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Spin Control

Archive for March 2012

Sunday Spin: The bill-signing dam breaks

OLYMPIA – In the list of threats a Washington governor can hurl at a recalcitrant Legislature, “I won’t sign your bills” has proven to be among the least menacing.
Gov. Chris Gregoire kept threatening not to sign bills if the Legislature didn’t cough up a General Fund budget that left the state in the black at the end of this fiscal biennium. If any legislators quaked in their boots, they did it from afar, where they have spent most of the special session. It did not register here on the political Richter scale.
The reason for that is basic civics. . .

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

More bills signed: Eyeglasses and Discover Passes

OLYMPIA – Charities like the Union Gospel Mission can soon resume distributing used eyeglasses to people who can’t afford to buy them, under a bill signed into law Friday.

The legislation, which protects charities like the Mission and the Lions Club International from lawsuits for distributing glasses and hearing aids, was one of more than 60 bills signed today by Gov. Chris Gregoire.

Also signed were bills that allow residents to use the Discover Pass for state parks and other state lands on two vehicles, require more information on some political ads, offer more protection to victims of domestic violence and crack down on Medicaid fraud. . .

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

McKenna camp: It’s not a budget, it’s a white paper

OLYMPIA — Responding to a shot from Gov. Chris Gregoire that she doesn't need a “monkey wrench” thrown into budget negotiations, a campaign spokesman for Rob McKenna said the GOP candidate won't be releasing a full-blown budget on Monday.

Rather, it will be a statement of principles that a McKenna adminstration would use when compiling a sustainable budget.

The campaign announced this morning McKenna would hold a press conference Monday to announce a “budget policy paper”. Asked about the impact that would have on ongoing talks to close the current budget shortfall — something that's consumed a special session in December, the 60-day regular session and nearly two-thirds of the current special session — Gregoire said she didn't know what McKenna was planning, but a new budget proposal wouldn't be helpful.

“I don't need a sixth budget proposal,” she said. “I don't need somebody external…to throw a monkey wringe into” negotiations.

Charles McCray III, campaign spokesman for McKenna, said the budget proposal will be the latest in a serious of white papers that provide “guiding principles to push us in the direction of sustainability” on state spending, not a full-blown spending plan.

“He's not inserting himself into negotiations,” McCray said.

As for the timing of the press conference, McCray said that was when it “fit on the calendar.” It wouldn't be a problem, McCray added, “if they had done their job during the regular session.”

Hewitt to have surgery

OLYMPIA — Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt will undergo surgery Monday to remove a tumor from his thymus.

Senate Republicans announced this afternoon that Hewitt will have surgery in Seattle for the recently discovered tumor. With the Legislature still struggling to solve a problem with the state's operating budget, Sen. Mark Schoesler of Ritzville will fill in for Hewitt in leadership discussions and Sen. Joe Zarelli of Ridgefield will continue as the chief negotiator on the budget.

“Although I will be recovering, if I need to be at the Capitol for a critical vote, I will be there,” Hewitt, of Walla Walla, said in a prepared statement announcing the surgery.

Earlier today, Gov. Chris Gregoire said she hoped legislative leaders could reach an agreement on a budget package by Tuesday, so the technical aspects of it could be ironed out, the bill language drafted and votes could be completed before next Friday. That's Good Friday and the beginning of Passover.

The special session of the Legislature can't go past Tuesday, April 10.

Gregoire: McKenna budget possible ‘monkey wrench’

How close are they to reaching a budget deal? About this close, Gov. Chris Gregoire said today.

OLYMPIA — Legislative negotiators are closer to a comprehensive agreement on the state's General Fund budget, but some of the  hardest decisions remain, Gov. Chris Gregoire said today.

Gregoire said they need to reach agreement by next Tuesday to have any chance of the Legislature working out the details, writing the budget in the proper legal language and passing it by Good Friday. Plans for Rob McKenna, the Republican attorney general running for governor, to announce his own budget proposal on Monday are not helpful, she said.

“I don't need something external…to throw a monkey wrench into it,” she said of budget talks.

The McKenna campaign announced the likely GOP gubernatorial nominee will release a “budget policy paper” Monday afternoon in Olympia.

“The failure of the Legislature to complete its most basic task of passing a budget proves that Olympia is broken and highlights the need for a new direction,” McKenna said in a prepared statement accompanying the announcement of the press conference. “My budget policy paper provides some specific ideas on how a McKenna administration will approach creating a sustainable budget.”

Sustainability has been one of the main watchwords of legislative Republicans as they pushed for changes in the spending plans of majority Democrats. But both sides argue that the other has proposed things that are one-time budget gimmicks and therefore not sustainable. Republicans criticize Democratic plans to delay a payment to the school districts by a day, shifting those costs into the next biennium. Democrats criticize Republican plans to skip a payment to the state's pension systems.

Gregoire has said both ideas are “off the table” as negotiators look for a comprehensive budget solution.

The governor said she hadn't heard of McKenna's plans but contended that a specific spending plan at this stage would not be helpful. “I don't need a sixth budget proposal. Why weren't these ideas brought up to us two months ago or one month ago?”

Budget negotiators are looking at a package of ideas that touches all aspects of the budget along with ideas for reform and added revenue. “There's something in that package for all of them not to like,” she said. Once there's an agreement among leaders, they'll have to put it to their members and see if they have the votes to pass it.

Special Session Day 18: Bill signings yes; budget deal, maybe

OLYMPIA – Gov. Chris Gregoire lifted her self-imposed boycott of bill signings Thursday and said legislators could be close to reaching a deal on cuts to the state’s operating budget. Or not.

“In the next 48 hours, we could have an agreement,” she said. “Then again, in the next 48 hours, it could all fall apart.”

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

Gregoire to sign boatload of bills

OLYMPIA — In the lists of possible inducements a governor can offer to legislators to break a deadlock, “I won't sign your bills” might rank pretty near the bottom.

Or so it would seem today as Gov. Chris Gregoire prepares to sign 112 of the 177 bills on her desk in a signature scribbling marathon. She'll start at 1 p.m., and finish sometime after 7 p.m.

Considering Gregoire said less than a week ago “no budget, no bills” one might infer that means there is a deal to break the logjam over the state's operating budget, which is some $1.5 billion out of whack. But one would be wrong.

Although the governor was in meetings with legislative leaders this morning, her staff said, there was no deal in the works when the signings were scheduled. Actually, the schedule was starting to be sent out before the meeting, so folks happy that one or more of these particular pieces of legislation could make plans to smile for the cameras as Gregoire attaches her John Hancock to the appropriate line.

And the other 65 bills? Staff says they aren't sure yet. If not vetoed by midnight Saturday, those bills become law without the governor's signature.

Inslee switches course. Spokane gov debate on for June 12

The likely Republican and Democratic candidates for governor will debate this June in Spokane. An on-again, off-again match up of state Attorney General Rob McKenna and former U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee in front of a major state business group appears on again, for good.

The Association of Washington Business announced, and the campaigns confirmed, Inslee and McKenna will debate at The Bing Crosby Theater on June 12 as part of the group's quarterly meeting, in an event co-sponsored by Greater Spokane, Inc. As recently as Monday, the Inslee campaign was refusing to debate at that particular time and place, accusing the AWB of bad faith in announcing the event before all details were worked out…

McLaughlin ad pulled off TV

The campaign to extend two taxes to pay for the expansion of the Spokane Convention Center and Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena has pulled a TV ad featuring Spokane City Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin.

Citizens for Jobs Now has developed a series of commercials each featuring two people who often represent competing interests, including messages with a Democrat and Republican and another with a union member and a business owner. In each ad each spokesperson says that despite their usual differences they support Measure 1, the Spokane Public Facilities District tax plan that pays for the Convention Center and arena expansions.

While lawyers argue health care mandate, protesters march

Protesters cross a downtown intersection in Olympia on their way from the landing near the Port of Olympia to the offices of Attorney General Rob McKenna.

OLYMPIA – As the U.S. Supreme Court questioned lawyers about the constitutionality of making Americans buy health insurance, a liberal group that supports the rule protested Tuesday outside the offices of a business group and a state official who oppose it.

About 100 demonstrators, several who drove across the state from Spokane, demonstrated outside the Washington office of the National Federation of Independent Business, then marched through downtown Olympia to the office of Attorney General Rob McKenna.

“We need to change things for the next generation, so they don’t get worse,” Aaron Kathman, a community organizer from Spokane, said…

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

Special Session Day 16: Signature clock ticking

OLYMPIA — The Legislature's special session continues apace, which is to say there are no public meetings or hearings and nothing to tell whether there is any progress on solving the budget problems.

