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Spin Control

Archive for January 2012

On minimum wages and maximum salaries

OLYMPIA – While a House committee considered plans Tuesday to cut wages for some of the state's lowest-paid private workers, a Senate committee tried to emphasize the state doesn’t pay the salaries of its highest-paid public workers.

The House Labor Committee considered five different changes to the state's minimum wage law, which rises with inflation because of a 1998 ballot initiative and is now among the highest in the nation.
It’s so high that it hurts employment, training opportunities and profits, business groups told the committee. Cut the minimum wage and those workers will have less to spend in the economy, opponents of the bills said.

The Senate Higher Education Committee, meanwhile, aired out a bill that would prohibit by statute something that currently doesn't happen anyway: using state tax money to pay the salaries of coaches and other intercollegiate sports expenses at Washington State University and University of Washington.

“Everywhere I go, people are saying ‘I can’t believe the highest paid people for the state of Washington are football coaches,’ ” said Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island. They’re often skeptical when she tells them that’s not state money; her bill would give current practice of using outside revenue to pay for intercollegiate expenses “the force of law.”…

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

Drumming up some support

Drum circle in the Capitol Rotunda.

OLYMPIA — The best thing about the Capitol is one never knows what one will find going on in there.

Sometimes it's a dairy princess serving up ice cream bars. Sometimes its the cattlemen offering 'burgers. (S-R reporters have strict rules about taking freebies, so I only know first-hand such things are available, but  second-hand that they're a big hit.)

Today was Native American Lobby Day, in which members of the state's various tribes come to the Olympia to push for legislation affecting them.

No fry bread or smoked salmon. But at lunchtime, they formed a drum circle in the Rotunda, honored Democratic Rep. John McCoy, a member of the Tulalip tribe, and basically filled the building with the sounds of drumming and singing.

The Capitol has excellent accoustics. The building rocked for much of the lunch hour.

Senate to debate gay marriage bill Wednesday

OLYMPIA — A debate of the same-sex marriage bill on the Senate floor is all but locked in for Wednesday, but the time is still up in the air.

The Senate has its regular session scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday, but that's in the middle of a busy committee hearing schedule, and SB 6239 is expected to generate a fair amount of debate. So it may be scheduled for an afternoon or evening session.

Once the debate starts, it could go for a while.

Spokane City Council calls for legalization of medical marijuana

The Spokane City Council unanimously agreed Monday that marijuana should be able to be possessed legally by people who have a legitimate medical need for the drug.

The council approved a nonbinding resolution endorsing a letter that Gov. Chris Gregoire and Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee sent to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration in November requesting that marijuana be reclassified from being a “Schedule 1” drug to become a “Schedule 2” drug.

Schedule 1 drugs, such as heroin, are illegal. Schedule 2 drugs can be legal with a prescription.

Last year, dozens of medical marijuana dispensaries shut down, voluntarily or by force, in Spokane County after federal authorities warned that they were violating federal law.

WA Lege Day 22: Initiative ads may have to list donors

OLYMPIA – In the wake of a campaign season that saw a single donor spend nearly $21 million on an initiative to change state liquor laws, a House panel approved a proposal that requires political ads for or against a ballot measure would have to name the largest donors to that campaign.

The House State Government Committee approved a bill Monday by Rep. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, requiring campaign ads for or against initiatives and referenda to name the top five donors to the committee sponsoring the ad. It’s similar to a rule applied to independent campaign ads for or against candidates.

Supporters said the public has a right to know who’s pumping money into the campaigns. That means the names of the actual donors, not “some fluffy sounding name for a committee,” Steve Zemke, chairman of the King County Democratic Party said.

But opponents argued donor information is available on the Public Disclosure Commission’s web site and generally covered in news reports. “I can look that information up in about two seconds,” Rep. Cary Condotta, R-East Wenatchee, said.

Billig's proposal is a response in part to record spending on ballot initiatives last year, including nearly $21 million in contributions, plus other “in-kind” support, by Costco for an initiative that ended the state monopoly on wholesale and retail liquor sales.

The committee sent it to the full House on a 7-4 vote, but rejected a separate proposal by Billig to place limits on contributions to initiative campaigns similar to those faced by candidates for statewide office.

WA Lege Day 22: House panel OKs gay marriage bill

OLYMPIA — By a single vote, the House Judiciary Committee approved a bill to allow same-sex marriage in Washington, turning down a pair of amendments by a Spokane Valley legislator.

Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, argued that all business owners with a religious objection to same-sex marriage should be given protection from any civil suit for refusing to participate. That would be in keeping with the state constitution's guarantee of “absolute freedom of conscience in all matters of religious sentiment,” he said.

Without it, “private businesses will be subjected to massive new lawsuits,” Shea said.

But Judiciary Committee Chairman Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, said such concerns were raised years ago when the state first began considering anti-discrimination protections for sexual orientation and didn't materialize: “We don't have any evidence of any abuse.”

Shea also proposed changing the bill to require couples getting married be residents of the state for at least six months. He said he was open to a lower time limit, but one should be placed in the law because “we don't want people abusing our marriage laws here in the state.” The provision would cover all marriages, not just those involving same-sex couples.

But Rep. Mary Helen Roberts, D-Lynnwood, said residency requirements “don't work in ther real world.” It would put restrictions on all couples in which one is from out of state, and members of the military “would have a very difficult time meeting that requirement,” she said.

The committee also rejected an effort to place the law on the November ballot through a referendum.

After all three amendments were rejected on voice votes, the bill itself passed 7-6 on a party-line vote.

U.S. Senate race: Cantwell has $4 million in bank

U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell's campaign released its campaign contribution reports from the last quarter of 2011 which shows it had just over $4 million “on hand” as of Dec. 31.

(On hand makes it sound like the money is sitting around on someone's desk, or in a wall safe at campaign headquarters, but it's really the Federal Election Commission's term for in the bank.)

She raised about $1.3 million in contributions in the last three months of the year and spent about $521,000. Most of the money at this point is coming from individuals — she picked up $3,000 from Democratic party groups and $6,500 from other political committees in the fourth quarter.

Cantwell, a Democrat seeking her third term, has two announced Republican challengers, state Sen. Mike Baumgartner of Spokane and Art Coday, a Shoreline physician. Neither have filed reports yet for the final quarter of 2011.

WA Lege Day 22: Another committee vote on same-sex marriage

OLYMPIA — The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on the same-sex marriage bill this afternoon. Expect a repeat of last week's hearing in Senate Government Operations: some efforts by Republicans to modify it, but enough votes to send it to the full House.

That's  not the only thing happening today, however. House and Senate policy committees — that is, the ones that deal with bills other than the budget — are playing beat the clock on the piles of legislation introduced since before the session started.

Friday is the first cut off or “drop dead” day. Any policy bill that hasn't been passed out of its first committee in the chamber where the bill originated is technically dead.

Well, OK, it's not “really most sincerely dead” as the Munchkins would say, because there are parliamentary ways to revive a bill. But it's definitely need of someone with a pair of electro-shock paddles.

So at the same time the same-sex marriage bill is being run through executive session, a Senate committe has a hearing on several bills involving health care reform and a House committee  has a hearing on bills involving political advertising and the initiative process.

Sunday Spin: Will the Lege go big, or small, to honor Japanese internees?

OLYMPIA – Gestures are important in politics. They can be grand, even when seemingly made on a small scale. Or they can just be small.
Among the small gestures considered most legislative sessions are requests to add some emblem or design to state license plates, to raise a bit of money and honor an institution, organization or activity. Thus we have license plates for Cougs and Huskies, and other institutions of higher learning; for the various branches of the armed services; for bicyclists and parks, pets and lighthouses, endangered wildlife and square dancing.
This year, there are proposals to add special plates for the state flower (coast rhododendron, in case you forgot), 4-H and the National Rifle Association. Extra money raised from the plates would go, respectively, to the Meerkerk Rhododendron Garden and other efforts to preserve plants; to the 4-H foundation to help replace money disappearing as governments tighten their belts; and to support state hunting and firearms training courses.
All good causes, to be sure. But do they require their own license plate? After all, given the cost of designing and producing a specialized license plate, couldn’t these causes net out more cash if, say, all the folks with NRA stickers on their pickups, who also were inclined to support a firearms course, just sent the cash directly to a special account. How many more NRA emblems does a vehicle need?
But there’s one other request for a specialized plate that’s not such a small gesture…

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

Condon’s ball raises more than $20,000 for Chase Youth Foundation

Addressing the crowd at his inaugural ball, Spokane Mayor David Condon said he will strive to be like Jim Chase, the popular mayor who led the city when Condon was a boy.

More than 400 people attended Condon's $75-a-plate Our Town Gala on Saturday night at the Lincoln Center in North Spokane. Proceeds will go to the Chase Youth Foundation, the financial arm of the youth commission that Chase fought to create when he was mayor in the 1980s.

Condon praised Chase for the stability he brought to the city as well as his gentle nature. He said the event, which was attended by many political, business and other leaders, raised more than $20,000 for the foundation.

