Police arrest, tase protesters at state Capitol
Hundreds of protesters gathered on the Capitol steps to protest potential budget cuts as lawmakers kicked off a 30-day special session on Monday.
Seattle Times staff reporters
OLYMPIA — Drums, shouting and expletives reverberated in the marble halls of the state Capitol on Monday as hundreds of protesters disrupted the first day of the Legislature's special session.
After storming a hearing room earlier in the day, protesters refused to leave the Capitol building Monday night until being hauled out one by one by state troopers.
Gov. Chris Gregoire had called lawmakers back to Olympia for a 30-day session to deal with a $2 billion budget shortfall. Demonstrators marched across the campus, through the Statehouse and into galleries above the House and Senate where they briefly delayed proceedings on the floor.
About 100 protesters, most associated with the national Occupy movement, settled into the Capitol rotunda Monday night, some carrying sleeping bags and vowing to stay. Dozens of troopers also were in the building, standing at entrances.
Shortly after 7 p.m., troopers ordered protesters to leave, and those who refused were removed. The building usually closes to the public at 5:30 p.m.
Four people were arrested throughout the day, and 30 others were given trespass warnings.
There was a brief skirmish outside the Capitol, and Dan Coon, a State Patrol spokesman, said troopers used Tasers on three people when demonstrators trying to enter the building advanced on the officers. He said the troopers were trying to protect themselves from being trampled.
"They weren't trying to disperse people," he said.
The demonstrations continued throughout the day and into the night as lawmakers began a session dedicated to budget cuts and potential tax increases. Gregoire has proposed cuts to education, public safety and health care to deal with the shortfall, but also suggested asking voters to increase the state sales tax temporarily to stave off some reductions.
The State Patrol estimated that 3,000 people from various groups, including Occupy Olympia, rallied at the Capitol in protest, with 2,000 at the peak. Many gathered on the Capitol steps, carrying signs that read "Save Our Services," "Protect Our People" and "People of Washington are United." A large banner said, "Tax the 1 percent not the 99 percent."
In maybe the most dramatic scene of the day, dozens of protesters temporarily shut down a House Ways and Means Committee meeting when they started chanting, "We the educators of Washington state will not remain silent while the state Legislature cuts the funding to our schools. It is immoral, and it is illegal ... "
Even more activists were outside the hearing room, pounding on doors manned by nervous-looking security guards.
The demonstration devolved into protesters shouting expletives at lawmakers. After a while, the committee chairman, Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, suspended the hearing for about 30 minutes. One protester was arrested during the disturbance, the State Patrol said.
Sad song for budget
Earlier in the day, the Rolling Stones' song "You Can't Always Get What You Want" blared across the campus while crowds gathered.
It seemed an appropriate theme song for groups pushing lawmakers to close tax breaks and find other means to raise money so that proposed cuts can be avoided.
A two-thirds vote in the House and Senate or voter approval would be required to do much of what protesters are calling for — big political hurdles to overcome.
Gregoire has proposed asking voters for a temporary half-cent sales-tax increase to offset cuts to education and health care.
An Elway Research poll released Monday found that 64 percent of voters surveyed indicated they likely would support a temporary bump in the sales tax to avoid certain cuts.
The poll of 408 voters found that 43 percent were "certainly willing" and 21 percent were "probably willing" to support Gregoire's proposal.
Yet, many protesters weren't keen on that idea.
Dorli Rainey, the 84-year-old woman who became a national icon of the Occupy movement when she was pepper-sprayed by Seattle police this month, was cheered when she told demonstrators that the state should enact an income tax, rather increase the sales tax.
"That is the most regressive thing they have come up with in a long time," Rainey said of Gregoire's proposal. "We need to start working immediately on an income tax now."
Rainey repeated her call later in the Capitol rotunda. And about 100 protesters who massed in front of Gregoire's office echoed that theme, calling the state's tax structure the most regressive in the country.
Senate Ways and Means Chairman Ed Murray, D-Seattle, welcomed the protests but said increasing the state sales tax isn't regressive, considering the alternative. "If what we're trying to do is preserve programs in education and health care and human services, it's not regressive," he said.
Inside the Capitol, protesters unfurled hand-lettered banners from the overhead balconies and waved signs with messages like "Let's bust the corporate bubble" and "You cut, we bleed. Tax the 1%."
Later, a large group massed in front of Gregoire's office and called on her to come out. About a dozen state troopers stood shoulder to shoulder, blocking the doorway to her office.
On the Capitol steps, Thad Curtz, a retired literature professor from The Evergreen State College in Olympia, passed out "We are the 99%" stickers. He said he wasn't aligned with any particular group, but believed the message appealed to a wide range of interests.
The Occupy Wall Street movement has adopted the 99 percent slogan as a way to separate itself from the wealthiest 1 percent of the population, who activists say have too much power and influence.
Income inequality "ought to be part of the political conversation," Curtz said. "I think that's why it (the slogan) appeals to people."
State Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, said the protests were unlike anything he'd seen since he was first elected in 2008. Typically, people demonstrate on the Capitol steps for or against a specific bill, but Monday's protests were much broader — "touching the essence of something deeper," he said.
Instead of asking for specific changes, the protesters were seeking large-scale changes to the system, he said.
"The country's waking up," Carlyle said.
Budget writers in the House and Senate are lining up committee meetings to discuss potential cuts to spending. They also will talk about ways to increase revenues. But there's plenty of doubt they'll be able to complete that work during the special session.
"I have a schedule that enables us to finish in this special session. It requires divine intervention to work," Hunter said, adding that although it's technically possible, "I think it's unlikely."
This story includes material from The Associated Press.
Andrew Garber: email@example.com
Andrew Garber: firstname.lastname@example.org
Trending on seattletimes.com
Most viewed photo galleries
The Morning Memo
The Morning Memo jump starts your day with weather, traffic and news
Career Center Blog
Sign up for our newsletter
Receive weekly recipes, cooking tips and news in your inbox!