First Person: A close-up look at the legislative process

Whitman in Olympia
(l-r) Damien Sinnott '93, Dave Mastin '88 and Nick Marquiss '13.

I have been working as a community fellow in the Public Policy Department of the Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce since September 2012. Among the many great experiences I’ve had was a trip to Olympia with Damien Sinnott ’93, the Chamber’s vice president of public policy and business development, and Chamber CEO David Woolson.

The three of us went to Olympia in late February to meet with state representatives from Washington’s 16th district: Sen. Mike Hewitt, Rep. Maureen Walsh and Rep. Terry Nealey. During the trip, I also had the opportunity to attend meetings, connect with officials from other Chambers across the state and shadow Whitman alumni working as lobbyists in the capital.

Our meeting with Rep. Maureen Walsh addressed issues facing Walla Walla’s business community, such as the completion of U.S. Highway 12 into Walla Walla. We also discussed her expectations of coming legislation – what she thinks will pass and fail. A big focus of our discussion was the recent Washington State Supreme Court’s decision to declare unconstitutional the initiative that calls for a two-thirds majority vote to increase taxes. This ruling makes it a lot easier to balance the budget using revenue increases instead of spending cuts. It also turned the political discussion on its head, and it was exciting to see how politicians and lobbyists alike reacted to this news.

After meeting with Rep. Walsh I attended a lunch meeting that included spokespersons from Chambers of Commerce across the state and Senate Majority Caucus Leaders. This was an informative session that gave me a first-hand look at the “behind-closed-doors” meetings that take place between constituents and politicians. As an economics major, it was also interesting for me to see how businesses react to public policy – which is something that I knew from my classes, but didn’t have experience with firsthand until this trip.

After lunch I shadowed Dave Mastin ’88, a Whitman alumnus who served in the state legislature and who now works as a lobbyist for Walla Walla, Pfizer and a number of other companies. I followed him for an afternoon while he lobbied to get EpiPens, which are epinephrine injections that counteract intense allergic reactions, in schools across the state. As part of this process, we sat down with a state representative, and I had the chance to see firsthand how laws are made.

Lawmakers and a Whitman person
(Front row, l-r) Rep. Terry Nealey, David Woolson. (Back row, l-r) Damien Sinnott '93, Rep. Maureen Walsh, Nick Marquiss '13.

Shadowing Mastin was interesting, because his approach contrasted sharply with the style of the next lobbyist whom I followed, Bill Clarke ’92. While Mastin effectively worked by meeting representatives inside the legislature, Clarke was a brilliant strategist who accomplished most of his goals by teaming up with other lobbying groups. (At least from what I saw in the few hours that I followed each of them.)

I owe these alumni many thanks for showing me around the capital. I’ve come to understand that alumni are exceedingly dedicated to Whitman and show it in part by giving back to current students.

One of my final meetings of the trip was with Sen. Mike Hewitt, who previously was the Senate Minority Leader and is now a member of the Majority Coalition. Despite the dreary weather and budget challenges facing him, Sen. Hewitt was surprisingly optimistic about the future of this session, considering the polarity of the state Legislature this year. He accepted that there were challenges ahead, but he was confident that there would be solutions to these problems.

I found his position interesting, since the Senate and House operate on almost exactly opposite ideologies. For instance, the Majority Coalition in the Senate has already passed a number of bills benefitting the business community, including L&I bills that will end restrictions on negotiations between employers and employees, laws to limit the scope of Seattle’s sick leave act, and legislation to increase the efficiency of state bureaucracies. Conversely, the House has been very pro-labor: it has voted to increase state oversight in L&I negotiations and expand the mandatory sick leave bill. As of now, it’s unclear if things will get resolved, but I’m excited to continue tracking the results as I work at the Chamber over the remainder of the year.

This trip was not only an incredible opportunity for me to see the inside of the state capital firsthand and meet some very amazing people, but also to develop my professional skills and increase my network connections. I’m very thankful to Whitman for funding my trip, to the Chamber of Commerce for organizing it and to the Whitman alumni and Walla Walla’s legislative members who hosted me.


About the author:
Nick Marquiss ’13 is an economics major from Newman Lake, Wash. After graduation, he plans to move to Seattle to work in the financial services industry. He enjoys playing intramural sports, working in the economics department as a working papers editor and attending campus events, such as Harper Joy Theatre productions.