Record number listens to phone-in town hall forum

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

Wrong button prompts outburst
OLYMPIA — The most-listened-to state legislative telephonic forum in five years illustrated the perils of such phone conference calls with thousands of listeners.

Participants had to press the keypads of their landline telephones Wednesday to ask questions of Democratic state Reps. Kevin Van De Wege and Steve Tharinger of Sequim.

More than 11,000 people were listening on their phones when it was the fifth questioner’s turn.

They got an earful.

“G---dammit, I hit the wrong f----ing button!” exclaimed a man who never was able to ask his question.

“Some people may have heard some swearing that was inadvertent, and we apologize for that,” Van De Wege said a few moments later while responding to another questioner.

Broadnet’s TeleForum system does not include a tape delay to pre-empt calls, but calls quickly can be cut off if someone launches into a tirade, said House Democratic Caucus Communications Specialist Jennifer Waldref, who moderated the forum.

The profanity will be removed from the recording of the forum that will be on Van De Wege’s and Tharinger’s websites by Wednesday, Waldref said.

“These are legislative websites,” she said. “There’s no need to include that.”
-- Peninsula Daily News
OLYMPIA — A record-setting 11,000 listeners dialed into a telephonic town hall forum this week with state Reps. Steve Tharinger and Kevin Van De Wege as the Sequim Democrats answered 15 questions on topics ranging from fish farming to gun control.

The TeleForum from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday, which originated from a legislative conference room in Olympia, was put on by the House Democratic Caucus for 24th District voters, who live in Jefferson and Clallam counties and the northern third of Grays Harbor County.

Tharinger and Van De Wege split the $2,500 cost, paying for it out of their mailing and production budgets, said Jennifer Waldref, a legislative communications specialist who moderated the session.

There were 11,804 people listening during the hour Wednesday, with a maximum of 11,059 at one time.

The House Democratic Caucus has run 30 to 40 such town halls a year since 2008, and none has exceeded 10,000 participants.

“It's the most participation any legislator has ever had on a telephone town hall,” Waldref said.

There were 30,000 district residents whose landlines were robo-called with instructions on how to access the forum.

Their phone numbers were drawn from voter registration rolls, Waldref said.

About 50 questions went unanswered that will be responded to by the legislators if the questioners left a voice mail with their contact information when the forum ended.

The forum can be heard in its entirety by next Wednesday on Tharinger's and Van De Wege's individual websites at www.housedemocrats.wa.gov/roster.

Here are some of the topics Tharinger and Van De Wege touched upon that were raised by eight male questioners and seven female questioners:

-- Fish farming: A questioner asked if fish farming was going to pollute ocean waters.

Van De Wege is sponsoring HB 1599, which would change the law to allow counties to not provide siting for fish farms when shoreline master programs are updated.

“[The state Department of Ecology] says since fish farming is a water-dependent use, [counties] have to provide areas where fish farming can occur,” he said, adding the legislation would not have an impact on existing fish farms.

“My main goal is to maintain local control.”

Jefferson County wants to ban net pen aquaculture, which Ecology has said the county cannot do under current law.

Seattle-based American Gold Seafoods, which operates net pen farms in Port Angeles Harbor, opposes the bill.

-- Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge: A questioner told Van De Wege that Dungeness Spit, the cornerstone of the sanctuary, “is a wildlife refuge, not a recreation area.”

Van De Wege has offered an alternative to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife proposal to ban jogging and horseback riding on Dungeness Spit.

The alternative, which would allow limited jogging and horseback riding, was crafted as part of an agreement with the Olympic Peninsula Audubon Society, which is concerned about disturbances to migratory birds.

Horseback riding would be banned because of what Fish and Wildlife says are safety issues between horses and pedestrians.

Van De Wege's goal is “no absolute ban,” he said.

Jogging and horseback riding would be allowed on at least a section of the beach, but a current access trail for horseback riding to the shoreline would be closed under both plans.

So horseback enthusiasts would have to find a different way to get to the beach.

“It might be awhile” before horses are sauntering along the shoreline, Van De Wege predicted.

-- Hydroelectric power: A questioner asked why hydroelectric power is not considered a renewable resource in a query related to Initiative 937, which voters approved in 2006.

The measure requires utilities to obtain 9 percent of their electricity from renewable sources such as solar and wind by 2016 and 15 percent by 2020.

Hydroelectric power is not a renewable resource, according to the initiative.

“It clearly stated in there that hydro is not part of that,” Van De Wege said.

The Legislature may decrease some of the requirements utilities have to meet to abide by I-937's requirements, he added.

Tharinger said the intent of the measure was to stimulate investment in other renewable power, including biomass, with wind power being the biggest beneficiary.

More than $8 million has been invested in renewable energy since voters approved I-937, creating 5,000 jobs in construction and about 2,000 permanent jobs, Tharinger said.

“It's a success in that sense.”

-- Gun control: A questioner asked what was being done “to fight back against this gun madness that seems to have afflicted a lot of the country.”

Van De Wege, a member of the National Rifle Association, said mass shootings are in part a reflection of a lack of mental health services.

But he opposed an NRA proposal to place armed guards in all schools, saying it might cost billions of dollars and may not make schools safer.

In answer to a related question, Tharinger said he supports HB 1588, which he is co-sponsoring and which would require criminal background checks for all gun sales statewide.

Tharinger said the process he is proposing is similar to buying or selling a car and filing a title and other paperwork with the county and state.

“It makes sure the person you are selling to is not a felon and does not have mental health issues that will prevent them from buying a firearm,” he said.

“This broader issue of gun violence and gun safety is best approached as a public health issue,” he added.

In a previous Peninsula Daily News interview about HB 1588, Van De Wege said he prefers that solutions for gun violence come in the form of more funding for mental health care rather than additional limits on what guns can be purchased and who can buy them.



Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at paul.gottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: February 07. 2013 6:06PM
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