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Posts published in February 2009

Locke to Commerce, between the lines

Locke

Gary Locke

Assuming that today's news reports are right and former Washington Governor Gary Locke will be President Barack Obama's third choice - does he break the jinx? - for commerce secretary, what lessons might come out of that? What would it mean that Locke, out of active politics for more than four years and never a major national figure, is the nominee for a cabinet seat in the middle of economic catastrophe? And does it indicate anything about Washington, or the Northwest?

Those answers may appear somewhat through evolution. But a few ideas suggest themselves.

Locke was administrator of King County, an elective job, and twice elected governor of Washington, popular enough that he was expected to run for an win a third term, which in 2004 he declined to do. Those successes came in times less propitious for Democrats than they are now, and they point to both some political dexterity and to a core centrism. Locke's politics and approach seemed to be within the Democratic mainstream, taken as a whole. But he also aggravated Democrats at times, and during rough budget times earlier this decade, agreeing to substantial cuts and resisting calls for tax increases.

More specifically on point, he was active in economic development, both by way of frequent and extensive trade missions to Asia and in working with (some thought surrendering too much to) Boeing, in an effort to keep major construction projects in the Puget Sound (an effort mostly but not wholly successful). His law practice since involves general governmental relations but also some emphasis on trade relations with China. That happens to a point of some interest to the Obama Administration, considering where newly-minted Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has gone on her first trip as such overseas.

Putting it together: A Commerce secretary able to go out and sell programs in a broad way, with some instinct toward the political center, and with strong interest in Asian relations and trade (and capable of building some strong interest in that area owing to his ancestry). There's a certain logic to it.

And, oh yeah, he'd be the third Northwesterner appointed to a major administration spot. The area might not be quite so underrepresented.

On the base

The Northwest's military bases are not especially large in number - compared in some other parts of the country - but they are substantial and they are distinct. As a site of political and social culture, they are distinct from whatever is around them, a separate world. It isn't often explored by outsiders.

The death of a 16-year-old girl at Fort Lewis (near Tacoma) has prompted some examination. A piece in the Seattle Times today is well worth the read, as it notes some of the fallout from the case and the larger picture it illuminates.

From the Times: "The incident has shone an unflattering light on the late-night culture at Fort Lewis, which functions like a small city behind its gates. It also has exposed flaws in the post's policies and security, sparking changes that took effect last week, with more changes likely in the works."

‘Into a pit’

Now that the federal stimulus money has been signed off, but before any fallout from it (whatever that is, will take weeks at least to start to be felt), is a useful time for a review of where we are. The view in Oregon is not far off from many: Headed "into a pit," says the chief state economist.

A solid Oregonian overview runs today.

How things work, local/state . . .

There's a complex little story in the new post on Adam Wilson's Olympia blog, about the lines of intersection between the state legislature and government, and the surrounding (and surrounded) city of Olympia.

The specific issues are parochial, having to do with control of the pretty Capitol Lake which the statehouse overviews, and with a legislative staffer running for Olympia elective office. But the linkages and bounces are well worth the read.

And the signpost reads

There's a real cautionary note in the story of Peter Gearin, the former manager of the Port of Astoria, now convicted of Clean Water Act violations (by running afoul of a dredging permit), with the prospect of as much as three years in prison. The port, which hired Gearin in 1999 and fired him three years ago, probably will have to pay an extensive fine.

If this sounds like a rather specialized kind of situation - not the sort of offense any old public official might do - take a read of the Daily Astorian's rundown of how the whole situation developed. And especially this about the scene in 1999, which sets up all that followed:

The agency was desperate for new revenue sources after losing commercial air service and its vital log-exporting contracts. It had fallen into an economic slump under former Port Manager Jon Krebs, with one business proposal after another crashing and burning as real estate lay vacant.

Sound like the kind of scenario we may be seeing far and wide over the next few years?

Your own budget calculator

Dang. All the states should be doing this, and not just states, either. Not that it couldn't stand some improvement, but what's there is a good start.

Go to the web page hosting the Washington Budget Calculator. What it is, is an interactive database that lets you propose what you think should be the budget levels for various parts of state government. You can fill in the blanks and (persumably: this isn't clear) send in the results.

The page notes, "Think about what it costs to provide programs and services to Washington state citizens. Our state is growing and we need to provide core services in education and other areas. What choices will you make? What areas of government would you invest in? We do not have the money to pay for programs at current levels. Knowing this, what would you fund? To learn more about what is funded by General Fund-State dollars in each priority area and how much programs cost, click on the links in the table. Use this information to inform your budget decision." Indeed, a key part of the page is a series of links to detailed budget information, so the participant can get some rough idea of the impact of various choices.

