The Republican lawmaker from Allyn who ‘sounds like a Democrat’

Grace Deng
Washington State Standard

State Rep. Travis Couture isn’t sure why people — including Democrats — keep telling him he sounds like a Democrat. 

“My opinion is I talk like me,” said the Republican from Allyn. 

There’s no doubt Couture is a conservative. He’s a constitutionalist and since being elected in 2022, he’s followed his party’s line on guns, the parental rights movement and more.  

But when he gets animated talking about issues like special education, child support and Medicaid, it’s not hard to mistake him for a liberal. 

Travis Couture

This year, he introduced a bill to help Medicaid-eligible kids with chronic conditions. Democrats co-sponsored the bill and it passed unanimously. Still, Couture is quick to point out that because of him, Republicans introduced the only bill to increase Medicaid rates that passed this year. 

“It’s funny that in a near Democrat supermajority, that the minority Republicans have to go fight for Medicaid increases,” Couture said. “It’s almost twilight zone.”

Maybe he “sounds like a Democrat” because he represents a competitive district – the 35th, which wraps around the south side of Olympia and sprawls north up into the area around Hood Canal. Until last year, Democrats held the state Senate seat there. 

Maybe it’s because Couture’s wife, Julie Cromie, is a Democrat and his biggest supporter. His relationship with her, he said, shapes how he works with his colleagues across the aisle. 

On abortion, for example, he disagrees with his wife’s “very pro-choice” views — but he believes the voters are the ultimate authority, and it’s clear Washington’s voters want abortion access. 

“Instead, I’m like, what can I do to maybe have less abortions in society? Well, I can get better child care. I can get increased Medicaid rates. I can do these things that actually help women, so that maybe they make a different choice,” Couture said. 

In another instance, he initially opposed an emotionally-charged 2023 bill to make clergy mandatory reporters of child abuse or neglect. 

“I went home, and my wife said ‘why Travis, because they’re in a special box?’ And I said ‘Goddamnit, you’re right,'” said Couture. He ended up voting for the bill, though it did not gain final approval in the Legislature.

That was one of a handful of times where he broke with his party and voted with Democrats. 

Or maybe he “sounds like a Democrat” because — to use a term favored by Democrats — his lived experience often informs the legislation he introduces, rather than party-line politics.

“At the end of the day, you’ve lived a real life, and you’re not stuck in that silo,” Couture said. 

At 35, Couture is the youngest Republican in the House and “the most vocal” about still having kids in school, he said. 

Couture has four kids, three of whom have individualized education plans, or IEPs — plans developed for every public school kid who needs special education services. When his caucus talks about special education, they often turn to him. Many Republicans — and a few Democrats — forward emails to him from their constituents who need help with the special education system.

“Travis brings a first-hand, student- and parent-centered perspective that the Legislature hasn’t always had,” said House Minority Leader Drew Stokesbary, R-Auburn. 

Rep. Gerry Pollet, D-Seattle, who’s worked on special education issues for years before Couture came into office, said it’s been good to have another person who cares so deeply about special education on the Republican side. 

Couture recalls one IEP meeting for his 14-year-old daughter, Stella, that helped push him to run for office. Halfway through the school year, Couture said her teacher told him Stella didn’t have an IEP. 

“The teacher leaves the room, comes back with the IEP and then she looks at it and reads it and laughs at us. She says ‘nothing here is important,’” Couture said. “That was one of the lightbulb moments where I said, ‘I am going to fix this.’” 

Since being elected, he’s worked with the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to study making IEP records electronic. He’s also introduced legislation meant to help parents trying to get districts to follow their child’s IEP and proposals, backed by other Republicans, to remove the state’s cap on special education spending. 

“The way we’re doing it now is kind of like treating special ed kids like second-class citizens,” he said. “That hurts on a different level for me, because I think of my kids. I think of my family. Why should they be treated differently?” 

This story was initially published by Washington State Standard, a nonprofit news organization and part of the States News Network, covering state issues. Read more at