportive community around them. And that really hit home for me - I realized I wanted to get back to my community and work on these issues back at home.

I am honored to be part of this community in District 4 and in King County. There are a lot of incredibly dedicated, creative, supportive people who have made careers out of finding ways to make the world a better place - and like I said, the community that you have around you can really make all the difference. A dear friend of mine was living out of their car in King County not that long ago, and I think about them when I think about the 50,000 people who were unhoused in King County last year. I think that there are moments in life that many of us have had where you can see how close you are to going from making it work to not making it work. For a little while, I was working three jobs and had a bank account with two digits. I had tons of support around me, so I was fine - but I was in a precarious spot and if I hadn't had that support, it could have looked really different. I think that there is so much work that needs to be done to create communities that truly support each other. I think we can all agree we have a housing crisis, a behavioral health crisis, a climate crisis - and to take on these issues, we need someone who can bring people together and make progress right out of the gate. So over the last decade, I've led budgets and policy development for some of the region's largest public entities. I've gone from a bank account with two digits to overseeing half of King County's $16 billion budget. Really, a budget is about our values - it's about our priorities and how we make those real, and that's a unique skill set that I bring.

I really see three priorities connecting everything that the County does - protecting the environment, advancing equity, and stimulating the economy. These three E's - the environment, equity, and the economy - all intersect, and I'm really committed to centering our community's voices and our community's needs, because I've seen firsthand what that looks like and what that can do. I think we really have an opportunity to show the state and the rest of the nation what it means to be a community that is diverse and inclusive and dedicated to solving the most complex issues. King County is bigger than 15 states, and so we have the opportunity and the responsibility to lead in taking on the existential threat of climate change, and creating more housing that's affordable for more people, in delivering universal childcare, improving our transportation experience. And all of this is going to take centering the voices of people most affected, creating accessible career pathways with family-sustaining wages, moving big capital initiatives faster and more equitably, and making sure that everyone feels safe, respected, and supported. And I've spent my career turning progressive ideas into progressive action - with the voices and votes of our community, I'm really excited to hit the ground running.

[00:04:59] Crystal Fincher: All right - you talked about the three E's. Those three E's are absolutely impacted, as you talked about, by housing and homelessness and how accessible or not those are to people. One thing called out by experts that's a barrier to our homelessness response is that frontline workers are short-staffed, they're overworked, and their wages are not covering the cost of living for this area. Do you believe our local nonprofits have a responsibility to pay living wages, and how can we make that more likely with how we bid and contract for services?

[00:05:32] Becka Johnson Poppe: Yeah, thanks Crystal. So there was a recent UW research study that showed that social service staff are underpaid by 37%. And with a combination of lagging wages, rising cost of living, and just the really challenging work that folks have to do in these spaces - that's created a real workforce crisis in the human services sector. In King County and Seattle, this kind of work is primarily performed by nonprofits, like you pointed out, in contracts with government agencies. So we really need to make sure that, as a government, that we are using the tools that are available to us to make sure that nonprofits have the ability to pay their employees more. And where we're really seeing this hit home is for social workers, for people working with youth, for intake specialists, for people who are doing that really tough human services work. Women account for - it was 79% of all human services workers in King County. And that same UW study showed that it's workers of color who are overrepresented in the lowest paid human services job, including frontline care work. So when we're looking at what we can be doing as a county to make sure that nonprofits can increase the minimum pay for folks, to be providing inflationary wage adjustments, to be improving non-wage benefits - that's all gonna come down to how we as a government can be supporting that work. So I think we absolutely need to be doing this, not just for the sake of our work in our homelessness communities, but for the sake of work in so many different spaces.

[00:07:05] Crystal Fincher: Public safety is top of mind for so many people - and just what it means to be safe, what comprehensive public safety means. And a focus on addressing root causes - really getting to the heart of people being victimized and reducing it - people have been asking for that for quite some time. Part of this process and part of what King County is responsible for is operating multiple jails, really. And the main jail has been having a number of problems - from overcrowding, they had a lack of water for a while, inadequate healthcare, shortages. Would you have voted to approve the transfer of inmates to the SCORE jail to try and alleviate the issues plaguing the King County Jail, or would you have a different plan?

