Veteran 36th District politico unopposed in Senate race - so far

Jeanne Kohl-Welles recently launched her campaign for a fourth term as a state senator from the 36th District, an area that includes Fremont and Phinney Ridge.

A staunch Democrat, Kohl-Welles began her political career as a state representative, and so far she has no opponents in the Senate race.

If history is any judge, she may not face one.

"I haven't had an opponent since 1994," Kohl-Welles said. "But I don't take things for granted."

Indeed, she noted that the filing deadline for candidates is the last week in July.

But Kohl-Welles still thinks it's important to be engaged in a campaign, even if she's not squaring off against an opponent.

"I'm a progressive Democrat," the incumbent said, "but I serve constituents no matter what party they're from."

Still, the 36th District is heavily Democratic, and contributors to her campaign include Ballard Oil Co. owner Warren Aakervick, historian Walt Crowley, Magnolia Community Club president Vic Barry, El Cen-tro de la Raza director Roberto Maestas, NARAL ProChoice Washington, political consultant Cathy Allen and TV broadcaster and motivational speaker Tony Ventrella.

Not enough for education

A non-tenured faculty member at the University of Washington, Kohl-Welles said she doesn't have much time for teaching anymore because the Legislature is becoming more and more of a full-time job.

"My passion is still education," she said. "School funding is just a huge issue...all over the state."

It's also a challenging issue because Washington state ranks low in America for education spending, according to Kohl-Welles.

A member of the Senate Early Learning, K-12 and Higher Education Committee, she said Washing-ton's revenue system is "way out of whack" because it's one of the few states that doesn't have an income tax.

Factor in Tim Eyman's successful tax-busting initiatives, and legislators' hands are tied even more, Kohl-Welles said. Between 45 and 50 percent of the state's operating budget goes to education, she explained, "And that's not enough."

Also draining state coffers are entitlements such as health care and Medicaid, which are increasing roughly 16 percent a year because of inflation.

"It's eating up our budget," Kohl-Welles said, frowning. "It's unreal."

She'd like to see that change, but the senator also wants to make protecting the safety and well-being of children and vulnerable adults a priority in the Legislature.

As co-chair of the Joint Task Force on Criminal Background Checks, Kohl-Welles said she has helped get more controls in place to protect children and adults from their caregivers: "It's just essential."

Voter registrations

Also a priority for the senator was dealing with challenges to voter registration that muddied the last election for governor.

"We cleaned up the voter-registration-challenge statute," Kohl-Welles said.

Something had to be done. "Peo-ple were getting their [registration-challenge] letter from King County the day before the election," she said.

The challenge to voter registrations caused some intense partisan wrangling between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, but passions have cooled since then, according to Kohl-Welles: "We, for the most part, get along really well."

Nonetheless, she hopes to see the slim Democratic majority in both the Senate and the House of Representative increase after the next election.

"Obviously, it's in our best interests if we have a majority in the Senate," said Kohl-Welles, who added that the state Democratic Party is optimistic that will happen.

Being in the majority is significant, she explained, because it will allow Democrats to set budget pri-orities. It will help that revenue forecasts for the state are looking up, Kohl-Welles said: "We [once] thought we were going to have a revenue shortfall."

Battling the reputation

Democrats will still have to battle their reputation as big spenders, but more money is needed to pay for the same services as before because of inflation and a growing population, Kohl-Welles said.

"This just gives us, perhaps, a little breather," she said of the projected budget surplus.

Also a priority for Kohl-Welles last session and the one to come is protecting victims of identity theft. As the law stands now, people can only freeze their credit if they have become victims of ID theft, she noted. "But for people who [only] suspect they're a victim, they can't do anything."

Kohl-Welles said she has introduced legislation that would make sure they could.

Staff writer-at-large Russ Zabel can be reached at 461-1309 or rzabel@

[[In-content Ad]]