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.


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.


Sheldon upended by Senate minority coalition

Standing at the rostrum Washington state Senator and soon-to-be-defeated in his bid to repeat as Senate President Pro Tem Tim Sheldon gets a photo taken by staff photographer Aaron Barna holding his new grand-daughter Scarlett born on Dec.13. 2014, while joined by his wife Linda and daughter Alex on Monday, Jan. 12, 2015, during the opening day for the 2015 legislative session in Olympia. (AP Photo/The Olympian, Steve Bloom)
Standing at the rostrum Washington state Senator and soon-to-be-defeated in his bid to repeat as Senate President Pro Tem Tim Sheldon gets a photo taken by staff photographer Aaron Barna holding his new grand-daughter Scarlett born on Dec.13. 2014, while joined by his wife Linda and daughter Alex on Monday, Jan. 12, 2015, during the opening day for the 2015 legislative session in Olympia. (AP Photo/The Olympian, Steve Bloom)
Call it symbolic revenge for a real defection. One party pulled two of the opposite party over to form a coalition. That was true two years ago when Republicans lured Potlatch Democratic state Sen. Tim Sheldon, along with Rodney Tom, to form a de fact majority in the chamber, a majority that was boosted by the election of real Republican Jan Angel.

One of Sheldon’s rewards in return was election to what (Tacoma) News Tribune reporter Jordan Schrader described as a “mostly ceremonial job,” of president pro tempore.

Sheldon lost that gig on Monday.

Even after the Republican Party announced in early December Sheldon’s return to the role, which would have put him in charge of the chamber in the case of Lt. Gov. Brad Owen’s absence, Democrats helped maneuver to get Sheldon out of the seat. They nominated Republican Pam Roach. Republicans tried to counter by nominating Democrat Karen Fraser. But Democrats, Fraser included, voted as a bloc and along with Vancouver Republican state Sen. Don Benton, elected Roach to the position.

The Northwest Progressive Institute Advocate described it as Democrats settling a score with Sheldon, making “the most of an opportunity to hold Tim Sheldon accountable for his treachery.”

Sheldon told Schrader he thought Democrats were retaliating and that they will want something in return. Roach said they did not ask for anything.

It’s a mostly symbolic victory and will do little to change the agenda in the chamber. The first evidence of that was the Senate’s vote to require a two-thirds vote to approve any tax increases, a rules change in the chamber that passed with a 26-23 vote, exactly the number of the Republican+1 majority.

The Sheldon upset went down officially within 12 minutes, which is on the video that follows. Of course, it really took flight in conversations for which there is no video, so this will have to do.

Legislators say Supreme Court should be a party affair

courtcoverThere is enough Supreme Court aversion to go around, even to the state version of the highest court in the land.

Sometime before Christmas, among the multitudes of greeting cards I received was the one you see here on the left. You probably have to click on each image to see them clearly.

My favorite part is at the end of the inside part of the courtinsidecard. “This card is a parody and not actually from Chief Justice Roberts.” It’s a good thing that disclaimer is there, because Roberts could sue and eventually appeal the case all the way to himself.

The message of this card is that the U.S. Supreme Court is secretive and accountable to no one. State lawmakers have a different complaint about the state nine, and they say partisanship is the answer.

The bill is unlikely to get a hearing, according to other news reports and one local legislator. It sends a message, nonetheless. House Bill 1051, sponsored by state Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, and co-sponsored by 15 Republicans and three Democrats, begins with this subtle epistle:

The legislature finds that because the supreme court has decided to act like the legislature and has thus violated the separation of powers, the supreme court should be considered partisan like the legislature.

Why the dig? Because the state Supreme Court has not only ruled that the state is not meeting its paramount constitutional duty in adequately funding education, the court has a bucket of solutions it can choose from should the Legislature’s response to that ruling be deemed inadequate.

Two local legislators, Democrat Sherry Appleton of Poulsbo and Republican Jesse Young of Gig Harbor, are among the co-sponsors.

Young did not respond to requests for comment. Appleton responded to an email saying she believes the bill will not even get a hearing. Asked why why she is backing it, she replied that she isn’t. “It was just a message to make people aware there are three branches of government, and we don’t make constitutional rulings, and they should not tell us how to write budgets.”

