Freshman Haigh Hits The Ground Running

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* Shelton Democrat Kathy Haigh has earned praise for her commitment to education.

OLYMPIA – It is hard to miss the fire in Kathy Haigh’s eyes when she talks about her favorite topic – education.

“I believe that education is what will keep this country strong and free,”Haigh said. “It is educated people that can solve their own problems.”

The Shelton Democrat is a freshman member of the Legislature, where she serves as vice chair of the House Education Committee, chaired by Rep. Dave Quall, D-Mount Vernon.

She was not too shy to ask Quall to select her as his vice chair. Quall made the appointment, citing her education background, which includes 12 years on Mason County’s Southside School District Board of Directors.

“She really has hit the ground running,” Quall said. “So many people, when they get elected, it takes time. She has taken the lead in our caucus on the Democratic side on looking at the whole issue of funding of basic education.”

Haigh organized a discussion with about 20 education representatives and legislators on Jan. 23 to discuss basic education funding and how to avoid running levies and bonds.

“There are two parts to it: How are we going to collect money fairly, and how are we going to dole it out?” Haigh said. “We are going to try to write a bill … focusing on funding.”

Haigh also sits on the Transportation and State Government committees, and cites the disparities between rural and urban economics and declining salmon populations as key concerns.

Haigh, 48, ousted incumbent Rep. Peggy Johnson, who was criticized for pushing a phonics bill that teachers disliked.

Enter Haigh, whose election was one of the closest and last decided last November. Once the absentee ballots were counted, she prevailed, assuring a tie in the House with 49 Democrats and 49 Republicans.

Haigh is a veterinarian who owns a clinic in Shelton with her husband, Dr. Gary Haigh.

She grew up on an Ohio farm and is past president of the Washington State Veterinary Medical Association. She has two sons, Eddie, 17, and Dan, 14.

She owns three horses, two cats and a dog. Her Olympia office boasts pictures of her Arabian, “Rocky”; her Tennessee Walker; and Peaches, her “good luck charm.” Peaches is the size of a large dog, and during her campaign, Haigh propped signs on her.

Like most legislators, Haigh said she relishes the job despite being forced to stake out positions that offend some blocs of constituents.

“I think most of us are motivated out of something that has happened in our lives,” Haigh said. “The freshmen don’t come up here trying to maintain status quo. We come up here because we have a cause.”

One of the biggest surprises for Haigh since the Legislature convened is realizing the power of being a lawmaker.

“I can call the Department of Ecology, and they call me back, and that’s nice,” she said. “I never really realized that kind of thing could happen.”

Haigh was supported by teachers and education groups across the state, many of whose representatives call her tenacious.

“I think she is going to be very attentive on the needs of her district,” said Dwayne Slate, associate executive director of Washington State School Directors Association. “She strikes me as kind of a policy-maker that has high policy ideals, but she is grounded.”

Debbie Wing was superintendent of the Southside School District until recently, and worked with Haigh for seven years. She said Haigh was a hard worker, always willing to do extra legwork to understand an issue or help others.

“She is a wonderful listener, and regardless of whether she agrees with someone or not, people genuinely feel that she is sincere,” Wing said.

Le Ann Prielipp, president of the Washington Education Association, said she supported Haigh because of her education background. Haigh “looked seriously at what education issues were, and listened to what the people in her area had to say,” Prielipp said.

Haigh’s political experience includes time as a citizen lobbyist promoting a simple-majority requirement for approval of school levies and bond issues rather than the current 60 percent requirement. That’s when Slate, of the Washington State School Directors Association, first encountered her.

“She took it upon herself to meet with (Secretary of State) Ralph Munro and started banging on doors of legislators one at a time. She would say, ‘The senator doesn’t agree on this,’ but she wouldn’t accept no for an answer.”

Slate said he thinks Haigh has all the necessary qualities to be a force in Olympia.

“There are people who just kind of exude an energy level. I don’t mean to be flattering, but people like her get elected to the Legislature,” the Bremerton native said. “She is very inspiring; she kind of emits energy and forces others to work as hard as she does.”

Haigh said she is learning that real change takes time and that her school funding bill might take time.

“It’s feverish. I may not make it this year, but the work that I do this year won’t be gone. I can carry through in the summertime; I am not expecting miracles. What I am trying to do now is build consensus.”

For now, she is scoring points.

“We have 14 freshmen this year, and I am not going to say she is Rookie of the Year, but she is going to be close to it,” Quall said.

After her first few weeks in office, Haigh said it’s family that she misses, particularly time with her sons.

“They wait for me to get home to make supper till about 8,” said Haigh, who has been getting home about 9:30 at night since the Legislature convened. “Then they don’t wait anymore.”

Legislative profiles

Editor’s Note:This is the first in a series of profiles of West Sound area state legislators by Sun reporters Tim Christie and Sally Farhat. The profiles will be published periodically throughout the current legislative session.

This article was originally published in the Kitsap Sun. Click here to read the original.

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