Native American members of the Washington State Legislature will influence policy and write laws in 2017 related to economic development, energy, health care, natural resources, trade, and transportation. Below is a look at who the Native legislators are and what they will be doing.
State Rep. Jeff Morris, Tsimshian, is chairman of the Technology & Economic Development Committee and serves on the Capital Budget Committee and the Transportation Committee. He is a Democrat and has served in the state House of Representatives since 1997, representing parts of Skagit County. In the last session, he sponsored 26 bills, several of them related to energy efficiency, and was a secondary sponsor of 76 bills and resolutions.
State Rep. Jay Rodne, Bad River Band of Chippewa, is ranking member of the Judiciary Committee and serves on the Health Care and Wellness Committee and the Transportation Committee. He is a Republican and has served in the state House since 2004, representing the Snoqualmie area of King County. In the last session, he sponsored 13 bills and was a secondary sponsor of 134 bills and resolutions.
State Sen. John McCoy, Tulalip Tribes, is chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus and serves on the Ag, Water, Trade & Economic Development Committee; the Natural Resources & Parks Committee; and the Rules Committee. He is a Democrat and has served in the Senate since 2013 representing Tulalip and Marysville; prior, he served 10 years in the state House. In the last session, he sponsored 21 bills and was a secondary sponsor of 160 bills and resolutions. McCoy is also chairman for 2016-18 of the National Caucus of Native American State Legislators’ Executive Committee.
State Sen. Dino Rossi, Tlingit, returned to the Senate on December 5, appointed by the King County Council to the late Sen. Andy Hill’s position. Rossi will represent the Redmond area of King County until the November 2017 election, when voters will elect someone to serve the remainder of the term.
Rossi served in the Senate from 1997 to 2003, serving as budget leader, and again in 2012. He ran for governor in 2004, losing by 133 votes after a manual recount in the closest race for governor in U.S. history. He ran again for governor in 2008 and for U.S. Senate in 2010.
This is Rossi’s second appointment to the state Senate. He was appointed in 2012 by the King County Council to complete four months of Cheryl Pflug’s term; she had resigned to accept the governor’s appointment to the state Growth Management Hearings Board.
On his Senate website, Rossi said he looks forward to being part of the bipartisan Senate Majority Coalition Caucus.
“The [caucus] has done terrific things for our state these past four years – especially for students, for families and for our economy,” Rossi wrote. “I am honored to become a member, although I certainly wish it was under other circumstances.”
Elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest:
In Oregon, State Rep. Tawna Sanchez, D-Portland, is vice chairwoman of the Human Service and Housing Committee, and serves on the Judiciary Committee, and the Ways and Means Public Safety Subcommittee. Sanchez, Shoshone-Bannock/Ute/Carrizo, is director of family services for the Native American Youth and Family Center. She was elected in November to the House, representing north and northeast Portland.
In Idaho, State Rep. Paulette Jordan, a Democrat representing Latah and Benewah counties, serves on the Environment, Energy and Technology Committee; the Resources and Conservation Committee; and the State Affairs Committee. Jordan, Coeur d’ Alene, was elected to a second term in November.
All told, the National Caucus of Native American State Legislators has 71 members from 19 states, although the number of Native Americans serving in state legislatures could be higher. According to its website, the National Caucus provides a forum for discussion among Native American legislators; works to increase awareness of diverse Native American cultures; supports state-tribal communications to encourage open dialogue, understanding and cooperation; and provides research, training, and educational services to Native American, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian state legislators.
Serving on the executive committee with McCoy are state Sen. Anastasia Pittman, Seminole, of Oklahoma; state Rep. Carolyn Pease-Lopez, Crow, of Montana; state Rep. Kevin Killer, Oglala Sioux, of South Dakota; and state Sen. Benny Shendo, Jemez Pueblo, of New Mexico.