Asked what the court should be allowed to do in its role as a check against the state government’s two other branches, Appleton said the court’s job is to determine the constitutionality of laws. “We have a job to do, and they are part of the solution, but not doing the legislature’s business by telling us how to write a budget.  We know full well what we have to do, and we will do it, in spite of the Supreme Court, not because of it.”

Among the solutions the court has discussed should the Legislature fail to meet the court’s definition of “adequate” education funding is one that would void the budget completely, undoing all tax loopholes. It seems unlikely the court would resort to that option first, but should it employ anything there are legislators who believe it would be out of its bounds.

Hugh Spitzer, a constitutional law professor at the University of Washington, said any constitutional revenge by the Legislature would require near unanimity of the lawmaking body, which doesn’t seem likely. More within reach is legislators stalling state law fixes requested by the courts.

Legislators have threatened the court financially in the past, but that seems unlikely, too. Punishing the courts financially “punishes the public if the public doesn’t have access to the courts,” Spitzer said. Furthermore, in a pinch the Supreme court could order funding from the state. It never has, but it could.

Washington would not be the only state with partisan judges and it wouldn’t be the first time the state had such a setup.

According to Judgepedia, seven states elect Supreme Court justices in partisan elections. In two states the justices are nominated in party primaries or conventions and other states involve the parties in lower court assignments.

Spitzer said Washington judges were elected in partisan elections until 1907. Partisanship came back came back a few years later when Republicans were upset that a Democrat had been elected in a non-partisan election. GOP legislators managed to put two more seats on the bench, got two of their own elected and then made the judge races non-partisan again.

Maybe this Legislature ought to consider doing that. If they did it during presidential election years, when all our televisions are affixed to Fox News and MSNBC, we might not notice. The newspapers would cover it, but who reads those anymore?


Kilmer attacks the CRomnibus rider

If you paid attention to stories about the budget Congress just passed, a budget that gave us the term “CRomnibus,” (It’s a mash up of Continuing Resolution and omnibus. Part of the budget is one and most of it is the latter. Because I think we all can agree if Congress isn’t inventing new words it’s not doing its job.) you learned that in addition to giving Wall Street a break, (“About time!” I say.) it gave national political parties access to huge swaths of money.

That second part is one U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, objected to the most. When the budget passed the house he sent a news release with the statement:

“Part of the reason Congress is held in such low esteem is that it does things like this. While I’m all for funding government, adding a provision at the last minute to a must pass bill that benefits the wealthiest donors and floods our elections with even more money undermines our democracy.”

Kilmer didn’t stop there. He offered a bill that would undo that portion of the CRomnibus. (The more you say it the less debased you feel.) “Close the Floodgates Act” got no sponsors and the Senate went home, but Kilmer said this week he will bring the bill back during the next session, which begins in January.

On Wednesday I asked him if he thought any of the 219 members of the House who voted for the CRomnibus (You see? You’re becoming assimilated.) objected to the campaign finance provision. Uh, yeah. “I have not spoken to anyone on either side of the aisle who thought this provision made sense,” he said.

That provision would increase caps on annual donations by individuals to the national political parties from $97,200 to $777,600.

That so many people would think the provision makes no sense is because no one is sitting around saying, “You what we need? More money in politics.” Well, someone might be saying it. On the right the Koch Brothers and on the left George Soros are the demons of MSNBC and Fox for saying that with their money, for example.

But someone, somewhere thought this was a good idea. Politico did two great pieces of reporting on the issue, one that explains the rationale and a second that discusses how that became part of the budget and the local roots for it.

The rationale, simply, is this: With so much money going to third-party political organizations that don’t have to limit what they can receive from donors, parties are having a tough time collecting money they use to advertise, host conventions and wage legal battles. Part of what the CRomnibus rider did was create not only new limits, but new organizations donors can fund to handle different aspects of a campaign. The parties want this, because they don’t want to cede a campaign’s message to third-party groups that they can’t coordinate with or control.

So who orchestrated this? Sounds like it was Nevada Senator and now former Majority Leader Harry Reid, employing a Seattle lawyer to make it happen.

So while most people favor reducing the money in politics by, um, changing the law to reduce money in politics, Reid and Congress just passed legislation to open up the tap for the parties, in hopes of strengthening the parties’ influence in the bigger pool of money.

