Democrat Teresa Purcell seeks open state House seat

Teresa Purcell

Democrat Teresa Purcell, 53, is a public relations consultant who has worked on political campaigns and policy issues at the local, state and federal level during her 25-year career. A graduate of Mark Morris High School in Longview, Purcell earned bachelor’s degrees in political science and communications at University of Washington. Purcell founded Purcell Public Affairs in 2001. Nine years ago, she purchased her childhood home in Longview, where she lives with her partner, Jim Young. Purcell is a founding board member of the Lower Columbia School Gardens and Longview Public Schools foundations. She has also volunteered for the Cowlitz County Historical Society, various Cowlitz County advisory committees and the Emergency Support Shelter, and sits on the board of Cowlitz-Wahkiakum Legal Aid. This is her first run for office. If elected, Purcell says she would focus on planning for economic and environmental sustainability, engaging citizens in the political process, and bringing new industries to the region.

Purcell’s opponent, Aberdeen Republican James Walsh, initially scheduled an interview with the Chinook Observer, but canceled his appointment. He indicated that he would reschedule, but stopped responding to requests to set a date. He also did not respond to a political candidate questionnaire.

What made you decide to run for office?

I really felt like voters needed a choice, and it was time for the people of this district to actually choose who their elected officials was, rather than the county commissioners.

Your opponent and his supporters describe you as a “lobbyist”. Are you a lobbyist?

No. I have been working with organizations to help people impact the political process, but I haven’t lobbied in years. I’ve gone as somebody who’s wanting to make a point, and help other people raise their voices, but I’m not somebody who makes a living as a lobbyist.

Have you ever made a living as a lobbyist?

Yeah. About 20 years ago, I lobbied for the Heart Association, the Lung Association and the Cancer Society.

What do you feel your strengths would be as a representative?

A deep understanding of the process, a deep love of this place, and a deep understanding of the issues that we face. Relationships that can help us bridge the divides that have kept us from getting what we need at the state level. I have the ability to talk to people and get them to prioritize Southwest Washington.

Please describe two or three accomplishments you are proud of.

I managed Patty Murray’s campaign in 1992. That brought somebody to the United States Senate who has fought for veterans, working families, the state of Washington, and has really made a difference. Recently, I was very involved as a citizen in talking to our state legislators about getting a significant funding package to do infrastructure in Cowlitz County. It was something that our community has needed for decades.

What do your critics say about you?

My critics will say that I am too progressive for the district, I am disconnected from the district. Not only was I born and raised in the district, but I bought the house I was raised in. In the intervening time, I was constantly home, visiting my parents. I was deeply involved in community activities. It’s a kind of a desperate ploy to try and make me seem “other”.

Overall, do you think the 19th district is better or worse off than it was a few years ago?

I think it’s the same, which is the problem. We are not making progress. We’re stalled and getting more desperate. Needing to address the shellfish issue, the fishing issues, frankly, needing to address climate change. We have incredible assets, and we’re not leveraging them.

What do you see as the district’s greatest needs right now?

Family-wage jobs. We need to have the infrastructure to attract businesses to these communities. It’s a very competitive environment across the country. You need good schools. You need basic 21st century technology like cell phone service and broadband. The district has very different challenges and economies. We need to figure out how, rather than putting things in competition, we are actually are working collaboratively to bring things to the district.

If elected, you would be the first woman to represent the district since 1984. Does gender really matter in politics?

Gender matters in anything where you want to have different perspectives, where you want to have a broad point of view. You can’t leave out fifty percent of the population from the conversation, and think you’re going to get the policies that will meet all of our needs. The other thing is, women bring a different approach to collaboration. They bring a different approach to problem-solving.

Some women’s advocacy groups say LD19 reps have done only a mediocre job of advocating for women, in terms of things like equal pay, family leave, domestic violence policy and access to healthcare. Do you think you could do a better job?

I’m an organizer, and I can make our voices heard at the legislative level, with the county governments, and at the federal level. But also, just engaging more people in the process, and making sure that women across the district are making their voices heard about the importance of equal pay, the importance of paid leave, and the difference that that makes for our families.

A lot of people feel politics have grown stagnant in LD19. Do you agree?

I would agree. It’s part of why I’m running. Our current legislators have done a good job, but it’s time to bring other voices in, at a variety of levels.

Some people think the best way to shake things up would be to elect a Republican for the first time in many years. How do you respond to that?

We have such a unique environment that we need people who are working across rural and urban divides, as much as the partisan divides. We need people who are working together to solve problems, and to make government work for us. That really, for me, is not a partisan issue.

What have you been doing to get acquainted with your constituents in rural parts of the 19th?

Growing up here, we spent our weekends at Long Beach. My grandparents were in Aberdeen, so this district is not new to me. I’ve been on the road several times a week, going to visit the ports, the hospitals, the schools, and talking to the shellfish growers, the cranberry growers, fisherman, timber folks. [We’ve been] finding amazing entrepreneurs and young people all across the district who want to make things happen.

