Former Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland became the first African American/Korean American from the state of Washington to be elected to Congress with a very strong showing during the 2020 General Election.

By Aaron Allen, The Seattle Medium

The 2020 election season has been historical for African Americans both locally and nationally. From Kamala Harris, the first Black woman to win the seat of Vice President of the United States, to an unprecedented show of political force as African Americans claimed a record number of seats in the State of Washington.

Over the years, Washington State’s African American community has had its fair share of political accomplishments. From John Conna, the first Black political appointee in Washington in 1889, to Seaborn Collins, who became the first African American elected into an official office in 1892, the push for political representation has been a constant goal of the local African American community. Political pioneers like Charles Stokes, Sam Smith, Margaret Proctor, Ron Sims, Norm Rice and others have helped pave the way for the slate of African American candidates who successfully campaigned during the 2020 election.

“Black leaders in our community have had a presence in Washington politics since the founding of the state in 1889,” says Jamila Taylor, who won her race for State Rep in the 30th Legislative District. “Without a doubt, we have run campaigns focused on equity, shared values and community uplift. This year, we demonstrated our leadership in the face of unprecedented challenges with the public health crisis, economic uncertainty and racial unrest. This leadership is what our communities need. And, this is why we made history in this 2020 election season.”

Headlined by the historic election of Marilyn Strickland to congress in the 10th Congressional District, African American candidates mounted strong showings in the 2020 Washington State General Election. Current election results show African Americans leading in 10 of the 12 races they are competing in, with one race, the State Representative Position 2 contest in the 37th District, having two African American candidates – Chukundi Salisbury and Kirsten Harris-Talley – going head-to-head to fill the seat vacated by former State Rep. Eric Pettigrew.

Talley-Harris went on to win that race to represent the constituents of the 37th District. In her view receiving the trust of the voters was a humbling experience.

“I am humbled so many neighbors are with us in our community campaign,” says Talley-Harris. “As one of ten Black women who ran this and to have so many of us advance, it means so much.”

Two years ago, it was a measure of progress to have five African American legislators in Olympia, and now with African American awareness rising with the Black Lives Movement, and the diversity in the Presidential campaigns, African American political engagement produced a significant number of first in Washington State political history.

In the 10th Congressional District, Former Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland became the first African American/Korean American from the state of Washington to be elected to Congress, as she posted a 14-point win over her opponent.

“I am humbled and honored by the trust the people of the South Sound have placed in me to be their voice in the United States Congress. I want to say how grateful I am to all those who have stood alongside me in this journey. From the bottom of my heart: Thank you, says Strickland.

“I want every South Sound resident to know that whether they voted for me or not, I will listen to you – and I will never stop fighting for you. So now, it’s time to hit the ground running and get to work. It’s time to work with my colleagues in our delegation, our party and yes, across the aisle to address the urgent issues facing our nation, and South Sound families and workers: Tackling this pandemic, rebuilding our economy and creating jobs in the Sound, fighting for affordable health care and prescription drugs, addressing climate change, and keeping our promises to our military families and veterans,” added Strickland. “It’s time for our community and our country to come together, to show compassion and respect for each other, to beat this virus, and to recover better than before. I know we will.”

This year, the level of African American voter engagement was historic, as African American participation both nationally and locally hit record levels, and the results were well documented.

African Americans won both legislative seats in both the 30th and 44th Legislative Districts. Jamila Taylor and incumbent legislator Jesse Johnson both won over 60% of the vote in their respective races in the 30th District, while incumbent legislator John Lovick and April Berg had equally impressive victories in the 44th District.

T’wina Nobles, a candidate for State Senate in the 28th District., is holding on to slim margin with 50.7% of the votes and Tanisha Harris candidate for State Rep. in the 17th District remains in the race with 48% of the vote. Joy Stanford, a candidate for State Rep in the 26th District, has fallen behind with 45% of the vote, but remains optimistic as votes are still being counted.  Incumbent State Rep. Debra Entenman garnered 60% of the vote in her bid for re-election and Melanie Morgan was re-elected in the 29th District with commanding 64% of the votes.

St. Rep. Debra Entenman, D-47

David Hackney posted an impressive win over incumbent State Rep. Zack Hudgins in the 11th District, which encompasses Renton and Tukwila, as he hauled in 61 % of the votes.

As Chairperson of the Black Member Caucus, incumbent State Rep. Debra Entenman is a veteran of politics in Washington and she is enthusiastic and honored to have won her bid and is excited about welcoming all the new elected officials.

“As the chairperson of the Black Member Caucus, I am excited that the citizens of Washington State have elected eight Black/African American members to the House and one member to the Senate,” says Entenman. “I am grateful to have the opportunity and responsibility to go back to Olympia in 2021 and continue to champion our values. Access, integrity and equity. Together we will stand for all and leave no one left behind.”

Historically, the African American community has not been monolithic. Our perspectives are as diverse as the people that make up African Americans. So to see an organic Black conscious come together, different backgrounds, different neighborhoods, step up and rise to the occasion particularly in hard times, is a testament of our Black people’s fortitude and Berg attests to the diversity in thought and characters of the people who took on the challenge of bettering our communities through civic duty.

“A couple of things right, one is, that we did not do this as a coordinated effort, we all jumped into our various races because we wanted to serve our community and as you can see we’re all from really different communities all over the state,” says Berg. “Which means that the Black community is not a monolithic and where we live is not all in one district and so, I’m excited to be serving with such amazing people, I am excited that we are serving communities in which we live in.”

While it may be easy to dwell on what transpired this political season, Berg says that it’s important for voters to stay engaged because the hard work is just beginning.

“For me, it is a message of stay engaged. We’ve gone through this election cycle at the national level, at the local level, things being really difficult and having difficult conversations for a variety of reasons. I just hope folks stay engaged even after this election,” say Berg. “I just want to serve and get us out of this health crisis better than we were before.”

The voters have spoken this year in a historical and unprecedented manner and the trust of the voters is the foundation in which these elected officials both nationally and locally will work to rebuild a better nation. Entenman expresses her gratitude to the voters and her excitement to get to work.

“We are excited by these historic firsts shared by our Democratic party leaders and our representatives at both state and national elections,” Entenman says. “Voters of all cultures and perspectives were essential in this unprecedented turnout.”

“To honor the support of our voters and their historic vote-by-mail ballot turnout, I will work to build healthy communities and a strong recovery from the affects of the COVID-19,” added Entenman. “Ultimately, we must learn from our collective experiences to build a nation where all of us can be safe and secure in our communities.”