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Posts published in “Washington”

Going to extremes

oregon
RANDY STAPILUS / Washington

Washington State University's weather center has delivered one of its periodic reports on weather changes (much of it is in the Weather section in this issue) and this one, like many of them in recent years, has become compelling reading.
There's this for example:

“In a span of three years, Washingtonians have experienced both extremes of spring weather. In 2011, the state lived through one of the coolest early growing seasons on record, only to see one of the warmest in recent memory in 2014.”

The state has been whipsawed over the last few years and even in the most recent season. It went from unseasonably warm weather at the beginning of spring to cool and wet, quickly – and the landslide at Oso on the Stillaguamish River may have been attributable in part to just that change.

And then there was this:

“A major heat wave at the end of April caused the high temperature at Long Beach to rise from 58 degrees on April 28 to 88 degrees on April 30. The sweltering reading shattered the previous April record by 12 degrees and marked the warmest temperature since September 2012.

“On May 1, the heat spread eastward and Seattle spiked to 89 degrees. However, a return to onshore flow allowed the daily high to decrease to a more seasonable 69 degrees on May 2.”

Makes you wonder what's ahead for this year's summer.

And over the span of the next few years, because these whipsaws have been becoming more pronounced with time.

A candidate quietude

oregon
RANDY STAPILUS / Washington

The Washington official candidate filing week is now exactly one month away. From there, candidates in races contested by more than two people will have three months to try to pull into the win or place slots so they can advance to November.

Usually, by this time, the ruckus is clearly audible.
The general quiet we're seeing right now may relate, in addition to the absence of statewide and federal senatorial candidates, to the point that only but so many contests will feature more than two serious candidates. Only for that relatively small number of races will the August primary really matter, other than as a kind of distant early polling.

As matters sit the primary shouldn't be notably decisive on the U.S. House level. Of course, there aren't likely to be many serious contests there anyway even come November. But even in the 1st district, widely perceived as the most competitive, there's unlikely to be more than one serious challenger in the field.

The major exception may be in the 4th U.S. House district, which not coincidently is the one where a retirement (that of Republican Doc Hastings) is opening the seat. The 4th will very likely remain Republican in November, but the name of the Republican nominee is far from settled, and so is the field. Of interest: Will this be a case where two Republicans face each other in November? (There's a good chance, however, there will be enough Democratic votes in the primary to at least secure a second-place slot for the general.)

Among candidates, that may be far and away the most interesting result to watch in Washington on primary day. A handful of legislative races could work the same way, where one party or the other draws just enough strong contenders to throw the primary result into doubt. But that'll likely be only a few.

The top-two system has its advantages, and it may wind up making the general election more interesting than otherwise.

For the primary, maybe not so much.

Talmadge on the nuances of McClary

ridenbaugh Northwest
Reading

The conservative Washington Policy Center asked the former state Supreme Court Justice (and a former gubernatorial candidate) Phil Talmadge to offer his legal analysis of the state Supreme Court's decision and subsequent actions in the school funding case McCleary v. Washington. The full piece is available through a web site; his conclusion follows.

To a large extent, the issue presented here is not one of whether the Court has the power to take steps to order compliance with its McCleary opinion. It does. The more basic and nuanced question is whether it is wise to exercise that power.

When I was on the Court, I wrote a law review article entitled Understanding the Limits of Power: Judicial Restraint in General Jurisdiction Court Systems. 22 Seattle U. Law Rev. 695 (1999). In that article I discussed the school funding cases in Washington and recounted the problems experienced by other state courts who became a part of the political process.

In reviewing the Court’s post-McCleary orders, the Court has progressively articulated an ever more assertive role in defining basic education and its funding without defining the specific constitutional requirements for either. Chief Justice Madsen’s concurrence/dissent is apt on that point. The Court has not articulated what basic education is, against which to measure legislative compliance and funding. This lack of precision means that the Court may not be making so much a constitutional decision, as a political, or normative, decision on how schools should be organized and how much K-12 funding is “adequate.”

If the Legislature fails to meet the Court’s rather amorphous mandate, what is the Court’s “end game?” Will the Court find the Legislature or a distinct group of legislators in contempt? Justice Johnson’s dissent on the January 9, 2014 Court order is quite pointed on this question. Dissent at 6.

Will the Court order the expenditure of funds for K-12 without legislative appropriation or go so far as to direct the raising of taxes to meet the expenditure level it deems adequate? Plainly, this would be a profoundly political act in an era when general tax increases are greeted with little enthusiasm and often face roll back initiatives. In the absence of new revenues, if the Court simply redirected expenditures to K-12 schools, such a redirection must come at the expense of the two other significant components of the State budget--higher education or human services. Report of Joint Select Committee on Article IX Litigation at 22. The Court would hardly relish being the cause of distress to people in need or students in our universities and colleges.

Will the Legislature sit idly by and not engage in aggressive fiscal or constitutional steps in response to the Court’s actions? Many of its members are restive and have offered what seem to be retributive measures. Other, troubling actions are possible, limited only by legislative imaginations.
Apart from reducing the size of the Supreme Court, the Legislature could choose not to fund certain judicial services. It could also consider a constitutional amendment to give the Legislature the exclusive authority to define the courts’ jurisdiction or remedial authority.

