Freedom Caucus accepts Inslee invitation, waiting for response from governor

At Feb. 28 news conference, Inslee offered to let Republicans inspect his COVID numbers – senators are waiting for governor to schedule meeting

To read letter, click here.

OLYMPIA – A group of Washington Republican senators say they want to take the governor up on his offer last week to sit down with Republicans and show them his COVID numbers.

But a week after they sent a formal letter to Gov. Jay Inslee accepting his offer, they are still waiting to hear back from the governor.

“We were worried the letter might get lost in the mail,” said Sen. Jeff Wilson, R-Longview. “It’s a full 200 yards from our Senate offices to the Capitol building. That’s why we sent a copy via email, too.”

Washington has been under a state of emergency for the last two years, giving the governor sweeping authority to suspend laws and issue orders. Most states already have rescinded their COVID emergency declarations, but Washington is one of just four states that allow their governors to decide when emergencies begin and end. Inslee so far has declined to say when or under what conditions he will give up power.

Questioned by reporters about the growing criticism from lawmakers, Gov. Inslee at his Feb. 28 news conference declared that he would meet with Republicans to show them statistics about COVID hospitalizations and infection rates that lead him to believe his emergency authority should be maintained.  “I will be happy to talk to them about the numbers,” the governor stated.

At this point, with two days to go in the 2022 legislative session, it appears unlikely that lawmakers will take action to rein in the governor’s emergency authority. Majority Democrats rejected proposals from Republicans that would have required the Legislature to extend emergencies longer than 30 or 60 days. Instead, legislative Democrats favored a weak measure that would have allowed legislative leaders, under certain conditions, to terminate an emergency if they agree, essentially duplicating a power the Legislature already has. Democratic House leaders decided to kill that modest reform measure last week, blaming Republicans for lack of support.

Members of the Senate Freedom Caucus, an issue-oriented caucus within the Senate, said they were pleased when the governor offered to communicate with legislative Republicans about continued justifications for his emergency authority. They noted that the Senate Republican Caucus has sent 54 letters to the governor about matters of COVID policy, but the governor’s office has responded to just nine of them. Their letter stated, “We agree with you, there really ought to be some sort of justification for this continued assumption of power and authority by the governor’s office, and we are excited that you are willing to share it with us.”

In their letter, the senators said that they had time in their schedules to meet with the governor Monday or Tuesday morning, but both of those windows of opportunity have now passed. They say it’s now up to the governor to suggest a meeting time.

“We offered a couple of meeting times, but the governor didn’t respond,” said Sen. Jim McCune, R-Graham. “One might get the impression that the governor wasn’t serious when he offered to meet with Republicans to explain why he needs to retain extraordinary power, and that he made his statement to the press with no intention of following through. But it may also be that his staff simply has neglected to deliver our letter to the governor’s desk. We’re sure that this press release will help call his attention to this oversight, and that he will want to uphold the promise he made in public last week.”

Said Sen. Phil Fortunato, R-Auburn, “The governor’s lack of response is nothing new.  We have been fighting with him over his abuse of emergency powers since two months after it started. His record on this compared to other states that have just issued guidance as opposed to decrees from on high is horrible.”