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Spin Control

Archive for August 2009

Al French for county auditor?

Spokane City Councilman Al French appears to be readying for a 2010 election, but what that election is, he won’t say.

“I look forward to serving as long as the public will allow me to serve,” French said in an interview on Thursday.

Earlier this year, rumors were rampant that French was leading an effort to change the City Charter’s term limit rules to allow him to run for City Council president or for a third term on the council. What those rumors neglected to consider is that even if the proposal made it on the November ballot (it didn’t) and voters approved, it still would have been too late for him to run in 2009, and another City Council president race doesn’t happen until 2011.

While French has been successful running in his northeast council district, he’s struggled in other parts of the city. He lost a city-wide council president race to Dennis Hession in 2003 and a city-wide mayoral race to Hession and Mary Verner in the 2007 primary.

He said today that he doesn’t foresee a future run for mayor.

“The window of opportunity was there. I took advantage of it. It didn’t work out, so we move on,” he said. What he’s moving on to, he won’t specify, but he wouldn’t rule out the state Legislature or any county office. If he decides to make a run, he plans to make an announcement by the end of the year, he said.

GOP memo ponders Staab’s political leanings

The debate over Municipal Court Judge Tracy Staab’s residency isn’t going away.

A memo circulated with local GOP leaders indicates that Spokane City Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin, who is active in the party, has questioned the party’s decision to oppose Staab’s candidacy.

Party leaders formally opposed Staab’s attempt to retain her judgeship in the November election because she lives outside the city. Spokane Municipal Court judges rule only on cases from within city limits, but state law allows the judges to live outside the borders – as long as they live in the same county.

Eugster not done

Fresh off a fourth-place finish for a City Council seat, former Councilman Steve Eugster said he will run in 2011 for City Council president.

Eugster said he was encouraged by his finish: “I got 1,800 votes, and I didn’t even spend a nickel,” he said in an interview.

His announcement means he will have file his candidacy with the state Public Disclosure Commission more than two years before the 2011 general election. Filing early, he said, will help promote his message of fiscal restraint.

As for the 2009 council race in November, Eugster said he will endorse “Out There Monthly” publisher Jon Snyder, who came in first in the primary for the council seat representing south Spokane. Snyder will face incumbent Mike Allen, who finished second.

Kristina Sabestinas, who finished third in the six-way race, said Monday that she hasn’t decided if she will endorse a candidate for the seat.

Town hall meetings have limits

Town hall meetings are under the microscope this August as some members of Congress find hostile constituents waiting when they’re back from Washington, D.C.

 Liberals and conservatives argue whether the town halls represent the general public mood or ginned up outrage. In truth, they may be a little of both. Town halls are many things – participatory democracy, political theater and off-season campaigning.

What they are not, however, is a particularly good place to get information.

This summer’s hot topic is health care reform, brought on by congressional consideration of a bill that fills more than 1,000 pages and is so vague that people are understandably confused and concerned. But the best way to clear up that confusion isn’t always by asking about a complicated subject while a dozen or so other people wait anxiously in line behind you and 400 or more of your neighbors cheer or boo.

Then there’s the other problem: sometimes people say things that just aren’t true, and members of Congress either don’t bother to correct them, or say other incorrect things.

Since when do Democrats win late counts?

Jon Snyder must be smiling with the latest counts from Tuesday’s primary.

What was virtually a tie on election night between him and incumbent Spokane City Councilman Mike Allen has become an easy win for him. Since Tuesday’s count, he has gotten 455 more votes than Allen, putting him ahead by a solid 4 percentage points. Of course, a win doesn’t mean much more than bragging rights since both did well enough to move to the general election.

What’s strange about Snyder’s surge is that since vote-by-mail was instituted a few years ago, Republicans generally have done better in late counts, either because Republicans prefer to hold onto their ballots until election day or because of get-out-the-vote efforts.

Although the City Council race is nonpartisan, Snyder was endorsed by the Democratic Party.

Any theories on Snyder’s strong showing among voters who mailed their ballot late?

The race is on

Mike Allen and Jon Snyder are virtually tied in tonight’s primary election tally for Spokane City Council.

Though Allen is in second place by a hair, he has some reason to feel good about the numbers. Kristina Sabestinas finished a strong third, and her conservative supporters may not feel comfortable backing Snyder, who was endorsed by the local Democratic Party.

In an interview tonight, Snyder noted two things when asked if he’s worried that about Sabestinas voters. One, he hopes to do well among those who voted for former City Councilman Steve Eugster, who finished fourth. Two, the pool of voters will be much bigger in the general election.

