Representative Kirsten Harris-Talley’s: Champion of the 37th District

Representative Kirsten Harris-Talley’s: Champion of the 37th District

Today we are joined by a Hacks & Wonks fave,  Representative Kirsten Harris-Talley! She hit the ground running as a  legislator for the 37th District, and joins us to talk about what we  might see coming through in the remainder of this 2021 legislative  session, and how you can help advocate for policies you want to see  passed. Hot topics include correcting Washington’s State’s backwards tax  codes, preventing gentrification, public safety and policing, and how  the 37th District uniquely needs effective environmental legislation.

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

Find the host, Crystal Fincher on Twitter at @finchfrii. More information is available at


Look up your legislators by name, and see everything Rep. Harris-Talley is working on, here:

Learn about how committees work with our previous guest, Senator Joe Nguyen:

Learn about the tax specifically on billionaires before the legislature here:

Get to know Washington State’s tax system generally here:

Find House Bill 1494, focused on the anti-displacement property tax exemption, here:

Get to know the Working Families Tax Credit, and what it seeks to achieve, here:

Learn about the Pathways to Recovery Act here:

Read  about “Energy for All”, or House Bill 1490, which would attempt to  ensure that low income folks don’t have their power and water turned off  here:

Get to know the Washington State Growth Management Act here: /content/files/assets/resources/a-beginners-guide-to-the-gma.pdf


Crystal Fincher: [00:00:00]  Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm your host, Crystal Fincher. On this  show, we talk to political hacks and policy wonks to gather insight into  local politics and policy through the lens of those doing the work and  provide behind the scenes perspectives on politics in our state. Full  transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at and in our episode notes.

Today  we are thrilled to have Representative Kirsten Harris-Talley from the  fighting 37th Legislative District. Welcome, once again, to the show.

Rep. Kirsten Harris-Talley: [00:01:00] Thank you so much for having me. It's such a pleasure to be here with you, Crystal.

Crystal Fincher: [00:01:04]  Absolutely, and a pleasure to have you. And I will tell you, there  actually is no other single legislator that - I have conversations in  many different coalitions and different contexts - and I tell you,  universally, people are just like, "That Kirsten Harris-Talley is just  so inspirational and motivational." And as more and more people have  gotten to hear you and know you - certainly the appreciation of you  being known for coming out of community, certainly bringing community  into the process with you - combining that with the knowledge and  experience that you have through working through political and  legislative systems before, but being able to speak to and lead with  principles and articulate values in a way that we often have not heard  on the local level. So I know I certainly appreciate that. People from  across the spectrum of issues and coalitions appreciate that - so again,  just thrilled to have you here today.

Rep. Kirsten Harris-Talley: [00:02:15]  Oh, thank you. I love the people, so it's good when they see that and  love me back and the work because we need each other to do the work. We  really do. So that's important to hear.

Crystal Fincher: [00:02:26]  Absolutely, and so I guess we'll dive into the work. What is happening  with the legislative session right now? Where are you at, and how are we  progressing on the most important priorities?

Rep. Kirsten Harris-Talley: [00:02:37]  Oh, that's a big question. I mean, the biggest contributor, I think, to  answering that question, right, is that we're in the first of its time  and kind remote session. So the terrain of how the work moves - it's all  new. In some ways, I think that has leveled the playing field for those  of us - me and other colleagues who are coming brand new into the  process this year - with our colleagues who've been there in previous  cycles in that we're all learning these new systems simultaneously at  the same time.

What that  meant that is that out the gate, there was a high recommendation, and I  know it was covered pretty well in the media as well, for us to be  really thoughtful about what bills we were bringing forward. Usually,  you just put it all out there. You're on the floor. We separate the  priorities from those that we can let go of. But this year, we knew we  had to focus in a different way. What that has meant is that  substantively, I think the context of the conversation has been elevated  to really rise to this moment - what the needs are of this moment.  Because of course, we're doing remote session because all of us are  trying to survive a pandemic. And all of the repercussions of that and  what it means for every system we engage with in public, private, and  personal space is being tested.

