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Eye On Olympia

Archive for August 2006

Look for interesting spending in the Supreme Court races…

Today launches the 21-day pre-primary-election period during which independent expenditures — typically ads done without the consent, coordination or control of a candidate — must be reported within 24 hours.

Since the candidates themselves are at arms-length to these ads, they’re often the nastiest of an election. And with at least two of the three state Supreme Court races likely to be decided in the September primary, expect to see some activity.

So far, independent expenditures have been fairly quiet. The conservative Building Industry Association of Washington has spent about $95,000 promoting the Supreme Court bids of Stephen Johnson and John Groen. (That’s mostly on Groen, if you look at the spending on the state Public Disclosure Commission’s independent-expenditure tracking page.)

But there’s definitely more coming. Driving to work this morning, I caught a new radio ad blasting incumbent Justice Tom Chambers for not siding with the court majority in a recent decision upholding the state’s same-sex marriage ban. The ad touted challenger Jeanette Burrage, a one-time state lawmaker and former judge who can use the help — PDC records show she’s raised $25,000 to Chambers’ nearly $170,000.

Governor’s “compromise”: Pharmacists must dispense Plan B pill…

Gov. Chris Gregoire, who was appalled when the state pharmacy board earlier this year proposed allowing druggists, out of religious objections, to deny women morning-after birth control pills, has proposed an alternative.

The board had proposed a so-called “refuse and refer” rule, allowing pharmacists to decline to fill such a prescription on the grounds that it’s akin to abortion. Instead, they would have to refer the woman to another druggist — or another drugstore — to get it.

Gregoire and women’s health advocates blasted the rule, saying that such a decision should be between a woman and her doctor, not a pharmacist.

So Gregoire’s proposed a new rule says that pharmacists must dispense a lawful drug unless:
-there’s a worry about the medicine conflicting with other medications the patient’s taking,
-a national or state emergency means the drug is unavailable,
-lack of special equipment or expertise for dispensing such a drug,
-the prescription might be fake,
-or, despite good-faith compliance with state laws (“The pharmacy must maintain at all times a representative assortment of drugs in order to meet the pharmaceutical needs of its patients,” from WAC 246-869-150), the drug is simply not in stock then.

“This alternative represents many hours of negotiation to delicately balance our respect for patients, pharmacists and pharmacies,” Gregoire wrote to pharmacy board chairman Assad Awan. Despite hours of negotiations, she said, she “was not able to reach full accord with” with proponents of a right to refuse, on conscience, filling a particular prescription.

“I strongly recommend that the Board of Pharmacy adopt this finely negotiated version, without amendment, at your August 31st meeting,” Gregoire told the board.

Plan B, which is actually a larger dose of a common birth-control-pill hormone, is not the same as RU-486, the so-called “abortion pill.” According to Plan B manufacturer Duramed Pharmaceuticals, Plan B, if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex and reduces the risk of pregnancy by 89 percent. Like current birth control pills, it stops release of the egg from the ovary and may prevent fertilization. It will not, Duramed says, have any effect on an existing pregnancy.

Critics note that the pill — like regular birth control, or nature — can also prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. Hence their objections to it.

Proponents of the drug argue that the drug, as effective birth control, will to prevent abortions.

The federal Food and Drug Administration may have released some of the political pressure over the prescription with a decision last week. The FDA has approved over-the-counter sales of Plan B, so long as the buyer is over age 18.

Supremes’ races poll: incumbents leading, some barely…

SurveyUSA, in poll sponsored by Seattle’s KING TV, found that incumbent Justice Susan Owens is well in the lead in the five-way race for her seat. In a poll of 279 likely primary voters, the firm found 28 percent favoring Owens, while the four other contenders (all men) drew 9 percent to 11 percent each. But Owens is nowhere near the 50 percent margin she’d need to effectively win the race in the primary. Instead, it looks like voters will pick between two candidates in November.

The other two Supreme Court races will almost certainly be decided in the primary. They are:

Seat 8: Incumbent Chief Justice Gerry Alexander drew 36 percent support from those polled, while challenger John Groen drew 32 percent.

Seat 9: Incumbent Justice Tom Chambers seems to have a slight edge over challenger Jeanette Burrage. Chambers got 41 percent support; Burrage got 32 percent.

These results come with a caveat, though: The poll is based on an unusually small number of likely voters: 279 people. As a result, the margin of error — plus or minus 6 percent — is unusually high.

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa…

Republican Senate candidate Mike McGavick has posted an “open letter” on his campaign website, apparently to pre-empt reporters or opposition researchers from seizing on past transgressions.

It starts out:

What’s wrong with politics today? The candidates and the incumbents spend their time attacking each other’s personal character instead of attacking the issues and problems that face our country and our families. They also pretend that they are without fault, yet we all know that none of us are.

Then he lists two “great failures” and two professional mistakes:

-His first marriage, to Kim Rainey, ending in divorce, with the result that his oldest son ended up with a “part-time Dad.”
-and a

second terrible mistake, which was difficult to discuss with my teenage son, was that I was cited for DUI when I cut a yellow light too close in 1993. I was driving Gaelynn home from several celebrations honoring our new relationship and should not have gotten behind the wheel. Thankfully, there was no accident, but it still haunts me that I put other people at risk by driving while impaired. All in all, it was and remains a humbling and powerful event in my life.

As for the professional mistakes, McGavick said he regrets:

-An erroneous political ad, run while McGavick was managing Slade Gorton’s election campaign in 1988, suggesting that Mike Lowry supported legalizing marijuana.
-And his 2002 announcement as Safeco CEO that, after a round of layoffs, the worst was over. It wasn’t, as things turned out: a second round of layoffs took place shortly thereafter.

