BY SIAN WU
It’s a familiar scene: a shiny motorcycle buzzes in the distance on a grassy rural road, edging closer and closer before zooming off into the distance against a backdrop of majestic Mt. Rainier. But that person on the motorcycle isn’t an actor in a Rainier Beer commercial. She could be your state senator in November.
Attorney Yvonne Ward, who produced a parody of the Rainier Beer commercial on her own Harley Davidson, is running for the state Senate in the 31st District against the four-term incumbent Pam Roach. She hopes, as the commercial proclaims while she shakes a head of long black hair out of her helmet, to be “a different kind of leader.” Many have responded to the ad with a simple two word phrase that is rarely associated with political ads these days: “That’s awesome.”
Yvonne Ward thinks the citizens of the 31st District have had enough of Republican Pam Roach. That’s why she believes that, this time around, she’ll take the Senate seat away from the “career politician” who recently earned just a “good” ranking by a volunteer panel with the Municipal League. This has been one of the most competitive races of the election season and Ward’s outlook is promising. When Ward went up against Roach for the first time in 2002, Roach won by a narrow three percent margin, but in the primary this September, Ward won out over Roach, handily securing 58 percent to Roach’s 41 percent.
Senator Roach, whose contributors include oil companies, drug and insurance companies, and alcohol and tobacco lobbies, has been accused of pandering to these special interests by killing progressive health care and energy bills in the state legislature. Ward could obviously use this to her advantage, as she believes people have grown tired of “politics as usual” and “backroom deals.”
One of the main reasons why Yvonne Ward wants Roach out of office is her lack of initiative on one of Ward’s top priorities: managing growth in rapidly growing communities like Auburn, Enumclaw and Sumner.
“Cities need to stop being bullies to the little guy, and start stepping up to big developers and big-box stores like Target and Wal-Mart.” Ward says that the state legislature has failed to give the citizens of the 31st District fair-minded and common sense approaches to managing growth and sprawl, which has sacrificed the character of their cities and towns.
As a result, big-box stores and sprawl have eaten up picturesque rural lots, while failing to put in place the roads, public transportation and schools that are necessary to sustain and manage that rapid growth.
And as for Initiative 933, which will require local governments to compensate landowners and developers who claim that environmental or other regulations have reduced the value of their land or personal property, Ward is against it. While proponents say the initiative will make governments accountable for damaging the value of land through excessive regulation, opponents say Initiative 933 will overturn common sense land use and environmental regulations communities have put in place to prevent sprawl and irresponsible development.
“We have to look at our Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights,” she says. “People should be able to do what they want as long as it doesn’t harm others. What Initiative 933 does is it says, ‘We want to be able to manipulate the law and use property in any way we want, despite the fact that it’s going to hurt others.’ And that’s wrong.”
Instead, Ward would like to see developers take on the costs of increased public transit, roads, schools and other infrastructure when planning a big development on rural or semi-rural land. “Developers need to pay their own way,” she says.
Ward’s work as an attorney in Auburn has primed her for the battles she’s likely to face in the state Senate. She’s helped senior citizens fight a high rise development in their neighborhood, and fought against the placement of a sex offender halfway house in her community. Ward will have to take on even more challenges in the town of Auburn and surrounding areas. The once-quiet farming community has seen an upsurge of development in recent years, including the Emerald Downs racetrack, the SuperMall of the Great Northwest and the Muckleshoot casino. And with the arrival of the racetrack and casino has come a rise in fraud and crime, according to local police.
Ward has lived in Auburn for about 12 years, but she’s no stranger to the larger Asian American community across the state. She served as president of the Japanese American Citizens League (White River Chapter), president of the Asian Bar Association of Washington, and chair of the Washington State Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs.
All this could spell victory on Nov. 7, but voter discontent can be hard to judge. “I think people are really tired of these incumbents,” Ward says. “They’ve been in politics so long they lose touch with regular working people.”