Claudia Kauffman, Candidate for 47th LD State Senator

Claudia Kauffman, Candidate for 47th LD State Senator

On this midweek show, Crystal chats with Claudia Kauffman about her campaign for State Senator in the 47th Legislative District - why she decided to run again for a seat she previously held, what it’s like to run in a swing district, how the last legislative session went and her thoughts on addressing and prioritizing issues in the LD47 community such as housing affordability and zoning, COVID-19 impacts on education, making schools more welcoming, and protecting fundamental privacy rights.

About the Guest

Find Claudia on Twitter/X at @SenClaudiaK.


Campaign Website - Claudia Kauffman:


[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. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at and in our episode notes. Today we're pleased to be welcoming to this program, a former senator who is now running again for State Senate in the 47th legislative district, here in South King County, Claudia Kauffman. Welcome to the program.

[00:00:53] Claudia Kauffman: Thank you for having me.

[00:00:54] Crystal Fincher: Thank you so much. So I guess I just wanna start off by asking what made you decide to run again?

[00:01:03] Claudia Kauffman: First, I am Claudia Kauffman - I am a member of the Nez Perce Tribe, I grew up in Seattle, I have lived in South King County for about 22 years - raised my family, my children went to the Kent School District, and I am deeply involved and engaged in my community. I am a homeowner and a mother and a grandmother, so I'm engaged and I'm involved and I'm invested in the community. Both my professional and my elected experience positions me well to be running for this seat at this time. I worked over 20 years for Muckleshoot Indian Tribe in government relations - working on government relations on the local state, federal levels and working on legislative agendas and working with consultants and helping to identify strategy behind the agendas. But I also, as you had mentioned - former State Senator of the 47th legislative district.

Given those two wonderful aspects in my life that an opportunity has come forward with an open seat in my previous position that I held and I thought it was an excellent opportunity to go back and continue the great work that I did when I was in the State Senate before, and having the understanding and knowledge, experience. I thought this was a fantastic opportunity, and I loved working in the State Senate and being a State Senator - I just loved everything about it. And it's all about serving community.

[00:03:05] Crystal Fincher: So it has been eight years since you were in the Senate - do I have that right? And the district has been a swing district, it remains a swing district even after redistricting. And with this open seat, there's a quite competitive primary race going on, with another Democratic opponent, a Republican in the race. It is really one of the races that people across the state are looking at and that may determine the balance of power in at least one chamber in our legislature. And so, as you were looking at this and considering running and having represented the district before, what is it like? Especially for people who are used to living in safe, blue, Democratic districts - what's it like to be running a race in one of our state's top battleground districts, where you have heated Republican rhetoric, at this time when there is so much at stake? What is that like?

[00:04:12] Claudia Kauffman: It's true that the 47th district is a swing district and it has gone back and forth and back and forth. Before I was first elected, there was a Republican State Senator for 12 years. And then I got in and then Joe Fain, a Republican, got in. And then Mona Das, a Democrat, got back in. And so it does swing that way. And it's true - this is not a safe blue district like in Seattle - you don't walk up and say, Hello, I'm a young, progressive woman of color. It's just - that doesn't reflect what this district is. There are some large cities - Kent and Auburn and Covington are included in the 47th, but that also includes rural areas. And there are a lot of farms - local farms in the district - and as well as manufacturing, so incorporates a tremendous amount of variety and diversity in terms of the work and the population and the people. But it also is diverse in things that are valued. And so this is a district - and you can't, I think, just put out a number of measures on the ballot to increase taxes to do such things as repair and reconstruct, or even rebuild the Kent Police Department - has always been turned down. There have been measures for taxing to increase support in the water system and that's been turned down. So this is a different district and, as such, there are Democrats and there are Republicans, but there is a huge middle that is more independent and works that way. And so knowing and understanding the district, I think, is very important in this race. And I have that experience, I come with all that knowledge.

[00:06:34] Crystal Fincher: It does take knowing the district - it's different, I think - a lot of times when people are here - I live almost on the border of the 33rd and the 47th and have - very familiar with Kent and Covington and elsewhere. So how, as when you're running and there is such a wide variety of people, diverse population in every single way - how do you stay true to your values as you are talking to people who may feel very different ways? How do you stay grounded and how do you stay principled when you're talking to all of those voters?

[00:07:17] Claudia Kauffman: For me, I convey that the values that I was raised with are taking care of your children, having respect and dignity for your elders, honoring your veterans, and serving your community. These are some core tenets that I was raised with and this is something that really translates and embraces voters - that we do need to take care of our children and our elders and our veterans and serving the community is very important. And so my - I don't go forward in terms of coming in with a real progressive agenda - it's really about taking care of our community.

