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Posts published in “Washington column”

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

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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.

But not too much

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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.

Scattershot initiative?

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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.

Stories of two wages

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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.

A Socialist – no, really?

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RANDY STAPILUS / Washington

A city council race in Seattle drawing national attention? Well, yeah, in this case. It involves the ouster of an incumbent, Richard Conlin, but that isn't the reason. Or the fact that the race was very close, coming into clear focus only well into last week.

Rather, it was that an avowed Socialist, Kshama Sawant, appears (narrowly, at a most-recent 1,148-vote lead) to have won.

Socialists have been getting the hard-core blast in national politics for the last couple of decades, demonized to the point that their actual stances have gotten obscured. Even a writer on the Seattle Horse's Ass blog, no stranger to liberalism, remarked, “It’s so rare that someone in government is to my left, it’ll be interesting to see what it actually looks like.”

Maybe not all that startling. Some decades ago, election of Socialists to local government offices was not especially rare. Small towns in places like Idaho used to do it with some regularity. Check out this list in Wikipedia of Socialist mayors around the country; it's a long list. Until not so long ago, socialists weren't that far out of the political mainstream.
(Quietly, to an extent, not so much even now: Bernie Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont, has described himself as a socialist, though generally he caucuses with the Senate Democrats and votes much as most of them do.)

So what is this exotic partisan have in mind for the council? What's the far-out agenda?

The list of issues on her campaign web site suggests: She likes the idea of a $15 an hour minimum wage, taxpayer-funded election campaigns, labeling GMO foods, and opposition to the coal transport trains.

In other words, the kind of stuff most Seattle City Council members already pretty much support, rent control probably excepted.

The most distinctive element is the up-front quote: “Our campaign is not an isolated event, it's a bellwether for what's going to happen in the future.”

Activism and movement, in other words, at least as much as policy.

Washington through lines

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RANDY STAPILUS / Washington

Do the Washington election results leave us with any particular through-lines?

You know, what with the ousting of a Seattle mayor, the rejection of a major statewide ballot issue, apparent narrow win of a Republican to take a Kitsap-area Senate seat, the seeming SeaTac adoption of a $15 minimum wage. And so on.

The major thread seems to be, for all that people are said to be riotously unhappy, a general willingness to stick with the status quo.
Could it be that after making national waves in 2012 on marijuana and gay marriage, the voters decided to more or less hang in there with what they already had this time?

That's not a perfect or absolute suggestion, but there's some reason to think it can fit much of what we saw.

It certainly fits I-522, the measure intended to require labeling of genetically modified food. The results in that issue weren't a slam dunk, but the rejection may have rested in part with an unease about the idea, a sense that not all the implications were fully thought through. The range of opponents was broad, and the subject a new one for many voters to deal with. Many may have decided, understandably, that they weren't going to back something they didn't think they fully understood.
And the ouster of a Seattle mayor? Well, it was the defeat – the second mayoral ouster in a row, remember – of Mayor Mike McGinn. But victor Ed Murray, a veteran legislator from Seattle, is hardly unknown locally, and the two have views on issues close enough that they struggled, without much success, to figure out how to differentiate themselves. Both are liberal Democrats; Murray may be a little closer to business and organized labor (and the gay community, of course), and McGinn closer to activist Democrats. But the difference is more in the area of personality and style. Seattle voters traditionally have liked strong personalities in their mayors, and Murray may fit that mold a little more closely. Remember: Seattle voters had their choice of many options in the primary, and these were the two guys they chose. They're shades of each other.

Incumbents did well in the Seattle council races, and, where they were challenged at all, on the King County Council. Republican Reagan Dunn was seriously challenged, but prevailed. Executive Dow Constantine had a substantial challenger, but seems never to have broken a sweat. (That race seemed hardly to generate even any headlines, unusual for a King executive race.)

The Senate rate, in which Republican Jan Angel seems (the qualifier needs to be thrown in for a bit, since the race is still close) to have won, is in part the case of a close district, sometimes Democratic leaning, but featuring a Republican candidate who runs in line with the tenor of the district and has deeper political roots and visibility than the Democrat. The upshot may make life harder for Democrats as they try to retake control of the state Senate, but the local dynamic was different from that.

You could break from the pattern a bit, probably, with SeaTac and its vote to support a $15 minimum wage. Despite the city's small size, the ballot issue drew national attention. (The airport's fame may have helped with that.) And maybe there's something of a leading indicator here for the future. But the SeaTac vote was something of an outlier.

Maybe it properly goes into the “watch for more of this in 2014” folder.

Gentle giant

carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

Towards the end of his fine novel, Citizen Vince, Spokane journalist turned best selling novelist Jess Walter describes Vince’s encounter with an Irish politician in a bar on Sprague Avenue inside a well-known downtown Spokane hotel.

