13th District Rep. Alex Ybarra: Rocket scientist turned lawmaker

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Emma Epperly/Columbia Basin Herald 13th District Rep. Alex Ybarra, R-Quincy.

OLYMPIA — It was the first day of committee meetings for Rep. Alex Ybarra, R-Quincy. He arrived five minutes early, went around the room and shook everyone’s hand, from legislative interns to council to security. When the chair, Rep. Steve Kirby, D-Tacoma, called the Consumer Protection and Business Committee into session and introduced the state’s newest legislator, Ybarra gave a cheerful laugh and thumbs-up.

On Monday, Jan. 14, the first day of the legislative session, Ybarra was appointed to replace Matt Manweller, who resigned that day following a sexual harassment scandal. Ybarra credits his family for his ability to get to Olympia so quickly. He was appointed in Ephrata Monday evening and in Olympia Tuesday morning for the State of the State address. But before he made the 200-mile journey to the state’s capitol, he drove to see his mother in Quincy and headed home where his brothers were waiting to help him get packed and ready.

Ybarra grew up on a migrant worker rotation with his parents until they settled down in Quincy. His mother is from Monterrey, Mexico and his father Edinburgh, Texas. He graduated high school as a “proud Quincy Jackrabbit,” then studied mathematics with a focus on mechanical engineering at Central Washington University and later got a master’s in business administration from the University of Phoenix.

Ybarra worked in Redmond at Rocket Research Company as a rocket scientist. He spent 14 years working as an engineer on military and aerospace products, before eventually moving back to Quincy. Suddenly thrust into a seat of power two months after other freshmen legislators were elected, Ybarra came to Olympia before he even had a permanent place to rent.

“I just grabbed all my stuff and put it in all the bags I could find and threw it in the back of the car,” Ybarra told the Columbia Basin Herald in an interview. “It’s still there, so...”

Ybarra, 57, has the distinction of being the first Republican Hispanic to represent the 13th District since it was formed in 1891, and a member of the Commission on Hispanic Affairs, to which he was appointed by Gov. Jay Inslee in September 2016. As a member of this commission, Ybarra works to develop and deliver public policy fairly to Hispanic communities.

“My job is to look at it and go, ‘you guys probably want to change a little bit of this language so that it’s more equitable for everybody, not just certain communities,’” he said.

Ybarra is also the Quincy School Board Director and Vice President of the Washington State School Directors Association, roles in which Ybarra said he’s gotten practical experience with legislators.

“Even when I was a school board member, Sen. Warnick and Rep. Dent and Rep. Manweller, they have always been encouraging, always been helpful, always given me advice on how to get things done on the school board level,” said Ybarra of his colleagues.

Professionally, Ybarra has worked for the Grant County Public Utility District since 2003. He has worked on conservation and renewable resource issues for them as a hydrologist, carbon analyst and statistician. The newly-appointed lawmaker also cited his work on renewability with Grant County and as the engineering manager at hydro dams in Quincy as a unique skill set. Ybarra serves on the House Appropriations Committee, Civil Rights and Judiciary Committee and Consumer Protection and Business Committee. He says his primary role in these committees and in the legislature is to serve the people of his district.

“I will be working for them and my job is to make sure that I can support all of them – everyone from all the way to Snoqualmie Pass to close to Spokane. My job is to make sure that we can make their lives better, whatever that might be.”

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