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Dent, Warnick, Ybarra part of rural effort to reopen economy

by Charles H. Featherstone
Staff Writer | May 8, 2020 12:15 AM

MOSES LAKE — Rep. Tom Dent, R-Moses Lake, along with 33 other members of the state legislature, has signed a letter to Gov. Jay Inslee asking the governor to reopen the state much more quickly so Washington residents can get back to work.

“People want to go back to work,” Dent wrote in the letter. “They want job security and to be able to provide for their families. They are hungry for outdoor recreation as well as fishing, golf and other outdoor activities. Participation in these activities can be done safely with the social distancing and other accepted methods.”

Among the signatories of the April 20 letter are Sen. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake, Rep. Alex Ybarra, R-Quincy, and two representatives of the 9th District, which includes Adams County, Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, and Rep. Mary Dye, R-Pomeroy.

The legislators laid out a five-point plan for reopening the state, including a voluntary return to work, maintenance of strict social distancing, daily health monitoring of all returning workers, strict personal hygiene, and “other measures as deemed appropriate.”

“We want to assure you, that elected officials in rural Washington are here to assist you and lead in any manner we can,” the legislators wrote. “While this is a crisis, it is also a challenge that those of us who live in the rural part of the state are up to taking on.”

The rural legislators offer their advice and services to the governor, noting that the state’s effort to combat the COVID-19 pandemic must not hurt the state worse than the virus outbreak itself.

“We cannot let the cure be worse than the disease,” they wrote.

Speaking to the Columbia Basin Herald on Wednesday, Dent said the legislators have not received a response to the letter. Nor, he added, does he expect to hear anything in reply.

“We normally don’t get a response,” Dent said. “Moving forward is really how we hear back, when something changes.”

Dent said action, rather than words, is how the governor’s office usually responds.

He said that after he expressed concern, in another letter, about Inslee’s proclamation temporarily banning bunk beds in farm worker housing, the governor’s office started working on a solution that would prevent thousands of farm workers from being without a proper place to live.

But Dent said he is still concerned that the governor’s restart program does not go fast enough or far enough, and that the continued closure is creating a lot of anxious and stressed people who worry about their futures.

“We’re devastating lives by keeping people at home,” he said. “I hear from these people a lot.”

Dent said the best way to handle the continued pandemic would be to “identify those at major risk and keep them safe” while also finding a way to get the economy moving. He also said it is important for government to trust the people it governs.

“I trust you to do the right thing, but when we dictate to the population, they become defiant,” he said. “It’s not my job to be a ruler, but to be a leader.”

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached at cfeatherstone@columbiabasinherald.com.