Dear Friends, 

My friends, as your elected representative, I am deeply committed to addressing the complex challenges facing our rural communities. Too many of our neighbors struggle with low incomes, lack of affordable housing, homelessness, inadequate healthcare, and limited social services.

I have been traveling to rural areas on the cusp of urbanization and meeting with the Washington Community of Action Partnership and their 30 local offices. They emphasize that by working together – giving them a voice to help shape laws, regulations, and fiscal policies – we can build sustainable services for 2025 and beyond.

Recently, I participated in a powerful discussion at the Moore Wright Group in Aberdeen about the crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. This tragic issue, so close to my heart, underscores the broader needs in economically disadvantaged areas like Aberdeen and Bellingham.

These communities are transitioning from rural to urban, straddling different identities. Bellingham serves local residents as well as the Western Washington University population, while Aberdeen lies between rural and urban areas near Olympia. Both have growing populations from underrepresented groups.

This situation demands that we ensure equitable funding reaches all our diverse communities. Fortunately, Washington has new revenue from the Climate Commitment Act and Capital Gains Tax that can bolster historically underfunded areas like natural resources, early childhood education, environmental protection, and transportation. I will fight to protect this funding for these critical needs.

I am leading efforts to streamline support for nonprofits aiding low-income rural populations. We must analyze the Department of Commerce’s funding formula to potentially add rural provisions. Another priority is enhancing reentry services for the incarcerated through housing, healthcare, counseling, education, and jobs – preventing recidivism and homelessness in underserved rural areas.

There is also an urgent need for better behavioral health and addiction recovery services in prisons, where crisis response and meaningful treatment options are lacking. We must develop strategies supporting long-term wellness and successful reintegration. I have been meeting with law enforcement and prosecutors in our region to collaborate on smart policies with their guidance.

I am working hand-in-hand with local leaders who share my passion for building sustainable communities for all. A group of those leaders who have shared their insights and expertise are Sheriff Don McDermott, Police Chief Earl Cowen, Whatcom Prosecutor Eric Richey, Skagit Prosecutor Rich Weyrich, Whatcom County Chair Barry Buchanan, Bellingham Councilmember Dan Hammill, and my colleague Skagit County Commissioner Lisa Janicki. Together, we are tackling critical issues like the fentanyl crisis head-on.

In the interim, I will continue pushing the Department of Commerce to refine funding formulas and strategies truly reflecting rural needs. This is vital for towns like Aberdeen, Bellingham, Mount Vernon, and Yakima reeling from workforce impacts. We must invest in their transition to new economic opportunities.

You have my unwavering commitment to fight for the resources, services, and policies our rural communities deserve. I humbly ask for your continued support and partnership in this crucial work. Together, we will build a brighter future for all.

Keep reading for more on this Fantastic Friday. 

Rep. Debra Lekanoff

Addressing MMIWP Nationwide

Friends, as we discussed last week, more than four in five Native women will experience violence in their lifetimes and are murdered at more than ten times the national average, and it’s plain to see that this is critical issue that needs our focus and resources right now.

This past Sunday, May 5th, marked Missing and Murdered Indigenous People Awareness Day, a solemn moment to remember our brothers and sisters who have been lost, and those who remain missing to this day.

On this Fantastic Friday, I want to let you know about the work of tribes in Oklahoma to help launch a national effort to support our Native brothers and sisters.

According to ICT News:

“The Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes of Oklahoma is urging the Federal Communications Commission to approve proposed alert codes specifically for missing and endangered Indigenous people.

The federal agency has proposed establishing an event code that would use the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System to distribute alerts to people in certain areas about missing and endangered Indigenous people who are 17 years and older, and thus not covered by the Amber Alert system.

The five tribes passed their resolution supporting the proposed alert system at their April 19 meeting, arguing that the current missing persons event codes do not account for the epidemic of murdered and missing Indigenous men, women and Two-Spirit people.”

Right here in Washington, I’m proud to have joined with Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Washington State tribal leaders in creating an alert system, known as MIPA (Missing Indigenous Persons Alert), to help identify and locate Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People. 

This would be an incredible step forward, and I join in calling for the establishment of a national event code that will help protect Native peoples across this country. It is time that we take strong action to address this crisis head on, and I am ready to roll up my sleeves and get to work.

Working to Support Our Public Safety 

My friends and neighbors, I am deeply committed to the safety and well-being of all our communities in the Northwestern region of our great state. Our public safety officers form a dedicated team, prioritizing not just protecting residents but also supporting each other in their dangerous work. They understand the importance of mutual respect with the diverse communities they serve.

