The average citizen can’t compete; ban gifts and free meals to lawmakers | Letter to the Editor

Our democracy is strongest when average, middle-class people trust their elected representatives and have a voice.

Our democracy is strongest when average, middle-class people trust their elected representatives and have a voice.

When regular folks – loggers and waitresses, farmers and nurses – read stories in the paper about lobbyists buying lawmakers free dinners, they wonder what’s really going on. They wonder how much access and sway lobbyists have in Olympia, compared to average citizens.

That notion was only made worse by an investigation by the Associated Press and public radio.

Just during the first four months of 2013, the top 50 lobbyists spent $65,000 on free meals.

I’m not making that up. Sixty-five thousand dollars.

It took months of digging by reporters to dig that up, because all those records only exist on paper.

Now, lawmakers and lobbyists say these free lunches and dinners don’t buy votes.

I take them at their word.

But even if those free meals don’t truly affect legislation, they affect how people back home see our democracy. It looks wrong.

That perception hurts our democracy.

It makes average people feel like they don’t really have a chance, that whatever they say will get drowned out by lobbyists taking lawmakers out to a steak dinner that night.

And I don’t blame the lobbyists for doing this. It’s their profession and they’re playing by the rules. Free meals and gifts are apparently effective in their eyes. Believe me, the lobbyists wouldn’t buy steak dinners and give gifts to lawmakers if they thought it was a waste of money.

So let’s change the rules and clean it up. The added benefit is that the public perception of professional lobbyists would improve as well, because they are actually an integral part of the legislative process.

In the old days, there were no limits. Lobbyists could, and did, bring cases of wine or whiskey to lawmakers’ offices in the morning.

The first reform was to shine a light on what was happening, to make lobbyists report their spending so the press and public could know.

Another major reform just happened, with the state’s ethics watchdog enacting a limit of 12 free meals per year for each lawmaker.

Those were good first steps.

Yet people are right to think that average citizens and nonprofits, trying to advocate for kids and the disabled, are at a disadvantage compared to lobbyists with a budget for entertaining lawmakers.

Average people and community activists don’t have an expense account. They can’t take seven lawmakers out to the nicest restaurant in Olympia every Wednesday for dinner and drinks.

And even if people swear those dinners don’t really matter, the perception to folks back home matters. A lot. It hurts our democracy.

Let’s truly fix that perception and restore faith in our democracy by ending free meals and gifts.

Period.

That’s the cleanest, simplest answer.

That’s why I introduced HB 1083 which proposes banning free meals and gifts to lawmakers.

It would level the playing field.

This reform also wouldn’t hurt lawmakers, not even ones who are working jobs on the side to pay the bills. There are young lawmakers with young children and it’s true they don’t make a giant salary.

This reform wouldn’t hurt them. That’s because every lawmaker gets expense money (per diem) while the House and Senate are in session. Not every lawmaker takes that per diem, yet it’s there if you need it: for gas, to rent an apartment if you live far away from Olympia and for meals.

That expense money is more than enough for lawmakers to buy their own breakfast, lunch and dinner.

More importantly, banning free meals and gifts would buy us something priceless: more faith in our democracy among our friends and neighbors back home.

Rep. Christopher Hurst D-Enumclaw

More in Letters to the Editor

Former fan finished with disrespectful NFL players

I lived off the grid for 15 years and the one thing I missed the most was watching pro football.

Thank you everyone who made ‘Make A Difference Day’ a success

I want to thank everyone who makes every day a “Make a Difference Day” in Black Diamond.

Nationwide infrastructure needed to combat Alzheimer’s

Too often Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are treated as a normal aging issue, ignoring the public health consequences of a disease that someone in the U.S. develops every 66 seconds.

Children of illegal immigrants should stay

You are not “making America great again.” You are just making it more intolerant to diversity.

Molinaro an excellent candidate for Mayor

Following my two interviews with candidate Malinaro, I feel that we are fortunate to have a candidate who is well prepared to provide the leadership we need for a growing community.

The definition of insanity

It is totally clear that the incumbent mayor lacks any ability to bring people together and get things done. She is a failure as mayor, making Black Diamond a laughing stock with her out of control behavior and outbursts at Council meetings.

Baxley and Young should have showed up at public forum

On Tuesday, October 17th, was the Black Diamond Maple Valley Chamber of Commerce Candidates Forum, where the Black Diamond candidates for Mayor and two City Council positions had the opportunity to talk with the citizens of Black Diamond, and to answer questions put to them by these citizens.

Enumclaw helped raise $3,500 for Special Olympics

The last couple of weekends the St. Barbara Knights of Columbus have been involved with our annual Tootsie Roll Program.

Baxley is an important choice for Black Diamond mayor

Judy Baxley has been part of our local civics for years, and thank goodness because citizen involvement is critical to monitoring big developers.

Enumclaw chamber board supports Molinaro for mayor

In an election with significant consequences that will largely shape the future of our community, Enumclaw voters have a clear choice for mayor.

Challenger has no experience working in government

The newspaper’s three-part debate for the position of Black Diamond mayor has been eye opening.

Representative or autocratic government in Black Diamond

I’ve heard conflicting opinions about Black Diamond City Council meetings. Lots of them. So I’ve checked out some of them myself. I called the best authorities and I read the law.