By Bruce A. Smith
Gina Blanchard-Reed, a long-time resident of Graham and currently a Commissioner of the Graham Fire and Rescue Department, is running for the State Senate seat being vacated by Senator Randi Becker (R), who is retiring.
Besides being one of five Graham Commissioners, Blanchard-Reed is also the Executive Director of “Turning Pointe,” a Shelton-based agency that assists women coping with domestic violence and sexual assault by providing them with shelter, counseling and job training.
As a fire commissioner, Blanchard-Reed participated in the thorny issue of relieving former Fire Chief Ryan Baskett of his duties in 2017 due to administrative misdealing, and with the hiring of current chief, Pat Dale.
As a seasoned executive, Blanchard-Reed knows that the current economic climate rendered by the Covid pandemic will bring unprecedented challenges to Washington State government. State and local tax revenues are currently down 20%, Blanchard-Reed says, and press releases from Governor Jay Inslee’s office peg the budget deficit to be $7 billion over the next two fiscal years.
“It’s going to hurt,” Blanchard-Reed says of the coming months, with its budget cuts to all levels of local and state government. Already this month, the City of Tacoma has laid off 250 employees due to tax revenue short-falls.
Specifically, Blanchard-Reed proposes a deferment of property taxes since so many people are unemployed due to Covid. She foresees that the state government must freeze all new projects, along with all new hires. But she hopes lay-offs can be avoided.
“Perhaps employees can cut their hours,” she said, and suggested that employee unions can re-structure benefit packages. “Negotiations are a must” she declared.
“But the social safety nets must be maintained,” says Blanchard-Reed. “However, we’re all going to have to give up something, so we need to prioritize. Most importantly, we need to give people notice of what changes will be occurring and when.”
As for priorities, Blanchard-Reed stated that maintaining public safety is her Number One goal.
Nevertheless, she sees major changes coming to local governments in terms of policies, programs and decision-making.
“I want to see ‘influencers,’ such as business leaders and politicians come forward. We’ll need individuals who can think outside the box. Those who are innovative, creative, and nimble.”
Blanchard-Reed sees businesses re-designing their operations to deliver new services and goods in ways that are original and effective. “Shiplap Coffee in Yelm is one example. They have partnered with a bakery in Yelm to sell cupcakes and snacks, and currently they are selling more pastries than ever.”
Ms. Blanchard-Reed offers up her own unique fundraiser, “The Red, Wine, and Blue Grass Festival,” as an example of an effective, bi-partisan community event that is financially successful.
“But there will be cut-backs,” Blanchard-Reed stated. “The future will require thoughtful analysis, with significant contingency planning as budgets contract.”
When asked what she envisions our future to be, Blanchard-Reed replied: “We won’t go back to the way it was.”
She cited the profound mistrust of government and health officials, both locally and nationwide, as one of the dynamics that the future must accommodate and understand.
Along those lines, Blanchard-Reed stated that leaders must be clear about their proposals to the public. She cited Governor Inslee’s current “Phase 1, 2, and 3 Stay-at-Home” orders as being too complicated, and impossible to understand or follow. Further, she feels Inslee’s orders are too authoritarian, and lack sufficient input from the people they will directly affect.
“I’d like to see more involvement from the actual people impacted, such as the state employees, in the decisions about when they can return to work and how to stay safe,” she said. “Plus, the restrictions need to make sense, like going fishing or using state lands. They need to be nuanced.”
As for staying safe as she attempts a political campaign, Blanchard-Redd said that she works on her election bid for two days per week, usually in very small groups that maintain strict social-distancing.
“Last week, I worked one afternoon with a group from the Graham Business Association to deliver supplies to food banks, and everyone stayed six-feet apart and worked out of the back of their cars or trunks.”
On a personal level, Blanchard-Reed is maintaining similar protocols. At Turning Pointe, she works singularly in her office, and if she meets with small groups, she wears an N95 mask.
“We’re still following Inslee’s dictates,” she said with a smile.
Similarly, Blanchard-Reed says that her domestic partner and she do not socialize in their Graham home. “We go to the grocery store once a week, but that’s it,” she says. “No one comes into the house.”
In addition, her two children are grown, with a son living in California and maintaining a strict quarantine. Her daughter is more local, but still following Covid safety protocols.
Blanchard-Reed agrees that one looming difficulty for the area and the nation is sufficient food. Too many people don’t have enough money to buy foodstuffs. Also troubling is the fact that the country’s supply chain is imperiled, such as the recent closures of chicken processing plants at Tyson Foods, or the Covid outbreak at the Smithfield pork plant in South Dakota.
“Who ever thought they’d walk into a Fred Meyer – like I did last week – and not see a single package of chicken anywhere in the cold case? It was unthinkable. Now it isn’t.”
In response, Blanchard-Reed says that residents must become more self-reliant, and she advocates growing food in gardens and stockpiling foodstuffs when available.
“I took Y2K seriously,” she said, “so we have a lot of rice and beans stored up – and water.”
She encourages everyone to become more self-awareness of what is going on and what they can do to prepare.
“But the government needs to set the standard. It needs to tell the truth, tell us the facts, so we know what we need to do to stay safe.”
Blanchard-Reed, a Republican, is opposed by four other Republican candidates, most notably Jim McCune, who is the current Pierce County Councilmember from District 3, but is being termed-out from that position. Another candidate for the Senate seat is Rhona Lichtenberger, a member of the Eatonville School Board. The other two Republican candidates are Mathew Smith and Josh Penner. The GOP nominee will be opposed by perennial candidate, Democrat Rick Payne.
The Washington State primary that will narrow this field will be held August 4, 2020, and will be conducted by mail. The Top Two contestants will proceed to the General Election in November.
Ms. Blanchard-Reed offered the following statement on “Why I am Running:”
“Olympia needs leaders who have demonstrated the ability to listen to those from across the aisle, with differing views and come together for the greater good of our community. There are times to listen, times to ask questions, times to compromise and times to persuade. I am that kind of leader, and I recognize we have challenging times ahead. I would like to be “in the room where it happens” and be a part -setting policies that will move our State forward and prepare for hard times.”
For more information: www.ginablanchardreed.com
Gina Blanchard-Reed arrives at Graham’s Starbucks for an interview with the Mountain News to discuss her candidacy for WA State Senate from the 2nd LD.
As Starbucks had no chairs on their patio, Gina Blanchard-Reed and yours truly maintained social distancing in the Starbucks’ parking lot as we discussed her run for State office .