"I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors." - Thomas Jefferson (appears in the Jefferson Memorial)
Menzel TOM

My Home

Last week I got the message that I had dreaded for months. I pretty much knew the day would come, but I didn’t think it would be so abrupt. We first met in the 1950s in the small Wisconsin town where I was born. I was just a kid looking for something to do when my neighborhood pals went home for dinner. For most active 8-year-olds, a minute of downtime can feel like an hour.

We were enthusiastically introduced by my parents, who somehow knew we’d get along. They were so right. Our relationship blossomed over the years – growing deeper as we spent more time together. Even in high school we kept in touch almost daily, despite all the distractions that could have easily pulled us apart. We continued our relationship non-stop almost every day for more than 50 years, even after I moved to Idaho, then later to Washington. After brief separations – for fishing trips, backpacking adventures or family commitments – I always scrambled to catch up so I wouldn’t feel left behind.

Monet reading

However, in recent years I knew things were changing. No matter how hard I tried, barriers were gradually building up between us. Then on Tuesday, April 2, the message suddenly popped up on my screen:

“Your free access has ended. Subscribe today for unlimited access!”

Yes, I had been freeloading on the Seattle Times for a couple of years. I was among those who stopped subscribing to the “dead tree” edition which had been delivered miraculously to my semi-rural home since moving to the Puget Sound in 2003. For the first time in my life I was reading a daily newspaper that wasn’t on paper. The Times was online. It was free. It was even updated with the latest news throughout the day. Unless I was incapable to part with tradition, I had no reason to pay $300 a year for my daily news fix.

But there it was – front and center on my screen when I tried to call up a story. “Time to pay up, pal!”

I had wondered why they waited so long, but I felt almost insulted when it happened. Pretty strange for a former newspaper editor who knows that it takes real money to run a newspaper. In my previous life, I pulled a salary (albeit not much of one) out of newspapers for 14 years – four at a daily in Wisconsin and 10 at the Idaho Statesman in Boise. Those were heady days for newspapers. Many were influential – some perhaps too powerful. And many owners were among the rich and famous.

Power and riches aside, I have always had great respect for the fourth estate – at least the responsible ones. Although I never worked at a major daily, I read the respected Milwaukee Journal as a kid (starting with the comics, of course) and discovered that I could write my way out of almost anything in high school. I then graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a journalism degree and proudly worked as a reporter, photographer and editor until I started my communications consulting business in 1986. I enjoyed the newsroom so much that I didn’t even notice when I spent 50 hours a week or more on the job, which I did regularly. (Why I left a career I loved is a whole different story.)

I’ve always been, and always will be, a news junky. Therefore, I’m a huge fan of C-SPAN, TVW (Washington’s excellent state public affairs television network), PBS NewsHour, NPR – any news program without Cialis ads. It was my fate. My grandfather owned the small but prosperous daily in my hometown. My mother wrote for the paper. My uncle was the editor for many years. And I delivered them every day, even in the middle of January blizzards. The news was as much a part of our family as a pet is to some.

So, of all people, I should be willing to pay for a good newspaper, right? A solid news operation needs cash to pay skilled reporters who take their work seriously and can write circles around 99 percent of the population; under-appreciated photographers who are some of the best on the planet; competent editors and newsroom managers who have to be disciplined and independent while knowing when to pull on the reins. They have to pay for (but probably not for much longer) massive rolls of paper by the ton, ink by the barrel, amazing machines that pound out thousands of papers 365 days a year without fail, and the skilled pressmen to run them (I even had the privilege of yelling “Stop the presses!” several times). Finally, every daily has to pay for a cumbersome system that delivers a bundle of news directly to our homes by an unheralded pack of young kids (and some adults) trying to make a few bucks.

Add to this the cadre of advertising personnel who sell the ads that bring in most of the operating cash day after day. The same cycle is repeated every 24 hours for the printed newspaper. It almost wears me out just thinking about it.

