Rockefeller may seek lands post
June 9, 2008 · Updated 2:58 PM
"State Rep. Phil Rockefeller is considering a race for Washington state lands commissioner, instead of seeking re-election to his 23rd District house seat.Either way, the Bainbridge Island Democrat says, he doesn't support incumbent Land Commissioner Jennifer Belcher's recent hard-line stance against liveaboards in state waters.The lands commission option opened up last week, when Belcher, also a Democrat, announced unexpectedly that she will not seek a third term.To be honest with you, I'm leaning at this point towards seeking another term in the Legislature, Rockefeller told the Review Monday. But the lands commissioner deals with a lot of interesting and important issues, and when people tell me they think I might be right for the job, I'm flattered and am actively considering it.The state lands commissioner is in charge of some five million acres of Washington public lands, including forests, farmlands, commercial properties, shorelines and tidelands.Belcher recently launched a controversial effort to oust live-aboards from anchorages over state-owned lands, including the anchor-out community in Eagle Harbor - which Belcher has threatened to evict over the objections of the Bainbridge Island City Council.Rockefeller said he agrees with Belcher that in setting up households, liveaboards are not engaging in what state law would call a water-dependent use. But he differs with her in how to deal with present uses.The 1984 (state) law says that non-water-dependent uses shouldn't expand. That seems to say that existing uses are grandfathered, he said.Rockefeller thinks the best solution to the liveaboard dilemma is for the state to set certain broad parameters for such harbor uses, but defer to local authorities for specific regulations.He said regulatory authority could be delegated to local groups as the Bainbridge Island Harbor Commission, which has recommended that existing liveaboards be permitted in a defined area of Eagle Harbor. Rockefeller said fees should be charged for using state submerged lands, based on a fair-market-value.But he also endorsed the argument that anchor-out living is an affordable housing opportunity.If the liveaboard option provides affordable housing, then within that structure of fair market value, there could be rates within an area based on affordability, he said.Rockefeller said he expects to decide by the end of the week whether to seek the lands commission office, or to try for a second term representing the 23d District, which includes north Kitsap County, including Bainbridge Island, Poulsbo, Silverdale and Bremerton.If Rockefeller passes on the lands post, he said, his compromise position on the liveaboard issue may still come into play.The basic difference between my position and Belcher's is how we interpret a statute, he said. It's appropriate for the Legislature to pass a bill clarifying how a statute ought to be interpreted.In reviewing the past two legislative sessions, Rockefeller said he is particularly proud of his work on health insurance, particularly in helping to resurrect Kitsap Physicians Service from state receivership.In 1999, KPS was declared insolvent and went into receivership, with its operations taken over by the state insurance commission. At the same time, every insurer except KPS stopped offering individual insurance policies in Washington, leaving the financially shaky KPS as the only provider of individual insurance policies in Kitsap County.Republicans in the Legislature responded to the health insurers' abandoning of Washington by proposing what at first glance appeared to be pro-insurer measures, such as allowing outfits to reject applicants for health reasons, and extending the time in which insurers could refuse to pay for pre-existing conditions from three months to nine months.Rockefeller said he supported those measures, despite their unpopularity with many Democrats.The consumers have lost something, and rates will go up, he said. But pro-consumer laws are no help, if no carrier is willing to provide coverage under those laws.Insurers had argued that state laws forcing them to accept all applicants and to cover all diseases after only a three-month waiting period encouraged people to game the system by waiting until they were sick to apply for coverage, which then couldn't be denied. They specifically cited instances in which women would buy health insurance only after becoming pregnant, then drop coverage after delivering. If customers can drop in and out of coverage, the result is what Rockefeller called a death spiral for insurers. As premiums rise, the healthier people drop out, leaving the insurers with a sicker population, he said. That means the insurer's costs increase, which means premiums rise further. And even more people drop out.In addition to the legislative response to the general health insurance situation, Rockefeller was instrumental in resuscitating KPS.It didn't have enough premium income to pay claims, he said. So we had to persuade the state and the health-care providers to take IOUs for the money owed.The doctors weren't happy with that, of course. But I met with them, and explained that they really had two options. They could refuse, and file their claims against an insolvent organization. Or they could go along with the plan and hope to be repaid with interest in the future.The result, Rockefeller said, is that KPS is again a viable organization. He said premium dollars presently cover costs, and that the insurer has a chance to return to financial health.Rockefeller said he was also proud of the work he did on the house education committee. He supported competence tests for beginning teachers, and he backed measures to earmark a sum of money equal to lottery receipts for education. He also supported grants equalling $10 per student to enable schools to hire plainclothes security forces.It was the budget, though, that dominated the 2000 off-year session, particularly in light of Initiative 695 and the $1.5 billion hole it blew in the biennial budget.Under the circumstances, I think we did a reasonably good job of addressing the short-term issues before us, he said. We provided short-term operational funding. But we face an enormous challenge to come up with long-term funding, particularly for the transportation system, including the ferry system.Rockefeller took issue with some who have charged that the Legislature did nothing to reduce state spending.The budget assumes significant savings in a number of areas, particularly the Department of Health and Human Services, he said.Sometimes the Legislature said where they should cut, sometimes it just reduced budgets, he said. But we cut $100 million from existing programs.Rockefeller said his biggest frustration as a legislator is that he simply doesn't have the time to do what an ideal legislator would do.I made a point of doing a lot of reading, to really learn what the issues were in the floor debates and in my committee work, he said. But I had to give something up, and what I had to give up was answering all the emails I got from people.One lamentable tendency Rockefeller saw during his first legislative term is the desire of both the voters and many elected officials to have their cake and eat it too - that is, to receive benefits in the form of lower taxes or greater services without paying for them.But despite the frustrations, Rockefeller said legislative service has its joys. Citing his work to preserve KPS, to assist the school system and to shore up ferry service, he said, There are psychic rewards when you feel that you have made a difference."