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Eye On Olympia

Archive for February 2005

The dogs of war may get their day…

Twenty state senators are asking the president and Congress to authorize a war dog memorial in the nation’s capital.

Tens of thousands of such dogs were trained for scouting, guarding, tracking, detecting mines, flushing out tunnels, carrying messages and sniffing out bombs from World War I to present-day duties in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to House Bill 8021.

Cholera, crayfish, and the Lamentable Affair…

It was a very different kind of Sept. 11th back in 1852, when the Washington Territory’s first newspaper, “The Columbian,” published its first issue.

The Secretary of State’s office has scanned 18 issues of the weekly paper and posted them on-line.

The papers can be a little tough to read on a computer screen, but they’re worth the squinting. There’s the “lamentable affair” of Gilbert v. Denver, in which a California editor named Edward Gilbert challenged a state senator, Gen. J.W. Denver, to a duel with rifles at 40 paces. In a man-bites-dog turn of events, the editor was disparaged in a leaflet printed by the politician.

Each man fired. And missed. Not the sort of men who give up easily, both reloaded and fired again. Gilbert, shot through the abdomen, died within minutes. He was 38.

There’s also a brief report about cholera “raging fearfully” in Jackson, Missouri, and a space-filling musing that reads: “A billion. What a very great sum is a billion! It is a million of millions.” (Actually, it’s a thousand of millions, but hey, it was their first issue.)

Other gems: an ad for Olympia House, an eatery ready “to furnish man or beast with the best fare the market affords.” That best fare included crayfish, bear, grouse, partridge, quail, mutton and whortleberries. There are ads for seaship passage to China, San Francisco and London, and tinware, cutlery and boots, “all of which will be sold cheaper than the cheapest.”

There is the inevitable snake-oil ad, in which the blood-purifying Sand’s Sarsaparilla is touted as good for what ails you, including liver complaints, bronchitis, consumption, fever sores and stubborn ulcers. It sold by the quart.

There is also a bizarre warning to readers that they’d better support the fledgling newspaper or it would head to greener pastures.

“…If we are adequately sustained, we will use every effort to advance the interests of the people…” the editors wrote. “…But should not a due encouragement be given to justify an expenditure of labor, time and capital, an alternative is presented in other and many inviting vocations (sic) on the Pacific coast, where industry will be suitably rewarded without the humiliation of an eternal solicitude for public patronage.”

The paper went belly-up in 14 months.

When “absent” means “golfing”…

www.washingtonvotes.org, a website that aims to render the sausage-making of legislation more accessible to everyday citizens, is a worthwhile visit for anyone who reads this blog (or the printed version in each Sunday’s paper).

Its list of most-viewed bills, for example, includes SB 5079 (calling a runoff election for governor), SB 5475 (a state ban on assault weapons) and SJR 8201 (eliminating citizens initiatives).

(Before Democrats, gun owners and Tim Eyman panic, we should mention that all those bills are unlikely to pass.)

But our favorite part of washingtonvotes.org is a small section entitled “Missed Votes Report.” This catalogs every time a lawmaker misses a vote.

So far, there have been too few votes for the results to be revealing. But after a few more weeks — and a few hundred votes on various bills — it will be worth checking back.

Or maybe it just helps to be named after a president…

Speaking of the proposed 51st state, a key part of the debate was the fact that rural counties like Ferry get lots more transportation dollars than they put in. From 1984 to 2003, for every dollar in gas tax from Ferry County, $5.08 is spent on roads there. It was $4.27 for Lincoln County, $4.18 for Garfield, and $3.32 for Adams.

So who was paying more than they were getting? Well, sorry, but it’s you, Spokane. Spokane County, Clark County and Yakima County each got back only 74 cents for every dollar in gas tax they sent to Olympia. (Poor Whatcom County got a paltry 61 cents.)

When asked to defend this — and he was, a lot, during the most recent gas tax hike — former Sen. Jim West used to respond that it doesn’t do Spokane motorists much good if the highway turns to a goat trail at the county line.

