Governor’s office makes unusual public records request for lawmakers’ emails
An unusual public records request from the office of Gov. Jay Inslee may be related to today’s Washington State Supreme Court ruling that partial vetoes Inslee made in the 2019 transportation budget were unconstitutional.
The public records request targeted four Democratic state senators – Reuven Carlyle, Steve Hobbs, Mark Mullet and Kevin Van De Wege – as well as Hannah McCarty and Gary Wilburn, both senior policy counsel for Senate Democrats. The requests were for emails and other internal communications related to portions of climate legislation connected to the passage of a transportation package dubbed the “Grand Bargain.”
Inslee issued partial vetoes to subsections of a cap-and-trade bill and a low carbon fuel standard bill – both of which were passed by the legislature during the 2021 session – thereby undoing the so-called “Grand Bargain” deal linking the two pieces of climate legislation to a transportation funding package, without which the bills would not have been able to take effect.
According to the bargain that the legislature struck up, and that Inslee scuttled with his selective veto, all three of those bills needed to pass, or else risk a no-frills transportation package that passed earlier, potentially kicking the can down the road on the climate bills again.
The Nov. 5 public records request was made by Taylor “Tip” Wonhoff, the governor’s deputy general legal counsel.
“We made the request as we continue to hear comments from members of the Senate about the governor’s veto on the climate bills earlier this year,” said Tara Lee, executive director of communications for the governor’s office. “We are trying to better understand and learn what the linkage is between the climate bills and gas tax.”
She added, “Notably the legislature makes public records requests from the governor. It is not unusual for one body to ask for records from another.”
At least one of the senators named in the public records request didn’t see it that way.
“The governor should have reached out to the key legislators, who helped pass the two highest priority pieces of legislation of his governorship, before he illegally vetoed provisions linking them to infrastructure investments,” state Sen. Mullet said. “To have the first outreach about this be a public records request is disappointing.”
Jason Mercier, director of the Center for Government Reform at the Washington Policy Center echoed that sentiment.
“It is very curious to see a governor send a formal public records request to lawmakers from his own party for their communications about his priorities,” he said. “Perhaps they are too busy for a phone call or coffee meeting to talk with each other directly.”
Adding another layer of intrigue to the public records request is an ask for all records disclosed to Jan Hasselman, a senior attorney with Earthjustice’s regional office in Seattle, in a previous public records request by the lawyer. Earthjustice is a San Francisco-based organization dedicated to litigating environmental issues.
Today’s 7-2 ruling by the state Supreme Court, the result of the legislature suing over the governor’s partial vetoes in the 2019 transportation budget, said that while Inslee has the authority to veto whole appropriation items, he can’t excise parts of an appropriation item.
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