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Previewing Re-Wire: Heck and Housing

This is the time of year that our focus shifts from the bare-knuckle fights in the political arena to the subtler gamesmanship of policy-making. To launch that season, we’re holding the Re-Wire Conference on Dec. 5 at the Hotel Murano in Tacoma. In the next few editions, we’re going to preview the players and policies we’ll feature at that event. 

We’re kicking off the afternoon with opening remarks from Lt. Gov. Denny Heck. While Heck may be most familiar to readers for the gravitas he brings to presiding over the Senate, for managing to make the Rules Committee entertaining, or for representing the people of the 10th District in Congress, I tend to gloss over his long career in public service in favor of “Co-founder of TVW.” He was running that massive gift to government transparency when I showed up in Olympia to cover the statehouse a couple of decades ago.

Heck’s going to hang around to moderate our panel on housing policy, which we expect will be a highly active area when the Legislature shows up in January. Washington State faces a massive shortage of housing, which contributes to outrageous home prices for those fortunate enough to buy and sky-high — or flat-out unaffordable — rentals for everyone else. Ideas for fixing that problem are many and varied, ranging from rent control and huge investments in public housing to sweeping aside local zoning restrictions and other regulations that suppress the development of new housing. The panelists: 

  • Nathan Gorton of the Washington Association of Realtors. As government affairs director for the Realtors, Gorton directs one of the largest political and lobbying operations in Washington State. The Realtors are neck-deep in the weeds on housing policy, given its effect on the business of buying and selling real estate. 
  • Michele Thomas of the Washington Low-Income Housing Alliance. Thomas is director of policy and advocacy for the statewide advocacy group, which works to change policy so that all Washingtonians can live in safe, healthy homes they can afford. Its focus, as the name suggests, is on folks experiencing or at risk of housing instability and homelessness. 
  • Carl Schroeder of the Association of Washington Cities. Schroeder is deputy director of government relations for the association. Much of the ground-level policy that affects housing is actually municipal policy, and many cities are, shall we say, reluctant to have the state further involved in their local land-use decisions. Given that every member of the Legislature has at least one city government to deal with, the cities collectively wield a great deal of clout.
  • Tiffani McCoy of House Our Neighbors. McCoy is co-chair of the campaign for Initiative 135, headed for the Seattle municipal ballot next year. The ballot measure would establish a public developer to create permanently affordable housing in the city. 

Stay tuned for more details on our other panels in the coming days. Along with Heck’s remarks and the housing panel, we plan panels on the following: 

  • Finding the energy to power a decarbonized Washington
  • The challenges facing post-secondary education
  • The 2022 campaigns: Political pros on what succeeded and what failed
  • The 2023 Legislature: Leaders from the four caucuses look ahead to the session.

Thanks to our sponsors: Amazon, the Group Health Foundation, the Washington Association of Realtors, the College Promise Coalition, and the Northwest Natural Gas Association. If your organization is interested in becoming a sponsor, drop me a line. To register for the conference, click here.

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