Ben Phelps has always been politically minded.
While in high school, he helped canvas for then-presidential candidate John Kerry and when he attended the University of Rochester in New York, he studied political science and history, focusing on global security and political economy. The Bellevue resident has also lobbied in the other Washington for disability support and education as well as transgender rights.
And while his initial political work was for the Democratic Party, the 27-year-old has now become a member of the Libertarian Party and is running for 48th Legislative District House of Representatives, Position 2. He is challenging incumbent Joan McBride who is currently in her first term.
“I would love to be in the state House,” said Phelps, who works as a marketing manager for a financial advising company. “I feel I can do a lot of good there.”
As a Libertarian, he described his party as socially liberal and fiscally conservative. He joined the party in part due welfare reform and how he felt something different needed to be done and felt neither Democrats or Republicans were willing to listen.
“What we want is to be effective,” he said about Libertarians. “I think the work needs to be done.”
Since March, Phelps has been the regional director of the Libertarian Party for King and Snohomish counties. Through this position, he has worked with candidates and activists for the party and it was they who encouraged him to run for state office. He also received support from family and friends who he said have shown their faith in his leadership skills.
Phelps — who has done a lot of youth work through the faith community, including with the synagogue he grew up attending as well as summer camp programs — said if elected, there are a number of issues he is concerned about.
The first is criminal justice reform.
“We focus so much on punishment that we have no compassion,” Phelps said.
He said he would like to see people be able to learn, grow and move on but that will not happen if the system continues to treat drug addicts as criminals.
Phelps would also like to tackle affordable housing, saying the state needs to relax some of its zoning laws so developers can build more vertically for higher density affordable housing. He said if there was more supply in housing available in general, that would drive prices down.
Another point of concern for Phelps is public education, saying both Democrats and Republicans are responsible for the fines the state legislature has to pay for being found in contempt.
Phelps also addressed his opponent’s approach to dealing with the state’s public records laws.
He said the state needs to take a higher-tech approach and should transition from paper to digital files, rather than creating a commission and more bureaucratic red tape.
“In what way is that going to be cost effective?” Phelps asked.