Kilmer favors the first approach. He co-sponsored the Disclose Act, which would have required more financial disclosure in campaign ads. He also co-sponsored a bill proposing a constitutional amendment specifying that corporations are not people and allowing Congress to set campaign limits. Another bill he co-sponsored would allow candidates to accept public funds as long as they forego big donations.

Before any of that though, Kilmer wants to kill any encouragement to attract more money to political races. “First, do no harm,” he said Wednesday. “The American people want us to take actions to restore their faith in our democracy.”

Increasing the amount of money wealthy people can contribute to political parties, Kilmer said, is not one of those actions.

Couture rethinks his GOP exit; takes charge in Mason County

Travis Couture is a Republican again.

And he’s in charge.

Couture, who ran for state Senate against two Democrats and felt so little support from official party sources that he wrote one letter setting afire the bridge between him and the state Republican party and another metaphorically filing for party divorce, was elected Mason County Republicans chairman on Tuesday.

Republican precinct committee officers voted for Couture over Jerry Cummings, the previous county party chairman. Cummings loses despite the fact he was in the chairman seat in the year Dan Griffey beat Democrat Kathy Haigh to claim a place in the state House of Representatives. It was Griffey’s third attempt. In less encouraging news for Republicans, though, only one Republican, County Prosecutor Michael Dorcy, ran for county office. Dorcy ran unopposed.

Couture’s ascent to county party leader was unimaginable in August. On July 31 he wrote a letter to Washington State Republican Party Chairwoman Susan Hutchison and unleashed his anger at the party’s implicit support of incumbent state Sen. Tim Sheldon, a Potlatch Democrat. While Sheldon files for office saying he prefers the Democratic party, he caucuses with Republicans. Couture bristled at the state GOP party’s failure to support him. He called Hutchison “the biggest disgrace to this party” he had seen in some time and blamed her and people like her for the party’s weakness in recent years.

Couture nearly qualified for the general election anyway, finishing 2 percentage points behind Sheldon and 4 points behind Democrat Irene Bowling.

Five days after the primary Couture unleashed his exit message in a “To whom it may concern” message on Facebook. Among his messages were that he had consistently been undermined by other Republicans in two elections he ran in and another he managed. He said the two-party system was “destroying America” because there was little difference between the two main parties. He then painted a bleak picture.

“It is like we grassroots conservatives and libertarians are like the battered wife, and the party is the abusive husband. Every night it comes through the front door to abuse us. We stay with it because we really believe it can change someday, but the beating continues. The rational person would tell us to run away from this abusive relationship, and here we are with a hard decision to make.
“How much longer are we willing to sacrifice our time, treasure, and energy to a party that kicks us around?”

He said in the letter that he and others were in the early stages of forming a “Libertarian Coalition.”

That’s all gone now.

On Wednesday Couture didn’t want to talk a lot about those days. “Sometimes elections can be rough and things are said.”

“We’re looking to move forward and build on the momentum,” Couture said. “We’re not looking at the past here. We’re looking at the future. We have a bright future ahead in the Republican Party in Mason County.”

State Rep. Drew MacEwen, R-Union, voiced some of the same sentiment. “What’s in the past is in the past and we’re moving forward. That was the vote of the elected PCOs. We’re all on the same page and we’re going to work for a united party.”

Couture said the new county party board has a fair mix of members from different parts of the county. Among the goals are defending two House seats the party holds in the 35th Legislative District and challenging for two county commissioner seats. “One thing we’ve resolved is we’re intent on electing Republicans,” he said. The two county commissioner seats up for election in 2016 are occupied by Sheldon, and Randy Neatherlin, who stated no party preference even though he ran for state Legislature twice as a Republican. Whatever benefits Sheldon and Neatherlin offer Republicans, neither wears the party label now.

Kitsap’s state senators assume leadership roles

All three of the Kitsap Caucus’ state senators will have leadership roles in the 2015 Legislature. Two of them are repeats, while Jan Angel takes on a new responsibility.

