01/05/2019 by Gerald Hulbert
Although this was a local town hall, much of the message had to do with proposed discussions of issues proposed to be discussed in the State Legislature during its 105 day session at the State Legislature starting January 14, 2019. Most of the attendees were older, seemingly reserved people. However, no sleepy heads here! The “bubbling” reactions made from the audience kept everyone awake! I overhead one attendee greeting another, “I see you’ve come to the Dark Side”! The other remarked back, “I consider myself coming from the Bright Side”! Generally, a well-attended event, but unfortunately, balanced toward older individuals. When an opening prayer was begun, a loud protest of “Separate church and state!” were heard throughout the auditorium. No protests were heard, however, during the Pledge of Allegiance. Though not officially sworn in, Sharon Shewmake was invited to speak before her January 14 swear-in at 42nd LD’s Democratic Representative in Olympia. However, it was clarified that the Democrats did not want her to be listed as a host of the event. It proved to be beneficial. It was interesting to see what main issues Shewmake seeks to address when she officially replaces Representative Buys January 14. (Are these HER issues, or the ones the Democrats want her to address in Olympia, not necessarily those of her constituents?) Speakers in addition to Sharon Shewmake were newly re-elected Senator Doug Ericksen and Luanne Van Werven. Luanne was responsible for coordinating the well attended event at the Meridian High School Auditorium! Luanne and Doug presented opening comments with their activities during the last year, committees they were involved with, and plans they have for the upcoming session. Sharon gave a brief resume and her plans for her new future in the State House of Representatives. Following their opening comments, a Question/Answer session was initiated from the audience. The ending, short conclusions by each speaker ended the event in time for the Seahawks game!
Luanne Van Werven. With five years as State Representative of the 42nd LD, she has gained experience, produced a lot of work, and built relationships. She is glad to hear from constituents as the developments in Whatcom County affect everyone, especially their wallets! She is a ranking member of the Higher Education Committee (now the College-Workforce Committee), Transportation Committee, and Innovation Technology Committee (ITET). Whatcom County has vital industries and recreational activities that are worth fighting for. Career development depends on good accredited schools. Access to Health care, she feels is going the wrong direction with higher deductibles affecting both the middle and lower class. Local trails, like in Kendall and Lynden are being improved. We want a culture that thrives! However, more taxes is not the answer! There has been record spending by the State of Washington, up by 10 Billion. An increase of 9% in taxing businesses impacts the economy. We see how the voters reacted to tax increases with the rejection of I-1631, Carbon Tax and I-1634, Tax on Food. There is a bill pending for 22 Million for mental health. A majority of residents of Washington State do not want an income tax! The loss of funding to Western State Hospital is unfortunate. Luanne stresses the importance of working together with members of the Legislature to achieve workable results. She wants to meet with any of the constituents, considering this top priority.
Sharon Shewmake. New to the scene, Sharon stresses better service in the legislative process. Olympia is truly bipartisan and needs an open policy, and an ability to listen to constituents. She intends to set up a Bellingham office so that constituents can listen to local staff/field questions to her. She considers three areas making up her punch list, (1) development of a preschool program to develop children to be socially responsible when they enter kindergarten, (2) promote affordable housing as a supply problem and address homelessness, and (3) establish a tax on carbon, 10 billion per ton to be used for address the housing issue. Somehow, taxing carbon could somehow be used to promote affordable housing with tax dollars (state or local?). Constitutionality remains a roadblock, however. She also sees the advantage of developing preschool programs so that when children enter kindergarten, they can be socially developed to such an extent that they will become contributors to society early. Crime will be reduced in the community. Sharon will serve on the agriculture committee, planning to serve farmers. She will serve on the energy committee, using her background in economics to make inroads there. Also on the Transportation Committee, she welcomes the development of local trails.
Doug Ericksen. Doug reports new proposed changes in State government with Inslee’s plan to run for U.S. President. Speaker Chopp will be retiring with his recent announcement before the session opens. Who will be selected there? Doug serves on the Senate Finance Committee, Higher Education Committee. He seeks to ensure manufacturing jobs are secure for Whatcom County. Regulations that are being used need to be sensible and not serve to drive away jobs. Competition on the world market is essential and we must not discourage this!
- Sharon was asked to outline her plans regarding the carbon tax issue. She wants to use the carbon tax to be used somehow for housing locally raising questions on constitutionality.
- Comment was made to Doug regarding his campaign against Pinky Vargas to which he responded with a request to determine where the issue was sourced and the importance of “moving on” recognizing the purpose of this town hall.
- A question regarding the investigation of a charge regarding Ranker’s sexual “impropriety” was directed to Doug which he responded that there should be established guidelines to be followed and keep politics out of the investigation, understanding that it is not the place for comment at this time.
- A question was raised concerning ferries, an aging workforce, and a limited policy regarding contracts for ferry construction comparing a far more flexible policy Canada uses. Contracting work to in state contractors is not favorable to competition. There was a request for review of these issues directed to Senator Ericksen. Gas tax subsidies vary from one jurisdiction to another when it comes to funding the ferry fleet.
