Shasti Conrad, Newly-elected Chair of the Washington State Democratic Party

Shasti Conrad, Newly-elected Chair of the Washington State Democratic Party

On this midweek show, newly-elected Chair of the Washington State Democratic Party Shasti Conrad joins Crystal for a conversation on what the role entails, lessons learned from the previous Chair, and her plans for continuing forward as a strong and effective political party. As leader of an umbrella organization for local party organizations across the state, Shasti acknowledges the futility of a top-down approach and the need to listen and to understand what resonates with Democrats from different areas. Discussion of her plans to broaden the Party’s appeal includes creating inclusive spaces, expanding the base, messaging Democratic wins, and showing up and investing in rural areas.

Crystal and Shasti then tackle the question of “who is a Democrat” and the dilemma faced in sharing Party resources with: those who are ideologically aligned but not labeled as D, versus those who self-label as D but are not ideologically aligned. Finally, Shasti shares her dream of strengthening the Party through bench building of candidates and support staff by making campaign work attractive, which includes taking seriously the violence and hostility predominantly targeting Black candidates and staff members, building sustainable pipelines for careers in politics, and encouraging good working conditions through unionization.

About the Guest

Shasti Conrad

Shasti Conrad was elected as Chair of the Washington State Democratic Party in January 2023. She is the first woman of color and youngest chair of the Washington State Democrats! She is also the first South Asian woman to lead a state party in the entire country! Previously, Shasti was the Chair of the King County Democrats from 2018-2022, making her the first woman of color chair in the org’s history. She is a versatile strategist and thought leader with a broad range of political, policy and operations experience within government at all levels and throughout the private and non-profit sectors. She launched her own consulting firm in 2016 to support government, campaign, and business clients looking to better our world. She was named to the American Association of Political Consultants’ 40 under 40 list and Seattle Met’s 100 Most Influential List (top 10 in politicos category).

Find Shasti Conrad on Twitter/X at @ShastiConrad and the Washington State Democratic Party at @washdems.


Washington State Democratic Party

Washington State Democrats Elect Shasti Conrad as Party Chair” from Washington State Democrats

WA Democrats choose Shasti Conrad as new leader” by David Gutman from The Seattle Times

Building Resilient Organizations: Toward Joy and Durable Power in a Time of Crisis” by Maurice Mitchell for Convergence Magazine


[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 thrilled to be welcoming back to the program, the now-Chair of the Washington State Democrats - Shasti Conrad - welcome.

[00:01:01] Shasti Conrad: Hi Crystal, it's so great to be here.

[00:01:03] Crystal Fincher: Great to have you here. So you were just recently elected as the chair of the Washington State Democrats, after a pretty notable tenure as the Chair of the King County Democrats. Starting off for a lot of people who may not be familiar - what does the Chair of the Democratic Party do?

[00:01:24] Shasti Conrad: That is a great question and one that I have been getting quite a bit. So the State Party Chair, basically - I see it - job number one is to win elections for Democrats up and down the ballot. That's job number one. Job number two is really studying the vision and strategy for what the Democratic Party looks like, how it works, how it's built here in Washington State. We're here to work with our allies in labor and to build winning coalitions across the state and across the progressive movement. I've often described the party as - we are the steady drumbeat - we are here to make sure that candidates and campaigns have the resources that they need, that they have the volunteers, that they have the - they know the relationships, the community leaders. And then the candidates in the campaigns - they bring the jazz, right? They bring the energy, the nuances that match the different communities that they're representing - and we're here doing all year-round organizing to make sure that we're ready for whoever steps forward to run for office - that we can support them and get them across the finish line.

[00:02:36] Crystal Fincher: That makes sense. So now you are taking over after Tina Podlodowski stepped down after a pretty successful run, by those metrics, as the Chair of the State Party. What lessons did you learn from Tina, and what are you carrying forward from her?

[00:02:53] Shasti Conrad: I think that Tina deserves a ton of credit for the successes that we have had here in Washington state for the last six years. We had the three most successful cycles in terms of delivering Democratic wins across the state. We elected the most diverse State Legislature - each cycle we just kept improving and growing our majorities - this past cycle was probably one of the most successful cycles that we've had, certainly one of the best for Democrats in probably at least 20 years. We now have control of - the Democrats are in office for all of the statewide offices. We finally got a Secretary of State for the first time in, I think, 56 years as a Democrat in Secretary Hobbs. And so much of that credit does go to Tina. I think Tina really built the State Party as an organizing machine - she invested in it. We talked about doing this multi-cycle organizing, all year-round organizing. She helped to move the Party from it being - there were times when I think the Party was a bit of a social club - it was a bit about just who of our friends were gonna run for some of these different offices. And Tina really, especially in the Trump era, really built up the resistance and helped us make sure that we were winning.

