Erin Frasier, a Lewis County native, has become the first Democrat to announce a bid to unseat 19th District Rep. Jim Walsh (R-Aberdeen) next year.
Frasier, who works in education and workforce development, is originally from Pe Ell, where she was born and raised on a family dairy that eventually turned into a cattle ranch. She still lives in her hometown with her husband and two children.
This is Frasier’s first campaign for public office. The sprawling 19th District includes Kelso and the rest of Cowlitz County west of the Cowlitz River, all of Wahkiakum and Pacific counties and parts of Lewis and Grays Harbor counties.
Frasier says her deep local roots and experience partnering with business and industry would make her an ideal representative for the region in the state’s House of Representatives.
“I feel like I have a foundational connection to the values of this district,” she told The Daily News.
The 39-year-old spent 10 years working at Grays Harbor College after earning a doctorate in education and organizational leadership from Brandman University in California. She also holds a master’s degree in international relations from Portland State University.
Frasier has worked for the State Board for Washington Community and Technical colleges for the past two years, where she oversees workforce training programs. Some of that work involves federal and state policy aimed at improving education opportunities for low-income populations, she said.
“I want to primarily focus on ensuring that we help people reach their full potential as the foundations of economic development,” she said.
As a state lawmaker, Frasier said she would focus on improving all aspects of education. She said she supports efforts to adequately fund K-12 education, but she also wants to address early childhood education and postsecondary education. Frasier said she would also work to provide alternative career pathways to students who don’t want to pursue a four-year university degree.
“We need that entire pipeline, not just a piece of it, to be successful,” she said.
Frasier said one of the things that sets her apart from her opponent — aside from being born and raised in the district — is her focus on people.
“We have a huge skills gap in our state, and we are not going to solve that by another tax break,” she said.
However, Frasier said she’s also sensitive to what many in Southwest Washington view as a tedious and opaque permitting process.
The state Department of Ecology recently denied key permits for Millennium Bulk Terminals’ $680 million coal terminal in Longview, and the Shorelines Hearings board withdrew a shorelines permit for Northwest Innovation Works’ $1.8 billion Kalama methanol plant.
“When we talk about permitting processes, they’re a little out of control and we shouldn’t have to wait so long for responses,” she said.
Frasier has already won nearly two dozen endorsements from groups and individuals, including the 19th Legislative District’s Sen. Dean Takko (D-Longview) and Rep. Brian Blake (D-Aberdeen).
Meanwhile, Walsh said in an interview that he’s not surprised he’s already drawn a challenger and expects one or two more candidates to join the race. This will be his first re-election campaign after narrowly beating Democratic challenger Teresa Purcell by 559 votes last November. He was the first Republican elected from the 19th District in decades.
Walsh said he’ll also be focused on jobs and education during the campaign.
With another legislative session approaching, Walsh said he’s also intent on finding a way to ensure Ecology leaves politics out of its permitting decisions — either by directly engaging with the agency or using the legislative process to reform it.
“It’s important that they focus within the four corners of the permitting process, and that they’re not snatching issues out of the ether that have nothing to do with the law,” he said.
Walsh said he’s not worried about a political climate that could be particularly unfriendly to Republicans in next year’s midterms.
“The 19th District is its own creature, and I don’t think the conventional wisdom of other places applies,” he said. “We kind of do our own thing.”