Three-fourths of those on hand said this was the first time they attended a town hall meeting. Photo by Joe Veyera
Three-fourths of those on hand said this was the first time they attended a town hall meeting. Photo by Joe Veyera

As hundreds filed in to the Ballard High School library on Sunday afternoon to hear from the members of the 36th Legislative District delegation, Sen. Reuven Carlyle greeted those on hand with a simple, six-word phrase. 

“This is what democracy looks like.”

Carlyle, along with Reps. Gael Tarleton and Noel Frame, hosted a town hall meeting that drew a far larger audience than similar events in the past. The turnout of more than 300 people — three-fourths of whom said they were first-time attendees — was not lost on the trio.

“Our legislative district, our part of this community is the most engaged, educated, passionate, participatory legislative district in the state of Washington,” Carlyle said. 

The meeting covered a broad array of issues that the legislators have worked on in the first weeks of the session, which began on Jan. 9. 

At the forefront of discussion was funding basic education and fully complying with the McCleary ruling by the state Supreme Court. 

Carlyle said while the funding plan released by the Republican-led Majority Coalition Caucus last week allows for dialogue now that there’s a plan on the table, the proposed state property tax levy would mean a nearly $500 increase for Seattle homeowners, while Seattle Public Schools would receive just $2.3 million more in total funding. 

“It’s the biggest sweep of resources imaginable,” Carlyle said. 

Gov. Jay Inslee’s proposal, meanwhile, would raise new revenue in the form of capital gains and carbon emissions taxes, along with an increase to the business and occupation tax for service businesses. 

By Feb. 28, Seattle Public Schools is required by contract to send out notifications to instructors regarding employment for the next school year, making the looming “levy cliff” another key part of the education funding debate. When asked what could happen if that issue is not addressed, Carlyle ruled nothing out. 

“If they send us over the cliff,” Carlyle said, “everything’s on the table.” 

Also discussed at length was how those on hand could make an impact on policy and decisions both in Olympia and Washington, D.C., with both Tarleton and Frame emphasizing the need for constituents to speak out.

“We have to practice the art of making our voice heard again,” Tarleton said. 

Frame said actions like protesting are an important part of the system, and that it’s important for people to engage on issues that impact everyone. 

“We need to focus on the things we have in common, and that unify us,” Frame said, noting that issues like education funding matter to the entire state. 

The term, “relationship capital” was repeated by Carlyle several times, as he encouraged people to leverage their connections with their employers and organizations to advocate on certain issues.

“Having your organizations step up to a public engagement in funding public education is incredibly important,” he said. 

He also asked attendees to pick an organization that touches their policy passions and interests, and engage in their work. 

Electoral reform was mentioned by Frame, along with the need to encourage young people to get involved in democracy. She encouraged constituents to hold Secretary of State Kim Wyman accountable for campaign promises, and praised King County Elections Director Julie Wise for testing pre-paid postage for special elections in February. 

Frame also mentioned the need for automatic voter registration, and that a bill has been introduced for same-day registration. The fact that more than 1 million Washingtonians are eligible to vote but not registered is a “travesty,” she said. 

Tarleton also cited the importance of the legislature reaffirming the commitment to laws currently on the books in light of the executive orders coming out of the nation’s capital. She specifically mentioned that as part of the Patriot Act, the legislature and governor of a state must consent before the Department of Homeland Security is able to deputize state and local law enforcement officers for federal actions.

“For 12 years, Washington state has said, ‘hell no,’” she said. 

Tax reform was briefly discussed, with Carlyle mentioning how Washington has slid down the list of states when it comes to combined tax burden, from 11th in 1995, down to 35th. While he said it wasn’t a matter of which approach is the right one, it does raise a larger issue 

“We have to ask a deeper question,” he said. “Are we meeting the needs of our 7 million people?”

The legislators also took stances on a number of other topics in a rapid fire round of questioning at the end of the meeting. 

Tarleton expressed concern for the future of public lands in the face of potential executive orders, which included potentially attempting to sell off access to mining rights underneath national parks. 

“We have to secure at this state every single law that we have in place to ensure no public lands can be sold for private benefit without a vote of the people,” Tarleton said. 

Frame discussed efforts to establish paid family leave, noting that there’s progress with both sides of the aisle forwarding separate efforts, and said that the much-maligned “bathroom bill” efforts would go nowhere this session, calling it a “big fat scam” to discriminate against members of the transgender community. 

The heavily debated proposal to establish safe injection sites in King County was also addressed, with Carlyle saying he has not taken a stance in either direction on the merits of the proposal while he continues to learn more. However, he said he would “fight vigorously” against efforts to preempt city and county governments to establish such programs. He also said the delegation is “categorically, unequivocally opposed” to efforts to require a parent or guardian be notified before minors can get an abortion. 

At the end of the 90-minute session, all three legislators again encouraged those in attendance to remain engaged. Frame mentioned that night’s rally at Westlake Park to support immigrants, while Tarleton advocated for people to continue expressing their concerns. 

“Stand up,” she said. “Speak up.” 

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