Wag the Dog, Part I

I attended a meeting with the Thurston County legislators on Jan 3rd. The three legislators are not firebrands, but as a group, representing a community, they (Reykdal, Hunt, Fraser) are probably about as liberal a group as any one community could send to Olympia to develop Washington State public policy.

But there is the problem: they don’t seem to see how they can really develop public policy at the legislature. The meeting was organized and facilitated by Molly Gibbs, friend and organizer in the Move to Amend organization. Molly’s energy is a local treasure.

This is my second meeting with this legislative group. We (a bunch of leftist activists of various stripes) met with them (minus Reykdal for that meeting) in November 2011 to discuss the Special Session. It was clear in that meeting that Senator Karen Fraser and Representative Sam Hunt are really fine people, with all of the right intentions, but without any of the street-brawler tools or impulses that are required to enact public policy in Olympia today. I did what I could in the November meeting and again yesterday to move this group off of their “poor me, poor us” frame of reference and to motivate them to enact progressive public policy, but frankly, I don’t know if these folks can imagine throwing down the gauntlet and taking the fight to the other side.

There is an amazing amount of assumed futility, assumed defeat in the Democratic party that assembles in the legislature. The Road Kill Caucus is one thing, pseudo-Democrats that are as offensive in their true political views as road kill is in flattened flesh. But the more progressive Democrats are roadkill of a different sort. They are reasonable, law-abiding folks who represent us by continuous compromise and surrender to an ideologically driven right wing political machine that has few discernible principles beyond an anti-tax, free market capitalism fused with the certainty of born-again economic revelation. Jesus in the Big Top. Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Capitalists.courtesy igougo.com

Representative Sam Hunt opened with comments about how the current situation “feels like the middle of a hangover.” Sam (hair of the dog, bite him back please) said he came away from the Special Session with a feeling of how grim things are. He also mentioned that not one person (citizen) came to the special session and advocated for an “all cut” budget. All of the folks who turned out and got Sam’s ear were talking about the need to avoid an all cut budget. But Rep Hunt and the Democrats are feeling completely handcuffed by I-1053 that requires a 2/3 majority vote to raise taxes. And early rulings on 1053 that were mentioned yesterday have determined that closing loopholes is raising taxes, so even closing tax loopholes to generate revenue is believed to be off the table by the Democratic caucus.

Rep Hunt has not been sitting on his hands with regard to challenging I-1053. He has signed on to the Court challenge to that initiative and the challenge is currently in the Seattle Courts and moving toward a motion for summary judgment to find that tax policy/revenue generation is the purview of the Legislature and that 1053 is an unconstitutional encroachment on that legislative responsibility (if I understand the basis for the challenge adequately). That is fine, but the time frame on the court decision and the eventual path to the WA Supreme Court suggests that this question will be settled for the 2013 Legislative Session and for now, the Democrats appear to be playing true to form and are declining to event attempt to govern and legislate on the basis that I-1053 is flawed. You have to give these folks points for their reasonableness and their willingness to follow the rules. But keep in mind that the other side is not feeling so constrained.

It’s easiest to make the point regarding the other side in terms of national policy, so I will go there. If rules are in effect and constrain the Democrats until such time as a Court strikes them down, you have to compare that with the exuberant willingness of the national Republican Party to enact legislation that allows for the indefinite detention of US citizens who are suspected of being terrorists. (terrorist is poorly defined and may include folks who demand gluten-free bread at a local eatery, so it’s pretty broad.) It seems like there are some constraints on this kind of thing in the Bill of Rights, in common law going back to the Magna Carta that grant us the right of habeas corpus and due process, but the red staters are not feeling constrained by these old pieces of paper as they craft and pass legislation that creates their brave new world. It’s fine to know that legislation such as the Patriot Act and the more recent National Defense Act are constitutionally invalid, but that knowledge serves us poorly as these unconstitutional policies spring into effect. We will have a lively teach-in at a FEMA detention center on the constitutional flaws of indefinite detention if opportunity arises, but I have to wonder if that is the right venue for that discussion?

I came away from the meeting yesterday thinking that we are sending boy scouts to a street fight for public policy. I don’t think our folks are as prepared as they need to be to adequately represent us against the other side. We have some work to do to get our folks whipped into shape. If we cannot get our representatives energized for the fight, we need to ask them to step down and get out of the way.

Hope to get back to this tomorrow with Wag the Dog, Part II. It’s probably going to take me two or three days to give an adequate recap of the January 3rd meeting and to give my take on what needs to be done.

Will see if I can get back to that tomorrow morning. Regular session opens on January 9th.

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