It’s only been ten days since the sixty-fifth Washington State Legislature convened for its long session, but already, the bad behavior of Senate Republicans suggests it’s going to be very difficult for the state’s lawmaking branch to get much of anything done before the session is scheduled to end on April 23rd.
Washingtonians have a reasonable expectation that their representatives will work together to govern despite their differences, and while Republicans (who have a tenuous grip on the Senate) occasionally pay lip service to this idea, it is evident from their actions that they relish creating gridlock and resent not having total control over state government like their federal counterparts do.
The Legislature has serious, pressing issues to attend to. Recognizing this, Governor Inslee, Attorney General Bob Ferguson and House Democrats have been endeavoring to put worthy ideas on the table to address neglected public services like our schools and mental health system while proposing reforms that would make state government more accountable and our criminal justice codes more humane.
Senate Republicans, however, have been busy embarrassing our state with their self-serving political posturing and petty antics. Here are a slew of examples.
Exhibit A… Mark Schoesler’s rudeness to the press corps:
It’s only the second week of the legislative session and state Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler already is biting the heads off journalists who asked him when the Republican plan for fixing the way the state pays for education will be ready.
“That’s none of your business,” Schoesler snapped at a Tuesday news conference.
Actually, Senator Schoesler, it’s everyone’s business. Where is your plan?
Exhibit B… Dino Rossi’s refusal to accommodate members of the Lake Washington Education Association who had traveled to Olympia on their day off to meet with him following Monday’s Rally for Student Civil Rights & Amply Funded Schools.
Senator Rossi just blew off an entire delegation of education advocates from Lake Washington here to talk to him about the need to fully fund public education and uphold all of our students’ civil rights!
He looked at all of us and accused us of being fifteen minutes late and left to go to lunch. You want to talk about being late, Senator Rossi, you and the legislature you have been a part of repeatedly are more than 40 years late! Hope your lunch was important, obviously you don’t have the best interest of your constituents and the children of Lake Washington in mind.
During a prior meeting organized by the PTA that did take place as scheduled, Rossi reportedly took up most of the time — Pam Roach style — by talking instead of listening, according to an activist who was in the room.
In a fairly blatant attempt to get some attention for himself and steer public discourse away from fully funding our public schools, extremist right wing Senator Michael Baumgartner of Spokane has prefiled a constitutional amendment that would repeal the memorable opening words of Article IX of the Washington State Constitution (“It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders, without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste, or sex.“).
Article IX has been with us since statehood and its preamble is one of the most beautiful passages in our entire Constitution. But Michael Baumgartner wants to scrap it because he doesn’t believe in amply funded schools for all children.
A proposal by state Sen. Doug Ericksen to increase penalties for protesters is a bad idea coming at a terrible time.
The Ferndale Republican should abandon his proposal to “criminalize” protests that cause economic harm and “create a new crime of economic terrorism.
Now is the time for elected leaders to help people move past the presidential campaign’s divisive rhetoric and get back to working on real problems facing the state and country.
Branding protesters as terrorists is not legislating to help the people and businesses of Washington. It is chumming the pool of hyperpartisans by generating inflammatory headlines with a proposal unlikely ever to become law.
It must be understood that Doug Ericksen is a tool of big oil companies, which have facilities in his district. He seems willing to do absolutely anything for the fossil fuels industry, and he ridiculously interprets criticism of the likes of BP as though it were some kind of personal attack on himself. (I’ve sparred with him a League of Women Voters forum in Bellingham, so this observation is based on my own experience.)
Last year, Sen. Mike Padden, the Spokane Republican who chairs the Judiciary committee, did not allow a hearing on a bill to repeal the death penalty, effectively shutting down the legislative conversation.
On Wednesday, Padden said he would “consider holding a hearing on the death penalty bill if and when the House,” which is controlled by Democrats, passes the bill first.
The death penalty is too important for legislative leaders like Padden to play partisan games.
