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Spin Control

Pakootas, McMorris Rodgers clash on Obamacare, casino

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and her Democratic challenger Joe Pakootas clashed over Obamacare, minimum wage, the best ways to bring jobs to the region and a new West Plains casino in their second debate of the campaign.

In a taped debate broadcast Thursday evening on KSPS-TV, Eastern Washington’s 5th Congressional District found a few areas of agreement. Both were wary of sending American ground troops to fight ISIS, although McMorris Rodgers said it was up to President Obama to make the case for any such strategy and Pakootas said part of the strategy needs to come from Congress which should stop “fingerpointing.” Both said they think the Veterans Administration needs a “change of culture” to do a better job of serving veterans.

But on most points, the five-term congresswoman and the chief executive officer of the Colville Tribal Federal Corp., disagreed sharply. . . 

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, continue inside the blog.

Baumgartner will refund unintentional MAC contribution

Republican state Sen. Michael Baumgartner's campaign will refund $63.48 to the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture Foundation after the nonprofit organization learned that a check it thought was simply to cover the cost of breakfast for two employees had been recorded as a political contribution.

“We'll certainly take care of that,” Baumgartner said today after questions about the contribution from a tax-exempt 501c3 organization were raised by Democratic challenger Rich Cowan's campaign. “We're big supporters of the MAC.”

The foundation, as well as the museum, enjoy federal tax exempt status from the IRS but because of that are prohibited from contributing to political campaigns. Museum officials are asking the Baumgartner campaign to refund the money and clarify with state elections officials that it wasn't intended to be a contribution.

The museum's executive director, Forrest Rodgers, said he and Development Director Betsy Godlewski attended an April 3 breakfast event, dubbed the “Keep Working Kick Off,” after receiving an invitation as museum representatives from Baumgartner. Rodgers said he knew that the event was a re-election kickoff announcement but thought the $30 per person charge was to cover breakfast — not a contribution.

“We attend events and support all of our elected officials,” Rodgers said, explaining that museum staff has worked closely with Baumgartner and other legislators to secure state funding to help keep the MAC open. “We go to many of their events on behalf of the museum.”

Meanwhile, state campaign finance records show numerous 501c3 organizations as contributors to various political candidates across Washington. Lori Anderson, spokeswoman for the state Public Disclosure Commission, said the state has few limitations on who can contribute to political campaigns but leave it up to organizations to determine whether it might run afoul of obligations or restrictions imposed by others, such as the IRS in the case of nonprofits.

McMorris Rodgers, Pakootas debate on Thursday

The second debate between Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Democratic challenger Joe Pakootas will air Thursday night on KSPS-TV and KXLY 920 AM radio.

Pakootas, the chief executive officer of the Colville Tribe Federal Corp., is running against McMorris Rodgers, a Republican seeking her sixth term in the House.

The debate was taped Wednesday evening for later broadcast on Channel 7, which will also feature it on its website.

Spokane mayor not taking sides in WSU, UW battle over medical education

Spokane City Hall may be on the verge of having two separate and potentially competing legislative agendas for the first time in memory.

The priorities unveiled last week, which included backing for Washington State University's bid for its own medical school, represent only the City Council's agenda, said mayoral spokesman Brian Coddington.

Mayor David Condon hasn't taken sides in the battle between WSU and the University of Washington, which wants to expand a five-state physician training program in Spokane. Coddington said the mayor simply is backing state support for expanded medical education here regardless of which university takes the lead.

The distinction could put Spokane's lobbying corps in a bind when the 2015 session opens in January since the city may end up with two competing sets of priorities. Condon is expected to issue the official city legislative agenda later this year.

Roundtable: Road projects have big payoff

OLYMPIA – Washington would get a major economic boost by finishing the North Spokane Corridor and some other major road projects worth $7 billion, a state business group said Tuesday. It faces significant costs and problems if the Legislature continues to deadlock over some type of tax-funded roads package. . . 

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, continue inside the blog. 

Spokane mayor, city attorney seek ethics upgrade

This week, the city of Spokane is holding two public meetings about its proposed update to the city's ethics code. 

“This update formalizes our commitment to deliver outstanding service through greater transparency,” said Spokane Mayor David Condon in a statement. “The proposed updates establish a clearer process that protects the city, its citizens and the employees.”

