Representative Emily Wicks: From Bench Building to Being Elected

Representative Emily Wicks: From Bench Building to Being Elected

On this midweek show, Representative Emily Wicks shares her journey from youth leader to recruiter for women candidates to elected representative of the 38th Legislative District. She and Crystal delve into why women are better prepared to lead than they may think, discuss her legislative work around social equity in the cannabis industry and sustainable funding for our transportation infrastructure, chat about how her Week Without Driving went, and wrap up with how women can prepare for a campaign of their own.

About the Guest

Find Representative Emily Wicks on Twitter/X at @WicksWA38


Washington State House Democrats - Emily Wicks:

HB 2022 - Concerning social equity in the cannabis industry:

HB 2026 - Implementing a per mile charge on vehicles:

Disability Rights Washington - Disability Mobility Initiative:

Disability Mobility Initiative - Week Without Driving:

Front and Centered:

Northwest Women’s Political Caucus of Washington:


[00:00:00] Crystal Fincher: Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm Crystal Fincher, and I'm a political consultant and your host. On this show, we talk with policy wonks and political hacks to gather insight into local politics and policy in Washington State through the lens of those doing the work with behind-the-scenes perspectives on what's happening, why it's happening, and what you can do about it. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at and in our episode notes.

So today, I'm especially pleased to have joining us - Representative from the 38th Legislative District, the Assistant Majority Whip in the Democratic caucus, and the immediate past president of the National Women's Political Caucus in Washington - Emily Wicks. Welcome.

[00:00:53] Representative Emily Wicks: Thank you so much for having me. It's great to be here with you today.

[00:00:56] Crystal Fincher: Very excited to have you here. Well, I just wanted to start off by - wondering how did you wind up in the Leg? What is the path you took? When did you know you wanted to run for office? How did that unfold for you?

[00:01:11] Representative Emily Wicks: Wow. That's a long process, I guess, but also a short one. It's one of those things where you know that young people that get involved in ASB [Associated Student Body] - and early on in their life in leadership positions - tend to go into those spaces. So I guess I'm a poster child for that. And that's why I continue to tell young people to get involved in their schools, to get involved in that way. But I've always been somebody who saw a problem or wanted to take a leadership role on as I look at that, but I never thought I would end up in the Legislature in this capacity.

I began, again, just being involved in school and all of those sorts of things - being that kind of vibrant young person that wants to know everything and be involved in everything. And the term bossy, I guess, comes in - I try to own that term. But yeah, moving into - I love policy, I love public relations - I wanted to be a reporter when I started out. And that just led me to get involved in politics and government affairs and to learn more about that. And just a series of events - from a great job opportunity here and there to ending up working for the governor on his 2012 campaign - learning how to fundraise and ask for money, and then really wanting to get involved in the legislative process. And that's where I really fell in love with the legislature. There's a lot of different people that are involved in that area and that system, and it's really difficult for people outside of that system to kind of navigate it. And so when I was working for then State Representative Cyrus Habib during his first term, I got to learn how that process worked. And I was really passionate about making sure that people could get involved and talk to their legislators, and they could take an idea and translate that into meaningful action, and getting a bill passed.

When I was doing that, I also joined the Women's Political Caucus - that was about 2013. And that's where I learned the importance of getting women elected and the disproportionality of women in public office. And so I spent from 2013 to 2020 encouraging women to run and get in there. And in that process and in that work, coming back to my hometown of Marysville and the community of Everett in Snohomish County, really trying to build up the pipeline of women here - I actually ended up building up myself, I guess, as well. So when the option - opportunity - became available, when Senator McCoy retired and Senator Robinson moved into his seat in the Senate, I jumped in. I mean, that's what I always tell women to do. This is your opportunity - you know you can make a difference. And so this was not something that I thought would be possible, but coming back home and caring about my community is what really led me to this position, as well as all of the women that inspired me and I work to inspire to get elected.

[00:04:23] Crystal Fincher: Yeah. I mean, and I've watched you do a lot of that inspiring up close and appreciate all of the work that you've done to support so many women running for office, build the bench, and help train and develop people who are interested in running for office. And we see the results of that on city councils across the state, in the legislature - just all over and appreciate that. What was it that really made you believe that you could run and win?

