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Eye On Olympia

Archive for November 2008

In the capitol dome: nativity scene to the left, atheist nook on your right…

From the print paper:

OLYMPIA _ On Monday in the Washington state Capitol, Christians on one side of the rotunda will erect a Nativity scene, with a 3 1/2-foot-tall Joseph and Mary and a baby Jesus in a manger.

On the other side of the echoing dome, members of an atheist group will post their own display: a 4 1/2-foot-tall sign declaring that there is no God and that “religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”

Welcome to the latest chapter in the annual tussle to stake out a piece of holiday real estate in what lawmakers like to call “the people’s house.”

Things were simpler in 2005, before state Rep. John Ahern, R-Spokane, decided to launch a protest against the long-standing offend-no-one practice of declaring the annual evergreen towering inside the Capitol a “holiday tree.” (The 30-foot trees, surrounded by gifts, are donated by the Association of Washington Business.)

Ahern objected, saying the thing was clearly a Christmas tree. In protest, he gathered with a few dozen supporters on the steps of the Capitol to sing carols that year. Then he tucked a little “Merry Christmas” sign at the base of the tree, along with a shiny cardboard cutout of a Jewish menorah.

And so it began. The next year, bearded orthodox rabbis gathered with Gov. Chris Gregoire to light a large menorah in the rotunda. That triggered a request by Olympia real-estate agent Ron Wesselius to erect the Nativity scene.

State officials balked. Wesselius sued. The state settled, and Wesselius last year was allowed to prop up the figures on the Capitol’s third floor.

As a result, Capitol officials now say they’ll honor virtually any request for a religious or political display.

As long as it’s not disruptive, costs taxpayers nothing and is not seen as the state endorsing any viewpoint, “it’s pretty much wide open,” said Steve Valandra, spokesman for General Administration, the state agency that issues the permits. “It’s free expression.”

After all, he pointed out, state officials had to let about a dozen uniformed neo-Nazis use the Capitol steps for a white-separatist rally in July 2006. Hundreds of state troopers spent the afternoon keeping the Nazis and hundreds of counter-demonstrators separated.

Still, some think the religious expressions go too far.

The Olympian newspaper recently decried the competing displays as “an out-of-control struggle for religious superiority” and “escalating nonsense.”

“How long will it be before the Capitol is filled with competing displays?” the paper asked. “Goat sacrifices?”

Ahern said religion is under attack in popular society, and all major religions should be free to have a display in the Statehouse.

“We are a Judeo-Christian nation, and we need to honor the different times of year for Christians, Jews and even Muslims,” he said.

Christmas trees, menorahs and displays for Ramadan should all be welcomed, Ahern said. But the atheist sign,

Gregoire to state agencies: Must…save…more…

Calling for “an immediate, firm and direct response,” the governor’s budget director, Victor Moore, today called for $260 million more in state budget cuts.


Among the new cuts: another $4.5 million from Washington State University and $1 million from Eastern Washington University. The Department of Social and Health Services will have to cut nearly $181 million from its $4.6 billion budget.

“You should aim to cut or save from your remaining FY 2009 General Fund appropriations as indicated on the attached list,” Moore wrote this morning to state agencies, college presidents and others. “I want to clarify that this is in addition to cuts you made in August and October.”

Find more efficiencies, he told them. “Continue to pull back on new programs not yet fully implemented.” And scale back current programs and activities that aren’t top priorities.

The cuts work out to about 6.2 percent of the state agencies’ money for the rest of the year, and 3 percent to 3.5 percent for higher education.

And this is just to balance the budget in the remaining 7 months of this fiscal year. Further cuts will undoubtedly come for the $4.6 billion — or more — to be pared from the budget over the next two years.

“Thank you again,” Moore closes, “for all of your efforts during these challenging economic times.”

