Liias, Ortiz-Self appointed in 21st District

EVERETT – As expected, Snohomish County Council members didn’t take long Tuesday to appoint Democratic Rep. Marko Liias to replace Paull Shin in the state Senate.

But they deliberated a while before deciding to send Lillian Ortiz-Self to Olympia to take Liias’ seat in the House.

Liias had been Democrats’ only serious choice for the job in the 21st Legislative District since Shin left office earlier this month for health reasons.

Mukilteo Mayor Jennifer Gregerson and Edmonds City Councilmember Strom Peterson also were nominated by Democrats, but both endorsed Liias and said they would not accept appointments themselves.

“I think of this as a great honor,” Liias said in his interview with the council, before members voted.

Ortiz-Self, 53, of Mukilteo, was the top choice of Democratic precinct committee officers and got the nod over Darrell Chapman of Edmonds. The council approved the appointment unanimously after more than a quarter-hour behind closed doors.

“Either of you will make an outstanding representative,” said Democratic Councilman Dave Somers. “In this case, the party did indicate a priority and I will support that.”

Liias and Ortiz-Self will serve the district which encompasses Edmonds, Lynnwood and southern portions of Everett. Their appointments are good through the November election, and both intend to run for full terms then.

Liias, 32, who lives in south Everett, was serving on the Mukilteo City Council when he was appointed to the state House in January 2008. He replaced Brian Sullivan, who resigned after winning a seat on the Snohomish County Council.

Re-elected three times, he said he’s most proud of authoring anti-bullying laws and pushing through a bill to close the Trans Alta coal plant and make Washington coal-free.

In the past couple of years, as a member of the House Transportation Committee, he’s been involved in negotiations of a multibillion-dollar transportation funding package. He’ll be assigned to the Senate Transportation Committee, where he can remain involved.

He also is a former small-business owner. He said he and his father established Regal Homes in 2003 and built about a dozen homes and duplexes before shutting the doors in 2007 as the housing market began to tank.

In those four years he said he became acutely aware of the hurdles one faces in starting a company and surviving.

“It was a good learning experience,” he said.

Liias, one of a handful of gay legislators, is among the most liberal Democrats in the Legislature. County Council members asked how he’ll approach working with the Republican-led Majority Coalition in the Senate.

He said it shouldn’t be a problem because he’s worked with Republicans on a slew of bills in the House.

“I don’t promise I will agree 100 percent of the time — I’m a Democrat after all,” he said. “I think I have the ability” to reach across the aisle.

Last October, when Shin announced he intended to retire at the end of 2014, Liias declared his candidacy for the Senate seat. He’ll now take office sooner.

For Ortiz-Self, this will be her first political office.

“I feel very humbled and very honored to be given this opportunity,” she said. “I want to be sure to make the 21st District proud and to make sure the children and families of Washington have their voices heard in Olympia.”

Ortiz-Self, whose parents are from Puerto Rico, was born in New York, raised in Florida, attended college in Iowa and moved 12 years ago to Snohomish County, where she began working in the Everett School District.

She is a counselor at North Middle School in Everett and a member of the Washington state Commission on Hispanic Affairs. She also serves on the Educational Opportunity Gap Oversight and Accountability Committee created by the Legislature.

She told county council members education is her top priority, and she wants to work on increasing funding for education and eliminating disparities in academic opportunities for students between schools.

“I actually believe it is the civil rights issue of our day,” she said.

Ortiz-Self launched her campaign for the two-year seat in October the day after Liias declared he would run for Senate.

She’s corralled endorsements from several area state lawmakers, including Democratic Reps. Mary Helen Roberts of Lynnwood, Luis Moscoso of Mountlake Terrace and Cindy Ryu of Shoreline, and Sen. John McCoy, D-Tulalip.

Chapman boasted of having a hand in political decision-making in the county and at the state Capitol for two decades.

He’s president of the Snohomish County Labor Council, political director of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and a member of the Workforce Development Council of Snohomish County.

Phillips is president of the Edmonds School Board. She entered the competition late and urged the council to support Ortiz-Self because she was the top nominee of Democratic precinct committee officers.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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