[00:08:10] Crystal Fincher: So we just came out of a legislative session where some great things happened, some not so great things happened - which is true of a lot of legislative sessions. What was your evaluation of this past session?

[00:08:25] Claudia Kauffman: I was - there was a lot of work done on the plastic bags - and so a lot of people are asking me who led that and why did they do that? And that was our State Senator in the 47th, and I'm not sure that those things were the priority of the voters of the 47th legislative district. I think it was a statewide issue, but it became a signature issue for that particular person. And I think it's important that we get back to understanding the basic needs around our children, such as investing in early learning or addressing issues since the pandemic - when children were in school, outta school, in school, outta school and it created a lot of issues around the social and emotional and the mental health issues for the children, as well as the educational needs. I think if we refocus back on some of our basic needs within our communities - would be very important. And I wasn't quite convinced that we needed to send over a hundred million dollars and whatever it was from operating to transportation. And then in transportation, they also increased a number of fees and was a very large transportation budget. When we talk about what our needs are - how are you gonna fund them - well, stop sending operating dollars away. We need to address the needs within our communities.

[00:10:28] Crystal Fincher: So with that, I guess we're looking at the transportation budget, which had record investments in transit funding, in mobility improvements and enhancements, including in the 47th district. Are you saying that was a mistake to do? And that we should just focus on maintaining roads and not necessarily investing in transit or other infrastructure? What about that strikes you as excessive?

[00:10:59] Claudia Kauffman: Okay, I apologize if that came across the wrong way - I am not saying that I just wanna invest in expanding highways - that's not what I meant at all. We need -

[00:11:14] Crystal Fincher: Or even if it's not expanding highways, is it that - I do not wanna put words into your mouth and so just seeking clarification - you were talking about focusing more on the basic needs. What falls outside of the basic needs that they were dealing with in the Legislature when it comes to transportation?

[00:11:37] Claudia Kauffman: So I obviously didn't make all that clear, so let me go back. When we're looking at the basic needs for our communities - in running for office or being a state legislator, people always ask - how are you gonna fund that? Where are you gonna get the money to fund that? And what I'm saying about, because you asked me about this last session, was they took out money from operating and they put it into transportation. That's nothing to say about transportation, that's just to say about operating. And imagine the possibilities that we could have, if we had the full money in the operating, to help address more issues within our community.

[00:12:23] Crystal Fincher: What would you address in the community?

[00:12:25] Claudia Kauffman: Increase early learning, I would increase money going to the Housing Trust Fund to create more affordable housing, I would increase the income threshold for more seniors and veterans, people with disabilities to qualify for property tax relief. There are a number of things that could have went that way - investing in small businesses, having a comprehensive review of the impacts of COVID-19 on our students, on our teachers, our paraeducators. I think there's a number of things that we could have done with that money. And so I'm just talking about the fact that they moved the money from operating and they put it in transportation.

[00:13:21] Crystal Fincher: Gotcha. And so with some of those investments that you mentioned, especially in early learning and education and the schooling system, you were known as a champion for education when you served before - certainly, I recall a lot of educators just really being thankful and supportive of the stances you took in a variety of areas. And we're having a time in our local school districts here, including the Kent School District - one of the largest school districts in the state - and an issue that we're hearing about nationally, we're dealing with right here at home with book bans being talked about and a number of issues from some very conservative right-wing elements trying to push that into our schools. Where do you think, what do you think the school should be doing? Do you think the school board is doing the right thing? Do you think we should be reevaluating which books we're looking at in our schools?

[00:14:28] Claudia Kauffman: I really think we should be evaluating the impacts of COVID-19 and how our students are doing. Being a mother, I became a fierce advocate for my children's education and I did those things, and I joined the PTAs, and I went to the meetings, and I'll bake the cookies and made cupcakes. And really wanted to have the data - what does the data show for our students? And when I was finally able to get the data, they had data for every racial group except for American Indians. And I said why - you're not providing the data, I said - Go back, just some basic things and what's happening? What is the graduation rate while we're talking about American Indian students. What is the graduation rate for American Indian students? And it was only 36%. And I said - Okay, that should be a priority - that should be a priority for everyone, not just me, not just the native community. Everyone should make that a priority that there is a particular group of students - only 36% graduation rate.