Who was that shouting “Tyrant!” at the U.S. attorney general? It sure sounds like Justice Sanders…

Someone heckled U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey last week during Mukasey’s speech before The Federalist Society in Washington, D.C. (About 15 minutes after the incident, Mukasey slumped at podium and fainted.)

Who was the person shouting “Tyrant! You ARE a tyrant!” from the audience?

Allegedly Washington State Supreme Court Justice Richard Sanders, famous for his libertarian-leaning dissents.

Lawyer Wendy Long said on Fox News Friday night that it was Sanders. The statement was picked up by conservative writer Michelle Malkin.

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto opined that yes, it was likely Sanders. Taranto was in the room at the speech.

We were seated close enough to the heckler to note that he was at Table 50—Sanders’s assigned table, according to the dinner program. Although we did not recognize the heckler, we observed that he had white hair and a mustache, as does Sanders…

Here’s a new post from today from Malkin, who queried Sanders about the incident and got an equivocal response. He told her “I had personally left the dinner long before he collapsed and first knew of it watching the news from my hotel room the next morning,” but didn’t answer whether he was the heckler.

In the audio recording from The Federalist Society web page, go to the 17-minute, 28-second mark and you’ll hear a voice — which sounds a lot like Richard Sanders’ — shouting out “Tyrant! You ARE a tyrant!” as Mukasey touts the Bush Administration’s achievements combating terrorism. (Note: the video, not surprisingly, is very slow to load. Once it’s loaded halfway or so, scroll to the time mark above.)

On the recording, you can hear other members of the audience telling the heckler to knock it off.

“Sit down!” says one voice. “Sit down.”

Sanders is arguably the court’s most colorful personality, routinely weaving quotes from sources as diverse as Dickens, Shakespeare, the Bible, and the Rolling Stones into his rulings. See also this excellent 1998 profile by former Seattle Times writer David Postman.

Sanders told The Olympian’s Adam Wilson yesterday that he wasn’t present when Mukasey collapsed. But he declined to answer whether he was the heckler.

“As to that, I don’t have any comment. But I wasn’t there when he collapsed. I heard it on television the next morning, I was very sorry to hear it.” Sanders told Wilson. Sanders also left Wilson with the strong impression that Sanders wasn’t even at the speech.

Stay tuned. I’ve got calls in to both Sanders’ Olympia office and home office. I’m told that he and state court officials are working on a statement that will explain more.

UPDATE: Sanders minutes ago sent out a five paragraph statement. He said he was particularly irked at Mukasey’s noting that Al Qaeda is not a signatory to the Geneva Conventions, which Sanders said prompted a laugh from the Federalist Society crowd.

Attorney General Mukasey received a standing ovation. I passionately disagree with these views: the government must never set aside the Constitution; domestic and international law forbids torture; and access to the writ of habeas corpus should not be denied.

Sanders wrote.

The program provided no opportunity for questions or response, and I felt compelled to speak out. I stood up, and said, “tyrant,” and then left the meeting. No one else said anything. I believe we must speak our conscience in moments that demand it, even if we are but one voice.

Sanders argues that the expression doesn’t mean that he heckled Mukasey. Although the video shows Mukasey pausing in his speech and other audience members can be heard telling Sanders to sit down, Sanders says he didn’t disrupt the meeting. Only later did he learn that Mukasey fainted about 15 minutes afterward.

I hope those who know my jurisprudence will agree that to truly love the Constitution is to uphold it, to speak out for it, not just in times of peace and prosperity, but also in times of chaos and crisis.

Sanders wrote.

Read his full memo here.

State workers starting to sweat the budget…

From the print paper:

OLYMPIA _ The specter of layoffs is looming over a sector of the economy that rarely sees it: state workers.

As Olympia struggles to bridge a record budget shortfall of $5.1 billion - or more - over the next 2 1/2 years, lawmakers and budget officials say that cutting jobs looks more likely.

“It’s difficult to imagine that we’d be able to balance the budget without there being some reduction in the size of the work force,” said Glenn Kuper, spokesman for the state budget office. Retirements and attrition, he said, aren’t likely to be enough.

