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Beyond the slogan of reduce, reuse & recycle: Time for state action.

April 14, 2018


Recycling is about so much more than blue plastic bins.  It is a profound belief that we, as a society, must find meaningful ways to reduce our ecological, economic and environmental footprint on the world through thinking and acting in a more gentle way. The power of reducing our society’s waste—food, plastic, wood products, fossil fuels, building materials and so much more—is among the most significant steps we can take to reduce our carbon impact and improve our planet.  Imagine the savings—top to bottom—if we dramatically reduced our waste.

Three hundred million tons of plastic are produced by humans annually—that’s a 620% increase over the past 30 years. Every second, 1,500 plastic water bottles are used in the U.S.  Our oceans are hit with 8 million tons of plastic every year.  It takes 400 years for plastic to degrade.  

It’s time for a bold new approach to waste reduction, and policy changes in China open the door.  

China’s recent announcement is a teachable moment, a symbolic representation of the opportunity for this broader change.

Since the sudden announcement last year that China is banning the import of at least 24 varieties of solid waste and recyclables, many individuals and municipalities have been left unsure how to proceed. For years, we in the United States have relied on China’s facilities, which have used scrap plastics as well as other materials to fuel their manufacturing efforts. It’s not a perfect system—shipping plastic overseas for recycling is hardly ideal from a carbon standpoint and an alarming amount of plastic ends up in the ocean—but it’s worked relatively well.

China had previous announced that they would be reducing the scope of this system, but this ban is unprecedented.

According to the Washington Refuse & Recycling Association (WRRA), a local industry group made up of solid waste companies and professionals, “there is no country or combination of countries that can consume the amount of material China has historically imported for manufacturing,” as China is “the largest manufacturing nation in the world and the single largest consumer of recyclables.”

Unfortunately, it’s expensive and labor-intensive to actually break down many of our recyclable materials. That means that local organizations are simply not equipped to do what China has been doing for so many years. As a result, plastics are piling up as transfer stations try to find new buyers for their scrap, or new ways to use it.

Regular folks, who have become very accustomed to recycling their plastic materials by putting them on the curb and seeing them whisked away, are rightfully concerned that they’re now no longer doing enough. So what are we doing?

Working with private partners to improve material sorting. Washington already has one of the most well-run recycling systems in the nation, but China’s lower threshold for contaminants is still a new issue that we have to address. That means waste management agencies and private companies have to work together to come up with more efficient ways to ensure that our recyclables that are still being shipped to China are actually being accepted. That can mean anything from fine-tuning sorting machines to hiring more people to do these jobs.

Sharing information and ideas with the World Trade Organization, other government agencies, and private partners. The WRRA as an industry is motivated to tackle the issue head on. And so should the public sector.  At this point, we need to plan for the future and invest in our own methods of recycling and reusing materials. That means a lot of meetings, reading, and research. Fortunately, Washington already helps support innovations of this sort by helping to fund our institutions of higher education. That is helpful and purposeful but hardly sufficient. 

As chair of the Energy, Environment & Technology Committee, I am keenly interested in learning global best practices of waste reduction, recycling and investing in a circular economy.  I hope to explore this issue in more depth next year. I will be reaching out to environmental and business groups, local governments and national thought leaders for new ideas and approaches.  Your ideas are welcome and appreciated. 

Cut down on plastic usage. The fact is that much of the plastic which we were “recycling” (and by that I mean “putting in a recycling bin”) previously wasn’t useable. There isn’t market demand for many kinds of plastic scraps, and the best thing we can all do is reduce our use of plastic goods altogether. We’ve taken some steps—like the various plastic bag bans in cities—but everyone needs to be involved in this effort. Whether that means switching to compostable flatware in restaurants, encouraging businesses to use glass and cardboard when possible, or simply bringing your own cup to the coffee shop, we should all be reducing our usage.

Clean and sort your recyclables. One of the issues that our transfer stations are seeing is that many people assume anything and everything can go in the blue bin—and that’s just not the case. Rinse your containers and pay attention to which items aren’t accepted in local recycling efforts. You can always check with your waste management service if you’ve got questions.

Many of the most common materials that we use every day are able to be recycled once we’re finished with them, but the circuit isn’t completed the moment we toss a plastic bottle in the bin. China’s decision to no longer accept our plastic materials has been a jarring one and has certainly forced many of us to reconsider our relationship with disposable materials, but it’s not the end of recycling, particularly not in a place like Washington State.

