With its double-overtime, lasting two months beyond its normal conclusion, our state’s recent extended legislative session was grueling by all accounts.
But it was necessary, points out Rep. Gerry Pollet (D-46).
“It had, on one hand, a beneficial impact,” he observed recently. In April, “the odds of us winning the investment in higher education and ending…[the] tuition increase were still pretty long against us.”
Most of the more recently elected members of our state’s Jewish caucus agreed. Senators David Frockt (D-46) and Andy Billig (D-3), both former House members new to the Senate in the past two yeara, and Representatives Pollet and Jessyn Farrell (D-46) have all served fewer than two terms in their current offices. (Frockt and Pollet were appointed to their positions following the death of Sen. Scott White in 2011, but won their elections in 2012.)
All four said the failure of the transportation bill was their chief frustration of the session.
“The biggest disappointment was that we were not able to pass a transportation revenue and jobs package,” said Spokane’s Billig, who says we need investment “in our transportation infrastructure for our state to have a prosperous economy.”
The frustration of working with a divided government — a Democratic majority in the house and Republican majority in the Senate — was shared by all. The problem is complicated, says Frockt, by “a structural budget process that compels people to wait each other out…We need to be negotiating and working on [the budget] earlier in the session…not holding each other hostage.”
These legislators agreed, though, that the most positive accomplishments were in education and human services.
Pollet is proud the legislature “invest[ed] in higher education and…in not having any tuition increase next year,” as well as “our investment of a billion dollars toward our obligations [to] …children’s constitutional rights to basic education in Washington.”
He still gave those efforts a B grade, “not an A,” he said. “We should have done at least 40 percent more.”
Farrell is also pleased with progress in education funding.
“There was recognition that if we want to close the opportunity gap,” early learning funding needed to increase, she said, adding that she and Billig have worked closely on this issue. Pollet cited further headway on “providing health insurance for 300,000 people in the state of Washington.”
Few constituents complained about the extended session, Billig, Frockt, Farrell and Pollet all said. Most voters understood of the process and wanted the budget to reflect their support of health, education and human services issues, particularly in the liberal-leaning and well-informed 46th district which three of the four represent.
“People are pragmatic,” says Frockt, and “understand it was a compromise.”
But he did field complaints that the Senate was succumbing to “DC-style gridlock.”
Farrell heard constituents demanding “a good budget outcome that…preserves our social safety net…and preserve a strong investment in our K–12,” and understood “this was coming from a divided government,” she said.
She said she appreciated voters who came to Olympia to inform her of their views, and says the Jewish community was well-represented in lobbying for human services and homelessness issues.
The long session wreaked havoc with the personal lives of representatives and staffers.
“I survived the session with a lot of help,” said Farrell, who has two young children. She created an “intricate symphony of logistics” that included her husband, parents, other family members, and friends who chipped in so she could accomplish her “exhilarating and interesting” work. That she’s glad to be on summer vacation “is the understatement of the year.”
“I went into a tree,” said Frockt metaphorically, once the session was over. While on vacation with his wife while his kids were at Camp Kalsman, he recalled that during session he cut short a trip to a family wedding to return to Olympia for a vote.
“Of course, we didn’t vote,” he said, “I don’t like to complain…. It’s a real privilege to be in public service…[and] it’s part of the deal.”
During the break, these representatives balance other jobs with legislative issues. Pollet runs a citizens’ group that leads cleanup efforts at Hanford and is pushing the Navy to clean up radiation contamination recently discovered in Seattle’s Magnuson Park, in the heart of his district.
Farrell, an attorney, does some mediation, and will explore approaches to managing childhood obesity. Billig, co-owner of the Spokane Indians minor-league baseball team, will observe day-to-day workings of state government that includes riding with a state patrol officer, observing state-funded daycare, and spending a day with a corrections officer. This will give him “practical experience to use as we consider policy changes and budget changes” in Olympia.
Frockt, counsel to a law firm, said legislative work continues year-round. A report on education funding is due to the state Supreme Court and he’s “working with staff, [having] a hearing next week; there are things that go on. There are a lot of meetings.”