The 2022 Democratic candidates for Washington State House
The 2022 Democratic candidates for Washington State House (Courtesy of the campaigns)

One of the most com­pet­i­tive leg­isla­tive dis­tricts in the state for sev­er­al cycles now has been Washington’s 42nd, a What­com Coun­ty dis­trict that is cur­rent­ly rep­re­sent­ed by two Democ­rats and a Repub­li­can. The dis­trict used to be solid­ly Repub­li­can, but Democ­rats picked up a House seat in 2018 and then anoth­er in 2020 while just falling short of oust­ing the late Doug Erick­sen four years ago.

The Demo­c­ra­t­ic Posi­tion 1 incum­bent, Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Ali­cia Rule, is fight­ing off a chal­lenge from Repub­li­can Taw­sha Thomp­son. Rule received the most votes with 48.8% to Thompson’s 35.5% but was unable to earn a major­i­ty in August’s Top Two elec­tion. A third can­di­date, Repub­li­can Kamal Bhachu, was also on the bal­lot and received 15.7% of the vote, elim­i­nat­ing him from the election.

Rather than seek­ing reelec­tion to Posi­tion 2, Rule’s Demo­c­ra­t­ic seat­mate Sharon Shew­make is leav­ing the House to chal­lenge incum­bent Repub­li­can Simon Sefzik for the 42nd’s Sen­ate seat. That cre­at­ed an open seat.

Shew­make received a plu­ral­i­ty of votes in the August Top Two, earn­ing 47% to Sefzik’s 33.2%. There was also anoth­er Repub­li­can on the bal­lot, Ben Elen­baas, who was elim­i­nat­ed after receiv­ing 19.7% of the vote.

The open race for Posi­tion 2 House seat drew four candidates.

Demo­c­rat Joe Tim­mons won a plu­ral­i­ty of votes in August with 28.9%, fol­lowed by run­n­er-up Repub­li­can Dan John­son who received 27.9%. These two can­di­dates are fac­ing off in the gen­er­al elec­tion. Repub­li­can Kyle Chris­tensen and Demo­c­rat Richard May were elim­i­nat­ed after receiv­ing only 23.8% and 19.4%, respectively.

Recent­ly, John­son admit­ted that a post he made on social media was anti­se­mit­ic, when he com­pared Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee’s COVID-19 man­dates with the Nazi Par­ty’s oppres­sion and slaugh­ter of Jew­ish peo­ple dur­ing World War II.

The slight­ly redrawn 42nd now includes most of What­com Coun­ty, run­ning from Blaine and Fer­n­dale to the west and Mount Bak­er to the east.

I had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to speak with Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Shew­make and can­di­date Tim­mons on a Thurs­day after­noon in mid-Octo­ber, to learn more about their leg­isla­tive pri­or­i­ties and visions for rep­re­sent­ing the 42nd Leg­isla­tive District.

Shewmake takes on Sefzik

Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Shew­make is run­ning because while she believes that “we did a lot of the work that I set out to do when I first ran, one of the big things that still needs to change is that we need to sort out our hous­ing mar­ket… we are just not on the right track there,” she said when we talked about her candidacy.

“Hav­ing some­one who is an econ­o­mist and can explain to peo­ple that afford­able hous­ing…. is an envi­ron­men­tal solu­tion, an afford­abil­i­ty solu­tion, it’s a jobs solu­tion… I think it’s some­thing that will be hard­er with­out a voice like that.”

When asked about her leg­isla­tive pri­or­i­ties apart from hous­ing, Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Shew­make dis­cussed the impacts of recent flood­ing in the dis­trict and the need for improved infra­struc­ture. “Our dis­trict expe­ri­enced some hor­rif­ic flooding…going for­ward we are going to see more water dur­ing flood sea­son and so we’ve got­ta build bet­ter infra­struc­ture here.”

She went on to dis­cuss how while work­ing with the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment, she saw the gaps left by the Fed­er­al Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agen­cy’s aid system.

“I’s cheap­er to buy [peo­ple] out than to con­tin­ue to pay the flood insur­ance pay­ments, but the buy­outs won’t hap­pen until next win­ter — and it’s just not fea­si­ble — it sys­tem­i­cal­ly cuts out the low and mod­er­ate income folk.”

She went on to empha­size the need for a state aid pro­gram that can sup­ple­ment FEMA and ensure fam­i­lies have the aid they need in a time­ly manner.

Anoth­er pri­or­i­ty Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Shew­make iden­ti­fied is the need to con­tin­ue the work of the tax struc­ture work­ing group. “Reg­u­lar folks are pay­ing too much in tax­es, but unlike my oppo­nent, I don’t want to cut school fund­ing, I don’t want to cut social ser­vices, all of those things are real­ly impor­tant. But what we need to fig­ure out is how to fund our gov­ern­ment a lit­tle more equi­tably and fund it with the very wealthy pay­ing their fair share, which right now they are not.”

Giv­en the increas­ing impor­tance of equi­ty and jus­tice, I asked the Rep­re­sen­ta­tive to elab­o­rate on how these val­ues have influ­enced or anchored her campaign.

