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Strong ethics bill fails under weight of bipartisanship

February 5, 2016

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It’s disappointing to report that bipartisanship broke out in Olympia this week!  Senate Republicans and House Democrats quietly aligned to allow strong ethics legislation to quietly fail in each chamber.

My legislation–crafted in partnership with Attorney General Bob Ferguson and introduced for a second year–would have created a one year ‘cooling off period’ before lawmakers and senior government officials could leave public service and become paid lobbyists.  The bill has overwhelming support from the public and editorial boards statewide.

The public’s confidence in the integrity of government is not a irrelevant, trivial side note to the health of our democracy.  Our state prides itself on campaign, lobbyist, financial and budget disclosure.  Yet on this issue–ensuring there is a clear line between public service and private interests–seems to be a blind spot for lawmakers despite the intrinsic  connection in the public’s mind.

I introduced this legislation because I was deeply troubled in my previous role as chair of the House Finance Committee when senior government officials and legislative colleagues would complete public sector work on a Friday and return to work on Monday as a paid lobbyist.

How long had those negotiations been underway?  What information was inadvertently shared?  I impugn no individual in this charge.  I criticize the institution of government with a tone-deaf failure to see the discomfort of this unsteady ethical line.

We know how we can better define the line between public service and the private interests. This bill would have helped our state achieve that goal. The post-public service employment limits our state already has in place are a good starting point, however, we can do better to create greater transparency, protections and accountability in the area of government ethics.

A 12-month cooling off period is a reasonable length of time to consider and would create a large enough wedge to effectively slow down our state’s current revolving door. Despite having the support of many editorial boards across the state, from Spokane to Everett, and from Olympia to Wenatchee. From Vancouver to Seattle, we had unanimous support and we heard their message loud and clear.

On the record, no one is satisfied with the grade that our state recently received from The Center for Public Integrity, and neither should our taxpayers. Our state received an overall grade of D+ in the 2015 State Integrity Investigation. In individual categories, our state earned a grade of D- for Legislative Accountability. In most classrooms the grade of a D+ or D- would not pass muster. Why should the State of Washington continue to accept an all-but-failing system and not attempt to strengthen our relatively weak post-employment restrictions?  Off the record, clearly too many believe it would hinder future job prospects or restrict options.

It’s only a 12 month line of division and yet the payoff for the public is exponential.

Our state would not, of course, have been the first to adopt legislation of this type. The federal government has adopted a cooling off period and more than 33 other states across the country have enacted similar legislation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

This bill is not meant to deter former legislators or others from moving on and making a living elsewhere. It is meant to ensure that lawmakers, cabinet secretaries, and other senior staff are not placed into situations where information they were privy to in a previous job can help influence the outcome of their new position. It is meant to build confidence that there is, in fact, a clear distinction between public service and private interests.  We can not make that claim today.

I appreciate and respect the work of Attorney General Ferguson and will continue to partner with him until we pass this essential legislation.

We are so much more than what we’ve become.

Your partner in service,

Reuven.

The people’s body: House of Representatives

January 9, 2016

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As the 2016 Legislative Session begins on January 11, 2016, and I walk for the first time into the Senate Chamber as a member, I would like to pause briefly to express my gratitude and appreciation to my colleagues, staff and friends with whom I served in the state House of Representatives for seven years.

I first walked into the House Chamber in 1979 as a 14-year-old page from Bellingham.  I remember looking up and seeing “Whatcom” on the county list, and pondering the reality of how big our state was compared to my small town.  In 20098 when I walked on the House floor as a new member, I sat at desk number 36 on the floor.  It was a coincidence but I took it  as a special blessing.

There is a saying that “every members is given a mulligan your first year.”  It means, simply, that it’s easy to make mistakes, and I had my share of them.  I’m proud of the substantive policy work that year and since as I found my footing as a legislator.

A deeply private and treasured memory is walking late at night through the House Chamber that first term with the late Scott White, my friend with whom I had been elected in 2008, and talking about how blessed we were to be husbands, fathers and elected representatives in the people’s body.  My dear friend Scott had the opportunity to serve in the Legislature for less than three years as he passed away unexpectedly at age 41 from a previously undetected heart enlargement.  I miss him a great deal and find myself thinking about him during this transition.

