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Posts published in “Washington”

Berendt’s legacy

Most of the time, you can't easily attribute to state party leaders a great deal of what goes on in their tenure. Party chairs get praised and damned for much more than they have control over.

You have to pause then at the case of Paul Berendt, the Washington state Democratic chair who today said he will retire next month. Berendt has not been outstandingly visible a chair - less so, surely, than his Republican counterpart Chris Vance - and with probably average clout. But what happened on his watch is so one-sided he surely should be credited with a piece of the result.

Berendt, the longest-serving state Democratic chair in the country, took over early in 1995, a year of Democratic wipeout, when the party lost most of its U.S. house seats, lost a Senate election (to Republican Slade Gorton), lost the legislature, lost local races and clearly would have lost the governorship too if that had been on the block. As he leaves in January, Democrats will have regained that Senate seat, most of those House seats, and the state legislature. Nor was any of that a foregone conclusion: The party margins in Washington are too close.

Whoerver replaces Berendt - and the prospect probably looks a lot more attractive now than it did in 1995 - probably ought to keep the man on speed-dial.

Recalled

It's no surprise, and predicted here (and of course, not just here) for many months: Jim West has been recalled as mayor of Spokane.

Jim WestNot all the ballots have been counted yet, or will be (under Washington's odd system of allowing mailed-in ballots to count even days after the election) for a while. But the 76%-35% decision to recall is much too decisive to be reversed.

For Spokane, the real question of the day is, what now?

Dennis HessionMost immediately, the next event is on December 16, when Council President Dennis Hession, an attorney with Richter-Wimberley, will become the mayor pro tem, an interim position only. Indications are that this translates in ideology to a move from the right toward the center, though what that would mean for the city directly is unclear. Also unclear is whether Hession will want to keep the job, whether it's his if he wants it, and who might be the city council's alternative to serve the last couple of years of the mayoral term if not him.

That's the narrower question. The broader one is, what are the takeaway lessons for Spokane from all this?

By voting for recall the voters have taken the West scandal off the front pages and airwaves, mostly at least. But there's no pretending that it didn't happen, or that it didn't shoot a fierce spotlight onto parts of the city most people would rather not think about. In a way, the people, and the leaders, of Spokane have a bigger choice ahead of them: Do they sweep "all this" under the rug, or - even while rebuilding their civic image - find a way to acknowledge and deal with it?

If that sounds a little vague ... more will be coming in the days ahead.

The case against Cantwell

Maria Cantwell seems moderately well-positioned for re-election in 2006: Not a lock, but playing a stronger hand than her probable Republican opponent, Mike McGavick. One reason for that has to do with the case each has to be making.

Maria CantwellCantwell can position herself as a defender of Washington's consumers (against Enron and others) and environment (against the latest Puget Sound tanker proposal). Her narrative is easily mapped out, and there's no very obvious reason it won't work.

There are plenty of people out there who really don't like Cantwell, and they have their reasons. They tend not to have been clearly explicated in Washington, and there may be good reasons for that. (more…)

Bremerton clout

Peter Callaghan's ever-fun Q&A column has pungent bit today on the idea of taxpayers picking up $166 million of the tab for a NASCAR speedway near Bremerton.

We here have never backed the idea of public funding of private sports facilities, these being among those cases where the free market should operate (if a business proposition doesn't make economic sense without artifical public help, then it probably doesn't have enough merit anyway). Callaghan raises a noteworthy political issue in this case, though ...

Q: You raise an interesting point, and I’m glad I could be here to witness such a rare event. What’s the difference between giving tax money for a NASCAR track and giving tax money for professional baseball and football?

A: There’s a big difference that can be summarized in two words: Bremerton and Seattle. The sports stadiums are in Seattle and were lobbied by the state’s most powerful business, political and social leaders. These people enjoy team sports, as long as they can watch them in suites that keep them a safe distance from the people known as “fans.” Auto racing seems awfully red-state to them. And most didn’t realize Bremerton was an actual place. They thought it was a ferry.

Literacy, urban

Seattle is no doubt happy to bask in its latest ranking as the most literate major city in the country, out of 69 top centers. (Portland did well too, ranking at 11. Boise and Spokane were not among the cities ranked.) And it says something.

literacy studyThese kind of ratings are usually of limited value, and there's no intent here to puff this one up beyond what it should be. But this study, "America's Most Literate Cities," by Central Connecticut State University President John Miller, does perform the useful service of pointing out some of the factors that lead to a literate community.

The basics are about what you might expect: "Previous editions of this study focused on five key indicators of literacy: newspaper circulation, number of bookstores, library resources, periodical publishing resources, and educational attainment. The 2005 study introduces a new factor—the Internet—to gauge the expansion of literacy to online media." But the interplay among these factors is what's especially interesting. (more…)

The tougher budgets

The old adage has it that the toughest budgets - in public organizations, if not private - are those where expected revenues exceed expected expenses. That extra money is just so tempting.