Shew­make explained:

“If you look at the eco­nom­ics of racism, racism is stu­pid. One of the rea­sons why is we are miss­ing out on all sorts of tal­ent and all sorts of ideas when we don’t pro­vide the means for the black girl from a poor fam­i­ly to inno­vate at the same lev­el as we see white men from fam­i­lies that make $100,000 or more.

“If we could get every­one else to inno­vate at the lev­el of white men from fam­i­lies mak­ing $100,000, we would see a growth rate, accord­ing to…an econ­o­mist at Har­vard, 3 to 4 times high­er.” She fur­ther empha­sized that while there is no sin­gu­lar answer, there needs to be seri­ous thought about what bar­ri­ers his­tor­i­cal­ly mar­gin­al­ized com­mu­ni­ties face and how these bar­ri­ers can be removed.

When asked about how she plans to make progress on intran­si­gent issues, Shew­make talked about being able to make both a pro­gres­sive and con­ser­v­a­tive argu­ment for hous­ing, such as addi­tion­al dwelling units and high­er den­si­ty hous­ing, among oth­er issues.

“If you want to turn your garage into an apart­ment, why is the gov­ern­ment able to tell you no? I don’t think those are good con­ser­v­a­tive val­ues and I don’t think those are good lib­er­al val­ues either, so being able to make these argu­ments, not just from one frame point — and being able to point out the good eco­nom­ic poli­cies — I think that’s real­ly help­ful because when you talk about an issue like afford­able hous­ing, our val­ues aren’t that different.”

She reit­er­at­ed her belief that if we all can agree on the end goal, then it is a mat­ter of using research to work through the bias­es and bar­ri­ers (some­thing she feels well-sit­u­at­ed for as an economist).

Dis­cussing the cam­paign trail, Shew­make said it’s an inter­est­ing expe­ri­ence to run against the son of the woman she beat two years ago.

While he has soft­ened his stance on com­pre­hen­sive sex­u­al health edu­ca­tion com­pared to his moth­er, “he is still very much Trump, guns, and anti-abor­­tion. Abor­tion is big on the trail right now. Peo­ple, espe­cial­ly women, are just real­ly mad and they have every right to be mad. I think that’s one of the moti­vat­ing fac­tors. Crime is a big fac­tor — I think my mes­sage on crime is bet­ter than my oppo­nents, although he likes to politi­cize it — and infla­tion is a big issue, which again I’m pret­ty well sit­u­at­ed to deal with as an economist.

“There are some levers we have at the state lev­el to help out the peo­ple suf­fer­ing the most.” She also empha­sized how she has shift­ed focus to afford­able hous­ing based on the mes­sage and need from the community.

Shew­make empha­sized that she does­n’t think Sefzik has been very forthright.

“My oppo­nent won’t tell you his views on abor­tion. He won’t talk about his views on guns. When asked about home­less, he imme­di­ate­ly switched to reg­u­la­tion of the hous­ing mar­ket… he works for Trump, he’s a MAGA Repub­li­can, all of that he’s real­ly try­ing to hide. I think it’s dis­gust­ing when you try to hide your views from vot­ers. I think that’s anti-demo­c­ra­t­ic and moral­ly wrong.”

Timmons faces Johnson

“I’ve worked in pub­lic ser­vice for the last decade,” Joe Tim­mons told me when I asked why he’s run­ning. “I have a back­ground in this work and an under­stand­ing of how Olympia works, but why I’m run­ning is because I love my community.”

“believe in pub­lic ser­vice and I think What­com Coun­ty deserves a Rep­re­sen­ta­tive who will work hard on their behalf and stand up for their val­ues. We have a tod­dler, a two-year old, my wife grew up in Belling­ham and we live in Belling­ham now. And set­ting down roots in this com­mu­ni­ty with our tod­dler has made me more com­mit­ted to serv­ing this com­mu­ni­ty than ever.”

In terms of his leg­isla­tive pri­or­i­ties, Tim­mons first iden­ti­fied housing.

“Right now we have a hous­ing short­age cri­sis in our com­mu­ni­ty. Last year for exam­ple, our rent went up 35% and when I go door to door and talk to folks about hous­ing, unfor­tu­nate­ly I know our family’s not unique.”

“I think we need to pro­vide more hous­ing for our low­est income earners…but we also need more work­force hous­ing for mid­dle class folks.”

“To me it’s not just a moral issue — I believe every­one deserves to have a roof over their head — but it’s also an eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment issue.”

He fur­ther explained that when he talks to lead­ers at the Port of Belling­ham or Cham­ber of Com­merce, “the num­ber one pro­hibitor in terms of our econ­o­my grow­ing is a lack of access to work­force hous­ing and child­care. We need to be build­ing more hous­ing, par­tic­u­lar­ly in our more urban areas and around transit.”

Edu­ca­tion is anoth­er area of focus Tim­mons empha­sized as a priority.

