Sound & Vision: Washington State Senator Emily Randall and the Music That Inspires Her

Interviews, Sound and Vision

As we celebrate International Women's Day and Women's History Month throughout March on Sound & Vision, we'll be getting to know the six new women of color in the state legislature. Today we meet, Emily Randall, State Senator from the 26th district which encompasses Bremerton, Port Orchard, Gig Harbor, and the Key Peninsula.

She was raised by a white mother and a Chicano father. When Randall was growing up, she and her family spent weekend movie nights renting and watching films with Latino storylines.

"We were probably the only family to rent this movie over and over about this magical Ice Cream Suit. It was based in East L.A.," Randall says.

And they also spend a lot of time watching La Bamba.

"The music of Los Lobos is very central to my childhood,” she says. “I don't know, I think it speaks to the intersection of my parents' cultures renting those movies and exploring different ways where our culture showed up in mainstream American culture was really important. So the Los Lobos version of 'La Bamba' is one that will always remind me of being a kid."

In our conversation, we dive into how Randall's family history and cultural background inspired her to run for office and have made an impact on her political views and priorities. Listen to the full segment or read a transcription below.


Emily Randall: I grew up in my district. My family on both sides moved to Kitsap County in the 50s and 60s. My grandparents moved because they wanted to find opportunity for themselves and their families. And they did. They found a wonderful home and a welcoming community and yet we have a lot of people who are feeling that same need right now.

A lot of folks in our community who are looking for a better paying job, who are looking for the chance to build a future for their kids that they've dreamed of. So I ran because my family's story inspired me to connect with my neighbors around the issues that they cared about and I'm so happy to be here, to have the chance to fight for our community.

My dad's parents moved from Ogden, Utah. My dad was about 12 when they moved to Washington. My family on my dad's side is Chicano and they grew up sort of in the Southwest Arizona-New Mexico-Colorado-Utah. My grandpa had just gotten out of the Marines and was working at an Air Force Base in Utah and their family was facing a lot of oppression. He was being discriminated against in the workforce. And then when they moved to a new apartment complex, they had filled out an application on paper and sent it in.

Our last name is Randall and so it didn't send up any red flags for anyone. Then when my grandparents and my aunts and uncles moved in, the neighbors were unpleasantly surprised and circulated a petition to get them to move out. So that was one of the last straws, I think, for my grandparents. They knew that they wanted to raise their kids in a place that loved and welcomed them. And so my grandpa got himself a job at Keyport in Kitsap County and they moved in their truck and camper to Washington and have lived in the same house since 1967.

KEXP: Did they find Bremerton and the Kitsap Peninsula was much more welcoming?

Yes, I think so. I mean, we still live in America, so it wasn't without its challenges. But I remember as a little girl continuing to experience some discrimination. When we went to visit my family in Utah it was definitely in my face in a way that it wasn't in the South Kitsap school district and the community I grew up in. But one time I was 9 years old and we got home from a camping trip and some people had spray painted on our minivan that was in the driveway and other property "Die Mex" with swastikas.

I was young but old enough to really understand and read. I remember seeing my dad, and my grandpa came over too, kind of grapple with this experience in different ways. My grandpa had a lot of anger because he had dealt with this his whole life. He had moved his family to find a place where they wouldn't experience this anymore.

And then my dad, who had grown up kind of bridging a cultural line in a different way, I think it was really important to him to model for me and my siblings that this wasn't everyone. That this was an isolated few people who were loud and angry and hateful and we knew that our neighbors loved us and cared about us and this didn't reflect our community.

It's a challenge that we move through and we figure out how to do that in our own ways. I saw my grandpa's way and I saw my dad's way and I think I've probably taken some of both of them and figured some out on my own. How do we not ignore this kind of hate and violence, but find our shared values that are worth fighting for?

So this is the most diverse incoming class of state lawmakers. What does it feel like to be a part of that?

Oh my goodness, it's amazing. My grandpa and my mom and some of my family came to watch the first day of session, our swearing in. To look up in the gallery and see my family and my colleagues' Vietnamese family and Indian family and across the legislative building in the house where they're swearing and the first Native American woman to the House of Representatives.

The energy in this building was so palpable and there was this undercurrent of both incredible joy and also the recognition of how far we've had to come to get here. As I talked to my colleagues you know Joe Nguyen and Mona Das and Claire Wilson and Jesse Salomon – the new incoming members of this powerful delegation – we never passed much time without kind of reveling in this incredible accomplishment. I mean, we were young. Claire and I are the first two out LGBT women to serve in the Senate.

