Devin Kuh opened his ballot on July 19 and was shocked to find a number of incumbent legislators running uncontested. In particular, he was frustrated to see that Democratic challengers were lacking.
Kuh moved to White Salmon in 2013 and has spent the past seven years feeling, he says, “very unrepresented by my representatives.” Historically, Republicans have won the majority of votes in local races; the last Democrat the county sent to Olympia was Jay Inslee in 1990. But Kuh, a high school math teacher, sees opportunity in the numbers. “40 percent of the district is voting Democrat,” Kuh explains, “but 100 percent of our representation is Republican.”
A week later, Kuh declared his candidacy for what would be a successful write-in campaign in the August primary. Write-in campaigns are notoriously difficult, but Kuh will appear on the November ballot opposing incumbent Gina Mossbrucker for District 14 State Representative, Position 2.
Fueled by what he calls progressive ideals, 29-year-old Kuh approaches his work as an educator as a means of positive change on a smaller, classroom scale. In that context, he sees the impacts of state and national policies play out in the lives of his students and their families. Often, he observes, the system fails to “meet them where they’re at”—something he finds to be an invaluable pedagogical approach, and one he hopes to apply to policymaking. As events of 2020 continue to unfold, he has begun to feel the itch to pursue work with a broader impact. He wondered: “How do I feel meaningfully involved without upending my life?” Kuh concluded, “I think I just need to upend my life.”
Education obviously ranks among Kuh’s platform priorities, where he plans to advocate for sustained and sufficient funding, closing opportunity gaps, and addressing racial disproportionality in punitive discipline. His platform also includes health care, sustainable and durable economic growth, and natural resources. Equity is at the center of each of these areas, rather than a separate category unto itself. “Policy and legislation needs to center those who are most affected by the issues,” he explains. Acknowledging his social location as a young white male, his approach is to intentionally seek input and guidance from across the diverse constituencies of the district. “I want to be involving as many different people as possible in those decisions, my campaign, and my staff as I can,” Kuh says.
With strong ties to the outdoors, Kuh’s introduction to the Gorge was through recreation tourism; in addition to teaching Kuh spends his summer break as a rafting guide and kayak instructor. Preserving natural areas and supporting eco-tourism are central to a sound economy that is “sustainable based on the resources we have, and durable through different circumstances we’re going to face.”
Mossbrucker, who has held the seat since 2016, is what Kuh describe as “pro-business”—which he does not see as a bad thing. His vision of economic development, however, comes through his lens of supporting workers’ rights, including living wages and paid sick leave. “We need to support our businesses, but we also need to do things that make this a great district that makes people want to come to work. If we are doing things that provide benefits to people living in community, regardless of immigration status—if we have policies in place that take care of families and workers, it’s going to be someplace that people want to move to,”explains Kuh.
“If he casual observer has learned anything during COVID, it’s that health insurance should not be tied to your work,” says Kuh. With the future of the Affordable Care Act uncertain at the federal level, he would like to see Washington state lead in ensuring all residents are covered, through the current pandemic and the next crisis that will inevitably arise. “I think that’s a really important area where rural working families have really been hit hard by COVID.”
Kuh is fluent in Spanish, and posts on his campaign website and social media are bilingual. It’s part of his strategy for meeting people where they are. Kuh plans to spend much of the coming months building relationships in Yakima County, connecting with stakeholders and promoting voter registration.