Today's High Point Community Center meeting with Seattle's 34th-district legislators, Sen. Joe McDermott and Reps. Eileen Cody and Sharon Nelson, featured some of the Great Recession anger that we've come to expect at town halls these days. Interestingly, for this Democratic stronghold (the 34th is West Seattle, Burien, Vashon, and Maury Islands), where I-960 lost 67 to 33, most of the anger was about the legislature's recent votes in the House and Senate to suspend the Tim Eyman measure.



State Sen. Joe McDermott at today's 34th District Town Hall in West Seattle

One audience member framed the I-960 debate when he said the suspension of 960 is, "an affront to the people. Don't insult our intelligence by undoing initiatives that are inconvenient for you." He also said if the legislators dislike initiatives so much, they should just "take away the tool." Though they provided answers about the necessity to act quickly in closing tax loopholes and potentially introducing new taxes (and were clear to point out that 960 lost 67 to 33 in their district), the legislators focused heavily on the flaws of initiative process itself in response to the questions.

"The initiative process has been corrupted," Rep. Cody said. "I don't think you should have paid signature gatherers."

Sen. McDermott followed by explaining a bill he introduced that would attempt to deal with that very issue. It is unconstitutional to outright ban the practice of paying people to gather signatures for initiatives, but Sen. McDermott's bill would require signature gathers to register (much like lobbyists do) for the sake of transparency. (His bill has been opposed by some strange bedfellows–conservative initiative activist Tim Eyman and the ACLU.)

But mostly, today's  two-hour meeting—where a crowd of 50 or so constituents munched on baked goods and sipped Starbucks coffee while the legislators gave a brief overview of the legislative session so far—sparked far more substantive questions and debate over jobs and, in particular, education reform than 960 rants.

The education reform conversation began with an audience question about Washington's efforts to procure Race To The Top (RTTT) funding, particularly in regards to student and teacher evaluation.

As Josh Feit reported, the senate ed reform bill is currently being debated in the House where, according to some education advocates, amendments are needed to strengthen the state's proposals for those student and teacher evaluations. Rep. Nelson said southeast King County Rep. Pat Sullivan (D-47) is taking a strong lead on education reform in the House, but there's no indication yet he will introduce amendments to the Senate bill. (In fact, Josh F. asked Sullivan this week if he planned on introducing the amendments and Sullivan said he did not.)

A Seattle woman added a teacher's perspective to the conversation. She said that she and some of her colleagues refer to RTTT as "Race To The Bottom" because it would dumb down math standards in Washington. According to her, RTTT would relax Washington's already strong math standards; evidence for being wary of pursuing the national competition.

A common concern posed in the discussion of Washington's eligibility for RTTT funding has been the state's ban on charter schools (though, having charters only accounts for 55 of a potential 500 points, so it may not be as make-or-break an issue as it might seem). Sen. McDermott addressed this issue saying that though voter referendums have overturned bills three times that would have allowed charter schools, Washington does have magnet schools which will help in that category.

In addition to education, audience members raised concerns about jobs and the economy. A representative from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers asked what the legislators are doing to help the hundreds of IBEW members out of work right now.

Rep. Nelson said they're working to extend unemployment benefits and establish part-time benefits. According to Rep. Nelson, Lakewood Rep. Tami Green (D-28) is taking the lead on the bill, balancing the needs of Washington's unemployed with the cost to employers. (A similar bill failed last year when Green's version was torpedoed by the Senate when concerns about cost to employers won out.)