The House Democratic Caucus is a dynamic, energetic and fiercely dedicated team of citizen activists for our quality of life.  I’ve enjoyed sparing with my GOP friends and colleagues, and finding common ground when possible, with equally good people equally dedicated to our collective future.

There are few honors greater than serving in public office.  The state House of Representatives–and the people who make it work–are the best of the best and reflect the values of our state.

Thank you my friends for the honor of being your partner in service.

Reuven.

 

 

 

 

Husband, father, entrepreneur and citizen legislator: The right priorities for me.

January 6, 2016
My favorite family photo from 7 years ago: Adi, Liat, Zev, Nava, Wendy and me

An early favorite family photo a few years ago: Adi, Liat, Zev, Nava, Wendy and Reuven

In recent days since the widely respected Jim McDermott announced his retirement I have reflected deeply on the prospect of running for Congress.

It is with a profound sense of calm and personal resolve–and impassioned excitement to tackle the policy challenges we face here at home–that I have decided not to run for the U.S. House of Representatives.

I’m a husband, father, entrepreneur and citizen legislator.  That’s the right order of priorities for me.

In considering Jim’s 45 years of public service, I cannot but help examine my own seven years in the state Legislature given his own impressive start in Olympia, and I cannot imagine a better training ground for federal public service. The three aspects I’ve considered in making a decision are:  Family, the job itself and the prospect of winning the race.

The most important by multiples is our family.  Wendy and our four children have been discussing the potential impact on our family along with the pros and cons.  The dialogue has been richly rewarding and sharply focused.  The kids have been kind, excited, engaged, probing and supportive.  I’ve been humbled to learn a lot about my children’s perspectives in this unique process, and much about my dignified wife.

Despite all the public attention of an open seat in Congress for the first time in a generation, I know the dark side of the fanfare.

I know the difference between the rewardingly loud family home that Wendy and I have built in Seattle and a soulless apartment in Washington, D.C. where silence is deafening.

I know the real impact on our family’s quality of life when my office is 3,000 miles away.  I know that a healthy marriage and supported children are not constructed artificially but come alive only with hard work minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day to connect to our better angels.  I know that to touch the beauty of the Jewish Sabbath with my family allows me to feel the holiness of family love. I know that this year Wendy and I celebrate our 20th anniversary and for some reason she continues to laugh at my childish jokes.  I know that you do not have to be perfect to be a perfect parent if you are present emotionally, spiritually and physically with a moral compass.

The job itself:  I am admittededly fascinated by the elegant simplicity and structural complexity of our constitutional republic.  The eloquence of the Federalist Papers are so impactful that I find myself occasionally drawn to their arguments while sitting on the floor of the Legislature considering how to vote on a given bill.  It is the purest form of representative democracy that allows me to lean over and privately ask a discreet question of Alexander Hamilton.

It should therefore be no surprise that my intellectual and philosophical consideration of running for  Congress is framed by my focus on the continuous tension between our federal government and the power reserved for the states.

In today’s world, if you want to be at the center of the real action on public issues, lead at the state level.

At a time when Congress is paralyzed with near irrelevancy, despite the need for institutional leadership, it is difficult for me to imagine a scenario where I can match the spirit, energy and passion of representative democracy that flows for me to improve our state’s quality of life.  Simply, the notion that states are laboratories of democracy is not a romantic, rhetorical framework but an authentic representation of a government more closely attuned to the governed.  Our work at the state level is sufficiently strong to  make meaningful policy impacts and small enough to be responsive to our constituents.

I enjoy striving to be a thought leader on pressing policy issues of public education, budgets, taxes transportation, health care, civil liberties, environmentalism, public safety and more.

And that means acknowledging and challenging when our political party has lost it’s fervency to embrace government reform and systems change.  I would like to see the Democratic Party share my appreciation of the nuanced role and importance of the 10th Amendment.  We are a laboratory of democracy and while we struggle to clean Puget Sound and fully fund education and ensure access to higher education, we at least have it within our power to act if we can muster the resolve.  That challenge inspires me.

Washington has a uniquely strong legislative structure compared to many states. In 1889 it was justifiably presumed to be more difficult to corrupt 147 legislators than one governor, and so power was decentralized.  It means as a part-time citizen legislator I have been able to accomplish a great deal that motivates and inspires me to continue to pursue the challenge for the people of our community.

Finally, a path to victory.  Many good people will run for this office and we will be well served by most of them.

