Here are some facts about Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, who on Monday will become the speaker of the Washington House of Representatives:
- When things get tense, she sends mass emails to her House colleagues with Nancy Drew quotes.
- Her day planner, a Christmas gift from her wife, is emblazoned with “Womankind World Domination Action Planner.”
- She’s not going to push the House to pass more ambitious or progressive legislation unless her fellow House Democrats demand it.
Every year since 2012, Jinkins has sponsored a bill to create a capital-gains tax in Washington. The bills have never gone anywhere. On Monday, Jinkins will assume the most powerful position in the House, the one who crafts and controls the agenda.
Does that mean a capital-gains tax, a long-held progressive goal, is coming to Washington? Don’t hold your breath.
“I think we’re getting closer,” Jinkins said. “Is this the year? I don’t know.”
What about an assault-weapons ban, another major progressive wish?
“There’s probably a bit more interest in high-capacity magazines,” Jinkins said. “We’ll see what the caucus discussion is like.”
Jinkins, who will be Washington’s first new House speaker in 21 years, its first woman House speaker and its first openly gay speaker, said she has no policy differences with her predecessor, the state’s longest-serving House speaker, Rep. Frank Chopp. She says she’ll try to be more transparent in her decision making than Chopp and may lead with a slightly lighter hand. But, like Chopp, her decisions on what issues the House should tackle, what bills it should vote on, will be guided by her Democratic colleagues, and preserving the party’s majority will be of paramount concern.
“Majorities matter,” Jinkins, D-Tacoma, said. “So far as I’m concerned, my job is to make that be the case until the end of time, that Democrats are in control of the House until the end of time.”
The House speaker has full control over what happens on the House floor and, thus, what bills get a vote. But Jinkins says her role as speaker is different from her role as a representative or as chair of the Civil Rights and Judiciary Committee, which she had led since 2014. As a representative or a chair, Jinkins said, you’re an advocate, pushing and prodding for legislation and policies you believe in.
“But when you become speaker, for me, that’s about me not imposing my will on the caucus,” Jinkins said. “That’s about me hearing what the will of the caucus is and, when I think we may be going down a bad path or that we’re missing a great opportunity, I do have to become an advocate and try to convince people.”
She said Chopp, who is remaining in the Legislature, has been open to every question she’s had. But it’s still an odd situation with her predecessor in the wings, looking on.
“It’s going to totally be weird,” Jinkins said. “But is it a bad weird? Not yet, not yet.”
First elected to the House in 2010, Jinkins was chosen as speaker by her Democratic colleagues in July. She was one of four candidates, all women, for the spot.
“The first woman speaker was huge,” said Rep. Gael Tarleton, D-Seattle, one of the other candidates. “It is going to change the way we imagine what leadership can look like.”
Jinkins, who was also the first out lesbian elected to the state Legislature, says being first can also “come with a lot of heaviness.”
“The most moving part for me of taking this role, so far, has been the number of people who have randomly stopped me on the street and told me that they can see themselves there now,” she said. “They see somebody who’s historically been an outsider. Now, that makes people feel like they can be there, like that’s their place, too, and that’s …” Jinkins paused, searching for the word.
“There’s a part of me that feels like if that’s all I ever do, that would have been enough.”
Jinkins spent chunks of the summer and fall driving around the state meeting with lawmakers of both parties in their home districts.
“That really is what being speaker is about,” said Rep. John Lovick, D-Mill Creek, who’s been serving as acting speaker. “It’s about building those relationships.”
Her colleagues are fulsome in praise about that relationship-building. Lovick describes how he got a phone call from her on Election Day 2016.
“She just called to say, ‘John, I’ve never met you, but I just want to wish you good luck tonight,'” he recalled. “‘I know you’re going to win and I look forward to working with you.'”
Rep. Melanie Morgan, a first-term Democrat from Parkland, Pierce County, said Jinkins has gone out of her way to ensure people of color are included in the election process. Jinkins came to Morgan’s neighboring district to doorbell for her in 2018, she answered evening phone calls from a candidate who “knew nothing” and when Morgan got elected, Jinkins taught her how to negotiate to advance her legislation.
“She was doing the work before she actually got the title,” Morgan said. “Helping new people who want to come to the Capitol and investing in them.”
Jinkins can be vague about what she plans to do differently than Chopp, who was notorious for wielding his power behind closed doors. She said she’ll try to tell members why some bills come up for a vote while others don’t. Whereas Chopp personally approved every committee’s agenda before it was published, Jinkins says she’ll review but won’t preapprove them.
And she says she wants to make the Legislature more welcoming to members with young children and members from low-income backgrounds. That could include limiting late-night floor sessions, or at least scheduling them in advance, and letting members pay for expenses with state money up front, rather than getting reimbursed after the fact.
“By bringing diverse voices you actually are serving more people,” Jinkins said. “Because your solutions to problems take in more perspective.”
Personal story, public advocacy
Jinkins, 55, is a lawyer who has worked for the Washington attorney general and the state health department. She currently works part-time as a senior adviser for the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department. (House speaker remains a part-time job, paying $60,766 a year — $8,000 more than other legislators.)
“When Laurie’s here, she’s here,” said Dr. Anthony L-T Chen, the agency’s director. “She’s totally committed to it, she thinks about it even when she’s not on the clock.”
Jinkins has spent much of her political career, both before and after becoming a legislator, advocating for LGBTQ rights.
In the 1990s she led Hands Off Washington, the state’s first statewide gay and lesbian rights organization. She resigned as board president in 1997 after the defeat of a statewide initiative that would have banned job discrimination based on sexual orientation. A year later, the Legislature, with bipartisan support, overrode a gubernatorial veto to pass the Defense of Marriage Act, an explicit ban on same-sex marriage.
The first bill Jinkins passed as primary sponsor was a minor change to ensure that same-sex marriages from other states would be recognized as having the same rights as domestic partnerships in Washington state.
Testifying before a Senate Committee in 2011, Jinkins pushed for the bill by describing her personal experience — carrying wills, her son’s adoption papers, domestic partnership cards, whenever she traveled out of state.
“When my family and I travel, in our suitcases we carry with us almost an inch-thick packet of papers,” she said at the time. “We worry that if we travel to another state and something unfortunate happens, we’re going to have to have all those documents.”
The next year, when she was working with the campaign to legalize same-sex marriage in the state, she recalled the advice they gave phone-bankers.
“Your job isn’t to take somebody from being absolutely opposed to being with us, your job is to try, in your phone call, to bump them out of whatever spot they’re stuck in and help them start to move,” Jinkins said.
Voters approved same-sex marriage that November, 2012.
“Marriage equality teaches us everything we need to know about politics,” she said. “About incrementalism, and about the way the legislative process works and us taking small steps that then build into big, transformational things.”
Rep. J.T. Wilcox, the House Republican leader, said Jinkins’ early defeats on gay-rights issues mean she knows what it’s like to be in the minority.
“She knows what it’s like to be on the unpopular, in the minority side, and that’ll be a good thing,” Wilcox said. “We’re both going to be figuring out how do we conduct this relationship where we want to do the business of the people of Washington, but at the same time nobody elects House Republicans to give up on things that are important to us.”
Wilcox said his party would like to work with Democrats on homelessness and addiction issues, while ensuring that no new taxes are passed. He said he’s looking for some Hardy Boys books to respond to the Nancy Drew memos.
Correction: A previous version of this story said Republicans controlled a state Senate committee in 2011. Republicans did not gain control of the state Senate until the 2013 session.