Election 2020: Strom Peterson, candidate for Washington State Legislature, District 21, Position 1

To help voters learn more about local candidates for Washington State Legislature, Lynnwood Today sent a questionnaire to each local candidate for state representative appearing on the Nov. 3 general election ballot. We are posting these are we receive them. 

Rep. Strom Peterson, a Democrat, is the current state representative for the 21st District. He is seeking re-election to the Position 1 seat, which he has held since 2016. Peterson is a New Mexico native who moved to Edmonds in 2001 and previously served on the Edmonds City Council. He has served as Chair of House Commerce and Gaming Committee, Member of Capital Budget Committee, and Civil Rights & Judiciary Committee.

Peterson is the former president of the Downtown Edmonds Merchants Association and a former board member of the Edmonds Chamber of Commerce. He owns The Cheesemonger’s Table, located in Edmonds.

Q: Tell voters a little bit about yourself. How long you’ve lived in the district you’re hoping to represent, a general idea of what platforms/issues you’re running on and other general information about yourself to let voters get to know you better.

My wife, Maria, and I moved to Edmonds in 2001 from the southwest (I grew up in New Mexico) and we couldn’t have made a better choice. Since then we have been actively involved in our community. From supporting and serving on boards of our Edmonds Center for the Arts, Edmonds Community College and Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), to owning and operating three businesses (currently the Cheesemonger’s Table), to serving in office as an Edmonds City Council member and now as your state representative, we have had the pleasure of getting to know countless people in our community and are grateful we have been able to give something back to the place we live. The platforms and issues I am running on are the same issues I have been fighting for since first joining the city council — protecting our environment, supporting small business, fighting the opioid epidemic and passing responsible gun legislation.

Q: What experience would you bring to the position you’re running for? Are there any issues in particular you are passionate about or plan to prioritize if elected?

Having served in Olympia for three terms, I have been able to pass important pieces of legislation including a first in the nation drug take-back program, crucial safety measures for oil trains, feeding hungry kids at school, critical infrastructure projects in the 21st district and even protecting honey bees. All of these bills, by the way, had broad bipartisan support.  Washington state has also led the nation on paid family leave, tackling climate change, investing in rural communities and protecting our endangered orca, all the while having the most robust economy in the nation. There is much more work to be done, especially in light of a global pandemic and this experience in working across the aisle 

Q: The state budget is facing a budget deficit of nearly $9 billion including a $4.5 billion shortfall from the 2019-21 budget and another $4.3 billion shortfall from 2021-23 is anticipated as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Legislators have proposed several options like implementing a state income tax, a capital gains tax, new taxes on business or making cuts in the budget. What are your ideas for addressing the budget shortfall?

I have always supported a tax on the sale of capital gains in order to address the most regressive tax system in the nation. The global pandemic and resulting economy has laid bare these inequities. As the top 1% continue to make millions while working families struggle it’s time for the wealthiest among us to pay their fair share. Even with a balancing of our tax system, we will still be looking at some serious budget cuts. Unlike the Great Recession, however, we must make sure to not take away the safety net that our most vulnerable families rely upon.

Q: If you favor budget cuts, what areas would you prioritize funding for and areas would you propose cutting?

While I do not favor budget cuts, they will most likely be necessary. This does give us an opportunity, however, to take a new look at how we do things. For example, we currently imprison about 17,000 Washingtonians, many of whom are serving long sentences for low level, non-violent crimes. I believe our money would be better spent working to integrate these people back into our society to become hard working tax paying citizens.

Q: Washington state, specifically Snohomish County, was the first place in the country to have a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis. Some have said the federal government was not prepared for the pandemic, forcing state and local officials to come up with their own plans. Do you have ideas for ensuring the state is prepared to resolve this (and future) pandemic crisis, regardless of federal government action?

I cannot say enough about the incredible work our Snohomish County Health Department has done in responding to this pandemic. Following science, making tough choices based on protecting our most vulnerable, and a willingness to admit mistakes are just a few things we have done in Washington that we have not seen at the federal level. In my time in Olympia, I have been proud to work with our health districts on all sorts of issues and will continue to advocate for better funding so these decisions can be made quickly.

Q: Our nation is currently in the middle of a polarizing conversation about racism, particularly with regards to over-policing in communities of color. There have been calls for police reform, including but not limited to defunding the police and reallocating funds to other services that would replace a police response with social services. What are your opinions on this issue and what plans do you have to work on improving relations between police and communities of color?