The changes are being put forth by City Attorney Nancy Isserlis, who was involved in the origianl creation of the ethics board a decade ago.

According to the city, the new ethics code will refine private employment prohibitions after someone leaves a city job, better define gifts and gratuities people at the city can accept, provide a review and appeal process to the City Council and Superior Court, expand the power of the citizen ethics committee and increase possible penalties for violating the rules, among other things.

The ethics code will cover employees, elected officials and members of boards and commissions, whether paid or unpaid.

This week's public meetings will be held in the City Council Briefing Center in the lower level of City Hall. The first meeting on Wednesday is scheduled from noon to one p.m. Thursday’s meeting will be held from six to seven p.m.

Read more about the ethics code changes here.

Watch the mayor talk about it at this week's news conference below.

 

Commissioner candidates trade well-worn barbs at Valley debate

Al French and Mary Lou Johnson used the “Rally in the Valley” debate at Central Valley High School on Monday night to continue policy position and leadership style attacks that have defined the race since the two emerged victorious from the August primary.

Here's a look at some of those claims, and the facts that support or dispute them.

Claim 1: Johnson attacks French's public records request of Spokane city government as evidence of blustery style.

In April, French submitted a public records request to the Spokane City Council requesting documents and legal basis for discussions about the expansion of the urban growth boundary. You can read that document here.

Johnson drew the crowd's attention Monday night to a headline from Spokesman-Review columnist Shawn Vestal, who called French's records request “an attempt to annoy, chasten and insult those who disagree with him.”

“Good leaders lead by example … another thing good leaders don't do is lash out or alienate other elected officials,” Johnson said, before referencing the opinion column.

French defended his request Monday, saying he filed the request because city council members were deceiving citizens in comments at a public meeting.

“As an 8-year City Councilman for the city of Spokane, I knew the information that they were telling the public was factually inaccurate,” French said. “And the only way to prove that to the public was to do a public records request and have them back up their statements with facts. Which, to this day, they have yet to do.”

The Spokane City Council provided records later Tuesday, after publication of this blog, that the records request has been suspended at the request of French and county attorney, Jim Emacio. The records request was suspended in April 2014.

To read the rest of this item, or comment, go inside the blog.

GOP incumbents want Ebola travel restrictions, challengers say no

Republican House members from the Inland Northwest say the United States should consider travel restrictions for West African countries to guard against the spread of Ebola, but their Democratic challengers say that’s the wrong course of action. . . 

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, click here to continue inside the blog.

 

Board clears Sen. Roach on foreign travel

OLYMPIA — A complaint against an Auburn legislator for taking an improper trip to Turkey and Azerbaijan last year was dismissed by the Legislative Ethics Board.

Some of the allegations were outside its authority, the board said, and the trip involved enough official and educational meetings that it wasn't an improper gift.

Republican Sen. Pam Roach was criticized by Reps. Chris Hurst and Cathy Dahlquist for joining legislators from other states on a trip to the two countries last spring while the Legislature was struggling through special sessions with its budget. They said she “abandonned her duties” to take the trip, which they contended was sponsored by groups with political views opposed to the United States, which “may have endangered citizens of her legislative district, Washington State and the United States by giving aid and comfort to the enemies of the United States.

But the Legislative Ethics Act does not say that travel during the session is an abandonment of legislative duties, nor does it allow for claims that accepting travel should be “conditioned on the political beliefs of the donor,” the board said.  

The law does set rules for accepting “reasonable expenses” for travel as a gift from another entity, the board said. But Roach's travel seemed to be made in her official capacity, it added, with discussions of energy policy and security, meetings with elected officials, and meetings on Turkish politics and the political system.

The Ethics Board had previously dismissed several complaints that Roach and her allies had filed against Hurst and Dahlquist, which included allegations they had made derogatory remarks against the sponsors of her trip.

Roach is running for re-election against Dahlquist, a fellow Republican, who is being supported by Hurst, a Democrat.

Johnson denies disclosure allegations

Mary Lou Johnson said she's complying with state laws regarding campaign finance disclosure after a complaint was filed targeting a recent television ad and mailings.

Michael Cathcart, government affairs director at the Spokane Home Builders Association, sent a copy of his complaint to the Spokesman-Review last week. The Association has donated $900 to and endorsed Al French, the incumbent Republican and former real estate broker.

