This past weekend, I visited 45th Legislative District Representative Roger Goodman at his Kirkland home. He’s serving his first term in the state House and faces a tough challenge from Republican Toby Nixon, who had once previously held this seat. I’ve known Roger from before he even decided to get into politics. His previous work in criminal justice at the King County Bar Association was both groundbreaking and courageous, and he’s been able to bring his philosophies of fiscal responsibility and “collaborative problem solving” to Olympia and get results. I asked him a few questions before he headed out to ring some doorbells in his district.
LR: You were elected to Legislature for the first time in 2006. What have you been able to accomplish in your first term?
RG: I learned what little a legislature can accomplish, actually. I looked for opportunities where we could really make a difference. There are some colossal policy changes that we need to make but we’re just tweaking around the edges most of the time. So, I focused on public safety and education, because the public safety/public health foundation is what we have to take care of first before we even think about education – which is what we have to take care of before we even think about anything else.
So, we should take care of the basics. And so I asked, where is the harm out there? It’s on the roadways because of impaired driving and in many of our homes because of domestic violence. That’s where the statistics show there’s harm, and I wanted to approach one or the other, or both, and I did approach both.
With DUIs, an opportunity came up to gather everybody together, including Mothers Against Drunk Driving on the one hand, and the defense lawyers on the other – to agree on a common interest, rather than just particular policies, like “lockin’ em up” or fining them into bankruptcy, or suspending their license. It was time to get real. Drunk drivers drive anyway after their license is suspended. And so, acknowledging that reality, I introduced a bill to give new drivers’ licenses to convicted drunk drivers – on the condition that they put the ignition interlock device in the car. In New Mexico it’s working, the only other state doing this – a rapid decline in fatalities, injuries, and other mayhem caused by drunk driving. That was a big win.
LR: What happens if they just get a new car? Would they be disallowed from getting a new car?
RG: The new law requires them to have the device on every car they drive. It’s that simple.
LR: When you first came into the legislature, there was some skepticism about your style and your policy positions. Have you won over those skeptics?
RG: I guess I was a little notorious because of my work – some cutting edge work, actually – in drug law reform, but I’m not a grenade thrower. I like to work the system, and it’s a legitimate democratic process – with a small ‘d’. So…how should I describe it?…I was filled up with a sense of responsibility after I was elected – wow, this is an honor – let’s make the most of it.
I understand that the legislature is a reactive body because of this democratic process. We can’t be out in front of the people. And even though there are a lot of colossal policy issues we have to deal with, I think it’s still possible to take them on through that process. And that’s where collaboration comes in.
LR: How’s campaigning different now that you’re the incumbent as before when you were challenging for the seat?
RG: This is a very unusual election, because it’s almost like two incumbents running against one another…because my opponent was an incumbent for 5 years. But it was at a different time, when the district was different and the times were different. And so he might have been suitable for his time as a representative, but the district has changed and the times have changed. And I believe I have a strong record and reflect the values and priorities of the district. And I’m going out into the neighborhoods every day and reaffirming that.
LR: Can you explain what “collaborative problem solving” means? This is something that you’ve taken pride in and you talk about. And can you also explain how it can be used to deal with a lot of the state’s bigger problems?
RG: When I see two people who disagree, I want to sit them down. It’s about establishing relationships and a sense of trust and reciprocity – by identifying common interests rather than sticking to positions and sniping at each other. And so, my door is always open and my mind is always open and I take a very inclusive and respectful approach to whatever issue it is. The drunk driving issue, for example, where we brought together MADD and the defense lawyers. My court reform bill, where we brought together the municipal and district court judges and the superior court judges – where there’s a lot of contention. That bill resulted in greater efficiencies and better access to justice.
That was just a test – I was asking myself, can I do this? Now we have some big issues in front of us. Tax reform. Huge investments in education are required. Health care transformation, particularly the financing of health care. Environmental issues – Puget Sound is dying and we need to invest in our life support system. Puget Sound isn’t just a symbol, it’s actually important for our own ecosystem. And criminal justice reform, of course. We need to stop the extravagant waste of incarcerating the mentally ill and the addicted. Now, I want to see if we can start to tackle those problems using the same approach – getting the parties together to come to the legislature, sort of orchestrating it a bit, rather than one or two or a bunch of legislators just stepping out on the plank on an issue where there isn’t consensus yet.
LR: You sponsored a bill to create a Washington Head Start program, signed by the governor this spring. How will that program work?
RG: Well, the Head Start program on the federal level is robust and celebrated for what it’s accomplished, and the state program, ECEAP (Early Childhood Education Assistance Program), is also a high quality early learning program that’s tailored to localities and spurs a lot of innovation. What we need are more resources. The bill I got passed sets forth the process for what we’ll call Washington Head Start, which is the state version and a more robust program, but not in a bureaucratic straitjacket, like the federal program. So there’s a lot of negotiation ahead of us, between the different providers and the federal and state officials.