We have crossed into the second half of the session with nary a hearing or floor debate. Although the last possible day of activity is April 10, there is another more pressing deadline approaching this weekend.

Saturday, March 31, is the last day for Gov. Chris Gregoire to sign or veto bills from the regular session. Anything not signed or vetoed by 11:59:59 p.m. Saturday automatically becomes law,. That's probably not a bad thing if you support the prospective law, but a bummer if you wanted to stand around smiling after the governor signs it and everyone poses for the official picture. Or if you wanted one of those nifty pens she gives out.

McLaughlin will challenge Brown

Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin confirmed this evening that she will run against state Senate Democratic Majority Leader Lisa Brown.

She plans to make her official announcement at a press conference on Tuesday.

McLaughlin has been on the record as considering a run against Brown for months.

“I just had to make sure that I felt like there was enough suport becasue we know it's not going to be an easy run,” McLaughlin said during a break at tonight's City Council meeting at the East Central Community Center.

McLaughlin has said for more than a year that she is interested in running for the Legislature. She is a Republican in Eastern Washington's only Democratic-leaning legislative district. But she won a second term on City Council in 2009 in a landslide, winning even her counicl district's most Democratic districts.

Condon condemns casino

Spokane Mayor David Condon has added his name to the list of local leaders opposed to the Spokane Tribe of Indians’ proposal for a casino on the West Plains.

Condon joins Republican U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and state Senate Democratic Majority Leader Lisa Brown among those who have formally opposed the casino.

The Spokane City Council will debate tonight if it also will condemn the proposal.

Condon said he’s concerned that its proximity to Fairchild Air Force Base could hurt the future of the base and force the military officials to move training operations away from Fairchild because of noise and other issues.

“If you can do the same training out your back door, it’s much better,” Condon said.

Condon wrote a letter last month to the Bureau of Indian Affairs expressing his opposition. In an interview last week, he said he has asked city staff members to examine the plan to determine if the city should officially oppose the casino, as well.

The mayor said he’s concerned that a second West Plains casino could divert business from within city limits, which would result in lost tax revenue.

“In an environment where the city already is required to trim its budget an expenditures on essential functions, a futher hit would have significant negative impacts on the city,” Condon said.


Brown running, McLaughlin may jump in Tuesday

OLYMPIA – Lisa Brown, the top-ranking Democrat in the Senate, will seek another four years in central Spokane’s 3rd District.

Brown, who was widely expected to seek re-election to another term, was first elected to the Legislature in 1992 and now serves as Senate Majority Leader. She said she wants to continue work on protecting education and expanding jobs and opportunity in Spokane.

“I’ve led legislative efforts to restore the Fox Theater, redevelop the YMCA/YWCA community centers and build our Riverpoint medical campus,” she said in the press release formally announcing the campaign.

The 55-year-old Brown is a single mother with a son in college who teaches economics at Gonzaga University when the Legislature is not in session.

While she has had relatively easy campaigns against novice candidates in recent years, 2012 could prove to be a tougher race. Spokane City Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin, a Republican, has talked about running against Brown and has press conference Tuesday morning for a campaign announcement.

Stand-your-ground statute? Not in WA or ID

OLYMPIA – In Washington and Idaho, there is no statute that gives a person the right to “stand your ground” and use deadly force in public when faced with a perceived threat.

Both states have fairly standard laws covering justifiable homicide or self-defense, particularly when a person is in his or her own home.

But neither state has passed a law like the one at the heart of a controversial shooting of an African American teenager by a Hispanic community-watch volunteer, although some news websites and two television networks claimed both do.. .

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

Special Session Day 15: Halfway over?

OLYMPIA — Today is Day 15 of the Legislature's 30-day Special Session, so we are at the midway point of…what?

Top budget writers reportedly continue meeting behind closed doors to look for a way to craft a budget that doesn't spend more than the state takes in and leaves something in the bank when the fiscal period ends.

Legislative leaders have been told to abandon two of their favorite ways to make the books balance, a delayed payment to school districts, which Democrats support but Republicans won't accept, and a skipped payment to the state's pension system, which Republicans support but Democrats won't accept.

Gov. Chris Gregoire said she hasn't heard “No” from the two parties on what's behind Door No. 3, a change in the way the state accounts for local sales tax payments that come into the state then go out to the cities and counties a couple months later. It would “free up” $238 million that could be added into the budget. Unlike the other two accounting maneuvers, the state treasurer does not call this a “felony gimmick” but a “modernized business practice.

Therer's no way of telling whether we are halfway to the end of anything at this point.

Sunday Spin: The War over the War on Women



Whether there’s a War on Women being waged by politicians around the country is open to debate. There is definitely a War over the War On Women, and Washington has a top commander on both sides of the battle lines.

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

Of planes and automobiles

OLYMPIA – Jet planes may someday fly on fuel made Eastern Washington grain, cars will sport license plates celebrating 4-H and rhododendrons and drivers licenses will last longer but be more expensive under bills signed Friday.

A $100 fee for electric cars, an easier alternative to tire chains and a $938 million spending plan for state highways, bridges and ferries also were signed into law.

To read more about the transportation bills signed Friday, or to comment, go inside the blog.

Health exchange bill signed

Gregoire signs Health Insurance Exchange bill.

OLYMPIA – Gov. Chris Gregoire and other Democratic officials marked Friday’s second anniversary of the signing of the Affordable Care Act – which Republicans prefer to call Obamacare – with a signing ceremony of their own.

Gregoire signed legislation to help set up health insurance exchanges in Washington, a system that would help individuals and small businesses shop for medical plans by 2014. . .

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

Spokane’s own Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde …

… At least according to Inlander readers.

Former Mayor Mary Verner took second place in the Inlander's annual reader survey in the category, “best local villain.” That's a tumble for a woman who usually polled well when the Inlander asked readers for their favorite politician.

But she was partially vindicated in the Inlander's survey in the next category, “best local hero.” She took second place. Mayor David Condon didn't make either list.

The reader survey is in this week's Inlander.

In the villain category, Verner finished behind former Spokane Police Officer Karl Thompson, who was convicted by a federal jury of violating Otto Zehm's civil rights about a week before Verner lost her reelection bid.

Here is Verner's response on Facebook. (Or, more accurately, here's the link to all 11 of Verner's responses. So many that Shannon Sullivan, who led the charge to recall Mayor Jim West, posted: “…Enough with the VILLAIN…ok?”)

Budget idea not a gimmick, gov’s office says

OLYMPIA — A proposal to free up about $238 million for the state's troubled operating budget reported earlier today isn't a gimmick, it's a “business modernization proposal” that is made possible by the change of technology from hand-written account books to electronic funds transfers.

Basically, it's a result of the state collecting sales taxes every day, setting them aside in separate accounts, and paying them out to the cities and counties on a monthly basis.

Rather than try to describe the accounting ins and outs ourselves, we've posted the explainer the governor's office sent out inside the blog. Click here to read it.

Gregoire signing bills. Is budget deal near?

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire will sign more than two dozen bills tomorrow. Considering the gov has been using not signing bills as a figurative cattle prod to get legislators to come up with a budget, could this be a sign they are close to a deal?

“I wouldn't read too much into it,” Karina Shagren, her spokeswoman, said today.

Most of the bills are connected to the transportation budget, which already passed, and Gregoire supports. She has a ceremony at a local Group Health facility to sign the health care exchange legislation, which she also supports, and coincides with the two-year anniversary of the federal health care reform act.

There has been some progress, but no budget yet, Shagren said.

As for the prod, there are still scores of bills still awaiting a signature.

Spec Session Day 11: New budget gimmick on table

OLYMPIA — The budget negotiations remain in an ice jam, but the political temperature in the Capitol may have gone up to 33 degrees with a new accounting maneuver — some may dare call it “gimmick” — on the table.

It involves the state holding onto money that eventually goes to the cities and counties just a little bit longer, but making sure those local governments get their payments on time. Further details might make 99 percent of our readers' eyes glaze over, but for those who want more details, Jordan Schrader of the Tacoma News Tribune has them here.

On the plus side, State Treasurer James McIntyre, a Democrat whom Republicans are fond of quoting when they don't like a payment delay in the Democrats' budgets, is OK with this bit of accounting legerdemaine under the right conditions.

On the minus side, some of the true budget hawks are already savaging it. Bob Williams, former legislator, one-time GOP gubernatorial candidate and current president of State Budget Solutions calls it just another gimmick. Time to go back to the priorities of government process used in 1993, he says.