I believe in seven years I have listened deeply to the silence of the public’ voice as well as the noise.  I have assembled a wide ranging, expansive list of major public policy accomplishments that feels meaningful personally and politically and goes to the core of today’s public issues.

I have been lead on sweeping legislation including building foster youth programs, bringing public transparency to Washington’s darkly hidden tax code, providing low cost open textbooks to college students, reforming our state’s telecommunications tax structure, leading for accountability on the Boeing tax package, reauthorizing the Estate Tax, more closely connecting our community colleges to our universities, closing unjustified tax breaks, crafting a responsible state budget that supports students and builds the quality of our institutions, leading the charge for increased efficiency and effectiveness of our state’s technology spending of more than $1.7 billion, securing capital funding for major projects in our community, fighting for individual civil liberties and freedom, defending the integrity of a woman’s right to control the dignity of her own body, leading opposition for oil and coal train exports, tackling the injustice of the death penalty, improving our state ethics laws and much, much more.

Our work is building a modern, 21st Century economy that is expansive and responsive; our work is tackling global climate change;  our work is creating a fair and responsible tax code that isn’t carved out by special interests and fits today’s economy;  our work is supporting quality of life in housing, health care and workforce development; our work is courageously talking about responsibilities as well as rights.

Our work is framed by the unprecedented failure of our state to provide for the ample funding of public education.  No state official can escape this challenge and none should hide from it.  Do we want an educated and engaged society?  Of course.  Can we do something that is both more equitable and effective?  Of course.  We can choose to build a more effective system of educational finance driven by our paramount duty.

Our community has a future limited only by our willingness to tackle structural, systemic issues. And I have the blessing of a family that supports me whichever way I journey.

In honor of the support of my family, and in the opportunity to serve as a part-time citizen legislator, I remain resolved and committed to serving the good and kind people of the 36th Legislative District in the Washington State Senate.

We are so much more than what we’ve become.  I hope my constituents will grant me the honor of continuing in 2016 and beyond to question the institutional grip of the status quo and lead forward on the pressing public issues of our day.

Your partner in service,

Reuven.

 

 

 

 

 

CarbonWA’s tax: Bold, compelling policy but not revenue neutral

December 29, 2015

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CarbonWA, a group of passionate and engaged volunteer citizen activists, has been collecting signatures to place a revenue neutral carbon tax before the 2016 Legislature and potentially the voters.  It now appears they have reached the required number of signatures.  The group’s impressive, fierce resolve to elevate the dialogue in our state about carbon pricing is admirable, timely and meaningful.  They have effectively and forcefully altered the discussion about how to reduce global carbon while improving our state’s quality of life in compelling ways for real people living real lives.  They have moved the dialogue further politically than anything else and deserve credit for it.

The problem, as indicated in the Seattle Times, is that despite their impassioned and responsible work, the fiscal details of their plan are struggling to match the public narrative.  My personal and professional hope is that the broader environmental community can unite with CarbonWA behind a stronger, more coordinated approach that harnesses the power of a carbon pricing mechanism economically with the political imperative to move forward successfully.

An independent staff fiscal analysis, prepared at my request in my most recent role as Finance chair, of the implications of CarbonWA’s proposal on the operating budget of the state shows that it is not, in fact, revenue neutral.  The plan would amount to a reduction in overall state revenues of $675.4 million over four years.  This is broken down into the 2017-2019 biennium at $94.5 million and the 2019-2021 biennium of $580.9 million.

The three parts of the carbon tax proposal (business and occupation, retail sales tax and Working Families Tax Credit) are listed here in detail.

The plan is not neutral on fiscal policy.  The choice of spending $250 million a year on Working Family Tax Credit is a big policy move, as is deduction in sales tax and preferential B&O taxes that may struggle to work effectively.  I do not criticize the moves but I do think we need to more rigorously analyze the options for systemic reform, and to incorporate the ideas into a broader framework.  This is one more reason why I appreciate CarbonWA’s approach to submit the plan to the Legislature despite the uncertainty that it entails.  Given the lack of passion for climate action from Olympia overall, it could easily take a turn for the worse not just the better.  It’s a gamble but no more so than allowing silence to define our political inaction on climate change.

Through all the noise the Legislature has the ability to modify the proposal or send this specific plan forward to the voters in 2016.

