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Where Are They Now: Leg Edition

By May 16, 2023Blog
An orange semitransparent arch over a photo of five people with question mark masks that reads "The Tally: Where Are They Now: Leg Edition" in white text with the WCA logo.

Nuggets –

It’s done! Yesterday was Sine Die – that means we’ve reached that light at the end of the legislative session tunnel. Three of our four remaining priority bills have made it through concurrence and one has already been signed by the Governor!

This week, some final updates, then, we’re looking at former legislators and the lasting impacts they’ve had on policy, the legislative system, and what influence they continue to hold in Olympia. Amazon lobbyists, parents, and entrepreneurs, oh my!

You Can Take the Legislator Out of Olympia but…


Washington state doesn’t have term limits for a majority of our state-level positions including the State Legislature. We touched last week on the turnover of staff in the legislature, but turnover among legislators themselves can vary widely. Some folks have basically spent their lives at the legislature. Others—many of them members of color—decide it’s too toxic to hang around after term one. Let’s catch up with some former legislators:

Guy Palombo was elected to the State Senate in 2016 to represent the 1st Legislative District. Palombo pushed out a more progressive democratic candidate, Luis Moscoso, in his 2016 race for the State Senate creating a rift in the party and local politics. Chair of the Snohomish County Democrats Hillary Moralez declared “There will still be people who will never forgive him for 2016.” Palombo left the legislature in 2019 to become an Amazon lobbyist, stepping away in May – very close to the end of session which allowed him to pivot quickly and utilize existing contacts. Clever or shady? Yes. Many states don’t allow legislators to become lobbyists on that timeline – and for good reason. It’s unethical and allows undue influence. Now Palombo gets paid $3-4k monthly to lobby his former colleagues for Amazon’s preferred housing policies and other nonsense, even taking out a $300,000 political ad “supporting a marketing campaign for housing policies.” He loves being a useless, milquetoast centrist under the guise of “bipartisanship,” especially on Twitter and he’s manipulated his previous power into a lucrative, ethically questionable new role.

Jesse Johnson was elected to the State House in the 30th Legislative District in 2020 when Representative Kristine Reeves stepped down to run for Congress. Johnson served one full term in office before deciding to step away, citing his young family as his motivation. Johnson has been a staunch critic of our policing systems, serving legislators with a dose of reality as Vice Chair of the House Public Safety Committee. Thanks to Johnson we passed progressive police reform legislation in 2021 that DID work to reduce officer-involved deaths. Since Johnson has left office, these policies have been gutted by our current legislature, leaving Washington’s most vulnerable populations to continue enduring senseless police violence, over surveillance, and lasting systemic racism. Johnson continues to have strong ties to Olympia and his districts’ former elected officials, now serving as the Director of Outreach and Community Engagement for the State Treasurer Mike Pellicciotti’s Office. He also remains a family man, raising his son Elijah with his badass wife, Epiphany, who is currently a medical student. We love a good ol’ community-centered power couple.

Kirsten Harris-Talley was elected to the State House in the 37th Legislative District in 2020, earning a highly impressive 51% of the vote in a seven candidate Primary. Talley, affectionately known as KHT, ran to bring an activist voice to Olympia. She won with great support from her district, but faced a legislative institution with longstanding racist, classist, ableist, and otherwise exclusionary history. KHT’s experience in the legislature made her feel silenced, controlled, and stifled. Upon announcing her decision not to run for reelection, KHT penned an article in the South Seattle Emerald detailing her experience, reasons for certain votes, and called out the lack of integrity in our legislators. By being so direct and open about her experiences, she allowed fellow legislators of color and women in office to share their experiences and begin to hold our State Legislature accountable as a system of governance and a workplace. KHT continues to work in her community as a transformative justice consultant, mom, educator, and healer. Her fortitude is missed in Olympia by fellow activists, and her successor, Chipalo Street, is a real step down. His big business background, landlord status, and weak stance on police reform are serious downgrades for the 37th. He’s even made comments that activists don’t belong in office because they can’t handle the “pace” of the legislature. We, however, remain grateful for KHT’s willingness to step up and run, and especially so for the example she modeled to women of color to walk away without apology when they are mistreated, stifled, and stripped of their power.