Jason Mercier of the Washington Policy Center allows as  how the move might make sense from a cash management standpoint, but doesn't really help the underlying problem: “The charge for lawmakers has not changed: Adopt a balanced budget within the revenue forecast that is sustainable and gimmick free.”

Everything today is being conducted behind closed doors, but if anything leaks out, we'll let you know.

Marshallese could be caught in food aid “limbo land”

OLYMPIA – For 15 years, Washington has helped thousands of people the federal government wouldn’t, providing food assistance to legal immigrants struggling to survive in America.

That includes residents of the Marshall Islands who come to this country seeking jobs and medical care after the U.S. military used their nation as a nuclear test zone.

“We trashed their homeland, and they’re here trying to work,” Linda Stone, of the Children’s Alliance, said.

But that aid could all end as the state looks at ways to trim its budget. . .

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

Special Session Day 10: No budget agreement yet

OLYMPIA — Discussions between the Legislatlure's top budget writers are “going good,” one of the participants said Wednesday, but don't get your hopes up for a compromise soon.

“We haven't reached an agreement,” Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said before Senate Democrats gathered for an afternoon caucus meeting.”The conversations are more constructive this week. I've seen movement this week.”

Murray, the chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said budget writers are looking at options that use neither a delay of a $330 million payment to schools,which Democrats support and Republicans oppose, nor the skipping a $140 million payment to the state pension systems, which Republicans support and Democrats oppose

He said he couldn't reveal those options yet, to avoid negotiating in the news media. But he encouraged the public to contact legislators about state programs they want continued.

An umbrella group for social service, health, children and religious groups tried to turn up the pressure a few hours earlier with a press conference to support a wide array of programs that would be cut under a budget proposed last week by Senate Republicans and three Democrats who create a working majority on budget matters in that chamber.

People who rely on such programs as Disability Lifeline, State Food Assistance for legal immigrants, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Working Connections, called them investments in the future rather than handouts.

To pay for the programs, they suggested the state close some tax exemptions and consider delaying the payment to schools. 

As a countermeasure, Republican legislative staff left a stack of editorials and guest columns on a table near the door of the press conference that praised GOP-crafted budgets — which cut many of those programs and don't end tax exemptions or delay the school payment.

Wednesday marked the 10th day of the 30-day special session, but most legislators were absent. The House and Senate had brief pro forma sessions, which open and close in a matter of minutes, if not seconds, then recessed until Friday.

Special Session Day 9: Progress but no budget

OLYMPIA — Legislative budget writers were making “good progress” on coming up with a spending plan for the next 15 months, but still don't actually  have one, Gov. Chris Gregoire said Tuesday.

“Making good progress is not the budget,” she said when questioned by reporters after signing several bills.

But clearly, Gregoire is beginning to plan for certain possibilities that involve something other than her preferred scenario of budget writers and legislative leaders coming to an agreement, bringing the rest of the Lege back for a quick passage of a compromise.

She said she warned Senate Republicans against bringing their latest budget plan up for a vote with a tactic similar to the one they used about thee weeks ago. Known as the 9th Order of Business, it allowed the 22 Republicans and three disaffected Democrats to form a majority, force their budget onto the floor and pass it over the objections of the remaining Democrats.

If they tried such a move, Gregoire said she told them “Get ready for multiple sessions. I think it would blow the place up.”

She also has at least begun to consider the prospect the logjam will not break before time runs out on this 30-day special session. Another one would be needed, she said, because the only other option is for her to implement across-th-board cuts for all state agenices and “I can't make it work.”

She'd call them back, but not necessarily right away. And she cautioned against any plan to wait for the June economic forecast, in hopes that state revenues might show some kind of uptick. They might also take a hit if gasoline prices continue to go up, she said.

Council will wait a week to consider casino

The Spokane City Council will wait until next week to consider opposing a Spokane Tribe of Indians casino project proposed for the West Plains.

Councilman Mike Fagan is sponsoring a resolution opposing the casino. He requested last week that the council suspend normal public notice requirements to allow a vote on Monday instead of giving the public more than a week’s notice before a vote. He said at the meeting Monday, however, that he had changed his mind after hearing from constituents who opposed to moving forward without following the usual public notice procedure. Council President Ben Stuckart said the wasn’t enough support on the council to suspend the rules. At least five of seven members would have had to agree.

The council also opted not to vote on a $4.1 million contract to build a sewage overflow tank that city administrators had requested the council also suspend public notice requirements to approve on Monday.

Both issues will be considered at the council’s March 26 meeting, which will be held at the East Central Community Center, 500 S. Stone St.

Fagan said he has the support from three other council members and expects his resolution to be approved 4-3.

Gregoire: Don’t threaten me

Tribal members gather in the Capitol Building after a bill signing.

OLYMPIA — Legislators unhappy about her refusal to sign many bills should take their concerns up with their leadership, Gov. Chris Gregoire said Monday.

“I don't take threats from legislators,” Gregoire said, responding to a press release issued late last week from a Republican legislator who accused her of “playing politics” with bills.

Sen. Jerome Delvin, R-Richland, said supporters of bills to help the developmentally disabled and bils to crack down on human trafficking should contact Gregoire and urge her to sign them. The governor said she was  holding off on signing most bills until legislative leaders break their logjam over the budget.

“They don't deserve to have these bills held hostage just because the governor hasn't gotten her way on the budget,” Delvin said in his press release.

One of the bills Delvin mentioned, which gives people with developmental disabilities help in after they enroll in an employment program, was signed Monday, but another, which involves assessing juvenile offenders for developmental disabilities when they are placed in a county detention center, remains on hold. 

Gregoire signed about a dozen bills Monday, including one she proposed to create collaboration between state colleges' education departments and struggling public schools. She also signed a bill that returns control over local courts systems from the state to Native American tribes, which brought more than 100 representatives of various tribes to the Capitol.

After the signing ceremony, many of the tribal members, some in traditional clothing, gathered outside the door of the Senate to sing.

Bills that have large numbers of supporters who must plan trips to Olympia will be scheduled and signed. But “by far and away the vast majority of bills” won't for the time being, Gregoire said: “I am not signing the majority of their bills. No budget, no bills.”

Budget leaders met Monday morning with the director of the Office of Financial Management and Gregoire made individual calls to House and Senate leaders. Both parties will have to give up a key element of the budget strategy, the Democrats their plan to delay the state's payment to schools by a few days to free up $330 million to spend in this biennium, the Republicans their plan to skip a payment to the state pension system to free up $150 million for spending. Both options have become “toxic,” Gregoire said.

If Delvin or other legislators have complaints, they are “free to go tell the leadership,” she said.

Grading on corruption: WA gets B-, ID a D-

OLYMPIA – Washington is among the least “corruptible” states in the nation, while Idaho placed 40th out of 50 in a scorecard released Monday.

Two watchdog organizations, the Center for Public Integrity and Global Integrity joined with Public Radio International and journalists around the country to score the states on some 330 questions involving a wide array of government activities.

The scores were then tallied, and letter grades assigned. No state got an A. . .

To read the rest of this item, see Idaho's report card, or to comment, click here to go inside the blog.

They don’t negotiate in the media, unless they do

OLYMPIA – “I’m not going to negotiate in the news media.”
Politicians at all levels of government love to utter that sentence – when it’s to their advantage.
But let’s get real. If they think it will help their cause, their legislation or their budget, they like nothing better than to negotiate in the media. If they get angry, frustrated, boxed-in or closed out, they negotiate in the media.

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

This election could be so special

OLYMPIA — Jay Inslee’s not-so-timely departure from Congress could result in a special election in Western Washington. Special, the way the Church Lady used to say the word on “Saturday Night Live.”
The Secretary of State’s office is exploring the possibility of a special election this fall to fill the remainder of Inslee’s term in Washington’s 1st Congressional District. But there's a catch…

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

Gregoire signing some bills

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire signed a  handful of bills this afternoon, refining her threat from Thursday she  hopes will get the Legislature to come up with a passable budget.

She's signing the bills that are important to her, she said, and that people had come a far distance to participate in the ceremony. So she signed bills that increase penalties for driving drunk with kids in a car, that make it easier for military spouses to get work when they are transferred to Washington, criminal ID checks for entities providing emergency shelter or transitional housing.

But bills that are important primarily to lobbyists and legislators will wait, she said. If either group inquires about when their bill might get signed, they're told to work toward getting a majority in both houses for a budget she can sign. She hasn't found any yet that she's definitely going to veto, and “I hope I don't have vetoy any of them.”