And yet, we all know that it’s simply insufficient.  All of this is painfully modest compared to the need for broad systems change in how we use materials. 

In theory, the Legislature is sensitive to this issue.  But the truth is less polished.  We have yet to fully embrace the systems work.  It’s time to move beyond the slogan and work harder and smarter as a state to reduce, reuse and recycle.  

What are your ideas?  Think Big.

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

Your partner in service,



Carbon pricing & energy investment: A time for representative democracy

December 31, 2017


There is an ever-present and vibrant political tension in our state between direct and representative democracy. Sometimes the opportunity of an initiative move the Legislature to act, or provides air cover to elected officials, and sometimes the people go directly to initiative on important issues of the day to move beyond a slow-moving Legislature.  Both tools of democracy are vital if not messy to progress.

As a state founded at the height of the populist movement, the nuanced checks and balances is a complex part of our political DNA and there are stories of success and failure on all sides of the equation. From campaign disclosure to renewable energy, gun safety to marriage equality, the story of change goes through both the ballot box.

As the 2018 Legislative Session begins in Olympia, that historic tension is playing out in real time on the pressing public issue of climate change with a bold carbon pricing and energy investment strategy.

As the new chair of the Senate Energy, Environment & Technology Committee, my preference is that representative democracy–the people’s elected representatives in Olympia–should step forward this year and pass comprehensive carbon pricing and energy investment legislation. The easy route would be to retreat while a public initiative is sent directly to voters. The Olympia route inherently means complex negotiations above purity.  It means working closely with stakeholders from disproportionally impacted communities and displaced workers to global oil companies and utilities.  It means compromise.

As chair, I’m deeply honored to partner with Governor Inslee and our thoughtful legislative colleagues as we actively and energetically move forward with a robust carbon pricing and energy investment package in the Legislature. The bill places a price on carbon emissions and invests the money in next generation electrification of transportation, smart gird infrastructure, eliminating coal usage, transitioning workforces, rural development, mitigating forest fires and investing in water sources, centers of educational excellence and much more. And it opens the door to a next generation of investment in renewable energy jobs.

As the Legislature considers the Governor’s bold carbon and energy legislation, I am guided by three core principles:  First, the policy must prove it can work by meaningfully reducing our state’s carbon footprint. This is not an academic exercise.  It is an opportunity for global leadership at the state and West Coast regional level at a time when the federal government has retreated from its public obligation to tackle climate change.

Second, the revenues collected cannot become another generic source of government resources and utlimately dissipate into the ether of unrelated spending. The allocation and appropriation of the public’s money must have a direct nexus of value toward reducing CO2 emissions and making our state more resilient to the effects and implications of climate change.  It should not be used for education or health care or other public needs that are not directly related. Third, the program must contribute toward modernizing our state’s grid and infrastructure.  We want it to enable the next generation of public and private utility business and service models–from distributed energy systems to utility scale infrastructure to the electrification of our transportation system.

With two votes separating a divided legislature, it is not difficult for any one political player–global oil companies, timber interests, labor, tribes, environmentalists, utilities, leadership–to stop a major energy investment bill.  The difficult part isn’t to stop a bill but to pass one. The question facing Olympia is whether we want to retreat from the opportunity to pass historic legislation because it is easy to do so.  The issue is whether voters will decide directly or whether we in the Legislature will craft a responsible, balanced approach that recognizes the legitimate nuance of this complex policy issue.

If this energy investment legislative effort does not succeed, in my view is there is a growing consensus–fueled in part by extensive polling data of voters–that the State of Washington is going to see a major carbon pricing and energy investment initiative in 2018, and likely again in 2020 if needed. When major oil companies including British Petroleum and many market-oriented Republicans embrace reasoned carbon pricing and energy investment strategies worldwide, it’s unreasonable to pretend that the institution of state government should continue to unwisely and inefficiently subsidize the negative externalities of carbon.

The impact of climate change in Washington State touches every aspect of our lives, as shown by the widely-respected University of Washington Climate Impact Group, and so many premier scientists worldwide.  Our committee’s work will be science, data and evidence-driven. Responsible carbon pricing and energy investment strategies work when the resources are wisely invested. And that’s our plan.

We hold elections in our constitutional republic for our elected officials to govern.

This is a time for honesty about the profound impact of climate change on Washington State.  It is time for our constitutional republic to do our job and boldly tackle the issue of climate change directly, unequivocally and with a firm resolve to build a 21st Century strategy here at home.

