May 10, 2022
On this midweek show, Crystal chats with Nicole Gomez about her campaign for State Representative in the 36th Legislative District - why she decided to run, how the last legislative session went and her thoughts on addressing issues such as housing affordability and zoning, homelessness, COVID response, public safety, tax reform, and climate change.
As always, a full text transcript of the show is available below and at officialhacksandwonks.com.
Campaign Website - Nicole Gomez: https://www.electnicole.com/
[00:00:00] Crystal Fincher: Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm Crystal Fincher, and I'm a political consultant and your host. On this show, we talk with policy wonks and political hacks to gather insight into local politics and policy in Washington state through the lens of those doing the work with behind-the-scenes perspectives on what's happening, why it's happening, and what you can do about it. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at officialhacksandwonks.com and in our episode notes.
So today I am thrilled to welcome to the show, Nicole Gomez, who is a candidate for State Representative in the 36th Legislative District. Welcome to the show, Nicole.
[00:00:47] Nicole Gomez: Thank you for having me, Crystal.
[00:00:49] Crystal Fincher: Thank you for joining us. So I guess I will start out by asking what made you decide to run for State Rep in the 36th right now?
[00:00:58] Nicole Gomez: Yeah, well, I'm running to be the next State Representative for the 36th district because I actually would like to help create an economy that works for everyone. I've been quietly doing the work behind the scenes for years and advising others on how to accomplish their policy goals. And I think now's a good time to get started.
[00:01:21] Crystal Fincher: You have been doing it for years - full disclosure to people - I work with you in a different capacity now that you are the Executive Director of the Institute for a Democratic Future, commonly known as IDF around these parts. And I'm on the board of that organization and an alum and appreciate work there. But what made you - to that point, you've been helping to mentor a lot of people because of your experience in working in the background - what in your experience do you think helps inform your candidacy and what kind of legislator you'd be?
[00:01:58] Nicole Gomez: I guess you're asking more of an origin story - so from about the age of five, an illness actually - an illness in the family left us homeless. And so from that moment, there was a lot of working through bureaucracy. My parents are both Hispanic, not very well educated - and helping them navigate some pretty complex systems, and so I always had vowed that, this is ridiculous. And so, even at a very young age, I vowed to do something about it. And so that's where I'm at right now. I have my own non-profit organization and I co-founded Alliance for a Healthy Washington and we have been working towards transformative healthcare reform here in Washington state, currently sit on the Universal Health Care Commission appointed by Governor Inslee - we're working to develop a healthcare plan for Washington state once the federal waivers are approved in order to innovate here. And so things are moving.
[00:03:22] Crystal Fincher: Well, we just came out of a legislative session where there were definitely some great things that happened, and other things that left some people disappointed. What was your evaluation of this past session?
[00:03:36] Nicole Gomez: Yeah. Well, when I'm thinking about this past session, there was some things that I would like to see move forward next session. For starters, I would say - there's a bill called Keep Our Care Act - I don't remember the bill number off the top of my head, I'm sorry - but essentially that bill is part of a puzzle piece in our healthcare system. What you see right now is these large healthcare systems coming into Washington state - and they're faith-based and they're buying up a lot of our hospitals - for instance, Swedish was bought out by Providence. And so, when you're thinking about the current state of this past week - abortion access and access to equitable healthcare and in reproductive health - having those large hospital systems could potentially become an issue if they're not going to provide certain services to people who need them.
Another one that I was thinking about is the middle housing bill - I know that Rep Macri had been working on that bill for a number of years and Rep Bateman was - took it over in a different lens - and they are amazing legislator, first of all. And they've been able to push this pretty far. And so I'm excited to see what comes out of that - was disappointed that it wasn't signed because we need more affordable housing.
[00:05:35] Crystal Fincher: We absolutely do - when it comes to affordable housing, what can we do to provide more of it? What can you do in your capacity as a state legislator? What are your priorities for helping?
[00:05:49] Nicole Gomez: Yeah, that's the million billion dollar question. I think a lot of legislators have been working on this issue for a number of years and it's not just a Washington problem, it's also a nationwide problem. And it stems from a variety of areas - there are, but that there's no way around it - we need more housing. We need more density in a place like - 'cause my district would be Seattle - so particularly in the Seattle area, there's not a lot of land to build on, and so you have to be smart about future planning. And so this particular - the middle housing bill was amazing because it would allow us to be able to build a little bit larger condo spaces, or multiplexes a little bit larger - six unit or four units, whatever - it's better than the single-family housing that we have right now, because we can house more people.
