On February 23rd, I got my first in-person lesson in the great political game.
I went down to Olympia to support CarbonWA’s carbon tax initiative, which has resulted in house bill 732. The bill is based on a ballot measure that CarbonWA was able to get onto the October ballot by collecting over 300,000 signature of Washington voters. The legislature has three options. One, do nothing, and let the voters vote on 732 in October. Two, vote on 732 and pass it in the legislative session. Or three, craft an alternative bill 732-b to placed next to 732 on the October ballot.
Over the course of a morning, I met with one senator, Kevin Ranker of the 40th legislative district, one representative, Jim Moeller of the 49th legislative district and one legislative assistant, Kendra Coburn, legislative assistant to representative Eileen Cody of the 34th district. As an admission, I live in the 43rd Legislative district.
Arriving before many of the other lobbyist for the day, my first two meetings were taken with Duncan Clauson, an organizer for CarbonWa, where we were filled in for other scheduled meetings where the original supporter had not arrived to attend. It was a bit of a fire drill, but yielded some interesting results.
Our first meeting was with Kendra Coburn, legislative assistant to representative Eileen Cody. She had a strong grasp of the subject, but was primarily concerned with the potential revenue-negative elements of the bill. The main takeaway from this meeting was that, although Representative Cody is generally supportive of the legislation’s intent, she does not like its revenue structure. Primarily, her take is that Washington will eventual pass a carbon regulating bill of some nature, and when we do, she wants it to be a cash cow for other public goods, not a revenue neutral bill that may even tilt negative. It was a classic example of letting great be the enemy of good, wanting two wins for the price of one.
Our second meeting was with Senator Kevin Rankers, and was the most interesting of the day. Senator Rankers was easily the most knowledgeable on the subject, and had a strong personal interest in the legislation. Unfortunately, he did not like its chances for success in the legislature. While he applauded the efforts of carbonWA taking action and forcing a decision on the topic, and was generally dismissive of the efforts of the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy, a competing organization that has more backing but has failed to galvanize around an idea, he claimed that the current version of i-732 was dead in the water in the senate. This is due to the results of a budget analysis done by the state, which places the revenue impact of the legislation at negative $675 million over four years. Keven was very passionate, believing that if a climate change bill did not pass or get voted in October, the electorate would not have the enthusiasm to vote on a climate change initiative for several years. He ended the meeting by raising the hope for a I-732b, which he said he may even sponsor.
As a last stop, I joined two other CarbonWA staff in lobbying Jim Moeller. While he enthusiastically supported the bill, it was obvious that he did not know much about it, and was not looped in on the controversy surrounding the states revenue estimate. Given our prior meetings where we primarily defended the initiative against different attacks, whether from a lack of revenue generation or from an imperiled budget analysis, we were at a bit of a loss for words with Representative Moeller, not wanting to create an issue that did not exist.
Overall, spending four hours in Olympia and meeting with a representative, a senator, and an aid, I was pleasantly surprised by the openness and accessibility of our government. That said, I was also a bit disappointed, as each of the three members I talked with were intent on making the carbon tax initiate bigger than it needed to be, and in the process potential imperiling its success. In the end, the climate initiative is a distinct issue, and should be treated as one, not as a grab bag of legislative possibility to tie other agenda to.