Our top 10 stories of 2017

Net neutrality takes top spot followed by posts on national policies, climate change

Gov. Jay Inslee is joined by Attorney General Bob Ferguson and other proponents of net neutrality on Dec. 13 in Olympia. (Governor’s Office photo)

From responding to national policies of a new presidential administration to working on a state budget that provided historic new levels of education funding, 2017 was an unprecedented year for many reasons.

When we launched this Medium page in December 2016, we hoped it would be a useful platform for Gov. Jay Inslee to share stories, updates, photos and video from throughout Washington. We tried to focus on the policies coming from both Washington, D.C., and Olympia that directly affect people throughout our state, and provide some insight into how the governor and other community or state leaders are responding to emerging issues.

Of the 115 stories we posted this year, here’s a look back at the 10 posts that interested our readers the most in 2017, based on number of views.

1. State leaders announce steps to protect net neutrality

As members of the Federal Communications Commission prepared to take a critical vote on net neutrality rules, Inslee, Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, members of the business community and a bipartisan trio of legislators stood side by side in Olympia to defend a free and open internet for Washingtonians.

Although the FCC did vote to repeal the net neutrality regulations, this article outlines the actions our state can pursue to uphold the free flow of information over the internet, prevent the blocking of lawful websites and the unreasonable discrimination of lawful network traffic, and discourage the practice of paid prioritization. This post was viewed more than 56,000 times on our Medium page.

2. Open letter to U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan

Inslee wrote an open letter to U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan in August, ahead of Ryan’s visit to Washington state to promote tax reform at a Boeing plant in Everett. The letter welcomed Ryan to Washington, a state with a robust economy where “leaders are often able to set aside ideology for the sake of the greater good.”

Inslee encouraged Ryan to find common ground among Democrats and Republicans in Washington, D.C., and to speak up against hateful rhetoric.

“This is a divisive time in our nation,” Inslee wrote. “Women, the LGBTQ community, people with disabilities, Dreamers, refugees, people of color and so many others have been the target of disparaging attacks from the man in our White House and some in your caucus.

“How did we get here? And how will you help us change course?”

3. Inslee signs executive order protecting rights, services for Washingtonian immigrants

In February, Inslee signed an executive order affirming and clarifying policies for state agencies that provide services to immigrant Washingtonians.

The executive order states that, to the full extent allowed under federal law, state agencies will not deny services on the basis of citizenship or legal status, will not collect information beyond what is necessary to perform agency duties, and will not use agency resources to assist with creation of a registry based on religion or apprehension of persons for civil immigration infractions.

Inslee’s executive order emphasized the many ways that immigrants contribute significantly to Washington’s economy, enrich the state’s culture and communities, and proudly sacrifice to keep us safe.

Gov. Jay Inslee signs his executive order reaffirming Washington’s commitment to tolerance, diversity, and inclusiveness Feb. 23 in Olympia alongside then-General Counsel Nick Brown. (Governor’s Office photo)

4. Statement on President Trump executive orders restricting refugee assistance and immigration

On Jan. 23 Inslee issued a statement regarding President Donald Trump’s executive orders on immigration and refugees.

“We will not be intimidated or divided. The president this week has reminded us that people’s voices are more important than ever,” Inslee’s statement read in part. “Together, we will resist any effort that would violate Washington’s values, take away the opportunity for higher education or break up hard-working families.

“We will not stand by and allow Huskies and Cougars, and so many others to be turned away from their campuses and our state. They are dreamers and we will not allow this order, or any order, to keep them from their dreams.”

5. Climate action: here’s what we’ve done so far

Inslee and governors from New York and California formed the U.S. Climate Alliance in June in response to Trump’s announced intention to remove the United States from the international Paris climate agreement. Trump’s decision leaves the U.S. as the only nation that won’t be part of the global effort to combat carbon pollution.

When Inslee helped launch the U.S. Climate Alliance, it became one of many ways Washington is leading on climate action.

