The News Tribune
We endorse: In West Pierce County, T’wina Nobles for Senate, three others for House

Washington political handicappers are being tested in suburban West Pierce County, home to one of 2020’s tightest legislative races. Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-Tacoma, has met his match in T’wina Nobles, a Fircrest Democrat, to retain the 28th District Senate seat he’s held since 2013 and Republicans have locked down for decades. 

Nobles edged O’Ban by 235 votes out of 43,983 cast in the August primary. More than a million dollars have poured into the contest, with Nobles so far outraising O’Ban by nearly $50,000. (Four years ago, O’Ban outraised a different Democratic challenger by more than $160,000.) 

“I have been elected three times because I think voters see that I fit the district well,” O’Ban told us in a joint interview with Nobles.

Yet the 28th is a swing district that lately has swung away from the right. Nobles is a powerful voice for that transformation, speaking up for working families in the era of coronavirus and other hardships. 

We endorse Nobles for a four-year term representing West Tacoma, Lakewood, University Place, Fircrest, DuPont, Steilacoom and local island communities. 

Nobles, 38, is a 15-year resident of the district who came to the area as a JBLM military spouse. Now in her second term on the University Place School Board, she has a clear-eyed view of public education challenges. 

Likewise, her three years as president and CEO of the Tacoma Urban League make her well grounded on business and social service issues, particularly for people of color. 

“I focus on anticipating the needs of our community, especially now during COVID 19,” Nobles said, noting how she’s led Urban League efforts to distribute personal protective equipment, mortgage assistance and student laptops. 

Count her among a new generation of hands-on Black leaders mentored by Tacoma’s Harold Moss, who died Sept. 21. Her abilities have been noted nationally with a rare endorsement from Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

O’Ban, 59, is a capable incumbent whom we’ve endorsed in the past. The constitutional lawyer and Senate GOP caucus insider is a longtime apostle of cheaper car tabs and Sound Transit reform

On mental health and addiction issues, O’Ban has few peers in Olympia. His day job as senior counsel for behavioral health for Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier, which he’s had since 2017, has sharpened that expertise. But we’re concerned those dual roles may entangle his political interests with his professional duties. 

O’Ban is a leader on integrated mental and physical healthcare; we hope he continues that important work in his county job or the nonprofit realm. 

But in our view, Nobles should replace him in the Washington Senate. 

For House Position 1 in the 28th District, Rep. Mari Leavitt, D-University Place, has earned a second term. Leavitt, the 52-year-old owner of a family orthodontics practice, knocked out the Republican incumbent two years ago, and while we didn’t endorse her then, she’s grown into the job nicely. 

Among her achievements are pay raises for National Guard members fighting wildfires and commercial driver licenses waivers for veterans transitioning out of the military. 

Republican challenger Kevin Ballard sits on the DuPont City Council and has admirable service as a former cop and Army helicopter pilot. But he doesn’t present a compelling argument to oust an incumbent who’s doing steady bipartisan work for her district. 

If reelected, Leavitt will supplant her retiring seatmate, Christine Kilduff, as senior House member from the 28th. We think she’s up to the task. 

Voters would do well to entrust Kilduff’s Position 2 seat to fellow Democrat Dan Bronoske. His Republican opponent is former UP City Council member Chris Nye

As we said before the August primary, Bronoske, 40, would give Lakewood a seat in the statehouse for the first time in years. The West Pierce Fire & Rescue engine company captain has an impressive grasp of public policy issues and a master’s degree in public administration.

Across the Narrows Bridge in the 26th Legislative District, the time has come for a clean sweep of incumbents; a pair of Gig Harbor Democrats stand ready with new ideas and energy. 

We’re sticking with our primary election picks of Carrie Hesch over Rep. Jesse Young for Position 1, and Joy Stanford over Rep. Michelle Caldier for Position 2. Both incumbents are completing their third terms. 

Hesch, 48, is a Washington corrections professional with keen insights on how to reform the prison system and prevent marginalized women from becoming repeat offenders. Young tries to sound bipartisan but too often plays to the fringes, such as his unswerving support for right-wing caucus outcast Matt Shea of Spokane. 

