Just How Broken is Olympia?

by lewwaters

Anybody who has paid any attention at all to the news in Washington State knows that Olympia just isn’t working for quite some time. Doesn’t matter what party you are in or support, all we need do is pick just about any newspaper in the state to see how dysfunctional the Washington State legislature has gotten in the past decade or so.

Partisan pundits from either major party will always point fingers at the other, absolving themselves of any blame, which is a large part of the problem. We saw it just this last session and special sessions that were supposed to overcome a $1.5 Billion budget gap, but agenda driven legislators, with the full blessing of the governor, had more important matters to tend to.

We saw it late in the close of the regular session, which prompted 3 Democrats to cross the aisle and join forces with Republicans, drawing the ire of their party leaders, to take the floor and bring a bipartisan budget deal to the floor. House Democrats rejected the bipartisan budget bill and the mess continued.

One of those Democrats, Senator Jim Kastama from the 25th Legislative District recently made a speech at the Washington Research Council board meeting Tuesday, held at the Washington Athletic Club where he pulled back the curtain and let us know just how dysfunctional our legislature has gotten.

From the transcript of that speech, supplied by Eric Smith of the Washington State Wire, we see what went on in Olympia did not make it to the news services and how Democrat Party Leaders castigated Sen. Kastama, one going so far as to tell him “he had cooked his own goose when he cast his vote this year with Republicans” and another one informed him that “the only job he’d be likely to get was as a gas-station attendant” while his “session aide tearfully begged him to change his vote.”

Sen. Kastama said he has “no regrets” over crossing the aisle along with Sens. Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon. Sen. Kastama said what drove him to cross the aisle was witnessing public testimony from citizens who “came forward to testify about the impact of this year’s budget cuts, and he realized that if the Legislature didn’t change course and make dramatic changes to state spending patterns, they’d be back again next year saying the same thing again.”

“My colleagues knew that these individuals would have to come back year after year, begging for their services to be preserved, because our budget was unsustainable. I found that cruel; I found that unacceptable. I thought back to all the reforms I had tried to pass, all the tough decisions I kept waiting for someone else, the governor, or my party to make. And I came to the conclusion that best reform is just to govern,” and “As the testimony became tearful, I turned to look back at my colleagues to gauge the impact, only to see them checking their emails, reading and seemingly disinterested,” Sen. Kastama is quoted as saying.

Some excerpts of the speech are below and I urge you to visit Washington State Wire to read the full transcript to keep it in context.

“Regardless of what one might think about Democrats and Republicans, the tension between the parties now approaches that of the Montagus and the Capulets, the Hatfields and the McCoys, and the Raiders and the Seahawks.

“In football, the fanaticism has grown to the point that any penalty one’s team gets, no matter how deserved, is considered a ‘bad call.’ That same ‘sports mentality’ of our team, right or wrong, has taken over politics. It’s dogmatic.

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“Extreme partisanship is also enabled by the concentration of campaign contributions along clear special interest lines. Let’s face it. In most cases money dictates your political viability. Newspapers track contributions, with headlines and photos going to those candidates who have raised the most money. For Democrats, that money has steadily come from labor unions, teachers, trial lawyers and public employees. For Republicans: from businesses, insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies and agribusiness.

“There is very little electoral cash reward for being a centrist or working across party lines. There is no interest group looking for people who can bring both sides together or to actually reward those people who are problem solvers.

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“After a roughly $5 billion budget shortfall in 2011, Washington faced an additional $2 billion deficit. Although a smaller deficit, the solutions of bridging this gap were getting fewer and more contentious.

“The governor called a special session in December to reconcile this difference with a series of budget cuts and a tax package. A small budget reduction bill was passed, punting the big problems until January during the regular session.

“Overshadowing this crisis was the success of a small group of Democratic legislators, self-proclaimed ‘Roadkill’ moderates, who had successfully reformed the workers’ compensation program and unemployment insurance and had forged a bipartisan budget agreement in the Senate the session prior.

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Joe Zarelli, the chief budget writer for the Senate Republicans, approached me with the idea of presenting an alternative budget, one that would balance into the future, include structural reforms, have a healthy reserve, and put the Senate in a good position to negotiate with the House.

“My first thought was, ‘That’s gutsy.’ You see, usually minority parties just hide behind a wall and throw bombs at the majority’s budget. They don’t offer their own version, only the assurance that if they were in the majority, they would have a better budget. Democrats, Republicans – they both do this.

“So this surprised me.

“I had grown to trust Joe over the last 10 years or so. I had seen him offer perfectly good amendments to the bills on the Senate floor, only to have them defeated by my colleagues. The moderates would often stand in the back of the chamber and ask “what’s wrong with that amendment? It seems like a good idea,” only to be told it wouldn’t pass in the House or it wasn’t our idea.

“Each year, Joe would give his annual speech about the unsustainability of the budget and each year, we would ignore it. It wasn’t until I actually sat on the Ways and Means committee that I realized he was right.

