A political chain reaction is taking place in our county this fall. Denny Heck left his 10th Congressional seat to run for Lieutenant Governor. That triggered the departure of Beth Doglio to run for Congress, leaving her 22nd District State Representative Position 2 seat vacant –– which in turn triggered a dogpile of candidates running for the vacant seat.
You will soon have your ballot in your hands, trying to sort out the five candidates who filed. You will get to choose between Anthony Novack, Dusty Pierpoint, Glenda Breiler, Jessica Bateman, and Mary Ellen Biggerstaff. To help you in your democratic duty to decide, JOLT is providing a review and comparison of these candidates. I interviewed each and asked them a series of questions, which hopefully will provide insight to their positions and characters. First some introductions:
Anthony Novack: https://www.electanthonynovack.com/ A wildlife biologist with the State, running as a Democrat. In our interviews, Novack was quiet, articulate, with a sense of both dedication and humor.
Dusty Pierpoint: http://electdusty.com/ Retired and formerly Lacey Chief of Police, running as a Republican. Pierpoint projected a calm confidence in the interviews, low-key and thoughtful.
Glenda Breiler: https://www.glendaforwa.com/ Managing Director of the Longhouse Center at The Evergreen State College, running as a Democrat. When you talk to Breiler she is high energy and passionate about her heritage and purpose.
Jessica Bateman: https://www.votejessicabateman.com/ A Policy Associate at the Washington Association for Community Health, and Deputy Mayor of Olympia, running as a Democrat. Bateman will pitch a lot of ideas to you very quickly, with a spirit of eagerness and competence.
Mary Ellen Biggerstaff: https://www.maryellenbiggerstaff.com/ A nurse practitioner and teacher, running as a Democrat. Biggerstaff speaks with compassion and concern for people, in a way that is lively and personable.
The Money Race
I checked the PDC to look at the candidates’ donations. It’s always changing, but here’s what I found in early July (listed by totals):
Breiler: raised $ 37,195, with large donations from Native American tribes and organizations, State Democrats, and environmental and children’s advocates.
Bateman: raised $32,436, with large donations coming from the State Democrats, several unions, a few social justice PACs, and the Denny Heck campaign.
Pierpoint: raised $12,113, large donations from a Republican and a law enforcement PAC, some donations from real estate companies, the rest individual donations.
Biggerstaff: raised $9,577, one donation from a liberal PAC and the rest individual and her own money.
Novack: raised $3,615, all personal donations, one-third his own money.
With the help of the JOLT Advisory Board and our editor Madeline Shannon, we concocted several questions that we hoped would tell you more about the candidates than a repeat of their stump speeches. You can research their policies on their websites, but we’d like to help you know more about them as people.
Why are you running for office?
Novack says his motivation is environment and wildlife. He sees the legislature as the roadblock to planning ahead and reducing harm.
“We know we need to get people more involved, but we are not doing it very well,” Novack said. “The values of Washington are not expressed in our laws and rules.”
He says he wants to bring his training in conflict resolution to the legislature.
“I want to address the cost of polarized political conflict. There is a better way for people to work together, get away from us versus them,” he said.
Pierpoint says his 30 years of public service drives his interest in working at the legislative level.
”I enforced laws, but didn’t write them. I helped my wife with her business, and learned about small business,” Pierpoint said. “When I talked to friends, they said ‘it’s a tough race, but give it a chance.’ I can bring things to the table, want to be part of that. Current events are changing so quickly.”
Breiler cited a need for a voice for voices long ignored.
“There’s never been a person of color in this District. In these times equity and representation is important,” she said. “Working families, people of color – I will be that voice.”
She notes her background as a member of the Colville Tribe and family in the Chehalis Tribe. “We protect the next seven generations. I’m running for water, for the Salish Sea, for my son. I’m looking back to past generations, too.”
Bateman describes her work as Deputy Mayor.
“The issues I’ve been working on are issues statewide. I’ve worked on homelessness and housing, health care, and climate,” she said. “It’s challenging to create thriving communities.”
She says she advocated for comprehensive behavioral health, so we now have mental health specialists and counselors. For climate change, she’s addressed sea level response and greenhouse gas reduction, and wants to work on these issues statewide. Progressive revenue is also a focus for her. “Our regressive tax system hurts workers, and limits social safety net and social services.“
Biggerstaff decided to run after 15 years of working as a nurse, where she became aware of inequality as the “social determinant of health”.
“Thirty percent is conventional health and 70 percent is home, economy, etc.” Biggerstaff said. “I want to get into political advocacy, make a difference, make changes, help make sure policy is centered on people’s health and well-being.”
What famous contemporary or historical figure is your inspiration for running for office, and why?
