The race for the 3rd District Senate seat pits relative newcomer James Apker, a Libertarian, against a leader in the Democratic caucus, incumbent Sen. Andy Billig.
When Lisa Brown announced her retirement as Senate majority leader four years ago, Spokane was sure to lose some clout in Olympia. Fortunately, Billig was prepared to slide over from his House seat and quickly become effective.
In his six years in the Legislature, Billig has demonstrated his ability to work from the center to achieve legislative success. He is co-owner of the Spokane Indians Baseball Club, so he has an understanding of the challenges in running a business.
In the House, he quickly rose to vice chair of the Transportation Committee, giving him influence over a transportation package that would ultimately deliver significant funding for the Spokane area, including the money needed to complete the long-neglected North Spokane Corridor. He also sponsored a successful bill to limit river-polluting phosphorus in lawn fertilizers.
In his first run for Legislature, in 2010, he said he wanted Spokane to have a four-year medical school. That’s now a reality at Washington State University Spokane, where Billig also helped secure funding for the Health Sciences Building.
After a murder-suicide at Deaconess Hospital, Billig, along with a bipartisan contingent of legislators, worked to pass a law named for the victim, Sheena Henderson. It requires law enforcement to notify family members before returning guns seized from people involved in domestic violence and other crimes. Gun rights and gun control groups were on board.
In another example of working across the aisle, Billig worked with Sen. Michael Baumgartner on a charter school bill that would place charters under elected school district boards, which would contract with nonprofit organizations. It didn’t gain much support, but if the current legislative fix is tossed by the courts, lawmakers can return to this solution.
Billig is among a small group of leaders who are meeting to hash out solutions to the thorny issues surrounding funding basic education. He notes that the Legislature could technically satisfy the Supreme Court in the McCleary case without improving schools. He sees this as an opportunity to improve education, not just shift resources around.
Billig also has been instrumental in early-learning issues, including passage of the Early Start Act. If he returns to Olympia, he wants to continue pushing a campaign-disclosure bill that would shine a light on dark money donors.
Apker has worked in construction and recently began a construction consulting business. He ran unsuccessfully for a House seat in the 7th District in 2014. He is running on a freedom agenda, saying government is much too big and ties down businesses with regulations. He would have voted against the transportation package and wants to dump the health care exchange. He supports charter schools and vouchers for private schools.
The hardworking, pragmatic Sen. Billig is the clear choice.
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