Ed Murray, Washington, 1996
Ed Murray (D)
State Senate, District 43
Elected November 1996
Re-elected 1998, 2000, 2004
Elected State Senate 2006
Essay by Ed Murray for Out and Elected in the USA
I am fortunate to represent a diverse urban community that is home to one of the nation’s largest research universities, the University of Washington. Serving as co-chair of the House Capital Budget Committee, I have been able to exercise leadership for the people of my district and the people of Washington by setting funding priorities to improve our public schools and state parks.
During the 1999 session, my committee recommended a two-year $2.2 billion budget that passed the Legislature. This “bricks and mortar” spending plan boosts funding for low-income housing, helping some of our neediest citizens, including homeless kids and thousands of homeless farm workers. It also calls for $323 million to build badly needed school classrooms, and another $229 million to renovate the state’s 33 community and technical colleges. These hard-fought victories will make a real difference for citizens everywhere in Washington, and I’m proud of my work helping our state meet these critical needs.
As a lawmaker, I also have a responsibility to step out front on equally important issues such as civil rights and school safety. But this hasn’t been easy. For three of my four years, I worked under a Republican-controlled Legislature. During that time, I helped fight back hostile legislation that attacked the civil rights of persons suffering from HIV/AIDS. When the balance of power shifted in 1999, letting Democrats share control in the Washington House of Representatives, I was able to move legislation that tried to help people, instead robbing them of their rights.
The best example of this during the 1999 session was my Safe School Act, which attracted 65 signatures, including 19 Republicans – more than any bill that session. It would have required the state Superintendent of Public Instruction to develop criteria for local school boards to use in establishing malicious harassment policies for their districts. Sadly, harassment in schools is commonplace, among all races and age groups. In a report released in 1999, the Safe Schools Coalition of Washington reports that 146 separate incidents of sexual-orientation-based harassment were reported to them during a five-year period. Harassment and fear of violence at school is linked to lower self-esteem and diminished academic performance. Many teachers and volunteers are not trained to recognize or deal with this behavior.
Unfortunately, far-right members inside the Legislature tarred and labeled this measure as a "gay bill" and put politics ahead of the needs of our kids. That was wrong. I will continue working on legislation that can make our schools free from bigotry and hate and places of tolerance and learning.
In 1999 I also sponsored a measure that would have extended the state’s leave policies for classified employees to include bereavement for the death of domestic partners. Anyone who has watched a loved one fight a debilitating illness – whether it’s AIDS or cancer – knows how this disrupts a person’s personal and work life. Like other progressive proposals, the bill never made it to the floor for a full vote.
My best moments were when, as a kid of 10, my dad came down to the state capitol for work. I would sit in the House and Senate chambers for hours and hours and watch the proceedings.Since then, I have wanted to serve in the Legislature. Walking on to the House floor for the first time in 1996 and taking my seat as a member was an incredible moment – the realization of a dream come true.
My worst moment was when I stood up on the House floor in 1996 to oppose an anti-same-sex-marriage bill. Suddenly banks of TV cameras and what seemed like a million flash bulbs focused on me. I was satisfied with my performance in the debate. But it was a low point because the attention concentrated on me for who I was and not for what I had done. It was attention every politician seeks, but not on this issue at this time.
Despite the myths, lawmakers in the Washington Legislature are some of the best and brightest people I have ever met. They spend a huge amount of time studying and working on complex policy issues. On occasion the opposite is true, such as when a right-wing member told me the world was going to end in the year 2000, so why bother too much with any legislation.