You were recently elected to a second term in the House of Representatives. Can you describe what a “day in the life” looks like for you as an elected representative?
As you know, we are navigating our first ever remote legislative session, unprecedented in more ways than one. As always, my number one priority is ensuring that our local voices are heard, and our 40th District values are being represented in the People’s House. Every day I am committed to upholding my responsibility to all Washingtonians by engaging on addressing challenges and finding solutions. This means ensuring that I am working with tribal governments, local and federal elected officials and agencies, stakeholders, and constituents.
I am an early bird, so it is not uncommon for me to start meetings at 7 in the morning with back–to–back Zoom meetings until 7 or 8 at night. Many hours of my day are spent in committee, where I get to hear from policy experts, state agencies, stakeholders, and constituents on a wide variety of bills. I am Vice Chair of the State Government and Tribal Relations Committee, which means I directly support our Chair and manage the remote testimony process. Remote testimony has been a great way for the legislative process to be more accessible to my constituents. In a typical year, folks travel 6-hours round trip to visit me in Olympia. Now, they can testify from the comfort of their own home. I also sit on the Appropriations Committee, where we discuss our operating budget, and the Rural Development, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.
During our days, we also have several hours dedicated to caucus meetings and virtual floor time when we debate and pass bills. We are still in the early stages of session but have committed to passing a series of early action bills to help our communities and economy recover from the devastating impacts of COVID-19. These bills will provide direct relief and assistance to residents, businesses, and families who are struggling the most, including our frontline, BIPOC, and low-income communities.
In whatever hours I have left in my day, I enjoy taking meetings with stakeholders and constituents. This year, my office has been hosting a series of weekly Terrific Tuesday Roundtables as an opportunity for constituents and stakeholders to share their legislative priorities. Each week features a different topic and so far, we have covered higher education, public safety, and have plans for business and economic recovery, housing, and budget. These are a great way for stakeholders to receive a legislative update but to also provide me direct feedback. The other weekly event I have been excited to roll out this year is our Virtual Constituent Coffee, where constituents from all over my district join in a mini town hall style event to ask me questions. I love getting to learn about my constituents’ priorities and to share with them updates on my bills and the work of our entire Legislature.
At the end of my day, I get to wind down with my daughter Emma and our dog Cedar, who both bring me so much joy.
You are the lone Native American woman elected to the Washington legislature. What does it mean to you to have this distinction?
As the only Native American women currently serving in the state legislature, I bring a unique perspective to the decision-making table. I am an Alaska Native girl who grew up in a small, rural community in southeast Alaska — rich in my cultural heritage. We were not rich in money, but rich in culture, resources, and community. These are the values that are intertwined in my decision making very day. My Tlingit upbringing has inspired and guided much of my work and I believe Washington values share many similarities. We in the 40th and in our great state believe in the importance of community – the power of we and unity. We believe in passing on traditions to future generations, teaching history and culture through multigenerational storytelling and passing these stories to the next generation to ensure our people, our history and our culture stay alive. We also honor symbols to represent our history and culture. I think of my experiences growing up with my grandmother and aunties and the laws they passed down to me: Remember who you are and where you come from; as it will be your responsibility to ensure the generations to come have a future, just as we have for you. Today the Floor of the People’s House better reflects the diversity of our State; but for me, I want to urge more Native Americans to join me in making decisions for all our futures. We are more alike than we think, we have struggled but we are survivors – we have persevered through a very traumatic history – and have remained strong. Together.
COVID-19 has made life difficult for many folks in Washington and across the U.S. How has the pandemic impacted your work? To build on that, what message would you give to Washingtonians as they recover from the setbacks of the pandemic?
COVID-19 has necessitated multiple changes to the way the Legislature operates. To best protect our families, our staff, and our communities, legislators have been listening to our public health officials and taking appropriate safety measures, such as holding the legislative session remotely. Remote session doesn’t mean that the Legislature is being inefficient or ineffective, but it does mean that we are limiting our focus to legislation that addresses the crises our state is facing and other urgent needs. Remote session also means it’s easier than ever to make your voice heard in the Legislature, as I said before, you can now testify in a committee hearing from the comfort and safety of your home. In addition, all committees will be accepting written testimony. I’m excited for this expansion, as it means increased ability for those with mobility issues, those in rural areas, and those far from Olympia to participate in their government!