Pricing carbon is good policy not merely because it reduces climate impacts, but because it reduces the taxpayer’s subsidy of fossil fuels that hides the true cost to society.  In straight economic terms, economists on the left and right are coming to see the importance of ensuring fossil fuel products realize the true externalities of their own impacts.

We can honor the work of the CarbonWA team that successfully pushed the agenda forward while uniting behind a broader coalition to pass meaningful policy in our state.  But we can only do so together.

There will come a time when young people of the world push, prod and agitate for meaningful change of our environmental policies.  That time is now.  We can do better.  Together.  Our failure in this area isn’t merely political or policy.  It’s moral.

Your partner in service,

Reuven.

NOTE:  The masthead of this blog reads “State Senator” although at present I am a member of the House of Representatives.  It has been updated logistically prior to Jan. 7, 2016 when I am expected to be appointed to the state Senate.  Please accept my apologies for any confusion or offense at the inaccurate title.

Handing over the reins of the House Finance Committee

December 7, 2015
Rep. Ross Hunter, Carlyle and Rep. Pat Sullivan

Rep. Ross Hunter, Carlyle and Rep. Pat Sullivan

For the past three years I’ve thrown my heart and soul into serving as chair of the Finance Committee in the House of Representatives.  It’s been the most rewarding and challenging of my seven years in the Legislature.

As I hand over the reins this week to the capable Rep. Kris Lytton, I am proud of the dramatic change in our state’s approach to tax policy during that time and the role that our fiscal committee has played in this authentic transformation.  The thesis sentence of my chairmanship–announced the day I assumed the gavel–was to raise the level of analytical, intellectual and financial rigor of the tax side of the ledger.  To show a deeper respect for the taxpayers of our state by raising the bar of our analysis of state and local taxes in our 21st Century global community.

Recently I was nominated by the Democratic Party to fill the impending vacancy in the state Senate due to the election of my seat mate Sen. Jeanne-Kohl-Welles to the King County Council.  The council will make its formal selection and appointment January 7 in time for the 2016 Legislative Session.

It has been an honor to serve as the lead on tax policy for the House and as a senior budget writer.  My colleagues Rep. Ross Hunter, now head of the Department of Early Learning, and Majority Leader Pat Sullivan have been wonderful friends and partners in our work to respect taxpayers’ hard earned dollars and craft responsible state budgets.  The members of our caucus have stood with us as we’ve worked to introduce and adopt new ideas, approaches and reforms.   We’ve made big progress in closing some of the tax preferences that struggle to justify their return on investment for taxpayers, and to responsibly fund our state budget, yet much more remains.

Recently, three major editorial boards forcefully embraced the idea of transparency for our state’s many tax preferences–the signature work of my time as chair–and a reflection of the profound shift in support for full and open tax transparency.  The editorials followed a substantive article in the Seattle Times about Boeing’s tax preference based on the legislation I shepherded through the Legislature.  The Seattle Times’s editorial is here, the Walla Walla Union-Bullitin is here, and the Everett Herald is here.

I am deeply grateful to the members of the Finance Committee on both sides of the aisle who joined in this impactful work.  Rep. Terry Nealey served honorably as ranking Republican.  I am deeply appreciative of the dedication, diligence and integrity of the staff, co-led by Olympia’s finest K.D. Chapman-See and Jeffrey Mitchell.

Serving in this role does not always make a legislator popular.  The institution hungers to say ‘yes’ to interests, yet the role of Finance chair is to question, push, prod and resist the tide of acceptance of proposals that may struggle to justify their efficacy and value to the taxpayer.  The job is often to say ‘no’ when the larger system wants to take the easier path.  But it is essential work to protect the taxpayers’ interests.

We have not yet met our full constitutional duty to fully fund public education nor have we resolved other pressing issues facing our state.  But our work to elevate the dialogue about tax policy has helped our state move forward toward the 21st Century at a time when our old fashioned tax structure is struggling under the weight of our modern era.  Here are a few of the news stories and issues that I’ve tackled and helped usher through the legislative process.  And I’ve had fun with the job, too.  Indeed!

Thank you!  Thank you for the honor of your support, the learning from your criticism and the opportunity to grow personally and professionally and help make a difference in our state’s quality of life.

Your partner in service,

Reuven.

