Jessyn Farrell, a Democrat, is running for the state House of Representatives in the 46th Legislative District in Seattle as an environmental activist with local experience reforming transportation policy. But her legal training as a mediator who’s tried to make partners out of opponents and to unify broad coalitions of disparate political groups may just be equally as valuable.
While working for the Transportation Choices Coalition, including as its executive director, Farrell was part of a team that succeeded in transforming state transportation guidelines away from “wide, multi-lane roads and highways” to a more public transit, bike-centric, and sidewalk-focused infrastructure. The TCC reforms also included a goal that minimized vehicular travel in order to reduce carbon emissions in the state.
Today, Farrell is gearing up to take on many more issues, from funding public education to strengthening the social safety net, implementing tax reform, changing land-use policy, rethinking industrial infrastructure and its effect on Seattle’s ports, prioritizing the cleanup of pollution in Puget Sound, and furthering the Affordable Care Act in Washington.
“The list of needs is very long,” Farrell told JTNews. “We have aging infrastructure. We need to make sure we’re keeping up I-5. We need to get light rail built out. We have local potholes. That’s something that people in the 46th District talk about when you talk to them about transportation.”
The recently redistricted 46th now includes parts of Northeast Seattle, Lake Forest Park, Kenmore, and Shoreline, and is 73 percent affiliated with the Democratic Party.
“On transportation, we’re moving forward on light rail throughout the region, on the waterfront, and on a solution on SR 520,” Farrell said.
While serving as the Transportation Choices Coalition executive director, Farrell said her organization, partnered with others statewide to raise $25 billion for bike, pedestrian, and transit projects across the state.”
“We did that by working with a broad array of interests from business and labor and public health advocates, in addition to talking to community members, and being able to talk to voters,” she said.
Farrell is a Seattle native who lives in the Laurelhurst neighborhood of the city with her husband and two children, ages 4 and 2. She is an attorney, with specialties in mediation and environmental advocacy.
Farrell is Jewish, and chose the religion nearly two decades ago.
“My parents were both Buddhists so I was the only Buddhist kid on the block,” mused Farrell. “I actually converted to Judaism in my early 20s with a Conservative rabbi, and I remain a Jew by choice.”
The 38-year-old, who admitted that her life is more than full with a family and a political campaign to manage, said that she relates to a fundamental tenet of Jewish rabbinical wisdom that gives her strength as she presses on in her campaign.
“There’s the strong emphasis on social justice, especially in a time like this when we are so polarized in our politics,” Farrell said. “The idea that it is not for us to lay the task aside of fixing the world, that we don’t have to do the whole thing, but taking that small piece and sticking with it, I think, is so important, right now.”
While multiple competing political factions continue to hash out solutions to critical shortages in the state, programs depend on revenues and economic forecasters predict that this “downturn” will challenge Washington and the country well into the next five years.
Farrell wants to see significant tax reform and said she is willing to put an array of options on the table.
“On the transportation side, or even on the general fund side, it would be very interesting to look at a carbon tax,” said Farrell. “On the business side, the B&O tax, I think it’s very unfair the way we tax on gross revenue instead of net revenue. Any taxing plan would have to actually swap out the burden we have in sales tax.”
On funding K-12 education, Farrell pledged to “fundamentally change” the way education is paid for by building coalitions and giving “grassroots power” a greater voice in the budgeting process.
“If elected,” wrote Farrell on her campaign website, “perhaps it means putting together a business-labor coalition that includes sectors facing shortages of qualified Washingtonians, such as the health care and software industries.
“On the education funding front…that means making sure labor unions and other advocacy groups with grassroots membership has seats at the table.”
Farrell has been endorsed by the King County Young Democrats, the Washington Federation of State Employees AFSCME 28, NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, and the SEIU 775, among others.