Sheldon goes after teachers, Democrats go after Sheldon for skipping work

In competing press releases sent out on Tuesday Tim Sheldon takes teachers to task for missing work for a strike and for not using a strike day to come to Olympia. Washington State Democrats say that’s Sheldon operating under a “Do as I say, not as I do,” program, citing his absences from county meetings.

We had a story on the hearing.

The dueling press releases follow:

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When best to avoid an election

With final filing results in there are 13 races in which no one expressed an interest in running. As much as it might offend your sense of public participation in democracy, this is probably a good thing.

For example, three of the races are for the Crystal Springs Water District. All three commissioner positions are available and no one has applied. What this means, assuming that continues through next Friday, is that all three positions will go to whoever is in office now.

I don’t know exactly how many customers the water district has, but it can’t be many. In 2011, according to a Washington State Auditor’s Office report, the district reported $3,840 in revenues.

Since local agencies participating in elections have to pay their share for them, a public agency taking in less than $4,000 in revenues is probably not going to be criticized by its constituents for avoiding the election completely. If someone gets tired of being commissioner, that commissioner can quit. The other two board members can go through the process of picking a new one, and then that commissioner can fail to file to run forever and still keep the job for life.

As long as everyone in the district agrees to avoid elections at all costs and because of all costs, this works out. I haven’t talked to anyone at Crystal Springs, or at the Old Bangor Water District, which also has three positions available, or the Port of Waterman, which has two spots in play. I can’t say they’re doing what I’m suggesting could be done. I am saying they probably are and that it’s probably OK with everyone who lives there. Someone can prove me wrong by filing to run.

Bremerton could sever its coordinating council ties

196HThe countywide organization that gets local governments working as a team in a quest for federal and state dollars could be on the verge of a losing its biggest city.

On Tuesday the executive board of the Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council voted 8-4 to maintain the status quo in determining how best to develop countywide policy when it comes to voting.  This concluded, according to Poulsbo Mayor Becky Erickson, 16 months of disagreement primarily between representatives from Kitsap County and the city of Bremerton.  It’s possible that vote could spell the end of Bremerton’s membership in KRCC. Greg Wheeler, Bremerton City Council president, said this is sure to be a big topic at the council’s May 13 study session.

And in the end, no matter what happened Tuesday or what happens in the future, no one besides those in government might notice a tangible difference. This is a bigtime inside baseball dispute we in the newsroom were not sure was worth covering, because it was potentially inconsequential no matter how the board or the city council voted.

Under the existing interlocal agreement among the KRCC members, for any policy measure to pass there must be a quorum present and two county commissioners must vote “yes” and at least two cities must have a majority voting “yes” as well. All three county commissioners are members of the board. Bremerton has three members, Bainbridge Island, Port Orchard and Poulsbo each have two and the Port of Bremerton has one.

At Monday’s KRCC meeting Bremerton City Council President Greg Wheeler said the Bremerton City Council was not comfortable with what he called the county controlling the process.  He made a motion to change the voting requirement to a regular quorum. In that situation, if no county commissioners were in favor of a proposal but everyone else in the room was, motion carries.

Rob Gelder, county commissioner, said the county was the one agency in the room representing every resident of the county. And even if all the incorporated areas were taken out of the county’s resident count, it still represents two-thirds of the county’s residents, those who live in unincorporated areas. Furthermore, he argued, the county can’t act unilaterally, because two cities have to be on board for any measure to pass.

KRCC acts as a local conglomerate of interests designed to coordinate pursuit of state and federal funding. The group sets priorities and then acts more or less in unison with the Puget Sound Regional Council or the Legislature. It’s not always exactly like that, because as Wheeler said every member of either KRCC or PSRC is there to represent their government’s interest, but for the most part the group operates as if working as a team nets better results than trying to go it alone.

Wheeler said the issue first arose when in response to KRCC Executive Manager Mary McClure’s decision to retire. She was working for KRCC as a contractor and there was some talk of hiring staff instead. As part of that consideration the way local agencies paid for membership also came up. Wheeler said the cost of having a staff went up a lot, and the reconfiguration of the funding formula hit Bremerton pretty hard.

KRCC pulled the funding question, but the board voting formula remained an issue for Bremerton.

That’s not universal. Patty Lent, Bremerton’s mayor, said Tuesday she was against the motion forwarded by her city’s council and voted against it.

Port Orchard Mayor Tim Matthes, Port Orchard mayor, supported it, saying he didn’t think anyone would take advantage of the process. “We’ve been so cooperative, so I don’t see this little change making a difference,” he said.

Erickson disagreed, saying the KRCC board had been arguing these issues for 16 months. “We don’t get along very well,” she said. She said the change could eliminate the county’s voice completely, even though it represented everyone.

A hybrid proposal would have kept the current quorum requirements in place for major policy issues, but gone to a more simple quorum process for smaller matters.

Ed Wolfe, county commissioner, said he applauded the steadfastness and passion of Bremerton, but voted against the proposal. His biggest argument was that the issue has to stop taking up any more time. “It’s time to put this to bed and get on with the people’s business,” he said.

The “yes” voters included Wheeler, Daugs, Matthes and Axel Strakeljahn, Port of Bremerton commissioner.

The “no” votes came from Gelder, Wolfe, Lent, Erickson Poulsbo City Councilman Ed Stern, Bainbridge Island City Council members Anne Blair and Wayne Roth and Port Orchard City Councilman Jeff Cartwright.

Charlotte Garrido, county commissioner, was absent from the meeting.

Wheeler said Bremerton leaving KRCC is on the table, but said even if the city does leave it doesn’t mean it won’t still work in cooperation with the county’s other agencies. Should the city decide to quit its KRCC membership, it would take six months under the KRCC agreement to completely sever the tie, so the organization and the city wouldn’t be free of each other until the end of the year at the earliest.

 

 

 

 

Is Brad Owen considering retirement?

Lt. Gov. Brad Owen speaks at a salmon tasting in Taiwan.
Lt. Gov. Brad Owen speaks at a salmon tasting in Taiwan.
KING-5 TV has some pretty strong evidence that Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, who represented the 24th and 35th Legislative Districts in the Legislature for 20 years, is considering retirement at the end of this term. Owen’s office is not giving any public clues, but the station got emails through public records requests that make the case retirement is a real possibility. And there’s the rationale for keeping that consideration mum:

(Owen aide Ken) “Camp recommends not announcing plans to retire as it could result in the office losing some of its funding: ‘Another consideration is that if we let them know you’re definitely retiring, the Governor and the Legislature may try to reduce the budget. I’m not a fan of telling OFM [Office of Financial Management] that you’re retiring at this point so that they don’t have a reason to cut our budget and because if we formally tell people you’re retiring they’ll just start writing you off and making you irrelevant.'”

Owen’s Lt. Gov. bio mentions that he’s been in office since getting elected in 1996. He lives in Shelton and represented the 24th Legislative District in the House from 1977 to 1983 and the 35th Legislative District in the Senate from 1983 to 1997. When he left the Senate after getting elected as lieutenant governor, he was replaced by party appointment by Lena Swanson, who then lost the next election to Tim Sheldon.

The job entails acting as governor while the governor is away, being president of the Senate and taking a large role in the state’s international trade missions.

Updated — Solid reasons to give a Bush-Clinton contest the edge

The Los Angeles Times has an informative piece showing why Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton have one clear edge in seeking the presidential nomination from their parties.