The complaint, which Johnson said she had not seen Monday, alleges the Democrat violated the rules of the Washington Public Disclosure Commission by not including a spoken statement of her party affiliation in a recent television ad. A guide to political advertising sent out by the disclosure commission in July states candidates should “clearly speak the sponsor’s name and any party preference” in broadcast advertisements. A similar complaint was lodged by backers of incumbent state Sen. Michael Baumgartner against his opponent, Rich Cowan, last week, prompting both Johnson and Cowan to say they'd be adding audio to address the issue in their ads.

Cathcart also alleges Johnson has failed to report the expenses of filming that ad, the amount she's paid to have it aired and the expenses tied to a mailer that began arriving in the county last week. The most recent due date for expense reports was Tuesday, when candidates were required to disclose all expenses and contributions since Oct. 13.

Johnson said the campaign ad was an in-kind contribution, for which she received a receipt Oct. 14. She wrote a check for the mailer postage costs the next day, then the costs of printing the mailers on Thursday, she said.

“We've been really, really careful,” Johnson said.

Cathcart said via email he had not spoken with French about the complaint, but had informed his campaign manager.

French has reported TV and radio ad buys totaling more than $23,000, running from now through Election Day. He's also spent more than $2,600 on print advertisements, including in the Spokesman-Review, according to public disclosure reports.

The next reporting date is Oct. 28, just seven days before the general election. French defeated Johnson by fewer than 300 votes in a three-way primary that included just the third district of the county. All Spokane County voters will receive a ballot for the general election, which French believes will boost his support.

Sunday Spin: Where does McMorris Rodgers live?

At least once a week, and more frequently during election season, the newspaper gets a call, a letter, an e-mail or an online comment alleging a scandal about Cathy McMorris Rodgers.

Sometimes it comes in a conspiratorial query just above a whisper. Other times it’s stated as a verified fact, written in all-caps with multiple exclamation points. It might come from someone fairly inexperienced in politics who heard it from a friend who heard it from someone else – generally unnamed but usually “in the know.” Occasionally it comes from someone in the campaign wars long enough to be a bit more skeptical but doesn’t seem to care. . .

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, continue inside the blog.

 

Spokane retail pot sales top $1.9 million

Legal marijuana operations in Spokane County are reporting more money from sales than any of the state’s other 38 counties — almost $3.6 million worth of sales from licensed growers, processors and recreational marijuana stores since sales began this summer.

Clark County’s two recreational marijuana stores are outselling the five spread around Spokane County. Vancouver’s two stores reported $2.7 million in sales since opening in July, which is more than the $1.9 million total for the stores in and around Spokane, Spokane Valley and Millwood. Both counties are ahead of King County, which has three stores open in Seattle and one in Bellevue that combined for a total of $1.4 million in sales.

Spokane County’s 12 marijuana processors and seven growers both lead the state in terms of numbers and total sales. Combined with the five legal pot shops, Spokane County has recorded a shade less than $3.6 million in sales for legal marijuana at all levels that the state monitors.

In all, the state’s licensed recreational marijuana stores have reported a total of nearly $14 million in sales after sporadic openings across Washington in response to a vote-approved initiative that legalized marijuana for recreational use by adults in private settings.

Spokane Green Leaf on Country Homes Boulevard has sold more than $1 million worth of legal marijuana products since it opened in July, making it the state’s fifth most-active retail pot shop. New Vansterdam, reporting $1.6 million in sales, is in Vancouver, followed by Herbal Nation in Bothell and Cannabis City in Seattle and another Vancouver store, Main Street Marijuana.

Voters approved recreational marijuana use by adults in 2012. The state began issuing licenses for marijuana growers, processors and sellers in the spring, and the first stores opened in early July. Most stores had to close off and on in the beginning because of the shortage of supplies.

The Liquor Control Board, which issues the licenses for all recreational operations, recently began putting individual marijuana businesses sales and tax receipts on its website.

A computer analysis of those lists also shows that the second largest processor of marijuana is in Spokane Valley. Farmer J’s on Woodruff Road reported some $936,000 in sales of processed marijuana since July. The agency lists 12 different processors in Spokane County, with sales totaling more than $1.5 million out of nearly $7.5 million for processors statewide.

Some processors package marijuana for individual sale while others mix it with other substances to create edible marijuana products. Spokane County also has the top two growers based on sales, Green Surfer in Mead and Green Matter in Edwall.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this post had some incorrect figures because of incomplete capture of data from the Liquor Board's reporting system.