Your partner in service,



Burke-Gilman Missing Link: 18 years and millions lost to history

October 5, 2017


Recently I enjoyed a long, slow motorcycle ride on a sunny Sunday afternoon through our 36th Legislative District in Seattle’s northwest neighborhoods. It was ironically relaxing to traverse in my own thoughts through our district’s exploding maze of growth from Amazon skyscrapers in Belltown to the beauty of Discovery Park in Magnolia to the quiet Blue Ridge neighborhood to the building boom in Greenwood.

On that ride, I was reminded once again of one major infrastructure project where progress is paralyzed, where reason has been crushed by politics, where taxpayers continue to lose a fortune and lawyers seem the only victors: The Burke-Gilman missing link.

Since major steps in 1996 and 2003, bicycle advocates, maritime industry leaders and others have been unable to reach consensus about a win-win route to complete the wildly-popular Burke-Gilman trail for bicyclists, joggers and pedestrians. And the City of Seattle has elected to hide behind classically cliche ‘Seattle process’ to avoid taking a stand on the weather to move forward. Beyond the negative stereotype, however, is a very real invoice for taxpayers to the tune of millions. And we seem no closer to resolution than years and millions of dollars ago.

The question on the table is whether the route should cut directly through a key section of the working waterfront maritime sector of Ballard or meander a few blocks away from the water along less industrial streets. Is it too dangerous? Is it too inconvenient? Both legitimate questions that have lingered for years and cost millions with no end in sight.

A Seattle Times editorial in June of 2017 outlined the issue thoroughly, and called for a negotiated settlement between the parties and the city.  I cannot stress how much I agree with this approach and would amplify the frustration that years and millions continue to be wasted with virtually no anticipated success for anyone.  This is not a euphemism for choosing one side over the other, it is a reality check that our lack of willingness to elevate this issue into more formal political negotiations and reach an agreement is costing the city the public’s confidence and credibility as well as money.

I find the issue almost a symbolic representation of the frustration that surfaces when process and political inaction overcomes reason. The first city plan was released in 1996, and materially revised in 2003.  Lawsuits have ensured on and off ever since.  We’ve spent a fortune and seem no closer to resolution despite announcements to the contrary. To this day our city attorney’s office is spending hundreds of thousands a year in outside counsel fees for a case that seems destined to require a negotiated settlement regardless. The city’s EIS alone cost $2.5 million and five years. The Move Seattle levy is funding part of the project with other sources contributing as well.

The broader disagreement and lack of resolution over the route to complete the ‘missing link’ in Ballard has gone on longer than the war in Afghanistan, the longest war in United States history.

I deeply respect the complexity of the design issues and challenges, and I can appreciate the legitimate arguments on both sides that due deserve public understanding.  Bicyclists want a contiguous recreational experience. Maritime businesses and officials want Seattle to walk the talk about industrial job infrastructure.  It is, however, the lack of a constructive political forcing function that is frustrating. We need to choose to move forward and make it a priority.

Public officials should elevate the dialogue in the community to move forward with a negotiated settlement. The lawyers, planners, activists and businesses will not move without grown up oversight and responsible efforts to reach a settlement. I don’t know whether it is too much pride or money that is at stake, but both seem to be out of control.

It is time for our current and next mayor to make this dispute a public policy priority by bringing the parties together outside of the courtroom. The only way through it is through it together.

Your partner in service,


Rediscovering the Democratic ‘Big Tent’ Party

October 1, 2017


In the gracious spirit of the Jewish holidays, I have been in a place of private reflection about my life in public service. I have found myself pondering the state of democracy and civic engagement in our state. I have been thinking a great deal about our dialogue, relationships and political discourse. At a time of unprecedented anger and relentless partisan attacks in our country, it is time to step back and reconsider the core of our political approach here at home in Washington.

As the daily torrent of mean-spirited assaults from President Trump continues, and so many GOP leaders in Congress remain silent, I am moved to seriously reflect upon the historical framework of our state’s bipartisan tradition and how it has at times differed from the national Republican approach. With notable exceptions who cling to a stridently partisan approach, such as Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, I know that many of my Republican colleagues in Olympia cringe at the partisan assaults of the national Republican narrative. Recent statements from Ohio Governor John Kasich to Washington’s Chris Vance suggest this discussion is occurring in GOP living rooms across our country.

It is time for Democrats in Washington to embrace the unprecedented national opportunity of this dialogue–and our political affiliations–as well. It is time for the Democratic Party to rediscover our dignified history as a big tent party.

