Punishment hinges on intent, Rep. Van De Wege tells Chimacum students
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Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News
State Rep. Kevin Van De Wege, right, takes a question during a Wednesday visit to Chimacum Schools as part of the Legislature's Back to School program. Students pictured are, from left, Sarah Short, Ross Henley, John Schleiger, Evie Arnold and Nico Ware.
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State Rep. Kevin Van De Wege of Sequim takes a question during a Wednesday visit to Chimacum Schools as part of the Legislature’s Back to School program. Photo by Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News.

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

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CHIMACUM — The punishment for a crime hinges on the intent of the alleged perpetrator, a state legislator told a high school class Wednesday.

“Taking a machete and a knife to school is illegal, but it is different if you plan to do something with them,” Rep. Kevin Van De Wege said while addressing a 10th-grade English class at Chimacum High School.

Van De Wege's Wednesday visit was part of the Legislature's Back to School program and was scheduled prior to Monday's arrest of two Chimacum eighth-graders who are accused of bringing weapons to school.

If the students had a plan, then “the prosecutor's treatment of the crime will have far different consequences,” said Van De Wege, a Sequim Democrat who represents the 24th District, which covers Jefferson and Clallam counties and part of Grays Harbor County.

What they were carrying

Jefferson County Sheriff Tony Hernandez has said that one of the boys was carrying a 24-inch machete and the other a meat cleaver and two folding knives.

The two 14-year-old boys pleaded not guilty to possession of a firearm or other dangerous weapon on school grounds, a gross misdemeanor, on Tuesday.

The Peninsula Daily News is not identifying the two boys because of their age.

Jefferson County Prosecutor Scott Rosekrans is preparing the case against the two in anticipation of a Nov. 10 hearing.

Van De Wege pointed out Rosekrans' accountability to the public.

“If your parents don't know Scott, many of them voted in the election where he was running,” he said.

Van De Wege spoke to the class for the entire class period, splitting his time into a lecture format about state government and a question-and-answer period.

His distillation of his responsibilities was simple: “I pass laws and spend money.”

He outlined the three branches of government — executive, legislative and judicial — and their respective functions.

He explained government's trickle-down process, how Congress makes laws the state has to follow and how the states provide mandatory guidelines for counties and cities.

“Before a law is passed, it is voted on about 10 times, and every time it is voted on, it could die,” he said.

“When we make a law, it is hard to accomplish and easy to be nullified.”

And he explained a key difference between the federal and state government.

“The federal government is the only one that can spend money it doesn't have,” he said.

“The state can only spend money if they have it.”

Van De Wege said he considers education an important expenditure.

“I support the state parks, but if we close all of them, no one will die,” he said.

“If we cut health and human services, there will be quite a different outcome, and if we raise the tuition for state colleges so much that you cannot attend, it will affect you for the rest of your life.”

He warned that services can be cut but said his energy will be focused on closing tax loopholes so everyone pays his or her share.

Levy equalization

He also intends to defend the practice of levy equalization, where a portion of the levy money collected by large — and richer — schools goes to smaller and poorer ones such as Chimacum.

“You may have already seen some cuts, such as teachers getting a smaller salary or some programs going away, but if levy equalization is discontinued, it will get a lot worse,” he said.

Many of the students asked multiple questions that indicated they had done research about Van De Wege.

In response to one student's questions, Van De Wege said he supported the right to bear arms but opposed Initiative 1183, which would get the state out of the liquor business.

“We had the same initiative last year, and we voted it down, and the fact that a lot of money is being spent to support it concerns me,” he said.

“If we put liquor in grocery stores, it will make it more available in more places, and that will have social consequences.”

When asked why he became a firefighter, he compared it to his legislative job.

“I wanted to help people, which is what a firefighter does, whether we solve their problems, put out a fire in their homes or treat a heart attack victim,” he said.

“The Legislature is a fun job that is always different, and you are always trying to help someone in some capacity.”

When asked if anyone ever asks for his autograph, he said it happens rarely.

“I am a regular guy,” he said. “I'm the same as you.

“The only difference is that I was crazy enough to get into this business.”


Jefferson County Reporter Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at charlie.bermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: November 02. 2011 10:59PM
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