Last year, former Mayor Mary Verner opted to eliminate the city's Youth Department, which oversaw the Chase Youth Commission. Condon supported the decision because of the city's financial problems. But Saturday, he vowed that the city would maintain a strong relationship with the commission even if taxpayer funding is much smaller.

“I am unwilling to let budget pressures push aside” the commission, he said.

Three Chase Youth commissioners addressed the crowd after a buffet-style dinner.

School Board campaign limits pass House

OLYMPIA — A proposal to place the same limits on campaign contributions to school board candidates that apply to legislators and other city and county candidates passed the House overwhelmingly Friday.

But not before some grousing by a few Republicans who thought the Legislature has better things to do.

Rep. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, said HB 2210 puts a limit of $800 on contributions to school board candidates. While most contributions are far less, in a few instances last year they were much more. One of them was in his district, Billig added. 

“These limits, they give confidence to voters, they reduce the opportunity for corruption and undue influence of large donations,” said Billig, the bill's prime sponsor.

That was a reference to last year's Spokane District 81 School Board race, in which Duane Alton, a retired tire dealer and longtime Republican activist, gave unsuccessful board candidate Sally Fullmer $6,350, which was almost half of all the money she raised.

House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, accused Billig and other Democrats of proposing a “cookie cutter solution” — and even worse a Seattle solution.

“We have Seattle pushing its rules on the rest of Washington,” DeBolt complained. Seattle can limit their contributions and “gum up their works.”

“If Seattle thinks they need to limit their contributions or add a dollar in their electric bill to pay for things like elections, then they can do that,” he added. The bill would make schools “go through more costs…when we're in a time when we can't even fully fund education, then I think that's absurd and that's exactly what's wrong with this place.”

(Note: There's really nothing in the bill that calls for adding a fee to electric bills to pay for elections, or placing the cost of elections or tracking contributions on schools.)

Rep. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, countered with a “clarification” that the district Billig was talking about was in Eastern Washington.

The bill passed 71-24. You can see the entire debate in the video above.

Marijuana measure goes to Legislature

OLYMPIA — A measure that would decriminalize use and possession of small amounts of marijuana for adults was sent to the Legislature today after the Secretary of State's office certified it has more than enough signatures.

Initiative 502 had a slightly higher than normal error rate on the signatures checked, but has more than the required 241,153 signatures need, the elections office concluded.

That means the Legislature has three options on decriminalizing marijuana:

Pass the initiative as written, and let it become law.

Reject the initiative, which would put it on the November ballot.

Pass an alternative bill decriminalizing marijuana, which would put the initiative and the alternative on the November ballot.

Initiatives to the Legislature are somewhat rarer than initiatives to the people. The last successful initiative to the Legislature, the Secretary of State's office reported, was in 2004, and dealt with nuclear waste.

No lie: Ballots in the mail

If you're a voter in Spokane County, chances are there's a ballot with your name on it somewhere in the U.S. postal system.

Spokane County mailed some 260,000 ballots this week for the special election on Feb. 14 (possible slogan: Mail your ballot when you mail your Valentine). They're going to the voters in most school districts in the county.

So many school districts are having special elections that it makes more sense to say who isn't. If you live in lthe Reardan-Edwall or the Orchard Prairie district, no election. Everyone else, election.

Weather has been a bit iffy, so give the postal service a few days to get the ballot to you. If the ballot hasn't shown up by next Friday, Feb. 3, give county elections a call at 477-2320 for a replacement.

Alert voters might also  notice something different about these ballots. The flap that used to seal the envelope and hide your signature is gone, because a law that governed that (yes, we have laws for such things) has changed. Not peeling the flap to check the signatures saves time, and time is money. While some voters might wonder how safe the envelopes are, county elections officials are confident that the mail boxes from the U.S. Postal Service and the drop boxes the Elections Office sets up are secure.

You've got until Feb. 14 to mail or drop off your ballot.

For a list of drop-box locations, click here to go inside the blog.

Legislators discover public has problems with Discover Pass

OLYMPIA – Washington residents quickly discovered something they didn’t like about the Discover Pass when it was introduced last year to raise money for parks and other state lands: It was only good on one vehicle.

So if you drove your pickup to go hunting on state range lands but your SUV to take the family camping at a state park, you needed two of the $30 passes. Fly from Seattle to Spokane and rent a car for your outdoor excursion? Buy another pass…

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

Same-sex Marriage bill advances

OLYMPIA — A proposal to allow same-sex marriages in Washington cleared its first hurdle this morning as a legislative panel approved it on a 4-3 vote and sent it to the Senate for a full debate.

Supporters beat back several attempts to change SB 6239,  either by adding extra language to protect religious-based agencies that want to refuse foster or adoption placements to same-sex couples or for businesses that want  to refuse to sales or services for same-sex couples based on “deeply held religious beliefs.”

They would “protect religous freedom, an item of some consequence here,” Sen. Don Benton,  R-Vancouver, said.

But some proposed changes actually went farther, Government Operations Committee Chairman Craig Pridemore, D-Vancouver, said, and would “allow discrimination for any purpose by anyone.”

The committee also turned down, on the same partisan 4-3 vote, an attempt to add a referendum clause to the bill that would force the measure onto the November ballot.

“A change of this significance in long-standing state law… requires more than a majority vote of the Legislature,” Benton said.  “This will change our society in ways no one here can see, 30, 40, 50 years from now.”

Although the bill currently does not have a referendum clause, opponents have vowed to try to force it onto the ballot if the final version does not contain one by gathering signatures. If they file for a referendum, the law would be suspended while signatures are gathered, and if they gather the required amount, would not go into effect unless it was approved by voters in November.

The proposal now goes to the Senate Rules Committee, which schedules legislation for debate and action on the Senate floor. Based on polls of senators, supporters believe they have at least 25 votes, the number needed to pass the bill with a simple majority.

WA Lege Day 18: Senate panel to vote on gay marriage bill

OLYMPIA — The Senate Government Operations is scheduled to vote this morning on the proposal that would allow same-sex marriage in Washington.

The bill was the subject of two contentious committee hearings on Monday, one in Senate Government Ops and the other in House Judiciary. The Senate panel is set to “exec” the bill — that is, vote on it in executive session after holding public hearings on other bills — in a hearing that started at 10 a.m. We'll update when the vote comes up.

House Judiciary is expected to exec its version of the bill next week.

Both bills are expected to clear their committees and be sent to the full chambers for debates.

Med School tied to “Jobs” package

OLYMPIA – Some $35 million to finish the Riverpoint medical school building may flow into Spokane as the top priority for the area’s business community finds itself on a list of projects to address one of the Legislature’s top priorities.
Or the project may find itself in the middle of a debate over the role of government in creating jobs. . .

To read the rest of this post, or to comment, click here to go inside the blog.

Spokane Med School on lists for big projects

OLYMPIA — The Riverpoint Biomedical and Health Sciences Building, a.k.a. the Spokane Med School building, is on lists in the House and Senate for big projects the state would do if the Legislature passes a major bond package.

The school is slated for $35 million on the House list of bonding projects released this morning by Rep. Hans Dunshee, the chairman of that chamber's Capital Budget Committee. A copy of the Senate list isn't as detailed, but the school is included in the $96 million that would go to four-year universities, a source confirmed.

Last year, the school got $35 million in the Capital Budget, which was enough for the first half of construction. Finishing the construction was the top priority for a group of Spokane area business and government leaders who lobbied legislators last week.

Being on both lists makes it more likely the med school would get the money if the bond program comes together. But there's a rub: This is not the standard Capital Budget supported by the General Fund. It's an attempt to pay for more projects by dipping into a series of special funds to sell bonds.

A coalition of unions, construction companies who employ union workers, church groups and progressive groups are pushing for a bond issue that will “jump start” the economy with more construction jobs to replace crumbling roads, bridges and water projects. But they want some $2 billion in projects, more than twice the amount in either the House or Senate proposals at this time.

Republican leaders, meanwhile, are cool to the idea of drawing down various funds for these bonds: We have a Capital Budget for infrastructure. They spent all their budget last year,” House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, said.

State of the Union text

Did you miss a piece of the State of the Union address while you were eating dinner, doing the dishes or making sure the kids brushed their teeth.

Or maybe you skipped it entirely.

In any case, if you want to read what he had to say, the full text is inside the blog.

Click here to read it, or to comment.

Retired chief justice will serve on Zehm overview committee

Gerry Alexander, who retired last year as the chief justice of the Washington State Supreme Court, will serve on the city's Use of Force Commission.

The commission was created last year by former Mayor Mary Verner to review the city's handling of the police confrontation that resulted in the death of Otto Zehm in 2006. Mayor David Condon endorsed the concept and supported her choice of former Gonzaga Law School Dean Earl Martin to lead it.

Membership of the five-member committee was announced at a City Council meeting on Monday by Council President Ben Stuckart. The council is set to confirm the membership next week.

