I was in Olympia recently and would encourage all of you who are interested in public policy to visit. Every week brings new players and issues to the forefront. The old statement, “two things you should never watch being made are sausage and laws,” is currently more true at the national level with split government.
But in Olympia, the Democrats are in control of the Senate, House and the Governor’s Office with majorities large enough that the conclusions are more predictable. Republicans will mostly play defense. But the Democrats must be careful to not overplay their hand or the control will be short-lived. It’s happened before.
In the last month, we had one governor coming in and one governor going out as former California Gov. Jerry Brown came for a visit and current Washington Gov. Jay Inslee was leaving for New Hampshire — and eyeing a possible run for president. Inslee is hoping that his message of climate change, global warming and their implications for the future of the planet will resonate with the liberal base and vault him into contender status. While many think it is a long shot, remember Jimmy Carter (Georgia) and Bill Clinton (Arkansas) were small state governors when they captured voters’ attention and momentum. Carter did it with his outsider status and small town values, and Clinton with his charisma.
But even if that fails, Inslee may create enough support to be considered for vice president, or more likely a cabinet position such as the Environmental Protection Agency, in a Democratic administration.
Although Inslee still retains an option to run for a third term as governor, the political subtext assumes his departure and who would replace him. Two well-known Democrats, King County Executive Dow Constantine and Attorney General Bob Ferguson, are eyeing the job. Republican candidates for governor are still quiet, although Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier and Secretary of State Kim Wyman have been mentioned. Wyman is the only statewide Republican office holder and is good at her job. She seems likely to stay where she is, and it may be too soon for Dammeier. If Inslee does move on and the dominoes start to fall, who will be candidates for King County executive or attorney general? Democratic King County Councilmembers Claudia Balducci from Bellevue and Rod Dembowski seem most likely if Constantine moves up. The frontrunner for attorney general is current Solicitor General Noah Purcell, who has been the pointman on much of the state’s battle with President Trump.
But the most interesting and visible change in Olympia, due to the 2018 elections, has been the change in gender as females propelled the Democrats into control of the Senate and increased their seats in the House. Women are not only more visible, but they have reaped the rewards of winning power.
House Speaker Frank Chopp announced his intent to step down as speaker, but stay in the Legislature — and his replacement won’t be Democratic Rep. Pat Sullivan from the 47th District, who is talented and would be a logical choice.
Chopp’s replacement will likely be one of three women. Leading candidates include Rep. June Robinson, D-Everett, who was appointed in 2013 and has been re-elected since. She works in public health and so does Rep. Laurie Jenkins, D-Tacoma, who was first elected in 2010. Jenkins also has a law degree. Or Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, who has a master’s degree from Washington State University and works at a middle school.
Chopp is considered the most powerful speaker ever in Olympia, and his strategic abilities of maintaining discipline will missed. But with a large group of new legislators, Chopp may not want “to herd cats or kittens” said one observer. Was two decades enough, or is it just that youth must be served? Whatever the reason, Chopp’s skills will be needed when the end of the session is in sight and all the chips are on the table. There is some concern that more attention will be placed on who the next speaker will be, and not enough on policy accomplishments that will be needed gearing up for 2020. Whoever wins will have to learn quickly.
Other than a section of the 31st District in Auburn and Enumclaw — represented by Republicans Sen. Phil Fortunato and Reps. Drew Stokesberry and Morgan Irwin — King County has a bright blue look to it.
Voters in the 47th District have two new legislators in Democrats Sen. Mona Das and Rep. Debra Entenman. Both have potential, and with Sullivan still around, they can learn from one of the best. In the 33rd District, all three Democrats — Sen. Karen Keiser and Reps. Mia Gregerson and Tina Orwall — were re-elected and have sufficient experience and status to make an impact on several topics with education (both K-12 and support for Highline College). Keiser is president pro tem of the Senate and chairs the Labor and Commerce committee.
Voters in the 30th District will see more power come their way as second-term Democrat Rep. Kristine Reeves moved into a leadership position as deputy majority whip in the House. That positions her for the future. She has introduced legislation to help child care and mothers, and will also work on issues for veterans and the homeless. Reeves has reached out to help businesses in Federal Way through the Chamber of Commerce. Over in the Senate, freshman Democratic Sen. Claire Wilson will also work as a whip, and her focus will be K-12 and special education.
Mental health, education and homelessness will continue as major issues, but look for debates about gun control and abortion. If that doesn’t interest you, then watch for plastic bags, straws and environmental issues.
As always, money and power will be on the line, and after visiting with several of the newcomers, it should be an exciting session. Go watch your legislators in action, enjoy the theater, and watch Frank Chopp pull the strings one last time.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn who writes about political issues in the region and beyond. Contact bj firstname.lastname@example.org.