False alarm…

We were salivating when we saw House Bill 2183, “clarifying the application of the state Constitution with respect to traffic violations committed by legislators.”

Were politicians trying to write themselves a motorists’ get-out-of-jail-free card, a sort of diplomatic immunity when speeding or parking illegally?

Alas, no. The bill would merely require that traffic court appearances be scheduled after the legislative session, so the lawmaker doesn’t miss important votes.

Please smoke…for the kids…

Rep. Rodney Tom, R-Bellevue, wants to raise the tax on a pack of cigarettes from $1.42 to $2.50.

The more-expensive smokes would likely prompt 98,000 Washingtonians to give up smoking, Tom estimates.

The additional tax from those that keep smoking would raise $150 million dollars a year for health care and an anti-smoking campaign.

How to judge a judge…

Thanks to the Internet, you can easily do at least a cursory check into the credentials of your doctor, lawyer, or that contractor who’s replacing the water heater.

And if you run afoul of the law, you can now check to see if the judge has ever been disciplined.

The state Commission on Judicial Conduct has launched on online database of judicial disciplinary actions since December 1980. It’s at cjc.state.wa.us/search . You can search by first or last name, the discipline imposed, the county, the court or the date. In most cases, the site includes the text of disciplinary documents.

It’s interesting reading. You can learn about Pierce County District Court Judge Mark S. Deming, who in 1986 sexually harassed female court workers “by making lewd and offensive comments (and) physically touching them.” Or Seattle District Court Judge John R. Ritchie, who filed “false and misleading” travel vouchers for five business trips to Florida and Arizona. Or the case of Tacoma Municipal Court Judge Ralph G. Turco, who was recommended for removal from office after he intentionally knocked his wife down during a church function.

Walla Walla flexes it’s political muscle…

We pause from statehouse brow-knitting over the worsening health care mess, big budget woes, controversial election reforms and what to do about taxes to bring you House Bill 1964 , a modest proposal that states simply that “The Walla Walla sweet onion is designated as the official vegetable of the state of Washington.”

If it passes, the famous Walla Walla sweets will join the proud ranks of the the state fish (steelhead), state gem (petrified wood), state dance (squaredancing) and state insect (green darner dragonfly).

Troublingly, Washington remains without an official state marine mammal. But House Bill 1759 would repair that oversight with the orca whale.

S.O.D.

Spotted hanging on the wall in a Republican Senate staff office: a ring-style life preserver with name “Dino Rossi” on it. Really.

A salad with every subpoena…

As the fight over who really won the governor’s race turns into a sort of Lawyer Olympics, we pause to award a bronze medal for snide tactics and political theater to the Building Industry Association of Washington.

The BIAW supports Republican Dino Rossi, who lost the race on a third count by 129 votes out of nearly 2.9 million. Trying to oust Democrat Christine Gregoire, the BIAW has poured cash and many staff hours into searching for voting problems, including votes by felons, dead people or double votes.

This quest has produced a sea of paperwork, and lawyers for the Democratic Party recently slapped the BIAW with a subpoena for all those records. BIAW “boxes and boxes” of documents, and said it felt sorry for whoever has to wade through all that stuff.

“As an extra incentive, BIAW buried $50 worth of gift certificates to Sizzler in the reams of documents,” said the group’s Tom McCabe. “If Gregoire’s lawyers actually look through every page, some lucky worker will get a free lunch on BIAW.”

Next up: world peace…

Our vote for Most Ambitious Bill of 2005: Rep. Mark Miloscia’s “House Bill 1810: Ending Homelessness in the State of Washington.”

The bill tells a state agency, county governments and some cities to end homelessness within 10 years. It also requires an annual count of the homeless and would charge $10 more on any document recorded by a county auditor.

Most of the money would go to homeless shelters, rental assistance, eviction prevention programs and other support programs.

