Report on 41st LD Town Hall, Feb 17, 2018

On Saturday, Feb 17 over 100 people turned up to the 41st Legislative District town hall at Somerset Elementary School in Bellevue.

Audience at 41st LD Town Hall, Feb 17, 2018

Representative Judy Clibborn (House Transportation Committee chair), Senator Lisa Wellman (chair of the Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee), and Representative Tana Senn (Vice Chair of the Early Learning & Human Services Committee) answered questions for two hours.

Rep. Judy Clibborn, Sen. Lisa Wellman, Rep. Tana Senn at 41st LD Town Hall, Feb 17, 2018

I asked Rep. Senn about the prospects for a carbon tax and for a capital gains tax. She said that it is likely that no Republican will vote for either bill. Because the Democratic majorities are so slim (a couple of seats in each house), and because there are some wish-washy (conservative) Democrats, it will be hard to pass either bill.

Last year’s state legislative deal funds education via increased real estate taxes.  (The legislature was placed under contempt by the Washington State Supreme Court for failing to adequately fund education, which the state constitution says is the “paramount duty” of the state.) Because of the high real estate values in King County, residents here are subsidizing education in other parts of the state. Most voters and legislators are Democratic here in King County and are Republican elsewhere. So the Republicans are happy to burden King County with the costs of paying for education.

All three 41st LD legislators voted against last year’s education deal, as did legislators in most surrounding King County legislative districts.

HB 2967 would enact an excise tax on capital gains in exchange for a reduction in property taxes. “Assisting Washington families by improving the fairness of the state’s tax system by enacting a capital gains tax and providing property tax relief.”  It is scheduled for consideration by the Finance Committee tomorrow, Feb 19. It has exemptions for primary residences and exempts the first $25,000 in gains ($50,000 for a couple).  The tax would apply to only about 48,000 households in the state.  Several people told me that two people in Washington — guess who? — would pay one quarter of the new tax.

One legislator said that some Republicans were pleasantly surprised that the Democratic leadership is relatively polite towards Republicans, allowing their issues to come up for consideration. One Republican legislator thanked her. So I wondered if a carbon tax or a capital gains tax could pass by some sort of horse trading. Apparently it will be difficult.

As for a carbon tax, Gov. Inslee proposed a carbon tax bill, SB 6203, “Reducing carbon pollution by moving to a clean energy economy.” A watered down version of the bill passed out of a Senate committee last week. (Lisa Wellman is one of the sponsors.) See CarbonWA for information about the various bills, their prospects, and the politics of the issue.

Senator Wellman pointed out that adding a tax on carbon will cost jobs in some industries. She mentioned, too, 10,000 jobs lost at Longview coal terminal. The workers need green energy alternatives. Such issues make passing a carbon tax politically difficult.

Fight for Climate

Wellman said that public banking is a “wave” across the nation. (New Jersey is seriously considering a public bank). In Washington State, Sen. Bob Hasegawa, Senator Wellman, and Senator Patty Kuderer have worked for a public bank bill. See SB 5464.  As Wellman explained, Washington should stop giving money away to Wall Street.

Someone asked about the prospects for stopping the rich from buying elections. We need to counter Citizens United, they said. One of the legislators spoke of the Disclose Act, SB 5991/HB: “Increasing transparency of contributions by creating the Washington state DISCLOSE act of 2018.” It passed the Senate and is in the House.

Closes campaign finance disclosure loopholes and requires the disclosure of contributions and expenditures by nonprofit organizations that participate significantly in
state elections.

Access to Democracy

One questioner spoke of the substandard conditions at most assisted-living facilities, which are often under-staffed.  The owners and lobbyists blame the $15 minimum wage.   One of the legislators said: Why work in such a facility when you can work under better conditions and for equal pay at, say, Starbucks?

