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Senate’s idea man embraces the chaos


Sen. Ken Jacobsen has introduced five times the average number of bills for other lawmakers this year. 
 (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Sen. Ken Jacobsen has introduced five times the average number of bills for other lawmakers this year. (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)

OLYMPIA – Sen. Ken Jacobsen has ideas. A lot of them.

The Seattle Democrat has introduced 99 bills since the legislative session started in January, more than any other senator or representative in Olympia. Among them: Senate Bill 5064, designating the Garry oak as the state oak tree; SB 5015, designating the state ornithologist; SB 8401, naming a state poet laureate; and perhaps his most popular, SB 5484, allowing dogs in bars.

Jacobsen doesn’t own a dog, but that’s not the point. The bills all serve a purpose, he told the Seattle Times, even if most of them die.

“I’m into the theory of chaos. And in the theory of chaos, if this particle exists and this one comes into existence and this one doesn’t know that one exists? It still affects the behavior of that one,” he said, moving his hands around as if they were giant particles.

In other words, Jacobsen believes his legislation creates discussion that can affect the outcome of an issue, even if it takes years for the Legislature to act.

But to some other lawmakers, including Republican Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, many of Jacobsen’s bills are a waste of time.

“It costs money. It takes a lot of staff time to do these things. The amount of paperwork we create around here is incredible,” Hewitt said.

Jacobsen, 61, and one of the longest-serving state legislators, has introduced five times the average number of bills for other lawmakers this year. His district, the 46th, covers parts of Seattle including Greenwood, Northgate and Lake City, and is a safe seat. He’s won at least 80 percent of the vote in his past five elections. Introducing bills is his job, he says.

“You get elected to legislate and introduce bills,” he said. “What are you here for, to sit?”

Jacobsen was first elected to the House in 1983 and the Senate in 1998. He sometimes has the look of an absent-minded professor, but former state Democratic Party chairman Paul Berendt said it would be a mistake to underestimate him. He knows his district well and knows how to get things done in Olympia.

Most of his legislation deals with issues such as education, transportation and the environment. He wants to increase funding for community traumatic brain injury services, for example, and expand a program that helps veterans, the Times noted in its profile of him.

In the last two years, 19 bills he sponsored were signed into law. His offbeat bills fill a need, he says.

“I think dogs have a lot to offer,” he says of the dogs-in-bars bill. “I think they actually take tensions out of situations. We’ve been together for 10,000 years now. We’ve co-evolved. They understand us and we understand them … . I’m just thinking, what the heck?”

Another of his bills would require companies to pay for roomier airline seats when they fly employees long distances.

“I got to thinking about the fact my employer has to supply me with an ergonomically sound chair,” he said. “But if they ask me to go to Washington, D.C., they can stuff me in the back of the airplane. And I’m doing what they want. … I see it as a health risk.”

Christian Sinderman, a Democratic consultant, remembers meeting one of Jacobsen’s constituents at a bar. The man said Jacobsen once came by his house, rang the doorbell to introduce himself and wound up coming in to watch the Mariners game.

“He’s a bona fide eccentric, but one who has made a point of reaching out to his constituents and forming a relationship with them,” Sinderman said.

 

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