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Eye On Olympia

Archive for May 2008

State’s top election official to candidates: “No funny business”

As hundreds of candidates file their candidacy forms next week, Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed is is calling on them to behave.

This is Washington’s first ever “top two” primary, which allows candidates to describe their party preference in 16 (non-obscene) letters.

Most, Reed hopes, will stick to words like “Democratic”, “Republican”, “Libertarian”, “Green” and so on.

But in a state that’s seen perennial ballot appearances by Mike The Mover and Michael Goodspaceguy Nelson, election officials worry that candidates are going to get too creative with those 16 characters. Reed says he hopes candidates play it straight and don’t try to shoehorn in more information, like “pro-life GOP” or “Anti-war Dem.”

“Running for office is very important business and my hope is that candidates play it straight and be serious with this,” Reed said in a press release. “If a person expects to get elected, they need to show they are taking this seriously and not play games. The voters deserve no less.”

Say all you want in the voters’ pamphlet, he says, but don’t clutter up the ballot with personal messages.

GOP convention: It’s getting a little chaotic in there…

As predicted, things are starting to get lively at the state Republican convention in Spokane. The delegates have this morning voted whether to add an unplanned speaker (he got to speak) and whether to throw out the Skagit delegation (denied, but with a flurry of points of order.) Chairman Luke Esser is trying to keep order, and the Roberts Rules book is sure getting a workout. Some members of the crowd, one delegate says, are “confused as hell.”

GOP convention…

From this morning’s crop of speeches:

“We are the only group that Christine Gregoire can’t unionize.”
-Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers

“The purpose of this assembly is to bring people together” to unite behind GOP principles. “Everybody in this room, you’re all Republicans. You are family. Come together.”
-Congressman Dave Reichert, after chants of “Ron Paul! Ron Paul!” rolled through the crowd.

“We have to be united going forward, or Dino Rossi will not be the next governor of this state.”
-Attorney General Rob McKenna, urging Republicans not to sit out this year’s vote.

“We’ll have the cleanest rolls, I think, that we’ve probably had in half a century.”
-Secretary of State Sam Reed, on scrubbing thousands of invalid voters from registration lists.

Gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi vowed to “win again,” blasted Gov. Chris Gregoire’s “audacity of nope” and “can’t-do attitute.” He also vowed to shuffle state agency staff as governor, focusing on Olympia’s customer service to citizens.

“It’s been the same people down there, smoking each other’s exhaust for a very long time,” Rossi said.

Reports the S-R’s Jim Camden from the convention floor:

One of the delegates walking around on the floor has a T-shirt that says “No Bloviating.” He’s about to be sorely disappointed.

Here’s a link to Jim’s blog.

Let the filing begin…

Next week marks the start of filing week, when candidates put cash down (1 percent of the elected position’s annual salary) and throw themselves into the political ring.

Many candidates, of course, declared months (or in some cases, years) ago. And political reporters tend to use the Public Disclosure Commission’s fundraising filings as a sort of early-warning radar as to who’s running and who’s really a contender. But next week is the traditional kickoff.

You can file at the Secretary of State’s office in Olympia, where there’s likely to a line on Monday morning. You can also file with your local county auditor. The Secretary of State’s office expects about 70 percent of candidates to file online.

This is also the first year in which candidates will have to list a “party preference,” which will be printed alongside their name on the ballot. This consists of 16 characters that will be sandwiched between “prefers” and “party.”

Candidates are free to write whatever they want in that space, so long as it’s not obscene or implies that they’re a particular party’s chosen nominee. Although election officials are hoping people stick to the names of real political parties, candidates are free to write “anti-war Dem,” for example, or “no new taxes GOP” in that space.

Filing ends online on Friday June 6 at 4 p.m. and in-person that day at 5 p.m.

Several square off for retiring Rep. Mary Skinner’s House seat…

Yakima City Councilman Norm Johnson has filed campaign paperwork to run as a Republican to replace Rep. Mary Skinner, R-Yakima, who recently announced that she’s stepping down at the end of the year.

