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Eye On Olympia

Archive for September 2007

Where is she now…

Puget Sound talk-radio-monitor Blatherwatch — Slogan: “Listening to talk radio so you don’t have to.” — notes that former 9th District Democratic candidate for a state House seat Caitlin Ross will be filling in for a couple of days on her dad’s talk-radio show in Seattle.

Ross, a Gonzaga grad who ran a serious campaign but was easily overtaken by Republican rancher Steve Hailey,

“had trouble finding a job on the dryside, so she’s back over here working in Ballard and living on Mercer Island. She’s applying to work in the 2008 legislative session.”

according to Blatherwatch.

The site’s full post is here.

Of serial killers and a death sentence…

Washington’s highest court yesterday upheld Spokane serial killer Robert Lee Yates Jr.’s death sentence for killing two women in Pierce County, as I wrote yesterday.

Writing for the 8-1 majority, Justice Susan Owens addressed one of Yates’ key arguments: that it’s unfair for him to get death in Pierce County for two killings when a plea deal with Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Tucker got him life-without-parole for 13 killings. Yates attorneys also repeatedly pointed to the state’s most prolific serial killer ever, Green River Killer Gary Ridgway, who managed to avoid the death sentence in King County despite killing at least 48 people.

Referring to the latter — and quoting a similar recent ruling — Justice Owens wrote

“Ridgway’s abhorrent killings, standing alone, do not render the death penalty unconstitutional or disproportionate. Our law is not so fragile.”

Here’s an interesting exchange from last November on this very point. The speakers are Chief Justice Gerry Alexander and Yates attorney Thomas Kummerow. (NOTE: turn computer volume down before clicking on link. The audio level’s a little high.) (Audio is copyright TVW, used with permission.)

Dino Rossi steps down as president of Forward Washington Foundation; still not saying if he’ll run..

Former and perhaps future Republican gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi resigned from his Forward Washington Foundation more than two weeks ago, the group said in an email to supporters minutes ago.

“The announcement was delayed until today in order to give the foundation enough time to find a replacement and for Mr. Rossi to transition out of his role as president,”

reads a statement by the group.

They didn’t have to look far. Taking Rossi’s place: former Republican state Sen. Dan McDonald, who was already a board member of the group.

Foundation executive director Ted Dahlstrom blasted Democrats’ recent formal complaint that Rossi was using his public appearances with the foundation as a stealth campaign for governor. The “baseless” complaint by “the governor’s political agents,” he wrote, had hurt the foundation’s fundraising.

State Democratic Party spokesman Kelly Steele’s response: “Once again Dino Rossi believes the rules don’t apply to him. He has spent months illegally campaigning with his sleazy front group and now he’s blaming others because he got caught.”

Rossi’s statement about running:

“I understand that people are going to read whatever they so choose into this announcement, but the fact remains that I have not decided nor declared that I will be a candidate for governor in 2008. My wife and I will assess if my running for governor is right for us and our four children, and for the next month or so I will also be assessing the depth of support among people throughout the state. When both those factors are resolved, I will make a decision and an announcement, one way or the other.”

The effective date of his resignation — Sept. 11 — is the same day that Rossi gave a speech at the Tacoma Country and Golf Club to the 28th (legislative) District Republican Club. From an account posted on the group’s web site:

“Finally Dino was introduced by Senator Mike Carrell, and Charlotte Carrell and five other women dressed in “Rossi Posse” t-shirts and cowboy hats got the crowd chanting DI-NO, DI-NO, Di-NO!

“Dino began by saying that he was not here to speak as president of Forward Washington, but rather as a fellow Republican with a message of hope.”

In the speech, Rossi repeatedly criticized Gov. Chris Gregoire, saying she’s overspending, expanding gambling and that her “health care mandates exemplify the liberal competition-killing philosophy.”

“The press isn’t telling us these realities because they are aligned with Gregoire’s socialist, government control style of governance, but we can spread the word and we must.”

the account says.

And, asked if he’ll run, Rossi is quoted as saying: “We’ll need the support of you and 129 of your friends.”

In Olympia, a fan of the Great White Worm proposes a new state symbol…

On Olyblog, a lively and intensely local blog here in the capital city, writer stevenl makes an impassioned plea to declare the newly discovered giant white worm of the Palouse the “official state worm.”

Steven notes — I missed it at the time — that he made a similar plea a couple of months back to declare the much-maligned mountain beaver to be the state’s official rodent.

The beauty of making both of these uniquely Pacific Northwest animals official state symbols is that they will represent both sides of the state, mountain beavers on the wet side, giant Palouse earthworms on the high and dry side.

he writes.

Your very own Undisclosed Location…guy selling former Titan missile base on e-Bay…

Tucked away under some 57 acres of arid land between Moses Lake and Ritzville is a decades-old Titan missile complex, according to owner Bari Hotchkiss.