“I would say it’s very likely,” state Sen. Margarita Prentice, when asked about layoffs. The Renton Democrat leads the Senate’s budget-writing committee.

There are about 16,000 state-paid workers in the Spokane region, including social workers, probation officers, prison guards, mental health workers and the staff and faculty at two public universities.

Teachers also are largely state paid, but are more insulated from budget woes because the state constitution mandates that funding schools is the state’s “paramount duty.”

The news worsened last week, when a state economist announced that a weak economy has caused the expected $3.2ƒ|billion shortfall to mushroom into a $5.1 billion mess. That’s nearly twice the size of Idaho’s entire general-fund budget.

“It’s worse than anyone has imagined,” said Prentice.

And the shortfall could grow even larger due to growing numbers of students in public schools, apparently as parents pull their children out of private schools.

In Pullman on Saturday, Gov. Chris Gregoire told the Associated Press it could get as bad as $6 billion.

All of which has some state workers worried.

“People that haven’t been here very long are definitely concerned for their jobs,” said Greg Streva, a plumbing foreman at Washington State University. “People are scared.”

Republican lawmakers pick leaders: Kretz is now No. 2 in the House…

House and Senate Republicans have picked their leaders for what’s going to be a very interesting year.

-Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, remains House Minority Leader.
-Rep. Joel Kretz, who’s putting Wauconda back on the map, is deputy minority leader.
-Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside: floor leader.
-Rep. Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish: caucus chair.
-Rep. Bill Hinkle, R-Cle Elum: whip.
-Reps. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake, and Charles Ross, R-Naches, assistant floor leaders.

Kretz is the only real surprise here, replacing Rep. Doug Eriksen, R-Bellingham, in the No. 2 post. In a statement, the conservative rancher said “Olympia could use a dose of Seventh District values,” and that the job gives rural northeastern Washington “a strong voice at the table.”

The Senate also held few surprises, other than the election of Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, as deputy leader. He replaces Sen. Cheryl Pflug, R-Maple Valley, who will be caucus vice chair.

Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla keeps the post he’s had since 2005. And local Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, will remain floor leader.

Elsewhere on the roster: Caucus chair: Sen. Linda Evans Parlette, R-Wenatchee; whip: Sen. Dale Brandland, R-Bellingham; deputy floor leader: Sen Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, and deputy whip: Sen. Jerome Delvin, R-Richland.

State budget: deep cuts, layoffs likely, as state faces “unprecedented” budget shortfall…

Excerpts from this morning’s paper:

Facing an unprecedented budget shortfall, Washington state officials are scrambling to shave billions of dollars in state spending.

That likely means layoffs and deep cuts in state programs.

“We are not immune to these immense headwinds that are buffeting the economic landscape,” said Arun Raha, the state’s new chief revenue forecaster.

Raha on Wednesday predicted that state revenues will be $5.1 billion less than expected over the next 2 ½ years. That’s $1.9 billion worse than expected just two months ago.


Lawmakers and state officials are also increasingly saying that layoffs look likely, although they’re not sure how many.

“I don’t think you can cut state government without cutting jobs,” said Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane. “It’s not like we purchase a lot of things. We mostly purchase services.”


“Lawmakers made promises that they are finding that they can’t keep,” said Paul Guppy, research director with the conservative Washington Policy Center. “The bright spot is that this will give Olympia something it hasn’t had in a number of years: a seriousness about how it spends people’s money.”

Guppy also noted that the state is still expected to collect more money over the next two years than in the current two-year budget. It just won’t be as much as originally expected. Republicans on Wednesday argued that overspending, not the economy, is the problem.

“No one can say they didn’t know a huge deficit was coming, because the warning signs have been up for at least the past year, when revenues began to drop,” said Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield.


“There will be folks out there saying ‘I told you so,’” said Brown, “But I don’t think they can say with a straight face that they would have had the pre-existing budget reduced by $4-$5 billion.”

