By Marko Liias, Washington state Senator, LD-21
Hi! I’m Marko Liias, a lifelong Washingtonian, a State Senator, and a community college professor. I am running to be our next Lt. Governor.
For this to really make sense, we have to go back a few years all the way back to third grade. I grew up in a working class family; my dad was a carpenter and my mom was a school lunch lady. My parents found a fixer-upper house at a price that they could afford, within walking distance of our local elementary school.
While I don’t have a lot of memories of my first few years at school, I will never forget my third grade teacher, Ms. Gallaher. I remember small things about her, like the fact that she was a passionate rower, and I remember that she had a big laugh and a friendly smile. But, most of all, I remember how much she cared about each of us. Through her words and her caring attention, she lifted me up and she made me feel seen — she made it clear that I had value.
Thanks to her, I developed an avid love of reading. And at some point in her class, I came across a pivotal book: the biography of President Kennedy. That book was my gateway to learning about presidents and politics and government — an exciting new realm my immigrant parents had rarely discussed at the dinner table, more concerned with more concrete issues like learning to navigate a new community and making sure my sister and I were listening to our teachers and doing our homework. So this worn out old book that had been surplussed from a school library and ended up in my hands was my first exposure to this new world.
And while I have come a long way from third grade, I did learn a few vital lessons that I have never forgotten. I learned the value of education and the power of caring adults to change lives. I also learned how precious and extraordinary our democracy really is.
Today, I have the privilege of teaching American Government at Everett Community College. With each new group of students, I try to bring the subject alive for them as it is for me. I try to embody the Ms. Gallaher model of teaching, where every student feels included and valued as we explore our country’s foundation in the Constitution and the democracy that determines our future.
My story, growing up in a middle class family in a safe neighborhood with great schools and caring teachers, where everything seemed possible if you worked hard, is what I hope for every Washingtonian. My passion for public service was sparked by the people who helped me reach my potential and the community I loved so much that I wanted to give back. Every day I walk into the Capitol building, that foundation is what inspires me to keep going. And that is why I am running for Lt. Governor.
So what does the Lt. Governor do?
The Lt. Governor presides over the State Senate, but also serves as number two in the Executive Branch, all while running a small state agency. As Lt. Governor, I will build on the strong foundation that Lt. Governor Habib has set down expanding opportunities through higher education, international partnerships and progressive leadership in the Senate. This unique combination of responsibilities makes it an ideal role to continue my work building an economy that works for everyone, expanding equitable access to education and opportunity, and ensuring that our state is a model for social justice and inclusion.
Moving Washington state forward
In the face of gridlock in Washington DC, our state has made progress these last few years. We have funded our schools, expanded access to college and workforce training, and worked to make sure that every one — white, Black and brown — has access to opportunity. We have shown that a growing economy and rising wages and benefits can go hand-in-hand. I know that we can accomplish so much more in the years to come for Washington. I know that we can harness the spirit of innovation that has led our state to build the best airplanes, write the best software, and grow crops that feed the world to meet the challenges we face today.
I think about the progress we can make for hard working people all over our state — people like my dad, who go to work every day to put food on the family table and keep a roof over their heads. The future of our economy will depend on the investments we make in our workers and our education system, and the work we do to strengthen the international ties that are the lifeblood of our job market.
As a state lawmaker, I have focused on ensuring that middle class Washingtonians — and those striving to join the middle class — have a chance to share in this prosperity. When voters passed a historic minimum wage increase, I was proud to work on the team in the State Legislature that negotiated the nation’s most progressive paid family and medical leave program. Because a good job and a good wage aren’t enough — we need to ensure workers also have the time they need to bond with a new baby or to provide care for a sick parent or spouse.
In the Senate, I have focused on growing jobs in every corner of our state, leading the way on developing new green technologies like mass timber that will enable us to build more sustainably while creating jobs in timber communities. I have also championed investments in pollinator health and soil research, so that our agricultural economy in this state continues to compete in our globalized world. As Lt. Governor, I will never stop fighting for jobs and opportunity in every ZIP code in Washington.