We have such varied backgrounds and I think I can't help but look at legislation and look at this place and the history and the way things have always been done, we can't help but look at that with new eyes and bring these varied perspectives where we reflect not only ourselves in our own stories but the incredible richness of our communities.

What is one thing that you want to tackle in state government?

Health care is a big issue for me. It's the number one thing I heard in our community over the past year and it's really the reason that I chose a pathway into public policy. When I was seven, my sister Olivia was born with microcephaly, a pretty severe developmental disability and we didn't know how long she'd live.

That's like what people say she was Zeka.

Yes. Yes. Nobody knew what microcephaly was until then. But Olivia had a lot of health challenges. And that was really scary for our family. But what was also scary was the fact that my dad, though his insurance was good – he worked for the Department of Defense and we had good health insurance – it wasn't enough to cover what Olivia would need. We would have lost our house in order to get her the care she needed if the legislature in 1993 here in Washington hadn't been one of the first states in the country to expand Medicaid.

That was the first time I realized what government could do for people and for families like mine. And so I've spent my career working in healthcare to expand access to families who needed it. I worked at Children's Hospital Boston, raising money for uncompensated care for the worst of the worst cases in New England and across the country and around the world. And then I worked at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation where we built San Francisco's first health center for gay, bi, and trans men that brought them from rapid SDI testing to counseling services to community services. You know, everything. And then I worked at Planned Parenthood right before the 2016 election.

I had such hope when I joined the team at PPFA about the kind of healthcare access we would be able to ensure for not just women but all people. And then election night 2016 happened and I was actually at my college's campus. I went to Wellesley College and we had 3000 alums gathered in our sports center to watch one of our own break that highest, hardest glass ceiling. And then it didn't happen.

I looked around at 1:30 in the morning after the life had been sucked out of the room at this incredible group of people that I was so lucky to be a part of. I was the first in my family to go to college and I only got to go to Wellesley because of incredible financial aid.

Where is Wellesley again?

It's in Massachusetts, just west of Boston.

And you're saying that's where Hillary Clinton went?

It is where Hillary Clinton went. And I knew that night as I thought about the privilege that I had by being a part of this community in comparison with... Or just thinking about how far I'd come from my family's story to now and all the work that I had done to protect healthcare and expand healthcare options for families like ours.

And I knew then that I had to run because under this administration we have continued to see this federal administration attack after attack on LGBT people and on poor people and on immigrant communities and people of color and folks who need healthcare. Every one of us with a body needs health care. And yet, we are at risk of moving backward not forwards. But here in Washington, we have a chance to continue the incredible work that our state has long done. We expanded Medicaid in 1993 and we saved my sister. And now we have a chance to ensure that the 400 thousand people who don't have health insurance in Washington, who don't have coverage, can become covered.

We're doing a lot of work around health care. I have a great reproductive health care bill, The Reproductive Health Access for All Bill, that will allow immigrant communities from 19 to 26 undocumented folks who are kept out of the healthcare system who are not able to make empowered reproductive choices to allow them to get the health care that they need.

It also will allow trans folks in that same age range to have comprehensive reproductive health care. Right now we're facing a problem where a lot of trans folks are being denied care because doctors don't understand and insurance companies most of the time don't understand why a man might need to have an ovariectomy and so we're fixing this broken system. I also introduced a bill that will create a workgroup to lead us towards universal coverage. So lots of exciting stuff happening and it's such a privilege to be here working on it.

Was there a song that motivated you doing your campaign or a song that you think represents your campaign?

Something that I listened to over and over in the office, in the morning when I woke up, driving across our rural was Tracy Chapman's "Talkin' About a Revolution."

I mean, I grew up listening to my mom's tape of Tracy Chapman. This song, it just speaks to the importance of working from the bottom up or from the middle out, hardworking people who deserve to be a part of making the change that we all need and we know that we can't do it without folks who are closest to the problems. And every Tracy Chapman song is amazing, but this one was really motivating to me.

Sound & Vision airs Saturday mornings at 7 AM PST. Hosted by Emily Fox and John Richards, the show "uses interviews, artistry, commentary, insight, and conversation to that tell broader stories through music, and illustrate why music and art matter."

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