And Johnson’s not the only one. According to the Yakima Herald-Republic, Democrat Vickie Ybarra and Republican Bob McLaughlin are also getting in the race. Interestingly, all three have strong educational credentials: Johnson was a teacher in Mabton and a longtime teacher and principal in Toppenish, Ybarra’s been on the Yakima School Board since 2002, and McLaughlin retired as Union Gap school superintendent four years ago.

Regardless of who wins, that educational background should come in handy. The state is trying to revamp (and boost) school funding, with a key set of recommendations due to lawmakers in December — just before whoever wins Skinner’s seat is sworn in.

More on the PDC…

Also, the group is debating what to do about a longstanding requirement that political candidates note their party on campaign ads.

After all, in the state’s soon-to-be-tried-for-the-first-time Top Two Primary, you’re just expressing a “party preference.” And party is irrelevant in the primary: the top two vote getters appear on the November ballot, regardless of party.

On the other hand, even a preferred party is likely a very important piece of information to many voters.

The commissioners decided to table the issue until their June 26 meeting, when they’ll hear public comment on it.

Spokane diocese on I-1000…

The Catholic Diocese of Spokane is one of those taking sides in the assisted suicide measure that proponents are trying to get on the ballot this year.

In a recent letter to parishioners, Spokane Bishop William Skylstad urged church members not to sign the petitions to put the measure before voters.

I-1000, modeled on Oregon’s unique death-with-dignity law, would allow doctors to prescribe lethal medication to competent, terminally ill patients who request it. Among its backers: former Gov. Booth Gardner, who is suffering the effects of Parkinson’s disease.

Proponents call the measure a carefully-safeguarded way to give dying people who want it a say in their departure from life. And it’s not suicide, they argue, for an already-dying person to choose how and when to go.

“Certainly we do have fears about death, pain, the resulting loss of control in our lives, and becoming a burden on others,” Skylstad wrote. “We recognize these fears as part of our existence, yet in embracing the Resurrection of Christ we can confront these challenges and live in faith and hope.”

The letter also urges church members to discuss the measure with their friends and neighbors – and provides several talking points. Among them: that the measure would mushroom into euthanasia, threatening disabled people and doctors’ role as healers.

Look for lots more of this debate between now and Election Day. Initiative 1000 is well-funded and highly likely to make it to the ballot. Similar debates in other states – only Oregon’s has passed – were emotional, expensive and hard-fought.

“Party of Commons” candidate files to run for Secretary of State….

C. Mark Greene, chairman of a fledgling political party called the Party of Commons, has filed campaign finance paperwork to challenge Secretary of State Sam Reed.

“No automatic coronation for Sam,” he writes on his blog.

A perennial federal candidate, Greene was planning to run for Congress for a sixth time, but apparently was $500 short for the filing fee this year.

“It’s no coincidence that Mark’s campaign financial wherewithal to file for Secretary of STate as opposed to Congress is an approximate difference of $500,” he wrote. He said no incumbent should be unopposed in an election.

“A bold and dynamic new national party has taken hold,” state’s the party’s website, which spells out a platform of “economically progressive, culturally traditional, non-interventionist” planks. Among them: trade protectionism, mandatory labeling of genetically-modified food.

On his campaign site, Greene said he’s relying on a “word-of-mouth campaign strategy.”

State Sen. Swecker hospitalized, imminent open heart surgery on valve problem…

State Sen. Dan Swecker, R-Rochester, is in critical care at an Olympia hospital after a “cardiac episode” at home Saturday night, according to a press release his office just sent out.

An echocardiogram test showed that Swecker, who recently turned 61, has a congenital heart valve abnormality that requires open heard surgery, the release says. Surgery’s slated for Wednesday or Thursday.

Swecker had just gotten out of the hospital on Friday, after hip replacement surgery last Wednesday.

His wife, Debby Swecker, said Swecker is in stable condition and good spirits, and appreciates messages and prayers he’s getting. The family is steering well-wishers and press calls to Swecker’s spokesman, Brian Zylstra, at zylstra.brian@leg.wa.gov.

Don’t ask, don’t tell case…

More from this morning’s paper:

OLYMPIA - The military cannot automatically discharge people because they’re gay, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday in a case involving an Air Force nurse from Spokane.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals revived Maj. Margaret Witt’s constitutional challenge to the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban on sexually active gays and lesbians. The court overruled a federal judge in Tacoma who’d thrown the case out.

