On Sept.13, State Senator Joe Nguyen arrived late for a campaign fundraiser on Vashon, due to a reduction in ferry service while the Issaquah was out for repairs.
After waiting for about 20 minutes, Nguyen’s campaign manager announced that she had just received a call from Joe.
“He’s on the ferry, and people keep coming up and reminding him that he’s late,” the manager said.
The small crowd of about 30 islanders, gathered outdoors at Vashon Brewing Community Pub for the event, had a good laugh over the irony of his situation.
And of course, when he finally arrived, the ferries became the major topic of discussion.
Among those present, Justin Hirsch, who sits on the Vashon Ferry Advisory Committee, brought up several ferry-related issues, including the condition of docks, the shortage of aging ferries, and the lack of progress in expanding the Fauntleroy Dock.
Sen. Nguyen acknowledged these issues and stated that it had been difficult to get political support for ferry funding as there are “only six or eight legislators whose districts actually have constituents who rely on them.”
“In this last session we passed the Move Forward Washington Transportation package,” he said. “So, we have $2 billion coming with four boats fully funded with another six on the way. As Justin mentioned, the (construction) capacity is a huge deal. There’s really only one builder that can actually do it…and the military has them tied up.”
Staffing was the largest issue facing WSF, added Nguyen.
“It’s not unique to the ferry system… it’s a larger issue as well,” he said. “And that’s why we’ve had to put more money towards recruitment and retention.”
Regarding the Fauntleroy dock, Nguyen said he supported its expansion, if done in a thoughtful way, but mentioned issues raised by other constituencies he serves, including the Fauntleroy community and tribal concerns that an expansion could encroach on some salmon habitat.
However, he said he was confident the process could be worked out — and needed to be — given the deterioration of the current dock.
“I think there are ways to do it that are mindful of the folks who are involved,” he said, urging islanders to continue to give him feedback on the process.
Island activist Roxanne Thayer brought up the issue of healthcare, urging Washington’s swift adoption of single-payer Medicare for all.
Nguyen said he was supportive of single-payer options.
“I think the private health insurance market has not worked for a lot of folks,” he said. “…Obviously, there’s a need and there’s demand for us to be able to change. The hard part of the conversation is that the upfront costs will be very difficult for one state to bear. We’ve been trying to work with our federal partners on a waiver to use federal funds to implement, at the very least, a public option solution.”
Another islander, active with the group Grandma’s Against Gun Violence, asked about opportunities for legislation in that arena next year.
“There’s a whole host of things on the table including assault weapons,” Nguyen said. “The Attorney General obviously is very passionate about that. And I believe that depending on how things turn out in November, there’s a really good shot for us, if you will, no pun intended, to work on that policy.”
Nguyen also said that climate will be a big focus for him next year, with the current chair of the Energy, Environment and Technology Committee now retiring and the position open.
“I’ve already put my name in the hat for that too,” he said.