Meet Kathy Gillespie.
Her supporters say her education credentials are essential given the flaws in the new state education funding model. Her critics say she’s a hard-left politician masquerading as a moderate who will restrict Second Amendment rights, raise taxes, and hurt businesses.
Undaunted, Gillespie marches forward in her quest for the Washington State House (Legislative District 18, Position 2) seat, which is currently held by retiring Representative Liz Pike, a three-term Republican. Her campaign is determined to knock on 30,000 doors with volunteers working long days, seven days a week to get the word out. They’re determined to flip the LD 18, Position 2 seat from red to blue — from Republican to Democrat — in what Gillespie sees as a “blue wave” across the state.
With Pike’s retirement, LD 18 No. 2 is open seat, and Gillespie is running against long-term business leader, Larry Hoff, who is a newcomer to politics. It’s historically been a safe Republican district, but Gillespie sees an opening.
She’s been here before when she tried to unseat Pike two years ago. She lost that race, earning 43 percent of the vote.
“We did very well in 2016 against Liz Pike,” said Gillespie. “I didn’t really have a good campaign. Didn’t have a manager, didn’t have any money. We got 43 percent. Campaigns are complex organisms and candidates have to learn how to do it right. Sometimes the result is a reflection of a poorly run campaign. I think we’re seeing more sophistication from candidates about how they’re running.”
Gillespie has been actively campaigning against the McCleary legislation, claiming it creates chaos and fiscal deficits in school districts across the state. She’s been supportive of local teachers, attending strike rallies in August and September. And, she’s been critical of legislators who drafted the law.
“In the school reform bills passed were certain reforms with school funding going forward, and dealing with teacher compensation,” Gillespie said. “The school funding requests are addressed every year, and that will be like it’s always been. But there are concerns going forward, such as the fix, the levy limitations. There are concerns about inequities with the way the levy swap is affecting districts.”
She said, if elected, addressing concerns with the current funding legislation would be a high priority. She touts her eight years serving as Board Director of Vancouver Public Schools as a qualifier for the position she seeks. But, her critics say her lack of private sector experience is a real concern.
“If she’s never signed the front side of a paycheck, she does not know how tough it is to be a job creator in this state,” said Pike. “Her party has crushed business in Washington. In today’s over-regulated business environment, Bill Boeing could not launch his successful aerospace industry.”
So, why is she running? Here are her reasons:
- Educational Mandates. She claims many new educational mandates have funding gyrations that sometimes come with strings attached. She says her experience in public policy work can be applied to the legislature.
- Excellent Schools. Good schools are the foundation for a good future. Properly educated children become successful leaders of families, businesses and communities.
- Jobs. We need to have more jobs based in Clark County and SW Washington. Gillespie says the region needs 50,000 more living wage jobs. “We can do that,” she said. “We have cities with grand ambitions and are led by civic leaders with big plans. State government needs to be there to help them.”
- Infrastructure. “The I-5 corridor needs improvement. We need to build new roads, and new bridges, and that builds jobs. I’ve talked with Portland companies about making improvements here so our workers can live, work and play in those cities. New employers are telling us what their workers want. They want more high density near where they work. Washington already has a great economy. We have a great environment here already. The Vancouver waterfront is coming. We should be able to with state government’s attention to fund infrastructure projects. SW Washington doesn’t get its fair share out of Olympia. I think that we’re the southern gateway and we need our fair share of the budget. We need to counter Portland’s weight. This is what we bring to the table. We have awesome businesses over here.”
Is there a “Blue Wave” coming to Washington state?
Gillespie thinks so.
“There’s a great deal of dissatisfaction with the GOP with the major property tax increase,” said Gillespie. “It didn’t have to be in that amount, because it really punishes some areas of the state. It was done in the latter part of a long session. We’re working out some of the problems. The confusion today lies in the way the legislation was written, as it confuses how levies are going to work. At the 11th hour they created confusing legislation. We need to hear from districts about the trouble they’re running into. It will help us get through this easier.”
