Writings and observations

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.

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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.

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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.

The best and clearest explication of them written so far may be in a column for the business web site Tech Central Station, by James Glassman, called “The Senator from Windfall.” Itmay or may not reflect McGavick’s take on his opponent, and he may or may not use some of the points in it, but it certainly explains where some of the anti-Cantwell animus comes from.

Its mainspring is what many on the right must see as a delicious irony, tagging Cantwell with a sin – hypocrisy – more often spouted from the left. Glassman notes that Cantwell, until her loss of a U.S. House seat in 1994 in the Republican tide of that year, had worked on campaigns and for governments. Then she was recruited to the new Real Networks high-tech business, received extensive stockoptions which took off on the 90s dot-com boom and made her independently wealthy. She used that money to finance her run for the Senate – becoming, he notes, “truly the Senator From Windfall.”

In office, she has campaigned against a range of business proposals and windfalls – a high of hypocrisy, Glassman suggests. His largest focus is on Cantwell’s talk about oil company profits coming as Americans paid record-high proces for gas: “Are such profits a windfall? Of course not. They are the result of serious investment and research and development. But Senators like Cantwell and [New Hampshire Senator Judd] Gregg — and others who should know better — continue to try to exact special tribute from the same companies that are trying to boost America’s energy supply.”

Those poor companies. They’re only trying to save our country, for God’s sake …

He does go on to make policy arguments against the tax and regulatory approaches Cantwell has proposed (most notably related to oil). Glassman’s column is intelligently thought out and would represent a cogent approach in undertaking the first public task McGavick has before him: Explaining why the voters should dump Cantwell. It certainly explains why some people think they should.

But this world view, pitted against the alternative Cantwell is likely to let loose in the months ahead, seems at this point unlikely to win much sympathy from Washingtonians concerned more about such matters as the price of electricity and gas, and the state of the environment, than about corporate profits.

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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.

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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.

Miller notes, for example, a number of sometimes odd connections and dislocations among these factors.

The presence of retail book stores is positively associated with quality of libraries. So, it is not a question of whether people buy books or check them out: they do both or neither.

Newspaper circulation variables correlate with nothing other than themselves. There is virtually no relationship between number of papers circulated per person and any of the other literacy factors including reading a newspaper on the internet.

The number of public library staff per capita, number of retail bookstores per capita, and magazines published per capita are significantly related to more other literary factors than any of the other variables.

There are strong relationships between three of the four internet literacy variables including wireless internet access, purchasing books on the internet, and reading newspapers on the internet, but availability of wireless terminals in public libraries is not related to any of these three variables.

Portlanders would have a hard time believing it, but Seattle ranks second (behind San Francisco) in number of book store per 100,000 people, while Portland shares a seventh-place ranking. (Doesn’t account for the massive traffic drawn by the Powell’s mother ship; in fairness, that alone should boost Portland a few notches.) Match that up against newspaper penetration, where Seattle ranks 16 and Portland 20.

Interesting study, worth some attention.

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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?

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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.

The collapse of that effort comes as no surprise. Young has been central to the occasional legal storm – a substantial one now in federal court finds the survivors of a murder victim are suing Young for his office’s role in the release from jail of a violent man later convicted of killing his ex-wife. That case was a key point in the recall effort.

Young has acknowledged it wasn’t perfectly handled, but also pointed out that the criminal justice system is a complicated thing. he could also point out that errors could be found through hindsight in any prosecutor’s office (or most any other kind of office, for that matter).

The recall proponents had framed their gripe with Young as a criticism of the way he managed the office – of how well it was being run. That issue is legitimate for a regular election (we make no assessment here whether their contentions are valid), but to recall an official, you should need much more. For purposes of a recall, you should ask such questions as: Is the offense so great that the person cannot be trusted with the office even another week? Is the problem so great that this person can no longer do the job – or is the damage to the community so great it just cant be allowed to continue through the rest of the term? The Young recallers obviously came nowhere near that kind of standard.

A day’s drive to the north puts that in perspective. There, recall activists did put Spokane Mayor West on a recall election ballot, and voters are finishing their balloting now; the deadline, and the counting, occurs on Tuesday. Almost certainly, West will be recalled.

The Spokesman-Review reports today that a new opinion survey shows West has gained a little ground from previous polls; evidently, the previously undecided are breaking mostly for West. (There weren’t many undecideds, and the pro-recallers still lead 58% to 38%.) You can understand that. There’s been a kind of piling on (the Spokesman has run more than 150 stories on the West scandal) and West seems a tragic figure, much more than a doer of bad deeds. On one level, his offenses are not massive. While his case has been a spectacle because of the outing of a conservative Republican as gay or bisexual, his offenses – which at most concern the use of a city computer and appointment of people with whom he was socially involved – are not especially horrific.

But there is another consideration. West was elected in 2003, and if not recalled (he has made abundantly clear he will not resign) he will stay in office into early 2008. As long as he is mayor, West and the city cannot escape the cloud over them both. However many good things West has done (and in many respects he has been a good mayor) or would do, he will be forever handicapped by the scandal. The city will not really have a mayor who can do what a mayor needs to do – which includes representing the city in a positive light. In fundamental ways, however unfair it may be, West realistically can’t do the job any more. And so the election: Can Spokane do with only a half-mayor more the next two-plus years?

It probably can’t, not easily. And so while the late surge of sympathy for the embattled mayor is understandable, so too will be the vote on Tuesday ousting him from office.

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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.

