Sarah Smith Takes on 21-Year Incumbent Adam Smith in Washington’s 9th Congressional District

Sarah Smith worked on the Bernie Sanders campaign. She is a young working class woman who was asked by Brand New Congress to run the Washington’s 9th Congressional district seat against a long time liberal incumbent. She has knocked on 13,000 doors with her message of health care for all and making the Democrats the party of working people and not the corporate elite

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Story Transcript

MARC STEINER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner. Good to have you with us today. And as we have been doing and are going to continue to do, we are looking at elections around this country, especially focusing on places where progressive candidates are taking on, in most places, very liberal candidates. And what does that mean? What are these races really about? Who’s doing the running, and why? And we now are about to talk with Sarah Smith, who is running in the 9th Congressional District, right around Seattle, in Washington state. And Sarah, welcome. Good to have you with us.

SARAH SMITH: Of course. Thank you for having me.

MARC STEINER: So, a lot of questions here. One of the questions is when you look at the race that you’re in, I’m very curious about what motivated you to run. If you look at some of Adam’s, your opponent Smith’s campaigns over the last 21 years, Adam Smith has kind of come out in support of health care for all, endorsing $15 an hour minimum wages, banning locking up people for immigration and separating families. So what’s the core here that pushed you to run against him?

SARAH SMITH: He tends to shift very progressive right around election season. But the thing to keep in mind is- which I think is a theme for a lot of the Democrats who are being challenged by progressives right now. But the, one of the primary things for me is a lot of his legislation, if you look at it, is actually half-measures legislation.

So yeah, he’s got an infrastructure bill. But it’s for freight infrastructure, which isn’t the real area where we need overhaul in. We need it in community and civilian infrastructure. He signed onto Medicare for All after 14 years of saying it will never work. He said abolish ICE- he said he’ll never abolish ICE, he voted to install ICE. Then after a week, a week after we were both on a panel interview, he said oh, no, abolish ICE. And then about two weeks ago he flipped back and said wait, no, don’t abolish ICE. But it’s that kind of flip flopping that really sat ill with me.

But for me the number one problem, and one of the biggest concerns I have, is not only is he in an extremely progressive district, he refuses to swear off corporate money. And he takes thousands upon thousands upon thousands of dollars from the military-industrial complex. And, coincidentally, very rarely votes not in favor of anything the military wants. He says he wants to see the Pentagon audited, but then he turns around and he introduces a bill to change the name of a post office in the 9th District instead of fighting for an audit for the Pentagon. His era of politics is just over now. And people see it, and they see the half measures. They see that he is not taking a stand until he has a progressive challenger. They see that he’s refusing to move. He’s refusing to act. He’s waiting till the last second. And then he’s trying to ride Pramila Jayapal’s coattails into progressive legislation. And if he’s going to ride the coattails of a progressive woman into office, why don’t we just have a progressive woman in office to do it?

MARC STEINER: So what do you think it is about the Democratic world that even Congresswoman Jayapal endorsed your opponent?

SARAH SMITH: She did, yes. And I think that one of the things that goes on behind the scenes is a lot of stuff we don’t see. I think the way in which she endorsed Adam tells me pretty much everything I need to know. It took us about 20 minutes to find the document that it was typed in off of her House Representative website at the very bottom. So she didn’t make any kind of big announcement about it. She certainly didn’t go out of her way to tell the community that she’d endorsed him. She never bothered to meet our campaign, which is really sad. But I mean, the fact that it’s not something she’s shouting from the rooftops, and he happened to sign onto a piece of legislation she was pushing forward for immigration reform right after she did, tells me a lot about what’s going on. I think there is, there are things that happened behind the scenes that we don’t necessarily see.

And it really is unfortunate, because I think that era of politics that we’re in right now calls for people to step beyond the expectation, and stick to their morals, and stick to their values, and stick to their ethics. I think Pramila is a person who is willing to get arrested to fight for immigrant communities, and the fact that she is turning around and endorsing an establishment incumbent who is covered in war money and votes in favor of selling cluster bombs to the Saudi Arabians, I think it goes against her values and it seems antithetical to the whole message of getting corporate money out of politics. So I think it was a backdoor deal, if I’m being completely frank, and we’re hoping that if and when we win the primary election we can lean on her to either dual endorse or rescind her endorsement in the future.

