Results from Washington state's top two nonpartisan open primary pit Dr. Ann Diamond, an independent, against a Republican in the November general election for the open seat in state's 12th Legislative District House of Representatives. If she wins she will be the only fully independent lawmaker in the legislature.
She is backed by Unite America, an organization that lifts up viable independents across the nation, and was a featured speaker on the "Big Wins of 2018" panel at the Unite Summit in Denver, Colorado.
The 12th is made up of four rural counties in north-central Washington (Chelan, Douglas, Okanagan, and Grant), filled with deeply agricultural communities strung together over mostly farmland and desert stretching north to the Canadian border.
At the Summit, independent candidates from across the nation gathered to exchange ideas on how to reach voters in unique districts who, until now, may not have looked beyond party lines. Ann's district, as you might guess, is mainly Republican and rural.
She was one of the first voices the crowd heard from at the opening plenary at the Summit. Right off the bat, she stood up and said, "Who is rural? Raise your hand." Up shot a multitude of hands.
Washington is a state that many see divided by the Cascades: blue/Democrat on the left side of the map featuring the tech hub of Seattle and the Interstate -5 corridor and red on the right of the mountain range which is pretty much all of Eastern Washington and Ann's 12th district. But Diamond says it's not as simple.
“It’s not so much Republican and Democrat. It’s not binary," she said on the sidelines of the Summit.
"There is a rural-urban divide. People in rural areas tend to think a little differently about their small communities. I would say its not a party division, it is a way of people living together in their communities. The east side of the cascades tends to be small farming towns and each one has a small town feel. When you travel from small town to small town…. they are very community involved."
She should know. There are eight people per square mile in her county. And as a local physician who opened her own community clinic eighteen years ago, it went from eight patients on opening day to more than 10,000 served and a staff of 20.
Dr. Diamond has driven these roads of the 12th district innumerable times. And she says what is missing near these roads throughout the four counties is alarming; namely, housing.
Yes, city folks, it is also a pressing rural problem -- one not covered extensively by mainstream media.
Regional Planning Needs To Take A Front Seat
We sat down at the Unite Summit in Denver, Colorado to talk about the unique needs of Washington's 12th District. She used her area in Winthrop as an example of the housing shortage.
"In my valley, housing costs are rising three times faster than wages. One of the local solutions has been to start a housing trust, with plans to build 50 simple single-family homes. Fourteen homes are being built this year," she explained.
At a housing forum in Chelan, one young woman faced the standing room only crowd to explain her situation. She said:
"I was born and raised in Chelan, and this is my home. I am 34 years old, I have a good job with the PUD (Public Utilities District), I am firmly middle class, and I cannot find a place to live. I am living in my parent's garage."
"Folks have not been working together to solve what is a regional problem. And that’s part of the independent movement; we like our local pride," Diamond said. “But when you start having problems with immigration, with housing, with healthcare, with education all of these small communities are looking up and realizing that there is no regional planning."
The housing crisis has become so intense that there are dependable government jobs lying vacant because there are not enough houses nearby. Think about that.
“I talked with the Bureau of Reclamation up near Grand Coulee, which is close to the Canadian border, and they have fifty openings for jobs that they cannot fill because they have no housing," Diamond said.
And it extends to the farmers too:
"When cherries come on if you don't have hands available immediately the fruit spoils. Orchardists have been creative, from refurbishing old hotels to forming cooperatives and building tiny homes for their workers."
And where pickers need housing so do the area’s teachers, and nurses and service staff.
"Wenatchee's rental market has less than 1% availability. Large employers like Confluence Health and the Wenatchee School District cite the housing shortage as a major barrier to both recruiting and retaining employees," she added.
Diamond says that many voters she talks with ask her why candidates don't offer to "fix" immigration, which is an understandable frustration. Diamond answers that while that sweeping immigration reform is, in many cases, a federal legislative issue.
However, she can help fix the effects of bad regional policy resulting from the immigration quagmire by assisting with the 12th district housing crisis that spreads to every resident. The key for her is to keep it local.
One of the highlights of her door knocking that still astonishes this independent candidate is that fully one-third of the people who answer the knock say, "Yep! I'm pretty sure I'm an independent." And as most electoral reform watchers know, areas like this are often a sleeper cell of independent voters. The key is to use Ann's style of small-town civility.