- A question was raised regarding how any carbon tax would impact the workforces of the large energy corporations in the area (e.g. BP, Arco, Phillips). Senator Ericksen indicated that the carbon tax has more of an impact on jobs/hiring than on global climate change issues. Such a tax would harm the local economy. Luanne indicated that Arco is now already taking steps to mitigate its carbon emissions which should be noted.
- A question was raised regarding I-1639 where 52.4% of the voters approved the gun initiative. A representative from Moms Demand Action indicated the group’s intent to carpool to visit representatives in Olympia to demand support for their mission from their representatives there. All speakers were on record to welcome them whenever they chose to come.
- After a comment was made regarding the McCleary fix in education, Senator Ericksen indicated that property taxes should be reduced. The levy swap was geared to level the playing field regarding an uneven tax base in state school districts. A planned use of levy money to impact classroom size was illegally diverted to teacher salaries. Now, the salary increases requested in the future will need to be obtained by other means. Will a capital gains tax answer their needs? We’ll see.
- A question was raised as to why carbon is deemed so toxic when it is required by 99% of the plants we grow to survive. Senator Ericksen felt the question requires more discussion in another setting as it deals with so much research so he felt that it should be deferred. All speakers agreed.
- A question regarding the water issue, specifically the Hirst Fix was raised. Shewmake, new to the agriculture committee indicated that will set up Skyp communications to deal with it. Senator Ericksen felt it was not the best solution for even Whatcom County (though definitely not Skagit County!). It is not a dead issue by any means; Sharon wants to be friends with the farmers. We’ll see.
- A question or request was made to look into VA funding. Senator Ericksen indicated that this is a federal issue and difficult to review the issue here now.
- A question was raised requesting comment on any suggested law to ensure that any candidates for President and Vice President should have their tax returns fully reviewed before they run. Senator Ericksen questioned why such a law would not apply to others seeking office; was this focused mainly on the current situation in Washington? Senator Ericksen was not supporting this at all but Shewmake was outspoken in her support of this indicating that she had nothing to hide.
Representative Van Werven appreciated the well attended event that she coordinated to orient the voters of the 42nd LD to be aware of the issues to be addressed, accomplishments, appreciating everyone who has participated in hearings and conversations. She indicated that the taxes levied on small businesses need to be more flexible, especially with the deadlines. Currently, they are unreasonable and she plans to look into this. Freedom of speech, being assaulted on the college campuses (e.g Ben Shapiro rejection at a state university in Spokane) is truly unconstitutional and measures need to be made to address this. She reiterated that property tax will be decreased unless Governor Inslee decides to veto any measure to guarantee a decrease. There is currently a mental health bill pending in Olympia that is so desperately needed. All constituents are welcome to visit her office, make an appointment through Brian, her office assistant in Olympia.
Sharon Shewmake concluded with comments regarding the all too restrictive condominium rules in the district, favors a condominium trust fund to assist with housing, set backs are far too restrictive, favoring increased density within the cities for, among many reasons, to ease the distance to the local breweries (is this where she spends more of her time?). She is anxious to begin her role representing the 42nd LD in Olympia. She plans to use whatever means she has to enhance communication between her constituents and her office in Olympia and seeks to create a Bellingham office and Skype to accomplish this initially. She noticeably endorsed the audience’s suggestion to encourage remote communications involving testimonies at state hearings to encourage a positive impact on the carbon imprint!
Doug Ericksen begins again to continue his responsibilities in Olympia in January continuing for the 105 day session there. Appreciated the flowers each of the hosts were presented for the event. He promises to work representing us in the Higher Education, Finance Committee, working to ensure jobs in manufacturing in Whatcom County, and Transportation Committee. He stresses the challenges with an almost 60% democratic legislature. There will be a change in the House leadership with the retirement of the current speaker. He appreciated the help of Amanda, his acting assistant for the Town Hall with the untimely absence of his regular assistant. He also welcomes communication from his constituents, phone calls, emails, hearing attendance.
Thank you to all that attended this vital town hall initiating a vital dialogue between the constituents and the representatives! Please be encouraged to communicate with these individuals; they are in Olympia to serve you!
Editorial comments: Interrupting the prayer so rudely with shouts to indicate there should be a “separation of church and state” was not effective especially when enough research is done to show that there is nothing in the U.S. Constitution to justify it at all. Freedom of Speech to pray constitutes part of the First Amendment. I asked if there was to be security at the event and was told that would be. As a public forum that this became, I am glad that there were no other disturbances not confirming the presence of any security. I was pleasantly surprised, also, that when the Pledge of Allegiance was recited, there was no outbursts from the audience! Originally, I felt that having someone speak who was not officially sworn in as a representative was a concession. Now, I feel that the audience was able to see a plan from the incoming representative and to see if it is truly represents the Democratic Party, all her constituents of the 42nd LD, or if it somehow is “revised” once the representative takes office.