Because neither are currently working for any government, they’re free to pile up money using Super PACs as long they don’t say that they are running for president. For Clinton, who for the time being seems to be the only serious contender on the Democratic side, this could be a moot issue until she emerges as the nominee.

For Bush it’s a bigger deal, because as of right now the Republican field is competitive. To his advantage is that the other main contenders all have government jobs.

“Bush did declare he would impose a total cap on how much each donor could contribute, according to the Washington Post. But it wasn’t the $5,000 maximum that those in the race are limited to asking for by law. It was $1 million.”

Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul are all prohibited from coordinating with Super PACs. The governors, Chris Christie and Scott Walker, might have state rules prohibiting them from raising money from organizations that do business with their states.

Bush is under no restriction, he believes. The Federal Elections Commission could argue otherwise, but critics contend it doesn’t do that often enough.

UPDATE: Turns out Ted Cruz has proven adept at raising money, at least the Super PACs supporting him have. The Washington Post reports the Super PACs supporting Cruz $31 million in a week.

Updated — Chinese flag on Washington capitol campus

On Friday some activists got on their iPhones and agreed that on Saturday they’d throw on their Wolverine work boots to beat tracks down to Olympia to protest the “communist” Chinese flag flying on the capitol campus.

I first learned of the controversy from a Facebook thread started by Mason County Republican Party Chairman Travis Couture, who asked, “So can someone please explain to me why the hell we are flying a communist Chinese flag at our capitol? (Rhetorical) We cant have a ‘Christmas’ tree or a Gadson flag but we can have a communist flag?”

As for the tree question, that call is made by the Association of Washington Business, because it’s their tree and it’s part of a fundraiser they’ve been doing for kids for 26 years, according to this story from the (Spokane) Spokesman-Review.

Gateway Pundit and Fox News declared that “patriots” removed the flag.

The governor’s office answered that the flag was up because there was a delegation visiting from China and that the flag was removed after they left. The same was done earlier this year when delegations from Austria and Finland were here. On Monday the flag of Scotland was raised in honor of Tartan Day.

The video in one of the links above shows the flag being lowered, with a couple of Gadsden-flag bearing witnesses and a voice on one of the videos saying, “This is what happens when America speaks.” That the activists had anything to do with the flag’s removal is questionable, but not completely clear to me. First of all, it looks to me that the state staff removed it, not some roving gang of patriots. The guy has a specific tool to lower the thing. It all looks quite orderly. Jaime Smith, a spokeswoman for the governor, said it was state personnel that removed it. But she also told Huffington Post, “Our state’s Department of Enterprise Services was going to lower the flag shortly after that anyway.” The “anyway” in that statement makes me wonder if even if the protesters didn’t remove it themselves, if the lowering was expedited by the complaints. She clarified in an email to me later that, “The flag would have been lowered anyhow, was my point to HuffPo.”

China makes products we use, like boots, phones, most of our shoes, other clothing and even, according to one Amazon reviewer, Gadsden flags. (That’s the one with the snake and the “Don’t Tread on Me” mantra.) We as a nation also owe China, or the Chinese, a lot of money. I can’t argue whether it’s a good idea to fly any other nation’s flag at our capitol campus, but if you’re going to, how do you decide which nation to exclude?

And obviously I don’t know what kind of phones the protesters use or the boots they wore, but they might want to check the labels, even on those flags.

UPDATE: I asked state officials from the governor’s office and from the Department of Enterprise Services some additional info. Some on Facebook are asking about flag protocol.

Smith sent me a list of other nations’ flags that have flown in the same place for the same reasons. Here they are.

Austria 2015
Finland 2015
Germany 2014
Peru 2014
United Kingdom 2014
Japan 2013 and 2014
India 2013
Italy 2013
Canada 2013

We also received a detailed explanation from Smith on the flag’s placement and the criteria for when a foreign flag gets raised.

“We fly the flag of a foreign country in the Flag Circle when a high level government representative of a country recognized by our government meets with a statewide official. Countries like Iran and North Korea are not recognized and we would not fly their national flag under any circumstance.

“The US government formally recognizes countries. A state does not. In 1980 the United States formally recognized the People’s Republic of China.

“International flag standards and the flag code of the United States specifically state that the flags of sovereign nations need to be flown from separate staffs and at equal height. No national flag should be higher than any other national flag. State flags and banners are different.

“When the US and other national flags are flown together, the U.S. flag should be in the position of honor and to the right of other flags. We orient our flags to the north steps of the Legislative building as the prominent feature of the most significant building. So looking at the flags from the steps, the U.S. flag is always to the right and a foreign flag is to its left. If you look at the flags from the Temple of Justice, however, it looks backwards. The flags have been oriented in this way for more than 20 years. With the flags in the conference room they are oriented to whomever is speaking at the podium, so to the speaker’s right, but audience’s left.”

Regarding the lowering of the flag, I’ve got a second person saying it was state staff that removed the flag during a normal course of duty. Linda Kent from DES sent the following.

“DES received an email Friday afternoon from the Governor’s office informing us that the Chinese ambassador had departed, and that the flag could be taken down. The email also contained a reminder that the Scottish flag should be put up by Monday morning.

“In the past, there has not been a specific time frame for flags to come down. Basically the building and grounds crew works the changing of flags in between other duties on the Capitol Campus.”

I agree with one critic who said we have bigger issues to worry about. My reason for diving in has much to do with Fox News’ coverage, which was shown Monday on the show “Fox and Friends.” The coverage obviously involves no original reporting and seems to rely solely on the accounts offered on sites like Gateway Pundit. Somehow I expect more from the news organization with the tagline “Fair & Balanced,” and the one that can legitimately brag that it is the most trusted news network in the nation.

Here’s how the two major state budgets differ

If you want a quick, spoken explanation of the differences in the House Democratic and Senate Republican budgets, Robert Mak has you covered.

Rachel La Corte from the Associated Press gave you a written explanation on Tuesday.

Senate Republicans offer a tuition cut and reject a collective bargaining agreement the governor’s office reached with state employees. The party then offers $1,000 per year to all state employees. A statement issued by the Washington Federation of State Employees argues that the Legislature can reject an agreement, but not make a new proposal.

“If contracts are rejected, the process calls for a return to negotiations. In this instance, Senate budget writers have by-passed our rights by instead authorizing flat raises of $1000 per full-time employee (prorated for part-time positions) per year of the two-year biennium. Under the collective bargaining statute, they cannot offer alternatives. In this case, the Senate has offered an alternative that is illegal under the law.”

State Sen. Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard, highlights the “no new taxes” feature of the Republican budget, making no mention of the state employee clause. State Sen. Tim Sheldon, the Potlatch Democrat who caucuses with the Republicans, also highlighted the “no new taxes” feature of the Senate budget, but also addressed the collective bargaining rejection. He said the budget, “Provides a flat $2,000 annual cost-of-living increase for state employees – meaning 25,000 state workers will see a larger increase than under agreements bargained between the governor’s office and public employee unions.”

Those were the only locals who commented.

Their full statements follow.

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Angel, Eyman not seeing eye-to-eye on this one

hpim4414It took a while, but we heard back from state Sen. Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard, regarding an email blast Friday critical of her from initiative guru Tim Eyman.

