If you did not have a chance to catch the news last week, you might not know it, but Wednesday is
Prince Spaghetti Braised Rabbit Lasagna Day! It is the day during each week of the legislative session that certain legislators convene for infrequent (by law), lobbyist-sponsored dinners at a tony Olympia bistro.
Did you know that some of our legislators collect all $90 of their allotted per diem payments for expenses like meals and lodging - even when their lobbyist dinner dates pay the bill?
Anyone who does this raises my hackles, but the most offensive of these folks are budget cut-crazy legislators. They talk about their courage and sense of responsibility … their focus on government priorities and What the People of Washington Want. But when Washington’s hunger rate is at an all-time high, their budget leaves the safety net in tatters while preserving hundreds of corporate tax breaks. Sequestration has devastated Meals on Wheels. Yet they want to cut cash assistance to low-income participants in the Aged, Blind, and Disabled program (the folks likely to have relied on Meals on Wheels) to $97 per recipient per month, less than $3 per day. Ironic, isn’t it, that these same budget-conscious, priority-focused stewards of the people’s money have no problem being reimbursed for meals they didn’t pay for?
It is time to call these legislators out - to tell them that taxpayers’ priorities do not include footing the bill for their steak and gnocchi dinners with lobbyists. It’s time to tell legislators that if they are going to brag about their commitment to What the People Want, they should close corporate tax loopholes and use the revenue to repair Washington’s safety net. You can go to their websites and fill out those annoying online comment forms. Or you can make your point in a more pointed way, like in the examples below.*
The Award Ceremony: Your community organization could reward deserving lawmakers for their work with a splashy ceremony that includes awards like these:
|Senator Doug Ericksen|
- The “Troops on Their 3rd Deployment Ain’t Got Nothin’ On You” Award: This should go to Senator Doug Ericksen (R-Ferndale). When asked about attending 62 lobbyist-sponsored dinners, etc. from
January to April of 2013, Ericksen opened up to journalist Austin Jenkins, who reported this: “Ericksen says the hardest time during his workday is ‘from about six o’clock until nine o’clock when most people get to go home and be with their families.’ Ericksen can’t go home …because his district…is too far away. So he often fills those…hours by dining out with lobbyists. ”
Says Ericksen of his dining routine:
“I’m viewing it as a chance to work on specific issues and work to get good legislation done.”
- The “But I Didn’t Inhale” Award, which should go to Senator Mark Schoesler (R-Ritzville), who says that while he did attend lobbyist-sponsored dinners, he did not eat.
- The “Dude, Like, I Never Think” Award should go to Senator Marcus Riccelli (D-Spokane). According to the senator, “Definitely when somebody’s talking about going out to dinner, I never think anything else. I’m like, ‘Well, I’m hungry, I can always eat.’ ”
The Dinner Invitation:
If it’s company and conversation that legislators are hungry for, then let’s all of us invite them to dinner! Senior centers, soup kitchens, homeless shelters, civic groups… if each organization invited Doug Ericksen to dine, he could “work on specific issues and work to get good legislation done” every night of the week.
On a Wednesday night, you and 50 or so friends show up at a tony Olympia bistro where legislators regularly meet for infrequent dinners. While lawmakers are inside dining, you and your friends, positioned outside at windows and doors, reprise the scene in Oliver where orphan children fantasize and sing about “Food, Glorious Food” as the orphanage staff feast in their secluded dining room. Rags and slop pails are optional.
Crumbs for Mums:
Perhaps you are a single mother struggling to feed your children. You and other mothers in similar situations show up at the tony Olympia bistro where legislators and lobbyists dine, at the time when they typically meet. As they arrive at the restaurant, you hand them to-go containers that say “I’ll take your scraps!”
*Some of these actions might have to wait until next year, but there’s an excellent chance they will still be useful.