That is not a euphemism for moving to the right.  It is not an argument to abandon core progressive principles. It is a challenge to recognize the importance of welcoming those who do not ascribe to each and every paragraph of our party platform. That requires less judgement and an acknowledgment of the predisposition for many to slide into self-righteousness. The lack of electoral success in rural areas is a failure of the Democratic Party to listen deeply to our own history of those in rural communities.

The Democratic Party as an institution is reacting to the assault of income inequality, racial discord and the relentless power of corporate campaign financing with a sharp move to the left of activism and policy. Indeed, it is simply time to elevate our nation’s dialogue about health care, education funding, environmental responsibility and much more.  That discussion is healthy and alive with energy. And it’s important to discuss issues and ideas with new vigor. And to act.

This reexamination means that we should say publicly that the loudest voices of the left, such as fervently hard line Socialists at the local level, speak for only for themselves.

Many from the left criticize even those of us who consider ourselves as Obama Democrats as part of the ‘corporatist party’ as being pro-corporate power at all costs. That fails to see the desire for more balanced policies that do not favor the extremes of corporate influence among Democrats and many Republicans. Just as Republicans risk becoming the party of big business to the exclusion of all else, we should acknowledge that the Democratic Party risks becoming the party of government and losing our passion for constructive reform. We once owned the issue of government reform and respect for hard-earned tax dollars and public spending efficiency. We need to reclaim that title. It is not anti-government or a Republican notion to insist that government spend the public’s money wisely.

In Washington, I believe it is time to welcome the moderate wing of the Republican Party to join us in the Democratic Party. This unprecedented (in modern times) structural political shift would be just as difficult and important for Democrats as for Republicans.

It is time for the Democratic Party to embrace those who embrace the idea that government need not be large to be effective. It is time for us to reconnect with our party’s history of constructive reform of both government and the private sector.  We can welcome those who believe in the notion of fiscal constraint and social libertarianism, an idea that the GOP national party has effectively rejected. We can embrace small business with new vigor.  We can choose to engage in that dialogue with grace and an open heart of political discourse.

At a time when many believe both political parties have moved to the left and right respectfully, it is the best of times to reinvent and rejuvenate our political affiliations.

I do not pretend that partisanship is artificially manufactured and can be easily deconstructed.  Many policy issues are central to our party identification and our deep philosophy of progressive values. But the boundaries need not be so immovable that we cannot hear the voices of our moderate Republican friends. The noise of our president does not reflect the values of this nation nor of many individuals in our state who are today affiliated with the Republican Party. But the leadership of the national party has virtually abandoned any meaningful resistance to his narrative.

It is time for Republicans to choose whether they ascribe to the politics and policies of their leadership or whether they will make a meaningful change of affiliation. History will not judge this Administration kindly nor those who stand silent. The door to the Democratic Party should be open wide.

We should recognize that this once in a generation opportunity is as much at the doorstep of Democrats as it is of Republicans.

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

Your partner in service,



Thoughts on why Lenin statue should not be removed.

August 17, 2017


Thought-provoking political art forces us to engage in civic discourse and prods us to grapple with the discomfort of irony. Unlike the Confederacy statues throughout our nation built to formally honor those in that battle of ideas, this statue is distinctly not showcased in Fremont to celebrate the murderous, painful regime. It is instead installed as a testament to its defeat and the victory of open ideas through the medium and sometimes painful juxtaposition of art itself.

The statue was, simply, installed with artistic intent to show that our very ability to install political art is the triumph of democracy over tyranny. The Wikipedia entry thoughtfully embraces this background argument.

It is important that it is neither a somber, serious memorial to the victims of war nor a shrine to the man. This does not mean it does not evoke pain in those who suffered. It certainly understandably may. Like millions of others, my family left Poland in 1924 following attacks on Jewish villages and made their way to Ellis Island because of the viciousness of the era.

Art can be offensive and painful, but it can also bring us alive with curiosity, wonder, knowledge. Installing a political statue of a man and regime that would never allow installation of political statues of opponents is a symbolic representation of the victory of democracy and freedom over oppression. And of the role of art itself.

The emotion surfaced by art does not always leave us feeling positive or safe. But the freedom and ability to decorate the statue of the enemy of freedom of ideas in political signs should.

Your partner in service,


Our penchant for goodness rises

August 16, 2017


As the days pass since President Trump effectively unleashed a full throated, raw defense of neo-Nazi, anti-semitic and racist protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, I find myself deeply reflective about the magnitude of the implications for our country.

