As the Legislature prepared to convene for this year’s session, state troopers were ordered to Olympia from across the state, joined by 750 National Guardsmen, and a fence was erected around the state Capitol, shutting out the public.
After nearly four months of repeated calls from Republicans and members of the public for removal of the fence, today it was finally taken down – a key step to fully reopening the “people’s house” to the people of Washington.
“On the very first day of session, echoing the words of President Ronald Reagan, I called on Gov. Inslee to tear down this wall,” said Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley. “We were told the fencing at the Capitol was to be a temporary security measure in response to reports of potential violence related to the January 20 presidential inauguration. No real violence ever materialized, and yet the fence surrounded most of the legislative buildings for the full legislative session.
“Every day the fence remained up, it became more and more a symbol of the separation of the people from their government and emblematic of a majority party that didn’t want to see or hear from the very people lawmakers were sent to Olympia to represent. It’s about time the wall finally came down.”
Sen. Jeff Wilson agreed, saying that the fence was a constant reminder of the executive branch’s overreach of its authority, and the failure of the Legislature to address the abuse of the governor’s emergency powers during a pandemic.
“Members of the Freedom Caucus were focused on a number of key issues this session, but the fence was a visceral image that summed up a lot of the big-government, top-down decisions that were made throughout the pandemic,” explained Wilson R-Longview. “For 430 days, all decisions regarding the COVID emergency have been made by the governor’s office, without input from the people of Washington state. The fact that the session adjourned without taking action on this issue is a disgrace. Republicans offered a measure – Senate Bill 5039 – that would subject the governor’s emergency declarations to legislative review. Unfortunately, Democrats failed to even hold a hearing on the bill.
“The fence finally coming down is a great first step, but there is still a lot of work to be done to truly open up this government to the citizens of this state,” added Wilson.
Members of the Freedom Caucus thanked Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, for his work on the capital budget to restrict funding for permanent fencing. According to the two-year state construction and building plan, the fence was required to come down by May 31, unless the Washington State Patrol declared it necessary by May 15 for security reasons. Even then, legislative leaders from the majority and minority caucuses would have to agree.
Sen. Phil Fortunato pointed out that the fence removal, while needed, has less impact now than it would have had during a session when several important policies were being debated.
“I’m pleased that the ‘people’s house’ will finally be accessible to the public, but unfortunately it’s too late for them to have a meaningful voice in the legislative process,” said Fortunato, R-Auburn. “I think had they been able to physically observe what was going on, the outcomes of the session would have been drastically different.”
Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, said the majority party “locked out the public to lock in the Seattle agenda. Taking the fence down after the damage has been done is typical for Gov. Jay Inslee.”