Political Notes: Queer Washington state senator with SF ties seeks 2nd term

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Monday October 10, 2022
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Washington state Senator Emily Randall is facing a competitive reelection race in November. Photo: Courtesy the campaign
Washington state Senator Emily Randall is facing a competitive reelection race in November. Photo: Courtesy the campaign

A queer Washington state senator with San Francisco ties was recently back in the Bay Area to connect with family and friends, tour an airport renewable energy facility, and raise campaign funds as she seeks a second term on the November 8 ballot.

Senator Emily Randall, 36, managed institutional partnerships for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation in 2015 and 2016. Her time at the agency coincided with its opening the Strut health clinic in the heart of the city's LGBTQ Castro district.

She and her partner of 17 years, Alison Leahey, had called West Oakland home. The women first met at Wellesley College in Massachusetts and eventually moved together out west.

Having taken a job with Planned Parenthood as a major gifts officer in the summer of 2016, Randall was sent to New Hampshire to help with get out the vote efforts in the Granite State for the fall presidential election. On election night she attended a party on the campus of her alma mater, fully expecting to see Hillary Clinton become the country's first female president.

As it became clear that would not happen, and TV reality star turned politician Donald Trump would be headed to the White House, Randall decided that night to run for political office.

"It was like the saddest funeral I have ever been at," recalled Randall, who met up with the Bay Area Reporter in early October at Philz coffeehouse on Castro Street a block from Strut.

In 2017, with Leahey working for Microsoft, the women relocated fulltime to Washington state and moved to the Puget Sound region where Randall grew up in Port Orchard. With her partner "nervously supportive," said Randall, she laid the groundwork to become the first Latina elected to represent the 26th Senate District in 2018.

Claire Wilson, a lesbian who grew up in Seattle, also won a Senate seat that November. They became the first out women elected to the Legislature's upper chamber and are now both seeking reelection this year.

While Wilson is running in a district that favors Democrats, Randall finds herself in a swing district and is being challenged by Republican state Representative Jesse Young of Gig Harbor. Four years ago Randall defeated her GOP opponent by just 104 votes; this year her contest is considered the most competitive state legislative race in Washington.

"The district swings back and forth," said Randall, who in 2020 was able to buy a home with Leahey in the city of Bremerton.

Like in California, Washington state uses a top-two primary voting system where the two candidates with the most votes regardless of party affiliation move on to the general election. In her August 2 primary race, Randall took the top spot against two GOP challengers with 51.52% of the vote.

Special interest groups have already spent more than $1 million on the race. Randall has raised $700,000 for her campaign and expects to reach the $1 million mark by Election Day.

Along with economic issues Randall has been focusing on a woman's right to choose on the campaign trail, with her opponent describing himself as "pro-life, period" when it comes to abortion. As she knocks on doors, Republican voters she meets have asked her about the issue, she said, following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision this year that ended a federal right to abortion.

"They care about protecting our freedom to choose," she said. "Choice is definitely going to be a key factor in the race. My opponent has introduced in the House every year a bill to ban abortion."

In contrast, one of the first bills Randall authored in 2019 was expanding access to reproductive services, including abortion, for everyone regardless of their gender identity or immigration status. It passed and became law.

Much of her first term has been consumed by the COVID pandemic. Randall told the B.A.R. she feels "grateful" to have been elected to serve in the Legislature to ensure the state's response to the health crisis focused on the needs of residents. Working with other young, progressive state lawmakers, Randall said she and her colleagues were able to avoid cutting state services like what happened during the 2008 financial crisis.

"We invested in the safety net to keep people afloat," said Randall. "Investing in people is what we need to thrive."

Her brief swing through California over the first weekend of October was Randall's first time she had left her home state to fundraise. A friend who had bought a home in San Francisco and wanted to use their housewarming party to benefit Randall's reelection bid prompted the trip.

Randall's sister-in-law lives on the Peninsula, so it also afforded Randall and Leahey a chance to connect with family. Randall also lined up a tour of San Francisco International Airport's renewable compressed natural gas refueling stations to learn more about the clean energy option, as addressing climate change is a top concern of hers.

It is just one policy area that Randall would like to see lawmakers along the West Coast work collaboratively on in order to bring about change across the three-state region. Lowering health care costs by having a multistate approach to addressing the high prices for prescription medicines is another issue she is focused on.

"We are clearly in this together," said Randall.

Her legislative work on health care issues is informed by her helping with the effort to open Strut, which welcomed its first clients in January 2016. Randall told the B.A.R. the facility "was so needed in the community. When we were able to take space in the building, it was really powerful."

The lessons she learned from the community health workers she met at the AIDS foundation have guided her work in the state Legislature to create a "truly healthy, equitable future," said Randall, adding of her time working in San Francisco, "I just feel so grateful for the experiences I had here."

To learn more about Randall, visit her campaign site.

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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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