He traded Olympia for ‘amazing honor’ in Trump administration

Former state Sen. Kirk Pearson is now a state director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Former state Sen. Kirk Pearson of Monroe.

Former state Sen. Kirk Pearson of Monroe.

OLYMPIA — Kirk Pearson can’t hide his smile because he’s living the dream right now.

When Pearson enlisted last year in the movement that carried Donald Trump into the presidency, he hoped this year to be able to help him succeed as the nation’s leader.

That opportunity arrived earlier this month when Pearson, a Monroe resident, was named state director of the U. S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development office.

It meant Pearson had to resign from the Legislature where he had spent 17 years representing the 39th Legislative District, a sprawling political territory comprised of rural communities in Snohomish and Skagit counties plus a sliver of King County. A successor will be appointed in early December.

While he knew he’d miss the legislating life, the 59-year-old ex-lawmaker really wanted this post.

“This is the one job I was hoping to get and I knew it wasn’t filled,” Pearson said in a recent interview in his office in West Olympia. “It’s an amazing honor. It’s the type of thing I wish my parents were here to see.”

The mission of the federal agency is to improve the quality of life in rural communities. It does this primarily with loans and grants to support infrastructure improvements, business development, home ownership, high-speed internet access and community services. The agency invested roughly $650 million in Washington in the federal fiscal year that ended Sept. 30.

Pearson oversees a staff of 62 people and a budget of $6.8 million. He’s responsible for what transpires in seven rural development offices scattered around the state. He’ll earn $103,672-a-year, which is more than twice what he made as a state lawmaker.

Pearson, who attended Wenatchee Valley College and Central Washington University but did not earn a degree at either institution, is the face of the federal agency in the state. One of his chief tasks is making certain Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and Trump are aware of the unique challenges and needs of rural communities in Washington.

“I want to carry out the vision of the president and the Secretary of Agriculture,” he said. “We want to provide great service.”

There will be greater weight to this job than in previous administrations. Voters in rural America overwhelmingly backed Trump and residents in sparsely populated communities remain a foundation of his support.

At the end of the day, the president doesn’t want rural America to fail, said Phil Eggman, a USDA rural development public information officer.

For the bombastic Trump, there’s no better ambassador or bigger cheerleader in Washington than the self-effacing Pearson.

“I think he’s done great things. He’s been a great leader,” Pearson said. “There’s something special about him,”

Nothing the president has tweeted or done in the past 11 months has given Pearson reason to reconsider. Rather, it’s steeled his resolve.

“We’re all entitled to our opinions,” he said brusquely in reference to his boss’ critics in Washington and around the country.

Pearson did get asked about joining the Trump administration in January but wasn’t ready to hang up his legislative spikes and move east.

“I was working on legislation. I couldn’t go back then,” he said. “I was hoping that something else would come up.”

In September, he got a phone call in which he was told he would be considered for the state director position if he was interested. He said he was.

On Oct. 1, the day after his mom passed away, he received an email confirming that he was the pick and that administration staff needed to do a little more vetting before it became official. That occurred Nov. 3.

Two weeks into the job, Pearson had begun personalizing his office with an array of items.

He had a few pictures up. One was of the 1947 Monroe High School football team on which his father starred. Another was taken at at Trump’s August 2016 rally in Everett. Pearson is in the photo with the then-GOP nominee and two other former state senators now working for the president — Brian Dansel and Don Benton.

Although the job is in Olympia, Pearson isn’t moving from Monroe where he grew and still lives with his wife. He works and lives in Olympia during the week and heads home on weekends, the same schedule he kept in legislative sessions.

Though he thoroughly enjoyed his legislative career, he said he doesn’t envision a return to elected office when this gig ends.

“There were a lot of fun times, a lot of interesting times,” he said. “I can’t tell you how grateful I am for the friendships I made in all those years. It was a wonderful time of my life.”

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

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