It is the day before the 1980 election and Vince, a felon placed in the Federal Witness Protection Program, has been debating for a week whether to vote given his new identity and a clean slate. He strides into the lounge, sits at the bar and asks the bartender if he can switch the tv above the booze to the news for just ten minutes even though Monday Night Football is about to begin.

The bartender politely points out that the five other patrons at the bar want the football game, but tells Vince if he can get one other patron to second his request he’ll switch for ten minutes. Vince surveys the lounge recognizing that none of those at the bar will give him a second. However, there are two gray suits sitting at a table having highballs and eating a steak.

Anyone familiar with Spokane immediately recognizes the Ridpath Hotel. The Irish politician is also recognizable - it is Tom Foley, the only person to serve as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives from the vast area west of Texas.

Vince recognizes that the larger of the two suits, a bearish but friendly looking guy, is the local congressman---he knows his name begins with F. Vince asks if the Congressman will be the second. As only a writer with a novelist’s eye can, Walter captures the puckish humor of the late Speaker:

He stands, raises a draft beer, and covers his heart. “Esteemed colleagues, the representative from Table Six in the great state of Washington - home of glorious wheat fields and aluminum plants, cool, clear rivers and snow-
capped mountains, and the finest bar patrons in this great country, proudly casts his vote in favor of ten minutes of misery and heartache courtesy of the national news.”

The guys at the bar raise their glasses in confused reverie as the bartender reaches up to turn the channel.

Anyone who ever knew Speaker Foley can easily envision this fictional scene. It captures the quintessential Foley - his humor, wit, intelligence, compassion, perspicacity, all in one brief vignette. The Ridpath, once the hotel of choice for Labor as the only “union” hotel in Spokane, has been shuttered for years. And Tom Foley passed away at the age of 84 this past week. (more…)

The Seattle mayor map

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RANDY STAPILUS / Washington

After the results settled from the Seattle mayoral primary - or is it pre-runoff? - Seattle political consultant Benjamin Anderstone mapped the results by precinct. You can see the results via the PubliCola site.

Publicola carried Anderstone's summing up:

Here's the results for the 2013 Primary for Seattle mayor. Mike McGinn (green) performed well in young, highly urban areas. Bruce Harrell (yellow) did very strongly in ethnically diverse neighborhoods. Peter Steinbrueck (blue) won a few precincts, mostly ones with lots of long-time voters. Ed Murray (red) basically cleaned up the rest of the Democratic vote, doing especially well in wealthier zones.

That seems about right, looking at the precincts and their coloration, but is there might we might draw?

First, it seems that McGinn's base from four years ago stayed with him. He had a young, somewhat idealistic, base back then, and he seems to have retained it - but he also seems not to have expanded a lot beyond it. Young idealists aren't an operating majority.

In the runoff, he faces legislator Ed Murray, who seemed to do notably well in all the precincts not dominated by specific ethnic minorities, the elderly, and the notably young. But there's a catch: It's a little easier in saying that to define what Murray's base isn't, than what it is.

A little more definition will be needed, and may be unavoidable, between here and November.

A rightward drift

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RANDY STAPILUS / Washington

A few minutes before writing this I was reading a column by conservative Myra Adams in the Daily Beast, inquiring about whether a Republican can win the 270 electoral votes needed to become president in 2016, and concluding that as matters sit, probably not.

She started with this: "As I was chatting with a man in his mid-30s, the conversation turned to the 2016 presidential race. When I asked him who he was supporting as the Republican nominee, his answer was Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul. Then I was prompted to ask the question I ask every Republican after they tell me their preferred candidate: “Do you think Rand Paul can win 270 electoral votes?” The man immediately replied, “I never thought about that.” ... let me state that the concept of nominating someone more conservative than ever in 2016 is a foregone conclusion among the Republican base."

But, she suggested, a general election win by a Republican is extremely unlikely under those conditions.

In a somewhat different context, Danny Westneat of the Seattle Times makes a similar point in a column today, in considering the prospective candidates for state Republican Party chair.

He quoted one: “American before partisan, conservative before republican, dead before liberal.”

Another: “Will the Jews face another Holocaust? We know that babies have been facing their Holocaust. Abortions and infanticides.”

A third: “Social Security: The Statist Fraud that Undermines Everything Else.”

And then there's state Senator Pam Roach who, he notes, may be running "to lead a party that has tried to bar her in the past for bad behavior."

And sundry others who argue that the party's big mistake has been trying to cave to the political center.

Odds are that the Republican Party will make a political recovery one day. But that day does not seem to be soon.