John Braun: Governor needs to feel public heat if Green Hill School situation is to improve


During the news conference he held minutes after the Legislature adjourned for the year, Gov. Jay Inslee praised his Democrat allies in the Senate and House because they didn’t “collapse” or go backwards by approving Initiative 2117, Initiative 2109 and Initiative 2124 while we were in session.

It was no surprise that the governor took a shot at the initiatives, because for Inslee it’s personal. While he merely signed off on the mandatory, long-term care payroll tax that prompted I-2124, the governor is much more culpable for the cap-and-trade plan and the state tax on income from capital gains that would be repealed by I-2117 and I-2109. Inslee proposed both policies multiple times until his fellow Democrats approved them in 2021.

It's also revealing how the governor said nothing about the truly historic achievement from our 2024 session — the passage of the other three voter initiatives, which will ban an income tax in Washington, make public schools more transparent to parents and repeal the criminal-friendly restrictions on police pursuits.

Maybe he was silent because he thinks Democrats went backwards by joining Republicans to pass those measures, especially the police-pursuit initiative. It’s too bad no reporter tried to pin the governor down on that.

I wish we had been able to vote on all six initiatives, as Republicans would have backed each one. But thinking back to how dismissive Democrat leaders were about the initiatives in early January, the fact that three were passed into law is not just a great win for the people of Washington, it’s also a reminder how elected officials can often find the right path if enough pressure is put on them.

With that in mind, Gov. Inslee needs to feel more heat about his administration’s mismanagement of Green Hill School.

I wrote to him in early February about a long list of shocking offenses and reports at Green Hill: repeated riots, multiple drug overdoses, smuggling of contraband into the facility, employee misconduct, gang activity, lack of proper supervision and other incidents that paint a picture of chaos and lawlessness. His response was not encouraging.

Now, another Green Hill staff member has been arrested, this time on suspicion of conspiring to commit a prison riot. That led a reporter to try pinning the governor down about whether he still has confidence in the state Department of Children, Youth and Families, which is responsible for the facility.

Inslee dodged the DCYF question, again, but finally acknowledged on camera that the state needs to make “more changes” at Green Hill — something that has been obvious to local officials for a very long time.

In that same interview, Inslee threw in how young adults up to age 25 are living at Green Hill with juveniles — who he called “young kids” — and said it poses security challenges because “we’ve never done this before.”

It’s misleading for the governor to act like this is new. He should know it dates to a change in law made in 2018 over Republican objections, because he signed that legislation. The Democrats’ idea that juvenile rehabilitation can continue until age 25 is looking like the same sort of failed social experiment as their disastrous 2021 decriminalization of drugs. As I wrote to Inslee this past month, adults do not belong locked up with children.

With this year’s legislative session over and lawmakers back home in their districts, I made a visit to Green Hill this past week. Everyone there is a constituent of mine in one way or another. I want them to know I care about what happens at Green Hill and will listen if they have something to tell me.

Seeing how Inslee has repeatedly chosen to ignore my calls for an independent investigation of Green Hill, the next step is more heat. I certainly hope it doesn’t take something tragic, like a death from an overdose or riot, to force his hand regarding the Lewis County facility (and other facilities such as Echo Glen, in rural King County) and bring about any sort of measurable improvement.

Frankly, and unfortunately, we may have to wait for a new governor before things begin to turn around at these facilities. Remember how Inslee has been slow when it comes to acting on a whole range of obvious and high-visibility issues, from preventing and clearing freeway right-of-way encampments to reopening schools during the pandemic, as well as addressing Washington’s drug-overdose crisis and high rates of violent and property crime.

Demanding accountability, whether it’s from lawbreakers or from his own executive-branch department heads, is not his strong suit.

At his post-election news conference Inslee jokingly asked for “softball” questions, and the media obliged, asking what he sees as his greatest legacy. For the past 12 years, the governor replied, he’s gotten up each morning trying to figure out what he can do that day to help the people of Washington “reach their aspirations and dreams.”

If that’s true, then there are staff members at Green Hill School who aspire to deliver on the “rehabilitation” part of juvenile rehabilitation. There are young people inside those walls who dream of breaking free of whatever forces caused them to end up in custody. State government should aspire to help them get on a better path toward becoming adults who are productive members of our society.

Everyone associated with Green Hill — inmates, their loved ones, staff, neighbors — deserves better than they are getting from the governor and his administration.

Sen. John Braun of Centralia serves the 20th Legislative District, which spans parts of four counties from Yelm to Vancouver. He became Senate Republican leader in 2020.