Politics & Government

Puyallup lawmaker says she won’t seek reelection to state House

State Rep. Melanie Stambaugh, R-Puyallup, is shown at her business in Sumner in December 2016.
State Rep. Melanie Stambaugh, R-Puyallup, is shown at her business in Sumner in December 2016. The News Tribune

Republican state Rep. Melanie Stambaugh of Puyallup says she won’t seek reelection in 2018, ending her time in office after four years and sparking what could be a contentious campaign to replace her in the state House.

Stambaugh, who was first elected in 2014, has been considered by some to be a rising star within the party. At age 24, she beat Democrat Dawn Morrell, an incumbent who had served five House terms, by nearly 10 percentage points in her first run for office.

She was one of the youngest House members in state history when she entered the Legislature.

Stambaugh, now 27, declined an interview with The News Tribune and The Olympian to discuss her decision.

In a statement released Saturday, Stambaugh said she believes others should get the chance to hold office.

“We are served by a citizen Legislature and our government is strongest when we have a steady rotation of citizens who serve in elected office,” Stambaugh said.

Stambaugh said she plans to return to her consulting business in Sumner called, “You Impression,” which teaches lessons on confidence, public speaking and more.

She said she has worked “diligently” to bring her “unique experience and perspective to state policy” as the youngest legislator currently in the state House.

At the Capitol, Stambaugh serves on the Higher Education and Transportation committees. She has championed legislation to make textbooks cheaper and pushed bills to provide greater access to contraceptives, tampons and other feminine hygiene products.

One of her recent bills, House Bill 2863, would provide tampons and other products to community and technical college students for free. It was advanced by a Democratic-led committee in January but has since stalled.

In 2016, she also worked to pass a bill aimed at helping youth in the criminal justice system succeed once released.

During her time at the Capitol, Stambaugh also engaged in a lengthy battle with the state Legislative Ethics Board over how she can share state-funded photos and videos on the Facebook page she used during her campaign.

Stambaugh contended the photos and videos were public record and something she should freely be able to use in the internet age. She also argued that she shared photos and videos that had already been posted on social media sites.

She was defended by others who said the ethics laws were behind the times.

The ethics board disagreed, fining her $5,000 dollars and saying Stambaugh misused state resources for campaigning. Lawmakers are allowed to add links to state-funded media to their campaign Facebook but are not allowed to directly embed videos, the board said.

The ethics rule Stambaugh violated is intended to maintain access to public records while blocking the use of state resources in campaigns, according to the board.

In the course of the debate, Stambaugh racked up $35,000 in legal fees. She raised money to pay off the debt through marimba concerts at You Impression — which attracted the attention of HBO’s “Vice News Tonight.”

While Stambaugh has had a grip on her state House seat in the 25th Legislative District — she won reelection in 2016 by more than 17 percent — Republicans might find a more difficult time winning without an incumbent.

Democrats hope backlash against President Donald Trump will fuel closer legislative races. Liberals still face a strong Republican base in the district, which includes Puyallup, Fife and parts of Parkland and South Hill.

In 2016, Republicans won the Senate seat and second House position in the district by wide margins.

Stambaugh said in her statement it has been her “greatest honor” to serve in the state House.

“I believe firmly in people, not politics, and I have proudly represented my district, carrying their voices to our state Capitol,” she said.

Walker Orenstein: 360-786-1826, @walkerorenstein