[00:07:51] Becka Johnson Poppe: Yeah, so a close family member of mine was incarcerated, and this is something that is really near and dear to my heart. I think the human experience in our jails is something that we really have to focus on. We didn't prioritize, the County didn't prioritize COVID vaccines for this population. And we are seeing a behavioral health problem that's manifesting in our jails with the suicide numbers. This is really concerning. I am worried about the fact that SCORE doesn't have options for in-person visitation. I'm worried about folks in our jails not being able to access their legal representation, support from behavioral health professionals. I'm worried about the experience for people who are trying to do that critical work to support their clients - who need interpreters, who need that in-person access to just do basic things like pass documents back and forth. And what this really comes down to is making sure that we are keeping folks out of jail in the first place - that we're looking at equitable, human-centered, criminal legal strategies. And these takes the form of things like community courts, community diversion programs, and scaling that up is really critical.

It is a fact that we don't have enough staff to fill our jails right now. We don't have enough people to even escort folks from the front desk to meet with their clients, and that is - that's really unacceptable. We need to be looking at those staffing shortages and making sure that we are being efficient with our resources. If we're paying people to do work but they aren't even able to access their clients, that's not efficient - let alone the human experience that's going on for the people in our jails. So investing in those holistic solutions to keep people out of jail in the first place is a big part of this, and I'm hopeful that the behavioral health levy that was recently passed is going to be part of this solution. I think we also need to be looking at our community courts - and one thing that I want to spend more time looking at is misdemeanor cases, which are not currently eligible for community court. Just really making sure that we are taking a step back and paying attention to the human experience and also how to keep people from being in that situation in the first place.

[00:09:57] Crystal Fincher: Should we close the King County Jail?

[00:09:59] Becka Johnson Poppe: I think that we should absolutely be moving toward that - and doing that in concert with all of these holistic services, and making sure that we are having alternatives to that jail that are going to be better suited to the community needs.

[00:10:14] Crystal Fincher: And I may have just missed it, so would you have also voted to - you talked about a number of other things that were absolutely crucial and critical, and people who are incarcerated having connections to the outside is critical to lower chances of recidivism and them able to integrate back in the community successfully. Would you have voted to approve that SCORE contract?

[00:10:35] Becka Johnson Poppe: I would not have voted to approve that SCORE contract.

[00:10:38] Crystal Fincher: Okay, and so I assume that if it comes back, which some people think that it will - and need to be extended or expanded - that you would be a No vote on that too.

[00:10:46] Becka Johnson Poppe: That's right.

[00:10:47] Crystal Fincher: Gotcha. So we talked about homelessness, affordable housing, about the need to increase pay for frontline workers and that being crucial to being able to solve this response. What are your top priorities for taking action to reduce homelessness and increase the affordability of housing?

[00:11:06] Becka Johnson Poppe: Yeah, thank you. So I mentioned earlier that a good friend of mine was living out of their car in King County not that long ago and so this hits home for me. And I've also been working to end youth homelessness as a volunteer for . YouthCare, and as a volunteer for a really small nonprofit that provides care to the animal companions of people who are experiencing homelessness. And one of the things that I've observed is that we really need to be leveraging partnerships to support the needs of the community and making sure that we are not missing handoffs. We need to make sure that we are communicating between the systems, making sure that we're providing a safety net for the community. And the fact is a lot of our contracts right now don't allow for resources to be used flexibly for wraparound support. So that's one thing I want to work on.

And as we were talking about, keeping the team is really critical. When I'm volunteering for YouthCare, it's our frontline staff who make all the difference for our unhoused young people. I've advocated for wage increases because it's the right thing to do - and because the bottom line is if we don't take care of our people, we lose them and we lose the vital individual connections that make the work matter. I think in order to take care of our community, we really need to take care of our people. And whether you care about any of that or not, which I hope you do - I know that you do, Crystal, and I hope that all of our listeners do here - if we are constantly losing people and having to navigate that turnover, it's just really inefficient from a resource standpoint. Those hiring processes - going through that over and over - that's tapping into scarce resources that we could be using for so many other important things. So it's about leveraging those partnerships, it's about keeping the team together.