Snyder, of course, has reason to smile, too: His campaign war chest is significantly bigger than Allen’s.

Hey! There’s an election going on here

Clock is ticking down to the deadline for turning in ballots for primary elections all over Washington state.

Most of the primaries are for city or town councils, school or fired district boards. But there’s a hot five-way race for an open state representative seat in southeastern Washington’s 9th District, and a proposal to extend a one-tenth of one percent sales tax in Spokane County.

If you haven’t voted yet, and don’t know the vote-by-mail rules, here’s the drill:

Your ballot must be postmarked by Tuesday, which means you’ll probably want to take it to the post office to make sure it’s done in time. Or you can deposit it in a drop box, set up in key locations around your county, or take it to a voter service center.

A list of Spokane County drop boxes is inside the blog, as well as phone numbers for other surrounding county elections offices.

And if you live in Idaho? Relax. No election on Tuesday.

Separating wheat & chaff on health care reform

There are so many statements about what health care reform will or won’t do, it’s hard to keep up.

Set up death panels?

Raise taxes?

Mandate sex change operations?

Town hall meetings aren’t really the best place to get questions answered, or to separate the fact from the fiction. But has set up a simple truth or fiction meter on many of the claims.

You can find it here.

Mon. fun video: The news to music

For those of you who like your news to music, and your talking heads with someone else’s words put in their mouths, we offer Auto-Tune the News.

Sun. talking head roundup

For those of you who were otherwise occupied Sunday morning, the news shows focused on — what else? — health care reform. Here’s the distilled version from TalkingPointsMemo.

Sorry birthers, McMorris Rodgers thinks Obama’s a citizen

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McMorris Rodgers on Obama “birthers”

Bad news for “birthers”, those people who think Barack Obama isn’t legally president because he wasn’t born in the United States: Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers isn’t on your side.

Birthers may have briefly harbored hope – and people who think the whole idea is crazy as bat spit may have arched an eyebrow – about two weeks ago when the Eastern Washington Republican gave a wishy-washy answer to a question about Obama’s legal qualifications to a blogger from the Huffington Post while hurrying up the Capitol steps.

Asked if she thought Obama was a natural-born citizen, constitutionally permitted to be president, she replied: “We’re all going to find out.”

Asked what she believed personally, she said: “Oh, I’d like to see the documents.”

Fri. a.m. video: Thurs. in rearview mirror

More talk of “death panels” on TalkingPointsMemo’s day in 100 seconds.

To be fair, no one in Colville at Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers’ town hall meetings this week — not her, not the audience — used the term “death panel”… unless you count me in an interview with her between events.

Air Force 1 overhead? Yes and no

Think you saw Air Force One flying low over the West Plains this afternoon? Well, you weren’t hallucinating.

One of two planes used by the president as Air Force One did land at Fairchild Air Force Base Thursday afternoon. It’s at the base for two days for an operations maintenance check after having depot maintenance elsewhere, Lt. Casey Osborne said.

Osborne said that was sort of like taking your car out for a spin after it’s had a tune up, to see if everything’s running properly.

The plane, an Air Force version of a 747-200, will be landing and taking off from Fairchild through Saturday, so you might see it overhead in the next two days.

President Obama is not on the plane, so technically it’s not Air Force One. The plane only carries that designation when the president is on it.

It’s basing at Fairchild has nothing to do with Obama’s trip to Bozeman, Mont., and Yellowstone National Park on Friday and Saturday, Osborne said.

Thurs. a.m. video: Weds. town hall retrospective

Fear and loathing on the town hall circuit, which if you believe the national broadcast and cable news talking heads, is everywhere. Truth be told, not quite everywhere: in Colville yesterday, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers was met with some pointed questions, but there was no shouting, no banners and no guns…well, at least none that were pulled out and brandished. That’s not to say that no one had something handy in a pickup, or a purse.

You can read about the Colville events here. Watch the TalkingPointsMemo quick look at the national scene below

Surprise endorsement?

Karen Kearney, who is one of five challengers to incumbent City Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin, has listed two new endorsements on her Web site.

One is from the Spokane Regional Labor Council. That’s no surprise. Kearney has garnered strong union support throughout her campaign.

The other, however, is from former City Councilman Dean Lynch, who was appointed to his seat and lost an extremely close battle to retain it in 2001 to Dennis Hession.

