NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Sunday, October 28th, 2018

Pinky Vargas, Sharon Shewmake, and Justin Boneau hope to make history in 42nd District

Washington’s 42nd Leg­isla­tive Dis­trict spans a sig­nif­i­cant chunk of Wash­ing­ton’s State’s bor­der neigh­bor­hoods, tak­ing in many rur­al What­com Coun­ty com­mu­ni­ties as well as a por­tion of the City of Bellingham.

While Belling­ham is the home of West­ern Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­si­ty (WWU) and con­sid­ered to be a bas­tion of pro­gres­sivism, the 42nd Dis­trict is rep­re­sent­ed entire­ly by Repub­li­cans in the Leg­is­la­ture and has been for many years.

The 42nd’s cur­rent State Sen­a­tor is for­mer Trump cam­paign chair and regime cheer­leader Doug Erick­sen (a favorite pal of Tim Eyman’s), while its two State Rep­re­sen­ta­tives are Luanne Van Wer­ven (Posi­tion 1) and Vin­cent Buys (Posi­tion 2).

How­ev­er, in the recent August Top Two Elec­tion, the tri­o’s Demo­c­ra­t­ic oppo­nents each col­lec­tive­ly received more votes than they did — a his­toric accom­plish­ment.

For State Sen­ate, the two Democ­rats on the bal­lot secured 54.01% of the vote, with Belling­ham City Coun­cilmem­ber Pinky Var­gas advanc­ing to the Gen­er­al Elec­tion bal­lot. Fel­low chal­lenger Tim Ballew II has endorsed her for the general.

Demo­c­ra­t­ic chal­lenger Justin Boneau was able to lock down 50.68% of the vote for Posi­tion 1, with incum­bent Van Wer­ven and anoth­er Repub­li­can cumu­la­tive­ly earn­ing 49.32% of the vote. And final­ly, Demo­c­ra­t­ic chal­lenger Sharon Shew­make secured 52.21% of the vote against incum­bent Repub­li­can Vin­cent Buys.

Like many dis­tricts across Wash­ing­ton, as well as the coun­try, the 42nd is plagued with afford­abil­i­ty prob­lems. The cost of liv­ing is increas­ing, with wages remain­ing stag­nant. From hous­ing and health­care, to child­care and edu­ca­tion, the 42nd Leg­isla­tive Dis­trict is grap­pling with many issues.

The dis­trict is in need of strong, results-ori­ent­ed rep­re­sen­ta­tion in Olympia.

Var­gas is one of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty’s top prospects, and is cam­paign­ing ener­get­i­cal­ly on a host of issues, includ­ing car­ing for our com­mon home, the Earth. She spent yes­ter­day door­belling the Lum­mi Nation, unde­terred by the rain.

Her oppo­nent, Erick­sen, is per­haps the biggest friend that Big Oil has in the Wash­ing­ton State Leg­is­la­ture. Oil com­pa­nies are among Erick­sen’s top donors, and when Erick­sen was the Chair of the Sen­ate Ener­gy, Envi­ron­ment and Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mit­tee (a posi­tion he lost fol­low­ing Man­ka Dhin­gra’s spe­cial elec­tion win last year in the 45th Dis­trict), he actu­al­ly tried to advance leg­is­la­tion to pro­hib­it poli­cies to clean up our air and water.

Gun safe­ty is anoth­er one of Var­gas’ priorities.

“There have been three school shoot­ing threats this week in What­com Coun­ty,” she lament­ed in a post last week. “Two at Fer­n­dale High School, and one at Nook­sack Val­ley High School. We need respon­si­ble gun safe­ty laws. That’s why I am sup­port­ing I‑1639, for safe schools and safe communities.”

And although the Leg­is­la­ture did make his­toric progress ear­li­er this year on pay equi­ty, Var­gas says there’s more than needs to be done.

“Women deserve equal pay for equal work,” she declared.

“Although the Equal Pay Oppor­tu­ni­ty Act was passed, the pay gap still exists. At the State Sen­ate, I will advo­cate for women, and stand up for them. Every time. We must con­tin­ue to push for equal pay for equal work laws, so that women and men earn the same pay if they do the same job.”

