Spin Control

WEDNESDAY, OCT. 20, 2010, 1:21 P.M.

Deja vu fight: Who pays for Obama’s stop in Seattle tomorrow

President Barack Obama's trip to Seattle Thursday for a backyard chat and a political rally at University of Washington is bringing up a dispute Spokane folks can relate to.

No, not health care reform. Or Wall Street reform. Or birth certificate provenance.

It's a cost fight, as in "Who picks up the tab?"


The state GOP is circulating a story in today's Seattle Times in which Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn estimates the presidential visit will cost the city between $100K and $150K for security and motorcades (not clear whether that includes a souvenir Seahawks jersey and a Space Needle key chain.) This has Laena Fallon, a spokeswoman for the Washington State Republican Party, incensed.

“At a time when Washington families are tightening their belts to make ends meet, Washington taxpayers are getting stuck with the bill for the Democrats’ ‘Get Out the Vote’ effort.  The visits from the big D.C. names headlining Senator Patty Murray’s ‘Save My Job’ tour will cost local governments hundreds of thousands of dollars when they are already facing budget shortfalls," she writes above an e-mailed copy of the Times story.

This would be a great argument, except for one thing. Cities always pick up the tab for these kinds of visits. As Spokane did in 2006, when Vice President Dick Cheney came to campaign for GOP Senate candidate Mike McGavick at a Davenport Hotel fund-raiser.

Traffic control and security cost the city $17,113.03 in police overtime (the Spokane PD is scrupulous with their bookkeeping). The city was strapped for cash. Maybe not as strapped for cash as it is now, but budgets were tight. Then-Councilwoman Mary Verner said they should ask for reimbursement.

McGavick said no, the city benefited from the national exposure. State Democrats were incensed. No money changed hands and city taxpayers ate the $17,113.03.

City taxpayers picked up the tab for President George W. Bush in 2004, when the president came to Spokane for a fund-raiser for Rep. George Nethercutt, the GOP challenger running against Patty Murray last time.

And in 2000 when then-Gov. Bill Clinton came in to campaign for president. And in 1989 when President George H.W. Bush stopped by Spokane to have dinner at Patsy Clark's and plant a tree in Riverfront Park with then-Speaker Tom Foley. And in 1986 when President Ronald Reagan stopped at the old Coliseum to campaign for then-Sen. Slade Gorton. And...well, you get the picture.

It is standard practice for the cities to pick up the tab. City budgets being what they always are, it is standard practice for someone to suggest they could use a little help for catering to this very important person. Politics being what it is, it is de rigueur for the party who isn't bringing in the heavy hitter to bemoan the cost to the taxpayers...and conveniently forget that concern when they bring someone in.

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Jim Camden
Jim Camden is the Olympia bureau chief, covering the Legislature and state government. He also is a political columnist and blogger for Spin Control.

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