By The Herald Editorial Board
With this year’s election, Snohomish County welcomes a new legislative district into its borders. The redistricting process following the 2020 census brings southeast Snohomish County into the 12th Legislative District, which occupied major areas of the north central Washington counties of Chelan and Okanogan. Snohomish County’s portions of the 12th District include those along U.S. 2, including Index, Sultan and Monroe, and communities around Flowing and Storm lakes.
The district currently is served by state Sen. Brad Hawkins, R-East Wenatchee, who’s seat is up for election again in 2024; and state Reps. Keith Goehner, R-Dryden, and state Rep. Mike Steele, R-Chelan.
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Goehner is running unopposed for his seat, seeking a third term after winning election in 2018 and 2020. Though the editorial board doesn’t make endorsements in races where the candidate is running unopposed, Goehner was interviewed as an introduction for his Snohomish County constituents.
Goehner serves as ranking member of the House committee on local government and also serves on the transportation and environment and energy committees. Prior to joining the Legislature, Goehner served for 16 years on the Chelan County Commission and has served on his local school board. He owns and manages a 100-acre pear orchard and has previously worked as an elementary school teacher.
The change in the district’s boundaries are significant, but Snohomish County shares many of the concerns seen in Chelan County, Goehner said.
Goehner, interviewed at the start of the Bolt Creek Fire, which closed U.S. 2, noted the fire made the case for the highway’s importance to his district and the need for continued investment in the cross-state highway. The fire also focuses attention to the state’s investments in wildfire fighting resources and the need for better forest management. Goehner noted the work of state Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz to help make that a priority for the state.
Goehner said he hoped to focus attention on the needs of his district’s counties, small cities and utility districts and their infrastructure needs as well as the concerns they share with larger urban areas for public safety, crime, drug addiction and mental health services.
The Legislature has made significant investments in recent years, Goehner said, “now we have to make sure that money is well spent.”
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Rep. Mike Steele, has served in the Legislature since first winning election in 2016. He is seeking his fourth term. Challenging Steele is Republican Robert Amenn of Gold Bar.
Amenn, who has lived in the state for 26 years, has served on the Gold Bar City Council and twice served as president of Snohomish County Cities and Towns. He works as chief technology officer for a technology company.
Amenn, in a joint interview with the editorial board, shared his concerns for affordable housing, transportation, secure retirements and education, but said that all state lawmakers need to work toward solutions regardless of which party holds the majorities in the two chambers. There are Republican lawmakers with good ideas, he said, and they should be working to build coalitions to put those ideas forward and work within communities to empower people to resolve issues.
Steele, born and raised in the Lake Chelan area to a pioneer family, is the financial officer for the family’s apple and cherry orchards. Having earned degrees in business administration and political science, Steele’s political career started as an intern in the political affairs office for President George W. Bush. He later worked for the House Republican leadership in the Legislature, as executive director for the Lake Chelan Chamber of Commerce and served two terms on the Chelan City Council. Steele is the ranking member on the Capital Budget committee and serves on House committees for Appropriations and Education.
His leadership position on the capital budget panel, Steele said, has provided him a close perspective into the state’s investments, especially regarding behavioral health and affordable housing.
Steele said he and Goehner have spent considerable time getting to know the Snohomish County communities of the new district, recently visiting with Index officials and residents about building a new water system there. Steele said he takes pride that the capital budget — which invests in infrastructure, facilities and building projects — regularly wins nearly bipartisan approval.
Regarding the needs revealed by the Bolt Creek Fire, Steele noted that while the extent of the fire and its effects may be new for Snohomish County, this is something Chelan has experienced before and informed his work to adopt legislation that made investment in better forest management and wildfire response, working with the DNR’s director, Franz. Steele said the work now is to implement and expand those efforts across the state.
Amenn, whose Gold Bar community was a staging area for the Bolt Creek response, said he was heartened by support coming to the communities along U.S. 2 from fire districts, residents and the state. Amenn said at the proper time he like to see a review of what caused a false evacuation alert to be issued early in the fire’s progression. Amenn also is interested in an investigation of the fire’s cause and a look at what policies might have prevented it.
Amenn’s past government service and his local perspective from the Snohomish County side of the district would be of value to the 12th district, as would his stated commitment to bipartisan action and willingness to seek solutions regardless of which party has the majority.
Steele, however, already is using the same commitment in a position that is crucial to the investments made throughout the state.
One example of that bipartisan work was legislation for which Steele was the primary sponsor that raised a funding threshold for pre-design work for all capital projects, rather than just higher education projects, providing cost savings and better planning of projects. The bill passed unanimously in both House and Senate.
Another of Steele’s bills that was adopted with nearly unanimous support benefits college students who receive private aid by requiring that the state not reduce its financial aid in response until a student’s private aid package reaches 100 percent of the student’s needs.
Steele’s experience and working relationships with fellow lawmakers as well as the commitment already shown to meet and begin work with Snohomish County residents and officials will serve the constituents of the 12th Legislative District well, regardless of the county in which they live.