We can't lose any of that ground. Tina was a great ally for me these last several years while I was Chair of the King County Democrats, and so I learned a great deal from her. And we're not gonna go backwards, that's for sure. I think Tina would be the first one to say this, which is - now that we've built such a solid organizing foundation, in my tenure my hope is that we get to grow and expand it, particularly in bringing in more diverse folks into the Party. And that's inclusive of young people, that's inclusive of people of color, communities of color - and really helping to get more people into these leadership roles. The Washington State Democrats - we're comprised of 88 different local party organizations, so there's a lot of different regionality, diversity - but I think across the Democratic Party, we have our work cut out in trying to make sure that we are fully reflective of the state. And there's some of that work that I think I definitely wanna grow upon what Tina has built.

[00:05:17] Crystal Fincher: Now you mentioned those local party organizations - like county party organizations, legislative district organizations, affinity caucuses, that type of thing. I think a lot of people don't realize necessarily that those are not branches, those are not subsidiaries of the State Party - they're actually their own independent organizations, their own bylaws, and can do what they want. They can't in most situations be told what to do by the State Party - it doesn't work like that. So basically it's a big statewide coalition of Democratic organizations. In that kind of structure, how do you galvanize and expand the organizing footprint in the entire state - in more metropolitan areas like King County, in rural areas in Central and Eastern Washington, Southwest Washington - and lots of different areas, different needs, different representation, different issues that they may be dealing with. How do you approach that, or how will you approach that across the state?

[00:06:19] Shasti Conrad: Yeah, it's definitely a tall order to try to get all oars in the water rowing in the same direction. I have found that it's - we can be unified in our values, but it's important for us to be localized in our messaging. We're certainly seeing this here in Washington state, but I think this is something that the entire Democratic Party writ large is dealing with, which is that urban and rural divide and really thinking about - the ways in which we talk about things in King County and Seattle doesn't necessarily work in Spokane or in Walla Walla. And I look at Washington state as a microcosm for national Democratic Party politics. In Washington state, we have Pramila Jayapal, who is the Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. We now have Representative Suzan DelBene, who leads the DCCC, which is more moderate arm of trying to make sure that we are helping Democratic Congressional members get re-elected. And then you have our newest member of the Congressional delegation in Marie Perez. And Marie ran in - down in Southwestern Washington - as a very working class, working mom Democrat that was able to work with Republicans and get Republicans to support her. She won by just a couple thousand votes against a complete MAGA Republican. And so that's a big spectrum. And that is what I, as Chair, have to try to make sure that folks along that full spectrum feel that the Democratic party is theirs.

And so like you said, each of the different party organizations are their own entities. It's not a top-down approach. We, as the State Party, are somewhat of an umbrella organization, but we're here to work alongside those different party organizations. And so it's a lot of just - it's a lot of listening, it's a lot of really making sure that folks are feeling that their lived experience is valued, that their perspective - that they know their neighbors, that they know what's gonna work with talking to their neighbors and moving them along. And that there's space for that, that it doesn't just come down from on high. One of the things that I've spent the last several years having to do quite often is unpacking when people say - Oh, the Democrats. It's like - Okay, but who are you actually frustrated with? Are you frustrated with the DNC, which sets the national stage and national messaging? Are you frustrated with the Senate Caucus or the House Caucus? Are you frustrated with your local party organization? What are these different pieces, and how do they all work together in this big ecosystem? And how can we help? How can we address your concerns? And a lot of that, I think, comes down to just people-to-people canvassing and organizing in those conversations, as well as really making sure that the messaging is resonant in those particular communities.

[00:09:15] Crystal Fincher: So you talked about expanding the organizing apparatus - certainly something that you've talked about. In your tenure as Chair of the King County Democrats, was participating in all elections - not just the even-year elections right now that are legislative statewide, but also in what are currently - hopefully not for much longer - but currently odd-year elections for school boards, city councils, mayors, county council positions. Those elections haven't traditionally seen a lot of participation or engagement from the Democratic Party and local party organizations. What is gonna be your approach to that?