This issue comes from a bill Angel cosponsored with two other Republicans and a Democrat. It passed 41-8 in the Senate earlier this month, with all three Kitsap senators voting in favor. All but one of the eight who voted “no” were Republicans. That’s seven Republicans voting, “no,” which means 18 favor the bill. The legislation is in the House now.

The bill would require that any initiative that the state budget office determines will either add more than $25 million in costs or cut more than $25 million in revenues to the state have the following statement added to the initiative title on the ballot, “The state budget office has determined that this proposal would have an unfunded net impact of [amount] on the state general fund. This means other state spending may need to be reduced or taxes increased to implement the proposal.”

Eyman said the emails reveal Angel’s true intent was to stop some initiatives from happening, naming possible voter actions authored by the Washington Education Association and the Service Employees International Union.

“This is extremely disturbing.  Having legislators plotting and scheming to ‘stop’ certain initiatives ‘from getting on the ballot’ is a gross abuse of power.  It doesn’t matter whether it is politicians conniving to block liberal initiatives or politicians scheming to undermine conservative initiatives,” Eyman wrote.

Angel responded by email saying, “I am a co-sponsor of this bipartisan bill  SB5715 which is a ‘transparency’ issue for the voter to help make a decision  when voting. It passed in a strong bipartisan fashion off the Senate floor with a vote of 41-8.  The ballot title would include a fiscal note only under certain circumstances and doesn’t affect the citizen initiative process at all.”

What follows is Eyman’s email blast to supporters and reporters, Angel’s response and video from Wednesday’s House hearing.

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Adele Ferguson’s shoes

Doing an interview during the 1950s. Contributed photo / Secretary of State’s Office. Copyright 2015 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
Doing an interview during the 1950s. Contributed photo / Secretary of State’s Office. Copyright 2015 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

There was far more material than I could use in the story about the passing of Adele Ferguson. Here are some more comments I think you’ll enjoy. There could be a few more. I received some written stories, but I’m double-checking to make sure the writers would be fine with me including them. Check back. They’re good ones.

“I always liked Adele because she would stab me in the front.” — Former Gov. Dan Evans. This quote actually was told to me by David Ammons, former AP statehouse reporter now with the Secretary of State’s office, but Evans confirmed that he said it.

“She was the den mother in a moveable feast. She was absolutely hilarious; I’ve never known a better story teller.” John Hughes, former editor of the Aberdeen Daily World, now overseeing the Secretary of State’s Legacy Project.

“They called her’Senator Adele,'” Rachel Pritchett, former Kitsap Sun reporter who met Adele in the 1980s. Pritchett was a communications staff member in the state Senate at the time.

“She was tough as nails, but she was also very feminine and dressed smartly. She was not feminist in the modern sense of the word. She pushed for the right for women reporters to wear pants on the floor.” — David Ammons

“She was a phenomenal asset to Bremerton. She defended Bremerton and she defended the Navy to the hilt.” — Ralph Munro, former Washington Secretary of State

“Adele was great. She could swear and drink with the best of the backroom politicians.  I remember one time late in Warren G. Magnuson’s career he came into the office assisted by two of his aides. They had hold of each of his elbows so he wouldn’t fall down. He stopped right next to my desk to steady himself and catch his breath. He still had about 30 feet to go to get to Adele’s office and made it in another couple minutes. The next day in her column Adele called Magnuson ‘robust and healthy.’ That was so far from the truth, but only Adele could get away with that. All the top politicians made appearances in her office. She was one of a kind, and I really liked her and got along great with her because she called them like she saw them, except for Warren G.)” — Terry Mosher, former Kitsap Sun reporter

“She was the only media person who sat through the Gamscam trial from day one to day end, so she had an opportunity of hearing all the testimony and listening to the various witnesses. She was a steadfast in my defense in that time and continued to be so.” — Gordon Walgren, former state legislator who served about two years in prison in connection with the Gamscam scandal.

“She was such a person of such stature. The Kitsap Sun should be so proud.” Rachel Pritchett.

“She never did go for a tape recorder to record. She was about the last reporter who depended on her own shorthand, but she easily the most accurate reporter that covered me.” — Dan Evans

“Adele could punish when she thought you did something wrong. Several times she would lay me out, but we were always friends.” Norm Dicks, former congressman.

“She was bigger than life for me when I was very young.” — Rachel Pritchett

“She gave as good as she got. She was deliciously bawdy and funny. Boy could she write.” — John Hughes.

“She had more insight in the capitol building than anyone, by far. She could smell a story two or three days before the next guy knew there was even one coming.” — Ralph Munro

“At times she would be salty. She could be critical, but she was always fair.” — Norm Dicks

“Feisty. Opinionated. Conservative. She had her own ideas and carried them out as best she could. Most of all she was a good friend.” — Gordon Walgren

“If Lehman (John Lehman, former secretary of the Navy) was at the Rotary or the Chamber of Commerce and he and I had gone fishing that day, she wanted to know all the details.” Norm Dicks, explaining Adele’s love of salmon fishing.

Dan Evans said Adele was covering an event in Washington, D.C. and was sitting next to him. A button came off his sport coat. She looked in her purse and found a sewing kit and sewed the button back on. “It was the last thing you would expect out of adele. She said, ‘You tell anybody about this and I’ll kill you.'”

“I was sitting next to her. I asked her what it would take to get onto the Bremerton Sun. She said, ‘Not much, apparently.” — Rachel Pritchett

One of Adele’s fellow Olympia reporters was on deadline to send in a column, but “he was so drunk there was no way he could have written that column.” Adele said, “‘I wrote the column for him. I knew how he wrote.’ I don’t think you could get away with that nowadays.” — Dan Evans

“She would invite people into her office and say, ‘Don’t sit down.” — Rachel Pritchett

When I got to spend those four days up there, (Hughes interviewed Adele over four days for the Legacy Project oral history about Adele. about the fourth day I decided it would not be imprudent. I allowed myself to have a little beaker; I think it was MacNaughton’s. I kissed her on the forehead and she said, ‘Don’t be fresh.’” — John Hughes

“She was a superb political reporter. She feared no one and she was always up front in her feelings.” Dan Evans

Point of personal privilege: In the first six years I worked for the Kitsap Sun beginning in 2002 I knew Adele Ferguson mostly through her columns in the local biweeklies and from her questions at debates during election season. It was in 2008 that things changed for me. We attended both county party conventions, offering coverage for our different publications. Again, she was writing for the biweeklies. I was writing for the paper she had been the voice of for almost five decades.

At the Republican convention the party gave her a Barnes & Noble gift card. I sat next to her at the Democratic convention and the party didn’t give her any gifts, but several delegates came to the table to say “Hello” to her. This was the first time I ever had a lengthy conversation with Adele and I was charmed like you wouldn’t believe. Maybe if you ever met her you would believe it.

A few things charmed me. One, she was a vivacious story teller, and I’m a sucker for stories. Secondly, she had all kinds of respect from a large number of Democrats that day. Certainly they didn’t like her politics, but they loved her. Third, she said she used the gift from the Republicans to buy Barack Obama’s books. Fourth, for all that she had accomplished she didn’t ever treat me as anything but a peer, and given her history and all she accomplished she had every right to act superior.

After that I got to meet with her at her home in Hansville when the state made her one of three oral history subjects. At other times I would call her when I needed a quote about someone with political history here in Washington or for other various reasons. In every instance she was gracious to me. I know others can’t say that. I guess I was a lucky one.