With 40% of jobs in our state tied to international trade, our economy is the most trade-driven in the country. It will be the job of our next Lt. Governor to nourish those international ties. I have been honored to join Lt. Governor Habib on trade missions to South Korea, Spain and to the Paris Air Show to promote small and medium sized Washington companies. We have all watched as the Trump Administration has alienated our allies and praised brutal dictators. It will be the job of the next Lt. Governor to step forward on the international stage to share the message that Washington is a great place to invest, to create jobs, to work and to live.
In order to have a fair economy, we must first have a fair education system. When Senate Democrats retook the majority in 2017, my colleagues elected me as the Majority Floor Leader, where I found myself in the middle of the most important issues facing our state. I will never forget the task of passing a bill to fully fund our public schools, which came right down to the wire and passed on the very last day of the legislative session. In that moment, I reflected on all the students across our state who would have their own Ms. Gallaher, and how amazing, passionate teachers like her would finally be compensated fairly and our schools would have libraries with books and resources for them — just like I had.
I have also taken the lead to address the crisis of college debt that has left Washingtonians feeling trapped — unable to buy their first home, start a new company, or even get married and grow a family. I was proud to lead the fight in the State Legislature to pass a Student Loan Bill of Rights, pass a student loan refinancing program, and create a program to help our undocumented Dreamers access low interest loans to ensure college is in reach for everyone. As Lt. Governor, I will continue the work Lt. Governor Cyrus Habib started to expand access to higher education and opportunity. I was honored to sponsor legislation at his request to create one common college application. This kind of common sense step to reduce barriers is how we will ensure that our workforce has the skills needed for the jobs of tomorrow, and the resilience to weather economic upheaval.
Like far too many, as someone who identifies as LGBTQ, I have personally felt the sting of discrimination — I know what it feels like to be marginalized. I also know that as a white man, I have had many opportunities that have been denied to others. That is why as a state lawmaker, I have used my privilege, as well as my experiences of discrimination, to focus on advancing social justice for every community who faces systemic barriers in our state. One of my proudest accomplishments was banning so-called conversion therapy. I am so grateful that our LGBTQ youth will never face that kind of treatment again. I know that all Washingtonians are united by our commitment to making this state a safe and welcoming place for everyone.
And that is why we must all redouble our commitment to equity in all we do. As we expand education and opportunity, as we grow jobs and new industries, we must ensure that every Washingtonian has the chance to share in the success that lies ahead. As Lt. Governor, I will work with the new state Office of Equity, with legislators and leaders of color, with our state’s ethnic, women’s and LGBTQ commissions to place an equity lens on all the work we do in state government.
Even as I write this, our state is being tested. We face a virus that threatens the progress we have made and calls on us all to do our part to stop its spread. Some would use this moment to appeal to our fears, divide us against each other, and turn inward. But that is not the Washington we know and love. Even while we shelter in place and listen to public health instructions, we can see the community spirit that makes our state so special — from people picking up takeout orders to help their local restaurant to grocery workers and so many others determined to help us all weather this storm. We are so grateful for the health care workers and first responders who are working overtime to keep us all safe and healthy. And I know that once this moment of crisis has passed, we will do what we do best —we will innovate, build and lead.
From those days in third grade, when I learned to believe that in America anything is possible, to the journey of public service I have been so blessed to live, I have had the opportunity to give back to the community that helped me succeed. I know that there is so much more that we can still do together.
I ask for your support
I am a proud, lifelong Washingtonian. I would not be who I am or what I am, without this place. As I take this next step, I am more committed than ever to expanding opportunity and building on the progress we have made together. We have risen above our challenges in the past with our courage and our innovative spirit. And I know that the best is yet to come. I hope you will join me in this moment as we lead the way to a brighter, more inclusive future for this state we all love.