Civil Survival Executive Director Tarra Simmons was recently targeted in a political ad attacking Democratic state Senate candidate Emily Randall for supporting Ms. Simmons on her journey to become a lawyer. Ms. Simmons’ remarkable journey from an abusive past, to prison, to her recent swearing in as a member of the Washington State Bar Association has been an inspiration to people on both sides of the political spectrum.

Ms. Simmons’ past included an abusive childhood, drug addiction and incarceration for drug-related offenses. She was able to recover and pursue a law degree through sheer determination and perseverance. Despite earning top honors, including the dean’s medal and a prestigious Skadden Fellowship, the Washington State Bar Association’s Character and Fitness Board initially denied Ms. Simmon’s application to take the bar exam. She appealed the decision to the state Supreme Court, which issued a rare same-day decision unanimously reversing the Board’s decision and allowing her to take the bar exam. She recently passed and is now working with her fellowship through the Public Defender’s association as well as being appointed by Governor Inslee as co-chair of the Statewide Reentry Council. Because Ms. Simmons has overcome so many barriers and has worked hard to support bipartisan criminal justice reform the attack ad understandably came as a surprise.

NPR’s Austin Jenkins recently reported on the ad and its misplaced message. The ad, which read “Emily Randall (D) has consistently failed to back our law enforcement, yet Randall has supported Tarra Simmons, a drug addicted ex-con who was denied admission to the Washington State Bar Association due to multiple felony convictions.” According to Mr. Jenkins, Ms. Randall condemned the ad as being “really disappointing” adding “I believe in second chances and I know that the police force and law enforcement agencies in our community do too.”

Mr. Jenkins reports that the mailer was paid for by a political action committee led by two Republican State Senators. When Ms. Simmons saw a copy of the ad she was shocked, stating “I’m not running for political office, so I didn’t even know that I was susceptible to these types of attacks.” Ms. Simmons endorsed Ms. Randall for state Senate but tries to steer clear of partisan politics, preferring to focus on her many activities promoting criminal justice reform in the state legislature. As she told Mr. Jenkins “I’ve always tried to work on both sides of the aisle to meet a common goal which is to allow people the ability to rebuild their lives, to save taxpayer money on over-incarceration, allow people to be set up for success, instead of failure, so they won’t come back to prison.”

In a separate Facebook post Ms. Simmons describes her tells those who support her and are angry about the attack ad that there are three ways they can help her feel better:

  1. Support the New Hope Act (providing rehabilitated formerly incarcerated individuals a chance to rebuild their lives)
  2. Donate to Emily Randall and
  3. Donate to Civil Survival

Civil Survival supports Tarra and her tireless support for second chances and successful community reentry. There is simply no place in our state for this kind of ugly, partisan political attack that pushes people apart rather than promoting bi-partisan efforts that lift people up and improve their lives and communities.

Read Austin Jenkins’ full article