Sen. Michael Baumgartner’s ‘Top 10’ from 8 yrs in Olympia
I’ve been asked by a few people to list my favorite moments the State Senate that I played a prominent role in. Here’s what I came up with:
10. Eliminating the Office of the State Printer and streamlining government agencies. When I first ran for office in 2010 I campaigned on the need to make government more efficient and eliminate unneeded government agencies. Number one on my hit list was the Office of the State Printer. A few months after winning I prime-sponsored the bill that eliminated it, and consolidated five government agencies into two. Gov. Christine Gregoire called it the “most significant reform of state government in 30 years.” It was a hard bill to pass because it increased contracting-out of non-essential state jobs and the public sector unions fought it tooth and nail, but it was really cool to get to do exactly what I’d promised on the campaign trail. It was great to work with outstanding Senators like Joe Zarelli and Mike Hewitt on issues like this.
9. Taking the majority and holding it for 6 of my 8 years in the Senate. Washington is a tough place for Republicans. When I first won, there were only 22 Republicans and control of the Senate required 25 of the 49 members to caucus together. Working as a team and using as much diplomacy as I ever saw in Iraq and Afghanistan, we built a coalition of 25 that took control. I’ll still never forget the night that we put our plan into action through a successful “9th Order” parliamentary procedure rarely seen in Olympia. Interestingly, key to the success was capitalizing on the Democrats slide to the far radical left of Seattle politics and their animosity towards traditional “blue-dog” pro-life Democrats, who we readily welcomed into a “Big Tent” Republican coalition that found room for anyone committed to fiscal responsibility and reform. It was great to work with outstanding Senators like Mark Miloscia, Tim Sheldon and Rodney Tom on issues like this.
8. Helping enact a 4-year balanced budget requirement and fiscally responsible pension reform. Olympia is filled with people asking for you to give them other people’s money. In fact, the quote I thought about more than any other was De Tocqueville’s “The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.” As such, enacting measures of fiscal responsibility like the 4-year balanced budget requirement and pension reform rarely gets celebrated. However, these measures we took in 2012 were a couple of the very few actually prudent fiscal decisions I saw taken amidst a deluge of growing government spending. It was great to work with outstanding legislators like Sen. Andy Hill and Sen. Jim Kastama on issues like this.
7. Fighting the State Supreme Court’s unconstitutional overreach on the McCleary decision. For far too many in Olympia, the ends justify the means. However, the truth is that the only thing that protects a Republic is safeguarding process and protecting the Constitutional roles of the co-equal branches of government. When the teacher union election-funded state Supreme Court overstepped their bounds and attempted to dictate to the Legislature what should happen in the budget, I sent them a picture of a bag of sand and a hammer. As the son of the state’s best kindergarten teacher who spent 42 years changing lives, I know the importance of education. While I’m pleased to have helped write budgets that have brought all day kindergarten and reduced class sizes to our state, the kow-towing by some in the Legislature to the Supreme Court with regard to funding decisions is a grave concern, and has weakened the Constitutional fabric of our state. It was great to work with outstanding Senators like Sen. Mike Padden, Steve Litzow, Joe Fain, Bruce Dammier and Sen. Steve O’Ban on issues like this.
6. Defeating Jay Inslee’s carbon and income tax lies - and firing his unqualified Transportation Secretary. Although we have disagreed on policy, there have been many honorable Democrats I have enjoyed working with. Gov. Jay Inslee is not one of them. He is incompetent and untrustworthy. I have not liked him since he campaigned for office against tax increases, and then waited all of two weeks after his election to start trying to raise taxes. As such, it has been particularly enjoyable to have repeatedly helped to defeat Jay’s passion projects – a state carbon tax and capital gains income tax that would cripple our economy and hurt working families. He has tried this for 6 years straight and we have beaten him every time. I also very much enjoyed leading the charge for the Senate to do its Constitutional duty and vote to fire (via non-confirmation) his unqualified Cabinet Secretaries. Our state has massive highway transportation challenges and Inslee nominated an unqualified bicycle activist from Portland as Transportation Secretary. When the Senate fired her, some said we were being mean. I said we were just doing our jobs. Afterwards, when I warned other Inslee appointees to shape up or “more heads were going to roll” my office was inundated with calls from state employees about management problems in Washington State government. If only the Senate would have had the authority to fire Inslee we would have gotten some of those problems fixed too. It was great to work with outstanding Senators like Doug Ericksen, Don Benton and Brian Dansel on issues like this.
