Rebecca Parson, a lesbian and housing activist in the Tacoma region of Washington state, is facing a bit of déjà vu with her race on Tuesday’s primary ballot for the Evergreen State’s 6th congressional district seat. The top three contenders mirror those who ran two years ago.
In the 2020 primary, Parson landed in third place behind Republican
Elizabeth Kreiselmaier and the incumbent, Congressmember Derek Kilmer (D-Gig Harbor), who placed first and went on to win reelection that November. Similar to California’s jungle primary, the top two vote-getters advance to the fall general election.
Kilmer is once again expected to take the top spot in the August 2 primary. Parson, a Democrat and self-described socialist, hopes she can leapfrog past Kreiselmaier this time. If she does, she would still face an uphill climb in defeating a sitting member of the House.
Nonetheless, Parson said she remains confident of her electoral chances this year during a recent phone interview with the Bay Area Reporter. Should she pull off a victory in the race, she would become the first LGBTQ person from Washington to serve in Congress.
“It would be making history, not only me as a gay person getting in but as a woman getting in,” said Parson, as only men have served in the House seat. “As for being the first openly gay person from Washington state in Congress, people are excited for that reason.”
With the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision overturning a federal right to abortion, Parson has tried to capitalize on the issue in her race this year as a strong supporter of a woman’s right to choose.
“People are excited they have a pro-choice woman to vote for,” she said.
Support for her campaign from national and local LGBTQ political groups, however, has been minimal. Parson also received little support from LGBTQ groups outside of the state when she ran in 2020. The same has been the case with political action committees that work to elect women to public office, she noted.
“The national groups don’t want to endorse against an incumbent, even though I am a member of the LGBTQ community and he is not. They don’t want to endorse against him,” said Parsons. “It was very disappointing last time; this time I expected it. It is very politics as usual; these groups and PACS are often like that.”
Parson, 37, grew up partly overseas as her father was in the foreign service; her mother is German and married her father after the couple met in Bonn. The family lived in Stockholm, Yokohama, Tokyo and London before moving to the U.S. Parson, raised Catholic, attended high school and college in Virginia before making her way to New Mexico.
She arrived in Washington state in 2015 with her now ex-wife, who had family in the Olympia area. The couple settled on Tacoma due to it being the biggest city in the region.
“I loved it,” said Parson, who works in online marketing with small business owners and lives with her current partner, Keri Christerson.
In Congress, she would want to work on a national rent control policy. Another top goal of hers is to increase the minimum wage to $30 an hour.
“It is the bare minimum you need anywhere in the U.S. as one adult to support one child,” she noted. “People on the coast think it can’t be that expensive in places like Arkansas, but it is. That is the actual living wage minimum.”
For nearly five years Parson has served on the Tacoma Area Commission on Disabilities. Though she is not disabled herself, Parson has family and friends who are. She has focused on making local taxi service and car share apps are accessible to people in wheelchairs or who have mobility issues.
She is also a volunteer organizer with the Tacoma Tenants Organizing Committee and helped secure statewide tenant protections.
“These changes had a direct impact on my security, as someone who lived on a month-to-month lease with rent that rose 16% in 3 years,” noted Parson on her campaign site.
Her policy proposals, such as the minimum wage increase, and protests focused on housing issues, have gotten her the attention of various conservative media outlets and right-wing pundits. Parson isn’t afraid to appear on such channels, such as Fox News, as even if the coverage is mocking in tone it provides her a public platform. Not to mention an ability to appeal to the conservative voters she needs to win over if she is going to survive her open primary.
“It is penetrating right-wing consciousness. One interview I did on Fox has over a million views on YouTube at this point,” said Parson. “It is definitely bizarre. I am a candidate running for the House; I am not even in office.”
At the same time, Parson receives hate mail and has gotten death threats from right-wing people due to her progressive policy positions, she told the B.A.R. Such threats increased earlier this year after she received national media coverage for suggesting empty housing should be commandeered and given to the homeless.
“In my district, we have more empty homes than homeless people,” said Parson. “I would look for ways to pass nationwide laws that impose very heavy penalties for homes being empty.”
Breaking out of the liberal media bubble to discuss such proposals is worth the risk, she said.
“If I was in office already and done that, imagine how much more people would have heard about that and heard about my ideas,” said Parsons.
That idea was spawned from a protest Parson participated in in 2000 with other housing rights activists who had taken over an abandoned school building they wanted local government officials to turn into housing.
“We occupied a school building that had been empty for 12 years. I was inside the building for just a day,” she recalled. “The police came that night and threatened us with felonies, so we left.”
It led to the housing activists moving 43 people into a hotel and paying for their first night but not their entire 13-day stay. They had hoped the county government would use federal COVID emergency funding to turn the hotel into long-term housing for the homeless.
“But the county refused to do it,” said Parson, and after the hotel owner called the police, “we did just leave.”
Out House candidates throughout the West Coast
Along the West Coast during this midterm electoral cycle, five out House candidates have thus far survived their primaries. As the B.A.R. has noted, gay California Congressmember Mark Takano (D-Riverside) is expected to easily win reelection this year.
Gay Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia is widely expected to join him and become the first Latino LGBTQ immigrant in Congress. He is vying against a Republican for an open House seat in the heavily Democratic, new 42nd Congressional District along the coast of Los Angeles County.
Lesbian former Santa Clara City Councilmember Jamie McLeod-Skinner could triple the number of LGBTQ representatives in the House from the three-state West Coast region if she wins Oregon’s open, newly drawn 5th Congressional District. She defeated incumbent Congressman Kurt Schrader (D-Canby) in their party primary and is now running against Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer.
Gay former federal prosecutor Will Rollins, who lives with his partner in Canyon Lake, is aiming to oust from office conservative Congressmember Ken Calvert (R-Corona) come November. Due to the new 41st Congressional District now including a large part of the gay retirement and tourist mecca Palm Springs, Democratic Party officials have rallied behind Rollins since June to help him raise money for his campaign.
As of now, gay progressive Democrat Derek Marshall is seen as having little chance of defeating Congressmember Jay Obernolte (R-Hesperia) in the Golden State’s 23rd Congressional District. And G “Maebe A. Girl” Pudlo, a nonbinary drag queen and elected member of the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council in Los Angeles, is seen as the underdog in their fall contest against Congressmember Adam Schiff (D-Los Angeles) for the state’s 30th Congressional District.
To learn more about Parson’s candidacy, visit her campaign website here.
The Political Notes column will return Monday, August 15.
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Got a tip on LGBTQ politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail [email protected]
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