Lynch generally supports candidates aligned with the Democratic Party. He also was the first openly gay person to serve in an elected office in Spokane city government. Kearney, who has been active in the county GOP, opposes gay marriage and also opposes providing benefits to unmarried partners of employees.

Weds. a.m. video: Town hall in PA

Things apparently got testy for Sen. Arlen Specter when he had his town hall meeting in Lebannon, Pa., yesterday.

McMorris Rodgers in Colville Weds.

Some members of Congress are getting an earful about health care reform and other topics at their town hall meetings this August break from the session.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers’ office released the first few days of her public schedule for the August break, and it starts with a discussion of health care and a town hall for seniors on Wednesday up in Colville.

She’ll be talking to the Colville Chamber and the Colville Rotary about health care reform at the Rotary Pavilion in City Park at noon.

She’ll also have a Seniors Town Hall at the Northeast Washington Ag Center, 317 W. Astor, at 3 p.m.

Colville is usually pretty friendly territory for McMorris Rodgers, so the shouting might be kept to a minimum.

For the rest of her public schedule, to date, go inside the blog

County GOP knocks Staab

Spokane Municipal Court races are non partisan, but the County Republican Party is weighing in on one of the races and criticizing Judge Tracy Staab.

The GOP’s problem with Staab is not judicial activism or any decision she’s made. Instead, it’s residence.

As in, Staab doesn’t live in the city. The county executive board concluded at a recent meeting that “a municipal court jduge, like any other elected office, should be required to live within the position’s respective jurisdiction.”

This issue came up when Mayor Mary Verner nominated Staab for the newly created seat on the bench. Councilman Bob Apple voted against her, saying he thought the judges should live in the city, but all the other councilmembers voted for her and she got the appointment.

Staab is the only appointed municipal judge to draw a challenger in the election. She faces Bryan Whitaker.

GOP didn’t say whether it’s endorsing Whitaker…just that it’s opposing Staab.

Campaign has some familiar names

One of the campaign organizations set up to oppose the “Community Bill of Rights” mentioned in this morning’s newspaper report has some familiar names.

Jobs & Opportunities Benefiting Spokane has hired Polis Political Services of Olympia and Brian Murray as political consultants.

Murray may be more familiar to Spokane residents. He was a senior aide to Jim West when West was in the state Senate, and was appointed to the seat when West was elected mayor of Spokane in 2003, finishing slightly ahead in the voting by precinct committee officers and getting the nod from Spokane County commisioners. Murray ran for the seat in 2004, but lost in the primary to Brad Benson, the state Representative who finished second in the precinct committee officer voting. Murray and another former West aide, Cody George, started Vintage Hill winery two years ago. 

Although based in Olympia, Stan Shore of Polis has been involved in Spokane area politics for many years. He, too, had ties to West and several of the Spokane Republican’s legislative campaigns. He was involved  in 2000 in a last-minute attack against John Powers, part of an effort from a web of third party committees set up by Metropolitan Mortgage that led to a $10,000 PDC fine. A master of last-minute campaign mailers, he’s drawn praise from allies and screams from opponents in several other city and legislative races. Because of his long-time ties to West, he helped with West’s unsuccessful fight against recall in 2005, although he worked on that one for free.

Also receiving money from JOBS is Moore Information out of Portland, which has a long history of polling in Washington state, mostly but not exclusively for Republican clients. 

Tues. a.m. video: How many times can you say ‘Death Panel’?

Apparently many, many times over the course of 100 seconds, as this clip from TalkingPointsMemo shows.

Cooking the books, city election style

Whether they realize it or not, the Spokane City Council is asking to cook the books on the Community Bill of Rights charter amendment and skew the results of the November vote. They’re using a strategy campaigns sometimes use to get the result they want.

This newspaper’s longtime pollster Del Ali cautioned us years ago that one can skew the results of a poll not just by what’s asked, but by the order of the questions. It’s advice we still use to evaluate polls before reporting them.

 One of the oldest tricks is to put the question for the results after several other loaded questions. For example, if you were a challenger trying to show your incumbent senator is not well supported by the constituents, you wouldn’t just ask “Overall, do you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of Sen. Sneed?”

Instead, you’d first ask something like, “Would it change your opinion of Sen. Sneed if I told you he supports turning Glacier National Park into a nuclear waste dump?” or “Would it change your opinion of Sen. Sneed if I told you he supports tripling your income tax rate and spending it on more federal agents to take away your guns?”