The vice chairman will be former attorney Bill Hyslop, who served as the U.S. attorney for Eastern Washington during the administration of President George H.W. Bush.

The other two members will be Ivan Bush, the Spokane Public Schools' equal opportunity officer; and Susan Hammond, director of outpatient and psychiatric services for Spokane Mental Health.

Condon has said he hopes the commission concluds its review by June.

McMorris Rodgers gives GOP prebuttle

U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, vice chair of the House Republican Conference, gave Fox News a preview of the GOP's rebuttle to tonight's expected themes in President Obama's State of the Union address. The congresswoman from Spokane took repeated shots at Obama's rejection of the Keystone pipeline, saying America needs the private sector jobs.

“At a time when we need to be putting Americans back to work, the President, unfortunately, is saying ‘no’ to American energy and ‘no’ to American jobs,” McMorris Rodgers told Fox News commentator Bill Hemmer.  “That’s the wrong answer.

Here's a clip of the TV appearance:

The president is scheduled to deliver his State of the Union address at 6 p.m. PT tonight, and is expected to call for higher tax rates on America's millionaires.

Same-sex marriage moves closer to passage—and ballot

OLYMPIA – As supporters and opponents packed hearing rooms around the Capitol Monday, Washington moved a step closer to legalizing same-sex marriage when the proposal gained its crucial 25th vote in the Senate.
Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, announced she would vote yes on Senate Bill 6239, giving the bill a majority in that chamber. The companion bill, HB 2516, has the votes necessary to clear the House, Rep. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, said, and Gov. Chris Gregoire has called for the Legislature to pass such legislation.
Barring some unexpected shift, that suggests Washington would be the seventh state in the nation to pass a law on same-sex marriage. But it would be the first state where voters have the ultimate say on a bill passed by the Legislature…

To read the rest of this post, or to comment, click here to go inside the blog

Parking tickets issued for snow emergency violations

The City of Spokane issued about 20 parking tickets to the owners of vehicles who didn't obey the city's snow emergency rules late last week.

The city declared a stage 2 snow emergency Thursday, which set into motion a plowing of residential streets and an order for vehicles to be parked only on the side of the street with odd-numbered addresses. The city earlier in the storm banned parking along most arterials.

Street Director Mark Serbousek said the city issued tickets along some narrow residential streets where parking along both sides made it extremely difficult for plows to clear snow. But, he added, the rule was violated throughout the city.

“Compliance was terrible out there,” he said.

Tickets were issued by city's parking enforcement officers who normally enforce meters.

The city's snow emergency plans were drafted in 2009. This is the first winter in which officials have issued tickets to violators. Next year, the city has said it may begin towing cars in neighborhoods outside of Browne's Addition, where the city has long towed cars that haven't been moved to make way for plows.

Speaking of Browne's Addition, cars parked along north-south streets in that neighborhood on Tuesday will be towed as city crews complete their full-city plow. Cars parked along east-west streets will be towed on Wednesday.

Same-sex marriage: Senate may have votes

OLYMPIA — A proposal to give same-sex couples the ability to marry in Washington state may have the25  votes needed to pass the Senate.

Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, a Camano Island Democrat who was officially undecided on the bill, announced this morning she would vote yes. One of  her main concerns, that religious organizations that oppose same-sex marriage would have legal protections that allow them to refuse to perform such ceremonies, was answered by the latest draft, she said.

Some counts of supporters and opponents estimated there were already 24 votes for the bill before Haugen's announcement.

Meanwhile, supporters and opponents packed two hearing rooms, the Senate galleries and spilled out into the floor of the Capitol, where at least 200 gathered around a pair of monitors showing the Senate Government Operations Committee hearing on SB 6239.

After two hours of sometimes emotional testimony, Sen. Craig Pridemore, D-Vancouver, said the committee would vote on whether to send the bill to the Senate floor on Thursday morning.

A hearing on the companion bill in the House begins at 1:30 p.m., and opponents are rallying over the lunch hour outside the Capitol.

Same-sex Marriage hearings: ‘God is not excited’

OLYMPIA — A series of panels, pro and con, opened the overflow hearing on the same-sex marriage bill this morning.

Ken Hutcherson of the Antioch Baptist Church, an opponent of the bill, told members of a Senate panel who have already made up their mind to vote yes that they must think they “know better than God.”

“I do not think God is excited with SB 6239,” Hutcherson said.

To people who say religious conservatives are narrow-minded because they oppose same-sex marriage, Hutcherson countered that they are just as narrow-minded if they would later vote against a bill that allowed three men, three women or three adults to marry.

Opponents also were very clear that if the bill passes as is, without a referendum clause, they will bring force it to the ballot. An issue of this magnitude has “at least as much impact as a tax issue,” Joseph Backholm of the Family Policy Institute said.

SB 6239 would change allow same-sex couples to marry without requiring religious groups that object to perform those services. It does not contain a clause requiring a public vote to ratify it.

WA Lege Day 15: Overflow crowd for gay marriage hearing

OLYMPIA — The Legislature opened two overflow areas — including the Senate gallery itself — for the crowds who flocked to the capital to testify for and against a bill to legalize same sex marriage.

“I will not tolerate any disruptions,” Sen.  Craig Pridemore, D- , who told the crowd, adding that public had a one minute each. ” I want to caution both sides to be respectful dluring this hearing.”

Speaking at a hearing is not the only way to make your feelings known on a bill, Pridemore said. “In fact it's probably not the best way.”

The Senate Government Operations Committee started the day with a 10 a.m. session on SB 6239. House Judiciary will take up a companion bill

Jim Justin, Gov. Chris Gregoire's spokesman, said he wanted to dispel any suggestion that the governor doesn't fully support the bill: “She is 150 percent supportive of this legislation.”

Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, the prime sponsor of the bill, appeared at the hearing with his partner of more than 20 years, Michael  Shiosaki, a Spokane Valley native. Murray said he has waited 17 years to introduce such a bill to the Legislature; Shiosaki said they try to keep their political life separate from their private life.

“Commitment is always about being there for each other, in good times and bad,” Shiosaki said. “Domestic partnership offers many benefits, but it is not marriage. We hope this is the year we can marry.”

The staff presentation on the bill centered on its religious exemption, which does not allow any civil claims against a church or religious organization that refuses to perform or “solemnize” a same-sex marriage.

Spokane politics will miss Jan Polek

Writing about caucuses brings to mind one of the best fans of caucuses in Spokane, Jan Polek, who passed away earlier this month.
Whenever I would rail about caucuses being a pain for a reporter to cover – which happened about every two years – Polek would gently remind me that they are great stepping stone into the system for many political novices.
She first went in 1984, and two years later she was running for the Legislature. . .

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

Could we boycott the Iowa caucuses?

If no one else has yet proposed this, might I suggest the news media stop paying attention to the results of the Iowa precinct caucuses…or any precinct caucuses, for that matter.

That includes Washington. No offense, all you good party loyalists who are preparing for the big March 3 event. 

As a party-building exercise, caucuses are a useful tool. Anyone who is willing to leave the comfort of their home; drive or be driven to a school, church or community center; sit around for about an hour with family, neighbors and total strangers while someone reads arcane rules for awarding delegates; then speak or listen to others speak about the virtues of a particular candidate isn’t just a glutton for political punishment. He or she is an invaluable find for a political party.

To read the rest of this post, click here to go inside the blog.


How to calculate Verner’s (or most other city workers’) pension

Former Mayor Mary Verner's salary and pension request, which was denied by the city, has raised questions from several readers who wonder how an elected leader can be eligible to start receiving a pension at 55 after eight years of service.

Spokane's City Council and mayor are eligible for a pension under the Spokane Employees Retirement System, which includes most city workers who aren't police officers or firefighters.

But to be eligible they must work at the city for at least five years. That means an a elected official needs to win reelection to earn a pension. Verner served on City Council before becoming mayor, so she qualifies. Former City Councilman Richard Rush, who lost reelection, does not.

Employees who are part of the pension system currently contribute 7.75 percent of their pay toward the pension plan. The city contributes an equal amount. That amount was increased in 2008 from 6.72 percent of an employee's pay.

Here's how the basic pension works for workers hired or starting a term of office before 2009.

A retired city worker is eligible to start receiving a pension once they turn 50.

The basic pension formula is:

WA Lege Day 11: Abortion bill a ‘level field’ or ‘infringement to liberty’?

OLYMPIA – Nearly all medical insurance plans in Washington that offer maternity care would be required to cover abortions under a bill supporters described as a minor adjustment to adjust to new federal laws but opponents denounced as an infringement on religious liberties.

HB 2330 has broad support in the House, where it has 33 co-sponsors. But it's also a target of abortion opponents who held their annual rally earlier this week on the Capitol steps.

To read the rest of this post, or to comment, click here to go inside the blog.