The ruling doesn’t get Witt back into the Air Force. It called for more fact-finding about Witt’s situation.

But in what could prove to be a critical turning point, the judges also indicated that the longstanding military policy merits stricter constitutional scrutiny due to a landmark 2003 U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

No other court, according to the Air Force, has ever said that.

“I’m absolutely thrilled by the court’s recognition that I can’t be discharged without somehow proving that I was somehow hurting unit cohesion and morale,” Witt said Wednesday.

She argues the opposite: that removing an experienced, much-decorated flight nurse in the middle of a war hurt her medical unit’s ability to serve troops. Years after being forced to leave, she’s still in touch with members of her unit and has been invited back for their 50th anniversary celebration.

“I still miss my Air Force family and would love the opportunity to fulfill my duties and be there to help anybody that needs it,” she said.

Two major rulings out of the 9th Circuit this morning…

HANFORD INITIATIVE: The federal appeals court said this morning that despite an overwhelming vote by Washington voters in 2004, the resulting state law requiring the feds to clean up the Hanford Nuclear Reservatin before dumping any more waste there is pre-empted by federal law.
Former state Rep. Toby Nixon, who joined the lawsuit to try to preserve the state law, is urging Attorney General Rob McKenna to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Unless this appeal is pressed,” he said, “every state that hosts disposal sites for radioactive waste is at risk of losing its ability to regulate those sites” due to the ruling.

DON’T ASK, DON’T TELL: And Air Force Maj. Margaret Witt appears to have won a partial victory in her challenge to her dismissal from the service for being a lesbian. I’m still working my way through the ruling…developing story…

Gregoire to seek federal funds for ruined Mt. Spokane highway…

With some people cut off from their homes by a major flood-water washout of SR 206 near Spokane, Gov. Chris Gregoire said this afternoon that she’ll issue an emergency proclamation to draw federal dollars to help pay the $1 million-plus repair bill. Nearly a quarter-mile of road was destroyed by fast-melting creeks that roared over their banks and washed away large stretches of the roadway.

“With some residents living in this area now completely cut off from their jobs and schools, it is imperative that emergency repairs get done quickly,” Gregoire said today on a trip to Spokane.

State engineers closed the highway from about the Mount Spokane state park gates to the summit. There are no detour roads. A contractor has been hired to immediately start rebuilding the ruined road.

Appearing with Gregoire were state Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, and fellow Sen. Chris Marr, also D-Spokane. Both praised the quick response.

The road crews hope to have a single-lane route open within two or three days for local residents and park staff.

State Demo Party chairman is another superdelegate vote for…Obama…

Dwight Pelz, chairman of the Washington State Democrats and one of the state’s Democratic “superdelegates” in what turned out to be a fiercely contested Democratic nomination fight, today said that he’s supporting Barack Obama.

“Barack Obama can win this election, and has clearly energized a generation of voters that hunger for change, helping inspire a critical voting block for Democrats for the future,”
Pelz wrote. (“Block” is cq.)

And he gave a concise preview of the summer-to-fall political ad season with his description of presumptive GOP nominee John McCain: “…the tired, old, recycled ideas of Bush Republicanism embodied by the militaristic and fiercely conservative John McCain…”

Pelz said he’s gained enormous respect for Hillary Clinton and that the months-long vetting of both top Democratic candidates has made the party stronger.

“I have no doubt that Sen. Clinton would be a tough, thoughtful, intelligent, compassionate and supremely-prepared President of the United States.

At this point in time, however, I feel the voters have spokesn, that Sen. Obama will be our nominee, and that it is time for us as Democrats to being the final stretch of this historic 2008 campaign to take back America. It is time to unify our party around one candidate.”

The photographer, the police and the cell phone: more details…

Last week, I wrote about a Spokane Regional Transportation Council employee who stopped to take some work-related photos at an Interstate 90 weigh station, only be startled when her personal cell phone rang 10 minutes later. On the phone: a state trooper, wanting to know why she was shooting photos.

The worker, Staci Lehman, was astounded — and a little uneasy — to get that call.

