Politics & Government

Q&A: Youngest state legislator ready to represent Puyallup’s values in Olympia

Melanie Stambaugh’s campaign has ended, but her campaign enthusiasm has not.

The 24-year-old Republican from Puyallup says she’s ready to prove herself when she’s sworn in as the state’s youngest legislator.

Stambaugh defeated five-term Democratic incumbent Rep. Dawn Morrell in the Nov. 4 general election to represent the 25th District. State archives indicate Stambaugh is one of the three youngest women elected or appointed to the Legislature in at least the past 100 years.

Stambaugh denounces critics’ claims that her age and experience make her unfit for office. In an interview with The News Tribune, she said all that matters is her ability to represent her East Pierce community’s values.

“It doesn’t matter if I’m 24 or older than that,” she said. “The important part is being connected to the community and being a conduit for their experience.”

Stambaugh also made headlines in 2009 when she was an Emerald Ridge High School senior crowned queen of the Daffodil Festival. Today, she’s a co-owner of You Impression, a family business specializing in youth mentoring and community consulting.

She talked to The News Tribune about her goals and the upcoming legislative session, which begins in January. Here are her condensed, edited responses.

Question: Last time we talked, you were working very long days. Have you caught up on your sleep since the campaign ended?

Answer: Yes. There’s much more sleep that I want to get, but it’s been exciting. Wednesday (after the election) by noon, I already had a phone call about what I’d be doing in Olympia. I’m already thinking about the next step. And those next steps don’t allow for a lot of sleep.

Q: You’ve wanted to run for office since you were in junior high. Did you ever think you’d accomplish that goal at 24 years old?

A: If you would have asked me when I was younger, I would have guessed a later date. If you told me then that I’d be elected at 24, I wouldn’t have understood the need for a fresh perspective in politics. I’m very happy I get to be the person to bring that down to Olympia now.

Q: Now that you can stop thinking about campaigning and start thinking about the upcoming legislative session, what are you planning to accomplish first?

A: I want to be on the K-12 education committee so I can really begin making an impact for our students. For the next six-plus weeks or so, it will be exciting to see where I’m placed. I’m also looking forward to reaching across the aisle and finding a way to best serve our students in a cost-effective manner.

Q: What other committees or policy issues are you planning to take on?

A: Transportation. (Puyallup Rep.) Hans Zeiger and I have been in discussions about ways we can start impacting transportation projects, especially completing state Route 167.

Q: What do you anticipate will be your biggest challenge as a newly elected representative?

A: I know that the campaign process was a very steep learning curve. I anticipate the learning curve down in Olympia will be vertical. As a young woman, ensuring that I’m taken seriously and that people understand that I’m there to do the job for the 25th District. I want to learn, as well as teach, and be an example for what young people can do.

Q: You’re one of the youngest women ever elected to the Washington Legislature. Why do you think that’s notable?

A: When you look at the representation of our state, it’s important that we have people sitting in leadership positions that can share the perspectives of our constituents. Prior to election, the Legislature only had one woman under the age of 40. It’s going to color the discussion differently to have different people from different backgrounds. I’m going to bring in a different perspective that’s much needed for our future.

Q: Who, if anyone, will you look to for guidance as you enter this new territory? Any longtime legislators you’re most looking forward to working with?

A: On a local level (state Sen.) Bruce Dammeier and Zeiger have not only been instrumental in the campaign process, but they’re going to be instrumental for me to learn as quickly as possible. I’m really looking forward to working with (Republican) Rep. Norma Smith (10th Legislative District). She exemplifies a female leader who is strong and compassionate. That’s the type of legislator I want to be.

Q: How are you planning to balance being a business owner and serving in Olympia?

A: I’m focusing on my job as a representative first. I want to make sure I’m fully immersed to make the impact I want to make. I’m very fortunate to have two incredible business partners. They are more than willing to help augment when I’m not in the office in Sumner.