State legislators will resume their session on January 10. But when challenged to talk about what they're actually going to do, Seattle's state representatives make no promises.
However, during conversations last week with Seattle's unanimously Democratic representation, three main areas of concern emerged: transportation, education, and health care.
State politicians say they're scrambling to find money for public transportation projects. But no one has any clear-cut ideas. In what sounds more like an approach for convincing third graders than ornery Republican legislators, Representative Ed Murray, whose 43rd District includes Capitol Hill, the University District, Madison Park, and Wallingford, says Dems need to "do a better job of telling the story of transit." He says he's thinking about putting a measure on the ballot for voters to tax themselves for public transportation. Meanwhile, other legislators have already abandoned public transportation brainstorming. Representative Velma Veloria, of the 11th District (south Seattle), wants to concentrate on making car trips easier by synchronizing stop lights in Seattle.
Embarrassingly -- and certainly a major red flag for Mayor Paul Schell, King County Executive Ron Sims, King County Council Member Greg Nickels, et. al. -- not a single Seattle Dem brought up going to bat for Sound Transit.
Education concerns range from boosting minority students' test scores in public schools to subsidizing vocational training and college classes for working-class adults. The 37th District's Representative Sharon Tomiko Santos, who represents Madrona, the Rainier Valley, and Beacon Hill, anticipates a teacher and principal shortage, and says the problem lies in a local failure to recruit and train enough teachers, or to lure them into staying with adequate pay. She also worries about racial equality in the success of public school students. However, she has no solution.
Meanwhile, in the "why mention it?" category, Murray is spending his time supporting a bill he says will most likely fail. House Bill 1765, still alive from last session, would require schools to adopt preventative anti-shooting-spree policies, but Republicans oppose it because it mentions sexual orientation.
The state will consider at least three legislative proposals in the first few weeks of the 60-day session, addressing rural access to care and long-term care issues. The most meaningful proposal, says the 43rd District's Senator Pat Thibaudeau, is the Patients' Bill of Rights. This bill would give people the right to sue their insurance companies (something Congress is currently debating), which could reduce the number of unfair denials of care. But like Murray, Thibaudeau isn't optimistic she'll achieve her goals. "We won't solve any of those problems, but I hope to provide affordable access to health care for all," Thibaudeau says. "I won't accomplish that, but I hope we make some strides." Gee, thanks for making a pledge that you already know you can't keep.
Pols also have their pet projects. For example, Veloria is wasting her time trying to kick sex offenders out of Georgetown; Jim McIntire, of the 46th District (northeast Seattle), has a good idea to keep banks from giving out personal information; and the 36th District's Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles, representing the Denny Regrade, Magnolia, Queen Anne, Ballard, and Greenwood, plans to keep kids and seniors safe from malevolent care providers, which is also a positive move.
What's blatantly missing from the pols' agendas, however, are environmental concerns -- something Seattleites care about. For example, Washington Conservation Voters (WCV) -- an environmental lobby group that kicks ass getting out the vote to Democrats during election time -- cites plenty of issues the legislators should be dealing with. According to WCV's Ed Zuckerman and John Wyble, Seattle reps should update guidelines to protect salmon, take precautions to prevent oil spills, replace the school funds that come from logging, and make sure to comply with federal clean air standards. None of the legislators mentioned these issues last week.
Admittedly, I-695 has compromised our representatives' ability to deliver the goods. But that's no excuse for the lackluster tone, the incoherent agenda, or the refusal to commit to getting anything done.