Dave Upthegrove has a clear goal in mind if he’s re-elected to the King County Council this fall: He wants to focus on health, jobs, and justice.
Upthegrove has been on the council since he was first elected in 2013, but previously served as a member of the Washington House of Representatives for 12 years. He was the first openly gay state representative from outside Seattle in the history of the state of Washington.
Now, he’s nearing the end of his second four-year term on the council.
Upthegrove’s district, King County Council District Five, includes all or parts of the cities of Kent, SeaTac, Tukwila, Burien, Normandy Park, Des Moines, and Renton.
The council — which is the legislative branch for county government — is responsible for creating policies, enacting laws, and adopting budgets that “guide an array of services,” according to its website. These services include the criminal justice system, the King County Sherriff’s Office, and human services, among many others. More information on the council can be found here.
Upthegrove said one reason he’s running for re-election is because he believes it’s important that the council feature members with experience.
“I am an effective progressive champion for South King County,” he said, “And I am running because we need proven leadership to build on the progress we have made together.”
If re-elected, Upthegrove said his main priority will be health, namely managing the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“We must start with health, [which] means continuing to focus on protecting the health and safety of seniors and other vulnerable community members while we safely reopen our economy,” he said. “The pandemic has made racial and economic disparities worse, [which is] why I’ve been working with our community and fighting so hard to target county resources to low income and diverse populations here in South King County.”
He cited his experience as a reason why he is the right choice for the council, saying, “These are serious times that call for proven effective leaders.”
Upthegrove said jobs are another important subject he will focus on if re-elected.
“As we reopen our economy we need to focus on jobs, which means expanding the county partnership I started with local school districts to support students going into the building trades,” he said. “It means implementing the new green jobs program for BIPOC youth that I got funded in the flood district budget. Finally, COVID has made clear that child care is a jobs issue, [so] I want to renew our Best Starts for Kids initiative and expand it to include child care subsidies for struggling families and wage support for child care workers.”
Justice will be another important aspect of his plan if re-elected, Upthegrove said.
“We need to continue to advance the cause of justice,” he said. “This means rooting out institutional racism in policing and throughout our criminal justice system. For example, we don’t need an armed militarized officer responding to every situation, so I want to develop a new approach that partners with mental health professionals and includes better training in de-escalation and cultural competence.”
Aside from his top priorities, Upthegrove said he has a couple other things in mind for his next term.
“As the new light rail station opens at Highline College, Sound Transit will be selling land they used for construction on both sides of the station,” he said. “I want to work with Highline students and the community to develop a cool vision for this property that would include affordable housing and perhaps services for students. We have an opportunity as a community to design and shape the future of this neighborhood.”
Upthegrove said he also feels strongly about fighting climate change.
“Local governments like King County have a moral responsibility to future generations to reduce pollution causing climate change,” he said. “Fortunately, King County already has a strategic climate action plan that not only lays out a vision, but also lays out specific action steps. I want to implement these actions.”
He said continuing to increase access to public transportation systems, like the light rail, can help decrease pollution.
“The greatest source of pollution in King County contributing to climate change comes from cars,” Upthegrove said. “That’s why I want to make it easier for people to get around without a car. This means increased bus service, particularly in South King County, and building as much affordable housing as possible right next to transit stations so people can get around easily using clean public transit.”
In the nearly eight years he’s served on the council so far, Upthegrove said that while there are many things he’s proud of, several stand out, including criminal justice reform and helping individuals find housing.
“Working with the community, I have delivered successful criminal justice reforms such as banning the use of private prisons by King County, decriminalizing fare enforcement, expanding diversion programs into South King County, and increasing the funding and staff for our civilian office of law enforcement oversight,” he said. “I was [also] proud to help pass a big bold new housing proposal.”
Upthegrove said the proposal is intended to help those who are chronically homeless and will reach about 2,000 people.
“With so many hotels going out of business and on the market right now at low prices, we are going to immediately invest more than $350 million to purchase available hotels and group living facilities throughout King County in cities that are willing,” he said. “With this investment, we will now move almost 2,000 chronically homeless individuals off the street and into stable long-term housing. The housing will all be supported onsite with mental health services, addiction services and other supports.”
Upthegrove also cited King County’s response in dealing with COVID-19 as something he’s proud of, as well as his involvement in funding the Abbey Ridge housing development in the city of SeaTac.
He said his experience as an out gay man running for and holding public office has turned him into who he is now as an elected official.
“Coming of age politically at a time when I faced and experienced legal discrimination shaped who I am as an elected official,” Upthegrove said. “What drove me then [and] still drives me today is a passion for justice. This is a belief that all people, regardless of our differences, have value, have something to contribute, and deserve equal rights and fair treatment.”
He said he has also built strong relationships with the community he serves, particularly specific marginalized communities within King County.
“I am immersed in the life of our community and have centered my work in communities of color and immigrant and refugee communities — building authentic relationships and trust and delivering results,” Upthegrove said. “That’s why as I kicked off my campaign recently, I was proud to announce early endorsements from more than 50 leaders from communities of color here in South King County.”
He cited this support, in addition to his 20 years of experience as a politician in the state of Washington, as the main reasons why voters should re-elect him to District Five this year.
“I am a proven progressive leader with a track record of successfully championing issues of justice and equality for all — particularly for communities of color and immigrant and refugee communities,” said Upthegrove. “The strong support I’ve received from leaders from so many diverse communities is a testament to their belief in my ability to continue to be an effective representative for their interests.”
Upthegrove’s opponent, a community organizer named Shukri Olow, did not respond to requests for an interview.
An online candidate forum for King County Districts Five and Nine will be held at 7 p.m. next Tuesday, May 25. The forum will feature candidates being questioned by moderators on a variety of issues and is open to the public.
In addition to Upthegrove and Olow, who will both be present, the forum will also include Kim-Khanh Van and Chris Franco, who are challenging District 9 incumbent Reagan Dunn. You can sign up for the Zoom here.
The primary election is Aug. 3, and the general election will be on Nov. 2. More information on Upthegrove’s campaign can be found here.