And for a mere $1.5 million, you can buy it.

“Ten minutes to Interstate 90,” reads Hotchkiss’ listing on eBay. “1 1/2 hours west of Spokane.”

Under gently sloping concrete-slab entrances — the better to deflect a blast, no doubt — are 16 underground buildings, including three 160-foot-tall missile silos, a 100-foot diameter control dome, and a slightly larger power dome.

“Think of the place like an underground shopping mall, only tunnels instead of a big open hallway connect the various `stores.’” Hotchkiss writes in his ad. “…If you wanted to live below ground — that would be your choice.”

Long gone are the missiles and their nuclear warheads, the 1950s-vintage computers and most everything else that the military could remove when the site was decommissioned in the 1960s, he says. On the plus side, unlike most such sites — chronically plagued with water seepage — this one is dry.

Hotchkiss has gotten some bites on eBay, including from a person who’s apparently interested in turning it into a private residence and airstrip. There would be some significant retrofitting involved, Hotchkiss writes back, including installing a new water and sewage system and — if you chose to live in one or both of the antenna silos — putting in a new hydraulic system for the two 50-ton silo doors: “Then you could have your own push-button 100-ton opening skylight…The crazy thing about all of this is that THIS IS ALL ABSOLUTELY POSSIBLE!!!”

Another potential buyer mentions the possibility of turning it into “an amusement park/resort.”

“Property currently zoned commercial/industrial,” Hotchkiss writes. “Can build pretty much what you want.”

Also leaving: Gov’s spokeswoman…

Holly Armstrong, for the past two years Gov. Chris Gregoire’s top spokeswoman, will leave in November.

“It was a very difficult (if not gut-wrenching) decision, but, ultimately, the best one for me,” she wrote in an email to staffers and capitol reporters this morning.

Armstrong said she’s planning to move to Colorado to be closer to friends and family.

“I have been consistently proud to work with the Gregoire Administration and will very much still consider myself to be part of Team Gregoire,” she wrote.

Governor’s new chief of staff: TVW’s Cindy Zehnder…

Only days after longtime gubernatorial chief of staff Tom Fitzsimmons said he’s stepping down, Gov. Chris Gregoire has picked seasoned Olympia hand Cindy Zehnder to be her new chief of staff. Zehnder starts her new role Oct. 1.

Zehnder is a statehouse veteran. A Teamsters’ driver and dockworker in the 1970s, she spent 13 years working for the union, becoming the elected top officer of a King County Teamsters local from 1994 to 1996. From there, she became an assistant commissioner, then deputy commissioner of the agency.

In 1999, House Democrats picked her to be chief clerk of the House, a job she held until 2003. (In a historical oddity, Zehnder shared the clerk’s duties with a Republican counterpart during the House’s 1999 to 2001 tie, when neither party had a majority in the 98-member House.)

Since 2003, she’s been president and CEO of TVW, the state’s fast-growing version of C-SPAN. She’s also a longtime friend of Gregoire’s.

Although largely a behind-the-scenes job, the job is one of the most powerful in state government. That’s particularly true in an election year, when governors tend to spend much of their time on the road and at campaign events. Fitzsimmons also played a key role negotiating with interest groups, particularly the state’s Indian tribes.

On Zehnder’s watch, TVW continued its steady expansion from its roots as a public-affairs pilot project into a high-tech operation in large new studios. The network, which has meticulously archived years of legislative, gubernatorial and Supreme Court audio into an online library, is now retooling its website into a slick, newsy format.

Zehnder has a bachelors (in anthropology) from the University of Washington, as well as a UW master’s degree in educational psychology. She was also a UW regent from 1995 to 2003. Cougars take heart: she’s also on the Washington State University Tri-Cities campus advisory committee.

Zehnder will get the same salary as Fitzsimmons — $157,272 a year — according to the governor’s office.

Washingtonvotes.org is hiring…

The business-backed Washingtonvotes.org website, a more reader-friendly site re: legislative stuff than the state’s official one, is adding staff.

Ad is here.

(Re: “business-backed,” I stand corrected by the site’s John Barnes: “As a separate entity within Washington Policy Center, it’s funded entirely by individual contributions and charitable foundation grants.”)


State audit of educational service districts: generally pretty good…

State Auditor Brian Sonntag says that the state’s nine educational service districts — regional organizations set up to provide training, technical help and other support to schools — could get an extra $15 million in savings and revenue over five years, as well as helping school districts tap an extra $10.5 million.

But overall, the months-long, $1.4 million state audit found that the ESDs are providing a valuable service to education. The report specifically praises Spokane ESD 101’s “try it before you buy it” program, through which schools can test-drive new classroom technology before laying out the cash for it. The auditor also liked Spokane’s internet-safety program, a team effort with both state and federal law enforcement officials.