[00:07:05] Crystal Fincher: We can and one of the sticking points with that and that had been raised is - well, hey, we need to keep the character of our single-family, big-home neighborhoods. We need to maintain our property values, which are skyrocketing. Should we be increasing the zoning and increasing the allowed density in single-family areas?
[00:07:35] Nicole Gomez: Yeah, so, I don't think it's should we - we have to. If we're ever going to address our homelessness situation, the affordability situation - we just need to do it. Something that the state can do is to legalize that middle housing - right now, the cities are in control of their zoning practices and a lot of them are exclusionary zoning laws. I was thinking back to something my husband said - and the house that we currently live in, that we bought at the bottom of the recession - would not be able to afford it today. His grandpa couldn't have moved into this house because of the zoning laws that the City of Seattle had back then. A lot of those zoning laws were very racist, and they kept certain neighborhoods more, or less - there was less people of color in them. The houses are all single-family housing, there's not very many apartment buildings. And so, while I understand people wanting to keep the character, it's just a necessity.
[00:09:01] Crystal Fincher: It really is, and that bill is a great bill. I also wish it would have passed. We absolutely, in my opinion, need to move forward with density. And I think that's becoming a more common opinion. Certainly all the folks who were pushing for that bill, and Reps Macri and Bateman, have been instrumental in moving the conversation forward, especially in these past several months. It's part of the solution. It's not all of the solution. There is a lot more that needs to happen. What more can be done to help with housing affordability? And should social housing, like the initiative that is currently having signatures collected in Seattle, should that be part of it?
[00:09:51] Nicole Gomez: I think that we're in this crisis mode where we have to throw everything at it, at this problem, before things spiral further out of control. I have not fully read that initiative yet, but I've heard about it from people and they seem really excited about it. So, it's something I'm looking forward to digging in and learning more about. But certainly everything that we're able to do is needed. Something else that I was thinking about as I was filling out my questionnaires, as candidates do - one of the questions was about labor. My dad used to be a carpenter and so I'm thinking about how COVID has affected people's lifestyles, and I know right now that there's a lack of workforce within the trades. And so another thing that we can do at the state level is to help provide training programs for trades. And I think it's important to look at that for community colleges, high schools, apprenticeships - those are all things that we're going to need, especially if we're moving towards a green future.
[00:11:30] Crystal Fincher: That makes sense. I'm thinking about it and the conversation about housing and housing affordability, and thinking about homelessness, which is absolutely related to the issue of housing affordability. It is essentially - the biggest issue is that they don't have and can't afford housing in their present situation. A lot of the homeless policy to attack, to address homelessness - I guess that was a Freudian slip - to attack homelessness - that's the manifestation of it in a lot of areas. A lot of the policy to address homelessness is dictated on a local level by city and county governments. Is there anything that you can do in your capacity as a state legislator to help reduce the amount of people who are living on the street?
[00:12:18] Nicole Gomez: It's such a complex issue - there are a variety of reasons that lead to it, and I think we need to be mindful of how we move forward in addressing, making sure that people are taking care of. One of the things that I think about when I think about homelessness is the social determinants of health. My work in healthcare policy has really hammered that into my head. And so, they need to have access - it's not just, oh, here's some houses. That's fine, but you have to have access to healthcare services, you have to have access to mental health supports, you have to have a safe, physical environment, and then also education. And then once you have all those things into place, then you're looking at adding in that employment piece - because people can't be employed unless they're well, and so how do we get them well?
[00:13:32] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, that absolutely makes sense. Is there anything you can do to help people get stable enough to maintain stable housing, to afford that housing, and to be able to continue to move on with their lives?
[00:13:52] Nicole Gomez: Yeah, so that one is - we recently put some money - not this session, but the session before - into mental health. But it's going to take a while for those things to balance out because the process of setting up programs takes a while. But this past session, one of the bills that I was working to help pass, and it actually ended up being a budget proviso, but it expands mental healthcare to people. So there are mental health providers who are looking to do pro bono work, and this bill, or this idea, was brought to me by one of our members. And they're a nonprofit organization here in Seattle and they serve King, Snohomish, and Pierce right now, but they were being approached by mental health providers who are interested in pro bono work. However, there wasn't a program, that we could find, that would be able to screen patients. And so they actually already have something set up for other healthcare needs. And so they were like, well, we could screen patients, but we need help funding an additional position. And so that's what this proviso does - it's going to be a test to see if the program works. It's been working pretty well in another state, and so that has increased it's - with telehealth now - hopefully people will have a little bit more stability because what the studies show is that if you have access to regular mental healthcare, then you have less issues. And that makes sense, and so those are the kinds of things that I'd be looking at as a legislator.
