Justin Smoak for Congress
I have spent my life serving others and solving problems. I am a fun-loving, optimistic and proud American, but like many of you, find myself increasingly disappointed in our current political status quo in Congress. I encourage you to join me in dreaming big for the 1st congressional district and our country. In this era of negativity, instead of being told why something can’t be done, let's respond with a confident “Why not?” and then go out and do it!
May 26, 2020
Engineer. Manager. Director. Coach. Mentor. Leader. Friend.
I was born and raised in the Silicon Valley during the original dot.com boom, where I was exposed to a wide variety of technology, cultures, faith traditions, political beliefs, and economic statuses. This variety of friendships and experiences reinforced at an early age the need to listen, understand and accept those that are different to find the common ground necessary to be good neighbors, friends, and citizens. After high school, I bypassed the high living costs and overcrowded lecture halls of the University of California system and headed east to the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains and Virginia Tech. I enjoyed my four years in Blacksburg, earning two degrees in Mining Engineering and Economics, serving and leading in Christian student ministry, and cheering on the Hokies sports teams, including one year spent on the track and field team as a decathlete.
Upon graduation, I went to work supervising crews in underground mining operations, producing the road deicing salt that kept the east coast safely moving through their harsh winter storms. After two years, I had saved up enough money to pursue a Master’s degree in mineral economics at Wits University in Johannesburg, South Africa. I treasure my time spent in the Rainbow Nation and seeing America through my African friends’ eyes reiterated and further ignited my love for my home. I was deeply affected by scenes and stories of immeasurable joy despite abject poverty; racial injustice transforming to reconciliation; crime and corruption but also optimism and hope. It was from Africa that I ended up in Bellingham working for a junior precious metals producer based in Blaine, and Washington State has been my home for the past 13 years. I held senior leadership roles in operations in Canada and Peru, and in the process picked up just enough Spanish and French language skills to be dangerous. About five years ago when gold prices dropped, I was fortunate to transition into an R&D, sales and marketing role with Ferndale-based Samson Rope, a world leading and 100% “Made in the USA” manufacturer of high performance ropes. We prove daily that high quality, American made products can not only compete, but excel, in the global marketplace.
I have spent my career working with and alongside scientists, engineers, union tradespeople, bankers and local communities, developing innovative solutions and producing both the raw materials and finished goods that improve our daily standard of living. I have known the joy of seeing a young engineer’s face light up when you tell her “You’ve got the job!” and the heartbreak of announcing layoffs to 100 friends and colleagues. I have had the honor of sharing a 3AM skip (or elevator to you non-mining folks) ride 1600ft underground to start a shift with some of the hardest-working, loyal and skilled union workers our great country can produce and I’ve also seen the devastation that reckless and unaccountable bankers and corporation actions have had on their hard earned retirement plans. I’ve excelled throughout my career at understanding science, data and risk, and I’m not afraid to make the right decisions.
When I’m not working, you can find me playing, coaching and refereeing rugby, volunteering with middle schoolers at my church, enjoying our delicious Washington craft beers on the back porch with friends and exploring the beautiful Washington scenery with my cockapoo, Belle.
Everyday Americans have far more in common than the politicians we send to Washington DC and the echo chambers of social media would lead us to believe. Each party seems more focused on denying their opposition than promoting the common good. While we can debate where and when this political disconnect started and who was originally at fault, the sad truth is that this year an 18-year-old first time voter will fill out their ballot having almost no examples of meaningful, truly bi-partisan legislation passed in their lifetime. As voters and as citizens, we must set the tone and stop supporting those that won’t work for us. I will work for you, not Nancy Pelosi, not Donald Trump, and certainly not the corporate special interests that fund and play both sides.
We all agree that the future success of our nation depends heavily on how we educate our next generations. We must ensure that the salaries we offer our teachers will attract and retain the best, brightest, and most passionate people to our schools. We need to streamline and cut the fat from the bloated educational bureaucracy starting in the US Department of Education. In consideration of future industrial needs and in collaboration with American trade unions (who in the absence of public trades education have been the leaders in educating and training America’s tradespeople), we must bring trades education pathways back into our schools. College affordability and student debt are problems that many young people in the workforce currently face, and for those that are not ultra-wealthy, worrying about how to pay for their children’s college education may pile on top of that. I believe a well-educated population is a public good, and propose capping tuition at any university that receives federal funding at 500 times the hourly minimum wage, or roughly the amount of money one could earn working a summer job or part time during the school year.