So there. I love newspapers, and I really like my Seattle Times. But the Times and most other dailies in the country are now in crisis mode, forced to reinvent themselves as ad revenue continues to flow to the digital world. Newspapers have been losing subscribers, laying off employees, closing their doors, declaring bankruptcy, even resorting to publishing only three days a week. Like the Times, many have implemented aggressive price increases for print subscriptions, forcing fewer subscribers to pay even more. This is not a pretty picture.

While I accept part of the blame for not subscribing, the newspaper industry was caught sleepwalking into the digital age. They were in denial for years as the Internet snuck up behind them and bit them in the ass. When they finally went digital, they gave away their work like it was a charitable service. Then it hit them that they needed to also charge for their digital product if they are to survive.

Better late than never? Maybe. But recent data isn’t promising. In the first half of 2012 alone, newspapers lost $25 in print ad revenue for every $1 in new digital ad revenue (see http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/business-news/the-biz-blog/187577/newspapers-print-ad-losses-are-larger-than-digital-ad-gains-by-a-ratio-of-25-to-1/). Meanwhile, the Internet is teeming with endless, free alternative sources (some of it reliable, much of it crap) that can adequately keep us informed, if done right.

So I’m very sad that my long relationship with newspapers as I know it may be coming to an end. I’ve already bookmarked at least a half-dozen reliable local and statewide news sources and there’s certainly no shortage of excellent national and international sources. I’m actually discovering what I’ve been missing.

I haven’t yet decided if I’ll pay $207 a year for my daily digital news fix from a single source. But I have no intention of having the printed version delivered in a bag at the end of our driveway for $333 a year. I know, I know … that’s a heck of a deal for 365 days of continuous news. But I’m sorry, my old friend – it’s tough to beat free. Our half-century of good times together is probably coming to an end.

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Menzel TOM

My Home

If Gov. Jay Inslee wants “lean management” to be a hallmark of his administration, the Transportation Department should be Exhibit 1.

It appears that we have a nasty case of engineers gone wild – and Inslee isn’t one bit happy about it. After months of media scrutiny, outgoing Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond finally revealed this week that engineers in her department blew it – big time. The pontoons for the new Highway 520 bridge across Lake Washington are cracked and leaking, and the $4.1-billion project is likely to be delayed at least a year. Ouch!

Heads could roll when Inslee determines who’s to blame for what will likely be more than a $100 million fix – that’s right, now let’s see that number with all eight zeros: $100,000,000! This revelation hits the news at a time when our schools need an extra $1 billion, our state parks are on their hands and knees begging for every dollar they can get and lawmakers are considering a possible gas tax increase to fund yet more transportation projects.

Hammond blames the pontoon debacle on design errors by state engineers who she says did not follow “standards of good practice” and failed to run models that would have shown the problem. She also implied in an interview last week that someone, somewhere was pushing too hard: “Everybody wants you to take risks, until something goes wrong.” As top dog at the agency (for about one more week), she apparently doesn’t know where the buck stops.

Wherever the fault lies in this case, we can only hope WSDOT will clean up its act once Inslee’s newly appointed Transportation Secretary-straight-from-Oregon, Lynn Peterson, takes over next month. Inslee says she’s ready to do just that, and we wish her luck.

Former Gov. Christine Gregoire’s appointment of Hammond to head up WSDOT in August 2007 made me nervous from the start. An organization that large embarking on the most extensive capital improvement program in its history needed strong leadership, preferably someone from the outside with a wide range of management experience, tons of discipline and lots of new ideas. Hammond was hired as an engineer at WSDOT straight out of college in 1979 and rose up through the ranks. But putting an insider in charge of people she worked with for 28 years just didn’t make sense.

This latest misstep by WSDOT is just one of many in recent years, some of which predate Hammond’s five years at the helm.

Here’s a shortlist:

– On Feb. 7, WSDOT lost a public records showdown with Seattle’s KOMO 4-TV, which has relentlessly investigated the 520 bridge issues for several months. A King County Superior Court judge ruled that unredacted versions of documents related to the pontoon problems had to be released to KOMO and the public (kudos to KOMO and three cheers for open government). These documents were posted on WSDOT’s website Feb. 21. They’re not a pretty sight.