Stanford, 56, is a longtime substitute teacher for Peninsula School District. After losing to Caldier in 2018, she’s raised her game and speaks with authority on issues such as institutionalized racism and reopening post-COVID-19 society. Stanford knows first-hand the economic pain caused by the pandemic; she was laid off this summer from her job as outreach specialist for a home-sharing nonprofit. 

Caldier works hard for her constituents, and this was a close call for us. But at a historic moment when the value of Black lives needs reinforcement, Stanford gives the Peninsula a passionate advocate for equitable access and equal justice for all. 

ABOUT OUR ENDORSEMENTS 

The News Tribune Editorial Board interviewed candidates and did other research before making our picks for the 2020 election. Endorsements are intended to promote civic discourse and encourage voters to dig deeper. Board members who sat in on legislative endorsement sessions include: Stephanie Pedersen, TNT president and publisher; Matt Misterek, editorial page editor; Karen Irwin, editorial writer; Matt Driscoll, local news columnist; and Pamela Transue, community representative and former president of Tacoma Community College.

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The Spokesman-Review
‘There have been new challenges’: Women running for office aim to balance new demands during COVID-19

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced everyone to stay at home in March, former state Rep. Kristine Reeves knew her campaign would change in ways many other candidates’ wouldn’t.

Reeves, who has two young children, now had to balance campaigning for a seat in Congress and figuring out how to home school her children.

“How do you have a kitchen-table classroom, run for Congress full-time and also work through these big feelings of uncertainty with little people?” Reeves, who served as the Spokane County Democratic Party chair during the 2008 primary, remembers thinking.

The pandemic forced all candidates to rethink their campaigns. From changes in fundraising to switching events to Zoom, campaigning in 2020 looks a lot different than past years.

Many female candidates, who already face barriers in campaigning, were hit especially hard. Many with young children had to find time to home school in the midst of a campaign. They also had to find new ways to raise money that didn’t include knocking on doors, a strategy that often helps women in particular.

Women face numerous barriers to get into politics, even without a pandemic, said Cynthia Stavrianos, associate professor of political science and chair of the women’s and gender studies department at Gonzaga University.

Women need a lot more encouragement to run for office, Stavrianos said. She cited research from Jennifer Lawless and Richard Fox, political scientists who have researched and written numerous books about women in politics. Often, women need to be recruited. Men also tend to believe they are more qualified to run than women, leading many women to decide not to run at all, Stavrianos said.

Research from the Center for American Women and Politics shows women often weigh their responsibilities as a care giver heavily when deciding if they should run for office, although perhaps not as much in recent years.

Both men and women faced problems campaigning as the pandemic went into the late spring and summer. But for many women, household responsibilities tend to fall more on them.

“I have an amazing partner, but the burden tends to fall on women,” Reeves said, adding the household burden can be a challenge in politics.

Reeves, who ran for the seat in Congress that represents parts of Pierce and Thurston counties, including Olympia, finished third in the August primary. She said she doesn’t think the pandemic affected how she finished but said the biases toward working moms might have had more of an effect than normal.

For example, Reeves said if her children show up in the background of Zoom calls, she is seen as someone who can’t control her children. If a man’s children show up in Zoom calls, however, he is often seen as a “such a good dad.”

State Rep. Mari Leavitt, D-University Place, said that, while she has an amazing partner, he also works. During the day, she said she has to balance Zoom calls and making sure her children stay focused on school.

It’s a challenge in normal years, she said, but especially during a pandemic when there’s no child care or school for her children during the day.

“Having that team around you is super critical to do well and to maintain sanity,” Leavitt said.

Campaigning is different than any other job, state Rep. Jacquelin Maycumber, R-Republic, said. Everyone with children struggles.

Maycumber said she wants to make it easier for working moms to run for office, sponsoring a bill last session that clarifies how campaign funds can be used for child care expenses.

“I really want to see young people, people with children, have the opportunities to run,” Maycumber said.

Many people in the Legislature are semi-retired and have children in college, state Rep. Sharon Shewmake, D-Whatcom, said. Those people might not have to think as much about balancing work and children.

As a working mom with three school-age children, U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers said life has been different because of COVID-19.

“There have been new challenges that have come from working and teaching my children, all in the same space, and often at the same time,” McMorris Rodgers wrote in an email.