It is true that she wrote columns later in life that were unsupportable. Not that many, but how many does it take? Set that aside for a moment and consider the woman’s life as a whole. We, both women and men, walk through doors she opened. It’s hard for me to imagine some of our open government laws existing without reporters like Adele Ferguson, who called nonsense on secrecy. Women, particularly journalists, owe their opportunities to Adele and others like her.

I’m 53 and I enjoy political reporting, but I’m content in the reality that my chances of ever filling Adele’s shoes as a political reporter are slim. Perhaps that time has passed for anyone, but even if it hasn’t it would be akin to matching the greatness of a Willie Mays or Sandy Koufax. She meant that much. Big shoes.

For me, even though Adele will be remembered generally for her work as a political reporter, I’ll remember her most through two stories she told me at that Democratic convention. From that moment on I was a fan. She also told them to John Hughes, who wrote her biography and oral history for the state’s Legacy Project. Those stories will conclude this insufficient memorial. Allow me to add one more thing. I’m really going to miss Adele. I feel lucky that I ever got to meet her.

Now, here are the stories, both involving shoes. I’ve taken these stories from Hughes’ work, The Inimitable Adele Ferguson.

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Training on government transparency offered by state auditor

Screen Shot 2015-03-02 at 4.23.38 PMIt is not lost on us as reporters how much work our governments dedicate to fulfilling requests for public records from the likes of us and citizens. We, most of us anyway, try to be reasonable.

We know it also might seem unfair that we can and do attend meetings some government officials would rather we didn’t. I was once asked by a well-intentioned elected official to not attend a meeting. Asked. Then when I attended I was asked what I was doing there. Neither question was legally justifiable, though I trust there wasn’t malice in either of them.

Malice or not, there are rules when it comes to how government officials meet, share emails and what they can and cannot discuss away from us.

Perhaps you know some government folks who you could encourage to partake in some training. Perhaps you are a government official willing to get a refresher course. Washington State Auditor Troy Kelley is offering to provide it. From 3-5 p.m. on March 24 he will offer a free Open Government & Transparency training session in the Auditor’s Office building in Tumwater. The office did open-government trainings across the state last year it says were well attended.

For what it’s worth, most government officers I’ve worked with have been entirely cooperative about sharing what was needed. But the law being the law and open government being something we value, this kind of training can save a local government a lot of A. money, B. time, and C. embarrassment when something that should be in the sunshine is hidden, intentionally or not.

The auditor’s invitation follows:

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Petro money in the Kitsap Caucus

Jim Brunner of the Seattle Times wrote a story detailing a disconnect in what oil and gas industry officials say publicly and how they’re responding to Gov. Jay Inslee’s cap-and-trade proposal. Industry officials say they support cap-and-trade, but they’re no fans of Inslee’s proposal or of what’s happening in California. When asked what kind of proposal they would favor, they don’t offer specifics.

Included with the story, however, is a chart that is useful, but illustrates how easy it is to make a false equation in politics. The chart shows that state Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, has received more campaign money from oil and gas interests than all but one other legislative politician in the state. State Sen. Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard, comes in at No. 8 for donations she received for her 2013 campaign. Here is a list of the oil and gas industry contributions that went to Kitsap candidates in 2013 and 2014.

The easy accusation is to say that a legislator, once gifts are offered, is paid for. I won’t argue that money has no influence, but its bigger influence is in who gets elected, not in what the politician does once in office. To illustrate that point, let me ask you this question: If the oil and gas industry hadn’t contributed $13,700 to Tim Sheldon’s campaign, do you think he would then favor Inslee’s proposal? I seriously doubt it. If you doubt me, do you think that same amount of money would have influenced Irene Bowling’s vote?

I could give you new evidence about the impact of money and politics, but instead I’ll give one I’ve offered before.

More than years ago This American Life, addressed the issue. Andrea Seabrook asked Democrat Barney Frank if money influenced politics:

Barney Frank: People say, “Oh, it doesn’t have any effect on me.” Look, if that were the case, we would be the only human beings in the history of the world who, on a regular basis, took significant amounts of money from perfect strangers and made sure that it had no effect on our behavior. That is not human nature.

Andrea Seabrook: On the other hand, he says, there are things that influence a politician besides money.

Barney Frank: If the voters have a position, the votes will kick money’s rear end any time. I’ve never met a politician — I’ve been in the legislative bodies for 40 years now — who, choosing between a significant opinion in his or her district and a number of campaign contributors, doesn’t go with the district.

And I have had people tell me — and we talk honestly to each other, we don’t lie to each other very often. You don’t survive if you do. As chairman of a committee, I’d be lobbying for votes. I have had members say to me, Mr. Chairman, I love you. Barney, you’re right. But I can’t do that politically because I’ll get killed in my district. No one has ever said to me, I’m sorry, but I got a big contributor I can’t offend.

I’m not defending anyone here. I’m just suggesting that the oil and gas industry ponied up money for Tim Sheldon and Jan Angel because they knew Tim Sheldon and Jan Angel. I don’t think either has ever shown any sign of being a fence sitter on cap and trade.

Some history on Wyman’s request to have Washington presidential primaries count

Screen Shot 2015-02-17 at 2.04.48 PMWashington Secretary of State Kim Wyman is proposing the state’s political parties use the presidential primary results to allocate at least some part of their delegates to the national political conventions. And she has provided a carrot, or maybe it’s a stick, to get them to go along.

Some history is in order.

In 2008 Washington Republicans allocated half their delegates from the February primary, which according to the Secretary of State’s office is what they have always done. The Democrats allocated none in 2008. It would have played more of a factor on the Democratic side, too, because Barack Obama won by a big margin in the caucuses, but just by a few points in the state primary, a reflection of what happened nationwide. Clinton fared much better with everyday Democratic voters across the country, while Obama did well with people more willing to take a day off to weigh in at the caucuses.

Of the state’s pledged 78 Democratic delegates in 2008, 52 went to Obama and 26 went to Clinton. Had Democrats done what Republicans did, the margin would have been 26-13 from the caucuses, and something like 20-18 from the primary, with John Edwards picking up the straggler. The final delegate count combining the caucus and primary would have been Obama 46, Clinton 31, and Edwards 1. The Edwards delegate would have probably ended up in Obama’s totals.

Obama ended up winning the national pledged delegate count by 102 delegates, but didn’t secure the majority until June. And by the time the Feb. 9, 2008 caucuses began he was only up by 11 delegates overall.

Looking back at how the election played out, had Washington Democrats done what Republicans did with the primary in 2008, the ultimate result would likely have been the same. Obama would have won. But perhaps there are some who could argue that a five-delegate shift, which amounts to 10 points in the margin, could have made a psychological difference. The fact is, though, we don’t know how many people skipped out on the 2008 Washington presidential primary or voted Republican, because the Democratic primary was a taxpayer-funded beauty contest.

The reason we have a presidential primary at all is because voters submitted an initiative to the Legislature in 1989 asking for one. In 2012 (Just as it did in 2004.) the state suspended the presidential primary to save $10 million. As the law stands now the parties don’t have to recognize the numbers from the primary. Bills in the House, HB 2139, and Senate, SB 5978, would change that.

If each party agrees to allocate part of their delegate count from the primary, voters would have to declare a party for that election and choose among that party’s candidates. Your party prefence selection would be a matter of public record, so if you pick a Republican or Democratic ballot, everyone in the state has the right to know that. If you sit out the election no one will know which party you prefer. If the parties don’t agree the state would create a single ballot with every candidate’s name. In no circumstance would anyone know who you voted for.