After giving Sen. Sneed several nasty jabs – they don’t have to be things he supports because of the “if I told you” lead-in – the survey asks if the voter’s opinion is favorable or unfavorable. Sneed’s favorable rating goes way down, and the challenger’s campaign staff claims those numbers prove he’s vulnerable.

This is, for all practical purposes, what the City Council voted to do last Monday for the November ballot. (An election is arguably just a big poll with a 0 percent margin of error.) The council added two advisory questions to the ballot. Reduced to their simplest, the questions are “Should we raise taxes to pay for the Envision Spokane Bill of Rights?” and “Should we cut services to pay for it?”

RIP, Comstock elm

The City Parks Department cut down an elm in Comstock Park Friday. It was a traumatic event, or so one might assume from the press release issued announcing the tree’s demise.

In it we find out the tree’s age (60-70 years), its species (Siberian elm), pre-removal treament (airspading of the roots to determine damage) and just about everything but its name. (We’ll call it Ivan.)

Ivan’s roots were damaged by an irrigation project. The department had hoped to save him, but alas, the air spading revealed too much damage. Coupled with his proximity to a retaining wall and the sidewalk, it was das vidana Ivan.

Some of his comrades might get the ax — well, probably the chain saw — too. To read the whole press release, go inside the blog.

Time to register running out

Washington residents who want to cast a ballot in the Aug. 18 primary have to be registered by Monday, or they’re out of luck.

Those who aren’t registered, but want to, must register in person at their local county elections office by filling out a form. On-line registration, which is available most of the year, will not allow a new voter to be on the books in time for the primary.

In Spokane, that would mean a prospective voter wouldn’t be able to cast a ballot on a countywide proposal to continue a sales tax for law enforcement. Many cities and towns and some school and fire districts also have primaries that will trim the number of candidates for local office down to two for the November election.

In most counties. the elections office is at or near the county courthouse. In Spokane, it’s two blocks away at 1033 W. Gardner.Click here to find other addresses.

Fri. a.m. video: Sonia vote Thurs.

You all knew this was going to happen, but Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation still dominated the cable news on Thursday. The funniest thing seemed to be that after months of the nomination-and-hearing process, some people still have trouble pronouncing her name.

Here’s the rundown from TalkingPointsMemo.

We’re flush with ideas…

The City of Spokane and Spokane County were plugging their water conservation program Thursday, which offers rebates for people who replace their toilets with commodes that use much less water per flush.

It is not, however, going to be called “Cash for Crappers.”

And that wouldn’t be accurate, anyway, because there’s a rebate for replacing your washing machine with a new Energy Star model, too.

You can read about the whole program by going here on the newspaper’s main web site.

Park Board OKs Mobius contract

The Spokane Park Board approved a 50-year lease with Mobius Spokane to build a science center on property north of Riverfront Park. 

They did it at a 7 a.m. meeting at Manito Park, but unlike last week’s meeting, this one was open to the public (although not many members of the public were interested enough or awake enough to show.)

Quick details of the lease include rent of $1 a year in exchange for Mobius building the $29.5 million complex. If Mobius develops commercial structures on the property, the city gets 15 percent. Mobius also has to pay $12,500 a year for parking.

The contract has been a cause celebre among some city watchers ever since the board discussed it in a close session at a 7 a.m. session last week. After approving it this week, Parks Director Barry Russell initially refused requests to make the contract public, saying a formal public records request would have to be filed. Assistant City Attorney Pat Dalton quickly corrected that, and supplied a copy, which can be found here.

It’s not the end, because both Mobius and the City Council must still approve the contract, and the latter must apply it’s own scrutiny and hear from the public.

It’s not even the beginning of the end, because after that, Mobius still has about $14 million to raise and a complex to build. But maybe, to borrow from Winston Churchill, it’s the end of the beginning.

Thurs a.m video: Weds. release

The release of two journalists dominated the national news on Wednesday. Here’s a clip from TalkingPointsMemo.

DNC caucus descending on N. Idaho

Political operatives from 13 Western states will be meeting at the Coeur d’Alene Casino this weekend, providing local residents with a glimpse of something almost as rare in North Idaho as a Kootenai sturgeon.

Democrats. (Yeah, there used to a lot more of them around these parts, too.)

The Western States Caucus will be bringing Democratic National Committee members in for about four days of confering, conversing and otherwise hobnobbing with their brother wizards.

Some might ask why, in a state that’s among the most Republican red in the nation, based on the presidential election results or the ratios in the Legislature, where Democratic caucuses could be held in phone booths, if there were any such receptacles to be found.

