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2015 Legislative Conference workshops address
coal transport, Columbia River, wealth inequality and more

The 2015 Eastern Washington Legislative Conference will include many local and state leaders exploring the theme, “Raising Prophetic Voices: Faith Communities Advocate for Justice.”

Clinton “Matt” Wynne, a member of the Spokane Tribe of Indians and chair of the Upper Columbia United Tribes (UCUT), will share with Inland District United Methodist Superintendent Dale Cockrum in opening the event with prayer.

There will be two keynote speakers:

• The Rev. Mike Denton, conference minister of the Pacific Northwest Conference of the United Church of Christ based in Seattle, will offer theological reflections on the theme, looking at the importance of the faith community’s voice on issues in the political arena.

Roberta Wilburn, associate dean of graduate studies in education at Whitworth University, will give the second keynote address on proposals related to K-12 education, the school-to-prison pipeline, the need for more faculty of color and other education issues.  She speaks in the afternoon.

The event, which runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 31, at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, 316 E. 24th Ave., includes five workshops that will repeat two times in the morning.

1) Jace Bylenga, associate organizing representative for the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign, and Laura Ackerman of the Lands Council coal and oil transport campaigns will lead a workshop on coal and oil transport issues and on efforts to move Avista from 20 percent coal generation to more clean energy. 

Jace previously worked in Sandpoint for the Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper and the Bonner County Soil and Water Conservation District.  In 2007, he came to Spokane to work with Gonzaga University students on environmental service learning projects. Laura has worked on the coal and oil campaign for three years.  

2) A panel of four will address issues related to the renewal of the Columbia River Treaty and watershed policy.  Leaders are John Osborn, a physician and conservationist involved with the Ethics and Treaty Project for the Center for Environmental Law and Policy, and Sierra Club; Matt, who is on the Spokane Tribal Business Council and Department of Natural Resources; Bishop Emeritus William Skylstad, who helped Washington State Catholic bishops develop the pastoral letter on the Columbia River watershed, and Eastern Washington Idaho Lutheran Synod Bishop Martin Wells, who builds awareness of the issues and applies ethics to the synod’s public policy advocacy.

3) Lisa Brown, chancellor of Washington State University Spokane’s center for health sciences, education and research, will speak on “Wealth Inequality.”  For 20 years, she served in the Washington State Legislature, four in the House and 16 in the Senate.  She taught economics at Eastern Washington University (EWU) from 1981 to 2001 and in Gonzaga ’s graduate organizational leadership program from 2001 until 2012.

4) Sarah Ahmed, director of operations of the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East, will discuss interfaith reconciliation in Iraq.

5) Rick Eichstaedt, executive director, and Julie Schaffer of the legal staff at the Center for Justice, and Rachel Dolezal, president elect of the Spokane NAACP and professor in the Africana Studies Program at EWU, will address issues related to Smart Justice and police accountability. 

Rick became lead attorney at the Center for Justice in 2004, specializing in environmental and land use litigation.  Previously he worked seven years representing the Nez Perce Tribe in Idaho.

Julie works to end cycles of poverty and incarceration by influencing local and state policies on criminal justice.  She focuses on removing barriers from old criminal convictions and addresses police accountability.

Rachel, whose passion for civil rights is influenced by years in Mississippi, is the former director of education at the Human Rights Education Institute in Coeur d’Alene, a licensed diversity trainer and consultant in human rights education.

The Rev. Paul Benz, co-director of the Faith Action Network of Washington, and Sr. Sharon Park, OP, executive director of, and Donna Christensen, contract lobbyist for the Washington State Catholic Conference will bring legislative updates on the state budget, hunger programs, farmers’ market nutrition, repealing tax exemptions, wage theft, minimum wage, TANF, housing, gun violence, human trafficking, toxic-free kids and climate change that are coming before the 2015 Washington State legislature.

Paul, an ordained minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, was director of the Lutheran Public Policy Office of Washington prior to his role with the Faith Action Network.

Sr. Sharon, a member of the Dominican Sisters, has been on the staff of the WSCC for more than 25 years.

Donna specializes in Catholic education and issues of children and families, the state budget and long-term care services for senior citizens and disabled persons.

The Fig Tree, Catholic Charities of Spokane and the Faith Action Network are organizing the event.

For information, call 535-1813 or email

Copyright © January 2015 - The Fig Tree