Ballots will be sent out soon to Washington voters. They’ll be asked to choose from candidates in the August 7 primary election. The top two candidates in each race will advance to the November general election. During the next four Inland Journals, we’ll hear from some of the candidates in Spokane County and state legislative races.
Today, we’ll focus on the Third District House race between Democratic Representative Timm Ormsby, who has held the seat since 2003, and Republican challenger Dave Lucas.
Lucas is a retired Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. During his last tour in Afghanistan, he worked in Hellmond Province, training Afghan forces to provide security in their country. He retired as a lieutenant colonel. In 2013, he and his family moved to Spokane. Now he spends much of his time doing community work, including serving as chairman of Spokane’s Rockwood Neighborhood Council.
Dave Lucas: “In the Marine Corps, when you move somewhere, as soon as you pull in and the moving trucks start unloading, the neighbors just descend on you with welcoming, gifts, points of contact, suggestions. When I moved in the neighborhood, we didn’t really have that. And so I took it upon myself to go put cards together, walk around, meet all the neighbors. We set up a meeting at the house and invited everybody over for an open house. Through that, talking at the neighborhood council, I realized that is not a norm other places. So we started a welcoming package, which now we do for every new person who moves into the neighborhood. Somebody goes out and meets them. We have several great donations from the community and we put together a welcome bag and, what’s great about that is, it’s been so successful that some of the other neighborhoods are now taking than on as a neighborhood program.”
Dave Lucas: “I really enjoy and feel most fulfilled with service others, whether it was as a kid growing up in Boy Scouts and working for the small town I lived in or working at the pool or being in the military serving our country, working in other countries trying to help them develop, working on the neighborhood council and now looking at trying to represent Spokane. It’s really something as far as lifestyle for me, just doing what I can to help facilitate those to succeed. There’s nothing more rewarding than working with somebody and watching the joy in their face when things are coming together.”
Lucas says his decision to run for the legislature is rooted in his neighborhood volunteer work.
Dave Lucas: “Something that the neighborhood really wanted to be involved in was how we could work with the city to help work on some of the property crime issues. Everybody in Spokane knows it’s been a challenge. It’s been in the paper. We’ve been recognized as being very high in the nation per capita for property crime. One of the things we’ve done is we’ve advocated for new officers. There was a study that was done that I sat in on last year on the right number of officers for the city. So we’ve worked very closely with the city on that. We advocated for new officers; that seemed to make some headway. There’s going to be 10 new officers, four new traffic officers. But one of the things we were also following was the property crime supervision bill, which would have helped address those property crime criminals that aren’t dangerous. Economically, it may not make sense to put them in jail. How do you necessarily provide them the tools so they can get out of that cycle of crime? This supervision bill would have helped provide supervision officers who could work on that. Those that are willing to work could have somebody to guide and mentor them. These are similar to things that are recognized here in Spokane, the veterans’ court or the drug court or community court system. Same type of thing; mentors are assigned. You work through them. Would have been a great opportunity. I’m not saying it would have solved the problem, but it would have been a great step. When our council members came and notified us that it had been blocked and stopped in the House after being worked in a bipartisan way by Senate, the Third District senator, Andy Billig, was one of the co-sponsors on that, we were pretty upset about it. It doesn’t make any sense. So, kind of fortuitously at the same time, I had received an invitation for the Third District town hall. I thought let me go find out what this is all about. So when I heard our representatives speak, when our current representative who I’m running against, Timm Ormsby, got up and talked, really the things he was talking about was that he worked on the budget and had these new tax proposals that he was advocating for. And I’m like, this isn’t going to help Spokane. We had an opportunity to work on the property crime bill, you stopped it. Now we’ve got these other items that aren’t going to benefit us. The more research I did and the more I looked at it, I realized that, particularly some of them, are going to really impact some of the most vulnerable people in Spokane. The carbon initiative with this new gas tax, we already are the third highest in the nation for gas tax. We don’t need to be number one. As I talk to people, I’ve been all over Spokane now, doorbelling and talking to neighbors, whether it’s in Hillyard, East Central, West Central, Kendall Yards, South Hill. That’s one of the things that people certainly, as a commonality, are concerned about. And it’s just not going to benefit them.”