[00:04:58] Representative Emily Wicks: Well, we always talk about - have the confidence of a mediocre white man, and it's so fun when women haven't heard that phrase because I feel like we talk about it all the time, but they just get so excited and they all say, "I'm going to write that down," but it's absolutely true. I think so many times we see people in leadership positions kind of go to these meetings and they didn't really do the homework, they didn't really do the work on it, and they're there. And people watch them and they think they're doing a great job. And I think there's this expectation, too, that we need to have all of the information to do a good job. But so much of the skillset that I know that I've gotten from everything has just been doing the work - asking questions, and getting in there and being able to think clearly, and think about the impacts of it, and to learn. So you go into this and you don't need to know it all. You just need to be willing to learn. And so I think these spaces are especially important for people that know they don't have all the answers, but they want to do what's right and they want to be informed.

So I know so many people say, "Oh, I don't have experience in that. I don't know that much about the school board," but believe me, so many people don't have that kind of knowledge when they come into it. They just think that it's their right to be in that space. And we know that when it comes to applying for jobs, men will apply for a job if they meet 60% of the qualifications and women will apply only if they meet 100% of it. So it's really recognizing that you don't have to have all the answers, you don't even have to have all the skill sets - that actually comes with doing the work and it comes with being effective. And I can tell you that last year, in my first year, I constantly felt like I didn't know enough and that I wasn't capable. And I stopped trying to feel that way - I just said - just ask questions, ask things that you think are silly, ask clarifying questions. And I am so much more capable this year as a result.

And I can tell you too, when I became president of the Women's Political Caucus, I was so, so nervous to do that work. And it was a volunteer role, but I knew how important it was and my predecessors had done such amazing things. But my skills and everything that I was able to do for the caucus with the great team that I had came from doing the work - again, asking for assistance, asking questions and really diving into the process each time. So I would say anyone can do this if they have that passion and that excitement to do the work and they really care about people. But it does take doing the work, and I think women tend to do that. We don't tend to fluff up things and add to things unless we are really confident in that. And I think that makes it - people that want to learn and grow and also makes it so that we're going to make the more informed decisions. Hopefully, I answered that question in a long roundabout way.

[00:08:14] Crystal Fincher: No, you answered it perfectly. I think you made so many good points, including not having to know all of the information walking in and that you already possess valuable skills just from your lived experience - and you have broad professional experience - but what you picked up from that work and from the work of supporting so many women across the state in being trained and running and winning, you brought to the Legislature. I mean - just hearing feedback and different people talking to each other and watching you work. You working a bill is something. There are some people who introduce bills and they just kind of let it sit there. There are others who are in communication with all of their colleagues, with advocates, with impacted people in community, and sharing all of that information from those stakeholders with other stakeholders, and making sure people are up to date and brought on board. And building the coalition necessary, communicating in a way that respects your colleagues, but where you aren't compromising on what you believe. You're a very strong advocate with the ability to bring your colleagues along with you, which is a really valuable skill that a lot of women have - that would be valuable to have more of in the Legislature - for people who might be considering.

But things like that - that sometimes it's not just - do you understand this policy? And sometimes that is one of the easiest parts in the process is, okay, let me make sure to speak with, inform people in this area and relevant stakeholders - but those interpersonal skills with other legislators and the ability to not just introduce a bill, but to get support for it, to get co-sponsors, and to continue to pick up people and add in their feedback, and get enough votes to pass is a skill and a talent and something that a legislator has to have to be a truly effective leader. I know I've appreciated seeing that with you. So what committees are you on?

[00:10:28] Representative Emily Wicks: I am the Vice Chair of Commerce & Gaming, and I'm on the Transportation Committee and the Children, Youth & Families Committee.

[00:10:35] Crystal Fincher: Okay. So what are the pieces of legislation that you're working on or that we should be keeping an eye on and paying attention from you?