She did, however, repeat her promise to veto any legislation calling for charter schools, should it come out of the special session. That's a reform listed in the latest budget crafted by Senate Republicans and their three Democratic allies. One of those Democrats, Sen. Rodney Tom, is a big fan of charter schools; Gregoire is not, and calls them “a 20-year-old, failed idea.”

Budget discussions were on hold today because one of the key budget writers was unable to attend, she said. More talks are scheduled for Monday morning, she said.

Council considers rushing votes

The Spokane City Council on Monday will consider rushing its normal voting procedure to condemn the proposed Spokane Tribe of Indians casino on the West Plains.

Councilman Mike Fagan is sponsoring the resolution to put the city on record as opposing the casino and has asked that the council to suspend its rules so it can vote on the matter on Monday instead of giving the public more than a week’s notice before a vote.

“I feel that there’s a sense of urgency,” Fagan said.

The public usually gets well over a week’s notice about any issue on which the City Council conducts a vote. Notice for the resolution, however, wasn’t released until Thursday when Monday’s agenda was distributed.

Fagan said that the council’s schedule wouldn’t allow a vote on the matter until April 9 unless a vote is taken on Monday because the March 26 meeting is focused on neighborhoods and the April 2 meeting has been cancelled.

In order to suspend the rules, five of the seven council members would have to approve voting on the matter on Monday.

City Council President Ben Stuckart, who supports the tribe’s casino project, said there’s no reason to rush the resolution.

“If it’s an important enough issue, you should give the public time to know about it, be knowledgeable and prepare testimony,” he said.

White enters 3rd District House race

Dave White, a county utilities inspector and Republican activist, will run for the state House of Representatives this fall in central Spokane’s 3rd District in an effort to rein in state spending and improve state infrastructure.
White, 59, said Thursday he’ll challenge Democratic incumbent Timm Ormsby, hoping to fare better than 2010 when he lost the race for the other House seat to Democrat Andy Billig.
“Two years ago, I was an unknown and got almost 40 percent with very little help,” he said. Since that time, he has served as a Republican precinct officer, been more involved in the political process and worked to keep the city from closing a branch library.
White criticized Democrats for wasting the public’s time by not passing a budget even though they hold majorities in both houses. “We keep spending money that we do not have,” he contended.
The solution is for Republicans to pick up enough seats in the House to get the majority there, then “put our politics aside and just do what is right.”
White is the first Republican to file for a legislative race in the 3rd, which usually is a strongly Democratic district. All three incumbents, Ormsby, Billig and state Sen. Lisa Brown, are seeking re-election.

For more about White's campaign platform, read his press release.


New GOP budget: ‘Game changer’ or ‘waste of time’?

OLYMPIA – For the first three days of the special session, everything involving the state’s troubled budget was done behind the closed doors. That went by the wayside Thursday.
Senate Republicans and their three Democratic allies released a new budget proposal at a morning press conference that they said moved closer to Democratic plans to spend more on public schools and higher education. They used terms like fabulous, honest and “game-changer” to describe their new plan.
 But they hadn’t produced it in closed-door negotiations among budget writers just an hour before, and Gov. Chris Gregoire accused them of “wasting time” by unveiling a new budget proposal that has little chance of making it through the Legislature.
“This will not get us out of town,” a clearly angry Gregoire said. “The antics of today do not advance the ball.”

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

Gregoire threatens vetoes unless a budget deal happens

OLYMPIA — A visibly angry Gov. Chris Gregoire threatened to hold bills hostage unless legislators reach a budget deal, and accused Senate Republicans of “theatrics” for releasing their new spending plan at a morning press conference.

“It is a waste of time,” she said at an afternoon press conference. “The antics of today do not advance the ball.”

The budget proposal itself is a “mixed bag” because it provides more money for public schools and higher education, Gregoire said. But it uses accounting gimmicks and includes a controversial education change, to fund 10 charter schools, that would need to pass the Legislature on its own.

“I will veto it,” Gregoire said of the charter schools addition, which is part of six reforms in the new budget proposal. “Stop wasting everybody's time.”

To pass, any budget will need at least 25 votes in the Senate, 50 in the House and her signature. Senate Republicans demonstrated their new budget will get the 22 votes from their caucus plus the three who voted with them on a budget two weeks ago, she said. But it's unlikely to get 50 votes in the House, and won't get hers in its present form.

“25, 50 and 1. That's my new mantra,” she said.

She will also refuse to sign bills that passed in the regular session until a budget  agreement is reached. If that takes more than 20 days, the time left under law, she'll veto them.

Gregoire is rarely so definitive about vetoing bills, even for legislation she on record as opposing. Usually she says she's having staff study a bill and waiting for the report.

New state budget pushed into the fray

OLYMPIA — In an effort to break a budget logjam, Senate Republicans and their three Democratic allies unveiled a new  spending plan Thursday morning that would spend more on public schools and state colleges.

It also offers more money for child care for working families and has no new taxes. But it does skip a $140 million payment to state pension systems in exchange for other changes to pension plans that would save money in the long run. 

Sen. Joe Zarelli of Ridgefield, the top Republican on the Senate Ways and Means Committee, called it a “compromise approach” to the differences between the budget passed in a parliamentary takeover two weeks ago in the Senate and a significantly different plan passed by House Democrats on the last day of the regular session.

Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup, said it was a better plan than the one he joined with Republicans to pass. “It's a budget that can bring the special session to a close.”

Senate Democratic leaders, who only saw the proposal at the same time Republicans released it at a morning news conference, said it has “some very good movement,” because it restores money for public schools and higher education that Republicans proposed cutting two weeks ago.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said she was still concerned that the proposal cuts money for the Disability Lifeline, but “I feel great about the moves that were made on the spending side.”

The public release of a new budget proposal, signaled movement over talks which have essentially been at a stalemate for two weeks. But potential roadblocks quickly surfaced.

Democrats said they still have concerns about skipping the $140 million pension payment, because the cost of that grows over time. Republicans acknowledge the long-term cost of that is about $400 million over 25 years, but they estimate the savings from ending early retirements for new state employees would be $2 billion over that period, and that money could be used to shore up the pension funds.

The Legislature has skipped or delayed pension payments in six times since 2001, in budgets written by Democrats and Republicans, Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, said.

Gov. Chris Gregoire had asked legislative leaders to come  up with a budget that doesn't skip the pension payment, which Republicans favor but Democrats oppose, and also doesn't delay a $330 million payment to schools by shifting it from the end of this biennium to the first day of the next. Democrats favor that approach but Republicans call it unsustainable budgeting.

The new budget proposal doesn't do that. It also calls for the state to spend $780,000 to set up 10 charter schools, while cutting $1.5 million Democrats proposed for “collaborative schools”.  Charter schools, which can be set up by a public school and parents to try new methods and avoid some state requirements, would need new legislation to be passed along with the budget. Collaborative schools, a plan to pair the Education Departments of the state's colleges with troubled schools, has already passed.

Sen. Rodney Tom, another of the three Democrats who voted with Republicans on their Senate budget, is a strong supporter of charter schools. The budget would pay for 10 next year, in “persistently failing schools.” But Gregoire and other Democrats regard charter schools as taking money from the existing schools; the governor proposed the collaborative school program as a way to bring innovation into classrooms without setting up charter schools.

New districts good, at least for now

OLYMPIA—Washington voters will choose candidates this fall for the congressional and legislative districts approved this year by a special commission, the state Supreme Court said Wednesday.

Whether those districts will need to be adjusted before the 2014 elections, based on a challenge that they were improperly drawn, remains to be seen. But with the filing deadline for candidates only about two months away, the court said that for 2012, at least, the districts are the ones that determine where voters live, and where candidates run.

Secretary of State Sam Reed, Washington's top elections official, called the ruling “very good news” especially for counties which are scrambling to adjust their voting precincts to comply with the new districts.

The Redistricting Commission finished its work on Jan. 1 of redrawing all the state's legislative districts and adding a tenth congressional district based on the 2010 Census results, and the Legislature approved those districts on Feb. 7. John Milem, a Vancouver citizen who attended almost every meeting of the commission and submitted his own sets of legislative and congressional boundaries, filed a challenge to the new maps on Feb. 8, saying the new districts divide too many cities and counties and reduce competition rather than encourage it.

The Supreme Court said it will consider the challenge, but Milem and the state attorney general's office still have some groundwork to do on setting up the basic facts of the case, and if they can't agree, they may need a Thurston County Superior Court judge to step in, and report back to the high court by May 29.

That's too late for Washington's candidate filing week, which runs from May 14 to 18. Ballots for the state primary go in the mail in July.

