Photo by Jerry Gay
With a lifetime of career experience under her belt, Rep. Gael Tarleton of Ballard hopes to make things happen in the Washington State Legislature.

Ballard’s newest representative: Gael Tarleton

Incoming Freshman Rep. Gael Tarleton’s first official week in the 2013 legislative session was intense, but nothing new. After all, she’s had plenty of experience working and collaborating with people.

Take, for instance, that time she was a senior defense intelligence analyst for ten years.

Or when she was in Russia in the 90’s, developing plans between U.S. and Russian engineers, among other things, after the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union fell apart. It was during that time that she happened to be the first U.S. businesswoman to address a joint session of the Russian Parliament.

Or there was that time she worked at the University of Washington as a strategic advisor for the Institute for National Security Education and Research, consulting faculty members on how to transform their research into ideas that can help people.

And, oh yeah, Tarleton also reported to Al Gore’s commission on global climate change, developing plans for oil spill response and clean up for the U.S. Coast Guard

And, of course, there was that time when she was the Port of Seattle Commission President for two terms. A position she gave up to serve the 36th District as the representative taking the place of long-time and well loved Rep. Mary-Lou Dickerson. Dickerson had solely endorsed Tarleton to take her place.

Now as a member of the Washington State House of Representatives, Tarleton sits on the Rules, Higher Education, Technology and Economic Development and Transportation Committees.

Even with all that work experience under her belt, Tarleton spent much of her first week getting used to a new system and meeting the committee chairs and participating in all the usual first-week fanfare. She expressed how humbled she was by intensity of it all, leaving her home at 7 a.m. and getting back at 10 p.m. Tarleton said she had to remember to do the basics: eat, sleep and exercise. She was rueful that she didn’t have time for it all.

Ideas? She’s got a few.

One of her ideas would draw from her positions both on the higher education and economic development committee: a tuition freeze fund for Washington residents going to school which businesses would fund. The idea is that students in need can access the fund to keep their tuition price the same for all of their education -- whether it be a technical or vocational college or a university -- so it doesn’t sky rocket beyond their price range.

Meanwhile, businesses would gain incentive to buy into it for two reasons: one, it would help supply more workers for them and keep them from having to import workers from other states; and two, Tarleton wants to supply a tax credit to businesses who pitch into the fund and successfully hire graduates that they helped.

That’s the rough draft of the plan, anyway. Tarleton said that they would need to analyze it more and find the right balance between how much to give businesses in tax credits and how much money the extra jobs in the economy would create.

“Why do I want to connect the two? The employers know they’re having trouble hiring people into their trade. Students are being denied an opportunity to get into the higher education system because of price,” she said. “If we do not get them into that system, how in the world are we going to hire them?”

Tarleton also wants to focus on the environment. She said that this summer she is going to tour around Washington with Sightline and Climate Solutions to identify what sources of energy different work sectors need, and how to draw alternative energy creators and distributors to the state -- with the end goal of moving beyond fossil fuels.

There’s also the storm water problem. Tarleton said she wants to find and identify ways to stop the problem at its source, from keeping pollution away from the Puget Sound.

The waterfront is another big issue that Tarleton is excited about. Maybe it’s all the time she spent at the Port of Seattle, but with the viaduct going away, she sees nothing but opportunity for a more accessible and revitalized waterfront. The 36th District encompasses the water edge from Pier 62 all the way up to Golden Gardens.

“We have in our community, and among all of you, the chance to really influence the way we use our place,” Tarleton said, addressing the Ballard District Council and Ballard residents.

There’s more that Tarleton wants to work on, like the massive 10-year transportation package, maintaining financial aid assistance for college students and don’t forget figuring out some way to balance the state budget.

But more than anything, maybe, Tarleton still wants to learn how to be an effective legislator. It’s one of the reasons she’s excited to be on the Rules committee, where committee members choose which bills go to the floor for a vote. It’s there that she will see the inner workings of the legislature -- the process of a bill transforming from just another idea and into something more tangible, real and effective.

Tarleton compares her first year on the job to entering college for the first time. Like there are so many majors in school to choose from and exciting things to learn, so there is in the legislature a vast array of bills and issues to focus on.

“It’s all relevant, it’s all important … there’s an unlimited amount of interesting things and challenging things to work on, and there’s a huge need,” she said. “And I just love it. I just love it.”

When asked how long she wanted to stay in the Legislature, Tarleton said it wasn’t up to her.

“For as long as the people will let me stay,” she said.

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