How do we make this a teachable moment for young people and our broader community? How do we embrace the good in our nation and leverage this forcing function to tackle the undercurrent of prejudice in constructive ways? How do we recapture the narrative of good rather than evil? What can we say and do to add a productive, positive voice to the lack of civility represented in our president’s approach?

More than anything, we can speak out and reject the normalization of hate. Given that anti-semitism is central to the narrative currently unfolding, religious leaders at all levels carry a particular obligation not to remain silent. And there will come a time when the silence of inaction from elected officials from Congress to the state legislatures to local government will also be judged by history. The presidents’ party members hold a particularly serious obligation to speak out and reject the policies and sentiment behind his words.

We live in a time when progressive politics in a secular city is often uncomfortable with public displays of religion or spirituality. Still, my private religious conviction as a Jew and not merely my public role as a legislator motivates me to speak out against the embrace of neo-Nazi protesters by the president.

At a democratic institutional level, we can embrace the power of our constitutional republic and the role of our state.  Our government is based on an intricate and magnificent web of interdependencies that are the checks and balance of power. We live in a time when a one-party federal government is led by an unfit president. At no time in recent memory are we more dependent upon the broader system of checks and balances.

The balance of power is not merely between the federal legislative, executive and judicial branches. Under the 10th Amendment, power not expressly granted to the federal government is reserved for the states or the people. I have long been a champion of the 10th Amendment on numerous levels, and now more than ever we need its rigor.

The checks on this president must come from the people directly, state governments, a free and independent media. The collective voices of citizens and the power of the system of checks and balances together remind us of our penchant for goodness.

We must all continue to explore ways that Washington State can be a light among our nation that rejects the policies and values espoused by the president.

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

Your thoughts and ideas are welcome and deeply appreciated.

Your partner in service,



In defense of local levies: More than money, they connect us to ourselves.

May 26, 2017


school image

The State Legislature’s 2017 overtime sessions have moved into ‘warning light’ territory. The debate over how to fully fund our state’s paramount duty of public education is finally consuming the full energy of legislators and testing the patience of the public. As the pressure intensifies, my fear is that in the rush to reach a deal, any deal, the innocent victim may be the lowly, chastised, unglamorous local levy.

I believe in the value of local levies. I argued in a February of 2015 blog post  about funding models in Massachusetts and other states and that we must maintain a high level of local engagement in our educational finance system. Local levies bring that connection to life.

Just because Olympia has abused local levies by supplanting local dollars for state obligations does not mean that local levies should be eliminated or even severely reduced. The bad actor in this deal is Olympia, not local communities. We can eliminate an overreliance on local levies to fund basic education by making sure local dollars cannot be used for basic education. Period.

At a philosophical and ideological level, I believe that if we eliminate meaningful roles for local levies in funding our schools, we risk losing part of the soul of what makes communities shine in unique ways. By in effect disconnecting businesses, parents, teachers, students from a financial relationship with the local elementary school down the block, we disconnect ourselves from our own children’s education.

In my view, we will one day come to regret–deeply and seriously– a highly concentrated, top down, state-centric funding model for our 1.1 million school kids. It is ironic that since 1889 our state’s strong constitutional language about funding education has not led to a higher level of funding than other states. States with locally funded systems generally lead to higher quality educational outcomes.

The Seattle Times argues in a recent editorial that local levies should pay for sports uniforms and playground equipment and other such needs.  I understand that viewpoint but believe it misses the depth of the deeper nuance and appreciation of the intangible connection that local levies represent in small towns and big cities alike. They help us embrace a meaningful local contribution to our local schools and, in turn, our children’s future. By outsourcing almost the entire financial relationship of education away from our hometowns to state government, we sanitize our connection and divorce ourselves from local needs. If levies are solely about sports uniforms and playground equipment, we may find ourselves far removed from the fiduciary financial side of managing one of our most important public institutions.

The McCleary lawsuit’s ruling on local levies has been distorted.  The state Supreme Court does not call for the elimination of local levies. It calls for the elimination of the Legislature’s unconstitutional retreat from fully funding the paramount duty and hiding behind local levies to skip out on sending money from Olympia to 295 school districts.  It calls for an end to the state using local dollars to supplant what is obligated from Olympia. Because Olympia has failed to meet their obligations does not mean local communities should be prevented by Olympia from using additional local levies for non basic education needs that further strengthen local schools.