“Our 2012 elections season is barrelling down on us,” Reed said.

Phoning in some state savings

OLYMPIA – And you thought you were paying too much for your cell phone.
The state found ways to save about $1.7 million this biennium by turning in thousands of cell phones that state agencies were using very little or not at all, and switching thousands more to cheaper plans.
Last November, the state auditor’s office said it studied the use and costs of some 22,000 cell phones that employees of various state agencies had over nearly two years, and the various contracts that cover them. . .

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

Special Session Day 2: No budget deal in sight

OLYMPIA — With most legislators still at home, their leaders continued meeting Tuesday with Gov. Chris Gregoire in search of a solution to the state's budget problems

They reached no agreements on a key sticking point. Gregoire told them to set those disagreements aside and come up with at least $200 million that members of both parties, in both houses, might accept.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown of Spokane said the goal before the next meeting — as yet unscheduled — is to find that money through some source of revenue, “something that's not spending cuts.”

The hangup right now is what the two parties want to say is an available resource in the General Fund budget to spend on state programs.  Democrats want to delay a payment of some $330 million to the state's school districts by a few days, shifting it from the end of June to the beginning of July 2013 which means it happens in the state's next fiscal biennium. Because the schools would get it in their same fiscal year — the calendars are different — they argue it's merely an accounting shift with no real consequence.

Republicans, however, say that's bad budgeting, and even worse accounting that shifts the debt into the next biennium. They want to skip a payment to some state pension plans, then make several reforms to the way pensions are structured. They admit skipping a pension payment isn't a good practice, but contend the long-term savings are worth the $150 million that would leave in the budget.

Democrats say that plan isn't actuarially sound, and the savings might not be all that Republicans estimate them to be.

Once they decide on the amount to spend, budget writers will start working on how to divide that among programs. A budget written by Senate Republicans differs from one passed by House Democrats on a wide range of education, college and social programs and those will still have to be negotiated.

“It could potentially result in more cuts,” Brown said. “That's what moving to the middle's all about.”

Judge rewrites Ref. 74 ballot language

OLYMPIA — A Thurston County judge rewrote the ballot language for Referendum 74, the ballot measure that will try to overturn the state's new same-sex marriage law if enough signatures are gathered.

Details of Superior Court Judge Thomas McPhee's decision can be found here.

A quick read would suggests the supporters of same-sex marriage, fare better with this wording than the opponents of same-sex marriage who are sponsoring the referendum drive.

Today’s fun video: Serenading Fannie Mae

The Occupy movement may have packed up its tents and sleeping bags in most cities for the winter, but this video shows they haven't gone away. Instead, a few of them went into the recording and video studios, to cut a music video about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

On the old American Bandstand scale, I'd give it about a 89. It's got a good beat, you can dance to it, and some of the lyrics are clever.

As a message video, well, you'll have to judge for yourself.

Council rejects recommendation to limit corporate political spending

Most Spokane City Council members said Monday that they don’t like the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision that prevents lawmakers from limiting some forms of political spending by corporations.

But there wasn’t a majority who supported asking lawmakers to do anything about it.

The council rejected a nonbinding resolution asking Congress and state legislatures to amend the Constitution to reverse the decision in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission. In that case, the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment barred Congress from creating spending limits on corporations in political campaigns, though the court left intact the ability to limit direct donations to candidates.

Councilwoman Amber Waldref, who sponsored the resolution, Councilman Jon Snyder and Council President Ben Stuckart supported the resolution. Council members Mike Allen, Mike Fagan and Steve Salvatori rejected it. Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin was absent.

More than a dozen testified in support of the resolution. Only a couple of people, including a representative from Greater Spokane Inc., spoke against it.

Dellwo challenges Ahern for 6th District seat

Democrats will give voters a choice in at least one race in the 6th Legislative District.

Former state Democratic state Rep. Dennis Dellwo filed paperwork with the state Public Disclosure Commission last month announcing a bid to challenge Republican state Rep. John Ahern.

Democrats had success in the 6th District, which surrounds central Spokane on the south, west and north, in 2006 and 2008. But they lost all three seats in 2010 and redistricting may have shifted the district more toward the GOP camp.

Dellwo, 66, served 13 years in the Legislature serving the 3rd District. He was first elected in 1982. He left in 1996 to take a position on the Eastern Washington Growth Management Hearings Board. He said he moved into the 6th District a three years ago and lives near Polly Judd Park on the South Hill.

Special Session Day 1: Don’t blink…

The special session opens.

…Or you'll miss it.

The Special Session of the Legislature opened and quickly adjourned for the day. Total elapsed time: About one minute.

In the Senate, Sens. Debbie Regala, D-Regala, and Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, were on hand to see Lt. Gov. Brad Owen bring the gavel down to open for special session, accept a few messages from the governor or the House, and adjourn until Tuesday.

Over in the House, Reps. Laurie Jinkins. D-Tacoma, and Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, were the on the floor for a similarly brief open and close to the day's “business.”

Opening day for a special session is in sharp contrast to the opening of the regular session, which features all legislators in their seats, flags being escorted in by Washington State Patrol or Washington National Guard personnel in spiffy uniforms, maybe a display of rifle twirling in the aisle, prayers and speeches.

The special session was called late Thursday night, the final day of the regular session, when it became clear the Legislature would not reach an agreement on changes to its General Fund operating budget.  Gov. Chris Gregoire said she wanted to legislative leaders to meet to decide on a budget framework, then budget writers to work out the details. 

She suggested all legislators should come back for Day 1, then go home until a deal was struck. “The last thing anybody wants to see is the full Legislature sitting up here with nothing to do.”

Apparently the Legislature was happy to oblige at least on the second part of that suggestion.

For the sake of comparison, here's a photo taken about midnight Thursday for sine die adjournment of the regular session.

Special Session Day 1: Noon start

OLYMPIA — The special session of the Legislature starts at noon today, but don't expect big announcements quickly on the budget.

The agenda for the Senate says “pro forma” session which is Latin for something like “not much will happen.”

For those keeping track at home, this is the fifth special session of the Legislature since January 2010: The 2010 “short” session was extended to finish the budget; another one-day session was held that December. The 2011 “regular” session was extended to finish the budget, and legislators were called in at the end of last November to get a jump on the budget problems; they made some cuts in the budget then went home in mid-December with talk of having made progress toward resolving the rest of the budget problems.

Didn't quite work out that way. So they're back.

By law, a special session can last up to 30 days.  In calling them back last Thursday night, Gov. Chris Gregoire said she hoped they'd be done this week, or next week at the latest.

When it comes to special sessions, one should note that Gregoire is ever the optimist.

Sunday Spin: We love the bizarre in the last week. Honest

OLYMPIA – One of the hallmarks of the closing days of a legislative session is that people say and do bizarre things.
Make that more bizarre than normal. The marbled halls and floors of the Capitol Building don’t protect against the weird; they just dress it up a bit.
But after the Legislature tied itself into a Gordian knot over the budget with a week to go, partisans on both sides seemed to go farther into the deep than normal. Not that I’m complaining.
As most people with any interest in state politics know, Senate Republicans pulled off parliamentary coup of historic proportions over the state’s operating budget. Some think it was roughly on par with the tactics the Spartans holding off the Persians at Thermopylae about 2500 years ago, it’s unclear yet if they will fare better in the end than King Leonidas and company…

Inslee resigns US House seat to run for governor

U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee resigned his congressional seat today to concentrate on his run for governor.

Inslee announced he'd leave Congress on March 20, saying he was not one “half-measures or half-hearted efforts.”

“It was a difficult decision, but what I need to do right now is focus all my attention on talking to people about what’s really important – creating jobs and growing our economy,” he said.

Inslee is considered the likely Democratic nominee against Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna for this year's governor's race. They are the “name” candidates for both parties for the open seat.

But Inslee's campaign has come under fire from some Democrats for a slow start, and Republicans criticize hom for any missed vote that's a result of his being in the state to campaign.

“I look forward to hearing Congressman Inslee explain how 15 years in Washington, D.C. have prepared him to lead our state, now that he is quitting Congress,” McKenna said.

Capital Budget, money for med school, in limbo, too

OLYMPIA – Overtime starts Monday for the Legislature, which failed to pass a general operating budget by midnight Thursday and was called back for a special session.
After issuing a proclamation for the special session, Gov. Chris Gregoire was emphatic that she wants it devoted to budgets and any laws that might need to be passed or changed to make the budgets work.
“I don’t want to bring up every random conceivable bill in the world,” she said at a late night press conference. She and the four top legislative posts, the majority and minority leaders from the House and Senate, will have to agree on any non budget bill or “they need to get ready for a veto.”