Steve Hobbs – a real thorn in the side of all Washington Democrats. He’s been relegated to the office of Secretary of State after holding back years of progressive policy in the Washington State Senate. Hobbs served Washington’s 44th Legislative District as a State Senator from 2006 until 2021 when he was tapped (dragged) by Inslee to be Secretary of State. His vacancy from the State Senate allowed then-Representative John Lovick to step into the Senate and reorganize the Senate’s committee chair positions. As you may recall from a previous edition of The Tally, committee chairs hold a lot of power, and Hobbs was abusing his. As the Chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, he barred the legislature from passing progressive transportation legislation and budgets for years. With State Senator Marko Liias in the Chair seat of the Senate Transportation Committee Move Ahead Washington passed. The legislature is better off without Hobbs, but now he is a weak Democrat sitting in a historically non-Democratic office with the ability to be easily defeated in his next election. He’s also still stirring up nonsense from his new position and is a big opponent to ranked choice voting efforts at the legislature and in the state. But, the dems didn’t want to hurt his feelings by giving him the boot so we’re stuck with him, for now.

Emily Wicks served one term in the State House (38-D) after being appointed to the open seat in May of 2020, edging out local tribal activist and advocate, Charles Adkins. Wicks was retained in her 2020 election, and finally announced in March of 2022 that she would not seek reelection after dragging her feet for some time. Wicks cited her entrepreneurial ambition as the reason for her departure from the State Legislature. Hell, she’s even writing a book about her experience as a one-term legislator! To which we say, why?! She founded The Core, a hypothetical, non-existent, absolutely unreal and unlikely to pass a health inspection “hospitality space” for today’s working professional. What does that mean? We have no clue! Despite all the girl-boss nonsense, we do have just a sliver of respect remaining for Wicks after taking responsibility for her actions and sharing her journey into therapy. We think more electeds, both current and former, should be in therapy. Maybe then they’ll stop flipping their shit, making bad policy decisions, and tanking the careers of young politicos while blaming it on the pressure of elected office.

Champion of the Climate Commitment Act, former State Senator Reuven Carlyle announced his retirement from the legislature during the 2022 legislative session. He didn’t even tell his full staff about his retirement until after his presser went out. Whoops! A champion of the “cooling off period” for legislators, Carlyle has not become a lobbyist immediately following his departure from the legislature. He took the high road – opening an investment firm that will directly benefit from CCA funds! Wait…is that better than being a lobbyist? Your call (but we don’t think so).

Jared Mead was elected to the State House of Representatives in the 44th Legislative District in 2018. While Mead seems unassuming, he is actually a millennial reiteration of the white, masculine moderate democratic establishment. He learned from those we’ve already called out here – Guy Palombo and Steve Hobbs. Mead was Hobbs’ Political Field Director in 2014 and managed Palombo’s campaign for State Senate in 2016, transitioning to be Palombo’s Legislative Assistant the following year. Remember what we said last week about why people might work in the legislature? Well Mead is a great example of someone who is just trying to get a foot up in his career and work his way to the middle. Mead served one term in the legislature and was appointed to the Snohomish County Council in 2020, prompting him to step away from Olympia and return to Snohomish County District 4. Currently, Mead is the Chair of the Snohomish County Council and sits on several of the county’s transportation and economic development committees. When we say he learned from his former bosses – like Hobbs who ALSO held up progressive transportation policies – we really aren’t kidding. Remember, not all millennial democrats are progressives. County positions are coveted because they offer greater compensation, benefits, work life balance, and tighter scope than state legislative positions. This tempts County Councilmembers to retain their seats for as long as possible – regardless of the impact on their communities. We hope Mead would understand his responsibility to step down when he no longer offers valuable representation and perspective on the Council, but only time will tell.


What do you think? Have any questions? Tweet us your thoughts @WACommAlliance.
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