First, I would like to state Black Lives Matter. We have seen across the country and in our own state that our criminal justice system treats people of color much worse than people that look like me. Again, Washington was a national leader in police accountability and reform with the passage of Initiative 940. Despite great strides in police accountability and de-escalation and mental health training, we realize there is much more work to do. As the legislature has done over the past few years, we need to make more investments in mental health care for so many vulnerable Washingtonians and make sure that police are held accountable. I am proud to stand with my colleagues and community members as we address a system that needs change.

Q: Additionally, if you do support defunding the police, how would you go about doing that? If not, what other plans do you have for police reform to ensure people and communities of color are treated equally?

Since serving on the Edmonds council, I have fought for better mental health funding to support police work. Edmonds Police (Department) currently has an embedded social worker that works directly with officers especially around issues of homelessness and addiction. We need to expand these programs in order to ensure we have trained mental health professionals responding to mental health crises. This is just one of many reforms that we will be considering. 

Q: Homelessness is considered one of the biggest issues in Washington state. What solutions do you have for resolving homelessness in your district as well as the root problems that often cause homelessness, like mental health, substance abuse and a lack of affordable housing?

I am incredibly proud to have served as vice-chair of the capital budget committee when we made record investments in every corner of the state for housing and mental health (including substance use disorder) care facilities. And while mental health is one reason for homelessness it is far from the only one. We have Edmonds Community College students living in cars, school kids couch surfing from place to place while still trying to learn, and families struggling to pay rent even when both parents work full time jobs. Much of this is simply due to a lack of affordable housing and is why I have worked with builders, realtors, local governments, and housing advocates to find solutions. There is no easy answer but as we realize that homelessness affects all of us we can all work together to make sure people have this basic human need fulfilled.

Q: Many are concerned about rising housing costs in the region. With Sound Transit’s light rail coming to South Snohomish County in 2024, the area is anticipating population increases. What plans/ideas do you have to ensure there is enough affordable housing in your district for future residents while making sure those who already live here do not get priced out?

Washington state is one of the fastest growing states in the country, and for good reason. From Edmonds to Omak, this is one of the most beautiful places to live, and prior to the pandemic, we had the strongest economy in the nation. As stated above, I have worked with builders and realtors, cities and counties, housing advocates and community leaders to find creative solutions to increase housing stock in all of our communities.

Q: Climate change is considered a priority issue for many. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we have 12 years to make drastic cuts in global warming emissions to avoid worsened climate conditions and extreme weather patterns. Will climate action be a priority once you take office and if so what plans do you have to address it?

Taking action on climate change has been my priority since first serving on the Edmonds City Council. As we see the devastating effects of the climate fires ravaging the west, to more powerful and frequent hurricanes, to ocean acidification we are realizing the immense economic impacts climate change is having. The cost of inaction is not an option. Instead, we can invest in a green economy that will create thousands of family wage jobs, support rural agriculture, protect our commercial, recreational and tribal fisheries, and show the world that Washington will continue to lead the way.

Q: If elected, how would you work to support LGBTQIA+ voters?

For far too long, LGBTQIA people have faced discrimination in the workplace, in government services, and even in their own homes. I have been proud to sponsor legislation fighting that discrimination. One of the proudest moments in my time in Olympia was giving a speech on the House floor in favor of Sen. Marko Liias’ bill making conversion therapy illegal in Washington state. I will continue to stand against housing and health care discrimination, make sure we are protecting our youngest and most vulnerable (LGBTQ youth are 120% more likely to experience homelessness), and ensure all Washingtonians have equal access. 

Q: The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted education locally and nationwide. Many school districts were not prepared for the impacts of the pandemic and there is uncertainty about how districts can continue to educate students. How would you work to support education through the current pandemic?

One of the countless issues the pandemic has exposed is the digital divide here in Washington. We have communities, neighborhoods, and homes that simply do not have access to the internet. While we have invested millions trying to connect people to this critical utility, some estimates put the price tag into the billions. Sen. Patty Murray’s Digital Equity Act would go a long way in closing this divide and it will take that kind of national leadership to make sure our kids can learn and our economy can prosper.

We must also, quite simply, listen to our teachers. The professionalism, creativity and compassion that our educators bring to work every day must be valued and appreciated. They know what our kids need and we must give them the resources they need to teach our kids in every corner of the state.

Q: Where can voters go to learn more about your campaign?

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