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Riley Dormaier (2 1/2) waits for his turn on the combine during Dormaier Family Farms 2020 harvest
near Hartline.

Photo by Robin Dormaier

Wilbur-Ellis

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A champion for agriculture

Previous WAWG president, county commissoner heads to state Senate

January 2021
By Trista Crossley


There’s a number of past Washington Association of Wheat Growers’ (WAWG) officers who have used their time leading the association as a springboard into politics. Perry Dozier, a newly elected state senator from Walla Walla County, is the latest.

Dozier, a republican, is replacing retiring Sen. Maureen Walsh in the 16th Legislative District. He was elected with 59 percent of the vote over his opponent, Danielle Garbe Reser, a democrat. The 16th Legislative District covers Columbia and Walla Walla counties, the southern portion of Benton county and the city of Pasco in Franklin County.

Dozier was WAWG president in 2000/01. He was recruited to go through the WAWG chairs by outgoing President Alex McGregor, who called him one night to ask him if he’d be interested in being an officer in the association. Dozier agreed, maybe a little too quickly, because McGregor called back the next day just to make sure.

“He (McGregor) must have felt a little guilty,” Dozier said, laughing. “I tell you without a doubt, though, when I got interested in politics was when I was elected to the chairs of the wheat growers. Getting that opportunity to represent the wheat industry and to do it at the state and federal level. Going in and visiting your elected leaders…it’s kind of where it began.”

After his time on the WAWG board, Dozier served as a barley commissioner for two years. His next step into the political arena was to run as a Walla Walla County Commissioner. He served two terms, 2009-2016. It was that county commissioner experience that pushed him into running for a state office.

“As a county commissioner, you get a pretty broad and diverse knowledge of all the aspects of what happens at the federal and state level, especially, and how decisions affect us. With the skill set I’ve gained over 20 years representing this district and city, I felt I had the tools to go over to Olympia and be effective and be a voice for the people of Eastern Washington,” he said.

Dozier will serve as ranking member on the Business, Financial Services and Trade Committee as well as a member on the Early Learning and K-12 Education and the Human Services, Reentry and Rehabilitation committees.

“When I was elected (as county commissioner), it was during a time of recession,” he explained. “I learned quite a bit about budgeting on the government side and working through a downturn economy and doing it without raising taxes.”

Budgets and the economy are sure to be two of the major topics the state Legislature will be dealing with during the upcoming legislative session. Dozier is concerned that small businesses won’t survive the latest round of shutdowns ordered by Gov. Jay Inslee and that the pressure of increased payroll taxes on small businesses will have a factor in their recovery.

“You can’t tax yourself out of a bad financial situation, and I’m afraid that’s what the Democrats are looking at doing. I’ve heard lots of proposals about huge tax increases,” he said. Other issues that Dozier is concerned about include a carbon tax or a low carbon fuel standard; water issues, especially for irrigators; sales tax exemptions for ag replacement parts; and the recent state Supreme Court decision that overturned the ag overtime exemption for dairy workers.

The 2021 Washington State Legislative Session will be new to Dozier in another way—it’s shaping up to be a mostly virtual session. He is concerned that will make it difficult to conduct business. While he will have office space at the capital, he won’t be able to have visitors.

“I was looking so forward to this. If I won this election, I’d get to visit with you guys in a different capacity,” he said, referring to the visits WAWG makes to Olympia every year to discuss issues and concerns with legislators. “I miss being involved in WAWG after being a part of it 20 years ago. I’m disappointed. I feel like these high school or college kids who were supposed to graduate during COVID. My family can’t even go in when I’m sworn in.”

Dozier and his wife, Darleen, have two sons who graduated from Washington State University, neither of which are employed on the family’s farm. The Doziers grow wheat, both irrigated and dryland, as well as irrigated seed corn and legumes. He joked about trying to campaign while still working on the farm.

“I think I was the last one to finish seeding (winter wheat),” he laughed.

With his experience lobbying for WAWG and his county commissioner service, Dozier said he has a deep understanding of how the legislative process works, and thanks to his agriculture background, he has the knowledge to address issues important to the state’s agricultural industry.

“I will be a strong voice over there (Olympia) and will fight for our issues,” he said.