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Walsh makes a bid for GOP party chair
Plus how electric school buses wound up in the ditch and some recommended reading
If you’re the kind of weirdo who watches too much late-night TVW when the Legislature’s in session – and we know that many of you are – then you’ve seen and heard a lot of Rep. Jim Walsh.
The pugnacious populist from Aberdeen delights in playing the thorn in the side of the Democratic majority and embraces one of the few tools available to minority Republicans – debate as long as you can so you lose as slowly as possible, preferably while irking your adversaries until they can’t think straight.
Now Walsh is making a bid to take over as chair of the Washington State Republican Party in the wake of Caleb Heimlich’s imminent departure for greener pastures.
The party’s generally been on a losing streak in recent years, but not in Walsh’s neighborhood. Back in 2018, Walsh became the first Republican to wrest Southwest Washington’s 19th District away from the blue-collar Democrats who had represented its logging, fishing, and mill towns since FDR’s day. Two years later he shrugged off a deep-pocketed, but poorly executed campaign to oust him over that sports-gambling thing. He won by 24 percentage points last year and the 19th is now deep red.
He’s beloved on the right for his willingness to rumble in pretty much any culture-war fight, from gun control to COVID vaccination mandates. (That predilection got him in some trouble when he participated in that despicable Star of David fad.) He’s a fixture on conservative radio and a go-to source for our sisters and brothers in television when they’re looking for a hot conservative take.
But his embrace of the hard-right politics of rural America aside, the man himself originally hails from tonier precincts. An East Coast transplant, he’s a graduate of Amherst College (Latin honors, no less) whose sartorial choices lean more toward Brooks Brothers than the camo and Carhartts favored by his constituents.
This brings us back to the job he’s angling for: One of the party chair’s roles is to fill the war chest, something the current administration struggled to do as the effect of Donald Trump worsened its already bleak prospects in statewide races. The party’s hard-money account raised some $3.5 million back in 2012, the last year it fielded a legit contender for governor. In 2020, it raised just $1.3 million as big donors declined to pony up for the grift that was Loren Culp’s bid for the fancy office in Olympia. It consistently lags behind the Democrats by this metric.
The old-school Republicans with the sweeping waterfront views and deep bank accounts frequently look askance at culture warriors. Meanwhile, many of the right-leaning players in Olympia steer clear of the party in favor of independent political committees like Enterprise Washington.
Could Walsh be the guy to bring the Lexus-driving money-men back into the tent with the F-150-driving rank and file and lead the GOP back from the brink of irrelevance? The party’s set to pick a new chair in August.
How green school buses wound up in the ditch
Climate-minded bills generally had a good year in Olympia, but not one aimed at giving K-12 students a cleaner, quieter ride to class.
House Bill 1368 from Rep. Tana Senn, D-Mercer Island, would have had K-12 school districts in the market for new buses to make sure 70 percent of their new purchases were zero-emission, starting on Sep. 1, 2030. Every new K-12 school bus would have to be zero-emission by Sep. 1, 2033. The state would have picked up the tab per a grant program administered by the Department of Ecology.
Here’s one reason you should care about this. Proponents of this bill spent the session pointing to research showing zero-emission buses do more than just keep the clean air. Without the roar of a diesel engine, clean buses can help keep kids a bit calmer before they hit the books.
There were a bunch of questions about how competitive that grant program would or should be, some of them from Joel Creswell with the Department of Ecology, who was also concerned about the time-sucking chore of charging electric buses.
All that stuff didn’t bode well for HB 1368 when it came to the House Appropriations Committee, where it ultimately died. A bunch of the same things came up when its companion bill from Sen. Sharon Shewmake, D-Bellingham, died in the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education.
Its chair, Sen. Lisa Wellman, D-Mercer Island, tells us the bill’s definition of zero-emission was a bit too broad for her liking. She argues that whether those buses were hydrogen, electric, or otherwise, the costs would have been too unpredictable when there’s no way to know exactly what clean bus school districts would throw into their shopping cart.
The idea also lost out to the argument that you get more climate bang for your buck by electrifying a short-haul drayage truck, which runs all day. Some $120 million in Climate Commitment Act dollars was stuffed into the 2023-2025 budget to electrify such trucks.
Wellman and Senn say they’re going to try to hug it out next session when HB 1368 comes back into play.
Shauna Sowersby of McClatchy wrote on the fat settlement the state has to pay for withholding evidence in a case against the Department of Social and Health Services. It’s a bad look for the attorney general’s office in any circumstance, but particularly so in light of AG Bob Ferguson’s bid for governor. Way back in 2004, an expensive mistake in then-Attorney General Chris Gregoire’s office contributed to her near-loss in the governor’s race that year.
Sarah Grace Taylor of The Seattle Times has the details on the Seattle City Council’s 5-4 vote against rolling the Legislature’s recent Blake fix into the city’s laws. That would have allowed City Attorney Ann Davison to prosecute drug possession cases. The vote is symptomatic of the council’s distrust of Davison, a one-time Republican who beat public defender Nicole Thomas-Kennedy in 2021 in a race that was very much about prosecuting low-level crime. The result is that drug enforcement in Seattle may continue to look much as it would have had Kennedy won. Prosecution of such cases will remain the county prosecutor’s job.
Bill Lucia over at the Washington State Standard has the official word that Senate Ways and Means Chair Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, is leaving to join the Kitsap County Commission. We wrote about the prospect of this change and its potential downstream effect back in April.
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