You thought THAT was interesting

Sure, the Kelly Emerson story out of Island County is interesting. I’m sure it will come up in her debates with Dolores Gilmore as the run for county auditor.

The more interesting story to me is the one for the county treasurer race over there. This weekend my wife and I stayed in a lovely bed and breakfast on Whidbey Island. At the ferry terminal in Coupeville I caught a glance at the Whidbey News-Times and saw the following:

wnt

I love that the guy in the picture is looking at you like he’s saying, “Can you believe this crap?” He’s not part of the story, though. I think his business is being dumped in favor of a pot shop, which is pretty interesting too.

At any rate, Republican Wanda Grone, Island County’s deputy treasurer (former deputy treasurer as of last week) filed to run for the treasurer job against her boss, Ana Maria Nuñez, county treasurer. Nuñez is a Democrat. Grone filed on Tuesday without telling her boss first, so on Thursday Nuñez fired Grone. I tell you any more and I’m taking money out of the hands of the good folks at the Whidbey News-Times, so I suggest you follow the link I’m giving you. Bottom line: Nuñez felt Grone could no longer be trusted.

In 2006 Jim Rye, ran against Sheriff Steve Boyer for his job. Boyer won with 69 percent of the vote in the primary to Rye’s 31 percent. I was prepared to say that Rye didn’t lose his job for running against Boyer, but a document from a dispute between the union representing Sheriff’s Office deputies and Kitsap County contains the allegation that Rye did have his job threatened, either by someone in the prosecutor’s office or Boyer himself, if he continued to run. I believe Rye was still on the force in 2008, so whatever threat there may have been was not carried out.

I’m interested in your take. This is not something I see often, an underling running to take a boss’s job. Then again, we’re supposed to be ambitious and if an election is the only way to get the top job then is someone wrong for going after it? I’ve set up a poll on the right. Weigh in there and leave your thoughts here.

Candidacy as an advertisement

Someone, I wish I could remember who, said the cost of running for office ends up being a pretty cheap advertisement to establish name recognition.

For the major candidates the filing fee will end up getting paid for by money contributed by the Republican or Democratic parties or by third-party contributors.

That can’t be assumed for candidates who are not part of the funding stream orchestrated by the major parties.

For one candidate who filed Monday, that is exactly why he is running.

“Congress is all messed up and we need some people there who are not bought by the corporations and lobbyists,” said Bill “Greybeard” McPherson, a Port Angeles activist who paid the $1,740 fee to run for Congress. “It’s just an insane amount of money going into these things.”

McPherson, who stated no party preference, also said his real first priority is the environment, but campaign finance rules would have to change before he could even get a real environmental question started. He’s got a website where you can learn more. Derek Kilmer, a Gig Harbor Democrat who grew up in Port Angeles, has raised $1.3 million for this race. Marty McClendon, a Republican, has filed with the Federal Elections Commission his intention to run, but not yet with the state. He does not show any money raised yet.

The other surprise candidate on Monday was Bill Scheidler of Port Orchard. He paid $421.06 to run as a Republican for the 26th Legislative District seat held by Jesse Young, also a Republican. Nathan Schlicher, the former Democratic state senator, is also expected to run. Scheidler’s major issue is judicial reform, not so much the “judicial activist” kind you hear so much about. He’s more concerned about how judges and lawyers act locally and says he has been affected by it personally. Did I mention he has a website, too?

Both candidates hope to win, but recognize the odds are against them. Scheidler explicitly said his primary goal is to inform people of the abuses of the system.

And both candidates were featured in the first-day story from filing week and they’re getting a little play from this blog. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll get a lot of attention between now and the Aug. 5 primary, but it’s not a bad start. They might even call it a positive return on their investment.

Tim Eyman audio on latest initiative

This is the audio from Tim Eyman’s speech to the Central Kitsap Republican Women, who met for their luncheon at the Admiral Theatre in Bremerton on May 8, 2014.

One final note: This is something we might consider doing more of in the future. That might mean posting audio from events like this, but I also could see us recording interviews and doing other kinds of storytelling on a regular podcast.

I’m a fan of the podcast medium itself, but I don’t know how much demand there is for a hyperlocal podcast. Let me know and if there is enough interest I will do my best to make this a regular thing. Comment here, or email me at sgardner@kitsapsun.com.

Angel Endorses Sheldon

State Sen. Jan Angel emailed a campaign letter urging voters to support state Sen. Tim Sheldon in his re-election bid. Angel is a 26th District Republican and Sheldon is a 35th District Democrat and yet this endorsement will be a surprise only to those who have not paid any attention to the Washington Legislature.

Sheldon supported Angel in her bid to unseat the appointed incumbent in the 26th District in 2013, Democrat Nathan Schlicher. The Potlatch state Senator/Mason County commissioner contributed $150 to the Angel 2013 campaign. Angel seems to be returning the favor

“… we need to come together and support the Majority Coalition Caucus members who are up for re-election. We must ensure these pro-business leaders return to Olympia to continue the work we have started.

“Senator Tim Sheldon is a vital part of the Majority Caucus Coalition and he brings balance and years of experience to the Senate.”

