Over the last decade, I have continually been 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 has been the everyday experiences of neighbors, conveyed to me through meetings, visits, email, telephone calls, formal testimony and even interactions in the grocery store, that have informed the decisions I have made on the thousands of votes I have taken over the years. These interactions have made an indelible imprint on me and helped me to be your voice in the state Senate this past decade. But as the saying goes, every season eventually turns and for me that season is now. So, I wanted to let you know that I will not be seeking a fourth term representing you in the state Senate in the 2022 election.
Our state has faced many challenges since I came into office after the elections of 2010. We began with the economic devastation and foreclosure crisis that arose from the Great Recession. We moved through the systemic educational funding challenges of the McCleary case. And the last 18 months have been all about the global pandemic which, sadly, has taken more than 7,000 of our fellow Washingtonians.
In the urgency of these large-scale 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 important policies that I have tried to lead on in these last 12 years and how I hope they have left us a better state.
Health care must be a right and not a privilege, and while we continue to seek a universal solution, we have made much progress. I first ran for office during the height of the debate over the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). I pledged then that I would do everything I could to implement this law with fidelity to its goal: to ensure that no family in our state would be without health insurance or face economic catastrophe just for getting sick. We developed our own state-based health care exchange and expanded Medicaid—and I passed legislation to ensure that Medicaid would pay for important early childhood screenings. In more recent years, I sponsored Cascade Care, a state-based public option for health insurance that is expanding coverage options around the state and lowering deductibles and out-of-pocket-costs. We have more work to do, but our uninsured population has dropped from 14% to less than 6%. I have also pushed for and succeeded in funding several advances in behavioral health treatment options for our children. Our state is 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, in a time when reproductive rights are in jeopardy, my record has been 100% pro-choice. I have done whatever I could to ensure that women in this state will always have the autonomy to make their own decisions over their own bodies.
We have brought higher education within reach of thousands more young people. We lowered college tuition after a series of unfortunate increases early in the decade, strengthened the College Bound scholarship for kids seeking that step up, and boosted research funding in important areas. We have now even created a version of universal community college, which I wrote about and sponsored 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 led on in the Senate to allow Dreamers access to financial aid, something so necessary and so just. We saved the GET program over the objections of some who wanted to dissolve it. Subsequently, I helped create our new 529 college savings program known as Washington’s Dream Ahead College Investment Plan that is complementing GET and helping families save money tax-free for college expenses. These steps have gone a long way toward creating the kind of state we all want, where all children have the opportunity to seek their fullest potential and families that need it can get a little more help for college costs.
This past decade we have seen horrible episodes of gun violence, both here in our community and around the country, with so many school and mass shootings as well as less-publicized day-to-day violence. I have tried to do what I could to support sensible gun violence reduction strategies and to prevent more tragedies. While we have not yet succeeded in limiting the sale of assault weapons, I am proud that legislation I introduced to create a system for Extreme Risk Protection Orders (also known as red flag laws) was eventually passed by the voters. I have no doubt – none – that this law has saved and is saving lives from suicide, intimate partner violence, and perhaps even other mass shooting events. 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 become normalized.
We have invested in community. As a budget leader with primary responsibility for the capital construction budget, I worked with my colleagues in both parties from across the state to fund projects that alleviate homelessness, increase access to behavioral health services, and build strong communities. And when I first ran for office back in 2010, part of my platform was to ensure that Seattle and the 46th District were getting our fair share of state investment. I am proud of the fact that in my leadership role on the budget, we have been able to bring hundreds of millions of state construction dollars back to this community that contributes so much to our state. We made investments 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, of most importance, our critical local housing needs. I am particularly proud of a new rapid housing fund I created this past budget cycle that is helping Seattle to fund new units now – not in two or three years – in order to help with the crisis we see before our eyes every day.
This past decade, we have also made Washington one of the greenest states in the nation. In addition to landmark climate legislation and significant funding for environmental projects across the state, we passed a bill I sponsored to reform and enhance our system of taxing the major oil companies in order to pay for environmental cleanups. This law had not been updated since its enactment in 1988. It wasn’t working and wasn’t giving us the funds we needed to do these cleanups. After a major fight with big oil in 2019, we passed my legislation. I can tell you that it is working and is generating more of the dollars we need for toxic cleanups and other environmental priorities.
The people of Washington deserve both justice and public safety, and those are not incompatible. The progress we have made through the state’s Task Force on the Use of Deadly Force, Initiative 940, and more recent legislation demonstrates that we can move toward a more just system that can, over time, I hope, restore the confidence of all the people.
Finally, we have made significant progress toward a fairer tax system. That began in 2013 when I helped lead the Legislature in a court case that challenged the constitutionality of an Eyman initiative requiring supermajorities for tax legislation. Without that win, it likely would not have been possible to make the changes necessary to fund education under the McCleary case. Nor would it have been possible to achieve this year’s tax reform, which included tax rebates for working people and which funds better, cheaper childcare for low- and middle-income Washingtonians. Our state’s tax system still needs more reform, but we have made real progress in recent years.
Even while I am passionate about so many of these progressive changes, I have always tried to extend a hand toward cooperation even to those with whom I have major differences. I am not naïve, but we have to be able disagree in politics without hating each other. We have to be able to debate important differences while still finding ways to come together when and where it may be possible. Sometimes, the chasms are too wide and it’s not possible. But, where the divides can be bridged, it’s important for leaders to try and not merely take the cheap win by throwing rhetorical bombs all the time. Solving problems is hard. Principled compromise is much harder than retreating to ideological corners. But it is essential to a functioning government and a functioning democracy. That may be a bit old school, but that is what I think.
A last comment: We must respect and cherish our democratic institutions. Democracy is neither the natural state of affairs in human history nor was it even fully realized during significant parts of our own country’s history. I am very worried about the lies that have pervaded our country since the last election that are intended to undermine the credibility of our electoral system. We are witnessing other states even allowing state legislatures to supersede the will of the voters in some circumstances. It is disturbing to me that because of this misinformation, I am receiving many emails from our fellow citizens who are suggesting that elections here in Washington are fraudulent or rigged. This is false and yet the narrative is seeping through to some in our own community. We must remain vigilant; we must protect our election workers and officials and we must combat the lies and misinformation with the truth. Always.
I want you to know that I came to this job in the firm conviction that the privilege of public service does not confer a right to a lifetime position. After three terms in the Senate and nearly 60 bills passed, I realize it is time for me to pass the baton. I recognize, as we all do, the many real problems we still face—from climate change to health care to continued gun violence, among many others. I intend to continue to play a role in civic life to advance solutions. I look forward to finishing out my term in 2022 representing you as vigorously as I can to help solve our common problems.
Thank you so much for allowing me the privilege of serving you in the Legislature these past dozen years. I will always be grateful for the support and kindness you have shown me, and I will never forget it.
State Senator, 46th Legislative District