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caption: Bellevue firefighter Ryan Armstrong, right, administers the first dose of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine for Hai Pham, left, an employee at the Optimus Family Home on Friday, February 5, 2021, in Bellevue.
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Bellevue firefighter Ryan Armstrong, right, administers the first dose of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine for Hai Pham, left, an employee at the Optimus Family Home on Friday, February 5, 2021, in Bellevue.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Friday Politics: Teachers can get vaccines but school’s still out in Seattle

Governor Jay Inslee moved quickly this week to add teachers, school staff and licensed childcare workers to the list of those eligible to receive the Covid vaccinations.

From the president on down there’s a sense that getting kids off their screens and into the classroom is an urgent priority for education reasons. and for mental health reasons.

But most Seattle teachers may not be headed back to class until the Fall.

KUOW reporter David Hyde and and Civic Cocktail's Joni Balter joined KUOW's Angela King to talk about the week in politics. Hear the full discussion by clicking the audio above.

Vaccine plan cynicism

Teachers in Washington state are now prioritized for coronavirus vaccines. Educators have been asking for access to vaccines for weeks, but Governor Inslee has held off until this week.

Civic Cocktail's Joni Balter notes that Inslee doesn't have the authority to force teachers back into classrooms. But he does have the authority to get them vaccines.

"He is under a ton of pressure to get kids back in the classrooms," "Inslee has been trying, without a lot of success, to get teachers to return. He has coaxed, he has cajoled, he has done everything but teach classes himself. Looking at some of the photo ops, it looks like he came close."

But we still don’t know when most Seattle kids or teachers will be back in class. The Seattle teacher’s union and the district have not yet reached an agreement for school reopening.

Union leaders say they want to be in class and hope to phase in more students this spring . But they also say more safety protocols are needed to keep kids safe who aren’t vaccinated, and to keep all of their families at home safe.

So it’s not clear how long the collective bargaining process will take. We could looking at a situation where teachers in Seattle are getting vaccines, but most won’t return to class for another 6 months. And that puts Governor Inslee in a very tough spot, politically.

On Thursday, Inslee said grocery store employees and other essential workers, regardless of age, should be able to get their shots later this month. That's welcome news, but not without a dose of cynicism from some who have been waiting for this update.

"When it comes to the politics, you know, Inslee's supporters would call responsive government, I guess," says KUOW politics reporter David Hyde. "And Inslee's critics? Not so much."

Challengers for Washington Republicans

Meanwhile, political hopefuls are getting into a line of their own.

Republican Representative Dan Newhouse is being challenged by a wing of the part that may be even further to the right than the conservative congressman — a wing that has embraced conspiracy theories about the 2020 presidential election.

"There's one official candidate, Brad Klippert, he represents the 8th District in the state House, from central Washington. He's a very Conservative, culture warrior kind of guy. One of the bills he sponsored this year in the state House would have ended vote-by-mail. His reasoning is he suspects election fraud. Of course, he has no real evidence for that."

Hyde notes that former gubernatorial candidate Loren Culp has been hinting he might also run for the congressional seat. Culp has also alleged election fraud without evidence.

"So if you put this race in context, there has always been Conservative versus more Conservative battles on the right, just as there have been further left versus more moderate battles on the left. But this is different because the incumbent Dan Newhouse is himself a very Conservative Republican. So it's almost shaping up to be very Conservative challengers who believe in conspiracy theories versus a very Conservative incumbent who does not believe in conspiracy theories."

Joni Balter, host of Civic Cocktail on the Seattle Channel, says she expects Newhouse and Republican Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler (both voted to impeach former President Donald Trump) will be re-elected despite blowback from the party.

"There are lots of independents in this state who admire independent thinkers," she says.