Sheldon is running against Irene Bowling, a Democrat and Travis Couture, a Republican. Because of his conservative voting record Sheldon has enjoyed lots of support over the years from voters who identify as Republicans. Bowling will likely get lots of support from Democrats and could very well emerge on top in the primary in August.

Sheldon has to make sure Couture’s presence doesn’t split so many Republicans that he comes in third. The Angel endorsement seems to be aimed at Republicans so that they are not tempted to vote for someone who says he is one of them in favor of someone who pretty much votes with them, even though he considers himself a Democrat.

With Rodney Tom’s decision to not run this year it means Sheldon is the only Democratic member of the this session’s Senate Majority Coalition Caucus who will be back in the Legislature next year.

Traveling rich on your dime

Mark Greenblatt, Scripps national correspondent in DC did a nice piece highlighting how federal employees are flying first class on your dime. Come to think of it, that’s on my dime, too. The cost is staggering to me, such as a $16,000 flight that should have cost about $1,000. And that one actually fit within the rules. Another issue is just how bad the record keeping is.

Greenblat’s stories ran a couple of months ago, so I apologize for delivering this a bit late. But for me the real theater in this story comes from the DecodeDC podcast in which Greenblatt plays recordings of his conversations with federal officials. You have GOT to hear this.

Look, I understand wanting to fly first class. In 1992 I cashed in frequent flyer miles and flew first class from Salt Lake City to Raleigh, N.C. to catch a couple of Springsteen shows. When the flight was over I didn’t want to get off the plane, ever.

Contrast that experience with the one I had a few weeks ago. The company sent me to Cincinnati, for which I am grateful to the point of weirdness. I had to fly from Seattle to Chicago. For a man of my dimensions flying coach feels like being wrapped in cellophane. I was in the last row on the plane, so my seat didn’t recline, but the one in front of me did and was a few inches from my face for about four hours. Plus I was next to the window, which I like, but that seat gives you the least wiggle room. To call it “torturous” would be an insult to torture. Let’s say it was significantly unpleasant. Flying isn’t as fun as it used to be.

Deficits are not the fun they once were either, and I’m guessing the bigger issue for most people is why there appears to be such a cavalier attitude about costing the taxpayers so much more money. Anti-government types like to accuse government employees of being careless with American tax dollars and this whole story gives them ammunition. How does anyone not think of that? Maybe it’s the free booze in first class that makes it easy to forget.

Prayer on the agenda

On Monday the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 (They all seem to be 5-4 decisions these days.) that a New York town was OK in having prayers before their meetings, even if they are pretty much all Christian. To get more detail about that case you should read the AP story that ran on our site.

Monday afternoon I spoke with Bremerton Mayor Patty Lent, because Bremerton is the only local government body I know of that puts prayer on the agenda. That it would appear anywhere in this area might surprise some people, because it wasn’t long ago that a Gallup survey reported our area was the seventh least religious area in the country. That was Kitsap specifically, by the way, not just the entire Seattle area.

Lent was not much familiar with the Supreme Court decision, but in her conversation about why prayer works here she touched on some of the questions the court addressed. One of the problems in the court case was the predominance of Christian prayers. Except for one brief period last decade, prayers or other facsimiles were not heard in the New York town. Lent said in Bremerton an effort is made to spread the task around, to contact different denominations, including non-Christian ones. That’s more than the court decided was necessary.

No other local government that I am aware of opens with prayers. When I covered the Bainbridge Island City Council they didn’t even recite the pledge of allegiance and there was a bit of a dust up when one council member suggested they start. The next election ushered in folks who were not opposed to the pledge and it’s now on the agenda.

This is not to say everyone is thrilled with the prayer in Bremerton, or probably the pledge for that matter. I know several years back I knew of someone who was raising an issue with the council, someone who was as committed to atheism as some are to religion. This person, however, wasn’t interested in letting a refusal to stand for a prayer distract from the main question on this person’s agenda. It’s a case of saving battles for another day, if ever.

Lent said that to her knowledge no one has complained about Bremerton’s regular prayer.

Common Core’s battle with the political meme

As mentioned in an earlier post, we are beginning to take a deeper look at Common Core with the idea of presenting more factual information here in the Kitsap Sun. Not surprisingly, since that last post there have been more drum beats against the idea behind Common Core standards. For many on both sides of the aisle the program smacks of a federal takeover of education.

And when something like Common Core arouses suspicion, it’s easy to find examples where someone has been perhaps operating under those standards and has done something questionable. It’s what we do. If you don’t like a church you can find examples where church members have behaved badly and say “Aha!” The most recent anti-Common Core meme I’ve seen was a reaction to a book that questioned whether America would be too racist to elect a black president. First off, I agree that the language on the page is at least inexact when it says, “But some people said Americans weren’t ready for that much change. Sure Barack was a nice fellow they said. But white voters would never vote for a black president.”

It’s inexact because someone could read that and see that as questioning whether any white voter would vote for Obama. But the question was whether there were enough white voters who might not vote for him because he was black. It wasn’t as if there wasn’t precedent. Consider the Oct. 13, 2008 story from CNN that asked whether “The Bradley Effect” would rear its head. From that story:

The Bradley effect is named after former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, an African-American who ran for California governor in 1982. Exit polls showed Bradley leading by a wide margin, and the Democrat thought it would be an early election night. But Bradley and the polls were wrong. He lost to Republican George Deukmejian. The theory was that polling was wrong because some voters, who did not want to appear bigoted, said they voted for Bradley even though they did not.