Before get­ting his Master’s in Pub­lic Admin­is­tra­tion at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton, he “worked at a non-prof­it preschool for a year, where [I] was a preschool teacher and real­ly learned the val­ue and the impor­tance of urban learn­ing.” He added that as a prod­uct of Wash­ing­ton state pub­lic schools from kinder­garten through high­er edu­ca­tion, he “real­ly believes in pro­vid­ing a great edu­ca­tion for kids from urban learn­ing through high school and beyond.”

“That includes four-year degrees but also our com­mu­ni­ty and tech­ni­cal col­leges and appren­tice­ship programs.”

He also empha­sized the need to pro­vide options and more career and tech­ni­cal edu­ca­tion for stu­dents in high school, so that peo­ple can have good pay­ing jobs that fill our cur­rent and future needs.

The last pri­or­i­ty Tim­mons iden­ti­fied was repro­duc­tive rights.

“With what we’ve seen in the Supreme Court recent­ly, I think it’s more impor­tant now than ever that we stand up as a state to pro­tect the right to choose. I’m 100% pro-choice and the only pro-choice can­di­date in my race.”

He fur­ther explained that while on the cam­paign trail he often hears that abor­tion rights are not under attack in Wash­ing­ton, that is just not true. “Every year bills are intro­duced by Repub­li­cans to either restrict or ban a woman’s access to abor­tion and it’s some­thing that I think we need to stand up for more than ever. And not just for Wash­ing­to­ni­ans but to be a safe haven for oth­er states.”

When asked how equi­ty and jus­tice fac­tor into his cam­paign and leg­isla­tive pri­or­i­ties, Tim­mons said that “it’s a lens that I kind of look through with every pol­i­cy deci­sion. When I think of hous­ing, to me that’s an equi­ty issue. When I think of edu­ca­tion that’s def­i­nite­ly an equi­ty issue, I don’t think someone’s zip code, race, or income lev­el should dic­tate of they receive a qual­i­ty edu­ca­tion in Wash­ing­ton State pub­lic schools. I think every­one should have access to that.”

He believes that leg­is­la­tors and elect­ed offi­cials need to be using a equi­ty lens in all parts of deci­sion mak­ing to ensure that inequitable bills are not passed. Addi­tion­al­ly, Tim­mons explained that “ we need to be look­ing at the sys­temic injus­tices, sys­temic rea­sons for inequal­i­ty in our soci­ety too.”

With regards to why he’s well poised to tack­le intran­si­gent issues, Tim­mons spoke about how his back­ground in gov­ern­ment affairs and pub­lic ser­vice make him the strongest can­di­date. “I’m the can­di­date most qual­i­fied when it comes to under­stand­ing how Olympia works, and under­stand­ing how state gov­ern­ment works. After grad­u­ate school I spent the last decade work­ing at the local, state, and fed­er­al lev­els of gov­ern­ment. I’m par­tic­u­lar­ly pas­sion­ate about state gov­ern­ment and mak­ing gov­ern­ment work for everyone.”

“One thing I have learned and take with me is nobody can do any­thing by them­selves. It takes work­ing well with oth­ers, it takes build­ing rela­tion­ships and that includes across the aisle,” some­thing he’s done in the gov­er­nor’s office.

He elab­o­rat­ed that dur­ing the pan­dem­ic he often had to com­mu­ni­cate dif­fi­cult deci­sions made by the Governor.

Although this could be a chal­lenge, local lead­ers knew they could call him and get a straight answer and that he would work with them to pro­vide clarity.

“It’s very pur­ple up here — I think we need to be work­ing across par­ty lines while also stand­ing up for our cap­i­tal D Demo­c­ra­t­ic values.”

Asked about his expe­ri­ences on the cam­paign trail, Tim­mons expressed enjoy­ment at get­ting to bet­ter know peo­ple in the com­mu­ni­ty as a candidate.

“I was just at a meet-and-greet event in East Coun­ty and get­ting to have con­ver­sa­tions impact­ing our rur­al com­mu­ni­ties that I wouldn’t have oth­er­wise had — I’m real­ly enjoy­ing the process.” He went on to say that “access to abor­tion health­care is absolute­ly on the top of people’s minds, hous­ing is on top of people’s minds, an access to behav­ioral health and pub­lic safe­ty are on top of people’s minds too — and afford­abil­i­ty in general.”

Tim­mons not­ed that he grew up in a work­ing class fam­i­ly, with a father was a union pip­efit­ter. His par­ents cre­at­ed a small busi­ness out of their garage.

“I real­ly learned the val­ue of hard work that way, about treat­ing peo­ple with dig­ni­ty and respect. That’s some­thing that I car­ry with me in my career today and will def­i­nite­ly take with me if giv­en the chance to serve,” he said.

Like Shew­make, he cit­ed the dif­fer­ences between him­self and his opponent.

“When I am out there at doors, I real­ly try to talk about myself and what I can bring to the table, my val­ues and where I stand on issues… but the stakes are real­ly high this year in terms of the dif­fer­ences and qual­i­fi­ca­tions between myself and my oppo­nent [Repub­li­can Dan Johnson].”

The vot­ing peri­od will end on Tues­day, Novem­ber 8th. Bal­lots are due back to a drop box by 8 PM or to a post office by the last out­go­ing mail col­lec­tion time.

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