[00:09:58] Shasti Conrad: Definitely. I think we saw, particularly in the last several years, the ways in which the Republican Party was doing a better job at building the bench than we were. They were having their folks run, and they were - run for these various seats, like you just said, like school boards and city council seats and whatnot. And they were going unchallenged. Democrats were not running for them because we just weren't paying attention in a lot of ways - we weren't indexing what all of those opportunities were. When I was Chair of King County Democrats, in an odd year, we had over 300 seats that folks could run for. And folks just didn't know that. And as soon as we started to talk about that, and started to actually really recruit, and also demystify the process - people didn't even know - how do you run? What does it take to run? How do I get onto the ballot? And once we started saying - Actually, there's a filing week in May where you go to - for King County Elections, or whatever your local county elections office is - and you can file online. Sometimes they have different fees, but they range in size - and you get your name on the ballot, and then you get to know your neighbors, and you encourage folks to vote for you.

And so already this year at the State Party, I have asked our data team to look at opportunities where - what are the races across the state that we could win, that are at a nice edge. And one of the - really excited about this - so one of the things we just found when we were looking at the data this past week is that in the town of Sunnyside, which is in Yakima County, there are three seats that are up that are currently held by people that are leaning Republican. All three of those people won by less than 100 votes when they ran last time - one won by one vote. All three of them are men and they lean Republican. Sunnyside is a city that is 70% Latino. If we do the organizing work, if we get a Spanish language organizer, if we encourage those people to register to vote, we get some great candidates who represent the community - we could get those seats. And we could really make a difference that then, once those folks have some experience - their name's already been on a ballot - then in a couple of years, maybe they decide that they run for the next level of government. Maybe they even run for the State Legislature. And people have gotten to know them, they've been able to build up a resume. And that's the type of investment and engagement that I think is gonna be really important and a real opportunity for us to change up, particularly in these places that when you look at the map, they just look red. But then when you can get underneath that, there might be some opportunities where we can actually make a difference, pick up some of those seats, and start changing who's representing these folks.

[00:12:51] Crystal Fincher: And part of that is also recruiting candidates. You talked about recruiting great candidates - that's been an area where there have been some excellent successes and there's still a lot of opportunity, some things haven't quite been mined yet for opportunity. What do you see the Party's role in developing leaders, and what can the Party do to help that happen?

[00:13:12] Shasti Conrad: Yeah, I think - for years, we've talked about developing campaign-in-a-box - having some of these templates of - it's just people just don't, they don't know, right? They don't know - how do I find a treasurer? How do I set up a website? How do I - do I need to put a mailer together? How do I call people? How do I do all of these things? And for those of us who've been in this work, we do this year after year, but most people just - they're living their lives, they're not paying attention to the ins and outs of political work. And so I think that's something that we can develop the resources and the tools - there's been, especially in the Trump, post-Trump era - there've been a number of outside organizations that have developed really solid candidate training programs like Emerge, Institute for a Democratic Future, there's Run for Something, She Should Run - there's a bunch of these different organizations that are doing a great job. And I think that that's where we can partner with those folks. We've had our own candidate training program at Rise and Organize in the State Party.

I am really passionate about training up the next generation of staffers and campaign managers and doing that type of leadership as well, because I also think that that's partially what we're missing in the ecosystem - is all of that support. So you get someone who's gonna step forward and decide to run, but they need help - they need a Crystal Fincher in their support system. And we need to be developing more of us that can help them do that, so I think that's something that we'll tackle in this next cycle as well, if the State Party is developing that training and organizing training. And then on the candidate recruitment side, it's really, it's just, it's finding those gems of talent. There are such great community leaders who - they're really active in their churches or they're really active - they're a nonprofit leader. They're doing this great work, but they just never thought about running for office. But talking about the impact and talking about - Okay, you're able to do this great work in your community or in your job. Let's take it to the macro level. Let's help you be able to do it for cities, and school boards, and the State Legislature, and things like that.

[00:15:20] Crystal Fincher: Another issue that I think people on the ground, who may not pay close attention to party politics but they look around and they look at who Democrats are nationally, looking locally who are Democrats - wondering - there's lots of talk about - Okay, should Democrats be trying to win voters who may be disaffected from the Republican Party, or focus more on turning out people who may not be motivated to vote often for whatever reason. Do you do both? Do you do neither? What is that? And who is the base? Who is the party? Who is a Democrat? How do you approach that? Is this a big tent party that takes anyone? Is this a party that has strict ideological boundaries? What do you think that is and what will your approach be as Chair?