As it turns out the Bradley Effect was likely overstated anyway, but the question persisted in 2008. To suggest it didn’t is to ignore the facts.

And now we’ve spent all that conversation on something that, as it turns out, is largely not affected at all by Common Core. The decision to use this text book was made locally. Common Core is a set of standards, a program established by governors of American states and business leaders. When states buy into Common Core, they’re agreeing to meet new education standards. And in every case I know of, the new standards are tougher. Each state is still responsible to educate its own kids and establish its own curriculum. What each state is largely agreeing to by joining the Common Core states is ensuring that kids across the country are learning the same basics. How they teach those basics is up to them.

Beyond that is the notion that kids across the nation will be subjected to scary propaganda because of a quest for national education uniformity. If Common Core’s supporters are to be believed, that’s hype and hysteria winning over reality. David Brooks makes that case in a New York Times column in which he describes the Common Core political climate as a “circus.”

On the right, the market-share-obsessed talk-radio crowd claims that the Common Core standards represent a federal takeover of the schools. This is clearly false. This was a state-led effort, and localities preserve their control over what exactly is taught and how it is taught. Glenn Beck claims that Common Core represents “leftist indoctrination” of the young. On Fox, Elisabeth Hasselbeck cited a curriculum item that supposedly taught students that Abraham Lincoln’s religion was “liberal.” But, as the education analyst Michael J. Petrilli quickly demonstrated, this was some locally generated curriculum that was one of hundreds on a lesson-sharing website and it was promulgated a year before the Common Core standards even existed.

As it’s being attacked by the talk-radio right, the Common Core is being attacked by the interest group left. The general critique from progressives, and increasingly from teachers’ unions, is that the standards are too difficult, that implementation is shambolic and teachers are being forced into some top-down straitjacket that they detest.

All of this is having an effect on the public. A story in Tuesday’s Yakima Herald-Republic aired some of the concerns educators know about during an education summit in Yakima. And toward the end of the story Chris Barron, who once worked here at the Kitsap Sun and is now communications manager for the statewide education organization Partnership for Learning, said in 2015, when Washington is scheduled for full Common core implementation, there could be lots of negative parental reaction. Kids’ test scores are likely to go down that year. The tests students take now measure basic skills. Tests next year will measure college and career readiness, a higher standard.

President Obama is probably not helping. In some part that’s based on stupid political reasons. His support for the program creates automatic resistance to it. But he’s also linking Common Core to grants and waivers under No Child Left Behind, which you’ll recall was enacted under the previous president. That has the taste and feel of the federal government interjecting itself into local education.

The question in all of this is whether Common Core will succeed or fail on its merits/flaws, or on the political climate at the time. The truth will be in there somewhere.

Supreme Court ruling and the local impact

Today’s Supreme Court ruling eliminating caps on how many federal races an individual can contribute to could have an impact here if ever there is a federal race that is considered “in play.” We have not seen that in a while.

The Citizens United decision earlier had the potential of dramatically increasing the amount spent on local races for independent groups and did very little here. U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, the Gig Harbor Democrat who replaced Norm Dicks and Jay Inslee in representing the Kitsap area, did not have a particularly close race in 2012, so all that suspect money was spent elsewhere.

Today’s decision allows someone to contribute to as many House or Senate races as there are, but maintains the maximum contribution to any single race to $2,600 for the primary and another $2,600 for the general election. If someone decided to contribute in every race, it could cost more than $2.2 million. Before today the max was $48,600 per federal election cycle. The most envisioned scenario is someone giving a party, let’s say $1 million, and saying “Spend it where it’s needed.”

Parties like to spend money on races they have a chance at winning. Two years ago they didn’t see that happening here, so they didn’t spend any.

I have heard rumors about who might run against Kilmer this year, but no one has filed with the Federal Elections Commission. Meanwhile the FEC website indicates Kilmer has raised more than $1 million for the 2014 election, about $575,000 from individuals and about $419,000 from political action committees.

Kilmer issued a press release today expressing his disappointment with the Supreme Court ruling. It follows:

Continue reading

One more on the homeless bill, and then we are likely done for maybe three years

Ed Friedrich’s story on the bill that prolonged a real estate transaction fee to pay for housing for the homeless gives a good synopsis of what went down. We’ve paid a lot of attention to this bill in some part because of state Sen. Jan Angel’s role in stopping it from going to the floor from her committee.

Hours before the session ended Angel was able to introduce the final version of the bill that keeps the funding going, but also addresses some problems Angel and others had with the overall program.

One of Angel’s objections when the bill was in committee was that this fee is only charged in real estate transactions. While individuals who buy homes, change titles, etc. are the ones paying the fee, Angel suggested it unfair that the real estate industry was the only being asked to shoulder the burden. She has also made the case that the real estate market is cyclical, so funding for the program is subject to the market’s whims.

