By Joe Adamack/Washington State Legislature
Dragging a class of high school students 42 miles from their South King County classroom to the state Capitol is rarely an option during the busy school year.
But this week an Auburn High School journalism class did manage to speak directly with Joe Fain, their state senator, about legislation they were tracking in Olympia thanks to video conference technology.
“For the first time in my 32 years of teaching I had students in a classroom who were excited about anything to do with their state government and actually interested in what is happening in the state Capitol,” said Thomas Kaup, teacher and journalism adviser at Auburn High School. “During the video conference, one could hear a pin drop in the room which is rare in any high school. Sen. Fain was literally in my classroom, live, on screen, directly talking to students in his district. The students were simply in awe that their senator would leave his work during session to talk to them, live, in their newspaper class.”
Fain, who installed the video conference setup in his legislative office prior to the 2017 session, would never have been able to make it to Auburn and back on a day with three two-hour committee meetings, many appointments and calls with advocates for bills under consideration in the Legislature as well as a few media interviews — all in a day’s work as a state senator.
“My job is to represent the 130,000 people back home in South King County here in the Capitol,” said Fain, R-Auburn. “While I have the opportunity to engage with many of them directly through email, phone calls, social media and visits to the Capitol, video conference technology allows me to look people in the eye and listen to their concerns or ideas to improve state government. Slogging through traffic and taking an entire day to go to Olympia just isn’t an option for many people with busy jobs, family commitments, or those who aren’t as mobile as others. We must bring government within reach of the people it represents.”
Fain sponsored legislation to protect free speech for student journalists, which he’d originally learned about when visiting Kaup’s classroom in person in 2015 when the Legislature was out of session. While the students – and Fain – were disappointed that the House of Representatives decided to ignore their proposal, it provided a great opportunity to learn about the legislative process in real time.
“Having the opportunity to use technology in order to hear from senators and representatives, avails students to a new experience they otherwise wouldn’t be able to take part in,” said Diego Izquierdo, Auburn High School student and managing editor of the school’s Troy InVoice newspaper. “Technology has become a useful resource that keeps expanding and makes it easier to communicate and talk to representatives about legislative issues that affect them. Instead of having to make a trip to Olympia, which would be impossible for most of the students, they simply had to go to class to talk to someone in government.”
Fain recently used his system with Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines, when they joined a meeting of the Metropolitan Seattle Chamber of Commerce board virtually to discuss a proposal on paid family leave under consideration this session.
Community groups, teachers, students, and any other organizations interested in scheduling a teleconference on legislative topics with Fain are encouraged to request a meeting online by visiting meet.senatorfain.com.