[00:16:12] Shasti Conrad: Certainly, and I think that those answers are different in different places throughout the state, throughout the country. We are certainly a big tent. We have to create a space where the Party feels like it's welcoming, feels like it's inclusive, feels like it's a place where folks can make it their own. We need to be clear and aligned in our values - which is that we stand up for human rights, we stand up for people who are vulnerable, we're about choice, we're about freedom. These are the things that we are clear about. But there are some places where - I go back to CD3 because of just, it's the most, it's the biggest example of where that was a real opportunity for growth for us, because Marie Perez really did have to have conversations with folks who had been supporters of the Republican Party, who had voted for Jaime Herrera Beutler. But as the Republican Party has become more and more radicalized - where they are - they're not speaking for folks who maybe are a little bit conservative in their, some of their values, but for the most part are just trying to feed their families, get to work, pay the bills. The Republican Party has abandoned those folks too. And we have to be able to say the Democratic Party will make space for you if you are willing to recognize that there are some of these lines that will not be crossed, which is that we believe that everyone has right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and all of that.

And then I also think that we have to expand the base. And that means really making investments with - into communities of color, young people - I think the Party is dealing with a relevancy problem when it comes to young folks, right? Young people have seen across their entire lives the ways in which our biggest challenges keep not being addressed. And at times, on both sides of the aisle, politicians have paid a lot of lip service but nothing changes. You can feel that, you can feel the lack of movement, and then this prioritizing of incrementalism over actually doing big, bold changes - transformative work. And so we have to demonstrate that we actually are going to do the work, that we're going to make the change, that we're going to not just talk the talk. Joe Biden wasn't my first choice as president several years ago, but he has - you have to give him credit for the fact that he has been a very progressive president. We have done big things underneath his leadership the last several years, and we're not doing a good job of talking about that. We're not doing a great job of actually messaging to say - Look at what the childcare tax credit was able to do - it halved childhood poverty, it made a big difference. We are delivering and bringing infrastructure projects back into the state - money is getting moved, things are improving. The economy has been tough, but we're making it through. That's under Democratic leadership. That is without Republicans helping. And . We believe in climate change. The Republicans don't. And these are big issues, particularly I think for young people as they're looking at a future that feels like it might be worse than their parents'. So we've got to do that work. And I think we've got to actually make it action oriented too. And that's a big part of what my job will be and what we will be trying to set with the State Party is that direction and that - those changes to make the Party feel like it is a much more welcoming place and a place where people can do good work and see change happen.

[00:19:55] Crystal Fincher: I think that's spot on, really smart to recognize. Younger people actually are - definitely are feeling disaffected, trying to find reasons why they should trust institutions or institutional power after seeing so many examples of it not being helpful. And that you have to have an action-oriented approach that enables people to see the change around them without relying on rhetoric or seeing that rhetoric unfulfilled. With that, how do you play a role in messaging what Democrats are doing on a national and statewide level? How can the party improve that?

[00:20:34] Shasti Conrad: One of my frustration points from the last several years is I have felt we spent a lot of time identifying and speaking about our values in reaction to the other side. And you heard me probably just do it just a few minutes ago. And so often we put ourselves against - because that's who they are, we are this. And I think it's important that we start to make the shift where we start to take some of the power back and start to control the narrative by saying - This is what it means to be a Democrat. And this is what Democrats are delivering. This is what Democrats are doing. Like I said, we are the party of choice and freedom and opportunity and optimism. We're more than just the fight, right? And also I think a lot of times we just talk about winning and losing elections, but I wanna take us also to the - how are we making a difference in people's lives? What does it mean to win? Because just winning - sure, we pat ourselves on the back, we get to run up the score and be like - Look, we have this many more than them and good for us. But is it actually making a change? Are people actually feeling like they are better represented, that their lives are improving because we have the majority in the State Legislature here in Washington state?

I think that's true, but we have to make sure that we're talking about that. When things are getting passed through the State Legislature, when we're taking up the middle income housing bill, when we're taking up gun safety bills, when we are looking at the wealth tax - these are things that are going to actually make an improvement on people's experience, what their time on this earth is gonna be like. And that, I think, is really important for us to talk about and take it to that next step. And I think folks are tired - they're tired of the - we get these emails where it's like urgent, deadline, biggest fight of our lives. And it's hard because it's true - every election is, feels like it's the most important one - but at some point that just, it's burning folks out. And so we've got to just be able to be honest and level with folks - Hey, I don't know if this is gonna be radically different, but this is the right step that we need to take. It's like I-135 - I was so happily surprised that it did as well as it did. It's a step in the right direction. Is it gonna solve the housing and homelessness crisis in Seattle? No, but it is going to help us move in a direction where we can actually start to look at some solutions. And so I'm grateful that folks decided to step forward and vote and participate and do, especially in an off-cycle, odd year election. And again, it's we just have to be - we have to be able to level with folks. And that, I think, is a change in tone that I hope I can help to bring to the Party here in Washington state.