MARC STEINER: So over your shoulder there there’s a, there’s a poster for the Brand New Congress. A number of you we’re talking to have been endorsed by the Brand New Congress. So talk a bit about that, and who they are, what that means that you’re endorsed by them. And Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was also endorsed by them, as are many others in this country, progressive candidates. So what is that about? And how did that play a role in your running for Congress, if it did?

SARAH SMITH: So it played a huge role in my running for Congress. After the 2016 election I promptly threw up, and then decided I needed to get involved. So I made a point to go out and try to find organizations that really wanted to do something different. If there’s one thing we learned from the 2016 elections it’s that our system is broken. And people feel really disheartened, they feel really put out, they feel really forgotten by our partisan system. And then Brand New Congress popped up. And I was like, cool, this organization is working to just focus on a message. It’s working to focus on issues. It’s not saying vote for Democrats, or Libertarians, or Greens, or Republicans, it’s saying vote for these people because of the issues and the policies that they support, and the passion that they bring to the table.

And that message really resonated with me. So I got a call from them, not far down the line after I discovered who they were, and they said someone in my community actually nominated me to run. And I had back and forth with them for a couple months, and finally I sat down and my campaign manager looks at me, and he’s like, if the ballot were to come today, would you vote for Adam Smith? And I said, well, you know, it would depend who else is on the ballot. And he looks at me and goes, be who else is on the ballot. And I said, I can’t argue with that.

So we decided to jump in head first and give it a shot. And Brand New Congress was key for us to do that, because I’m a working class woman, I have no political background. I’m not coming from political dynasty. I come from a loud yelling family that are all very, very progressive. We talk about the news, and that’s about it. And I did some some, I was a precinct [inaudible] officer for a brief period of time in my legislative district. I’ve done a lot of volunteer work. I’ve worked back and forth with attorneys. But I never thought that I would run for Congress, so I didn’t even know where to start. And Brand New Congress was instrumental, because they pulled a bunch of us candidates who were nominated to their headquarters in Knoxville, Tennessee, and they trained us up. And they set us up with infrastructure, they helped us get the word out about our campaigns, they connected us.

But the big thing about the whole movement that I think is really important is it’s not just Democrats that they endorse. We also have independents on our slate. We have Republicans on our slate. And all of us have the same message. There’s a Republican here right now, actually. Marc Whitmire from Tennessee. Tennessee 2 is where he’s running. But he’s here right now, he’s canvassing in the streets in the 9th District for me right now. But he flew all the way out here because we’re [naudible] family. And the establishment will never let us in, so we have to support each other.

MARC STEINER: There’s a lot I want to ask you here, before we run out of time, but I have to stop for a minute. So you’re a progressive candidate. You’re a member of the Democratic Socialists of America. You’re running for Congress in the 9th District in Seattle. And there’s a Republican who’s running for Congress in Tennessee campaigning for you in Seattle?

SARAH SMITH: He flew up here to help in the last couple days.

MARC STEINER: You’ll have to explain- what is that political connection?

SARAH SMITH: That’s because of Brand New Congress. I mean, it’s, it’s because when I talk to Marc he, he knows that the struggles of working people in Tennessee are not that different from the struggles of working people in Seattle. They’re struggling with wage stagnation just like we’re struggling with wage stagnation. They’re struggling with the ability to get healthcare just like we’re struggling with the ability to get healthcare. They’re struggling with the with the ability to go and get a college education just like we’re struggling with the ability to go and get a college education. This message, this whole movement is from coast to coast, it goes from East Coast to West Coast, to Hawaii, to Alaska. It goes all across the country.

And one of the big things that we’ve realized as an organization is it doesn’t matter if you’re a Democrat or Republican. It matters if you’re going to fight for good policy that’s going to help improve the lives of working-class people. And Marc and I have been very close since he joined the slate. Robb Ryerse, who ran in Arkansas, we’ve been very close. We all watch each other’s elections. We get together on Zoom for election nights. It’s, it really is important to us to have that infrastructure in the system.

But I mean, we’re doing something unprecedented. We’re telling people that they don’t need to exist in one kind of box. So if you’re a Democrat, you don’t need to just be one kind of Democrat. If you’re a Republican, you don’t just need to be one kind of Republican. You can be a Republican who believes that we need to fight climate change, that we have to have debt-free education, that everybody deserves a living wage. You can be a Democrat who believes that we need progressive gun control, who believes that we need single-payer healthcare. You can, you can exist outside of these parameters we’ve set for ourselves. And the best way that we can show people we’re committed to that is by standing together and standing with each other. And that’s really what Marc’s doing up here for me. He told me a couple of days before he flew out here, he’s like, I’m going to fly up there and help. But he was real, he’s-. I saw him this morning. He’s wearing a Sarah Smith shirt. He’s sitting in my campaign office, he’s making phone calls.

