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Eye On Olympia

Archive for November 2006

Must be some turkey…

From the Senate Democratic Caucus Committee website:

Please join members of the House Democratic Caucus and Senate Democratic Caucus for a Winter Fundraising Reception featuring Rep. John Lovick’s famous fried turkey feast. Suggested PAC contribution: $700. Suggested Individual Contribution: $100.

And the Democrats’…

No surprises in the House leadership lineup for 2007:

-House Speaker Frank Chopp*, D-Seattle
-Majority Leader Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam
-Caucus Chairman Bill Grant, D-Walla Walla
-Majority Whip Sharon Tomiko Santos, D-Seattle
-and Speaker pro-tem John Lovick*, D-Mill Creek.

Chopp has been speaker (or, during three bizarre years of a legislative tie between Democrats and Republicans, “co-Speaker”), since January 1999. Kessler and Grant have held their caucus jobs for eight years as well.

If you watch TVW, you’re more likely to see Lovick holding the gavel than Chopp. Chopp’s more of a behind-the-scenes air-traffic-controller, working out deals on bills and deciding what moves and what doesn’t.

*Note: The speaker and speaker pro-tem are actually chosen by the full House of Representatives on the first day of session (Jan. 8). But no serious challenge is expected.

Newest state senator: Brian Hatfield…

Weeks after Sen. Mark Doumit resigned to take a new job as executive director of the state Forest Protection Association, a former state representative has been named to the post.

Brian Hatfield, D-Raymond, was appointed Friday by commissioners for the four counties included in the 19th District: Cowlitz, Grays Harbor, Pacific and Wahkiakum.

The seat comes with big shoes to fill. Before Doumit, the seat was held for more than a decade by statehouse legend Sid Snyder. Hatfield, who served in the House from 1994 to 2004, then stepped down to go to work for Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, was earlier a legislative assistant to Snyder.

Hatfield will quit his job with the lieutenant governor’s office, according to the Senate Democratic caucus.

The move will mean a pay cut. Hatfield’s 2005 salary was $68,500, according to the Office of Financial Management. Rank-and-file lawmakers are paid less than half that: $36,311, although they per diem allowances during the session increase that somewhat.

Reactions to Frontline program: some viewers blast West; most blast the newspaper…

Last night’s Frontline documentary about Jim West’s fall from power and The Spokesman-Review coverage that triggered it is prompting considerable criticism of the paper and the way it reported the story.

Among viewers’ reactions on the Frontline site:
-that the scandal ensures that Spokane will remain “a parochial backwater” for decades to come
-that the coverage was “abusive” and that the paper has devolved into a “sensational tabloid”
-and that the coverage was more witchhunt than legitimate news.

In a lengthy response posted on the newspaper’s website Wednesday, S-R editor Steve Smith said that the documentary ignored key details, oversimplifying the story.

They took an incredibly complex investigation and tried to squeeze it down into a 60-minute narrative documentary based on a predetermined “Shakespearean” dramatic arc:

I think their mistakes of commission (fact errors) and mistakes of omission were not malicious, in general, but driven by the demands of their narrative and their medium.
But the overall effect, I think, was to seriously dilute the depth, breadth and detail of our reporting and to place far more importance than facts warranted on West’s gayness as the cause of his fall.
Frontline got its Shakespearean tragedy - no one can dispute that Jim West was a tortured man. But I don’t think they got to the truth of the story. And I don’t think they ever understood Spokane.

That post has drawn numerous comments so far today, most of them also critical of the newspaper.

…It’s good that the Spokesman-Review is opening a window to its news-gathering and editorial processes. What it reveals, however, is how craven, morally arbitrary, capricious and destructive the sausage-making factory of journalism actually is. You can put lipstick on that pig all you want but you’re still wallowing in muck.
read a typical one.

Online editor Ken Paulman joined Smith’s defense of the coverage, urging critics to read the stories before passing judgment.

If you’re forming your opinion solely on a 60-minute TV documentary, that’s entirely your right, but don’t expect any of us to exhume this debate unless you’ve done your homework. This ground has already been covered numerous times in this community, and frankly, I don’t expect anyone here has the patience to re-explain it.

S-R blogger Frank Sennett was outraged by the outrage, calling the documentary “West’s final victory”:

He was so good, he got a crew for the respected PBS investigative reporting show to go into the tank for him. Never mind the credible, horrific allegations of child sexual abuse. Never mind the pattern of unsettling grooming behavior toward boys that would have put even Mark Foley to shame. Never mind his close association with two local molesters.

A few writers — this is from a local reader named Greg — in both forums backed the paper’s coverage:

I’m dumbfounded by the responses here.
Are people really upset over investigative journalism, and did you think Nixon got a raw deal over that whole Watergate scandal?
I want my local paper to be aggressive in its watchdog role. I also want it to dot all its “i”s and cross all its “t”s (which has been an issue elsewhere), and in the West case, it has done that.

A viewer in Toronto had a very different take, especially considering the documentary’s contrasting of election-night reactions as voters booted West from office: West and a few supporters quietly toasting the city’s future, and a few S-R editors, many a little punchy after a 12-hour day, chuckling about how to word the next morning’s headline.

Mr. West started out as a villain in my eyes and ended a hero.
the Toronto viewer wrote.

He faced his detractors with what can only be called grace. And as they crowed over headlines like “West Goes Down” he stood watching his defeat with utter dignity and it was then I felt real respect and a sense of forgiveness for this man.”

For a look at the newspaper’s complete coverage, including transcripts of interviews, chatline excerpts and community reaction, go here.

Brown re-elected to top Senate post…

The state Senate Democratic caucus on Sunday re-elected Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, as Senate Majority Leader.