[00:23:22] Crystal Fincher: I think Seattle's Initiative 135 for social housing is a really great and instructive example for how we can organize and what the opportunity is. We saw seniors who were afraid that they weren't gonna be able to age in place. We saw young people who wanted to make sure that there was gonna be a space for them in the community - urbanists, communities of color. The DSA was canvassing in support. We saw local democratic party organizations - from the King County Democrats, 46th District Democrats, and a number of folks and coalitions coming together. Some elected leaders, community leaders, activists - all coalescing around this. And really willed that to victory, as you said, during an off-year - not in those higher turnout elections that have Congresspeople and the president on the ballot. And in February, no less - I'm still excited by that.

But it does bring up some interesting questions going back to - Okay, who is a Democrat and who is the Democratic Party there to serve? Because in Washington state, particularly to a degree that a lot of other states don't, there's an interesting dynamic here in that it's not just the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. Certainly we have very competitive Democratic and Republican races - we've both been involved in quite a few of those. But also in several areas in King County, especially in Seattle, Washington - Republicans aren't as much of a competitive party to Democrats as the DSA, Democratic Socialists of America, or the People's Party. People who predominantly skew younger and don't necessarily find themselves completely aligned with the Democratic Party - a lot of times due to national issues - but are saying, I am aligned with these values. I am finding more action and I feel that there is more honesty about those values outside of the Democratic Party in something like the DSA or other organizations. And that playing out in interesting ways, whether it's access to the Party database and VoteBuilder, endorsements in local party organizations, and so on and so forth. How will you be going about defining who is a Democrat, in ways that are consequential when it comes to running for office or advancing policy and the utilization of State Party resources?

[00:25:52] Shasti Conrad: You have to be able to say that you're a Democrat, right? You have to be willing to identify as a Democrat in order for us to be able to share those resources. It's like any other kind of club or organization - you have to be willing to sit with us at the lunch table and say that you're willing to work with us to be able to do that.

But I am clear that, particularly in urban areas in Seattle and King County in particular, that we as a Democratic Party - we have been losing out folks to alternative parties. You mentioned DSA, Working Families Party, the People's Party - we have been losing out. And particularly young people are finding that moving to some of these other parties is where they feel like they identify better, that they feel like they're being seen, that they feel like they're able to get more work done. And I think that's something that we have to address. We talk a lot about recruitment. We talk a lot about trying to get people to come into the Party. But I don't think we've spent enough time really talking about - what is the experience of being in the Party? It's the retention piece of it - it is the experience of when you come into a party organization - who are you being met by? Are our folks being welcoming? It's not a secret that a lot of our Party spaces are - it's mostly run by folks that are older, it's retired folks - because they have the time. And I value that work - so I've learned from so many of our elders, who have been organizing and doing this work since the '60s, right? And they have committed their lives to doing this. And that is something that I value and appreciate and respect.

But you look at any kind of organization, company, brand - and if your workforce was all 65 and older, you would say - That's probably not a sustainable brand. We've got to figure something out. And so I think making room to create these intergenerational communities where younger people can see themselves - and not just as tokenized members, but as leaders. I'm the first woman of color in this role. And I'm also the youngest Chair - I'm under 40, and that makes me the youngest Chair in Washington State Party's history. And I think that I'm a marker of showing what - this next generation of leadership - that it's time. It's time for us to move into these roles and into - both in terms of the visibility, but also in just the change in perspective and the ways that we organize. And that's something that I think is - we're gonna have to show that. We do a lot of telling, but we're gonna have to really demonstrate that those changes are gonna happen. And that - particularly those younger folks that are choosing to go to other spaces, that they can see themselves in the work.

Really quickly, I'll just say Maurice Mitchell, who's the head of the Working Families Party nationally, wrote a really beautiful article a couple months ago where he talked about what was needed for continuing the work in the progressive movement. And he talked about the need to be able to meet the moment, to build winning coalitions, and to bring joy into the work. And what I say to that is - I agree 100% - we are in alignment there. It's just maybe a little bit of a difference in tactics and in institutions. My sense is that the Democratic Party is what we have and what will be here, and that it needs to be built and transformed from within - to be able to meet the moment, to be able to build winning coalitions. And we've got to infuse it with more joy - to push back against the institutional burnout that is happening everywhere. And my hope is by doing that, folks will see that we, the Democratic Party, can also be a part of where they can do their organizing work. It can be a part of the coalitions that they want to be a part of, and that they'll see themselves as members of the Democratic Party, alongside maybe some of these other organizations.