Novack: Teddy Roosevelt. “He was a Republican president who promoted progressive ideals. He said ‘step into the arena’. He’s someone who took his values and ambition and inspiration and put himself out there. I ran before in Kittitas County as the “Bull Moose Party” candidate.”
Pierpoint: Abraham Lincoln. “He was complex, showed compassion even during tough times. A lot of good people were good leaders – politicians, coaches, community leaders. I worked for the City for years, and [former City Manager] Greg Cuoio was a good leader, with clear principles, and a vision of where to go.”
Breiler: Senator John McCoy. “He was an inspiration as a tribal member who has been successful in the legislature. He recently retired, which made me realize a voice of Native Americans was needed. He would bring Tribal Leaders together and let each leader describe the issues at their Tribal Nations. He helped start an MPA in Tribal governance, and got an honorary degree. He taught too, made a big impact on students from the Tribes.
Bateman: Franklin D. Roosevelt. “He lived in a transformational time – inspired by folks who went through trying times and advocated for a robust safety net, lift everyone up, invest in them. Also, AOC [Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] –– new progressive ideas, represents a diverse district, was a service worker, knows what it’s like to have a minimum wage job.“
Biggerstaff: Dr. Paul Farmer. “He founded Partners in Health, worked on what is possible with public health care, not limited by economic constraints, focused on what is needed, especially the needs of the poor. He’s as inspiring in real life as in the book [Mountains Beyond Mountains].” She said she met him about five years ago at a medical conference in San Francisco where he was a speaker.
“I found his style of leadership very inspiring: step up with values wherever you are and you are working,” she said.
Describe a public policy issue have you worked on - when and where, and what were the outcomes?
Novack explains how, in his work in government, he helped develop regulations for a program on wildlife conflicts.
“How does the state work with wild animals and private property?” Novack asked. “I got to apply policy on the ground and also write rules and policies. We created tools to work with landowners that help them to identify how we could help solve the problem together.”
Pierpoint says that recently he worked on police training about use of force, implicit bias, and de-escalation. “I met with public, local groups, police chiefs and sheriffs. Changes came from that. Meeting with community groups was important. Good to be part of that process and get a positive.”
Breiler tells the story of her work on sports betting bills (for casinos only, not online) that passed the last session.
“Tribes came together with attorneys, lobbyists, and leaders to get the bill passed,” Breiler said. “I got to be part of the implementation of the bill, saw the inner workings. I played an administrative role, part of conversations and getting the Tribes together.”
Bateman speaks of how she was the primary lead on “Olympia Sanctuary City Resolution”. In the fall of 2016 she was concerned about the anti-immigrant tone in the national campaign.
“I looked at other cities, drafted a resolution, talked to immigrant rights advocates, got input, referred it to the General Government Committee, got advocates to show up at committee meetings and email council members,” she said. “We got it in mid-December before the inauguration.”
Biggerstaff describes working on Medicare for All, promoting a bill in Congress, and trying to get more support.
“The outcome is hoped for, but has the possibility of getting better,” Biggerstaff said. “But it’s a big success because more people understand it and see it as a real possibility.”
How will being an elected official change your life?
Novack says his life would be more public, and he would attend more events.
“I’d need to let go of my job – I love what I do. I’d dive into the community and work from the grass roots up. I have a family, so this would take time from my young boys, but would be a temporary period of time.”
Pierpoint explains that, in going from retired to public service, he’s not a complete stranger – his job was very public.
“The actual job will be a steep learning curve,” Pierpoint said. “I know what it’s like to be in the public eye – what you say, what you stand for. It’s a bigger audience, bigger customer base than a city employee. I’ll look for mentors, people with experience to guide me.”
Breiler notes that she already has a job, so she’d need to alter that, and as a working mom with a two-year-old, there’s always a balance between working and the campaign.
“I’m running for my son and children, for clean water and care,” she said. “I will still work with all of the Tribes, be a voice of the Tribes, and I will continue to be a water protector.”
I asked if her background created particular challenges.
“Women of color, indigenous women, are trying to create communities of color,” she said.
“What happens is that you end up standing with other women of color, reach out to other sisters, have conversations.”
Bateman says it’s about being a public servant, serving the community.
“I was doing it before I was elected –– Planning Commission, etc,” she said. “There’s a responsibility to listen and be available. In [my] personal life, I’m a problem solver. I used to work for a legislator and saw that at a state level, you are an elected official 24/7, people know your personal information. But that doesn’t affect me personally. There are always people on both sides, so you do your best to use input, look at the law. I enjoy interacting with people.”
Biggerstaff responded, “I’ll have less freedom, but my home has more freedom with older kids. I’ll have less time, and will set rules on myself. I’m aware that being a public leader and official will require a lot of time and effort. I would like to continue my nursing and teaching career – it’s very important to me.”
