On Monday, I had the honor and privilege of being elected by my colleagues to serve as the chair of the Snohomish County Council. This marks the first time in recent history that a member of the minority party has been given that honor. As a Republican in a county which is home to only four elected officials from my party (two county council members and two state representatives), I am grateful for this opportunity and for the example it sets for those who want their elected leaders to rise above partisan politics.
As divisiveness and hyper-partisanship appear to dominate the political environment at both the national and state level, local government leaders from every political persuasion must make a purposeful effort to demonstrate and model what good governance looks like. The public expects and deserves that their representatives put politics aside in order to work together to get the job done.
Snohomish County government has demonstrated its commitment to bipartisanship. In the past, county executives worked behind closed doors to present a budget to the council as a done deal. Today, current Executive Dave Somers champions an open and transparent budget process that includes council members of both parties, who have come together to adopt balanced budgets while limiting the tax burden on residents. The revenue stabilization (rainy day) fund has seen record investments of $4.2 million over the past two budgets, putting us in a strong position to withstand a future economic downturn.
Issues on which Republicans and Democrats do not always see eye to eye have received unanimous approval. On the issue of crime, drug abuse and homelessness, the County Council has come together to support innovative programs such as the law enforcement-embedded social worker program and the jail diversion center, while unanimously rejecting destructive policies such as heroin injection sites.
On the environment, the entire council has rallied behind efforts to commit to renewable energy, move toward a zero-waste county fairgrounds, and discourage the use of plastic water bottles through a partnership with Zero Waste Washington and the Snohomish Health District.
On workforce development, labor and business have come together to develop the Regional Apprenticeship Pathways (RAP) Program to establish a path toward a successful career in the skilled trades for our underserved youth.
When individuals with different strengths work together for the common good, the entire community benefits.
Several months ago, I was invited by a group of Democrats in my district to be the speaker at their regular meeting. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but was pleasantly surprised by the respectful way I was treated. Tough questions were asked, and I’m sure there was disagreement on some issues, but these Democrats were willing to hear from a Republican with an open mind at a time when many in our political culture would have told them not to.
As I reflect on the divide between the unity which we desire and the disunity which we observe in our political environment, I am reminded of a quote from President John F. Kennedy:
“ … our duty as a Party is not to our Party alone, but to the nation, and, indeed, to all mankind. Our duty is not merely the preservation of political power but the preservation of peace and freedom. So let us not be petty when our cause is so great. Let us not quarrel amongst ourselves when our Nation’s future is at stake. Let us stand together with renewed confidence in our cause — united in our heritage of the past and our hopes for the future — and determined that this land we love shall lead all mankind into new frontiers of peace and abundance.”
As a 24-year-old elected official, my experience during my first term as the youngest council member in Snohomish County’s history gives me great hope for what we can accomplish together in the future of our local communities, state and nation. Though we are in turbulent times, I have faith that we can come together in a thoughtful and pragmatic way to find reasonable solutions to some of the difficult problems our communities face. The work of restoring faith in our political system starts at the local level, the government which is closest to the people. Let’s get to work and set a positive example.