– In 2004, before Hammond’s stint as secretary, WSDOT had to abandon a massive pontoon construction site in Port Angeles when crews unearthed an Indian village and cemetery containing several hundred burials and artifacts. The site was being prepared for construction of replacement pontoons for another megaproject, the $470 million Hood Canal floating bridge. WSDOT paid less than $7,000 to an archaeologist who reported “no evidence of significant prehistoric or historic archaeological resources.” The result: About $80 million of public money up in smoke, and the pontoons had to be built elsewhere.

– In 2010 WDOT discovered a new highway off-ramp in Tacoma was built in the wrong place when it was nearly 90 percent complete. A design team working on the eastbound lanes of the new ramp added a third lane of traffic without informing the second team that was designing the westbound lanes. Oops, another $1 million down the drain. Hammond told the Tacoma News Tribune at the time: “This obviously is something we have not done right.” Ya think?

– In 2011, technical problems with the new tolling system for the Highway 520 bridge delayed startup for about eight months, costing the state millions in lost revenue intended for future highway projects. The contractor shouldered most of the blame for this one, but who selected them?

– Ongoing problems continue to plague the state’s iconic ferry system, ranging from declining ridership and bloated costs for new boats to a $300,000 fix for tilting ferries (more on this topic coming soon).

But enough of past problems. It’s now time for Inslee and his team to implement his promise of lean management. And one of the quickest ways to do that is to clean house at Transportation. He has begun
the purge from the top, which is a good sign. Next, he needs to find a new ferry director. Then he needs to take a close look at the rest of the 7,000-employee agency, where something just ain’t right.

Tom Menzel, of Hansville, Washington, is a communications consultant, community volunteer and former newspaper editor.

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The Washington Supreme Court has struck down a requirement for a two-thirds vote in the legislature to raise taxes. The court, in a 6-3 vote, said the state would have to pass a constitutional amendment to change from a simple majority to a supermajority.

While Washington voters have repeatedly approved the two-thirds requirement, it’s nice to know that at least six people in high places have brought some sanity to a tax system that was already a mess. Score in year 2013: Washington’s future, 1. Tim Eyman, 0. – Tom Menzel

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Menzel Washington

Menzel TOM

My Home

FOR SALE, LEASE OR TRADE: 120,000 acres of prime Washington real estate. Valued at more than $3 billion. Includes 116 parks, 700 historic buildings, cabins, yurts, vacation houses, forts, fabulous wedding venues, and dozens of stunning beaches. Buy now and get naming rights for hokey park names like Cape Disappointment, Steamboat Rock, Lewis and Clark and Sacajawea. Contact Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission or your local state legislator.

Pardon the hyperbole, but this scenario may not be too far off since our parks have become nothing but financial burdens that need to be monetized. After the legislature voted in 2011 to cut off all general fund support for our state parks and replace it with user-fees (“earned income”), the State Parks and Recreation Commission has been scrambling to keep them open and operating while continuing to make its case for stable funding sources.

Unfortunately, the latest desperate attempts to shore up lost revenue – a $30 annual “Discover Pass” and a $10 day-use fee – have fallen 50 percent short of projections. So now we have a critical funding crisis, yet one more chapter in the ridiculous quest to run government like a business. As state parks director Don Hoch said last summer: “At no time in our 100-year history have we been in a position like this, where we have to make so many tough decisions.”

Palous Falls
Palouse Falls State Park (photo/state of Washington)

A report to the Parks and Recreation Commission last August says that no other state follows such a self-funded model, calling it “impractical” and “unachievable.” So now we have a rare opportunity to lead the way to the bottom in park management. The visionary generations who came before us are rolling over in their graves.

Ironically, the legislature’s target for defunding our parks is this year, 2013, which happens to be the 100th anniversary of our state park system. Many of the noble and ambitious plans to upgrade, expand and improve the parks for the centennial celebration have been shelved. State Parks has already made painful staff and spending reductions and has been planning for “previously unthinkable reductions.”

In the very year when we should be bursting with pride to celebrate these crown jewels, we are casting this loyal old dog out into the cold without food or shelter – sort of like filing for divorce on your 50th anniversary party. And we now have a draft of the divorce papers in the form of a report released January 29th by the Parks and Recreation Commission. It’s called “Transformation Strategy – Adapting to a new way of operating Washington’s state parks.”

