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Do Washington State Democrats Have A Labor Problem? Let’s Ask Jay Inslee July 7, 2011

OK: so I’ve been working what is, on one level, a Jay Inslee story (Inslee is the Congressman from Washington’s 1st District, now running for Governor in ’12), and, on another level, a story of why Democrats are having all kinds of problems with what should be “natural” constituencies – and why those problems might not be going away anytime soon.

I thought the two elements of this narrative would come together last Monday, when I attended the “announcement event” that marked the beginning of the Inslee Gubernatorial Campaign, and in fact they did…but it wasn’t in a way I would have expected, and that’s why we have something to talk about today.

I reached out to some helpful outside voices, including Inslee himself; all of that will be brought to the discussion – and as another news organization famously offers to do, I’ll report, and leave you to decide.

Krusty the Klown: Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Good evening. Tonight my guest is AFL/CIO chairman George Meany, who will be discussing collective bargaining agreements

George Meaney: It’s a pleasure to be here, Krusty

Krusty the Klown: Let me be blunt: is there a Labor crisis in America today?

George Meaney: Well that depends what you mean by crisis…

–From “The Simpsons” episode S06E01, Bart of Darkness

So here’s what I know: Jay Inslee brings to the contest for Governor a Congressional voting record that could be great news for Washington State’s Progressive community: he’s generally supportive of LBGT and other civil rights issues, he seems to support the sort of elections I like (clean ones), he’s very much interested in a “next generation” energy and environmental policy, and he voted against the TARP Program (that’s the bank bailout that was passed in the last months of the Bush Administration) and the extension of the Patriot Act.

All good stuff.

But I also know this: if you are a State worker in Washington State, you are under attack, and you have been for some time now – and among the attackers are members of the Democratic Party – and the reason I’m so personally familiar with this fact is because The Girlfriend is one of those workers (she’s a nurse working within the Division of Developmental Disabilities, and she has been for more than 15 years), and I’ve seen it with my own two eyes.

And I know that for these workers, each year the question becomes: “This year’s wage cuts: in cash, by jacking the cost of health care, or through furlough days?”

This sort of problem extends to workers all across the State, as business interests target the State’s Unemployment Insurance (UI) and Industrial Insurance programs for attack, to give just two examples of recent legislative battles.

And the State’s Unions are reacting: I had a back and forth with Kathy Cummings (she’s the Communications Director for WSLC, the Washington State Labor Council), who confirmed what I thought I’d been seeing: that since 2009 there has been an effort by the WSLC to bring the fight to Washington State Democrats, including a successful effort to unseat State Senator Jean Berkey, who was targeted, according to Cummings, because of her votes on UI, public education and health care, pollution laws, and tax policy, which the WSLC viewed as favoring corporate interests.

2009, by the way, was a watershed year for this State’s Labor unions, as that was the year Washington Democratic leaders actually called in the State Patrol to investigate whether internal discussions about whether to withhold future campaign contributions if those Democrats didn’t get more cooperative was some sort of criminal act.

As a result, the WSLC formed the DIME PAC (DIME, of course, is an acronym; Don’t Invest in More Excuses, to be specific); this and other Labor-associated PACs are apparently acting as any PAC can, much to the chagrin of Democrats and business interests alike, including what appears to have been a controversial decision to promote a Republican in Berkey’s primary in order to knock her out of the contest early. (Washington uses a “top-two” primary system to determine who gets to the general election, and Berkey came in number three.)

And sure enough, Democrats do appear to be less than supportive: Unions held two rallies this spring at the State Capitol in Olympia, both of which I attended – and I couldn’t help but notice that Washington State Democrats weren’t up on the dais talking about how much they supported those workers gathered just outside.

In fact, the only elected Democrat I saw on either stage, in March or April, speaking to the crowds was State Senator Spencer Coggs…who is a Wisconsin State Senator. (Kathy Cummings helpfully points out that, despite what I thought, about 20 Democrats were introduced by name and were somewhere around the stage at various times during the April event to show support – and you’ll want to keep that in mind as we go along.)

