I was in Olympia last week talking with legislators, and what a week it was! There was a lot of politics, some policy and behavior you wouldn’t believe. The real issue continues to be each party trying to score points on the other and get out of town with no political baggage.
At the beginning of the week halls were still buzzing from earlier events.
As expected, the Republicans were doing their own investigation into the Department of Corrections early-release computer problem. They want to try and tie Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson, both Democrats, to the issue over a document that seemed to minimize the urgency of fixing the problem. However, the document was authored in 2012, before either official even took office.
Superintendent of Public Schools Randy Dorn had walked out on the Governor’s State of the State address; a King County Superior Court Judge had struck down Tim Eyman’s latest initiative, I-1366, saying it was really a constitutional amendment in disguise; and State Rep. Mary Dye (R-Pomroy) had caused a stir when she asked a group of Planned Parenthood students visiting her about their virginity. Frequent visitors are used to odd behavior when the legislature is in town, but the comment caused even the old pros to raise their eyebrows. Dye apologized, but it was an embarrassment when other legislators were looking to score positive political points.
But there was some cooperation with legislators working across the aisle to make it easier for women to obtain access to birth control at pharmacies. State Sens. Joe Fain (R-Auburn) and Steve Hobbs (D-Lake Stevens) have been working on legislation along with House members. With bipartisan support, passage seems likely.
Federal Way legislators were also busy. Sen. Mark Miloscia (R) was in a hearing scolding Western State Hospital officials about the institution’s problems. Rep. Linda Kochmar (R) has been working on legislation regarding Elder Isolation, and new Rep. Teri Hickel (R) introduced her first piece of legislation on extending benefits for the Nutrition Assistance Program.
But the search for dignified agreement and progress didn’t last long as Lt. Gov. Brad Owen kicked Sen. Pam Roach (R) off a committee on sex trafficking for some comments she made. Given the seriousness of the topic, Owen may not have had much choice, and it wouldn’t be a normal session unless Roach was in the middle of some controversy. Roach has always been one of the legislature’s most unique personalities. On the one hand, she marches to her own drummer. On the other hand, she has outlasted and outmaneuvered most of her critics and is President Pro Tem of the Senate. She is also running for the Pierce County Council, and many people in both parties in Olympia seem to want her to win.
The topic of the week was K-12 and higher education, following the previous week’s high-visibility discussions on charter schools. The most articulate point I heard all week was a frustrated education leader’s lament that “so much effort over 1200 charter school kids and we can’t solve the problem of a million public school kids.” It seemed to capture the emotion and the different views of priorities. But at least the debate was about policy. However, there were other, less cordial discussions as Republicans want to stretch out the time frame for reaching a solution on the court-ordered McCleary funding problem to 2018. Democrats screamed as they thought there had been agreement to reach a solution by 2017.
The next distraction was Rep. Graham Hunt (R-Orting), who was questioned about the accuracy of his military record on his Facebook page. His description of his service, medals, and a photo that wasn’t him were in dispute. Hunt was the state chair of the Ted Cruz presidential campaign and stepped down from that position following similar questions. By the end of the week, House Minority Leader Dan Kristiansen (R-Snohomish) was telling Hunt to clarify his record or resign from the legislature. Kristiansen wasn’t making an idle suggestion: the Republicans didn’t want to lose the seat to a Democrat this fall.
Hunt resigned this week.
Another issue that stirred controversy was a new rule established by the state’s Human Rights Commission that would allow transgender people to use the bathrooms and locker rooms of the gender they identify with in public buildings. Sen. Doug Ericksen (R-Ferndale) is sponsoring SB6443 to overturn the rule. Big turnout and not much agreement.
Much of the legislation was introduced by legislators to either help their re-election or harm other people’s. It’s how the game gets played in Olympia during an election year when control of both chambers is at stake.
But there was a thoughtful moment of reflection during the week when many with gray hair and long memories, myself included, recalled thirty years ago when history and education joined hands and the space shuttle Challenger exploded after takeoff. Christa McAuliffe, a teacher, was on board. She wanted to learn so she could better teach her students. The commander was Dick Scobee, from Auburn, who wanted to explore the remaining frontier and, through his journey, share it with us.
McAuliffe and Scobee’s ideals and lessons are still valuable today. Maybe if we placed teaching, exploring and learning above politics and re-election, solving the education problem would be a lot easier.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn: email@example.com