That’s when Lucas decided to run and challenge Timm Ormsby for his legislative seat. I asked Ormsby about that property crimes bill to which Lucas referred.
Timm Ormsby: “I was a co-sponsor of that legislation. It is a good model. It was specifically having to do with auto theft, property crimes, not those charged with burglary or breaking and entering. It was specifically focused on individuals that had been convicted of auto theft. The model is a good model; it’s about supervision of individuals once they’re released. There were several questions that came up. The bill that passed, the one that my seat mate Senator Billig passed, was a pilot project that involved Federal Way and Spokane. Our areas have a big impact on auto theft and the associated problems with that. What happened during the process, and this is typical of the legislature, is you identify problems. I was told when I first got there if you think you’ve got a great idea, throw it out there and you’ll find out exactly what’s wrong with it. Through the machinations of this public process, there were questions that came up, constitutional questions, about equal treatment. Does an individual convicted of auto theft in Ritzville not have this sentence enhancement of supervision on top of that? So we need to apply these sentences universally. What happened when that bill came over, pilot project in those two areas, and when it came to the House and those concerns were aired, the accommodation for that was to make it statewide. Everywhere would have the same equal treatment of offenders convicted of auto theft.”
Doug: “So you couldn’t do a pilot project?”
Timm Ormsby: “The legal scholars will debate, that’s why we have courts. But in this case, this was the court of public opinion and this is the court of public policy. When those questions were raised about equal treatment across the board, the policy committee, the Public Safety Committee, said let’s make this policy universal. It happened at the 11th hour. There was no room in the budget to expand it. It wasn’t going to pass as a pilot project. It needed to be statewide. And it was so late in the process that the budget had been buttoned up and we didn’t have those extra resources in order to make it. What we are doing in the interim is, and this part of the job, is getting together with stakeholders dealing with the criminal just e system, law enforcement, the courts, the prosecutors and local governments to say can we get our act together on this just a little bit earlier? And know the challenges we are facing, go in with a plan, execute the plan and then get the supervision model that is going to enhance public safety.”
Ormsby’s seniority in the House has allowed him to become the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, which writes his chamber’s budget.
Doug: “So how does your district benefit from your being chairman of the Appropriations Committee?”
Timm Ormsby: “The Third Legislative District is very diverse. What is not certain for folks that may just visit downtown, for example, when we have a very vibrant, very successful downtown, is that we, by four of the five measurements of poverty, the Third Legislative District ranks right there in terms of folks with income challenges. My focus has been, for individuals, for quality of life purposes, for removing obstacles to success, that we provide a leg up in terms of the state programs and services, whether it has to do with health care, education, early learning, higher education, having people be in a position to realize and pursue their aspirations, as a parent, as someone navigating the education system, trying to get into a profession, all of those things, trying to remove those obstacles and create quality of life for our residents here in the Third and that can get translated into the state budget in a wide variety of ways. A lot of people, when they’re paying attention to public policy, see what’s happening on the local level. The city council meets weekly; it’s covered in the media. We all are inundated at the national level via the 24-hour news cycle and tweets and other things that we’re being bombarded with. It’s been my experience that the things that really impact individuals’ lives, on the ground, have to do with what the state does. And it gets far less coverage, given our geographic distance, so we’re less aware of what’s occurring in Olympia and I think that’s unfortunate because so much of what we do there impacts peoples’ lives and I’m keeping an eye out for the folks in the Third District, their quality of life and their ability to overcome life’s challenges in order to be successful.”
Doug: “So are there specific things you wanted to point to say that, in 2019, if you’re re-elected, these are the things I’m going to be working on for my district.”
Timm Ormsby: “We’re going to be continuing our work on education. I’m very proud of the fact that the legislature, after six years of dealing with the Supreme Court’s McCleary decision on K-12, the court said you’ve done what we’ve required you to do, there’s more work to be done. Just because the Supreme Court has relinquished their jurisdiction, doesn’t not mean we don’t have more to do.”
Timm Ormsby is looking for another term in the State House in the Third Legislative District, where he has served since 2003.