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April 02, 2006

Another Female Democratic Star on the Horizon

Deb Wallace, second term state representative from the 17th LD in Clark County, has become one of my favorite Democratic electeds.  She is accessible; she feels like an old friend whom I always enjoy talking with (and I’ve only met her two or three times); and she has a blog (but doesn’t post enough for my taste; it's cool nonetheless).  She came in person to our blogger-legislature forum last January and at the last minute was gracious enough to be on a panel of legislators talking about how they are building websites to communicate their issues and interact with the community. 

And that’s all before we get to the actual work of legislating in Olympia.  Deb came to the legislature from being a transportation planning professional, which means it was her job to work with people to solve problems and to plan to prevent problems in the future.  That’s what good planners do.  And she was good enough that she oversaw transportation planning in seven counties.  That means she has good people skills.  And it means she knows how to find the project stakeholders and determine how to weave their different agendas together.  It also means she has good organization skills and makes good use of her time to manage the various parts of her job.  She’s competent and she pays attention to what her customers want and need. 

Oh, and she also is there to serve her constituents.  They care about transportation (and probably elected her partly because of her expertise in that area), so she is Vice-Chair of the Transportation Committee.  They care about education so she takes on a rather unusual fourth committee assignment on the Education Committee.  They care about having people they love exposed to methamphetamine.  So she wrote a bill that further imposed limitations on obtaining ingredients on meth-producers.  They care about building their economy up so she sponsored a bill to help a local industry, the semi-conductor industry, stay competitive in the world.  They are somewhat distrustful of government, so she sponsors bills to make state government more accountable and more transparent.

Deb is the type of person that people thought of when they liked the idea of a business-person becoming a politician.  They were thinking of a professional like her who is personable and thoughtful and folds her agenda into the overall agenda of the organization, someone trying to get results and asking others to get results.

The bloggers liked Deb when we met her in early January at our forum.  Not only is she a good Democrat, she is one of the new breed, the kind we in the blogosphere really want to support.  When the time comes we will want to really make that support known - because she is top of the list on the Speaker's Roundtable ( a big-time Washington State Republican political committee) hit list.  I guess that's what you get for being a formidable force from a moderate district.      

The interview with Deb is after the fold.

Interview with Deb Wallace

Q: What is your background? How did you come to be in government?

DW: I have a business degree and worked for many years as a transportation planning professional.  The last several years of that career, I was the regional planning manager for the Department of Transportation for a seven county area which included Vancouver.

After I’d been there a couple of years, I realized we needed more investment in transportation.  We had done nothing for the previous thirteen years.  We also needed accountability measures. 

So the first bill I sponsored was to require that the Department of Transportation utilize performance measures and audits.  I wanted people in the state to know how their money was being spent.  I also wanted to see increasing spending for transportation. I became Vice Chair of the Transportation committee in my first year.  I was interested in making improvements to highway 520, to the Alaska Viaduct and to the Columbia River crossing.  I also wanted to see more spending on public transit.

Normally the tradition is that first termers don’t take risks.  I couldn’t see staying quiet when there were important things I wanted to see happen.  I took a $55,000 pay cut to be in the legislature.  It made no sense to me to be in that role if I didn’t do what I came to do.  So I helped change that pattern and others followed.

Q: What’s your general picture of this last session?

DW: This was an amazing session.  Of the four sessions I’ve served in, it was the most productive.  We were able to accomplish some historic things – including bills that dealt with medical malpractice, water rights, environmental preservation, and biofuels development and usage.

We knew we had a short time frame and we were very focused on what we wanted to accomplish.  Also, Chris Gregoire provided a lot of leadership.  There were a number of difficult issues that she took on and helped negotiate solutions.

I had only known of Chris’s work with the tobacco issues.  I got an opportunity to see her in action and she is impressive.  She wants to see results and she works in a collaborative manner with all the parties involved.

There are a number of legislators like me who choose to serve in order to make government better.  I came here to see that we increase accountability in government and also to improve transportation in the state.  When I came in, there was a large deficit.  I, like many others, wanted to make changes. 

