Press "Enter" to skip to content

Posts published in “Day: July 14, 2007”

Port in a storm

Gael Tarleton

Gael Tarleton

Port politics is often not for the squeamish, either on its own merits - the ports have had their ethical challenges over the years - or in the sometimes roughhouse nature of their local battles. (Ask Oregon's Betsy Johnson about her years with the relatively small Port of St. Helens.) Bloggers have begun to find undercovered territory here, and the Port Observer site in recent months has been looking more aggressively at the Port of Seattle.

Consider this summary from a report the Observer site posted a few days ago:

Port of Seattle Commission candidate Gail [actually Gael] Tarleton says she wants to restore accountability and transparency to the Port of Seattle. But an investigation by The Port Observer of Tarleton’s own involvement with a controversial ports contractor raises troubling questions about her own ties to special interests.

Prior to her current position at The University of Washington's Office of Global Affairs, Tarleton was a long time employee (1990-2002) of Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC), a large contractor for the U.S. defense and intelligence communities with a troubled history.

The Port Observer has learned that in addition to a wide array of other business, SAIC sells multi-million dollar gamma ray container scanning equipment to ports around the world. In recent years SAIC has been aggressively courting U.S. Ports in an attempt to sell this equipment.

The port has five commissioners, and this year election is up for two of the seats, those held by Bob Edwards (seat 2) and Alec Fisken (seat 5). There's plenty of interest in both, with five challengers (Tarleton among them) for Edwards' seat and three for Fisken's.

You might gather from the Port Observer's report that Tarleton is a connected insider, but apart from her role as a challenger to Edwards (who has been on the commission nearly eight years, is very well connected around Renton and other King County local government) there's her campaign rationale: "King County citizens deserve decisive and open leadership from the Port of Seattle. Furthermore, our citizens want their elected officials to focus on the real issues of environmental standards, port security, living wage jobs and of course, accountability. The Port of Seattle, to date, has failed us on each." And adds, "Never-ending scandals, mismanaged property tax dollars and a complete lack of transparency have all contributed to a severe public distrust."

That said, she's pretty well connected herself: Her list of endorsees includes a large portion of Seattle's Democratic legislative delegation, most of the local Democratic Party organization and - showing some breadth here - the Alki Foundation.

Her web site doesn't shy from the SAIC Global Technology connection; it's prominent in her campaign bio, along with her earlier role as an analyst for the Department of Defense. Interesting background for a Democratic-backed candidate. Most of the facts don't seem greatly in dispute. More to the point is, what will Seattle voters make of them - solid experience that could help improve a troubled district, or a list of ties and links that could lead to hard questions down the road? An investigative story, or a proudly-cited piece of relevant experience?

Measuring the campaign

Measure 49

The advocates of Measure 49, the revision and scale-back to the land use Measure 37 passed in 2004, have the raw materials to succeed if they grab hold of the structure of the argument. They appear not to yet; they will need to get cracking.

The raw materials are not only the headlines and horror stories of fallout from 37, about massive subdivisions in farm and woods country and tends of thousands of acres claimed by timber companies, about plans to build stories and casinos in unlikely spots. It is also the difference between what most Oregonians probably wanted when they voted for 37, and some of what they got. 49 was crafted to go after not everything 37 did, but mainly the egregious stuff.

That relatively narrow ground is where the battle over Oregon land use would logically be fought, and if 49's backers get the focus places squarely on those costs, they have a good shot at winning.

The new Yes on 49 web site does go after some of this. You'll find there, for example, this description: "Measure 49 does not repeal Measure 37. But it does fix the flaws of 37: delivering on the promises made to small individual property owners while preventing the most egregious abuses of huge housing subdivisions, commercial and industrial development, destruction of prime farmland and forests, and threats to water supplies that families depend on."

Okay; but the big type goes to the Big Concept: "Our one chance to protect what's special about Oregon." This is one campaign that could fail precisely because the issue is expanded to large scale, because the rhetoric Measure 37's advocates address 49 as a repealer measure. If people think they're being asked, up or down, to keep or outright repeal 37, they might decide to keep it. They did, after all, pass it in the first place for specific reasons, mainly (we think) because they see Oregon land use law and regulation as too picky, bureaucratic and hidebound. (If they think 49 would leave intact a blow at that too-rigid system, while correcting some of the problems they've been reading about, chances of passage strongly improve.)

This is a campaign definitely available for the winning or the losing.