Oh what a final night as Blake fix fails and a GOP leader exits

Here’s what’s happening after adjournment of the 2023 session of the Washington Legislature.

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2023 Washington Legislature, Post-Sine Die Edition

Everett Herald political reporter Jerry Cornfield: jcornfield@heraldnet.com | @dospueblos

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OLYMPIA, April 24, 2023 — Another session is in the books. And an on-time finish too.

Did you catch any of Sunday’s wild finish? Quite a surprise, right?

Majority Democrats had motored through 104 days, making the most of the first full in-person session since 2020 by completing pretty much every major piece of policy on their to-do list.

Until the last hours of Day 105 when the Blake bill diagramming a state strategy for dealing with illegal drug possession went kaput.

Democrats had stitched together a compromise. Apparently not tight enough as the measure, Senate Bill 5536, died in the House at the hands of 15 progressive Democrats and the 40-member Republican caucus.

Progressives didn’t like the penalty, a gross misdemeanor, which they deemed too harsh.

“Criminalizing drug use has not worked,” said Democratic Rep. Emily Alvarado. “We don’t have to hurt people to help people.”

Republicans didn’t like language on preemptions and diversions. They voiced deep concern it failed to ensure people complete required treatment before getting charges dismissed.

“This is more dangerous than doing nothing,” declared Republican Rep. Peter Abbarno.

Supporters said inaction would lead to a patchwork of local laws and legalization.

“I believe a ‘no’ vote on this conference report is a vote to legalize drugs on July 1,” Democratic Rep. April Berg said. “Chaos will ensue if local governments are allowed to make their own drug use policies city by city, block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood.”

Afterwards Gov. Jay Inslee said he wants something from lawmakers before July 1. That’s when existing state law making drug possession a misdemeanor disappears. He’ll call a special session to get ‘er done.

At the moment there is no path to 50 votes — even if they are all Democrats — to get it done. And it’s too soon for conversations to begin.

Wilcox bids adieu as caucus leader

All the hubbub about Blake overshadowed House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox’s news he’s giving up the leadership baton.

In his tenure, Wilcox dealt with the effects of a pandemic, the headwinds of a president named Trump, and internal strife incited by a few strong personalities. The GOP caucus is a pretty solid bunch this year. It’s also smaller after the 2022 election. Winning seats is a job requisite.

“Today is the right time for me to end my time as Leader of the House Republicans,” he wrote to colleagues. “I believe it’s also time for generational change in our politics in a broader sense. Experience is valuable in government, but it also has a shelf life. This is also a partisan job and I’ve said in the past that if my leadership didn’t result in better results and a more balanced Legislature for our state then it was time for a change. That time is now.

Deputy Floor Leader Joel Kretz is ready to relinquish his leadership seat too, Wilcox said. Keep watch for news on when the caucus will elect new leaders.


Friends, this is the last edition of the Cornfield Report for the 2023 session.

I want to conclude with a Point of Personal Privilege to thank Mike Henneke, Jody Chatalas, Eric Schucht and Kate Erickson, the Fab Four colleagues who worked behind the scene editing, posting, and distributing each report.

Thanks to all of you for giving it a read. Be safe. Enjoy the interim.

To subscribe to the Cornfield Report, go to www.heraldnet.com/newsletters. | Previous Cornfield Reports here.

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