So  for me, that meant really focusing on the committees once our  committees were assigned - what voice and what community voice would I  be bringing to that process and how are we going to organize? And so I'm  on three committees. Finance - we get to discuss questions of revenue,  what dollars are we bringing in, who's paying it, and tax equity and  structure. What are the laws that then make that possible? Environment  and Energy - where we get to talk about climate, impacts on the  environment. This year is the first year of the biennium where we're  talking about the Growth Management Act. We have not visited the Growth  Management Act in almost three decades - a really deep conversation  about how do we work with our planet as we build the spaces we need to  live as humans - an overdue conversation. But also energy and talking  about what is the energy future and what are we going to do about it  now? And then the third committee I'm on is Children, Youth, and  Families.- and they are anything that relates to children and families  that doesn't happen in Education comes to that committee. So it's a lot  of issues and I'm concentrating there on juvenile justice, childcare  needs, and homeless youth needs.

So  really, I feel honored that our caucus sought to put me in places I  already was doing work in community and could really hit the ground  running. And the biggest call of this moment this cycle to me, is the  question of revenue. How much revenue are we going to raise? And then  budget - where are we going to spend it? We're still dealing with the  fact that we have, while it is a shrinking picture of deficit, there is  still the last projection of $2.8 billion, with a "b" deficit in our  budget. And what that means is every service that the state provides, we  are $2.8 billion from being able to sustain those services. So that's  not thinking through the new policies or new ideas that we have that we  also want to pay for to have implemented. So for me, that's the critical  question. And we have some really exciting things in the mix for that  conversation this leg session.

Crystal Fincher: [00:06:00]  Well, there are very exciting things in the mix. And certainly, from  the 37th District, you have a broad mandate to support a lot of those  policies, whether it's capital gains tax, wealth tax, a variety of  things on the table. So where do each of those proposals - or what is  still possible or looking likely?

Rep. Kirsten Harris-Talley: [00:06:24]  So I'm really excited that we, out the gate, have been having two  really important conversations in this moment from day one. Equity and  justice has been the lens that we're trying to apply to every bit of  policy happening. But the second conversation is just starting from the  reality that we are dead last - State #50 - when it comes to tax equity  and we are in a completely upside down tax code. When you break that  apart, there are two reasons we're in an upside down tax code. We're not  raising enough revenue. And the folks we raise that revenue from -  low-income families, middle-class families - we are disproportionately  paying more than everyone else, even though we have really, really,  really rich people here. That means we're paying almost 18% in taxes  while the richest among us pay 3%. Six times as much tax. So that  consideration of - get revenue in so we can spend good dollars in good  places to help good people. But also this thing of who's paying that tax  responsibility and how do we address that so that we're not having  those with the least resources paying the most?

And  so the wealth tax proposal is really exciting to me. Our new chair this  year, Representative Noel Frame, has introduced the first of its kind  wealth tax. It is structurally well within our constitutional rights in  Washington State where we have a number of tax exemptions. It is another  tax exemption. It is a tax exemption that gives you an exemption for  the first billion, with a "b," dollars you make. Once you have a billion  plus one or more dollars, you would pay a 1% tax. I don't know about  you, but I don't have any tax where I only pay 1%. That's a really,  really low tax rate. And then from there, we look at how many of our  neighbors would be impacted. Only 100 of our neighbors make a billion  plus $1. So the rest of us, up to a billion, we're exempt from this tax.  And then of those 100 people, I was overwhelmed to see, when we had the  fiscal note in the hearing, that it would generate $4.8 billion. That's  an exciting proposal. 100 people paying a 1% tax - paying in $4.8  billion to help hundreds of thousands of neighbors statewide. That's the  kind of conversation where you're talking about filling that $2.8  billion deficit and having $2 billion to dream with as we build back  better what our economy can look like out of this crisis point. So  that's a really exciting proposal to me.

