Last month, we on the Herald-Republic editorial board lamented the lack of public engagement in state government, citing a Johns Hopkins University study showing that, among other knowledge gaps, 81 percent of Americans cannot name their state representatives.
What we didn’t do, amidst our hand-wringing, was to give Central Washingtonians options for educating themselves about state government — where to go to find out how and on which programs their tax dollars are spent, what legislation is being considered, which programs funded or slashed.
That’s on us. Consider today’s editorial, timed to coincide with this week’s start of the 2019 Legislative session, our do-over.
The Herald-Republic and yakimaherald.com provides recaps of the current Legislative session — often with staff coverage of how statewide issues such as education or mental-health funding affect people in the Yakima Valley.
We can’t be everywhere, of course, can’t suss out the status of every single one of the scores of bills brought forth each year, but we can steer you to online resources that do the job just fine. Check out the “Bill Information Page” of the Legislature’s website, leg.wa.gov, for tracking incremental progress. It’s pretty straight forward, providing vote counts, committee actions and so forth. For a nongovernmental site, you can go to Washingtonvotes.org, an offshoot of the Washington Policy Center. There, you can sign up to follow the votes of a particular legislator or type in keywords, such as “mental health,” and get access to all bills pertaining to it.
Sometimes, though, you want to take a deeper dive, delve into an issue or bill unfiltered by media analysis or lobbyists and “think tanks.”
May we suggest, then, that you turn on your television.
Local TV news?
Rather, venture deep into your cable channel options and alight on TVW (Channel 193 in Yakima and most of the Valley; Channel 37 in parts of unincorporated Yakima County), which, as its name implies, is all about Washington state and its politics. Even more convenient, the station’s website, www.tvw.org, not only provides live streaming of floor and committee hearings — plus Washington Supreme Court arguments — but archives all of its programming so you can watch at your convenience.
Consider TVW the C-Span for our state. To some, not interested in current events, that might be an immediate turnoff. They consider C-Span the Ambien of television options — a gavel-to-gavel snoozefest.
But nonprofit TVW (which does have corporate underwriters, a la PBS and NPR) has been a valuable resource since its launch in 1995, at a time when local TV news first started dramatically cutting back on political coverage. Its commitment to open government and unfiltered viewpoints is unmatched; in its mission statement, it calls itself “meticulously nonpartisan.”
In recent years, the organization has launched several programs that seek to synthesize the overwhelming, drinking-from-the-firehose wealth of information into nightly or weekly summaries.
For those in a time crunch, you will be well served by tuning into the nightly (8 p.m. and 11 p.m.) “Legislative Review,” a just-the-facts, 15-minute summary featuring snippets from hearings and floor debate still manages to tell all sides. Another weekly show, “The Impact” tackles issues through interviews with lawmakers, policy experts and citizen affected by the Legislature’s actions.
Those deep into state government will want to reserve Thursday nights (7 and 10 p.m.) for “Inside Olympia,” a slickly-produced interview show hosted the Northwest Public Broadcasting’s political reporter, Austin Jenkins, whose no-nonsense interview style holds elected officials accountable — and occasionally makes them squirm.
It is every citizen’s duty to stay abreast of state government. You don’t have to be a policy wonk or political junkie, but it’s important to use these resources to know what lawmakers are cooking up under the Capitol dome.
• Members of the Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board are Bob Crider and Sam McManis