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Posts published in June 2006

Framing the issue

Is there much doubt that had the Washington Legislature voted to allow same-sex marriage, and an initiative to overturn that law were attempted, that initiative would get on the ballot - easily?

Doesn't seem as if there's much doubt. Change the issue related to gays by a few degrees - make it a law that simply bans discrimination based on sexual orientation - and you've got a different matter. That created a political dynamic that Washington's premier initiative organizer, Tim Eyman, couldn't surmount. Late Tuesday afternoon he acknowledged that the effort to overturn by initiative a Washington Legislature bill establishing gay rights would not succeed.

These efforts seem to be reasonable markers of public sentiment, and of how the sentiment can change. Last year there was enough sentiment, at one point, to get the anti-gas tax initiative on the Washington ballot, but not enough to pass it. That suggests that, while there existed a serious base of criticism, that a significant majority in favor had come together. And some of that shift happened in between the petition stage and the voting stage. (A guess: The gay rights initiative would have made ballot status at least, 10 years ago.)

In the case of gay rights, the public sentiment seems to have coalesced earlier: If even a substantial base of critical sentiment had been there, Eyman should have been able to tap it. That suggests that had the measure got on the ballot, it would have gone down to huge defeat.

This initiative's advocates, in licking their wounds today, might count themselves lucky.

ADDENDUM: And there was this notable comment about Eyman from former state GOP Chair Chris Vance: "Now he's coming in and hijacking issues and shoving his way into an issue because it's become a business for him. It's how he gets paid. There will be no end to Tim Eyman as long as people are wiling to send him money ... I think it's hurting the legitimate perception of the initiative process. When you've got a clown out there in a Darth Vader suit lying to the press and things like that, it's not good for the initiative and referendum process."

To think that Eyman and the state Republicans were once so richly allied.

Duped again

It was one of the great lines of the year from a Northwest political figure, and on Monday morning it came from Tim Eyman:

"Feel like you've been duped this morning? Well, you have."

There were two levels to this.

One is the truly jokey side. Hisotircally prone to dressing up in costumes when delivering initiative petitions to the Secretary of State's office (is there some comment here on Eyman's psyche?), Eyman turned himself into Darth Vader as he walked up to the office. His organization had let out that he would be carrying petition signatures with him. He was - but he wasn't turning them in. The petitions he was carrying had to do with the $30 car tab issue, and the reporters who glommed on to him and gave him loads of air time and print space had been gulled into thinking (Eyman hadn't said so specifically) that he would be bringing petitions on an anti-gay rights initiative. No, they weren't (and evidently he doesn't yet know whether he'll be able to collect enough signatures for that effort).

No, it was all in the interest of getting himself and his cause another day's worth of free news media attention.

Fair enough, from his point of view.

So, on the second level: How many more times will the news media allow itself to be conned, and used, this way?

UPDATE: We wrote too soon on suggesting that Eyman's ploy was harmless. Consider this from David Postman's Seattle Times blog:

"The secretary of state's office had brought in two temporary workers in anticipation of processing petitions a day before the referendum deadline. Those workers were then sent home, though by state work rules, each were paid for two hours of work. A third worker was taken from other chores to stand by for the petitions that Eyman told the office he was bringing down." So much for the advocate of cutting government spending.

An important question

Of the three northwest states, concern about property taxes has hit hardest, though because sales prices on property are running so high in all three (and nationally), this is not a debate likely to remain there.

There's a deceptive element to this: Housing prices are not the only reason for the tax hikes. If local government spending levels increase only modestly at a time when housing prices are booming, then the actual tax amounts would not increase greatly because the tax rates assessed would drop. The taxes assessed are running hotter in parts of Idaho, though, not just because valuations are up, but also because of growth. In places like central and west Kootenai County, western Ada County and eastern Canyon County, growth has been so hyperbolic that costs - which as a matter of course, nationwide, tend to rise in times of fast growth - have been driven up along with housing prices.

This is painful, and you can understand the concern of the people who live in those areas (and it is those areas which have most been driving the property tax revolt in Idaho). Adjustment in that tax structure probably is needed, and may be gotten through a special legislative session. (Maybe.)

But as this course is pondered, public officials and taxpayers both would be well advised to bear in mind the consequences of an economy now held afloat largely on the basis of inflated, and likely unsustainable, housing prices. Which makes a question posed by state Senator Brad Little, R-Emmett, to his fellow senators, maybe the most pertinent question of the moment in Idaho and beyond:

"We must ask the question — what if the real-estate market slows or stops?"

Choice and responsibility

Two issues are prompted by the
Thursday proposal
by the Washington Board of Pharmacy which would allow local pharmacists to decide not to fill birth control or some other prescriptions.

One is this: What sort of business is a pharmacy: A retail store-type business, or a public service-type business?

The new rule proposal suggests the retail store analogy.

Consider a supermarket. Such a store carries thousands of items, a wide range of foods and other goods, but all of that is only a fraction of what it could in theory stock. It could, possibly, stock hundreds of additional foods, thousands of additional brands and companies. The choices are endless. But the store makes them, based largely, presumably, on what people want to buy, but maybe too on profit margins or bulk deals, or maybe in some cases even the biases of the owner or manager. It's up to the store. We can impact their choices as customers, but that's about it. You can extend the analogy to many other businesses, even to the newspaper which runs some stories and leaves others out.

That's one model for the pharmacy: A store in which the owner can decide what to stock and what not.

That seems to be the framework contemplated by the proposal offered by the board - but seems is as much as we can say, since the language in the actual proposed rule is so vague. The major and key section of the planned change reads this way: (more…)

The geography of protest

Port of Olympia bannerOn the matter of military, the Puget Sound area is a peculiarity. Parts of it are home to big military bases (at Fort Lewis, Bremerton and others) and are strongly pro-military. Other parts of it was strongly pacifist. (The split very much carries over into politics too.) The peculiarity is in how seldom the two have smashed up against each other.

The biggest reason, it seems, is geography: The two sides of the Puget occupy different, even if adjoining, pieces of turf. Which helps explain the emotional explosion at Olympia this week.

You don't see much by way of anti-war protests over at Bremerton, a major Nevy center. Nor much on the south side of Tacoma, where Fort Lewis is located - and a lot of troops have shipped out from Fort Lewis to Iraq. On the other hand, you don't see a lot of military presence in central Seattle, where a lot of anti-war feeling in the region is based. Or in Olympia, where Evergreen State College has been an anchor for anti-war passion in the area.

That is, until recently. A couple of years back, the commissioners setting policy for the Port of Olympia decided to accept military shipments - to and from the port - which they hadn't until then for about a decade. For most yers past, the military has relied on the Port of Tacoma for its shipping, and it still does, but volume going in and out of the area has increased. And from a scheduling standpoint, there's sense in having two ports available rather than one.

And so, when the military have shown up at the port in the last couple of weeks, so have Olympia's anti-war protesters. The emotional levels have gotten ratcheted up, and pepper spray has been deployed. The results aren't wonderful news for anyone involved.

But they do raise a question for the protesters. Why are shipments from the Port of Tacoma, 30 miles away, okay, but much smaller shipments at Olympia are not? Does one set of rules apply for one's hometown, and another for the city down the road?

Evidently, since that could explain why the Puget Sound hasn't experienced more collisions up to now.