Describe a really difficult situation where you were in conflict with other people, but you were able to resolve it to a good outcome?
Novack: “That’s my job!”
He provides a recent example about how to set hunting seasons, looking at people’s desire for how and when to hunt. He sent out a survey, got feedback with a more locally-focused survey. “At a public meeting a few people opposed brought in supporters, probably with a grudge with the agency,” Novack said. “I set up a meeting with ground rules, with an exercise to get people to know each other. At the end the opponents left appreciating the result – relating on a personal level was key.”
Pierpoint: “One of my better gifts is being willing to listen,” Pierpoint said. “We all want to fix the problem and move on. In conflict, people want to be heard, you learn things you weren’t aware of and didn’t understand.”
He tells of a situation with a meeting on immigration and the jails, where his agenda was to help students get citizenship.
“It seemed simple, but an attorney in the meeting explained that it took a long time to get citizenship. I assumed it was easy but I learned. You don’t always leave a meeting in agreement, but if you listen and keep an open mind, you will learn.”
Breiler returns to the sports betting bill.
“There were a lot of different people at the table, Democrats and Republicans, tribal attorneys and leaders, lobbyists,” Breiler said. “Different views about the purpose –– online gambling for some. Tribes came together – 26 countries – came to consensus to resist online gambling and companies that wanted to take over. This helped to successfully pass the bill. Tribes have really diverse views, people were impressed that the bill passed.”
Bateman talks of when she was running for office in 2015 and working for United Way, she’d heard about homelessness, but didn’t know much.
“I was introduced to a group of citizens working on an affordable housing initiative called the ‘Home Fund,’” she said. “The group had a council [with] diverse views. They brought people together by focusing on Thurston County, looking at data, targeting where you could do the most. We worked through the group to get a broad base of support, worked with people, listened and created a campaign. We worked on it for several years, got an initiative on the ballot, and now have funding. We now have a project starting with 120 units of supported housing and shelter. The conflict was that the executive board had to do a storming and norming process to work out what would go to the council. Different ideas and philosophies.”
Biggerstaff: “Daily in the clinic seeing patients, I see conflict,” Biggerstaff said. “Working with therapy for addicts, there’s conflict over decisions and problems they don’t understand. If you don’t understand them, you still have to work with them. You don’t have to agree with them, can’t order them around. Amazing things happen as you work with them over a long time. They can pull their life together and get stabilized. That applies to a lot of life. Accept who they are, develop a relationship and move forward.“
Describe the number one accomplishment you would like to achieve at the end of your first term.
Novack: “Two big things. I want dedicated funding mechanisms for green infrastructure projects that support wildlife, ecological resilience, and public safety. Avoid the food fight for the general fund,” he said.
He would like to bring in the tools for conflict resolution to the legislature.
“Maybe training,” he said. “Bring freshman legislators together, get to know each other, make everyone better legislators. I would like to see that mechanism put in place and get legislators to work better together. Fights between majority and minority aren’t working for us as a society.
Pierpoint: “It would be tough, but I hear it from both sides of the aisle – I want to find a solution or proven plan for homelessness. I’m not saying in the first term I will cure it, but in two years I’d like to have a program in place. Numbers are shrinking, not growing. That has a ripple effect. Help them with the root cause of homeless. How did they get there? There’s a story. “
Breiler describes a variety of initiatives.
“I would like to pursue higher education, fund and restructure the state’s need grant, make college accessible and protect higher education,” she said.
She described how she would advocate for removing Deschutes dam and restoring the estuary, and would also like to help clean up toxic sites.
“If in two years, I can continue the legacy of John McCoy, that’s really important to me,” she said. “We need to work on native resources, lands and sustainable practices for seven generations. As the first person of color and first indigenous women elected to District 22, I can show it can be done and mobilize youth.”
And more: a housing mandate, require 20 percent low income housing, mitigate stormwater rules with lower density and absorption ponds and defund the police. She doesn’t want to take all resources away, just reallocate resources from police to social workers.
“We need to invest in public health, social services, and behavioral health and work collaboratively with police,” she said.
Bateman believes we are well-positioned to see progressive revenue happen.
“COVID-19 is an opportunity [for us] to address health care needs and the budget deficit, which can cut vital public services,” Bateman said. “Fixing revenue will fund social services. We need the revenue fix to address vital problems. More permanent affordable housing is needed to address lack of places for folks to go. We also need more behavioral health support such as medication assistance treatment.”
Biggerstaff would like to change the tax structure in the next session.
“It would help to fund all the programs that are needed,” Biggerstaff said. “That’s the first step, instead of drastic cuts. I’d like to help with writing a good tax bill with less reliance on sales and property taxes. This would support social services and education.”
What are a few of your favorite books, and why do you like those authors?