But I, that’s what I’ve done. I’ve sat in my living room, I made phone calls for Robb Ryerse. I made phone calls for Paula Jean when she was running in West Virginia. I mean, we know that we don’t have that infrastructure of the establishment, because we’re running outside of them. So we’ve created our own infrastructure, and it’s become kind of like family to us. It’s important that we see each other win, because we know that these people, whether they’re Independents, Republicans, Democrats, they stand for true progressive values, and that progressive isn’t just isolated to Democrats and the left. Progressive is anybody that wants proactive politicians. It’s anybody that wants representation for real working people in Congress. And that doesn’t matter what side of the aisle you sit on.

MARC STEINER: So it’s very clear you’re very forceful and have a lot of clarity.

SARAH SMITH: Right. Yeah, I like to think so. I think you kind of have to right now.

MARC STEINER: So one of the things you were quoted as saying was that it can’t just be any kind of blue Democrat, blue that wins. That you want to see the Democratic Party change. What does that mean for you, to want to see the Democratic Party change? And I’m also thinking about things you’ve asked other candidates which have to do with the battle against having superdelegates actually decide who is the next presidential candidate. So how does all that fit together for you in terms of what you see as a new Democratic Party?

SARAH SMITH: So what’s interesting is that what I see is the future of the new Democratic Party is really just the old Democratic Party. All of this legislation that we’re fighting for, all of this stuff like Medicare for All, investment in infrastructure, ending these wars, trimming our military spending, this is not the radical, crazy leftist rhetoric that everyone tries to spin it as. This is just the Democratic Party from under FDR. This is the kind of thing that LBJ was fighting for. This is the kind of stuff that we should have been fighting for all along.

All of this stuff has been in the core of the Democratic Party’s platform. But the problem is they’ve allowed corporations and corporate ownership to take over the party. And now instead of listening to the working people- which we were always supposed to be, the party of the working people- now all we’re doing is we’re listening to our corporate overlords. They’ve allowed their corporate handlers to come in and tell them what parts of their platform they can get rid of in order to bolster corporations, and then lie to us and try to sell us this idea that it’s still a democratic process. It’s not. And we have the chance to take the Democratic Party, and make it the new Democratic Party for the people.

And that’s really what the vision always was for the Democratic Party. We’re just returning to it to where it’s supposed to be, which is in the hands of the working people. And one of the best ways to do that is to abolish the superdelegate system and let the people decide. This is supposed to be a democracy. We’re supposed to be listening to the constituents. We’re not supposed to be telling people what they need.

We’re supposed to be listening to them when they tell us what their needs are. What the community has to bring forwards is they have to bring us their concerns. And then we have to try and find solutions that address those concerns. We don’t tell them what their problems are. We have to listen to them. And if they make the decision that one person should be who we put up for a presidential nominee, it is our obligation as a party to listen to the people. Because if we violate that will, we say no, we know better than you, not only is that destructive, it destroys that trust. It destroys the entire purpose of the system. It destroys the entire purpose of the party. It destroys the integrity of our electoral system.

And so I think those kinds of things go hand in hand; not just reforming the party into this new Democratic Party for the working people, but returning it to one that actually listens to those working people, that actually hears them and that actually elevates them above their corporate donors. This is, this is about We the People, not We the People incorporated.

MARC STEINER: You’ve been hearing the ideas and thoughts of Sarah Smith, who is running to become the next congressperson in the 9th Congressional District in Washington state around Seattle, in the area around Seattle, taking on Adam Smith, who’s a 21-year-veteran of the U.S. Congress. The election is taking place tomorrow, and we will find out tomorrow whether Sarah Smith is the woman who will take the banner ahead. And we’ll find out Wednesday morning after she wakes up what happens.

SARAH SMITH: Me too.

MARC STEINER: Sarah Smith, good luck, and thank you so much.

SARAH SMITH: Thank you so much, I appreciate it.

MARC STEINER: It’s been a pleasure talking to you.

SARAH SMITH: Thanks.

MARC STEINER: I’m Marc Steiner, and we’ve been talking to Sarah Smith. We’ll be continuing these conversations with people running for Congress in this country who are trying to shake up the system as we know it and see it. And I’m Marc Steiner for the Real News Network. Thanks so much for watching. Take care. We’ll be talking soon.