By Bruce A. Smith
Yanah G. Cook, a Democrat who resides in McKenna, is seeking the seat at the Pierce County Council for District 3, the region that encompasses all of South Pierce County.
This chair is being vacated by Jim McCune, who is termed-limited and now running for Washington State Senate in the 2nd Legislative District. Cook is challenged by GOP candidate Amy Crouver, who was McCune’s long-time executive assistant.
Although District 3 includes the Cities of Eatonville and Roy, and parts of the City of Orting, much of the district is comprised of rural, “non-incorporated” areas of Pierce County, such as Graham, Frederickson, and McKenna, along with Elbe and Ashford. As such, the councilmember who holds this office is the only elected official representing these residents at a local level. In effect, Ms. Cook is running to be the “mayor” of these areas.
I spoke with Ms. Cook this week in Eatonville – at a six-foot distance – on the front porch of her campaign’s treasurer, Bob Akervick. Our conversation clearly underscored how the Covid pandemic is altering her campaign and political aspirations. Originally, Cook had envisioned working to maintain the rural qualities of South County while building infrastructure and health care opportunities, such as establishing a hospital in the Graham-Frederickson area.
Now however, our world has changed. As our economy staggers with record unemployment, and governmental debt soars to aids those with Covid, the top question facing the Pierce County Council – and all governments across the globe – is how big a hole will Covid punch in governmental budgets? How severely must government contract in size and scope of services?
“I think we’ll be okay,” Cook answered when I asked her how Pierce County will cope in the year ahead. “The State will help us from the “Rainy Day Fund,” plus the federal government will continue to aid us. However, we will certainly have to do a lot of belt-tightening.”
Along those lines, the State distributed $158 million of federal monies to Pierce County this week to continue its Covid response and to maintain essential governmental services.
But what kind of belt-tightening can be achieved when one-third of the work force is unemployed, food banks are overwhelmed, and an estimated one-fifth of children in America are going hungry, according to the New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/06/us/coronavirus-live-updates.html?action=click&module=Spotlight&pgtype=Homepage
More troubling, the heralded Rainy Day Fund has already parlayed $200 million to heath care institutions to support Covid recovery, leaving a bit less than $1 billion for the entire state. In fact, the Olympian this week reported that the State is forecasting an accumulated $7 billion deficit through mid-2023, which might translate into an estimated $2-3 billion budgetary drop-off this year.
As a result, the Rainy Day Fund will dry-up in a matter of months.
In response, Cook praises County Executive Bruce Dammeier’s recent formation of a budgetary planning group to plot the county’s financial future.
Further, Cook promises to return 30% of her councilmember salary to support Covid programs. Currently, Pierce County Councilmembers receive $111,000, annually.
“I’m willing to take a pay cut so that others can keep their jobs,” Cook declared.
But Cook sees a bright spot in the dark cloud of Covid, suggesting that this might be the time for the State to reconfigure its tax structure, and reshape state and local governments. Currently, Washington is a patchwork quilt of taxing districts and separate administrations, such as the Pierce County Library System, the Fire and Rescue Districts, Sewage, and Parks and Recreation. Even our school districts, which are mostly funded by the state, still have to institute local Levies and Bond Issues to pay for maintenance or to construct new schools. Perhaps the Post-Covid era will be a time of consolidation and streamlining these agencies.
As part of that effort, Cook sees a robust collaboration between the state and county, along with the tribes, churches, and community organizations to address the needs of Pierce County, especially in food production, transportation, and employment.
“Covid has shown us how vulnerable we are to large-scale food production,” Cook said. She added that she wants to “spearhead” local and small-scale farming throughout the county, and will act to reduce restrictive regulations on ranchers, particularly those who want to raise and sell beef locally. Currently, the state regulations on butchering favor large-scale corporate interests.
Supporting her views, Cook also said that she is converting her eight acres into a mini-farm that will raise organic produce, herbs, and spices. In addition, she participates in local farming collectives, and says, “I will be a champion for small farms and ranchers.”
Cook, who not only is developing a farm, but also runs a counseling practice in Olympia, understands the need for a reduction of state taxes on the small businesses of our area. She has been a voice for those actions as the Vice Chair of the Small Business Caucus in Pierce County.
As for transportation and infrastructure, Cook sees it as a vital component to county life: “Transportation is an essential part of civilization,” she said, adding, “we all have to get to work.” Cook sees Covid producing an increased need for public transportation despite the pressures on state government to reduce the funding for buses via a fee reduction on car tabs, which voters approved in 2019 but is currently being challenged in the courts.