This is not a fun read unless you like hearing about good people begging for help. I can imagine the seven volunteer commissioners weeping as they sat through countless McKinseyesque workshops and public meetings and finally forcing themselves to approve this document. They are doing the best they can. They are doing what they have to do.

But the 27-page report reads like notes from a corporate retreat. It uses the word “business” 20 times. “Lease” shows up 13 times. It includes buzzwords straight from Dilbert, like: forming strategic partnerships; strategies and initiatives to help create a new business model; transformation principles with imperatives that will drive agency-wide planning, resource allocation and day-to-day decisions; core values and cultural norms that promote organizational change and innovation; specific action-oriented initiatives that will advance agency transformation. And, my favorite, it boldly encourages a decimated park staff to embrace risk-taking, accepting responsibility for the outcome and “excellence in all we do.”

The report even sheepishly admits a dark secret: “For many years parks and recreation providers believed that technology had no place in parks. Even commissioners and staff believed state parks should remain technology-free.” Imagine that.

The report concludes with a 10-page to-do list (“Transformation Initiatives”) that includes some excellent plans to protect and restore plant and animal communities, the Puget Sound shoreline environment and cultural and historic properties. But then it directs park staff to “adopt a business management approach” that you might find in a General Motors strategic plan. Much of the list is devoted to initiatives involving lean management, data management, fees, a Discover Pass business plan (prepared by a consultant), “park enterprise” (retail sales of park-branded stuff), concessions, marketing and advertising, and other initiatives like cabin upgrades, new signage, events, recreation programs, partnerships and sponsorships.

The report calls for a “systematic approach to continual process improvement,” “transitioning all fee programs into a market-based system of competitive rates for facilities and services,” developing “a robust program to market the Discover Pass and the state park system” and expanding “opportunities for tasteful and appropriate park and private enterprises in parks.” It insists that “State Parks must now compete effectively for people’s recreation and leisure time and money.”

Several consultants have already been signed up to lend their expertise to this “new normal” in park management. And they will be the only winners.

What’s going on here? These are public lands! These are our parks! Get rid of the consultants and hire back those rangers!

Perhaps most draconian are the proposed “best practices from the public and private sector with regard to pricing” for campsites, which the Parks Commission included in a January 17 press release. A new fee policy under consideration would use “variable pricing options typical in the private sector” to “increase earnings from premier sites for weekends, holidays and prime seasons.”

The proposed base camping fees are outrageous enough, ranging from $12 for a primitive campsite and $25 for a standard tent site, to $35 for a full-utility site. But here’s the clincher: “In addition, the policy would allow the agency to charge up to an additional $15 for designated premier sites and up to $8 on standard or $15 for RV campsites for weekends and holidays” (i.e., those who can afford it will get the best campsites). The policy also includes discounts for “designated economy sites” (muddy campsites? no trees? next to a generator?) year round and during the winter.

I’ll be blunt. This sucks. Bottom line: Those who can afford it get the best campsites at the best times. Those who cannot will get the dregs. One way or another, we seem determined to balance this budget on the backs of regular folk who picnic, camp and vacation at our state parks on very limited family budgets. They won’t show up because they can’t. And we’ll wonder why park attendance drops like a rock. As State Rep. Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor said last summer: “For many people, those parks are the only outing that they can get, and we need to keep those costs as close to zero as we can.”

How cheap can we get? This is the home of Microsoft, Amazon, Boeing, Starbucks, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Paul Allen. This is a state dominated by Democrats. This is in a country that is spending $27 billion for a new aircraft carrier. That’s enough to fund Washington’s parks for 287 years at 2009 levels ($94 million).

With 40 million visitors annually, Washington’s state parks are among the most popular in the nation. That’s 13 times the number of visitors to Yellowstone National Park. As the report says: “State parks are the places where the largest numbers of Washingtonians visit, to know, respect, and love the natural world.” They “get people of all ages, abilities, and means off the couch, moving, and re-creating themselves away from the hectic pace of modern life.”

