Longtime WA FWC Member Steps Down, Former State House Clerk Joins

A new face is joining the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission, while an old hand has departed.

Barbara Baker, the newly retired Clerk of the state House of Representatives, succeeds Conrad “Connie” Mahnken, the second longest serving member of the citizen panel and a former federal fisheries biologist.

Mahnken was first appointed in November 2005, but did not seek another six-year term, according to WDFW, which the commission oversees.

CONRAD "CONNIE" MAHNKEN. (WDFW)

CONRAD “CONNIE” MAHNKEN. (WDFW)

“Conrad Mahnken will be sorely missed on the Commission,” said Commissioner Dave Graybill of Leavenworth. “He is an internationally known fish scientist for his work on recovering endangered fish, among many other great accomplishments. He has been a very effective Commissioner on all issues, with attention to the public’s wants and was respected by WDFW staff for this views on genetic transfer and technical strategies with fish management and even fish farming.”

Baker was described as “very, very knowledgeable about (the) law-making process” and seeming “very easy going, personable” by Miranda Wecker, the longest serving member of the commission, its longtime former chair and a natural resources policy expert.

They met for the first time this past weekend as the commission wrestled with Columbia River salmon reforms and other weighty issues.

“She is honest and open-minded,” noted Rep. Brian Blake, an Aberdeen Democrat in charge of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, who thought she would be “a balanced Commissioner beholden to no one.”

We’ve reached out to Baker to learn more about her relation to Washington’s fishing, hunting and outdoor recreation world — she appears to like to get outdoors a lot — and what her goals as a commissioner are.

But in the meanwhile, the Evergreen State College graduate was quoted in an article by that institution’s magazine on the legislative process:

Barbara Baker ’82, Chief Clerk of the Washington State House of Representatives, knows that can be frustrating for voters. But, she says, “it shouldn’t be easy to pass a law – it should be fairly difficult and lots of people should agree on it.” Writing legislation requires precision, attention to detail, an intimate understanding of existing laws and a clear understanding of the proposed policy solution.

Baker should know—she’s spent the past five years overseeing the daily operations of the House, accountable to the leadership of both parties to make sure it runs “efficiently, orderly and fairly.” A legal aid attorney for many years, then a legislative liaison, she spent 11 years with the House Democratic Caucus, including seven as the policy director, before being elected Clerk by the full membership of the House. She is familiar with the challenges legislators face, especially because in Washington’s citizens’ legislature, most of them have other full-time jobs.

For new legislators, navigating the constantly evolving processes can be daunting. The Chief Clerk’s office runs five days of training for new House members and more for their staff, and Baker reminds them they are working for the public, and should act accordingly. “It’s not easy trying to live up to campaign promises,” she says. “The ship turns very slowly and big changes take a number of years. Just figuring out how the place works is difficult. Many of them have been involved in other levels of governance so they have some idea, but most are walking around shell-shocked for a few weeks. Two years (the House term of office) is a short time to learn how to get something done, so we work hard to be a resource for them.”

In other news from the commission, Brad Smith and Larry Carpenter were reelected as chair and vice chair.

And Governor Inslee reappointed Kim Thorburn of Spokane. She was “outed,” per se, as a “vegetarian ornithologist” by Rep. Blake in a laudatory Spokane Spokesman-Review article focusing on how she’d won over skeptics.

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