Husband, father, entrepreneur and citizen legislator: The right priorities for me.
In recent days since the widely respected Jim McDermott announced his retirement I have reflected deeply on the prospect of running for Congress.
It is with a profound sense of calm and personal resolve–and impassioned excitement to tackle the policy challenges we face here at home–that I have decided not to run for the U.S. House of Representatives.
I’m a husband, father, entrepreneur and citizen legislator. That’s the right order of priorities for me.
In considering Jim’s 45 years of public service, I cannot but help examine my own seven years in the state Legislature given his own impressive start in Olympia, and I cannot imagine a better training ground for federal public service. The three aspects I’ve considered in making a decision are: Family, the job itself and the prospect of winning the race.
The most important by multiples is our family. Wendy and our four children have been discussing the potential impact on our family along with the pros and cons. The dialogue has been richly rewarding and sharply focused. The kids have been kind, excited, engaged, probing and supportive. I’ve been humbled to learn a lot about my children’s perspectives in this unique process, and much about my dignified wife.
Despite all the public attention of an open seat in Congress for the first time in a generation, I know the dark side of the fanfare.
I know the difference between the rewardingly loud family home that Wendy and I have built in Seattle and a soulless apartment in Washington, D.C. where silence is deafening.
I know the real impact on our family’s quality of life when my office is 3,000 miles away. I know that a healthy marriage and supported children are not constructed artificially but come alive only with hard work minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day to connect to our better angels. I know that to touch the beauty of the Jewish Sabbath with my family allows me to feel the holiness of family love. I know that this year Wendy and I celebrate our 20th anniversary and for some reason she continues to laugh at my childish jokes. I know that you do not have to be perfect to be a perfect parent if you are present emotionally, spiritually and physically with a moral compass.
The job itself: I am admittededly fascinated by the elegant simplicity and structural complexity of our constitutional republic. The eloquence of the Federalist Papers are so impactful that I find myself occasionally drawn to their arguments while sitting on the floor of the Legislature considering how to vote on a given bill. It is the purest form of representative democracy that allows me to lean over and privately ask a discreet question of Alexander Hamilton.
It should therefore be no surprise that my intellectual and philosophical consideration of running for Congress is framed by my focus on the continuous tension between our federal government and the power reserved for the states.
In today’s world, if you want to be at the center of the real action on public issues, lead at the state level.
At a time when Congress is paralyzed with near irrelevancy, despite the need for institutional leadership, it is difficult for me to imagine a scenario where I can match the spirit, energy and passion of representative democracy that flows for me to improve our state’s quality of life. Simply, the notion that states are laboratories of democracy is not a romantic, rhetorical framework but an authentic representation of a government more closely attuned to the governed. Our work at the state level is sufficiently strong to make meaningful policy impacts and small enough to be responsive to our constituents.
I enjoy striving to be a thought leader on pressing policy issues of public education, budgets, taxes transportation, health care, civil liberties, environmentalism, public safety and more.
And that means acknowledging and challenging when our political party has lost it’s fervency to embrace government reform and systems change. I would like to see the Democratic Party share my appreciation of the nuanced role and importance of the 10th Amendment. We are a laboratory of democracy and while we struggle to clean Puget Sound and fully fund education and ensure access to higher education, we at least have it within our power to act if we can muster the resolve. That challenge inspires me.
Washington has a uniquely strong legislative structure compared to many states. In 1889 it was justifiably presumed to be more difficult to corrupt 147 legislators than one governor, and so power was decentralized. It means as a part-time citizen legislator I have been able to accomplish a great deal that motivates and inspires me to continue to pursue the challenge for the people of our community.
Finally, a path to victory. Many good people will run for this office and we will be well served by most of them.
I believe in seven years I have listened deeply to the silence of the public’ voice as well as the noise. I have assembled a wide ranging, expansive list of major public policy accomplishments that feels meaningful personally and politically and goes to the core of today’s public issues.
I have been lead on sweeping legislation including building foster youth programs, bringing public transparency to Washington’s darkly hidden tax code, providing low cost open textbooks to college students, reforming our state’s telecommunications tax structure, leading for accountability on the Boeing tax package, reauthorizing the Estate Tax, more closely connecting our community colleges to our universities, closing unjustified tax breaks, crafting a responsible state budget that supports students and builds the quality of our institutions, leading the charge for increased efficiency and effectiveness of our state’s technology spending of more than $1.7 billion, securing capital funding for major projects in our community, fighting for individual civil liberties and freedom, defending the integrity of a woman’s right to control the dignity of her own body, leading opposition for oil and coal train exports, tackling the injustice of the death penalty, improving our state ethics laws and much, much more.
Our work is building a modern, 21st Century economy that is expansive and responsive; our work is tackling global climate change; our work is creating a fair and responsible tax code that isn’t carved out by special interests and fits today’s economy; our work is supporting quality of life in housing, health care and workforce development; our work is courageously talking about responsibilities as well as rights.
Our work is framed by the unprecedented failure of our state to provide for the ample funding of public education. No state official can escape this challenge and none should hide from it. Do we want an educated and engaged society? Of course. Can we do something that is both more equitable and effective? Of course. We can choose to build a more effective system of educational finance driven by our paramount duty.
Our community has a future limited only by our willingness to tackle structural, systemic issues. And I have the blessing of a family that supports me whichever way I journey.
In honor of the support of my family, and in the opportunity to serve as a part-time citizen legislator, I remain resolved and committed to serving the good and kind people of the 36th Legislative District in the Washington State Senate.
We are so much more than what we’ve become. I hope my constituents will grant me the honor of continuing in 2016 and beyond to question the institutional grip of the status quo and lead forward on the pressing public issues of our day.
Your partner in service,