Incumbent Rep. Skyler Rude, R–Walla Walla, is defending his seat in the 16th district against Progressive Democrat Carly Coburn, a political activist in the Tri-Cities.
The district covers all of Walla Walla and Columbia counties, and portions of Benton and Franklin. Primary voting concludes Aug. 4.
Because Rude and Coburn are the only candidates running for Position 2, both are assured spots on the ballot in November.
Skyler RudeRude is a first-term representative who filled the vacancy left by 10-year incumbent Terry Nealey, R–Dayton, in the 2018 election. With the backing of Nealey and former boss Sen. Maureen Walsh, R–College Place, Rude beat Republican Dan Mildon in the primary and Democrat Rebecca Francik in the general election.
Rude’s platform is focused on K-12 education, pro-business policies and mental health. His politics can be described as moderate or right of center. He’s a textbook fiscal conservative, and is the assistant ranking minority member on the budget-focused House Appropriations Committee.
“The most responsible budgeting strategy involves preventative measures that reduce the need for social welfare programs and encourage individuals to be self-sufficient members of society,” Rude wrote on his campaign page.
Rude has made bipartisanship central to his campaign and political profile. He created a novel bipartisan working group with Democrat Rep. Shelley Kloba of Kirkland to foster cross-party relationships.
“So much of the work we do (in Olympia) takes place in a partisan setting that it’s really difficult to get in a room with other legislators from the other side of the aisle and just have a conversation and get to know each other,” Rude said.
He believes getting to know each other can tone down nasty partisanship.
“The anonymity that leads people to attack on social media, I think the same thing exists in a physical legislative session where you don’t know the people on the other side so it’s easier to attack them,” Rude said.
Among Rude’s legislative accomplishments are the Keeping Students Safe house bill and the Remote Testimony house resolution — each bipartisan efforts.
The Walla Walla native has collected a surprising number of labor union endorsements for a fiscal conservative — including those of the SEIU 775 and the Public School Employees of Washington. He attributes the unions’ support less to his voting record, and more to his demonstrated desire to work with them.
“I’m the only Republican (the Washington State Labor Council) endorsed, and I only had a 31% voting record with them,” he said, remarking that he’s an openly pro-business legislator. “But I also listen to them and am willing to work with them…. When you look for common ground it’s fairly easy to find.”
Rude agreed with Gov. Jay Inslee’s initial shutdown in March when not as much was known about the coronavirus; however, he opined in the Union-Bulletin in early May that the shutdown “should have been followed by establishment of safety protocols and the opportunity for businesses to develop compliance plans for safe operation.”
Carly CoburnOn the Democratic side is electoral newcomer Carly Coburn. Born in Bremerton, she and her husband, Brice, moved around the state until finding their “true home” in Pasco.
Coburn has held a number of local positions in the Tri-Cities, including treasurer and chair of the Tri-Cities Young Democrats, first vice-chair of the Franklin County Democrats, and member of various political organizations and campaigns. She is currently first vice-chair of the 16th Legislative District.
Coburn is an unabashed Progressive. Her platform is centered around health care and housing affordability and accessibility, and disability and LGBTQ rights.
Coburn supports Whole Washington, a campaign to ensure universal health care for every Washingtonian regardless of employment status.
“Health care shouldn’t be allowed to be used as a bargaining chip against employees,” she said.
Coburn is a lifelong renter. She says her rent “typically goes up 10% in Pasco every year,” and new development looks more like “high-class condos” than the necessary affordable housing.
Coburn said her landlord in College Place decided unilaterally not to renew her lease.
“They didn’t have to give me a reason, and only gave me 20 days (to vacate),” she said.
As representative Coburn said she’d advocate for tenants rights across the state and support an end to the 1981 statewide ban on rent control.
“A rental doesn’t have to be a temporary place,” Coburn said. “Rentals can be homes, we just need to allow people to make them homes.”
Coburn’s adolescence shaped a lifelong passion: disability rights.
Born to teenage parents, Coburn was adopted by her maternal grandparents. She dropped out of high school at the age of 16 to care for her aging grandmother. She later received her GED diploma. By 19 her grandfather, a veteran, was diagnosed with cancer and Coburn was a registered caretaker.
In last Thursday’s candidate forum, Coburn advocated for more grants for cities to provide additional services to the veteran and homeless communities, and expressed pride for introducing a Disability Day of Mourning in the Tri-Cities.
Coburn and Rude both said COVID-19 would preclude them from canvassing and relegate them to online campaigning.
The two candidates also shared a mutual interest in supporting LGBTQ rights in Washington.
Coburn, who identifies as bisexual, has worked extensively with local LGBTQ rights organizations and has collected endorsements from local leaders.
Rude, the only openly gay Republican in the Washington statehouse, has worked on the LGBTQ comission and sits on the House Judiciary & Civil Rights committee.
He said people erroneously assume it’s difficult to be a gay Republican, and stressed that his sexuality has borne no discrimination and poses no contradiction to his Republican beliefs.
“I support gun rights, I’m pro-life, and I want smaller government,” he said. “Being gay doesn’t change how I see those issues.”