Get out the purple ink…

“You know, in Iraq, they had to provide a birth certificate to be able to vote.”

— Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, who’s promoting re-registration for every voter in Washington. After years of people signing up to vote when they get a driver’s license, the state has allowed an untold number of non-citizens to get on the voting rolls, Roach says.

Or to “Throw the Bums Out”…

“I was afraid I would have to change my name to `None of the Above.’”

— Rep. Dan Kristiansen, D-Snohomish, who’s sponsoring a bill that would let voters vote for “none of the above” instead of leaving an office blank.

Rossi in the House…

The Republican who would be governor — Dino Rossi — turned up in the wings of the state House of Representatives Monday. He went behind closed doors to meet with House Republicans. The message: that despite Friday’s court ruling that a re-vote is probably not an option until at least November, he’s keeping up the fight.

“I feel good,” he said.

Rossi said afterward that he’s optimistic about his chances to overturn the election, which Gov. Christine Gregoire was certified as winning by just 129 votes.

“We won in court,” he said. “We get to bring our evidence, we get to have a hearing.”

Republicans in the meeting said that Rossi predicted that the court fight in Wenatchee would be wrapped up by late March. Whatever happens there, an appeal to the Supreme Court is all but certain.

The crowning touch for any Zagmobile…

A bevy of local lawmakers want to create a new state license plate featuring Gonzaga University. Cost: $40. The state Department of Transportation would get $12, and after deducting the cost of making the plate and running the program, the rest of the money would go to GU’s alumni association. The plates — assuming the bill passes — would be available next year.

Washington offers more than two dozen such plates. Among the groups showing their pride on their plates: Eastern and Wazzoo students, Freemasons, ham radio operators, bicyclists, former prisoners of war, Mariners’ fans and square dancers.

A hardy perennial blooms again…

Yet again, a group of mostly east-of-the-cascades senators are proposing cleaving Washington in half, creating a new state of Eastern Washington.

“Since statehood, the lifestyles, culture and economies of Eastern and Western Washington have been very distinct and dramatically different,” reads Senate Joint Memorial 8009 ,”while the urbanization and rapid growth in the western portions of the state has progressively heightened this divergence of cultural and economic values between the western and eastern portions of the state.”

No mention is made of what the new state might be called. But an economic analysis done several years ago in response to a similar bill had some urban lawmakers joking that without the economic ties and tax money from Puget Sound, a good name for such a state would be New Appalachia.

Timber owners are getting played…

Speaking of wood, thieves are apparently descending on the state’s forests — public and private — and stealing prime wood to make musical instruments.

The pictures would make any deer or elk hunter cringe — large trees felled and left to rot, with the thieves just taking a few slices of the finest-grained wood from the base. Knot-free Engelmann spruce, western red cedar, big leaf maple and western red alder are all popular, either for the hard backs or resonating fronts of instruments like guitars, violins and mandolins. A small “blank” for a guitar neck — a three-foot board, basically — can sell for more than $100.

So an unusual alliance of rural conservatives, urban liberals and farm-district lawmakers say it’s time to treat such wood like a game animal: give it a tag. For a seller to possess or transport such high-grade “specialty woods,” they’d need a permit, validated by the local sheriff’s office.

Even private landowners harvesting large amounts of their own high-grade wood would need to provide the paperwork to anyone buying it. Independent cutters on private or state property would need the permit to prove that they’re harvesting legally, with the owner’s permission.

“My private property owners and your public lands are being stripped of this wood by people who aren’t paying for it,” Rep. Jim Buck, R-Joyce, told a House committee last week.

Anyone caught with a stolen haul of specialty wood would see their vehicle and equipment seized, as well as being fined.

“We don’t want people to be able to say `well, this is just firewood,’ which is what they can do now,” said forester Barry Wikene.

Now, if they can heal the budget….

Little-known fact: Washington apparently has the highest number of registered-nurse lawmakers of any legislature in America. (Eight.)

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Richard Roesler covers Washington state news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Olympia.

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