For the record, the bill was passed with broad bipartisan support, and retiring Rep. Liz Pike voted against the property tax increase. Gillespie’s opponent, Larry Hoff, is against any type of tax increase.
Gillespie predicts a blue wave because she said: “It was a failure to solve our transportation issues, and a failure to put a partnership together with Oregon. I propose we focus on I-5 corridor and see what’s possible by getting back to the table with Oregon. People need to put their marriage back together and start building trust.”
“They are very upset about the tax burden,” said Gillespie. “They are strangled by their property taxes, so they don’t see the fruits of that investment. Public trust in money they send has been violated.”
“Legislators don’t want to hear about McCleary, but we need to understand the impact of the McCleary reforms,” Gillespie said. “With the levy lid passed it has created inequities, and we need to look into the details of all this. 295 districts are implementing these reforms and aren’t getting good direction from OPSI, and they’re unpacking this individually as districts. Each school district has unique characteristics, and they were passed as one size fits all — and that’s already showing it doesn’t work.”
She wants to make sure the regionalization of pay is having the effect the legislature intended.
There are major concerns, and she breaks them down:
- The state needs to make sure they’re paying the full cost of special education, and that needs to be addressed immediately. Local levies cannot be used to backfill special education funding. The state knows it’s not spending enough money on special education. The state needs to step up and pay the full cost. Each Superintendent is dealing with this.
- There is also concern about spending on counseling and nursing, and they need to spend more directed resources to pay for those. If we can do those things, it will take pressure off the budget. That will give them some relief. There appears there is bipartisan interest in funding special education, as well as counselors and nurses.
- Each district can re-prioritize their expenditures to streamline the budget. The districts need to be challenged about how they’re spending their money. They will need to live within their means, and taxpayers will expect school districts to do that. Each district needs to closely examine the budget and re-prioritize dollars, and everybody has to do that.
- The early numbers about funding special ed, nursing, counselors, are about $300 million. “We are mandated by the federal government to do these things, but they haven’t funded that, either,”Gillespie said. It can’t be an unfunded mandate.”
Where do you get the extra money to do that?
“The state needs to take responsibility for their own expenditures,” Gillespie said. “So, we need to know what our revenue forecasts are, and then we need to figure out what the funding requests are. We will have a problem because we’re reducing levies and we’re not paying the full cost of special education, nurses, and counselors. Look at existing revenue and analyze that first.”
“I’m not talking about any new sources of revenues until we know our state budget. We will have to re-prioritize dollars. I challenge our priorities to make sure we’re funding the core services of government first. My experience on the school board taught me that we have to challenge the status quo, and to make sure the budgets perform better with existing revenue.”
Pike said “she will vote with her Democrat caucus to further restrict second amendment rights. Her first loyalty will be to the teachers’ union.”
Gillespie has worked extensively in education and in the public sector:
- Vancouver School District Board Director (2009 – Dec. 2017).
- Candidate for State Representative, WA Legislature, 18th LD (2016 & 2018) Position 2
- Led $80K renovation of school courtyard at Vancouver School of Arts and Academics (VSAA). Led $10K renovation of playgrounds at Eleanor Roosevelt Elementary.
- Led development of Roosevelt arts space working with school, district staff, community artists and local businesses to complete $7K project.
- PTA President, Eleanor Roosevelt and VSAA.
- Member of school committees formed to address budget shortfall, Parent Advisory Council for superintendent and site-based at VSAA, Roosevelt.
- Active school volunteer, Lunch Buddy, mentor and committee member at all levels – school site, district and regional (2000-2016).
Participant in Design II: The Art of Imagination strategic-planning initiative study groups with a focus on family and community involvement (2007 – 2009).
- Participant in three-year School Improvement Plan process at Eleanor Roosevelt Elementary.
“I’ve knocked 7,000 doors, and our campaign has knocked on 18,000,” said Gillespie. “Our goal is to knock on 30,000.”
To learn more, visit www.kathygillespieforhouse.org