None of this is pretty. The prospect of a major constitutional crisis between the legislative and judicial branch is something no one relishes.
While the Legislature certainly must heed the Court’s construction of article IX, § 1 and clearly define basic education and fund it, the Court should respect the Legislature’s exclusive constitutional role to organize K-12 education (article IX, § 2) and to tax appropriate funds (articles II § , VII, § 4).

Lessons from Oso

oso

 

oregon
RANDY STAPILUS / Washington

The tiny community of Oso, which was until a week ago a collection of houses on State Route 530 between Arlington and Darrington in Snohomish County, is a place of tragedy today.

It is not a place, as some people have pointed out, over which fingers should be pointed and accusations launched. The March 22 mudslide was not someone's fault: It was a natural phenomenon of the kind that from time to time kills and wounds.

Any attempts to bury people in legal, economic or political battles in the weeks and months ahead probably would prove fruitless.

However, tragedies sometimes do carry lessons for the future, and the Oso mudslide did that.
Known in some quarters as the Hazel landslide, the mountain-face collapse was not altogether unheralded. Rumblings and ground movement there go back at least to 1937, and geologists over the years warned that the area was unstable. Very recently, too, there was some specific cause for worry, since the area had seen consistent heavy rain over the last seven weeks, just the type of drenching needed to loosen the soil and rock. On top of that, a small earthquake was registered about two weeks before the mudslide occurred.

This is not by way of blaming anyone for not taking action. If you've lived in a place for decades, as many of the Oso people had, you had reason to think that thoughts of a wall of mud crashing through your house was just paranoiac. Should officials, after, say, the earthquake, have tried to move people out of the area? It would not have been a very easy argument to make, and it might have been resisted staunchly.

Here we get to the value of lessons, because we now see what the actual results are, and compare that to what might have been done earlier. The lesson isn't, of course, worth the cost of life or property. But it did encourage reports around the region about places prone to slides (across both Oregon and Washington) and it might result in some people taking earlier action.

If the Oso mudslide was not necessarily worth this particular candle, maybe at least some good, somewhere else, might come of it.

An election year session

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RANDY STAPILUS / Washington

You can't necessarily rule out political motivations in very much when it comes to this year's Washington legislative session.

Certainly not the fact that, as matters stand now, they're done for the year – no special session, no undone budget. When time came to get the deal done, both parties were there to deal.

And no doubt part of the reason was that the election was coming up, right around the corner, and no one wanted to be seen as too obviously obstructionist.

Governor Jay Inslee said his happiest moment as governor so far came during this session when he was able to sign the Washington Dream act – for undocumented, immigrant students, for they could obtain grants to go on to college. A headline in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer called it “The Legislature's lone big accomplishment,” and probably that headline wouldn't be changed after sine die day. But it happened in large part because (and this isn't a merits argument against) a broad enough coalition developed around the state to ensure that people standing in its way would risk becoming road kill.

This will be a tense and close-fought legislative election in Washington. Without much at stake by way of major offices, attention will go to the legislature and especially to the Senate, where control of the chamber rides on the future of only a couple of seats. Because of the coalition nature of the current ruling majority there, the emotional stakes are even higher than usual.

None of this could ever have been far from the minds of many legislators this short session.

Now, the session done, they can fully commit to dealing with Topic A.

And hope the session next year operates on somewhat more straightforward motivations.

A digital cost

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RANDY STAPILUS / Washington

The dots weren't often connected, but we spotted some commonalities this week between local headllines in places like Arlington and Port Angeles: Much-loved local downtown single-screen movie theaters will be closed, playing their final movies this week. Read closely, and you find a lot of them are going through the same thing, at about the same time.

The reason is not hard to find: Technology.

Movie theaters nationally are moving toward new digital approaches to playing movies, and there will be advantages: No more broken tape reels, no more off-kilter sound. The quality will be better. Long-term, the costs may be be less too.

But the costs are high in the shorter term, and owners of some older theaters say there's simply no way they can afford the high upgrade costs. So the theaters are shuttered.

More than just those businesses are closing. Movie theaters in many places but especially in smaller cities are real community gathering spots and points of pride. Once closed, many communities have gone to extraordinary efforts to try to revive them, if not for movies then as community event centers. Large sums of money have been raised in some places (Pocatello, Idaho, is one that comes personally to mind) to keep those centers alive.

Given that, might some of these communities try to find ways to help the theater owners before the theaters go entirely dark – or at least, before they've been sitting there too long?

You have to suspect some of the theater owners would love some help interaction on this. And the communities might find some of those dollar spent early on would be money well spent over time.

In the WA 4th

oregon
RANDY STAPILUS / Washington

There will be a change in Washington's congressional delegation next year. But it may not be a very great change.