In response, Cook calls for increased ride-sharing from religious organizations and agencies such as Around the Sound, Beyond the Borders, and Paratransit.
“The silver lining of Covid may be that we learn new ways of caring for each other,” Cook said.
To that end – particularly since Covid is preventing any typical campaign gatherings – Cook has instituted a program of phone-calling constituents in a series of “Welfare Checks.”
“I don’t ask them for money, or give them a spiel about my campaign. I simply ask them how they are doing. If they are in need, I give them a list of resources that might help.”
Cook claims that most people say they are “Okay,” but do thank her for caring about them. From that experience Cook says: “Covid has broken open our separateness. We’re re-connecting with others, as neighbors. We’re re-weaving the fabric of our society.”
Following on those actions, Cook is also involved in current efforts to assist the homeless of Pierce County. She recently joined up with “Love Abounds Here,” a local program organized by the Seventh-Day Adventists that distributes food, tarps, blankets and personal supplies in homeless encampments.
“The homeless are economic and social refugees in America,” Cook says, and notes that many of the homeless are vets, abused women and abused children, or the working poor living in their cars.
Understanding that Covid will likely increase the number of homeless in our area, Cook realizes that many people will need employment assistance, especially re-training in technical services and the Internet.
“Covid is re-shaping our economy, and training is the ultimate gift we can give to people looking to take care of their families, to those who area looking to go in a new direction.”
To that end, Cook wants to facilitate the increased use of facilities such as Bethel School District’s Training Center in Frederickson.
Cook also sees economic opportunities in the effort to address global climate change. “The new technology will be Green Technology,” she says.
Similarly, Cook wants to address chronic air pollution issues in Pierce County, particularly in the Tacoma-Spanaway areas that are currently under Federal restrictions on business development due to dirty air, especially in particulate matter from smoke and diesel emissions. Also, she would like to see an end to the current practice at JBLM to clear excess brush by controlled burns in the summer that add to smoke-filled skies.
Closer to home, Cook wants the Graham landfill to be more closely monitored for health and environmental issues, such as ground-water contamination. Further, she would like to see new economic policies enacted that encourage customers to reuse plastic containers.
“Why not go back to the days when we re-filled our milk containers? Convenience comes at a price,” she states, alarmed at how much plastic junk floats in our waterways or lays on the side of our roads.
As part of the return-to-work in the post-Covid era, Cook sees increased opportunities in home and business construction. However, she is mindful that the pressures of developers often thwart the best interests of the community.
“We need to follow the LUACs (Land Use Advisory Committees) of the communities, such as in Graham, where I work with Bud Rehberg and Jim Halmo…Yes, we need affordable housing, but not at the expense of sidewalks, or the dangerous spacing of homes too-close together so the developers can satisfy their bottom line…. And the County must go back to the LUACs after they have reviewed the developers’ plans.”
For more information on Yanah Cook’s candidacy, see;
For those who would like to know more about local efforts to address homelessness, here is an essay Yanah Cook has written explaining the Love Abounds Here program:
LOVE ABOUNDS HERE is a non-profit charity serving local homeless people. The organization provides food, clothing, camping equipment and even housing for our Yelm and local area homeless. The organization was founded in 2019 by four local women — Yanah G Cook, Suzan Lefurgey, Malinda Poirier and Debra Larson. The members collect donations (cash and items needed) and distribute them to meet the needs of the local homeless community. Love Abounds Here also advocates for the homeless with various government groups and non-profits. The group also carried out the Point In Time Survey that the County does every year in January including 40 homeless people. This was done at the Emmanuel Lutheran church luncheon that fed and informed the local homeless folks. We had representatives from the Dept of Social and Health Services, Veterans, Sea Mar Health and others who helped our people solve their problems. They left with gifts that included food, blankets, first aid kits, and warm clothing. Recently the group was given a used RV and was able to provide a permanent home for one local homeless woman. The founders of the group are always meeting with homeless people where they are and providing necessary essentials from the back of their cars. For more information see the group’s Facebook page www.facebook.com/Love-Abounds-Here
Yanah G. Cook and Bob Akervick talking politics and Covid with yours truly.
Yanah Cook, doorbelling in the Pre-Covid era. Photo courtesy of Yanah G. Cook.
Yanah Cook, again in the Pre-Covid era. Photo courtesy of Yanah G. Cook.