Park Llafet is running for the state House of Representatives as a Republican in the only liberal district in Clark County.
He’s seeking to unseat one of its most solidly entrenched lawmakers in Democratic Rep. Monica Stonier of Washington’s 49th Legislative District.
But Llafet says he likes a challenge. He’s done a little bit of everything, everywhere — he’s been a Caribbean cruise ship pianist, an Alaska gold miner, an Oregon timber worker and a volunteer on school fundraising boards and neighborhood associations.
Why not the House?
Llafet said there are enough undecided voters in the district, a densely populated portion of west Vancouver currently represented in Olympia by a trio of Democrats, to flip the seat red. He added that he thinks he’s the right man for the job.
In the primary race, Llafet drew 32.4 percent of the vote to Stonier’s 60.4. A third independent candidate gained 7 percent and won’t advance to the general election.
“Given my 20-some years of community involvement at the level I’ve been involved in, it certainly warrants a good opportunity for a Republican to win,” Llafet said. “I have no delusions of grandeur here. It’s going to be a tough race. Monica, obviously, is a very strong incumbent.”
Llafet is campaigning on a standard Republican platform and has earned the support of the Clark County Republican Party.
He’s pushing for service cuts — not tax increases — to help pull Washington out of its enormous budget deficit linked to COVID-19. He wants to promote business-friendly policies that he says could draw jobs to the area and build on Vancouver’s identity independent of the neighboring big cities.
“I truly believe that we do not live under the shadows of Seattle. We are not just a bedroom community to Portland. Vancouver must be distinctly (its) own,” Llafet said. “That’s what’s so exciting about the waterfront coming together. That’s really drawing a line in the sand to those in Portland and Oregon.”
He’s also pushing to block a comprehensive sex education policy championed by Stonier during her last term, which he called “the elephant in the room.” Teaching sex education should be left up to the discretion of parents, Llafet said.
Asked about a provision in the bill that allows a parent to opt their child out of the curriculum and therefore preserve parent choice, he said he still opposes the bill because he worries about the social implications of a student opting out.
“I’m very well aware of that provision, but nobody is stopping to think what that means for the child who has to leave the classroom,” Llafet said. “Everybody knows that junior high is one of the worst places for bullies, for intimidation.”
However, Llafet added that there’s issues where he splits with the national Republican Party platform. He sought to put some distance between himself and the race at the top of the ballot in November.
“I am incumbent to the people of the 49th. I want to make sure that is very clear,” Llafet said. “Trump is not in the 49th.”
A varied background
Llafet was born in Seoul, South Korea, and adopted by an American family when he was a year old. He became a U.S. citizen at 4.
He grew up in Nevada and Idaho. He started college, but dropped out to play piano professionally at a resort in Coeur d’Alene. He later moved to Juneau, Alaska, to work in a gold mine.
“It was hard work. Every young person should have one of those jobs that just makes you appreciate hard work,” Llafet said.
He kept playing piano, and was later spotted during a hotel performance by a scout for Holland America cruises. He ended up as a cruise musician in the Caribbean before he and his wife finally settled in the Portland metro area in the 1990s.
His wife’s family was from Vancouver, and so they decided to move up to The Heights neighborhood. There, Llafet got involved with the neighborhood association. He also volunteered for the PTA at Ellsworth Elementary, where his children attended.
The neighborhood association board gave him some experience on how the nuts and bolts of government works, Llafet said, and the PTA gave him a newfound appreciation for education.
“It gave me a really great look at how hard our teachers work, and how much our families really do want the best for their children,” Llafet said. “I will say this loud and clear, education is the ticket out of poverty for a lot of folks. A lot of people can testify to that fact.”
He unsuccessfully sought a seat on the Evergreen Public Schools Board of Directors in 2017. He attributes his loss to a health scare — Llafet has diabetes, and had a leg amputated at the knee shortly afterward.
He decided to reenter politics this year because his kids are grown, he said, and he had the time to devote to a campaign.
Llafet also wants to help guide the state out of the coronavirus recession, he said. Pressed on how he’d cut spending, he pointed to some of the school spending that’s grown extraneous during the pandemic, like school buses — the cost of a driver, insurance and fuel, he said.
Llafet also highlighted spending on teacher salaries.
“Our teachers, at what level do we have to hold the line on teacher salaries when we have one of the best salaries in the state?” Llafet said. “When the teachers come out and strike and say they’re striking for a livable wage, I find that hard to believe.”
Ultimately, Llafet said, the state needs a financially sustainable strategy long-term. He likened coronavirus recovery to his own personal medical recovery after his amputation.
Doctors didn’t keep him in the hospital during his whole rehabilitation period, he said — they sent him to physical therapy. That’s the attitude lawmakers need to take in order to pull the economy out of the COVID-19 dive, he said.
“Our state has to have what the doctors would call a plan of care: This is what it means to get you back to health, this is what it means to get you back to independence,” Llafet said. “I have not seen from the governor, or any of the state leadership, a plan of care for how we’re going to get our (community) back.”
Llafet will appear on the general election ballot on Nov. 3.