All 10 of the state's House seats are up for election this year, but little alteration is expected in most of them. There's some discussion that the 1st district, which in theory is fairly closely balanced between the parties, might be competitive this year; but its 2012 Democratic winner, Suzan DelBene, seems well positioned to hold on to it as matters stand. (And no major opposition has surfaced, either.) Pretty much everywhere else, the incumbents are raising a good deal of money and drawing not a lot by way of strong opposition.

The exception to that came last week when veteran Republican Representative Richard “Doc” Hastings said he would retire, after 20 years in Congress. He cited personal and family considerations as important in the decision, and in his case that sounds about right; he was not appearing to face any political difficulties this year, as he has not ever since his second re-election.

The next question would be whether the seat is up for grabs in a partisan way, and there too you have to figure there'll likely be little change.

The Secretary of State's office helpfully broke out some numbers for the 4th district from the 2012 election, and they showed what most politically-minded people knew: This central Washington district, anchored by Yakima and the Tri-Cities, is a conservative and Republican place. In the 4th, Mitt Romney won by about 22 percentage points (about 143,000 votes to about 91,000). In the close governor's race won statewide by Democrat Jay Inslee, he lost the 4th (which in 1002 had elected him to the U.S. House) by about 87,000 votes to 149,000. Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell easily romped statewide, but lost the 4th. The 4th opposed same-sex marriage by nearly a 2-1 margin, and opposed marijuana legalization (though by a smaller margin) too.

The state legislative delegation in the area is just about all Republican.

A bunch of Republicans were quick to indicate interest in running for Hastings' seat after his announcement, but no new Democrats. That's not hard to understand.

The future majority leader?

carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

Pardon the crystal ball gazing, but by next January Washington state’s senior U.S. Senator, Patty Murray, will become the next majority leader of the Senate, succeeding the acerbic Nevada Senator Harry Reid.

Most pundits will say this is two years premature, that Reid intends to be Majority (or Minority) Leader through 2016. That may well be in fact what happens. The dynamics of the 2014 mid-term elections, however, will change that and history will tap Senator Murray.

She will be the first female to hold that position, but then she has constantly surprised friends and befuddled critics since the Mom in Tennis Shoes first jumped from the Washington State Senate to the United States Senate.

First, full disclosure - I go back with the Senator to the very beginning when she declared against the ethically challenged incumbent Senator Brock Adams in the 1992 Democratic primary.

The Seattle P-I assigned a reporter to do a profile before the primary and thus it was I took a call and was asked why I was supporting her. Because of my long association with Cecil Andrus, and my subsequent work with Kaiser Aluminum as the v p for government affairs some in the media at least thought my support was noteworthy.

My response became the lead: “Patty Murray is the right person, in the right place at the right time with the right message and she’s going to win.” Over a dozen lobbyists and government affairs types called to ask me if I’d lost my marbles.

Besides being smart, and having the courage of her convictions, Senator Murray is a tenacious campaigner, and one who opponents and critics constantly underestimate. Their bodies are strewn across the political landscape.

Consider: she is one of only two members of the Senate ever to defeat four sitting members of Congress - in her 1992 primary she defeated Congressmen Don Bonker; in the general she defeated Congressman Rod Chandler . In 1998, she defeated Congresswoman Linda Smith, and in 2004 Congressman George Nethercutt.

One could make that five if you counted former congressman and senator, Brock Adams.

Senator Murray has many assets but one not often cited is the obvious capacity to grow into the various roles she has had to play, from chair of the Veterans Committee to twice running the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Today, with the seniority she has accumulated she is chair of the Budget committee and sits on the powerful Appropriations Committee as well as retaining her seat on Veterans Affairs. (more…)

But not too much

oregon
RANDY STAPILUS / Washington

The Seahawks might have won and they might have lost on Sunday.

Prognosticators were split; might thought the contest would be tightly fought. Last week Stephen Colbert has a string of football greats on his program, and he asked them who was likely to win. Most guessed Seattle, but the universal attitude was one of caution: This is a back-to-the-wall prediction, but the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos are two closely matched teams, one (the Broncos) with a better record in officer, the other (the Seahawks) better on defense, but overall a very close call.

The 43-8 blowout was a stunner. The cheers in Seattle could almost be heard from hundreds of miles away; from the beginning of the game to the end, their team dominated.

It was a big high – and the implications of putting it that way go beyond any easy jokes about legalized marijuana.
The city will, in many respects, be floating on this for a while. And there's nothing wrong with a bit of cheer.
But remember: Big Bertha is still stuck in the underground of downtown. The city still has all the problems it had last month and last year, and so does the state of Washington. A Super Bowl win, however satisfying, isn't a cure for anything; it's a temporary high.

The question is whether Seattle simply enjoys it and moves on, or whether it becomes addicted, whether its people start to feel such a win is something they must have – again – if Seattle is to take its proper place among cities, or in their hearts and minds.

That would be a problem. Super Bowl wins are transient things. Repeat winners do come around, but not often; the odds are someone else will be on top a year from now.

Seattle would be none the less for it, just as – today – it would be none the less if the 2014 win had been Denver's. And remember, from the perspective of a few days ago: The Seahawks might have won and they might have lost.

So celebrate, brag a little if you must, and enjoy it. Just … not too much.