And  then I immediately started thinking through what is the tax  responsibility neighbors in the 37th have that also matches what other  folks in the state are struggling with? And we know here what we  witnessed in 2006, '07, '08, and '09, was a rapid acceleration of  gentrification and displacement of our neighbors. What we saw when the  economy turned then was aunties who owned their houses outright being  pushed out because they couldn't afford the property taxes anymore on  the assessed value of their homes. So I introduced House Bill 1494 with  accompanying HJR4204, which is a constitutional adjustment that would  make it legal within our constitution to give an up to $250,000, quarter  million dollar, tax exemption. It's called the anti-displacement  property tax exemption. And in essence, it would be applied to the state  portion of your property tax - whatever the assessed value of your  home, you take off that first up to $250,000 and only have to pay for  the state portion of your property taxes what was left in the assessed  value of your home. It's a game changer when we think about what it is  that folks are stewarding in property tax responsibility. And for me,  it's about really addressing the needs of Black, Brown, Indigenous folks  who want to stay in their communities and find themselves being pushed  further and further out, as well as our neighbors in rural areas who are  experiencing the same thing as those land values are assessed at higher  and higher values too.

So  really trying to address the structural issues and have justice and  equity at the center of those decisions as we talk about it. It's a  really different conversation than I've ever heard us have before. And  I'm really ecstatic about the possibilities as we have more and more  neighbors really stand up and say, "These are the right answers for us  in this moment."

Crystal Fincher: [00:10:32]  Yeah, absolutely, and appreciate your leadership. One thing - we had a  conversation with Senator Joe Nguyen not too long ago and he brought up  the point - we are having very different conversations. When we were  faced with an economic challenge like this previously, similar to this,  the conversation was around austerity and cuts, and just what we were  not going to do for people. And how we had to do less, even though  people needed more. And we discovered that we paid for that choice in  very negative ways, and that you don't do less for people when they need  more - you find ways to do more. And to make sure everyone's paying  their fair share so that we can support everyone who needs it. So this  is certainly just a different conversation and perspective that I think  new leaders like you have brought into the legislature. And from my  perspective, it certainly is welcome.

Rep. Kirsten Harris-Talley: [00:11:30]  I think a great example of that is another proposal in this revenue  space, the Working Families Tax Credit. For the first time with that  proposal, we're making sure that some of our undocumented neighbors are  included there. To your point, a very different consideration of how you  take care of people. And I appreciate what you brought up and what  Senator Nguyen brought up. There is actually nothing more expensive at  the end of the day than austerity. It costs exponentially more to cut  and reinstate things and have that loss in our communities than to just  find a way to take care of people in the moment. So I'm glad that we're  having that different conversation this time.

Crystal Fincher: [00:12:05]  So am I. And one thing I am wondering is - for this immediate crisis,  as you had alluded to before, with COVID and people struggling,  businesses struggling, people without jobs, what is coming in terms of  relief? What have you been able to work on there?

Rep. Kirsten Harris-Talley: [00:12:26]  Definitely, the property tax consideration is one of those  considerations. The Working Family Tax Credit, for folks who don't know,  we've had that actually legally on the books for a number of years, but  we've never had a funding mechanism behind it. And each year, I think  we've really deepened the conversation and improved what it is to have  that tax credit. In essence, it's the dollars that you pay in to  government and the system - us giving a little bit of that back to you  as a cash incentive. And what we know, when we've seen this implemented  in other parts of the country, folks who are struggling know exactly  where those dollars will be of best use to their communities and their  families, whether it's making up a car payment, paying gas to get to  work, buying that computer or software your student needs to be on  online school right now, making sure that the elder you don't get to be  with as you're social distancing has the groceries they need - whatever  that solution is, it's a way for us to give some dollars back. This  year, there's a structural mechanism for the size of your family that  actually increases the amount that you could get back up to $950. That's  nothing to sneeze at for a lot of families - that can do a lot of good  very quickly for folks. So that's a form of relief that's really  immediate, can help everyone, and can be invested in a lot of different  ways that will help our economy and individuals and families at the same  time.

And we also have  had already a number of votes with consideration of the CARE dollars  from the federal level. As folks will recall - in 2020, every state got a  draw down from the Feds of dollars to help steward us through the  moment, but we had a very short window to spend it. Before the  administration changed on the federal level, we thought any unspent  dollars were not going to be available. They were able to change that  very quickly in January when we had the new presidential administration  come in. So we've already voted on a $2.2 billion package of those  relief dollars that have already started to be moved into systems and  communities to immediately create relief. And that's everything from  utility bill subsidies that folks are using to keep the lights on right  now, to some of the education considerations that families need as we're  looking at all the considerations, to some of the healthcare  infrastructure for vaccine distribution - a whole spectrum of issues  were there. So we've already gotten those dollars cared for out the  door. It's one of the first votes we took, but we're continuing to have  proposals and votes come up to give some support to small businesses as  well.