Sen. Craig Pridemore, D-Vancouver, said lawmakers are also hoping for a national stimulus plan, hopefully by the end of the year, to give the state’s economy a boost.

Much of the decrease in expected revenue, Raha said, comes from sales and use taxes. With jobs uncertain, home values declining and a plummeting stock market, he said, consumers have clearly decided “to just sit on their wallets.”

“The problem is not employment or personal income,” Raha said in an interview. “The real problem is consumer confidence and access to credit. People have been able to spend, using their homes as ATMs.”

How bad’s the state budget mess? Really bad…

Feeling the pinch from a dramatic slowdown in consumer spending, state revenues will likely be far less — down $5.1 billion — between now and the end of fiscal year 2011.

That’s a huge hit.

“We are not immune to these immense headwinds that are buffeting the economic landscape,” said Arun Raha, the state’s new chief revenue forecaster.


Despite shortfall, school reform group presses on…

Last week and again this week, a small group of lawmakers, school officials and others have been grappling with ways to re-tool K-12 education in Washington.

The primary mission of the state’s Basic Education Finance task force is to rewrite the complex formula through which the state steers billions of dollars a year to local schools. As things stand now, state Rep. Ross Hunter said recently, that formula “is impenetrable not only to normal people, but it’s impenetrable to us.”

That discussion has evolved into a larger debate about school reforms, with some members proposing merit pay for teachers, the state taking over salary negotiations for all 295 school districts, and other major changes. One thing that most members seem to agree on: schools need more money.

“We’re grossly underfunded, and that needs to stop,” said Davenport school superintendent Jim Kowalkowski, a member of the group.

Many of the changes are likely to face fierce resistance from the state teacher’s union. Arguing to preserve local control of schools, the Washington Education Association’s Randy Parr said more state control would result in “McSchools.”

“You know what kind of hamburger you’re going to get no matter where it is in the state,” Parr said, “and you also know it’s not going to be very good.”

Also controversial: a proposal to attract more math- and science teachers by paying them more than other teachers. That idea “has been one of those that causes people’s hair to catch on fire,” said Hunter.

Faced with the recession, the group is now proposing launching the changes over 6-8 years. And despite skepticism about significant reforms, group members insist that change is coming.

“I know a lot of people have blown this process off for the last year and a half and said this will never amount to anything,” said state Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson. “Well, get over it.”

And that means more money for schools, task force members say.

“If this doesn’t come out at the end with a substantial amount of new money for districts, I’ll eat my hat,” said Hunter.

Lisa Brown still the top Senate Democrat…

Senate Democrats re-elected Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, to the same post at a meeting this weekend in Sea-Tac. Under a variety of scenarios (minority, slight majority, and big majority), Brown has headed up the Senate Democrats since 2002.

Also re-elected: Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way, as the D’s floor leader.

But with Harriet Spanel, D-Bellingham, retiring this year, the Democratic caucus chair job now goes to Ed Murray, D-Seattle.

Under the radar — and on to a landslide…

Quick: who or what got the most votes on Washington’s November ballot? Was it:

a) Barack Obama
b) Gov. Chris Gregoire
c) Initiative 1029, requiring more paid training for home health aides,
d) or Initiative 1000’s assisted-suicide measure.

Yup, C. In a year of fierce election battles, I-1029 got little attention and carried a ballot title that simply sounded like common sense: “This measure would require long-term care workers to be certified as home care aides based on an examination, with exceptions; increase training and criminal background check requirements; and establish disciplinary standards and procedures.”

Training and tighter background checks? Who could object to that?

Few people, apparently. The measure passed by a landslide, 72 percent to 28 percent. It was the only thing on the ballot to get more than 2 million votes. (Runner-up: Supreme Court Justice Charles Johnson, who ran unopposed and got 1,970,337 votes.)

