In three separate ceremonies, newly elected and reelected representatives and senators stood in front of their screens, held up their right hand, and promised to uphold the laws and constitution of both the United States and Washington state. It was a strange sight, but no stranger than the times we are living in.
In the two separate House oath ceremonies, representatives were sworn in at the same time. Washington state Supreme Court Chief Justice Debra Stephens administered the first round of swearing-in while Justice Helen Whitener administered the second.
Normally, as House Speaker Laurie Jinkins noted, the House administers oaths of office at their opening day session. But health concerns around COVID-19, the desire to limit the number of people and time spent in the House chambers, and security concerns led them to take their oaths virtually before they formally convene on Monday.
Split into groups of around 30, every representative repeated their oaths on top of one another. Some chose to stand for this rite of passage as their computer cameras weirdly truncated their bodies. Others put their hand directly in front of the camera, letting it take up almost the entire screen. Interestingly, Rep. Brad Klippert of the 8th LD appeared to take the call from his patrol car, sheriff's uniform and all.
The sound of more than two dozen representatives solemnly swearing-in simultaneously was cacophonous, but over in just under 10 minutes. "Your taking the oath of office sounded like one of the most beautiful concerts I've ever heard in my life," Jinkins commented after the first round of oaths was said and done.
Among that sea of boxes was first-time 36th Legislative District Rep. Liz Berry. In an email, she told me the Legislature has been busy with onboarding meetings and technology trainings to prepare for the upcoming, socially distant session. Berry said she's most excited to get to work on an expansion of Washington's Paid Family and Medical Leave program next week.
Most notably, Sen. T'wina Nobles was sworn in for her first term today as our state's first Black senator in over ten years. As the previous CEO and president of the Tacoma Urban League, Nobles had a very expen$ive and contentious race against Republican incumbent Steve O'Ban to represent the 28th Legislative District. She won that race by just over 1,000 votes, becoming the first Democrat to win that seat since the 1960s and only the second Black woman elected to the state Senate.
In a recent interview with the Associated Press, Nobles recognized her "great responsibility" as the only Black member of the state Senate, especially as the Legislature deals with balancing the budget with decreased revenue due to the pandemic.
She went on to say that she anticipates "lots of protests and demonstrations" but asks that "we are all safe and civil and respectful of each other, so we can get to the real work." Today, a group of people off-screen cheered after Nobles finished her repeating her oath of office.
The 2021 Legislative session kicks off next Monday down in Olympia—as long as a crowd of right-wingers dressed in Brooks Brothers doesn't chain themselves to the Capitol building, that is.