But the bottom line here is that investment in early learning – not just preschool, but also nurse-home visits to young moms, parenting education, health care, particularly mental health care – are the best, according to the economic models, the very best investments of public money there is, because it’s early intervention. I’d rather do that than clean up the mess on the other end.
LR: What else can be done in the next two years to improve education in this state?
RG: [Sighs] In the next two years? [Laughs]
Again, we have to make major investments. That’s what it’s all about, because we’re at the bottom – in the bottom 10 – for class size, for teacher pay. Pennsylvania teachers get paid twice as much as Washington State teachers. Special ed has huge needs. Transportation, buses, a $100 million need. Per pupil expenditure, teacher pay, and classroom size, we’re all at the bottom.
And so when people say we’re throwing money at the problem, it’s just a fallacy. However, there are so many other structural issues – assessment of learning, for example. The WASL is not very popular and maybe not very effective or being used properly. That’s all I hear. The curriculum is suffering, particularly with math, there’s still a struggle going on. Not enough local control, many argue. The education system is a reflection of society itself, so you can’t always reform it. It’s a constant process, but I think the bottom line is more funding, more resources.
LR: You’ve been endorsed by both police and firefighter groups. Can you talk about some of the other bills you’ve introduced related to public safety?
RG: I’m on the Emergency Preparedness committee. Through that, I developed a lot of respect for first responders. They have a very tough job. I did get a bill passed to wire up the gas stations to have backup power, and that’s important for people to get fuel after an emergency. And of course the DUI bill. The troopers support me. The sheriffs and police chiefs support me. But it’s really about their jobs – their pensions, their health care and just supporting those issues through other initiatives in the legislature – making sure that they really get what they need first, because they’re putting their lives on the line.
LR: The 520 bridge is another big issue in this area and especially in this district. What plan to you support for the 520 bridge?
RG: We worked out a deal. And I have to say, the governor really exerted a lot of leadership on this. She learned from the Viaduct disaster, where there was just a screaming match that broke out in her office. And I saw, because I went to meeting after meeting in the bowels of the Capitol, on the 520 bridge and we were working out a deal – the east side and the west side. So if Dino Rossi or any of these others think we could have put 8 lanes into Montlake? C’mon. We had to really work this out.
But the governor learned and helped us reach an agreement. We’re gonna get a 120 foot wide span, which is pretty much what we wanted. You’re going to see construction start next year – on the pontoons on the water. It’ll be $600 million less than we thought and maybe three years ahead of schedule. That was another big win.
LR: Is tolling unavoidable? Is it just going to be a reality here?
RG: Yeah, and the Tacoma Narrows Bridge we hope is going to be the example for what we’ll see on both I-90 and 520, where traffic is not interrupted. People understand the need to “pay as you go.”
LR: Your race this year is unique to me in that both you and your opponent are proponents of drug law reform, and moving away from the costly approach that we have now. If that can happen in a suburban district, are we ready to really see some progress here?
RG: I think the people understand how our drug policies are counterproductive. I’ve run into parents, as I go out door-to-door, who are petrified that their teenage children may, at a moment of indiscretion, get a criminal conviction that will ruin their lives basically, no education, no job, no housing, and so forth. And people also understand the huge spending, the waste, in incarcerating people who are not a threat to public safety, and that treatment works instead. That’s mainstream now.
I think parents also understand now, and again, I’m going out there in the neighborhoods every day, 100 doors a day, and meeting parents who are worried about their kids in the schools, where drugs are more available than anywhere else. This is nuts. So, I just talk plainly about it. We really need to change our policies. It’s not by any means an issue in the election, but it’s one of those large issues. Criminal justice reform, health care transformation, saving the planet. That’s one of the big ones.
LR: And finally, a funny question I thought of the other day. Since the legislature passed the cell phone ban while driving, what percentage of your fellow legislators would you guess have violated it?
RG: Oh, I wonder. Although that was the most stupid bill. There were two stupid bills that I…three stupid bills in my first term. The cell phone ban was the first one because all the data shows that the most distraction to a driver is caused by arguing with the person sitting next to him. So we need to ban driving with another person in the car, I guess!
RG: We need to ban disciplining your child in the back seat, and so forth.
So we didn’t approach it in the right way. We have to work with the state patrol to look for emphasis patrols and be more sophisticated about distracted driving. Distracted driving and impaired driving are both major concerns.
The second one was the wild animal bill, where now a person cannot own certain animals, including tigers and cobras and bobcats and wolves. Again, I think that’s just an unnecessary intrusion. There’s no safety problem out there. And I’d rather have people free, if they take care of their animals, because they have to comply with the USDA and other requirements. So that was another sort of sensational one.
And the final one was the wine and beer sampling in grocery stores. And on that one, I stood up on the floor and was impassioned about how silly it is to hold families hostage in a grocery store and serve free wine and beer. But all those bills passed.
LR: There’s still some work to do, then.
RG: There’s still some work to do. Yeah, we’re gonna have a trans-fat ban, have we banned dogs in bars yet?
LR: I’m not sure.
RG: I really don’t want to waste the people’s time. I’m serious about that.