The Washington State Patrol confirmed the incident, but said they’re not quite as all-seeing as it suggests.

As for questioning a photographer about taking photos in public, Sgt. Freddy Williams, a spokesman for the Washington State Patrol, said that the concerns apparently stem from “the basic suspiciousness of the action.”

The weigh station was nearly deserted, he said, and “Across the coutnry, we have had officers attacked and killed in suspicious-type circumstances. So it’s those type of red flags that went off.”

As for quickly tracking down Lehman’s cell phone, he said, she had once contacted law enforcement and given that cell phone number as a contact number. When police ran the car’s plates and came up with her name, that saved phone number came up as well.

“That’s all there is to it,” Williams said.

Such situations, he said, are unusual. The State Patrol typically cannot find someone’s cell phone by running a check on their license plate, he said.

“We don’t have that capability,” he said. “We just run it through the DOL (Department of Licensing database).”

The incident has been widely reported on blogs.

“Some people, they don’t trust the police any farther than you can throw them. And some people, we can do not wrong,” said Williams. “What we’re looking for is somewhere in the middle.”

Who’s that on your cell phone? The cops, and they want to know why you’re taking photos….

Staci Lehman, who works for the Spokane Regional Transportation Council, was out on Tuesday snapping some photos of a soon-to-be-moved highway weigh station on Interstate 90 near the Washington/Idaho state line.

“We were just doing a Powerpoint on some of the projects that are funded in our master transportation plan,” said co-worker Jeff Selle.

Lehman, driving her own car, pulled into the “pretty much deserted” spot, took a couple of photos, and continued on her way.

About 10 minutes later, she says, her privately-owned cell phone rang. On the phone: a state trooper wanting to know why she had been taking those pictures.

She blogged about the experience on the SRTC’s transportation blog:

I don’t know if this will make you feel better or scare the hell out of you. I’m on the fence about it.

(For those wondering, here’s an attorney’s concise, authoritative summary of photographers’ rights.)

The SRTC post was linked to by one of most-read blogs in America, an…

New poll numbers: Gregoire’s standing with voters is improving…

A May 12 phone poll of 500 likely voters in Washington suggests that “the re-election prospects for Washington Governor Christine Gregiore (D) have improved significantly over the past two months” according to pollster Rasmussen Reports.

The poll shows Gregoire leading Republican challenger Dino Rossi 11 percentage points, 52 percent to 41 percent.

As the polling firm notes, that’s a significant change from March, when Rossi drew 46 percent support to Gregoire’s 47 percent.

From Rasmussen’s summary:

Gregoire is now viewed favorably by 55% of the state’s voters while Rossi is viewed favorably by 49%. For Gregoire, that represents a two-point gain from the previous survey while Rossi’s figure is down two points.

Those figures include 24% with a Very Favorable opinion of Gregoire and 22% with a Very Unfavorable opinion of her. Twenty-six percent (26%) have a Very Favorable opinion of Rossi while 25% have a Very Unfavorable view.

When it comes to the way she has performed her role as Governor, 44% of Washington voters give Gregoire a good or excellent rating. That’s down a couple of points since March. Twenty-six percent (26%) now say she is doing a poor job.

Supreme court news…

As ordained minister Virgil Montgomery describes it, the trip that landed him before the state’s highest court began with a few errands.

On a shopping trip to Spokane, the 60-year-old Newport man and a 63-year-old friend bought some matches for his woodstove. And some cough medicine. And some acetone to remove old floor tiles in his old trailer. And a bottle of hydrogen peroxide to treat a dog’s cuts.

By the end of that day in 2004, their borrowed Geo Storm contained a new pair of reading glasses from the Dollar Store and five of the nine ingredients to manufacture methamphetamine. And police had been trailing them since that first cold-medicine purchase at a Spokane Valley Target store.

Montgomery and his friend were arrested, tried and convicted of intent to make meth. But on Thursday, Montgomery got a pleasant surprise from the state Supreme Court. In a unanimous ruling, the justices threw out his conviction and ordered a new trial.

The court didn’t say Montgomery was innocent. On the contrary, Justice Tom Chambers wrote that his “conviction was supported by substantial evidence.” But…

Another lawmaker steps down…

Rep. Mary Skinner, R-Yakima, said today that she will not run for re-election this fall.

