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The Real Me 

Guest Commentary

I read with bemusement Robert Herold's acerbic column accusing me of being vague about my background. ("Inferences Left Hanging," 10/23/14.) Of course, politicians are fair game for personal attacks, but his claims were bizarre.

click to enlarge Michael Baumgartner is a Washington state senator representing the 6th District.
  • Michael Baumgartner is a Washington state senator representing the 6th District.

I have my full résumé, including photographs, references and even my commendation for my service in Iraq, on my website. I'm proud of the work I did on behalf of the U.S. State Department in Iraq and Afghanistan. Implying that those efforts were meaningless isn't only offensive to me — it's insulting to all Americans who have served in harm's way overseas.

For me personally, it was in Afghanistan where I met my wonderful, smart British wife Eleanor working together on a counter-narcotics team. It's hard to forget falling in love to a soundtrack of suicide attacks and threats of Taliban kidnapping. I'll always value my experiences overseas — they've helped shape my priorities back here in our great Washington state.

In particular, I've seen firsthand how a good education system — or a lack of one — can shape a country's well-being. It's education that can lift up those born in poverty, as well as moderate and civilize conflicts between different faiths and cultures.

We're fortunate to have that in America — but when I got to Olympia, I discovered that funding education has been a very low priority during the past two decades. As a WSU graduate, I was shocked that tuition had doubled and doubled again since I was a student.

So I joined the debate with patience and perseverance. If I could work with Prime Minister Maliki in Iraq and with Afghan tribesmen, I was sure I could work across the aisle in Olympia. In some ways it's taken just as much diplomacy, but with the help of some great colleagues here's what we've accomplished:

- We froze tuition two years in a row at all state colleges and universities — something that had not happened in 30 years.

- We formed a bipartisan majority that brought together Democrats and Republicans to find common ground and successfully balance the state budget.

- We put $1 billion extra into schools — funding all-day kindergarten in Spokane and throughout the state.

- We put extra money in the budget to pay for a medical school in Spokane.

These are my priorities — education in our schools, education in our colleges, education in a new medical school. It's our best hope for the well-educated workforce that will keep our country strong and confident through the challenges of the 21st century. And it's our best way to break the cycle of poverty that grips many families in the Inland Northwest.

But, on a personal level, it's a debt I owe on one hand to my parents who taught in public schools and colleges, and to my own young children.

So first and foremost, let's fund education and build a future for our children. That's what the real Michael Baumgartner stands for. ♦

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