A departing swing-district Democrat takes a few swings

State Rep. Pat Lantz, D-Gig Harbor, is leaving the Legislature, having chaired the Judiciary Committee longer than anyone. She has many good memories and no regrets, but she wonders if Speaker Frank Chopp and other Democrats running the Capitol have lost their nerve.
State Rep. Pat Lantz, D-Gig Harbor.

State Rep. Pat Lantz, D-Gig Harbor. None

The House Democratic Caucus in the Washington State legislature is big and gangly - 63 members strong, nearly twice the size of the Republican caucus. It's made of Seattle liberals, suburban moderates, rural conservatives, and even a former Republican.

But somehow – be it by iron fist, the power of persuasion, or a combination of both – Speaker of the House Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, commands an uncanny degree of loyalty. The tent might be diverse, but the House Democrats' intra-party squabbles, personality conflicts, and other dirty laundry are rarely, if ever, aired outside the closed doors of the caucus room.

So when a Democratic member speaks out in frustration and dares to criticize - even indirectly - the speaker and fellow Democrats, it's a shock. Perhaps even more so when the criticism is leveled by a swing-district Democrat – just the kind of member Chopp works hard to protect – and not a frustrated liberal from a safe, urban seat.

State Rep. Pat Lantz, D-Gig Harbor, the longest-serving chair of the House Judiciary Committee, has announced she will not seek re-election after 12 years in the Legislature. At age 70, Lantz says in a press release, "it is time to turn my full attention to my family - my husband, my three children, and five wonderful grandchildren."

But as usual, there's a story behind the official departing words. It begins with these additional words from Lantz: "For me, there's been a number of disappointments that happened this year."

The biggest of those disappointments was the failure of H.B. 3095, which passed out of committee but never made it to the floor of the House for a vote. The bill aimed to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill. It would have prohibited people who are involuntarily committed to a mental hospital from possessing a firearm. The legislation would also have created an automatic notification system so state and federal gun licensing databases would be updated when a person was involuntarily committed.

"When somehow or another this non-gun bill became a gun bill, I realized that I'd met forces that were quite beyond me," explains Lantz. She believes opposition from gun-rights groups had a chilling effect on her fellow Democrats.

"Rational thought wasn't prevailing here," she says. "It was something else that was a way of consolidating political power or political defenses that forgot that we were here to do the common good, and the common good here was to protect us all from gun violence," charges Lantz, a lawyer turned lawmaker.

Lantz says the failure of that bill to even get a vote "was the beginning of my - in a form - disenchantment."

She goes on: "I can't get over how stupid it was. We haven't had anything like this, nor will we ... for a long, long time, where we were going to genuinely take steps towards making our streets and our cities safer and we chose this route of playing, of listening to irrational outside forces."

In response, House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam, affectionately calls Lantz naïve. "It's not a lack of a political courage," says Kessler. "It's a difference of the different districts and the people who live in those districts." Kessler represents the rural Olympic Peninsula. "It's just we have a different culture, and we have different values on some issues, and to say it's all political is simply not true."

Lantz's next disappointment this year was the Legislature's unwillingness - for the second year in a row – to stop a controversial gravel mine on Maury Island in Puget Sound. "We are nothing if we aren't Mount Rainier, Puget Sound, and the Columbia River - that's who we are," says Lantz, referring to Washington state.

"And to not recognize the travesty and betrayal of trust with allowing someone to bulldoze one of the islands, just demolish a feature of this thing we hold in trust, completely shatters my faith in my fellow legislators to identify the right thing to do." Lantz believes politics trumped stewardship in the case of Maury Island.


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Comments:

Posted Fri, Mar 14, 9:38 a.m. Inappropriate

A Good legislator despite occasional disagreements: Pat Lantz is my Representative, in fact we're almost neighbors, both Living in Rosedale (which is outside Gig Harbor but is served by Gig Harbor's post office). Although I disagree with her on several initiatives (like the ones mentioned in the article) I've found her to be intelligent and responsive. I've never failed to receive a response from her office within hours when I've called or emailed about legislation I'm worried about, and they were always well-reasoned responses, not the form-letter type I got from another Peninsula legislator. I wish she could have been more successful with one initiative of hers that I'm in wholehearted agreement with, that being the issue of light pollution. I spoke to her by phone several years ago when there was talk of a large "well lit" parochial school going in in Rosedale, and found her in complete agreement that this is a quality of life and property rights issue that needs to be addressed as formerly rural areas become more urbanized. A bill she proposed this session ( HB 2534 ) would have been a big help, requiring hooded light fixtures and banning mercury vapor light. It died in committee. Too bad. Anyway, "hail and farewell" from a satisfied customer.

dbreneman

Posted Fri, Mar 14, 11:22 a.m. Inappropriate

Also: When I worked as an intern in the legislature years ago, I was impressed that Rep. Lantz personally read every constituent letter that crossed her desk. Not all take the time to do this.

My Hammy

Posted Fri, Mar 14, 1:09 p.m. Inappropriate

Pat Lantz Deserves Kudos for Speaking Out: So here is a highly respected Democrat, Pat Lantz, leaving the House and the Majority Leader, Lynn Kessler, calls her "naive" because Lantz believes the mentally ill shouldn't carry guns. Sounds to me like Lantz was representing what citizens want and she has every right to be disenchanted with Democrats like Kessler caving to gun-rights groups.

The Maury issue has been around for two years in Olympia and the story that Kessler gave that the poor multinational mining company that wants to mine Maury Island "has played by the rules" is getting old. Glacier N.W. changed shoreline rules and aquatic reserve rules to get their way -- passing out lots of money along the way (the PI said they've spent $170,000 in Olympia just during the past two years) Lantz is right, "politics trumped stewardship" on this one, along with having lots of money to pass out. Once again, sounds like Pat Lantz understands what citizens want and Kessler is caving to the mining lobby.

Lots of Dems have been asking why aren't we getting progressive legislation out of the House -- well your story gave us a clue. A well respected legislator like Pat Lantz gets portrayed as "naive" by a majority leader who hasn't received one dime of campaign contributions from citizens. Seems to me that Kessler is out of touch -- Democrats don't want big money buying the political scene in Olympia.

Thanks, Pat Lantz for speaking out!

EnviroDem
EnviroDem

Posted Fri, Mar 14, 7:50 p.m. Inappropriate

Finally, some honesty from the Chopp House: Having worked with Pat Lantz now for two sessions to help pass the Homeowner's Bill of Rights, I can say that we are losing a bright, independent minded, and hard working legislator. There are too few like her in Olympia. Unfortunately, the Democratic House has become Chopp's personal "yes pool", a place where anyone who dares to think independently or oppose his gag orders loses seniority, chairmanships, and influence. It seems that Speaker Chopp is more interested in maintaining the majority of 63 Democrats than using that power to do the right thing.

It is a sad day for democracy when one man, Frank Chopp, who was elected only by the voters of Seattle, can deprive the full House of Representatives from voting on a bill. Chopp killed the Homeowner's Bill of Rights, which Pat Lantz guided skillfully through her committee after the Senate approved the bill. He wouldn't even allow a vote, presumably because he didn't want his members to reveal how they would vote. That bill would have given Washington homeowners the right to force builders to fix or pay to fix their shoddy work. Rather than helping innocent homeowners, he protected the financial interests of the builders lobby, who, no doubt, shoveled bags of money to influence the outcome. For now, homeowners are on their own, thanks to Chopp.

What kind of democracy do we have when one man can silence the elected representatives of an entire state? I'm glad that Pat Lantz is finally free of his influence and can speak openly about his smothering tactics.
strauss

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