State Rep. Dahlquist fields questions during telephone 'town hall' meeting

As a freshman legislator in Olympia, Cathy Dahlquist admits she has had several “a ha” moments.

One of those came when she realized just how hard it is to get a piece of legislation passed. Aside from drafting the precise language, there’s the unenviable task of lining up bipartisan support and recruiting advocates to speak on the bill’s behalf during committee meetings.

Dahlquist made that revelation the evening of March 9 when she hosted a tele-forum, inviting constituents from throughout the 31st Legislative District to pick up their phones and listen in to the hour-long questions-and-answer session. She also fielded about a dozen questions from callers and left many more holding, waiting to deliver their questions via voice mail.

Dahlquist was elected in November and joined the House of Representatives in November, just in time to help tackle the largest budget shortfall in Evergreen State history.

Despite the many hurdles a bill faces along the legislative path, Dahlquist has seen two of her measures clear the House and make their way to the Senate side of the Legislature.

A quick poll taken during the telephone session showed those listening in cared most about the state budget. Asked to name their No. 1 priority, 32 percent of the respondents identified the budget. Another 28 percent chose jobs and the economy, 19 percent chose healthcare, 13 percent picked education and 8 percent named public safety.

Dahlquist, who was a member of the Enumclaw School Board until resigning to assume her legislative seat, made it clear she considers education the state’s top priority.

“We need to follow the rules,” Dahlquist said, noting that providing young people with a basic education is the state’s paramount duty.

Sticking with education, Dahlquist said she opposes a suggestion made by Gov. Christine Gregoire that the state’s public school network be put in the hands of an appointed official; now, the superintendent of public instruction is chosen by voters and that’s the system she prefers.

Listeners agreed, making their feeling known through another instant question.  Fifty-five wish to keep the present system intact; 28 percent said they’re unsure and only 17 percent agreed with the governor.

Moving away from talk of education, the first-session lawmaker said there’s truth to the old adage that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. And the squeaky wheel these days is present in the form of advocates for healthcare.

Addressing questions from listeners, Dahlquist:

• answered “absolutely” when asked if she would be willing to help the state budget by cutting lawmakers’ salaries, including her own. She said members of the House of Representatives are paid $42,000 annually and receive a benefits package better than she could provide for herself as a small-business owner. She likely didn’t make points with state workers when she said government employees should be paying a greater share of their healthcare costs.

• continued to emphasize that the key to turning around the economy is making life easier for those who own and operate businesses. It’s a theme Dahlquist hammered home during her campaign – that state rules and regulations keep the business sector from succeeding. She supports legislation under way that would ease the state-imposed business and occupation tax for the newest ventures.

“We have do something to help business grow,” she said.

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