[00:10:44] Representative Emily Wicks: Absolutely. So on the cannabis side and the Commerce & Gaming side, we deal with - I'll say this again. On the Commerce & Gaming side, we deal with all of the fun sins, I guess you could call them - liquors, wine and beer, as well as gambling and cannabis and tobacco. So I'm actually a big advocate for the cannabis industry, and the way that we have rolled out our legal cannabis industry, I-502, has been less than ideal, I think. A lot of things that have come into this space have kind of been informed by history of, I would say, systemic whiteness and thinking through that. And so as soon as we made cannabis legal, we made it legal for people that have historically done everything right. And we've really criminalized in the past those who have engaged in this area and have used this product. And then we all of a sudden made it legal. And in that process of making it legal, we still left a lot of people out.

So this year, I'm bringing forward the social equity in cannabis bill, which is House Bill 2022. So I'm hoping with a great bill number like that, it can get passed. But it's really about correcting those inequities and making sure that our social equity applicants, those who have been left out of the system because they maybe had a criminal record related specifically to cannabis use or come from a background of a low-income background or have lived in poverty in the past, which makes it really hard to enter the system and to get the capital that you need to be successful in the system - that they have opportunities to receive licenses. And we have a cap on the number of cannabis retail licenses that we have. And currently they're not accepting any more producer/processor licenses.

So House Bill 2022 works to correct that harm by adding 39 new licenses per year until 2029 for social equity candidates, and then 29 for producer/processors. So 39 for retailers, 29 for producer/processors, basically allowing them to enter the system. There are also other mechanisms in there that they can be mobile. Right now - your license - you have to apply for your license in your city or in the city that you find a building, doesn't necessarily have to be your city, and that's where they provide your license. But then there's all these other local restrictions that could potentially go into place. Or you just have a problem finding a location that is going to make your business successful. And that also goes into restrictions on where you can be and the distance you need to be away from schools and other areas. And so we've lowered some of those restrictions because people were not finding spaces to be able to have a successful industry. And it's really important that we have a variety of businesses in different locations, and that they're not just in one specific spot. So we're doing that for the social equity candidates that come through seeking a license.

We're also providing some additional money for technical support and for low-interest loans, as well as some other pieces to support people in that process. So I'm really looking forward to it. I know it's going to be an uphill battle because there is this general idea that we shouldn't have more retail licenses, but what that's doing is really hampering people and it's leaving it to the elite and those who could get into the system. So by increasing that, we can increase the number of people of color that have ownership and that have that economic opportunity. So I'm really excited and I'm very thankful to Rep Jesse Johnson for helping move it forward and the folks at the NAACP for really saying, "We're going to go big and we're going to ask for what we need," because in the reality, it's just a small drop in the bucket of ways that we can support people that we've harmed for far too long.

[00:15:00] Crystal Fincher: Well, that definitely sounds like it's moving more in the direction that a lot of people were initially hoping things would move, before finding that people who had been historically harmed, historically criminalized and targeted because of marijuana use - predominantly people of color and people with lower incomes - were also shut out of the profits in this big marijuana boom. And now that people can make money off of it, it's respectable and all these white people now are owning these businesses and then selling those. But needing to address the harm that has been done in community and the inequity that it has created. So I definitely appreciate you taking action on that. And we will be paying attention to House Bill 2022, as it moves forward - definitely keep us up to date on that. What else are you working on?

[00:15:59] Representative Emily Wicks: Well, something that I'm bringing forward on the Transportation side is I'm proposing a road usage charge. And this really came about - the transportation commissions and others have been doing a lot of studies around this - and we need to expand that work that they're doing. And so this specific bill will allow current EV vehicle users that have an older EV vehicle - electric vehicle - to be able to opt into the system and pay a per-mile fee of 2.5 cents. And that fee would be capped at $175 for them to enter into this and work towards that process. So right now, our electric vehicle users are paying a $225 flat fee when they go and renew their license every year. And that's a pretty big chunk of money, especially when you add all the other licensing fees on top of it. So in addition to that, we're adding something in the bill to get the Department of Licensing to also implement periodic payments so that people can pay their licensing fees and their pay-per-mile fees in chunks.

But what we're really getting at with this piece of legislation is to address the declining gas revenue and to make sure that we still have that really critical revenue that we need both for maintenance and preservation, but also to move into a clean green economy. So we need the infrastructure to be able to support electric vehicles and electric hybrid vehicles and hydrogen vehicles - we need all of that in place. And we also want money to go toward more active transportation - so being able to bike and walk and have trails and all of those pieces that really make for a really healthy community and really connect us to our larger community. I can tell you just when I walk, I notice so much more about my community and I feel so much more connected.

