Pramila Jayapal Goes After Adam Kline’s Senate Seat Backed by Powerful Allies

The race is on for longtime state Senator Adam Kline’s seat. Pramila Jayapal, best known as the onetime founder of the immigrant advocacy group OneAmerica, announced today that she is throwing her hat in the ring to represent the 37th District.

Several other candidates have already announced, including Rory O’Sullivan, an attorney who manages a clinic helping renters who face eviction and Democratic activist Louis Watanabe. But the 48-year-old, Indian-born Jayapal brings the most star power so far.

Known nationally for her work with OneAmerica, which began in response to post-9/11 anti-Muslim activity, Jayapal has been showing up a lot at City Hall lately. Mayor Ed Murray appointed her as co-chair, along with former King County Executive Ron Sims, of a search committee for a new police chief. And she also serves on the mayor’s advisory committee looking at raising the minimum wage.

On day one, she comes with a host of endorsements from high-profile figures, including Murray, Sims, and four City council members (Sally Clark, Mike O’Brien, Tim Burgess and Tom Rasmussen.) Sought-after political consultant Christian Sinderman is on her team as well. The line-up is all the more impressive since Jayapal says she decided to run just late last month.

She says she was motivated by the way federal issues have been filtering down to the state level recently—think of bills like the state Dream Act that allow undocumented immigrants financial aid for college—as well as the kind of experimentation she sees going on at the local level. She mentions the effort to increase the minimum wage to $15-an-hour.

She also says she wants to go to Olympia to “try to fix it.” She’s alluding to the partisanship that resulted in two special sessions last year before legislators passed a budget.

Kline, an uber-liberal, was not known for bridging the party divide. Indeed, critics saw him an ineffective because he championed many a left-leaning bill that never went anywhere.

Jayapal seems just as liberal as Kline. Yet, it’s true, as she points out, that she has a history of reaching out to her opponents and, if not always making common cause, than at least establishing a relationship. Witness her rapport with former U.S. Attorney John McKay.

The two first met after a federal raid on a Somali-owned mini-mart in the Rainier Valley in 2001. Jayapal denounced the raid. McKay, a Republican appointed by George W. Bush, defended it. Yet the two stayed in touch for years and McKay, after he left the U.S. Attorney’s office and began to teach law at Seattle University, regularly invited to her to speak to his classes.

Jayapal also holds an MBA. Her business experience includes selling defibrillators in the Midwest and working in investment banking on Wall Street. “I don’t usually talk about it but I’m very comfortable with finance and budgets,” she says, no doubt hinting about her suitability to work on a certain task of the legislature that everybody hopes will be a less painful process next time around.

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