Will the Idaho Legislature want to interfere? If you think this can’t be spun in a way that might appeal to it, think again.

The family’s web site, Families that Work says, “Historically the law has supported apprenticeship and the rights of parents to train their children in their religious values. Although case law and statutory law still recognize family farms and family businesses as exempt from child labor regulations, state bureaucrats are now threatening our liberties with administrative code and policies, claiming that parents cannot allow their children to do any appreciable services for the family’s enterprise.”

The argument spins further. In an August essay “Destroying Families that Work,” Tricia Smith Vaughan wrote, “If you own a business and think you’re immune from such treatment, think again. If your child brings in mail regarding that business from the mailbox to your office, you could be forced to stop that child from bringing in the mail or lose your child.”

And there’s the quote to the Spokane Spokesman-Review from one of the working kids, Zach: “I think it’s pretty clearly outlined in the Bible … It says to be with your children all the time, 24/7.”

That achoes this from the Doty’s web site: “But when it comes to training and working with our youth, we will continue as God requires. If we cave in, we are forsaking our God-given duty to apprentice our youth, and our children’s rightful inheritance of being with their father. The scripture encourages saying: “He shall turn the heart of the fathers to their children, and the heart of the children to their fathers.” (Malachi 4:6) As for our boys, they are not our employees, they’re our children.”

All of this has been apparently little noted in Idaho (there’ve been lots of headlines in Washington, and some in Oregon, but it’s listed on underreported.com) save for a scathing editorial today in the Lewiston Morning Tribune (sorry, no link available), which noted how thin regulation has made the state a magnet for the acolytes of Randy Weaver and Bo Gritz.

Add the Dotys to the list.

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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.

Near midnight, he drove to his D.C. home, poured a drink and wondered how defense hawks like he and Murtha had gotten lumped in with peaceniks by their colleagues and the administration.

And he thought about all that had happened over the past couple of years to change his mind about the war in Iraq.

Dicks and Murtha are still not of exactly the same mind on Iraq, but they have been walking similar paths.

Dicks now says it was all a mistake — his vote, the invasion, and the way the United States is waging the war.

While he disagrees with Murtha’s conclusion that U.S. troops should be withdrawn within six months, Dicks said, “He may well be right if this insurgency goes much further.”

“The insurgency has gotten worse and worse,” he said. “That’s where Murtha’s rationale is pretty strong — we’re talking a lot of casualties with no success in sight. The American people obviously know that this war is a mistake.”

Dicks, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, says he’s particularly angry about the intelligence that supported going to war.

Without the threat of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), he said, he would “absolutely not” have voted for the war.

The McDermotts are often, and easily, dismissed by many on the right as simply ideologically driven. The Dicks (and the Murthas) are much harder to dismiss: These are people who really would rather not believe Iraq is a bad mistake, but have been dragged to the conclusion by facts, and past regret and sorrow.

Those polls showing most Americans now think the invasion of Iraq is a mistake does not mean that most Americans have joined the ranks of the McDermotts. It probably means, rather, that there are a whole lot of John Murthas and Norm Dicks out there.

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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?

In this instance, a jury in King County awarded $4.2 million to the sisters – most of it to be paid by the church. That is a much larger award than in most church-related abuse cases, and the size of it apparently is sending shock waves through the Catholic Church – and likely through the Mormon Church as well.

LDS leaders say they will appeal and contest the ruling. It seems right that they should: Liability of religious organizations is a matter that has developed case by case through the courts, without any larger overview or sense of policy. It is a fit subject for legislatures to consider (as uncomfortable as that idea may be).

The reason is that for all the cases that have arisen, we may only be seeing a piece of the picture even yet.

Timothy Kosnoff, the plaintiff attorney in the Federal Way LDS case, also is a lead attorney in cases involving the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and in the Morning Star Boys’ Ranch cases at Spokane. This area of law is developing a center of gravity: More will likely be pulled into its orbit before long.

And we have not seen the end of LDS Church involvement. consider this piece of a report by the Child Protection Project:

Last March, the Bellevue, Washington-based attorney filed suit against the Mormon Church and a former bishop in Portland, Oregon. His client, 19-year-old Jeremiah Scott, says he was molested from ages 9 to 10. Repeatedly. By someone he trusted. By a man of God.

Scott and his mother, Sandra Scott, invited Sunday-school teacher Frank Curtis into their home nearly a decade ago to live with their family. The Scotts say that former bishop Gregory Lee Foster knew Curtis had a history of molesting children, but he covered it up, even when Sandra Scott sought his counsel before allowing Curtis to live with them.

“(The Mormons) encourage good works, and this man was elderly. He had approached my client’s mother and said he wanted to live out his remaining years in a family setting and asked if he could come and move in with them,” Kosnoff said in a telephone conversation. “She went to the bishop and told him what she was anticipating doing. The bishop was aware of problems with this man and never said anything, never warned her, and as a result, she invited this man into her home who proceeded to sexually abuse her son.”

In researching the case, Kosnoff said, he found numerous sex-abuse cases involving the Mormon Church which bore a resemblance to the Scott suit – one of them local. In September 1997, prominent Fairfield physician and Mormon Church leader John Parkinson was sentenced to 6 years in prison after being convicted of 16 felony counts of sexual penetration. Parkinson was accused of giving unnecessary pelvic exams to female patients, even after being stripped of his medical license in March 1995 on grounds of negligence.

(Though it’s gotten little attention in most media outlets, there’s more about this case on the web.)

This will be getting much bigger.

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