Monday’s opening ceremonies for the state’s 60-day legislative session generated more than the usual blend of pomp and circumstance in Olympia. At noon, representatives from Washington’s 49 legislative districts filed into House chambers to watch history made.
Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, was sworn in as the first female speaker of the state House and the first openly gay person to hold this key position of power.
For those of us up the freeway 30 miles, it’s also a point of pride that this barrier breaker is the first Tacoma speaker since 1994.
The excitement was both palpable and visual. In honor of the women’s suffrage movement, female staff members and representatives wore white; men donned a white ribbon on their lapels.
In her first formal remarks as speaker, Jinkins paid deference to activists who paved a path for her. “Today represents another step toward inclusion, toward more seats at the table.”
If the past predicts the future, Jinkins, who’s spent a career pushing for marriage equality, equal pay, paid family leave and long-term care, will keep her word. “We’re still dismantling barriers,” she said.
There’s no question her induction ushers in a new era. Her predecessor, Frank Chopp, served as speaker for 20 years. He now sits on the chamber floor representing his Seattle constituents.
Here’s what everyone wants to know: Will the Democrats and Republicans play nice?
Jinkins certainly spoke highly of House minority leader J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, and if they’re faking their mutual respect, both should be nominated for Oscars. We’ll check back in 36 hours. The gloves may be off by then.
As presiding officer of the House during a short session, Jinkins has just 60 days to consider a plethora of bills addressing health care, homelessness, gun control and climate change.
First thing on the to-do list is addressing the gaping $4.2 billion transportation deficit left by Tim Eyman’s latest ballot measure. In her opening remarks, Jinkins wasted no time addressing Initiative 976: “I’m not going to sugarcoat this. The impacts are devastating for seniors, the disabled and folks with low-incomes. But we will do this hard work together.”
An early test as House speaker will be how she handles the status of Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane, who appeared at opening ceremonies like it was another day at the office. Despite an investigation that found Shea participated in domestic terrorism, he has refused to resign.
Will Jinkins spend political capital out of the gate advocating for his formal expulsion? Stay tuned.
Wilcox expressed some trepidation about the Democratic majority, cautioning it not to “implement the whole agenda.”
We trust Jinkins is savvy enough to know compromise is what moves the ball downfield. As she said, “success is measured in increments.”
But there’s one thing we expect Jinkins to stand resolute on, and that’s a commitment to transparent government. Two years ago, she backed a bill, later vetoed by the governor, that tried to exempt legislators from the Public Records Act. This year, she’s indicated support for a misguided plan to shield public employee birthdates from disclosure.
She can and must do better to uphold the public’s right to know.
These are turbulent times, but Jinkins instills confidence. She sees her job as not just being a speaker, but also a listener. “We’re going to have differences on policy. We’ll express them right here in this chamber.”
But make no mistake, she also will push a bold progressive agenda like she has since first elected to represent Tacoma’s 27th District in 2010. ”Now is the time,” she said, “to plant seeds we may never see grow.”
That a girl who grew up on a small dairy farm in Wisconsin now holds the most powerful position in the Washington state House offers reason to believe those seeds will eventually bear fruit.