[00:16:01] Crystal Fincher: I got it - talking about health right now, we are still in a pandemic. COVID is still spreading. We still have a very problematic virus that is spreading wildly. What should we be doing right now to address it? And I'm asking that in the context of - a lot of the COVID protections that had been in place and financial supports, whether its the cost, having free testing, free vaccinations, access to some time off, extra unemployment, the eviction moratoriums - all of those policies and protections that were put into place, many of them have expired. And so we're still in a situation where COVID is spreading, but we don't have the kind of rigor or coverage with testing, or treatment, or even people being able to manage being sick that we did before. Should the state be doing more? Would you do something different as a state legislator?
[00:17:07] Nicole Gomez: Yeah, it's a sticky situation. But first of all, my answer would be, yes. I would try to push for at least some of the services. For instance, I was in Yakima a couple of weeks ago for work, and one of the people I was with was like - oh, I have to go on a flight when I get back to Seattle and I need a COVID test for this conference that I need to be at. And so she started looking up to see whether or not there was anything there that she could just go quickly get a test and have her results. And there's not - there was nothing open and we were just floored that that was a thing. It's always so easy in certain areas of the state to get a test that that just didn't even cross our minds. And that's happening all over the place right now. So what we're seeing is a huge spike in COVID cases and it's just not working. So definitely I would want to see more availability of, not only the vaccine, but also testing sites or - and I know that we still have the ability to order tests online but quite frankly, I don't think a lot of people know about that. It's not like we sent out something in the mail - it's information that you have to seek out. And if you're not watching local TV - I don't know how many people do anymore because we've got all these really great streaming services - it becomes hard. But at the legislature, I would love to see better funding for public health because let's face it - with the way climate change has accelerated, I think that we're gonna see a lot more of this type of situation. We're going to see potential new, novel diseases and we have learned a lot from this pandemic - and I think that will be helpful in shoring up some of our public health programs moving forward.
[00:19:25] Crystal Fincher: Well, I certainly hope so. And the projections moving forward, considering everything, are not necessarily encouraging. But I'm hoping that more can be done to mitigate that.
Now there's a lot of people who are very concerned about crime and afraid of being victimized, and the conversation about public safety has been intense and getting more intense with very differing viewpoints sometimes. What can you do - again, an area where a lot of the policy is enacted on a city and county level - in localities with police departments and the city's dictating them, sheriff's departments and the county's dictating them. In your role as a state legislator, what can you do to address people's concerns that they're not feeling safe?
[00:20:23] Nicole Gomez: I think everybody deserves to feel secure in their - where they live - we can do better in that area. I've heard from businesses who have had their windows smashed in just overnight for no apparent reason. I think some of the things that people connect to public safety is homelessness, because they see homeless people out and about. And so in their head, they're like - oh, that's the problem. And then there's other people who see that the problem is drug use, and that is also a problem. So you're going through these things and you're like - we need to address the root causes of what's going on, quite frankly. More police is not the answer. The answer is to get people to support they need, whether whether that be treatment programs - I don't tell people this very often, but my brother-in-law went through a situation not long ago that ended up with us having to try to seek care for him. And it was really difficult. It took a few times to get him cleaned up and getting into the programs in the first place - it's not easy, it's not cheap, it's pretty much an exclusive situation if you don't have the funds to do that. And so, you're looking around and you're seeing all of these different problems and it's just - it comes down to we haven't been properly funding our safety net programs for decades and it's time to do that.
[00:22:36] Crystal Fincher: It is time to do that. What would you prioritize when it comes to funding safety net programs or actions? What is at the top of your list and that you think would make the biggest difference?
[00:22:50] Nicole Gomez: Tax reform. We need tax reform. That's the long and short of it - I have heard from neighbors their property taxes are really high. We have seen that that there are - there's just so many different problems with our tax system. We don't have an income tax here in Washington state - I would love to see a progressive income tax if that were ever a possibility. But I say, what we do to start is to - Rep Frame had a tax on an excess of wealth - it was a 1% tax on the value of stocks, bonds, and intangible assets over a billion dollars. So essentially only the very wealthy few would be paying that, but our tax code is upside down - the low and middle-income households are paying up to 17% of their income on taxes, while the wealthy few pay like 3% - that's ridiculous. I don't know how else to make it resonate with people, but I'm trying. When I talk to people about all these programs, I'm like - that's great, I love it, but we need to fund it. So let's get onboard, let's organize, let's talk to the rest of the state, let's talk to folks here in Seattle - educate people on what this would mean for them, putting a real dollar value on what they'd be saving or be getting back into their pay so that they could afford their rent increases that have been happening. Gosh, it's just a whole thing, and people are tired and frustrated and want action.
