One Chapter Closes, Another Opens

My passion for public service burned deep long before I assumed elected office – placed there by my parents who raised me and my siblings to fight for those who have no voice.

Though I am not returning to the Washington State Senate in 2011, I am grateful for the opportunity to serve you, and I am equally proud of the work I’ve accomplished, especially when it comes to improving the lives of children. Their economic, social and educational well-being provided the impetus for my Senate run in 2006, and it remains my focus today.

We’ve taken steps to intervene into the lives of our troubled kids; made a commitment to ensuring children have access to health services; and raised the bar by taking deliberate, incremental steps toward building an enviable education system.

During my tenure, I fought to improve quality and expansion of early learning and help the more than 3,000 eager children vying for a spot in our early learning programs. I was instrumental in passing legislation to address the achievement gap that exists among minority students, and prevent students from dropping out. I also sponsored changes to our state’s foster care system which, for decades, ignored the needs of minority children.

My fear is years of hard work will be undone by slashing funding to vital programs such as the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program. Those programs reflect our state’s values, and they must be protected.

At the local level, I’m happy to have shepherded many local projects such as the Boys and Girls Club at Les Grove Park and improvements on Highway 516 and Highway 169 in King County. In addition, improvements we’ve made to the levee system on the Green River will keep the valley safer from catastrophic flooding.

I am often asked what I will do next. That’s simple: Prepare my children for their next phases in life; spend time with my husband and friends; and advocate for public policies that improve the lives of all people. I will continue to work for better schools for all our students and services for our veterans and elders.

And I’ll be monitoring the state budget process as well.

If long-term solutions aren’t identified and acted on, such as ending tax credits and preferences which are no longer beneficial to the state’s investment, then our children’s education will bear the costs.

Moreover, just as Washington is heralded as a leader for natural disaster preparedness, our state must plan for economic tsunamis when times are good. Lawmakers are stewards of taxpayer dollars, and planning for worst-case scenarios ought to be one of our top priorities. Failure to do so impacts families and businesses that need assistance the most, and puts tremendous strain on middle class families. The Rainy Day Fund isn’t enough. A bi-partisan commission should be established outside of Olympia to guide state lawmakers on this issue and make recommendations. Then, regular citizens -- like you and I -- should demand elected officials act.

It is my sincere hope that state and local leaders will come together in a spirit of cooperation to solve these economic and public policy challenges with rational strategies that keep the short and long-term view of our most critical resources – our children – in view.

It has been an honor to represent the 47th District. Nothing I’ve accomplished in the past four years would be possible without the close ties I’ve developed with various constituencies, including educators and small business owners. Thank you for your support.

Sen. Claudia Kauffman, Nez Perce, was elected to the Washington State Senate in 2006. She was the vice chair of the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee and served on the Human Services & Corrections, Rules and Transportation Committees. She earned a reputation as a strong advocate for children, public education and issues affecting American Indian communities.