Guest opinion: Time for legislators to walk tenets of political talk

Our three 24th District state legislators spent a day last week with a few dozen Sequim and Port Angeles high school students. Topic du jour at said gathering was “leadership” — which unfortunately means any list they’d culled of true political leaders from the past 50 years at our state and national level would fit on a small postage stamp, with space remaining for the Gettysburg Address.

“Listening” as an active part of leadership featured largely in their comments to the assembled high schoolers.

“The most important thing, I feel, to be a good leader is to listen to the people you lead,” state senator Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, told them.

Remarks like that just warm the cockles of my civic heart. So here’s a proposal: perhaps Van De Wege and his state house counterparts, representatives Mike Chapman (D-Port Angeles) and Steve Tharinger (D- Port Townsend) could demonstrate a practical application of their “leadership” tenets. How about a public forum where they listen to what Sequim residents have to say about a whole host of local concerns?

Doubtless the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe’s proposed medicine-assisted treatment (MAT) clinic for opioid addiction will top the list and cause our legislators the most discomfort, politically if not also physiologically. But are we to be denied the potential entertainment value of watching them straddle fences and change horses in midstream, perhaps even with one another? Is that really asking too much in return for the $7.2 million of our tax dollars they appropriated to fund this controversial venture? I say not.

We’re due for a good three-ring circus act if for nothing else than to alleviate the community’s tensions. I for one am eager to observe firsthand again how polished politicians talk out of both sides of their mouth. Although I have heard the American Dental Association warns against this practice for anyone not in politics.

Whether you oppose or support the MAT clinic (and I’m still cautiously supportive), the opacity surrounding this clinic and the manner in which it dropped onto Sequim without so much as a “by your leave” or even a heads-up from our local and state elected officials should trouble every conscious person. This is not how open government should serve citizens.

Let me tell you my suspicion: Chapman, Tharinger and Van De Wege really haven’t wanted to be anywhere near any potential political fallout since news of the MAT clinic broke on May 6 this year. Whether it’s a question of when they first knew of the tribe’s plans, or which Jamestown tribal leaders, Sequim city staffers and/or council members they may have had communications with prior to the clinic becoming news, or why they neglected to inform Sequim residents as to what was on the horizon, they’ve been keeping markedly distant since the legislature adjourned.

To be sure, gathering with a group of teenagers at Peninsula Community College isn’t exactly hiding away in the hills. But neither is it facing the metaphorical music in front of potentially several hundred Sequim-area constituents who likely may be more than a bit peeved.

We’ll have to wait for next November to decide whether we want to retain the services of Messrs. Chapman, Tharinger or Van De Wege. By then we’ll likely know if the MAT clinic has been green-lighted.

Either way, the controversy surrounding the clinic is low-hanging fruit for their political opposition who, while sharing Sequim’s experience with other 24th District voters, can wrap up with their campaign pitches with, “Keep my opponent in office and something like this could happen to your town, too. How does a halfway house for predatory sex offenders grab you, or a regional hospital for the criminally insane? And there won’t be thing you can do about it unless state laws are changed.”

Meanwhile, just because it’s part of the gig for which they get paid $48,731 annually plus $120 per diem while in session, our three legislators should actually put all that high-falutin’ political science theory they preached last week into action – in person and soon.

Paul Schmidt first moved to Sequim in 1974 and is a graduate of Sequim High School. He currently works in the railroad industry.