By Jerry Cornfield Herald Writer
OLYMPIA — It’s pretty easy for a freshman representative to get lost in the crowd of 98 House members.
Not if you’re the only person voting against a bill allowing one spouse to be charged with raping the other.
Or you don’t sign a resolution honoring a fallen former governor. And you oppose legislation to boost the aerospace industry, which is a major employer in your district.
Do all that, and, as first-term Republican Rep. Elizabeth Scott of Monroe has learned, you’re not anonymous anymore. Not even to senators.
“They’re noticing, too,” a smiling Scott said in a recent interview.
But Scott is quite comfortable knitting conservative ideology into her political service and isn’t about to start apologizing now.
“I ran on smaller, smarter government. And of course I swore to uphold the state and federal constitutions to protect our liberty,” she said. “If I perceive that something doesn’t fit with those criteria, I am a ‘no’ vote. I would rather be a no vote and be wrong than be a yes vote and be wrong.” Some peers laud her for standing up in the face of almost certain political blowback.
“If she can truly rationalize her vote to her constituents, I appreciate that,” said Rep. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, a veteran of two decades. “That takes a lot of gumption to stand up and say this is the right thing to do.”
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Three months on the job and Scott is living up to expectations of those who sent her to Olympia from the rural 39th Legislative District. She succeeded Kirk Pearson, who is now a state senator.
Her conservative social and fiscal views earn her comparisons with Val Stevens, the district’s former state senator whose retirement opened the door for Pearson’s move.
“She’s Val Stevens with attitude,” described one lobbyist.
Attitude is what the 47-year-old parent and former educator isn’t afraid of displaying in her votes and floor speeches.
Scott turned heads and caused eyes of a few Democrats to roll when she voted against a bill to erase a law allowing marriage to be an absolute defense against some allegations of sexual assault.
There is no such protection in cases of first- and second-degree rape which involve elements such as violence or kidnapping. But marriage is an absolute defense today for third-degree rape and indecent liberties, both of which involve sexual intercourse without consent.
Scott mostly objected to the inclusion of indecent liberties, concerned it might spur spouses to use the law against one another during disputes.
“It could be as simple as a spouse walking around in the nude and if the other spouse finds that offensive, it would now be a felony,” she said. “I was concerned that this might be a threat to the liberty of a spouse whose angry spouse is on the way out the door in a divorce and maybe wants to throw a few parting bombs.”
When former governor Booth Gardner died, Scott did not sign onto the House resolution honoring him.
“Since I’m new here, I asked around a bit to find out what he is known for. Frankly, when I learned that he was instrumental in enlarging our abortion laws, that is something I feel strongly about so I said no thanks,” she said.
And she voted against extending the life of the Joint Center for Aerospace Technology Innovation which researches ways to benefit the industry. It is run by the University of Washington and Washington State University.
“I felt that this was another feel-good bill that wasn’t a solution,” she said. “We need to be focusing on making sure that our high school graduates are well prepared for college or the work force and right now they are not.”
To be sure, Scott isn’t an automatic negative vote by any means. Notably, she helped pass a bill requiring the state to provide payments to those wrongfully imprisoned.
“I believe it’s the least we can do,” she said. “We stole all that liberty, years off their lives, years of income earning power, years of expanding their resume, years away from their families and the horrible impact it has on their children.”
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Scott, who emerged from the ranks of the Tea Party, lived in Edmonds when she ran for state office in 2010 and lost to Rep. Marko Liias, D-Edmonds. She and her family moved to Monroe in time for the 2012 race and her message resonated louder, wider and more successfully.
While her votes get her attention, she’s kept a low-profile in caucus and on the committees on which she serves.
“I don’t think she’s ever said anything,” said Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, who is chairman of the Capital Budget Committee.
Silence in such settings is a good thing for a rookie lawmaker.
“I’m very proud of her. She’s doing her damndest to learn how to do this job, to do all the right things a freshman legislator should do,” said Walsh, who serves with Scott on the House Early Learning and Human Services Committee
Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton, said Scott is very bright and learning quickly. They are both on the Capital Budget Committee.
“The depth of her background and education gives her a broader view of some of the pieces of legislation,” Smith said. “She provides a perspective that’s important to the Legislature.”
It’s a conservative line most of the time.
“We are all sent down here by our friends and neighbors to do the job and if they don’t like it, they will unelect me,” she said. “I have Democrat neighbors and I have Tea Party neighbors and they all know this is me. This is what I promised.”
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; firstname.lastname@example.org.