In 2015, Tammy Morales made the leap from community organizer to candidate for the Seattle City Council. It was her first time running for elected office. She personally knocked on some 8,000 doors and made endless speeches and pleas for money, and then she lost.
“It was not easy. I came within 344 votes,” says Morales, who had challenged incumbent Bruce Harrell to represent District 2.
It was a heartbreaking defeat. But, says Morales, “I’m stubborn.”
Four years later Morales is again vying for the same seat. Harrell did not seek reelection, but Morales faced six other contenders on the August primary ballot. Morales came in first with more than twice the votes of runner up Mark Solomon, who was endorsed in the primary by The Seattle Times and Mayor Jenny Durkan. Morales now faces off against Solomon on the November ballot.
Her primary showing highlights the advantages Morales enjoys as a rebound candidate. The second time around, she comes armed with the experience she gained in the first race along with the valuable networks she built.
Candidates like Morales who failed their first time on the ballot are a potentially powerful resource in the ongoing drive to elect more women to office. Women remain underrepresented at all levels of government (they make up only 23.7 percent of Congress). In 2018, a record number of women ran for office, but more lost than won, according to The Center for American Women and Politics which tallied federal, statewide, and state legislative races. I’ve been curious about what the electoral future holds for women who were defeated, and I sought out Morales to ask why she didn’t walk away after that 2015 defeat.
Morales told me that she did not spend any time licking her wounds after her narrow loss four years ago. Within a few weeks, she was back at City Hall testifying on community issues. “I knew I was going to run again, and I wanted to make sure that people knew I was going to stay engaged,” she said. “The interesting thing about coming so close, is that really quickly people were saying please do this again, so I was definitely buoyed.”
A graduate of The University of Texas at San Antonio, Morales had worked for a Texas lawmaker before moving to Seattle two decades ago and touts her legislative experience. She also has served on the Seattle Human Rights Commission and worked for United Food and Commercial Workers Local 21 and Rainier Beach Action Coalition.
For her first campaign, Morales tried to prepare herself by taking candidate trainings from the National Women’s Political Caucus of Washington and Wellstone Action. But it was on the campaign trail that she gained the most useful experience.
“It was really important to go through that process,” she says of her 2015 race. “I learned a lot about campaigning, how the budget works, how the cycle works, how important it is to have the right staff on board, the mechanics of running a campaign.”
For her 2019 race, she has more staff and more support. She also says she is more sure of herself as a candidate.
“This time I’m willing to push harder, and I’m willing to be a little more assertive in my principles and what I think is important to be fighting for,” says Morales, whose husband and three children all help with her campaign. “I’m a little bit older now. I just think it’s really important for me to be who I am, and if people don’t like that they are not going to vote for me. But I’m not going to change the way I think about issues. I’m willing to be educated and to change my mind with greater understanding about issues and to listen to other people’s ideas and perspectives, but I’m going to speak my own truth in a way that I somehow just wasn’t willing or felt unprepared to do last time.”
Despite her strong showing in the primary, victory in November is far from a done deal for Morales. As Post Alley writer Sandeep Kaushik pointed out, “she has a real race on her hands from crime prevention coordinator Mark Solomon, a pragmatic progressive who has a base of support in the African American community.”
Morales has been an advocate for the rights of the homeless, and her agenda focuses on social justice issues and the childcare support she wishes had been there for her own mother. Her mother often worked multiple jobs and sometimes would take Tammy with her to work on weekends because she couldn’t afford childcare. “My mom wasn’t political at all, but she taught me that you do what you have to do to take care of your family and you speak up for what you believe in,” says Morales. “She’s my role model.”