Report on the 2013 Legislative Review of the Metroplitan Democratic Club of Seattle

Wednesday four solidly progressive Democratic lawmakers were guests at the Metropolitan Democratic Club of Seattle: Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles (36th LD), Senator Bob Hasegawa (11th LD), Representative Cindy Ryu (32nd LD), and Representative Gael Tarleton (36th LD).

Senator Jeanne Kohle-Welles
Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles
Senator Bob Hasegawa
Sen. Bob Hasegawa
Rep. Cindy Ryu
Rep. Cindy Ryu
Senator Gael Tarleton
Rep. Gael Tarleton

Ryu and Kohl-Welles are the two most progressive legislators in the House and Senate, according to the House scorecard and Senate scorecard.

Senator Kohl-Welles characterized the session as being full of “palace intrigues”, “high drama”, “charade”, “arrogance”, “duplicity” and “rhetoric, not action.” She said the Republicans had a Pyrrhic victory. In the Senate they set the agenda. They had the major chairmanships. All because 10 or 12 core conservatives held out.  They blocked the House’s Dream Act (education for children of immigrants), a Gun Safety act, a Toxic Toys bill, the Reproductive Parity Act, and the transportation bill that would have funded Metro buses and would have allowed localities to raise taxes to fund transportation.  “We had the votes in the Senate but couldn’t get them up to a vote.”

But the Dems blocked the Republicans’ pernicious bills.

Dems had to put up with so much crap. On the first day, the Majority Coalition in the Senate (the Republicans and turncoats Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon) made a major change to Senate rules, for the first time in decades.

The Dems, including Sen. Ed Murray, tried to force a vote on the Dream Act and Reproductive Parity Act, using a mechanism called the Ninth Order, but “The motion failed 25-23 with Tom—alongside [so-called] pro-choice Republican Sen. Steve Litzow (R-41, Mercer Island) and Democratic Sen. Jim Hargrove (D-20, Hoquiam)—voting in place of his seriously ill friend, Sen. Mike Carrell (R-28, Lakewood)—casting ‘No’ votes on Murray’s motion to move to the Ninth Order.” (See Sen. Tom Votes Against Ninth Order Motion, RPA and DREAM Act in Peril.)

Dems got six, minor committee chairs. Several Road Kill conservative Dems took some of the chairs. Some progressive lawmakers refused.

Lieutenant Governor Brad Owens, who in the past has come under criticism for his timidity in opposing Tim Eyman initiatives, was this time a hero to Democrats. Several of the panelists lauded Owens, who was furious at the Majority Coalition’s tactics.

Senators Hasegawa and Marilyn Chase were allowed to bring some great bills to the Senate committee, under the mistaken impression that Rodney Tom and the Republicans would allow an honest discussion. Instead, Rodney Tom used the bills as opportunity to ridicule Democrats, making press releases critical of the billions of dollars that Democrats want to spend.  Tom tried to blame Kohl-Welles for the failure of the Dream Act (because she didn’t accept the Higher Ed chairmanship). She demanded that Tom’s words be removed from the website. They were removed.

A disturbing event this year was that hard-core conservative Don Benton won his seat by just 74 votes. He probably would have lost the race if the Senate Democrats Campaign Committee chair, Mike King, hadn’t (allegedly) embezzled $300,000.  Hard to swallow. [I am unable to find articles about this alleged embezzlement. I think Cindy Ryu for providing these links to coverage on the allegations:  See Breaking: State SDCC Director Under Investigation for Stealing Party Money and here.]

Senator Benton receives significant funding from a Mercer Island family that owns usurious payday lending outlets.   In recent years the number of pay day lending outlets, and their revenue, have dropped, due to past legislative reforms.  But the payday lending forces are fighting back.

For more on Benton, see Allied with ALEC: Washington State’s “Dirty Half-Dozen”.

Rodney Tom won’t be easy to dislodge.

Concerning the upcoming negotiations to pass a belated transportation package, the panelists said that Republicans will demand trades (compromises).  Cindy Ryu said, “Hopefully we won’t have to sacrifice bike lanes.”

Senator Benton didn’t want funding for the Columbia River crossing and was willing to sacrifice $450,000,000 in federal money for the project.

One problem with Republicans is that Republican legislators who go against the will of the caucus are often threatened with a primary challenge. There are in fact some moderate Republicans (e.g., Pierce Co. legislators who want funding for Route 167 and who wanted to vote for the transportation package), but the Republican caucus pressures them not to vote with the Democrats.

Several of the legislators reported on some minor legislative victories that involved little revenue, like lowering speed limits, protecting the security of master apartment keys, and allowing wine and beer sampling at farmers markets.

Rep. Hasegawa said that as soon as the Republicans got control of the Senate they put forth a bunch of ALEC bills, which had no chance of passage in the House.  One of the bills, the Training Wage bill, would have allowed employers to offer jobs at below minimum wage. They pitched it as if it would help youths land a first job, but the text of the bill didn’t say it was limited by age.

Another Republican bill went after Family Medical Leave.

Hasegawa served as ranking Democrat on the Government Operations committee.  The chair was Senator Pam Roach.  He said that he deserves hazard duty pay. It was entertaining. People came to hear the show.  He was also on the Ways & Means. There the Republicans were totally out of control.  You could literally hear yelling and screaming behind the Republican Caucus’s door. (Senator Kolle-Welles concurred.) Each vote mattered and so there was hard bargaining within the Republican caucus.   The first legislative session was dysfunctional due to the Republican infighting. The Senate met in session only once. There was no floor action.

Hasegawa said that the Dems had done a workshop training on power.  He thinks the Dems’ mistake was to try to work with the Republicans in a bipartisan way [because the Republicans had no intention of compromising? Because the caucuses were too far apart?].  We handed power to the Republicans over the need to raise revenue.  Democratic Sen. Hargrove gave his vote to the Republicans on an important procedural matter.

Dems raised some new revenue, “but not really.” We closed some loopholes that had been opened by (technical) Supreme Court rulings, to the order of $600,000,000. But this was not really new revenue. And in order to close those loopholes, we had to open new ones.  Dems had to agree to suspend cost-of-living increases for teachers again.   There were budget gimmicks, like the Public Works Assistance budget counting on case loads being unrealistically low.

(On this issue of revenue, I had earlier had a discussion on Ross Hunter’s facebook page, in which I questioned his claim that the legislature had really raised a billion dollars in new revenue. See also Fact checking the Washington Policy Center’s claims about education funding.)

Republicans are very good at messaging: scaring and misleading the voters about taxes and about alleged government waste.  The Republicans’ message is short and easy: Cut Taxes. Democrats have more difficult messaging hurdles. Still, a majority of Washingtonians support our policies.

Rep. Ryu said we need to message the hip and young crowd. Too many people believe in fairy dust. At a meeting with students, everyone said they want more educational programs to benefit students.  But when asked, “Who wants an income tax?” few people raised their hands.

On next year’s elections, Andy Hill in the 45th LD is vulnerable. Pam Roach is up for election next year.  Tracy Eide will have a tough race. This year Control of the Senate depends on the race beween Nathan Schlicher and Jan Angel.

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