And then how we pair this with affordable housing - it is really hard for people to afford to live here and rents are at all-time highs, housing prices are really tough. Having a comprehensive approach that addresses zoning, affordability, that links housing with transportation - it's not only going to be critical to help with equity, to help with the economy, but also with the environment - getting back to those three E's - to make sure that we have diverse communities while we're mitigating the impacts of climate change by pairing housing where transportation is. I'm really for making sure that we have more housing that's affordable to more people, and doing that with what I would consider a 'Yes, And' approach. So making sure that we have mixed-use development where housing is built alongside commercial and retail spaces, making it easier to build with permitting, with design review - really taking a look at those processes - finding ways to support first-time home buyers as well. And I get kind of excited about this, but talking about the full life cycle of these projects - everything from land acquisition - the timing of land acquisitions with our budget processes, that is a big challenge right now. Building capacity in the community to do these projects so that we have culturally competent developers, making sure that we move construction faster and more equitably to get these affordable housing units created, making sure that we have green building features that are part of this construction and these plans from the start, thinking about the jobs that we're creating - good union jobs as part of this. And incentivizing the creation of affordable housing that isn't just tiny units - that is available for multi-generational households, which are often folks from immigrant communities.

And all of this is going to get back to those multi-benefits of how we are supporting the environment, equity, and the economy simultaneously. I could nerd out here a little bit talking about a program at the County around transfer of development rights, which is something that we use to preserve open space by transferring the development potential of that land to areas where we can have more density because the services and utilities are available to support that. And this is something that I think is really cool because the revenue that we generate by selling these development credits allows us to then purchase more open space, and be preserving those open spaces. So these multi-benefits, I think, are where things can get really cool. And how we can be using those incentives to make sure that we have green building features, and even access to childcare services where people live and not just wherever it makes sense to build them otherwise. This is going to make everyone's lives easier, healthier, and better. So I get really excited about this stuff.

[00:15:30] Crystal Fincher: Makes sense. Now, drug decriminalization is a big topic of discussion locally and at the state legislative level right now. We had our legislators working on legislation to try and establish a new policy for personal possession of substances, after our State Supreme Court invalidated the law that criminalized that. Legislature did that, but put a sunset provision in the first go-round that they did - after they made it a misdemeanor, tried to fund some infrastructure across the state for treatment and diversion, those types of programs. But they weren't able to come to a new agreement in this session. Governor Inslee recently called a new special session to address this, and we'll see if they come up with a solution after that. But if not, it's going to be up to counties, cities, and towns to figure out what policy is the right policy for them. Should we be criminalizing simple possession of substances? And if not, what should the plan be?

[00:16:31] Becka Johnson Poppe: Yeah, thanks Crystal. We need to be making sure that folks are getting the help that they need rather than punishment. Historically, we have just not seen evidence that shows that punishment works, and it's disproportionately affecting Black and Brown communities. There needs to be a fix that happens at the state level because I don't think that it's a great solution to have 40 different rules with 40 different jurisdictions - where people have to wonder if they step across one line, if they're going to be treated differently than if they're hopping over here. And so I'm really hopeful that the state comes through with a fix. If they don't, we really need to be focusing again back on the root issues. What is resulting in people having substance abuse disorder, having these challenges in the first place? Possession - drug possession is not the biggest public safety threat facing our communities right now. And we have scarce resources to devote to public safety so prioritizing that differently is an imperative, while recognizing that substance abuse is a big problem. Fentanyl death rates are growing year over year, we've already exceeded the 2022 death rates so far - and we're only a few months into 2023 - but we absolutely cannot prosecute our way out of the problem. Prevention, treatment, long-term care - these are all critical pieces - and data gathering to support that.

Another really important thing that I've noticed is that this is hitting the people who are experiencing homelessness the hardest. I think we need a healthcare team that is really dedicated to supporting people who are experiencing homelessness. And recognizing that if people refuse treatment - that's part of the disease, that is part of the process. So we still need to have that treatment available - we need to help folks work through that part of the disease that presents as refusal, and not just giving up on folks. So I am really hopeful that the state comes through with a fix - and I think at the County level, we need to be prioritizing our scarce resources in a way that is going to help people, rather than try to prosecute them.

