Simmering unrest over federal and state deficits, job loss, budget cuts and targeting of public employee unions in Wisconsin and other statehouses spilled into the open Thursday afternoon in Vancouver.
Tipping between chants, loud catcalls and calmer, face-to-face discussion, about 20 MoveOn.org supporters rallied outside the O.O. Howard House office of U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas — and were met by a half-dozen counter-protesters.
Miles away in east Vancouver, Herrera Beutler met with a handful of MoveOn members in a Peet’s Coffee shop for what activists called a productive dialogue.
That meeting had been set for the Howard House but was moved, at her request.
For about 30 minutes, the D.C. freshman sat with four MoveOn members who presented their case against what they perceive to be damaging budget cuts and union scapegoating, while a few more observed.
The “Defend the Dream” event, including a petition, was local evidence of a statewide labor resistance that has raised the volume in Olympia and Seattle in recent days, with Capitol rallies and media buys. Local MoveOn leaders, who drew more than 100 persons for a street demonstration near the Vancouver Community Library in lousy weather last week, got the sit-down chat they’d requested from Herrera Beutler back in January.
“Proposed GOP budget cuts is the big deal, and the union-busting,” said Kristen Stockwell, 32, of Vancouver, local MoveOn coordinator.
Members spoke about budget cuts for federal Head Start programs, desire to end two Mideast wars and hopes that Herrera Beutler would “vote for the people who elected her” and not just the GOP party line, Stockwell said.
“At this meeting, we really tried to personalize it. And she was somewhat receptive,” Stockwell said. “I think it went well. We really, really wanted to start a dialogue with her.”
Herrera Beutler squeezed the session between stops at the Lakeside Industries asphalt plant in Brush Prairie and a Southwest Washington Medical Center lab, and several later meetings. Her spokesman said she was glad for the chance.
“MoveOn doesn’t always see eye-to-eye with the congresswoman, but it’s important to hear what they have to say,” said spokesman Casey Bowman. “These are folks that she represents, and if they disagree with her, that’s OK.”
Herrera Beutler’s priorities continue to be cutting the federal budget and helping produce more jobs, Bowman said.
Right now, it’s time for the U.S. Senate “to step up and propose something that the American people support,” in response to House-voted budget plans, he said.
Back under the large Douglas fir outside Herrera Beutler’s office, the MoveOn group made their feelings clear, with pointedly worded placards.
“Stop wars on workers,” read one.
“Collectively we bargain; alone we beg,” read another.
“Corporate welfare destroys jobs,” one card read.
In the opposing corner — some messages inked on “No Tolls” signs, others hoisted by persons not affiliated with that cause — placards read, “Move On and move away!” and, “Unions always want more.”
“Our focus is jobs, and supporting the folks in Wisconsin,” said Tom Scharf, 64, of Vancouver, commanding the MoveOn group’s microphone.
The nation has looked on while newly elected GOP Gov. Scott Walker pushed for state employee wage and benefit concessions, then voided most collective bargaining rights, triggering mass union protests in Madison, the capital. The centerpiece legislation is now hung up in a legal battle.
Scharf cited good treatment of American workers in the high-tech job magnet of Silicon Valley, Calif., mostly because employers were “terrified” of workers organizing into unions, he said.
Labor unions are responsible for eight-hour workdays, safety laws and other workplace standards now taken for granted in the private sector, Scharf and others said. Misguided attacks on union workers and collective bargaining only undercuts private workers’ own well-being, he said.
“Without the threat of a union, employers can do whatever they want — slave labor,” Scharf said. “It’s not that union workers get too much; it’s that others don’t get enough,” he said, voice rising for counter-protesters’ benefit.
Dick Sohn, 70, of Vancouver, wasn’t buying it.
His No Tolls sign held high (with the “Unions always want more” add-on), and wearing an Evergreen Freedom Foundation ball cap, Sohn shouted back, “Screw the taxpayers — that’s what you’re for.”
Unions have bloated labor costs that have sent corporations overseas, he and others said. And, the mounting toll of public workers’ compensation has driven struggling taxpayers to the brink, they said.
Penny Ross, 63, of Vancouver, is a former schoolteacher who has soured on the union experience. Her sign read, “Stop wasteful spending.” Her larger message to Herrera Beutler and others was, “It’s not the job of government to give you jobs,” she said.
Gutting burdensome regulations on business would be one place government can start, Ross said. She also hopes Southwest Washington’s congresswoman will “really represent our people” and not out-of-state lobbyists, she said.
Fellow sympathizer Carolyn Crain, 52, of Vancouver, said Herrera Beutler has taken baby steps in the right direction since January. With recent House votes that kept federal government operating while imposing modest budget cuts, “she got more deductions (from the federal debt) than what the Democrats left behind,” Crain said.
“I look forward to her continuing,” Crain said. “I’d rather have more than $6 billion bites (the latest budget cut approved), but I’ll take it. I call it headway.”
Making a case for teamwork to chop away at the federal debt was Mike Ellison, 56, who rode his bike to the Howard House.
He criticized the soaring defense budget and cost of ongoing wars, and touted a plan floated by the bipartisan Sustainable Defense Task Force to pare nearly $1 trillion from defense spending over the next 10 years.
That’s about $100 billion per year, the amount Republicans in Congress had set for a 2011 budget-cutting goal, said Ellison, member of the Vancouver for Peace group.
“We can find common ground with the conservatives on this,” he told the gathering. He said he’s been critical of Democrats and President Barack Obama for not aggressively stopping wasteful spending, too. “I’d like to see my children have jobs,” he said.
Howard Buck: 360-735-4515 or firstname.lastname@example.org.