Secretary of State Kim Wyman moderates the forum. (Photos courtesy of Gracelin Moore)
During a fast-paced one-hour forum on legislative openness and citizen participation in Washington’s Legislature, voter turnout, youth engagement, campaign tactics, legislator activity and interaction with the public were discussed.
The Wednesday forum, Working to Improve Washington State Governance, was hosted by the Office of Governor, Office of Secretary of State, Washington State University and the William D. Ruckelshaus Center. Secretary of State Kim Wyman moderated the event while panelists included state Rep. Hans Zeiger (R-Puyallup) News Tribune columnist Peter Callaghan, longtime lobbyist Lis Houchen and Lindsay Pryor from the Voter Education and Outreach team for the Office of Secretary of State’s Elections Division.
The panelists offered an informative discussion of politics in our state today, keeping the packed room rapt to the conversation. Insider views ranged from Houchen’s insights into the daunting reality citizens face when navigating the Legislature to Callaghan’s analysis of “budget-busting bills” introduced partly to force legislators to cast votes competitors can use against them during a campaign.
Other topics included: the need for increased voter participation, especially in the millennial generation; how negative campaigning has become so prominent, why it remains so and the impact it has on citizens; how Washington’s redistricting process contributes to partisanship; and the importance of ensuring an open and transparent Legislature – especially in an age of direct and easy digital access.
Yet, despite the challenges and the negativity (perhaps just sheer exhaustion?) that some citizens feel toward the legislative process, optimism remained high among the panelists. The crowd, mostly legislative interns, applauded loudly when panelists restated their overall dedication to positivity, civics education, acknowledgment of challenges and hopes for the future.
The discussion was primarily one of understanding and motivation to work diligently toward transparency of the political process, intra-party cooperation, re-prioritization of committee hearing schedules and legislative meetings to accommodate citizens who traveled long distances, and refocusing the Legislature to serve the people instead of aiming at political goals.
Panelists unanimously noted that the political process can be difficult to understand for the average citizen and that aspects are easily missed or misrepresented when a sensational hook isn’t readily available. As Callaghan said, when discussing the lack of informative and accessible reporting of state politics, “Why is there no good TV coverage of the Capitol? Because marble doesn’t burn.”
An audience member asks panelists whether negative campaigns are responsible for lackluster citizen participation in politics.