5. Helping WSU student Robert Barber. One of the reasons you enter public service is to help those people who are unable to help themselves. One such person I became deeply involved with was a Samoan student at WSU who is a good person who got involved in a dumb fight and was being unjustly punished. Robert Barber, who was found 100% not-guilty in an actual court of law on all charges against him, was being railroaded by a kangaroo campus court that lacked due process and was going to deprive him of his college degree even though he was just one credit short of graduating. I decided that wasn’t going to happen and at one point told a group of powerful individuals that they “better fix it or I will.” Well, we did fix it and the Samoan War Club that Robert’s mother gave me at his graduation ceremony - one of my more memorable souvenirs from my time as a Senator - hangs proudly on my office wall.
4. Helping Mt. Spokane State Park, EWU and other community projects. Growing up in Eastern Washington and now raising my own children here, I care deeply about the community I represent. While I’ve said ‘no’ to a lot of requests for projects, I have very much enjoyed playing an energetic role in investing in key projects that make our community stronger and increase job opportunities. I’ve especially enjoyed fighting for projects at Mt. Spokane State Park – a great community resource that so many of us enjoy – and Eastern Washington University. It took me almost five years to finally secure funding for the very much needed new EWU Sciences building in the capital budget, but we finally did it this year. I’m really looking forward to the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math graduates it will help produce (and the jobs that will come with them!) It was great to work with a team of local legislators on these issues.
3. Securing funding to finally(!) complete the North-South Freeway. Spokane has talked about the North-South Freeway for more than 60 years. It’s a project that will revitalize the Hillyard area and spur manufacturing jobs and economic growth in our region. In 2015, Jay Inslee and local Democrats proposed we should get half a freeway and $400m in funding. I said that was absurd and that there was no way anybody in Seattle was getting any new transportation funding unless Spokane was given full-funding to complete the project. We won the negotiation and secured almost $900m to finish the project. The best part is that Seattle is paying for most of it, with Spokane County getting back over $1.30 for every dollar we contribute. To all those who thought the North South was just a pipe dream – get ready for a whole lot of construction in coming years.
2. Creating the new WSU Medical School and expanding medical education in Eastern Washington. In 1917 an absurd law was written that gave the University of Washington a monopoly on training doctors in our state. UW subsequently built an amazing medical school in Seattle that has done great things, but the result has also been a lack of medical professionals, funding, and health care economy jobs growth in Eastern Washington. 100 years later I was pleased to quarter back the legislative effort to fix this mistake and authorize a new WSU medical school. It was not an easy bill to pass and more than a few very powerful people in this state tried very hard to maintain the UW medical education monopoly. We fought them, and the entire state won. Working closely with the late WSU President Elson Floyd on the bill while he was dying of cancer was the most emotional and intense experience of my time in the Senate. Many people on both sides of the aisle played a role in the new WSU medical school, but Senator’s Mark Schoesler, Linda Parlette, Jim Hargrove and Representative Marcus Riccelli deserve special mention for their efforts. All along, I knew competition would be a wonderful thing and that in reality UW would benefit as well. As such it has also been exciting to see UW expand their presence in Spokane through a partnership with Gonzaga University. It’s great when Cougs, Huskies and Zags can all win at the same game.
1. Cutting the cost of college tuition for the first time in American history. I grew up as the middle-class son of a WSU Forestry Professor and benefited greatly from quality, affordable public higher education. In fact, when studying for my Masters at Harvard I was made a Teaching Fellow in Economics, and I found very little difference between the undergraduate classes I taught at Harvard and my experience at WSU. I’ve had many fantastic opportunities in my life, and that chance to get a great education was an essential part of it. Crucially, I was able to attend and graduate from WSU without going into debt. That’s because the cost when I attended was just over $3,000/year. Today’s students aren’t so lucky and so many of them are being deprived of opportunity because they are drowning in debt from skyrocketing tuition, as the Legislature has repeatedly chosen to expand government growth in other areas off the backs of college students. When I arrived in Olympia tuition had topped $10,000 and there were plans for it to climb as high as $20,000/year at UW, as the Legislature passed the buck and gave tuition-setting authority to the Regents. I fought it hard, and told my fellow Republicans that when we took the majority we had to do something BIG and something DIFFERENT in higher education. We launched a strategy to make Washington the first state ever to actually CUT the cost of going to college. The Senate Republican plan eventually reduced tuition costs by 20% at EWU and the regional universities, and 15% at UW and WSU. Students and their families will have saved tens of thousands of dollars because of those actions. Many thought the K-12 funding pressures of the “McCleary Era” in Olympia might be the end of affordable higher education in our state. The fact that we advanced a strategy to make this time of potential peril a historic golden era, while showing what’s possible when Republicans and Democrats work together, is my favorite memory from my time in the Senate. It was great to work with outstanding Senators like John Braun, Barbara Baily and David Frockt on issues like this.