In allowing local levies to continue, there is no question that there must be rock solid, firm guardrails and categorical restrictions against using local levy dollars to fund basic education. We cannot allow a McCleary 2.0. We cannot allow local dollars to supplement basic education teacher compensation. But an authentic partnership between local and state funding is not inconstant with a modern, 21st Century model nor is it unconstitutional.

Go back to the original spirit of local levies: Local dollars raised locally to meet additional local needs. Those needs go far beyond playground equipment. A robust state-funded ‘basic education’ should mean a high quality educational system that makes us proud as a state. But a well funded top-down, state-centric model is not inconsistent with allowing local communities to define additional needs for themselves. That may include additional enhancements such as additional tutoring, mentoring, technology, arts, music, civics, weekend classes, travel to cultural institutions, summer learning, weekend programming for high risk students and, yes, sports uniforms. Current debate of allowing local levies of between 10% in the GOP plan and 24% in the Democratic plan misses the more profound philosophical point. The numbers are arbitrary. The philosophy is not.

As long as the state maintains it’s obligations to fully fund basic education, and as long as we maintain absolute, strict and unequivocal prohibitions against the use of local levy funds to supplement basic education and teacher salaries, why should there be any limits on the total amount of local levies that local communities can invest in their schools?

If the Legislature eliminates the ability of local communities to adopt local school levies beyond the state’s basic education funding, many communities will actively and aggressively move to invest additional dollars through local community levies to supplement our children but it will be done outside of the structure of our educational system.  It will be less accountable, transparent and will ultimately lead to an even more balkanized system.  And it will be of the state’s making.

As we restructure our educational finance system, we must not be swept away by the short term political narrative and pretend that 147 legislators in Olympia can effectively manage 1.1 million school kids in 295 unique local districts with robotic uniformity.  We must both fully fund basic education from Olympia and allow additional local investment that meets local needs locally.

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

Your partner in service,






A fleeting love affair with state takeover of local gov’t control

March 3, 2017


The Washington State Senate engaged in a substantive policy debate recently about the complex issue of safe injection sites, a response to addiction that is being considered in Seattle and King County.  It was a sincerely non partisan public policy dialogue that surfaced legitimate concerns about safety, community, medical care and society’s evolving response to addiction.

Once it was time to vote, however, a troubling theme emerged that shows a new trend of the Republican Party: a predisposition for the state to pre-empt local government authority.  Senate Bill 5223 pre-empts the ability of local governments to experiment with safe injection sites.  The bill passed 26-23 with one Democrat joining all 25 Republicans to pass the measure.

The rigorous intellectual policy battle in our country over control of policy decisions between federal, state and local governments is a highlight of our constitutional republic. The initial tension articulated by Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson was not a modest veneer of philosophy.

My colleague Rep. Matt Manweller and I discussed the relationship between federal and state governments and the 10th Amendment recently on TVW’s Inside Olympia. It’s an inevitable political debate at every level of government and generally where you stand depends upon where you sit.

In recent years, in a twist of history, Republican allies such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) have boldly embraced state pre-emption as a way to halt progressive cities from enacting legislation.  The New York Times highlighted this political trend as a nod to industry’s economic interests.

Despite that national momentum, I am surprised that there are no less than 16 major bills in the state Senate this year that pre-empt local government authority on issues ranging from homelessness to education, minimum wage to rent control, housing to utilities, telecommunications to income tax.  It has not traditionally been a thesis of political life in Washington. I don’t know how this number compares to previous years or to times when Democrats held the majority, but it seems on the surface to be a full scale change in strategy for a party that historically held a belief that ‘the government closest to the people governs best.’

A political case can likely be made that some of the pre-emption bills are driven in part by a visceral response to Seattle City Council action or citizen activism.  The city’s embrace of a $15 minimum wage, paid family and sick leave and other initiatives goes against the literal and figurative GOP platform as well as the broader business community. On the other side, a legitimate case may also be made that the shift toward a new Republican embrace of local pre-emption is linked to frustration over the statewide impacts of the Growth Management Act, a policy that has repercussions on rural areas that may not be fully apparent to people living in dense urban environments.  If it’s good enough for Democrats to force the GMA on Republican rural areas, so goes the thinking, than it should be good enough for Democrats on more city-driven issues such as homelessness, taxation and labor standards.

To highlight the Senate shift in policy and strategy, many of the most conservative members seem to be the thought leaders of the state pre-emption trend. In some areas, of course, state pre-emption makes rational sense so it is not inherently good or evil in and of itself.  But the trend is clear and strong under today’s leadership.

