by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
Rob Holland, currently a Seattle port commissioner, is running to represent the 11th District in the state House of Representatives. If elected he will become the first Gay person of color to serve in the House, just as he was the first Gay man and the first African American to sit on the Port Commission.
Holland is running for an open seat - a rarity in the 11th District - that became available when longtime Sen. Margarita Prentice retired and incumbent Rep. Bob Hasegawa decided to run for her seat.
'I love the Port Commission,' Holland told SGN recently, 'but the attraction of the Legislature is the larger breadth of issues that I'd have an opportunity to work on - economic development, workforce development, early childhood education - that's a huge investment in how society is going to operate.'
The 11th District sprawls along I-5 from Seattle's Beacon Hill to Burien and Tukwila, and then east to take in parts of Renton and nearby suburbs.
'The 11th District is the most diverse in the state,' Holland explained. 'It runs from Holgate Street to Maple Valley. We have a huge immigrant population, from East Europeans to Africans. Many Gay couples too - I've run into so many while I've been out campaigning.'
It is also a working-class district, where Holland's economic message resonates with voters, many of whom are feeling the pinch of hard times.
'The 11th District is people who make things,' he said proudly, noting that 'of the more than 300 suppliers who support the aerospace industry, many are concentrated in the 11th District.'
Holland says he is well aware that his constituents are hurting economically, and he hopes his experience at the port can help him craft policy to stimulate job growth.
'It's been an anemic recovery - you can't call it anything else,' he said, 'and we have to try to pull ourselves out of that. If we continue at the rate we're going, we won't get back to our 2008 growth rate till 2020.
'People are not going to be able to wait it out. That's why they should have someone there in Olympia who can focus on when and where jobs grow.'
Holland believes Washington has a real opportunity to rebound because of its unique position as a gateway to Asian trade and as a manufacturing center.
'One in four jobs is connected with trade, so how do we attract that?' Holland asked. 'Given we're the closest air and seaport to China - how do we make stuff they want to buy?'
'We need to emphasize manufacturing,' he continued, 'and we have an opportunity to rebound because fuel costs are high, the cost of shipping goods made overseas is high, the cost of labor in China is up - all of that means that manufacturing comes back to the U.S.
'I mean, why not Washington?' he exclaimed. 'We have an educated population, a great workforce, great schools.'
While many people who identify as progressive are advocating a state income tax to bring in more revenue for schools and other essential programs, Holland is skeptical of that approach.
'I don't think an income tax should be the focus,' Holland insisted. 'The question for me is, what can I do in my first two years to get more revenue without impacting working families. I want to focus on growing the economy.
'What I think can happen in a few years is, we can bring in more from the B&O tax [on business revenues] and more from the sales tax, due to a general increase in economic activity.'
Holland is running as a Democrat against four opponents - three other Democrats and a Republican. The 11th District is solidly Democratic, but Holland says he feels comfortable talking to constituents of any political affiliation.
'In the district, the majority vote Democratic, but there's still a high proportion who vote Republican - and that includes union members! I was surprised to find that out knocking on doors,' he said.
'But I'm coming with a blue-collar message, and they're comfortable with that, so it's resonating even with people who identify as Republican.'
Noting that he's drawn support from a number of influential LGBT backers, including Sen. Ed Murray and Rep. Jamie Pedersen, Holland says he is optimistic that he will win.
'Campaigning has been great,' he said. 'I've already knocked on more that 3,000 doors. We've had events to raise money in more than 30 small businesses out in the community.
'The thing I really like most about campaigning is being out talking with the voters, and now I have an opportunity to do it.'
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