For about four hours, professional lobbyists could get into the state Capitol this evening, but citizen activists were barred from entering. It was all part of a lockdown of the Legislative Building after 17 protesters were arrested this afternoon during a protest outside the Governor's Office.
But angry Senate Democrats offered a protest of their own: They refused to resume their floor session as scheduled at 7 p.m. until the Department of General Administration lifted its lockdown, which GA director Joyce Turner intended to last until morning.
Three Democrats including Sen. Craig Pridemore of Vancouver refused even to enter the building if the public could not go in, and particularly if paid lobbyists could enter while unpaid lobbyists could not.
"I am outraged," Pridemore said after confronting state troopers guarding an entrance after lockdown. He was especially peeved that paid lobbyists were allowed in.
It was another page in the log of protests at this year's grim legislative session where cuts to social programs and public education are more popular than closing tax breaks for special interests to raise revenue.
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown – perhaps someday to be known as Lisa the Liberator – had a hand in getting the doors open. She told the Senate chambers she was unwilling to hold session to "do the people's business: as long as the citizens could not enter the People’s House. Her complaints to the Governor's Office led to discussions with GA and State Patrol Chief John Batiste, and the building was reopened.
Turner said a decision to close the building was made after the arrests and in conjunction with the State Patrol to allow a "cooling off period" until morning. But Turner said there had been a "miscommunication" that led security to allow paid lobbyists into the building while refusing entry to visitors who were not employees or had a badge to admit them.
Security was working off a list of registered lobbyists, according to a staffer with the Governor's Office.
Brown later put out a statement that said in part:
Nikolas Koehler, a Grays Harbor Community College journalism student who protested earlier in the week about budget cuts to schools, was among the few dozen protesters that troopers let into the "People's House" one at a time around 8 p.m.
Koehler said the lockdown "was ridiculous because nobody who is here getting locked out was involved in what happened earlier" with an alleged assault on two state troopers.
But several protesters thanked Turner personally as they went into the building.
Republican Floor Leader Mark Schoesler of Ritzville saw no reason to stop work if doors were locked. "The press wasn’t denied. TVW was filming it. The Internet was streaming it," Schoesler said. "The alternative is if we had people in disrupting the chamber, we can't work either."