The Journey

Working and Serving Across the Aisle
By Andrea Glover

Kevin Parker, '96, has gone from being a partying teenager coasting through life in Oregon to serving as one of Spokane's elected representatives in Olympia, Wash. From partier to politician, non-believer to believer, Parker now sees faith in God's plan as overshadowing every aspect of his life.

However, things weren't always this way.

In high school, Parker was a self-proclaimed party kid with a 1.5 GPA at the end of his junior year. It wasn't until summer '91 when he attended Young Life camp that he found God and his path changed direction.

Whitworth alumnus Trey Malicoat, '87, worked as one of Parker's Young Life leaders and introduced him to the idea of attending Whitworth. Parker toured the campus, fell in love with the school and promptly applied.

Back at high school, Parker worked hard to turn his life around, earning a 3.8 GPA at the end of his senior year, barely squeaking into Whitworth. Not only was Parker the last student admitted for that year, he said, he was also admitted on academic probation because of his low cumulative GPA.

"It's evident God's hand was in my life from the beginning," Parker said, adding that looking back on his past there are a lot of opportunities he can't explain without factoring God in.

While at Whitworth, Parker became aware of the college's deep commitment to community, noticing that the common thread between different occupations was the deep connection Whitworth alumni had with their communities. During Parker's senior year at Whitworth, in 1995-96, he served as President Bill Robinson's first student assistant.

"Serving under Bill was unequivocally one of the best experiences of my life," Parker said. "The lessons I directly learned from Bill are apparent in my life today."

Under Robinson, Parker learned that a leader should make decisions that are thoughtful and sustainable as opposed to rash. He also learned that every person's mission is important because that's how God has called him or her to serve. "I learned that leadership is not about us individually, but about our contributions to our communities," Parker said.

After graduating from Whitworth with a B.A. in political science, Parker went on to George Fox University in Oregon, where he received his MBA. Eventually he went to Harvard, where he received a 21st Century Leadership certificate from the John F. Kennedy School of Government's Executive Leadership Program.

Ever since he became a Christian, Parker has been an active participant of Young Life, leading at Mead High School and Northwood Junior High in Spokane before serving the organization as the area director in Littleton, Colo. It was that role that took him to Columbine High School on April 20, 1999, when he was in the school's lunchroom the day of the shootings.

His time spent in Young Life has helped him with his relationship with God, Parker said, as well as in his relationships with other people.

"If you can do Young Life ministry you can do any profession, as it teaches you to develop relationships and to meet people where they are," Parker said.

This has proved true for Parker's latest profession, serving as Washington State House Representative for the 6th District of Spokane. His interest in public service came after speaking with former Oregon Governor Neil Goldschmidt, the father of one of his friends. In 2006, after some political leaders in Washington state asked Parker to consider the possibility of running for office, he decided to run for the legislature.

With the goal of meeting people where they were, Parker spent most of 2008 knocking on the doors of 27, 751 Spokane residents, making personal relationships and telling individuals of his campaign.

"Faith teaches you to value relationships," said Parker. "Sometimes you see people's lives that are hard and painful, and you walk away wondering what to do to help."

Parker ran on a number of issues he felt would help the people of Spokane: equal access to education, lowering taxes on families and businesses, and receiving more resources for Spokane transportation needs. He was elected into the state house in November 2008, with a 52 to 48 percent victory over the incumbent, Democrat Don Barlow.

Each week Parker engages his faith in Bible study with a group of Republicans and Democrats, believing that "faith reaches across party lines."

While a legislator's political viewpoints may vary dramatically from the individual sitting across the table, these individuals echo Parker's belief that "Christian values are more people-specific than party-specific." Together, they share the common theme of a deep-seated desire to serve wisely and "to attend to the most vulnerable in today's society," Parker said.

Parker views both his faith and his political life as equally important. "When I was hired by the people of Spokane to represent them, I was sworn to uphold the Constitution. Beyond that, my faith instills a deep love for humanity and concern for the most vulnerable in our community and state," Parker said.

He hopes to serve where he can best maximize his efforts for Spokane, which he feels is currently in the state House.

Grateful for the time he spent at Whitworth refining his faith, Parker said as he now focuses on the issues he encounters in the legislature, "Whitworth teaches you not to accept the easy answer but to pursue the right answer."