The final bill passed by the Legislature does not change any of that, but it puts in place the possibility that the state could find a different funding source to either supplement or replace the current fee. Following a performance audit of the program the state will convene a task force that will report on other funding possibilities by the end of 2017. Legislators would then have two years to come up with something different before facing another deadline worse than the one they just faced. Missing this deadline would have seen the fee drop and then go away. Missing the 2019 deadline set by the new legislation means the fee just goes away.

Department of Commerce statistics conclude the program has dropped homelessness in the state by 29 percent overall. For families the number is 74 percent. For individuals it’s 5 percent.

In Kitsap County the drop in homelessness appears to be well above the 50 percent target, but that assumes I’m reading the state Department of Commerce report correctly. I’ll check on Monday. In Mason County it looks like homelessness has actually gone up.

The bill also stipulates that at least 45 percent of the funding wind up in the hands of for-profit landlords. Again, assuming I’m reading the Commerce report correctly, I don’t see where that has been a problem anywhere. In Kitsap County $648,478 went to for-profit landlords in 2012. Another $177,529 went to what the state defines as “public” landlords. Nothing went to non-profits. In Mason County $112,379 went to for-profits, and that was all of it.

In the end eight senators and 22 representatives voted against the program, all of them Republicans. All nine of Kitsap’s legislators voted for it.

Below you can watch the conversation on the Senate floor, a discussion led off by Angel.

Recording fee for homeless funding likely to pass

The bill to continue charging the $40 fee on real estate transactions to fund programs for the homeless has a good shot of being passed. State Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, said a Republican version would have extended the program for one year and required that 45 percent of the money go to private, for-profit landlords. Democrats are dead set against setting a fixed number on the private landlord question and want five years on the extension.

So the two sides are still talking.

If the session does get extended, Rolfes said, it will only be to be in compliance with 24-hour requirements on bills.

Nonetheless, if there is a short special session, that’s when the recording fee bill would likely be voted on, so that it can be part of the budget negotiations, Rolfes said.

Another source, Joaquin Uy from the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance emailed confirming the private landlord issue and the sunsets as key issues. He also said the two sides are debating reporting and auditing requirements.

Rolfes said Republicans have committed to passing a bill this session.

The president is funny; Obamacare enrollments climb

If you haven’t seen President Barack Obama’s appearance on a spoof video interview with Zach Galifianakis, stop what you’re doing and spend the next 6 minutes and 30 seconds to watch the presidential communication norms evolve. The president appeared on the comedian’s web show, “Between Two Ferns,” in an effort to reach a target audience to generate health care enrollments.

If the White House is to be believed, the move did just what it intended. For one thing, I think most people believe the interview is genuinely funny. Obama plays a good straight man to Galifianakis’ ridiculous character, but he gets in some obviously prepared jabs, too. He’s funny. More importantly to the White House is that hits on healthcare.gov spiked after the skit was published. According to Politico, hits on the site coming directly from Funnyordie.com were around 32,000 by 6 p.m. EDT Tuesday. That’s not enrollments, but that’s where enrollments start. And it’s very likely coming from just the market health care reform supporters want.

While this does show the president venturing into new territory, it’s an evolution, not a revolution. Television itself was a revolution when John F. Kennedy bested Richard Nixon in the first televised debate in 1960. Of course, they were candidates and the tone was serious. But Nixon wasn’t so serious in September 1968 when he asked, “Sock it to me?” on Laugh In. In the Nixon video linked here George Schlatter says Nixon was trying to reach a new audience. Here’s the real clip of Nixon’s foray into comedy.

Different presidents have tried different tacks to woo new audiences or to offer a message. Jimmy Carter wore sweaters and carried suitcases. Reagan, I’m not the first to point out, was a master performer. One of my liberal friends in college used to say that Reagan, as president, was a great actor. Clinton went on MTV, which was groundbreaking at the time. He was just cool enough to do it. I can’t tell you what the Bushes did, but one of them got elected twice so he did something right. I don’t think George W. or Laura Bush would do the kind of appearances Barack and Michelle Obama have done. Their styles are different, but the Obamas are fairly well suited to take advantage of the way the media is changing. Michelle Obama had what I thought was a funny appearance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, because she could play within the strength of Fallon’s style. He is not the best interviewer, but he is noted for his skits, which then go viral. Again, this wasn’t just about being funny, Michelle Obama was there to pitch exercise.

In an age when many Americans get their news from The Daily Show, it’s not a bad approach to getting out the message. It may not be the ideal reality that more viewers are getting their news from a comedian than any other source, but it is the reality we have. So if a president has what it takes to enter this arena, then more power to him, and someday her.

Angel at center of controversy over funding for homeless

State Sen. Jan Angel, the Republican elected to finish the final year of a four-year term, pulled a parliamentary move she is allowed to in her role as committee co-chair, prompting at least one howl from within her own party and a failed Democratic countermove in the main chamber.

At issue is a bill, House Bill 2368, that helps counties and the state fund programs for the homeless. Counties charge a $40 fee on real estate transactions and apply it toward state and county efforts to assist with rental housing payments, grants for transitional housing, emergency assistance, overnight shelters for young people, emergency shelters, and to help human trafficking victims and their families. Under the legislation originally passed in 2005 the fee was set to go down to $30 next year, and then to $10. This year’s bill would essentially make the $40 fee permanent.

