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New legislators from 47th District ready to raise their hands and roll up their sleeves in Olympia
The 47th District voters have sent two rookie legislators to Olympia for the biennial session beginning Monday and both share the optimism and trepidation of first-time lawmakers.
The 47th followed much of the rest of the county in the November general election, replacing two incumbent Democrats with Republicans.
Joe Fain will be sworn in as the senator of the 47th on the first day of the session. He replaces Claudia Kauffman. Mark Hargrove of Covington will be taking over the House Position No. 1. He defeated Geoff Simpson in the general election.
When Fain raises his hand to take the oath of office, he will be the youngest member serving on the Senate side of the Olympia dome.
Fain is chief of staff for King County Councilman Pete von Reichbauer. Once the session begins, Fain said, he will be taking a leave from his county job.
Since being elected, Fain said, he as been meeting with members of his caucus and the other side of the aisle.
Fain said in the Republican caucus there are three other new senators who along with Fain will bring, “youth, energy and a variety of experience. We will bring a suburban presence to the Republican Caucus. That’s exciting.”
The three members Fain referred to are Mercer Island resident Steve Litzow from the 41st, Andy Hill, from the 45th who lives in Redmond and Michael Baumgartner from the 6th which includes Spokane.
Fain noted there are many issues facing the Legislature, but the “budget will play he paramount role in this session. The question I see is, will the governor and the majority take this crisis and make an opportunity out of it. In the past a lot of quick fixes have been used. Paper fixes don’t change the general operation of government.”
Fain said consolidation of agencies should be looked at closely. He also wants to analyze services provided by government that could be turned over to the private sector.
One of the issues on the budget block is Washington Basic Health, which provides low-cost health care through private insurance and is funded by the state.
Fain said there are “still ways the state can find savings (in the program) without zeroing it out. There are a lot of things we need to cut, but anything hitting a working family, I am going to be looking at with an awfully critical eye.”
He noted that legislators in the future need to be wary of creating programs like the basic health program based on reserves “during good times without a stable funding stream.”
Fain will be serving on the Transportation Committee and said he will focus on improving transportation in southeast King County.
But finding funds for any project will be a major challenge, he added.
He said the idea of using tolls to complete improvements on Interstate 405 between Renton and Bellevue would need to be presented as a “clear positive impact the resident can see.”
Fain said he was “beat up” on the issue of tolls during the campaign, but stated, “I’m not wholly opposed to tolls, there are times you need to look at tolls.... We are in baby steps in this state using tolls for infrastructure. I don’t know that we have come up with a way the public can tolerate.”
Education is another area Fain intends to spend considerable time on while in Olympia.
“Throwing more money at a system that is not optimal is not going to fix it,” Fain said of the state’s public education system. “But I don’t want to disparage administrators or teachers now who are working in a system that isn’t working optimally.”
Fain also noted legislators can’t “starve the system” now by cutting funds.
“You can’t give back a fourth-grade year,” Fain said.
Despite the problems facing legislators in the next session, Fain said he is looking forward to the challenges.
“My philosophy on public service is I’m your neighbor,” Fain said. “I’m at the coffee shop and basketball games. My phone number is in the book and I hope people will contact me.”
Hargrove may be a first time legislator, but he has a family history for inspiration.
His father served as a state senator in Montana after retiring from a 30-year career in the Air Force.
“I know from observing him you can be productive right away,” Hargrove said.
He noted the system is set up as a citizen legislature and there is assistance for new legislators.
Hargrove agrees budget woes will dominated the coming session.
“I think everyone knows this day of reckoning has been pushed off,” Hargrove said. “The bright side is we have to fix it. It has to be addressed and we can come out the other side and be in a better place.”
He noted that, “looking people in the eye and saying this program goes” will be very difficult. Hargrove said he will look for the private sector to fill some of the gaps left open as government cuts back.
On the issue of Washington Basic Health, Hargrove is concerned with those who can’t afford to pay for health care, but isn’t convinced providing health care is a basic function of government.
“This is not my area of expertise,” Hargrove added.
Concerning the issue of adding tolls to I-405 Hargrove said, “I can see the idea when you build a new road then asking a toll to use it. But tolls for improvements ‚Äì I’m not sold.”
Hargrove sees it as an increase in taxes and fees.
“I was serious in my campaign when I said I would not vote to increase the tax burden on people,” he said.
Hargrove said finding money for transportation infrastructure was the “question of the hour. Investment in infrastructure is so important, but it is so hard when there is no money to invest. I don’t have an answer where the money will come from.”
He will be serving on the transportation, education and education appropriations committees this session. Hargrove said he was particularly happy about the education committee appointment because education is one of his top issues.
“Lots of people think we need more money for education,” Hargrove said. “There isn’t a direct correlation to how much money is spent to students’ performance.”
He said the state should look at programs that work in other states and noted issues like merit pay for teachers, innovation schools and more accountability.
He gave the example of an innovation school as Aviation High in Des Moines. The school emphasizes aviation and aerospace with project-based learning techniques.