Indeed. Bob Ferguson’s legislation to abolish the death penalty — which has the backing of Republican Senators Mark Miloscia and Maureen Walsh — could pass the Senate if it were brought to the floor and given a vote, proponents say. Even supporters of state sponsored-killing, like Steve O’Ban, say the legislation deserves a hearing. But there’s Mike Padden saying he won’t even give the legislation a hearing unless the House of Representatives passes the companion bill!
Mike Padden’s behavior has been, and continues to be, indefensible.
A proposal to keep the levy lid at its current level through January 2019 — delaying the reduction in tax collections by one year — passed out of the House Appropriations Committee on Thursday, but with support only from Democrats.
Last year, a proposal to continue the levy lid lift for one extra year cleared the Democratic-controlled House with broad bipartisan support, but stalled in the state Senate, which is led by Republicans.
Sen. Joe Fain, the Senate majority floor leader, said he shares House Republicans’ concerns about the political consequences of postponing the levy cliff. “If we were going to solve this crisis, as I believe we will, we have to keep the pressure on,” said Fain, R‑Auburn.
Keep the pressure on? When has that ever worked in the past?
Washington’s school funding crisis could have been solved years ago, but Republicans weren’t willing to make the investments necessary to amply fund our schools and they remain unwilling to make those investments now.
The least Republicans can do is join Democrats in removing this impediment to school districts’ budgeting and planning, since the Legislature has failed to comply with the Supreme Court’s orders to get our schools funded for four straight years (and failed to uphold its own past promises for far longer than that).
Finally, to build on that point about Republicans being unwilling to make the necessary investments in our schools, we have Exhibit H:
Senate Republicans’ vote to require a two-thirds vote for passage of tax increases gave us pause last week as the Washington Legislature opened its new session.
The foremost challenge in the 105-day session is to fully fund K‑12 public schools, which could end the unconstitutional practice of using local voter-approved levies to subsidize teacher pay and benefits.
There is a marked lack of unanimity about how much is needed, let alone how to pay for it. By putting the two-thirds-vote roadblock in place, the 25 members of the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus could well gum up legislative action and thwart the majority’s will later in the year — that is, if their action on the two-thirds rule is even legal.
This is hardly the first session in which Senate Republicans have shown a lack of respect for the Constitution, or their Democratic peers, or the people of Washington in general. There were hopes expressed in advance of this year’s session in many quarters that 2017 might be different — that Senate Republicans might be more mindful of their obligations as elected representatives, and more humble following Steve Litzow’s loss last November to Lisa Wellman in the 41st District.
Sadly, it’s apparent Senate Republicans still prefer political theater, gamesmanship, and obstruction to governing. Their majority is now just as fragile as that of the House Democrats, yet they seem as arrogant as ever.
Since Republicans won’t stop behaving badly, it looks like it’ll be up to voters of the Eastside to remedy the situation for 2018 by taking away their majority.
Voters in my legislative district, the 45th, will have the chance to singlehandedly fire the Senate Republicans later this year if they select a Democrat to take the place of appointed Republican Senator Dino Rossi. The 45th is among four districts that must, by law, hold special state Senate elections this year due to vacancies.
The other three districts (48th, 37th, 31st) are likely to remain in the hands of the same party, so the balance of power in the Senate would most likely be unaffected.
But the 45th happens to be an increasingly Democratic district that is overdue for a change in representation.
Last year, voters in the 45th enthusiastically backed Democrats up and down the ballot. In legislative races, the Republicans couldn’t find anyone willing to take on Larry Springer, while their opponent for Roger Goodman — Sammmish City Councilmember Ramiro Valderrama — couldn’t crack 40% of the vote.
If Democrats do succeed in taking the 45th, they will become the majority party in the Washington State Senate as of the certification of this year’s local election around this year’s Thanksgiving holiday — and the Senate Republicans, who count Tim Sheldon as one of their own, will become the minority party.