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Kilmer: fix economy, everything else will fall into place
Like the majority of his Democratic counterparts, Derek Kilmer isn’t going out of his way to advertise his party affiliation during this particular election cycle.
Unlike all but a handful, however, his status as a maverick isn’t a recent development.
“I think I’ve always been stubbornly independent,” the incumbent 26th District state senator said. “I vote for what I think is best for my constituents, not what the party tells me to do. I’ve angered my party leadership on numerous occasions, but that comes with the territory.”
One such vote was against last year’s state budget. Another was his opposition to repealing Initiative 960, which required a two-thirds legislative majority to raise taxes.
“I voted against that because the the people had expressed their will by passing the initiative,” Kilmer said. “I don’t see how legislators can say the voters knew exactly what they were doing when they voted them into office but were confused when it came time to vote for an initiative.
“When the voters approved 960, it became the law of the land,” he said, “and my job is to uphold the laws, not disregard them.”
As for the budget, Kilmer says his Democratic colleagues fail to grasp some basic economic realities.
“At a time when people are struggling just to hold onto their jobs and businesses,” Kilmer said, “our fundamental goal should be trying to grow the economy. And you don’t do that by raising taxes and imposing more regulations.
“When government is taking a larger portion of people’s incomes,” he said, “they have less to spend on other things. Likewise, when businesses are being penalized for being successful, they’re less likely to hire new employees. By raising taxes to keep government services at their same levels, all you’re doing is creating the need for even more services. It’s a losing proposition.”
Kilmer works at the Tacoma-Pierce County Economic Development Council recruiting and retaining businesses.
“We have a poster on the wall there that says, ‘We’re competing with everyone, every day ... forever,’” he said. “And Washington state is in the very same position. A company can take its jobs anyplace it wants to. We have to make sure they want to be here.
“As legislators,” Kilmer continued, “we’re like business people in the sense that we have a product to sell. Our product is Washington, and our responsibility is to make sure that product is attractive to our consumers – businesses. If we do that, the economy is healthy and everything else more or less takes care if itself.”
For the most part, the best way to accomplish the goal is to get out of the way and let the market work, he said. But government can also play a role by providing the tools necessary for businesses to succeed.
When the Franciscan Health System announced it wanted to build a new hospital in Gig Harbor several years ago, for example, the community was all for the idea. The problem was, it lacked the resources necessary to build the roads and infrastructure the project required.
“I was able to work with the Legislature to obtain funding for those things,” Kilmer said. “And the result is St. Anthony Hospital, which not only provides jobs, but it also saves lives. That’s a perfect example of how government can work in concert with the private sector to accomplish something everyone agrees is a positive thing for the community.”
Kilmer, after two terms in the state House of Representatives, is finishing up his first term in the Senate – where he was the only member during that span to never miss a single vote.
“I believe the biggest part of my job is just showing up and being engaged,” he said. “The people elected me to represent them on all the issues, not just the ones that interest me.”
At the same time, Kilmer said the Legislature shouldn’t get “bogged down with tangential issues” when there is so much about the state’s economic outlook that needs fixing.
“We have some significant problems in this state,” he said, “and we’re not going to fix them by wasting time on things that aren’t as important. We need to work together to do what’s in the best interest of the state, not look at everything through the prism of our own narrow self-interest.”