It’s painful to watch dedicated park staff and members of the Parks and Recreation Commission fight like hell to maintain access to what we all have a right to enjoy. Defunding our parks is an embarrassment. We must stop comparing them to the private sector and hiring ad agencies and property consultants to squeeze every nickel and dime out of shores, lakes, beaches and trails that belong to us all. Instead of pricing people out, we must do exactly the opposite.

As funding measures move through the legislature in the coming days and weeks, we can only hope they will restore full funding to our parks, kill the Discovery Pass and day-use fee, return camping fees to levels that are affordable to all, and do whatever it takes to raise revenue needed to fund Washington’s priorities.

However, I fear that we are about to dismantle a park system that millions of people have enjoyed for a century. I fear that our parks, along with our educational system and so many other critical public programs, will continue their downward spiral until Washington has the guts to create a balanced tax system, ignore the Tim Eymans among us and renew our commitment to the greater good.

The January 29th transformation strategy is clearly marked “DRAFT.” If we’re smart, we’ll toss it in the recycling bin, restore full funding to our parks and proudly carry out the ambitious plans for Centennial 2013 adopted by the Parks and Recreation Commission a decade ago. We’ll do this not only for future generations, but to honor the legacy of the visionary generations who came before us.

Draft state parks transformation strategy report

Tom Menzel, of Hansville, Washington, is a communications consultant, community volunteer and former newspaper editor.

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Menzel Washington

Menzel TOM

My Home

You can’t miss the headlines:
“Tuition to Spike Third Straight Year”
“State Support of Higher Ed Continues to Plunge”
“Student Debt at All-Time High”

Meanwhile, we hear the incessant drumbeat of despair from business and industry that our schools aren’t producing the right kind of workers to feed the hungry beast of production and growth, even though a record 21.6 million students are attending American colleges and universities this year.

The Washington Student Achievement Council (http://www.wsac.wa.gov/KeyFacts2012) paints a bleak picture: “At a time when we should be educating a much greater percentage of our citizens to higher levels we are instead making it increasingly difficult for tens of thousands of potential students, many of them from our state’s most economically disadvantaged households, to gain the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed. We have done this especially over the last three years through deep cuts in student funding … Worse yet, these cuts are almost certain to continue this decade, accompanied by corresponding steep increases in tuition that threaten to place higher education beyond the reach of many middle-class families.”

Not a pretty picture. So, what’s a good Washington leader to do in the face of ever-rising costs, seemingly insurmountable K-12 funding mandates and stingy taxpayers? First, we need to jettison the myriad of Band-Aid proposals to increase revenue for our colleges and universities. Instead, I offer below a few radical ideas that are likely to go nowhere, have little basis in research or data, and would likely elicit chuckles from hallowed halls in both Olympia and academia. But here goes anyway:


· It’s time for our colleges and universities to cut costs, starting with the heavy load at the top of the food chain – school administration – and continuing on through every line item of every budget of every department. It’s interesting that we hear so little about cutting costs at our universities while every other level of government is cutting staff and services. I understand that the state’s share of funding has dropped precipitously in recent years to levels where some public universities advocate going private, but I have some solutions for this.

· Stop punishing our students and their families with outrageous tuition and fee increases year after year – a 42 percent increase nationally at public institutions over the last 10 years. We all know that college grads fill the needs of business and industry, so let’s stop charging students and their families – yes, I mean a free education – and start sending most of the bill directly to the businesses that benefit. (OK, I can hear the howls of laughter on this one.) And while we’re at it, let’s outlaw unpaid internships, also known as slavery.

· Offer 100 percent free online courses that count toward a degree. Yes, humans have the capacity to learn in different ways. Online programs are already drawing from the expertise of some of our finest universities. While Western Governors University and others like it around the nation are offering online degrees at reduced cost, most free online programs offer only “certificates.” Now all we need to do is offer full degrees without charge. What are we waiting for?


· Immediately institute a corporate education tax that covers most of the cost of post-secondary education. Really, isn’t it about time for them to pay up? But I’m not suggesting they do it alone. We all have a dog in this fight.