Critics argued that I-1029 will cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars a year more for training that’s largely unnecessary. But they were far outspent and out-organized by proponents, including the Service Employees International Union.

Record voter turnout: probably 85 percent…

County election officials are nearing the end of the tidal wave of ballots they processed this November, and Secretary of State Sam Reed’s office is saying that about 85 percent of registered voters will have cast a ballot in this election.

“That would be a modern record, eclipsing the 84.5 percent turnout in the 1944 election,” said Reed spokesman Dave Ammons.

From the mailbag: Sarah Palin as a pro wrestler, the 7 Aphorisms, and how you can be mummified…

From my e-mail in-box:

-The state penitentiary in Walla Walla is hosting “a press tour of its execution chamber” later this month. The guided tour, including security screening, apparently takes about five hours.

-Among the things the U.S. Supreme Court is slated to consider this week, the Baptist Joint Committee writes to tell me, are a case involving Summum, a Gnostic Christian sect in Utah that wishes to place a monument to its “Seven Aphorisms” beside a Ten Commandments display in a local park.

Among them: the Third Aphorism, which consists of “Nothing rests; everything moves; everything vibrates.”

The group also practices “eternal memorialization through mummification,” a phrase they’ve apparently trademarked.

They’ve mummified a Doberman, and will do the same for your pet , at a price of $6,000 to $128,000. Or for you. Really.

The sect has repeatedly asked to erect monuments to its Seven Aphorisms in Utah parks. Rather than allow that, Salt Lake City removed a Ten Commandments monument. So did Ogden.

In a novel approach, Summum says, the city of Duchesne privatized a 10-foot by 10-foot section of a public park around a Ten Commandments display there.

-The professional wrestling outfit “Total Nonstop Action” is inviting Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to be an honorary member of its “elite group of TNA knockouts led by Angelina Love and Velvet Sky.”

The Nashville-based group is offering $50,000 to Palin’s favorite charity — or Wasilla’s youth hockey league — if she shows up for a Dec. 7 wrestling event in Florida.

“I know firsthand what challenges you have to face when breaking a glass ceiling in a male-dominate(d) profession,” said TNA president Dixie Carter.

Driscoll/Ahern: Driscoll’s hanging on to victory over incumbent in latest counts…

Rep. John Ahern, R-Spokane, continues to slightly trail Democratic challenger John Driscoll in the close race for a legislative seat representing western Spokane.

In a reversal of an earlier trend, Driscoll improved his lead slightly in the latest round of ballot counting. He now leads Ahern by 63 votes.

If things stay this close, it may take a little extra time before this one’s over. The race is well within the margin that triggers an automatic recount.

Gregoire campaign: Why we won…

In a post-election memo to campaign staffers, Gov. Chris Gregoire’s campaign manager, Kelly Evans, laid out some of the apparent reasons that 2004’s narrow race between Gregoire and Republican challenger Dino Rossi went decisively for Gregoire this time.

“In both public and private polling, we saw our lead steadily expand beginning about three weeks out from Election Day,” Evans wrote, citing several key things:

-“a commanding performance” by Gregoire in the final debate in Seattle,
-a campaign aimed at getting out the message that Gregoire would stand for “working families” as attention turned to the economy,
-and a large get-out-the-vote operation.

A significant chunk of Gregoire’s gains came from Eastern Washington, Evans wrote.

“The Gregoire campaign had paid campaign staff across the state, including Spokane and Clark counties, as early as June. The 2004 campaign had only five field organizers working out of Seattle on the day of the election. In a race that was essentially a statistical dead heat in 2004, there were votes to be picked up everywhere and the commitment to campaign outside of the Puget Sound region paid off, even if we didn’t win those counties.”

The full memo is below.

More on school reform recommendations…

Here’s our print story on former state treasurer Dan Grimm’s recommendations for school reforms, some of them pretty dramatic.

From it:

“The status quo will be vigorously defended,” former state treasurer Dan Grimm writes in the new report. “The challenge before us is to resist the temptation to acquiesce.”

