2011 started with news of a devastating $5 billion state budget shortfall and a legislative session in Olympia that went into overtime through the end of May leading to $4.5 billion in cuts.

Six months later, as the recession continues to hit the economy, state legislators—facing another $1.5 billion shortfall—have been called back to Olympia to end the year right where they started it with another round of overtime: A special legislative session to make more cuts. Governor Chris Gregoire is now recommending $2 billion in additional cuts.

It’s scary out there—and as legislators look at cutting health programs, public safety officers, environmental programs, and education— there doesn’t seem to be much to be thankful for politically. Making a Sophie’s Choice between ending assistance for low-income pregnant women and assistance for at-risk youth doesn’t fall into the politics-of-hope category.

Looking to find something to be happy about in a year that seemed to offer little more than a repeating loop of grim political choices, we asked Cola readers to point us to political developments from the past year that give them hope. (It was a Thanksgiving holiday assignment, but responses are still coming in.)


State Sen. Joe Zarelli (R-18, Ridgefield) is the ranking Republican on the senate ways and means committee who won praise earlier this year for engaging the majority Democrats to reach a budget deal. Here’s his answer to our Thanksgiving assignment—Eds.

I understand how the lawmaking process can get bogged down, but still, what’s coming out of the “other Washington” these days is almost depressing. The two sides seem to be more entrenched than ever with little reason to hope that will change anytime soon.[pullquote]As far as I can tell, the level of trust and cooperation and spirit of bipartisanship that seems missing when it’s crunch time in Washington, D.C. is still present in our state Senate. And that gives me hope.[/pullquote]

Then I look at our state Senate. It would have been easy earlier this year for my Democrat and Republican colleagues to dig in and put politics ahead of policies in the course of hammering out a new state budget. Instead, we chose to try a new approach: Agree on some basic principles, negotiate in good faith and hope that enough common ground could be found to let us come out on the other end with a plan that made sense given the circumstances we faced. Over time a philosophical majority emerged to pass the most responsible budget I’d seen in 16 years as a senator, all things considered. Compare that to the disappointing outcome of the so-called “supercommittee” in Congress.

True, the state budget is in trouble now due largely to forces beyond our control. But things would be worse had we not, for the first time in 14 years, kept its spending level below the level of revenue anticipated at the time. It won’t be easy to re-balance the budget regardless of whether new revenue is put on the table. But as far as I can tell, the level of trust and cooperation and spirit of bipartisanship that seems missing when it’s crunch time in Washington, D.C. is still present in our state Senate. And that gives me hope.

For more posts in our Holiday series start here.