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Whidbey will miss Haugen’s clout in Olympia

Outgoing state Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen becomes emotional when she talks about her worries for the district she’s represented in Olympia over the last 30 years.

Without her clout, she said District 10 could lose out on millions of dollars of state funding for a wide variety of projects.

“I’m really going to miss being able to serve the people,” she said.

Haugen is not the only one with concerns. Officials in Island County and Oak Harbor are worried that her departure could spell the end of a vital transportation funding source. The CEO of the county’s largest private employer also admits doubts about the future of state projects.

“Mary Margaret has helped bring millions of dollars of work here,” said Matt Nichols, CEO of Nichols Brothers Boat Builders in Freeland. “She pretty much mandated we would get part of the ferry work.”

The longtime state senator lost in the election to Oak Harbor resident Barbara Bailey, a Republican state representative. Haugen served as a state senator for 20 years and 10 years in the House before that.

Haugen surmises that she lost, in part, because of her historic vote in favor of legalizing gay marriage.

“I had a lot of people tell me to my face that they could no longer support me anymore because of my vote on gay marriage,” she said, adding that she doesn’t regret her stand. Bailey was opposed to the measure.

In addition, Haugen said it didn’t help that the ferry workers were mad at her, accusing her of union busting. And she blames the 26 “hit pieces” sent out by her opponent and Republican organizations.

A lot of voters, she said, aren’t aware of all she’s done to bring money to the district and to protect it from cuts. In fact, she admits to being amazed when she looks back on her achievements.

She counts among her achievement the millions of dollars of funding she’s been able to bring to District 10, which includes Island County and portions of Skagit and Snohomish counties. She found the money to help fund major public purchases, including the Keystone Spit, the Greenbank Farm, Cama Beach, a pier in Langley and the Boyer property in Oak Harbor.

As the powerful head of the Transportation Committee in the State Senate, she said she also has been able to steer a lot of road money to the district over the years.

Barry Sehlin, an Oak Harbor resident and former Republican representative, said he worked closely with Haugen, who was known for her bipartisan cooperation and dedication to her district.

“She was an absolute bulldog on issues related to the 10th District,” he said.

Behind the scenes, Haugen and staff at her busy offices in Oak Harbor and Olympia have helped citizens with a range of issues, from dealing with state offices to negotiating mortgage refinancing with banks, she said.

“The highlight of my career has really been being able to help people on a personal level,” she said. “I think I’ve made an improvement in the quality of life in this district.”

Now, she says she’s worried for her “people.” Haugen had promised to find funds in the transportation budget for a complex road project at the new Island Transit facility on Central Whidbey. If she had won, she would be writing the transportation budget next year. She predicts the money likely won’t be there without her.

She also warns about the slashing of Capron funds. Every year the funds are threatened, but she’s been able to protect them. Under the Capron Act, Island and San Juan counties receive half of all the gas tax and vehicle registration fees collected in each county back from the state for road work. That amounts to about $700,000 a year for Oak Harbor and $4.2 million to Island County. That accounts for about 25 to 30 percent of the county road budget.

“I truly am concerned about the Capron revenues and the negative impact on roads in Island County,” Island County Budget Director Elaine Marlow said. “We’re worried anytime there’s a change in the transportation board.”

Haugen, 71, claims Bailey won’t be able to get much done because she will be in the minority party and won’t have seniority in the Senate; she goes as far as to suggest that 68-year-old Bailey will never gain seniority because of her age. Additionally, Haugen claims Bailey isn’t known for bipartisanship. She said Bailey was the only District 10 colleague she wasn’t able to work with in all her years in office.

“You can’t get anything done if you vote ‘no’ on everything,” Haugen said. “Then again, maybe she’ll rise to the occasion.”

Bailey didn’t return a call for comment, but she obviously is very popular in the district and voters support her for standing by her conservative convictions. Election results show she earned 53 percent of the vote, a full 6 percent above Haugen.

While Bailey heads off the Olympia, Haugen said she will be spending time with her family, especially her 44 grandchildren. She said her family is very excited about the prospect of having her back.

“I don’t think the public realizes what a time commitment it is, at least if you are going to do the right,” she said.

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