For a full list of sales totals for the state's legal marijuana stores, processors and growers, click here to go inside the blog.

Candidates for county commission, state Senate engage in televised debate

Earlier this week, local public broadcasting affiliate KSPS hosted televised debates between Spokane County Commissioner Al French, a Republican, and his challenger, Democrat Mary Lou Johnson, as well as one between Republican state Sen. Michael Baumgartner and his Democratic opponent, Rich Cowan.

Topics ranged from the future of the jail and bus plaza, to marijuana tax receipts and the North Spokane Corridor. Also, I, your faithful correspondent Nick Deshais, sat on the reporter panel, along with Robyn Nance, who anchors KXLY's Good Morning Northwest, and Dan Kleckner, who anchors KHQ and SWX. The moderator was Kristi Gorenson, of Newsradio 920 KXLY.

See the videos after the jump.

3rd debate for 5th Cong Dist scheduled

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Democratic challenger Joe Pakootas have added a third debate to their campaign schedules, agreeing to a second match-up in Spokane.

The debate, sponsored by three area business groups, will be at 4 p.m. Oct. 30 at the Lincoln Center. While it's open to the public, the groups are charging $10 per person to attend. Click here to register for the debate.

Pakootas had initially balked at the cost and timing of the debate, saying he thought it should be free and take place later in the day, after more people got off work. The price of the tickets dropped but the timing stayed the same. 

“That's part of compromise,” he said Thursday. “It's important to the citizens in Spokane to have more debates.”

Pakootas and McMorris Rodgers debated earlier this month in Walla Walla, (Youtube video below) and are scheduled for an hour-long debate that will air on Oct. 23 on KSPS-TV Channel 7.

Sponsoring the Oct. 30 debate are Greater Spokane Incorporated, the Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce and the West Plains Chamber of Commerce. 

 

Spokane backs WSU medical school plan over UW proposal

Spokane City Hall is backing crimson over purple.

The city announced this week it will help Washington State University lobby the Legislature for money to begin establishing its own medical school on Spokane’s Riverpoint campus. The WSU request for $2.5 million in startup funding over the next two years is among the city’s top three legislative priorities for the upcoming 2015 session.

Although the city also is supporting the University of Washington’s pledge to expand its medical education program in Spokane, it’s not among the top priorities.

The state’s two leading universities, after partnering for years on a shared medical education program with a branch in Spokane, are parting ways and will battle it out in the Legislature next year for money to pursue their own vision of how best to train doctors.

WSU wants its own Spokane-based medical school that relies on forging community partnerships with hospitals around the state to train physicians who’d be encouraged to practice in under-served regions of the state. The UW, which has one of the best medical schools in the country for primary care training, proposes aggressively expanding its Spokane satellite branch, which currently operates in facilities that WSU wants to use for its medical school.

Spokane has long sought expanded medical education opportunities at the Riverpoint campus as part of an overall push to strengthen the local economy and help ease physician shortages in rural communities.

But until now, city and other community leaders had largely avoided taking sides.

Condon criticized outsized city salaries on campaign trail in 2011

As we wrote in today’s paper, Spokane Mayor David Condon won’t take the $7,000 pay increase he proposed in his 2015 budget, which would have brought his pay to nearly $180,000.

Part of the reason he made such an abrupt about-face had to do with the blowback he got from the public and other city elected officials, who criticized the raises for the mayor and the cabinet as “utterly ridiculous.”

On the campaign trail three years ago, Condon criticized pay for city officials to a group of supporters at a campaign kickoff breakfast.

“The employees and the cost of staff is spiraling out of control,” he said. “Literally, last week I got an email confirming that they're expecting somewhere between $5 million and $8 million in pay increases next year. I don't know about you, but it's time that - many of you probably aren't planning on a raise next year - that we look at this and make sure that we're getting our money's worth.”

State could quadruple land planted to legal pot

OLYMPIA – Washington may soon quadruple the amount of land where legal marijuana can be grown.

The state Liquor Control Board is considering a series of changes to its recreational marijuana rules, and one of them would increase the allowable land for the legal pot to rise to 8.5 million square feet, up from the 2 million square-foot limit established last year when the system was set up.