[00:18:38] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely makes sense. Now, you talked about another one of your Es, the environment. On almost every measure, we're behind on our 2030 climate goals but we're experiencing impacts from climate change more than we ever have before, whether it's extreme weather events with heat and cold, wildfires, floods. What are your highest priority plans to get us on track to meet our 2030 goals?

[00:19:02] Becka Johnson Poppe: Yeah, it's really important to be recognizing that climate change is a threat multiplier that burdens communities already facing public health and economic disparities. I think that we can be looking at ways to center community voices in how we are working to address climate change, and this is something that I've had direct experience with. A couple years ago, I created the County's first Climate Equity Bond - it's a $20 million pool of funds - and in doing so, had the honor to sit with frontline communities experiencing the first and worst consequences of climate change. I met with them for seven months and found a way to make their priorities a reality. I really want to scale up that work at the County and do even more of this - and make sure that we are not being performative about the way that we are involving community voices, but really doing that deliberately - and balancing that need to move quickly, but making sure that we are not leaving folks behind.

Another really critical piece to this is moving our big construction initiatives faster by breaking down barriers to delivering on those initiatives. So much of what we need to do to address climate change is going to come down to how we can deliver on our capital projects - whether it's installing electric vehicle infrastructure, whether it is creating big solar fields, affordable housing that's close to transportation - these large-scale energy projects, these large-scale construction initiatives are gonna be key. This is something that I've been working on at the County - is figuring out how to break down the barriers that all of our construction initiatives are facing right now, which are around permitting, procurement, supply chains, labor shortages. And this is something that I'm really excited about because there are things that we can be doing to break down those barriers and move these projects faster and more equitably for the sake of the environment. Another thing that I've been working on related to our big capital projects is making sure that when we are making decisions, we are doing that in a way that recognizes the carbon emissions from our buildings will harm future generations. This is called social cost of carbon. It's a real dollar amount that we can actually be applying to calculations about which alternatives we should pursue when we're looking at different construction projects and construction options - and bringing that into our decision-making is really critical.

We also need to be going after federal and state funding. There are huge opportunities right now. The Inflation Reduction Act, Federal Infrastructure Bill, Climate Commitment Act, Clean Fuel Standard, the EPA has a $5 billion grant option opportunity for climate pollution reduction. We have a huge opportunity right now to be going after those dollars in a coordinated manner that those grant opportunities - actually, in some cases, demand that we be coordinated across the region. And the County - one of the biggest things that the County can do is bring people together to bring that coordination. And then a huge part of this is transportation. We need to have a coordinated plan for installing electric vehicle charging infrastructure, working with our neighboring jurisdictions and private entities. We need to be electrifying our bus fleet, but recognizing that if no one is riding our buses, it doesn't really matter if they're electric if everyone's using their cars instead. So we need to be bringing people back to our buses, and if it's reliable, accessible, and safe, people are going to use it.

[00:22:25] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. Now, one related item is the air that we breathe - you talked about reducing the pollution there. Certainly, air quality impacts everything about our lives - from life expectancy, to whether we're experiencing asthma, heart disease, lung disease, many things like that. What role does the County have to play, or what responsibility does the County have, to ensure that clean air and appropriate ventilation happens in public buildings? But also, we're seeing a lot of new construction - just passed some legislation that will probably spur construction of housing units. How should the County be enforcing air standards, or should it?

[00:23:05] Becka Johnson Poppe: Yeah, well, to start off here, a really critical piece of this is transportation, because the biggest source of emissions in the County is emissions from transportation. So to expand on that a little bit, we really need to be bringing people back to our buses. And as I was saying, if it's reliable, accessible, safe, people are going to use it. Right now, our buses are arriving late, on reduced schedules, too many of our neighbors who are in crisis are having episodes on buses completely unsupported. And I think if we asked a big room of people - how many of us have had an uncomfortable experience on a bus - we'd probably all raise our hands. So to be reducing our emissions, we need to bring people back to our buses. And I think we can do that by making our experience safer, by having an on-demand care team, where our Metro operators who have such a tough job already - my neighbor actually is a Metro operator, he's in his 80s, he is one of the toughest people that I know - and we can make a system where those Metro operators can flag down a care team to meet them en route and provide human-oriented holistic support to people who are in crisis on our buses.