[00:29:49] Crystal Fincher: And following up on that - just because this has come up in so many different situations and circumstances here in Washington state, so you say - Okay, you need to be a member of the Party. Can someone align themselves with more than one party? If they say - Hey, I'm in DSA and I'm a Democrat? Do you feel that that counts as membership in the Democratic Party? Does it have to be exclusively the Democratic Party? I know some local party organizations have different approaches to this. What is the State Party approach?

[00:30:21] Shasti Conrad: It is a case-by-case scenario. Again, as we talked about earlier, each of the party organizations have their own rules, their own sets of how they do things. And so I don't think that it's right for us, at the state, to go against what some of those different organizations have said. So it is case by case, but I will always just advocate that I want folks to feel proud to be a Democrat and so it is important - to be able to have access to resources and whatnot - that they are willing to say that and are willing to come and be a part of the work. And we have wonderful volunteers that are part of this Party that are doing great work. And I hope that folks who maybe have been a little bit wary of getting involved in the Party will just come and give it a try, and will see that it's a new day and folks are, I think, a bit more willing to work with people who come from different backgrounds and different perspectives.

[00:31:17] Crystal Fincher: Definitely. And it is a very King County-centric issue to be having to negotiate through - Okay, we seem to be aligned on values, but this person says they're in the People's Party and we're Democrats - and working through that. But what has happened in situations where there is a clear lack of alignment, whether it be from people who are self-labeling themselves as Democrats - but who are predominantly supported by Republicans, or just officially endorsed by the Republican Party, have a history supporting and donating to Republicans. And that has been called out by your predecessor, Tina Podlodowski, in a few different situations - revoking access to the Party database, or preventing access to Party resources, and standing behind the refusal to endorse from several organizations. Do you anticipate that continuing? What's your approach to people who seem to be clearly misaligned, but who insist on calling themselves Democrats?

[00:32:22] Shasti Conrad: Certainly, this is - probably at times I was somebody who was like - Hey, Tina, what do we do here? And maybe was pushing her in some ways on some of these issues. And now, as I'm in the role, I understand better what the challenges are - 'cause it's nuanced. To be able to set one policy that works for the entire state, it's difficult because the issues here in King County are - this person wants to organize with the Working Families Party, can they also be considered a Democrat? In other parts of the state, it's - No, this person is a full Republican, but we don't have any Democrats that are running. Can we endorse the Republican? And then we even had a case last year in King County where somebody was running as a Democrat who was on a - that was for a white supremacist rally. And those are our data we have to be so careful with. This is people's personal private data that we are responsible for, and so we have to be careful about how that is shared. And so that is something that I take very seriously. And I think that there's a lot more that we could be doing to ensure privacy and security for our candidates, for our elected officials, for our members, for our volunteers, and whatnot. And so these are things that I now think about when making these types of decisions - that it was easier when I wasn't in the catbird seat to be able to say - Hey, why can't we do X, Y, and Z? And it's - Now I'm on the inside, I get it. So these will be things that we'll get and review as they come up, but it is certainly a challenge and I think making sure that our folks are safe is the number one priority.

[00:34:06] Crystal Fincher: That makes sense. There was - speaking of folks being safe - several notable instances of predominantly Black candidates and staff members of those Black candidates being targeted for violence and hostility during campaigns. Several of those instances made news, several more didn't - but certainly a concern among people who are volunteering and who are turning out in the Party apparatus to help their local and federal candidates. What is the Party's responsibility in keeping candidates safe, especially those candidates who have shown to be targeted at a higher rate than others? And what more can the Party do to address that?

[00:34:50] Shasti Conrad: Absolutely, yeah. It's candidates - it's also their staff and their volunteers. We had a number of cases this last year where a Black campaign manager was targeted. We had volunteers who were followed and whatnot. Already, I've talked with members of our Black Caucus to say - Let's be proactive. 'Cause one of the things that I've heard quite a bit was - these things would happen, and then after the fact, there'd be some kind of - Okay, now what? But then action maybe wasn't taken. And we know that the environment that we are in right now is - it's very heightened. And that's particularly, it's even though that white hot light is even harder on people of color - we just know that particularly Black people. So I definitely want to be proactive in making sure that we have thought through safety and security plans as folks are starting to get back out on the campaign trail, that we have talked through what kind of security support we can provide. I think it's something that needs to be tackled by the ecosystem, so that's something that needs to be worked through with the caucuses as well - the House and the Senate - because they also support folks that are running for those seats. And working with the specific folks to make sure that this is something that they actually want.

