Will Rogers once compared the workings of the U. S. Congress to a baby wielding a hammer. Since state lawmakers convened Monday, Jan. 14, for their regular session, scheduled to end April 28 — no one really expects them to finish on time — the issues being put on the table are far too serious for Rogers’ brand of humor — almost.
As The Seattle Times noted in a Jan. 12 editorial, this session will be about more-than-the-usual party divisions: The crossover of Democratic Sens. Rodney Tom (D-Medina) and Tim Sheldon (D-Potlatch) to the Republican side will give the GOP a ruling coalition.
Those defections may be based as much on personal reasons as philosophical. Every politician knows, as did Shakespeare, that politics is theater and the dramatis personae are propelled by mixed motives. Senate majority leader Tom will now get a better parking space, a title and more media attention.
Meanwhile, the people’s business must go on. Among the issues confronting legislators, the judicial mandate for increased spending on education looms large, especially in the face of the projected $900 million budget shortfall. How Gov. Jay Inslee honors his campaign pledge not to raise taxes should prove interesting.
Other items: the death penalty, gun control, Medicaid and Medicare, and, of course, as we wait for the draft Environmental Impact Statement, the coal trains: Watch for Republican pressure to fiddle with shoreline permits tied to coal exports.
We even expect a bill making it legal to serve liquor in movie theaters.
Seattle is a popular target in rural and sagebrush areas. Remember, Inslee was elected with majorities in only eight liberal counties out of this state’s 39. The local study of the coal-train project commissioned by Seattle Mayor Mike Mc-Ginn (which is supposed to be completed by March 30) runs the danger of being another “Seattle-centric” piñata for project proponents. That horrendously ill-advised project would bring up to 18 new, environmentally dicey trains through the city per day.
Gun control will create plenty of drama. As syndicated columnist Neal Pierce has pointed out, states do not need to wait for the federal government to take action. States went after the tobacco industry in the 1990s, and they can do the same with common-sense gun control now. As the debate proceeds, we’ll witness profiles in political courage and profiles of the craven crawling to the National Rifle Association.
The press corps presence in Olympia is less than one-third of what it was two decades ago; citizens need to work harder to stay informed about government at home than they do with the goings-on in Washington D. C.
But these are serious issues, and we all live downstream from Olympia.