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Long-time Spokane state representative challenged by teacher who was fired for refusing to wear mask

Sept. 23, 2022 Updated Wed., Oct. 5, 2022 at 8:34 p.m.

By Nina Culver For The Spokesman-Review

Veteran state lawmaker Timm Ormsby, a Democrat, will face a former Spokane Public Schools teacher on the November ballot as he attempts re-election in the strongly Democratic 3rd Legislative District.

Natalie Poulson, 44, has no previous experience as an elected official and is running as a Republican. She was fired from her job last year after refusing to wear a mask as required under state COVID-19 protocols.


The candidates for the state House seat have differing viewpoints on the most pressing problems in the 3rd District , with Poulson focusing on crime and Ormsby focusing on housing issues.

Ormsby won more than 60% of the vote in the August primary. Poulson advanced to the general election after her second-place finish with 37% of the vote. Patrick Spurlock, who ran without a party affiliation, came in third and was eliminated from the contest.

Poulson worked for Spokane Public Schools for 18 years, mostly as a special education teacher. Last year, she was based at Finch Elementary in northwest Spokane, where she worked as a special education specialist supporting students and teachers at a variety of schools with their educational goals. She said she was concerned about students having to wear masks at school and contacted the school board and the governor to advocate against the mask mandate. She also spoke out against vaccine mandates.

As mandates remained in place, she refused to wear a mask last November. Several other staff members at Finch, including the principal, did the same. The employees who refused to wear masks were escorted from the building.

Poulson was put on leave for several months while the district conducted an investigation, and then fired in February.

“I truly in my heart of hearts thought it would lead us to a discussion about accommodations,” she said. “I truly believe what they did to me was punitive. I had an exemplary record. I was the one they called in when they could not figure a kid out.”

Poulson said she has appealed her termination.

“I think we should have medical freedom,” she said.

Among organizations that recommended mask mandates in schools at the time was the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Poulson said she believes that the Legislature should have decided the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, not Gov. Jay Inslee.

“I really made the decision to be a public servant,” she said. “I want to listen to the people.”

Ormsby has supported Inslee and his decisions related to COVID-19.

“The governor has used the best evidence and public health care protocols in his decision-making, erring on the side of the health and safety of our residents,” Ormsby said in an interview earlier this month.

Ormsby  (Courtesy)
Ormsby (Courtesy)

The Supreme Court decision in June that ended the constitutional right to abortion gave wide authority to states to restrict abortion. In Washington, abortion is allowed up to 26 weeks of gestation.

Ormsby said he supports Washington’s laws on abortion, and pointed to a long history of supporting women’s reproductive health rights.

Poulson declined to answer questions on abortion, but in a statement said her position on abortion was not important because Democrats are likely to remain in firm control of Washington state government.

“If the Democrats and the liberal media want to fixate on the fact that I am unapologetically pro-life and believe the rights and protections of the unborn outweigh their sense of moral superiority they are free to do so,” she said in a statement released by her campaign.

Before the primary, when asked by a reporter if she would support allowing women to get abortions if they are raped, Poulson said: “You can’t fix one sin by adding another, and I think we need to focus more on, you know, what is our quality of life right now? Are we dealing with public safety issues? Are we dealing with homelessness and the mental health crisis?”

Poulson said she’s concerned about police reform laws that she said made it more difficult for police to pursue suspects.

“They know their job,” she said of police officers. “They should be able to pursue a suspect, a potential suspect, and at least clear them before letting them go.”

Ormsby supported police reform laws approved by the Legislature in 2021. Among the changes were bans on chokeholds, limits on police dogs, vehicle pursuits and the use of tear gas during public riots. Ormsby also supported changes this year that rolled back some reforms.

Poulson criticized the Washington state Supreme Court decision that ruled the state’s felony drug possession law unconstitutional. She said she believes that has led to increased drug use.

“Overdoses have skyrocketed,” she said.

Poulson said she believes homelessness is closely linked to mental illness.

“It’s not a housing issue,” she said. “It’s definitely mental health or addiction for the majority.”

She said she believes the district’s largest issue is rising crime rates.

“I want to make crime illegal,” she said. “I want our city to be safe, and I believe that requires legislation.”

Ormsby was appointed to his seat in 2003 and won his first election in 2004. He has worked as the business representative for the Northeastern Washington-Northern Idaho Building and Construction Trades Council since 2000. He currently serves as the chair of the House’s budget committee.

Ormsby said he believes the housing crisis is a key issue that needs to be addressed, with a combination of housing for the homeless, home down payment assistance and foreclosure assistance. He said the rising availability of remote work opened the floodgates for people wanting to move to the Spokane area, which drove up house prices and rental rates.

“This is wildly unfamiliar to Spokane,” he said. “We’ve always been a stable market. I think the unhoused is clearly something to be addressed. The market is a bit out of our control, but we certainly have to account for it.”

As the budget committee chairman, Ormsby said he believes the state has the resources to work on the housing issue and just needs to determine where to target the money. He also wants to maximize the amount of money sent to the state from the federal government for things like housing, health care and behavioral health.

“The ultimate issue is to make sure we don’t leave money on the table for issues that we’re responsible for,” he said.

Ormsby said he knows the need is high in his district. He can see it every Wednesday outside his office window as he watches streams of cars line up for free food from the Women and Children’s Free Restaurant. He said he knows food insecurity is an issue and wants to help expand free meal programs at local schools so all children can eat for free.

While spending several dollars a day on a school lunch might not be an issue for some families, it can be a challenge for many, he said.

“That is one pressure on families,” he said. “The 3rd District is traditionally among the lowest resourced areas.”

Poulson said she has been spending a lot of time meeting people in the district and discussing issues with them. She said she believes she can do a better job than the incumbent.

“Timm Ormsby has been here for 20 years,” she said. “If he were a part of the solution, we wouldn’t be in this crisis. I think it’s time for a change.”

Ormsby said he believes he still has something to offer the district, including his experience and in-depth knowledge of how the legislative process works.

“It is good to have new input and fresh perspectives,” he said. “It’s also valuable to have experience and know how things work. I think I bring a wealth of experience to this role. There is value in that experience.”

Ormsby said he expects there to be a lot of issues to work on in the Legislature.

“We don’t have a shortage of challenges coming,” he said. “I would like to be in the mud pit where we’re sorting all this out. There are so many things that changed our expectations.”

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