Local legislators preview ‘virtual session’ @ 34th District Democrats, with another local Town Hall next week

November 13, 2020 9:08 pm
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 |   West Seattle news | West Seattle politics

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Next Wednesday, your state legislators and local city/county councilmembers will join forces for an online Town Hall.

The three legislators gave a preview in their appearance at this past Wednesday’s 34th District Democrats meeting.

It began with updates from each:

State Sen. Joe Nguyen said the unusual way the Legislature will be meeting this session – virtually – has led to a lot more collaboration between the Senate and House so far. He said he is mostly “focused on the revenue aspects” of the work ahead, continuing to oppose an “austerity budget.”

State Rep. Eileen Cody, just re-elected unopposed, continues as chair of the House Health Care and Wellness Committee. She agreed that the focus will be “the budget, the budget, and the budget” as well as the COVID-19 response. The “totally Zoom session” will mean a reduction in the number of bills considered this year, she noted.

State Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, also just re-elected unopposed, said it was disappointing that the Democrats’ majority margins did not increase in the Legislature. But he took some solace in the national and statewide results. He said voters made it clear that they support the agendas the Democrats were pursuing in our state in the past two years. “Let’s keep going in the direction we’re going” – expand health care, fight climate change, pursue progressive revenue – is the message he said was sent. Climate is his biggest priority for his next term.

After those quick overviews, it was on to Q&A.

First question: What will the virtual session mean for the public’s ability to engage? Sen. Nguyen said he thinks it’ll mean more opportunities to testify, since you won’t have to go to Olympia to do that. “I’m pretty excited about it, because too often the folks excluded from the political process are the ones who should be there.” Rep. Cody said it’s likely to be hardest on newly elected legislators who haven’t built relationships yet. She said people interested in speaking will have to sign up the night before. She’s concerned about the inability to look around during meetings/hearings and see how her fellow legislators are reacting, though. Rep. Fitzgibbon said his biggest concern is the bill limit that Sen. Nguyen mentioned. Yes, some bills might be unnecessary, but “there’s a lot we DO need to do.”

All three said their committee involvement is expected to be the same as last time.

Question: Would they support changes to the Growth Management Act to give “rural town” areas like Vashon more local control? Rep. Fitzgibbon said he hadn’t heard about that concept before and would want to learn more. He said figuring out “what’s broken?” about the current state of things would be a place to start.

Question: Will they ask the governor for a special session to create the Washington Health Trust? Rep. Cody said flatly, “No, that’s not going to happen – we’ll be lucky to hang onto the Affordable Care Act,” which sends the state some money to help with coverage. “We’re not going to be taking on another big burden of health care. I know that’s not what people want to hear, but I’m just being honest.”

They were asked about aspects of COVID-19 response. Rep. Fitzgibbon said child-care access in our state was a crisis even before COVID; something needs to be done, especially raising revenue “to meet our current obligations” and potentially going beyond. But he doesn’t think that will be accomplished in just one session. Sen. Nguyen noted that the pandemic has worsened “things that we know were problems before.” On the issue of schools remaining closed, Rep. Cody expressed concern about the effect on children’s development and well-being, saying she’s hopeful that younger kids will be allowed back as soon as it seems safe.

Question: How are they working to amplify the voices of BIPOC communities, working toward racial equity, and what are they doing to counter the narrative portraying advocates/demonstrators as “thugs”? Sen. Nguyen noted that even in other states, progressive agendas were passing — $15 minimum wage, family leave. He said progressives need to talk about their values because “they are popular and they will pass.” Rep. Cody observed that Republicans in this state “run against Seattle … we’re the enemy … we have to sell our message better to the rural areas … we really have to get the message back.” On the bright side, more BIPOC and female candidates were elected this year, she pointed out. Rep. Fitzgibbon said that he doesn’t see it as a binary choice, “do we appeal to working-class white voters OR progressive voters? .. We have to find a way to run on progressive policies … and find a way to talk about (them) that’s not threatening. … The Republicans are pretty good at rhetorically trapping us” in a way that “seems as if we’re for things that we’re not.” He said “really hard work on policy … to move the needle on issues we care about” will turn the key.

Question: What’s the status of funding for trust-land transfers? Nobody could answer that – Rep. Fitzgibbon said that’s usually part of the capital budget, which is “about five months away.”

Question: What about climate action? Rep. Fitzgibbon said he’s working on a low-carbon fuel standard, reduction of non-CO2 greenhouse gases, and going after polluters by “tax(ing) pollution” – fossil fuel companies need to “pay for dumping their waste gas into our air.” A proposal he supports is projected to generate ~$800 million a year. Sen. Nguyen said a transportation package that is “thoughtful, and a bit green” could lower emissions, increase multimodal options, and more. Rep. Cody, meantime, noted she just bought a new electric car.

Another COVID-19 response question: What do you support toward a safe recovery? Rep. Cody warned, “I don’t think you are going to see us moving forward [as in, phases/reopening] any time soon … I am worried we might be moving toward a lockdown again.” She reiterated the message of health authorities the day before and the governor the day after – don’t have Thanksgiving gatherings. “We all have to work together and hopefully not have the spike we’re concerned about.” Sen. Nguyen said legislators are working on helping small businesses who might not have had access to the federal PPP grants/loans.

In final remarks, Rep. Cody mentioned that hospital mergers/acquisitions oversight will be an issue with faith-based organizations taking over so many of the state’s hospitals.

The questions were submitted by participants and read by moderators; we don’t know if anyone sent in a question about the West Seattle Bridge – for which state funding is expected to be sought – but the legislators were not asked about it during the meeting. Again, they’ll all be together in an online town hall hosted by Sen. Nguyen – with City Councilmember Lisa Herbold and County Councilmember Joe McDermott joining them – at 6 pm Wednesday (November 18th); the link for participating is in our calendar listing.

Also during Wednesday’s meeting:

MAURY ISLAND NAME: This resolution – explained in the November newsletter – passed.

ELECTION REACTION: King County Executive Dow Constantine voiced gratitude for the passage of Proposition 1, a tax levy for work at Harborview Medical Center. He also spoke about the presidential election and said he’s “relieved that King County will once more have a partner in the White House instead of an adversary,” on issues including climate, housing, anti-racism, re-imagining the legal system, “attacking this scourge of income inequality,” and more.

VETERANS DAY: Several members who are veterans told their stories, starting with Chris Porter, who focused on the history of the holiday, dating back to the declaration of Armistice Day, November 11th, 1919. Benjamin Reilly talked about military service as “a microcosm of American life.” Rob Saka, son of a veteran as well as having served, talked about his family history. He enlisted with the Air Force “within weeks after 9/11.”

ANNOUNCEMENTS: Porter, an elected supervisor with the King Conservation District, mentioned its bareroot-plant sale is under way now (preorder info is here). He also said there will be a KCD position up for election in February.

WHAT’S NEXT: The organization’s next meeting on December 9th will be a virtual holiday party, with some breakout conversations. 34dems.org is where to watch for information.

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