Jan Angel
State Sen. Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard, was elected Senate Majority Coalition Caucus vice chairwoman and named to the panel that selects committee leaders.
Angel, first elected to the Senate in 2013, was re-elected in November and will begin a four-term in January.
The caucus position puts Angel in place to be a liaison between coalition leadership and committee chairs and to lead caucus deliberations when the chairwoman, Sen. Linda Evans Parlette, R-Wenatchee, is not available. Angel also will be part of the effort to hire and fire coalition staff.
“I’m excited to get to work building on the bipartisan success we achieved as a caucus last year,” Angel said in a written statement issued by the coalition. “I have all the right tools to be a leader in this role with my previous experience leading committees and developing employees as a small-business owner and I am very grateful for the confidence of my Senate colleagues.”
The senator was also appointed to the Committee on Committees, which helps select which coalition senator goes on which committees.

Tim Sheldon
State Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, retains his role as Senate president pro tem, even though Republicans have and outright majority now.
Sheldon, along with former state Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, began caucusing with the 23 Republicans in 2013, giving the GOP a de facto 25-24 majority known as the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus. With the election of Angel later that year the coalition’s majority rose to 26-23.
Tom retired from the Senate, but Republicans won the major contested races and took actual control of the Senate 25-24. Sheldon said all along he would continue to caucus with Republicans, so the coalition remains intact. His reward is keeping the leadership position.
“This recognition I have received from my colleagues is a demonstration of the bipartisan ideals that have governed our coalition since Day One,” Sheldon said in a statement. “We always said our chief concerns were jobs, education and the budget, and not partisan politics.”

Christine Rolfes
State Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, resumes her role as floor leader for the Washington State Senate Democratic Caucus. This is her second year in that job.
The floor leader is the party’s point person on parliamentary procedure and in facilitating floor debate on the Senate floor.
“I am honored to have been selected again by my colleagues to serve as their floor leader,” Rolfes said. “We are facing some significant challenges in 2015, but I look forward to working across the aisle to ensure things run smoothly.”

The Moneyball/politics intersection

This is what the county commissioner election map looks like. Thanks to Jessie Palmer for compiling this info.
This is what the county commissioner election map looks like. Thanks to Jessie Palmer for compiling this info. Click on the map to see more of them from the 2014 election.
Republicans kept telling me before the election that low turnout was going to favor them in the 2014 election. I didn’t doubt that, though I wasn’t as willing to predict four incumbents getting unseated.

Once the election happened and I started asking why things turned out the way they did, all heckfire (We’re a family newspaper.) broke loose when I wrote a story that included turnout as a factor. Some Republicans seemed downright offended. I got a nice letter saying I should have mentioned discontent with President Barack Obama, and that is probably correct to some degree. But midterm elections almost always go against the sitting president. The last time one didn’t was 2002 in the post 9/11 flag-waving era that favored President George W. Bush. Before that it was 1998 after Republicans impeached President Bill Clinton.

Those two elections were freakish, because the last mid-term election that didn’t go against the president before 1998 was in 1934. The last second-term mid-term election that favored the president was in 1822, when James Monroe’s Democratic-Republican Party picked up 34 seats in the House while the Federalists lost eight. (The census upped the number of seats in Congress by 26.) Mid-term discontent with the incumbent president is a given, so much so that I likely just neglected to bring it up.

Another letter writer was not so kind, saying I was trying “to rationalize the landslide victory of the Republicans as merely a result of poor turnout.” He also wrote, “Any reasonable person would assume that changes in voter turn out would affect both parties.”

I would agree with the last sentence. It would affect both parties. And, in fact, my story pointed out other possible factors besides turnout, one of which I will reference later. But there is a reason the common perception is that low turnout, the perception that was repeated to me by Republicans before the election, is bad for Democrats. True, it’s not the only one. The mid-term elections are a case in point, because Republican presidents are hurt by them even in low-turnout years. In 2006 Bush lost 30 seats in the House and six in the Senate.

On Facebook I announced I would be diving deeper into the numbers to see if there was evidence to back up the theory that Democrats were more harmed by low turnout than Republicans. Mick Sheldon responded, “I am a numbers person also. I think it’s from liking baseball so much.”

I’m a baseball fan, too. So it gives me great joy to offer you this quote to prepare you for what I have found.

“Know what the difference between hitting .250 and .300 is? It’s 25 hits. Twenty-five hits in 500 at bats is 50 points, okay? There’s six months in a season, that’s about 25 weeks. That means if you get just one extra flare a week, just one, a gorp … you get a groundball, you get a groundball with eyes, you get a dying quail, just one more dying quail a week and you’re in Yankee Stadium.” — Crash Davis, Kevin Costner’s character in ‘Bull Durham’

When I dug into Kitsap County precinct data it showed me there was some evidence that turnout hurt Democrats, but not enough to be the sole factor. A word of warning: I am an amateur statistician. I invited people to tell me a better way to study this and that invitation is still open. First I’ll give you some stats, but after that we’ll refer to an expert on this stuff.

