Gael was raised in Manchester-by-the-Sea, MA, a small town on Boston’s North Shore. One of seven children, she learned from her parents how to work hard and break through barriers. A valedictorian of her graduating class, Gael moved to Washington, D.C. after high school to attend college at Georgetown University. After graduating college, Gael stayed in DC to work as a senior defense intelligence analyst for the Pentagon, working on security issues affecting ports across the country. One of the few women to advise the Joint Chiefs of Staff on threats to our nation, Gael was responsible for creating disaster preparedness and emergency response plans for ports nationwide. In 1989, she was the youngest person ever to receive in public the Director of Intelligence’s “National Intelligence Medal of Achievement” for recognition of her exceptional contributions to protecting vital national interests.
After a decade working at the Pentagon, Gael ran two international subsidiaries of a Fortune 500 company in Russia, managing multi-million dollar budgets. Her work helped rebuild the country after the Cold War collapse, employing new technologies to clean up nuclear waste and prevent environmental disasters. Gael reported to Al Gore’s commission on global climate change and she developed plans for oil spill response and clean up for the U.S. Coast Guard. Her groundbreaking work broke more barriers yet – Gael was the first U.S. businesswoman ever to address a joint session of the Russian parliament in 1996.
In August 2002, Tarleton began serving as the Director of Eurasian Policy Studies at the National Bureau of Asian Research in Seattle. And in 2004, she was hired as the first Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations for the University of Washington’s College of Arts and Sciences. During her employment with the University of Washington, she helped establish the endowed Herbert J. Ellison Center for Russian, East European and Central Asian Studies, as well as the Institute for National Security Education and Research. Additionally, she co-founded the Northwest chapter of Women in International Security (WIIS).
In 2007 Gael challenged a two-term incumbent and won her first four-year term as a Commissioner at the Port of Seattle, a King County-wide elected office for a part-time position overseeing the largest port in the Pacific Northwest with an annual budget nearing $1 billion. The five-member Commission employs a Port executive to manage Sea-Tac International Airport, Fishermen’s Terminal, Shilshole Bay Marina, cruise and grain terminals, and four shipping container terminals in Elliott Bay. Re-elected in 2011, Tarleton held various leadership positions, including Chair of the Commission Audit Committee and President of the Commission.
During her tenure, the Port of Seattle Commission introduced numerous reforms to expand Commission and staff accountability and transparency; invested in clean air programs; adopted an innovative aviation clean fuels strategy; and spent tens of million of dollars to begin early-action clean-up of the Lower Duwamish River, a Superfund Clean-Up site. The Commission also initiated the “Century Agenda” to help create an additional 100,000 jobs in the maritime, aerospace, fishing, seafood, and manufacturing-industrial sectors in the coming 25 years.
Gael served for five years as an elected Port of Seattle Commissioner and is recognized as a leader on stopping human trafficking across Washington’s borders as well as in emergency preparedness and response planning.
In 2012, Gael ran for State Representative to serve the people of the 36th District. She won a 7-way primary for the open seat and went on to win the general election. She resigned from UW and her Port Commission seat in early 2013 to serve in the WA State legislature. Gael has won re-election in 2014, 2016, and 2018 to the State House. Gael currently represents the 36th legislative district— a district that boasts one of the most diverse economies in the State, hosts the Port of Seattle, and is the center for Washington State’s largest maritime and fishing industries. As a State Representative, Gael has focused on creating jobs, safeguarding our environment, ensuring government accountability, adequately funding higher education, and expanding healthcare access. She has served on the Appropriations, Finance, Higher Education, Technology and Economic Development, Transportation, and Rules Committees during her tenure in the House.
In 2014, Gael was appointed to serve as Vice Chair of the Technology and Economic Development Committee and held this position for 5 years. In 2015, Gael’s colleagues elected her House Majority Floor Leader, a leadership position she held from 2016 through 2018. Gael has served as House Finance Chair since January 2019. She will complete her service in the state legislature in December 2020.
A few of Gael’s notable legislative accomplishments include:
- Gael sponsored and successfully passed HB 1647, the “Safe Keys Act”, which revised the Landlord-Tenant Act of 1947 to landlords responsible for protecting tenant keys under the “reasonable care” standard
- She led the legislative effort to secure $440 million in basic education funding to put shop classes back into middle and high schools.
- Gael secured nearly $200 million (2018-2020) to fully fund the State Need Grant and sponsored legislation to protect Washington’s Guaranteed Education Tuition program.
- She sponsored HB 2580, which established a legislative task force to analyze and improve the economic resilience of maritime and manufacturing sectors in Washington.
- Gael’s work to protect liveaboards, on-water dwellings, and houseboat owners in Seattle led to a Senate-sponsored bill that clarified state regulations and city planning rules.
- Gael sponsored HB 2708, defining liquid biomass as a renewable resource eligible for clean energy credits.
In addition, Gael has secured numerous investment projects throughout her district, including: funding a free health clinic for homeless individuals and families on Key Arena property, expanding job training facilities in the Millionair Club and Aloha Inn, securing disability and seismic retrofits for public spaces, and expanding bus service throughout the district. Her strong work to protect our environment has earned her “Legislator of the Year” by the Washington Conservation Voters in 2018.
Gael was recently appointed to serve on several boards and work groups such as the Women Legislators Lobby (WiLL), Pacific Northwest Economic Region, and Legislators’ Energy Horizons Institute. She co-chairs the legislative task force on the economic resilience of maritime, fishing, and manufacturing and represents the WA House of Representatives on the Pacific Northwest Economic Region Executive Committee. She is the co-chair of the Economic and Community Resilience Legislative Caucus and the Washington State Aviation Caucus.
Gael currently lives in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle with her husband Bob, surrounded by the Puget Sound landscape that connects all our communities.