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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Larry Hart: A ray of light amid the gloom

Larry Hart

For one brief, shining moment – well, it wasn’t Camelot, but in Washington state in 2014 – there was a break in the decadelong control of the state Senate by the Democrats. And, if truth be told, the Republicans only clung to their one-vote majority in the 2016 election because a nominal Democrat, Tim Sheldon, caucused with the Republicans and was elected president pro tem of the Senate. (The House of Representatives has not seen a Republican majority this century.)

Nevertheless, the 2017 session saw a number of bills that had not (and probably will not in the foreseeable future) see the light of day. Lawmakers passed bills allowing religious exemptions to compulsory unionism, reforming of the eminent domain law, and forcing government agencies to practice zero-based budgeting to justify their programs.

But in the 2018 election, that short-lived burst of conservative thought was extinguished when the Democrats gained a nine-vote majority. That, plus the governorship of short-lived presidential candidate Jay Inslee, gives the Democrats the trifecta, so-named when one political party controls both houses of the Legislature and the governor’s office.

The subsequent votes in the 2019 session read like a laundry list of the left’s determination for government to run people’s lives. From banning plastic straws to a new entitlement program subsidizing college tuition to expanding employer mandates to confiscating firearms, Washington state has turned deep blue.

If there is a ray of light for freedom in all this gloom, it is the consistently stronger response from Republican state lawmakers over the last three years.

In 2017, despite being in the majority (or perhaps because of it), Republicans of the Senate as a whole scored an average of only 67% in the Ratings of Washington by the American Conservative Union Foundation (ACUF). The 80% mark is the minimum score necessary to claim an award for a conservative voting record from the government accountability group.

In 2018, the Republican average climbed slightly to 72%. But falling into a 29-20 minority in the just-released ratings for the 2019 session saw the Republican average in the state Senate jump to 81% (the House Republicans showed similar improvement, their average rising from 73% in 2018 to 82% in 2019).

ACUF Chairman Matt Schlapp noted this in his statement when the 2019 ratings were released, noting that while “Washington state Democrats embraced opportunities to push the state even further toward California-style socialism, conservative lawmakers fought to the hilt to defend Washingtonians and their constitutionally protected right to govern themselves.”

Typifying this trend is Phil Fortunato, who hails from Auburn in southeast King County, and is now a candidate for governor. Fortunato has followed this conservative trend, rating a lowly 60% in 2017, rising to 74% the following year, and reaching 82% in 2019. Fortunato’s support for renewable energy subsidies counted heavily against him in 2017 along with his support for creating a new state bureaucracy. In 2019, by contrast, Fortunato voted with the conservative position for 33 of 39 roll call votes, included in 2019 ratings. Those conservative votes included the California copycat law for a zero emission mandate, a new entitlement for college tuition subsidies, firearm confiscations, and price hikes for household appliances through a ban on products that don’t meet the left’s extreme energy efficiency standards.

It will be up to the newly minted conservatives in the Legislature to carry their message to the electorate in November to regain the majority (along with a new governor) and put these ideas into action.

Larry Hart is a senior policy fellow with the American Conservative Union Foundation’s Center for Legislative Accountability.

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