State Rep. My-Linh Thai, who has two college-aged children, said one of the biggest things she has had to deal with is the mental well-being of her family. Her children are struggling with the uncertainty of the school year, and her husband is a physician and has cared for patients with the virus.

Thai said she depends heavily on her campaign staff, who are all women.

“We are incredibly supportive of each other,” she said.

Thai recently announced the state’s votes for president during the Democratic National Convention’s virtual roll call. Thai, a first time legislator, explained how she came to the country as a refugee as 15.

Another challenge women face when running for office is fundraising. While women don’t necessarily raise less money than men, research shows they do face difficulties reaching that equal amount, according to the Center for American Women and Politics. The barrier is even higher for women of color.

Women often receive donations in smaller amounts, so they need higher numbers of small individual contributions to reach the same amount of money as men, according to the center. Large donor networks also help, but they often benefit Democratic women more than Republican women.

Women also rely more on women donors for support. Because women tend to receive more small-dollar fundraising, Stavrianos said raising money might not be as difficult during a pandemic, when large donations might not be as common.

Reeves said she struggled to ask people for donations, especially during an economic recession, but she said she found that her empathy for people’s situations helped. Reeves said she proved that a woman of color with a background in foster care can raise money.

“You can still raise a lot of money when you do it with empathy,” she said.

Women tend to be much more relationship-oriented, Leavitt said, adding she missed campaigning and canvassing in person.

“Having those one-on-ones really help you to learn what issues people care about,” she said.

Despite difficulties in campaigning, Reeves said she hopes the pandemic encourages more women and working moms to run for office. Working moms tend to fight more for accessible and affordable child care, paid family leave and equal pay – issues that Reeves said tend to become politicized.

Before the 2020 election, the Washington Legislature was made up of about 40% women. Women held five of Washington’s 10 congressional seats and both of its Senate seats. Three women currently hold the statewide offices of auditor, commissioner of public lands and secretary of state.

The number of women and people of color has a significant effect on the type of issues discussed in the legislature, Thai said.

“I would venture out and say our state would have been in worse conditions than where we are right now if it wasn’t for a slate of women who serve in the state Legislature,” she said.

Shewmake said it’s hard to know what’s on the other side of the pandemic, but she hopes child care will be discussed more in the Legislature.

Because of the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement, Shewmake said lawmakers will likely be thinking a lot more about equity.

“At the end of the day, if we are really fighting for a future for all of us and an economy that puts people first, we need to elect more working moms and women of color,” Reeves said.

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The Suburban Times
Rep. Leavitt Appointed to Serve on NCSL Task Force on Military and Veterans Affairs

University Place – State Representative Mari Leavitt, D-University Place, will join the National Conference of State Legislators’s Task Force on Military and Veterans Affairs. The task force brings together a bipartisan coalition of state legislators from across the country to work on issues affecting military families, communities, and veterans.

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The Suburban Times
Kilduff and Leavitt team up to push for rail safety

A little over two years after a tragic Amtrak accident across I-5 that took three lives in DuPont, State Representatives Mari Leavitt and Christine Kilduff are partnering with US Representative Denny Heck to push for rail safety improvements on Amtrak trains at the state and federal level. US Representative Heck introduced HR 6066, the Passenger Train Safety Act at the federal level on Tuesday, March 3.

The Passenger Train Safety Act ensures that every new passenger train route is equipped with a Positive Train Control (PCT) system which would have prevented the tragic accident in DuPont. It would also require the Federal Railroad Administration and Amtrak to review its safety standards and protocols and to make upgrades where necessary.

Representatives Leavitt and Kilduff have introduced state level legislation to complement the Passenger Train Safety Act and make sure that every level of government is taking all the steps necessary to make rail travel safe.

“Ensuring that all new passenger routes have Positive Train Control guarantees that we will never face a tragedy like the one we faced two years ago,” said Rep. Leavitt. “That is why Rep. Kilduff and I have written to the chair of the United States House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and asked him to schedule HR 6066 for a hearing. Strengthening rail safety should be a priority at all levels of government.”

