Over the past decade, I have been continually inspired by your compassion, enthusiasm, and intelligence as we have worked together to build a stronger community – one of opportunity, equality, justice, and health.
On so many occasions, including during the stress of the pandemic, it was the everyday experiences of neighbors conveyed to me through meetings, visits, emails, phone calls, formal testimony, and even interactions at the grocery store that influenced the decisions I made made on the thousands of votes I’ve received over the years. These interactions have left an indelible mark on me and helped me be your voice in the state Senate for the past decade. But as the saying goes, every season turns at some point and for me this season is now. So I wanted you to know that I am not seeking a fourth term as a representative in the state Senate in the 2022 elections.
Our state has faced many challenges since I took office after the 2010 elections. We started with the economic devastation and foreclosure crisis that resulted from the Great Recession. We have overcome the systemic challenges in funding education in the McCleary case. And for the past 18 months, everything has revolved around the global pandemic, which unfortunately affected more than 7,000 of our Washington compatriots.
With the urgency of these major problems, it is easy to forget how much progress our state has made in so many areas. I wanted to describe to you some, but by no means all, of the major policies that I have tried over the past 12 years and how they have hopefully left us with a better state.
Health care must be a right, not a privilege, and as we continue to seek a universal solution, we have made great strides. I first ran for office at the height of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) debate. I promised at the time that I would do everything in my power to implement this law true to its goal: to ensure that no family in our country is without health insurance or suffers an economic catastrophe simply because of their illness. We developed our own government health exchange and expanded Medicaid – and I passed laws to make sure Medicaid would pay for important screening tests. For the past several years, I’ve sponsored Cascade Care, a state government health insurance option that expands coverage options across the state, lowering deductibles and expenses. We still have more work to do, but our uninsured population has gone from 14% to less than 6%. I have also urged and successfully funded several advances in behavioral medicine treatment options for our children. Our state is lagging behind on this front, but the need is so great that we must continue with all our might. Finally, I want you to know that at a time when reproductive rights are under threat, my record has been 100% electoral. I’ve done everything I can to ensure that women in this state always have the autonomy to make their own decisions about their own bodies.
We made higher education accessible to thousands more young people. We cut tuition fees after a series of unfortunate increases earlier in the decade, bolstered the College Bound Scholarship for children keen to take this step, and increased research funding in key areas. We’ve even created a version of the Universal Community College that I wrote and sponsored about back in 2016. We must continue to treat access to higher education as a public good. We also passed a state version of the Dream Act 2.0, which I chaired in the Senate, to give dreamers access to financial aid, something so necessary and so just. We saved the GET program over the objections of some who wanted to resolve it. I then helped create our new 529 college savings program known as Washington’s Dream Ahead College Investment Plan, which complements GET and helps families save tax-free money on college expenses. These steps have gone a long way towards creating the state we all want, where all children have the opportunity to reach their full potential and families who need some extra support for college expenses.
Over the past decade, we have seen terrible episodes of gun violence, both here in our community and across the country, with so many school and mass shootings and less publicized everyday violence. I have tried to do what I can to support sensible strategies to reduce gun violence and prevent further tragedy. While we have not yet succeeded in restricting the sale of offensive weapons, I am proud that the laws I introduced to create a system to protect against extreme risks (also known as the Red Flag laws) were finally passed by the electorate. I have no doubt – no – that this law has and is saving lives from suicide, intimate partner violence, and perhaps even other mass shootings. We still need better mental health interventions, but we must never accept that our society cannot change. The scourge of gun violence that we tolerate in this country cannot be normalized.
We have invested in community. As the head of household with primary responsibility for the construction budget, I’ve worked with colleagues from both parties from across the state to fund projects that will alleviate homelessness, improve access to behavioral health services, and build strong communities. And when I first ran for office in 2010, part of my platform was making sure Seattle and the 46th District got our fair share of the state investment. I am proud that, in my budgetary leadership role, we have brought back hundreds of millions of dollars in state building to this community that contributes so much to our state. We have invested in community centers in Lake City and Magnusson Park, health clinics in North Seattle, new construction and renovations for Seattle Public School buildings, environmental projects in Lake Forest Park and Kenmore, local parks, and most importantly, our important local housing needs. I’m particularly proud of a new rapid housing fund that I created this last budget cycle that is helping Seattle fund new housing units now – not in two or three years – to help with the crisis we face every day see our eyes.
In the past decade, we’ve also made Washington one of the greenest states in the nation. In addition to pioneering climate legislation and significant funding for environmental projects across the state, we passed a bill I sponsored to reform and improve our system of taxing the major oil companies to pay for environmental cleanups. This law had not been updated since it came into force in 1988. It didn’t work and didn’t give us the funds we needed to do this cleanup. After a major battle with Big Oil in 2019, we passed my legislation. I can tell you it works and brings in more of the dollars we need for toxic cleanups and other environmental priorities.
The people of Washington deserve both justice and public safety, and that is not incompatible. The progress we have made through the State Task Force on the Use of Lethal Force, Initiative 940 and recent legislation shows that we can move towards a more equitable system that, over time, I hope will restore the trust of all people can .
Finally, we have made significant strides towards a fairer tax system. That started in 2013 when I was leading the legislature in a court case that challenged the constitutionality of an Eyman initiative calling for a super majority for tax law. Without that victory, it likely would not have been able to make the changes necessary to fund education in the McCleary case. This year’s tax reform, which includes tax breaks for working people and finances better and cheaper childcare for Washingtoners with low and middle incomes, would not have been possible either. Our state’s tax system has yet to be reformed, but we have made real progress in recent years.
While I’m passionate about so many of these progressive changes, I’ve always tried to reach out to collaborate with those with whom I differ greatly. I’m not naive, but we have to be able to contradict each other in politics without hating each other. We need to be able to discuss key differences while finding ways to come together when and where possible. Sometimes the chasms are too wide and it is not possible. But where the rifts can be bridged, it is important that the leaders try not only to achieve cheap victory by constantly throwing rhetorical bombs. Solving problems is difficult. A principled compromise is much more difficult than retreating into ideological corners. But it is essential for a functioning government and a functioning democracy. That might be a bit old school, but that’s what I think.
One final comment: we must respect and value our democratic institutions. Democracy is not the natural state of human history, nor has it been fully realized during much of the history of our own country. I am very concerned about the lies that have penetrated our country since the last election that are intended to undermine the credibility of our electoral system. We are seeing that under certain circumstances other states even allow state legislators to replace the will of the voters. It worries me that because of this misinformation, I am receiving a lot of emails from our fellow citizens suggesting that elections here in Washington are fraudulent or rigged. This is wrong, and yet the tale seeps through to some in our own community. We have to stay vigilant; we have to protect our election workers and officials and we have to fight the lies and misinformation with the truth. Always.
I want you to know that I came to this post with a firm belief that public service privilege does not confer the right to a lifelong position. After three terms in the Senate and nearly 60 bills passed, I realize it’s time to pass the baton on. I recognize, like all of us, the many real problems we still face – from climate change to health care to ongoing gun violence, among other things. I intend to continue playing a role in civic life to drive solutions. I look forward to ending my term in 2022 and representing you as vigorously as possible to help resolve our common problems.
Thank you for granting me the privilege of serving you in the legislature for the past twelve years. I will always be grateful for the support and kindness you have shown me and I will never forget it.