A woman from Grandmothers Against Gun violence asked a question about prospects for gun control. Despite the horrifying massacre in a Florida high school, several bills failed to survive “policy cutoff.”  In particular, a bill about enhanced background checks failed. [Correction: I went to Olympia on Monday, Feb 29 to speak with legislators. There I saw some people dressed in orange and wearing signs calling for gun control. I said, “I heard that the enhanced background check bill…” Before I could finish, the man said, “No, the bill isn’t dead. That’s a rumor that was spread by NRA supporters to try to derail reform.” I also heard that some swing district Democrats would be vulnerable if they supported gun control, so it will still be hard to pass. And Speaker Frank Chopp is unwilling to risk losing seats. Some people think Chopp needs to take more risks, which he apparently did, because I heard that that the carbon tax bill is moving forward.]

One bill about restricting the ability of perpetrators of domestic violence to carry concealed weapons is still alive.  (Seems like a no-brainer to me.)  Another bill,  SB 5992, to restrict “bump fire stock guns”) passed the Senate and moving to the House.

Prohibits a person from manufacturing, owning, buying,
selling, loaning, furnishing, transporting, or having in
possession or under control, a bump-fire stock.
Provides the following definition for bump-fire stock: A
butt stock designed to be attached to a semiautomatic firearm
with the effect of increasing the rate of fire achievable
with the semiautomatic firearm to that of a fully automatic
firearm by using the energy from the recoil of the firearm to
generate reciprocating action that facilitates repeated
activation of the trigger.
Also seems like a no-brainer to me.

The legislators expressed frustration on the issue of guns (especially Rep Senn).  They said their inboxes have been flooded with emails on the issue.

There is more bipartisan support for reproductive rights, especially for reproductive parity, SB 6105. “Enacting the reproductive health access for all act.”

Requires the state health care authority to administer a
program to reimburse the cost of medically appropriate
services, drugs, devices, products, and procedures for
individuals who can become pregnant and who would be eligible
for medical assistance if not for 8 U.S.C. Sec. 1611 or 1612.

The aim of the bill is to prohibit insurers and employers from refusing to pay for employees’ reproductive-related medical expenses. (Think Hobby Lobby.)

The biggest drama at the town hall was the vehement questions by Asian Americans directed toward Sen. Wellman, asking her why she cosponsored SB 6406, “Restoring the fair treatment of underserved groups in public employment, education, and contracting.”

The aim of SB 6406 is to overturn I-200, a citizen initiative which Washington State voters approved in 1998. I-200 states, “The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.” The proviso against discrimination is uncontroversial. The proviso prohibiting preferential treatment effectively outlawed affirmative action in education, as well as programs to give preference to minority-owned and woman-owned businesses for public contracts. “All state agencies, boards, departments and commissions are prohibited from using any equal opportunity programs that grant preferential treatment in hiring. Initial consideration of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin may continue through outreach efforts. No comparable aggressive action to end equal opportunity programs that grant preferential treatment [sic?].”

I-200 was promoted by California affirmative-action opponent Ward Connerly and filed by Scott Smith and “initiative king” Tim Eyman.

The initiative passed with 58.22% of the vote statewide, but lost in King County.

Here’s a photo of some of the Asian Americans holding signs in opposition to SB 6406.

Asian Americans Opposed to SB 6406

Senator Wellman said that SB 6406 was “dead” for this session. One of the Asian Americans strongly demanded that she not cosponsor a similar bill next year. Wellman said she would take their views into consideration but would not succumb to threats.  Wellman said such threats were illegal when they involved donations. [In Olympia I heard that it’s unlawful for lawmakers to succumb to threats about funding, and they were told not to even respond to such aggressive emails. Also, I found out that there was similar organized oppositionat the 45th LD town hall. ]

Wellman also explained that the intent and effect of racial preferences and affirmative action is to help minorities such as Asians to get contracts. Before I-200, 13% of state government contracts were awarded to minority-owned businesses; afterwards, only about 1% were. (I’m not sure what exactly she was referring to.)

