We’ve had quite a debate going on in the comment threads over growth management, taxation, and other policies that exacerbate the urban-rural political divide in Washington state. Personally, I’m of the opinion that both sides usually get it wrong… that we are actually a lot more interdependent than we like to acknowledge, and thus have much more common ground than some provocateurs would have us believe.
I’d like to add some nuance to this debate by pointing to Kate Riley’s excellent column in today’s Seattle Times: “Getting city-slickers to listen to the states oldest industry.” Riley lays out the case made by the WA State Horticultural Association and the WA Tree Fruit Commission, that agriculture is a vital industry deserving the same attention and consideration as high tech.
“The Legislature would not consider changes to the tax code, transportation rules or environmental standards without first considering their effect upon economic engines like Boeing or Microsoft,” says Jim Hazen, executive director of the association. “Neither should policymakers adopt new laws and rules without considering their impact upon an industry that is the state’s second-largest employer and among the top 10 revenue generators.
I’m not enough of an Olympia insider or observer to know whether agriculture really does get short shrift in the Legislature, but I agree that it shouldn’t. In fact, one of the components of our Growth Management Act that I find most attractive is protecting productive agricultural lands from encroaching urban sprawl.
Ironically, Riley credits our high-tech Senator, Maria Cantwell, for being one politician who has embraced agricultural issues, and has worked hard in the other Washington on behalf of her rural constituents.
The senator shares farmers’ frustrations with the urban blind spot to agriculture, noting she reminded participants at a recent Seattle chamber discussion on biotechnology that agriculture research should be considered, too. “If you care about jobs in Washington, you need to care about agriculture,” Cantwell said.
It is rhetorically lazy to couch issues like this in the kind of “red-blue”, “right-left”, “east-west” dichotomy that turns every policy decision into an uncompromising ideological struggle. Demagogues like Tim Eyman may be good at sending angry messages, but they do a crappy job of writing rational policy that works for all our citizens.
And after all… we all have to eat.