Whom have you visited in Pacific County?

Ocean Beach Hospital. We visited the cranberry bogs, we went out and talked about shellfish. We have met with Kim Patton several times. I have been talking to the economic development folks here. I spent a couple hours with Rebecca Chafee (of the Port of Willapa Harbor) last week. I just have been so incredibly impressed with the passion and knowledge of the people.

What issues do you see as being important to Pacific County citizens?

The shellfish issues. Ensuring that the natural resource industries we have are able to go on in sustainable way for the long-term. Working with the ports on the dredging issues.

How can we bring more sustainable, family-wage jobs to this area?

This is such an extraordinarily beautiful place to live, and such a high quality of life. People are looking for places where they can have a small business. They want their people to be able to afford a house and have good schools. We just haven’t had that opportunity as much, because we haven’t had the basic 21st century infrastructure that we need to attract those things.

I talked to a couple of folks about the craft food industry here. There is such a spectacular abundance of interesting food products — mushrooms, cranberries, shellfish. There are entrepreneurs who are interested in trying to figure out how to make that work.

Do you think the potential economic benefits of bringing coal and oil through the region by river and rail outweigh the health, safety and environmental risks?

No. The reality is that we are being asked to take all of the risk, and reap very little of the reward. It’s not enough jobs. Those companies are not economically viable — particularly the coal company. We’re being asked to bank our future on industries that we know are on the way out, as opposed to really cultivating and attracting those industries that could be more future-focused.

Do you think the emerging pot industry has been good for the district?

We need to make sure that our area is getting the tax benefits that we should be getting by housing those industries. We can’t just say “Okay our future is pot.” We need to make sure that we’re diversifying at the same time. It’s been a successful the first couple of years, but we need to have long-term sustainable industries in our area. We need to continually be monitoring it for health and safety impacts.

The McCleary decision said in no uncertain terms that legislators need to figure out how to fully fund education. What are your views on the best way to accomplish that?

We have to acknowledge that this is a significant problem, and that it’s not going to be cheap or free. We have more than 600 tax loopholes for businesses. We have no idea what the loopholes do, how much is there, and whether or not those companies are actually creating any jobs in Washington state. What is the return on investment for the taxpayers of Washington? Before we go looking for new revenue, we have to make sure that those corporations are paying their fair share.

When do you think it is appropriate to raise taxes?

We have to be really clear about our shared values and our common goals. People ask me if I’m for big government, or for small government. I say “I am for government that works,” because you can’t have everything that you want government to pay for, for free.

Can you elaborate about how you decide whether a tax is a good or bad idea?

In Washington, we have the most regressive tax system in the country. Those people who make the least — low and middle-income people — pay the highest percentage of their income in taxes. Those who make the most, pay the least. That’s unfair. So if I’m looking at revenue, that’s where I am looking.

This district has the worst health outcomes of any district in the state. What ideas do you have for improving public health?

It’s a huge problem. It adds a huge expense, when we talk about public health, public resources. A good investment is a healthy population.

We need to make sure that we’re doing prevention, public education. We have folks who are not able to get the care that they need. We need to figure out what we’re going to do about access — we have a shortage of healthcare providers across the district. We need to figure out what we’re going to do about nutrition.

Have you met with any of the tribes within the district?

Yes. Bill Iyall from the Cowlitz Tribe, Charlene Nelson from the Shoalwater Tribe. I met with Scott Reynvan from the Quinault Tribe. [They deal with] the same kinds of issues — transportation, public health, erosion, economic opportunity. We’re all in this together.

Have you met with the Chinook Nation?

Not yet. I met their leader, Tony Johnson, but we didn’t have a sit-down. We just met for a few minutes.

If you are elected, what will be your top priorities during your first year?

To figure out how to address the shellfish issues. Really trying to work with folks to develop an agenda. My top priority would be to know what is it that we need that will make a difference — and then ask for it! I’m working in concert with Brian Blake and Dean Takko, of course.

What can you offer the public that your opponent can’t?

A deep understanding of the issues of the district. An ability to communicate and network with other folks who I already am in relationship with, to get attention for the 19th legislative district. Relationships at the federal level, relationships at the county level, that can help us work in collaboration to be more effective.

Is there anything we didn’t address that you’d like to talk about?

I want to respond to the fact that the Republicans are spending a lot of dark money, saying anything. I don’t support an income tax. I’m not going to take your guns away. On all of these issues, they are saying things they know are untrue. I want to stand up and say to voters, “I want to go to work for you.”

Give us your 30-second elevator pitch. Why should people vote for you?

I plan to live here for the rest of my life, and I want this to be the best possible community it can be. For me, that means getting the attention we need from the state legislature to create an environment where we can attract businesses, work in public-private partnership, create family-wage jobs, and just help our communities thrive, while preserving the things that make our area so unique.

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