9th Circuit: WA primary system OK

OLYMPIA — Washington state's current primary system which has candidates stating their party preference rather than a party affiliation and sends the top two vote-getters to the general election is constitutional, a federal appeals court said today.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected claims by Washington's Democratic, Republican and Libertarian parties that the system infringes on their First Amendment rights of association. There's no proof that voters are confused by it, the court ruled.

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

Spokane to Lege: Finish the med school project

OLYMPIA — Rain, snow and sleet is keeping postal carriers from completing some rounds in and around the capital, but it isn't deterring a delegation from Spokane from lobbying for key projects and issues with legislators.

A delegation of about 60 Spokane-area business and government leaders has been making the rounds for the last two days, getting briefings on capital, transportation and general budget conditions and an overview from the leaders of both parties in both chambers.

Rich Hadley, Greater Spokane Inc. president and chief executive officer, said the group's main emphasis this year, as it was last year, is securing state money for the Spokane medical school project  underway on the Riverpoint Campus. In meeting with the leaders of both chambers Capital Budget committees, the group made a push that the $35 million needed to complete the project, officially known as the Biomedical and Health Sciences Building, which is scheduled to start accepting students in September 2013.

The project is in line with both parties' push for more jobs and improved infrastructure, Hadley said: “On both the Senate and House side, they are looking for projects transformational to the economy” for a bond issue that could be proposed later in the session. “The rest of the medical school project is likely to be in a program like that.”

Budget negotiators are also looking for projects that are “shovel-ready”, that is, they don't need extensive studies or engineering but can be built right away. The second half of the health sciences and medical school building would qualify because it's already under construction.

After extensive lobbying by Spokane officials and a push by the Spokane-area delegation, the Legislature agreed to put aside $35 million last year for the first half of the project, which wasn't on Gov. Chris Gregoire's initial capital projects list. There was an expectation, but no promise, that money to complete the building would be available when needed.

Since that time, the state's finances have dropped as the economy continues to stall, and competition for state money continues to be fierce. But that's been true since 2009, Hadley said

Also on the “wish list” for the Spokane contingent is more money for ongoing construction of the North Spokane corridor, support for aerospace jobs and training, and opposition to any cuts to levy equalization, a system by which the state sends money to poorer school districts to cut their funding disparity with districts that have higher property values.

The delegation managed to start their visit on Wednesday, when Olympia got about 12 inches of snow, and continued Thursday when it was covered by freezing rain. But the meetings with legislative leaders went off as scheduled and “they were very respectful of the fact that we're committed.”

The group has a reception at the Governor's Mansion Thursday evening and a briefing from the state budget director Friday morning.

WA Lege Day 11: Kastama to vote yes on gay marriage bill

OLYMPIA — Supporters of a bill that would allow same-sex couples to marry in Washington state inched closer to passage today as one of the few “undecideds” said he would be voting yes.

Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup, said times have changed and “I believe we have reached the point where society is ready to recognize and support same-sex couples who seek the bonds, benefits and security of marriage.”

According to a tally by the Associated Press, the same-sex marriage bill had 23 yes votes prior to Kastama announcing his decision. It needs at least 25 to pass the Senate.

Meanwhile, Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, a sponsor of the bill, said major corporations including Microsoft, Group Health and RealNetworks said they will support same-sex marriage.

Gov declares weather emergency

OLYMPIA — Snow and ice around the state have prompted Gov. Chris Gregoire to declare a winter storm emergency, activating the National Guard and suspending rules for delivering milk from dairies.

Gregoire's emergency declaration orders the adjutant general to activate whatever units necessary to help cope with heavy snows. It also suspends driver hour rules of service for the milk industry so trucks have more time to get from dairies to processing plants over roads where traffic is slowed by snow and ice.

A copy of the declaration is below.


WA Lege Day 10: Medical marijuana bill draws criticism

OLYMPIA — The latest incarnation of a bill to add structure Washington's medical marijuana laws has supporters who don't like parts of it and opponents who do. 

People who operate clinics and dispensaries questioned the need for a voluntary registry of medical marijuana patients. Law enforcement officials like the registry, although they don't care for a provision that would allow patients to set up non-profit co-ops to grow their supplies. Some cities like flexibility for co-ops and collective gardens, others want to be able to ban them.

What they generally agreed, however, was that something has to change.

“This is like a big puzzle, trying to put all the pieces together into a coherent whole that will make sense for all the groups,” Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Wells, D-Seattle, the sponsor of SB 6265 said.

WA Lege Day 10: Hearing sked shortened

OLYMPIA — The Legislature is attempting to muddle through with diminished numbers this morning in the midst of “snow-maggedon” in the South Puget Sound.

It did stick to committee schedules this morning, although many hearings had fewer people present to testify because roads are so bad. Late afternoon Senate committee hearings for Ways and Means and Transportation have been cancelled. The House cancelled evening meetings today and early morning hearings on Thursday.

Legislators who did make it in are making frequent weather references. In urging the passage of a resolution honoring the first flight over the North Pole, from Moscow to Vancover, Wash., Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, noted what he termed a blast of Arctic conditions and proclaimed: The weatheir is honoring this resolution as well.”

The resolution passed.

For Spokane readers who think their local television stations go overboard with weather coverage when it snows, rest assured they have nothing on Seattle TV.  This YouTube video is pretty much on target for the Seattle reaction to snow. We' would have embedded the video, but the title isn't suitable for a family newspaper, even though it's a variation on a popular theme that is sort of “Stuff People Say.”

And yes, Spin Control is covering the Medical Marijuana hearing by the Senate Health and Long Term Care Committee  from home on television. Some of the roads between home and the Capitol aren't passable after 10-12 inches of snow, and city officials have asked drivers to stay off them. There's no exception for people from Spokane who actually know how to drive in the snow.

WA Lege Day 10: Medical marijuana hearing this a.m.

OLYMPIA — A snowy day in the capital, but the Senate Health Care Committee does have a hearing on a medical marijuana bill this morning that is happening.

Witnesses and senators were a bit late getting in, but they did get to Sen. Jeanne Kohl Wells' SB 6265 after a brief delay. We'll have a report when testimony wraps up.

Sidewalk money safe with new Spokane City Council

Spokane’s only tax revenue geared specifically for sidewalks won’t be diverted for street paving by the City Council’s new membership.

The council last year narrowly approved a $20-per vehicle tab tax and mandated that 10 percent be spent on sidewalks while the rest be spent on streets.

A majority of members on the more conservative City Council elected in November already said they didn’t support repealing the tax. On Tuesday, it became clear that the sidewalk set-aside is safe, too.

The council voted unanimously to approve two sidewalk construction projects for this year using tab fee revenue. A third sidewalk project was approved on a 6-0 vote with Councilman Mike Allen abstaining because he lives across the street from where the sidewalk will be installed on 29th Avenue.

The projects were recommended by the Citizens Transportation Advisory Board.

Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin, who voted against setting aside money for sidewalks and the creation of the tab tax last year, said while sidewalks aren’t her first transportation priority, she recognizes that the city has a problem with large sections of missing sidewalks.

“I lost that vote,” she said. “It’s time to move on. I want to help make as good decisions as possible with these dollars.”

WA Lege Day 9: Pro-life rally despite snow

Rep. John Ahern, (center with back to the camera) addresses the March for Life rally on the north Capitol steps Tuesday.

OLYMPIA — A couple of inches of sloppy snow did not keep pro-life groups from participating in the annual March for Life this afternoon.

The event featured speeches from several legislators, including Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, and Rep. John Ahern, R-Spokane.

Ahern asked demonstrators to support a bill he has introduced that would require any woman seeking an abortion to be shown a sonogram of the fetus.

Washington State Patrol officials estimated the crowd at about 450, which is down from some previous years with better weather.

Today’s fun website: GOP debate, all hands on deck

If you've watched the Republican presidential candidates debate over the last several months, you may have noticed that they're all getting more comfortable and more animated as they get more practice. You can tell by the way they use their hands to make their points.

This website offers a “key” to various hand gestures from Monday night's debate in South Carolina.

WA Lege Day 8: Cracking down on the sex biz that uses minors

OLYMPIA – A bipartisan group of legislators is pushing a dozen bills to combat human trafficking, particularly among teenage runaways they say are lured into prostitution.
Among the targets of the legislation are ads for “escort services” that appear in the back of some newspapers and on the Internet, and foot massagers.

To read more about the bills, or to see a complete list of bill numbers, prime sponsors and topics, go inside the blog

WA Lege Day 8: Take loyalty oaths off the books?

OLYMPIA – State workers and public school employees in Washington are supposed to take an oath that they aren’t a member of the Communist Party or any other subversive organization.
At least, that’s what state law has said since 1951, when the Subversive Activities Act was placed on the books a few years after the Legislature Joint Committee on Un-American Activities held a series of high-profile hearings hunting for communists in state government, university faculties and unions.

The committee was led by Spokane Rep. Al Canwell of Spokane, who served only one term in the Legislature but spent the next 50 years hunting suspected communists and compiling files on people.