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

Legislature adjourns. Must come back Monday

That's all folks…the gavel comes down in the Senate on the 2012 regular session. The Legislature returns Monday for a special session.

OLYMPIA — The Legislature adjourned at midnight Thursday without passing a new general operating budget, and Gov. Chris Gregoire ordered them back to work Monday.

“They haven't gotten the job done,” Gregoire said after issuing a proclamation for a special session, which can last up to 30 days. She added that she hoped they would finish much quicker.

“They need to go  home and get away from each other,'' the governor added. “Tensions are high. People are tired. It's hard to get them to focus.”

After legislators return for the noon Monday start, most can leave while leaders try to come up with a way around what's largely been described as a logjam over sources of revenue to make the $30 billion budget balance. (Editor's note: an early version of this story had the wrong time for the start of the special session.)

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

Gregoire: Keep the pressure on

Gregoire to Legislature: Everyone's tired. Get over it

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire again tried to avoid saying the words “special session” while acknowledging it's clear the Legislature will not finish by midnight, even with a new budget proposal available for a vote in the House.

That plan is “a good step forward”, but she's still waiting for legislative leaders to bring her a different compromise that bridges the big gap between Democrats and Republicans on key revenue questions.

“I want a conceptual agreement by the end of the day,” she said. If the Republican and Democratic leaders in both chambers can agree to that, the budget writers can spend the time needed to work out spending details.

A key disagreement between the two parties involves which payment to avoid. Democrats want to delay a $323 million payment to schools from the end of June 2013 to July 1. That shifts it into a different biennium, so on paper the state has more money to spend. Republicans want to skip a $133 million payment on state pensions if the Legislature will pass reforms to the retirement systems that they say will save money in the longrun.

Gregoire said she'd rather delay the school payment than skip the pension payment, but told legislative leaders at a morning meeting to come up with other budget options to avoid doing either.

“I'm not going to pretend it's a love fest in there. Tensions are high but nobody's dug in,” she said.

To suggestions from some legislators that they take a few days off to give members a cooling-off period before returning to budget discussions, Gregoire said she wouldn't do that without a working plan for a budget.  “I'm tired, too. Tough. Get over it.”

Scroll down to read previous posts on today's budget discussions.

House to vote on new budget; will it pass Senate?

OLYMPIA — With time running out on the regular session, House Democrats are poised to vote on another general fund budget plan sometime today, a compromise between the budget they passed more than a week ago and the Senate Democratic budget that never came to a vote in that chamber.

Senate Republicans, who passed their own budget with the help of three breakaway Democrats, seem confident that it won't pass the Senate.

Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, acknowledged shortly before noon that he doesn't have the 25 votes to pass the bill if it comes to the Senate. “Not yet,” he added.

Details of the spending plan are available here.  It contains one of the main sticking points between the two parties, a delay of a $323 million payment to schools, which Democrats support and Republicans oppose. It does not skip a pension payment worth about $133 million, which Republicans favor and Democrats oppose.

Sen. Joe Zarelli of Ridgefield, the top Republican on the Senate Ways and Means Committee, was confident the working majority the GOP formed last week for its budget will hold against this proposal, which he said was negotiated between the Democrats in each chamber.

“We haven't  had one conversation, we wasted six days,” Zarelli said. “It's a little juvenile, and its posturing. It's like hanging up the phone on somebody you don't like instead of talking it out.”

Murray said that if the House passes the revised budget as expected, it would come to the Senate where Republicans could offer amendments to add or subtract things they want for a compromise. That amended budget could then go back to the House for final passage.

“We could be done by midnight,” Murray said, adding that was a goal. “Once you go into special session, everybody wants to bring up everything.”

The 60-day session is scheduled to adjourn sine die by midnight tonight. 

WA Lege: The final day or final daze?

OLYMPIA — On the legislative calendar, this is Day 60 of a 60-day session. The two chambers are scheduled to adjourn for good no later than midnight tonight.

Whether they'll go until 24:00:00 or not is unknown. What is known, however, is that they'll be back. They'll need more time to finish the budget. See previous blog post for more details.

It's not clear yet when, or how long a special session will take place. There might be some hints around noon, when Gov. Chris Gregoire signs a bill that revises the state's teacher evaluation rules. There's no connection between teacher evaluations and the special session, but after the governor signs legislation, she takes questions from reporters. First question is likely to be something like:

“So governor, about that special session…”

Stay tuned. We'll keep you updated.

Legislature heading into overtime

OLYMPIA – The Legislature is headed into overtime over its troubled budget, although like most things this year on how much the state has to spend and where to spend it, there are significant disagreements on the whats and whens of a special session.
Will it be a set period of time, like basketball overtime, sudden death like football, or an indefinite period of extra innings like baseball?
Gov. Chris Gregoire, who for days pushed for the Legislature to finish by today, acknowledged Wednesday that's not possible. She shifted the goal to having some kind of agreement on the budget by tonight, then coming back for a day or two to do “technical work” on that spending plan and pass it.
“They can’t procedurally get it done,” Gregoire said, although she refused to use the “S” words. “The minute I say special session, they’ll go to sleep, they’ll stop working”. . .

Special Session seems certain

OLYMPIA — Republican leaders of the Legislature said a special session is now a certainty, with the only real question when it will start.

“I don't believe therre's any way for us to get done. There's no physical way,” Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, said after a meeting of all four legislative leaders and Gov. Chris Gregoire that was designed to “find a path out of here” on the state's general fund budget.

So, did they find a path? No path, no blueprint,  he said.

Democrats and Republicans have yet to agree on the amount of money they will have to spend, let alone how it will be spent. Republicans said they are holding firm to their belief that the state should not delay by one day a payment of $330 million to the school districts, an accounting maneuver that shifts that amount into the next biennium and frees up money for more programs.

“We're still firm on sticking with our principles,” Sen. Joe Zarelli of Ridgefield, top Republican on the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said.

Today is day 59 of the 60-day session, so the regular session can go no longer than midnight tomorrow. A tentative agreement on a budget would only be one step in the process. That budget would have to be printed, introduced in one of the houses as an amendment to one of the two budgets that have already passed. A budget written by House Democrats is currently on hold in the Senate, and a budget written by minority Republicans which picked up support from three Democrats and passed early Saturday morning after a parliamentary maneuver, is now in the House.

One option is to start the special session on Friday to keep any budget talks going. Hewitt and Zarelli said it would be better to start it next Monday or Tuesday, giving most legislators the weekend with their families and a “cooling off period.”

“Some folks need a few days to ponder,” Zarelli said.

Before leaving on Thursday the Legislature might pass a separate Transportation Budget that covers road, bridge and ferry projects. But it probably will not pass a Capital Budget, which covers other big construction projects like the construction of the medical sciences building in Spokane.

“The capital budget and the operating budget go together,” Zarelli said.

McMorris Rodgers for Veep meme continues

Yet still another website is doing a post on the prospect of U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers getting the No. 2 spot on the GOP national ticket this fall. This time it's Human Events, Powerful Conservative Voices.

It has the standard bio information that's familiar to most Spin Control readers, or at least the ones in our main readership area of the Inland Northwest. It talks about her spot in House Republican leadership. It also suggests the whole thing was “conceived in cyberspace”, being first mentioned online, then picked up in print in Washington, D.C., news outlets.

It also contains the standard “it's an honor to be considered or even mentioned” comment that is de rigeur for any potential veep candidate at this stage. What it doesn't ask — or at least answer in print — is, “Have you talked to Mitt Romney about this?”

Which seems a logical question, considering McMorris Rodgers is the Washington state chairwoman for the Romney campaign, and Mitt was in the state just last week in advance of the precinct caucuses.

Spin Control did ask that question on Saturday night, in discussing Romney's win in Washington with McMorris Rodgers. The answer: No, they haven't talked about it at all.

Which is about what you'd expect, considering that it is March.

So let's start a new meme: HBO's movie about the 2008 campaign, “Game Change”, has Julianne Moore as Sarah Palin. If McMorris Rodgers is selected as the GOP vice presidential candidate, and the 2012 campaign is made into a movie, who will be cast as Cathy?

Click the comment link to weigh in.

Kootenai caucuses: Santorum edges Paul

Welcome to the unpredictable, and often protracted, world of caucuses, Idaho Republicans.

The system the Idaho GOP set up for balloting led to a long night in Kootenai County, where as many as four ballots were needed to winnow the field down to a winner.