We also need to recognize that the traditional commute isn't the main reason that people are using buses anymore. So to get people to transition away from single-occupancy vehicles, we need to have transportation that's available around the clock and not just in those traditional commute hours. We have the Metro Connects vision to help us move toward that vision, but there's a big funding gap and it was put together in 2016. So we need to refresh that data with post-pandemic data to make sure that we're moving toward the right solutions and the right targets here. We have a lot of one-time funding that we can be using right now to make sure that we are staffed up with Metro, to make sure that we're improving that safety and that ridership experience. We also need to be pursuing long-term solutions. So I think all of this is going to be really key to improving our air quality and making sure that we have better air quality for everyone.

And in terms of our buildings, it gets back to those choices that we're making about how we construct and factoring those emissions - those long-term emissions - and the effects of those into our decision-making. We also can be making sure that, when we have these wildfire incidents and smoke, that we have spaces for people to go where they can escape that. There are not enough places right now where people can be safe from the effects of our wildfire season, which is really what it is right now, unfortunately - it's a season of the year that we've become pretty familiar with. There are things called - I might mispronounce this here - Corsi–Rosenthal Boxes, which are quick ways to clean the air for folks. It cleans the air by up to 60%. And that's something that we can use in a lot of different settings to essentially retrofit spaces that aren't already constructed in ways that allow folks to be able to breathe clean air. And we really need to be engaging people at every stage of the process in conversations about indoor air quality. We've learned this through COVID - we can be leveraging those same learnings to move forward and be ensuring that as the climate continues to warm and as we continue to have more wildfire smoke, that we are not having that impact all of us. But really that - if we look at the maps of air pollution where folks are most affected by this, it's the same regions of the County that are disproportionately impacted by existing public health disparities, by economic disparities, by gun violence, by so many different things. And recognizing where needs are greatest is going to be key in making sure that we are improving the air quality in meaningful ways.

[00:26:44] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. Now, you manage half of the County budget. You talked about how huge the County is - it is large, it is formidable - so that is quite the undertaking that you have. But when it comes to that budget, King County does incremental budgeting - making it really difficult for people to understand how funds are allocated in the base budget. Being that this is one of your strengths and an area you are very familiar with, what can be done to make the budget easier for the public to understand and influence?

[00:27:15] Becka Johnson Poppe: Yeah, this is something I get really excited about. Few things are more important than how we use our resources and transparency from a lot of different angles is critical - the funding sources, how that funding is being used, how communities are being involved in those choices, and in the implementation of things that get funded. I've been working on this at the County and on the campaign trail so far - just demystifying the budget process. It doesn't have to be complicated. Everyone understands income coming in, expenses going out. We budget for ourselves individually in ways that align with our values and priorities. If you really care about cooking, maybe you're going to spend a little bit more on the supplies that you're using or the ingredients that you're using. Those are your priorities reflected in your own personal budget. And that same thing happens at the County. There are opportunities that we're using - that I've been using right now - to really try to make this easier for folks to be involved in and to understand. And part of this is meeting people where they're at. It's great to have town halls, it's great to have office hours, it's great to have presentations - but thinking about the timing and location of those is really critical. If we're holding space for folks to engage with these processes at 3 p.m. on a Tuesday, you're going to get a very different set of people than if you have it at 7 p.m. And it's - for me, one of the most fun parts of the campaign so far has been knocking on doors and literally engaging with folks where they're at - at their home, where they don't have to go anywhere. They can just share their thoughts with me when I come up and ask for a few minutes of their time. But I think the bottom line here is - it doesn't have to be complicated. There are ways that we can be putting that information online to make this more accessible to folks, to make it easier to understand. It's not about sharing more data - that can just be overwhelming, that can be more cumbersome. It's about presenting that data in ways that people can access and understand, and really going to people to make sure that they have their voices heard in the process.

[00:29:23] Crystal Fincher: Now, the list of things that everyone says is necessary and a lot of the things that we've talked about today cost more money than we appear to have in the budget, so new revenue is needed. What progressive revenue options exist at the County level and will you pursue any of them?

