In the first article of the Coffee with the Candidates series, the BNT talked with Port Commission President Gael Tarleton on the race for the open 36th District House seat.
Coffee with the Candidates: Gael Tarleton promises to deliver
In March, Port of Seattle Commission President Gael Tarleton announced that she is seeking the 36th district house seat to be vacated by State Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson, D-Seattle.
The Ballard News-Tribune met with the Ballardite over a cup of coffee to talk about the race and the crowded pool of candidates.
The other candidates include politician's son Brett Phillips, legislative aides Evan Clifthorne and Sahar Fathi, Progressive Majority state director Noel Frame, and longtime political activist Linde Knighton.
"It's going to be a heck of a race and there's nothing I like better than competition," Tarleton said. "My view about winning comes from baseball. Winning by 55 percent is the playoffs. Winning 60 percent is the World Series. But really, all I need is 50 percent plus one."
A Ballardite of 18 years, Tarleton is a lifelong Democrat with experience as a two-term Port Commissioner, a strategic advisor for the Institute for National Security Education and Research at the University of Washington, and a senior defense intelligence analyst at the Pentagon for a decade.
Tarleton also reported to Al Gore’s commission on global climate change and she developed plans for oil spill response and clean up for the U.S. Coast Guard. In 1996 she became the first U.S. businesswoman ever to address a joint session of the Russian parliament.
Tarleton will be running on three key issues: job creation, higher education and the environment.
"Because I have lived 18 years in this district I know we don't have the luxury to work on just one particular issue," Tarleton said. "We need to focus on public education, public health care, and the environment. We must fund education; health care is on life support and ready to die; and we need a storm water infrastructure to stop polluting Puget Sound as well as create a better quality of life beyond fossil fuels."
Of all the candidates in the race for 36th District House seat, Tarleton has lived in the district the longest.
"For 18 years I have lived and voted with the people of the 36th district. That's what we need in Olympia - someone who has lived and voted with the people of the 36th district and knows what they want," she said.
Tarleton visited Seattle for the first time on vacation in 1988. She is a hiker and her husband is a fanatical fly fisherman, and the Pacific Northwest offered the perfect location for their outdoor hobbies. Two years later they decided to move to Seattle.
"We drove through every neighborhood in Seattle and stopped to have lunch at Chinook's at the Fishermen's Terminal. We'd been looking everywhere but then there in the local paper was a house rental ad for a house just three blocks from the locks, and we took it," Tarleton recalled.
Tarleton said Ballard was much different than it is today.
"1990 to '93 was a steep recession. Ballard Avenue at the time was a place no one wanted to walk," she said. "I like to remind people coming out of this recession that we go through these cycles of recession and recovery, recession and recovery."
But Tarleton noted that this recession is different than anything she has experienced before.
"In the past, people would go back to where they were before - same jobs, same habits. All those recessions came with a recovery of consumer cycle. We just went back to shopping again," she said. "The reason why this recession feels uncertain is because we don't know what's next and where the next job is coming from. Climate change plays a big factor this time."
Tarleton stated that at the Port, she has been instrumental in creating jobs, pumping money into public works, and focusing on environmentally sustainable practices.
"I think we can slow the rate of climate change. I think that by 2030-35 we can have a modern economy in which 60 percent of energy comes from renewable sources. We've got to get to 80 percent but we cannot get from 40 percent to 80 percent in 20 years."
There are many issues facing the district and state as a whole but Tarleton doesn't shy away from a challenge.
"I have fought my whole life for my jobs. I know the notion of competition and hard work. I'm good at looking at problems and finding money," she said.
"People in Olympia, people in the city need people like me. They have voted for me and watched my work for four years. I promise to deliver."
Tarleton, in conjunction with her colleagues at the Port, has helped create 7,000 jobs since the start of the recession, helped locate funding for the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program, designed a port-financing plan for the South Park Bridge replacement, and located funding for public works and green initiatives.
"I specialize in funding," she said. "I have been watching public money because that's my money. That money is following the priorities we have set because the people elected me to do it. I have yet to hear the other candidates talk about money."
Tarleton learned about money management from an early age.
"As one of seven kids we all worked by the time we were 13 to pay for our hobbies and the things we wanted," Tarleton said. "I paid my way through college and my mother said, 'if you're doing work you love with people you respect, it will be a good life'. Obviously I love this. I love the fight, love the challenge, love to be able to make a difference for the place I live in and for the people I live with."
With two successful campaigns in King County under her belt, Tarleton said what she's looking forward to most is doorbelling.
"The difference in this race is that the other campaigns were KingCo-wide, you can't doorbell. But I can doorbell in the district. The best part of the campaign is that you get to meet the people," she said.
Tarleton said she won't be too let down if she loses as she'll have three more years at the Port.
"And there's a lot of work to do!" she said. "If nothing else for eight months I get to talk about what's at stake."