Washington Governor Jay Inslee had strong words for Senate Republicans this afternoon after a majority (but not all) of the caucus published an open letter urging the Legislature’s other caucuses to join them in instigating a constitutional crisis by retaliating against the state Supreme Court for its recent McCleary order.
“Today I convened a call with legislative leaders of both caucuses in the House and Senate to discuss next steps on the recent Supreme Court McCleary ruling,” the governor said in a statement sent to NPI shortly before 3 PM. “In that call I asked all four caucuses to appoint members to work in a bipartisan group to find a solution that fully funds education, complies with the court order, and removes the contempt order and sanctions that have been imposed upon the state.”
“Not all of the caucuses agreed to do so.”
“At the same time this morning, members of the Senate Republican caucus issued a lengthy letter about the court’s ruling. It is unfortunate that those members are more focused on a legally dubious theory that attacks the Court rather than on finding a productive solution to our education challenge. They should not be looking for a constitutional crisis, they should be looking for an education solution.”
The letter the governor refers to was signed by the most radical and extreme members of the Senate Republican caucus, including Senators Jan Angel, Pam Roach, Don Benton, Michael Baumgartner, and Doug Ericksen. It goes on at length at how the state Supreme Court is violating the Constitutions of the Evergreen State and the United States by holding the Legislature in contempt for failing to fully fund Washington’s public schools in accordance with Article IX, Section 1.
“The constitutional crises that we and the court were warned about is here,” the nineteen wrote in a six page letter addressed to House Democrats, House Republicans, and Senate Democrats, who were sent copies by hand.
“We have all taken oaths to uphold the state constitution. We owe to our constituents and their children not only amply-funded schools but a functioning republic in this state. It is now time for us to explore the range of political, legal, and constitutional responses that we have at our disposal. Please let us know at your earliest convenience how you and your respective caucuses intend to proceed.”
Inslee made clear he does not share Senate Republicans’ desire to fight the Court, and wants to get back to work instead of escalating a constitutional showdown.
“I am focused on fully funding education, providing our students and educators what they need, and submitting a plan that complies with the court order. Focusing on anything else is a political distraction. I look forward to hearing from all the caucuses next week in the hopes that all the caucuses will focus on a solution to this educational challenge and contempt citation rather than on excuses for inaction.”
Senate Democrats made the same points.
“Guess MCC [what the Senate Republicans and Tim Sheldon call themselves] wants to re-litigate Marbury v Madison (1803),” tweeted Senator David Frockt. “Here’s an idea. Let’s get it together and fully fund education.”
He noted Senate Republicans’ defiance was to blame for the constitutional crisis, not the Court, which has been incredibly patient with the Legislature.
“How can a constitutional ruling of our state’s highest court itself be unconstitutional?” he wondered. “Where does it end?”
“I don’t care what Senate Republicans think of the Court’s order,” declared Senate Democratic Leader Sharon Nelson (D‑34th District; West Seattle and Vashon-Maury Island). “Neither do kids who continue to move through our K‑12 system in crumbling schools. Neither do teachers who have to leave the profession they love because they can’t afford to feed their families. Neither do parents who send their kids to overcrowded schools and classrooms year after year. The one and only thing any of us should care about is fixing these issues and fixing them now.”
If the Washington State Supreme Court was controlled by conservatives, like the U.S. Supreme Court is, Senate Republicans would be revering and defending it — not attacking it. But since it isn’t, and since there aren’t any conservative jurists left on its democratically-elected bench, Republicans feel no hesitation in going after the Court as an institution, attempting to undermine its legitimacy.
“The Washington Supreme Court has gone rogue. It is time for articles of impeachment,” tweeted Republican State Representative Matt Manweller in the wake of the Supreme Court’s most recent McCleary order.
He followed that up with: “First WA Supreme Court in history to issue a press release BEFORE issuing their decision. Nice slick website too. Pathetic.”
Quite a few of his tweets since then have been jabs directed at the Supreme Court.
Michael Baumgartner, one of the letter’s nineteen signatories, has also launched rhetorical attacks on the Court. His response to the McCleary order was this retort: “Breaking News: Baumgartner fines Supreme Court for civic incompetence. Orders Judges to write ‘co-equal branches’ 100x per day.”
Baumgartner previously introduced a bill to shrink the size of the state Supreme Court from nine to five justices — a move no doubt intended to make it easier for conservatives to try to take control of the institution in a subsequent set of statewide elections, as they would only need to win three seats. He also filed a silly bill mocking the McCleary orders and instructing the Court to take more cases.
None of Baumgartner’s inane bills have gone anywhere.
We agree with Governor Inslee: Rather than attempting to escalate a constitutional crisis with the Supreme Court, Senate Republicans should focus on getting back to work. Republicans spend way too much time patting themselves on the back and making excuses for mediocrity. We have the nation’s most regressive tax system and we rank close to last in class size. We’re not adequately compensating our teachers or providing school districts with the resources they need.
The Legislature has continually relied on budget gimmicks, including accounting tricks and fund transfers, to make the state’s books balance. The focus has been on treating symptoms, not addressing the root cause of our education funding problems. Every year, Republicans say it’s not a good time to raise taxes or work on tax reform. That is why our funding problems won’t go away.
Republicans are being misleading when they try to pit the blame for the lack of progress solely on Democrats. For example, last week Matt Manweller tweeted “Dems were in charge for 20 years and led us to this crisis.”
That’s not true. For much of the 1990s, Republicans had control of at least one house of the Legislature, and there was a stretch when they had both houses. In the early 2000s, they controlled the state Senate by a narrow majority. Now they have control of the Senate again. And they’re hungry for more power.
Sadly, these nineteen Republicans have just demonstrated they are more interested in scoring political points and inciting a power struggle than helping Democrats tackle our school funding crisis. Some of them, notably Baumgartner, Ericksen, Benton, and Roach, are even supporting Tim Eyman’s I‑1366, which would wipe out $8 billion (with a b) in sales tax revenue over the next six years. That’s beyond irresponsible and beyond shameful — it’s unconscionable.
There are, thankfully, Republicans who are standing up against the politics of hostage-taking; the Mainstream Republicans have taken a position opposing Eyman’s I‑1366. But sadly, there aren’t many Republicans left who seem interested in truly defending republicanism and upholding Washington’s values.