McGavick concludes:

My pledge to you is one of authenticity, civility and transparency. I take responsibility for my actions and my decisions, but it up to you to decide if what I offer outweighs my shortcomings.

Smoking ban: drinking down, eating up…

Although cautioning that “three months of data (is) insufficient to draw conclusions,” the state Department of Revenue says that sales by bars and taverns dipped during the first three months after the new state smoking ban took effect.

Gross business income reported by taverns and bars fell 3.4 percent during the first quarter of 2006. That’s a reversal of the same period in 2005, when profits rose 4.3 percent.

Sales at sit-down restaurants — many of them already non-smoking — rose 8.1 percent during the same time this year.

The department said that businesses affected by smoking bans in other states tended to adapt and recover. From the agency’s press release:

“The volatility of the bar and tavern industry, which saw significant ups and downs prior to the ban, is a complicating factor in assessing what impact, if any, the smoking ban has had.”

It’s as if Tim Eyman moved to Idaho…

Washington initiative pitchman Tim Eyman’s sole surviving ballot measure may be on life-support at this point*, but his peers in other states have been busy this year.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, at least 59 citizen initiatives are on state ballots across the country this year. (Another 30 measures, including Eyman’s, await verification of the signatures turned in by organizers.)

The major topics:

Eminent domain/property rights: Voters in at least 10 states will consider property measures. Some prohibit the government from taking property for private use. Others — including measures proposed in both Washington and Idaho — require government to compensate property owners for value lost to zoning or other regulations, or to exempt them from those rules.
-Same-sex marriage: At least six states, including Idaho, will weigh in one the issue, according to NCSL. In Colorado, voters could face three proposals, including one to ban same-sex marriage and one to legalize civil unions.
-Smoking: At least six states — again, including Idaho — will consider bans or public-place restrictions, higher tobacco taxes or ways to spend money from the multi-state tobacco settlement.
-Tax and Spending Limits: Among them: Washington’s proposed repeal of the state estate tax.
-Abortion: California and Oregon voters will decide whether to enact waiting periods and parental notification for minors. In South Dakota, voters will give a thumbs-up or thumbs-down to a new state law that would declare abortion illegal there.

Also on the ballot, according to NCSL: Term limits, school funding, drug policies and campaign finance.

*A sampling of the I-917 signatures by the Secretary of State’s office suggests that the measure doesn’t have enough valid names to qualify. And as if that’s not enough, one of the state’s top-tier law firms is suing to block the measure from appearing on the November ballot.

A phone book’s worth of ideas…

The business-backed Washington Policy Center, the same group that puts together, has issued a 300-page “Policy Guide” for the state. The recommendations — on taxes, health care, energy, etc. — will find a lot more favor with Republicans than with the Democrats who control the statehouse.

Among those recommendations:
-eliminating state jobs that are vacant for six months or more, on the assumption that the agency can do without that position.
-privatizing Washington’s state-run liquor system.
-trying privately-run prisons.
-and compensating (or exempting) property owners for value lost to zoning regulations or restrictions on development.

Still, there are at least a couple of recommendations that will likely pass the bipartisan test: Page 265’s “Encourage scholastic achievement in the areas of science and technology” and Page 46’s “Avoid enacting a state income tax.”

You can buy the book from the group for $15 or read it for free online here.

Chief Justice questioned about ruling…

Gerry Alexander, the 70-year-old chief justice of the state Supreme Court, happened to have the bad luck to schedule his campaign endorsement interview with Seattle newspaper The Stranger on the day after the high court — including Alexander — narrowly upheld the state ban on gay marriage.

Read The Stranger’s transcript of the interview, which a clearly-uncomfortable Alexander at one point likens to an inquisition.

Interestingly, Justice Alexander repeatedly says that he expects the same-sex plaintiffs to file a motion for reconsideration, saying that he’d be “astounded” if one isn’t filed.

Greens take heart from Lamont victory in Connecticut…

A closely-watched Senate primary 3,000 miles away has given a morale boost to Washington Greens.

As Joe Lieberman last night conceded the Connecticut Democratic primary to anti-war challenger Ned Lamont, Seattle resident Aaron Dixon was sending out a press release warning that “Progressives are through with tolerating pro-war candidates.”

It was, of course, a shot across the bow of Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell, whom Dixon — a Green Party member — is challenging. Dixon says he’s received “an outpouring” of support, including endorsements from two Seattle school board members and a city councilman in Olympia.

It’s true that Cantwell, like Lieberman and a lot of other Democrats, supported the decision to invade Iraq and has repeatedly stood by that vote as the right thing to do. But she has also opposed the creation of permanent U.S. military bases in Iraq, called for bringing “more of our troops home” this year, and repeatedly criticized President Bush for not building better international support for the ongoing operations in Iraq.

It’s also true while Lamont is multi-millionaire whose campaign drew a tidal wave of cash, a broad base of blogging operatives and a pickup-truck-toted papier mache depiction of his famous embrace with Bush, Dixon is a former prison inmate running a shoestring campaign against an entrenched incumbent who swept aside — OK, hired for $8k a month — her earliest and most vocal primary opponent.

Dixon’s take:

“A key difference between my candidacy and Ned Lamont’s is that Greens realized long ago that trying to fix the Democratic Party is not realistic.”

The fight for Justice…

“It’s a bees’ nest. I didn’t know it would be…There’s PAC money involved, and allegations of skullduggery.”

–Norman Ericson, a veteran administrative law judge in Olympia who picked this interesting year to throw his hat into a five-way race for a state Supreme Court seat.

Want to hear more on the PAC money and alleged skullduggery? Click here to read our full story.

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

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