And at the - they just recently voted to put in police officers at every school district. Now I'm all for safety and safety is very important. But I also want to have public schools to be an open and welcoming institution in which students are - come in and not being fearful or harassed or intimidated at the atmosphere in which they're placed at, in which they need to walk by every single day. To me, it needs to be more open and accepting and welcoming. When I was in the State Senate, the Kent School District had hired private security at every school, and the school board allowed them to use force and to handcuff children and a little five-year old was handcuffed for not walking down the hall too fast - you're taken down and you're handcuffed if you talk back. And so when I was in the State Senate, and then I tried to work on - can't handcuff children if you're not a law enforcement officer - I received a lot of backlash from the Kent School District on that. And so I said - okay, show me reports - start reporting every single time you use force on children. How many times do you handcuff them? How many children handcuffed? What are the reasons for them being handcuffed? What's the location? What was the - give me some data on the student, demographic data on the students. And that just demonstrated the complete lack of any standards when it comes to that.

[00:17:43] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and maybe time has proven -

[00:17:44] Claudia Kauffman: And Kent School District - yeah, Kent School District is doing it now with police officers in every single school. So I have concerns about what they're doing and how they're doing it. And I know that they just hired a new superintendent, so I'm hoping things will improve in that area. I think they hired a great superintendent.

[00:18:09] Crystal Fincher: I certainly hope things will improve in that area. I do wanna circle back to the original question. And you made mention about wanting kids to feel safe and welcome in school - there are some kids questioning right now, because of some of the books that are being targeted for banning and the reasoning that's being given with them - do you think that any of those book ban discussions should be on the table? Or do you feel like it's inappropriate?

[00:18:36] Claudia Kauffman: No, I'm not in favor of the book ban and especially - I was asked recently about how do we help students in the LGBTQ community. And I said - You need to have them to feel welcome in the public school system. And if you're banning books that deal with that, it's not gonna feel very welcoming and you're gonna feel targeted.

[00:19:08] Crystal Fincher: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And in that vein, we're sitting here at a time not too long after the Dobbs decision that eliminated a woman's right to reproductive health and also signaled - from the dissent from Justice Clarence Thomas - that there is an intention and a welcoming of also eliminating rights to same-sex marriage, same-sex relationships, privacy, contraception. What can we be doing now in our state to protect against these coming attacks - the existing one that already happened with the Dobbs decision and these coming ones on some of our fundamental rights. What can you do as a legislator to help protect against that?

[00:20:04] Claudia Kauffman: I think that we can start working on some privacy issue - I know that there are a number of apps on phones in which you can, women can track their menstrual cycles and when they have a doctor's appointment. And if we don't have privacy around our own technology, there's opportunities for that information going out. And other states that now offer $10,000 rewards for naming those who get an abortion or those who assist in abortions is really scary. And it's not just ensuring we have the right to make our own medical decisions, it's the privacy issue that everyone's gonna know that you - and I can't believe the amount of information and data that is out there. When I was in the State Senate, I had the bill that prevented the Washington State Patrol from pulling up your car in an accident and downloading your vehicle's data, 'cause they did that all the time without your knowledge or permission. And so my bill was to stop that - it's my car, it's my data, you can't have that, you can't have my cell phone, you can't have anything. And I got a lot of pushback from the Washington State Patrol, but it's all about privacy and consumer protection. And so us as consumers and - 'cause everyone needs to seek medical attention for one reason or another throughout their lives, and we need to have privacy around that.

[00:22:05] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely agree. Do you think we should call a special session to do that? There's certainly conversation about - hey, if we do have a number of these competitive races and battleground districts and we aren't sure what the composition of the legislature is going to be, potentially waiting until next session could jeopardize our ability to codify some of these protections into law. Should we be calling a special session to deal with law to protect abortion access in addition to these other things?

[00:22:41] Claudia Kauffman: That's certainly up to leadership to decide that and I don't believe that the Senate is going to - they have a comfortable lead in terms of their numbers, the Senate Democrats do. And so I don't believe that's going to - they will lose all those in one swoop.

[00:23:04] Crystal Fincher: But if the House did - even if you passed it through the Senate, it potentially wouldn't make it through the House. Do you think it's, do you think it's just probably likely that Democrats will retain control and so we might as well wait to get it done, or do you think it is more urgent than that?

[00:23:24] Claudia Kauffman: It might be more urgent, given the redistricting that's happened and what's happened with the Redistricting Commission. That was a real disappointing, 10-year -

[00:23:38] Crystal Fincher: That was a lot of things.

[00:23:39] Claudia Kauffman: Yeah, so -

[00:23:43] Crystal Fincher: Certainly not an ideal process, and we're still waiting to see what the ultimate outcome of the redistricting is, but certainly questions about fairness - whether a variety of districts across the state adhere to the Voting Rights Act. But it looks like we're gonna be voting in these districts right now, so if it were up to you, would you think we need to move on a special session or take some more time to plan and wait until regular session?