The northwest states are facing some of this. Oregon has no legislative session next year, so the pressure is less immediate in the Beaver State. But already the talk has arisen about eliminating the corporate kicker. What's notable about this talk, as showed up in the Oregonian today, is that even the corporate lobby isn't trying to defend it. The fact that two-thirds of the rebate would head directly out of state provides a real shift to the argument.

Washington appears headed, this next session, for a $1.4 billion surplus, which takes any discussion of tax increases off the table. Democrats in the legislature (or some of them) will see this as an invitation to spend a little extra, and Republicans (some of them) will similarly agitate for a tax cut.

Governor Christine Gregoire shows indications of trumping both views by emphasizing the temporary nature of the surplus. Talking with a Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter, she said that by the time the 2007 budget cycle rolls around, there will be no surplus - in fact, she said, "There's no scenario after we fund the mandates that doesn't result in us having a deficit going into the next [2007] biennial budget." Sounds like a line in the sand for a rainy-day fund, which could be the logical centrist approach. Her challenge will be holding the center together.

Idaho is looking at a similarly substantial surplus, and its Republican legislators will be tempted to go the same route they did when a big surplus appeared in 2001, and they sliced state income tax rates. That earlier cut came back to bite them, hard, in 2003 when the state's economy took a dip, and a - horrors - tax increase was required (by Governor Dirk Kempthorne) in response. Will that lesson have been learned? There will be pressure too for doing something about increasing property taxes. Will the state surplus provide a handy, albeit tricky, solution for some of them?

Tales of two recalls

Spokane Mayor Jim West probablywould like to swap places with David Young right about now.

Young has been the target of a planned recall, but yesterday the Canyon County residents who were behind it acknowledged they were falling short, failed to get the required number of petition signatures by their November 30 deadline, and settled for saying that, well, at least they got a discussion of Young's record out there. But there were less labor-intensive ways to do that. (more…)

Whose quality of life?

And sometimes you just drop your jaw however much you may expect it. Such as the instance of an immigrant family settled into Cataldo, Idaho from Yakima, Washington, moved there for reasons having little to do with "quality of life" - at least, as most people are led to understand it. Next time you hear someone say they've come to Idaho for the "quality of life," ask for a definition: Some people view it differently than others.

The facts apparently are not at issue. Dotys, who have become a cause celebre in some circles, have seven children, and they run a house-moving business. The interaction of the two is the issue: Two of the older children, Zach, 13 (when the dispute began) and Stephen, 11, were put to work as employees, operating heavy machinery such as bulldozers and backhoes. They also were assigned to ride on top of houses moving down the road, to push low-hanging electric power and telephone lines out of the way. All of this is part of the home schooling (you were expecting that, weren't you?) which is the education for all seven children.

Washington officials had a few problems with this, including violations of child labor laws and failure to pay worker compensation insurance, and fined Jude Doty $100,000. Doty's response was to contest the fine, and decamp to Cataldo. There - Kootenai County Prosecutor Bill Douglas is quoted as saying - the state simply doesn't regulate child labor in businesses which take in less than $500,000 in revenue annually and operate entirely within the state. The Dotys are free in Idaho, to put their pre-adolescent kids befhind the controls of heavy machinery, balancing on the roofs of houses moving down the highway while handling high-voltage power lines.

Unregulated free enterprise in action. (more…)

Dicks’ Murtha moment

The significance of the U.S. House firestorm over Pennsylvania Representative John Murtha, a generally hawkish Democrat who has proposed a six-month pullout from Iraq, hits home in today's Seattle Times piece on Norm Dicks.

Norm DicksDicks, who has been representing a southwest Puget Sound area (roughly centered on Kitsap County) in the House since 1976, has long fit much of the same description as Murtha: A liberal out of the old Henry Jackson mold, strongly pro-military and not particularly averse to approving military action. His district, packed with military installations, is a match. He is one of those Democrats respected by Republicans, and who has long worked smoothly with Republican as well as Democratic administrations (like not only Jackson but also his old boss, Senator Warren Magnuson); he long has been one of the most keenly effective, if headline-quiet, members of the Northwest delegation.

He is a long stretch from a Democrat like Representative Jim McDermott, the Seattle liberal who opposed the Iraq war before it began; Dicks' friends are people like Murtha, and Dicks voted to authorize the war. The Times piece recounts how, as the House exploded in anger over stands on the war, Dicks sat with Murtha in the clockroom, and reflected on how things had come to this. (more…)

Pedophilia, in another church

The comparisons are a long way from exact, and this is - so far - just one case. but what if it doesn't stay that way?

The legal case is unfolding in Federal Way, in Washington, a state where so many pedophilia cases have developed to haunt the Catholic Church. But this one was in another church, another major regional religious organization: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the Mormons.

The case concerns two girls, now grown, sexually abused by their stepfather. All were members of the LDS Church. The elder of the girls brought the abuse to the attention of her ward's bishop but, according to the lawsuit, was told that the family should work out its problems through worship. The abuse continued, and later extended to the girl's younger sister.

What do you do with a case like that? The step-father's culpability is clear enough (provided the abuse is clearly determined), but how liable should a church be? (more…)