· Immediately add the third leg to Washington’s woefully inadequate, highly regressive tax structure. It’s time for an income tax, folks. Hell, even Idaho has all three legs. And, while we’re at it, you Oregonians need to do the same by adding a sales tax.

· Simultaneous with adding an income tax, dump the weird Washington B&O tax – aka the “gross receipts tax” – and the insane patchwork of excise taxes, sales taxes, use taxes, tax incentives, deductions, credits and exemptions imbedded in Washington’s tax code to make up for the lack of an income tax (I think I hear more laughter).


· In return for implementing an income tax, we must cut a deal with taxpayers by running a very tight ship of state, controlling budget creep, sticking to the essentials and reducing the sales and property tax bite wherever possible. Yes, we need more revenue. No, we don’t need any waste.


· If I see another cover story or documentary trying to convince us that college is a waste of money I’m gonna scream. Of course it’s difficult to find work with a degree in history or philosophy – even law – during a down economy. Of course it’s difficult to pay off $30,000 in loans if you’re an “underemployed” college grad. But if we keep bashing the value of higher education we’re simply encouraging the dumbing down of a nation – and that’s economic, cultural and intellectual suicide. The point is: We must end student debt, not the pursuit of knowledge.

· Let’s set the record straight here. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (http://nces.ed.gov), in 2010 young adults with a bachelor’s degree earned more than twice as much as those without a high school diploma, 50 percent more than high school graduates, and 22 percent more than young adults with associate’s degrees. Median earnings for young adults with master’s degrees or higher was $54,700, or 21 percent more than those with bachelor’s degrees.


· Scratch this silly idea to charge higher tuition for science and technology majors in a desperate attempt to raise revenue, especially at a time when business and industry is begging for more grads in those fields. We’re in big trouble as a society if we start placing an arbitrary monetary value on every degree based on ability to pay upon graduation. Talk about a Pandora’s box. We need incentives, not disincentives.

· Try this instead: It’s past time for business and industry leaders to step up with stronger incentives to fill their recruiting needs, like getting more involved in education at the K through 12 level, pouring more cash into our higher-ed system, and more aggressively funding new programs to train their own work forces. It’s time for companies to invest their money instead of hoarding it.

· Don’t allow a single out-of-state or foreign student on our campuses until after ALL qualified Washington students have been accepted. Doing anything less is an affront to taxpaying Washington families.

A few years ago I was talking with my father about his days at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania when he brought up the debt burden that has been loaded onto America’s college grads, including many of his own grandchildren. In a few brief words he put it all in a nutshell: “The high cost of higher education is one of the worst public policy failures I’ve seen in my lifetime.” Unfortunately this policy failure has only worsened since that discussion. My father passed away last April at the wise old age of 95 with no solution in sight to this day. My mother is 93, and I hope she won’t be disappointed.

My 21-month-old granddaughter? Well, I guess I’ll just cross my fingers that things will be better by the time she decides to pursue her dreams.

Tom Menzel, of Hansville, Washington, is a communications consultant, community volunteer and former newspaper editor.

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image/courtesy, Seattle Public Library

So, last week the Infallible Gallup Organization revealed that Oregon is a teeny bit more liberal than Washington. This week that bastion of “institutional research and assessment” – Central Connecticut State University – found that Seattle is the nation’s second “most literate city,” while Portland – home of the eighth wonder of the world, “Powell’s City of Books” – straggled in at No. 10.

At least they beat San Francisco this year.

The Other Washington came in No. 1 in 2012, while Minneapolis took the third spot. Over the last eight years, Seattle’s been duking it out for the top spot with Minneapolis and DC, with Seattle perched on top four times. Portland has ranged from ninth to twelfth since 2005, except for a sixth-place blip in 2009, when something suddenly sent Portlandians into a reading frenzy.

Boise didn’t quite make the population cutoff of 250,000, but we’re sure the City of Trees would be up there somewhere. The study focuses on six key indicators of literacy: number of bookstores, educational attainment, Internet resources, library resources, periodical publishing resources, and newspaper circulation.

