Sen. Keith Wagoner stressed the importance of having a voice for rural communities in Olympia during a stop in Sultan last week.

The former Sedro-Woolley mayor spoke at last Wednesday’s Sky Valley Chamber of Commerce monthly luncheon, and debriefed members on the 2018 legislative session that wrapped up in March. He said this year he worked with other lawmakers amicably to bring funding back to the 39th District.

“I think we did a lot in the last abbreviated session,” he said. “I know I learned a lot with my first rodeo. I think I did really well.”

Wagoner stepped up in January to fill the position held by former Sen. Kirk Pearson, who resigned in November to take a job in the Trump administration as rural development state director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. His appointment was unanimously approved by all members of the Skagit County Board of Commissioners, and Snohomish and King county councils.

“I am not sure why,” Wagoner said with a laugh. “I hope it was my resume and the fact that I had a reputation for getting things done in Sedro-Woolley, and we got a lot done in two years there.”

He said he grew up on a goat farm in Skagit County. There he had a childhood “typical of people in rural communities.”

After high school he received an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy, which he graduated from with a bachelor’s degree in physical oceanography. He later received his masters in global leadership. He served for 23 years as a naval commanding officer and helicopter pilot.

Wagoner said he met his wife of 30 years, Wen, after he “accepted an inter-service transfer to the Navy flight training program in Pensacola, Florida,” according to his legislative website. She was a foreign exchange student from Taiwan at the time. They have raised three children together.

The family lived all over the world, in Europe, the Far East, and Tokyo, where Wagoner was stationed. They finally settled back down in Sedro-Woolley.

Wen was given the impression in 2007 that her husband was in his retirement. 

“I have a problem saying no, and I thought I was just going to retire ,” he said, “and I promised my wife, ‘No, this time the lawn is going to be mowed, because I am not going to say yes to all those things.’ ”

He started out coaching youth sports, then eventually found himself running for city council, where he stayed for five years. He tried out for the open mayor’s seat, where he served for the next two years, until Pearson, who he said he had a strong relationship with, encouraged him to try out for the seat he was vacating.

Wagoner said he took a collaborative approach to working with his new peers at the Washington Capitol this year.

“Nobody gets anything done in Olympia by themselves,” he said.

Wagoner said he voted against the agreement for the Hirst decision. The result of the 2016 court ruling shifted the responsibility for permitting wells on private property from the Washington Department of Ecology to the counties. The details took some time to iron out.

“It is, however, extremely unfortunate and, frankly, irresponsible, that for nearly a year Republicans stalled those projects and refused to vote on the $4.2 billion capital budget by linking it to passage of an unrelated effort to address the Supreme Court’s Hirst ruling on water rights,” sadi Gov. Jay Inslee in a Jan. 18 news release. “Their delay in passing the capital budget comes with many costs, monetary and otherwise.”

This year legislators were able to fix 98 percent of the issue. Homeowners in Snohomish County and Wagoner’s the portion of King County he represents were granted the ability to tap new wells, while a slew of Skagit County property owners were left out.

“I wish it would not have passed, but it did,” he said.

About 6,000 parcels of land are useless because those property owners cannot drill, Wagoner said. Because of the resolution, however, the Legislature finally got its 2017-19 capital budget approved.

Wagoner said $286,000 of those funds were allocated to Sultan for construction of a flood protection wall and storage building. About $10 million in taxpayer funding went back into supporting services and projects throughout the district, he said.

“I am really proud that we were able to bring that money back to our communities,” Wagoner said.

He said there was also a number of new tax packages that were at least stalled, including one on carbon and another on capital gains. There is no guarantee they won’t be brought back during the next session, he said.

Former Sultan mayor Carolyn Eslick was also in attendance at last Wednesday’s lunch. She too was legislative newcomer this year, after being appointed last fall to the seat Rep. John Koster left in August.

Wagoner said he was not in Sultan to campaign. He and Eslick will be running for reelection in the Aug. 7 primary. Wagoner is facing three senate opponents, and Eslick has one running against her for her 39th District representative seat.

Rep. Dan Kristiansen announced in March he was finally ready to step down after a long run in office. Republicans Robert J. Sutherland and Randy J. Hayden are seeking that seat, as is Democratic challenger Ivan Lewis.

Having the “right kind of leadership” in Olympia, who can speak up for rural communities, and work well with others is crucial, Wagoner said.

“I think that has been our reputation — that we have been cooperative and thoughtful, and that we have been able to work across the aisle and in our own houses to get good things done with our communities,” he said.