So here’s what I’m thinking as I’m on my way to attend Jay Inslee’s announcement and presser last Monday: Inslee is presumably aware of this history, and if he were to become Washington State’s top elected Democrat he would presumably want to act in a manner that heals that rift…which would be a pretty good story to report to a Progressive audience.

That is not how it turned out.

ME: “I attended two Labor rallies in Olympia over the past couple of months; the only Democratic elected official who seemed to be able to get out and speak to the crowd was from Wisconsin, Spencer Copps, State Senator [which was an error; I should have said Spencer Coggs]. I wondered what you think about that and what are you going to do to try to change it?”

INSLEE: “Well, I’m not sure what you’re referring to…”

ME: “Well, you mentioned honoring unions…”

INSLEE: “I’m sorry…”

ME: “Well, you mentioned honoring unions, these folks were out trying to promote union rights, but Democrats don’t seem to want to get out and support union rights in person. Do you see that as a problem; how would you like to change it?”

INSLEE: “I don’t see this as a problem, because I believe as I said I fundamentally believe in work, I fundamentally believe in workers, and I fundamentally believe that people have collective bargaining rights as an organized group, and I think what has gone on in Wisconsin is a travesty, and the reason it’s a travesty is that, uh, Governor Walker, if he wanted to be angry at someone, he shouldn’t have been angry at the first grade teachers, he should have been angry at the Wall Street investment bankers whose greed was responsible for the economic collapse, and yet I saw the Governor turn his sights on the middle class, and I don’t believe an assault on the middle class, which is what happened in Wisconsin, is productive for economic growth, of anyone in our State, or our country. Now I’ve been pretty forthright in that regard, and, uh, I’ll maintain that position.”

Here’s the video:

Now let me be the first to say that I did not ask the best possible question. What I should have done was be more specific about how much of a rift there is between Labor and Washington State’s Democrats, and then specifically asked what steps Inslee would take, to, as I said earlier, heal the rift.

So normally what you do in a case like that is you go back to the campaign staff and send a follow-up question, and some helpful person who is doing the Candidate’s communications work will get you an official response.

But that’s where it gets weird.

If you try to go to the campaign website to locate the contract information, it is literally nothing, except for three links: give me money, get on the mailing list, or click through to facebook.

I posted a note “on the wall” at facebook, asking who the contact person was for the campaign for media inquiries, and not only did that get no response, the request was removed from the wall within minutes.

I sent follow-up questions to the originating address of the email that invited me to the Inslee event in the first place and to his Congressional office; those also went unacknowledged.

And that, right there, is pretty much the entire story as I know it: there is a significant and growing rift between Labor and Washington State’s Democrats, I tried to bring Inslee out on the issue (albeit clumsily), which he did not seem to want to address – and, oddly enough, there appears to be no desire on the part of the campaign to take the opportunity to follow up and affirm that an Inslee Administration would be a friend of Labor when it comes to things like protecting UI, and not balancing the budget while exempting corporate interests from taxation, and protecting workers from environmental hazards on the job.

Except there is one more thing.

I asked the WSLC’s Cummings this question…

Since the 2010 election cycle, have Democrats become more reliable partners, in the estimation of the WSLC?

…and she gave me a bit of a “tease”: the WSLC will release their 2011 Legislative Report, which will address that very question, just in time for their Annual Convention, which begins on August 4th – and we are told to stay tuned.

 

Inslee Running For Washington Governor, Supports Full Marriage Equality June 29, 2011

Congressman Jay Inslee (WA-01) announced his candidacy for Governor of the State of Washington in Seattle Monday, and Your Erstwhile Reporter was present.

The candidacy was announced with a speech that focused on “process improvements” and the invocation of new technology jobs as an economic engine for job growth (and in fact the event took place at the headquarters of a company that has developed seed-derived biofuels that have been used to power military and commercial aircraft).

But that’s not the part that’s going to be the most interesting for the civil-rights supportive reader.