Also re-elected: majority caucus chairwoman Harriet Spanel, D-Bellingham, and majority floor leader Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way.

As for committee chairs, that’s yet to be determined. Those plum assignments are set by the Committee on Committees (really), which will decide chairs, vice-chairs, and who sits on which committees.

Razor-thin House races…

Yeah, all eyes are on the mighty-close Virginia race for U.S. Senate at this point. But look at some of the numbers we’re seeing for seats in Washington’s statehouse:

In the 39th legislative district (which includes parts of King-, Skagit-, Snohomish- and Whatcom counties, Democrat Scott Olson is only 19 votes behind Republican Dan Kristiansen as I type this.

In the 10th (Island County and parts of Skagit and Snohomish counties), Rep. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, is holding on by just 5 votes over challenger Tim Knue.

Big gains in state senate for Democrats…

The Democrats couldn’t oust conservative Democrat Tim Sheldon, who periodically infuriates his caucus by voting with Republicans on key issues. Sheldon beat a party-backed challenger in the primary, and won against a Republican tonight by a landslide.

But Sheldon’s swing-voter clout may have washed away in tonight’s Democratic “tsunami,” as losing Supreme Court candidate Stephen Johnson — a Republican — termed it.

If I’m counting preliminary election results correctly — and hey, it’s nearly midnight — it looks like Democrats picked up half a dozen seats in the state Senate tonight. And two more Republican seats — Dale Brandland’s and Pam Roach’s — are being held as of this writing by only about 2 percentage points.

That would give the Democrats at least a 32-17 advantage in the Senate. And although the Senate prides itself on being the more deliberative, more collegial half of the legislature, with that kind of majority, the Ds can run the table.

Benson on condoms…

Seattle’s The Stranger newspaper obtained and posted to YouTube a video clip of state Sen. Brad Benson speaking to some group.

In the short clip, Benson makes an astonishing claim: that condoms provided by Planned Parenthood have an 80 percent failure rate.

“You know which one worked the worst, which one had the 80 percent failure rate? Condoms that Planned Parenthood gives them,” he says.

Then the video cuts to a quote in which Benson appears to claim that the group is giving out these allegedly failure-prone condoms because they want to encourage abortions.

“Well, they have an interest in the follow-on product, and that’s why they give out 80-percent-failure-rate condoms,” he says in the video.

It sounds like a friendly crowd. A woman’s voice can be heard agreeing with Benson (“Right…right…”) and a man’s voice chuckles at the “follow-on product” statement.

Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Kristen Glundberg-Prossor told The Stranger’s Josh Feit:

When did he say this? That’s poppycock. That’s just bizarre and completely inaccurate. Studies show that people who use condoms have a 97% effectiveness rate against pregnancy. They’re also extremely successful at preventing HIV and STDs. It’s completely irresponsible to spread misinformation about condoms and about Planned Parenthood. The condoms we use are as effective as any other condoms.

Benson — I just left a message for him — may have been referring to a Feb. 2005 Consumer Reports study which, judging by Google results, was widely circulated among social conservatives. It ranked two of three Planned Parenthood condoms last in strength tests of nearly two dozen condoms. Both the “Assorted Colors” and “Honeydew” brands provided by the group ranked “poor” in strength — the only tested condoms to get that rating. Honeydew also got a poor in reliability (Assorted Colors got an excellent.)

All the tested latex condoms, however, passed industry standards. (There is no standard, the magazine said at the time, for polyurethane condoms.)

Consumer Report’s take:

If you obtain condoms from Planned Parenthood, avoid the low-rated scented Honeydew and Assorted Colors varieties. Instead, choose the Lollipop, a brightly colored condom packaged on a stick. We rated it excellent overall.

The magazine said nothing about an 80 percent failure rate, however. In fact, it said the worst-ranked condoms broke 18 out of 120 times when inflated with 25 liters — that about six gallons of air. That works out to a failure rate — under extreme testing — of 15 percent.

The Consumer Reports technician who drew this unusual assignment, unfortunately, is out of the office until Wednesday. But Joan Quinn, a spokeswoman for the magazine, said that the 18-month-old ratings are now outdated, and with manufacturing changing frequently, Consumer Reports now has no idea of whether the condoms would test the same today.

Update Benson provided the article from which the figure came. It’s based on a 2005 article from “Talon News”, the apparently now-defunct right-wing web content whose former White House correspondent, Jeff Gannon, was famous for his softball questions for President Bush.

In the article, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins claimed that the magazine “found defective” three Planned Parenthood condoms. (As mentioned above, the magazine says that all, even the lowest-ranked, passed industry standards. None, according to the magazine, were found to be defective.)

In the article — which is no longer on the website, Perkins also cites an alleged failure rate of “more than 85 percent” — a result that the magazine said it simply did not get.

New poll data…

A new random-number telephone poll compiled by University of Washington researchers suggests that the state’s voters will say:

-yes to incumbents Sen. Maria Cantwell and Supreme Court Justice Susan Owens, although Owens’ lead over challenger Stephen Johnson is fairly slim (7 percent), given the margin of error and the large number (31 percent) of undecided voters in the Supreme Court race.
-an overwhelming yes to I-937, which would require power companies to get 15 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2020,
-a resounding no to I-933, which would require government to compensate property owners is their property is devalued by regulations,
-and an equally resounding no to I-920, which would repeal the state’s estate tax.

Other findings:
-George Bush’s approval rating: 38 percent.
-Gov. Chris Gregoire’s rating: 66 percent.

Stats: 700 registered voters were interviewed, with a 3.7 percent margin of error, Oct. 25-31.

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

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