It is not often Gov. Inslee directly addresses Washington’s agricultural community. Last week, Capital Press ran a cover story featuring our governor doing just that.
The interview revealed how out of touch Gov. Inslee has become with the farmers and ranchers of our state and, yet, how certain he is of his own ability to maintain a relationship with that same community.
When asked how he would “characterize his relationship” with the agricultural community, the governor responded, “Maybe it’s a little easier for me to do that than others, because I spent two decades in Selah, trying to set my little irrigation box to just the right amount of water to water my hay field, surrounded by orchardists and people in the ag industry. So I think it’s a little easier for me to have that relationship …”
It is an odd statement from a governor who celebrated passage of new overtime pay requirements at the end of the last legislative session, brought maggot infested apples into a quarantine area after the horrific fires of last year, and surprised farmers with legislation that would have devastated the agricultural community by requiring farmers to set aside large stream buffers without compensation.
Washington state’s flagrant disregard for its farmers and ranchers starts from the top down.
Last year’s overtime pay law, touted as promoting fair wages for farmworkers, will very likely shortchange those very farmworkers the governor purportedly supports. Our state already pays some of the highest farmworker wages in the country – an estimated average of $18/hr. – and adding a time-and-a-half requirement after 40 hours in 2024, will force employers to reduce that hourly rate to minimum wage and limit hours worked, thus decreasing the overall take-home wage for farmworkers.
After wildfire ravaged the city of Malden last summer, the governor thoughtlessly broke apple maggot quarantine rules by bringing apples from trees at the Governor’s Mansion in Olympia to survivors of the fire. Apple maggots are a highly invasive pest that burrow into the soil, lay eggs, and once established, cannot be eradicated. Few parts of Eastern Washington remain apple maggot free, and signs are prominently posted on our roadways indicating a prohibition on transporting fruit into a quarantine zone. A rule a life-long Washingtonian connected to the agricultural community should be aware of.
The current legislative session has posed its own challenges to the notion the governor is connected to the farm and ranch community. The introduction of HB 1838, a bill filed at the request of the governor, proposed to expand riparian buffers to as much as 249 feet from the high-water mark of 100-year floodplains throughout the entire state. It was dubbed by many as a “farm killer” and for good reason. In Whatcom and Skagit counties, where lowland farms were only just drying out after winter flooding, the fear of losing generational farms was all too real. Fortunately, the bill died in committee.
Later in the interview, the governor was asked what his response would be to critics who say his policies and regulations are making farming more difficult.
“Well, I’d have to know what people are referring to,” Gov. Inslee said. Anyone with a relationship to farmers and ranchers would already know.