The most interesting part is that Inslee was quick to offer his support for full marriage equality in the State of Washington, should he find himself elected.

So before we get to the good stuff, let’s do a bit of historical review.

The Congressman has compiled a mixed record on issues that matter to the LBGT community during his time in Congress, and most of it can be considered supportive. He did vote to pass the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) repeal, and he co-sponsored the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act of 2009, which made it out of the House Oversight and Government Committee, only to die in the House Judiciary Committee. (The bill would have provided same-sex partners access to the spousal benefits of their Federal employee family members.)

An additional bill, HR 1024, would have given same-sex couples an expectation of equal treatment during immigration proceedings; this was also cosponsored by Inslee. (It also died in committee.)

However…when it came time in 2009 to try to repeal the Federal Defense of Marriage Act, the House got a bill together (HR 3567) that Inslee was not willing to cosponsor; it died, again, in House Judiciary.

Now here’s where I get a bit suspicious: a similar bill was introduced in the 112th Congress, on March 16, 2011, and of the 115 co-sponsors, virtually all signed on before April 6th. There are 5 who signed on later…including Congressman Inslee, who was one of two co-sponsors who all signed up on June 15th, which was just 12 days before his announcement.

The historical review complete, let’s talk about Monday.

I walked into the after-announcement “press availability” just in time to record this exchange:

REPORTER: “Congressman, would you address two social issues that are in the headlines these days? One, where do you stand on gay marriage, two, where do you stand on the legalization of marijuana?”

INSLEE: “Thanks for your easy question, sir, uh. Um, so I believe in marriage equality, and the reason I believe in that is that uh, I’ve been married for 38 years, and I fundamentally believe that no government, and no politician should deny any of my fellow Washingtonians the right to have what I have, which is a stable, committed, you know, meaningful relationship. So I’m gonna support, uh, the legalization of that equality in the State of Washington. And when we do that, uh, we will do it to make sure in a way that no religious organization doesn’t have the right to have their own definition for their own purposes, under their belief of spirituality. This is a situation where we can have both equality, which is a quintessential Washington value. And I said I love the State, one of the reasons I love the State of Washington is we have been leaders in equality in so many different ways; this is another place where I think Washington should lead.

Uh, marijuana, there are two things I know we should do for sure. Number one, we have got to get the intention of the voters of the State of Washington to be honored, which does allow the use of medical marijuana in the State of Washington…and right now, that intent of the voters is being frustrated by the Federal government, which is threatening the Federal–uh, State government any time you try to enforce the will of the people. So we need some changes to frankly, get the Federal government off our backs when it comes to the ability of Washingtonians to have access to medical marijuana.

Second, I believe that we should stop wasting so much of our resources in our criminal justice system associweated–associated with mari–marijuana, particularly personal use of marijuana. This is something that is really does not bring value or–or reduce significant levels of crime, and we need to reprioritize our law enforcement away from chasing folks who are involved in–in marijuana; we got enough problems in our criminal justice system, I’m aware of that, I guess in part because my daughter-in-law is a forensic scientist at the crime lab I’ve got a sense of the challenges. Law enforcement’s strapped; they got a lot of problems to deal with.

As far as total decriminalization, I’m not there yet at this moment. I’m a parent, I’m just not comfortable right now, uh, and that’s my position.”

OK, so that’s a pretty interesting story, and we could leave it right there – but there is one extra bonus to the thing that is so good, so deeply ironic…that you may remember the ending of this story long after you forget the lead:

I got a parking ticket, I did, attending the event, issued by a Parking Enforcement Officer with an amazingly appropriate name…and that ticket was issued to me for a violation that occurred one block over from Harrison Street in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood …which means I showed up to watch the leading Democratic contender for Governor in 2012 announce his candidacy…and when it was all over, Officer J. Hell had issued me a ticket on Republican Street.

And all that proves the truth of what I’m always saying:

Some days you don’t even have to write jokes.
You just have to harvest ‘em.