A Washington Supreme Court ruling in 1964 said the law was so vague in defining a subversive person or group that the loyalty oath was unconstitutional. But that didn’t wipe the oath, or other sections of the act which use the same definitions, off the books.
Several House members have a bill to do that. At a hearing for HB 2251, prime sponsor Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Burien, said it was time to repeal the law nearly a half century after the court ruling.
“I think it devalues our criminal code to  have laws on the books that aren’t being enforced,” Fitzgibbon told members of the House Judiciary Committee.
He got no argument from committee members, and no one spoke in favor of keeping the law. The committee is expected to vote later this week on whether to send the bill to the House floor for a vote.

WA Lege Day 8: Not a holiday around the Capitol

OLYMPIA — Although most of state government is off today, the Legislature has a work day scheduled.

In keeping with the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, the House has a resolution honoring the late civil rights leader it will pass this morning with some amount of speechifying. Both chambers have a full plate of committee hearings.

Also in keeping with the spirit of MLK, the Washington Community Action Network had planned a day of “civil disobedience” with a 1 p.m. Capitol steps rally and later sit-ins in legislators' offices to express their support for a budget with fewer cuts and more taxes. But it snowed in the Puget Sound Sunday and early Monday, and the roads in some places are a bit treacherous. WA Can canceled its demonstration.

Capitol dome has a dusting of snow and the roads and sidewalks on the Capitol Campus are a bit dicey. Muslim Americans, however, are braving the weather for an outside rally and some inside lobbying for equal rights.

There's another rally scheduled for Tuesday, the annual March for Life, which is held somewhere close to the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision. They show up rain, snow or shine.

Contribution limits for school board candidates

After dinging Rep. Andy Billig a bit below on proposed changes to voter registration, it only seems fair to note an excellent idea of his, which also got a hearing last week.

The Spokane Democrat has a bill that would set the same $800 limit on contributions to school board candidates that applies to people seeking legislative, county and city office. After several school board races with big donations, including one in Spokane last fall, it’s an idea whose time has come.

Sunday spin: Do non-voters protest a bit too much?

OLYMPIA – Washington voters have a very good track record of casting ballots – among the best in the country.
Is it perfect? No. Could it be better? Yes. Are there people who should vote but don’t? Probably. Is it worth making major changes to the current system to capture some shoulda-woulda-coulda voters?
Some legislators think so. Some state and local officials who run the elections wish they would knock it off. Judge for yourself who’s right.

To read the rest of this column, go inside the blog.

Brown on MLK march: How far we have to go

OLYMPIA — For the first time in two decades, Sen. Lisa Brown said she won't be in the Capitol Monday on Martin Luther King Day.
Although it's a state holiday, the Legislature is always in session and traditionally works on that day. Next Monday, however, Brown said she'll be in Spokane to march with others in the community one year after the attempted bombing of that annual event.
Last year's parade was rerouted by police after a bomb was found in a suspicious backpack along the route by three temporary workers. Kevin Harpham, who espoused white supremacist views, later pleaded guilty to planting the bomb.
But that march continued last year and will be repeated Monday, Brown said, “sending a strong message that violence has no place in our community or any community.”
In a speech on the Senate floor explaining why she won't be present on Monday, Brown quoted King who once said that people who march “must make the pledge that we always march ahead. We cannot turn back”
 In her office of Senate majority leader, she has a painting by a Spokane artist which features the street layout of Washington, D.C., from the Lincoln Memorial, where King made his “I Have a Dream” speech to the White House.
The title “16,582 Days to a Symphony of Brotherhood,” commemorates the number of days between the speech and the inauguration of Barack Obama as the nation's first African-American president. Brown urged people to stop by her office to see painting to contemplate how far the nation has come. And on the one-year anniversary of the attempted bombing they might want to contemplate something else, she said.
“How far we still have to go… to where our differences our settled through dialogue and debate, and not with violence.”

WA Lege Day 4: Fight ahead over charter schools?

OLYMPIA – A bipartisan group of legislators, backed by business and education reform groups, announced a push Thursday for charter schools and new teacher evaluations.
The Washington Education Association immediately questioned where the money would come from for charter schools and how the evaluation systems would be used.

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

Lege Day 4: Pre-registering voters at 16

OLYMPIA – One of the most popular ways to register to vote is to sign up when applying for a driver’s license. Unless you’re 16 or 17, the time when most drivers get their first license but are too young to vote.
State Rep. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, thinks the state should help those young drivers and all 16- and 17-year-olds become good voters, by letting them “pre-register” to vote, so they’ll automatically be added to the rolls when they turn 18.

To read the rest of this item, or for links to the bills, click here to go inside the blog.


Senate Democrats coalescing on reforms

OLYMPIA — Senate Democratic leaders think they've narrowed a stack of possible reforms that some member wants to a smaller list they may be able to pass.

The reforms would save at least $50 million in this budget cycle, and as much as $300 million over the next three years as they slowly take hold in government. That's not enough to fill a projected gap of more than $1 billion in the state's General Fund budget over the next 18 months, Majority Leader Lisa Brown of Spokane said.

But without tangible reforms, voters are going to be “extremely skeptical” support any request for a tax increase, Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, said.

Some of the ideas are on lists offered by Republicans, such as streamlined permitting for businesses and restructuring state government to make it cheaper and more efficient., although it won't be possible to tell if the details are compatible until the bills are introduced.

Some have come close to passing in previous sessions, such as cracking down on Medicaid fraud and abuse, only to founder on disputes over details.

They expect to introduce reform bills in the next week or so. Budget hearings will also begin in the Ways and Means Committee, with the idea of having a budget “ready or almost ready” when the next state revenue forecast is released in mid February. Plans are to pass a budget by early March and not go into overtime with a special session.

“This does not get any easier by hanging around,” Brown said.

WA Lege Day 4: A plethora of press conferences

OLYMPIA — The Legislature as a whole is moving at a standard “let's get back up to speed” pace of the first week of session, but individual members are itching for attention to key issues.

That's the only conclusion one can draw from the fact that various legislators and associated interest groups have four press conferences on the Capitol campus over the noon hour.

There's one on health care reform. One on another proposal for a statewide ban on plastic bags. Another on education reforms. All at noon.

There's a fourth for small businesses and legislators who support a tax increase to help shore up the state's budget at 12:30 p.m.

Senate Democratic leaders also have a press conference at 1:30 p.m. to talk about their goals for the session.

Spin Control would question the wisdom of scheduling so many “pressers” so close together, but we're saving our questions for the press conferences. OSHA only allows us to ask so many questions in a given day without filling out a bunch of forms to prove we haven't over-worked our brains.

Plastic bag ban gets a hearing

OLYMPIA – Banning plastic shopping bags throughout the state would keep them from showing up along roadsides, in landfills and in the bellies of whales in the Puget Sound, the sponsor of a proposed ban said Wednesday.
But it would also force people out of work, say representatives of the plastics industry. And it could mean that people taking out wet garbage in paper bags won’t make it to the trash before the bottom falls out, a legislator complained.
The first of at least two bills for a statewide ban on plastic bags got a hearing in the Senate Environment Committee, where Sen. Maralyn Chase, D-Shoreline also had bills restricting Styrofoam take-out containers and plastic beverage bottles. High levels of plastic are being found in the oceans, and a gray whale that died in the Puget Sound in 2010 had 20 plastic bags in its stomach.
The level of recycling for plastic bags is low, only about 5 percent, she said.
But recycling is low in part because some bags are reused for other things once a shopper carries things home from a store, said Keith Lee of American Retail Supply. The term “single-use” bag is a misnomer, because more than 90 percent of homes reuse them for something else.
Most people use them to line their trash cans, Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside said. If the bags are banned, “what are we going to use?”
People will be carrying out wet garbage in paper grocery bags that fall apart before they make it to their destination, he said.
Several cities have banned plastic bags, and a ban in Seattle takes effect later this year. But Washington would be the first state to enact a ban, if Chase's bill or a different plan in the House makes it through the short session.



WA chief economist Raha to quit

Arun Raha reads from a list of his Top 10 “Arun-isms”.

OLYMPIA — Dr. Arun Raha, the state's chief economist who delivered some the worst financial news in more than a half-century but managed a quip or a laugh to help ease the pain, is stepping down.

“I'm going back to the private sector, and anonymity, hopefully,” he said today at a press conference. He's taking a job as director of corporate economics for a company in Ohio.

Raha was appointed to the state Economic and Revenue Forecast Council in 2008, and his tenure has been marked by the worst economic downturn in the state since the Great Depression.

“It was a challenge,” he said. “Any job I have after this is going to be a piece of cake.”

To read the rest of this item, click here to go inside the blog.

Today’s fun videos: Before heading to S. Carolina…

The ballots are counted in New Hampshire, which means presidential candidates and the nation's political reporters can ignore the state for another three and a half years.

But before rushing off to South Carolina to dissect whether this will be the end of the GOP race with a triumphant Mitt Romney or the place where true conservatives de-rail the Mitt Train, check out Buzz Feed's six funniest moments of the New Hampshire election night.

