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Eye On Olympia

Archive for July 2007

Good times: Labor weighs in…

Rick Bender, president of the state Labor Council, on the high marks Forbes magazine and some other measures give to the state’s business climate these days:

A few short years ago, it was fashionable among business lobbyists to declare — as former Boeing executive Alan Mulally infamously said — that “we suck.” They said our state’s highest-in-the-nation minimum wage, high unemployment benefits, high taxes and high workers’ compensation costs were all, well, too high.

But in general, Bender said, the state’s “high-road strategy” for workers and their families has paid off:

Despite repeated dire predictions — which continue to this day — that our inflation-adjusted minimum wage is killing jobs, the reality is that these service-sector industries continue to thrive and add jobs. That’s because those higher wages are spent in local communities, benefiting local businesses. One Clarkston pizza shop owner, who was previously the Association of Washington Business poster child for doomed Washington-Idaho border restaurateurs, told The New York Times this year: “To tell you the truth, my business is fantastic. I’ve never done as much business in my life.”

The Association of Washington Business’ Richard Davis sounds a cautionary note about the good news, saying that such rankings typically mix objective and subjective measures. “On the ground, experiences will vary,” he says.

On the masochistic nature of public office…

Here’s a comment from Will, at horsesass.org, on the indignities that politicians (in this case, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels) must periodically endure:

I can tell you that if I was heckled by morons on a public TV show, I’d drop the f-bomb and resign my office.

While you were sleeping…

It was wrong for a dentist’s insurance company to refuse to defend him after a practical joke – photographing an unconscious patient with fake boar tusks protruding from her mouth – turned into a lawsuit.

So said the state Supreme Court Thursday, ruling that Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company should have provided legal help when the Tina Alberts, an employee and patient, sued Auburn oral surgeon Robert C. Woo.

Because state law defines dentistry so broadly, the simple fact that Woo’s acts took place as part of his dental practice triggers the professional liability part of his policy, Justice Mary Fairhurst wrote for the 5-4 majority.

In a 22-page dissent, Justice Jim Johnson ripped the decision, calling Woo’s behavior “obnoxious”, “crass” and a “grotesque invasion of privacy.”

“Just because Woo is a dentist,” Johnson wrote,” does not mean that every act he perpetrates in his office is dentistry.”

Justice Charles Johnson limited himself to a two-page dissent, saying “Even under the most liberal construction, the complaint’s allegations are not conceivably covered.”

An attorney for Dr. Woo, Richard Kilpatrick, said that the joke was the idea of Woo and three female surgical assistants. Woo is in fact “an exceedingly nice guy” who’s being pilloried for a joke gone awry, he said.

“This guy was not a jackass,” Kilpatrick said. “He did a jackass-ish act, but that’s what you have insurance for.”

The cases dates back to 1999, when Woo had agreed to replace two baby teeth with implants in the mouth of Alberts, one of his longtime dental surgical assistants.

The procedure required him to extract the teeth and install two temporary spacers, known as “flippers.”

Alberts’ family raised potbellied pigs, and she apparently spoke about the pets often in the office. As a joke, Woo ordered an extra set of temporary bridges shaped like boar tusks.

“While Alberts was under anesthesia, Woo and his staff removed Alberts’ oxygen mask, inserted the boar tusk flippers in her mouth and took photographs of her, some with her eyes pried open,” reads a statement of the case written by Fairhurst. Then the team placed the normal ones in Albert’s mouth.

During an office birthday celebration for Alberts a month later, staffers handed her gift-wrapped present – the tusks – as well as an envelope containing her photo, eyes open and tusks sticking out of her mouth.

Alberts reportedly assisted with a scheduled surgery, then, in tears, went home and never returned to the job.

“She was a little more vulnerable underneath than anybody knew,” said Kilpatrick.

She filed a lawsuit against Woo, alleging “outrage, battery, invasion of privacy, false light, public disclosure of private acts, nonpayment of overtime wages, retaliation for requesting payment of overtime wages, medical negligence, lack of informed consent and negligent infliction of emotional distress.”

Kilpatrick said there’s a critical fact that many observers miss about this case: that the joke was originally going to take place while Alberts was awake. But at the last moment, he said, she opted for general anesthesia instead of local.

“They were gonna pop them on, show her in the mirror, show her and there’s the joke,” he said. “What makes this really icky is she’s totally out of it.”

Woo’s insurance company, Fireman’s Fund, refused to defend him against the lawsuit, saying that the Alberts’ allegations had nothing to do with dentistry. On the eve of trial, Woo settled for $250,000.

He then sued his insurer for not defending him.

A King County jury sided with Woo, saying that the insurance company failed to act in good faith and violated the state’s Consumer Protection Act. The insurer was ordered to pay Woo the $250,000, plus attorney’s fees, plus damages of $750,000.

An appeals court overruled that and threw Woo’s lawsuit out, ruling that “no reasonable person could believe that a dentist would diagnose or treat a dental problem by placing boar tusks in the mouth” and photographing the patient.

But that’s irrelevant, Fairhurst wrote for the majority Thursday. At issue, she said, is whether the insurer had a duty to defend the dentist under the language in his policy and state law.

“We conclude that Fireman’s had a duty to defend under Woo’s professional liability provision because the insertion of boar tusk flippers in Alberts’ mouth conceivably fell within the policy’s broad definition of the practice of dentistry,” Fairhurst wrote.

Johnson also blasted the practical result of the decision: that Woo ended up with $750,000 in damages to Alberts’ $250,000 settlement.

“Today’s majority decision rewards Dr. Woo’s obnoxious behavior and allows him to profit handsomely” Johnson wrote.

State Supreme Court is doing its part to combat the summer news lull…

The state Supremes are slated to release two rulings tomorrow morning. One is a major case, the other is just bizarre.

Major one first: Madison v. State: This is a challenge to Washington’s now-suspended policy of denying the right to vote to felons who’ve served their time but still owe court-imposed fines or fees. For some impoverished citizens, the interest on these fees makes it highly unlikely they’ll ever vote again.

And now for the bizarre: Woo v. Fireman’s Fund Insurance. Comes now before the high court the peculiar tale of a practical joke gone awry. Dr. Robert Woo is an Auburn dentist who apparently…well, I’ll defer to the expert summary by Risk & Insurance blogger Matthew Brodsky, who in 2005 wrote what has to be one of the most unusual sentences ever to grace that publication:

Placing prosthetic boar tusks into a sedated employee’s mouth, taking photographs, and then showing the pictures to the employee once she regained consciousness are not acts covered by an oral surgeon’s liability insurance, a state appeals court has ruled.

The rulings will be here in the morning. Hit refresh often.

Seattle Weekly: state Demos flush, GOP not…

At the Seattle Weekly, writer Aimee Curl smartly checked the Public Disclosure Commission filings of the state party legislative campaign committees and emerged with a this striking fact:

House Democrats: more than $450,000
House Republicans: $40,621

Speechless…

At Crosscut, public radio’s Austin Jenkins has a good story about the fact that Gov. Gregoire has gone through three speechwriters so far.

Part of the problem is it’s hard for a younger, even very smart speechwriter to write for a governor who’s a lawyer and policy wonk with decades of experience in state government. Put another way: “I think it’s hard to write for people who are perfectionists and attorneys,” says (speechwriter No. 2 Peter) Jackson.

and this:

But another factor is also at play: workload. Fitzsimmons calculated that Gregoire had 58 speaking engagements from mid-May to Mid-June.

“It is an impossible job” in any administration, says Denny Heck, who served as chief of staff to former Gov. Booth Gardner. In an e-mail, Heck writes: “People carry around in their heads this myth about every speechwriter being a Peggy Noonan in the making. What they don’t realize is that Peggy Noonan had about three months to prepare for every major speech. The governor’s speechwriter is given two to eight speeches per day to prepare remarks for.”

Eyman initiative will be on November ballot…”Full steam ahead”…

After a bad year, it’s been a good couple of weeks for ballot measure veteran Tim Eyman.

Last year, he had two high-profile failures, falling short of enough signatures on both ballot measures he worked on.

This month, he and allies Mike and Jack Fagan delivered more than 314,000 signatures on behalf of his Initiative 960, which a week ago survived a court challenge to it in King County. And today, state election officials announced that Eyman — backed by hundreds of thousands of dollars from wealthy backer Mike Dunmire — has more than enough valid voter signatures to get I-960 on the ballot.

“To me, qualifying for the ballot is victory,” said Eyman. “Full steam ahead.”

Brace yourself for a lot of discussion over the next few months about taxes, government transparency, and the cost of providing government services.

Washington gets an “A” for transparency of officials’ personal finances (Idaho’s score: 0)….

Some trivia about Gov. Chris Gregoire:

-She and her husband own a cabin on Hayden Lake, Idaho, a home (besides the governor’s mansion) in Olympia, and a time-share condo at a Whistler, B.C. ski lodge.
-She has a $200 hand-carved wooden canoe (presumably a miniature one) given to her by the chairman of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe.
-From the Tulalips, she’s received a beaded necklace and a hand-carved wooden mask, the latter valued at $650.
-In addition to their state investment plans, she and her husband favor low-cost Vanguard funds.

How do we know these things? Because for years, Washingtonians have required candidates for major — and often minor — political offices to file out an “F-1” financial disclosure form.

The document — one of the most widely resisted by political newcomers, judging by Public Disclosure Commission enforcement cases — details a candidate’s real estate holdings, bank accounts, investments, other income, official gifts and travel. Parts of the form include spouses or even children. Although controversial, its intended to help identify potential conflicts of interest or even bribes — a new plush job on the side, a debt that suddenly disappears, that sort of thing.

On Thursday, the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Public Integrity awarded Washington the highest grade of any state for it’s disclosure laws involving governors. Four states, including the Gem State, tied for last place.

The group’s “States of Disclosure” project includes a state-by-state collection of the financial disclosure forms filed by statewide elected officials, state lawmakers and judges.

The group’s finding, after six months of record requests:

“21 states failed to make available basic information about the private financial interests of their governors. This considerable gap is most evident when comparisons are made to the state of Washington, which provides the most complete public information on its governor’s personal income, and Idaho, Michigan, Utah and Vermont, which do not require their governors to file financial disclosure reports at all.”

As for judges, 47 states (but not Idaho, Montana and Utah) require judges to report non-judicial earnings.

From good great to great…

Filling in for a sick Gov. Chris Gregoire at her press conference yesterday were three state officials, including Gregoire’s Chief of Staff Tom Fitzsimmons, who managed to use the word “great” a dozen times when describing aspects of Gregoire’s leadership and current events.

(A sampling: “…A great website…great success…making great progress…great celebration…great history…great vibe…everything’s great.”)

Here’s a summary of the points they covered.

Collecting garbage is about to become an even worse job…

This from the Seattle Times yesterday:

All single-family homes in Seattle must sign up for table-scrap recycling in 2009, the City Council decided Monday.

The story’s here.

Merde!

The state auditor’s office raises its eyebrows at a $3,824 trip by the Annapolis Water District Commissioners to gather information regarding sewage treatment systems…

…in Europe.

“We could find no mention in meeting minutes of any discussion on the decision to make the trip.”

the state audit report notes. And although the board authorized a couple of staffers to approve payments in the board’s absence, “The reason for the absence was not stated.”

“Since a quorum (of commissioners) was present, the District should have notified the public that special meetings were going to be held in Germany, Austria, Hungary and France,”

the audit report says, recommending that the commissioners make their decisions in public.

In a written response, the commissioners said it was an “inadvertent violation” of the state’s Open Meetings Act, and that “If the Board does travel en masse again, a summary of the trip will be placed in the record to serve the purpose of minutes.”

(A green-eyeshade hat tip to Jason Mercier, with the Washington Policy Center.)

Court challenge to halt I-960 fails…

An effort by the environmental group Futurewise and the Service Employees International Union to head off Tim Eyman’s latest initiative has apparently failed.

King County Superior Court Judge Catherine Shaffer this morning refused to halt the measure, Eyman said by phone shortly after the ruling.

Opponents of the measure argue that it’s flatly unconstitutional and would hamstring lawmakers, making it harder to raise taxes, even at critical times. But the state’s courts have so far been reluctant to intervene in initiatives until after they actually become law via a public vote.

Union negotiation notes must be made public, judge rules…

Nine months after the conservative Evergreen Freedom Foundation filed a records request for notes and other documents from union contract negotiations with state officials, a judge has overruled union objections and ordered that the records be made public.

“These records are of interest to the citizens of the state,” wrote King County Superior Court Judge Christopher Washington.

He’s ordering the public release of the proposals from the unions and the notes taken by state negotiators.

A little background: For years, state employees could only collectively bargain their working conditions, not pay and benefits. Instead, those were subject to what some union leaders call “collective begging” — desperately lobbying lawmakers to write cost-of-living increases or other changes into the budget every two years. In some recent tight-budget years, this resulted in no cost-of-living increases at all for most state workers.

In 2002, state lawmakers agreed to let workers collectively bargain for pay and benefits — a change that has led to some dramatic increases in state-worker pay.

The Evergreen Freedom Foundation — which for years has clashed in court and in public with public-employee unions — in November filed a request for notes from the contract negotiations. Unions representing about 50,000 state workers (several SEIU locals, WPEA/UFCW Local 365, the state nurses’ association and the Inland Boatmen’s Union of the Pacific) then sought an injunction barring the state — permanently — from releasing the records.

They also tried to get the law changed so that such records are exempted from public disclosure. After all, the unions argued, the final product — a contract — is absolutely open to public inspection. The bill failed.

In court, the unions argued that releasing the records would

“politicize the bargaining process, impede the free exchange of views opions and proposals, and disrupt the parties’ ability to maintain the candid, open, long-term and constructive relationship necessary for future collective bargaining negotiations.”

Also, they say, making the information public reveals insight into union strategy, and will chill participation by rank and file members in the bargaining committees. It would delay and impede negotiations, they said, to “invite the public, the media and other non-parties into the negotation process.” In depositions, several rank-and-file workers said that negotiations often get heated, and they wouldn’t want what they said to be printed in a newspaper or heard by citizens.

“The information sought is of no legitimate concern to the public and not in the public interest,”
the unions’ attorneys wrote.

Judge Washington disagrees. But he did limit the release of the documents to after the budget is approved by state lawmakers.

“Disclosure prior to this time could adversely affect the collecting bargaining process,” he agreed.

(Thanks for the heads-up: Allied Law Group’s new Open Government Blog.)

From the Secretary of State’s website this morning…

THIS DAY IN WASHINGTON HISTORY
7/11/1889

People living on the North Side of Spokane complained that unsupervised prisoners from chain gangs were roving around the city, bothering and frightening people. Some had roved so far that no one could find them.

The wreck of the Catala…

Yes, a shipwreck is admittedly pretty far afield for what’s supposed to be a political blog, but so many Northwesterners have memories of clambering around on the beached steamer SS Catala over the decades that I figured I’d post a recent story I did on the ship now and get back to politics tomorrow.

More than four decades after a New Year’s Day storm beached the SS Catala on a sand spit at Ocean Shores, Wash., a curious beachcomber last year poked a stick through a hole in the hull.

When he pulled it out, a gleaming, black glob of oil clung to the end.

State environmentalists were stunned to learn that the 229-foot wreck – which several failed salvage attempts had left as a rusty playground and party spot for generations of adventurous beachgoers – still contained more than 32,000 gallons of fuel oil.

Built in Scotland in 1925, the Catala was part of a fleet of ships steaming up the coastline of British Columbia until the late 1950s, delivering people and freight to logging camps and fishing communities. A network of new highways eventually drove them out of business.

In 1961, the ship was rescued from a Canadian scrapyard by investors, who fixed it up and parked it on the Seattle shoreline as a floating “Boatel” where people could stay during the 1962 World’s Fair. Then it moved to Ocean Shores, serving as a moorage and recreation spot for fishermen and boaters.

“She was nice inside. She was an older ship, but they had white tablecloths on the tables,” recalled Ocean Shores Interpretive Center worker Janna Hoflin, who had lunch on the ship about a month before it was beached. Decades later, cleanup crews would find dozens of pieces of sturdy Syracuse china – black with oil – in the bowels of the ship.

The ship – smokestacks and all – was a local landmark for years. Around 1980, tired of people getting hurt climbing around on it, the last of three salvage companies that owned the wreck cut off the stacks and everything else down to the sand line, then buried the Catala.

“It remained buried for the next 25 years,” said Jim Sachet, an oil-spill response supervisor with the state Department of Ecology. Then wind and more storms began to expose the wreck again, leading to the discovery of the oil in the tanks.

On a recent afternoon, workers clambered over the wreck, slicing it up with cutting torches and hoisting out 20,000-pound chunks of rusted hull with a large crane. Chains clanked and sparks flew and the skeletal beams of the ship were like the ribs of a long-gone beached whale.

The oil in the tanks is gone, scraped and steam-cleaned off the steel. But on a warm day, it still oozes from rivet holes and seams in the metal.

“Some of the oil was so thick it was almost like asphalt,” said Sachet.

By August, the crews say, the Catala will be gone, remaining only in memories and a landmark in family beach photos. Workers will level the hole where the hull sat for so long, and will dot the beach with driftwood, to make it look like the ship was never there at all.

“Those of us who’ve been here a long time kind of wish it could have been left,” said Hoflin. “But because of the oil, we realize it couldn’t. We’re gonna miss it. We’re going to miss it a lot.”

Click here for an audio slideshow of old photos and the cleanup crews dismantling the huge old ship.

A busy day in Mexico…

As promised, Gov. Chris Gregoire is apparently in full pitchwoman mode on her trade mission to Mexico. She’s touting the state’s apples, cherries, wines, beef and other products at a Mexico City Costco today.

A sampling from the schedule:

11:25 a.m.: Starbucks promotion
12:05 p.m.: Washington wine promotion at Vinoteca
3:00 p.m: Washington french fry promotion at WINGS (a casual restaurant chain)

The previous day included a stop at Grupo Modelo — of the beer of the same name — which uses Washington-grown hops.

Gregoire (or her staff) is also posting online updates.

It’s after Independence Day, but before Bastille Day: Happy Aeromexico Day…

From the governor’s press office a few minutes ago:

Governor Chris Gregoire today proclaimed July 9, 2007 as Aeroméxico Day in honor of the new direct flight from Seattle to Mexico City. Governor Gregoire departed today with a delegation of Washington business, agriculture and education representatives for a five-day mission to promote Washington goods and services in Mexico City and Guadalajara.


Changing times and changing maps…

The Coeur d’Alene Tribe’s push to replace the word “squaw” with modern, less-controversial names on Washington’s maps has been stalled by a tussle over a new name for the Whitman County community of Squaw Canyon.

The word “squaw,” tribal members and their supporters say, is a racist linguistic artifact that demeans Indian women.

Last year, tribal chairman Chief J. Allan asked Washington officials to rename two places that fell within the tribe’s aboriginal territory. One is Squaw Canyon, north of Rosalia and Malden; the other nearby Squaw Creek. Allan made similar requests for 11 similarly named sites in Idaho and two in Montana.

For Squaw canyon and creek, the tribe favors “Awtskin” canyon and creek, meaning “lookout.”

“Continuation with the current offensive names by any governmental entity is an embarrassment” wrote Worley resident Patrick Kiernan, one of about 20 people who wrote state officials backing the change.

But area residents say that if the spot must be renamed, they should pick the name.

“Our family has farmed and lived in the Squaw Creek/Canyon area for three generations,” Bruce and Cindy Allert wrote to the state Board on Geographic Names. They see no need to change the name, they said. But if the change is inevitable, they recommend the names Jack Pine, Woodland or Harvest.

“If you have to change everything, at least have the kindness to consider the wishes of those who have lived here for over 100 years,” wrote A. Jeanne Kjack, an author. In a separate note, Kjack urged the board to “let the Coeur d’Alene Tribe stick to Idaho.”

In a response in March, Allan said the tribe welcomes the input.

“We understand,” he wrote. “We know exactly what it’s like to live in these and other places … to make a living generation after generation, then have others come into the country, alter the demographic and physical landscape and subsequently apply random and arbitrary place names to one’s familiar places.”

But Awtskin is a fitting name, he said, particularly if viewed as part of the Coeur d’Alene phrase “to look at each other from the heart.”

For years, he wrote, Coeur d’Alene women and children would head to the plains west of the reservation for root-digging expeditions. (They called the site of present-day Colfax “hnch’laqhemn.”) Tribal elders recall white farm families who welcomed the Indians back year after year, allowing them to camp and gather the traditional food.

“Somewhere in the overlapping oral histories of the people who then and now occupy these places,” Allan wrote, “are farm folks who remember receiving beaded handmade gloves or dolls as gifts from old Indian women, and Indian elders who still appreciate the milk and eggs, the kindness and the hospitality extended by the ‘neighbors’ they saw only occasionally when they were children.”

The state Board on Geographic Names is seeking public comment for its next meeting, slated for Sept. 21 in Olympia. To comment, send an e-mail to Caleb Maki, at caleb.maki@dnr.wa.gov.

Inmate releases: Relief for Spokane and Pierce County at last?

The state Department of Corrections has released its much-awaited “preliminary list” of counties that aren’t getting their share of work-release prisoners, or, in DOC’s wording, that “have an unmet need for additional work-release facilities.”

The counties, or groups of counties, are:
-Chelan/Douglas/Kittitas
-Clark/Skamania
-Grays Harbor/Mason
-Lewis
-Snohomish

The list stems from a DOC comparison of local crimes and parolees to the number of work-release beds in each county. State lawmakers, unhappy with the fact that Spokane and Pierce County had a far larger proportion of work-release inmates than was merited by their population and crime statistics, passed a law this spring requiring the department to make “substantial efforts to equitably distribute” future work-release and community-based correctional facilities.

“Equitable distribution means making sure that former offenders are not concentrated in particular parts of the state, but are given opportunities to succeed in their home communities,” the DOC said in a statement accompanying its list.

Over the next decade, Washington plans to double its current 670 beds for work-release inmates. Those beds are now at 15 facilities in Spokane, Pierce, King, Clark, Benton, Yakima, King, Whatcom, Thurston and Cowlitz counties.

A little fun for those of you who have to work today.

.ʇxǝʇ ɹnoʎ sdı1ɟ ʇɐɥʇ ǝʇısqǝʍ ɐ ɹoɟ ǝɹǝɥ ʞɔı1ɔ

(The link gets you to a website that inverts any text you type in. You can then cut and paste the upside-down text into documents, websites, etc.)

On the Emerald City’s weirdly passive-aggressive nature…

At Crosscut, Knute Berger has an outstanding description of — if not explanation for — Seattle’s peculiar distaste for the sorts of confrontational politics and that much of the rest of the country considers simply the noisy foundry of policy-making.

From the column:

“An online critic recently took me to task for my article defending Seattle Center’s world’s fair legacy. My critic began his tirade using my nickname, saying, `Skip’s a nice guy, but he’s wack-a-doodle-doo. …’

“The nice-guy preamble was so Seattle. But it wasn’t really nice, which gets to my point. Seattle operates under the guise of nice, it tips its hat to nice. But much of the time, we’re something the postcard doesn’t show: a passive-aggressive, often dysfunctional, conflict-averse town where the sharpest knives often leave their mark in the form of a Happy Face.”

The presidential also-rans…

Oh, where to begin…

How about with MTV’s roundup of actual darkhorse presidential candidates, the slate of which is summed up well by the article’s headline:

‘Star Trek’ Extra, Fascist, Horseshoer, Dark Priest: The Other Presidential Candidates

Among the contenders:

From the “Vampires, Witches, and Pagans Party,” we have Jonathon Sharkey, Satanist, “sanguinary vampyre”, professional wrestler and perennial political candidate.

Then there’s woodcarver, oil painter and pie baker Gene Amondson, running on a single-plank platform: eliminate alcohol. See his website for a photo of him dressed as the Grim Reaper outside an Anheuser Busch brewery.

And:

Jackson Kirk Grimes — 56, a single pagan with a GED who once portrayed Hitler on “Star Trek,” this director of the United Fascist Union (which promotes the economic theories and political ideologies of Benito Mussolini and Saddam Hussein) and two-time presidential candidate promises to abolish paper money and create a global government if elected.

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

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