The first thing I tried to do was to characterize precincts by whether they leaned Democrat or Republican in 2012. Where more voters picked Obama and Jay Inslee for governor over Republican Mitt Romney for president and Rob McKenna for governor, those were Democratic precincts. I then compared the turnout numbers in those precincts from 2012 to 2014.

In red precincts, the ones that voted Republican two years ago, the turnout in 2014 was 66.85 percent what it was in 2012. In Democratic precincts the turnout was 65.76 percent.

That’s a difference of 1.09 percentage points, which I’ll agree doesn’t seem that significant. To arrive at just how much a difference it makes requires taking those percentage points and creating a multiplier that will get applied in a couple of ways. I see weaknesses with both ways. But hey, we’re kind of spitballing here.

One way is to apply the Democratic multiplier to both Democratic and Republican numbers in a race in Democratic precincts, then the Republican number to both party numbers in the GOP precincts. There is an easier way, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

Republican Ed Wolfe won his county commissioner election by 1,265 votes, but in the precincts I counted he won by 974. If you multiply using the formula I described earlier, he actually beats Democrat Linda Streissguth in those precincts by 1,316 votes.

The other and equally as imperfect way to do it is to just multiply Democratic totals by the Democratic multiplier and Republican numbers by the Republican multiplier. It doesn’t take a five-tool brainiac to figure out that will benefit Democrats. The question is by how much.
The answer is Wolfe wins by 892 votes instead of 974. The new numbers wouldn’t have made enough of a difference in the legislative or prosecutor races either. Again, turnout is a likely factor, but it’s not the only one.

Mark Smith, professor of political science at the University of Washington, said turnout is one of three factors and at least on a national level it’s clear who was turning out to vote made a difference. But the quality of candidates is huge. He said Republicans fielded good candidates nationally and Kitsap County Republican Party Chairman Chris Tibbs made that case locally.

Secondly, on the national scene the map favored Republicans, Smith said. Democrats won U.S. Senate seats in 2008 in traditionally Republican states. Those seats were likely to swing back to the red six years later. That tide will swing back, he predicted, in 2016 in states where Republicans won in traditionally blue states in 2010.

Where turnout is a factor traditionally is when you start dividing the electorate into different groups. In 2012 voters aged 18-29 made up somewhere around 19 percent of the electorate, according to exit poll data presented by the Washington Post. In 2014 they represented about 12 percent. Those voters favored Democrats over Republicans in congressional races 55 percent to 45 percent, according to New York Times data compiled by Edison Research. Black and Hispanic voters favored Democrats in large numbers in both elections, but their turnout was markedly reduced this year as well.

The Republican-Democrat percentages were reversed for voters aged 45-59, but those voters made up about 42 percent of the overall votes in 2014, compared to about 38 percent in 2012. Smith said the fact that older voters are more likely to vote in mid-terms should not necessarily be seen as a knock on younger voters. “The longer you’ve been participating in politics the more you understand the system,” he said. “When you don’t have as much experience with the political system you’re not as attached.”

Given time those younger voters will eventually buy homes, become less mobile and more stable. Whether they continue to vote Democratic is another question.

Finally, if you look at the New York Times data it is clear that there was a red tide that swept nearly every demographic. Even though the youngest voters favored Democrats by 10 points this year, that margin was 22 points in 2012. Assuming that trend played out locally as well, that would explain to a large degree the departure of four Democratic incumbents. Next election could be a whole new ballgame.

In the end of all this data mining and expert commentary we’re left with the same conclusion. It’s nearly indisputable that turnout was a factor. But it’s equally as unquestionable that the nationwide red tide and the quality of local candidates also played a role.

Two local House races watched by state for potential recount

The Washington Secretary of State’s office sent out notice it is tracking four elections for possible automatic recount. Two of them are local races, the House contest between Democrat Larry Seaquist and Republican Michelle Caldier in the 26th District. Seaquist is the incumbent, but late Tuesday Caldier led by 78 votes.