3rd Lege District “town hall” call on Wednesday

Residents of Spokane's 3rd Legislative District might be getting a call around 6 p.m. Wednesday inviting them to participate in a tele-town hall.

A what? you might say.

It's like a town hall meeting, only on the telephone.

Sen. Lisa Brown and Reps. Timm Ormsby and Andy Billig will all be on the other end. Or more accurately, another ends. In a tele-town hall, there are lots of ends because hundreds of people can be on the line.

Participants can ask their questions, and listen to the questions of others and the answers from the three Democratic legislators. If you want to participate but don't get a call, you can dial toll-free at 1-877-229-8493. You'll have to enter an ID code when requested, of 18646.

A spokeswoman said the three legislators decided to do a town hall meeting by phone because scheduling a session in Spokane early the session can be difficult. They may do one in person later.

For 6th District residents, however, can ask their state senator questions the old fashioned, face-to-face way on Saturday. Sen. Mike Baumgartner is holding two standard town hall meetings.

The first will be at 8 a.m. at the Multipurpose Room, PUB 101, on EWU Cheney campus. (It's hosted by the Associated Students of Eastern Washington University, who apparently don't plan to party late into the night Friday to be up bright and early for the town hall meeting…or maybe they just won't go to bed until after the meeting is over.)

Another meeitng is at 10:30 a.m. at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture in Browne's Addition, 2316 West 1st Ave.

State of the State: The full speech, and rebuttal

Sofia Smith of Seattle sings the National Anthem to a joint session of the Legislature before Gov. Chris Gregoire's State of the State speech.

OLYMPIA — By reading the posts below, you can get the highlights of Gov. Chris Gregoire's State of the State speech from Tuesday morning.

If you want the full speech, click on the PDF attachment.

For the Republican rebuttal, delivered by Sen. Joe Zarelli of Ridgefield, click here to go inside the blog.


State of State: GOP skeptical on oil fee

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire's proposal to place a $1.50 per barrel fee on oil produced in Washington state got a cold reception from Republican leaders.

Speaking at a press conference after the State of the State address and Republican response, House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt of Chehalis said it could create construction jobs, but it would also hurt consumer and raise the cost of doing business in Washington.

Senate GOP budget leader Joe Zarelli of Ridgefield also questioned whether it is truly a fee, as Gregoire says, or a tax. As proposed, it seems to have no constitutional protection, as the gasoline tax does, that would require it to be spent only on road projects, he said.

The question of tax or fee is an important one, because a fee can be passed with a simple majority, which Democrats have in both chambers. A tax must be passed with a two-thirds majority in both houses, which has proved unattainable in recent years.

Republicans said they would raise that question in the Senate with Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, who presides over the chamber and rules on that issue.

State of State: Pass same-sex marriage law, Gregoire says

OLYMPIA — The budget and reforms represent a bold agenda, but there's one more request, Gov. Chris Gregoire said.

“It is time for marriage equality,” she said. That brought strong applause and cheers from Democrats on one side of the chamber, but stone silence from Republicans on the other.

“Let's pass a marriage equality bill in the great state of Washington,” she reiterated. Same response from both sides of the chamber.

“The future of our state is in our hands,” she said in wrapping up her speech. “Let's show the people that in our Washington, we work  together: Democrats, Republicans and independents.”

That got applause from both sides.

State of State: Put a tax on oil, Gregoire says

OLYMPIA — When we build roads, they don't take care of themselves, Gov. Chris Gregoire said. The state has to do it.

The state faces a $1.6 billion shortfall on road maintenance over the next decade and a $1.3  billion shortfall on the ferry maintenance.

“I propose a $3.6 billion, 10-year package,” she said. “I will ask you to pass a modest, $1.50 fee on every barrel of oil produced in the state of Washington.”

“Our transportation system is the life blood of our economy…If we don't maintain and grow, we will come to a stand still.”

A panel studying the problem over the summer concluded the problem is big and the time is short. It recommended a $21 billion investment, for everything from the North Spokane Corridor and the Columbia River Crossing to Snoqualmie Pass and the I-5 widening at Joint Base Lewis McChord.

“Let's build a better transportation system than the other guys,” she said.

“People often ask me if we can come back from this recession. We can. We will. We are.”

She cited growth in Microsoft earnings and a growth in aerospace jobs that includes Boeing winning the contract for the new Air Force air refueling tankers.

“We're winning in the turn in the aerospace industry in Washington state,” she said, repeating her NASCAR reference.

State of State: Education reform

OLYMPIA — Ask the universities to innovate and partner with low-performing schools, Gov. Chris Gregoire urged the Legislature.

“All of our students, not just tghose who can afford itg, must have more skills and knowledge to compete in this century,” she said. “When we ask voters to invest in education, let's show them they'll be getting their money's worth.”

A previous innovation by the state on early Childhood Education recently received a $60 million grant from the federal government, she noted.

State of State: We must look for taxes, Gregoire says

OLYMPIA — We're reforming, Gregoire says, but that won't be enough.

State work force is down. State pensions have been reformed. So have Workers comp and unemployment insurance systems.

“Unlike other states, we have not used the recession to undermine the environmental protections that provide what we value, clean air, clean water and healthy natural resources.”

We must cut … But we must look for new revenue for the state of Washington.”

Send the temporary half-cent sales tax to the voters to save vital services, Gregoire said. Democrats moslty applauded; Republicans mostly did not.

Cuts to education, social services and public safety would be more regressive than the sales tax.

“The last time that we raised the state sales tax was in 1983, under a Republican governor, in the midst of the worst recesssion before theis one,” she said.

“Without the half penny, we lose far more than we gain. We lose our future, our values and our way.”

State of the state: Gov’s 4 things

OLYMPIA — Do four things in the 60-day session, Gregoire tells the Legislature

Pass the budget quickly,

Approve a half-penny sales tax.

Pass my school reforms.

Pass a major transpsortation and jobs package.

state of State: ‘Not slowing down’, Gregoire says

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire says she's not slowing down in the last year of her administration, and warned the Legislature not to either.

Instead, she borrowed a term from auto racing, that they should “win in the turns” by speeding up when other states are slowing down because of the recession.

“Here in our Washington we turn crisis into opportunity… We step up … We don't say my way or the highway. We say let's work together to solve our problems.”

She called for a “better, faster, cheaper government.”

She cited the many innovative companies in the state, from Boeing and Microsoft to new strains of wheat and other ag products that make “Eastern Washington is called the Refrigerator of the World.” (Apparently no one mentioned there's not that much snow this year.)

Winning in the turns means being bold enough to step on the gas when other people are slowing down, she said. Previous turns included the Boeing recession in the 1970s and the last major recession in the early 1980s.

Start of the speech: Remembering those no longer around

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire's state of the state address begins with a moment of silence for people who died over the last year:

State Sens. Bob McCaslin, Alex Deccio and Scott White.

Former Gov. Al Rosellini.

Nine members of the Armed Services from Washington state who died in Iraq or Afghanistan.

And U.S. Park Ranger Margaret Anderson, who was killed at Mount Rainier National Park last week.

State of WA at 10:30 a.m.

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire will deliver her state of the state address to a joint session of the Legislature at 10:30 a.m.

So let's see, is it technicallly the State of the State address, the State of Washington State addres, the State of the State address for Washington or the State of the State address for Washington State?

I'm never quite sure of that.

In any event, Gregoire can be expected to repeat her admonitions that the Legislature pass a budget quickly, put a temporary half-cent sales tax on the ballot for voters to approve and make some reforms to the education system. She's also expected to flesh out plans for a program to roads and bridges and refurbish ferries.

Spin Control will blog the speech. So stay tuned

Stuckart rearranges chairs, agendas

New Spokane City Council President may have lost an automatic seat on the Spokane Airport Board on Monday, but he still has the power to create a seating chart.

And he exercised that right by shuffling the seats on the dais that already were reshuffled by term limits and by voters last year.

Stuckart's predecessor, Joe Shogan, sat in the middle seat. Stuckart has chosen to sit at the council seat farthest to left to viewers (farthest to his right) and will sit next to City Administrator Theresa Sanders during afternoon council briefings. He shifted Assistant City Attorney Mike Piccolo to the seat next to him for the evening meeting.

Stuckart said he chose to sit to the side so he could have “a clearer view” that doesn't require looking both ways.

“I can actually see everybody's facial features and non-verbals, as well,” he said.

Next to him is Amber Waldref. He said he placed her there because he wanted to be seated next to someone with experience and that he was consulted her frequently on council business.

Hats on, hats off

Former Spokane City Council President Joe Shogan was well-known for his vigilance enforcing a ban on people wearing hats when testifying to City Council.

So any long-time observers of the City Council may have wondered if newly elected City Council President Ben Stuckart would be as strict, especially since Stuckart was extremely critical of Shogan's dealing with the public during his campaign.

