By The Herald Editorial Board
More than a few voters in Snohomish County are seeing new names on campaign signs and new faces calling at their doorsteps as the boundaries for the state legislative and congressional districts have shifted following the U.S. census and the state’s redistricting effort.
That’s no less true for the 39th Legislative District, which, among significant changes, lost King County communities, but also lost Snohomish County communities in Monroe and south and east of Monroe to the 12th Legislative District, lost some Arlington neighborhoods and gained others in the north of the county, and gained Lake Stevens and its region.
Those new boundaries — and how they may have changed the district’s political leanings — will be tested in the race for two House seats, with incumbents in both drawing three challengers from across the political spectrum.
39th LD, Position 1
Incumbent Rep. Robert Sutherland, R-Granite Falls, is challenged by fellow Republican and current Snohomish County Council member Sam Low of Lake Stevens; Claus Joens, a Democrat from Marblemount and teacher at Concrete High School; and Karl de Jong, a Democrat and former Sedro-Woolley City Council member.
Low, Joens and de Jong were interviewed by The Herald Editorial Board in June; Sutherland declined to be interviewed for the board’s endorsement.
De Jong, a community volunteer working with seniors, fisheries enhancement, food banks and even playing the Grinch in Sedro-Woolley’s Christmas parade, said that economic security and jobs would be his primary focus as a lawmaker; he hopes to organize a roundtable discussion on jobs, involving businesses and workers if elected. De Jong currently is president of the Northwest Washington AFL-CIO.
Joens, a business education teacher at Concrete High for 10 years, previously worked 20 years in corporate finance. He has made previous runs for office, with a focus on winning health care protections for workers. Joens said his leading priorities would be women’s rights to health care, particularly in the wake of the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade; workers’ rights which have suffered during the pandemic; and public education in high school, with concerns for students’ grade-level achievement. Joens said he like to see a graduation requirement added for a fourth year of math instruction.
Low said he’s running to allow voters a better choice in representation, offering a balanced approach to government and said he would draw on his current ethic of bipartisanship to work with other lawmakers and represent the district. Low said a primary focus for him would be transportation, still a leading concern for a quickly growing district, with specific attention needed on the U.S. 2 trestle and Highways 20 and 530 in the district’s north end.
Low also said the Legislature still needs to review the governor’s emergency orders around the pandemic, noting that, while they’ve been eased, are still in effect and their length and scope should be reviewable by the Legislature.
Low is among a few candidates who are seeking double-duty, already serving in one position while running for another office. Low explained that he — as all council members do — signs a monthly commitment to work 90 hours a month on county council business and intends to keep that commitment during legislative sessions, should he be elected. Low said he will be able to participate remotely in meetings, as necessary, but has left open the possibility that if his work suffers in representing either the councils’ 5th District or the legislative district he will choose between the two.
For a legislative district that has likely shifted its political leanings more to the center as its boundaries changed, Joens, de Jong or Low each could succeed in representing its residents, but Low’s current work on the county council allows for a strong reading of residents’ needs and beliefs, even as he will need to expand his outreach to north Snohomish County and Skagit County. Low, one of two Republicans on the five-member county council, has worked effectively across the aisle there and should be able to transfer those skills to his work with fellow legislators in the district and in Olympia.
Noting his work on the council to this point, we accept Low’s pledge that he can manage his time and still meet his duties on the county council and the Legislature, but residents in the county and the district should watch carefully to hold him to that pledge to serve both well.
Low should be the voters’ choice for Position 1.
39th LD, Position 2
Incumbent Rep. Carolyn Eslick, R-Sultan, who has represented the district since 2017, previously was mayor of Sultan for 10 years and served on its city council for seven years. She’s the founder and director of Grow Washington, a business development center, and owner of the Dutch Cup Restaurant in Sultan.
Eslick is challenged by fellow Republican Tyller Boomgaarden of Darrington, who works in security for Boeing in Everett; independent candidate Kathryn Lewandowsky of Arlington, who has worked in nursing and health care for 35 years and in banking previously; and Jessica Wadhams, a Democrat from Lake Stevens, who described herself as a mom, wife and community activist and organizer, who has volunteered with Cocoon House, Boys & Girls Club, National Women’s Political Caucus and PTA.
Boomgaarden said one of his priorities as a lawmaker would be on law enforcement issues, particularly hiring, to streamline that process for city police departments and county sheriff offices. An over-reliance on polygraph tests, which he doubts the validity of, are keeping good candidates from applying and being considered, he said. Boomgaarden also supports further reconsideration of recent reforms to law enforcement practices, including limits to when police can make use of vehicular pursuit of suspects.
The main priority for Lewandowsky, she said, is seeing passage and adoption of a Medicare for All program in the state. She works with an organization, Whole Washington, that is advocating for a state-level adoption of such health care access. There’s a proposed program, which would be supported through a payroll tax, that has been reviewed by the state Department of Revenue, but its work has been blocked in getting the proposal before a House committee for consideration. Such a program could save the state billions of dollars, she said, while providing health care for all residents.
Lewandowsky, noting the strong state protections existing now for access to abortion and related care, said those can still be strengthened and made more inclusive.
Wadhams, who previously ran for Lake Stevens City Council, said her priorities included reproductive freedom, good jobs and workers’ benefits and removing learning barriers for children in school, in particular work with unions to improve access to careers in the building trades and related fields.
Along with protecting access to abortions by holding Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, Wadhams said the rights for reproductive access need to be inclusive. As well, she said, the state needs to prepare for an influx of people from other states where abortion has been restricted coming to Washington for that care and make sure health care workers’ needs in meeting that increased demand are met.
Eslick, seeking election to a third full term following her appointment to fill a vacancy, said she’s running for reelection to continue previous work on past successful legislation, particularly that addressing mental health. Even with legislation passed, Eslick said, funding for some programs has lagged, specifically House Bill 1800 which seeks to increase access to behavioral health resources for children and improve connections to information and resources for parents .
“One of the things I’ve learned is that just because you pass a bill doesn’t mean it’s always up and running,” she said.
Additionally, Eslick said she was disappointed earlier this year that the Legislature didn’t use some of its revenue windfall to provide some form of tax relief to state residents. She wants to revisit that in future sessions.
On the issue of abortion, Eslick counts herself as prolife, but at the same time holds to what had been a conservative value of keeping government out of people’s personal lives. In Washington state, she said, the issue is out of lawmakers’ hands and has been for a long time.
As with Position 1, the district’s change in boundaries has drawn a diverse field of challengers, each who would serve residents well. But Eslick, shown in her success in drafting and pursuing necessary legislation — and making sure it’s followed by funding and support — has a track record of working well with follow lawmakers, regardless of party, and paying attention to the interests of her district’s residents.
Voters should retain Eslick and that record of success.