The real challenge for Federal Way voters in November | Livingston

Our elected leaders are only as capable as the expectations and vision we as residents have for our community’s future.

What are your expectations for 2023 and beyond for positioning our city for a better future? As citizens, we seem to be trapped in the forever election cycle of politics, electing folks but rarely seeing or feeling our lives improve.

Electioneering by state and federal candidates is currently making the most noise for the 2024 election cycle, but what affects us most is happening on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023. Everyone should have their attention focused on the current local elections for any ballot measures, city council, school board, port authority, fire districts, water districts, and a few more.

Elections are a way of confirming that the path we are on is preferred by the greater community, or that a new voice with different ideas is desired within the leadership ranks. First, all candidates are volunteers, community members, and neighbors and when elected to serve, deserve respect even when we disagree. Disagree enough – vote them out. The hardest part for us – the electorate to figure out – is what the candidates believe, are saying for the political theater of getting elected, and what they actually can do when elected.

We have six candidates for School Board with incumbent Jennifer Jones being challenged by Daniel Kukar, incumbent Luckisha Phillips running against Christopher Dowllar, and Gavin Downing and Joan Marie Murphy vying for an open seat. The best school board candidates tend to be people with advanced degrees and a passion for improving the classroom experience, staff, and student resources essential for educational growth, as well as student well-being.

That said, we have candidates presenting themselves as wanting to improve a district’s educational capability, but their statements may be a mask for an ideologically different road. They may want to use the teaching of the Constitution or add religion as a focus to overcome the ills of our society.

Truthfully, if civics were taught to a greater degree, collectively we might have more respect for our democracy. However, ironically, candidates with this position currently seem to be aligning themselves with the authoritarian MAGA cult which has placed our democracy and Constitution under assault. We also need to expose any candidate whose goal is for direct board accountability over teachers, what they are allowed to teach, educational materials used, and ask ourselves if their presence on the school board is good for our district.

As citizens we must appreciate that as our society increases in its diversification, we need to value educating students to embrace the American experience – which includes our historic intolerances, conflicts, and political warts – as a way of assuring a better future for all who live here and those who will continue come.

Those who believe banning books, diversity training, or desiring a more nuanced version of history, should be regarded as not in the best interest of our school district. And, those who are even vaguely suggesting that religion should be more of a central theme within the classroom experience, have failed within their education to appreciate that we as a nation have no state religion and that the wall between “church and state” is a core value of the First Amendment to our Constitution.

The tasks we are electing school board candidates to perform are policy, resource, budget, achievement, and accountability-focused. The challenge is to meet the present need, future planning, and prepare our district for a high standard of education assuring that the needs of Federal Way Public Schools’ students are met and prepared for a lifetime of learning. Choose wisely.

The candidates running for our city council present unique challenges as well. Everybody seems to be running on the “we support public safety” bandwagon. Each candidate has their own “dog whistles” that will appeal to a targeted constituency. In the candidate statements reviewed, there are hardly any new ideas or “how they would” elevate Federal Way to a more dynamic city – a city desired for its quality of life, job opportunities, or how we could capitalize on our growing diversity.

All the candidates have a steady-as-you-go sensibility and Denise Yun, who may have championed a new direction, is ethically compromised by an alleged misdemeanor shoplifting charge, and her candidacy will likely be of no consequence to the incumbent, Linda Kochmar. Susan Honda and Jack Walsh as incumbents have challengers in Roger Flygare and Kathrine Festa. Both are worth consideration if change is desired.

Lydia Assefa-Dawson, the incumbent, has perennial challenger for political office Mark Greene as her opponent. He has run for Mayor, and city council on several election cycles, and most recently for Position 1, for the 30th Legislative District. He has the desire to serve and at this point, he has sufficient name recognition but the real question is, does he have enough of a following to unseat the incumbent?

There are real challenges for the candidates to discuss beyond the standard refrain of public safety and hand-wringing about the homeless. Those are forever concerns and may help get a candidate elected, but I want to hear the candidates express their ideas about a new downtown, staff improvements, code enforcement, and how to use arts and sports as a fulcrum that can leverage our city’s attract-ability to a new generation of residents. Do the candidates have a vision for our future more than the same ole mantra of – “we gotta drive the homeless away and increase the size of our police force?”

Just remember, our elected leaders are only as capable as the expectations and vision we as residents have for our community’s future. If we think small, the council will think smaller. Also, we must not forget the mayor and his staff are the ones who craft and prepare the budget and all the documents we see being discussed at council meetings. For our community to exceed expectations we need them to be challenged to challenge the city council to be more than small-minded process thinkers.

For Federal Way to become a city of first-choice desirability, we must vote, and as citizens become vigilant participants in the future of our city.

Keith Livingston is a retired municipal management professional, lifelong artist and Federal Way resident. He can be reached at