I know here in the  37th, I have been heartbroken to see how many of our Black, Brown,  Indigenous, women-owned, immigrant and refugee-owned businesses have  shuttered or closed, some temporarily, but too many permanently. And we  want to make sure that there's relief there so that those places that  are made up of our neighbors here in our community - that those  businesses are weathering this storm too. So we're going to continue to  have those conversations and you're going to see some fast and furious  votes, I think, in the coming weeks on all of those relief pieces coming  out as fast as we can get them on the floor.

Crystal Fincher: [00:15:18]  Excellent. And I also wanted to talk about the suite of public safety  bills and bills to address the disproportionate policing, the police  brutality, and just trying to make our entire community safe, and keep  our entire community safe, and not have public safety interventions  right now put people further at risk. What is going to happen? I mean,  certainly a lot of bills were introduced with a lot of fanfare and hope.  And are we still seeing that full suite moving through? Are some  getting through and others not? What is still on the table? And what can  people who feel very passionately about these do to help get those  across the finish line?

Rep. Kirsten Harris-Talley: [00:16:09]  I love this question. I love that we get to ask this question. It's  just another mark of how unique the conversations we are having now. And  I just want to say out the gate, I am one of four Black legislators who  came into the legislature on the House side, and we also have Senator  T'wina Nobles in the Senate, the only Black member in the Senate right  now. It has doubled our Black Member Caucus. We now have a total of nine  Black representatives statewide serving. Our Member of Color Caucus in  the House is now wholly a third of our general caucus. That has been  advocates on the street, folks in electoral spaces - building a bench,  making sure that we're staying centered on representation mattering. And  that's why we're having these kinds of conversations right now.

I  am an out and proud abolitionist - I believe in a day when we will end  slavery and the way it's been reincarnated into our incarceration  system. We also have for the first time in our legislature with  Representative Tarra Simmons, someone who has been on the inside  incarcerated, and now is an advocate and lawyer in this policing justice  space. So I just wanted to say that the container for this conversation  is a bold, beautiful container that we all built together over a long  period of time. And I am ecstatic about all of the bills that we are  seeing. And we're seeing them in Children, Youth, and Families, the  committee I serve on - juvenile justice considerations happen through  that committee. We've already made a lot of adjustments and  considerations there.

There's  conversations from advocates that they're like, "We don't want to see  institutional incarceration for youth anymore." At the state level, that  means we need to move to electronic monitoring systems to get more  youth to stay in their home communities. And I want to eventually see us  move away from that as well, because what we don't want is a new Jim  Crow that has us incarcerated in our own homes with surveillance. So  there's a number of bills at all the intersections of those issues.

We  have a qualified immunity bill that would open up what it is in civil  space, outside our government systems, to be able to hold police  officers and systems accountable for deaths and injury that happened in  violence in the field to folk, families. What it is to really think of  those as restorative actions for families impacted by police violence  are huge. It's a really different conversation than we've ever had  before.

We also have a  number of bills that are looking at our court systems. What do the  sentencing pieces look like? I'm really proud to have signed on with  Representative Davis for the Pathways to Recovery Act, which is looking  at a behavioral health solution for substance use disorder, for folks  who really want to find a path to healing and recovery there. So we're  not criminalizing them instead. One of the biggest feeders into our  incarceration system is our War on Drugs and what that has looked like  for communities and who is and is not being pushed into our systems.

And  then we're also having some contextual conversations about the school  to prison pipeline with re-looking at our truancy laws and other things.  So almost everywhere we're having the conversation. As far as which  bills have had the most traction, I'm seeing a lot around pieces where  there's community oversight and community voice, which is, I think,  right where we need to start those conversations. Certainly here in  Seattle, we've had this conversation about community oversight for a  long time - we have the Community Police Commission and others. So I'm  really excited that I feel like that's a place I really want folks to  continue to put energy - where communities get to have voice for  themselves about what it looks like to build the bridges between law  enforcement and community, as we continue to dismantle these systems and  build more towards care.

