What a busy few months since the Legislature adjourned in July. I thought I would highlight a few of the activities and issues I have been working on over the summer and fall in preparation for the next legislative session starting in January.
Reflecting on my first year
To foster even greater connection with the 24th Legislative District I represent, and frankly for fun, I attended more than 35 community festivals, parades and events. I visited with over 40 nonprofit organizations in Clallam, Jefferson & Grays Harbor Counties and had over 20 district specific tours highlighting various businesses and recreational areas. On top of that, I addressed more than 20 groups of constituents in various public settings.
In addition to my committee roles on Transportation, Ag & Natural Resources and Public Safety, I was appointed to represent the House Democrats on the State Building Code Council. But most exciting of all, I was asked to lead the House Democrats Rural Development Caucus, looking at budgetary and legislative areas in which the State can continue to invest in rural Washington and improve our economy, environment and quality of life.
My Rural Economic Deveopment Summit
Here in timber and farm country, we must team up and work together to revitalize our small towns and communities so that our children and grandchildren can have a bright future. There is no magic bullet, no single solution to boosting our economy in communities like Hoquiam, Forks, Brinnon and Port Angeles.
That is why, in early September, I convened a Rural Economic Development Listening Summit in Grays Harbor. Attended by about a dozen State Representatives, we listened as business people, educators, local elected officials and health care professionals shared their struggles and hopes for the region.
What became abundantly clear was the intersection of the issues:
• Businesses need to attract quality employees. Our colleges and K-12 system must provide job skills and training that meet that demand. At the same time, our medical system plays a key role in treating those hindered by the opioid epidemic and unable to maintain work.
• Our hospitals have challenges finding doctors and nurses who will live in our rural communities. Their families want quality schools. They want access to professional childcare, currently served by graduates of the Peninsula College Early Learning Program & soon to be provided by Grays Harbor College from their new program.
• And the $500 million seafood industry that provides 2,000 jobs in the local economy relies on the port, our roads and other infrastructure that the government helps to maintain and expand–a key need, as Aberdeen Mayor Erik Larson emphasized.
Fostering Industries & Innovation
We heard loud and clear not to be entirely dependent on a single industry. Timber, seafood, tourism, public development, ports — all of the economic engines throughout the 24th Legislative District need to be strong, because we can’t predict when one sector might go through a boom or bust.
We heard how innovation could work here on the Olympic Peninsula. We have the opportunity to be a leader in cross-laminated timber, which is what we’ve used to build elementary school classrooms around the state, including in our district. Making that happen will take cooperation between timber companies, local colleges, loggers, architects and builders. The rewards could be enormous — with the side benefit of making forest-thinning projects profitable and creating STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) jobs in the woods while reducing the danger of wildfires.
Investing in Infrastructure
I’m also aware of how public infrastructure is an asset to growing our economy in rural Washington. Our ports are a great economic engine. The Port of Grays Harbor is the nearest deep-water port to Pacific trading partners and it is an increasing source of family wage jobs and innovative businesses.
Creating more jobs through our ports means investing in the infrastructure that keeps them going. On the state level, it means fighting for transportation and construction budgets to make those investments.
That is why I’m proud of my work as a member of the Transportation Committee. The current transportation budget includes $95 million in projects for the 24th District,including full replacement of the 95-year-old Hwy 101 Elwha River Bridge, $19 million for the Port Townsend ferry terminal, $56 million in planned passing lanes and widening improvements on Hwy 101, and $6 million to replace the Hwy 109 Bridge over the Moclips River. These projects will create jobs while making travel smoother and safer.
A Good Life for Our Families
I know quality of life matters. We need to continue investing in public education, safe and drug free streets, rural broadband internet, affordable health care, workforce training and quality childcare.
These are the fundamentals that people expect today from their government. Professionals and business owners check for these services before they move or invest into our rural communities. They know that if working moms and dads can’t find a quality doctor and a safe place for their young kids during the day, they can’t work.
We need to find solutions for every working family.
A Year of Listening
I spent my first session as your State Representative listening to lawmakers from both parties and I learned a lot about what has worked in the past, what is working now, and what we need to do to enhance rural Washington.
Traveling around this summer, talking to hundreds of women and men working hard every day, gives me further confidence of the progress we can make here in the 24th Legislative District.
Please feel free to reach out to me with ideas, invitations and your thoughts.