My view is that the state should look at pre-emption with a deep sense of reservation over the long haul. Local control over local issues spurs innovation, experimentation and exploration of new ideas.  Even when I am sympathetic to a specific policy, such as my view that rent control is not an economically sound policy, I try to default to a position that local communities should generally have control over their own decisions.

Through it all, as political trends come and go, and majorities change in Olympia, it’s hard not to suspect the current love affair with state pre-emption floating throughout the halls of Republican-controlled Senate will ultimately prove fleeting.

Your partner in service,






Facts, data, science: Environmental protection in today’s era

January 22, 2017


(Photo Credit: Tore Ofteness)

At a time when facts, data and science are under assault from the new government in Washington, D.C., much of our work in the state legislature is to protect the  independence of our state’s interests against an ideologically marauding federal government. At no time in recent generations has the need to protect the integrity of the 10th Amendment been more pronounced.

As the 2017 Legislative Session charges into full speed, in addition to our hands-on work of funding public education under the Supreme Court’s McCleary decision, we are focused on protecting our state against the frenzy of federal recklessness in health care, government transparency, trade, independent media and much more.

It is the work of protecting our state’s natural environment, a category that seems to fuel the anti-government passions of the Trump Administration, that calls out for independent, bipartisan reason and the support of checks and balances of governmental decision making.  We now find ourselves in a unique position where a concerted effort between the nominated Secretary of the Interior, Congressman Ryan Zinke, and a leading state champion of Donald Trump, my capable and indefatigable colleague Sen. Doug Ericksen, appear to be systematically targeting reversal of a decision to deny a permit to build the largest coal export terminal in North America near Bellingham, my hometown.

When the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers rejected a sweeping application to build the coal export terminal they based their expansive decision on years of intense independent technical analysis, treaty authority dictated by the U.S. Constitution, virtually unanimous general public sentiment and rigorous scientific examination.

We are reminded today that such independent governmental decisions are, in fact, vulnerable to political influence. They are not an assured, inherent right of government.

As the lead Democrat on the state Senate Energy, Environment & Telecommunications Committee, I am committed to a strong personal and professional working relationship with the majority party in the state Senate. I have high personal regard for the chair and the members of the committee.

Still, in my new role, I find myself reflecting upon the profound moral authority and policy record of our collective hero Dan Evans. The 91-year-old Republican is our state’s only three-term governor and is widely viewed as our premier living statesman. I have written about his influence on me personally and politically before.

In the Trump era, we cannot help but ask who will carry the bipartisan environmental mantle of the Republican Party of Teddy Roosevelt and Dan Evans? Whom among our Republican colleagues of today will hear the small, still voice within us, calling upon our state to responsibly ensure public policy protects our water, air and land for tomorrow’s generations?

If the independent, science-driven coal export decision can be reopened by a new political environment with legislation such as Senate Bill 5171, a bill to effectively strip the state critical review authority, each and every environmental decision is open to undue influence.

We must remind ourselves that facts, process and data matter.

In 2011 Pacific International Terminals (PIT) began the application process to build North America’s largest coal export terminal on the shores of Whatcom County, at a Lummi Nation historic village site and burial ground called Xwe’chieXen, with the 3,000’ x 107’ dock extending over a productive crab fishery. Lummi Nation has the largest fishing fleet on the West Coast and at its peak, employed over 2,000 tribal members.

State and federal agencies initiated a scoping process that ended in early 2013 and drew 124,889 comments from citizens, businesses, agencies, cities and tribes. Without exaggeration, nearly all were in opposition to the mega project.

On January 5th, 2015 the Lummi Nation requested the Army Corps deny the coal export terminal due to its adverse impacts on the Lummi Nation’s protected treaty fishing rights. The Lummi have harvested fish at this location since time immemorial and reserved the right to continue to do so in perpetuity when they signed the Treaty of Point Elliott in 1855 with the United States of America. The treaty was crafted, designed and written not by the Lummi Nation but by American officials of the day.

Under the U.S. Constitution, treaties are equal to federal law and take precedence over State constitutions, laws and judicial decisions. The treaty is a reservation of rights held by a sovereign people. It is impossible to defend the integrity of the 1st Amendment and the rest of our sacred constitution and not defend the entirety of the provisions making treaty rights equal.

The Army Corps thoroughly and meticulously reviewed 27 extensive exhibits and studies provided by the Lummi Nation and the well-funded proponent, including a Vessel Traffic and Risk Assessment Study that showed a 76% increase in disruption to fishing if the terminal was built.

