Novice politician, musician, pilot takes on Rep. Smith

South Whidbey resident Aaron Simpson serves up a cup of coffee at the Useless Bay Coffee Co. in Langley. The young Democrat is challenging Norma Smith for the District 10 position 1 spot in the state Legislature. - Justin Burnett / The Record
South Whidbey resident Aaron Simpson serves up a cup of coffee at the Useless Bay Coffee Co. in Langley. The young Democrat is challenging Norma Smith for the District 10 position 1 spot in the state Legislature.
— image credit: Justin Burnett / The Record

A young classical music lover, pilot and coffee roaster from South Whidbey has announced plans to run for the state Legislature in November in hopes of unseating one of the island’s most respected Republicans.

Aaron Simpson, D-Langley, officially announced his bid for the District 10 position 1 spot, which is currently held by incumbent Norma Smith, R-Clinton, late last week.

Although the start of the filing period is less than a week away, Simpson is Smith’s first, and possibly only, challenger of the year. Smith has held the seat since her appointment in 2007.

The job of state representative carries a two-year term and, according to the Washington Citizen’s Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials, pays $42,106 a year not including benefits.

Born in Seattle, Simpson, 26, has been on the island for more than 20 years and is a South Whidbey High School graduate. He has no past experience in elected office.

However, he does leave an impression.

Dressed in a suit and tie and sporting a fresh haircut, Simpson sat down with the Record to discuss his political aspirations. He made it clear that what he lacks in experience he makes up for with a lifelong passion for politics and government.

“When I was three years old, I wrote George Bush Sr. asking him to stop the war in Iraq,” Simpson said.

Writing elected leaders with his views about important issues is a practice he has continued into adulthood. He keeps up with current events, is ready to debate the latest Supreme Court decision, and is undoubtedly one of the few people his age who carries around a pocket-sized copy of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Simpson is articulate, readily throwing around words such as “bombastically,” and is a classical music composer for two local organizations. He currently works as the primary roaster, employee trainer and barista for Useless Bay Coffee Co. in Langley.

Simpson also recently began pursuing a career in commercial aviation. He earned his private pilot’s license in March and hopes eventually to work for a commuter airline or as a bush pilot in Alaska.

He called flying an airplane an “engaging intellectual experience” and one of the most “satisfying pursuits” he’s ever had. But, for now, Simpson has his sights set on Olympia, and is eager to tackle difficult issues such as the budget.

Faced with unprecedented revenue shortfalls, the state has made deep cuts in education over the past few years. Simpson argues that education is one area that should not have been touched and supports restoring funding levels to what they were before the start of the recession.

Like the use of the Discovery Pass as a funding mechanism for state parks, which Simpson disagrees with, he said other funding sources are available if you know where to look.

For example, he said millions of dollars of potential revenue are lost every year in tax credits offered to businesses and he criticized lawmakers for putting their interests ahead of the public.

Other revenue could be found by the removal the state’s prohibition on online poker, which he claimed would help fill state coffers.

“Washington State could repeal that ban and create a new industry that would generate massive amounts of tax revenue from people who want to pay those taxes,” Simpson said.

He also supports ideas such as the legalization of marijuana, though it’s conditional. For example, Simpson said he would not sign his name to an initiative circulating right now to legalize, tax and regulate the drug that has been endorsed by at least 16 state lawmakers because it conflicts with existing federal law.

Simpson, who lives with his parents, acknowledged that his youth and inexperience are hurdles that stand between him and Olympia. He said he will have to show that he represents not just a youthful demographic but the larger majority.

But despite the challenges, Simpson said he’s feeling optimistic. This is not only a presidential election year with an expected large Democratic turnout, but Simpson said he has a natural ability to connect with people.

“This is going to be a good year,” he said.


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