OLYMPIA — State legislators for the North Olympic Peninsula were relieved that the first day of the 2021 Washington legislative session remained calm after a mob invaded the federal Capitol Building last week.
Legislators approved the rules for the 2021 session to be conducted remotely and elected the various leaders of the state House of Representatives and Senate without interruption.
District 24 Sen. Kevin Van de Wege of Sequim was “relieved and thankful” that the small demonstration of protesters on Monday remained a “non-event,” he said in a phone interview Tuesday.
“My impression was relieved and thankful that National Guard and our State Patrol stepped up,” Van de Wege said. “I was fairly relieved that it was pouring rain, because I think that damped down a lot of the potential misguided protesters.”
District 24 includes Clallam and Jefferson counties and part of Grays Harbor County.
An 8-feet-tall fence and hundreds of State Patrol and National Guard members provided additional security for the session in light of potential unrest from far-right groups doing the session.
State Rep. Mike Chapman of Port Angeles felt safe going into Monday’s session, both because law enforcement provided added security and because all representatives adhered to health guidelines, wearing face masks, social distancing and being rotated in and out of the room to vote so as to limit large numbers of people from gathering.
“I really appreciate [law enforcement’s] service,” Chapman said.
“It was a miserable day, pouring rain and cold, windy,” he said.
“I thanked as many as I could that I talked to and really just appreciated their service all day.
“It was a very safe day.”
State Rep. Steve Tharinger of Port Townsend said: “I think the staff did a great job organizing it, and it went smoothly.”
The vote on the rules for going to a remote session in light of the COVID-19 pandemic was divided along party lines, with Democrats supporting the endeavor and Republicans against — stating a potential for lack of public participation and transparency. However, the vote did pass for legislators to work and vote via Zoom and Google Teams, with a small number of leaders operating in person.
Chapman, Van de Wege and Tharinger — all Democrats — supported the move to work remotely for the time being, although they are disapointed by the limits it places on public involvement and the challenges it creates of communicating with fellow legislators remotely.
“I look forward to the day when we can go back to normal and the virus lets us meet in person,” Tharinger said.
Chapman also highlighted that he supports the variety of protests that happen in Olympia, saying about 99.9 percent remain peaceful.
Prior sessions he’s made points to go outside and talk with protesters, but with the current pandemic and businesses and schools still being closed across the state, it would be unsafe to meet in person right now, he said.
“I’m saddened that we’re not going to be meeting in person, and having folks come down and protest,” Chapman said. “I don’t want to lose that part of our representative form of government.
“I think protesting your government is a fundamental right of all Americans. I’m sad that we’re not meeting in person and have that give-and-take between those who want to protest for whatever reasons.
“As a representative, I’m very supportive of people advocating for their beliefs. If they are issues I believe in, great. If they’re issues that I may not be as supportive of, I go out and talk with them.”
The various committee meetings and legislative sessions can be viewed online at https://www.tvw.org with both live streams and recordings.
Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5, or at [email protected].