The first test case was provided, not surprisingly, by Henry Valder, a frequent council attendee who often was ordered to remove a hat by Shogan. He approached the dias tonight with a hat on to speak about rules baring bottles and cans at Spokane Public Facilities District venues.

Stuckart didn't ask him to remove his hat.

But when Valder spoke a second time, on the council's appointment to the Spokane Airport Board, Stuckart ordered the hat removed.

After the meeting Stuckart said Assistant City Attorney Mike Piccolo leaned over and advised him to ask Valder to take off the hat.

He said he will clarify with Piccolo about the rules because it was not his intension to enforce a hat ban.

“I actually don’t have a problem with people wearing hats,” Stuckart said.

Best line of the day

“It seems like we were just here, less than a month ago. Oh wait. We were.” - House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt, in his floor speech on the opening of the 2012 Regular Session.

Every body was thinking it. Lots of people quoted Yogi Berra's “deja vu all over again,” or made a reference to the movie “Groundhog's Day.” But DeBolt's line was a bit more original, and had good timing and delivery.

Gonzalez sworn in to WA Supreme Court

OLYMPIA — Steven Gonzalez, a former King County Superior Court judge, was sworn in today as the newest member of the State Supreme Court.

Gonzalez was appointed late last year to fill the seat left open by the retirement of Justice Gerry Alexander, who reached the state's mandatory retirement age for judges of 75.

For the full AP report, click to go inside the blog.

Initiative filed against same-sex marriage

OLYMPIA — The beginning of January doesn't just mark the beginning of the Legislature. It is also the beginning of the initiative filing season.

Earlier today, an Everett attorney filed paperwork for an initiative that would define marriage as strictly between one man and one woman. Well, actually the language says “This act reaffirms the definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman,” because it's an attempt to shore up the Defense of Marriage Act, which is currently on the books but could be changed if the Legislature passes a bill that would allow same-sex marriage.

One might wonder about the political wisdom of this, or at least the timing. The same-sex marriage bill isn't being proposed as one that comes with a referendum clause, which would send it automatically to the ballot, but such a clause might be needed in any compromise that moves it through the Legislature. Even if it doesn't have such a requirement, however, opponents could send it to the ballot by gathering half as many signatures as an initative needs. Putting an initative and a referendum on the same topic on one ballot is a recipe for confusion…just ask the groups that sponsored two liquor initiatives in 2010.

And should the Legislature fail to pass a same-sex marriage bill, do sponsors really want to place the issue on the November ballot, and risk the prospect of voters rejecting the one-man, one-woman description? Or will they just fold their tents and stop gathering signatures?

Meanwhile, Tim Eyman is on track to retain the title of most prolific initiative filer, with five different ballot initiatives already in the hands of the Secretary of State. He has proposals on preserving $30 car tabs, super majorities for tax increases, restricting traffic ticket cameras, stopping government fraud and “protecting the initiative.” That last comes down hard on anyone harassing signers or signature gatherers, and adds six months to the process so initiatives can be filed as early as July of the year before the election, rather than January of election year.

Eyman makes clear that his organization has yet to determine which, if any, of these it will push. “We want to see how the legislative session unfolds,” he says in a press release that doubles as an appeal for money from contributors.

WA Lege Day 1: And, they’re off…

House Speaker Frank Chopp listens to floor speeches on the opening day of the 2012 session.

OLYMPIA — The Legislature started it's 60-day session with the usual pomp and circumstance, and a preview of the debates ahead over the next 59 days.

As soon as the honor guard of State Troopers planted the flag, the pledge was said and an invocation offered, House Speaker Frank Chopp set down five goals of creating jobs, funding basic education, saving the safety net, ensuring equality and providing opportunity. Let's work together on those points, he told the full House chamber, like legislators did a few years ago in making changes designed to help Boeing and the machinists expand.

While those broad goals got general agreement and regular applause, minority Republicans were noticeably not clapping on certain points, such as Chopp's call for “marriage equality”, which would mean passing a law to allow same-sex marriage. They also refrained at Chopp's mention that government does create jobs, contrary to what conservatives often argue.

Just look at the hydropower projects in Eastern Washington, the Seattle Democrat  said, and argue that government doesn't create jobs.

House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt countered that Republicans were glad to hear the calls for more jobs and funding of basic education. But if Chopp and the Democrats are serious, he said, they'd write a budget that pays for education first and spend what's left on other programs.

And since Chopp mentioned hydropower, the Chehalis Republican said, how about a proposal the GOP has been pushing for years, that would declare power from the dams as “green” allowing it to be considered in a mix of options that would lower the cost of electricity.

The Legislature should also avoid filling out its budget with money from federal programs, which leaves the state “holding the bag” when Congress cancels a program.

“We've got to break the addiction to the federal government,” DeBolt said. As for that package to help Boeing a few years back: after it passed, the company moved its corporate headquarters to Chicago, he added.

WA Lege Day 1: Kickoff at noon

House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt of Chehalis and Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, talk just before the 2012 legislative session begins.

OLYMPIA — The 2012 legislative session starts at noon, with a bit  of pomp and circumstance.

Legislators also have committee hearings in the afternoon, and Gov. Chris Gregoire's state of the state address tomorrow.

It's a short, 60-day session and a big budget problem, so there's not a lot of time for lollygagging.

To read the Legislative preview, click here. Check the box next to the stories for tips on contacting your legislator.

Sunday Spin: On the eve of the 2012 session

OLYMPIA – There is nothing so hopeful, it seems, as a state Capitol on the eve of a legislative session.
Even in a year like 2012, when the state faces yet another budget crisis and the Legislature has a mere 60 days to solve it, legislators, and the people who expect them to earn their keep by doing certain things, have a long list of “wants.”
As was much-mentioned last week, Gov. Chris Gregoire wants them to legalize same-sex marriage, which is no small change in state policy, regardless of whether you think it’s a good idea or a bad one. She also wants certain changes in education policy and oversight, easier tax collections, licensing and permitting for small businesses, a temporary half-cent sales tax increase …

Verner agreed to new fire contract, but new council will have final say

Former Mayor Mary Verner and the leadership of the city's fire union tentatively agreed to a new contract in the final days of Verner's term.

But the deal still will need to be ratified by the union's membership and the new City Council.

Former City Administrator Ted Danek confirmed Friday that a deal was struck, but said under an agreement with the union, details can't be released until membership ratifies it and it's ready for City Council consideration.

Union President Mark Vietzke said the deal was reached on Dec. 29. Negotiations started on April 1. He said membership was presented the contract this week. Voting will close next week.

Last month, Mayor David Condon and some incoming City Council members protested Verner’s decision and the City Council's approval of a three-year contract extension for the city’s largest union, Local 270 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Even though members of that union will get no cost-of-living increases in 2013, 2014 and 2015, Condon noted that Local 270’s contract wasn’t set to expire until the end of 2012 and said the deal allowed the union to forgo working with him as the newly elected mayor.

The firefighters' contract, however, expired on Dec. 31 and Condon and newly elected City Council members will get a say on the deal reached by the Verner administration.

“This council and this mayor get to see it and decide it,” Vietzke said. “This is not a 9th-hour decision whatsoever.”

City spokeswoman Marlene Feist said Condon currently is reviewing the proposed contract. 

Gov debate set for Spokane?

What may well be the first gubernatorial debate of the Washington election season could happen June 12 in Spokane.

Or not.

The Association of Washington Business, which has a long  history of gubernatorial matchups in front of its membership, wants to have Attorney General Rob McKenna and U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee face off the Bing Crosby Theater during the group's annual spring meeting.

But after it announced the debate this week,  the Inslee campaign said it was still working on the schedule and  hadn't yet committed to that event or any other debate, forum or joint appearance.  (Editor's note: an earlier version of this post said the debate was set.)

“It's on our list of things we wanted to schedule,” Jaime Smith, campaign spokeswoman said, adding she was aware the group has a long tradition of holding a gubernatorial debate but was baffled that AWB's announcement came before a formal commitment. “We've got lots of invitations.”

Jocelyn McCabe, a spokeswoman for AWB, said scheduling a debate is a bit like planning a wedding. You get the place, the date, the time first, then handle some of the other details like format and lining up media partners a bit closer to the event. It has Greater Spokane Inc., as a co-sponsor of the debate. The group needed to schedule its spring meeeting in Spokane and book the hall for the debate now. It told the Inslee campaign it would announce the matchup in early January. And did.

“We're having the debate,” McCabe said.

And if Inslee can't make it? They may be having a conversation with McKenna, because it requires at least two people to debate.

Also on the AWB's planned fight card — oops, debate schedule — will be state attorney general candidates Reagan Dunn and Bob Ferguson.

The debates will take place before either race is officially set, because the state primary isn't until early August. But that isn't a concern for the Inslee campaign. In fact, he's called for six debates across the state, divided geographically, and with some focusing on set issues, so to wait until after the primary for a half dozen debates would require cramming the debates pretty closely together.

