The legislature made a very bad decision last week when 83 members of the House and 47 members of the Senate voted to pass ESB 6617, a bill that would reject a court’s ruling that the legislature is subject to state law requiring government agencies to allow public access to their records.
ESB 6617 was rammed through at high-speed and with a spirit of unity that we don’t often see in Olympia. But even as lawmakers were high-fiving in the wings, a critical response came booming from every corner of the media.
Notwithstanding some very odd attempts to defend the bill, including a meandering and somewhat incoherent explanation by newly minted state Senator Manka Dhingra of the 45th legislative district, outrage over the legislature’s attempt to maintain a tight grip on public records continued to build.
The 12 largest daily newspapers across the state have each published front-page editorials condemning the legislature’s bill and urging (or, in many cases, demanding) that Inslee veto the measure. Television and radio news hosts have aired commentaries and asked viewers to call the governor’s office.
Attorney General Bob Ferguson, the state’s top legal authority, told the Seattle Times in plain language that Inslee should send the entire bill back to the House and Senate.
And former attorney general Rob McKenna on his blog also issued a harsh rebuke to the legislature for a process that “was improper and showed contempt, unintentionally or not.”
And then there are the voices who really do speak loudest—those of the people. As of Thursday afternoon, Inslee’s office reported that it had received nearly 17,000 calls, emails, on the subject most of which asked for a veto.
Nevertheless, as of Thursday afternoon, voters are still waiting for Inslee to step out and inform the public of what action he will take, if any.
To veto, he would humbly admit that a statement he gave to MSNBC’s Chris Hayes that he has no authority to act was wrong.
If Inslee hesitates and allows the bill to become law, then his answer to Hayes that he “can’t [veto], unfortunately, because they have a veto-proof majority, unfortunately, so I don’t have control at this moment” will come back to haunt him when he runs for his next office because it hints at an unwillingness to lead.
Q: “So you’re going to veto it?”
A: “Well, I can’t, unfortunately, because they have a veto-proof majority, unfortunately, so I don’t have control at this moment.” pic.twitter.com/xUd5Hstnzq
— Mike Baker (@ByMikeBaker) February 27, 2018
It will haunt him first because he is wrong and because perpetuating the misleading idea of a “veto-proof majority” under which the governor has no power will be remembered as a dodge – a vain effort to avoid having to lead. We know it’s a dodge because, as others have noted, these terrifyingly impenetrable veto-proof majorities in the past didn’t stopped Inslee when the cause is something he truly cares about.
When last year Inslee deleted business and occupation tax relief out of a budget that had been negotiated by the legislature – passed by a so-called veto-proof majority – Inslee felt the courage surging through his veins. But on the issue of open and transparent government he publicly frets but has no muscle in right hand to perform the simple task of scribbling his name on the veto line and saying to the lawmakers, “No, this is bad law. Do it again.”
That’s why it probably won’t be the need to support the principle of open government that convinces Inslee to veto. It will be his own political ambitions that pull him over the line.
We hear that Inslee wants to be president someday. Presidential voters are known to vote without reason sometimes, cleaving to a candidate because of a connection made in moments that offer insight into the candidate’s character. This is Inslee’s moment and he is dawdling, dodging, and dithering it away.
But there is still time. He has until midnight Thursday to make up his mind.