This Washington

The Best Speech of the Week (That Wasn't About Gay Marriage)

By Josh Feit February 10, 2012

Rep. Maureen Walsh (R-16, Walla Walla) isn't the only one making quote-worthy speeches in the state house. Walsh, of course, gave the show stopping pro-gay marriage speech that went viral this week.

Rep. Bill Hinkle (R-13, Cle Elum) and Rep. Jeannie Darneille (D-27, Tacoma) also gave notable performances on the house floor this week, providing competing takes on the first revenue legislation of the session—a $10 real estate fee increase to help fund homelessness services. Republican Hinkle, speaking against the legislation, took the 1,000-points-of-light approach (take a homeless couple home with you for a day "that were stranded and needed a place to stay ... anyone ever done that before? ... I've done that") and Darneille, in favor, took the put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is approach, arguing that the state should fund these services in an organized way.

The bill, sponsored by Seattle Democrat Rep. Phyllis Gutierrez Kenney (D-46), passed last night largely along party lines, 55-42, with three Republicans crossing over and supporting it: Reps. Katrina Asay, Bruce Dammeier, and Hans Zeiger. The bill bolsters funding for low-income housing services by increasing a real estate transaction fee from $30 to $40. It's expected to raise about $25 million this biennium and $75 million next biennium; and it comes with a 2017 sunset provision.[pullquote]"If any of us are to leave this body today purposefully wishing people to be homeless, wishing people to live in cars, then wake up ... We do believe that we can help the poor and we believe it's partly our responsibility to do that."—Rep. Jeannie Darneille[/pullquote]

Those who testified for the bill in committee noted that of the 23,000 homeless people in Washington State, 6,500 live in cars or abandoned buildings.

Rep. Hinkle denounced "these let's-help-the-poor things" which are "the greatest policy failure in America ... creating an entitlement mentality among the poor."

In particular, he had no sympathy for people living in cars: "This sterile, institutional giving ... has killed this country. This constant dreaming up ways to give stuff away to have this compassion for people that are living in a car.  You know what? Sometimes that's not a bad thing. You live in a car a couple of days, guess what? You're going to be bound and determined not to do it. You might think twice about cutting off your relatives or cutting off your friends. You might even think about going to a place of worship. You might start building some social ties that actually help."

You could hear Rep. Darneille's chair slam into the desk behind her as she stood up to respond. Darneille, who directed a women's homeless shelter in Burien, told a heart-wrenching story about a woman who was thrown out of her house by her daughter's boyfriend (he tossed her purse, which turned out to be empty, after her.)

She continued:
I have a school in my district, Mr. Speaker, where 25 percent of the kids in that school are in families that are homeless. I'd venture to say some of them spent more than a couple of nights in a car. These are kids who've told me personally that it's hard to study for your classes when the light in your car doesn't work.

I'll tell you what people are entitled to. People are entitled to dignity and respect. If any of us are to leave this body today purposefully wishing people to be homeless, wishing people to live in cars, then wake up ... This is not the way children should live in our society. It's not the way we should demonstrate our respect for the people who live in our state, the people who are affected by the policies we make, the people who are affected by unemployment, by broken relationships, by mental illness. Mr Speaker, we are not those kind of people. We are people who are compassionate. We do believe that we can help the poor and we believe it's partly our responsibility to do that.

Editorializing here, but Darneille won the debate---and not just because of what she said, but because of what Hinkle said. Listen:

Hinkle said: "What are we doing? What are we doing personally? It starts ... with our civic organizations in our communities. How many of you are involved in civic organizations? Many people here [are]. You know why? We're here because we really do care about the public. We're here to serve."

Exactly. Individual acts of kindness and compassion are noble, but it's getting involved in civic organizations that gets the job done. And guess what? They need funding.

Watch Hinkle v. Darneille here, starting at 1:05:50:



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