A message I’d like to share with my fellow Washingtonians as we continue down the path toward recovery is that we must do so together. No matter our politics, the only way through these crises is to work together toward that common goal. Wear your mask, wash your hands, and have compassion for your neighbors in these difficult times. As for me, I’ll continue working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, in both chambers to deliver policies that bring immediate relief as well as build toward a safe, healthy, prosperous, and equitable Washington.
As Representative of the 40th Legislative District, what are some of your policy goals for the next session that impact Skagit, San Juan, and Whatcom counties?
My first main policy goal for this session is economic recovery. Recovery in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic means not only adequately supporting public health efforts and aiding those in urgent need, such as small businesses and low-income families, but also working on long-term solutions for economic recovery. To stimulate our local economies and protect those hit hardest by the pandemic, closures, and restrictions, I’ve worked with my colleagues to develop the Washington STRONG Act. Washington STRONG authorizes a 10-year series of “green” bonds, which could unlock more than $16 billion for direct investment and has the potential to create upwards of 150,000 jobs by providing much-needed local stimulus. Washington state is facing an economic crisis, and we have the choice to use progressive revenue to grow our economy by investing in green infrastructure and clean transportation projects that put people to work and build a climate-resilient future. This economic policy is based on our state’s needs right now, one that puts our frontline communities and environmental justice first, instead of increasing inequity and placing the burden on our most impacted communities.
Another policy goal that will have deep impacts on our communities in the 40th District is passing environmental justice legislation. Climate change is among the most imminent threats to our local communities. But climate change is not just an environmental issue. We need to start thinking about it holistically, considering the impacts to our health, education, housing, transportation, infrastructure, and economy. This session, I’ll continue my work to institute a community development standard of net ecological gain, or a “leave it better than you found it” standard. This means development projects would contribute to habitat restoration and help achieve a healthier environment for current and future generations. I’ll also continue my work to modernize the Growth Management Act to include salmon recovery, and to pass the Healthy Environment for All (HEAL) Act. The HEAL Act will help Washington address environmental health disparities, because who you are and where you live should not impact your health and well-being.
My final policy priority this session is police accountability reform. This year’s historic protests have awakened the public to the need for racial equity and justice system reforms. Recognizing the complex problems of police accountability and police-community relations, legislators assembled the Policing Policy Leadership Team, on which I serve, to examine current policies and devise a plan to rebuild communities’ trust in law enforcement. Public safety intertwines local, tribal, state, and federal government across Washington state. I am committed to ensuring we work together with our federally recognized tribes to develop policy, training and regulations that reflect one Washington, protecting one people. In addition to my work on the Policing Policy Leadership Team, I plan to champion a budget proviso to begin addressing the crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women in our state. I’m proud of the strong leadership and clear focus on addressing racial equity and criminal justice reform so far, and I will continue to work toward delivering the change that our communities have been demanding.
2020 was a tough year. What are you most looking forward to in 2021?
I’m most looking forward to being able to take action to tackle some of the serious problems our communities are facing in the wake of COVID-19. Over the interim and into 2021, legislators worked to create and develop policy ideas that will not only provide immediate relief, but will also begin the long journey toward an equitable recovery. While the work never stopped, it has been gratifying to begin taking votes on policies that will make a difference to people’s lives and livelihoods during this ongoing public health and economic crisis.
Outside of your life as a representative, what hobbies or passions do you enjoy?
I enjoy spending time with family and doing outdoor activities. There are many quiet moments that I would love to spend enjoying the stacks of books and containers of Native beading projects, or to write, but there just has not been enough time in the day. When I can spend some time away from work, I’m doing the best job I’ve ever had — being a mom and supporting my daughter. I also spend time running and engaging with others to check in and make sure we are all doing okay. I am quiet person who can find solitude and happiness in the small, simple things in life.