We passed a bill calling for performance audits called the Joint Legislative Audit and Review.  We also set up a joint task force with legislators from the House and the Senate.  It gives us an opportunity to review incentives that we provide to businesses.  My take is that incentives make sense if they do what they say they will do. 

For example, one of the bills I sponsored was an incentive for the semi-conductor industry, which has companies in several locations around state but tend to cluster in Clark County.  For example, there is a new technology for producing a 12inch silicon wafer; currently most wafers are 6 inches.  There are only a few plants in the country making 12 inch wafers, some of which are in Clark County.  We want to encourage the expansion of facilities and create more jobs.

The way it works is that if a company invests $350 million to build facilities, they get a reduced B&O tax and sales taxes on the chemicals they use are decreased.  People think it will create $3 billion over time and about 800 well-paying jobs. 

So incentives can be good but we need to know if they are working as expected.  Also, sometimes we still have incentives for industries that no longer need to be supported.  So why use taxpayer dollars for it?  Our joint task force will take a look at this. 

Q: What were you most pleased with that occurred?

DW: Personally, I was happy that bills that I personally worked on passed.  These included important public safety issues, such as a bill regulating driving schools.  In the state of Washington, there has been little oversight of driving schools.  This bill requires background checks for instructors, something that’s pretty important in these times.  There also has not been a good standardized curriculum.  For example, when my daughter was taking driving classes, the instructor had her go through a Krispy Kreme store and they sat and ate donuts.  That shouldn’t be happening.

I also sponsored a bill that should cut methamphetamine use.  I had been working for a number of months with the Clark County Drug Task Force and had learned a lot about what was important.  So, among other things, we made it illegal to buy pure iodine without a reason.  From that standpoint, I felt like my time was valuable.

From the larger standpoint, I was pleased that we investing in healthcare for children.  We added 6500 children to the rolls of the insured.  Our goal is to cover all children in the state of Washington by 2010.  That is important.

I was pleased that we were able to make gains in public education.  We were actually able to get important results to make this wonderful state even better.

Q: What were the particularly difficult issues you had to deal with during the session?

DW:  There was the entire sex offender postcard issue (which I wrote about in late January).  It then became tricky to deal with the entire sexual predators issue because it was so politicized.  It is already an emotional issue.  And complex.  It entails courts, penalties, and the jail system.  We wanted a good policy solution that would protect kids.  So the Republicans’ tactics were unfortunate.  Yet we got something important accomplished and did so in a bipartisan way.

The other difficult issues were the ones that Chris wound up negotiating well.  (I wrote about these as well.)

Q: Tell us a bit about the bills encouraging biofuels.

DW:  This is hugely important, particularly so here in our state.  The federal government is talking about this but taking little action.  We felt we needed to act.  Washington State is one of the leaders in the nation on this issue.  We wanted to support the economy, particularly our agriculture industry and to move us toward energy independence.  We are going to see this country move toward biofuels.  This bill (SB6508) mandates the use of 2% biofuels, growing to 5%.  We are going to blow those figures out of the water.  We will see the demand grow quickly as the needs become more apparent.  Why not do it here and benefit economically?

Q: And education? I know this was your first year on the Education Committee.

Yes, this was my first year on the Education Committee.  I added it as my fourth committee, which is unusual.  I felt it was Important enough that I needed to be right there.  I was most pleased that we backed up some of the WASL requirements and invested money in making those programs more rigorous.  It was most significant to provide alternatives to WASL.  What we come back and do next year because of the Washington Learns program will be key.  We will come back and report what we find in the next session.  We have not continued to make changes to prepare our kids for the 20th century.  So we are doing that now.  Next year will be most important for education.  That’s why I wanted to get involved this year – so I would get ramped up.

Thank you.

