Photo credit: Ronda Litzenberger
Photo credit: Ronda Litzenberger

Looking to “take the next step in making a difference,” legislative representative for Eatonville School District Ronda Litzenberger is running for the Washington State Senate.

Randi Becker, current Washington State Senator for the second legislative district, publicly endorsed
Litzenberger via Facebook March 9.

In a phone call with The Dispatch, Becker confirmed her standing endorsement.

“I can’t say enough good things about Ronda,” Becker said. “I think Ronda really represents the values of the people in the second district.”

Becker says she’s been dropping hints at Litzenberger to run for a while, and she is excited Litzenberger decided to go for it.

“Ronda is a natural fit,” Becker said.

A native to Eatonville, Litzenberger owns a construction and development business with her husband, has served on the Eatonville School District Board for 11 years and has volunteered and advocated for the community for decades.

“I will be the one to take our stories to Olympia and make sure each community is represented adequately,” Litzenberger said.

Growing up poor, Litzenberger worked three jobs to buy groceries and pay the electric bill at 16 years old. Working during high school taught Litzenberger to work hard, she said, adding she wouldn’t change that for the world.

Circumstances made funding college difficult, however.

Beginning at Brigham Young University, Litzenberger found college too difficult to fund on her own. She returned to Eatonville with her husband to marry. Litzenberger worked in escrow for a short time but then stayed home after she had her first baby.

Her personal educational struggle has encouraged her work.

“I’ve really invested with many kids to seek higher education …encouraging them to save and to work hard and to be in a place where they get scholarships,” Litzenberger said. “It’s hard to do alone. I wanted others to not have to suffer as I did.”

Through the years, Litzenberger has taken community college courses, facilitated drug and alcohol prevention curriculums at Washington State University, run a small business for more than 30 years and advocated for the community and youth.

Litzenberger has served as the ESD legislative representative for two years. She has also served as the chair of the Washington State School Directors’ Association Small Schools Advisory Committee, which oversees 195 small rural communities, for the last year.

Washington’s budget allocates 60 percent for education, Litzenberger said. She cites her personal and intimate understanding of this section of the budget as a strength.

“I know the inequities. I know the inefficiencies. I know the common sense legislation that could really help impact the way that this (education) system runs,” she said. “As we become more efficient on our state funding level, we can lean less on property tax issues.”

Litzenberger cited the recently passed comprehensive sex education bill as an example of education and property rights colliding. According to ESD estimates, the bill’s mandates could cost over $200,000, but the state didn’t include any allocations so school districts will have to pick up the cost themselves.

School districts fund unallocated mandates with local property taxes. So this places an unnecessary burden on individuals’ tax load, Litzenberger said. She calls unfunded mandates an “unspoken evil.”

“I am certain that legislatures have really worked hard, but what they haven’t been is where I am,” Litzenberger said. “I have been, in the last 12 years, talking to school districts … and to community members and knowing very intimately individual school budgets.”

A mystery to Litzenberger is the state’s regionalization plan to fund school districts. Certain districts receive additional funds based on complicated algorithms, but Eatonville is not one of them.

“Bellevue recently passed a $675 million bond,” Litzenberger said. “That can never happen here. We don’t have big industry.”

Seattle can earn $3,000 per student in their levy because of the size of their tax base, Litzenberger said.

“Why are their students worth more than our students?” she asked. “Is that equity?”

Solving the education dilemma is going to take a careful look at a lot of things, Litzenberger said.

“We have to become more efficient around education,” she said.

Government inefficiencies affecting family and parental rights also drive Litzenberger’s campaign.

The state needs to give families the right to guardianship and the ability to institute individuals if necessary, Litzenberger said.

Litzenberger supports State Sen. Steve O’Ban’s proposal that would grant guardianship to a family of an individual who goes before the court system for mental health or addiction five times within a year.

State and federal funding needs to be implemented around addiction and mental health issues,  Litzenberger said. She believes the state can rely on individual property taxes only so much before there’s nothing more to give.

“It’s becoming a crisis,” Litzenberger said. “It’s not just a little bit of a problem.”

Safe injection sites are Band-Aids and not a longterm answer, Litzenberger said.

“When we are only providing Band-Aids then that means we are wasting money in other ways,” Litzenberger said. “Our medical and emergent systems are completely bogged down by this issue, and our court systems and corrections systems are bogged down by this issue.”

The state must prioritize getting smarter about the issue, Litzenberger said. She also warns that the state can throw money at a problem and not fix it. She believes legislators must prioritize the issue, but the legislation needs to be efficient and well-thought through.

By following mental health issues, Litzenberger hopes to regain a parent’s control over teenagers. Though a federal issue, the state can advocate for parental rights pertaining to medications and procedures for their teenagers, she said.

Litzenberger said 13-year-olds can go on or off medications without parental consent, and families are still required to pay for whatever their child opts to do.

“At some point, government needs to understand that family is the basic unit of society,” Litzenberger said. “We need to be encouraging that.”

Additional parental rights Litzenberger addressed are the recent comprehensive sex education bill requirements. Litzenberger served on the workgroup last summer attempting to hammer out several issues with the bill.  Some issues were resolved but not all, she said.

“The gender conversations at elementary level, I feel, are developmentally inappropriate for those children,” Litzenberger said. “Those conversations need to be family driven.”

Many concerns over the gender discussion, Litzenberger believes, are already being taught in the school’s harassment, intimidation and bullying curriculum.

“We accept everybody, no matter how they look … what they believe… what their skin is or … what color their hair is,” Litzenberger said. “We show kindness and respect and compassion.”

She also stresses government overreach into private property and gun rights in her campaign.

Guns should never be banned, Litzenberger said. She agrees certain individuals may be restricted but warns about the “slippery slope” of calling people incompetent.

“There are extreme instances where we know someone can be a harm to themselves or others,” Litzenberger said. “Other than that, we can’t just be arbitrarily taking people’s rights away from them.”

The fear is about criminal behavior, not guns, Litzenberger said. Legislation should address criminals, not guns, she said.

“I understand the fear around violence,” Litzenberger said. “Restricting law-abiding citizens’ rights does not change criminal behavior in any way shape or form.”

Drafting legislation that will prevent counties and local governments from overstepping property rights and rezoning property arbitrarily is Litzenberger’s goal. At some level, the state has to enable protections for land owners that the county can’t penetrate, she said.

The biggest concern expressed by Litzenberger right now is for small businesses and their employees being impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The state and federal government are going to need to step up in a big way to support employees and small business,” Litzenberger said. “I have a deep concern for everyone right now that’s being impacted by this.

“I’m keeping people in my prayers,” Litzenberger said. “My thoughts and prayers are around people in this difficult time – their health, their financial health and their kids.”

Litzenberger is hopeful for the future and looks forward to representing the district.

“I am here standing with hope and an idea as we move forward together as a team,” Litzenberger said.

Litzenberger will run against two opponents in the race. Orting Mayor Josh Penner filed for the senate run on March 9, and Gina Blanchard-Reed, the vice-chair of Graham Fire and Rescue, filed to run on March 19. Both will compete against Litzenberger in the Republican primary on Aug. 4.

Litzenberger has currently raised $6396.00 since filing on March 4. No events are currently scheduled due to the current pandemic, but Litzenberger can be contacted on Facebook or her website at www.neighborsforronda.com.