Supporters of the bill argued that attaching the fee to documents related to real estate was appropriate, because reducing homelessness helps protect property values, keeps people out of jail and out of emergency rooms. Opponents contend that real estate fees are not an appropriate way to fund efforts to reduce homelessness and that the law was supposed to be temporary when it was written in 2005.

The bill was among those expected to be heard in a Senate Financial Institutions, Housing and Insurance Committee hearing, but Angel gaveled the meeting before the bill could be discussed. Once the gavel is hit, TVW stops recording video, but there was audio, (Start at 1:03:45) and the first voice complaining about the meeting’s quick conclusion is Republican Sen. Don Benton of Vancouver, who is hardly liberal lion. Benton, in fact, working with a Democrat from the House, had helped create the compromise bill the committee was supposed to consider. Benton asks about 2368 and Angel says, “The meeting is now adjourned.” Benton expresses disappointment. State Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, who co-chairs the committee said the bill was a bipartisan/bicameral piece of legislation everyone had agreed to, to which Angel said all parties are not in agreement. “We’ll continue to work on this during interim,” she said, to create a bill that works.

Hobbs told the (Tacoma) News Tribune that Angel was operating with orders from Senate Majority Coalition Caucus Leader Rodney Tom. Angel denied it, saying even if he had issued orders, “I work for the people of my district.”

On Friday Senate Democrats issued a statement that included comment from another Kitsap senator. “In my district, and in districts across the state, this is the most important source of funding we have to help the homeless,” said Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island. “People are playing politics with an issue that should be supported by everyone. There shouldn’t even be a second thought.”

The bill was an amended version that had passed out of the House with a 62-36 vote. All six Kitsap legislators in the House voted for the bill.

Democrats tried to pull a procedural move to get the bill heard on the main floor, but the majority caucus, including Benton, held firm in denying them. The News Tribune said the bill could be part of last-minute dealmaking before the session ends March 13.

The chance of intrigue in the 35th LD Senate race

If you’re watching the state political landscape and in particular the 35th Legislative District, you might have long ago stopped looking at the Senate race to focus on the campaigns being waged by two Republicans for the opportunity to unseat a Democratic incumbent.

You might be assuming that Tim Sheldon will again open an unlocked door to another term as a state Senator. The primary, though, could be interesting. And Sheldon has made some critics out of people who once were his backers, primarily people in Belfair, because of his work as a county commissioner.

Sheldon, as most of you know, is a Democrat, albeit (How should we put this?) an atypical one. For years his votes on most controversial issues have been aligned with the Republicans. The Democrats enjoyed their majority status in the chamber with his insistence on remaining a Democrat and have been safe from his maverick ways as long as the margin never got close. Once Democrats outnumbered Republicans by just three in the Senate, though, the GOP leadership was able to poach away control by nabbing Sheldon and Rodney Tom, the Democrat who once was Republican and is now the figurehead for the Senate Majority Coalition.

In Mason County, which is the bulk of the 35th, Sheldon has held strong. In 2010 he received 57 percent of the vote against Nancy (grandma) Williams, though that big margin might be deceiving, because she didn’t wage much of a campaign.

The election of 2006 might be a more telling picture. That year, one in which voters had to pick a party, Sheldon only received 43.1 percent in the primary against two challengers. One was a Democrat from the Howard Dean wing. The other was a Republican. In fact, the Democrat, Kyle Taylor Lucas, accused by many of moving into the district just to run against Sheldon, came in second place, netting 32.5 percent of the primary vote. Had she run in 2010 or this year and seen the same result, she would have been on the General Election ballot because of the state’s Top Two primary system.

So far Sheldon faces two opponents in the primary this year. Travis Couture, the Republican, describes himself on his website as “a conservative libertarian.” His arguments espousing that philosophy is clear on the website, and he delivers a message that might well resonate with the 35th District’s more conservative voters. So might his Facebook criticism of Sheldon, “Next time you see an illegal immigrant going to college on your taxpayer dime, just thank Tim Sheldon for voting to pass that this year in the Senate.”

The Democrats have Irene Bowling so far. She has run a music instruction business in Kitsap County and has been well known locally. During the selection process for the county commissioner position left open by Josh Brown, Bowling proved herself a competent candidate. She answered questions well and swayed enough precinct committee officers to make her the second choice as Brown’s successor. I have little doubt that the vast majority of people who voted for Taylor Lucas in 2006 will side with Bowling this time around in the primary. If she gets more than the 32.5 percent Taylor Lucas got, she could even emerge as the 35th District’s first choice out of the primary.

If that were to pan out, then the question becomes whether Couture can cut enough into Sheldon’s lead to do the unthinkable, putting Sheldon into third place.

One of Couture’s challenges could be raising money for the race, at least from the state party. Party organizations get to donate in big amounts. Sheldon isn’t going to get money from either party, but he already has almost $80,000. Sheldon has in the past, though, prevented Republican candidates from getting GOP party money to run against him, or so I’m told. It’s as if every dollar he gets has a huge multiplier effect. It’s early in the game, but that could be tough for Couture. If he as a first-time candidate proves especially adept at raising money and getting signs on voters’ lawns, he could make it interesting. Where Couture might make his biggest splash is on social media, which doesn’t cost a lot and can have a big connector factor.

