Azerbaijan has a few things in common with Washington.
The country tucked in between Russia, Armenia and Iran, has mountains. We do too.
Parts of the country rely on tourism, while agriculture is also a big part of their economy. We can relate. Their Internet and tech culture is growing. Ours is booming.
And both Azerbaijan and Washington have State Senator Pam Roach.
Roach is one of several state lawmakers invited on a 10-day junket to Azerbaijan and Turkey. In all about 300 state and federal politicians from across the U.S. were invited.
Most from our state did not go on the free trip because of the special legislative session. After a two-week break following its adjournment April 28, the Washington State Legislature’s first special session started May 13.
The senator from Auburn went, and even represented us on Azerbaijani television.
She posted a photo and information about the trip on her blog Tuesday.
In May of 2013 I joined 300 legislators, Members of Congress, and some business leaders from the United States in attending a US-Azerbaijan Friendship Conference in Baku, AZ. I was selected from among the 300 to represent the US on AZ national television.
My message was one of support for the friendship we have. Forty percent of our troops go through AZ on their way to Afghanistan. Today we are helping build a pipeline for the considerable petroleum and natural gas resources to go to Europe. It was a major cultural and economic event. I was proud to represent our country again on an international stage.
The trip was not a trade mission and was not sponsored by a government agency.
Turkish American Chamber of Commerce hosted the trip. The Turquoise Council of Americans and Eurasians funded it at a cost of $4,000 per person for travel, lodging and food. Both groups have ties to a movement headed by a Muslim imam, Fethullah Gulen.
Gulen is involved with operating charter schools in both Turkey and the United States.
Members of the U.S. Congress are required by federal law to publicly disclose trips to foreign countries when others pay the cost.
The rules are more relaxed for state lawmakers.
The Washington’s Legislative Ethics Board asks a series of questions of lawmakers who want to go on junkets, including whether there would be a legitimate use of taxpayer dollars to fund the trip if the sponsor wasn’t paying.
Ultimately, it’s up to the individual lawmaker to decide whether to accept an all-expenses-paid trip.
By LINDA THOMAS