As colleague Jonathan Brunt reported from Lakeland High School in Rathdrum, the only person knocked out in the first round of balloting was Buddy Roemer. Who? you might well ask. Roemer is a former Louisiana governor who has been shut out of the plethora of GOP debates and is now running as an independent.

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich was eliminated on the second ballot. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney on the third, and the fourth ballot showdown between former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul went to Santorum. Not that it mattered because by then, the statewide winner was already decided.

Read Jonathan Brunt's account here.

To see a map of who won each Idaho county, click here.

Eyeglass bill gets final passage

OLYMPIA – The Legislature gave final approval this week to a bill that will allow charities like the Union Gospel Mission distribute used eyeglasses.
After several trips back and forth between the two chambers, the House of Representatives gave unanimous approval to HB 2261, which allows charities to provide glasses and hearing aids to poor or uninsured people without worrying about lawsuits…
To read the rest of this item, go inside the blog.

It’s Super Tuesday for Idaho GOP. Do you know where your caucus is?

Idaho Republicans play a role in Super Tuesday this evening as they gather throughout the state for presidential caucuses.

If you're planning on attending a caucus, but don't know where yours is, look inside the blog to find a list of caucus locations for North Idaho.

If you're wondering what the heck this is all about, click here for  this morning's story about the caucuses.

Gregoire: Everybody has to give on budget

Gov. Chris Gregoire: “Not interested in a special session.”

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire said she still has hopes the Legislature can reach a budget deal by midnight Thursday, the end of the current session, but conceded there is no deal at this point.

“I will fight to the end to get out of here on time,” Gregoire told reporters Tuesday morning. “I'm not interested in a special session.”

But if there's no compromise by the end of the day, that will be difficult, she said. And while there are things that she'll push for, she doesn't know what a workable compromise is yet: “I'll know it when I see it.”

After House Democrats passed a budget solely with their members support, Senate Republicans got the support of three conservative Democrats in that chamber to use a parliamentary procedure Friday and pass a very different spending plan with more program cuts, no new taxes and fewer accounting shifts. The move caught Senate Democratic leadership by surprise.

Gregoire declined to speculate on how the majority  leadership miscounted the support for their budget, and said she, too, was surprised by some of the things that became a point of contention between the two caucuses. But Friday' night is “Over. Done. Through.” and all sides have to work out the compromise.

She's also not interersted in a solution that has been suggested by some legislators: forget about a revised budget and give her extra flexibility to cut programs or agencies. Under current law, a governor can only make across the board cuts for all agencies to avoid a deficit.

Gregoire has asked for expanded authority to handle budget problems for several years, but that's not the solution for this budget problem, she said. “They have to pass a budget.”

Council may call for Constitutional amendment

Spokane City Council members next week will tackle an issue that goes beyond city limits.

They will consider a nonbinding resolution asking Congress and state legislatures to amend the Constitution to give lawmakers the authority to limit corporate political spending in campaigns.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, ruled in 2010 that the First Amendment barred Congress from creating spending limits on corporations in political campaigns, though the court left intact the ability to limit direct donations to candidates.

Critics of the decision say it allows elections to be manipulated by the rich and powerful and point to the “Super PACs' that are pouring millions of dollars into the presidential election.

The resolution is sponsored by Councilwoman Amber Waldref. She said Monday that she expects a close vote.

“I really thought that these were values that we all shared,” Waldref said.

Councilman Mike Fagan opposes the resolution.

“The Constitution is not a living document,” Fagan said after Monday's council meeting. “In my opinion, it would take something earth-shattering in order to warrant a Constitutional amendment.”

Special session looming

OLYMPIA — The Legislature seemed  headed for a special session Monday as leaders of both parties agreed it will be difficult, if not impossible, to negotiate a compromise between very different spending plans passed by the House and Senate in the next four days.

Thursday is the end of the regular 60-day session. In the remaining time, legislative budget leaders would have to schedule meetings, find some middle ground between a budget that passed the House solely with Democratic votes and a budget that passed the Senate with all the Republican and three Democratic votes.

The chances of that happening were rated as “highly unlikely” to “not possible” by members of both sides in the budget debate.

The remaining 24 Senate Democrats are very much opposed to both the content of that budget and the way it was introduced and passed without a hearing on a surprise parliamentary maneuver Friday.

“I don't get the timing …unless it was to say 'Take that, Democrats,' ” Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane,said. The Ways and Means Committee had scheduled a hearing Saturday on the Senate Democrats budget, and Republicans could have introduced their budget there. Two of the Democrats who voted with Republicans in the marathon session Friday night are on that committee, so that would have blocked the main Senate Democratic proposal, and Republicans could have either tried to vote their budget out of committee or discussed compromises on different spending cuts and revenue options, she said.

That would  have been more in line with bipartisan work on budgets that was common in the Senate last year, she said.

Leading Senate Republicans contended that bipartisan budget discussions broke down in mid February after the latest revenue forecasts showed the state's revenue and expense projections improving, and Democrats hadn't rounded up the votes they need for their budget.  “Since when is it the ranking minority (of Ways and Means) member's responsibility to put together a budget and present it to the majority?” Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, said.

House and Senate Democrats met over the weekend to discuss a budget compromises. Zarelli, R-Ridgeview, said  he has talked with two Ways and Means Committee chairmen,  Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, and Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, but no formal talks have been held, or even scheduled.

To find a compromise, Zarelli said everyone would need to agree to certain things. For Republicans, that would include a certain level for the reserve fund, and not spending more than comes in through an accounting maneuver that delays a $330 million payment to school districts by one day, shifting it into the next biennium. After that, negotiators can agree “on the stuff we're going to spend money on,” he said.

The $330 million payment, known as the apportionment payment, is a major bone of contention between Democrats and Republicans. It's money the state pays to school districts, and by delaying it a day, Democrats say they avoid deep cuts to schools, colleges and social programs. Republicans say it's fiscally irresponsible.

“What if we did the whole budget with a one-day delay? We'd have a surplus” on paper, Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, said.

But Brown countered Senate Democrats were proposing a permanent shift for the apportionment payment, so school districts would be able to fit that into their budgets. Republicans have different accounting shifts in their budget, so “I'm not getting why the (apportionment) shift is the big deal.”

But if it is a non-negotiable demand  on the part of Republicans — House Republicans are also opposed to the shift — they'll have to be willing to compromise on some things, too, such as closing some tax exemptions to increase the revenue side of the budget equation, Murray said. That would require a super majority, which means Republican votes.

“If people start drawing lines in the sand, we won't get out of here,” Murray said. “If it's simply asking us to cut, we're not going to get there.”



Signs of a long weekend

OLYMPIA — Members of the Senate showed some signs they were still recovering from a long weekend which had them up until 2:30 a.m. Saturday, then back Saturday afternoon for more votes.

First Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, was extolling the virtues of a gubernatorial appointment, and mentioned he was a graduate of Gon-zah-ga Law School. That one passed without comment.

Then Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlach, took a minute to reflect on the University of Washington men's basketball team winning their conference for the first time in a while. Except he kept calling it the PAC-10 conference.

“That would be the PAC-12 Conference,” Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, who was presiding over the Senate, corrected after Sheldon sat down.

Sunday spin: Transparency depends on your side of the looking glass

As the state Senate descended into an extended match of political jujitsu Friday, the word of the night – perhaps the entire legislative session – was “transparency”.

It sprang so readily from the lips of legislators that it was important to remember the various sides meant something different as they claimed they had it and the other didn’t. In politics, people often use a word like Humpty Dumpty: it means what they say it means, nothing more and nothing less.

This session, transparency seems to be like one of those windows one sees on television cop shows, where officers watches through a one-way glass as a detective grills the suspect. It’s transparent from the dark little room where other cops watch but reflectively opaque to the suspect even when he walks to the glass on his side and mutters “I know you’re back there, you lousy coppers.”

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

Romney wins Spokane County straw poll

Mitt Romney pulled off a razor thin victory in the straw poll of Republicans attending their precinct caucuses Saturday morning.

The former Massachusetts governor topped former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum by 10 votes — 1,521 to 1,511 — in Spokane County. U.S. Rep. Ron Paul was third with 1,340 and former Newt Gingrich a distant fourth with 411.

Paul won Spokane County in 2008, and his supporters became active in the local party. He made two visits to Spokane in the last two weeks, but Santorum may have received a boost from a stop in the heavily Republican Spokane Valley on Thursday.

Romney didn't make a campaign stop in the Spokane area, but one of his sons did, and his state campaign chairwoman is Eastern Washington's congresswoman, Cathy McMorris Rodgers.

“I hope that we can start unifying behind our nominee and start building that enthusiasm,” an ecstatic McMorris Rodgers said Saturday evening.

