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Editorial: Return Cortes to 38th district House seat

In his first term, he successfully sponsored legislation that serves his district and the state.

By The Herald Editorial Board

Voters in the 38th Legislative District will choose among three Democrats — more varied in backgrounds than party ideology — for the district’s Position 1 House seat in the Aug. 6 primary election.

The district encompasses all of Everett and much of Marysville and Tulalip. With only two candidates filing to run for the Position 2 seat — incumbent Democrat Mary Fosse and Republican challenger Marnie Claywell — that race is set for the Nov. 5 general election.

Incumbent Rep. Julio Cortes, D-Everett, is seeking re-election after winning his first term in 2022. Cortes is challenged by Annie Fitzgerald, who identified herself as a democratic socialist, and has worked as an in-home caregiver and private investigator; and by Bryce Nickel, who prefers the Forward and Democrat parties, and has served as a consultant on diversity, equity and inclusion and an advocate on issues of disability, homelessness and housing.

All three candidates were interviewed by the editorial board.

Born with multiple disabilities, Fitzgerald said she has worked to overcome those issues and advocate for those with disabilities and now wants to represent that community and other minorities, including the LGBTQ+ community, in the Legislature.

“I want to push for legislation that will enable more equality across the board, especially for those in vulnerable populations,” she said.

Regarding issues of revenue and support of programs, Fitzgerald said she believes the state’s wealthier residents are not paying their fair share, to the detriment of programs meant to support the poor and minorities and leading to greater economic inequality. Along with supporting efforts around affordable housing and rent, Fitzgerald said she supports a higher minimum wage and a universal basic income, which would ensure a basic income for all residents.

Like Fitzgerald, Nickel also lives with disabilities and has also experienced homelessness for 20 years, informing his advocacy work for both communities, he said. He served on boards and committees addressing those issues, as well as leadership, STEM education and youth programs.

Nickel previously ran for the Everett City Council and the Snohomish County Public Ultility District board of directors.

Nickel said he would support legislation that would require cities to provide a minimum level of shelter for those who are homeless, seeing shelter and housing as a basic need.

Nickel also expressed concern for the role of automation and artificial intelligence in the workplace and what that could mean for employment in coming years. He, too, supports a universal basic income, in light of automation and AI and their potential effects on the labor market.

“We need people who want to do what they’re passionate about, and that can be jobs that we still need done,” he said.

Cortes immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico with his family when he was 5, and grew up in Wapato, Wash. Time spent picking fruit motivated him to get a college education, earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism and public relations in 2009. He has worked with homeless and disadvantage youths at nonprofit agencies in Mount Vernon and Everett, and more recently served in communications and public relations roles with the City of Everett in its economic development efforts.

Cortes, in his first two years in the House, said he has focused on issues of homelessness and housing affordability and the needs of youths.

“I’ve been partnering with a variety of different advocacy groups, nonprofit organizations, and even some for-profit organizations to start pinpointing the root causes and really tackle them one by one,” he said.

Among the results was a bill he sponsored, House Bill 1929, which the Legislature passed this session. The legislation intends to provide supportive housing and behavioral health support for young adults, between the ages of 18 and 24, who are leaving inpatient behavioral health treatment, are engaged in recovery programs but have not secured long-term housing. The program was initially funded to provide six to 10 beds on each side of the Cascades.

Cortes said it’s important to provide housing and services to those who have previously committed to treatment but still need assistance. It’s an investment, but one that prevents greater costs down the road.

“As soon as they turn 18, we are letting them back out into society. And approximately 80 percent of those young adults, 18 to 25, are becoming homeless again within a year and we’re having to then go back and provide more services to them and are failing them,” he said.

Cortes, in his first term has successfully proposed and won approval for several pieces of legislation, including a bill that later became Senate legislation to allow youths to remain in a licensed shelter for up to 90 days when the shelter is unable to contact a parent or when the parent does not request the youth’s return home. It also requires the state Department of Children, Youth and Families to offer family reconciliation services.

Cortes, in short order, has gained the confidence of House Democratic leadership, appointed as chair of the Human Services, Youth and Early Learning committee. He also serves on the committees for Innovation, Community and Economic Development and Transportation.

Cortes agrees with his challengers regarding the need to require more from the state’s wealthiest individuals and families. “And I’m not talking about folks who are making $100,000, $200,000 or $500,000 a year; I’m talking about those with multi-million-dollar salaries that are not paying their fair share,” he said.

“We need to ensure that not just low-income families and individuals but middle- income families and individuals are supported, because they are truly the backbone of our communities,” Cortes said.

Cortes, who was preceded in his seat by fellow Democrats Emily Wicks and Sen. June Robinson, has quickly proved himself as an able lawmaker and representative regarding the leading concerns of his district. Voters can return him for a second term with confidence.

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