Where does the money come from, and where does it go? Not hard to work out, on this page.

The tool could be extended and fine-tuned, and its use as a public input device could be improved. But this is a useful idea that ought to be widely adopted elsewhere.

Cut off before the first step

Nicole LeFavour

Nicole LeFavour

There isn't a formal bill text to link to here, because in Idaho until bills are formally "introduced" they are considered the personal property of the sponsor, not public record. (Try wrapping your mind around that one.) So we don't have text, but the description in the blog of reporter Betsy Russell should be nearly as good: "to extend the Idaho Human Rights Act’s anti-discrimination provisions to cover sexual orientation and gender identity."

The reason there's no bill is because the Senate State Affairs committee considering introduction decided not to print it - not only deciding not to approve of the idea, but deciding as well to give the idea no currency, no distribution for public discussion. Many pieces of legislation are introduced with the understanding that the bill might be flawed, might not get majority support, but the concept is worth a chat. Members, and the governor, and some others, often are able to get an introduction done just as a matter of courtesy. In this case, a proposal on a policy solidly ensconced in law in many other states (Washington and Oregon among them), no introduction was granted.

The key sponsor was Senator Chuck Coiner, R-Twin Falls. On the committee, Senator Joe Stegner, R-Lewiston, made the motion to introduce; Senator Kate Kelly, R-Boise, seconded. The others on the committee, Senators Denton Darrington, R-Declo, Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, Bob Geddes, R-Soda Springs, and Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, (and possibly a fifth member as well) voted against. They did not speak on the issue.

Senator Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, the one openly gay legislator Idaho has ever had, spoke on the measure at the hearing and remarked afterward, “I know better of them, and I know in their hearts they know better. That’s the hardest part.” On her blog later:

On a simple print hearing vote this morning where seven committee members heard from Senator Coiner first and then from me on why more than 42,000 people deserve to be able to work at their jobs, go to school and live in a house or apartment without fear, the senate state affairs committee voted five to two not to introduce the proposal as a bill.

Not to even give it the courtesy of print. Not to acknowledge that discrimination against gay people might be a problem worth discussing inside the state's law making body.

Clearly we have far far to go and need many more voices in there with ours because people all over this state live quietly in fear every day. In school rooms, in board rooms, at desks, in processing plants and apartment complexes. What are the values of a state which, by omission, condones discrimination year after year, whose law makers know better, but refuse to stand up and act.

The committee members asked not a single question. Senator Steger, always valliant, made the motion to approve the introduction of the bill. Senator Kelly seconded. The committee was silent but for their brief voice vote. Five to two. No.

WA: No Senate drama, again

Patty Murray

Patty Murray

The first Washington state U.S. Senate contest of the new millennium was one of the most dramatic ever: The battle between incumbent Republican Slade Gorton and Democratic challenger Maria Cantwell (eventually won by Cantwell) was so close days went by before its contours were clear.

Haven't been any like that since. Cantwell won a solid re-election in 2006, and the senior senator, Democrat Patty Murray, did the same in 2004 against a solid challenger, Republican Representative George Nethercutt. These were not close calls.

Murray is next up again, next year (and she's expected to run). No clear challenger has emerged. There will be one, of course; Senate seats just don't go uncontested, and it would be bad politics to give a senator a free ride. Whether she draws a challenger as strong as Nethercutt is another question. And since 2004, Washington has become more Democratic.

On the national Daily Kos site, a lot of this is reviewed today alongside some new poll numbers.

These check her favorable/unfavorable numbers (55%/40%, not great but suggesting no re-elect problems). They also pit her against two of the better-known and probably stronger Republicans in the state, Attorney General Rob McKenna and 8th District Representative Dave Reichert; they show her prevailing 55%-39% and 53%-40% respectively. (Her name ID is also much higher than theirs, so that may give her some extra help in this polling.) Neither McKenna nor Reichert are likely to run against her, though, and almost any other Republican is unlikely to do as well.

If she winds up with a little-known opponent, all this may suggest why.

Quite a committee

The federal stimulus money has been politicized in various ways around the country; among Republican governors, there's been talk of not accepting it (though all or nearly all probably will). Idaho Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter, never a fan of the feds or federal money, has engaged in a little of that. But his first practical response so far has been impressive: An advisory committee on stimulus spending that isn't just an advisory committee, because of who is on it - three former governors plus four former state budget directors, the overall panel split evenly between the parties.

The governors are Democrats Cecil Andrus and John Evans and Republican Phil Batt.

That (together with the budget office expertise) make up a classy combination. And it's not your usual advisory committee, because whatever this one comes up with will be very hard to casually dismiss.