That doesn’t mean recreational marijuana will overtake the state’s other cash crops like wheat, peas, lentils or apples any time soon; 8.5 million square feet is only about 195 acres. . .

 

Ballots going in the mail starting today

Ballots are being mailed out to Washington voters starting today and Spokane County, which is sending out about 275,000 ballots, will mail them out over a two-day stretch through Thursday.

Most voters should have their ballots by the weekend, but the elections officials said that any registered voter who hasn't received a ballot by a week from Friday — that is, Oct. 24 — should call their local elections office. In Spokane County, that number is 509-477-2320. For contact information for other counties, click here.

Washington conducts its elections completely by mail, and while most voters have probably become accustomed to the ins and outs of the process, we'll repeat them for the newcomers:

Ballots must be marked, placed inside the security envelope, which is placed inside the mailing envelope, which must be signed and sealed. Registered voters can't combine ballots into a single envelope, they have to be returned separately.

Ballots can be mailed in or deposited in a drop box the county sets up in chosen locations. Spokane County has drop boxes at most libraries, and a few other spots. A list is inside the blog. For other counties locations, click here and select your county from the map.

A mailed ballot requires postage. A ballot placed in a drop box does not.

Ballots must be mailed so they are postmarked by Nov. 4, or dropped off before 8 p.m. that day. If you mail a ballot on Nov.4, it's usually a good idea to take it to the post office rather than leaving it for pickup in your own mailbox to make sure it is postmarked in time.

Voters who damage or lose their ballot can get a replacement by contacting the county Elections Office, or by going to a Voter Service Center on Election Day.

For a list of Spokane County drop boxes, check inside the blog.

Spokane councilman plans public forum to discuss mayor, administration raises

Spokane City Councilman Mike Fagan said today he will host a public forum to talk about the proposed pay increases for Mayor David Condon and members of his administrative cabinet.

The mayor is poised to receive a $7,000 raise, bringing his annual pay to nearly $180,000. The increase is part of the mayor’s proposed 2015 city budget released last week. A majority of his cabinet members could also receive raises, including the police chief, fire chief, the head of the city's Community and Neighborhood Services department and more. 

The forum is scheduled to be held Nov. 14 at 10 a.m. at Spokane City Hall. Everyone is invited to come and speak their mind.

In this corner …

The gloves are off in the 6th legislative district Senate race.

After trading jabs for the past few months, Republican incumbent Michael Baumgartner and Democratic challenger Rich Cowan now are pummeling each other in a series of back-and-forth sound bites and other insults triggered by a new attack ad.

The salvo opened late last week with a misleading Cowan TV spot accusing Baumgartner of being a stooge for out-of-state corporations enjoying state tax breaks that siphon money away from Washington's school children.

Baumgartner quickly called foul on the claims, filed a complaint with the PDC over an apparent technical omission in the TV ad, and accused Cowan of being a hypocrite for owning a company registered out of state that benefits from millions in state tax breaks for the film industry.

“It's inaccurate, illegal and hypocritical,” Baumgartner said, explaining that Cowan's ads fail to include a spoken reference to his partisan affiliation: “He's trying to hide that he's a Democrat.”

The Cowan campaign fired back that Baumgartner talks a lot about supporting private business and bringing jobs to Spokane but doesn't appear to have ever owned his own business nor personally ever created a new job here — choosing instead to attack an established Spokane company that's actively bringing higher-wage jobs to the region.

“Mr. Baumgartner is trying to slander a beloved local business that has paid millions of dollars in Washington state taxes to deflect attention from the fact that he has failed to create jobs,” Cowan campaign manager Alex Clardy said.

Baumgartner, who holds a substantial fundraising advantage, has yet to unleash any TV attack ads, though he's got a shelf full of mostly image-building issue spots touting his Olympia accomplishments, including greater government efficiency and sustainable budgets.

Like the tax breaks spot, Cowan's repertoire of ads tend to be more adversarial and focused on potential wedge issues, which tends to be a standard strategy for campaigns looking to try closing double-digit gaps.

With ballots set to begin arriving in voter mailboxes later this week, the slugfest is likely to continue.

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About this blog

Jim Camden is a veteran political reporter for The Spokesman-Review.


Jonathan Brunt is an enterprise reporter for The Spokesman-Review.


Kip Hill is a general assignments reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

Nick Deshais covers Spokane City Hall for The Spokesman-Review.

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