Let’s give a warm welcome back to the Cappy.
That’s right. After a multi-year hiatus, the award dreamed up by myself in a fit of post-legislative session angst is returning as we look to honor feats and follies in the 2016 legislative session.
The Cappy, a wholly imaginary award with its own wholly imaginary statuette, is given to very real lawmakers for achievements ranging from the masterful to the mind-blowing — and I mean that in the most Donald Trump kind of way.
The 60-day regular session — which is now extended into a special session — provided plenty of performances to consider as lawmakers debated charter schools, public bathrooms and inmate releases. One chamber fired a top government leader; the other forced a member to quit.
Just a reminder that Cappy is shorthand for Capitol, the site where lawmakers conduct their business. And I alone decide the awards and determine the winners. Thus only I can be thanked or, in the alternative, be the target of retribution in an enraged voicemail, snarky tweet or old-fashioned cold shoulder.
So, while we can’t bid adieu to the Legislature quite yet, I can still hand out awards right now.
Who Let the Cons Out?
For years, the gates of freedom opened too soon for hundreds of inmates in Washington prisons. Two of those released early by mistake are now accused of killing someone when they should have still been behind bars. It is a mess. It will be costly. Though some in the Department of Corrections became aware of the problem in 2012, the mistaken releases continued until last December. An independent investigation ordered by the governor fingered mostly mid-level bureaucrats for not fixing the error sooner. It’s led to resignations, demotions and letters of reprimand. Meanwhile, Republican senators think the investigators hired by the guv did a less-than-sterling job. On behalf of the Senate, they hired a lawyer to conduct a separate inquiry. No word when its findings will be public.
Lynn Peterson served as Washington’s Secretary of Transportation for three years. Then, on Friday Feb. 5 she was gone. Republican senators and one Democratic ally united to fire this senior member of Gov. Jay Inslee’s. It was a stunning maneuver as no governor had lost such a high-ranking appointee in decades. GOP senators blamed her for festering problems in the state’s transportation system and decided to exercise accountability. Democrats called it a political execution in broad daylight. It left many Inslee appointees looking over their shoulders the rest of the session.
Rebel With A Cause
Rep. June Robinson of Everett is the gutsy recipient of this award. The Democratic lawmaker is the leader of an insurgent movement striving to rewrite terms of the state’s massive tax break to the Boeing Co. That 2013 deal helped convince the company to build its next generation jetliner in Robinson’s community – which makes her effort very politically risky. Unconcerned, she drafted two bills this session to pare back the tax break, but both failed. As many aerospace workers cheer her on, civic leaders around Everett worry about potential long-term effects of her activism. This battle has only begun.
Highway to Hell
Rep. Mark Harmsworth of Mill Creek stood out as the first lawmaker to sing the woes of travelers on the I-405 express toll lanes between Bellevue and Lynnwood. And the freshman Republican followed up that hit with a call for letting everyone use the lanes for free on nights and weekends. Now, the chorus of frustrated lawmakers is growing and it seems every Puget Sound lawmaker desires to open up those lanes. What will his next hit be?
Hall Monitor Award
Republican Sen. Doug Ericksen of Ferndale is the deserving winner for his efforts to tell transgender adults which public bathroom they can use. He authored a bill to repeal the state rule allowing transgender adults to use public bathrooms and locker rooms of the gender with which they identify. On Feb. 10, the Senate defeated his measure 25-24 as three members of his own party voted against it. This political brawl isn’t done. Ericksen’s allies are pushing to get an initiative on the November ballot to force the change.
Put yourself in Rep. Mary Dye’s shoes. A group of high school students come to your office to urge you to support bills that would expand insurance coverage for birth control. As a lawmaker, seems appropriate to ask one of the teenagers if (s)he’s a virgin, right? Wrong. Apparently not to the freshman Republican lawmaker from Pomeroy who did indeed pop that question. For that slip-up, she deserves this Cappy.
The MLK Way Award
Rep. Luis Moscoso earns this honor for his impassioned and undaunted pursuit of the Washington Voting Rights Act which would assure minority communities a louder voice in the electoral process. The Bothell Democrat keeps getting it through the Democrat-controlled House only to see it stall in the Republican-run Senate. History repeated itself this year. To his credit, Moscoso perseveres by talking with rather than taunting those opposed. Count on him trying again in 2017.
On the Rise
Republican Melanie Stambaugh
Democrat Laurie Jinkins
You don’t usually expect a Republican woman lawmaker leading the legislative effort to expand access to birth control and ensure women can obtain a 12-month supply of contraceptives from their health insurers. Yet that’s exactly where Rep. Melanie Stambaugh of Puyallup, stood this session, her second as a lawmaker. She also sponsored bills to conduct comprehensive reviews of maternal deaths and inject greater humanity into the process of getting juveniles back on track after an arrest.
As the state wrestles with a growing number of mentally ill adults and mounting troubles at the state’s largest psychiatric hospital, Democratic Rep. Laurie Jinkins of Tacoma emerged as a firm voice on how best to confront the challenges. In her third term, she crafted bills intended to give lawmakers greater knowledge on the running of Western State Hospital and pressed budget writers to drive additional dollars into the system of services. Other Democrats have spent more years in this battle than she, for sure. Still Jinkins is gaining respect for keeping the matters in the spotlight without stealing it.
Best Performance by a Democrat
Rep. Larry Springer of Kirkland likely ticked off more Democrats than Republicans this session. That ought to be worthy of a Cappy. His vote in the House Finance Committee blocked a fellow Democrat’s bill to pare the state’s tax break to the Boeing Co. Then, to rub a little salt in the wound, he got a tax break for another aerospace firm through the House with Republican support. And, in the final hours, he fought to preserve charter schools, which is not the path many in his caucus, the Democratic governor or the powerful statewide teachers union wanted to travel this year. He’s moderate Democrat personified unless you’re mad at him. Then he’s probably Republican-lite.
Best Performance by a Republican
Maybe it’s a hometown bias as Rep. Dan Kristiansen is from Snohomish. Maybe I’m trying to make friends in case he winds up House Speaker in 2017. Regardless, he does what a House Minority Leader must do to keep his caucus relevant. Kristiansen’s political acumen is a reason the caucus has 48 members of varied philosophical stripes entering the election season. His management style is allowing several members to thrive in leadership roles. The swiftness with which he guided former representative Graham Hunt out the door — Hunt resigned after getting accused of exaggerating his military record — demonstrated Kristiansen’s belief that accountability starts at home.
Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com. Contact him at 360-352-8623; firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @dospueblos.