[00:24:51] Crystal Fincher: People are tired and frustrated and want action. And another thing that they are also tired and frustrated about is looking at the projections that are - and what's happening in our world around us - with extreme heat, extreme cold events, wildfires, just so much related to climate change already. And the projections being very dire that if we don't take significant action now, we are in for a world of hurt and our children are in for a world that we don't recognize. What should we be doing? And what will you lean on as a state legislator to address climate change and mitigate the impacts that we're experiencing?
[00:25:43] Nicole Gomez: Yeah. So, we all - I hope we all understand that this needs to be addressed. This is probably one of the top issues around the world. We need to address this situation. One of the things that I love about the 36th district is that there are so many people who are amazing experts in climate change policy, and so I'm super excited to have the chance to work with them on it - because it's a policy area that I haven't fully delved into yet. But something that I have appreciated, that the state has done, is last session they passed this transformative bill - it's called the HEAL Act - and it is pretty amazing, because one of the things that the HEAL Act does is it puts the focus back onto communities like a ground-up approach. So, they have a health disparities map and it also, on that map, adds to it some of the environmental factors. And so looking at that, they're targeting certain communities are most effected and going in as state agencies - I think there's seven state agencies that are tasked with this community building. And they're going in, talking to people who live in those communities, and then will be bringing recommendations based on what the community input is. So I think that that's something that is important.
Other things that we would have to do is - it's starting to transition to green buildings. We need more materials for that. Right now it doesn't make much sense, but I think that right now we are getting - a lot of the materials are not made in the country. And so when you're thinking towards what Washington looks like in the future, we have such a huge manufacturing employment base, or manufacturing industry. What about switching those over to making green materials? What does that look like? So there's plenty of things to consider and I'm excited to learn more and to work with advocates on it.
[00:28:34] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely. When it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, our transportation sector is responsible for the majority of emissions here. There was a lot of conversation during the session about whether or not we should be expanding highways at this time, given that we know it doesn't reduce traffic, but it does increase emissions. Will you support or oppose the expansion of highways in future transportation packages?
[00:29:08] Nicole Gomez: I don't think that the highway expansions - some of them are unnecessary. The more room you have, the harder - it doesn't actually help traffic, if that makes sense.
[00:29:27] Crystal Fincher: It does make sense. It's counterintuitive because we've grown up with a lot of people just establishing conventional wisdom, which oftentimes is not attached to reality, that - oh, traffic is bad, add another lane, that'll do it. But it actually makes traffic worse when you add that lane. But with that, so given that and the reason for so many expansions is to accommodate future capacity and reduce traffic - would you vote for a bill that had highway expansion?
[00:30:04] Nicole Gomez: It really does depend on the location. It depends on - so what's happening right now is that because it's so unaffordable to live here in Seattle, people are moving further out. And so if there is an area that's growing and that needs it and it's further away from where there are jobs and if you're having to drive more than a couple of miles to get to a grocery store - those are all real things. So, I can't say that - no, completely, no more new roads. You can't bike in some areas, right? There's mountains. So those are - each situation is a very separate thing. One of the things that we're trying to do is increase options for transit, public transit. And so where does the public transit drive on? So those are all - until we have more walkable, small cities and areas to where people can get to everything that they need in a really small, short area - I have two grocery stores nearby, but that's not the case in other areas of the state. So, I think it's a very individual situation.
[00:31:41] Crystal Fincher: You mentioned displacement and people being pushed out of areas where they live, areas have been gentrified, people have been priced out and excluded, people are having a harder time living close to where they work, and people are very concerned that Seattle - now with an average median income over a hundred thousand dollars - is just going to be a place for people who are well-off and wealthy. And if you have an average income for the state, for the country - then you just are not included in that kind of an area, or have the opportunity to live in a neighborhood that's walkable and dense, or have access to services that now are increasingly concentrated around cities and urban areas and not in areas that a lot of people are being pushed out to. What can you do as a legislator? What kind of policy or action could you take to address that?
