The retirement of Rep. Mary Helen Roberts leaves a vacuum, as one of the Legislature’s most vocal advocates for children, enhanced foster care and social equity departs. Roberts’ successor will need to fill the void and give political voice to the voiceless, while prioritizing K-12 education funding consistent with the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision. There’s also a need to produce a transportation-revenue package and identify the dinero to underwrite all-of-the-above.
Among a slew of contenders, at least three have the mettle to step into the role: Democrats Scott Whelpley, Strom Peterson and Justin McMahon. Of the three, Whelpley gets the nod based on his professional experience, personal narrative and grounding in K-12 minutia.
Peterson, a small business owner and member of the Edmonds City Council, is the only candidate who has served in elected office (he’s also been endorsed by Edmonds well-respected Republican Mayor Dave Earling). McMahon is a seasoned political organizer, with significant grass-roots experience and an impressive list of endorsers.
District Republicans have an option with Allen McPheeters. McPheeters, a former software developer, is the Republican 21st Legislative District chairman who bravely stepped forward when no one else from his party jumped. He may squeak through the primary, but he’ll need to brush up on issues to go toe-to-toe with Whelpley, Peterson or McMahon.
Whelpley grew up in John Steinbeck country, California’s Salinas Valley, and was the first member of his family to graduate from college. A 20-year Navy veteran, Whelpley is a graduate of the UW’s Evans School of Public Affairs and works as a senior project analyst on American electronic military aircraft. He has an appetite for policy and the attendant discipline and humility to do his homework. He’s learning the transportation ropes from House Transportation Committee Chairwoman Judy Clibborn, who has endorsed his campaign. He’s steeped in McCleary thanks in part to state Superintendent for Public Instruction Randy Dorn (Dorn has an agenda, so talking to parents and other stakeholders for their perspectives is essential).
If elected, Whelpley will need to navigate the Olympia jungle, where theory and practice part ways. He looks to have the strength of character — and hopefully the stomach — to push back and, when necessary, embrace the art of the possible, whether it’s on transportation reform or class size.
Three smart candidates who would serve the 21st District well. Scott Whelpley will work in the public interest.