Among his recommendations:

•Repeal an initiative that promises teachers an annual Seattle-based cost-of-living increase.

•Guarantee state-college admission to students who earn a new college-track high school diploma.

•Repeal tenure for principals.

•Boost salaries for the lowest-paid teachers and add support staff.

•Have the state take over collective bargaining for all of Washington’s nearly 300 school districts.

Many of the proposals are “pretty blockbuster kind of talk,” said Liv Finne of the conservative-leaning Washington Policy Center. “When I first read this, I kind of fell off my chair.”

A deep recession may not be the ideal time to overhaul schools, but Grimm argues that children can’t wait. And school districts are going to court for more state cash.

…Many of the proposals are likely to face strong resistance from teachers and school advocates.

Rich Wood, a spokesman for the Washington Education Association, said protecting the cost-of-living initiative is one of the union’s top priorities in the next legislative session. Teacher pay, Wood said, is not competitive with a lot of other professions that require similar education.

As for doing away with teacher-preparation requirements, that would reverse a longtime trend, he said.

“If anything,” Wood said, “there’s been a push toward higher standards for certification and teaching.”

…Cathy Allen, a Democratic political consultant, said Friday that Democrats had high hopes that 2009 would be a year for major changes in schools and school funding.

“This was going to be the time when we were going to see the most comprehensive educational reform in Washington ever,” she said.

Then the economy collapsed. And much of what Grimm is proposing, she said, “costs money.”

“I think what we’ll see next year will be the Year of Education Wringing of Hands,” she said.

Grimm Report online…

The document has yet to be posted on the state’s Basic Ed Task Force website, but has been posted by the Washington Policy Center here.

Another helpful document is here, detailing the suggestions contained in other major recommendations to the task force.

Here, the way, is the Basic Ed Task Force web page.

Goldmark declares victory in state Lands Commissioner race…

Up by more than 33,000 votes, Democrat Peter Goldmark has declared victory over Commissioner of Public Lands Doug Sutherland.

Sutherland, a Republican, trails Goldmark 49.2 percent to 50.8 percent.

“I am humbled by the opportunity to serve in this important role and look forward to the opportunities that lie ahead,” said Goldmark, an Okanogan County rancher and former Washington State University regent.

Goldmark said he’s committed “to protecting the job base in our forests, expanding opportunities for renewable energy investment, and securing public access and recreational opportunity.” The state Commissioner of Public Lands is responsible for overseeing millions of acres of state forest, tidelands, lake beds and rangeland, and overseeing forest practices on millions of acres more of private timberland.

“My goal is sustainable management of public resources, transparency in management, and reliance on science and law in decision-making,” he said.

Goldmark, who briefly headed the state Department of Agriculture under former Gov. Mike Lowry, ran for congress unsuccessfully two years ago against U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers.

Sutherland told The Associated Press that’s not yet conceding the race.

“There’s a lot of counties where we have pretty strong support that have to be counted,” he said. An AP analysis indicates that there aren’t enough votes in those counties for Sutherland to win.

State Rep. Barlow loses seat to challenger…

Two years after ousting an incumbent to claim a seat in the state House of Representatives, Rep. Don Barlow finds himself on the opposite end of the equation. After an expensive, close race, Barlow, D-Spokane, has lost to Republican challenger Kevin Parker.

A second race in the same western-Spokane district, meanwhile, remains too close to call.

State Rep. John Ahern, D-Spokane, trails Democratic challenger John Driscoll by 373 votes out of more than 60,000 cast. Driscoll has a 50.3 percent lead to Ahern’s 49.7 percent. The tight race could end in an automatic recount.

Thousands of ballots still remain to be counted. But Parker has a 52 percent to 48 percent lead over Barlow. And recent ballot counts have trended more toward Parker.

Reached at home this morning, Barlow conceded that he’s likely lost.

