Holy and Lewis race to 6th district Senate

Election day will determine which newcomer will win the state senate seat.


Couresy of The Spokesman-Review

Republican Jeff Holy (left) has a law degree from Gonzaga University. Democrat Jessa Lewis (right) was a delegate in Bernie Sanders’ campaign in 2016. Neither of them have run for state Senate before.

By Jeremy Burnham, Managing Editor

In the Washington state government, the legislative branch is made of two houses, much like the federal government. The state’s 49 districts each elect one person to the Senate, and two people to the House of Representatives. Cheney falls in the 6th District, along with Airway Heights, Medical Lake and parts of western Spokane.

Since 2011, the 6th District’s senator has been Republican Michael Baumgartner. This year, however, Baumgartner is giving up his spot, setting up a race between two newcomers, Republican Jeff Holy and Democrat Jessa Lewis.

The Easterner spoke with both candidates in phone interviews last week.

Holy’s Background

Courtesy votejeffholy.com
Republican Jeff Holy

Holy has six years of experience in the lower House. He says now is the right time to attempt a move to the Senate.

“It’s a pretty simplistic decision really,” Holy said. “You’ve got half as many people in the Senate, so basically you double your leverage. The committees are smaller so you have more of an impact.”

Holy says his experience in the House has prepared him for the Senate.

“The Senate is not something you can step into lightly,” Holy said. “You have to understand the system, understand the players and how the system works. I think after six years, I have enough of a hang of how it works to move to the Senate. And unless you’ve been there, you don’t know how critical that experience is.”

Lewis’ Background

Courtesy @ElectJessaLewis
Democrat Jessa Lewis

Lewis, who does not have experience in the House, sees it differently.

“They are two very different chambers,” Lewis said. “They have very different cultures and the Senate is the more independent chamber.”

Lewis, the eastern Washington director of Health Care for All, does have experience working in Olympia advocating for legislation.

“I have advocated and lobbied in Olympia on everything from alternative energy, travel rights, education reform and, most recently, health care reform,” Lewis said. “So I actually have 10 years of experience working on campaigns and policy.”

Lewis recently advocated for a bill that would include a universal, single-payer trust. She says the bill failed both houses by six votes.

Lewis says her work has led her to become well-known by members of both houses, and that she has the full support of Washington’s Democrats.

“[U.S.] Senator [Maria] Cantwell once called me ‘notorious’ because I won’t back down,” Lewis said.

On Reaching Across the Aisle

Holy was a police officer before entering politics. He says his time in law enforcement gave him an image of the criminal justice system that sometimes separates him from other Republicans. He prime-sponsored a bill that eases “Legal Financial Obligations,” a term for fees and costs imposed by courts when someone is convicted of a crime in Washington.

“I am the least likely messenger for that,” Holy said. “It was interesting to people that a retired cop, like I am, would be the person who instead of saying ‘we have to get tougher on crime,’ say, ‘we need to look at these things that are a roadblock against people who have already done their time in prison.’”

Holy says these fees and fines made it difficult for people who want to do the right thing when they get out of jail to get back on their feet. He said he had to reach across the aisle and work with Democrats to get the bill passed.

Lewis says she is also willing and able to reach across the aisle. When working as an advocate, she worked with both Democrats and Republicans to try to get legislation passed.

“It’s important to me to find bipartisan support as much as possible,” Lewis said. “I’m a former Republican. It was actually being homeless as a single mom that showed me the value of having a social safety net, which is what swayed me. But I still have many of the values that I grew up with. For example, I have a concealed carry permit and my family hunts. I am also a woman of faith.”

She says laws supported by both sides is what the state needs right now.

“There are many things where I think we have this strong common ground,” Lewis said. “I believe that if we are able to find solutions and get a broader buy-in from everybody, instead of this ‘us versus them,’ we’d be better off.”

On Student Issues

Something both candidates share is recognition that student issues are important in eastern Washington.

Holy says more needs to be done to help people who find themselves in the funding gap.

“My wife and I just put two kids through WSU,” Holy said. “The out-of-pocket cost of that was over $200,000. What we’re doing is adding social stratification to access of higher education. Now if you have no resources, you may end up getting full funding. If you have plenty of resources, you can pay cash and do what you need to do. But if you are in that gap in the middle, which a huge number of students are in the middle class, then you don’t make enough money to afford school, and quite frankly, you don’t get enough financial aid to get you there.”

Lewis also said the issue of affordable education is a personal issue to her.

“I actually had to max out my student loans when going to grad school,” Lewis said. “It put me in a quarter million in student loan debt.”

Lewis says more needs to be done to get students through school, and to attract to the area companies that will provide good jobs and opportunities to students after they graduate.

Lewis also stresses the needs of low income students.

“One of the issues I had as a non-traditional student was access to childcare,” Lewis said. “I know there is a growing homeless population at Eastern. […] So, if there is something we can do for students who are listed as a dependent on the FAFSA, but do not have the support from their parents, if we actually secure them access to housing and food and things they need to be successful students, that is something I care strongly about.”

Race Impact

The winner of Tuesday’s election will serve a four-year term from 2019-2023.