Rep. Laurie Jinkins’ election by her peers to serve as the next speaker of the Washington state House is a big deal, historically speaking, for several reasons. She’s the first woman to hold the post. The first “out” lesbian to attain such high stature in the Legislature. The first speaker to possess such an eye-popping collection of funky, decorative socks.
These are all remarkable qualities. But when the 55-year-old Democrat officially takes over as speaker in January, ending the long reign of Seattle’s Frank Chopp, we see one attribute rising above all others:
Jinkins will be the first Pierce County representative to call the shots in the House since 1995. We expect her to be a fierce promoter of local interests. We also trust other qualified leaders from the 253 will win her support to fill committee chairs and other key roles.
Pierce County has waited plenty long to return to the head of the table.
Brian Ebersole’s stint as speaker marked the end of a golden decade — a rare period of bacon brought home to Tacoma, courtesy of a group of elected honchos still remembered as “the Pierce County Mafia.”
It may be too much to hope for another crew like the one that controlled Olympia from 1985 to 1995. It may be naive to wax nostalgic for a time when so many state resources poured into our area code, resulting in legacy projects such as the University of Washington Tacoma, the cable-stay bridge over the Foss Waterway, the theater district rebirth and Washington State History Museum construction.
Seattle-area legislators were so shaken, they produced lapel buttons featuring the letters “PCP” with a red slash through them, signifying “No Pierce County Pork.”
Regaining that power may be unlikely, but oh boy, it’s fun to dream about, and Jinkins gives us a fighting chance. Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards must think so, too, judging by the statement she sent out last week: “Speaker-Elect Jinkins is well equipped to lead the House in finding solutions that will brighten the future of both our city and state.”
Note the order of priority there; it’s not merely alphabetical.
Jinkins has what it takes to be a good speaker. She also has potential to develop a strong bipartisan nucleus of local colleagues, such as Rep. Jake Fey (D-Tacoma), who heads the House Transportation Committee, and J.T. Wilcox (R-Yelm), the House minority leader.
To be fair, however, Jinkins isn’t part of an extensive team of local capos, unlike the Pierce County Mafia of yesteryear. That group controlled the Senate, as well. And don’t forget Gov. Booth Gardner was a Tacoman — though, as former TNT columnist Peter Callaghan once observed, Gardner was a reluctant mafia don.
Jinkins is an egalitarian who acts charitably toward all, maliciously toward none. As speaker, she will surely speak with rectitude about working hard for all Washingtonians.
But wielding influence on behalf of folks back home is the chance of a lifetime. The two-decade run that Chopp and his constituents enjoyed was an anomaly. And as singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell once declared: “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”
Pierce County’s clout waned in the early 2000s due to political comings and goings, a loss of seniority and perhaps a bit of political payback. Not coincidentally, the county endured a string of setbacks, such as no statewide funding for the second Narrows Bridge and more sex predators on McNeil Island.
It’s time to build back some muscle from 30 years ago. Jinkins’ first allegiance should be to the people of the 27th Legislative District who elected her five times and will be asked to do it again next year.
And if those “No Pierce County Pork” buttons come out of cold storage? We’d consider it a badge of honor.