It is not a contrived assessment but one based on hard science.

The coal terminal included significant vessel traffic in our waters: 487 annual vessel calls using 318 single-Panamax ships and 169 Capesize ships (so named because they are too large to fit through the Panama Canal). That meant one massive ship would arrive or depart Cherry Point every 18 hours.

After careful consideration of all the information available over sixteen months, the Corps determined the project would in fact harm the Lummi Nation’s treaty right to harvest fish and therefore, on May 9th 2016, responsibly followed the letter and spirit of the law of the land and denied the permit. Shortly after, on June 6th, 2016, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) denied the permit application for an aquatic lease because the proponent had failed to get the required permit from the Army Corps. On January 3rd, 2017 the Commissioner of Public Lands changed the boundary of the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve to remove a dock-shaped cut out retained in 2000 for the potential dock.

The state Department of Natural Resources received approximately 5,000 responses in favor of the critical boundary change. Ten letters, including one from the chair of the Senate Energy, Environment & Telecommunications Committee, opposed the measure.

The data-driven Sightline Institute reminds us that global financial markets are rapidly and forcefully changing the face of the fossil fuel industrial complex.

The old times of massive subsidies from taxpayers, unquestioned permits and denial of treaty rights is over.

State and federal officials in Donald Trump’s shadow now have the power of the pen for a time. But they face a united, engaged and passionate public in our state against allowing Washington to be among the largest exporters of coal on our planet.

Your partner in service,


Sharing the burden of governing

December 6, 2016


Each year prior to the start of a new legislative session members of the House and Senate are allowed to ‘pre file’ legislation. Some legislators take advantage of the opportunity while most wait until the formal start of the session to officially file their legislative proposals. It’s hard not to notice a trend in that some colleagues use the opportunity to introduce ‘message’ bills that appeal to their base supporters while simultaneously enraging the opposition.  What is disappointing about the tactic, however, is that it shows that some colleagues do not appear to feel the weight of the burden of governing.

We simply do not have the luxury of tired political stereotypes of old.

At a time of enormous disequilibrium in our nation, we need to find a pathway toward reconciliation, collective ownership of the work of leadership, and alignment on tough policies from education to jobs to the environment. There are already 30 bills profiled. Some are innocuous but some are unsettling at best and politically incendiary at worst. From restricting the right of women to reproductive rights to reducing recent gains in gun safety and eliminate the state’s paramount duty to amply fund public education, some proposals seem to be introduced to elicit an aggressive reaction from Democrats. They are designed to show an invitation to battle not to dialogue. Many of them are particularly designed to enrage opponents more than engage in policy discussion.

One perennial bill would create a new state, Liberty, in the area of Eastern Washington. And each year our Democratic friends from Eastern Washington quietly and respectfully ask fellow Democrats not to take the bait and respond in such a way as to further inflame emotions of the sponsors. Yet year in and year out the bill resurfaces and is formally introduced and, to avoid inflaming relationships further, dies a quiet death in the legislative process. What would happen if majority Democrats in the House, for example, allowed the bill to move to the floor of the Chamber for a vote?  Is that really what the Republican leadership wants to say to the seven million people of Washington?

Imagine for a moment if the tables were turned and some urban Democrats pre-filed angry, resent-filled bills that unleashed cliches about urban versus rural narratives designed to stir the emotions of the other side and appeal to anger rather than calm dignity of governing. It is easy to imagine editorials statewide and the public at large condemning the move as undignified. And they would be right to do so.

With the incoming Trump Administration introducing unpredictability in financial markets, federal revenue sharing, global trade and more, we need a sense of unity and alignment as One Washington more than ever. We need a thoughtful recognition of our collective challenges. We need partnership not division to change the tone and tenure of the conversation.

The economic and social challenges of urban and rural America are real.  We need a new dialogue, a new approach and a recognition that shared prosperity is our only path forward in the long run. We need to honor the discord as an opportunity to listen more deeply to one another.

We face unprecedented challenges as a state. We have so much to be grateful for.  Yes, rural areas are the breadbasket of agriculture and small town quality of life.  But they are so much more. Yes, urban areas are an economic powerhouse of innovation.  But they are so much more. There is room for us to stretch outside of the bounds of tired cliches and see the quiet dignity in our entire state.

Now is not the time not to retreat into status quo political battles but to rise to a shared sense of moral and public obligation to govern.

Together we can do all those things we cannot do alone.

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

Your partner in service,


Note:  I had elected to take a break from blogging but am now back in the game.

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