[00:29:39] Becka Johnson Poppe: Yeah, we are unfortunately heading into lean times at the County. The state did not pass a revenue fix that we really needed. So as a little bit of background - right now, so the General Fund for the County is our most flexible source of revenue that funds a lot of the critical things that the County does. The biggest source of funding for the General Fund is property tax revenue. And right now, revenue from our property tax is capped - the growth of that revenue is capped at 1% per year, plus the cost of new construction. This comes out to essentially about 2% per year, or a little bit more. And I think we've all seen that inflation has been going up by way more than 2% per year. So we have more money going out the door than we have coming in. And this means that to even just sustain the level of service that we have now, we are going to need way more than that 2%. So we're headed into lean times because the state did not lift that cap on property tax revenue growth. And I think that voters deserve someone who has the budget experience to think creatively about how to avoid cuts and maximize the dollars that we have.

So as I mentioned - as you mentioned - over the last few years, I've been overseeing half of the County's budget and this has given me some insight into some of the tools that we can be using. We talked earlier about going after big federal dollars - that's an opportunity that we have to help shore up the work that we're doing. We have opportunities to be multiplying the dollars that we have with matching funds, with pilot projects that make the County competitive for larger dollars. We can also be getting more aggressive with our bonding strategy. So right now the County has a AAA rating, which is great. And you don't need to know anything about bonds to know that AAA is the best - it's really freaking good. We can be taking that down a notch - and still getting pretty much all of the benefits that we have at our AAA - with something that's just a smidge lower than that, but freeing up a lot of dollars to meet urgent needs now. These needs are only going to get more expensive the longer that they're left unaddressed, so this is actually a fiscally responsible solution. If we use that bonding authority right now to get more dollars right now, that's gonna help in the long run.

And then base budget. So you mentioned earlier that we budget at the County on an incremental basis, and this is absolutely true. This is true of a lot of local jurisdictions. And what this means essentially is that when we have new money coming in, we decide what to do with those new dollars, but we don't take a lot of time to dig back into the resources that were decided upon in the past. And those resources were guided by different values and priorities than we have now. We're talking decades of decisions. And that means that the values and priorities that we have now - that are really intentionally centering racial justice and equity - that's great for the way that we're using our resources now, but that's not what was guiding resource decisions in the past. So we have a huge opportunity to not only free up dollars and reprioritize those dollars to help as we're headed into lean times, but to also undo systemic racism by reevaluating the way that we have used resources in the past and reassigning those dollars to meet where needs are greatest. We need to keep getting dollars out into the community and recognizing that King County taxpayers can't be the only ones to shoulder this burden in perpetuity, but we can be the ones to model this work and how we can do this correctly and creatively - to then work with our colleagues at the state and federal levels to find sustainable progressive funding solutions for the long-term.

[00:33:21] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely, and anyone who knows me in real life has probably had a conversation with me about how crucial and important bonding is - and using it in times like now is to be able to solve problems at the scale that we're experiencing them.

Now, you're in a competitive race. This position - District 4 is a contested race. The filing deadline is May 19th, so who knows if anyone else is gonna get in the race. But at this point in time, people are trying to evaluate the differences between candidates and who you are, and how you may vote. What do your endorsements say about you, and what are you most proud of?

[00:33:59] Becka Johnson Poppe: Yeah, thank you. I am really proud to be endorsed by a lot of folks who really represent the community - small business owners, nonprofit leaders, people who are out there doing the work in the community. I'm also proud to be endorsed by State Representative Liz Berry, State Representative Kristine Reeves, County Councilmember Joe McDermott - these are folks who I really respect because of the way that they've led our community toward progressive solutions to some of the most complex issues. And I recognize that I haven't been working toward a specific elected office for a long period of time, and so - I have, though, been operating in the community, connecting with my community, and I think that my endorsements really reflect that.

[00:34:50] Crystal Fincher: Thank you. Now another thing that you covered was talking about - with the budget - that how we deliver projects is as important as the overall goal of it, and can influence the quality of it. This has been a continued issue that we've seen at many levels of government, including the County, where great policy is passed that's gonna help a lot of people, but it experiences some challenges in the implementation. What can we do to improve how we implement policy at the County level?