Rep. Leavitt introduced House Bill 2287 which mandates that the Joint Transportation Committee study the National Transportation Safety Board’s recommendations about the 2017 accident in DuPont, other states’ rail safety best practices, and Washington’s rail safety practices. The Joint Transportation Committee will then issue recommendations for improving rail safety as well as coordination between state agencies, local governments, and the federal government.

“Just as the federal government must act to ensure an accident like this never happens again, we owe it to the people of Washington to take a hard look in the mirror and ensure that we are doing everything in our power to have a safe rail system,” said Rep. Leavitt.

Rep. Kilduff introduced House Bill 2439 which would support the sharing of information between the Washington State Utilities and Transportation Commission, which partners with the Federal Railroad Administration to conduct rail safety inspections, and other state agencies and local governments. It further enables state agencies and local governments to work hand in hand with the state and federal governments to keep passengers safe.

“Removing barriers to sharing critical rail safety inspection reports and information across government will protect the traveling public and reduce the risk of future derailments,” said Kilduff.

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The Suburban Times
Leavitt Passes Cost of Living Increase for Retirees

At the very end of a long four days of floor debate, Rep. Mari Leavitt, D-University Place, passed her bill to fund cost of living adjustments for retired employees in the PERS 1/TRS 1 system. House Bill 1390 provides a one-time 3 percent increase to the retirement benefits of former teachers, corrections officers, social workers, and other state retirees.

“It is time Washington state treats its retirees fairly and equitably,” said Leavitt. “These retirees have seen an increase in their monthly costs, from prescription drug costs to the cost of living in our region. Many of those former state workers live in Pierce County and have seen their purchasing power decline significantly. These people played by the rules and worked hard, and this bill is needed to help them pay for their medication and other costs.”

The bill passed the House unanimously and is sent to the Senate for its consideration.

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The Suburban Times
Leavitt’s Washington Online Privacy for Minors Bill Passes House

New protections for children are on their way to becoming law thanks to new legislation passed by the House Tuesday morning. Rep. Mari Leavitt, D-University Place, introduced House Bill 2442 which was approved by the House in a near unanimous 96-1 vote. The legislation puts into place restrictions on advertising of specific products to minors and restricts sale of personal information of data. Minors can also request information posted online be removed, something wanted by children and parents.

“In an increasingly digital world, children are increasingly becoming targets of advertising, often for harmful products like alcohol, vapor, or age-inappropriate materials,” said Leavitt. “We cannot allow companies to use data taken from our children to market directly to them, particularly for products that we want kids to avoid. This is a great step in protecting our children while still maintaining their access to information and developing the digital literacy required for the 21st century.”

The bill requires protections for all children under the age of 18, protecting significantly more children than the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA) which limits its requirements to apply to those children under the age of 13.

House Bill 2442 now heads to the Senate for its consideration.

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The News Tribune
Schools don’t have to track youth head injuries in Washington. Two Pierce County legislators want to change that

Two Pierce County area legislators this year have proposed that high schools be required to track such information. A report would be published every fall for public inspection and for study by state university researchers.

House Bill 2731 is a sensible bipartisan idea offered by Rep. Morgan Irwin (R-Enumclaw) and Mari Leavitt (D-University Place). It directs the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association to collect head injury information for 9th through 12th grade athletes at the WIAA’s roughly 800 member schools.

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Seattle Times
Last year, Washington lawmakers made college free for some. This year, they want to make it more accessible.

Also on the table: a bill that would make college costs more transparent. If it’s approved, acceptance letters to any of the state’s public colleges would provide students with the estimated cost to earn a degree. These letters would also list financial-aid options, said bill sponsor Rep. Mari Leavitt, D-University Place.

“It’s really hard if you go to the varying [colleges’] websites to figure out what the costs are,” she said. If acceptance letters included those figures, as well as financial-aid options, “you don’t have the sticker shock of knowing this is what it’s going to take.”

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The Suburban Times
Representative Mari Leavitt Announces 2020 Legislative Priorities

State Representative Mari Leavitt, D-University Place, returns to Olympia today for the 2020 short session. Entering the 60-session, Leavitt has released her legislative agenda tackling some of Pierce County’s biggest challenges and which focuses on increased services and opportunities for children, veterans, families, and Pierce County’s most vulnerable citizens.