Check it out all you data junkies: http://www.ccsu.edu/page.cfm?p=15619. – Tom Menzel

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Menzel Washington

Menzel TOM

My Home

Listen up here all you liberal Evergreeners. It’s time to get back into the ring and fight! I know you’re a bit bruised and bloodied by the news, but you can still win this battle if you just do the right thing (actually, the left thing).

In case you haven’t heard the news, Washington The State came in an embarrassing sixth place in the battle for liberal supremacy in these United States, according to the infallible Gallup Organization. (Check it out: http://www.gallup.com/poll/160196/alabama-north-dakota-wyoming-conservative-states.aspx#1) Not only that, but we had to share the sixth spot with Rhode Island, a state about the size of Franklin County where you can’t yet marry your same-sex sweetheart and you can only smoke weed legally with a prescription. Talk about demeaning.

But this story gets even worse. For crying out loud, we got beat by the Beaver State, which stands alone in the No. 3 position right behind The Other Washington and Massachusetts. (Slipping in at No. 4 is Vermont, followed by Delaware and Connecticut in a tie for fifth.) I’ll get to Idaho in a minute.

So what gives here? In Oregon they’re OK with weed, but still don’t allow same-sex marriage. Just a couple of months ago Evergreeners approved same-sex marriage and recreational pot simultaneously. We partied in the streets like it was New Years. Shouldn’t that catapult Washington into the No. 3 spot, at least? Nope, it doesn’t work that way. This isn’t an issue-driven poll. It’s about our perceptions of ourselves.

You see, Gallup called nearly 212,000 people in all 50 states and DC throughout 2012 and asked responders to “self-identify” their ideology. During that phone call you could admit to being conservative, moderate or liberal, which, of course, could depend on your mood on the day of the phone call. This is social science, not rocket science. Give Oregonians credit for feeling a teeny bit more liberal on the day of the Gallup phone call.

However, the numbers for both states pretty much break evenly into one-third portions for each category. While Oregonians claimed to be more liberal than Washingtonians by a 1% margin (29.3 to 28.3%), they said they were more conservative by a whopping 0.1% margin (33 to 32.9%). Evergreeners, meanwhile, felt a tad more moderate than the Beaverites on the day of the Gallup call (36% to 35.1), if you ignore the margin of error.

Liberals in both states shouldn’t get too giddy about their lofty national ranking. They still must cope with an underlying “conservative advantage,” which Gallup defines as “the percentage conservative minus the percentage liberal in each state.” In Oregon, conservatives have a 3.7-percent advantage. In Washington it’s 4.6. Gallup says that, overall, Americans in 2012 remained slightly more likely to call themselves conservative (38%) than moderate (36%) or liberal (23%), “a pattern that reflects the general consistency in ideological self-reports over recent years.”

But back to Oregon vs. Washington for a moment. When you come right down to it, these numbers could easily be bent in any direction you desire. Gallup points out that the margins of error for this annual poll are ±3% percentage points in most states, so go ahead and add or subtract a few points from any of the three categories as you see fit – whatever makes you feel better. This is a classic win-win for all of us.

Oh, by the way, if you add up the percentages for all three categories you’ll find that 2.6% of poll respondents in Oregon and 2.8% in Washington don’t think they fit into any of the three categories – or just plain don’t give a damn. My kind of people.

Finally, what about those intrepid liberals in Idaho? It should come as no surprise that the Gem State stayed true to its colors (better red than dead), proudly claiming its place as the seventh most conservative state at 47.1%. You’ll find a few friends in Idaho if you’re a moderate (32.6%), but you could get pretty lonely at times as a liberal (17%). Conservatives in Idaho who are bummed out by the seventh place finish can take heart, however. The margin of error could very well vault the state toward the top of the conservative heap, which is led by Alabama at 50.6%.

Tom Menzel, of Hansville, Washington, is a communications consultant, community volunteer and former newspaper editor.

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Menzel TOM

My Home

Welcoming today a new writer here: Tom Menzel, a veteran editor and a close-eyed observer of the Puget Sound. From his bio: “Tom Menzel has a journalism degree from the University of Wisconsin and spent 14 years in the newspaper business, including a variety of editing positions at the Idaho Statesman in Boise. He founded Menzel-Higgins Communications in 1986 and has provided communications counsel for many government and private-sector clients, including high-profile public involvement projects and political campaigns. Tom has also been involved in community activities ranging from education and health care to community trails. He lives in the Puget Sound village of Hansville on Washington’s Kitsap Peninsula.”