Crystal Fincher: [00:19:39] How can people help the cause?

Rep. Kirsten Harris-Talley: [00:19:42]  That's my favorite question. That's my favorite part. So I'm someone - I  truly believe the best policy is when we work with community and  decision-makers are allowed to help shape their ideas into policy and  get it over the finish line. Hands down, every time that happens, we  have the best policy. So I would say, find those legislators that you  know are championing the things you care about. We have this great  portal on our legislative website, You can look up any bill  by the sponsor name - so by our last name. So if you want to look up all  the bills that I've talked about today that I was the prime on, you can  just search for Harris-Talley.

What's  great is it gives you an overview of the bills and which committee,  part of the process, that bill is in. And then you can click on that  committee and it lets you know who are the legislators in that body who  get to make the decisions for that level of the work. So you can do  everything from signing in PRO - so if it's in a committee, you can just  sign it and say, "I'm for this." Or "I'm against this," depending on  what your stance is. You can do written testimony this year for the  first time. So if you have a story to share, and I find those so  compelling - it's really helpful when I can share those with other  colleagues who don't get to sit in on the committee conversations.

And  then you can also sign up to do Zoom-based testimony during the  hearings. It's an opportunity to give a face and a voice to your story,  your context. What I love in remote session, one of the pluses - we have  interpretation services available to folks right there. So no matter  what language is your primary language, you can engage. But also for  folks who wouldn't be able to travel with the weather and the pass and  everything in Olympia, we're hearing from neighbors from all over the  state. So it's really broadening who can give voice to what we're making  decisions on. So I really invite folks to do that.

Yeah.  And then the other piece is we really do read our emails. So if you  write into us, tell us "Yes," tell us "No," tell us why you feel the way  you do. We really do track that and respond and take that as a litmus  of how our neighbors are thinking about these issues. And the last piece  that's so important, that's so much less about talking to us as  legislators, talk to your neighbors. Talk to them about what they care  about. If you know some bill's moving through, or you can share with  them that something's happening in a part that really impacts their  life, make sure to get the word out. That's the piece for me - making  sure that folks know what's happening, how they can contribute and give  voice to it. And so often, we're not able to reach folks as quickly as  you can reach your own neighbors. And it makes a huge difference.

Crystal Fincher: [00:22:16]  Absolutely. And we will include links to both your list of bills and to  just a primer on how people can sign in to testify and just navigating  through that whole process, in addition to a full text transcript of  this show in our show notes. So people can refer to those in the podcast  version of this when they hear it and can find all of those resources  there. I also wanted to ask about what's going on to address the climate  crisis and everything from dealing with extreme weather and wildfires,  to air pollution, cleaner energy? Just the full suite. Broad action is  necessary on that - as if we don't already have enough to deal with,  you're having to multitask on addressing these big, major systemic  problems. What's looking likely?

Rep. Kirsten Harris-Talley: [00:23:11]  I am, of course, an advocate for a Green New Deal, because I do believe  that we can take care of our people, our economy, and the planet  simultaneously. I love the idea of a just transition. That's why I was  ecstatic about Washington STRONG as an economic solution around what we  can do to really reverse the damage to climate change and find a new  path. And one of the very first bills we heard was the Clean Fuel  Standard consideration - a big deal for neighbors here in the 37th. We  have the worst air quality in the entire State of Washington, in no  small part because of our proximity to roads and airplanes and airports.  A clean fuel standard is about every mode of transportation that we  have to take - transit, car, and plane - and what kind of fuel we're  using and whether or not it's literally killing the planet and us.

And  so to have a conversation about a clean fuel standard and what that  means for bringing in more refineries and clean fuels production  in-state, so we're also not having to do negotiations over international  and state lines for what our fuel sustainability is in-state, really  amazing conversations. We also talked about natural gas and that  infrastructure of natural gas within buildings and what it is to move to  a green building standard as well. And so have voted both of those  bills out of committee on the House side. And as you noted, there's some  companions on the Senate side, which means we'll probably have a  conversation of how to reconcile the solution on that, versus whether  it'll happen, which is really important.

