Guest Opinion: Do Olympia or Seattle really care about rural Washington?

Do Olympia Democrats know they have a political problem in rural Washington? Do they know why? Do they care?

This has been long in the making. Ever since President Bill Clinton’s 1990s Northwest Forest Plan flattened our forest products industry — and with it, hundreds of good-paying jobs — we have seen a succession of actions both in Courts and in the Legislature that have done further harm to rural Washington’s economy and residents.

Legislative mandates on local governments come with far less funding that is required to carry them out. Needed jobs and revenue to local governments don’t come when state-managed timber is left unharvested, contrary to careful forest management plans.

Although Futurewise’s lawsuit against Clallam County was eventually dismissed for lack of standing, it led to permanent downzoning against rural landowners and a four-year building moratorium for the Carlsborg area. And Democrat legislators refused to help after the Supreme Court’s Hirst decision all but extinguished rural landowners’ ability to drill a well and develop their property.

Grays Harbor County has no Democrats on their Board of County Commissioners for the first time in forever; last year, President Trump won a significant plurality or an outright majority in coastal Washington, and the 19th Legislative District (Aberdeen and south through Longview) elected their first Republican member of the state House in many decades. Mason County’s 35th Legislative district is now represented by two Republicans in the state House and a courageous Democrat, Sen. Tim Sheldon, who makes up the “majority” in the Majority Coalition Caucus in the state Senate.

This political sea change may explain all the activity of late. Lieutenant Governor Cyrus Habib recently visited Port Angeles to praise the all-Democrat 24th Legislative District delegation. Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz visited Port Angeles several months ago. Governor Jay Inslee visited Grays Harbor County several months ago, and one of our State Representatives recently conducted a “listening session” in Aberdeen, including a writeup of that event in the Sequim Gazette.

This is more high-level attention than Clallam County and coastal Washington has gotten in recent memory.

Talk’s cheap, though. Let’s review what has actually happened since 2006, when Democrat Kevin Van De Wege was first elected to represent us in the state legislature, replacing the last 24th District Republican legislator, Jim Buck:

• Recently the Department of Ecology turned down an essential permit for a new coal export terminal Longview, on the basis of a novel application of State law, to take global warming caused by China into account. So now if Olympia bureaucrats can simply imagine a connection to logging, railroading, or cargo-loading of ships here in Washington state, the Governor’s appointed head of the Department of Ecology department can hold up economic growth if she believes a butterfly will die in India, or a child will go hungry in Mongolia.

• The Department of Ecology prevented Pacific County shellfish growers from applying a pesticide which causes no water quality problems, to control an invasive species of shrimp causing great harm to shellfish beds.

• The Commissioner of Public Lands is pushing the Board of Natural Resources to decide on a state timber harvest plan which further shrinks State timber harvest in Clallam, Jefferson and Pacific counties, starving our few remaining sawmills of raw materials, and further diminishing revenues for local schools, roads, fire districts and the like.

Clallam’s numbers tell the story since 2006:

• As of October 2016, 50 percent of Clallam school children qualify for free and reduced school meals — meaning that roughly half of our working families with school-age kids are in severe economic distress;

• Inflation-adjusted gross domestic product has declined by 1.9 percent; and

• Inflation-adjusted overall wages have flatlined, growing a paltry 0.6 percent.

State government and the Legislature need to put people in rural Washingtonian first, by emphasizing legislative and executive actions aimed at growing our rural economies. Listening is fine, but that’s only the long overdue first step.

It’s way past time for positive actions to remove impediments to rural lives and economic growth. It has long been evident that State government is captive to urban elites, and the-environment-at-all-costs candidate funders.

Both houses of the legislature, the Governor and other state elected officials need to put priority where it belongs — on urban and rural Washingtonians and the economy that affects their lives!

Jim McEntire is 24th Legisative District Republican Chair for Clallam County.