I always enjoy my visits to Olympia when the Legislature is in session. While not always pretty, it is wonderful to see democracy in action. I would encourage everyone to try and visit. The hearings are interesting but the real work is done in each caucus where you can’t see it. Go with someone who can explain the strategic moves because you will enjoy it more.
The Democrats control both houses and the governor’s office. But there is a decidedly new feel in the halls of the capital. For the first time in 20 years there is a new speaker in the House of Representatives. Crafty and pragmatic Frank Chopp has been replaced by Tacoma Rep. Laurie Jenkins, who as the first female and openly gay speaker, will chart the more progressive course her supporters envisioned when she was elected. There has been a noticeable left turn on policy issues. But Republicans have already shown that they are equal to the debate.
One lobbyist said “the Democrats will decide what we talk about , but the Republicans will decide for how long we talk.”
This is the short 60-day session, which is usually a time to shape the political landscape for the upcoming summer campaigns. Each side introduces bills to get the other side to vote against them and provide fresh dialog and records for their candidates to use.
With a progressive agenda including comprehensive sex education, clean fuel standards, homelessness, climate change and gun violence, along with the $4.2 billion deficit in the transportation budget caused by Initiative 976, Jenkins and the Democrats will need to be cautious about overreach.
State law requires teaching about HIV and AIDS in the fifth grade but concern about sexually-transmitted disease has caused a more comprehensive look at sex education, which has passed the Senate and is headed toward the House. It still contains the “opt-out” option for parents. The Senate has also passed a bill to repeal the death penalty and a bill banning single-use plastic bags sponsored by Sen. Mona Das, D-Kent.
Another test for Jenkins will be what to do about Matt Shea, R-Spokane, who was accused of domestic terrorism. He has been disciplined by the Republicans but there is pressure to expel him from the Legislature, though that seems unlikely at this point.
Access to college has been a headliner with more emphasis placed on ensuring students know about eligibility standards and programs to help them with the costs.
Against this backdrop will be elections for statewide office, the full House of representatives and several members of the state Senate. All but two statewide positions are held by Democrats. Those are Secretary of State Kim Wyman and state Treasurer Duane Davidson. Wyman has raised $349,515 to Democrat Gael Tarleton’s $106,637. Davidson has raised $50,600, while Democrat Rep. Mike Pellicciotti has raised $173,603.
Gov. Jay Inslee is running for a third term but a bigger name is needed if the Republicans want to defeat him. He has raised $3.2 million while Republican opponents Joshua Freed has raised $200,000 and Phil Fortunato has raised $105,000.
It’s early but a Democrat sweep, other than Secretary of State, appears likely. Pellicciotti has raised more money than the incumbent. But Secretary of State Wyman retains her ability to garner support from left and right and is the most popular Republican statewide.
In the 30th District in Federal Way, we went from seasoned to inexperienced in a hurry. Former Rep. Kristine Reeves resigned to run for Congress in the 10th District. She was replaced by former City Council member Jesse Johnson who has potential, but needs to win the seat in the fall. Pellicciotti is still there and will look after the home folks, but after the session he will continue his statewide run. Democratic Sen. Claire Wilson is in her second session and will inherit some “bring home the money” responsibility.
Even for a short session, significant policy debates have occurred.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.