While “right-leaning” is an apt description for Washington’s 31st Legislative District, which covers north Pierce County and southeast King, it’s reasonable to predict the conservative label won’t last.
Suburban migration caused by big-city housing costs makes communities like Auburn, Enumclaw, Sumner and Bonney Lake attractive to city folks who can turn solidly red districts a shade of purple.
Lucky for the 31st, it has two state representatives, Republicans Drew Stokesbary and Morgan Irwin, poised for this transition. Both are exceptionally bright standard bearers for the millennial generation, both have young families and both win our endorsement in the Nov. 6 election.
Stokesbary, 33, has capably represented House Position 1 for two terms. No doubt the lawyer had many options after graduating cum laude from the University of Notre Dame, but he zeroed in on public service.
This Auburn Republican has demonstrated political acumen that puts him on the fast track to GOP leadership. He was already promoted to House minority floor leader this year.
When asked why he voted to exempt the Legislature from the Public Records Act, Stokesbary said House Republicans were at the mercy of the Democratic majority. When further pressed, he admitted the bill wasn’t perfect but trusted legislators would tweak it later.
Wrong answer. But Stokesbary’s missteps have been few. When he votes, it generally comes after thoughtful consideration. He’s agile on an array of issues, from health care to transportation with an ear tuned to middle-class concerns.
His challenger, Victoria Mena, 38, is a Democratic community activist focused on immigrant rights. The single mother says she’s running on behalf of the most vulnerable, that she knows poverty firsthand and that she can’t afford health insurance.
We like the notion of sending someone to Olympia whose struggles aren’t abstract. But Mena, despite her graduate degree in public policy from the University of Washington, can’t match Stokesbary’s growing influence or grasp of policy details.
The other half of the 31st’s dynamic duo is Morgan Irwin of Enumclaw. Irwin, 35, came to House Position 2 via appointment in 2016. Last year, voters gave the farm boy and Washington State University finance graduate their strong support, and he ran with it. When this Seattle cop isn’t commandeering a jet ski to rescue a stranded kayaker, he’s applying similar gusto to his work at the statehouse.
This year, Irwin had a hand in resolving the Hirst water-rights impasse that hurt rural landowners. He was a voice for disgruntled voters frustrated with expensive car tabs that pay for Sound Transit projects. The biggest blot on his record was supporting that reckless (and fortunately, vetoed) assault on the Public Records Act.
Opponent Mark Boswell, 67, is an engineer, retired Navy officer and veteran Democratic party activist. He wants to improve state infrastructure and better protect the environment. But he got a late start on his campaign and doesn’t make a persuasive case to unseat Irwin.
We end with the 31st District Senate seat feeling much less enthusiastic about the choices. It shouldn’t be that way; a four-year position ought to have first-rate candidates.
Sen. Phil Fortunato, who once proposed that Seattle secede from King County, among other showboat ideas, is contested by Democrat Immaculate Ferreria, whom we strongly prefer.
This family case worker for Tacoma Urban League lives in the Sumner home where she grew up. She’s personable, respectful of different views and determined to tackle the district’s suburban and rural challenges.
Ferreria, 46, is proud of her Filipino-American heritage and touts her “fresh perspective,” which is a euphemism for “doesn’t have legislative experience.”
Fortunato declined our invitation for an interview, but has clocked his time in Olympia, alright, and the Auburn ideologue’s anti-tax conservatism plays well with the base. (That he was appointed to the Senate in 2016, when Donald Trump rose to power, is fitting.) But Fortunato seems content to be an outsider stirring the pot rather than a bipartisan colleague getting things done.
The odds are long for Ferreria, but electing her would be a step into a brighter future for the 31st. A nice shade of purple would suit the district just fine.
CHECKING THEIR RECORDS
The TNT Editorial Board is partnering again this year with Verify More, a nonpartisan nonprofit watchdog that coordinates background screenings with candidates’ consent. In the 31st District, Drew Stokesbary, Victoria Mena, Morgan Irwin and Immaculate Ferreria all participated in the screenings. To see the database, go online to verifymore.org.