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Posts published in “Day: April 21, 2008”

A cottage industry that needn’t be

The talk is of a man who's filed lawsuit after lawsuit and, some of his critics say, is making - with his attorneys - a cottage industry out of it. He's certainly been awarded substantial sums of money. All of which in these days of frivolous lawsuits reasonably sounds suspicious, except for two things:

First, he's been winning.

Second, his lawsuits have been performing a public service.

The man is David Koenig, a construction worker from Federal Way. As a story in the Tacoma News Tribune outlines today, it all started about a decade ago when a family member was sexually assaulted, and he asked the city of Des Moines for public records - and they were clearly public - related to that incident. He was denied. (There was, we should note, an issue here about whether the form of his request in effect identified the otherwise unnamed victim in a sexual assault.) He took his case to the Washington Supreme Court, which ruled in his favor, and ordered Des Moines to pay his (and his lawyers) $83,000.

Koenig has been after public records ever since. The small town of Buckley paid him $22,700 in another law enforcement records case; the larger city of Tukwila paid $27,000; and now still larger Lakewood in Pierce County has been dinged $40,000 - all for refusing to turn over public records. (Keonig says he's using the part of his intake that doesn't go to attorneys to pursue additional public records cases.)

A number of local government officials, naturally, are up in arms, and one can imagine seminars at local government association meetings about how to avoid similar judgments. We can cut to that chase right here: Unless you have a clear-cut no-question exemption in state or federal law and can point to it immediately, turn over the damn records.

Sooner or later, the taxpayers of Lakewood, Des Moines, Buckley, Tukwila and other jurisdictions likely will get the point. When they do, the questions they put to their officials may be more pointed than Koenig's.

A Brown secretariat

Kate Brown

Kate Brown

The three main Democratic candidates for Oregon secretary of state have a lot in common: All veteran state senators, all from larger urban areas, all more or less centrist within their caucus, all in various ways highly knowledgeable, with some inclination to deliver an essay's worth of detailed response to even fairly narrow questions. The three are very distinct anyway, maybe most especially in the way they see the office and how they might address it.

We've written here before about two of the contenders, Vicki Walker of Eugene and Rick Metsger of Welches. This morning we participated in a blogger call with Kate Brown, until recently the Senate majority leader, still the top fundraiser and probably (though debatably) the front-runner among the three. If Walker's stance is as a tough populist auditor and guardian, and Metsger's is more attuned to economic development alongside linking stat government to people on the ground, Brown's take seems to be something else again.

She sounds more directly focused, for example, on elections management (which has been one of her central issues as a legislator). Among three priorities she cited for the office, two were elections-related: integrity in the initiative system, enhancing voter registration, and picking up steam on performance audits of state agencies.

One of the few specific distinctions from her opponents she offered (she didn't specifically bring up their names at all) is that she was the only one of the three with direct experience in legislative reapportionment. (The secretary of state remaps legislative districts if the legislature is unable to reach a conclusion on it; just that happened at the beginning of this decade.)

She spoke on something else too in the election field that could be a significant factor in years to come, as the electorate becomes increasingly wired into the political system - a "tension between direct and representative democracy." She even suggested that "the challenge for representative democracy [as in state legislatures] is remaining relevant." Her take seems to be that initiatives and other direct ballot efforts may become increasingly powerful as time goes on, and the legislature could merge some of its activities with that, such as putting state budget proposals on line and soliciting voter responses to it. At the same time, she suggested steps could be taken to put ballot issues through something more of a vetting process, so fewer of them are tossed out by courts after being passed by voters.

In all, it's an intriguing vision of where politics and governing may be headed.

Her campaign doesn't seem totally focused on any of that. It has out three videos with the theme, "What can Brown do for you?" They suggest an active and responsive legislator, but only to a limited degree the work of a secretary of state.

She's obviously given it plenty of thought, though. And, like her two competitors, reaching some intriguing answers. The primary winner will have some useful material to cherry-pick from the others after the May election is over.