But Barack Obama won the state’s caucuses last spring, and the party has hopes that the West will become “the new South,” Aleita Huguenin, the chairwoman of the caucus said.

Murray endorses Sotomayor

Sen. Patty Murray is backing Sonia Sotomayor for the U.S. Supreme Court. That comes as no surprise, considering Murray is a Democrat, and all the Ds are backing Obama’s first court pick.

And considering that Murray has made no secret of her general support for the appeals court judge.

This morning, however, she took to the floor of the Senate to memorialize that support. Want to read her speech? It’s inside the blog.

Weds. video: Tues. redux

Tuesday was Obama’s birthday…although if one doubts he was born in the U.S., shouldn’t one also doubt the day? The celebration plus a preview of Congress’s upcoming dog days of summer in this video from TalkingPointsMemo.

County pools swimming in cash, and that’s a bad thing auditor says

The Spokane County Parks Department’s fiscal controls over two of its pools were so lax last year that the cash registers were overflowing with cash and sometimes left unattended, a state auditor’s report said.

Parks staff didn’t keep good track of swimming passes, didn’t calculate sales tax correctly or submit it on time, didn’t properly track inventory at its concessions and had other problems at its lakes and golf courses, a report released this week by State Auditor Brian Sonntag said.

“The cash registers at the North- and Southside pools were not cleared of excess cash during the day,” the report says, noting that they sometimes had more than $1,000, mostly in small bills. “Money fell out of the registers because they were so full.”


PDC will investigate charter group’s funding

The state Public Disclosure Commission is opening a formal investigation into a complaint the home builders filed last month against Envision Spokane.

The Spokane Home Builders Association filed a complaint last month, alleging the citizens group  did not file all the necessary information on where they get their money and how it was spent during the time they were working on the Community Bill of Rights, a proposed amendment to the City Charter that will appear on the November ballot.

Lori Anderson, a spokeswoman for the PDC, said the case was assigned to a staff investigators after an initial review.

The formal investigation may take about 120 days, she said. About three-fourths of all initial complaints are assigned to a staff investigator after they are submitted and undergo an initial review.  

Reminder: Council candidate forum Wed.

Candidates for the South Spokane District 2 seat on the City Council are appearing at a forum Wednesday evening at the East Central Community Center.

The primary ballot features challengers David Elton, Steve Eugster, Greg Ridgley, Kristana Sabestinas and Jon Snyder running against incumbent Mike Allen. The East Central Neighborhood Council, which is sponsoring the forum, expects all six to attend.

Starts at 6:30 p.m. at 500 S. Stone. Don’t know how to get there? Click here

Tues video: What happened Mon.?

Spin Control experienced light blogging over the weekend because I was in Vegas being separated from my money on Sat. and Sun., and tied up with a non-political story Monday. 

Apologies to readers wondering What’s going on?

Here’s a quick look at the big news of Monday, a question of taxes and lip reading, from the folks at TalkingPointsMemo, with a promise of more local stuff to follow today.

Park Board on dawn patrol

Most mornings around 7 a.m., Manito Park is the province of joggers, dog walkers and ducks on “dawn patrol” for healthy eats because the “do not feed” signs have cut back their junk food. But about once a month, it’s the site of a special meeting of the Spokane Park Board.

Some of these 7 a.m. special meetings are almost completely closed to the public. The board convenes, votes to go into executive session, which is the polite term for ordering the public out and shutting the door, and talks about stuff until it comes out of executive session and adjourns.

Stuff like contracts and purchases. Stuff that the public, which for nearly a century has given the Park Board some 8 percent of the city’s general fund, will eventually pay for. To be fair, before the Board actually votes to spend the money, it will hold a public meeting at which the public might come and say “Hey, great idea” or “Bad move, buck-o.” The public gets a second say if the issue comes to the City Council.

Executive sessions are nothing new. The state Open Meetings Law says a body may shut out the public and go behind closed doors for certain things. (Note: The law says “may” not “shall” so these sessions are optional, but it’s rare when a board’s attorney says “What the heck, let the public hear what you’re thinking because, after all, it’s their money.”)

What may be considered unusual about the Park Board, however, is the time and place: 7 a.m., at the Manito Park Garden Center Meeting Room. Not quite, as one critic described, “in the maintenance building next to the flower display,” but not a known landmark like City Hall.

That’s where the board could have been found last Monday, talking about…

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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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