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The value of listening

Updated: May 15

(Republished from the La Conner Weekly News, Feb. 5, 2020)

I am very familiar with the 10th Legislative District.

I'm a fourth-generation family farmer on Whidbey Island who has been deeply involved in our community for years, serving as a firefighter and fire commissioner, and on community business-related boards. However, I cannot read minds – so when I became your State Senator, my first priority was to travel around our district to get a sense of what you believe the legislature should be doing.

We covered a lot of topics, from climate policy to transportation and the state’s response to homelessness and the affordable-housing situation. I laid out my thoughts and approach to serving you. As I expected, it was time well spent.

This year’s legislative session began Jan. 13. I took a diverse depth of knowledge to the Capitol, but there’s always more to learn, and that requires listening. However, recent events lead me to question how much listening is being done in Olympia.

A prime example is the debate over $30 car tabs. I said during my December town halls that $30 may not be the right number, given the state’s transportation needs, but the voters spoke. Your elected representatives should listen. Instead, some in power are suing (using your tax dollars!) to overturn the Initiative-976 law.

Recently another Senator, from the majority side, introduced a bill to block $30 car tabs and allow inflated car valuations for Sound Transit. That’s not just tone deafness, that is plain not listening.

Another example involves a Senate Bill to make sex education mandatory starting in kindergarten! Now, initially, I have an issue with state government sending down unfunded mandates. But that legislation stalled last year in the House after parents expressed outrage; however, the new state budget funded a survey (at taxpayer expense) of over 10,000 people. About 59% said “no,” but the majority side approved the bill for a second time anyway.

The correspondence my office received on this bill was 28 to 1 opposing it. I voted no. It’s not about being opposed to sex education. It’s about listening to the will of the people.

Being a new legislator, I didn’t expect to come down to Olympia and have an immediate and sweeping impact on state policies. I also don’t expect every constituent to agree with every decision I make. However, my goal is to enact good policy that has no unintended consequences. I appreciate your calls and emails about legislation and issues, and I take them to heart. It goes with my commitment to be a strong voice for the things you care about while also remaining true to my principles, seeking common ground and pragmatic solutions.

I would love if Olympia did a lot more listening. It’s by listening that I can convey your concerns, your questions, your opinions to my colleagues from around Washington who are working to represent their own districts and communities. Between now and the end of our session, in mid-March, I hope we can arrive together at decisions that work for all in our state.

- The Happy Farmer

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