Sharon Shew­make, the Demo­c­rat hop­ing to unseat Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Buys, is a pro­fes­sor of eco­nom­ics at West­ern and looks at invest­ing in social ser­vices for the dis­trict as a win-win for the state and its residents.

“I nev­er thought I’d run for office,” Shew­make explained. “But look­ing at how our state was mak­ing pol­i­cy deci­sions alarmed me.”

“Econ­o­mists and oth­er social sci­en­tists have worked out real­ly great ways of achiev­ing these goals […] We need to be using these tools that have real­ly good evi­dence, and peo­ple have lit­er­al­ly won Nobel Prizes for study­ing and devel­op­ing, and make lives bet­ter for Wash­ing­ton State residents.”

Shew­make described the need to make sure fund­ing is dis­trib­uted equi­tably — not just to the more pop­u­lat­ed and afflu­ent schools in Belling­ham, but also out to the many rur­al parts of the dis­trict so teach­ers are moti­vat­ed to take jobs there.

She also hopes to bring more afford­able high­er edu­ca­tion to the dis­trict, poten­tial­ly through free tuition for the first two years of com­mu­ni­ty col­lege or tech­ni­cal school. (This is an idea many Demo­c­ra­t­ic leg­is­la­tors want to pursue.)

She cit­ed a mod­el the State of Ten­nessee has used as proof that pro­vid­ing cer­tain types of tuition free school as a pos­i­tive invest­ment in the com­mu­ni­ty. The state has a pro­gram where the first two years of com­mu­ni­ty col­lege and tech­ni­cal school are free. Since the Ten­nessee pro­gram was intro­duced, there has been a 60% increase in stu­dents who com­plet­ed degree and cer­tifi­cate pro­grams. Fif­teen oth­er states have adopt­ed sim­i­lar pro­grams dri­ven by Tennessee’s results.

“It doesn’t cost as much as you think,” Shew­make told NPI. “Edu­ca­tion is one of the best invest­ments we can make in our society.”

Justin Boneau, the Demo­c­rat hope­ful vying to unseat Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Van Wer­ven, wor­ries about the cost of child­care in the dis­trict. “We actu­al­ly have the most expen­sive child­care in the state here,” he explained.

He explained how the major­i­ty of the fam­i­lies in the dis­trict sur­vive on dual incomes and the lack of child­care options either makes the cou­ples split shifts if their sched­ules allow, or pay the expen­sive amount for child­care in the area.

Accord­ing to a recent Belling­ham Her­ald arti­cle, the num­ber of licensed child care providers dropped 25% in What­com Coun­ty in the four years lead­ing up to 2016. The arti­cle cit­ed hard and con­fus­ing bar­ri­ers to enter into the child­care facil­i­ty indus­try, includ­ing opaque reg­u­la­tions and com­pli­ance with the state’s min­i­mum wage and ben­e­fits require­ments (which are impor­tant and nec­es­sary to pro­tect work­ers, but which could be bet­ter explained to prospec­tive entrepreneurs.)

Boneau said he became aware of the issue when there were high prices and long wait­lists when try­ing to get his four-year-old child into care. “I’m of the mind that we as a state should have a com­pre­hen­sive, one-through-five-year-old child­care sys­tem that’s uni­ver­sal and avail­able to all Wash­ing­ton State res­i­dents,” he said.

Shew­make and Boneau agree that the dis­trict also needs less bar­ri­ers pre­vent­ing enroll­ment of chil­dren in child­care and preschool programs.

Shew­make offered an eco­nom­ic analy­sis of the issue, stat­ing that the state should invest in preschool for every child whose par­ents want to send them.

“There are high qual­i­ty stud­ies where they fol­lowed kids who went to preschool ver­sus kids who didn’t, and the dif­fer­ence was the flip of a coin,” she said.

One study fol­lowed kids for about forty years and found that for every one dol­lar invest­ed, we get about six to nine dol­lars’ worth of ben­e­fits back.

“About half of those kids who went to preschool did not need as many social ser­vices lat­er on in their life, includ­ing incar­cer­a­tion,” said Shew­make. “These dif­fer­ences per­sist through­out the rest of the kid’s edu­ca­tion and the evi­dence shows how not receiv­ing that ear­ly child­hood edu­ca­tion can poten­tial­ly neg­a­tive­ly impact the rest of their lives, and I think that is unacceptable.”