“After long and careful consideration and much prayer, I have decided not to seek an eighth term in office as state representative and will retire in January,” she said in a press release.

Skinner, who recently battled colon cancer, said that the disease is in remission and that she remains healthy.

“I do feel fine and I want people to know that my retirement has absolutely nothing to do with my health,” she said. “However, when you have faced cancer, you begin to view life in a different perspective.” She said she’s gained a deeper appreciation of life, friends and family, and that after 14 years in the statehouse, “it is time to return to them.”

Skinner, a former teacher, is a lifelong resident of Yakima.

The race for state schools chief…

From today’s paper:

SEATAC _ The opening-day convention crowd was a lively, thousand-strong mass of people. The ballroom swelled with cheers for door prizes, then faded to back-of-the-room chatting.

In front of this crowd, Richard Semler rose. With little introduction, he painted a stark picture from his boyhood: the day his mom told him that she and his dad were divorcing.

“That conversation destroyed my life at that age,” he said. “We were dirt poor.” At night, he said, the family would go to the grocery store and gawk at food they couldn’t afford.

The crowd fell dead silent as he continued.

“And the school? I hated school,” he said. “I hated studies. I hated my life…And if it were not for three teachers at Shadle Park High School at 13, 14, 15 years old, I would not be here today.”

Welcome to the race for state Superintendent of Public Instruction, an emotional five-way battle for what the candidates say is the most important thing of all: our children’s futures.

The race pits a controversial 12-year incumbent, Terry Bergeson, against Semler and a third strong candidate: former lawmaker and union leader Randy Dorn. The battleground issues: student testing, teacher accountability and school funding.

“This is about kids,” said Dorn, painting a picture of an educational system hamstrung by testing pressures, ineffective leadership and straining budgets.

Here’s a look at the three major candidates so far, as well as two longshot ones.

(Photo info: Rich Semler, right, speaks to the Washington State Parent-Teachers Association convention in Seatac May 2. At left is candidate Don Hansler; center is incumbent Terry Bergeson. Photo by Richard Roesler/The Spokesman-Review.)

About that McCain visit…

The state Democratic Party is seeking donations to hire a plane to fly around Seattle skies on Tuesday, trailing a banner reading “JOHN MCCAIN: 100 YEARS IN IRAQ.”

McCain visit, school budgets and the grant that dried up…

Catching up…

— Dinner with John McCain in Bellevue can be yours next week, for $33,100 a plate.

— The Everett Herald’s Jerry Cornfield takes a closer look at the widespread budget woes of school districts.

— And finally this: An impasse between a Texas-based educational foundation and the union-backed state compensation rules for Washington teachers has cost schools — including Spokane’s — more than $13 million in math and science help for thousands of students.

It looks like The Vancouver Columbian’s Howard Buck broke that story Saturday:

A $13.2 million, five-year grant from the National Math and Science Initiative, designed to add new Advanced Placement teachers, courses and exams for thousands of Washington high school students, has been scrubbed.

The reasons?

The state’s rule against merit pay for teachers, and top-down inflexibility, said discouraged Southwest Washington program leaders who broke the news Friday.

…Despite weeks of talks, no way was found around teachers union collective bargaining rules to meet the rigid guidelines of the grant organization.

Among the casualties: state Rep. Bill Fromhold, D-Vancouver, who said months ago that he’d step down from the Legislature this year in order to run the grant. As Buck wrote, “the job has evaporated.” More:

Rich Wood, spokesman for the Washington Education Association, said many nonprofits have granted money to school districts without this outcome.

“Some outside group can’t impose a new system of pay on teachers,” Wood said. “That’s just not the way that schools work in our state.”

The Seattle Times had a similar story on Monday.

WASL: Still a lightning rod atop the capitol dome…

The state’s Parent-Teachers Association held its annual convention in Seatac last week, drawing more than 1,000 people from across the state. Here are some highlights from a panel discussion on a topic that’s sure to dominate the five-way race for state superintendent of public instruction this summer: the controversial Washington Assessment of Student Learning test.