Gov. Jay Inslee speaks to members of the media on Sept. 20 in New York City about a new report that shows states involved in the U.S. Climate Alliance are collectively on track to meet their portion of commitments to the Paris agreement. (Kevin P. Coughlin/New York Governor’s Office)

6. Motorists prepare for gridlock ahead of eclipse

There were some traffic unknowns leading up to the total solar eclipse in August, prompting officials in Washington and Oregon to take extra precautions and educate motorists before the major astronomical event.

“A total solar eclipse is no doubt a special astronomical phenomenon that many people will want to enjoy,” Inslee said in the story. “Washingtonians can help ensure that everyone has a safe and memorable experience by giving themselves an abundance of travel time before and after the eclipse, exiting the highway before stopping to watch the eclipse and wearing eye protection specifically designed for eclipse viewing.”

Traffic did become more congested in some parts of the state around the time of the eclipse, but no major catastrophes were reported.

7. Washington among top 5 states according to U.S. News and World Report first ever Best States rankings

It’s not as though we didn’t already know Washington is a great place to live, but it was still exciting to share the results of the U.S. News and World Report first Best States rankings, which showed Washington state ranked fifth overall. Washington received high marks in the categories of infrastructure, education and health care.

Our state also ranked highly in the areas of affordable electricity prices, parole completion, renewable energy use, patent creation, child dental visits and government digitization. Other states in the top five were Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Minnesota and North Dakota.

(Washington received some other great rankings this year including CNBC’s rankings for top state for business and for one of the best paid family leave programs.)

8. New program helps families on tight budgets afford healthy foods

The announcement in June of the new Complete Eats program, which allows recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formally known as Food Stamps) to buy more fruits and veggies, received a healthy heaping of online views.

First Lady Trudi Inslee and state Secretary of Health John Wiesman helped kickoff the program at a Safeway store in Renton. Complete Eats is now available at all 150 Safeway locations in Washington, and it is among the nation’s first SNAP incentive programs to be offered in a major national retailer.

Shoppers at Safeway who buy at least $10 worth of qualifying fruits and vegetables using their SNAP card and their Safeway Club Card will get a coupon for $5 off their next purchase. Shoppers can choose from a large variety of fruits and vegetables — fresh, canned or frozen — so long as the products have no added fats, sugars or salt.

Washington State Secretary of Health John Wiesman, from left, First Lady Trudi Inslee, and Karl Schroeder, president of the Seattle division of Safeway and Albertsons, attend the Complete Eats kickoff event on June 20. (Governor’s Office photo)

9. After prison, Washington mother walks ‘loneliest, hardest road’

Washington mother Melissa Jolley’s story of perseverance following her incarceration in a Washington state prison shows how state policies directly affect rates of recidivism in Washington state, where approximately 17,000 people are in custody and an estimated 7,800 were released from prison in 2017. Around one-third of those released from prison eventually go back, meaning more crime, more costs to the state and more broken families.

The reasons that many return to prison are varied, but one thing has become clear for state leaders: incarcerated individuals who enroll in training or education programs in prison and receive support for housing and employment after their release are less likely to commit new crimes.

10. A new department to better serve children, youth, families

We’re not surprised to see the new Department of Children, Youth & Families make it into the top 10. The new department is the result of efforts to restructure how the state serves at-risk children and youth, including foster youth.

The new agency is now in the midst of a yearlong transition period, and it eventually will oversee several services now offered through the state Department of Social and Health Services and the Department of Early Learning.

The creation of the new department follows the suggestions of the bipartisan Blue Ribbon Commission on the Delivery of Services to Children and Families convened by the governor in February 2016 to recommend a state system that focuses more clearly on preventing harm to children and youth.

Gov. Jay Inslee at the July 6 signing ceremony for a bill to create the new Washington State Department of Children, Youth and Families. (Governor’s Office photo)