McCabe, spokeswoman for AWB, said both campaigns would be given a set number of tickets to watch the debate along with the group's members.

Moderating both debates would be Austin Jenkins of Northwest News Network. The Bing has been the site of several memorable political debates for local offices.

Now it might  be the back drop for what is a regular feature of most hotly contested races: a debate over debates.

No time for ‘social issues’ in 2012 Legislature?

OLYMPIA — Republicans pushed back Thursday against Gov. Chris Gregoire's call for the legalization of same-sex marriage in the upcoming legislative session.

But Gregoire made clear she would stick to her guns on the issue.

One of the main candidates to replace Gregoire said the Legislature shouldn't make the decision on its own. Instead, state Attorney General Rob McKenna said, it should send any proposal it passes to the ballot and give voters the final say.

At panel discussion for the top Democratic and Republican leaders sponsored by the Associated Press Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt of Walla Walla argued that a short, 60-day session with a major budget hole is not the place for “social reform” that could roil the legislators: We should leave social issues off the agenda,” Hewitt said.

He also questioned whether one of the proponents of same-sex marriage legislation, Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, will have time to devote to that bill while serving as chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee. Murray, who is openly gay, is “vested in this personally”, Hewitt said. “I really don't want his attention taken away” from the budget.

House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt of Chehalis questioned how Democrats could devote time to hearings on same-sex marriage legislation when they won't set aside time for hearings on GOP reform proposals: “Apparently we have time to hear certain bills but not other bills.”

Democratic leaders said it's an issue the Legislature should take up this session. “This is the right time to move forward with marriage equality,” Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown of Spokane said.

In a separate session, Gregoire agreed that fixing the budget is “priority one.” But there's time to debate her proposal on same-sex marriage, too, she insisted: “What will history say when we say 'Sorry, but we had a budget to pass so we continued to discriminate.' In tough times, we stand up to the challenge.”

And legislators can find time to do more than just the budget, she added. “I multi-task; they multi-task. It can be discussed thoughtfully and deliberately.”

In a later interview, McKenna said that while same-sex marriage may be an important issue for some legislators and Gregoire, he didn't know if a short session with a deep budget problem is the best time to address it.

“This is an issue for the voters to decide. I hope if they do pass it, they send it to the voters,” McKenna said. Such a requirement might mean the legislative maneuvering and debate over such a contentious issue will take less time, because voters would have the final say, he added.

Condon will host inaugural ball to benefit Chase Youth Foundation

Spokane Mayor David Condon will host a formal dinner and dance on Jan. 28 to celebrate the start of his mayoral term and raise money for the Chase Youth Foundation.

Erik Nelson, president of the foundation, said invitations will be mailed soon but that the event will be open to anyone willing to pay the $75-per-person price. The foundation will get all the revenue, some of which will be used to cover costs.

The ball will be held Jan. 28 at the new McKinstry building, which is a renovated railroad building along the Spokane River near Washington State University-Spokane. 

It will be called the 2012 Our Town Gala, Nelson said. Condon used the slogan “This is our town” throughout his campaign.

The Chase Youth Foundation will take on greater responsibility this year after Verner and the Spokane City Council opted to eliminate the city's Youth Department, which worked with the foundation and Chase Youth Commission on youth programs and events.

Folks who don't get invitations but want tickets to the gala can email Nelson at

McLaughlin considering bid against Brown

The proposed new boundaries for Spokane's 3rd Legislative District could be helpful for a potential bid by Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin.

The proposed district (map here) still would strongly favor Democrats, but it also would add some Republican-leaning precincts.

McLaughlin said last week that she will decide in the next few months if she will challenge Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown. She said that she and her husband have ruled out a run for state House because she would have to focus too much on reelection efforts with only two-year terms.

Republicans have looked to McLaughlin to run for Legislature at least since 2009, when she won reelection resoundingly over neighborhood leader Karen Kearney. She captured 67 percent of the vote, in a district that voted for Barack Obama a year earlier. She also has become extremely interested in Legislative politics with her involvement in the Washington Association of Cities. (She is president of the group this year.)

McLaughlin has proven that she can win big in a council district that leans slightly Democratic. But can she win in a Legislative district that's the most Democratic in Eastern Washington?

Quick opposition to Gregoire call for same-sex marriage

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire's emotional call to have Washington state recognize same-sex marriages brought cheers from supporters who filled her conference room Wednesday. But opponents were already coalescing for a fight in the Legislature and a Republican leader questioned the timing of her push for the controversial issue.

Sen. Dan Swecker, R-Rochester, said a debate over that divisive issue could lead to a breakdown in cooperation between parties in the Senate over the budget.

Gregoire urged the Legislature to pass a bill that would allow gay and lesbian couples to marry in the state without requiring churches to perform the service if their religious denomination objects.

“It is now time for equality of our gay and lesbian citizens, and that means marriage,” Gregoire said. . .

Gregoire: Time to legalize same-sex marriage

OLYMPIA — Washington must end discrimination against same-sex couples, an emotional Gov. Chris Gregoire said this morning. She urged the Legislature to pass a bill that allows gay and lesbian couples to marry in the state without requiring churches to perform the service if they object.

Gregoire received extended applause from some 70 people crowded into the governor's conference room as she called same-sex marriage rights a defining civil rights issue of the current generation. Younger citizens are ahead of her generation, she said, and the public is ahead of the Legislature on it, she insisted.

Legislators who attended the press conference said they believed they have the votes to pass a bill Gregoire will endorse in the House, but are “a few votes” short of a majority in the Senate.

But it is time for legislators to step up and take a tough vote on same-sex marriage, Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said. He predicted he would get Republican votes for that measure, something he doubted he would get for a tax increase.

“Suddenly, gay marriage becomes easier than passing taxes,” Murray said.

Will Santorum catch fire in WA?

Washington Republicans held a “straw poll” over the last week of December to test the strength of the presidential candidate field. It pretty well mirrored Iowa and the nation…at that time.

Here's the breakdown, released yesterday by the Washington State Republican Party:

Candidate Percentage
Mitt Romney 27.49%
Newt Gingrich 25.77%
Ron Paul 18.43%
Rick Santorum 11.31%
Michele Bachmann 8.76%
Rick Perry 5.47%
Jon Huntsman 2.77%

In that least week of 2011, Gingrich was starting to fade and Rick Santorum was just beginning an uptick in Iowa, and that can be read in to the Washington numbers. Swap those two results, and the top four look quite a bit like Iowa caucus results.

Remember: Washington is also a caucus state this year…as opposed to some strange hybrid of a caucus and a presidential primary, as it has been for the last couple of cycles.

West Plains voters moving Lege districts

Many residents of the West Plains likely will vote for different legislators this fall, even if they like the ones they have right now.
Medical Lake and Cheney residents would no longer be sharing their legislators with Ritzville and Pullman, and Airway Heights and Fairchild Air Force Base residents won’t share theirs with Colville and Republic. Instead, all would elect legislators with voters on Spokane’s South Hill and the city’s northwest neighborhoods under the new boundaries established by the Washington Redistricting Commission this week.
The commission moved much of the West Plains into the 6th Legislative District as it rearranged boundaries around the state to make up for the increased population recorded in the 2010 Census.
With a statutory deadline just hours away Sunday evening, the redistricting commission overcame the biggest sticking point in drawing legislative and congressional boundaries for the next 10 years – Eastern Washington legislative boundaries.
The plan on which they settled . . .

To read the rest of this post, go inside the blog.

Stephens leading police department — at least until 1 p.m.

Spokane Mayor David Condon confirmed this morning that he will name his selection for interim police chief at a news conference at 1 p.m.

The current acting chief, Scott Stephens, declined to say if he will still be chief by the end of the day in a brief interview after he left a meeting at City Hall this morning.

Condon said last week that Stephens would be acting chief “through the weekend.” Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick's retired effective Jan. 2.

Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich has requested the position in hopes that the city would consider contracting with his department. Former Spokane Mayor Mary Verner started a national search for a new chief with Condon's blessing.

The interim chief will inherit significant obstacles, including the possibility of other officers facing federal criminal charges related to the handling of the Otto Zehm matter, low morale and recent budget cuts.

Romney betting favorite in Iowa

Some folks will bet on anything, including politics.

If you are one of them, and looking to lay down a bet on the Iowa caucuses, you might want to know that an Irish betting company, Paddy Power, has installed Mitt Romney as even money to win tonight.

Paddy Power also has:

Ron Paul and Rick Santorum at 2-to-1
Newt Gingrich at 20-to-1
Rick Perry at 33-to-1
Michele Bachmann at 50-to-1
John Huntsman at 100-to-1.

The company also has Romney as the 2-to-5 favorite to win the GOP nomination, but has Barack Obama as a 4-to-5 fave to win the November election.

Not that Spin Control is encouraging gambling on something like the caucuses. No. Gambling should be reserved for really important things, like college football games.

And no, we don't know a bookie that will take  your money. Odds are provided merely as a service to readers, just like the Sports section does for college and pro events.

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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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