“But what finally clinched my trust with Joe was the writing of the 2011-2013 budget, when he agreed to closely work with Senator Ed Murray. Polar opposites on many issues, Joe worked to forge the most bipartisan budget that the Senate had seen in years, at least until this latest budget. He didn’t have to work with Ed – instead he could have let the Democrats implode over our disagreements. But he did.

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The days leading up to the 9th Order were filled with suspense. In all honesty, I didn’t know if there were the votes to actually to pull it off, but there was no secret that it was an option. One Democratic senator even approached me and said, ‘I hear you may join the Republicans and go to the 9th Order,’ to which I responded, ‘I will consider all options that come before the Senate.’

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“Early in January a small group of legislators from both parties actually attempted to put such a group together. The Washington Business Alliance, a group of good government advocacy executives provided a corporate strategic planning consultant to guide us through an all-day retreat. The night before the meeting, House Democratic leadership got wind of the meeting, and the House Democrats all dropped out. This foretold our strategy of having to play hardball with the House in negotiations. As one Democrat who backed out lamented, ‘I can’t be seen on a stage with a Republican. Leadership would have my head.’

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“We had made very clear the budget we passed was not the ideal budget. We believed, as was eventually proven, that it was a successful negotiating document to get us where we wanted to be. Our focus was the end result.

“Instead of negotiations between budget writers, silence. Even a letter sent by the Republican minority leader, Mike Hewitt, requesting negotiations, was not shared with all of the Democratic leadership team and only made known on Wednesday after I had countered assertions that the coalition was stonewalling or using the disarray as a political ploy for next fall’s election.

Where I disagree somewhat with the Senator is,

“Now, some may believe that this change will occur only with a change in political parties. On certain policies it may. But it cannot be assumed. For example, Nick Hanauer thinks that by supporting Republicans, he can finally get charter schools. In reality, this may harden the Democrats against them, leaving all the votes to come from the Republicans, which is doubtful.

“In my opinion, both parties need to be internally disrupted, but not from the extremes, from the middle.

While I agree that both parties need to be “internally disrupted,” Democrats have for too long shown an unwillingness to work across the aisle and bully legislation they want to support their agenda through, ignoring the concerns of Republicans, Conservatives and much of the states citizens.

We see this by their reluctance to adhere to the clear message voters have sent time and again that we want tax increases and new taxes to be subjected to a two thirds majority vote. Instead of heeding our words, they launch a lawsuit against voters to overturn our votes, a lawsuit joined into by 49th Legislative District Rep. Jim ‘Da Taxman” Moeller.

It’s time we saw some major changes in Olympia and moved away from the Progressive policies that keep our state mired deep in economic doldrums.

Both Democrats and Republicans need to stop the partisan bickering and Democrats need to lose the majority while Republicans’ need not to follow the Democrats’ years long heavy handed method of legislating us into ruin.

We must keep people like Zarelli, Benton, Rivers, Harris and more in Olympia while stopping people like Probst, who displays a moderate aura, but supports too much of the Progressive agenda as well as block others like Stonier who has strong ties to the teachers union from getting in.

In the 49th, Sen. Pridemore is stepping down to run for State Auditor and Republicans need to enlist a good person to replace him.

A difficult task, yes, but Moeller and Wylie must go. They talk a good message while campaigning, but have shown themselves to be a Progressive as they come. While it is unlikely the heavily Democrat 49th will switch, we can make inroads in the 17th, keep the 18th Republican and help elect new Representatives elsewhere.

We need a new governor that hasn’t been part of the dysfunctional process and has some new strong ideas. Someone like Shahram Hadian.

The dysfunctional legislating must come to a halt now! The only way to do that is with new faces in Olympia, willing to work together.

That doesn’t mean to cave, but too actually work together in a bipartisan spirit as did Kastama, Sheldon and Tom did.

5 Comments to “Just How Broken is Olympia?”

  1. Very thorough analysis. It looks like the only thing the Democratic leadership understands is force. It would be nice to see Moeller and Wylie go, but probably unrealistic. I don’t consider myself a Republican by any means, but given the problems with the Legislature’s Democratic Leadership, I will be supporting an all-Republican slate this year in the 17th. Maybe we could get 3 R’s from the 17th and 18th this year.

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  2. I keep waiting for the general population to reach the “tipping point”, Craig. It’s coming, for sure.

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  3. Craig, Lew & Jack – I think there is ONE big stumbling block in the house of representatives, now that Lisa Brown is not running for re-election and that is someone that a number of legislators have called a HUGE roadblock in Olympia. And he has been there for how many years? Frank Chopp…. Target him….

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  4. I should restate this so no inference is taken in the WRONG direction. I mean I think the WSRP should take him out politically…

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  5. That would be ideal, Jeremy, but the WSRP is too busy playing footsie with establishment candidates and RINO’s to worry about Chopp.

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