Last November, the voters of the 45th Legislative District changed the political landscape of Washington by resoundingly electing Democrat Manka Dhingra. This flipped control of the state Senate back to the Democrats to go along with the governor’s mansion and a narrow majority in the state House. After six years of divided government, we believe the newly empowered Democratic majorities must offer bold progressive leadership on the challenges facing our state. They told us that giving Democrats full control of state government was the best way to make progress on our state’s challenges and now it’s time for them to show us what that means.
Years of Republican obstruction has left no shortage of options for progressive reforms and initiatives waiting on deck. In fact, the toughest choice may be what good ideas to prioritize in the 60-day legislative session. Here are a few good options for legislators to consider as we approach legislative session.
Making it easier to vote and ensuring every voice is heard: A number of commonsense bills to modernize our voting system have attracted bipartisan support in recent years, yet failed to become law. From the Washington Voting Rights Act to proposals for postage-paid ballots and automatic voter registration, legislators have a real opportunity to bring our voting system into the 21st Century and ensure that every eligible voter is able to participate in our democracy.
Fighting climate change: This has long been a priority for Gov. Jay Inslee and is only likely to become more of a priority in the face of constant attacks by the Trump administration. Democratic leadership in the Senate has also breathed new life into these efforts by replacing a climate-denying Republican with Washington Conservation Voters’ legislator of the year Sen. Reuven Carlyle as the chair of the environment committee. We’re also optimistic that the new vice chair, Sen. Guy Palumbo, will be a strong ally on efforts to reduce carbon pollution and create a clean energy future for Washington.
Fixing our state’s upside-down tax code: It’s no secret that Washington has the most regressive tax code in the country. In fact, low-income Washingtonians pay seven times more in state and local taxes than wealthy families, which siphons money out of our communities and makes it harder to invest in services we need to thrive. While we’re realistic about what’s possible in a short session, we believe there’s a real opportunity to get the ball rolling by closing tax loopholes and increasing accountability for the tax breaks already on the books. We don’t think it’s too much to ask for companies to prove that they’re creating jobs and investing in our communities in exchanges for millions — or even billions — of our tax dollars. These reforms are also important so that legislators can continue investing in public schools and fulfilling our constitutional responsibilities to our kids. While this won’t be an easy task, the Senate Democrats have picked an excellent team of Sens. Christine Rolfes and David Frockt to lead the effort.
Equity and justice for all: Progressives have a host of smaller bills that should be an easy sell in a Democratic legislature. From gender pay equity to improving police accountability, progressives in Olympia have an opportunity to lead with their values and protect our communities from the Trump administration.
On these important issues and more, the most important thing we’re looking for out of Olympia is leadership. Voters have provided leadership during recent years of legislative gridlock by passing important progressive ballot measures. With Olympia stymied, voters have increasingly taken matters into their own hands at the ballot box by passing ballot measures on marriage equality, marijuana legalization, gun safety, paid sick leave and more.
Democrats now have an opportunity and an obligation to show voters that they too can lead. After six years of stagnation and nearly a full year of the Trump administration, this much is clear: tepid incrementalism simply will not suffice. We hope the newly leadership in Olympia will seize this moment and deliver bold solutions for the people of Washington.
Aaron Ostrom is the Executive Director of Fuse Washington, the state’s largest progressive advocacy organization. You can learn more at www.FuseWashington.org.