Report on the LAC meeting with Rep. Hasegawa

Sunday afternoon I attended the King County Dems’ Legislative Action Committee meeting in Renton, where Rep. Bob Hasegawa was the guest speaker. He is awesome: a strong progressive and an unpretentious, nice guy.  The meeting was riveting, for political junkies like me anyway, and well attended.  I guess the attendees all felt like fellow comrades in arms.

The battle is to deal with the fallout from Tim Eyman’s anti-tax initiatives that passed last year and to figure out how to stop the voters from supporting such destructive initiatives that are against their own self-interest.

Hasegawa lamented the lack of leadership by Democrats in Olympia, especially with regard to raising revenue. Missing In Action and Gone South were words that came up with respect to some issues at least. Hasegawa also expressed dissatisfaction with President Obama’s leadership on some issues. (Who isn’t dissatisfied?)

Governor Gregoire has talked like a Republican in her opposition to raising revenue, citing last fall’s votes on tax measures as her reason.   Policies she’s pushing would have a disproportionate impact on the poor and on communities of color. For example, she wants to allow colleges to raise tuition. To offset it she wants to start up corporate scholarship programs, funded by a 50% tax write-off — which would further decrease available state funds.

Hasegawa said we need a long-term strategy to build up both a progressive marketing machine and political power.   The strategy needs to be both inside and outside the legislature/Democratic Party.  But if we propose something (a referendum, for example) that’s been poorly designed we’ll get trounced and set ourselves back.  We need to lay the groundwork.

It appears that the WEA has given up on revenue (presumably because the voters are just so opposed to taxes).  If the major beneficiaries of tax revenue have given up on revenue, we’re in trouble.

Someone asked “How do we get through the voter’ blinders about taxes?”

One part of the solution is to drive a wedge between small and big business. Most of the tax write-offs benefit Big Business. Small businesses should actually support us on this.

During the meeting, we reviewed the high priority bills that Dems are interested in this year in Olympia.  A lot of good ones didn’t make it out of committees.  Senator Kline heroically sponsored a joint Senate memorial to overturn Citizens’ United.  But it failed to be reported out of committee, because not enough committee members were in the room.  Big Pharma was able to kill a pharmaceutical bill 24 to 25, by pressuring a wavering Republican.  Johnson & Johnson lobbied hard against a toxics bill. Senate Bill 5506 is bad news for Workers’ Comp.

On the good news front, it appears that Trans Alta, the governor, and the electrical worker’s union IBEW have come to a compromise on a schedule for shutting down the Trans Alta coal plants in phases, ending in 2020 instead of 2015.

There are six Democrats in the state Senate who regularly vote with Republicans to squash progressive legislation, especially on fiscal matters.   They “hold the key to everything.” Many bills in the Senate are decided by a couple of votes. I was wondering if the Left in Washington State needs someone or some people to be attack dogs — willing to say impolite things that others can’t easily say.   Can groups like WA Liberals, or FUSE, or others on the left  apply pressure on these Dems to do the right thing? Can LDs kick out centrist Dems or would those Dems just be replaced with even worse Republicans?

Speaker Frank Chopp spoke at an earlier LAC meeting. I was impressed by his smarts and his desire to do progressive things. Hasegawa also spoke highly of him. Chopp suggested that all Dems cancel their Seattle Times subscriptions, something I’ve suggested too. Hasegawa said that Chopp is powerful but he’s not a miracle worker: if the Democratic caucus(es) strongly support something, Chopp can’t overrule them.

Sarajane Siegfriedt mentioned that Chopp once said, “They’ll take away the Disability Lifeline OVER MY DEAD BODY!”  This year, due to the budget shortfall and the inability to raise revenue, we may see a dead body.

Even some Republican legislators see the need for Basic Health.   But some of them really do think government is evil, Hasegawa said.

The blue-green Working Family caucus of progressive Democrats was quite effective last session.  It has morphed somewhat since last year.

The State Bank is actually a bipartisan issue: some Republicans support it.  Of course the private banks oppose it, and so does the State Treasurer. The GOP is holding legislators to strict party discipline and insisting they oppose it.

$57 million was spent on state-wide initiative campaigns last year — four times the previous record.    Senate Bill 5021 (The Disclose Act) would enhance election spending disclosure to promote transparency.  The bill is very much alive and deserves support. It’s not as good as a constitutional amendment overturning the Citizens’ United ruling, but it’s a step in the right (left) direction.

During the question and answer period, someone mentioned that some GOP governors want states to declare bankruptcy, so that states can renege on funding employee pension plans.  Hasegawa said that the state legislators would NOT allow that to happen here. If the state declared bankruptcy, it could not borrow any money.

David Spring presented a resolution calling on the legislature to end tax breaks for corporations with more than $1 billion in yearly profit.  Such corporations would include Boeing and Microsoft.  The funds would be applied to public education, in accordance with the state constitution’s dictum that the “paramount duty” of the legislature is to support education.    Everyone at the meeting agreed with the intent of the resolution, but some people said that it wasn’t timely and that it was politically infeasible (Boeing!).  Also, someone questioned whether all the funds should go to education, since Basic Health and other social services need funding too. The resolution passed (by 13 to 7, I believe).  The LAC can only recommend resolutions to the King County Central Committee.

Spring’s resolution says “House Ways and Means Chairman Ross Hunter recently stated that a delay in the June payment to public schools is a ‘forgone conclusion — unless something more attractive comes up’,” due to the budget shortfall.  That means that about $500 million may be cut from education, according to Spring. That’s about equal to the tax giveaways to Boeing ($300 million per year) and Microsoft ($200 million per year).  “The paramount duty of the legislature is NOT providing hundreds of millions of dollars in tax exemptions for the richest corporations in the history of our planet.”  Also: “school funding in our State has already been cut by more than $2 billion in the past two years while not a single penny has been cut in tax breaks for wealth corporations.”

All very true. If the people only knew and understood…

Even if bills don’t become law, there can be value in bringing them up for votes, since it raises peoples’ awareness of the issues and since it can force legislators to cast votes on controversial measures.

Hasegawa suggested changing the Voter’s Guide pamphlet to be more informative about the cost of tax breaks (“tax preferences”).

Conservatives are winning the war to destroy government, by cutting taxes for the rich and slashing state budgets. The voters are voting against their own self-interest, because conservatives control the agenda through clever marketing, through corporate money, through better media access, and through weak Democratic leadership.

Hasegawa mentioned that the Democratic Party has a wonderful platform. The problem is that it’s often ignored by the legislators.

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