While the old saw about politics being a contact sport carries a grain of truth, a couple items out of Olympia this week lend additional insight to the physical nature of legislative give-and-take.
In one, Lieutenant Gov. Brad Owen used the occasion of his retirement announcement to implore lawmakers to put aside the “insanity of partisan politics.” While that might be akin to asking sharks to stop swimming, Owen added, “All it does is create an environment of ‘us against them’ instead of ‘all of us for the people.’ ”
Of course, when it comes to bipartisan politics, there is a fine line between “insanity” and “standing up for constituents.” What might be seen by one legislator as intransigence by the other side can be viewed by that opposition as acting on principle for the good of the voters. As Thomas Jefferson once wrote: “In every free & deliberating society there must, from the nature of man, be opposite parties & violent dissensions & discords; and one of these, for the most part, must prevail over the other for a longer or shorter time.”
So, yes, discord is necessary, as we are reminded every year by the Legislature. But to prevent that discord from devolving into the kind of gridlock frequently seen in the other Washington, some decorum is necessary. “Isn’t the ability to have a radically different opinion and express it the very foundation of the United States?” Owen asked senators during his farewell address.
As lieutenant governor, Owen has spent the past 20 years presiding over the state Senate. The Democrat from Shelton entered state government when elected to the House of Representatives in 1976, and was elected to the Senate in 1983 before running for lieutenant governor in 1996. “I have known Brad since I joined the Legislature and have watched him bring dignity and decorum to the Senate chambers,” said Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, who is one of several announced candidates for the position. “Every member of the Senate knew that he would base his rulings fairly and not on a partisan basis.”
Which brings us to the week’s other example of political elbow-throwing. Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday warned legislators that any bills they passed during this year’s session will be rejected if lawmakers didn’t pass a supplemental budget. “Your bills are going to get vetoed if you don’t do your job and pass a budget,” Inslee said during a press conference. Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, responded with a shrug and a quip: “I hope they’re not any he cares about.”
Inslee’s frustration is understandable; lawmakers are tasked with formulating an addition to the two-year operating budget passed last year — something that should be a relatively simple mission. But Inslee’s proclamation is unnecessary and counterproductive.
Attempting to coerce legislators into doing their job by threatening to not do yours is nonsensical. Bills passed this year include bipartisan legislation that would keep the state’s charter schools operating and would extend a program designed to prevent Medicaid fraud, among others.
In practice, Inslee’s threat of a veto is political posturing generated by what often can be a difficult and aggravating process. With the Senate controlled by Republicans and the House controlled by Democrats, staking out the middle ground is never easy. But, in the parting words of Brad Owen, the aim should always be “all of us for the people.”