For those of us living in the 31st District, Town Halls offer an important way to connect with our state legislators. Republican, Democrat, Independent or unaffiliated, it is critical in this day and age that we reach out to our representatives at all levels and ensure that our voices are being heard. For Democrats, Town Halls are critical.
On Saturday, March 11, Senator Phil Fortunato and Representatives Drew Stokesbary and Morgan Irwin hosted Town Hall meetings at different locations within our district. At the Edgewood location, where Senator Fortunato and Representative Irwin were the speakers present, there were unfortunately few Democrats in attendance.
Roughly twenty citizens attended the meeting, more than half of which were likely supporters of the current Republican agenda at the state and federal level. So why did more Democrats need to be there? Not for the reasons you would think.
Our national news is filled with coverage of Town Halls hosted by Republican Congressional Representatives. These meetings are boisterous, loud, and impassioned. And they need to be. But is this passion, this pressure to focus on the federal level lending to a lack of attendance at the local level? Are we winning battles but losing wars?
These are all questions that came to mind on March 11 as we discussed what is happening in Olympia. We got to hear about a number of House and Senate Bills aimed at education, transit, and public safety. Senator Fortunato spoke about Senate Bill 5001 which modifies how transit board members are elected. This bill has already passed the Senate and is currently in Committee in the House. Representative Irwin discussed House Bill 1457 which would create a “tax holiday” for families shopping for certain school supply items in the summer. This bill is currently in Committee in the House.
Both also discussed the Education Equality Act, Senate Bill 5607, which sets a per-child funding amount for K-12 education. It also caps levy collection to the same local property-tax rate for all school districts. This Bill has passed the Senate and is now in Committee in the House. During this discussion, both Fortunato and Irwin felt strongly that this legislation would pass the House and succeed in completely change how education is funded in Washington state.
There was some dialogue but that was kept to a minimum. Critical questions didn’t receive constructive answers, and for the most part discussion was discouraged. Overall, for a Democrat, it didn’t feel very effective. In fact, it would be easy to leave feeling defeated. The same feeling many of us get as we switch on or scroll through the news day after day.
So why attend?
We must attend local meetings, local Town Halls, because we must be present. We must be counted. We must reach out to representatives at all levels – local, state and federal. And not just at meetings surrounded by peers. We must engage with those we don’t agree with. We have to show up, engage, and most of all listen.
We do not learn from engaging only with representatives that we agree with – and we certainly won’t learn how to overcome potentially damaging legislation if we don’t start listening to and meeting with those promoting it. If we truly want to represent the voters, we must create bipartisan partnerships with voters and representatives alike. We are losing battles and we are losing wars. It’s time to engage. Let’s start at the ground level.