Michelle Caldier (R), just completing her first term as state representative for the 26th Legislative District, was first drawn to politics after she successfully got adult dental coverage reinstated for Medicaid patients in 2012. “It is my mission to help people,” she said. “And I was inspired by the opportunity to help on a different level.”
Caldier said the most important issues for the state are school funding and mental health, followed by transportation and concerns with state agencies such as the Department of Corrections and the Children’s Administration (in the Department of Social and Health Services).
She said that accountability is the key to adequate education funding, adding that the current funding formula is too complicated, how money is distributed is inequitable, and that there are ways to identify cost savings instead of just adding more money to the school budget.
Caldier also said the Legislature needs to be told how big the funding gap is: “Give us the dollar amount and we can find it.” She also added that all possible avenues for funding must be investigated before an income tax should be considered.
Caldier said the Legislature has worked well, especially in dealing with non-polarizing issues. She has co-sponsored several bills with bipartisan support. Her guiding principle is to represent the 26th District. “I am not there to represent the Republican Party,” she said. “I go for what I think my constituents want.”
Caldier’s roots are in the Bremerton area, and she said a challenge for her has been to get to know the Pierce County part of her district. To get to know the Key Peninsula, “You have to show up,” she said. “What I love about the Key Peninsula is that if they have a problem, they reach out.”
In 2013, she worked with the Key Free Clinic to provide dental care using her staff and equipment to fill an acute need, though the clinic is now working on a long-term model with other local dentists.
Caldier’s focus on bills over the last two years has been related to social services and child advocacy and she noted that her approach is to be hands-on and to drill deep into the issues she cares about. She described her experience addressing the problems in foster care (she is a foster parent herself) and speaking directly to foster parents and caseworkers to help uncover their issues. “You have to listen to everybody,” she said.
Caldier described the work involved trying to pass a bill last session for a database to track patients with serious mental illness. The goal was to improve continuity of care and avoid incarceration of patients whose issues were mental health, not criminal. She initially had good legislative support, but then stakeholders and interest groups began to lobby legislators, especially with cost concerns. She worked with the stakeholders to understand and address those concerns and is ready to move forward now in the next legislative season. Caldier found the process valuable, noting that there are often valid concerns and unintended consequences in lawmaking that need to be addressed.