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Posts published in “Washington column”

The drones of TVW

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Washington

TVW is one of Washington's marvels – the closest equivalent to CSPAN the Northwest has.
CSPAN is so rigorously neutral that it could be taken for a government operation, although it – like TVW – is actually a nonprofit that simply watches government very closely, televising legislative hearings, official events, interview programs and so on.
That it isn't actually a part of government comes up every so often, such as when it sought to stream action on the floor of Congress (there was a dustup over that). And now TVW has a dustup of a structurally related sort.
Earlier this year the Washington Legislature tried to get a handle on regulating the use of drones in Washington air space, specifically restricting their use by government agencies. Governor Jay Inslee vetoed the measure, apparently less out of broad philosophical disagreement but because he wanted an independent group, a task force, to take a run at it. In the meantime he issued an order to state agencies: No drones for now.
TVW has latched on to the subject and wanted to do a program about drone policy. That wasn't a problem, but this was: It wanted to launch a drone and send it around the statehouse, maybe to give a sense of what they're like and what they're capable of. An Olympian article said that after reporter Christina Salerno, a state Department of Enterprise Services official responded, “While we can appreciate your desire to fly a quadcopter—a drone—around the Capitol Building and the campus, we are denying your request. The reasons include our concern that the use of this device for filming the campus may violate the privacy of tenants and visitors as well as posing an unnecessary public safety risk for those who may be below its flight path. Additionally, we believe this activity could unreasonably disrupt normal conduct of state business.”
For now, that can be attributed simply to wariness, and uncertainty about the implications of seemingly small current actions. But as policies get hammered out in the months and years to come, we may be seeing a lot more drones and a lot more requests that may be harder to comfortably deny. And from organizations not nearly as normally plugged in as TVW.

Addition by subtraction?

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Washington

Microsoft stock jumped a couple of percentage points (some of that reflected in our stock listing this week) after the formal announcement of what had been teased for some weeks: Employee cuts, massive cuts, not just the largest round of cuts in the company's history but more than three times as large as any before. In the Puget Sound alone, 1,351 jobs will be going away, though that's less than a tenth of the overall. More than one out of eight Microsoft employees will lose their jobs.

A lot of them, it is true, will come from Nokia, the comm device company it recent absorbed. Even so, a lot of MS jobs will be gone.

Financial analysts were quick to call it good. The Motley fool said the corporation “trims some fat.” Others said it was a sign that the company is becoming leaner, more agile, likely to move in different directions and leave behind some non-productive older ones. And on top of that, it shows the new CEO Satya Nadella is taking charge. Really. (Heck of a way to demonstrate that you're really, truly, the big cheese.)

A number of analysts argued that the Puget Sounds could gain, by bringing so many talented people on the market, freed up to create new businesses of their own. Although: Doesn't that seem to run counter to the fat-trimming narrative?

We've seen this kind of argument and reaction in any number of businesses over the years. It's not that these arguments are totally illegitimate; Microsoft has gone steadily over the years, with few cutbacks or layoffs, and that can be a recipe for building in some deadwood over time.

But 14% of the company's employees? At a time when the company was reporting strong profits?

Nadella surely did want to make a dramatic statement, and he succeeded in that. But cuts of that size tend to more meataxe than surgical in character, and the company is likely to lose a good deal of key talent. As for the Puget Sound, there'll be recovery and many of the ousted employees doubtless will move on to new areas of productivity; but in the short term at least this isn't good news for the area, and the longer term is speculative.

As, on reflection, may be Microsoft's.

Two lessons from Pete Holmes

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Washington

Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, who hasn't been a notably high-profile figure during his time in office – bearing in mind that his office automatically has some visibility – delivered two shockers, both in the form of highly useful lessons, last week. He got plenty of attention for both, attention sought out in one case and ruefully unsought in the other.

The first was his surprise appearance at Cannabis City, Seattle's first (legal) shop catering to recreational marijuana sales, on its opening morning. He was there early, and became the store's fourth customer, buying two small bags of product. His presence wasn't stunning in an absolute sense, since Holmes had been a strong and clear advocate for marijuana legalization; but then, not all legalization advocates are necessarily going to be customers of Cannabis city and its bretheren. Holmes said that one of his purchases was intended to be a keepsake, and the other – he suggestion – was intended for consumption.

This brief incident was captured on film (television cameras were there), and a picture of Holmes making a buy illegal under law in 48 other states was promptly posted on his official city web page. It's hard to imagine an image that more specifically or powerfully highlights how far the move toward legalization – and its social acceptability – has come.

Well, to a point.

Failing to think through (as an attorney should) the legal implications of what he was doing, a busy Holmes carried his bags back to his office at city hall. Soon after he was confronted with an unwelcome reality: Bringing marijuana into city hall (a “drug-free workplace”), and having it available during working hours, were contrary to city code. The code Holmes' job is supposed to enforce.
He fessed up soon after, said his mea culpas and offered to donate $3,000 (which would equate to a hefty fine) to the Downtown Emergency Service Center as penance.

Thereby providing a demonstration that although Washington has legalized the bud, its use and possession still are not exactly a wide-open matter. And will not be, at least for some time to come.

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.

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

oregon
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

oregon
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.