The Gristle

Idiots Useful and Useless
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IDIOTS USEFUL AND USELESS: The Washington Legislature adjourned last week without passing a state budget, prompting Gov. Jay Inslee to call them back for a special session that begins next week. Broad consensus that the budget must feature no new revenues or new policies to glean more from revenues already approved means lawmakers may come to quick agreement about state spending; however, several potential laws remain unresolved in limbo, including a proposal championed by the governor to raise the gas tax by 10 cents per gallon to help pay for maintenance of existing roads, as well as for a handful of pending big-ticket projects. The proposal would also allow local governments to raise taxes and fees to help pay for mass transit improvements.

On their way out last week, law­makers passed a transportation budget intended to maintain state roadways and ferries, but contained no new revenues. That earlier transportation budget passed the House by a 72-25 vote, with Democrats united in favor and Republicans split. It advanced from the Senate to the desk of Gov. Inslee by a 46-1 vote.

Neither representative from the 42nd District, Vincent Buys and Jason Overstreet, supported the bill; it was, however, supported by Sen. Doug Ericksen.

Perhaps the most significant bill to pass in the recent session was a stripped-down version of the governor’s plan to study and reduce greenhouse gas emissions (SB 5802). Under the law, an outside consultant will review both Washington state’s ongoing efforts to cut carbon emissions and similar endeavors elsewhere before reporting their findings to a panel consisting of lawmakers and the governor.

Again, the effort was rejected by Republican Reps. Buys and Overstreet; the measure was ultimately supported by Republican Sen. Ericksen, who chaired the senate committee.

Is Whatcom’s 42nd District receiving effective representation in Olympia?

A political outlook and doctrine is effective only insofar as it achieves goals, so one raw way of looking at the question is to ask whether representatives are introducing bills that can make it out of committee and get passed into law. In our bicameral system of government, that means a bill reasonable enough to gather support in both parties, in both houses, and that does not sufficiently alarm the executive branch to rise to a veto.

Another way of looking at the question is to ask whether, pass or fail, the bills being introduced have specific utility to the district.

The intersection of these models can define effectiveness.

Of eight bills introduced last session by Vincent Buys, roughly half had utility to resource-based Whatcom County—advancing either fishing or agricultural interests, or more generally focused on job creation. Of the eight, two passed with bipartisan support from the 40th District.

Of ten bills introduced last session by Jason Overstreet, nearly all were clones of national efforts crafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the National Rifle Association (NRA), designed as wedge issues to leverage national conservative party goals. In Overstreet, these national organizations have found a convenient shill and useful idiot, someone just venal enough to call their work his own; for this, they give him campaign funding. None of the ten had utility specific to Whatcom County, and all failed.

Both through the nature of the senate and his long­evity in government, Doug Ericksen has graduated into the realm of elder statesman, introducing 36 bills as senior leader of powerful committees engaged in state infrastructure—energy, environment, transportation and health care. Of these, several with statewide utility, 11 passed out of the senate. One was specific to raspberry farming, another increased the number of authorized superior court judges in Whatcom County from three to four, certainly matters of great local utility.

So, a mixed bag of representation: one effective; another learning to be effective; a third a waste of time and oxygen in Olympia, with no hope of ever becoming effective.

While all state Republicans express in one sense or another the dysfunction of their party seen at the national level, the specific peculiarities of Washington (notably its regressive 1930s-era revenue structure coupled with a requirement to balance the state budget, held in check by a strong liberal voting base) tend to shave the roughest edges off the collective lunacy. State Republicans deal because they must. In Overstreet, however, the worst malaise and dysfunction seen at the national level is made manifest.

Political scientist Jonathan Bernstein, writing about the “broken GOP,” describes its characteristics:

“It’s true,” he writes, “that Madisonian institutions often yield gridlock… [but] party polarization isn’t nearly as important as the array of problems within the GOP—antagonism to compromise as an organizing principle; a closed information loop dominated by the Republican-aligned press; a conservative marketplace that blunts the electoral incentive for much of the party; and loss of interest in and capacity for public policy. Without those internal dysfunctions, even an extremely conservative Republican Party would be able to cut deals and allow the political system to function relatively smoothly even with divided government.”

A comical lack of interest in substantive public policy; the motive for obstruction and pointless “Constitutional hardball;” the closed lunacy of his views to the wider context of state goals are all strong in Overstreet, and matched only by his ineffectual weakness to build coalitions to advance any part of it. It’s in the harvesting of the conservative marketplace—collecting goods and goodies by acting as a footsoldier of the Far Right, immunized by that and safe redistricting to the absolute indifference of serving those who vote for him—that really sets Overstreet apart, in a class all his own.

Any idiot can deliver gridlock. Overstreet is such an idiot.


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