Politics & Government

Tumwater school board member runs for House

Tumwater school board member Chris Reykdal says he is running for the 22nd District legislative seat that Rep. Brendan Williams is giving up next year, basing his campaign on tax reform and having the "courage" to talk about difficult subjects, such as taxes.

Reykdal said he wants to address the state’s tax system as one step toward adequately paying for education, health care and other programs that he sees threatened by a $2.6 billion budget shortfall.

“We have avoided critical conversations for too long – from education funding, to environmental protection, to tax reform. I pledge to the citizens of the 22nd District that if they send me to the Legislature, I will take the tough votes and work tirelessly to secure the values that make our community a wonderful place to raise our families,” he said in a campaign announcement.

He added in an interview Wednesday that lawmakers have redefined basic education without saying how they’ll pay for it, and they’ve shied away from other tough choices.

“I am running because we are jeopardizing the things I care about, and I want to work my butt off to restore those things,” he said.

Reykdal, 37, is the deputy executive director of the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges and formerly taught history in public schools; he is the third Democrat to announce his candidacy. The others are Stewart Henderson and Steve Robinson.

Henderson owns a management-consulting business and was active locally in the Barack Obama presidential campaign, and Robinson has a background in media and tribal natural-resource management. Both welcomed another voice in the debate, which began when Williams said he won’t seek a fourth term next year.

“It’s good to have good people in,” said Henderson, who has made jobs creation a focus of his campaign but also says tax reform is emerging as another critical issue. “I still intend to work harder than anybody....”

Robinson said he didn’t know Reykdal but thinks “it’s healthy for the campaign to have a good selection.” He also has made jobs a focus of his effort and said he welcomes a clean campaign.

Thurston County Republican Chairman Scott Roberts has said he has no one specific in mind in the 22nd but hopes GOP candidates step forward.

Reykdal said he grew up poor in Snohomish, and his family “survived” tough times with food stamps. He went to public schools, earning a bachelor’s degree from Washington State University, where he led the campus Democrats. He earned a master’s degree in public administration from the University of North Carolina.

He taught history at Mark Morris High School in Longview from 1994-97, worked as a management and budget analyst in North Carolina from 1997-99 and served on the Washington Senate’s transportation committee from 1999-2002. He then joined the state board for community colleges as a budget director. He assumed a deputy director role in 2005 and won election to the school board in 2007.

The candidate’s wife, Kim, is a school counselor, and they have two children named after former Democratic presidents – son Carter, 5, and daughter Kennedy, 3.

“Carter was named for integrity … and Kennedy was symbolic of hope,” Reykdal said.

Budget cutbacks threaten to bring cuts to the state’s public schools, eliminate the Basic Health Plan for the working poor, reduce health insurance coverage for low-income children, cut levy aid to poor school districts and slash financial aid for college students.

“I see all that jeopardized because of our inability to deal with the state budget,” Reykdal said, outlining a several-step approach that the state could take to changing its tax system, which puts a heavier burden on the poor than on the wealthy.

Reykdal said he agrees with majority Democrats about first looking at tax exemptions, or “loopholes,” in 2010, what he called the first step toward talking about reform. But he thinks the state must go further in the next two years to talk about shifting the business and occupations tax away from smaller businesses that have low profit margins to the larger corporate businesses that are profitable, and in the following two years to talk about shifting tax burdens from poor families to those with more wealth.

“I’ve talked to a lot of people, and nobody wants to talk about tax reform. Those are conversations that are very dicey. ... It is the fundamental problem in state government. We do not fund it appropriately over time,” Reykdal said.

Williams, who describes himself as a progressive, is holding off on endorsing a successor. The early interest in the seat evokes the 2004 campaign that saw three Republicans and five Democrats, including Williams, jump into the race after Rep. Sandra Romero said she would not seek re-election.

Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688