Voices almost 170 miles from the state capital can still be heard.
The new member of the Washington state House of Representatives for District 40 visited San Juan Island on Dec. 20 to learn how she can speak for islanders in Olympia.
Representative-elect Debra Lekanoff, D-Bow, met with both the Friday Harbor Town Council and the San Juan County Council. As a native of a rural community in southeast Alaska, Lekanoff said the islands felt like familiar territory.
“I am very much feeling as if, when I come out to the islands, that you’re part of my home … where I come from, up in Alaska,” said Lekanoff to the town council.
Town Administrator Duncan Wilson said he and Mayor Farhad Ghatan invited Lekanoff to the island.
“The purpose for the invitation was the upcoming legislative session,” said Wilson. “We wanted to have an opportunity to introduce ourselves before the crush of Olympia work.”
The state legislative session starts Jan. 14.
Before meeting with the town council, Wilson said he and Ghatan presented Lekanoff with local issues. The immediate needs included creating more affordable housing, as well as balancing the protection of the environment with local tourism jobs centered around nature, like whale watching. In the long run, Wilson said town staff would like a second, fully functional ferry slip on San Juan, a newer ferries fleet and funding opportunities for local solutions to mental health, alcohol and drug treatment, as well as homelessness.
Lekanoff, who is part Tlingit and Aleut, told the town council that she has worked in government service for 20 years, six of which involved economic development in rural areas. She vowed to return to the islands often and congratulated the town staff on their infrastructure work.
“What was shown to me [by] Duncan was how much money you put back into this community, [for] the safety of your children, … how you create sustainability here and how you work together,” she said.
After meeting with town officials, Lekanoff reached out to the county council to learn about the San Juan Islands’ needs as a whole.
“We try to forge a good working relationship with all of our legislators,” said County Councilman Jamie Stephens. “[Lekanoff] is approachable and will sit on committees that advance legislation important to San Juan County.”
Stephens said councilmen shared their state legislative priorities for 2019 with Lekanoff, which were adopted in November and include securing funding to replace aging ferries; obtaining a local emergency rescue vessel for oil spill prevention; ensuring equitable funding distribution for housing in rural areas; and mitigating jet noise from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island that is heard in San Juan County.
Lekanoff won her seat in last November’s election by beating Republican Michael Petrish of Anacortes. She will replace Rep. Kristine Lytton, D-Anacortes, who retired at the end of this year. District 40 includes all of San Juan County and part of Skagit and Whatcom counties.