That, in fact, is where the carrot and stick come in. The state Republican and Democratic parties both love getting the lists of which voters picked which party. They haven’t received one of those since 2008, so a fresh list would update their data for fundraising and mailing. Under the terms of this law, if they don’t each allocate at least part of their pledged national delegates from the primary, there is no such list, because the Secretary of State would create one ballot that tells the parties nothing.

Presidential primaries do more for parties in years when there is no incumbent running, because in theory each race has a real contest. Another reason for parties to like primaries comes in years when candidates at the extreme end of party philosophy capture less affection from regular voters than they do from the more devoted. In 2008 any of the Democratic frontrunners could have fared well in November and Dennis Kucinich wasn’t getting enough support even at the caucuses to threaten Obama, Clinton or Edwards, so strategically the party could afford to ignore the primary. For Republicans in 2008 the thorn to the party bosses was Ron Paul, who received  8 percent of the primary vote (compared to 50 percent for John McCain), but 22 percent at the state caucuses, just 3 percentage points behind McCain.

The Legislature has to allocate funds to have the primary. Kitsap County would spend an estimated $345,000 to hold the election, but like all counties would be reimbursed by the state.

A story we reported in 2008 from the presidential primary follows.

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Pam Roach wants names

Eyman performed well, but Roach was the star.
Eyman performed well, but Roach was the star.

UPDATE: Pam Roach received a letter from Lt. Gov. Brad Owen regarding her behavior in this hearing and others. The link to the story is at the end of this post.

NOTE: We have placed a survey on the right relating to this post.

John Stang from Crosscut provided us a great rundown on a hearing of a bill that made it into committee last week in the Senate but isn’t likely to make it out.

I got interested in the legislation, which would call for more reporting and training on paid signature gatherers, because in Tim Eyman’s email he described it as the hearing blowing up. He was right. For me it was an amazing show mostly by Senate Government Operations Committee Chairwoman Pam Roach, an Auburn Republican.

I’ve never witnessed a Roach-led hearing before and if they’re all like this I don’t think I ever want to miss another one. It began when the Fred Meyer/QFC’s Melinda Merrill dared say store customers were being harassed by signature gatherers at their stores. Roach was willing to entertain that idea for somewhere south of a couple seconds. As Stang reported, Roach wondered if Merrill could provide names. Merrill could not but vouched for the honesty of their customers and store employees.

There were four reps from grocery stores there, and Roach took every opportunity she could to interrupt to turn the conversation to one about her last election, which she reminded the audience she won. This was less a hearing about the deportment of signature gatherers than it was about payback for grocery store lobbyists favoring her opponent in November.

It was a show that didn’t need Eyman to spice it up, but he was there. Eyman, if you’re new to these parts, is most often identified as Washington’s “initiative guru,” having turned a passion into a living several years ago and working every year to generate mostly tax-saving ballot measures. Eyman not only dismissed the claim that a signature gatherer would harass any customer, he said it was a strategy by opponents of his initiatives to go into store managers and falsely claim that they were harassed.

And while I don’t cotton much to conspiracy theories, my own experience makes me wonder if he has a point. So here, and in the right rail of this blog, is my question. I think Sen. Roach would appreciate you answering, too. Have you ever been verbally harassed by a signature gatherer?

Yes or no, go answer the survey. If yes, Sen. Roach wants to hear from you if you’re willing to provide your name. At least that’s what I think she was inviting at the hearing.

The reason I ask is because I haven’t told a single signature gatherer “yes” to signing any initiative in the 14 years I’ve lived in this state and I’ve only experienced anything close to harassment twice. Both times it was when a reporter tried to explain that we reporters don’t sign those things, ever.

The first one was at the Seattle Center when a friend of mine made the mistake of trying to explain why to someone who clearly had ingested so much Red Bull that the sensitivity portion of his brain had been snuffed out. I say my friend made a mistake because there was plenty of room to walk away from the miscreant, but my friend wanted him to agree.

The second time, though, was here in Bremerton when there was a meeting about Washington State Ferries and there was a petition being circulated dealing with a local ferry initiative. A reporter from a rival paper tried to explain why she wouldn’t sign a petition and the ferry zealot tried to talk her into it, as if her several minutes of badgering would override years of being told by journalism professors and bosses that signing a petition is no better than planting a campaign sign in your yard or your copy. Still, she persisted, shutting up only because the meeting was starting.

Other than those two incidents, I can’t remember a single time an initiative gatherer tried to get strong with me. I say “No, thank you.” and walk inside the store. I’ve sensed disappointment, but I don’t stick around long enough to verify it.

This is why I want to ask you whether you’ve ever been addressed more aggressively by a signature gatherer than you’d like. Story commenter dardena said he was by someone gathering ink for Initiative 502, the one dealing with marijuana.

Lest you worry, this legislation’s sponsor, Democrat Marko Liias of Lynnwood, told Stang he didn’t think the bill would make it out of committee. If true, this means we don’t need to discuss the merits and cons of the legislation. A similar bill that received 71 votes in the House last year got blasted by newspapers and didn’t get far in the Senate.

Again, though, the entertainment factor provided by Roach was stellar. I’ve never seen a committee hearing that was so much about the committee chair. If only someone had thrown Roach a football she could have spiked  like Gronk.

UPDATE: Rache La Corte from the AP’s Olympia bureau wrote the story Monday (Feb. 16) that Lt. Gov. Brad Owen sent Roach a letter admonishing her for her behavior as chairwoman in this committee and others. Writes La Corte:

The four-page letter obtained Monday by The Associated Press was sent to Roach on Friday. In it, Owen states that her “abusive behavior” must stop. He also informs her that she can only meet with nonpartisan committee staff when in the presence of another senator on the committee, Republican Sen. Kirk Pearson.

Roach said Monday that she hadn’t yet read the letter in its entirety, but said it was a “very unfair assessment.”

“I am a fair chair,” she said. “I am a tough chair.”

In the original post here we didn’t mention a couple other moments that might be sparking the concern from Owen. At one point a committee staffer reads the information about the bill. There is nothing remarkable about his reading and is done as it has been in every other bill hearing I’ve witnessed. These bills are also discussed at length after these reports, so in some sense the non-partisan staffer’s reading appears some pro forma. But Roach told him that next time he ought to slow down. She wasn’t harsh, but that’s not something I’ve ever seen in committee, and his reading was not at all unusual.

Another piece that Owen doesn’t mention is that during the committee hearing Don Benton, a Vancouver Republican who with every Senate Democrat helped Roach take the Senate Pro Tempore position away from Democrat Tim Sheldon, questioned Sen. Marko Liias’ argument that Washington State Patrol had nine investigations on signature gatherers during a recent election, but because of lax reporting requirements could only fully investigate one of them. Benton said he found that hard to believe. At the end of the hearing Liias wanted and opportunity to respond with his evidence, but Roach wouldn’t let him, saying she had to keep control of the hearing.

According to La Corte’s story Roach is crafting a response to Owen, part of which argues that she has “been the most unfairly treated senator in state history.”

 

Non-Father’s day in question in Olympia

UPDATE — I might have painted too optimistic a picture on the chances on this bill. On Feb. 5 the Senate Law and Justice Committee voted 4-3 to send SB 5006 to Ways & Means. But it wasn’t as easy as all that. The explanation follows the original post.

