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Posts published in “Washington”

John O’Brien, and WA Legislature, adjourn

John L. O'Brien
John L. O'Brien

The Washington Legislature is adjourning today, on schedule. That will be a subject of discussion, but for many in Washington politics, it will be secondary: John L. O'Brien, who entered that body in 1939 and left it in 1993, died today in Seattle.

We never met O'Brien, but sometimes felt as if we had. We've spent a fair amount of time in the O'Brien Building, across the way from the Statehouse, where House legislative offices and meeting rooms are located. And one of the first books we read on Washington government was the useful Speaker of the House: The Political Career and Times of John L. O'Brien, by Daniel Jack Chasan.

O'Brien's fingerprints are all over Washington government and policy. Inevitably: He was House speaker for four terms, and served in the legislature longer than anyone else in Washington history (and, for a time, held that record nationally, too).

More commentary available at the David Postman blog.

Illicit and contraband . . . cigarettes

cigarettesThe excellent recent book Illicit by Moises Naim offers a startling overview of a big piece of the global economy little noticed (because it deliberately keeps its head down) - the trade in illegal, contraband or counterfeit goods and services. The longtime editor of Foreign Policy magazine at one point offers this description:

"Since the early 1990s, global illicit trade has embarked on a great mutation. It is the same mutation as that of international terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda or Islamic Jihad - or for that matter, of activists for the global good like the environmental movement or the World Social Forum. All have moved away from fixed hierarchies and toward decentralized networks; away from controlling leaders and toward multiple, losely-linked, dispersed agents and cells; away from rigid lines of control and toward constantly shifting transactions as opportunities dictate."

A point to bear in mind, reviewing the announcement last week of a settlement in the great Northwest cigarette smuggling case, now, evidently, mostly settled in advance of trial.

It was a large case, brought in 2003 and worked steadily since in the old-fashioned way, getting participants to roll over on others. If you think cigarettes are a minor deal as crime goes, ask yourself how many crimes would cost taxpayers (in this case in Washington state) as much as $56 million in tax revenue, which federal officials estimate was the case here.


Never enough arenas

From the sports arena construction watchdog blog Field of Schemes by Joanna Cagan and Neil deMause, posted a few days ago:

According to The Oklahoman newspaper, Seattle Sonics owner and Oklahoma City native Clay Bennett declared recently that OKC's Ford Center "is fine for the immediate future, but the city eventually will need a new building." The Ford Center will turn five years old this June.

A few years back - while the Ford Center was still under construction, in fact - economist Rod Fort told me, "I don't see anything wrong, from an owner's perspective, with the idea of a new stadium every year." At the time, I thought he was joking, but now...

Quoth a commenter: "Maybe they're thinking in dog years?"

Why Seattle?

John Edwards
John Edwards

Everything in a presidential campaign has a strategic component, most certainly including where you do things. which gives some interest to the chocie by the John Edwards campaign of Seattle for its union hall presentation. [Hat tip: The Postman blog.]

The May 1 Edwards appearance, the King County Labor Council said, "is one of several candidate forums organized for an intensive six-month effort to engage union members and their families in the AFL-CIO’s presidential endorsement decision-making process. The AFL-CIO Executive Council voted to ask each of its 54 national unions to make no endorsement until the AFL-CIO General Board decides, following the six-month period of member consultation, whether or not to endorse a candidate prior to the primaries."

Candidates (and we are talking Democrats here) were allowed to choose among locations. Illinois Senator Barack Obama chose Trenton, New Jersey (May 14), New York Senator Hillary Clinton chose Detroit (May 19), New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson opted for Phoenix (June 4), and so on. The choices apparently were not random.

So what might be the thinking? Is there a reason a Seattle labor venue might be more attractive to Edwards? One comes to mind. Washington so far (in contrast to Oregon) seems to have had more Clinton and Obama than Edwards activity. Might this be an attempt at lunching a catchup in the Evergreen State?


Don't anybody say they were surprised - or expected any other outcome. The Sonics are about to become Sooners, in residence if not in name . . . though, who knows, maybe name too . . .

Everyone went through the motions. The purchase contract through which Clay Bennett and his consortium bought the Seattle basketball team included requirements that they make a set of proposals under which the team would remain in the Puget Sound; those proposals were duly made. They went to state officials, who received them solemnly and gave them proper review.

Never, so far as we were able to tell, was there a prospect that the Bennett group would propose something that elected officials (and, really, the public) in the area would be willing to accept. Nor was there a prospect of acceptance of what the Bennett group would likely propose. The pullout has been as foreordained as you get.

Will pro basketball return to Seattle? Sure, if someone with money sees enough return on investment in it. The issue could come around, as it has this time, to: How much return on investment is enough?

