Lobbying where it counts

This year’s event included 90 students and more than double the number of legislative representatives than the previous year, filling half of Gould Hall Court. Photo by Lucas Anderson

As a special session to address Gov. Christine Gregoire’s proposed budget slashes draws near, students gathered last night to voice their opinions and share stories about recent reductions during the annual Student Empowerment Banquet last night.

Around 90 students had the opportunity to speak to 20 legislators at a dinner sponsored by the ASUW Office of Government Relations (OGR).

“Our main purpose is to connect students with the legislators to discuss higher education and create a plan to save [it],” said Maxine Sugarman, OGR legislative programming coordinator.

Due to a limited budget, the OGR was not able to allow all the students who applied to be a part of the banquet.

“We were really impressed [by the turnout of applicants],” said Sarah Round, the OGR assistant director. “It means more people for lobby day. We would have loved to accept everyone.”

The students were chosen by the quality of their application, the groups they were involved with on campus, and where they were registered to vote in the state of Washington.

Another goal of the OGR was to create a less formal atmosphere for students to talk to their legislators. By changing many areas of the legislative reception, including renaming the event the Student Empowerment Banquet, the OGR aimed to create an easier setting for students.

“We encouraged students to talk to [legislators] as friends,” Sugarman said.

As an attendee of the banquet, sophomore Emily Wittman said the casual setting made her feel more comfortable talking with her elected officials.

“We’re not in an office or in [the legislators’] territory,” Wittman said. “We can absolutely benefit from this neutral setting.”

Sugarman brought in 20 legislators for the students, in comparison to the eight brought in last year. She emailed personalized letters to all the senators and legislators of Washington state.

Wittman said she wanted to make her mark with lobbying by discussing student figures at the UW with her legislators. She shared a story from the Board of Regents meeting over the summer at which the tuition increase was passed.

“A young UW graduate student with her daughter, who was sitting with a coloring book, was trying to get an education and [set] her life for the future,” Wittman said. “I just wondered if her kid would ever get an opportunity for education.”

Each table of students had a student leader trained by the OGR to bring up the idea of the three-point proposal made by the OGR Wednesday to reduce the effect of Gregoire’s proposed cuts.

“I want to take a step deeper for the students to get to share their stories and allow them to share stories of their peers, too,” said Dalia Amin, one of the table leaders and an attendee of the reception for the past three years. “When you tell [the legislators] your stories in person, you bring them in your footsteps, and it’s rare that they will forget the experience.”

At the banquet, students were able to share personal stories and voice their concerns.

“Four years spent in college changes you more than just what you learn in the classrooms,” said sophomore Chris Brubaker, an out-of-state student. “The [rise in tuition] doesn’t compensate for that experience. I’m getting to the point where the tuition makes it’s just not feasible for me to come back.”

ASUW programming director Robert Higa said the cut would prevent students from being able to give back to their state.

“By us losing support from the state, I feel like there’s less expectation from students to give back to the state,” Higa said. “We should be thinking about what a public university is.”

Bob Hasegawa, state representative of the 11th district, said he agrees whole-heartedly with Higa.

“One of the things I hate is using public resources to make private profit,” Hasegawa said.

Hasegawa, the representative of the table, said he was a full supporter of higher education and also sponsored the proposal allowing a property tax levy for community and technical colleges.

UW student regent Kelsey Knowles explained the new proposal for the revenue to Hasegawa to show the benefits the university and state would get. Hasegawa said he wished to learn more about the proposal.

OGR Director Andrew Lewis said he was impressed by the students at the event and looked forward to advancing the conversations to Olympia.

“It was a great success, [at] 9 o’clock … we still had innovative conversation here,” Lewis said. “Students were well-received, and I’m very much looking forward to continuing these conversations until the end of November.”

Reach reporter Joon Yi at news@dailyuw.com.

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