[00:35:19] Becka Johnson Poppe: That is such a big question, and I really appreciate that question. There is so much that we can be doing to improve how we implement policy - it is really up to our elected officials and our governments. We have the opportunity and the responsibility to be undoing the status quo and replacing it with something better, to be centering the voices of people most affected, to be understanding the racial justice impact of policies and programs by using data carefully and intentionally - and this really factors into how we roll out those policies. As a County Councilmember, part of my job will be recognizing the maps showing where needs are greatest - whether it's gun violence, public health disparities, urban heat - and making sure that we are involving the voices of folks in those areas where needs are greatest. We need to be forming partnerships to be implementing our policies effectively - partnerships with frontline workers, partnerships with labor, partnerships with nonprofit organizations - and really paying attention to the experience of people who are doing the work and the expertise of people who are doing that work.

We were talking about moving big capital initiatives faster. So much of what the County does is constructing things, building things - and so I've seen firsthand the importance of our capital design and our construction work. And if we move capital projects faster, we create more jobs, more union jobs, we sustain those jobs, and we get that value out into the communities faster. As I mentioned, our big capital initiatives are facing barriers around permitting, procurement, supply chains, labor shortages. We need to be paying attention to that because those problems probably aren't going away, but there are ways that we can be breaking that down by really making sure that we are using all of the tools in the toolbox. With procurement, for example, there are alternative processes with design-bid-build, that - and a whole bunch of different options here - where we can be staffing in a way that allows us to be creative, that will actually save us more money in the long run if we staff up in ways that will allow for that creativity. And sometimes this work is going to be more complex at the outset, but it's going to save us money and save us time in the long run, and so thinking about those trade-offs and thinking about how we can be making fiscally responsible investments, investments and policy implementation plans that really involve people at every step of the way - it's all going to end up being better for us in the long run. This is such a big question. I feel like there's so many things that we could talk about here, but this is really critical to the work that the County does.

[00:38:03] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. Now, as we conclude today - as we talked about - there are lots of voters and residents in this community who are trying to figure out not only what's happening, but who you guys are and where you stand, what the differences are, and how to make their decision on who they're going to vote for. When you talk to people like that, what do you tell them?

[00:38:25] Becka Johnson Poppe: Yeah, I tell them - I've spent my career turning progressive ideas into progressive action. And whoever gets elected is going to have a lot to navigate. We have 50,000 unhoused neighbors, we have public safety issues, we have land conservation challenges, transportation issues, backlogs in our criminal legal system. If we are going to take on the biggest, most urgent issues in the region, we need someone who can make progress right out of the gate. We're headed into lean times at the County, and I think voters deserve someone who has the budget experience to think creatively about how to avoid cuts, how to maximize the dollars that we have. And I have that experience, and that's a unique skillset that I bring. I'm excited to bring my experience not only with budgets, but with moving construction projects faster and more equitably, with centering community voices, and turning those asks and those values into tangible outcomes. My experience doing mental health research - understanding data and science - my experience volunteering working with our unhoused neighbors. As I said earlier, King County is bigger than 15 states. We can show the rest of the state and the rest of the nation what it means to be a community that is diverse and inclusive, and solving the most complex issues. We can lead in taking on the existential threat of climate change, in creating more housing that's affordable to more people, in delivering universal childcare, improving our transportation experience. And I'm really committed to this community - to the region I grew up in - and I'm really excited to hit the ground running.

[00:39:53] Crystal Fincher: Thank you so much, Becka Johnson Poppe, candidate for King County Council District 4, for spending this time with us and helping us get to know you better today. Really appreciate it.

[00:40:02] Becka Johnson Poppe: Thank you so much for having me here, Crystal. I am a huge fan, and this is a huge honor. Thank you.

[00:40:07] Crystal Fincher: Thank you.

Thank you for listening to Hacks & Wonks, which is co-produced by Shannon Cheng and Bryce Cannatelli. You can follow Hacks & Wonks on Twitter @HacksWonks. You can catch Hacks & Wonks on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts - just type "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get the full versions of our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, leave a review wherever you listen. You can also get a full transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at and in the episode notes.

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