Shift’s Newsmaker Interview is with Senator Ron Muzzall (R – Oak Harbor) who has served the 10th Legislative District (Island County, Northwest Snohomish County, and Southwest Skagit County) since 2019. He is the managing partner of a family farm and has been an active volunteer for many community and industry organizations, including being a fire commissioner for 11 years. The senator is the Ranking Republican on the Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources and Parks Committee.
In his interview Senator Muzzall states his frustration with the Inslee Administration’s “broken promises” and failure to follow the law by not providing an exemption for farmers from the skyrocketing fuel prices due to the Democrats’ expensive “Cap and Trade” energy policies. He blames the urban Democrats’ “downright disrespectful views of agricultural workers” for the radical overtime wage policies which are financially hurting both the state’s farmers and farmworkers. The father of three grown daughters discusses his legislation which will provide support for young women who choose motherhood over abortion. Senator Muzzall expresses his disappointment in how Democrat lawmakers have allowed “dangerous drug-use problem to persist” with their liberal drug possession laws. Finally, the senator provides his thoughts on 10th LD Representative Clyde Shavers who “has a lot of work to do mending that distrust” with the citizens following his many lies during the 2022 campaign.
A vast majority of farmers in the state are upset that the Inslee Administration has failed to follow the law by not exempting farmers from the significant fuel price increase caused by the Democrats’ “Cap and Trade” legislation. What can legislators and the agriculture community do to force the governor to abide by the bill he aggressively sought and signed into law?
It’s sad that we’ve seen many policies that outright target our agricultural producers. They’ve been caught up in a string of broken promises by the administration and legislative Democrats, and this latest issue over the impacts of fuel prices is frustrating, to say the least. I’m deeply disappointed that this administration isn’t living up to its promise and obligation under law.
Coming to Olympia or taking time to engage in the legislative process is not usually at the front of their minds balancing all that’s required to have any sort of living being a producer, but it’s necessary. A lot of it comes down to education and participation. It’s tough because these folks are busy working, feeding our state and the world. We have a lot of good ag-related groups down in the Legislature who are ensuring the voices of farmers are heard, but it’s no substitute for that personal story.
My caucus happens to represent a lot of agricultural parts of the state, so make no mistake, we are standing up and pushing back hard with the tools we have. That will never be as effective as having honest conversations with other legislators who aren’t connected to ag to educate them on the real challenges these farmers are facing.
Earlier this session the state’s farming community (both farmers and workers) sought a compromise on the 2021 agriculture overtime bill which has significantly increased cost for many farmers and reduced wages for workers. Yet urban Democrats killed the proposal. What is the next step to help reduce the negative impact these new overtime laws have had on farmers and workers?
This proposal didn’t come through my committee (I serve as the ranking member on the Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources and Parks Committee) as it was a labor issue, but broadly speaking, I think we need to get folks to the table well in advance and start with an honest assessment of the problem.
We are facing a serious agriculture labor shortage and the seasonality of the work means that producers or growers need some flexibility. The labor side gets that, but it’s the ideological divide and lack of understanding from some urban legislators that we need to overcome. The public comment on the proposal was compelling and it was unfortunate that Democratic legislators there had preconceived notions and downright disrespectful views of agricultural workers’ ability to advocate for their own needs.
You have proposed legislation (which has passed the Senate) to improve maternal support. Can you briefly describe the legislation and what are the chances the legislation will also pass the House?
I’m pleased that, as of now, one of the proposals was approved by the House as well and the other is waiting for a vote. Given that, I think there’s a pretty good chance that these become law. In essence, the legislation seeks to reduce barriers for pregnant mothers to choose life. Senate Bill 5581 seeks to reduce and ultimately eliminate costs for low-income women receiving maternal support and post-partum care. The state apparently has funds to end life, but as a policy, we should be looking at both sides of the equation. As I’ve said, women’s health care is more than just abortion and the state isn’t doing enough to help women that choose motherhood. The second proposal, Senate Bill 5580, would support mothers struggling with substance abuse, allowing them to get treatment as part of their maternity care. It would also focus on improving outcomes for new moms and their babies.
What are your thoughts on current drug possession legislation after Democrats in House Committees added amendments?
While not perfect, what the Senate passed was a balanced compromise and I think the changes from the House may move in the wrong direction. At a high level, it’s staggering the length they’ve gone to allow the persistent, dangerous drug-use problem to persist. We need both a strong disincentive for users to stop the destructive behavior and support for those caught in addiction.
Wholesale legalization and unchecked use of hard drugs on our streets is plain wrong. It’s tragic and uncompassionate. Not to mention that such a policy position gives tacit approval to the deadly fentanyl epidemic that’s gripped our state. Broadly speaking, further erosion of that ability to force users into treatment moves us in the wrong direction and throws the whole fix out of balance. We need accountability, structure, and discipline as a framework for solving this and a whole host of other issues.
Can you describe and provide an update on your legislation which allows use of fentanyl strips? Why will this help reduce the growing number of overdose deaths which have occurred?
Senate Bill 5022 is waiting to be put on the House floor calendar for a vote. It’s a simple proposal that decriminalizes possession of these test strips. Like what happened with Narcan, we’ve found that many health-care organizations and local governments are giving out these test strips but it’s technically illegal, classified as drug paraphernalia. My bill simply removes it from that list. I think it’s a compassionate approach, a first step to stemming the tide of overdose deaths. For people struggling with addiction, we obviously don’t want them using, but we don’t want them overdosing in our streets either. The tests are at least a step to make sure they aren’t ingesting this vile substance unintentionally.
One of the House members from your legislative district (the 10th) created a great deal of controversy during the closing days of the 2022 Election. Democrat Representative Clyde Shavers’ father wrote a public letter stating that his son lied about his military record, his family’s history, his work experience, and even where he resided. Many of the district voters were not aware of these lies before they mailed in their ballots and Shavers barely won by 211 votes (0.28%). What has been your thoughts on this controversy?
I can’t comment on campaign-related issues (due to legislative restrictions). That said, I think that people send us here to do a job based on our integrity. The Speaker of the House was asked a similar question during a meeting with the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association, and I think she rightly pointed out that the Representative has a lot of work to do mending that distrust with the people we serve and colleagues in the Legislature. I’ve made a concerted effort to not get involved in that controversy and focus on doing the job of transparently, honestly and truthfully representing the 10th District. I have a great relationship with my other Democrat seatmate, we’ve done town halls together and converse about how we can be effective for our district.
To learn more about Senator Muzzall and to contact his office, please visit his official website.