The Gristle

Good, Bad, Ugly
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Good, Bad, Ugly: As the Holy Roman Empire was risible in all three of its nominative declarations (neither Roman nor empire) so too is the Majority Caucus Coalition®, the unified whole of the Republican caucus in Olympia empowered by a lone traitorous DINO, Democrat Tim Sheldon of the archly named community of Potlatch, to make mischief on a hairsbreadth Democratic majority. All three of its declarations of bipartisan consensus and brotherhood must be uttered with a smirk and a hard swallow. It’s all the state’s GOP caucus has got, really, and they’re going to make the most of it, more accelerated in their demographic, sociographic decrepitude in Washington than is true for the White Old Rich Men’s Party nationally, which is also on crutches and steroids. By all measures, Republicans tumbled into office while indifferent voters were busy doing other things, but this will not be true in a presidential election in 2016. We might predict they’re going to be drubbed out of office in droves next election. All of which means the slim MCC® knows they have an extremely short time frame to get it on and stamp conservative objectives deep into the flesh of Washington. Indeed, they have this legislative session only, as 2016 must begin an orchestral composition of moderate, muted harmonies composed as hypnotic lullaby to forgetful voters.

In 2015, the state GOP is motivated to churn out a number of bills while their hands are still on the levers of power. They’ve got this brief opening, so watch them seize it.

To be sure, not all bills are terrible.

Coming out of Republican Doug Ericksen’s committee on Energy, Environment and Telecommunications are twin bills that propose to extend the gasoline tax benefit district further south of the international border to include Bellingham. The bills recognize that communities engaged in border commerce (and serving fuel to that commerce, generating needed tax revenues) extend further south than was previously acknowledged. The bills are also sponsored by Sen. Kevin Ranker, a Democrat frequently at cross purposes with Ericksen on many issues. A companion bill was supported in the lower House by Reps. Vincent Buys and Luanne Van Werven in a rare display of our representatives in Olympia working together to produce legislation of benefit to Whatcom and Skagit cities. Bravo.

Ericksen appears eager not to fumble on transportation infrastructure measures that could create highway jobs in Whatcom and adjacent counties. He took a hit on that issue in the last election when he failed to advance out of his committee last year a multibillion-dollar state transportation bill that could have created hundreds of jobs.

The harsh reality (and perhaps a boon to progressives) is that Ericksen is just not very good at pushing things out of his committee, with his talents more in obstruction than coalition-building. Last year his committee passed fewer than a third of the bills in front of them off the Senate floor for a vote in the lower House.

Among the stinkers lying in wait this session is Senate Bill 5057—the oil train bill Ericksen floated in opposition to the governor’s proposal, which strips away requirements for more transparency and disclosure of oil movement, as well as funding for tug escorts for oil barges that are included in Gov. Jay Inslee’s competing proposal—and SB 5111, that attempts to fast-track more export pier projects in Puget Sound.

On the subject of trying to push bills that collapse or foreclose on a public discussion currently underway, Ericksen also introduced SB 5061, a piece of legislative humbug that attempts to cripple the authority of the Growth Management Hearings Board to hear petitions challenging the regulation of permit exempt wells. These matters are currently being considered by the state Court of Appeals, an exercise Whatcom County and the state Dept. of Ecology believe might lend certainty to policymaking. The bill has virtually no chance of escaping his committee and amounts to little more than pandering.

A similar bill simmers in the lower House—HB 1158—which would gut the ability of the Growth Management Hearings Board to hear cases related to growth, allowing counties of under 600,000 people to appeal directly to superior court. The bill was co-sponsored by Rep. Vincent Buys, who evidently hasn’t heard of the overload of the county’s civil court calendar.

The GMHB represents the general public’s last resort to protest the unwise growth decisions of local governments, which are otherwise presumed correct under Washington law. Republican frenzy to dynamite that bridge must be understood in this light.

Also sponsored by Buys in an apparent misstep on the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee is a bill that would cast as a crime interference with agricultural production, the so-called ag-gag bill pushed covertly at the federal level on to state legislatures. The measure could criminalize labor organizing and whistleblowing on the excesses of agribusiness. The bulk of bills sponsored by Buys appear to advance legitimate interests in agriculture; this one is egregious.

Off to a modest start, freshman Rep. Van Werven in association with her caucus introduced a silly, feel-good bill that would create an exemption in the voter-approved initiative for background checks for firearms donated to a museum—a limitation on a firearm transfer no one supportive of more effective gun safety measures gives a hoot about. It’s the only bill she introduced this session; however, it’s sure to pass, so her record may yield a glowing 100 percent success this session.

She’s smartly placed herself on the influential State Government and (along with Buys) Appropriations committees, where her caucus can continue to throttle any sort of innovation to address the state’s structural deficit.

They’re off to a great start.

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