Governor Jay Inslee likely made the most memorable veto of his political career during this 2018 legislative session, and for that we thank him.
It wasn’t quite two weeks ago when citizens, journalists and political watchdogs anxiously wondered whether Inslee would veto a bill legislators crafted to exclude themselves from the state Public Records Act.
It was a terrible piece of legislation pushed through without public hearings and approved by a veto-proof majority. Inslee had five days to decide if he was going to block the measure. If he didn’t, it would become law even without his signature.
What ensued between the time Senate Bill 6617 hit Inslee’s desk and the time he vetoed it was both amazing and encouraging.
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Immediately after the bill was introduced, journalists around the state cried foul. At least 12 newspapers — including the Tri-City Herald — ran front page editorials against the measure.
It was a rare move, but newspaper editors agreed the bill — and the process used to get it passed through both chambers — was so egregious we needed to give the issue prominent play.
This in itself was a history-making moment in Washington state. What happened next, however, was incredible.
Once people realized what their lawmakers had done, they were outraged. Thousands of citizens condemned the measure, tying up the governor’s phone lines and overloading his email account.
The governor’s staff (which we also thank) tallied more than 12,500 emails and 6,300 phone calls from people mostly opposed to the bill. In addition, about 100 letters came through the mail from citizens who felt compelled to convey their concerns in a handwritten letter.
Such response was heartening.
Low voter turnout in elections and little attendance at local government meetings might indicate people aren’t paying attention to what their elected leaders are doing.
But the reaction we saw on this particular issue proves people have more influence and more power than they realize.
Such a storm of condemnation was not easy to ignore. And yet, up until the final hours it was unclear what Inslee would do.
He had said earlier that he wouldn’t veto the measure if lawmakers had the votes to override it.
In the end, it turned out that lawmakers had a change of heart and sent letters to Inslee asking him to veto the measure. They said they realized they made a mistake.
We bet their constituents had something to do with that sudden realization.
On the other end of the debate, media groups agreed to a stay in the trial court, and pledged to try to work out their differences with lawmakers while a lawsuit over public disclosure is pending.
This volatile situation began when several Washington news organizations filed a lawsuit last September claiming state legislators should be held to the same disclosure laws as elected officials who serve on city councils and school boards.
In January, a Thurston County Superior Court judge agreed with the media.
Lawmakers balked, saying the ruling was unworkable. They also said they were concerned about protecting constituents’ privacy, so they set about creating a new public records law just for them.
But it went too far.
For example, people denied a document request could appeal only to a committee of other legislators. The bill forbade taking the issue to court.
In addition, legislators bypassed the traditional lawmaking path and avoided the public hearing process. The lack of transparency was appalling.
The public, in the end, didn’t let lawmakers get away with it. Thanks to their outcry and thanks to Inslee’s veto, this horrible bill didn’t become a horrible law.