If there is enough anti-Sheldon sentiment out there then this race could be highly entertaining. In the 2012 Mason County Commissioner primary race Sheldon received 29.4 percent of the vote as an incumbent, a half point ahead of the second-place candidate, Democrat Roslynne Reed. Sheldon won by 8 percentage points in the general election, but those 2012 numbers demonstrate he is not invincible. He does not enjoy the kind of support Norm Dicks had in the Sixth Congressional District.

If you were betting money on the 35th District race, I still wouldn’t dissuade you from betting on Sheldon. But you might look at 2012 and have reason to question your certainty. If he makes it to the general election I don’t see him losing that one. The best chance to unseat him is likely the primary. Bowling, assuming she is the only Democrat who runs, will get the votes from those leaning left. The question will be how the conservative votes will split, whether Couture can effectively make the case that he is more their representative than the incumbent.

Decode DC: Stimulus? ‘We can’t play.’

Here is an interesting story that serves as a good way to introduce you to a Washington D.C.-based news operation recently acquired by Scripps. Decode DC, a venture started by former NPR Congressional correspondent Andrea Seabrook, delves into the questions I would want to try to answer if I were a reporter in DC, something I did once aspire to a few decades ago. In recent episodes Decode DC delved into the sausage-making of the State of the Union speech, the ridiculous speculation about who the frontrunners are for the 2016 presidential race and the real issues behind the extension of unemployment benefits.

In a Kitsap Sun story in 2012 we looked at the career of former U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, the Belfair (but really, Bremerton) Democrat, who was retiring with accolades from folks on Capitol Hill touting Dicks’ ability to work across the aisle. Among those singing the congressman’s praises was California Republican Jerry Lewis.

When you listen to the podcast posted above, though, you’ll see that Lewis delivered the message that Republicans in early 2009 were not going to do anything to help the new president, Democrat Barack Obama. “We can’t play,” Lewis told Democrat David Obey. Not that Republicans didn’t secretly make requests, according to Obey. They just didn’t want their bosses in House leadership to know. And so you get a stimulus package that many believe was not big enough to stir as much economic activity as was needed then.

Now, this of course ignores the thought that there are many in this country who thought that the banks should not be bailed out and there should be no economic stimulus. This particular episode challenges that idea by starting from the premise that economists on both sides were saying some stimulus was needed and by showing conservative, free-market believer George W. Bush being the one asking Congress to bail out the banks. So even some conservatives were on board with the idea of government injecting itself into the economy to save the economy.

That is until a Democrat became president, overseeing two Congressional chambers also led by Democrats. You might say Republicans could afford to say “No,” because they knew Democrats would say “Yes.” This particular podcast sheds some light on what happened behind the scenes.

It also gets Obey saying something you don’t hear politicians saying very often, that many politicians in Washington are just not very bright. You’ll have to listen to hear him say why.

When new episodes post I will likely make it a regular event to post them here.

And finally, props to the suits in Cincinnati who saw fit to buy up Decode DC.

Linking teacher pay to legislator pay to boost science instruction and overall teacher pay – updated

A bill that would link elementary school science teacher pay to what Washington legislators earn got a Tweet from the News Tribune’s Jordan Schrader and a short mention in Crosscut, but nothing more. Why? One reason is because there is no way the bill will pass, and the bill’s author acknowledges as much.

State Rep. Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor, introduced House Bill 2655, “Setting the salaries for members of the legislature,” on Jan. 23. The bill would require the Citizens’ Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials to set legislator pay at the same level as the “average elementary school science teacher.”

Right away, there is one problem with the language of the bill. Technically there is no such thing as an “elementary school science teacher.” Patty Glaser, Bremerton School District spokeswoman, said elementary school teachers certify as generalists. There is another issue that Central Kitsap School District spokesman David Beil pointed out, that because of declining enrollment the district hasn’t been hiring any teachers in any discipline.

All that aside, Seaquist introduced the bill to make a point. He said there has been an impetus to “start kids sooner in science.” So he is looking at, for example, a Central Washington University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in education, but then a master’s degree in something like biology, as a good fit in an elementary school. “We want to go in the direction of highly qualified technical teachers, bringing real science to schools,” he said. “We all know we want to go there.”

One problem, he said, is the pay the state and local districts offer teachers.

The average pay for a fresh-out-of college teacher with just a bachelor’s degree is $34,188, according to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. Add that master’s degree and the average starting pay jumps to $41,716. That’s not far from what legislators receive, $42,106 for what is technically a part-time job. But Seaquist points out that a legislator who lives more than 35 miles away from the capitol is also entitled to a $90 day per diem to handle living-away-from-home expenses.

Seaquist makes the additional point that even the near $42,000 starting teachers with master’s degree make does not compare with what they would make in the private sector. I used an automated salary calculator on payscale.com to come up with an estimate that a brand new research scientist would be paid $55,000 annually right out of college. That same program estimated the pay would be around $80,000 after five years.

When I first talked to Seaquist he was clear his bill wouldn’t pass, but that it would get a hearing. And that’s what he wants most, for legislators to be compelled to talk about teachers’ salaries.

