Four Democrats and one Republican are pursuing District 22 state representative Position 1, which is being vacated by incumbent Democrat Chris Reykdal so that he can run for superintendent of public instruction.
Rhenda Iris Strub, Laurie Dolan, Franklin Edwards, Karen Johnson and Donald Austin will face off in the Aug. 2 primary election. The top two finishers in the primary will advance to the Nov. 8 general election.
Olympia environmental activist Beth Doglio, a Democrat, is running unopposed for District 22 state representative Position 2. That position has been held by Democrat Sam Hunt since 2000. Hunt is now running for the open District 22 Senate seat held by Karen Fraser, who is leaving that job to run for lieutenant governor.
The 22nd Legislative District includes Olympia, Lacey, Tumwater and parts of unincorporated Thurston County.
Below is a quick look at the candidates for Position 1.
▪ Rhenda Iris Strub said she will focus on reforming the state’s tax structure and budget, including pursuing the creation of a personal income tax and capital gains tax.
She supports raising the minimum wage and fully funding K-12 education by creating new revenue streams. She also supports removing tax breaks for large businesses that move jobs out of state. The current tax setup is responsible for a shrinking state budget and an increased burden on working-class and middle-class individuals, she said.
“I want to be a voice for progressive change in our tax system,” she said. “I want this to become a topic of public discourse, whether I’m elected or not.”
Strub, 60, was elected to the Olympia City Council in 2007 and served four years. She has served as a Thurston County planning commissioner and vice-chairwoman of the Thurston County Democrats. She has a degree in chemical engineering and runs a small environmental consulting business.
As the only candidate in the race who has served in elected office, Strub said that experience will allow her to make tough decisions on controversial issues.
“It is very different to face the voters over divisive issues when you are forced to choose a side,” she said.
Strub has raised $26,351 and has spent $17,711 so far, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission website. Top donors include commercial developer MPH Holdings of Olympia, Progress for Public Safety of Olympia, Corey and Kelly Larson, Olympia Firefighters IAFF Local 468 and the Washington Public Employees Association.
▪ Laurie Dolan worked for nearly 30 years in the Spokane Public Schools, first as an elementary school teacher, then as a school director (equivalent to an assistant superintendent). In 2002 and 2004, Dolan ran in close races for the state Senate as a Democrat in conservative-leaning Spokane. These high-profile races led to an appointment as former Gov. Chris Gregoire’s policy director.
Dolan, 63, said she brings a lifetime of relevant work experience to the race and knows the legislative process “inside and out.” She was inspired to run this year because of the challenges presented by the McCleary ruling requiring the state to fully fund education.
Part of that challenge includes finding new revenue, said Dolan. Aside from supporting a higher living wage, another goal is to pursue a progressive income tax initiative that can stand up to the state’s constitution while protecting low- and middle-income residents.
“We have got to change how we bring money into the state,” Dolan said. “State revenue is being cut right and left while trying to feed the beast of public education.”
Dolan is the top fundraiser in the race. She has raised $67,272 and has spent $39,233 so far, according to the PDC website. Top donors include SEIU 775 and SEIU Healthcare PAC, United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 367, Washington Education Association, Washington School Principals, Washington Machinists Council and Washington Federation of State Employees.
▪ Karen Johnson works as a strategic initiatives executive for the state Department of Social and Health Services. She serves as president and co-founder of the Black Alliance of Thurston County, and has been actively pursuing legislation aimed at reforming the state’s deadly force statute for law enforcement. For the past year, Johnson and the alliance have led local community conversations about race and police issues.
Johnson, 56, has a master’s degree in public administration and a doctorate in urban services/management. She was a recent finalist for an open position on the Olympia City Council.
According to a statement provided to The Olympian, Johnson said she is “the only candidate in this race who has demonstrated the ability to work with a broad, diverse group of concerned citizens, community groups, and local and state elected officials to solve a complex social issue resulting in overwhelming bipartisan support.”
Johnson has raised $8,260 and has spent $7,700 so far, according to the PDC website. Top donors include attorney Leslie Cushman, Reading Foundation director Jennifer Williamson, and former North Thurston School Board member Dr. Thelma Jackson.
▪ Franklin Edwards, 43, is a union carpenter and is running as a “regular Joe.”
In 2014, Edwards ran as an independent candidate for state representative Position 2 against incumbent Sam Hunt. Although he is running as a Democrat this year, Edwards said his political beliefs often have Libertarian leanings.
Edwards also supports a state income tax as one funding option for K-12 education in Washington, and will push for a bipartisan solution for adequately funding the state’s schools. He supports policies that take care of labor and industry in the state, noting that his union background can give him an edge in communicating with labor leaders.
“Maybe we need some new blood that isn’t a politician so that we can start bridging the gaps,” he said. “If we don’t take care of our kids, then we’re not taking care of our future.”
Edwards has raised $6,012 and has spent $3,153 so far, according to the PDC website. Top donors include the Puget Sound Carpenters Local 129 and social worker Michelle Christensen of Lacey.
▪ Donald Austin, 19, is the lone Republican and the youngest candidate in this race. He is a student at South Puget Sound Community College and plans to pursue a computer science degree.
The political newcomer was inspired to run for office based on his experience as a delegate at the Republican state convention.
If elected, he said he will focus on honoring the McCleary decision to fully fund education in the state, and wants to ensure that smaller school districts can get equitable access to funding. However, he opposes the idea of a state income tax to raise more revenue and instead prefers lower taxes to stimulate the economy.
“If you add a state income tax, it’s going to have negative effects,” said Austin, adding that he works hard to understand perspectives on both sides of the political aisle. “A lot of legislation is crafted toward one specific group. … I support standing for the people rather than specific groups.”
Austin has not raised or spent any money so far, according to the PDC website.