Two newcomers will square off in the Nov. 3 general election for the 23rd Legislative District’s position 1 representative seat currently held by longtime Rep. Sherry Appleton, who is retiring.
Vying to replace her are Republican April Ferguson and Democrat Tarra Simmons, who were the top two vote-getters in the August primary. Simmons, who received 45 percent of the tally with 24,191 votes and Ferguson, who received 35 percent with 18,868 votes, easily outpaced three other candidates.
Both have experience as a precinct committee officer, but have otherwise never been elected to a higher office. Simmons has served on the 23rd District Democrats Executive Board and Ferguson is chair of the 23rd District Republicans.
Simmons believes she is the best candidate because of her professional and life experiences. She spent 11 years as a registered nurse and is now a civil rights attorney. Simmons has also worked in Olympia for five years and has experience writing policy, building coalitions and getting bipartisan support on bills.
“I have forged relationships across the aisle with not only sitting legislators on both sides, but lobbyists and statewide stakeholders,” Simmons said.
Ferguson said she should be elected because she best understands the purpose of the office; her prior experience on the Suquamish Citizen’s Advisory Council and work as a community advocate for parental rights, lessening business regulations and greater participation in the political process helps her best look out for the rights and well-being of her constituents.
“I understand the proper role of government,” Ferguson said. “I understand that the government is there to protect the rights of individuals.”
Simmons views economic recovery in the wake of COVID-19, health care and education access as some of the biggest issues she would face if elected.
Intersecting with the economy is a need for more progressive models for the state’s tax structure; Simmons would look for the most fair way to raise revenue for state services without having to rely on lower and middle class families to pay a relatively high percentage of their earnings in taxes compared with wealthier residents.
“I definitely have always been a longtime supporter for a more fair tax structure where the wealthiest people in our state are paying their fair share for infrastructure we all need,” Simmons said.
Simmons believes that her difficult, low-income background combined with her 11 years of experience as a nurse also gives her the perspective needed to look out for the district’s most vulnerable communities. Aside from creating better access to health care for low-income residents, she also sees issues further down the road, such as getting an eventual COVID-19 vaccination to vulnerable communities who may not be tied to traditional health systems.
“I would handle that through healthcare through good community partnership with community leaders,” Simmons said.
Similarly, education access has been a major stressor for working families, Simmons said. While physical health and safety should be prioritized, Simmons said the mental health aspect of learning remotely hasn’t received enough consideration.
Ferguson also sees the need to revive the economy post-pandemic, especially for those who have their livelihoods upended by COVID-19 restrictions. She suggested finding ways to get loans to companies who have gone under and relieving the tax burden on small businesses.
“We need to start focusing on our recovery and how we are going to try to make whole those who have been harmed,” Ferguson said.
Ferguson is also passionate about criminal justice reform and believes the system needs changes — the biggest includes reshaping the juvenile system, which pretty much brands a young person guilty once they’re in the system, she said. That can cause problems down the road because difficulty in finding employment due to a criminal record following them can lead to drug, alcohol or mental health issues.
Part and parcel to that issue is better access to proper defense by fully funding public defenders to allow them to do their job for clients who cannot afford a private attorney.
Ferguson also cited the less restrictive alternative housing that went up in unincorporated Poulsbo as an example of the justice system not properly serving the people by not giving them a voice in the process.
“We need to have an advocate that is appointed by the court just like a guardian ad litem that looks out for the rights of the community,” Ferguson said.
Ferguson also sees the need to stand guard against what she believes will be a push by the state government to “overtax” the residents of Washington as a response to budget shortfalls due to the pandemic.