“What I’m trying to do is add to the weight of the argument that we have to be fully funding our schools, as the court says,” Seaquist said. “I’m really concerned that the Legislature is not standing up to fully respond to the court’s order.”

That order comes from the Washington Supreme Court’s McCleary decision, which declared that the state was not fully funding education as it was constitutionally required to do. The court gave the Legislature until 2018 to reach full funding and in mid-January determined that the Legislature’s first attempt to get there in 2013 was too small a step.

Seaquist would not limit the pay discussion to science teachers, but did so in this bill to illustrate how people with skills that are in high demand are underpaid in Washington schools. “I’m using the example of these high-demand, much-in-need teachers to point out that all of our teachers are underpaid,” he said.

UPDATE: Seaquist wrote to say he has asked the committee chairman to not schedule a hearing on the bill. He said he was mindful of the “rapidly growing workload” of the committee and asked it to be pulled.

Nonetheless, there are still two points he would make, and I’ll quote, “… a) our teachers are underpaid and b) we are having a hard time recruiting elementary school teachers with subject matter expertise, especially in the science and math areas. Although the school district gave you the technical answer “we don’t have elementary science teachers” the fact is that we are rapidly moving to STEM education in our elementary schools and these hands-on, research Master’s degree teachers are very valuable. I visited last summer at CWU’s ed school where they are developing new approaches to developing these teachers.”

So while the current reality is that elementary school teachers are generalists, Seaquist believes there will be a call for more elementary school teachers with a science background of some kind. This bill was designed to get legislators discussing that, even if he never expected it to pass.

And to answer one question, this is not the first time I’ve seen a legislator propose a bill knowing full well it would not pass. Talking about things is some of what legislators are paid to do. A bill can be akin to an idea in a brainstorming session, something that doesn’t get accepted on its face, but can be the spark for the ultimate solution.

McCleary responses range from compliant to defiant

You might have read the AP story about legislative pushback coming from both sides of the aisle on the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision. Republican Sen. Michael Baumgartner has a bill that would shrink the court from nine members to five. Part of it is a response to what he sees as judicial overreach, but he also said it would save money.

During AP’s Legislative Preview earlier in January I wondered if state Sen. Mark Schoesler of Ritzville was chafing at the McCleary decision follow-up when he said, “If money were the key to education we’d all long for our kids to be in the Washington, DC schools.” If we were not in the midst of a period in which the court had demanded the Legislature spend more on schools, it would be just another political statement. Coming at this time, however, it seemed like it might be more than partisan posturing.

Jim Hargrove, a Democratic state senator, is also on the record saying he sees “separation-of-power problems” with the court’s approach.

Doug Cloud, who was one of the Republican candidates to replace Jan Angel in the House, said he sees problems with the court’s actions.

If legislators, almost all of whom say they will allocate more money to education regardless, decide to challenge the court’s authority, it could mark a precedential moment in Washington history.

Meanwhile, Gov. Jay Inslee is proposing spending $200 million more from this budget on education, including $74 million that would give teachers a 1.3 percent raise. It would be the first cost-of-living raise since 2008, despite the fact that voters approved annual COLAs in 2000. The governor also cited not just the decision, but the court’s statement that the Legislature was not moving fast enough to get to full funding by 2018.

The governor’s press release follows:
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This is news: Angel bills get hearings

Over the first five years of Jan Angel’s legislative career one of her laments has been that her bills don’t get the attention they deserve because she was in the minority in the House chamber.

With Angel’s ascent into the Senate, that has all changed. On Monday her office issued a press release announcing that eight of her bills were getting hearings. We wrote about one of them, the bill that would allow a man who can prove he is not the father of a child to relinquish rights and responsibilities (i.e. child support) of parenthood.

In the Senate Law & Justice Committee hearing on that bill, SB 5997, Angel led off by testifying on the paternity bill, then was allowed to testify on another of her bills, one dealing with first class cities being able to employ warrant officers, so she could leave that committee to go address Angel-authored legislation in other committees.

Even more Angel news: Members of the Senate Majority Coalition want Angel to co-chair the Senate Financial Institutions, Housing and Insurance Committee with Lake Stevens Democrat Steve Hobbs. Angel does have some experience in banking and coalition leaders say they want to take advantage of that, according to the story by the (Tacoma) News Tribune’s Jordan Schrader.

No one will blame you, though, if you suspect some of this is designed to elevate Angel’s stature in Olympia, especially given that she faces re-election in November. Her opponent last November, one-year appointee Democrat Nathan Schlicher, got the opposite treatment, or so some suspect. If politics are at play, that could have an impact on whether legislation Angel supports gets enthusiastic, or any, treatment in the House.

Even if there are no political forces at play, bills often take more than one session to make it to final passage. First drafts will often have problems that are not identified until they get hearings, or at least introduced. Also , this is a short session and the time frame is crunched, something Angel referenced in her press release. Getting the eight bills heard is a good start, a great start, but any bill has to get passed in the House, too, which means someone over there is going to have to consider it a priority.