And  then I also introduced, when it comes to the energy consideration, a  bill in partnership with community - 1490, House Bill 1490. And it's  really looking at the fact that during this time with COVID-19  moratorium, we've made sure that no matter anyone's ability to pay, we  are not disconnecting people's electricity or heat. I grew up - I'm the  oldest of four children. I grew up very, very poor, amongst many, many  poor neighbors in rural Missouri. And many times over my lifetime as a  child, experienced what it was to have our utilities shut off and what  it was to try to make it through the day. And certainly, I can  appreciate as a parent now - I literally could not do my life if we did  not have electricity right now with COVID-19. My children could not go  to school. I could not go to work. I could not apply for a job. I could  not check on my neighbors and other folks who I can't be next to because  I'm social distancing as we keep each other safe. It is literally a  lifeline to folks to have these basic needs. And what I love is that  Front and Centered, Puget Sound Sage, and others - have formed a  statewide coalition talking about - we need to think about energy  differently. And is this actually a right that folks have? And what is  it to continue to care for our neighbors?

So  I'm really excited about this bill. We had a great hearing this year.  We're going to continue to refine and make this bill even stronger over  interim. I would love to have neighbors as part of that conversation.  We'll probably have a couple of community sessions to talk about this  issue and how it impacts neighbors here. So a lot of really big  questions. And then for the first time this year, what I'm really  excited about with the Growth Management Act conversation - the Growth  Management Act is a state level act that actually tells us  prescriptively - how do we make decisions in concert with our planet and  environment when we're building everything from roads, to bridges, to  housing infrastructure, to parks and recreation, everything we build and  have input on? And for the first time, we have environmental justice as  a definition within the Growth Management Act to really get us on that  path of community-led - Brown, Black, Indigenous community-led -  perspective on what it is to think of a justice frame, a social justice  frame, along with our environmental work.

Crystal Fincher: [00:26:57]  Well, and that is just so exciting to me. And kind of on the face - to a  lot of people may like, "Growth Management Act? What is that?" But as a  former land use and planning board member at the municipal level  myself, it really is the lens through which you are required to make all  decisions. So to be able to have that in policy and institutionalized  is major. Going into the session, there were lots of places and people  saying Black Lives Matter, but how to turn that into policy, how to show  that with your work? And that is certainly a big step towards doing  that. So I thank you for just making the process more accessible, for  understanding the importance of working along with community, and just  for being you - I appreciate that. And allowing so many other people to  see themselves in the legislature and to see how it works when they're  heard and how to navigate through it.

So  no secret, I am a Kirsten Harris-Talley fan. But I do think that you  show what is possible when you lead with values and you make an effort  to bring everyone along with you. And if we continue to show that that  produces winning coalitions and even better policy - and that when we  help people, they support policies that help - and you don't have to  continue to try and bash people over the head to make them vote for  something on the promise that it might help, and maybe we'll deliver a  promise, but saying "You had my back. So I will continue to make sure  you can pass policy that helps." So I appreciate that and taking the  time and just thank you for the time that you spent, and we'll keep an  eye on things in the legislature. And of course, put all of the links to  what we've discussed in the show notes today.

Rep. Kirsten Harris-Talley: [00:28:53]  Thank you. Thank you for continuing to keep these dialogues happening  and keeping us all connected. I have deep appreciation for you and this  entire team and what you all bring with this show. It's one of my  favorite political shows. So thank you so much.

Crystal Fincher: [00:29:10]  Thank you for listening to Hacks and Wonks. Our chief audio engineer at  KVRU is Maurice Jones Jr. The producer of Hacks and Wonks is Lisl  Stadler. You can find me on Twitter @finchfrii, spelled F-I-N-C-H  F-R-I-I. And now you can follow Hacks and Wonks on iTunes, Spotify, or  wherever else you get your podcasts. Just type in "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. You can also  get a full text transcript of this episode and links to the resources  referenced during the show at and in the  podcast episode notes.

Thanks for tuning in. Talk to you next time.