Democratic incumbent Kathy Haigh led Republican Dan Griffey in a 35th District House race by 223 votes.

To generate an automatic recount the margin must be less than 2,000 votes and less than a half-percentage point. The Seaquist-Caldier race fits well within than range. Caldier leads Seaquist with a 0.26 percentage point margin. The contest in the 35th does not, with Haigh holding a 0.68 percentage point edge.

The other races the state is watching is Initiative 1351 and a state House race in the 28th District. They are also keeping tabs on a race in the 17th and 44th District.

In county races the prosecutor contest is worth watching as well. Democrat Russ Hauge leads Republican Tina Robinson by 0.4 percentage points.

A manual recount could be ordered if the margin is any less than a 0.25 percentage point.

What to watch, then, will be how the late votes swing the contests. In the early years of all-mail-in voting late ballots favored Republicans decidedly. Those results have come close to evening out in the most recent years, however, and Kitsap Democrats expressed confidence Tuesday night that late votes will go their way. We’ll know a lot more around 5 p.m. when the county and state release the first day’s results of late-ballot counting.

Local politicos predict tonight’s results and political future

This afternoon I got to participate in an election-day tradition here in Kitsap County, a lunch organized by Gordon Walgren and Adele Ferguson. The Kitsap Sun has been excluded in the past because Ferguson wanted to write about it and wasn’t ever keen on getting beaten. She is not writing about the lunch for anyone now and when she was she was sending her columns by fax, so we would have had an edge after she stopped writing for the Sun.

There were 25 people in attendance, by my count, 11 I would identify as Democrats, including state Sen.Tim Sheldon. My guess was nine could be identified as Repbublican and there five I wouldn’t know how to ID. It was a pretty even mix.

Before they received their lunches they were asked to predict what would happen on election night. They were also asked to answer some other, perhaps more interesting, questions. Here are the questions and their answers.

What/who do you think will win in the following races.

I-1351 (Class sizes): yes 19, no 4
I-591 (Gun background checks matching federal rules): yes 6, no 16
I-594 (Expanding background checks): yes 19, no 4
Congress: Kilmer 22, McClendon 1
LD 23 House 1: Appleton 22, Henden 1
LD 23 House2: Hansen 20, Olsen 1
LD 26 Senate: Angel 21, Arbogast 2
LD 26 House 1: Schlicher 15, Young 7
LD 26 House 2: Seaquist 18, Caldier 5
LD 35 Senate: Sheldon 18, Bowling 5
LD 35 House 1: Haigh 17, Griffey 6
LD 35 House 2: MacEwen 15, Newton 7
County Commissioner 3: Streissguth 14, Wolfe 9
Assessor: Andrews 15, Cook 7
Auditor: Gilmore 22, Emerson 0
Clerk: Peterson 23, Chaney 0
Coroner: Sandstrom 21, Wallis 0
Prosecutor: Hauge 22, Robinson 1
District Court Judge 1: Bradley 18, Flood 5
Supreme Court Justice 4: Johnson 21, Yoon 1
Supreme Court Justice 7: Stephens 21, Scannell 0

They also predicted the U.S. Senate and House races, with numbers too varied to report. Generally they predicted a Republican takeover in the U.S. Senate.

You might find the following questions the most interesting.

Biggest local upset: Michelle Caldier (4), Irene Bowling (4), Tina Robinson (1), Tim Sheldon (1), Linda Streissguth (1), Ed Wolfe (1) Dan Griffey (1)
Biggest national upset: Mitch McConnell loses (2), Michelle Nunn wins (1), Democrats hold the U.S. Senate (1), Mary Landrieu (1), New Hampshire (1)
Local candidate with the most effective signs: Wolfe (3), Cook (3), Sheldon (3), Andrews (2), Emerson (1), Olsen (1), Kilmer (1) Bowling (1), Caldier (1), Appleton (1), Peterson (1)
Local candidate with the least effective signs: Streissguth (10), Olsen (5), Henden (2), Hauge (1)
Local candidate with the sleaziest campaign: Caldier (6), Seaquist (5), Henden (1), Bowling (3), Wolfe (1), Olsen (1)
Local candidate with the weirdest campaign: Chaney (5), Olsen (4), Caldier (2), Emerson (1), Henden (1)
Local candidate with the best campaign: Wolfe (4), Streissguth (3), Kilmer (2), Angel (1), Robinson (1), Sandstrom (1), Peterson (1), Hauge (1), Sheldon (1)
Local candidate with the worst campaign: Chaney (5), Olsen (5), Hauge (1), Wolfe (1), Streissguth (1)