Posted by Lynn Allen on April 2, 2006 at 10:17 AM in Interviews | Permalink


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Lynn -- Thanks for this. It helps to read about the legislators and understand what they're working on. It's exciting to hear about a new crop of legislators who have entered the business to make government better. The parallel is here on the grassroots level, where there's been an influx of concerned citizens into partisan action.

Posted by: Noemie Maxwell | Apr 2, 2006 10:24:44 AM

The Progressive Caucus of Snohomish County Democrats (PCSCD) is pleased to announce their endorsement of Lillian Kaufer for State Senate, 44th LD in the September primary election and, hopefully, beyond. The primary winner will challenge incumbent republican Dave Schmidt in November. The PCSCD played an active role in the successful primary and general election campaigns of Dave Somers in 2005 as he reclaimed his seat on the Snohomish County Council from republican Jeff Sax. We are hoping for similar success for Lillian Kaufer.

Lillian will be facing off against another good Democrat, Steve Hobbs, in the primary election. In the end, the PCSCD based its endorsement on Lillian’s compelling story as a wife and mother, small business owner, community activist, and active PCO in her LD. Lillian has a real-time understanding of the issues that face working people in the 44th LD and, with a background as a Girl Scout leader, fundraiser for the Everett Family YMCA, and “work from home mom”, she brings solid “family values” credentials that will be hard to challenge in November. As a community activist, she has recently helped lead Citizens for a Better Mill Creek, an organization that supports living wage jobs and planned growth in south Snohomish County. Lillian has also been a leader in the effort to stop the encroachment of another Wal-Mart into Mill Creek. To help Lillian help us increase our Progressive opportunities in Olympia, visit her on the web at http://lillianforsenate.com/

The PCSCD is comprised of some 30 plus members; active in six of the seven legislative districts in Snohomish County . Amongst our members are PCOs, LD-County-State Officers, and elected Democrats. While we are not an official arm of the county or state party, by encouraging participation in those organizations, we do seek to influence the policies and activities of those bodies. As we collect no dues from membership, our support to candidates and causes comes in the form of volunteer efforts such as door belling and phone banking. In addition to Lillian Kaufer, we have endorsed I-937 (The Clean Energy Initiative) and Mark Wilson for US Senate so far this year. For more on the Progressive Caucus of Snohomish County Democrats, visit us on the web at:


Chad Shue
General Secretary, PCSCD

Posted by: Chad Shue | Apr 2, 2006 12:29:29 PM

More puffed up rhetoric.
The problem is that the only thing that Democrats have going for them is that they are not Republicans.
That's not enough.

Posted by: Raw Data | Apr 4, 2006 8:26:27 AM

Raw Data,

Do you actually read any of this before you spout off? Deb Wallace just does the work that her constitents want day and after with grace and skill. No puffery, no grand-standing. Just like most of the Democrats who serve us in this state. And probably a few Republicans as well. But they get lost amongst the nonsense from R. leaders.

Posted by: Lynn | Apr 4, 2006 8:34:14 AM

Yes I read it and I am unimpressed. She sounds quite mundane and not all that bright.

On many grounds I am against government subsidies --"incentives" in the prissy language of governmentese -- for business so her enthusiasm for them was a real turn-off. A serious deal-breaker.

As well, I personally would never vote for a government planner for a legislative body -- I have dealt with them for years and universally they never see an expansion of government power they don't like.

No, I'll never be a Republican. But if she is representative of a Democratic "star," then I am history and so I think is the Democratic Party as we have known it.

It's quite depressing. I would like to see some good Democrats. I simply don't.

Posted by: Raw Data | Apr 4, 2006 9:32:49 PM

I have met and talked with Deb Wallace a couple of times. She is highly intellegent, capable of doing a very good job. I don't agree with all of her decisions, and voting the party line most of the time. But I would rather have her in office representing me than a G(reedy)O(old)P(arty) member. The states with the majority of Republican's in office is like the White House, full of crooks. Kentucky and Ohio come to mind real fast. Lay with dogs=Get fleas.

Posted by: Allen | Apr 7, 2006 8:00:26 AM

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