To the editor:
We now have a “blue wall” of Democratic controlled state governments up and down the West Coast. Unfortunately, this is making legislators less responsive to the public, especially here in Washington state.
Last Friday, for example, the state Legislature, including all three representatives from the 23rd District, voted overwhelming to retroactively exempt themselves from the state records act. Those records would have shown us who they were meeting and corresponding with.
That vote came in response to a Jan. 19 decision by a Thurston County Superior Court that legislators, just like every other official in the state, are subject to the Public Records Act. That lawsuit was brought by a coalition of media groups that included the Seattle Times, the Spokane Spokesman Review, the Tacoma Tribune, KING TV and KIRO 7.
Right after that January decision, I wrote our local legislators — Senator Christine Rolfes and Representatives Drew Hansen and Sherry Appleton — asking whether they would support the legislature’s appeal of this ruling. Only Rolfes wrote back (in the affirmative), even after follow-up phone calls to Hansen and Appleton’s offices. This wasn’t the first time I’d found Appleton unresponsive to constituents. About 10 years ago I moderated a candidates’ debate at the American Legion Hall and Appleton arrived 15 minutes late. She didn’t apologize to the audience for doing so, and asked for five minutes of time to introduce herself, even though the debate was already long underway.
Our electoral system serves to entrench these incumbents. First, the primary is held in mid August when few people are paying attention to politics and many are away on vacation. Second, our two-party general elections guaranty a spot on the ballot for candidates from both major parties, regardless of how viable they are. For many Democratic voters in this overwhelmingly Democratic district, there is often no real choice in the general election.
Two changes could improve this system. The first is moving the primary to before school lets out, when most voters are still here. The second is a “Top Two” primary like California’s, in which the top candidates advance regardless of party. That would create more viable choices for voters from both parties, and perhaps lead to more openness and consensus in Olympia.