Editor’s note: Neither Hammond’s opponent Rep. Matt Manweller nor his re-election campaign responded to requests for interviews.
A resident of the Columbia Basin for almost 40 years, Ephrata Democrat Sylvia Hammond jokes that she raised her five children on a French fry farm. While the Hammonds actually grew whole potatoes, the harvest from their farms went to processors throughout the region to be elevated into French fries, hash browns and tater tots.
Business was good enough to support the livelihoods of eight families, Hammond said, and the farm was a unique place to raise her children. They learned to work, she said, daily walking the fields to pull leaf samples from the crops for analysis, but they also learned to be a family. Separated by their friends by roughly 10 miles, they had no one but each other to play and grow up with, she said.
It was the death of one of her children 20 years ago that inspired Hammond and her husband to make a career change into teaching. While her husband went on to work at Big Bend Community College, Hammond became a substitute teacher for the Ephrata School District for about 10 years.
Getting into politics
Though it took her a long time and a lot of detours to get here, Hammond said she’s always had an interest in politics and leadership. She was the first female student body president of her high school and the first woman to hold a leadership position in Brigham Young University’s student government that wasn’t specifically slated for women.
Hammond said she would have been more involved with politics and public service, but raising a family was her first priority. With her children all grown up, Hammond now sees an opportunity to join politics.
“It’s the right time in my life for me to contribute to the community, because I feel that that’s important; you need people to do it, you need people to step up,” Hammond said. “And it’s not an easy thing to do, there are definite sacrifices that are involved in putting yourself out there to the public.
If elected, Hammond said that education, healthcare and infrastructure projects would be the focus of her time in office.
On improving economics in the region
Hammond said that, though agriculture is the base of the region’s economy, the Columbia Basin also needs to attract more diverse industries that can hire significant numbers of people with varying skill levels. She noted with concern the trouble facing REC Silicon in Moses Lake, and said that the state can support economic growth through cooperations with local port districts and city agencies.
“The people on the ground do the work, but the legislature needs to be a support,” Hammond said.
As a Democrat, Hammond said she would be in a position to negotiate for the economic needs of Grant County in a way that Republicans would not, as Democrats are expected to grow their majorities in both chambers of state government in this election.
Student mental health
Following a string of student suicides in the Columbia Basin, including those of two Moses Lake girls 11 and 13 years old, many in the community have wondered what can be done to improve mental health in schools.
Hammond said that the state needs to prioritize improving access to mental health care services in rural counties, and referenced a friend with a struggling child who had to wait about six weeks to receive mental health care.
“If you have a child in crisis, six weeks does not cut it,” Hammond said.
The legislature could put out incentives to encourage medical specialists to come to the region, Hammond said, including mental health counselors. Mental health counselors, who perform a different role from academic counselors, are needed in schools, Hammond said.
Hammond also said there needs to be education on the effects of social media on student mental health.
Funding public schools
Though the state legislature recently fulfilled the state Supreme Court McCleary decision, which said the state was previously not meeting its constitutional duty to fund public education fully, teacher salary negotiations appear to have blown another hole in long-term budgets. If this isn’t rectified in the coming legislative session, school districts are facing massive deficits in years to come.
Hammond noted that the Moses Lake School District is facing budget cuts of over $6 million in order to make ends meet, and that every school district in the county except for Quincy is in trouble. However, while Hammond acknowledges that school districts are struggling to make ends meet as a result of funding restructuring, she said the budget shouldn’t be balanced by fighting against the teacher raises negotiated this last year.
“The double-digit pay raises for the teachers, that’s been a long time coming,” Hammond said. “I think teachers are the heart and soul of a school district. Programs are important, there are some programs we need to hold on to, but what good are those programs without teachers?”
Hammond said that teachers needed to be financially made whole after significant economic troubles ever since the recession of 2008. Instead, Hammond said the state legislature needs to completely rethink its school funding plans, breaking down funds by district instead of implementing a statewide plan.
“I want to participate in that, I want to be in the room to be able to say whatever we do here has to work for rural districts. It has to work in District 13.”