Ask anyone that knows me. They will tell you. I have a fondness for cloudy skies. I like dark days, where the overcast is so thick it will leave you wondering if it is evening at midday. I don’t know if it is my pale burn-prone skin, or too many years in Yakima, shading my sensitive eyes from sunny summers and blinding snow glare on clear winter days. I don’t often miss the sun. In some ways, I live in the perfect place for that kind of preference.
And yet. ...
There is one place I do miss the sunshine in Olympia. I miss it in our Legislative Building. Between the hastily passed Senate Bill 6617 and a recent Seattle Times article that indicates that a huge number of South Capitol neighborhood homes are nothing more than fronts for lobbyists to court legislators, indicators are strong that our legislators are making a lot of decisions for the public behind private, closed doors.
SB 6617 was vetoed by Gov. Inslee and not reintroduced this legislative session, probably due to immense public outcry. It may be gone, but don’t make the mistake of believing that it has been forgotten, especially not by those that would benefit from its return.
Since the public response against SB 6617, some legislators — ones that voted to exempt themselves from the Public Disclosure Act — have “voluntarily” posted schedules and agendas as a show of good faith to their constituents that they intend to support transparency. It sure is a show, one akin to a magician’s misdirection, a senatorial sleight of hand, if you will.
However, without public vigilance and long memories — which are two weaknesses of modern society, or perhaps society in general — lawmakers and their lobbyist handlers will return to the next legislative session having learned from their mistakes this year. They will be prepared to be more careful about the wording of the bill and rate at which it gets passed. Their attempt may be to sneak it in again, just more carefully this time. Or it may be to plan a solid disinformation campaign of the next few months, probably one to divide the public along classic party lines. It all depends on what the lobbyists are learning from their focus groups now. But they will try again.
Section 1 article 1 of the Washington State Constitution says, “All political power is inherent in the people, and governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, and are established to protect and maintain individual rights.”
Inattention and inaction have masqueraded as consent for too long in our state. Even the keyboard warriors (yes, I realize the irony here) with their limited reach have stopped short at mere statements of disappointment regarding the actions of the elected.
We fear throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. We don’t consider that by excusing the offenses that we deem unacceptable, for fear of the unknown, we allow continued erosion of our values and a gradual wearing away of common standards that our lawmakers should maintain.
When we excuse those that waste legislative time complaining about dandelions on the Capitol lawn during the same year that a budget is not passed on time, requiring not one, but two special legislative sessions, we are telling lawmakers that action is OK.
When a lawmaker is asked by a member of the press when will their party’s plan for funding education be released and is told “none of your business. You will be the last to know” — and then wins re-election uncontested — it sends the message that this kind of behavior is accepted or even expected.
When a lawmaker drafts a bill that gains unprecedented bipartisan support, rushing it through the Legislature with special permission that allows it to take effect immediately, a law like SB 6617, they should be drummed out of office.
We applaud politicians that promise to be tough on crime. Perhaps it is time for the public to start being tough on legislators.
Government transparency only matters if citizens are paying attention. And citizens paying attention only matter if they act when lawmakers’ behavior is inexcusable. Otherwise, we, the people, are in store for a lot of dark clouds in our forecast.
Holly Reed is a freelance writer, Army veteran, and a member of The Olympian’s 2018 Board of Contributors. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.