Writings and observations

oso

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Washington Washington column

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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.

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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.

She is also a member of the Senate Democratic leadership along with New York Senator Charles Schumer who will probably be her primary competitor once Reid announces he is stepping down. Let me be clear—Senator Murray will be called by the time and circumstances to ascend to a razor thin Majority leadership. She will not lead a coup against Senator Reid nor step over the body of Senator Schumer. Neither move is in her nature.

The caucus will turn to her because once again she will be the right person in the right place at the right time with the right message.

Senator Murray is a proven consensus builder. Exhibit A is the sterling work she and her staff (She has always had outstanding staff) displayed in working with Wisconsin Republican Congressman Paul Ryan to achieve a bi-partisan Budget agreement between the House and Senate.

This ability to smooth troubled waters will be of critical importance for the simple reason that if the Democrats hold onto the Senate leadership it may only be by a one vote margin. The party that wins control could come down to Alaska Senator Mark Begich’s race the results of which may not be known for several days.

Party leadership, though, including Bill and Hillary Clinton, will recognize that to achieve any legislative success going into the 2016 presidential race will require a different style in the Majority Leader’s office and someone whom the Republicans can trust and respect. That’s Patty Murray, not Harry Reid or Charles Schumer.

Senator Murray’s ability to rally women behind Democratic candidates is well proven and thus she will also garner credit for the Democrats continuing to hold the Senate.

Another commendable attribute: she always remembers those that help her. She called just the other day to ask how I was doing with my health challenges and faring in retirement. We had a nice 10 minute chat.

And during my several hospitalizations while being treated for my cancer at Huntsman in Salt Lake City in 2006 invariably I’d get a hand-written note of encouragement from her. She’s going to be a great Majority Leader. You just watch. She’s the real deal in the surreal world inside the Beltway.

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Carlson Washington

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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.

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RANDY STAPILUS / Washington

The successful 2012 initiative legalizing marijuana also carried with it orders to both tax and regulate and set up a distribution system. This the state has been steadily working on doing, slower, admittedly, than similarly-situated Colorado has.

But it has been slowed by a number of factors, one a pre-existing condition and other a development in the aftermath.

The earlier condition was the lack of a distribution system for legal (under state law) marijuana for medical purposes. Dispensaries popped up, but there was no state provision for them, and so no system to build off when recreational legalization came around. The new regime had to start, to a greater degree, from scratch.

It also faced a different kind of obstacle, localized opposition.

The 55.7% initiative win carried in most of the larger counties but lost in 19 of them, primarily smaller and rural (Clark and Yakima were the largest). Quite a few people in those places do not want marijuana stores in their areas, and they’re busy at work passing ordinances designed to block them. A state attorney general’s opinion says they have considerable latitude in doing that.

As time goes on, some may change their minds. The stores will be moneymakers (if they are not, they go out of business), and will bring new (above-ground) money to communities that house them. Some may find the economic plus and the tax loss to be not worth the ban.

There’s also the real possibility of the legislature stepping in an limiting that authority. This would not be out of line, because initiatives passing in the state are intended to be in practical effect statewide; the local actions are meant as a nullification. How far can or should local nullification go?

That’s a larger question, of course, covering territory well beyond marijuana. But it could be that marijuana is the subject area turf where it is initially grappled with.

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Washington Washington column

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RANDY STAPILUS / Washington

Josef Stalin was famously quoted as saying with snorting dismissiveness, in a discussion of European power politics: “The Pope? How many divisions has he got?”

It was the response of an authoritarian mind interested not in right or wrong, better or worse, or even the long term – only in immediate raw capabilities.

This is not – certainly! – a comparison of personalities, but the quote by state Senator Rodney Tom widely circulated today brought that old Stalin line to mind. Tom was asked about the new Washington Supreme Court report concluding that the legislature had seriously underfunded public schools in the state, and strenuously … advised … the legislature to take action on it. It was a report that quite a few people seem to have taken seriously.

Tom’s attitude was a little different. Asked about the court’s take on education funding, he said, “Let them have at it.”

In other words, how many votes (as opposed to army divisions) in the legislative chambers has the court got?

Tom, though the majority leader of the Senate, is in effect just the co-leader, along with the head of the Republican caucus; but he in fact may be speaking for the governing caucus in the Senate. If so, he’s calling for the legislature to simply defy the state’s Supreme Court. (The third branch, led by Governor Jay Inslee, would be differently inclined.)

It may be able to do that for a while. But eventually, a price will be paid. Watch how the session, and the election following, play out.

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Washington

Bellingham Bay

 The Port of Bellingham and Washington Department of Ecology removed approximately 230 cubic yards of contaminated soil from the construction site. The soil is contaminated with low levels of metals and hydrocarbons. The soil is stockpiled nearby while arrangements are made to properly dispose of it. Crews have been investigating the area known as the Westman Marine cleanup site for contamination left behind from previous boat and shipyard work dating back to the 1940s. (photo/via Department of Ecology)
 
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Briefings Washington

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RANDY STAPILUS / Washington

Two directions as to worker benefits were among the top stories of the last couple of weeks in Washington.

One was the SeaTac $15 minimum wage story, which has gone through lots of twists since the ballots were turned in a couple of months ago. It was a close race, finally narrowly passing after close review, and then facing a series of legal challenges. The last challenge resulted in a judge concluding that the SeaTac municipality could not (by virtue of an act of the Washington legislature) dictate much to the area covered by the SeaTac airport, which is where most of the city’s workers work. Still, the measure has survived at least in principle, covering some people, and making the declaration that full-time pay ought to equate to a decent standard of living.

Then there’s the Boeing machinists agreement, which is a rather different part of the territory.

The workers involved in that dispute and eventual agreement tend to make a lot more than the minimum wage; some reach into six figures. There is this, though: The union members supporting the deal seem to have done so because of concern that had they not, Boeing might have carried through on its not very subtle threat and moved a lot of highly-paid 777 activity out of the Northwest. They were not negotiating in an arms-length fashion, in other words; they were knuckling under to pressure. But only barely, with just 51% in support.

The principle of substantial work wages and benefits may be as strong around the Puget Sound as anywhere in the United States, and these two care are part of the edgy battleground.

Do not expect that as 2014 unfolds, this battleground will remain unvisited. This is some of the most sensitive policy territory people in this country will be considering over the next few years, and Washington seems to be right in the heart of it.

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