[00:24:16] Claudia Kauffman: Yeah, maybe - wait until after, because even after the election, people are not in until they're sworn in - and that's in January. I think they'll have a better idea after the elections.

[00:24:33] Crystal Fincher: Gotcha. And now you made mention about taking action to make housing more affordable. Lots of talk across the country and the state, in Seattle and elsewhere - we are certainly no exception to this housing affordability crisis. And the cost of housing has skyrocketed - certainly, a lot of people's property values and home values have skyrocketed. And as people are looking at the equity that they have grow, sometimes that makes people feel wonderful. At the same time, that's creating - with strained housing supply, lot of investment property buying, and increased percentage of renters that we're seeing - people are having a harder and harder time managing the rents that are rising faster than they have before. And on an individual basis, rising year-over-year at higher percentages than we've seen them. What should the Legislature do to make housing more affordable in this district?

[00:25:43] Claudia Kauffman: I think we can do a few things. One, as I mentioned earlier, invest additional money into the Housing Trust Fund so that more dollars, state dollars can go out for affordable housing. I also believe that the state should invest and look at investment in community developments - community-led, like El Centro De La Raza is a perfect example. They could build housing, so it's not just the for-profit developers who are going out and getting land from cities to develop housing. It really should be community-led, community-driven and build that capacity within our communities - non-profit organizations 'cause nonprofits - they work hard within their communities. So I think if we invest in the capacity building and invest in community-led non-profits - in their vision for their community to create more housing, more affordable housing as an option. Transit-oriented housing - we have the Sounder train that goes straight through Kent and Auburn. And then increasing opportunities - training, technical assistance for home buyers, provide down payment assistance on a realistic level - since the housing market has been so high, we need to be able to match that in a real sense - so that is meaningful in a down payment assistance program.

[00:27:40] Crystal Fincher: Should we be increasing zoning, including in single-family areas to help broaden the ability to build more supply and have more options for people in our communities that are more affordable?

[00:27:55] Claudia Kauffman: I grew up on Beacon Hill in South Seattle and in a single-family neighborhood. And I really just loved it - and loved all the houses, individual houses on the blocks and blocks and the alleys and the number of neighbors that we had. And given Seattle's history of redlining - is all, mostly all communities of color. And I just love that neighborhood. And so I understand the desire to preserve that neighborhood as single-family. But I also don't want to have undue laws on local cities that say that you have to do that. I think there's a - I think there should be an opportunity to involve communities, neighborhoods, and cities to help identify how we can have additional housing units that provide that density. And a lot of people do it without even realizing that - I was at an event the other day and one of the candidates was like - yeah, I got a mother-in-law house and I rent out this house. I said - See, you're already doing it, you're already creating that middle housing.

[00:29:23] Crystal Fincher: That is exactly middle housing, but unfortunately that's exactly the kind of thing that is not permitted in many of the single-family areas without an increase in zoning. And I think one thing that people are trying to contend with is certainly - I've also lived in single-family neighborhoods and a sense of community, wonderful, lots of nostalgia from childhood and thinking about wanting to preserve that - but because of the constrained supply, what was the neighborhood, the neighborhoods that we grew up in 20 years ago are very different today. And the average home values in those same neighborhoods - in Beacon Hill is approaching, it's over $800,000 now, in a previously redlined area and a diverse area. But an area that's seen a lot of gentrification and a lot of displacement because those same homes cost quadruple what they did even 15, 20 years ago. And cities have had this much time to take action themselves and to work together with their neighborhoods and haven't. So do we expect that to change in the short-term without any additional action or prompting, by the state, or do we feel like we need to take more definitive action to help people to be able to stay in neighborhoods, afford them there? How do you balance that and what should be done?

[00:31:00] Claudia Kauffman: I think it's a great opportunity - thank you for the question. I think it's a great opportunity to invest in communities, to have more community organizing and community development programs that can work specifically so there is reduction in the gentrification of a neighborhood or a community. And work with the community to reinvest state dollars to improve local area and providing more assistance to homeowners that are there for updates and repairs. But I also think that it's an opportunity to work with the cities to develop those programs and you don't want it to turn into a big fight of "not in my neighborhood."

[00:32:08] Crystal Fincher: Which is where, how it's been, which is how it is - actually.

[00:32:13] Claudia Kauffman: Yeah.

[00:32:13] Crystal Fincher: And so do we continue to just say - okay, they're saying they don't want it and so let's just keep things rolling as they are, or - you did talk about community investment and development. Do you think that is enough to address the crisis that we're facing with just affordability overall?