Since 2019, the Legislature has focused on implementing practices to provide safety for all. We have listened to those fearing for their lives, officers risking their lives, and first responders dealing with mental health crises and addiction. We’ve consoled families devastated by loss. Saving lives isn’t partisan, it’s a crisis we must solve together across the aisle. That’s why I’m committed to working with my colleagues from surrounding districts. We are stronger united.

Our officers have gone above and beyond for generations, building partnerships with youth, schools, and community programs while supporting their fellow first responders. I’m listening and ensuring we value proven local solutions, like Mount Vernon’s social workers, for behavioral health crises and multilingual officers in schools and communities.

As lawmakers, we must showcase our region’s approach and ensure our laws, policies, and investments reflect local values and commitment to all residents. In 2019, I saw officers volunteering with after-school programs to tremendous appreciation, especially from Hispanic/Latino students who felt seen, respected, and protected. The Swinomish cadet program lets youth envision becoming officers keeping their community safe while saving lives. This connection builds vital trust.

Recently, I’ve led bipartisan collaboration to address the fentanyl crisis impacting the incarcerated. We’re pursuing holistic solutions – recovery services, prevention, and aftercare to support struggling communities. The call for more Drug Task Force funding underscores our commitment to removing drugs from our streets and helping those battling addiction.

I will continue to partner with my bipartisan legislative colleagues in Skagit County and the City of Bellingham to seek funding resources, policies, and services at federal and state levels to incorporate recovery and aftercare services into local and state jails for those who are are suffering from substance abuse and behavioral health issues. We must engage all local and tribal leaders in these crucial public safety efforts.

My bipartisan work with law enforcement is vital for addressing needs from South Whatcom to North Snohomish counties. We’re enacting initiatives to enhance community safety and well-being. Investing in reentry support empowers successful reintegration, but it requires adequate resources and training to properly implement new laws.

Our united front against the fentanyl scourge and for community wellness shows our shared dedication to the safety of both residents and the officers who serve them. Collaboration and unity will drive positive change.

Water Rights Adjudication 

As we look ahead to this summer, I want to let you know about some recent action taken by the our Washington State Department of Ecology.

Last week, they filed a lawsuit, known as an “adjudication,” that will require a judge to rule on who owns the water rights in Whatcom County, as well as the amount of water they are allowed to use in wet and dry years.

Part of the Nooksack River

According to the Bellingham Herald:

“Ecology’s lawsuit could affect 30,000 people with wells and other water users in the Nooksack River Basin, which the state calls Water Resource Inventory Area 1. It includes the rivers, creeks, ponds, lakes and groundwater in all of Whatcom and part of northwestern Skagit County.

Affected parties include local governments, including Lummi Nation and the Nooksack Tribe, farmers, businesses and rural residents with wells. People who get their water from a utility such as the city of Bellingham won’t be affected, Ecology said in a statement.

A Whatcom County Superior Court judge was appointed to handle the case. Ultimately, the lawsuit could have broad impact on local agriculture, development and the environment.”

This is an incredibly important moment that will have far reaching impacts both across our district, and into the future. It’s imperative that we find a common ground that supports water access to all stakeholders, while also ensuring that our salmon and wildlife are protected.

Keep an eye out for future updates on this front – I will be sure to let you know once there is progress in this adjudication!

Replacing Bellingham Bridges 

Next, a quick update on some key infrastructure updates that are getting underway in Bellingham.

Two bridges – the Meador Avenue and James Street bridges – that span Whatcom Creek will be replaced over the next several months. Earlier this year, Public Works Department Director Eric Johnston told the Bellingham City Council that at least one of the bridges will be open to traffic during construction.

Downtown Bellingham

According to the Bellingham Herald:

“A Whatcom County Superior Court judge was appointed to handle the case. Ultimately, the lawsuit could have broad impact on local agriculture, development and the environment.

Both bridges were closed for several days during and after the torrential rain of November 2021, to inspect damage from raging water in Whatcom Creek. The bridges date to 1962 and have “structural deficiencies,” according to the city.

James Street north of Meador Avenue carried 6,900 cars daily in 2023, according to a city traffic survey. Meador Avenue west of James carried 3,200 cars a day.”

I am thrilled to see our district’s infrastructure being updated, and will be sure to keep you updated as the work progresses to replace these two important bridges.


Finally, I am thrilled to let you know that the Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE) has officially endorsed my reelection campaign!

WFSE has long been a strong supported of my work, and I have always kept their best interests at heart. Civil servants are the lifeblood of our state, and our country. We all owe them a deep gratitude for the work they do supporting our communities.

According to their website:

“WFSE members care for the most vulnerable in Washington state, keep us safe, protect our environment and so much more. That’s why people who work in public service never stop. This isn’t just a job; it’s a calling. The work matters because it means something to make a community better.”

Thank you, WFSE, for your continued support!