Governor Inslee delivers the State of the State address
Governor Inslee delivers the State of the State address

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.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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One reply on “Governor Inslee rebukes Senate Republicans: Let’s do our jobs, not fight the Supreme Court”

  1. If we plan on ful­ly fund­ing edu­ca­tion, one thing we should do is make sure all tax dol­lars are going to edu­ca­tion of the pub­lic sys­tem, not char­ter or pri­vate schools. 

    Char­ter schools are teach­ing what ever they want and no one is real­ly check­ing them out. They teach reli­gion, danc­ing and so many oth­er things. Not what tax pay­ers want to see their mon­ey spent on.

    If Char­ter schools wish to be fund­ed let them be fund­ed by the peo­ple who put their kids in those schools. 

    Find out how much mon­ey every per­son in this state pays into the edu­ca­tion sys­tem. Those who want char­ter schools, could just get that amount sent to them as the only help they get. So if its only $100.00 that is what they get to apply towards that school..

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