And yeah, I take it very seriously. And I think about it too - I'm a woman of color who - I live in south Snohomish County and I've got white supremacists in my neighborhood. And I know that feeling - both in terms of there's a physical threat, but there's also the psychological, the emotional, the mental, like all of that - of just knowing that these folks that are right here, who want to destroy what we believe in and want to hurt us, right? They see us as the enemy, so I take all of that very, very seriously. And I think that's something I would love to maybe come back - and if you can help me put together a group too - to talk through what that looks like and how we can build solid safety plans for our folks.

[00:36:48] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely - have been involved in those conversations - happy to be helpful in any way I can. You talked about Marie Gluesenkamp Perez earlier who, in the Third Congressional District, won what was probably the biggest upset in the country last November - in winning her race over Joe Kent for the seat previously held by Jaime Herrera Beutler. What do you take away as lessons from that race, and how will Democrats be showing up in rural areas in your tenure?

[00:37:18] Shasti Conrad: I think it was clear - we can't miss these opportunities. We can't take them for granted. We have to do the direct people-to-people organizing. And I think it's particularly true in rural communities, but I find that it's true also in communities of color where - in these places where they have often felt left behind, dismissed by the Democratic Party, we have to build trust - and it takes showing up, not just showing up only in the fall of an even year, but it takes showing up throughout the year, being there. And it's being neighborly. It's like - How are you? What do you need? What's going on in your life? It's asking and actually getting to know folks. Something a lot of people don't know about me, but I actually grew up on a farm. I grew up in a small town in Oregon. I grew up on a farm - we had ducks and chickens and sheep. My task as a small kid was to go get the eggs from the chicken coop every day, and I talked about this a lot as I was campaigning and whatnot. My grandmother really taught me how we would trade the chicken eggs with the neighbor down the street who had a beehive and we would get honey from them. And then you'd have the neighborly conversation of - Hey, how are you? How are the kids? You'd get to know - okay, if you wanted to meet up with so and so, the best time to see them was at church. Or everybody would go to the local Shari's and go after church. Or if you wanted to talk to Bob, you'd see him at the local pub on Wednesday nights - and that's where you would find these folks. And so getting to actually know them, talk to them - that it takes this people-to-people, conversation-by-conversation relationship building to be able to demonstrate that you are a real person who cares and wants to make their lives better. And because they know you, and you're saying - I believe that Marie Gluesenkamp Perez is gonna make the difference - then they'll trust you. And that just takes time. You have to operate at the speed of trust. And that's particularly true, I think, in rural communities - but I am finding that to be the case in the Latino community, in the tribal communities, Black community, Asian API community - this is true just with organizing and with people, but particularly with folks who have felt like they've been sold a bill of goods before by many politicians.

So yeah, so I think this type of organizing is what matters. I just heard about - last week, there was a house party for Marie and 140 people showed up - and that's exciting. And in February of an even year - folks are excited - they want to help. They wanna make sure that we return Marie in two years and that she has the support. Marie held the first town hall that that district had had in years because Jaime Herrera Beutler wasn't doing town halls. And she's talking to people who didn't vote for her. And she's talking to people who didn't think that she would represent them. And she's demonstrating - no, I represent this whole district and I'm gonna show up - even if you're gonna tell me you don't like me, I'm here. And that is what we have to do. And it's gonna take several years probably for some of these districts to change, particularly in Central and Eastern Washington. But if we make the investment, we do the organizing work - we have to be ready for when an opportunity presents itself for us to get that and flip those seats.

[00:40:38] Crystal Fincher: So I know we're right at the beginning of your tenure - you're just starting out, learning everything, getting your feet underneath you. But what might that look like operationally and in practice? Is that more satellite offices across the state and in rural areas? Is that hiring a different kind of organizer underneath a different kind of model? What can that look like?

[00:40:59] Shasti Conrad: Everything costs money, and so I have to go raise the money to go make this happen. But my dream is to develop a organizing pipeline that is particular to rural communities, and maybe even developing an organizing fellowship at some of the rural colleges, community colleges throughout the state - where we can actually develop folks who come from the communities to get the right training, but then get hired into the organizing jobs - onto the Coordinated Campaign where we can actually keep them and support them so that they're not only there for a few months at a time, but actually are building these relationships over several years. And then when we have a Coordinated Campaign and that's over, that we have a place to be able to move those organizers - to go work with the unions and do union organizing when it's not high campaign season and then move them over to us, getting them into internship programs with different agencies and things like that.

