Earlier this week Washington State Lieutenant Governor candidate Bill Finkbeiner, a former state senator with ties to both parties on his resume, floated an idea via email to supporters. The current Republican from Kirkland thinks Olympia would run smoother if elected lawmakers ditched the divided aisles and intermingled a little. Currently legislators in Olympia are assigned their seats according to party and seniority - a longstanding practice, and one that Finkbeiner's campaign says only adds to the political divide.
"Think about any organization or business. Where you sit with the people you work with, if you segregated it off into two opposition groups, and said you can only talk to each other through microphones, and now you have to solve a problem, it's not conducive to people building relationships," says Finkbeiner. "Negotiations and solutions are always built first on relationships. If those relationships are broken, then they can't build solutions."
Sure, there's an unavoidable element of humor in any conversation involving this outside-the-box idea, but Finkbeiner promises he's serious about it. Though the suggestion started small, it has quickly received a favorable response from supporters, not to mention generated a small amount of buzz for the candidate ... if only because the the thought of forcing legislators in Olympia to sit in alphabetical order like roll call in third-period gym class is kind of silly sounding at first.
"I'm 100-percent serious," says Finkbeiner by phone from Eastern Washington, noting without spite that since the email to supporters went out earlier this week he's done short, "30-second" interviews with multiple regional media outlets on the subject of alphabetical seating - each focusing on the unintended humor of the proposal.
"The question is: is our legislator here to serve the party or the people. If it exists to serve the people, then what possible reason can you have for separating people with an aisle?" asks Finkbeiner. "I just don't see any benefit, other than to the party.
"Once you get to Olympia, you're actually getting paid to work for the state, and not for your party."
Finkbeiner says the reaction, while mostly positive, has also been surprising.
"I thought I'd just send this idea out to my email list, which isn't a massive list or anything, and see what people think," explains Finkbeiner. "Frankly I was a little concerned people wouldn't like it, but I've gotten tremendous feedback."
There is one catch, however. If elected, even Finkbeiner isn't sure if it's a change the Lieutenant Governor has the power to make. But he's not letting that stop him from bringing it up.
"I would love to hear some legislators respond to it, and what I'd especially love to hear is why it's a bad idea. What I expect some of them are going to say is the Lieutenant Governor can't do it," says Finkbeiner. "I'm not a constitutional scholar by any means, but the Lieutenant Governor constitutionally presides over the Senate, so can you just waive a wand as Lieutenant Governor and do it?"
"I don't know," says Finkbeiner. "But if enough people start talking about it ..."