Photo by Angela Gerrald.
Crowd for 36th District Democrats Town Hall on January 29, 2017

Sunday Town Hall in Ballard: Standing room only

By Peggy Sturdivant

When the 36th District Democrats hold town hall meetings 30-40 people usually attend. On Sunday, January 29, 2017 the Ballard High School Library was at capacity, well over 200 people were packed in chairs, aisles and overflowing the entrance. The overriding question of the day from attendees obviously concerned by the effect of sweeping U.S. policy changes was, “What can we do?”

Citizens spent an hour and a half squeezed into the library to ask questions of State Senator Reuven Carlyle and Representatives Gael Tarleton and Noel Frame. They had questions about attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the unfolding situation regarding the president’s executive order on immigration, banning U.S. entry for refugees and even green card holders from selected countries. Issue by issue, the questions came: education funding, the City, County and State’s position on immigration, climate change, electoral reform, homelessness, mental health services, State income tax, public lands and background checks for gun ownership. The audience wanted to know, where do you stand, what should we do?

Judging by the show of hands when Representative Frame asked how many attended the Womxn’s March on January 21, 2017 (most attendees), the audience was already supportive of the elected officials present. District representatives hammered several points repeatedly.

“You have to make your voices heard,” Representative Gael Tarleton said, “Whether by protest or commenting on policy making. If you’re a teacher, contact other teachers across the state. Get them to write and call their elected officials. It matters.”

“Find common ground,” Representative Frame emphasized. “For example, educational funding affects everyone, reach out to other districts.”

Addressing the “what can we do” question, State Senator Reuven Carlyle was adamant. “Use your relationship capital with organizations. Encourage your organizations to step up on public policy.” He cited as examples communicating the need for public education for the future success of businesses in the state, paid family leave, open immigration policies. “Look how fast Microsoft responded on the immigration ban.”

While covering at least 20 different issues the three Representatives managed to reassure the crowd about programs they were confident were safe versus long-term fights that will take effort, and “a change in the numbers.” He said the Democrats fully support finding a solution for the McCleary decision on school funding. He encouraged the 36th to reach out to other districts to build support. “If public education isn’t of interest to everyone in our state, then what is?”

On Applecare, Washington’s Health Plan for children, Carlyle was confident, “Every child in this state is going to be covered.” He also reassured constituents that Governor Inslee is working on a plan to protect so-called Dreamers, the path to conditional citizenship for undocumented young people who came to the U.S. as children. On the issue of a Republican lawmaker’s attempt to reopen the coal train issue and release an area off Cherry Point designated as marine sanctuary, “We’ll fight that tooth and nail.”

Frame said there’s across the aisle support for reproductive rights and that paid family leave is, “on the table, for both sides.”

Tarleton warned to be ready for a Federal attempt to transfer National Parks and land to the states, which could then choose to open them for mining or sell them to private interests. “I absolutely predict it,” she said. “For years I’ve been saying public land in public hands for public benefit for future generations.” She shared, “In 2013 we passed a bill that stated all legislation would be based on sound science and policy. At the time I was astonished it needed to be said, no longer.”

“Organize,” Frame said. “Every time you take action, take along someone else. Tag us on social media.”

“Write and call,” Tarleton said, “Let Governor Inslee know you support his efforts. Thank the King County Elections Supervisor for piloting a program with pre-paid postage and automatic registration. Write the Department of Ecology about concerns. I’m doing it too. I’m calling and writing Senator Jayapal. I’m a constituent too.”

One by one they reviewed their advice for citizens wanting to engage. Find an organization and get involved with their work. Make phone calls and send letters to those in your district but reach out to encourage friends in other districts. Use direct outreach and relationship capital.

“Support local media,” Carlyle said. A woman shouted, “Subscribe to your local newspaper.”

Representative Noel Frame closed by asking the audience, “How many are attending town hall for the first time today?”

Once again, the majority of hands went up in the air. “Tell everyone,” Frame said, “I went to my town hall today.”

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