Wellman also described her experience as a Vice-President at Apple Computer, where she had to deal with discrimination against women. Too few women are in senior positions in many corporations. Likewise, there are too few women in high tech (software). When I used to interview candidates for software jobs, we’d regularly give preference to women and minorities, I think, partly because so few women and minorities applied.

None of the speakers explained clearly why they oppose overturning I-200, but my understanding is that many Asian Americans are angry that their children have trouble getting into colleges because preference is given to minorities such as African Americans. Harvard University has been sued for apparently restricting Asian enrollment. “The lawsuit alleges that Harvard effectively employs quotas on the number of Asians admitted and holds them to a higher standard than whites.”

Defenders of affirmative action and of racial preferences say that diversity is desirable in education and government contracting. Also, it is desirable to correct past wrongs (slavery and discrimination). Furthermore, if a student in a poor black community is able to earn good grades and test scores, despite the many roadblocks to success in such communities, it is evidence of intelligence and a strong character. Raw grades and scores are not the only factors that admissions officers should consider.

When I sketched this argument to one of the Asian American men opposing SB 6406, he said it’s unjust to correct past wrongs by enacting new wrongs. He also said that while it is appropriate to consider other factors besides grades and test scores, skin color should not be one of those factors.

After having gotten a chance to ask a question, one of the Asian Americans repeatedly raised his hand and called out verbally to be allowed to speak again. The legislators said that they wanted to give other people a chance to ask questions first. The man was politely asked, by a legislative aide, to sit down.

Senator Wellman said she would not debate the issue but would be happy to discuss it afterwards. They did.

I can see both sides of this issue. If my kid got better grades and scores but lost out to someone with lower grades and scores I might be unhappy too. It does seem like discrimination. Yet I understand too the desirability of diversity and of correcting past wrongs and so might be willing to sacrifice my interests for others who are in more need.

In late 2016 I met a Chinese American woman who said she voted for Trump. When I asked why she offered two reasons: (1) the efforts to allow transgender people to use women’s rest rooms, and (2) affirmative action in education. When I told this story to one of the Asian Americans at the town hall, he said that I shouldn’t lead by relating the issue to Trump. And he denied that college admission was the only (or main) issue involved.

After the town hall, a well-spoken African American woman spoke with the Asian Americans, telling how racial preferences helped her get established in her career. (She became some sort of executive.)

African-American lady tells how minority preferences helped her

A similar issue is the opposition among some people to HB 2927, which would standardize and broaden the outreach for finding students to enter gifted programs in public schools. There were questions about such gifted testing in North Shore School District.  See Washington state lawmakers consider universal screening to find gifted students.

A  reporter and photographer from the Seattle Times were in attendance. Both were friendly and easy-going. The reporter was having trouble getting cell phone reception (apparently, he had to step outside the gym). He said that he’s the only reporter on duty this weekend, and he needed to keep in touch with the editor in case there was an important story to cover.  I was somewhat surprised that the Seattle Times chose the 41st LD to cover.  I would have thought that, say, the 45th LD would be more exciting, given Manka Dhingra’s dramatic win there in the election last year.   The reporter said he generally worked on city hall and wasn’t so familiar with legislative issues.     I discussed with the reporters the trouble that newspapers are having staying in business and suggested that more people would subscribe if the editorial board stopped endorsing candidates. They insisted that the newsroom really is distinct (and cut off from) the editorial team.  We do desperately need journalism.

Here is the Seattle Times’ write-up on the town hall.

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2 thoughts on “Report on 41st LD Town Hall, Feb 17, 2018”

  1. Found your site while searching for news on SB 6406. Appreciate your write up on SB 6406. I have searched high and low, and could not find left wing media’s coverage on SB 6406. It is such an important bill, why they did not bother to cover it? I even read the Seattle Times’ write up about the town hall. Only few sentences, did not even mention name of the bill. Why? Because they want to quietly pass the bill. I-200 was voted by people. We only found out about the bill by pure chance few days prior to the bill deadline. That’s why we are very upset. Our future, our kids’ future are at stake, and the elected senators betrayed our trust, stabbed us in the back.

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