[00:32:47] Claudia Kauffman: Yes. And I think no - I think, sorry - I'm saying - is words coming out of my mouth? I'm saying - yes, I agree with you. Not, yes.

[00:32:56] Crystal Fincher: I gotcha, I gotcha.

[00:32:57] Claudia Kauffman: I was like - yes, that's perfect. So - no. So that's why I think the state needs to work with the local cities to find a solution. What went through the State Legislature did not pass, but it did create a tremendous amount of concern from the local state governments about their involvement in the decision that would have a direct impact on cities. But there is a need, there is a housing crisis - we need to have housing and housing availability, and I would get back again to community and community organizing and having it being community-led. But if you do that, if there's also a large demand for duplexes and fourplexes within areas, then I think they should be able to do what they wanna do with that.

[00:34:07] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and I think that's part of the issue and especially speaking with a lot of candidates who are out on the trail and existing legislators, including Jessica Bateman, who had that middle housing bill. There is fear that when you say - Hey, we're gonna upzone this - that someone's gonna have a humongous apartment building and there's gonna be a 20-story building that gets built next door. But in reality, some duplexes and triplexes, fourplexes are really indistinguishable from other housing - you wouldn't know it's there. And so it's always an interesting discussion hearing that, because it seems like there's a lot of preconceived notions and a lot of fear that's existed. And people afraid of new people coming in or what they have changing, and what seems to get lost in that discussion a lot of times and you talked about it - was just that it already is changing. And we just have to dictate the kind of change that we want. And do we want to build change that enables people, a wide variety of people, diverse people, people of different incomes and backgrounds to be a part of the community? Or are we going to keep moving in the direction of change where it's becoming more exclusive and harder to afford and really limits the diversity of people, the type of people that can live within a community? So I'm sure there'll be a lot of discussion of that heading, moving forward.

I guess as we are getting ready to wrap up - being that this is a competitive race, you are gonna be on the primary ballot. You are running against a sitting Kent City councilmember, Satwinder Kaur - two sitting Kent City councilmembers - Satwinder Kaur, who's a Democrat, and Bill Boyce, who's a Republican. As you're talking to voters, what do you tell them as they're considering who to vote for, what the differences are between you, what will be different about their lives if you're elected versus your opponents?

[00:36:37] Claudia Kauffman: First of all, I'm Claudia Kauffman, I'm a former state Senator. I've been in government relations for over 20 years. I bring a wealth of experience and understanding, plans, purpose. I have developed relationships with state legislators, local leaders - in those relationships, I cultivate and I work and I maintain good working relationships with a number of people. And so for me, I will hit the ground running - knowing my district and knowing the needs of our community. My priorities will be based on the values that will honor the 47th district.

And I've been deeply concerned about recent decisions that the Kent City Council has taken - the recent $1.5 million settlement for assistant police chief. And they had to return or pay a developer $750,000 because they sold him a property so he can develop on it - and only to find out - no, you can't do that, that was a park, you can't just sell a park. And so it was - there's just some decisions that have been happening. Also, they all voted for police in the schools. I'm concerned about just the overall interaction - that the police chief's wife is the head of the PR media for the City of Kent. I think that creates a direct conflict. But that's the operations and that is also the atmosphere in which people feel comfortable doing those things. And so for me, I don't believe that they have set any kind of tone to how you need to operate and what your values are. I haven't seen anyone stand up and say - oh, this was wrong. And so there's a lot of things that have been happening within the City of Kent that are disturbing or concerning to me. You have to be fiscally responsible for your government and your government's money - because you talk about growing economic wealth for everyone, but you can't do that as a city if they're constantly paying out millions of dollars in settlements and then expect to have it be brand new and better this time around. I don't see that happening and that's concerning.

[00:39:57] Crystal Fincher: I hear you - thank you so much for joining us today. We will continue to keep an eye on this race and see how this turns out. And I'm sure we'll be talking about this more throughout this election and into the general election. Thank you so much for joining us today, Claudia.

[00:40:14] Claudia Kauffman: Thank you.

[00:40:15] Crystal Fincher: I thank you all for listening to Hacks & Wonks on KVRU 105.7 FM. The producer of Hacks & Wonks is Lisl Stadler with assistance from Shannon Cheng. You can find me on Twitter @finchfrii, spelled F-I-N-C-H-F-R-I-I. Now you can follow Hacks & Wonks on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever else you get your podcasts - just type "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to get our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, leave a review wherever you listen to Hacks & Wonks. 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.

Thanks for tuning in - we'll talk to you next time.