The full report is here. NOTE: This is a 1,309-page .pdf document — even with a good broadband connection, this takes a while.

To read the 12-page summary, click here.

Gregoire: state’s effort to cover more children at risk…

Washington – which gets a 50 percent match from the feds – is trying to provide state-run health coverage to kids in families earning up to 300 percent of poverty by 2009.

But a recent ruling by the federal Department of Health and Human Services throws that whole effort into question, Gov. Chris Gregoire said yesterday. Congress is trying to hash out a veto-proof effort to protect states’ efforts to insure more children.

The Bush administration’s move has clearly annoyed Gregoire. From her weekly press conference yesterday:

“The bad news is the administration…I couldn’t be more chagrined at the letter that we received here recently from Health and Human Services that basically said no, we’re not going to let you fund anything over 200 percent…I think their message was we’re going to abandon the children of this country. I just, it’s beyond me. The values in this letter are so beyond anything that this country stands for…What they’ve done is virtually valueless, turned their back on the children of this country.”

Tom Fitzsimmons, Gregoire’s chief of staff, is quitting….

Fitzsimmons, former head of the state Department of Ecology and chief of staff to two governors, is stepping down as chief of staff after four years.

State Democratic chair: Vote for R-67

Washington State Democrats chairman Dwight Pelz is urging party supporters to approve Referendum 67, this November’s ballot face-off over insurance.

“Voters will finally have the opportunity to hold the insurance industry accountable,” Pelz wrote in an email sent out Thursday. “…As Democrats, we must stand together to promote the rights of ordinary Americans.”

The measure would allow triple damages against insurance companies who wrongly deny a policyholder’s legitimate claim. Insurance companies — who have donated more than $7 million to fight such a change — maintain that the lawyer-backed referendum will lead to a flurry of questionable lawsuits and resulting higher costs for all policy holders.

Attys: insurers’ “mean-spirited, lampoon-style ads” are an offensive affront…

Postman’s got a good post today re: trial lawyers’ deep unhappiness with Referendum 67 ads implying that they’re overly litigious.

The ads — backed by insurance companies opposing a triple-damages provision when they wrongly deny a policy-holder’s claim — are causing “irreparable damage” to the public’s estimation of attorneys and are “slanderous, uncivil and reckless,” according to a letter of complaint posted on the Seattle Times’ website.

“It is of critical importance that the (state bar association) not stand by silently while the public is whipped into a frenzy by special interest groups bent on destroying the credibility of our profession,” the bar association president wrote to bar board members.

A spokeswoman for the insurers’ group says the letter sounds a lot like lawyers warming up for a lawuit over ads that suggest they’re too quick to sue.

Rossi video: Similarities to 2004 stump speeches…

Now, back to work.

Democrats continue to pre-emptively pummel Republican maybe-gubernatorial-candidate-by-the-end-of-the-year Dino Rossi for what they say is a stealth campaign: the public meetings and speeches his foundation organizes.

Here’s a YouTube video looking at the similarities between Rossi’s 2004 campaign statements and what he’s saying now:

Supremes: PDC not out of line to clamp down on anti-Senn ad…

Three years after a business-backed group called the “Voters Education Committee,” ran TV ads blasting then-candidate Deborah Senn’s run for attorney general, the state’s highest court ruled this morning that Washington’s campaign watchdog was within it’s rights to order the committee to disclose its donors.

“As Insurance Commissioner, Senn suspended most of a $700,000 fine against an insurance company…in exchange for the company’s agreement to pay for four new staff members in Senn’s own office. Senn even tried to cover up the deal from state legislators…”

the ad said, over an image of money and years-old headlines about the case.

Such a direct attack is not simple — and less-regulated — “issue advocacy,” Washington’s Public Disclosure Commission ruled. It ordered the Voters Education Committee to name it’s contributors. The group refused, saying that the ads were not “express advocacy,” but more of a general statement about issues.

But the state Supreme Court never made it to that interesting, if muddy, issue. Instead, the court ruled 7-2 this morning that the committee was, in fact, a PAC. As such, it should report its contributions and spending in Washington races.

Justices Jim Johnson and Richard Sanders dissented, saying that the court is nontheless is treading on dangerous ground:

If a government entity like the Public Disclosure Commission has the power to regulate political speech through content analysis, the state can stifly attempts to speak truth to power,” Johnson wrote. “I cannot endorse government speech sentinels claiming power to divine a speaker’s intent.”

Johnson took particular exception to the PDC’s conclusion that the ad — which he described as largely citing old newspaper stories — “malign”ed Senn. That “subjective” label by PDC staff, he felt, unfairly led the commission to rule that the Voters Education Committee was a PAC.

Intentional or not, nearly half a billion a year in taxes draining via “underground economy”…

More than 1 in 20 companies doing business in Washington either pay less than their fair share of state taxes or pay nothing at all, state officials said Wednesday.