Novack: Joseph Campbell’s Myths to Live By. “It’s a scientific and analytical look at religions and mythologies, what are the similarities, what does it mean about what is meaningful and what you believe."
Pierpoint: Lincoln's Men: How President Lincoln Became Father to an Army and a Nation, by William C. Davis.
“I liked how it showed his compassionate side, even in a time of war,” Pierpoint said. “You think of men in wartime, seems really strict, but he understood why soldiers deserted, but also showed strong leadership.”
Breiler: Perma Red, by Debra Magpie Earling.
“It’s about the boarding school era,” Brieler said. “It really resonated with the character. The author grew up in the Flathead Reservation and the mom went to boarding school. It was an era when native people couldn’t vote. She pushed against her restrictions.”
Asserting Native Resilience: Pacific Rim Indigenous Nations Face the Climate Crisis, edited by Zoltan Grossman and Alan Parker.
“Billy Frank, Jr wrote the prologue,” Breiler said. “I’m inspired by his legacy. I met his son and went on to learn that when the salmon is sick there is an imbalance. Climate crisis is not an indigenous problem, but they are affected on the front lines. As a Tribal person and indigenous person, you see the impacts. It resonates.”
Red Medicine – Traditional Indigenous Rites of Birthing and Healing, by Patrisia Gonzales.
“She talks of burning, dreaming, traditional plants.”
Tulalip, From My Heart: An Autobiographical Account of a Reservation Community, by Harriette Shelton Dover.
Bateman: Strangers in Their Own Land, by Arlie Russell Hochschild.
“Russell, a U.C. Berkeley sociologist, went to Louisiana and learned about people with a different culture,” Bateman said. “We have to work together. We have more in common than we don’t and we see the humanity in each other. It challenged me to see other people’s perspective and values.”
No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach, by Anthony Bourdain. “It’s funny. I’m a foodie.”
Biggerstaff: War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy.
“I liked the character of Pierre Bezukhov,” Biggerstaff said. “He was kind of a scoundrel but had a good heart. He’s my favorite character because of what he expresses about humankind, for example, when he says ‘to know all is to forgive all’. He becomes a really full person.”
Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon.
“He’s a psychologist, writes about parents who are different from their children,” she said. “It helped me understand how to be a parent, in general how do you reconcile with people who are different and difficult.”
And a Wee Bit of Analysis
Well, you’ve read this far, dear reader. You now know a little bit more about the candidates. You might now be wondering what I think. I honestly haven’t chosen or endorsed anyone, but here are a few thoughts.
Novack seems like a smart guy with integrity, and impassioned about the environment. But given his fundraising and lack of endorsements, he is not running a strong campaign and will be a long shot to get through the primary.
Pierpoint was thoughtful and sounded like a decent person. As the sole GOP candidate, he may survive the primary to challenge a Democrat in the primary, but in an “ultra-blue” District like the 22nd (the last Republican elected in this District was in 1981), he will have a tough time reaching the finish line. However, this is politics, and we don’t know his opponent, so anything could happen.
Breiler is running a solid campaign with strong fundraising. She has the art of the political pitch down strong, and demonstrated her ability to “pivot” from the question I asked to her stump speeches. She is running from a progressive position, and her policies will be attractive to a liberal constituency. Also, her Tribal message may resonate with many voters, but some folks feel uncomfortable with what they see as “identity politics”. Her supporters are frustrated because they feel Biggerstaff will be splitting the progressive vote. But in a District like the 22nd, two Democrats may advance and Breiler is in a good position to reach the ballot in November.
Bateman seems well-positioned to do well in the primary. She has solid fundraising and a long list of endorsements. She also has mastered the political pitch and pivoting of questions. She espouses liberal policies although I would say she’s moderate compared to other candidates. She’s taken a lot of attacks from the left on her perceived support for developer-friendly policies. (I note that she used the term “affordable housing” several times, which is the term developers like, such as Olympia’s Affordable Housing Council.) On the other hand, that’s how politics works – deals and partnerships. Regardless, she has legitimate accomplishments, significant endorsements, and speaks to her positions with confidence and knowledge. I won’t be surprised to see her on the November ballot.
Biggerstaff is passionate about her issues, and as a self-avowed democratic socialist, the farthest to the left. She seems farther behind in the strength of her campaign, but her followers are passionate too. So I wouldn’t call her a front-runner, but she has a shot moving toward the general election.
And finally: democracy is not a spectator sport. Do your own research, look at the candidates’ qualifications and policies, and help us make good choices!
Paul Pickett is a member of JOLT's Board of Advisors and formerly an elected official for two different offices in Thurston County. Read his comparison of candidates running for the Thurston County Commission here.
A previous version of this story stated Anthony Novak was previously a "Bull Moose" party candidate in Kitsap County. It has been corrected to reflect that he ran for office in Kittitas County.
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