Besides access to edu­ca­tion, both can­di­dates believe the hous­ing cri­sis is one of the district’s biggest issue. Ever increas­ing prices of sin­gle-fam­i­ly homes — cou­pled with stag­nant wages — have put home own­er­ship out of reach for many families.

Boneau explained that the coun­ty had a health assess­ment done that showed that near­ly 60% of What­com Coun­ty house­holds are bur­dened by the cost of hous­ing, mean­ing they spend over 30% of their income on hous­ing alone.

“My rent has gone up three times in two years,” said Boneau. “And I know that I’m not alone in this.” He said of the many vot­ers he’s talked to dur­ing the cam­paign, many of them under­stand and feel the bur­den of this par­tic­u­lar issue.

“I would like to see seri­ous increas­es in our Wash­ing­ton Hous­ing Trust Fund,” Boneau said. “We need to bring that back to pre-reces­sion lev­els and then dou­ble that to have a big invest­ment in social hous­ing.” And he argues end­ing a ban on rent reg­u­la­tion at the state lev­el would give tools back to local munic­i­pal­i­ties to let them best decide how to deal with their hyper­local hous­ing crisis.

Shew­make also agrees that the state should ful­ly fund the Hous­ing Trust Fund.

She believes the hous­ing cri­sis is prin­ci­pal­ly a sup­ply prob­lem, and that there is only so much we can do at the state level.

“It has to be local deci­sions, but I’d like to find ways for us to build denser, more afford­able hous­ing in tran­sit-ori­ent­ed areas,” Shew­make said, not­ing she lives in a Belling­ham neigh­bor­hood where her fam­i­ly is able to use pub­lic tran­sit and bikes to go most places, a life expe­ri­ence which has informed her views on the subject.

She added that there are ways to build more build­ings while pre­serv­ing the char­ac­ter of neigh­bor­hoods in the district.

“It’s real­ly a local con­ver­sa­tion we need to be hav­ing,” she said.

“I’d also say that health­care is anoth­er big thing that affects house­holds here in the 42nd,” Boneau told NPI. He believes that vot­ers in the dis­trict would rather have a sin­gle-pay­er sys­tem instead of deal­ing with insur­ance companies.

“There [are] a cou­ple ver­sions of a sin­gle-pay­er health sys­tem cur­rent­ly in state Leg­is­la­ture, and that is some­thing that would be high on my leg­isla­tive priorities.”

Shew­make points out that the U.S. spends more per capi­ta than any oth­er coun­try on health­care and gets worse results. She believes pric­ing for med­ical pro­ce­dures should be trans­par­ent and that the for-prof­it mod­el in insur­ance com­pa­nies is not work­ing. “I’d like to see that reformed,” she said.

She is open-mind­ed about the way for­ward, whether it’s Medicare For All, or whether it’s a non­prof­it insur­ance sys­tem, or a pub­lic option. Any reform plan that expands cov­er­age would be an improve­ment on our cur­rent, inef­fec­tive sys­tem, and it would save fam­i­lies mon­ey in the end.

“I think it’s a real­ly excit­ing year,” said Shewmake.

She believes that Democ­rats have a good chance of flip­ping the dis­trict blue and pro­vid­ing much more effec­tive rep­re­sen­ta­tion to its residents.

Boneau agreed, say­ing even inde­pen­dents and Repub­li­can vot­ers have been recep­tive to his pro­gres­sive mes­sage. “These are big issues that affect all What­com Coun­ty house­holds no mat­ter where you’re at ide­o­log­i­cal­ly,” he said.

Bal­lots for Wash­ing­ton’s gen­er­al elec­tion were recent­ly mailed to all in-state res­i­dents. They are due back no lat­er than Novem­ber 6th at 8 PM. Bal­lots being returned through the Unit­ed States Postal Ser­vice must be post­marked no lat­er than that day. There is no cost to return a bal­lot through the Postal Ser­vice, as all return bal­lot envelopes this year have pre­paid postage.

Please vote and encour­age fam­i­ly and friends to vote.

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