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The Stranger 

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Finding room once again for a Morris Waldman

November 22, 2015

 

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Morris Waldman was 12 years old when he journeyed from Poland to the United States, looked up at the hallways of Ellis Island, and walked in a line of millions into the American Dream.  In 1924, weeks before the doors of immigration closed more tightly, his American experience began.  Within a few short years, with little education and English skills, my grandfather was the owner of a tiny corner grocery store in downtown Newark.  Those who remained in his small Polish village were ultimately lost to the anti-semitic waves rolling into World War II.  Morris’ story–Jewish immigrants from the region known as the Pale of Settlement, in his case a tiny shtetle in Poland (modern day Ukraine)–combines with hundreds of millions of others from countries around the world and shapes our national story.

Today, as the 2016 presidential campaign grabs headlines and the tragedies of terrorism continue, our state and national dialogue once again returns to the question of whom to welcome and how wide to open the doors.

Governor Jay Inslee has recently attempted, in the spirit of former Gov. Dan Evans who welcomed Vietnamese immigrants in their hour of need, to elevate our national dialogue about immigration by reminding us of our broad national story.  Many others, who fear the real or perceived elevated risks of immigration from today’s global hotspot of Syria, prefer to hold the line on new entrants until even stronger assurances of risk reduction are possible.

Our state history calls on us to be cautious and aware of the implications of rash judgement to close our doors.  We are called on to see our own grandmothers and grandfathers, neighbors, children and friends in the faces of those who today seek the safety of our shores.  We are not obligated to avert our eyes to danger or clear threats based on evidence, but neither are we pushed to overreact to the perception of danger that may be greater than the reality.

We can never eliminate all safety risk and logistically, it seems, potential dangers associated with tourist visas pose a far greater danger than the vetting process for immigration itself.  So none of this is to suggest there is only one answer or approach, but only to say that our national dialogue about immigration is the conversation of our entire country’s history.  Today’s dialogue reminds us of yesterday’s debate with new names.

In the darkest times in our history of immigration, we sometimes allowed rage, fear and xenophobia to dominate our actions.  Today’s Syrians are yesterday’s Jews, Irish, Italians and all others who were once the “other.” Yet, somehow, for generations we managed against pressure of the day to hold true and firm to the big dreams etched at the base of Ellis Island.

In the name, spirit and memory of Morris Waldman–a hero who toiled in deep humility and did his part the minute he passed through Ellis Island to make America greater–I stand with those children who have no voice and ask us to open the door to the American Dream.  Surely we can find room for a 12-year old boy from Syria who is a Morris Waldman of tomorrow.

Your partner in service,

Reuven.

Servant leadership: The civic dignity and results of Tim Burgess

October 28, 2015

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In seven years in elective office I’ve learned the ease with which our society gravitates to the anti.  Anti-government rhetoric flows freely and consistently even when it is occasionally undeserved.  Our democracy can take it.  But today’s candidates at virtually every level of government take positions on the extreme pretending it’s without implication and it’s the new common sense.

Yet, somehow through it all, governing on the local level continues and garbage trucks arrive when promised, pot holes are filled, electricity turns on, water is safe to drink, firefighters respond to a 911 call, and teachers embrace the learning of their students in the classroom.

Today the challenge is to quietly sift the ‘anti’ from the deeper nuance of an engaged local government that respects civic society.  To me, few people represent the integrity of what local government can be when it is responsive, reflective, strategically focused on quality of life more than Tim Burgess.

Tim Burgess is more than my colleague in public life, he is the representation of what we say we want from our civic leaders.  To me, as I’ve watched him tackle major public policy issues and hear the silence as well as the noise of politics, I’ve come to believe deeply that Tim reflects the dignity and quiet integrity that is the very soul of servant leadership.

I’ve engaged in late-night phone calls with Tim about complex policy problems worth hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars impacting both Seattle and Olympia;  I’ve listed and learned that his servant leadership is about being in favor of solutions not pretending there is an easy way out;  I’ve seen him move the agenda forward not just on the front page issues of the day but the complex, unglamorous details behind the scenes that make a city work and help real people living real lives.

My personal hero in political life was Warren G. Magnuson.  His favorite notion of politicians was that there are workhorses and show horses.  Tim Burgess is a workhorse.  But much more he’s a dignified servant leader who cares deeply about–and delivers unprecedented results on–the pressing issues of our day.

The honor of your consideration for your vote for Tim is deeply appreciated.

Your partner in service,

Reuven.

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