Opinion: Washington state representative says lawmakers should not abdicate their responsibility to govern

Jason Mercier of the Washington Policy Center shares communications between members of the Washington State Legislature regarding Gov. Jay Inslee’s emergency powers
File photo.

Jason Mercier of the Washington Policy Center shares communications between members of the Washington State Legislature regarding Gov. Jay Inslee’s emergency powers

Jason Mercier
Washington Policy Center

I recently sent the legislature a public records request for the internal caucus discussions concerning the governor’s emergency powers. I’ve received an initial batch of records with more to come in the coming weeks and months. Of note from the first installment of public records was this email exchange between Rep. Skyler Rude (Republican, 16th District), Rep. Amy Walen (Democrat, 48th District) and Rep. Larry Springer (Democrat, 45th District). (Note: All emails referenced available on request).

Jason Mercier
Jason Mercier

On Sept. 3, Rep. Rude sent an email to all House Democratic lawmakers with the subject line – “Concerns regarding effect of mandates.” His email read in-part:

“The legislative branch is the peoples’ voice – allowing for public hearings and a deliberative process that refines legislation and builds consensus across diverse perspectives. Your caucus has been unwilling to take the lead on the mandates legislatively – despite remote session rules that allow for a completely safe, remote special session. The Legislature could be addressing these issues but is not. Executive branch policymaking to this extent does a disservice to both our institution and the constituents we represent. I am sure my position is not shared by many of you, but I needed to share this perspective and my immense frustration.”

On September 7, Rep. Walen replied to Rep. Rude saying:

“I completely agree and am advocating for us to NOT abdicate our legislative responsibility.”

Rep. Springer replied back to both Rep. Walen and Rep. Rude saying:

“Skyler well said I agree with your points this issue is one of the most difficult and controversial ones I’ve ever seen in my 18 years don’t exactly know how we solve this but we do need to spend more time legislatively thinking about it I will broach the topic at my next opportunity with leadership thanks again for sharing your views.”

Based on a recent NPR interview, these lawmakers haven’t changed their minds since this September email exchange. From NPR’s November 20 article titled “More Than 600 Days And Counting. When Will Inslee’s State Of Emergency End?”

“But not all Democrats are comfortable with the status quo. State Representative Walen worries the legislative branch is abdicating its responsibility.

Amy Walen: ‘You know there’s three branches of government for a reason and I represent 135-some-thousand people and my role should not just be to say, ‘I will express your concerns to the governor’s office.’

Larry Springer: ‘I would agree with Amy.’”

Seeing these legislative comments and the fact the Senate held a work session last week on reforming the state’s emergency powers, gives me hope a majority of the legislature may be finally ready to govern again. In anticipation of that being the case I reached out last week to Democratic leaders across the country that are also working on emergency powers reform to see if they had any advice for Washington lawmakers. Here is the first response I’ve received so far from Massachusetts Senator Diana DiZoglio (D-1):

“Hi Jason, thank you for reaching out.

In Massachusetts we were under an indefinite state of emergency, declared by the Governor, for more than a year – a challenging period in which we witnessed countless small businesses close their doors for good and all too many individuals scramble and struggle, especially our elderly and disabled, to obtain a vaccine appointment. We needed checks and balances regarding the Administration’s pandemic response.

That is why I filed legislation to reign in the powers held by the Governor of Massachusetts when it pertains to declaring a state of emergency for an indefinite period of time.

Ideas for responding to crises like the COVID-19 pandemic should come from the working families in our communities and not just from one, single individual or administration. We need to come back to the democratic process, where our residents have a seat at the table. There must also be a return to a bidding process, as we’ve seen throughout this pandemic the administration unilaterally hands out millions of dollars in taxpayer-funded contracts to hand-picked, private companies with no bidding process involved.

We’ve seen, time and time again, the administration take unilateral action, without input from the community, only to need to go back and change things that could’ve been addressed from the beginning had they only sought such input. The result was wasted time and taxpayer dollars on failed websites and programs with the vast majority of vaccine doses getting funneled to mass vaccination sites that were inaccessible to our most vulnerable populations.

The Administration is not supposed to be the main law making body in Massachusetts. Legislators are tasked with working alongside residents every day on the ground, in the community, and legislating based on those conversations. Instead of that community-based approach to governance where the people have the power, the Administration instead had unilateral authority and relied on hand-picked appointees – bypassing the elected representative voices of the people.

The people of Massachusetts deserve to have their voices heard in a process that respects all voices, and not just the most powerful.”

Strong comments on the need for emergency powers reform that equally apply to Washington.

Jason Mercier is the director of the Center for Government Reform at the Washington Policy Center.

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K.J. Hinton
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K.J. Hinton
6 days ago

Here’s the one thing letters like this ignore. And I’m torn between knowing, as Jason knows, there is NO WAY the legislature will act to over turn this and the idea that many of these people/groups, complaining to the people in Olympia are doing this to throw red meat to their base, all the while knowing that it will change nothing, since what they believe to be justification for their positions will avail them nothing.

I see it as more bright, shiny, object politics. They ignore the political reality and make those who follow them BELUIEVE they’re trying to get something done while they understand that nothing will happen as a result.

The PEOPLE voted SJR8200 in. It doesn’t matter what GOP legislators think about it. They don’t have the votes and they don’t have the ability to get rid of that vote of the people. Whining about it won’t change it.

Petitions won’t change it. Local ordinances regulations, which have no force in law won’t change it. Boycotting businesses by people who demand that if those businesses follow the law but who never seem to offer paying the fines imposed if they do what these people want won’t change it.

We are a blue state. It is highly unlikely that will change. And until it does, this is going nowhere.

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