OLYMPIA – As he paused from unpacking books Monday onto mostly empty shelves in his mostly empty office, Jeff Baxter, the Spokane-area’s newest state senator, reflected on the last month: “It’s been a whirlwind.”
In 30 days, he went from being a Spokane Valley businessman active in local GOP politics to a nominee for an open seat to taking the oath of office in the Senate chamber. He got his office and committee assignments – Judiciary, Human Services and the budget-writing Ways and Means committees – met with Gov. Chris Gregoire and began getting acclimated to the Capitol.
He’s hardly had time to catch his breath since Friday afternoon, when he almost missed the Spokane County commissioners’ decision to appoint him to replace 30-year-veteran Bob McCaslin. It took so long to find a parking space near the courthouse that he and his wife, Diane, were just walking into the hearing room when he heard one commissioner make a motion to appoint him, another second it and the third vote yes.
“By the time I got to my seat, I was a senator,” he said. “I was shocked. I’m honored. I’m thrilled.”
Baxter, 50, owns and operates three businesses connected to bank cards. The main business, which he’s had for almost 24 years, processes credit, debit and electronic benefit transfer card transactions. Another business sells and services ATMs, and a third leases ATM and point-of-sale equipment to businesses.
He emphasizes that his businesses are debt-free, and the only loan his family has is the mortgage on their home. He plans to bring that fiscal philosophy to the job as senator.
“If you’re in debt up to your ears, trying to balance the state budget when you can’t balance your own is hypocritical,” he said.
The state must balance its General Operating Fund budget, although it goes into debt by selling bonds for large construction and some other capital projects. As a member of Ways and Means, he’ll be involved in those budget discussions but said he doesn’t know how he’ll apply his philosophy until he studies the issues.
Commissioners cited his small-business experience as one of his assets, and Baxter said one of his goals is to find ways to help businesses by cutting government regulation and lowering taxes. “I’m not one who says slash every tax and program,” he added.
Along with being pro-business, Baxter describes himself as a patriot who opposes abortion and favors traditional marriage, and who will uphold the U.S. and state constitutions “the way the Founders originally intended.”
He first got interested in politics in 1988, helping with Republican Bob Williams’ unsuccessful run for governor. He was asked to run for state Senate in a Puget Sound district in 1990, but declined because he had a young family. He stayed interested in politics and ran an unsuccessful write-in campaign for the West Valley School Board in 2009. Last year he worked on several campaigns, including that of state Rep. Matt Shea, who was one of the other nominees for the Senate seat. He considers Shea, who attended his swearing-in, a good friend and brilliant legislator.
Asked if he plans to run for the Senate seat this fall, when it’s up for a special election, Baxter said he hasn’t decided. “I just got here. Give me a couple days or weeks.”