[00:32:46] Nicole Gomez: That's a good question. So you have the ability to diversify neighborhoods through building more housing in those areas. That's how you build diversity in neighborhoods - is allowing those places to be built. So a lot of the neighborhoods in the 36th are single-family housing areas, there are less places where you can put apartment-style or condo-style housing than there used to be. I don't even know how long ago it was - 15, 20 years, I don't remember - but there used to be a greater ability to build density and that's not the case now. There's actually very few places where you can build higher up, so a lot of what we can do as a legislator, or as legislators - is to partner with our cities, partner with our counties, work on actual plans government-to-government initiatives are a thing. You're there to represent people and essentially you're a lobbyist for your people that live in your neighborhood, that live in your - where you live. And so, you take their ideas and try to make them happen. And so part of that is having a really good relationship with your local people - call up people from King County, go testify at their meetings - it's real.
[00:34:54] Crystal Fincher: I got you. So there are also conversations, and going back to the last legislative session, about what we need to do to restore trust and build trust in institutions involved in our criminal legal system, including policing. There've been a number of incidents - obviously we've talked a lot over the years on this show just about various incidents - but there was action taken this past legislative session to roll back a number of policies. There are also several challenges from within our system of policing, within our systems of prosecution that seem to allow bad acts to occur without any accountability. And a lot of people are like - hey, we are asking a minimum wage earner to be more accountable, to employ more judgment, and they're experiencing more consequences than some of the highly-paid professionals in policing, in prosecutor's office, judges. One, do you agree with the action that was taken this past legislative session, and what more can be done to increase accountability and trust with the public?
[00:36:25] Nicole Gomez: I don't agree with rolling back what was done. And I will say that I used to work for a district attorney's office, I was a crime victims coordinator, I've worked with a ton of law enforcement - different types of agencies even - and they have a rough job and so I have respect for them. It's hard to go out every day and deal with stuff that you've been - the same people, the same problems - and I know it's their job, right? That's a real thing, but it gets frustrating because I think they also feel like they're not being listened to, so I get that. At the same time, they're accountable to the public - they're public servants. And so, that is - you have to hold those things together at the same time and it's difficult, especially because right now they've lost all public trust. And I would like to see them meet the public halfway. It feels right now - it feels like they got their feelings hurt and are pouting. And instead of trying to collaboratively work on the problem - so rebuilding trust takes a long time - and it takes transparency, it takes accountability, it takes effort, and it takes people to get out there, show up, be there for your community. Go to the night-out parties at your local, in your streets, in your blocks. Do the - get out of your car and go walk your neighborhood, bike your neighborhood, meet people, talk - those are the kinds of things that I think would help to rebuild trust.
As far as the legislature goes, I would love to dig in and learn a little bit more about the behind the scenes, the sausage of what happened, because I have a feeling that there's a lot that went into it and I'd be interested in talking to everybody. One of the things that I'm a big believer in is making sure that you've researched all sides of any given problem. And currently from what I've seen - it's through media and other people - so actually knowing what those behind-the-scenes conversations are would help in figuring out how to move forward. That's definitely a necessity in order to tackle such a hard problem. But I also get that they're frustrated and it goes back to those social programs. We have to do something. We literally have not been funding them for years.
[00:40:17] Crystal Fincher: All right. Well, we are coming to the end here, but as we close, there are - you're in a crowded race for the open seat, there are a lot of candidates in the race. Why should voters choose you? And how would their lives be impacted differently with you versus the other candidates?
[00:40:38] Nicole Gomez: Yeah. Well, I think with me - I come with a variety of experience, lived experience. I come with a few different fields - I've worked in healthcare policy as an advocate, as a volunteer advocate. I've been training people on civics, civic engagement. I have been - I've worked in workers' compensation for over 15 years. There's - it's a multifaceted person who hasn't had one specific path - it's all culminated into this ability to know how systems work. It's what I do. For me, I think the people of the 36th would get a thoughtful, humble servant. I have an innate curiosity about why we do the things we do. And I have a proven drive to change something if it no longer serves our community, and I would be honored to be able to represent this district that I love and call home.
[00:41:52] Crystal Fincher: Well, thank you so much for joining us today.
[00:41:54] Nicole Gomez: Thank you - great talking to you.
[00:41:56] Crystal Fincher: You too. I thank you all for listening to Hacks & Wonks on KVRU 105.7 FM. The producer of Hacks & Wonks is Lisl Stadler with assistance from Shannon Cheng. You can find me on Twitter @finchfrii, spelled F-I-N-C-H-F-R-I-I. Now you can follow Hacks & Wonks on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever else you get your podcasts - just type "Hacks & Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to get our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, leave a review wherever you listen to Hacks & Wonks. You can also get a full transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at officialhacksandwonks.com and in the episode notes.
Thanks for tuning in. We'll talk to you next time.