Greetings from the great state of recreational weed, marriage for all and surprise majority coalitions!

It’s a high honor to be invited by my longtime friend and colleague, Randy Stapilus, to contribute occasional commentary, analysis and random observations about the ever-dynamic, Everblue state of Washington.

With Randy’s blessing, we’re calling my little corner of the virtual world “Washington, My Home,” which is the title of our awe-inspiring state song that begins with these words: “This is my country; God gave it to me; I will protect it, ever keep it free.” OK, maybe “Louie, Louie” would have been a better choice after all.

Keep in mind that I’m pretty much a regular guy, with a talented wife, a couple of above-average grown kids and one very cool 20-month-old granddaughter. No gigs with the nation’s formerly influential newspapers or magazines. Never won a Pulitzer. Sorry, no books. But this just makes me try harder to dazzle you.

Briefly, this is who I am: I was born a cheesehead (what the hell’s up with the Packers lately? Sorry, I digress), stole my journalism degree from UW-Madtown and spent 14 years in the newspaper biz, mostly as a nasty editor at The Idaho Statesman in Boise long before it was renamed The Bronco Gazette. After declaring independence from the newspaper bubble in 1986, I quickly hooked up with a few political campaigns and played communications consultant for some high-profile public projects ranging from urban renewal to infrastructure funding.

I also did some community organizing (is that a dirty word?) and worked with many local leaders representing a wide spectrum of thought. It was very rewarding to actually do things in my community rather than simply report on what everyone else was doing. Just for fun, I also learned to flyfish, backpack and pilot a little Cessna without killing myself or anyone else. I’m proud to have survived my years in Idaho – just barely.

After 26 years of the good life in Boise’s North End liberal hideout, we moved everything we owned in 2003 to a place known – only to real smart people like me – as the Salish Sea. We couldn’t resist the siren call of the Northwest’s largest metropolitan conclave, Amazonia (formerly Seattle), known for its sky-high demographic rankings in categories like burnable dollars per condo, muzzled conservatives, worried Microsofties, pampered Googleites, hourly latte consumption, scarcity of children and religion, and mysterious, beer-swigging, basketball-addicted, billionaire San Francisco hedge-funders.

And how about that Koolhaas central library! Could we possibly tell the world we love books in a more spectacular fashion? (We take visitors to the library before we go to the Pike Market.) Tour it at http://www.seattlechannel.org/videos/video.asp?ID=2140.

Of course, we didn’t actually land our overstuffed U-Haul in the Emerald City itself back in 2003. We found affordable housing on the left side the Puget Sound … er, Salish Sea, in a faraway outpost called Kitsap County, famous for Chief Sealth’s final resting place, scenic aircraft carriers, jaw-dropping Bainbridge Island infinity pools and endless experimental foot-ferry programs. We’re as far north as you can possibly go on the Kitsap Peninsula in a lovely village called Hansville, also known as Greater Hansville. Except for the speed bumps, this is a happy place with a long history of salmon fishing until we chased most of them away. Come visit sometime. Please, no stupid parties allowed here.

OK, I’ve introduced myself and I might never see you again. But I’ll try to win you back in the coming months with essential information that you can’t live without and irresistible prose that you can forward to unenlightened friends and family. We have a lot to discuss about my adopted Everblue state, from park fees to ferries, education to Amazon, wind turbines to weed. Occasionally I’ll venture outside urban boundaries into the realm of beaches, mountains, rivers and hiking trails, where I’ve spent a great deal of quality time. We’ll see what develops.

I look forward to parking a few words on the Ridenbaugh site as events continue to unfold in this wondrous corner of the globe called Washington – which we all must swear to protect and ever keep free, or at least learn the chords in “Louie, Louie.”

Tom Menzel, of Hansville, Washington, is a communications consultant, community volunteer and former newspaper editor.

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