And so there's a lot of aspects to the road usage charge bill, but right now when you're not paying gas tax, you're still using the road and you're still putting a lot of wear and tear on it. And so we need to be able to invest in all of the things that make our communities worthwhile, in the cities and the counties that are addressing their transportation needs and meeting that, and also on the state level - making sure that we have those resources in place. And what's really great is that this will be a small amount of money that we begin to earn, but the governor has proposed a $7,000 rebate for electric vehicle owners in his budget. And so with that, we really need to be thinking ahead of all of the people that are going to start moving to an electric vehicle soon and the gas tax that we will potentially be losing. And that gas tax - although we don't like paying our taxes - we know it goes into our roads. So how can we maintain that and make sure that everyone's continuing to pay their fair share, but are also moving to these cleaner vehicles and into a green transportation future.

[00:19:15] Crystal Fincher: Yeah. And that's a huge question. And especially dealing with this directly on the Transportation Committee, you did something that not a lot of legislators or electeds did, but you participated in the Week Without Driving. And I've followed along as you were doing that and you were walking and taking transit. And it's so much of the conversation as we are looking at an increased percentage of people - I mean, as much as a quarter of people are getting around at some time without using a car, whether they're walking or rolling or biking, a wide variety of things there. And with an increasing population that's disabled and people just not wanting to have to own a car - really having the choice - how we design our transportation and transit systems directly impacts that.

And we have some money coming from the federal government to invest in roads. There's lots of conversation about what kind of Transportation package is going to be put together. And I know big questions that people have are - one, do you support expanding highways? I mean, certainly there's maintaining roads. But building new ones, expanding highways, additional lanes - is that something that we should be doing as we look forward to the future, particularly as we're trying to address a global climate change problem? And how do we make this system support choice for people who don't want to drive and to truly make people who aren't driving connected to the community and everywhere accessible?

[00:21:07] Representative Emily Wicks: Absolutely. There's a lot of questions in there and thoughts that I had during your statement and questions, but first of all, I think we need to be really cautious about expanding our highways because that is not a solution to our capacity issue. In order to get to capacity - what they would say - we need about $5 billion in more roads to be able to do that. And that adds additional cost to maintenance and additional things that can go wrong, so we really have to look at things differently. But my friends at Front and Centered actually came to me with a great piece of legislation that is being brought forward in California, which would prevent any more road expansion in disproportionately affected areas. So they would be using our health disparities map to make those decisions. And I love this bill. I really love it. However, in a short 60-day session where we're just working on it, it's really something that I want to kind of tackle in the near future with them on this piece of legislation.

And we have to think about other things - like is it okay to build another lane for transit? Is it okay to build another lane for bike and pedestrian use? Where are those pieces? And also, how do we look at those things in terms of a rural community? A lot of our rural folks have a lot of dangerous roads where they might need a turn lane - does that preclude that? So there's little pieces that we need to think about when we're talking about building more roads, but in general, I'm very much not in favor of doing that. I think we need to maintain what we have and continue to look at other options.

Transit is going to be a big need, and as our region and our state is growing, that is the only way that we're going to do that in a sustainable way - is moving people together and moving them around their community so that they don't have to get in a car and drive. It takes up way more space for 15 people to be in a car than 15 people to be in a bus or to take other modes of transportation. Again, I don't think cars are going to go away. I think there's an absolute - they're not an absolute, but there is a need for them, especially to move around our freight and our goods. And I think by doing that, we all also solve a big problem with our goods and services - our goods getting around and getting from port to store and helping that - making sure that the lives and the quality of life for the people doing that, those deliveries, and doing that important work, that they can get around and are not stuck in traffic. And also being stuck in traffic is really, really bad for our environment.

And then just to go back to that Week Without Driving, it really, truly inspired me to do more in that space. There's so many people that are non-drivers out there. And both in the governor's budget and what I'll be proposing with the disability folks is to invest in a non-driver study, so we can really understand how many people are not driving - what are those challenges, other aspects - so we can have a full knowledge about what people are going through and where the gaps are. I'm also going to be putting forward a proviso that asks WSDOT to do a very deep transit study to know where we have gaps and where people need more service. So I think combined with those two things - will give us some accurate data on really recognizing what we can do for people that are not driving.

