Democrat Throws Her Cowboy Hat in Race for State Senate

Oct 12, 2017

Democrat Karen Hardy is challenging for a state Senate seat in Washington's Seventh Legislative district.
Credit Doug Nadvornick/SPR

At Beck’s Harvest House on Greenbluff, north of Spokane, Karen Hardy is giving a visitor a ride in a buggy pulled by two large black work horses, Buddy and Curly. It’s a Sunday morning and the orchard is packed with visitors.

“Buddy. Thank you. Go with him, Curly," Hardy called out to her horses.

Hardy is the head teamster at the Rocking K Ranch in Deer Park. She trains the horses, cares for them, runs them at events like this. She and her team work weddings, hay rides, sleigh rides. Occasionally they pull a harrow in the fields.

“But mostly these are just what I call city work horses," she said, laughing. "Which means they have to be trained for traffic and buses. Buddy knows how to read stop lights, so you don’t have to watch the traffic light. He watches the cross signal and sees it flashing; he knows when it’s going to change.”

Hardy has horses and farming in her DNA. She grew up in a rural area south of Seattle and spent summers at a family farm in Kentucky. She left for awhile, worked for an airline for 20 years and then came back to the farm. She and her husband leased a place in New Mexico.

“And had horses and took people out in the desert and let them get their Roy Rogers on," Hardy said. "So, sunset rides all summer long, singing ‘Happy Trails’ and watching the sunset in the desert.”

They moved back to Washington and now live, with their eight horses, near Valley, in Stevens County, a place where Republicans dominate the political landscape.

“First pieces of mail we got at our house was our ballots. When I saw the ballots, there was only one name on them — for every position. I said that doesn’t fit with what I know about, a, Washington state and, b, about democracy. I thought that’s just not right. I want a choice,” Hardy said.

So she and her family attended the local Democratic caucus in Chewelah and found more people there than she expected to see.

“There’s a lot of people out here that are very like-minded, very progressively-minded, very independent, not necessarily Democrats, but definitely not conservatives,” Hardy said.

When no one else stepped up to run for the Senate during this off-year special election, Hardy decided to throw in her cowboy hat.

She says rural northeast Washington has struggled economically while Republicans have represented the region in the legislature and Congress. She says the district needs someone more interested in working together to solve common problems than in following political ideology. And she says her job working with horses is good training for working with politicians.

“I understand working with force and with energy rather than against it," she said, laughing. "I can’t force these big horses to do anything. We have to agree on it and we have to come to an understanding that we’re going to do this together because it’s what’s best for all of us, kind of like working in the legislature.”

Hardy says she would work with the district’s local elected officials to prepare projects for the state’s capital budget and improve the region’s infrastructure. And she says she would work with labor leaders to develop mobile apprenticeship centers to train the region’s workforce for industries that need workers.

Hardy sees this election as a chance to get acquainted with the district’s voters. If she doesn’t win this year, and the August primary shows she has a long way to go, she plans to run again next year.