“Time makes more converts than reason.” — Thomas Paine

A year ago a bill dealing with the rights of men who prove the children they support financially are not biologically theirs received enough support to make it to the state Senate floor, but not enough to get a vote on time.

By all indications the bill, SB 5006, should have an easier time of it this year than last.

The legislation would not apply to children conceived through fertility treatments or for children who were adopted by a non-biological father. Existing law would allow a man to question paternity within four years of accepting it, but judges have more discretion in allowing testing than the new law would dictate.

103579072We wrote about the bill last year, giving some attention to how it came to be. It was presented to Angel by Naomi and Andrew Evans of Bremerton. They have been dealing with the kind of situation in question for some time, saying Andrew was told when he was 19 that he was the father of the baby his girlfriend was carrying. They married and divorced and both sides have seen their share of days in court. Andrew questioned whether he was the father, said he got tested and found out he wasn’t. The way the law stands now he has no recourse. Should the bill pass the courts would have to give him a hearing.

We reached out to the mother in question and someone who contacted us on her behalf said there would be no comment.

The disagreement between adults is not the child’s fault, which is why opponents of the bill argued last year that the welfare of the child should not be threatened as this new legislation could do.

But Angel and others have said this is a fairness issue, that fathers who are led to believe they are biologically responsible and therefore financially responsible should not have to continue being responsible if genetic testing proves they were wrong or lied to about paternity.

If a mother is financially harmed by this legislation, she could turn to the state to make up for it, so there could be a cost to taxpayers. But again, Angel argues that a duped non-biological father shouldn’t pay the price for a child that isn’t his. The mom needs to go where anyone would go when faced with a new financial hardship.

And this time, by all indications, legislators seem to agree. The House companion to Angel’s bill, sponsored by state Rep. Michelle Caldier, a Port Orchard Republican, was sent to Judiciary and has seven co-sponsors, three of them Democrats.

A delay in the bill moving forward is happening, Naomi Evans said she was told, because state officials want to be sure that men who have been paying won’t be entitled to back payments, so an amendment is in the works.

Naomi Evans said she and other advocates spent a day in Olympia talking to 50 legislators from the Senate and House committees that are home to the bill and found only one legislator who outright said he would oppose the bill. Another one or two were iffy. All others expressed support, she said.

If that’s true it looks like legislators getting a year to think about it has made a difference, because any changes to this year’s version of the bill were not substantial, according to Angel. The angst about the child being harmed over the loss of money does not seem to be trumping the question of fairness in dictating who pays the bill.

Earlier in the session I questioned whether that was the case. I wondered if opponents were waiting for a House hearing to pile on in hopes of swaying a more sympathetic Democratic leadership. That might also be the forum where any perceived substantive technical problems could be aired, making it too late to pass. But I’ve seen no evidence of that.

Time, which seems to have won some legislators over, will tell.

UPDATE — As mentioned earlier, the Senate Law and Justice Committee voted 4-3 to send an amended bill to the Ways and Means Committee, from where it could go to the floor.

The amendment does specify that non-bio fathers would only be saved any future payments, that the state wouldn’t be liable to pay them back should genetic testing prove the father was not biologically related to the child. A man who was behind in payments would still have to make up however much he hadn’t payed, perhaps ensuring that no dad just stops paying in anticipation of expected developments in the future in court.

The one-vote split reflected party differences, however, with the four “do pass” recommendations coming from Republicans and the three “do not pass” votes coming from Democrats. Should that hold it’s fine for the Senate, but could present problems in the House, even though three Democrats co-sponsored the House version.

The bigger problem is one of the Republican votes was from state Sen. Pam Roach of Auburn. Democrat Jamie Pedersen said he had problems with the bill because he said it undermines a state policy on what parentage is and because of the way it could affect parenting plans.

Roach, while she agreed to send it on, said she had concerns and that the bill needed work. She said she wondered if fathers would still have access to the children, and while she agreed with the overall aim of the legislation, I wouldn’t take her willingness to move it as a guarantee she would vote for it on the floor. “I vote it out and I say I think it needs some work,” she said.

According to the report on the bill the Department of Health would like implementation of the law delayed so it has time to develop policies to match the mandate.

Meanwhile, in the House there has been no movement at all on the companion bill.

Plaintiff admits Obama residency challenge is moot; Now takes on Cruz, Jindal and Rubio

Screen Shot 2015-02-04 at 1.09.31 PM

We haven’t talked about this in a while here, and probably with good reason. Once I saw the birth certificate and newspaper clipping showing our current president was born in a hospital in Hawaii it seemed pretty clear to me that Barack Obama was qualified at birth to run for president once he turned 35.

But others who continue to fight this battle want clarity on what it means to be a “natural born citizen.” Tracy A. Fair is one of those, and in a press release which follows this post she makes the case that the Supreme Court needs to define it. She’s using that question to challenge the presidential candidacies of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Some years ago there was talk of revisiting the whole requirement about being born here to qualify as president. This was when some people were seriously talking about Arnold Schwarzenegger as a presidential candidate.

What do you think? Is this requirement outdated? Should there be other requirements in place instead?

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Angel optimistic about keeping teachers’ COLA in budget

Sen. Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard, was one of several local (Kitsap and Mason County) legislators who responded to my request for input on the education budget for 2015. Specifically I asked for their thoughts on the chances of a teacher’s COLA being reinstated and other thoughts on teachers’ salaries. Perhaps due to crossed wires on her part, mine or both, Angel’s response came late for inclusion in my article, which ran today.

Note, Jan. 28: I have heard from Senator Angel that she did send the response last week, so apparently there was a technical glitch in the email on our end. My apologies, Jan.

I am posting her comments here, along with links (here) to the full responses I got from Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, Rep. Michelle Caldier, R-Port Orchard, Rep. Drew MacEwen, R-Union, and Rep. Sherry Appleton, D-Poulsbo.

Chris Henry, education reporter
Sen. Jan Angel

Describe the pressures you will face as a legislator to reinstate the COLA?

Budget challenges have forced the Legislature to delay or set aside I-732 as we worked to pay for our priorities of government and, when it comes to education, we had to pay for what is most effective for student achievement first. This year with $3 billion additional revenue in state coffers, we potentially have the ability to pay for increased maintenance costs, the minimum investment in schools required by McCleary and the teacher COLA required by I-732. Of course, the specifics of the budget will go through negotiations and restructuring, but as our revenue outlook currently stands, we are likely to have enough money to provide the teacher COLA this year, which I do support.

Describe the pressures you will face as a legislator to suspend the COLA to pay for other education expenses.

We want to prioritize our education spending toward what will do most to address our 77% graduation rate and our lacking student achievement rates. I believe that providing a great teacher in every classroom is very important for student success and making sure we provide them competitive compensation is part of reaching that goal. Our teachers are hard-working and dedicated to our children and I want to make sure we do the best we can for them. As the budget is scrutinized and negotiated, I hope we can reach a solution that supports our teachers while meeting our obligations on other budget demands.

What, in your opinion, are the chances the COLA will be reinstated?

Based on our revenue outlook and initial reactions from budget-writers, the chances are positive.

The governor’s office projects a $2 billion shortfall, despite rising revenue. Randy Dorn at OSPI thinks, with the class size initiative, the real cost could be at least $4.5 billion and possibly closer to $7 billion for the 2015-2017 budget. Given the projected budget shortfall, is it realistic for the Legislature to discuss teacher/school employee compensation in the upcoming session?