“I’m pretty much resigned to the fact that I’m not going to be reelected,” he said.

He said he expected the later ballots to trend Republican, but had hoped for a larger cushion of initial Democratic votes.

Obama transition team: not Spokane’s Lisa Brown, apparently…

David Goldstein’s blog has an interesting rumor-control item posted.

According to Goldstein, a transition-team list from President-elect Obama includes the name “Lisa Brown.”

Could that be Washington’s Senate Majority Leader, Spokane’s Lisa Brown? She’s a liberal Democrat with plenty of political experience — and was an early endorser of Obama.

No, as it turns out. Goldstein asked, and Brown responded:

I wish it was me, but alas, I haven’t heard from them. The closest I have been to the campaign (besides endorsing early) was meeting the President-elect in Seattle and meeting and introducing Michelle Obama in Spokane.

Rossi plans press conference at 11:30 a.m. in Redmond…

Concession speech? Or more of the watch-the-counting-carefully appeals like last night’s?

In the statehouse: Reps. Ahern and Barlow both trailing challengers…

Spokane-area races:

-District 3: (Central Spokane) Incumbent Democrats trounced Republican challengers. Sen. Lisa Brown and Reps. Alex Wood and Timm Ormsby coasted to re-election, winning by 67 percent or more.
-District 4 (Spokane Valley area): Incumbents Bob McCaslin and Larry Crouse were well ahead of challengers. In a race for the seat of retiring Rep. Lynn Schindler, Republican attorney Matt Shea was leading Democrat Tim Hattenburg 57 percent to 43 percent. The numbers were nearly identical in the other two races.
-District 6 (western Spokane): A couple of upsets here, it seems. Republican Rep. John Ahern is narrowly losing to Democratic challenger John Driscoll, 49 to 51 percent, although the trend toward Republican late voting could potentially save Ahern. And Democratic Rep. Don Barlow is losing to Republican Kevin Parker by the same 49/51 ratio.
-District 7 (rural NE Washington): After a surprisingly sharp-edged race between two Republicans, longtime political aide Shelly Short is far head of fellow Republican Sue Lani Madsen, 57 percent to 43 percent.
-District 9 (southern Spokane County, the Palouse, south to parts of Franklin County): Incumbents Joe Schmick and Steve Hailey, both Republicans, are far ahead of Democratic challengers.

With 600,000 votes in, governor’s race tightens, but where’s King County?

Gregoire: 50.46 percent
Rossi: 49.54 percent

But still no numbers from King County, which should be very strong for Gregoire.

McCain, in Arizona, concedes…

Speaking in Phoenix, John McCain has conceded that he’s lost the election.

“These are difficult times for our country,” McCain said, pledging his help to President Obama. He called on his supporters to offer Obama “our good will and earnest effort to find ways to come together.”

Obama wins

I’ll leave the national punditry to others as I focus on statewide races tonight, but…Barack Obama has been declared the nation’s next president.

Rep. Larry Crouse: I’m not dead…

As the Spokesman-Review’s Jim Camden reports, state Rep. Larry Crouse is still very much alive, despite a rumor to the contrary.

A longtime local nursery owner, Larry Krause, passed away recently, Camden reports. The similarity in their names apparently spawned some confusion.

Man or woman? GenderAnalyzer makes the call…

Some researchers, apparently, have come up with a language-analysis tool that guesses whether a web page’s text was written by a male or a female. It’s called the GenderAnalyzer.

Like everyone else who clicks on the page, I promptly ran my own blog through it, and got back “We think is written by a man.” (That’s the actual URL that redirects to.)

So far, so good. So I pasted in a few other blogs I read regularly — Randy Hodgins’ UW legislative page,, the Olympian’s Brad Shannon’s blog — and all came up correct.

So far, though, no results for a female writer. So I punched in the URL of Sen. Pam Roach’s blog, the Pam Roach Report. Result:

We think is written by a man.


