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First-time candidates face off for state House seat

October 12, 2018
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Debra Lekanoff (left) is facing Michael Petrish for a state House seat representing the 40th Legislative District.

Two first-time candidates, Democrat Debra Lekanoff and Republican Michael Petrish, are vying for the state House seat in Legislative District 40 held by Rep. Kristine Lytton, D-Anacortes.

Lytton is not seeking re-election.

Legislative District 40 includes northwest Skagit County, southwest Whatcom County and all of San Juan County.

Lekanoff has worked in tribal government for 20 years and now serves as the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community’s director of governmental affairs.

She said her career path has taught her the value of coalition-building, a skill that would help her represent the district’s interests.

Petrish, a carpenter and union representative, said the Democratic Party has abandoned laborers in favor of environmental groups and tribes.

“My special interest is the people who live, work and pay taxes in the 40th district,” he said.

He referred to the Whatcom County Council’s decision to not permit a coal terminal at Cherry Point, a facility he said was a “must have” for the workers he represents.

“This is the kind of lack of vision and disregard for industry that the Democratic Party offers,” he said.

If elected, Petrish said he would aim to create a more business-friendly environment in the state by reducing taxes on businesses’ earnings.

“You can’t penalize people for being successful,” he said.

Petrish said he would also work to find a solution to the water legislation that excluded Skagit County, called the Hirst Fix, so rural residents can use wells on their property.

He said the Swinomish’s influence on Olympia is to blame for the county’s exclusion in the legislation.

“Her employer was the one that developed this whole nonsense with the Hirst decision,” he said, adding that Lekanoff won’t be motivated to solve the problem.

Lekanoff disagreed, saying her experience working on behalf of the tribe and in government gives her insight into the different perspectives on water.

“There’s no one else running for office who understands all the positions at the table,” she said.

Lekanoff highlighted her experience working locally to help address the opioid epidemic, an issue she’s passionate about addressing in the Legislature.

In her position with the tribe, she worked on building the didgwálič Wellness Center, an addiction treatment center that also provides primary care, mental health counseling, transportation and child care.

Currently, 70 percent of digwalic’s patients are nontribal, and she said she and the tribe are working to find ways to serve more people.

“Opioids recognize no gender, no color, no voices and no border,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re on the reservation, in the county, or anywhere.”

She said she would want to see if this model of care can apply elsewhere in the state.

As an Alaska Native of Tlingit and Aleut descent, Lekanoff said she’s proud to be one of 60 Native American women candidates nationwide.

If elected, she would be the first Native American woman to serve in the state House and the second overall to serve in the Legislature.

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