And the experiences that I had during the Week Without Driving were amazing and really difficult. And being an able-bodied person and somebody who has full control of every aspect of my body - at one point, I had to take my shoes off and walk down a hill because it was so steep. And I think about a wheelchair going down there. There were certain areas where I had to take stairs. Going from Everett all the way to a very neighborhood community in Seattle - it was really difficult - three buses there, three buses back. And I just think about how difficult it was for me, with somebody with all of the resources at my disposal and money at my disposal to be able to purchase those bus passes, to have my ORCA card, and to walk around with that freedom.

And also - but the planning and the difficulty getting around. And I don't get sick very often, and I've been very lucky that I have not gotten COVID, but I got really sick from that traveling experience during that week. And that was just because I really was pushing myself in a lot of different ways and I can just understand how much other people, people living with disabilities, have to do to prepare, have to do while they're out, and just how difficult that is, especially when things go wrong because things went wrong a couple of times. I stood on the wrong side of the road for a bus, which was really embarrassing whilst the driver went by and yelling at him. I missed a couple too and ended up just walking home. So frequency was a really big issue as well.

So we have to think about how we're taking care of people in our community. And again, there's a lot more people that are not driving than we think. And we need to really invest in that and really invest in making sure that our transportation is clean by leaving our reliance on vehicles and taking transit and walking and getting to know our communities more. So those are some other comments that I wanted to add, but that's kind of the general direction that I'm moving. Of course, we need to take care of all of these important pieces of our transportation system when it comes to maintenance, but we shouldn't be adding more roads that really just create more capacity, more traffic, and lower our quality of life.

[00:27:24] Crystal Fincher: Yeah. Completely agree. And the work that the Disability Mobility Initiative is doing in advocating in that area is excellent. We'll link them in the episode notes, along with Front and Centered, who is another excellent advocacy coalition. I wanted to talk a little bit about the Women's Political Caucus - you being the immediate past president, Olgy Diaz just starting as president. With a lot of people potentially considering running for office this coming year, next year, why is it important to prepare? And how does the Women's Political Caucus help?

[00:28:11] Representative Emily Wicks: Well, first of all, I'm so extremely excited for Olgy Diaz to take the helm, and she has absolutely embraced this position. And I've noticed too that we really haven't had any women presidents that have - one, had children, or been a person of color. So Olgy taking the lead on this and supporting this effort is going to be just absolutely amazing. And I'll add that the Women's Political Caucus - we're all volunteer-run, and that has created a lot of barriers, I think, too, in this process. So we are working on becoming or having a 501(c)(3) arm so that we can actually pay our president, or pay consultants that come in and support the women that are running throughout this process - to really recognize the hard work that it takes to do this - because I tell you, it is a labor of love.

And if you have so many other competing interests or if you even had a child, there's not a lot of opportunities for you to be really successful. And I'm proud of our organization for people not knowing that we're volunteer-run - that I always have to mention that to folks. So remember - we're an all volunteer-run organization - because there is this expectation that we're this full-blown group that is all working really hard. And we are working really hard, but it's just because we love doing the work. So what the Women's Political Caucus - our mission is to recruit, train, and elect women to public office. So that recruiting side starts with all of us in our individual communities doing specific things and bringing people into the conversation. We do that all year round through our events, through our network.

And there's really a lot more that we could do around there. I had someone come to me saying, how do we get women that might not already be interested in running? Because yeah, so oftentimes we get people that kind of have been thinking about it, so they go out and they look for you. So there's things you can do at the elementary school level, there's things you could do at the middle school level, and the high school level, and the college level, and just out in your community to do that - and to get people really motivated and interested in that. And I know I've been able to do some of that work with the Girl Scouts - talking about my experience growing up and doing leadership and where I am today. And so that's been really inspiring. So I'd love to grow that opportunity too.