Two papers, for maybe another decade

On the face at least, this sounds like a good deal for the time being: A resolution of the long-running Seattle Times/Post-Intelligencer battle that seems to give the P-I another decade of life. What happens then remains unclear; but then, who knows what newspapering will look like in another decade anyway?

From the announcement:

Under terms of the agreement, both newspapers will continue to publish for the foreseeable future. Under the agreement, The Seattle Times Company is buying back the guaranteed revenue stream to Hearst if the P-I is ever closed and Hearst is paying the Times in exchange for an agreement that the Times will not issue further loss notices until at least 2016. . . .

Other elements of the agreement, aimed at fostering a renewed constructive business relationship between the two parties, include a provision to name a senior circulation executive dedicated to monitoring P-I circulation and efforts to try to slow or arrest the circulation decline of the P-I. The settlement also calls for all current litigation and claims to be dropped and specifies that any future issues will go to binding arbitration.

Our initial thought is that the Times executives were looking long-range here, aiming for eliminating the big penalty at the back end in return for giving up the prospective monopoly in the near term. (A counter-interpretation, visible in some of the comments sections, is that the Blethen family, which runs the Times, "blinked" - were concerned about some of the upcoming testimony.)

Essentially, the papers in 1983 entered into a deal to share almost all of their functions except news production and place the work under the aegis of the Times; if the deal is dissolved (which the Times has sought) that would mean the press-less, ad department-less and much smaller P-I might have to shut down. (The Times has posted a good short backgrounder on the Joint Operating Agreement dispute; the P-I news take is a little more extensive.)

Some quick, sometimes emotional, comments are available in the P-I comment section.

Early numbers

Today wasn't Income Tax day (that would be tomorrow), but it does mark release day for round 1 of the 2008 campaign finance cycle, covering the first three months of this year.

You've been hearing about the fundraising on the presidential level; but what about the Northwest's House seats?

A run though the Federal Election Commission's database this morning suggests a few observations.

bullet Should note, first, that we weren't able to locate Oregon Representative Peter DeFazio's filing: it didn't pull up under standard searches. That doesn't necessarily mean it wasn't filed; if anyone has spotted it, drop us a line. FOLLOW DeFazio raised, in the last quarter, $24,065 - less than anyone else in the Oregon House delegation (or Washington or Idaho, for that matter). The Oregonian politics blog notes the significance: If he were to run against Republican Senator Gordon Smith next year, he would have to get hevily into fundraising mode; to date, clearly, he hasn't been.

bullet The ace Northwest House fundraiser of the quarter was Washington Republican Dave Reichert, who not coincidentally had one of the toughest races of the last cycle (and might have the toughest regionally in this next). He raised $184,722, more than anyone else (and we might note here that less than a third of it came from PACs); but because he spent down in the last campaign and was still paying it off this year, he didn't wind up with a lot on hand - $47,584.

bullet A bit in contrast, then: Reichert's 2006 challenger, Darcy Burner, who has said she's running again, raised less than a tenth as much ($17,368) in the last quarter, but has comparable money on hand ($38,088).


No tomatoes for you

Have you seen the late-night TV ads promoting indoor tomato growing, so you can have year-round fresh tomatoes? Sounds like not a bad idea, except that you then read about cases like the eager drug-busters of Pullman, and you wonder if it would be worth the effort. [Hat tip: The Slog.]

Pullman is where three college roommates were growing indoor tomatoes - perfectly legal tomatoes - when, the Daily Evergreen reports, "eight to 10 police officers, guns drawn, came into the apartment and served the unsuspecting men a search warrant." On suspicion of growing marijuana, of course; the ensuing search turned up none. Only tomatoes.

The grow light aimed at the tomatoes was apparently the one piece of evidence which led to a search warrant alleging that “a crime has been committed or reasonably appears about to be committed, to-wit: controlled narcotic substances, in particular growing marijuana and burnt marijuana . . .”

What passes for reason these days . . .

Losing Uncle Sam at Chehalis

The Uncle Sam billboard so familiar to I-5 travelers near Chehalis, a signpost of conservative thinking for many years, has been one of the places west of the Cascades that reliably has had the back of President George W. Bush.

So today we were stunned to see this on the board: "Where does it say anything about signing statements in the Constitution?"

The query admits to more than one possible interpretation. But on its face, it seems to side with the Bush critics who have argued that the hundreds of signing statements Bush has attached to bills - thereby declaring that acts of Congress mean whatever he wants them to mean - are an unconstitutional expansion of presidential power.

If Bush has lost the Uncle Sam billboard at Chehalis, truly he has nothing left.