The WASL is now a “high-stakes” test, meaning that the Class of 2008 is supposed to pass parts of it – or otherwise show they know the material – to get a high school diploma. But the test remains a lightning rod, with many educators saying it now overshadows other important aspects of education.

“It’s unfortunate that the test has become the poster child of all the things that maybe aren’t working in this system,” said state assistant superintendent Joe Willhoft. Regardless of the test, he said, schools need more resources and tools to improve instruction.

“It’s as if we have taken our temperature and noticed we had a fever, and now we’re trying to blame the thermometer,” said communications consultant David Fisher. He argued that the debate over the test shouldn’t eclipse the need for high standards and accountability.

But despite a “menu” of alternative assessments for kids who cannot pass the WASL, “Students do not experience it as a menu,” said Yelm high school teacher Lester Krupp. “They experience it as increasing confusion and pressure…It just adds to the likelihood they’ll be overwhelmed.”

Spokane Education Association president Maureen Ramos cited Spokane’s success bringing up test scores at schools with even very-low-income students. How? By changing the curriculum, training teachers, and forging a coordinated plan to improve.

Yes, Ramos said, schools need an accountability system. But it’s a mistake, she feels, to pin so much on the WASL. Kids are exhausted, she said, and the pressure leaves some in tears. It’s unfair to children struggling to learn English, she said, and the high-pressure testing often doesn’t reflect what a child really knows.

“The WASL has overrun its premise,” she said.

More evidence we’re in for a big-money cage match for governor…

Although reportedly trailing Gov. Chris Gregoire in fundraising last month, Republican challenger Dino Rossi recently celebrated a milestone: racking up as many individual campaign contributions as he got during his entire 2004 campaign.

To thank the 30,746th donor this year, Rossi led a sort of Prize Patrol trip to the door of an Auburn woman named Rhonda. (The prize: some balloons and Rossi’s 2005 book.)

Along the way, Rossi tells the video camera: “Sixty two percent of our contributors now are people that are new to the campaign, people that did not participate last time,” he said.

The soundtrack? The Beach Boys’ “Help Me, Rhonda,” which abruptly cuts out just before the final words of “Help me Rhonda, yeah, get her out of my heart.”

Gov. Chris Gregoire, meanwhile, got the endorsement today of the Washington State Labor Council. At the group’s annual convention, more than 350 union delegates voted — unanimously — to back her. They represent more than 400,000 Washington union members.

Here’s Rossi’s video clip:

Huckabee: Out of the race and in Spokane…

Former Arkansas governor and Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee will be in Spokane May 20 to headline a $40-a-head “Friends of the Family Banquet” at the Spokane Convention Center.

From the rules for the state’s Top Two primary, coming to a ballot near you on Aug. 19…

Thanks to I-872 several years ago and a recent ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court, Washingtonians are about to vote in a new pick-no-party primary this summer. The top two vote-getters for an office — regardless of party — will face off on the November ballot.

The ballot (or polling place) will be marked with a note saying:

“Washington has a new primary. You do not have to pick a party. In each race, you may vote for any candidate listed…”

Each candidate will get a chance to list a “party preference” and the ballot, like this:

-Chris Gregoire (Prefers Democratic Party)

But as I’ve written before, candidates are free to put whatever they want in between “prefers” and “party,” so long as it’s 16 characters or less and isn’t obscene.

“If the name of the political party provided by the candidate would be considered obscene, the filing officer may petition the superior court” to have it edited, the rules say, or replaced with “states no party preference.”

High court: sex offender wrongly committed…

In tomorrow’s paper:

In a ruling that could affect some other sex-offender cases, a sharply divided Washington Supreme Court on Thursday said that a Vancouver man was wrongly committed as a sexually violent predator.

Several dissenters on the court agreed that there was a technical mistake in the case, but said it didn’t merit freeing the man.

The court challenge came from Sheldon Martin, a kidnapper and sex offender arrested in 1992 in Portland, Ore. and sentenced to a year in prison. He was also sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison for a Vancouver, Wash. burglary and indecent exposure. Only the Oregon crimes fall under Washington’s sexually violent predator law, which allows the state to continue to hold dangerous predators even after they’ve served their sentences.

Court opinion: click here.

Dissent: click here.

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

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