But then we do our trainings every year. So we have - and you've been part of that - thank you so much for your input and your insight and providing that with all of these great candidates that we bring forward. But we do our training - both for campaign managers, potential candidates - people that are thinking about running, or really didn't think about running, but really want to how the campaign process works, or maybe just dipping their toe in a little bit. So we go over all of the nuts and bolts. We talk about kind of those big things - fundraising, field, and communications that you need to know about. And we bring together volunteer women consultants from across our state who are working with women and doing great things to get their feedback and hear their insight. And it's such a love fest too, because we really talk about what it's like to run as a woman. And every year, we're learning more things. We're getting more knowledge in there that we can pass on to folks. And we also just become a really tight-knit group of people supporting that group going forward that year.

After that, we begin the endorsement process and we have different endorsement committees. So we call them our Local Endorsement Actions Committee, Action Committees, LEACs, and they are in each county. And we always would love more people if there's other counties that we are not covering, because I know we do need a Whatcom and a Skagit person. So I'd love to put that out there, as well as Spokane. But we do cover all of those areas as well through the rest of the state. So if people come to us that way, we take them on. But our local LEACs work with the women and go through that endorsement process to decide if they are a pro-choice viable candidate ready to go, and we do our best to make sure that we're supporting that individual throughout their time. And one way that we do that support is through our PAC donations. So we are able to invest in all of the candidates running. And this past year, we invested $20,000 in local candidates from fire district to city councils and county councils. And we always are able to make a huge impact, too, when it comes to legislative years as well.

So we're continuing to build that resource, make sure that we provide the necessary options or, sorry, making sure that we're providing the necessary funding for candidates for them to be successful and continuing to build that pipeline by getting more women involved and being a critical network. But I'm excited to grow our organization to be doing more of that outreach - to identify people that maybe never thought about running, but definitely would be great and they just need a little bit of encouragement or to be asked seven times. We can do that.

[00:33:30] Crystal Fincher: Yeah. And lots of studies show - you've said many times - how much more women need to be asked to run. It does not occur to women that they are prepared to run like it occurs to men, certainly nowhere near the frequency that it does for men. And it takes different people saying, "You should run. You could run. You can win," multiple times - at least seven times - for them to say, "You know what? Maybe I actually can," for them to actually internalize that and believe it. So couple lessons - if there's someone who you think would be great running for office, tell them yourself. Never ever skip that step. Never ever just think that. If you think someone would be great in any kind of leadership position, always tell them - particularly if it's a woman, person of color.

And then just make sure people get involved. It does take preparation to run. Lots of different ways to make change in communities - elections are one of them. But if you are going that route, it's so important to prepare, so important to know what's ahead of you. Elections are weird things with lots of weird rules and customs and conventions and all that kind of stuff. And you want to understand what lays ahead, you want to understand how to navigate all of that. You have to - you want to understand what actually works for winning votes and not - because there's a lot of misunderstandings and misinformation out there. So if you're interested in running, if you're interested in helping someone who's running, if you're interested in particularly - and possibly working on campaigns as a staffer, campaign manager, consultant - if you are considering any of that, sign up for the Women's Political Caucus trainings, please. They are among the best in the state. You make everyone else's job better and easier because you're more prepared and understand what's ahead and are prepared to win really. So I just want to absolutely thank you for taking the time to join us today, Emily.

[00:35:41] Representative Emily Wicks: Thank you. And if anyone wants to sign up, we do have a signup page at We don't have dates yet, but we have a page that you can sign up and we can let you know how to, or as soon as the trainings get scheduled.

[00:35:55] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. And you can also follow them on Facebook and on Twitter. So thank you so much for taking the time to join us today - always a pleasure. Appreciate all of the work that you're doing, and we will follow those bills that you talked about and keep an eye on Olympia.

I thank you all for listening to Hacks & Wonks on KVRU 105.7 FM. The producer of Hacks & Wonks is Lisl Stadler with assistance from Shannon Cheng. You can find me on Twitter @finchfrii, spelled F-I-N-C-H-F-R-I-I. Now you can follow Hacks & Wonks on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever else you get your podcast - just type "Hacks & Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to get our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, leave a review wherever you listen to Hacks & Wonks. You can also get a full transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at and in the episode notes.

Thanks for tuning in. We'll talk to you next time.