The Governor assumes some cost increases that are not required for the government to keep running, but I think the importance of supporting teachers and the fact that we have a statutory commitment suggests that we give it our most thoughtful consideration.

In your opinion, why is/isn’t compensation a compelling issue at this time?

As mentioned before, the direct correlation between student achievement and teacher compensation is not clear, so it is difficult to prioritize when we are trying to reach higher student success rates. Prioritizing a budget is difficult work, but I hope we can address this with the tax dollars we’ve been given to work with. I would also like to see additional training dollars allocated. Our teachers have been asked to perform a number of new duties without training provided to do so – – this creates frustration and puts them in a difficult position.

If you support a compensation reset for school employees, how should the Legislature pay for it?

This is a complicated budget issue that requires negotiation and the prioritization of available funds. We are still in the process of determining what is the best use of taxpayer dollars so we’ll have to see how much we have to work with before we can begin the strategy of putting these pieces together. Teachers receive several different types of pay so this can be complicated.

End Jan Angel

Your Washington electeds respond to State of the Union

U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, issued this statement following the president’s State of the Union address:

“Tonight, the President detailed why America wins when a growing economy expands opportunities for everyone. Overall, we are creating new jobs and our unemployment rate is falling. Now we can do more to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to enter the middle-class, and that families still feeling squeezed find ways to get ahead. That means giving students the key to unlock the doors of a quality education, helping workers get the skills they need to compete for 21st century jobs, and ensuring our businesses on Main Street have the tools they need to grow and expand. The President also called for Congress to come together so we can keep the good economic news coming. I look forward to working with my colleagues to improve our infrastructure so businesses can more easily get their products to customers and to simplify a complex, convoluted tax code so we can encourage businesses to innovate and grow jobs here in the United States, not overseas.”

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, issued this statement:

“Tonight President Obama offered bold ideas that confront some of the most important issues facing our nation, foremost among them the need to provide working families with a more meaningful share in our economic recovery. It is my hope that Congress will pursue common ground with the President to tackle these issues, for the benefit of our state and the entire country.

“The first requirement for progress in a divided government is a willingness to work together. In order to move forward it is incumbent on all elected leaders to offer solutions to the challenges we face.”

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said this:

“I am very glad that President Obama laid out an agenda that puts well-paying middle class jobs first and would offer opportunities to all families in Washington state and across the country who want to work hard and succeed, not just the wealthiest few. Republicans control Congress and can decide to push us toward more gridlock and dysfunction if they want, but if they are willing to come to the table to get results for the families and communities we represent, I am ready to get to work.

“I was especially glad that President Obama reiterated his strong support for helping workers across the country increase their wages and economic security. Washington state is leading the way in showing that increasing the minimum wage raises wages far up the income ladder, increases demand for the goods and services local businesses provide, and helps the economy grow from the middle out, not the top down. And it’s time for the federal government to step up.

“I was glad to hear President Obama throw his support behind my Healthy Families Act, which would help workers earn paid sick days so they can care for a loved one without falling behind or losing a job they put so much work into. And I strongly agree with the President that we need to do more to make sure that big corporations can’t game the system and underpay their workers who put in overtime hours.

“A strong education for every student in America is a critical piece of a middle class economic agenda, and I am very glad that President Obama laid out some important policies and goals tonight. I am going to be working with his Administration and my colleagues in Congress over the coming months to fix the broken No Child Left Behind and make sure it works for every student no matter where they live, how they learn, or how much money their parents make. And I am going to continue fighting to increase access to higher education for students who want to work hard, graduate, and help local businesses succeed.

“I also strongly agree with President Obama that we should close wasteful loopholes and tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations, and direct those tax cuts and investments to the middle class and families who need a hand up—the ones who will actually drive economic growth. Many Republicans have spent years fighting to shift the tax burden from the well-off and well-connected to the middle class, but I am hopeful that public pressure will push those Republicans into working with us to put money into the pockets of the middle class, not those who need it the least. Expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit for more workers is one tax policy with bipartisan support that I will be fighting for and that we should be able to move on quickly.”

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., had this to say:

“Tonight, President Obama laid out a clear plan for strengthening the middle class. We see signs that our economic recovery is gaining ground, but too few Americans are participating. We must work across party lines to strengthen the middle class through investments in workforce training, more affordable higher education, and a focus on manufacturing jobs.

“I am especially pleased that the President has announced plans to open the doors of opportunity for millions more Americans by lowering the cost of community colleges. We’ve seen positive results with similar programs in Washington state. More than 1,000 students have gained access to higher education under a South Seattle College initiative that provided a free year of tuition to eligible students. Expanding community college access will help millions of Americans get new skills to pursue their dreams and grow our economy.”

From Republicans I pulled from other news organizations. Since we don’t have any representing us in federal office, they don’t send us their statements.

Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler was quoted in The Columbian.

“The president outlined a number of initiatives tonight for which he will need help from Congress,” U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, said in a statement. “While he and I don’t always agree on the government’s role in helping individuals and small businesses, Americans are expecting us to work together to find common ground. I remain ready and willing to do just that.”

Joel Connelly at the Seattle P-I quoted to Washington Republicans.

But Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., a member of the House Republican leadership, was out with a statement that was hard, unrelenting and partisan.

She hoped President Obama would stand up for the “hardworking families” of her Eastern Washington district, McMorris Rodgers claimed. “Instead he stood up for Washington, D.C. He stood up for the old, outdated top-down approaches of the past — while I believe in an open, organic, bottom-up vision of the future.”

Newly elected Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., hewed to the Republican position that Obama is offering “the same government-centered, tax-and-spend approach of the past.”

Still, Newhouse said he is willing to “work with anyone” to help the beleaguered middle class, “expand energy and free trade policies that grow our economy.” Newhouse has a right flank to guard in Eastern Washington, but has served as both a GOP state legislator and state agriculture director under a Democratic governor.

What are your plans for the State of the Union?

Image copyright 2014 Getty Images. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
A scene from the 2014 State of the Union address. Not every moment looks like this. Image copyright 2014 Getty Images. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
As of this writing we’re about 90 minutes away from President Barack Obama’s seventh State of the Union address. If you’re scoring at home that means he has one more before he is out of office and his popularity surges.

I have a friend, a Facebook friend really (which is not the same as a friend friend), who has been posting her disdain today for this event, not because of the speech, but because Obama’s giving it.

It got me thinking about the usefulness of the State of the Union. It is good in one sense because it telegraphs the president’s moves beyond, “I’m going to veto everything you knuckleheads send me.” It gives the president a chance to lay out an agenda for the year, and all kidding aside I believe that is a useful function of the speech. And I’m also a fan of trotting out examples of a few people who make us feel good about being Americans.

Still, I can’t say I’m ever excited about a State of the Union address. I’m even less enthused about opposition responses. I think this is a function of sitting still for live television for anything other than sports becoming a dying practice. I sat Sunday for the Seahawks game and I’d bet money that the president, no matter how eloquent he is, will not deliver anything with near the impact Jermaine Kearse’s game-ending had. The speech is more important than that game, probably.

Probably.

The White House just sent out some excerpts. Let me give you a few, then ask you a question.

“We are fifteen years into this new century. Fifteen years that dawned with terror touching our shores; that unfolded with a new generation fighting two long and costly wars; that saw a vicious recession spread across our nation and the world. It has been, and still is, a hard time for many. But tonight, we turn the page.”

“Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well? Or will we commit ourselves to an economy that generates rising incomes and chances for everyone who makes the effort?”

“In Iraq and Syria, American leadership – including our military power – is stopping ISIL’s advance. Instead of getting dragged into another ground war in the Middle East, we are leading a broad coalition, including Arab nations, to degrade and ultimately destroy this terrorist group. We’re also supporting a moderate opposition in Syria that can help us in this effort, and assisting people everywhere who stand up to the bankrupt ideology of violent extremism. This effort will take time. It will require focus. But we will succeed. And tonight, I call on this Congress to show the world that we are united in this mission by passing a resolution to authorize the use of force against ISIL.”

“No foreign nation, no hacker, should be able to shut down our networks, steal our trade secrets, or invade the privacy of American families, especially our kids. We are making sure our government integrates intelligence to combat cyber threats, just as we have done to combat terrorism. And tonight, I urge this Congress to finally pass the legislation we need to better meet the evolving threat of cyber-attacks, combat identity theft, and protect our children’s information. If we don’t act, we’ll leave our nation and our economy vulnerable. If we do, we can continue to protect the technologies that have unleashed untold opportunities for people around the globe.”

The question is a simple one: Do you take time out of your schedule to watch the State of the Union? Why?

Kilmer ascent to Appropriations and why that could literally pay off locally

Norm Dicks (left), Derek Kilmer (right).
Norm Dicks (left), Derek Kilmer (right).
There is a cynical way to look at your representative in Congress climbing the ladder of power. There is another way, too.

Norm Dicks, who had a reputation for bringing money home to his district, held a seat on the House Appropriations Committee his entire congressional career. If the 2012 election had been as good for Democrats as the 1976 election was, Derek Kilmer might have too.

Dicks, who held the seat for 36 years, was elected in a year that saw Democrat Jimmy Carter elected president. His party had 292 seats in Congress, more than twice the 143 held by Republicans. Democrats had only picked up one seat that election, but there was enough movement that it created room for a freshman congressman from Belfair to claim a spot on a coveted committee.

Kilmer, by contrast, joined Congress when Democrats were in the minority, holding 201 seats. Committee numbers are devised based on party ratios. Western Democrats backed Kilmer for the committee to party leaders when he was first elected, Dicks said. The argument then was the same as it was this time around, that with Dicks’ departure from Congress the Pacific Northwest would not be represented.

It wasn’t the worst environment for the party to take a risk on a rookie. It had picked up a seat on the committee and five Democrats had left, but the vacancies were filled by six veteran Democrats.

After the 2014 election Democrats lost seats, but not in Appropriations. Kilmer’s regional backing, along with his track record in his relatively short congressional career, made a bigger difference this time around. Despite Democratic losses in the November election he got the nod when Rep. Adam Schiff of California left the committee to become ranking member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence.

Subcommittee assignments, which are expected to be made in the next week, are a matter of what’s available. Dicks said the basic process is that members with three assignments pick one to put into a pool to add to the ones left behind by Schiff. Kilmer will get to pick two from the pool. Dicks was on Defense and Interior. Schiff was on neither of those, so if they are in the pool it won”t be coming from him. It may take a few years for Kilmer to grab Defense, Dicks said.

The former congressman said the Appropriations assignment is huge for this district and for Kilmer. “It’s still the best committee in terms of bipartisanship,” he said. Besides working across the aisle, he will have the benefit of working across the capitol building in the Senate, where Washington Sen. Patty Murray sits on that chamber’s Appropriations Committee.

You don’t have to link all the benefits to the region as pork. You can if you like, but someone has to sit on Appropriations and oversee government spending. It doesn’t hurt us that it’s someone local. Should Kilmer eventually make it onto Defense there are obvious benefits to having someone who can argue for the shipyard and the bases. There are obvious benefits to having someone on Appropriations who has been through the district enough that dollar figures are actually connected to pictures. How strident a member of Congress is on hometown issues is another question, but having someone with a distinct awareness of what’s happening here has to be a benefit.

There is another, potentially unsavory, advantage of having a local ascend to the powerful committee, one that some thought would go away when earmarks were banned. But politicians want to bring home the bacon for their constituents, so they will figure out ways to extract more money for the district. One way they do it now is by writing letters to agencies asking for specific funding. The more powerful your member of Congress is, the more likely a letter penned by your rep will have more weight. A letter from someone on Appropriations ranks pretty high. And the longer Kilmer stays in Congress, the higher the clout. The bad news for those interested in transparency is it’s not as easy to track as earmarks once were, at least not yet.

Thomas Steyer considering a run at California Senate seat

Thomas Steyer, often described as "a billionaire," might run for a U.S. Senate seat in California. That could have an impact on Washington state politics.
Thomas Steyer, often described as “a billionaire,” might run for a U.S. Senate seat in California. That could have an impact on Washington state politics.

In this story from Roll Call comes the news that Thomas Steyer, who spent $1.25 million in the 2014 election in Washington and $525,000 in 2013 in the 26th Legislative District Senate race, is considering a run for the U.S. Senate.

On Tuesday he wrote on Huffington Post, “I will decide soon based on what I think is the best way to continue the hard work we’ve already started together to prevent climate disaster and preserve American prosperity.”

For us the question is whether this means he would stop donating money to out-of-state races while he’s running and should he win. I reached out to Steyer’s NextGen Climate organization and received no response.

Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the DC-based campaign finance watchdog organization Center for Responsive Politics, answered by email that she didn’t know of any precedent that could predict how Steyer would respond.

But there is nothing to prevent him from continuing to make contributions down to state and local level according to whatever limits those states allow,” Krumholz wrote.

The California race promises to be expensive, though, and even a billionaire can eventually run out of money.

Steyer’s money played a big role in the drama, though not so much the result, in the 2013 26th Legislative District election battled between appointed incumbent state Sen. Nathan Schlicher, a Democrat, and the eventual winner, Republican Jan Angel.

This ad from 2013 could be changed in the future to read, "California Billionare Extremist Senator ..." after 2016. They might add "Voted with (Insert liberal senator name here.) 96% of the time."
This ad from 2013 could be changed in the future to read, “California Billionare Extremist Senator …” after 2016. They might add “Voted with Al Franken 96% of the time.”

Elected officials do contribute to each other. Krumholz provided a link to a list of candidates who contributed lots to other candidates. They’re limited to $5,000 per candidate. The link leads with, “Members of Congress in safe seats are often asked to contribute some of their campaign funds to candidates in need.” The top donor was Eric Cantor at nearly $1.9 million. His seat turned out to be not so safe.

Steyer, should he win, would replace U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, a Democrat who went from the House to the Senate following the 1992 election. The Roll Call story makes the case that it would be tough for a current member of Congress to make the same leap Boxer did, because California congressional districts have a smaller proportional footprint than in any other state. California has 53 seats in the House.

For a representative whose name is known primarily in only 1/53 of the state, it’s tough to imagine getting play in the other 52/53.

A couple of other things that are worth noting from the story.

  • Experts are predicting this race will cost more than $100 million.
  • California uses a top-two primary system and leans far enough left that it’s not unreasonable to think that the two final candidates could both be Democrats.

Talking Points Memo has a story that focuses exclusively on Steyer and his strengths (money) and his weaknesses (money) should he run.