The annual Democratic Fish Feast took place at the county fairgrounds Sunday the 19th. While according to officials it was slightly smaller than during the 2016 election year, it still almost filled the dining hall. Keynote speaker Department of Natural Resources head Hilary Franz joined surprise guest, Senator Maria Cantwell, along with 36th District State Representative Noel Frame who is also the Vice Chair of the State House Finance Committee, who is working on state tax issues. Of course, in this election year, State Representatives Mike Chapman and Steve Tharinger from the 24th District also gave short speeches to make way for the keynote speakers, along with a number of local county and city politicians.
Senator Cantwell thanked the crowd, describing her narrow win in her first election, back in 2000, by saying it was only a few thousand votes that carried her and the large turnout in Jefferson County, which traditionally has one of the highest voter turnouts in the state, was, in her mind, a reason she won. She went on to discuss the need to get as much done as possible to win back the House and Senate in the fall. Her key topics were her work on helping fund the tug pilots training program here in Port Townsend at the Maritime Center, along with her work to get parental leave into government agencies such as the Coast Guard. She attacked the Trump Administration plans to open drilling off the coast of Washington, and their plans, now abandoned under intense attack, of tripling national park fees. She also reminded the audience that “climate change is real” and that she was supporting research and initiatives to help industries such as the shellfish industry to weather the changes. She also championed the Democrats and her efforts to strengthen healthcare for lower income people. Her message was that the Republicans attempts to exempt pre-existing conditions would lead to massive increases in insurance costs.
Following Senator Cantwell was Hilary Franz, who reiterated the notion that “climate change is real and here now.” Ms. Franz oversees DNR, which manages over 2 million acres of forest land, 1 million acres of agricultural land, 2.6 million acres of aquatic lands, along with the firefighting teams currently engaged in hundreds of fires across the state. She mentioned that 97% of the state is in drought conditions currently, 60 plus days of no rain in much of Western Washington and record temperatures again this year. No part of the state is free from smoke currently. They have been battling over 1100 fires this year, and the end of the fire season is a long way away, possibly into October. The good news is that her teams have used new tactics to lower the amount of acres burned from these fires. The State has spent over $650M in the last four years fighting fires. That is money that could have been used in a variety of more useful ways, or even to have lowered taxes. This is the cost of our inability to effectively stop climate change. Ms. Franz said that in traveling the state she has met people of both parties being impacted by a changing climate, and that they are effected by it almost daily. The question she stated, was “not whether we act but how we act. We should stop debating whether climate change is real and we need to take the steps to prepare and adapt.”
She went on to discuss the situation with Orcas. She stated that DNR is going to be much more diligent in reviewing lease holders to ensure that fiascos like the net pen failures of last year won’t happen again. Additionally, DNR has fixed all but one of the many culverts that they had blocking returning salmon. She is pushing for more resources to fix culverts on the city, county and state. She is going to work at a watershed level to restore upland and shoreline areas for salmon habitat beyond what is currently being done.
When this reporter asked her what could be done about the use of glyphosate (Roundup is one), on DNR forest lands, her answer was that while she understands the issue the reporting on it has not understood the legal issues. DNR has legal authority to approve aerial spraying and guiding when and where it will be done, but the authority to determine what is sprayed is the jurisdiction of the federal Department of Agriculture. While she would like to have the authority, all DNR can currently do is manage whether it is appropriate to spray, and how to spray, but not what to spray. DNR apparently cannot stop them from spraying if they follow the rules of spraying. They can only make sure that they have properly planned for it.
She also discussed the Rural Communities Partnership to do a better job of including the needs of rural communities in DNRs planning. This is an effort to reverse the feelings in many rural communities that being ‘environmental’ is bad for the economy and the economy is bad for the environment. Her work is to bring more science to the discussion to help better understand the issues and work closer to the people affected to come up with solutions that are bought into by them.
Another program she discussed is a new effort in Grays Harbor and Ilwaco to better manage derelict vessels. It is looking a public private partnership to remove the vessels and sell off any valuable gear on them, before adding the vessel to the waste stream.
Lastly, she said that her agency was working with the shellfish industry to find alternatives to spraying pesticides on lands where shellfish are harvested, to deal with ghost shrimp problems on the coast. To be clear, from the science that this reporter has read, the problems with ghost shrimp came about after the Columbia was dammed, as the amount of fresh water entering the ocean was reduced in force and size, leading to greater salinity in the area, which in pre-dam times was able to flush the area, lower the salinity and keep the shrimp in check.
Along with these two women, the crowd heard from 36th district State Representative and Vice Chair of the House Finance Committee Noel Frame and Democratic Chairwoman Tina Podlowdowski. Rep. Frame is traveling the state to meet with business leaders and other interested individuals to find a way out of our ever increasingly antiquated tax system in the state. She stated that there are over 700 exemptions due to the failure of the system to address the needs of a modern state, and she correctly addressed the fact that small businesses have to pay taxes on their gross, not net. So even if they have a loss they have to pay taxes on money they never profited on. She is wanting to find a way forward that can fix this without a constitutional amendment. While our forefathers (and mothers) who crafted our State Constitution were wanting to make a state without an income tax, due to what then appeared to be a inexhaustible amount of natural resources, the current situation, with the vast forests and oceans of salmon reduced to a fraction of their former sizes, it’s time to find a new way forward for our needs that does not put the burden on home owners. There is a building frustration and consensus that this needs to be fixed, and her work is to find a framework that can be agreed upon to do just that.
Ms. Podlowdowski, having taken the helm of the party after the 2016 elections, has gone on to craft a powerhouse for getting new Democratic blood out to run for elections, as well as a long needed campaign strategy to take back every county in the state. Her work has already led to the amazing results in Spokane, where a new Democratic challenger is essentially tied with an established Republican incumbent, along with great results in the 8th and district and others. If the Democrats decisively take over control of more of rural Washington, it will primarily be the work of this woman.
By the way, the acronym STEW is my invention. For your use.
Also covered in the Peninsula Daily News