“Almost every day, I talk with and hear stories from constituents who are struggling to pay for the rising cost of prescription drugs; retired teachers and corrections officers on fixed incomes facing major increases to their cost of living; and military service personnel and their families who aren’t getting the services they need and deserve. I plan to make every day of the short session count by focusing on the priorities given to me by my constituents,” said Leavitt. “That’s why my agenda will focus on housing needs and behavioral health care improvements, quality education, and keeping families and children safe. We must also do right by workers and enhance and improve services for senior citizens,” she continued.

Leavitt is off to a strong start having already introduced new legislation prioritizing employment opportunities for military spouses (HB 2303), a chief area of concern for the Employment Securities Division and the Washington Department for Veterans Affairs. HB 2303 allows armed forces members or their spouses to practice their profession without a Washington state license or permit if they or their spouse is stationed here, and they have a similar license or permit in good standing in another state. This provides military families stability and a valuable source of income, sidestepping burdensome regulation.

Leavitt has also introduced legislation building on her past efforts to increase public safety and combat human trafficking, which continues to be a problem in Washington state and the rest of the country. Many human trafficking victims end up in plain sight at hotels and motels, and exploitation of victims, many of whom are minors, happens in places where families stay for vacations, or where businesses host conventions. Leavitt’s HB 2320 provides for annual training for hospitality workers who are in a unique position to interact with guests, to identify the signs of human trafficking and obtain the necessary information to report those signs to the national human trafficking hotline or local law enforcement.

One bill coming back from 2019 includes the cost of living adjustment (COLA) for retired state employees in the PERS 1/TRS 1 system. Originally funded in the 2019 House budget, the legislation failed to be passed into law. If passed this year, it would codify into law COLA increases for former teachers, corrections officers, school cafeteria workers, park maintenance staff, social workers, and more, who were denied COLA increases for years after the Great Recession. In addition, Leavitt has introduced HB 2189 to ensure that behavioral health care workers who work with criminal defendants also receive COLA increases.

“I am excited to return to Olympia and continue this work, fighting for better opportunities for our military service members and veterans, keeping communities safe from human traffickers, and helping retired seniors struggling to make ends meet,” said Leavitt. “A lot can be done in 60 days if we work together and put people first, and that’s what I am going to do.”

Leavitt has introduced additional legislation regarding solemnization of marriage for military couples, school meals and health centers, new punishments for those perpetuating the opioid epidemic, and protections for minors. Click here for a complete list of legislation offered by Leavitt in 2019-2020.

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Suburban Times
Rep. Leavitt says we can do better for our soldiers, veterans and their families

Rep. Mari Leavitt (D-University Place) said she’ll use her appointment to the Joint Committee on Veterans and Military Affairs to push for reforms.

“Drive anywhere in this beautiful state and you’ll see how intertwined we are with the military,” said Leavitt, who grew up as part of a military family. “We are home to major Army, Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard facilities, and many soldiers make Washington state their permanent home when they retire. That’s why it’s so important that we get this right for our soldiers and veterans.”

Washington ranks in the top seven states for the number of active-duty military personnel, beating out far larger states such as New York.

“It’s important that we focus on such matters as barriers to work and economic opportunity, cybersecurity, behavioral health and veterans suicide prevention, military partnerships, transition and outreach, training and support for military families,” Leavitt said.

The joint committee includes lawmakers in the House and Senate from both parties. In 2018, it tackled topics such as state benefits for veterans, support for service members deployed overseas, GI Bill participation, pension benefits for reserve and guard members and veterans suffering from homelessness.

“The issues facing soldiers and veterans aren’t simple, partly because we can’t control what the federal government and military decide to do,” Leavitt said. “It’s our duty to take care of everything we can from the state side of things, whether it’s by legislation, funding in the budget or cooperation with federal lawmakers and officials. And the work this committee does is critical to military members, their families and the communities around our bases.”

The committee was established by law (Revised Code of Washington 73.04.150), with information about meetings, agendas and reports available online here: leg.wa.gov/JointCommittees/VMA/Pages/default.aspx

Leavitt also serves on the House committee that focuses on veterans’ issues and as vice chair of the bipartisan House Veterans and Military Families Caucus.

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