Democratic newcomer aims to unseat GOP incumbent in competitive 28th District
The senate race pitting well-known Republican incumbent Steve O’Ban against newcomer T’wina Nobles is arguably the most watched race in the 2020 state legislative contests. Only a handful of senate races are considered competitive, and this race is one of them.
Nobles, a University Place School Board member, and president and CEO of the Tacoma Urban League, is fast becoming a star for the Democrats.
O’Ban, an attorney, first took the Pierce County senate seat in 2013. He is best known for his criticism of Sound Transit and fighting to get car tab relief for drivers, especially drivers in his district who not only voted for the $30 car tab measure last year, but also voted against ST3 – the $54 billion light rail extension that sparked massive car tab bill increases in the first place.
Now that the State Supreme Court has struck down I-976, the $30 car tab measure, O’Ban feels it’s even more important to get back to Olympia where he plans to introduce a bill for car tab relief that values vehicles fairly, closer to Kelley Blue Book, and works out the issues the High Court had with I-976.
“We can pass constitutional car tab relief by just making some adjustments on the [ballot] title,” O’Ban said.
“What I’m really concerned about is people feel like their vote doesn’t count, that they’re not being heard when they so clearly said they wanted some meaningful car tab tax relief. So I think it’s imperative, an absolute must for the legislature not to ignore their constituents and to give them meaningful car tab tax relief. And, you know, I’ve been leading in that effort, and I’ll continue to do so,” he added.
O’Ban also wants to fight for transit for his constituents who feel left behind by separating from Sound Transit.
“Pierce County really needs its own transportation or transit planning system. Sound Transit, in my view, does not really benefit Pierce County, not to the tune of the $5 billion that will be sucked out of my county to pay for light rail that will mainly benefit Seattle,” he said. “And I get why Seattle wants it, but there’s no real direct benefit to my constituents, and that’s why they voted against ST3 overwhelmingly and for $30 car tabs.”
“I want to see us focus on a system that makes sense for Pierce County residents, not one that’s really about Seattle. I want to keep working on building a transportation system that works for my county, and that’s why I got the funding for the JBLM I-5 corridor build out that’s going to reduce or eliminate that choke point,” he added.
Nobles understands that people want car tab relief, noting the added importance of this issue during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“I want to see relief in my community around car tabs. I want to make sure that community members who need financial relief, especially right now during this pandemic, get that relief. Like them, I too am frustrated by the high cost of car tabs,” Nobles said, sharing a story about a family member who is a veteran, living on VA Social Security. The car tab is waived for them because they received the Purple Heart.
“But that would really take them under, having another bill that would be $500. So I want to make sure that we pay close attention to the high cost of car tabs and the disproportionate impact on working families like mine,” Nobles explained.
Nobles is also interested in investing in transportation and transit options.
“I want to make investments in transportation, and increase access to transportation, better roads, improve infrastructure [to lessen or] eliminate congestion. For far too long those costs have fallen on those who can least afford them, so we want to improve transit, but we also want to make sure that there is financial relief,” said Nobles, who did not cite a specific proposal she liked for relief, preferring to get to Olympia and listen and learn before committing to a strategy.
“My leadership style is getting in there and getting the information for myself. What I can tell you is, I want to make sure that our community gets what it’s asking for, and we are going to need a new leader in Olympia, like myself, who simply is going to roll up their sleeves and get to work,” Nobles said.
If O’Ban, who is senior counsel for Pierce County on behavioral health issues, returns to Olympia, he plans to continue his extensive work on the state’s mental health system.
“Mental health is a big issue pretty much everywhere, but certainly in my district. We connect it to homelessness, we connect it to forms of property crime. We have so many constituents that have loved ones who have serious mental illness, or have a dear friend who has a loved one with serious mental illness. I think it’s really important to keep people in the legislature that understand that issue,” O’Ban said, noting he had been working in that policy area for seven years.
“I’ve got real experience, a real understanding, and I want to keep fighting that fight, I want to keep trying to reform our broken mental health system,” he added.
O’Ban says fighting for mental health and car tab relief are what sets him apart from his challenger, who he paints as far to the left.
“Miss Nobles is really a Seattle-style progressive that’s won the endorsement of Mayor Durkan, for example, because she supports an income tax on capital gains,” O’Ban said.
“We have been able to fight off an income tax in the legislature up to this point, and I want to continue to protect middle class taxpayers in that way. It really failed in the senate after passing the house by one vote, and if we lose this seat, Miss Nobles already said publicly she’ll support the income tax. So they’ll have the votes, no question about it. So, unless voters in the 28th District want an income tax — I know they don’t — I think the choice is pretty clear,” he said.
Nobles is proud to support a capital gains tax.
“Our state’s tax system is unfair, and it’s upside down, and what I do know is consistently the burden falls disproportionately on the backs of our working and middle class families, and that’s my family, that’s me, that’s us. So we’re going to have to think progressively, we’re going to have to think about funding critical services and ensuring that big corporations pay their fair share,” Nobles said.
“What I don’t support is additional taxes on working families or middle class families. I absolutely don’t support that. The capital gains tax only on the wealthiest, multimillionaires is what I want to see happen,” she added.
Nobles, who would be the first African American woman elected to the state senate in a decade, and has attracted big endorsements from Joe Biden and Senator Elizabeth Warren, disagrees with the assertion that she is a Seattle progressive.
“No shade to Seattle and the amazing folks who live in Seattle, but that’s not where I spend my time, my energy, my focus. I do my work here at home. I’m focused on Pierce County, and I’m laser focused on the needs of the 28th,” she added.
As a former teacher and current school board president, Nobles says she understands the challenges students and parents are facing right now with remote learning and she wants to use her expertise to help ensure students don’t fall through the cracks.
“Sharing my experience as an educator and a school board director, but more importantly, as a Black mom who works really hard to make sure that my own children don’t fall through the cracks,” Nobles said.
“Closing the achievement gap, and making sure that we’re paying attention to the individual needs of students and families is going to remain critically important and a priority of mine,” she added.
“I want to make sure we stay focused on health care, we stay focused on affordable housing, our community members experiencing homelessness, I want to make sure we’re providing adequate access to mental health and behavioral health resources in our community,” said Nobles, stressing the importance of being able to partner with those across the aisle to come up with solutions.
O’Ban also touts his ability to work across the aisle, noting his work on mental health and other issues.
“I think the best ideas typically come from bipartisan work that gets done. Where all arguments have to be considered and factored into legislation, I think that’s where we get the best policy,” O’Ban said.
“If the Democrats get their super majorities that they’re after, there’ll be a lot less bipartisan policymaking,” he added.
Nobles finished the primary ahead of O’Ban with 50.2% of the vote, compared to O’Ban’s 49.7%.
As of Monday, Nobles had raised just under $910,000 compared to O’Ban’s $842,000, with nearly $2.2 million in outside money pouring into the race to either support or attack the candidates, making it the highest spending contest among Washington state legislative races this election cycle.