A pandemic is not unprecedented, but the overreaching federal and state government responses to the COVID-19 pandemic certainly have been. Hiding behind failed models, changing stories, arbitrary regulations, and condescending rhetoric about “science and data”, our politicians have turned a serious health crisis that has taken the lives of over one hundred thousand Americans into a political circus that continues to divide us. We collectively sacrificed and flattened a curve just in time for the goal posts to be shifted by unelected academics who can’t model what’s already happened, let alone what will happen in the future. Criminals have been released onto our streets and into our neighborhoods, some re-offending within hours of their release, but our governor criminalizes fishing and golf. Hard working small business owners have been forced to close their businesses while big box stores remain open. Schools have shut down, and caring teachers miss their students and worry about their well-being. The burden of education has been forced upon parents, many of whom are struggling with layoffs, furloughs, and non-traditional work situations. Unemployment levels rival those of the Great Depression. The media relies on sensationalism and scare tactics to drive ratings and advance agendas, and the result is that a large portion of the population is now too afraid to venture into public life even after any lockdowns or quarantines are relaxed.
We have an abundance of real-world data and experiences that we must be utilizing to quickly, confidently, and safely re-open as much of our society as is practical. Nations and states have entered and left lockdowns in various forms and timeframes, and we should be modifying our approach to take advantage of this real time information, not hiding alone and scared in our homes clinging to failed models. Data from Sweden and other regions shows that elementary schools can be safely re-opened, and it is time for our kids, who fortunately are at far less risk than others from this virus, to be back with their teachers and friends. Anti-body testing, to confirm the scale of how many have been infected, an accurate death rate, and the “real” shape of the curve must become a federal priority. We should allow those who are at low risk and/or have already had the virus to return to work and drive an economy that is able to protect and support their higher risk friends, family and neighbors who must still take extra pre-cautions. This crisis is not the time to fund the $3 trillion far left progressive wish list spending package drawn up by Nancy Pelosi and supported by Suzan DelBene.
We can debate which model most accurately predicts sea level rise 50 years from now, what money is behind what cause, and weather versus climate until we are blue in the face, but as anyone who has flown through the smog into Los Angeles can tell you, we need to step up our environmental stewardship right now, not for the benefit of future generations, but simply for the benefit of our own. Bad air and water quality are killing Americans today, and are undoubtedly damaging the global environmental balance. We must invest in cradle-to-grave cleaner technologies alongside ensuring the current reliable energy generation necessary to sustain our daily lives. We should not stop economic progress, but we must hold all industries accountable for their impact on our communities and our planet. We also must be realistic that even with our best efforts and intentions, larger developing countries, like India and China, with looser environmental regulations may not act in the same way we do. We must prepare our economy and our nation to both preserve and enhance our way of life in the face of increased global climate instability now and in the future.
China’s dishonesty and malfeasance is nothing new. For decades, Corporate America has convinced us to overlook China’s disgusting record on human rights, shameful environmental stewardship, poor quality and rampant intellectual property theft in exchange for cheaper TV’s, record executive bonuses, and massive manufacturing job losses in America’s heartland. COVID-19 now shows that not only are China’s practices harmful to our economy, but they are deadly to our citizens. The US and its allies must make it clear that if China intends to participate in the global economy, China must become more transparent and put an end its misinformation, manipulation, and denial. As the virus began spreading late last year, China’s lack of transparency robbed the rest of the world of precious time to prepare as this disease, whether grown in a lab or a product of the outdated and barbaric wet markets, was knowingly and recklessly exported to our cities and towns. We must begin to transform our economy and prepare to confront the costs and challenges associated with an America that no longer relies on Chinese manufacturing or consumers. We must evaluate our strategic stockpiles and decouple their supply chains from Chinese manufacturing and companies. We must strengthen our global alliances to make it clear to China that it must change or be left behind.
Big data, automation and machine learning are and will continue to fundamentally transform our entire economic structure. Such is the scale and speed of technological transformation that baby born today might never learn to drive a car. While this future of innovation may seem both exhilarating and frightening at times, we must begin planning now to make sure that whenever it comes, it is equitable and beneficial to all. If no changes are made to the economic and regulatory status quo, owners of intellectual property and manufacturing capital will disproportionally benefit from automation in comparison to workers. Inevitably, we will need less people working less hours in the economy of the future, but most American’s still derive a sense of satisfaction and self-worth from hard work and providing for themselves. The federal government must begin planning and working now, in collaboration with industry leaders, economists, educators, trade unions and futurists to build a road map to an exciting and equitable future that benefits us all.