BREMERTON — Political discourse is commonly fraught with contention, but from the outside it would seem that political dialogue has become more polarizing than ever before.
That’s not always the case, state representatives Sherry Appleton, D-Poulsbo, and Michelle Caldier, R-Port Orchard said at the community discussion “Finding Common Ground,” Sept. 26 at the Norm Dicks Government Center in Bremerton.
The League of Women Voters hosted the event, at which Appleton and Caldier discussed efforts at bipartisanship in the Legislature. The evening’s moderated forum, however, was not Caldier and Appleton’s first time working in reaching out to the public. In February, the pair co-authored a guest column in the Kitsap Sun which asked constituents to share their input on how they felt about the future of health care in Kitsap County.
It was not through any premeditated effort at bipartisanship, but rather by simple chance that Caldier and Appleton came to join forces.
“Neither Representative Appleton or I serve on any committees together and although we both represent Kitsap County, we both represent different parts of Kitsap County,” Caldier explained.
Following some personal health issues earlier in the year, Caldier had the opportunity to talk with local doctors who voiced their concerns with the direction health care in the area was headed — “hearing about some of the concerns that they had with CHI Franciscan or Harrison basically using their leverage in taking over, hurting independent practices and then taking those over and getting a monopoly,” Caldier said.
After hearing of Caldier’s health issues, Appleton suggested they carpool.
“We had a whole hour on Mondays [and] an hour on Fridays to talk and one thing led to another,” Caldier said.
“I was working on CHI Harrison, little did I know that she was working on CHI Harrison, so we decided to merge our information that we have and that’s how the newspaper article came about,” Appleton said.
After comparing notes, Appleton and Caldier began their work together.
“We had a huge meeting with the Department of Health [and] with Governor Inslee’s office, and we said, ‘Hey, let’s put our differences aside and let’s figure out what’s in the best interest for the people of Kitsap County.’” Caldier said. Their efforts put more scrunity on CHI Franciscan and its increased costs of services post-merger in Kitsap. The state is now suing CHI Franciscan, alleging “price-fixing and anticompetitive deals.”
Appleton and Caldier talked of other legislation that resulted from bipartisanship this session: the Transportation Budget, which was approved almost unanimously; and creation of a Department of Children, Youth and Families, which restructures how state government serves at-risk families and children.
Both expressed concern about the Capital Budget being held up by legislators who first want a permanent fix to a state Supreme Court decision that restricts the drilling of new water wells. And they both had ideas for how they would build bipartisanship in the Legislature (see editorial on page A4). One idea, Caldier suggested, would be to change the seating arrangements on the floor of the Legislature; currently, legislators sit with other members from their political party. She would mix it up.
“If you’re always sitting next to people you agree with, you can’t see the other perspective,” she said.
Appleton said, by and large, legislators get along better than perceived. “The truth of the matter is that down in the Legislature, we are much more congenial,” Appleton said. “We are much more willing to work with somebody across the aisle, because if you’re there long enough, you know that nothing is going to pass if you don’t get the minority to be part of what you’re doing.”
Explaining the strategic use of compromise, Appleton said that without making compromises, the Legislature would be locked in a constant back-and-forth battle.
“What would happen if we didn’t compromise [is], when the minority becomes the majority, they’re going to undo everything that we did,” Appleton said. “We need to always compromise and we do a pretty good job of it.”
— Nick Twietmeyer is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.