Who will be the 2016 Democratic Presidential Nominee?: Clinton (20)
Who will be the 2016 Republican Presidential Nominee?: Jeb Bush (5),Romney (4), Chris Christie (2), Ted Cruz (2), Jon Huntsman (1), Rand Paul (1)

In 2016 who would you like to see run for what local office?: Rob Gelder-commissioner (1), Steve Gardner-county commissioner (1), Tony Stewart-coroner (1), Tony Otto-county commissioner (1), Dave Peterson-Bremerton Mayor (1), Chris Tibbs-County commissioner (1), Pat Ryan, County commissioner (1)
In 2016 who would you like to see run for what state office?: Walt Washington-state rep. (1), Chris Ryland-state legislator (1), Tim Sheldon-Lt. Gov. (1), Derek Kilmer-national senator after the ladies are retired (1), James Olsen-state rep (1), Rob McKenna-governor (1), Doña Keating-23rd House (1), Jay Inslee-governor (1), Howard Schulz-governor (1), Andy Hill-governor (1).

DC -based organization paints Tim Sheldon a deeper blue

Here Sheldon throws out the welcome mat for illegal aliens.
Here Sheldon throws out the welcome mat for illegal aliens.
In a year that has one newspaper referring to a candidate’s tactics as “sleaziness,” other candidates walking out of a debate, a county commissioner from elsewhere quitting her job there one week signing up to run for auditor here, not to mention a reporter being falsely accused of endorsing a candidate, I thought the 2014 election might have reach peak-unique.

Au contraire! I obviously don’t give the American political machinery enough credit for ingenuity and creativity. We may do a larger story for Tuesday, but I wanted to get this much out there sooner.

Voters in the 35th Legislative District are getting mailers praising state Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, for his work in making it easier for “undocumented immigrants,” expanding federal health care reform and protecting reproductive freedom. Sheldon is running against another Democrat, Irene Bowling of Bremerton.

The ads’ claims about Sheldon are true, technically, because Sheldon said in a debate he is pro-choice, though he favors legislation that would require parents be notified if their minor daughters plan to have an abortion. He also voted for the Washington version of the Dream Act, what the Majority Coalition Caucus called the “Real Hope Act.” It allowed children of parents who came here illegally to receive in-state tuition in Washington colleges. And he voted for a budget that expanded Medicaid coverage, though he earlier voted against a bill implementing the Affordable Care Act.
The ads are paid for by American Values First, a Washington, DC-based organization described mostly on its own site as an outfit fighting voter suppression. It shares an address with the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.

If you haven’t been paying attention, there are not many Democratic loyalists backing Sheldon. So why would this organization? If you believe the Senate Republican Campaign Committee, the ads are not trying to get Bowling backers to support Sheldon. They’re aimed at getting the 35th District’s conservative voters to sit out the election. You don’t get any nuance in the ads. What you do get is the flyover country’s Axis of Evil: Obamacare, Planned Parenthood and “a pathway to citizenship.”

“This is a dishonest and deceptive attempt to suppress Senator Sheldon’s support with Republican voters,” said Sen. Bruce Dammeier, Chair of the Senate Republican Campaign Committee, in a statement. “What’s even worse is the complete disregard for Washington State law by this dark money, unregistered political committee.”

I’ve called the Public Disclosure Commission to get clarity on the rules. The Republican group accuses American Values of several state infractions, but the organization claims to be in the right, legally. What’s more, it claims to be sincere in its support of Sheldon.

“American Values First is not a political committee, but rather a social welfare organization with a proven record of advocacy. American Values First agrees with Sen. Sheldon’s past votes seeking justice for immigrants, expansion of Obamacare, and women’s reproductive freedom. American Values First followed all applicable laws and filed all reports with the Public Disclosure Commission that are required of organizations of this type that sponsor such communications,” said Bill Burke in an emailed statement.

The organization linked to PDC reports showing it has spent just over $20,000 for direct mail ads in Washington.

We’ll update this when we have more information.