The same thing happened when I tried the Idaho legislative blog written by the S-R’s Betsy Russell.

Just when I was suspecting that the analyzer is a hoax that only churns out one response, I got a correct result for our parenting blog, written primarily by Virginia DeLeon.

Have fun.

The perplexing phenomenon of the Rossi-Obama voter and whether they’ll matter…

From the print paper:

In the final, frenzied days of the 2008 governor’s race, Republicans in particular are trying to win a group that’s long sat out elections: young adults.

“A generation expected to overwhelmingly favor Obama is also supporting Dino Rossi,” the campaign said this week.

But what sounds like yet more campaign hyperbole is borne out by independent polling. For months, numerous polls that showed Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama doing well here among young voters showed the same thing about Rossi, a Republican.

“When we first looked at the marginals among young voters for Rossi, we thought we had something wrong,” said Western Washington University professor Todd Donovan, one of the researchers with the Washington Poll. (“Marginals” refers to breakdowns of the polling data.)

At the University of Washington and Washington State University, both student newspapers have endorsed Rossi, saying he’d be more fiscally conservative than Gov. Chris Gregoire. And Rossi’s campaign touts the fact that he has twice as many friends on his Facebook and MySpace Web pages.

On Tuesday, a poll by SurveyUSA showed 18- to 34-year-olds here overwhelmingly preferring Obama to Republican John McCain, 59 percent to 39 percent. Yet for governor, the same voters preferred Rossi almost as much: 58 percent to 41 percent.

Donovan speculates that an anti-incumbent mood resonates more with younger voters, whose party identification is less crystallized.

A spokesman for Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire said the campaign’s not ceding any votes. Gregoire’s been regularly meeting with college students and young people across the state, said Aaron Toso. Gregoire’s final 26-city sweep through the state included stops at WSU, UW and WWU.

And groups backing Gregoire, like the Service Employees International Union, are trying to help her win young votes.

SEIU is running a radio ad featuring two young guys watching a football game. It blasts home foreclosures, $4-a-gallon gas, and developers.

“There is no way I could vote for Dino Rossi,” one guy says. “In this economy, the last thing we need is another politician like George Bush, who puts the rich guys first.”

Despite the efforts by both sides, however, it remains unclear how much of a force young voters will be in the 2008 election.

On one hand, 18-to-34-year-olds have long had the lowest voter turnout of any age group. They comprise a quarter of Washington’s 3.6 million registered voters, but in August’s primary election fewer than 1 in 5 bothered to cast a ballot. By comparison, nearly three-quarters of voters 65 or older voted.

But on the other hand, according to the secretary of state’s office, young voters are registering in droves this year. Of the more than 340,000 new voters who’ve registered in Washington this year, more than 200,000 are 35 or younger.

Last-minute poll suggests that Rossi’s gaining, but will it be enough to overtake Gregoire?

The University of Washington’s Washington Poll has new numbers out in the governor’s race, and here’s the upshot: neither side, it seems, can afford to slack off.

The 387-person poll, done Oct. 27-31, shows Gov. Chris Gregoire, the Democrat in the race, with 50 percent of the vote. Republican challenger Dino Rossi has 48 percent.

The numbers are slightly better for Rossi than an Oct. 18-26 poll by the same folks. That had Gregoire at 51 percent and Rossi at just 45 percent.

If those numbers are accurate — the new poll has a fairly high margin of error of 5 percent - then Rossi could be repeating something he managed in 2004: a last-minute surge that put him neck and neck with Gregoire.

“The latest data shows undecided voters slightly breaking for Rossi, making the election for Governor very, very close headed into the final days,” said Matt Barreto, Assistant Professor of Political Science at UW and director of the Washington Poll. But he noted that most public polls this year have shown Gregoire at least slightly ahead of Rossi.

The poll showed similar results in the presidential race: Barack Obama’s 51 percent to John McCain’s 39 percent. That’s a 5 percentage point gain for McCain over the previous poll.

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

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