I benefited from the fact that I was a college student who graduated into Barack Obama running for president back in 2008. And had I not had those opportunities early in my life, early in my career - I would not be here today, I would have picked another job, I wouldn't have stayed in politics. But there were opportunities that presented themselves - and the mentors and people supporting me - and then one job turned into another and suddenly it's been 15+ years and here I am. And I just think that there's so many Shastis out there. There's so many folks, but they just haven't had the opportunity and the support. And like the rest of the country and so many other industries, young people are like - How am I gonna take care of myself? How am I gonna pay the bills? And if politics and working for a local government and whatnot doesn't pay the bills and those opportunities aren't there - they're gonna leave their home communities, and they're gonna take jobs with Amazon, or they're gonna take jobs that are steady paychecks, and we're gonna lose them for a generation. They're gonna - it's hard to get off those trains when you're on them. And so we've got to build those opportunities, and we've got to - one of the things that I'm really excited about potentially doing is I really wanna work with the youth councils on the reservations to really talk about job opportunities in the political sector - and running for office themselves - but also being a campaign manager, being an organizer, finding those opportunities. So that they can see that there's this whole other world of opportunities and jobs that could help them to stay in their own communities, but also take them around the world to work on other campaigns all over the place if they would like to.

[00:43:42] Crystal Fincher: That makes sense. And thank you for spending all of this time with us, being generous with your time. As we begin to wrap up, I want to draw inward a little bit. We've talked about what the Party will be doing within the community and your approach to that. But I also wanna talk about staff, really - of the State Party, of campaigns, of Democratic electeds serving in office - and this conversation that we've been having, that's been evolving, about unionization, working conditions, supporting workers in that. We have lots of labor partners, as a Party entity, and alignments there. But there has been, frankly, a mixed reception from a lot of people when it comes to the unionization of campaign workers, for campaigns across the board - this is something that has certainly made it to legislative and congressional campaigns. There may be conversations about that in some local campaigns - we have seen a few instances of that. But also within the Party, legislative staffers just had a battle to get some of that kicked off. Do you think that campaign workers should be able to be represented by a union? And what guidance and examples are you providing for local electeds and other progressive organizations?

[00:45:02] Shasti Conrad: 100%. I actually believe that the State Party - under Tina's leadership, to give credit where credit's due - was the first State Party to unionize. And that's not without its challenges, right? People have been figuring it out as they go - we've been building the plane as we flew it, and so I think that's been - some of the trying to find the right home for Campaign Workers Union, trying to work through the particular seasonal working issues that come with being on campaigns and whatnot. But I think it's incredibly important. I remember what it was like as a young person where I was in unpaid internships - I was certainly working way more than 40 hours a week at times on campaigns and didn't have much recourse of things were happening, where to go to. And so I think it's a vast improvement of where we were 10 years ago, 20 years ago - certainly the last couple of years. So yeah, I think we will certainly encourage the candidates that come through that they should unionize their staff, depending on the size, on all of that - but I think it's really important.

I did the Pathway to Power program last year that's put on by the Washington State Labor Council and learned a lot about labor issues, but learned a lot also about - in the role of candidate or chair or whatnot, how to leave room for your staff and workers to be able to unionize and the ways to show support. But also that means sometimes taking a step back and allowing them to take the lead and not having - you now have to see yourself as a manager, and not putting yourself on both sides of the table and things like that. So there's things that we're still working through to have all of this stuff figure itself out, but I think it's incredibly important. I was excited to see that I believe the - nationally, I believe that the Democratic Congressional staffers unionized and I think here in Washington State, we're gonna continue to see those unionizing efforts happen in all parts of our ecosystem, and I think it's a really exciting thing. As I've been talking to labor union leaders - particularly the last few weeks, like I've just said - some of the best progressive wins of the last several years have been labor wins. And so we have to be good partners, and that includes unionizing efforts of our own staff, our own teams.

[00:47:16] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely, completely agree. And thank you for spending this time with us today. We'll be following along as things progress and look forward to speaking with you again. Thanks so much, Shasti.

[00:47:26] Shasti Conrad: Thank you so much - always a joy to see you and spend time with you. Thanks so much.

[00:47:29] Crystal Fincher: 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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