Last week I was in Olympia to watch democracy in action in what is likely to be a long, but important legislative session. Because it is early in the session, most of the legislative work is slow and tedious as both Democrats and Republicans use the media to try and score political points and gain leverage for the negotiations that lie ahead.
The most important numbers to remember in Olympia are 25-50-1. It takes 25 yes votes in the senate, 50 in the house and the governor’s signature to make a law.
Democrats control the governor’s office with the re-election of Jay Inslee and hold a two-vote majority in the House of Representatives. Republicans hold a one-vote margin in the senate. Each house has the ability to kill each others’ legislation.
Much of the early fun was created by President Donald Trump, however, who appointed state Sen. Brian Dansel, R-Republic, as special assistant to the secretary of agriculture. This came after Doug Erickson, R-Ferndale, was appointed to a temporary position until July at the Environmental Protection Agency.
While the humor revolved around whether or not the EPA’s role would be to continue to “protect” the environment, there was a serious side as the Senate was temporarily placed in a 24-24 tie with Dansel’s resignation. His position has since been filled, but Erickson’s limited availability will slow Senate business. Unless Erickson is persuaded to resign, the maneuvering by both parties to create voting opportunities based on Erickson’s travel schedule will provide interesting theater.
Education and the McCleary case will hover over the entire session like a dark cloud that may require more financial commitment than some legislators want to give.
In trying to find common ground among a legislature that has few areas of agreement, the community, technical and four-year colleges were in town to support education as an entire system and reduce legislative temptation to play education pieces against each other.
Significant amounts of money will be needed to solve education needs. The opening proposal by Republicans would shift money from Seattle — read that as Democrat voters — to rural — read Republican districts through the property tax. Republicans know Seattle-area legislators won’t support the idea, but it helps set parameters for debate, and it will be used to put pressure on suburban Democrat legislators.
First-term Democrat legislators Mike Pellicciotti and Kristine Reeves from Federal Way have been active as both were working on bills. Pellicciotti had bills on crime and ethics, and Reeves was working to help veterans. Reeves’ floor speech on Martin Luther King Jr. Day was mentioned as an early session highlight.
Federal Way Republican Sen. Mark Miloscia was supporting a good government bill similar to Pellicciotti’s regarding establishing a “cooling off period” before former state officials could return to Olympia as lobbyists. But Miloscia also created an uproar with his comments, calling the women’s march unAmerican and unChristian.
Federal Way city leaders will be in Olympia this session, as they want money to serve the homeless, a freeway access study and the Performing Arts and Events Center.
The $1 million kitchen upgrade for the PAEC for a culinary program may have a chance, but a similar dollar request for a grand staircase is likely to seem frivolous given state needs in education and social services.
Federal Way officials are also supporting a “public records act reform.”
Cities are concerned about the cost of reproducing requested documents and feel that a few abuse the system. Others are concerned, however, that this “reform” may serve as a Trojan horse to keep citizens from finding out what their local governments are really doing.
Locally, much of what City Hall leaders did behind the scenes on the Weyerhaeuser property was learned by residents requesting city documents. Efforts to limit citizen access to public records should be watched closely. Reform to city officials might feel like hindrance to voters.
If you haven’t been to Olympia when the legislature is in session, it is worth the trip. Be sure you have someone with you to explain what is really going on, however, because it may be very different than what you think is happening.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn and retired government official. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.