On the paternity bill Angel had expected there to be a companion bill in the House. This legislation, or some form of it, was originally introduced in the House during 2011-12 session by state Rep. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla. Walsh and fellow Republican Hans Zeiger of Puyallup had thought to reintroduce the bill in the House, but according to a House Republican Caucus spokesman have decided not to, because the Senate bill was already moving.

If you want to watch the conversation about the paternity bill, it’s on the video below. It’s the first item of discussion, is interrupted briefly by the bill about warrants so Angel can go to another committee. Below the video is the text of Angel’s press release.

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Bainbridge records ruling a cautionary tale for Port Orchard

The city of Port Orchard took note of a November Kitsap County Superior Court ruling that the city of Bainbridge Island must turn over personal hard drives of three city council members in response to a public records request.

In light of the ruling, the Port Orchard City Council on Tuesday considered a draft policy to formalize the understanding that personal emails of elected officials related to city business are public records.

A staff report from City Clerk Brandy Rinearson to the council also cites as a cautionary tale a 2012 records request from former City Clerk Patti Kirkpatrick, who was let go in early February of 2012 by incoming Mayor Tim Matthes. Within two weeks of her sacking, Kirkpatrick submitted her request for “all emails” back through 2010 for former Mayor Lary Coppola, Matthes and certain department heads, including those to and from council members.

City staff partially filled Kirkpatrick’s request and on May 10, 2012, said the first installment was available for pickup, but she never showed and did not respond to a letter saying the request would be closed on June 11, 2012, if the city did not hear further from her. (Kirkpatrick did not respond to a request for comment emailed to her Tuesday by the Kitsap Sun.)

Had Kirkpatrick pursued the request, it would have generated an estimated 300,000 emails — enough to fill up approximately 15 CDs. A scouring of data systems for emails that met the criteria of the request would have included elected officials’ personal computers.

Rinearson said she had a good working relationship with her predecessor, but she never learned why Kirkpatrick made the request. No lawsuit against the city ever came from it. Kirkpatrick later in 2012 went to work for the city of Pacific and was fired in February 2013 by Cy Sun, embattled mayor of that troubled city. Kirkpatrick told KIRO radio “she had no idea what she was getting into.”

Rinearson does not dispute that Kirkpatrick had a right to the records, she just wants an official policy guaranteeing she can collect any emails that aren’t directly within her control and produce them in a timely way to protect the city from a suit such as Bainbridge faces. Rinearson, a member of the Washington Association of Public Records Officers, also is the city’s risk manager.

In the Bainbridge lawsuit, three council members — Steve Bonkowski, David Ward and former councilwoman Debbie Lester — are alleged by two community activists to have used their personal email accounts to conduct city business, in violation of a city policy. Althea Paulson, a political blogger, and Bob Fortner, a self-proclaimed community watchdog, earlier this year made records requests for correspondence between the city’s utility committee chairwoman and other city officials.

The two allege that the city and the three council members did not fully disclose personal emails in a timely way. Judge Jeanette Dalton dismissed the council members themselves from the lawsuit but held the city accountable to produce the records. Her ruling on whether public records laws were violated is to come on Friday.

Unlike Bainbridge, which prohibits use of council members’ personal email accounts, Port Orchard doesn’t have a formal policy on how to handle elected officials personal emails. Council members have been advised on a number of occasions that their personal emails related to city business can be considered public records.

“My concern is this year we’ve had an increase in citizens wanting personal emails,” said City Clerk Brandy Rinearson, who is in charge of wrangling records “responsive” to requests. That’s true whether they’re official city emails or emails sent to or from a personal account.

“So I’m at the mercy of someone providing that document to me in a reasonable amount of time,” Rinearson said.

State law requires agencies to respond within five days on the status of a request but the law is vague on time frames within which installations of large email requests should be delivered.

“Bainbridge Island had a policy that got them into trouble,” Rinearson said. “We need to have certain precautions in place. … At least if we go into litigation, then we can say we followed our policy.”

Kitsap legislators (re)assume leadership posts.

Kitsap legislators have received their leadership assignments for what’s supposed to be the short legislative session that began this week.

State Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, was named Senate Democratic floor leader. According to a Senate Democrats statement the floor leader’s role is to “help manage the action on the Senate floor, and to work across the aisle to ensure the debate runs smoothly. The floor leader is also the caucus point person on parliamentary procedure.” Rolfes is also the assistant ranking member on the Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee.

Potlatch state Sen. Tim Sheldon, one of two Democrats in the Senate Majority Coalition, returns as Senate president pro tempore, which means he runs the Senate floor from up front, wielding the big gavel whenever Lt. Gov. Brad Owen is not there. Sheldon is also vice chairman of two committees, Rules and Energy, Environment & Telecommunications.

New Sen. Jan Angel, elected in November, is vice chairwoman of the Senate Trade and Economic Development Committee.

Three Democrats in the House will chair committees this session. State Rep. Sherry Appleton of Poulsbo chairs the Community Development, Housing & Tribal Affairs Committee. Kathy Haigh of Shelton is chairwoman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education. Gig Harbor’s Larry Seaquist will chair the Higher Education Committee. Bainbridge Island’s Drew Hansen is vice chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

Republican Drew MacEwen of Union is the assistant ranking minority member on two committees, the Capital Budget Committee and the Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee.