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Eye On Olympia

Archive for October 2007

More Curtis reactions…

State GOP Chairman Luke Esser:

“Representative Curtis did the right thing by resigning today, as it was clear he could no longer effectively represent either the Republican Party or his constituents. We wish the Curtis family all the best as they work to rebuild their lives.

Esser said he’s working with local party officials to fill the 18th District seat, which he called “a strong Republican district…We are confident that our party will be able to hold unto this seat.”

Rep. Buri signs off…

Today is Rep. David Buri’s last day as a state lawmaker. Buri, R-Colfax, is stepping down to work as Eastern Washington University’s liaison — a lobbyist, essentially — with the Legislature and government agencies.

From an e-mail to constituents today:

I have always felt that while I was allowed to sit at the desk in the House chambers, it was never mine to keep. I am grateful for the experiences I’ve gained during my three years as a lawmaker…I worked hard to be a legislator you could be proud of and rely on, and I deeply appreciate the trust and confidence you placed in me.

Leaving the Legislature was not an easy decision. Now that Becky and I are expecting our first child together in December, it has been a good time to reflect on where I would best serve my family and our great state. Colfax is my home and always will be. Ensuring a top-caliber higher education system for Washington students is a passion of mine. This is an excellent opportunity for me professionally and personally…My best wishes to you all.


Documents released in Curtis case…

From S-R staff writer Bill Morlin today:

A state legislator who yesterday insisted he was “not gay” was being blackmailed by a young man he had engaged in “sexual activities” with after the two met at a Spokane Valley adult bookstore last week, court documents filed today allege.

State Rep. Richard Curtis, a Republican from the Vancouver, Wash., area, met Cody Castagna at Hollywood Erotic Boutique on East Sprague Avenue at 12:45 a.m. Friday before the two went to Curtis’ room at the Davenport Tower in downtown Spokane, the documents say.

Castagna told investigators Curtis agreed to pay him $1,000 for sex, the documents allege.

No criminal charges have been filed in the case. Castagna, 26, has been questioned by police but not arrested.

The investigative file has been turned over to the Spokane County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office to decide if extortion charges should be filed against Castagna, police department public information officer Jennifer DeRuwe said today.

The police detective’s version of events is in stark contrast to the legislator’s only public comment. Curtis told the Vancouver Columbian yesterday that he is not gay and did not engage in sex with the man while he was in Spokane last week attending Republican strategy sessions.

Curtis and Castagna “engaged in mutual sexual activities” at the hotel after the state lawmaker – who has opposed most gay rights legislation – rented two XXX-rated gay videos, according to allegations in a search warrant affidavit filed by Spokane Police Detective Mark Burbridge.

After the sexual encounter in the Spokane hotel room, the court documents say Castagna left with Curtis’ wallet before contacting him by phone, demanding $1,000, the affidavit says.

The state lawmaker said he only had $200 and put that in an envelope for Castagna to pick up at the front desk of the Davenport Tower, the affidavit says.

After picking up that money, Castagna re-contacted Curtis and demanded the additional $800.

By that point, Curtis had contacted a Washington State Patrol sergeant in Vancouver, apparently seeking help. The State Patrol subsequently referred the matter to the Spokane Police Department’s Major Crimes Unit, which had detectives working over the weekend on the investigation.

“Castagna threatened to publicly expose Curtis’ gay lifestyle to his wife,” if he wasn’t paid the additional sum,” the court documents allege.

Click here to read the police document.

New poll data on ballot measures…

Referendum 67 – a battle between insurers and lawyers which over a new law allowing triple damages when insurers wrongly deny a claim – is apparently being won by the lawyers. A new poll sponsored by a University of Washington research center, 48 percent of voters support it, and 31 percent don’t. (Undecided: 21 percent)

And voters are apparently leaning toward modifying the state constitution to make it easier for school districts to pass property tax levies. The poll showed 59 percent support, 31 percent against constitutional amendment 4204, better known as the simple majority amendment, since it would replace an existing requirement for 60 percent “supermajority” approval from voters with a 50-percent-plus-1 simple majority..

But Tim Eyman’s Initiative 960 is a tossup among voters – 41 percent yes, 40 percent no – with nearly 1 in 5 voters still decided.

Among the other findings:

-Setting up a state “budget stabilization account” – also known as a “rainy day fund”, although you won’t find that term on the ballot – 61 percent yes, 17 percent no.

-Interestingly, Democrats and independents are overwhelmingly in favor of the simple majority amendment for school levies. Republicans are almost evenly split – 44 percent yes, 45 percent no – on the measure.

The poll was sponsored by the University of Washington’s Washington Institute for the Study of Ethnicity & Race. The institute surveyed 601 registered voters Oct. 22 to Oct. 28, with a margin of error of 4 percent.

“An iron fist in a velvet glove”…

Dozens of Democratic state lawmakers last month sent a letter to a mental health center, sharply criticizing the agency’s “hostile bargaining position” in negotiations with unionized employees.

“Your agency is funded largely through the state’s budget,” read the Sept. 22 letter, requested by Service Employees International Union 1199NW. “…As elected officials responsible for that budget, we call on you to change course and to negotiate a fair settlement” with workers.

Among the signers: local Sen. Chris Marr, D-Spokane.

The union and the company have since settled. But the letter has now spawned a complaint – not involving Marr — to the state Legislative Ethics Board by a Kirkland businessman and former union organizer who labeled it “a classic example of an iron fist in a velvet glove.” (The link above is to the political blog Sound Politics, which I think was the first to report on this.)

“I know how to read that,” said Scott St. Clair. “It’s a threat: If you want continued state funding, then play ball.”

Some of the lawmakers, however, said today that the letter was simply meant to ensure that Olympia-based Behavioral Health Resources was actually doing what the Legislature intended when it approved large funding increases for community mental health and chemical dependency programs. A major reason why, they say, was to improve pay for front-line workers.

“I read it as `Hey, we wrote a budget, here’s the clear intent, and you’re ignoring that,’” said Sen. Eric Oemig, D-Kirkland. “I don’t think that’s a threat.”

“Basically, the way I view it, it was kind of a `hey, guys, play fair,’ letter,” said Marr.

Although 34 lawmakers signed two nearly-identical letters, St. Clair’s complaint only involves Oemig. St. Clair lives in Oemig’s legislative district and is deeply unhappy with what he views as Oemig’s “far left” politics, particularly over the war in Iraq.

Under a 2005 opinion issued by the ethics board, state legislators cannot use public resources to advocate “in a purely private labor dispute.” Nothing, however, prohibits lawmakers from speaking out on such topics “absent the use of public resources and legislative office.”

It’s OK, however, for a lawmaker — with public resources — to advocate for a constituent in cases where a government official or government office is involved.

In this case, St. Clair says the ethics problem is clear: Behavioral Health Resources is a private business. And during contract negotiations, state lawmakers improperly tried to intervene. Among other things, the letter criticized Behavioral Health Resources for hiring as lawyers “an anti-union company that conducts seminars around the country entitled `How to Stay Union-Free’ and `How You Can Make Unions Irrelevant to Your Employees.’”

“This is payback to union bosses,” St. Clair said. In his complaint, he said Oemig was using his position as a senator “whose hands are upon the public purse strings to influence the outcome of those negotiations.” Oemig, he says, was a “de facto collective bargaining weapon” for SEIU.

Oemig says the situation’s not as black and white as St. Clair paints it. How state mental-health money is being spent, he said, is a legislative matter.

“We passed a bill to issue money and it had a clear purpose,” he said.

It’s also unclear how much lawmakers – who signed a separate signature page that was attached to the letter – knew what they were signing. The Senate version includes legislative letterhead, which Marr says he doesn’t recall being there in the original. And although lawmakers in both the Senate and House letters list their legislative districts on those signature pages, nowhere did they actually write “senator” or “representative.”

“I just don’t think it’s a really compelling slam-dunk case,” said Oemig.

In retrospect, Marr said, maybe a little of the letter’s language could have been toned down, and that it probably shouldn’t have been on legislative letterhead.

But he said lawmakers should be free to raise issues of concern.

Gregoire: reaction to Rossi…

Comments from Gov. Chris Gregoire, speaking to reporters shortly after Dino Rossi announced that he’ll again challenge her for governor:

“All we have to do is ask ourselves: Are we better off as a state today than we were three years ago?” she said. “You bet we are.”

She said she’s proud of her three years in office. A $2.2 billion state-government shortfall has gone to a $1.5 billion surplus on her watch, she said, and the state’s made key investments in education and healthcare. She also pointed to a stalemate-breaking deal on water rights and kudos from business publications for Washington’s business climate.

“The fact of the matter is the economy is slumping everywhere in America but in Washington State, because we’re headed in the right direction,” she said.

She’s running for re-election, but says she doesn’t plan a formal announcement or campaigning until the legislative session concludes next spring.

“The idea that we have spent too much: Well, I’d rather spend on education than do nothing. That’s the workforce of tomorrow,” she said.

As for taxes, both the estate tax and a recent gas tax increase were approved by Washingtonians in statewide votes, Gregoire said. The money goes into education and transportation safety, she said.

As for Rossi’s candidacy, she said, it comes as no surprise.

“I’ve never doubted he was going to run,” Gregoire said.

As expected, Rossi’s in…

Speaking in Issaquah a few minutes ago, former GOP candidate for governor Dino Rossi said, yes, he’ll run again against Democratic incumbent Chris Gregoire.

“Washington State needs new leadership for a new era,” he told cheering supporters and family members. “And that journey starts today.”

Rossi said his goal is “as state government that remembers it exists to serve the people and not serve itself.”

In a pre-announcement interview with the Associated Press, Rossi said his campaign will focus on Gregoire’s “trail of broken promises,” including tax hikes and not doing more to cut through the state’s bureaucracy. He said he’d turn that around to a more customer-oriented approach. He blasted state government as “more expensive and less effective” at solving people’s problems.

“The governor for the government has had her turn,” he said in remarks prepared for his kickoff announcements in Spokane and Issaquah. “We can do better.”

I’ll try to catch Gregoire for a response after a lunch appearance before a dairy group in Olympia.

NOTE: This post has been updated.

Kansas, Arizona governors stumping for Gregoire…

Gov. Chris Gregoire is tapping a couple of friends — fellow female Democratic governors — to help her build up her campaign war chest before a legislative-session cash cutoff kicks in.

“One month left to give. The race is on,”
reads an invitation to a luncheon and speaking program in Gregoire’s honor Nov. 6 at the state convention center in Seattle.

Joining Gregoire will be Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano and Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.

And judging by the invitation, Gregoire’s campaign themes are pretty clear:

More than 200,000 new jobs.
5th best state for business in America.
Record investments in education.
Health insurance for every child by 2010.
A real plan for preserving the Puget Sound.
One Washington State.

Donations range from the $100 “silver level” to $2,800 to be a member of “Chris’ Crew.”

Democrats’ web ad: Rossi, what’s wrong?

As mentioned in the story linked to below, the state Democratic Party today posted a sort of short video counterpoint to the arguments — bad economy, bad business climate — made by Rossi in 2004.

The highlights: kudos for the state in a recent Forbes article and, over swelling, inspirational music, a series of good-news items. Among them:

“210,000 new jobs…record investment in education…lowest unemployment in state history.”

Click here to watch.

An opposing voice on a ballot measure that no one’s paying much attention to…

In a busy season for ballot measures, not much coverage has been devoted to Senate Joint Resolution 8212, which would private industry to use prison labor, so long as the operations don’t unfairly compete with other businesses.

This isn’t exactly revolutionary. Until recently, prison inmates in Washington had been working for private businesses for years. But a recent state Supreme Court ruling changed that, citing a chain-gang provision of the state constitution banning Washington from renting the labor of a convict to anyone for private gain.

SJR 8212 would allow those businesses — which provide job training and a small amount of pay for inmates — to resume operation in prisons.

Among the few people objecting are two Spokane-area conservatives, state Reps. Lynn Schindler, R-Otis Orchards and Larry Crouse, R-Spokane. They authored the argument against it in the voters’ pamphlet, on the grounds that the change doesn’t protect businesses enough from unfair competition.

In Washblog, however, prison activist — and sometime source in my stories — Lea Zengage argued this weekend for a no vote on very different grounds. The title of the post sums it up: “PRISON SLAVE PLANTATION: DISMANTLING THE PROFIT MOTIVE FOR INCARCERATION.”

Zengage writes:

These companies had a pool of prisoner workers with no labor unions, no strikes, no health benefits, and no unemployment insurance. They only needed to pay a wage of 75% of what is paid to “free” people. They avoided language problems and steep international shipping costs encountered with cheap overseas labor. The free industrial space was provided with vocational training and a program coordinator provided with taxpayer dollars.

Click here to read the full Washblog post.

Back in the saddle…

After a week and a half of covering a trial in Cowlitz County, I’m back in Olympia. Thanks to political reporter Jim Camden for covering for me.

More soon.

Is Dino jumping in?

Dino Rossi has scheduled a press conference for Thursday afternoon in Spokane to announce he’s running for governor next year, a Rossi ‘08 page on the Internet says.

The listing is posted on Facebook, and Rossi can’t be immediately reached for comment. But the Spokane Double Tree confirmed that it has a Rossi press conference scheduled for Thursday afternoon.

Jill Strait, a campaign spokeswoman, would only say “He’s making an announcement. We’ll have to wait until Thursday to see what that announcement is.”

Isn’t it rare for someone from the West Side to come to the East Side and hold a press conference to say he’s NOT running for election? she was asked.

There will always be an Olympia…

From Monday’s Olympian story by staff writer Matt Batcheldor:

“Those elected will help determine whether the city needs yet another plan for developing downtown or whether the existing dozen or so plans are adequate.”

The paper went back and looked at 14 such studies, dating back to 1979. As neighboring Lacey grows at a breakneck pace — much of it in strip-mall development — Olympia is struggling to rejuvenate its downtown.

Among the quoted studies: a 1991 “urban design vision and strategy” that included a never-built trolley system.

“Unfortunately, for the city of Olympia, the historic downtown has suffered from a variety of actions which have sapped its vitality and compromised its civic integrity as a seat of government,”
the report concluded.

The downtown issues — safety, parking, downtown housing and helping struggling merchants in Olympia’s core — are a key part of Olympia’s city races this fall.

I-960 wrap-up…

Next in our series of what-the-heck’s-this-thing-on-the-ballot stories: Tim Eyman’s latest measure, Initiative 960:

After two high-profile failures last year, initiative promoter Tim Eyman is returning to his time-tested formula: beating the drum against taxes.

“There’s no decision they make in Olympia that is more important than taking more of the people’s money,” says Eyman. “Everything pales in comparison, and everything flows from that decision.”

And so: Initiative 960, which Eyman says simply holds state lawmakers accountable. Voters will decide next month if I-960 becomes law.

Eyman’s opponents – who include AARP, environmental groups, unions, the state hospital association and childrens’ advocates – say the proposal would hamstring lawmakers and saddle perplexed voters with dozens of nonbinding votes every November.

“Initiative 960 is a half-baked solution in search of a problem,” said Christian Sinderman, spokesman for No on I-960.

Read the print story here.

Property taxes: despite their complaints, voters are okaying more…

Although 2001’s Initiative 747 limited property tax increases to 1 percent unless voters agreed to more, they’re apparently agreeing to more.

Statewide property tax collections on existing properties rose 5.7 percent ($414 million) last year, as voters agreed to tax themselves more than the 1 percent limit.

The increase is “chiefly due to a large number fo voter-approved tax increases, especially levy lid lifts for fire districts,” the state Department of Revenue said today, releasing its annual compilation of property tax statistics.

All told, according to the revenue department, state and local property tax collections rose 7.1 percent in 2007, to $7.73 billion a year.

A significant chunk — about 20 percent — of the $515 million increase over 2006 was due to new construction, which isn’t counted toward the 1 percent cap.

Here are the totals, by county:

Spokane: up 5.5 percent
Whitman: up 5.4 percent
Ferry: up 14.2 percent
Stevens: down about 1 percent
Pend Oreille: down 3.7 percent
Garfield: down 14 percent (biggest drop in the state)
Columbia: up 22 percent (biggest increase in the state)
Adams: up 1.4 percent

The statewide average property tax is now $10.48 per $1,000 of assessed value.

The assessed value of all property, including new construction — rose about 16 percent, to $740 billion. Single-family homes accounted for 68 percent of that.

Local activist picked to chair state Human Rights Commission…

Yvonne Lopez-Morton, a Spokane Public Schools project assistant and longtime anti-discrimination advocate, has been picked by Gov. Chris Gregoire to chair the state Human Rights Commission.

“Yvonne Lopez-Morton has spent a lifetime of advocacy speaking out against racism and discrimination,” Gregoire said Wednesday. “I am pleased to appoint someone with such a vital and passionate commitment to social justice to this position.”

Lopez-Morton, 60, is past chair of the state Commission on Hispanic Affairs and past president of the Spoknae Hispanic Business Professional Association. She serves on a wide variety of local groups, including Spokane County’s civil service commission and Spokane’s task force on human relations.

Stealth supporters?

Tonight in SeaTac, Republicans will gather for a $100-a-head fall dinner themed “Run, Dino, Run.” Speaking will be Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, chairman of the Republican Governors Association. The AP’s Dave Ammons, via the Seattle P-I, had a good preview here.

State GOP Chairman Luke Esser says he doesn’t expect any candidacy announcement from Dino Rossi, who narrowly lost to Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire in 2004. But he turned down requests by me and at least one other reporter to cover the event.

“We have decided to have it closed to press, no offense,” Esser said last night. He said he didn’t want to risk giving any fodder to the “frivolous” complaint by state Democrats that Rossi is already a de facto candidate whose appearances around the state amount to a stealth campaign.

“We just want to keep it in the family,” Esser said of the event.

New Chief Clerk of the House…

House Speaker Frank Chopp has chosen policy director Barbara Baker as the new chief clerk of the House.

Baker replaces Rich Nafziger, who’s moving over to the Senate, where he’ll be chief of staff for the Democratic caucus.

Baker has worked for the House since 1996, serving as the policy director for the Democratic Caucus for the past seven years. An Evergreen State College graduate, she got her law degree from the University of Puget Sound. Prior to working for the House, she worked as an attorney, including lobbying lawmakers on behalf of groups that represent low-income clients.

Largest state-worker union boosts dues by $1.1 million a year…

Washington’s largest state-workers union, the Washington Federation of State Employees, has voted to boost member dues from 1.37 percent of pay to 1.5 percent to help pay for its affiliation with a national union.

The increase was approved in Spokane Sunday after the union’s biennial convention. It’s the federation’s first dues increase since 1998.

“Sunday’s vote not only capped hours of floor debate but months of discussion at the local and worksite level,” the union said in a statement Monday. A member earning $38,000 a year will see a monthly increase of $4.12.

The extra revenue — $1.1 million next year – will help pay for a dues increase for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The state union covered the first year of that increase — $800,000 – but doing that again would have meant cutting local union programs or laying off staff, the statement said.

The AFSCME dues increase will help “to grow the union, build political power and build the strength to win,” the Federation said. Over the last 7 years, the federation said, local members have received help worth more than $6 million from AFSCME, including grants to pay for collective bargaining, staff help for organizing, educational programs and grants for political work and the 2001 strike by state workers.

“Delegates acknowledged that members back home may be concerned about what happened,” the statement said. “But several delegates urged their colleagues on the flor to have the courage to go back to their locals and members and explain the reasons for the increase and that it was the right thing to do.”

The more than 400 delegates in Spokane also raised the maximum dues, charged to higher-paid workers, from $57.67 to $75 a month. The increases take effect Jan. 1.

The federation represents more than 40,000 state workers in Washington, including clerical staff, highway maintenance crews, park rangers, engineers, custodial staff and computer technicians.

And now for something completely different…

The Washington State Capital Museum, housed in a 1920s mansion a few blocks south of the statehouse, is about to launch an exhibit that’s a little different from the Native American art and historic photos that are its more typical fare.


Yup, the museum will be exhibiting plaster casts of purported sasquatch footprints,

a mock-up of a skull of a prehistoric giant ape,

and Indian art — this is a stone carving on loan from the Maryhill Museum — that is suggestive of a very large ape-like creature living in the region’s old-growth forests.


On Saturday, the museum is bringing in several researchers: Idaho State University anatomy and anthropology professor Jeffrey Meldrum, naturalist and Bigfoot author Robert Michael Pyle, and Peter Ryrne, who has led Bigfoot searches in Nepal and the Pacific Northwest, including a 1990 search here using helicopters with infrared sensors and appealing to the public with a 1-800-BIGFOOT number. (Don’t call. The number now belongs to a telephone paging company.)

The exhibit opens Saturday at 11 a.m. Appearances:
1-2 p.m.: Mascot Squatch, from the Seattle Supersonics.
2-3 p.m.: Quinault Tribe storytelling
2-3:30 p.m. Book signing and chat with Byrne, Meldrum and Pyle.
3:30-4: Presentation by Byrne.
4 -5 p.m.: Presentation by Meldrum.
7-8 p.m.: Presentation by Pyle.

Musuem admission’s $2; events are free and open to the public.

(Hat tip: Olyblog.)

When bras are outlawed, only outlaws will have bras…

This from our hard-working North Idaho bureau today:

A Bonners Ferry woman says she was humiliated when security guards at the federal courthouse in Coeur d’Alene told her she’d have to remove her underwire bra to get inside.

Lori Plato said she was going into the courthouse for a court hearing Sept. 20 when the metal detector went off as she passed through security.

“When I walked through, the gentleman said, “‘Do you have an underwire bra on?’.” Plato said. “I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘You have to remove it.’ “

U.S. Mashal’s Service explanation:

The U.S. Marshal’s Service, which supervises security at the courthouse, said Plato was given options and chose not to exercise them. She was told she could have gone to her car or to a neighboring business to remove the bra, U.S. Marshal Patrick McDonald said.

“She’s inflating it,” McDonald said.

He said Plato turned her back on the security officers, who thought she was simply going to talk to her husband.

“All of a sudden she just took it off,” McDonald said. “It wasn’t anything we wanted to happen and it wasn’t anything we asked for her to do. She did it so fast.”

Though he said Plato wasn’t ordered to remove her bra, McDonald said she was told she couldn’t pass through security wearing it.

Read the print story here.

Supremes’ ruling on political ads: “An invitation to lie with impunity”…

Very interesting ruling out of the state Supreme Court this morning. A deeply divided court threw out Public Disclosure Commission sanctions against former legislative candidate Marilou Rickert.

In 2002, Rickert ran against incumbent state Sen. Tim Sheldon, R-Potlatch. During the campaign, Rickert sent out a mailing that falsely claimed Sheldon had voted to close a camp for the developmentally disabled.

Sheldon protested, filed a complaint with the state’s campaign-finance watchdog — the PDC — and ended up being re-elected by a landslide. Months later, the PDC ruled that Rickert had “sponsored the brochure with actual malice,” as the court opinion said this morning, and fined her $1,000. She appealed to the courts.

In a 5-4 ruling, the high court said that such matters of fact are for voters, not government, to sort out. From Justice Jim Johnson’s opinion:

…In other words, the best remedy for false or unpleasant speech is more speech, not less speech. The importance of this constitutional principle is illustrated by the very real threats to liberty posed by allowing an unelected government censor like the PDC to act as an arbiter of truth.

In the case at bar, Ms. Rickert made knowingly false or reckless statements about Senator Sheldon, a man with an outstanding reputation. Senator Sheldon and his (many) supporters responded to Ms. Rickert’s false statements with the truth. As a consequence, Ms. Rickert’s statements appear to have had little negative impact on Senator Sheldon’s successful campaign and may even have increased his vote.

…Were there injury to Senator Sheldon’s reputation, compensation would be available through a defamation action. As it is, Ms. Rickert was singled out by the PDC for punishment, six months after the election, based on statements that had no apparent impact on the government interests allegedly furthered by the statute. That the statute may be applied in such a manner proves that it is fatally flawed under the First Amendment.

In an unusually blunt dissent, Justice Barbara Madsen blasts Johnson’s opinion, saying that “the use of calculated falsehood is not constitutionally protected.”

The impression left by the majority’s rhetoric, that oppressive government regulation is at issue in this case, is simply wrong.

When cases decided by the United States Supreme Court are properly applied, it is obvious that RCW 42.17.530(1)(a) infringes on no First Amendment rights.

Unfortunately, the majority’s decision is an invitation to lie with impunity.

The majority opinion advances the efforts of those who would turn political campaigns into contests of the best stratagems of lies and deceit, to the end that honest discourse and honest candidates are lost in the maelstrom. The majority does no service to the people of Washington when it turns the First Amendment into a shield for the “unscrupulous … and skillful” liar to use knowingly false statements as an “effective political tool” in election campaigns.

What Bush’s SCHIP veto means to state coffers…

President Bush’s veto of a bill expanding children’s health insurance means that Washington loses $28 million it had hoped to put toward children’s health coverage over the next year, according to Jim Stevenson, a spokesman for the state’s Medicaid program. But unlike in some states, Washington children who have coverage now are in danger of losing it because of the veto, he said.

Gov. Chris Gregoire yesterday appealed to U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings, the state’s sole “no” vote in Congress. She asked him to buck “the partisan pressures you must have to support the President” and vote to override the veto.

Hastings has said he worries expanding coverage to middle-income children will hurt health insurers and edge the nation closer to “a Canadian-style, government-run health care system.”

Voicing similar concerns months ago was the Washington Policy Center’s Paul Guppy, who wrote

The proposed SCHIP expansion is the biggest effort to push Americans into government health care since the failure of HillaryCare in 1994. Yet, the market is providing innovative products, like Health Savings Accounts, that are expanding affordable coverage. More than a quarter of people who have purchased an HSA were previously uninsured.

Pushing through a costly expansion of SCHIP will stifle consumer choice and private initiative. It will move U.S. health care in the direction of a mandatory, centralized government-managed system, something Americans rejected years ago.

Gregoire and other Washington state officials have been watching the bill — which she has called her top health care priority this year.

One of the reasons: The legislation also would have done away with a long-standing thorn in the side of Washington’s budget writers. The state was one of the first to start covering children up to 200 percent of the poverty level under Medicaid, at a time when most states only covered children in families earning half that.

But when the federal government created SCHIP in 1997, it banned states from using the new program to cover kids already covered by Medicaid. Why that matters: the federal match for Medicaid is 50-50; for SCHIP it’s a more generous 65-35.

Career job site takes a break…

As Adam Wilson notes at his blog, the online application system on the state-run website has been disabled for a week while Department of Personnel staff apparently work hard to update it.

Notice: Our online job application is currently unavailable while we make improvements.

the web team notes, right over this picture:


Earmarks, get your earmarks here…

The federal Office of Management and Budget has created this interesting website to track earmarks in budget legislation. Earmarks, depending on whether you’re getting one, are either critical local infrastructure projects or shameless political pork.

A simple search for, yes, “Spokane” turns up ten earmarks, mostly studies (the aquifer, high speed rail) and $2.5 million for improvements to Riverside Avenue.

See what’s in there for you.

Watada case slated for court martial, starting Tuesday…

The second trial of U.S. Army 1st Lt. Ehren Watada starts on Tuesday.

Watada is the officer who refused to deploy with his unit to Iraq, saying he was opposed to the war there. His offer to instead serve in Afghanistan was rejected by his commanders, who ordered him court-martialed. A first court martial ended in a mistrial.

Watada has been widely hailed by anti-war groups as a hero of conscience, and panned by critics who label him a traitor who refused to follow orders.

Watada faces two charges: missing movement and (four incidents of) conduct unbecoming an officer. The maximum punishment is six years in federal prison and being booted from the Army.

U.S. Supreme Court considers Washington’s highly unusual attempt at a “Top Two” primary election…

In a case that Attorney General Rob McKenna says is “parties versus voters, folks,” Washington state officials are trying to convince the nation’s highest court to allow a “top two” primary election here, even if that means two Republicans or two Democrats facing off on a November ballot.

“I think this is an interesting point in history for this case,” Secretary of State Sam Reed said this morning in a conference call with home-state reporters. “…What ought to be the fole of the political parties in the 21st century, I think, is wide open right now.”

The parties say the argument is simple: It’s their constitutional right to determine who gets to be their standardbearer in November. Depending on who the Supreme Court justices side with, Washington’s proposed system — which allows any candidate to label themself a Democrat or Republican — is either free speech or an unconstituional undercutting of the parties’ right of association.

“It seems to me it’s very clear where the parties are going here,” said McKenna. “Nationally, the parties want to force the voters to register by party if they want to vote in the primary election. I don’t think the voters are going to stand for that for one minute.”

Excerpts from the arguments this morning:

-Justice Scalia: I am less concerned about the fact that the candidate can’t say I’m the — I’m the no-taxes candidate, than I am about the fact that he can associate himself with the Republican Party or the Democratic Party on the ballot and that party has no opportunity on the ballot to say, we have nothing to do with this person. That, it seems to me, is a great disadvantage to the parties.

(UPDATE: And aiming to test this theory is blogger David Goldstein, who said this afternoon that if Washington’s top-two primary is allowed to proceed, he’ll declare himself a Republican and challenge Dino Rossi for the gubernatorial nomination.)

-JUSTICE SOUTER: You’re saying that a right to nominate has to be a right to exclude everyone from the ballot except the nominee — everyone from the ballot under that banner, from the nominee.
(GOP attorney John J. White, Jr.) WHITE: To be — to be a meaningful right to nominate, yes, Your Honor.

MR. WHITE: And with respect to the importance of party designations and party information on the ballot, last term the Chief Justice, in Wisconsin Right to Life, ordered a study that showed that 85 percent of voters couldn’t name a single candidate for the United States House of Representatives in their own district, but the — the voters know the political parties. The political parties spent, in our case, a century and a half and, in the Democratic Party’s case, 200 years developing a message and developing a set of principles with which the parties are associated…

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

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