The Republican lawmakers answered questions on taxes, gun control, education, and the future of the GOP in Washington State
YACOLT — With the 105-day legislative session behind them, representatives from Southwest Washington’s 18th Legislative District kicked off the Memorial Day Weekend with a series of town hall meetings in Camas, Yacolt, and Salmon Creek.
“When we arranged this, I didn’t realize it was Memorial Day weekend that we were doing this,” said Sen. Ann Rivers at the start of the meeting inside Yacolt City Hall. “I thought Memorial Day weekend was next weekend. So my bad, I apologize.”
Still, the meeting was attended by an adequate amount of people concerned about a variety of issues, including gun rights, education funding, land use regulations, and property taxes.
But when you’re facing a minority in the House, Senate, and Governor’s mansion, the theme of a Republican town hall meeting these days tends to take on the tone of an apology tour.
“It doesn’t feel good to say ‘eh, there wasn’t anything we could do on that one,’” said Rep. Brandon Vick, “but I just, right now, it’s ‘let me do what I can do outside of the legislature, and we’ll give [it] another shot next year.’ That’s really the best answer I can give.”
“I hate to bandy the word around freely, but we killed a bunch of bills that would make you projectile vomit,” added freshman Rep. Larry Hoff.
“We went from, you know, just two years ago, having a Republican Senate and a one-vote difference in the House, well two votes for one person, to pretty deep minority status last year,” added Vick. “You could chalk that up to a lot of things. You could chalk it up to [an] anti-Trump wave, you could chalk it up [to] a whole bunch of reasons. But at the end of the day, that doesn’t really matter. Because I think our voice was lessened. I think we still got plenty of good things done, but more bad things happened. And that’s a problem.”
The 90-minute meeting kicked off with a question about whether the GOP has a plan to reverse the political climate in Washington state and get more Republicans elected next November.
“I think we need to find people, and we are, that are much more heavily in tune with their community to start with,” Vick responded, “but maybe represent some of the changes that are going on in our state.”
The 18th District lawmakers all said they believe the massive budget increases approved this past session, along with the increased tax burden that will bring for many residents, could be the most effective recruiting tool the GOP has in its arsenal.
“I think the voters are going to have to reposition themselves,” said Vick. “At some point, they’re gonna have to pay. And, gosh, I mean, I don’t know how many families are just rolling in cash right now, especially after this legislative session.”
“People don’t know. People have no idea what actually happened in this session,” added Rivers. “And so part of our job is to let people know and, you know, people across the spectrum may respond differently, but at least we’ll all have the information and then they can do what they want.”
Another resident wondered if there was any talk this past session of property tax relief for senior citizens on a fixed income. Rivers said there was a bill introduced in the Senate to that effect, “and then it went over to the House and it came back and ended up being a King County only bill. So it focused only on residents in King County, and cut everyone else in the rest of the state away,” she said. “And that’s reflective of the partisan makeup. Seattle has such density that they have greater representation than we do down here in the more rural areas. And so they can do those kinds of things.”
On education funding, the GOP lawmakers said it’s their view that moves made by the legislature this year practically guarantee another lawsuit like McCleary.
“Probably in two or three years,” said Rivers. “We put, I think, $11 billion more into public education, still not enough. And I said this at the last Town Hall, and I thought maybe one of the community members was going to wring my neck, but I believe this to my core, it doesn’t matter how much we can put in, we could put in $50 billion more, it’s already 52 percent of our total state budget. And it will never, ever be enough.”
Republicans have maintained that a bipartisan bill introduced in 2018 would have limited raises in the first two years of the additional state funding, to allow districts time to adjust to the levy swap. Those were removed in the final party-line bill passed last session.
“I was a teacher, middle school math and science,” said Rivers. “And so I know the gig, I know the drill, I understand what it’s like to be in the classroom. So it’s not that. It’s just that at some point, you have to say, when is enough enough?”
This past session, Democrats pushed through a bill that will allow some districts to increase their maximum local levy rate. However, the bill mandates that the money go to additional programs rather than teacher wages, so time will tell if it ends up creating a new inequity that Republicans are warning of.
Another question centered around Senate Bill 4594, which essentially codified into law an earlier executive order by Gov. Jay Inslee declaring Washington a sanctuary state for illegal immigrants.
According to Vick, the bill essentially makes it illegal for law enforcement to ask about someone’s citizenship status if they’re arrested or cited for another crime. “I don’t know, for the life of me why you wouldn’t want to know everything you possibly could about an individual who had committed a crime, or, you know, was involved in an altercation at some point.”
“I have a sign outside my office that says if you want to be here, and you want to be a lawful citizen, you are welcome at my campfire,” added Rivers. “I welcome every race, color, creed because that’s what America is. But if you don’t want to follow the laws, I have no patience for you.”
Rivers also expressed no patience for people who disagreed with her decision to vote yes on a law banning 3D printed single-use guns in Washington state.
“I’m a hunter. I got my first gun when I was in the fourth grade,” Rivers said. “And I’m tired of defending dumb people who do dumb things with firearms, and then threaten all of the rest of our (2nd Amendment) rights.”
Rivers said she asked her 27-year old son while on a hunting trip what he thought about the law. He argued that they needed the ability to 3D print guns in case the government decided to make all firearms illegal.
“A single use gun? I think you need a better plan than that,” Rivers said she responded. Pressed further on the topic, she said the law simply brings Washington state into compliance with existing Federal law on the matter.
“My oath of office says, I will uphold the constitution and laws of the United States, the constitution and laws of the state of Washington,” Rivers said, adding that the National Rifle Association told her that her vote didn’t change her good standing with the gun rights organization. “I know there are people who are worried about the camel’s nose, but I gotta tell you that 1639 is the camel’s head and this is a distraction. So, why did we put it in state law? I don’t know. But it’s in federal law. I’m going to burn my daylight worrying about more important things.”
On issues like the increased B&O (business and opportunity) tax, as well as the change to an annual tax exemption for Oregon buyers in Washington state, the 18th District legislators said voters in the state will need to decide who they really are and what they expect from their representatives.
“Washington’s always been very interesting to me in the fact that I mean, you put a tax on the ballot, it fails, right? The voters, in general, seem to be pretty careful of their pocketbook,” said Vick. “And then on the social side of things, you know, kind of a ‘carpe diem,’ right? I mean, conservative viewpoint doesn’t generally win at the ballot box there.”