All told, tens of thousands of businesses in Washington are underpaying their state taxes by about $457 million a year, due largely to an “underground economy” of service-related companies and other employers, state officials say.

“We know very little about these people” other than that they’re not paying, state Department of Revenue Director Cindi Holmstrom told Gov. Chris Gregoire Wednesday. Part of the data came from a comparison of firms registered with the IRS but not with the state.

A couple of things researchers do know: Most of the unpaid taxes are from businesses based other states. Of those based here, many are small, grossing less than $100,000 a year.

The discussion was part of Gregoire’s “Government Management Accountability and Performance” process, a series of early-morning meetings with top staffers in a conference room beneath the capitol rotunda.

The $457 million includes unpaid taxes, worker’s compensation payments and unemployment insurance. Some companies don’t pay enough in taxes; others pay nothing, since they’re not even registered as a business.

State officials are hoping to narrow the “tax gap” with a mix of education, audits and enforcement.

“We’re going to find you…So come on in. The welcome mat is out today,” said Gregoire, who said she first heard about the problem as attorney general. “The last thing we want as a message in this state is that you’re at a disadvantage if you play by the rules.”

Wilson, at The Olympian, also has a good post on this.

Puget Sound transportation ballot measure ads launched…

Just days after local attorney Steve Eugster torpedoed his own lawsuit involving a massive roads-and-transit tax plan in Puget sound, proponents are launching TV ads on local cable stations (and, of course, YouTube) today.

“Industry delayed in tranporting goods. Parents struggling to get kids to daycare. Businesses late in making deliveries. Commuters stuck trying to make it home for dinner…Endless debates and zero action simply won’t cut it anymore.”

a voice intones over shots of traffic inching along clogged freeways.

Eugster’s 11th-hour withdrawal of his Supreme Court case: the backstory…

From our print edition today: A look at why Spokane attorney Steve Eugster dropped his own case only hours before oral arguments Thursday:

With a two-sentence, handwritten note to the chief justice, Spokane attorney Steve Eugster on Thursday scuttled his own case just hours before arguments in front of the state Supreme Court.

“It’s not without precedent, I’m sure, but boy, it doesn’t happen very often,” Chief Justice Gerry Alexander said.

Click here to read the story.


Eugster pulls out of case at 11th hour…

According to the state Supreme Court clerk’s office, Spokane attorney Steve Eugster has withdrawn his appeal regarding the Puget Sound transportation ballot measure.

UPDATE:

“Mr Eugster called around to the various counsel this morning, saying that he would like to drop his appeal if the other parties would agree not to ask the court to impose sanctions against him,” said Jeff Even, one of the attorneys handling the case for the state Attorney General’s office.

In 20 years as a lawyer, Even said, he’s never seen anything like this happen so late in the game during an appeal.

“We said `Well, OK, I guess we don’t have any objection to you dropping your appeal,” Even said.

Eugster’s pullout means that the transportation measure will proceed to the ballot in November as planned.

“It’s over,” Even said of the court case.

Jennifer Dunn: dead at 66…

Former U.S. Rep. Jennifer Dunn, a well-known Republican congresswoman from the Bellevue area, died Wednesday after suffering a pulmonary embolism at her Virginia apartment, the AP is reporting.

“She will deeply be missed and celebrated for an extraordinary career that changed the future for women in politics,” Secretary of State Sam Reed said in a statement released moments ago by his office.

Larry Craig “reconsidering” his decision to quit the Senate…

The Associated Press is reporting that Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, is reconsidering his decision to quit on Sept. 30 over allegations that he tried to solicit a Minnesota airport police officer in a men’s room.

“It’s not such a foregone conclusion anymore, that the only thing he could do was resign,” said Sidney Smith, Craig’s spokesman in Idaho’s capital.

“We’re still preparing as if Senator Craig will resign Sept. 30, but the outcome of the legal case in Minnesota and the ethics investigation will have an impact on whether we’re able to stay in the fight — and stay in the Senate.”

Poulsen leaving

State Sen. Erik Poulsen, D-West Seattle, is leaving the Legislature to go to work for the industry group representing the state’s 28 public power and water utilities.

Poulsen is an evironmentalist who helped hammer out an unlikely water-rights truce two sessions ago with Eastern Washington farm- and ranch interests. He fought hard earlier this year to convince his fellow lawmakers to curtail a planned expansion of a sand- and gravel mine on Puget Sound’s Maury Island. After legislative brinkmanship between the House and Senate, Poulsen’s proposal died late in the session. His name had been floated as a potential Democratic candidate to run against Republican Doug Sutherland, the state Lands Commissioner. Former congressional candidate Peter Goldmark, also a Democrat, has since announced that he’ll challenge Sutherland next year.

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

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