Romney narrowly defeats Santorum in Spokane County

Fromer Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney topped the field, but barely, in Spokane County.

Four years after dominating the county's caucuses, Texas Congressman Ron Paul slipped to third.

Here are the Spokane County results, according to Spokane County GOP Chairman Matthew Pederson:

1. Romney, 1,521

2. Santorum, 1,511

3. Paul, 1,340

4. Gingrich, 411

5. Undecided, 273

6. Write-ins, 10

AP: Romney wins Washington straw poll

Mitt Romney won Washington's presidential straw poll that accompanied today's Republican precinct caucuses, the Associated Press reports.

The AP bulletin goes a bit far by saying Romney was “nominated president, Washington.”

The straw poll doesn't award delegates who will vote to nominate a candidate at the Republican National Convention this summer. That's decided in a process that began today with the precinct caucuses, but doesn't conclude until early June when delegates to the national convention are selected at the state convention.

The results are from a ballot handed to caucus attendees as they entered the meetings Saturday morning.

With tallies still coming in, the former Massachusetts governor has about 37 percent of the votes, and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum have about 24 percent each. 

GOP caucuses: Romney leading in King, Pierce

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney took an early lead in the state's most populous counties, King and Pierce, in a straw poll conducted for the state Republican precinct caucuses.

In early returns, Romney had more than half the votes reported  in Seattle and King County, and more than a third of the votes in Pierce County. He was leading in most of western Washington counties that had reported. In Eastern Washington, final results showed him with 60 votes in Adams County, which was about 58 percent of the ballots cast, and 281 votes, or 40 percent of those cast in Franklin County.

U.S. Rep. Ron Paul had won Okanogan, Ferry, Pend Oreille, Pacific and Klickitat counties, which are less populous and have already turned in complete results. He was leading in Whitman and Asotin counties as well. Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum took more than half the votes in Columbia County and finished four votes ahead of Paul in Lincoln County.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich trails the field with about 11 percent of the votes statewide, and has not yet finished first in any county.

The straw poll results are based on a ballot caucus attendees were given as the arrived for the meetings. It doesn't award delegates to any of the candidates; that happens through a process that begins with the precinct caucuses and ends at the state convention in June.

GOP caucuses: Paul leads Pend Oreille, Ferry; Santorum leads Lincoln

Eastern Washington appears split on its favorite for the Republican nominee to take on Barack Obama in the fall.

In early returns from a straw poll of people attending the GOP precinct caucuses, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul is leading in Asotin, Pend Oreille and Ferry counties, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum in Lincoln and Columbia counties, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in Adams and Garfield counties.

Statewide, Romney holds a slim lead with 1,272 votes or about 31 percent of those counted; Paul is second with 1,116 votes or 27 percent and Santorum third with 991 or 24 percent. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich is a distant fourth, with 556 votes or 13.5 percent. 

GOP Caucuses: Romney takes early lead

Mitt Romney took an early lead over Ron Paul as counting began of the straw poll conducted today with the Washington state Republican precinct caucuses.

The state Republican Party said results from 15 of the state's 39 counties showed Romney with 1,213 votes, or about 31.5 percent and Paul with 1,035 votes or about 27 percent.

Rick Santorum was in third, with 938 votes or 24 percent and Newt Gingrich a distant fourth with 495 votes for 13 percent. Another 166 caucus attendees had marked their straw vote ballot as “undecided.”

The straw poll was conducted by a ballot given to all caucus attendees as they arrived for the 10 a.m. meetings. It's a non-binding poll and delegates who will attend the national convention and vote for the presidential nominee are chosen through a process that begins with the precinct caucuses today and ends with the state convention in June.

Happy caucus day, Republicans. Here are some tips

Washington Republicans gather this morning for caucuses, to start the process to select a presidential nominee, and to talk issues.

Spokane County Republicans have more than 90 locations for their precinct caucuses, which begin at 10 a.m. Saturday. For help finding yours, click here.

To find GOP precinct caucus locations elsewhere in Washington, click here.

For a primer on the caucuses, click here

Senate Republicans pass alternative budget

OLYMPIA — An alternative Republican budget passed the Senate 25-24 early Saturday morning after more than nine hours of parliamentary maneuvering and sometimes heated debate.

Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, the architect of the spending plan said he hoped the Legislature could now “go forward” and negotiate a budget between House and Senate proposals, although Democrats on the short side of the vote seemed doubtful.

Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, said any negotiations will be difficult: “We can't negotiate in good faith if you don't have trust….The Senate was hijacked tonight.”

Sen. Jim Kastama, one of the three Democrats who joined with Republicans, admitted the plan is not perfect: “It's a beginning. It is a bipartisan budget that sets the stage for a sustainable budget in the future. The final budget will not look like this.

“There is a time to campaign for what you want, and there's a time to govern with what you have.”

Sen. Tim Sheldon, another Democrat who broke ranks to support the budget, said it merely gives conservatives “a chance to negotiate.”

If Republicans and the dissenting Democrats want to negotiate, they'll have to give up their demand for an all-cuts budget, Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle said. They'll have to be willing to negotiate on tax exemptions and tax preference, or the Legislature will be in a special session for a very long time, he said.

Sen. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said changes the Democrats tried but failed to make showed her party's priorities for the poor, the sick and the disadvantaged. The Republicans cuts show a preference “for the folks who've alreadly got it made.”

Brown said she was fooled by Republican leadership, after meeting “week after week” and being told they'd show Democrats their proposals. “I was fooled,” she said.

But Sen. Mike Hewitt of Walla Walla, the minority leader, said he and Zarelli hadn't been at a scheduled meeting with Brown and Murray since Feb. 16.

The Senate budget will now have to be negotiated with a much different House spending plan, written and passed by Democrats, and Gov. Chris Gregoire, who must sign it.

Sen. Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane, said Democrats put up a good fight over their amendments, but “you got beat by the rules.” The public, he said, doesn't want a conservative budget or a liberal budget.

“The people of Washington just want a budget that works,” he said. The two parties will have to get together to work on that. “We're gonna be mad for a few days…then figure out what we need to make it work.”

Among Spokane-area senators, Democrat Lisa Brown voted against the GOP budget, Republicans Mike Baumgartner, Mike Padden, Bob Morton and Mark Schoesler voted yes. On the unsuccessful Democratic amendments, the votes were reversed.

Senate budget debate continues

Sen. Lisa Brown argues for an amendment to restore money for family planning.

OLYMPIA — It'safter  10 o'clock. Do you know where your senator is?

In session. The state Senate removed a rule that requires they adjourn for the day at 10 p.m. and continued its debate over alternative GOP budget proposal moved onto the floor by a parliamentary coup by minority Republicans joined by three conservative Democrats.

“This budget is a backroom deal, and a poltical stunt,” Sen. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor charged as tempers showed signs of fraying.

Starting about 8 p.m., Democrats began offering a long list of amendments to restore finding Republicans are proposing to a wide range of state programs in order to make their budget balance without a tax increase or a shift of some $330 million in payments to schools.

Some of the amounts they tried to restore were large, including $148 million for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and $85 million for the Disability Lifeline. Some were relatively small, like $116,000 for international trade. They covered money for public schools and state universities, pension plans and toxic waste cleanup.

All failed, either by the one-vote marging that allowed Republicans to push their budget into the debate, or by voice votes.

Republicans said they were making difficult trade-offs among the state's many programs, and setting priorities. Democrats questioned how those priorities were being set, with a budget that had no public hearings.

“If you think this program is really important,…show how your going to pay for it,” Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale.

“We have a way to pay for it,” Sen. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, responded. They would cancel changes to schools required by an initiative but often suspended and delay a payment the state is scheduled to school districts.

They locked horns constantly on that major difference between the alternative GOP plan forced onto the floor and the Democrats plan, that remains in the Ways and Means Committee. Democrats want to delay $330 million payment the state makes to schools by one day, from the last day of this biennium to the first day of the next, and keep that payment schedule.

Republicans call that a gimmick, and that the state should pay it's obligations on time. “It's pushed forever into the next year,” Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, said.

That “looks good on paper,” Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle countered, but it results in real cuts in the classroom and to social programs.

The schools prefer the accounting move, called an apportionment shift, over cuts to the classroom, based on testimony on the Democrats' budget plan at the Ways and Means Committee, Brown said, turning to Republicans. “If you had been there, you would've heard.”

During a break in the debate, Zarelli said he realized that the budget propsal would go through changes in negotiations with the House. But Republican ideas would be represented at those discussions with one GOP budget on the table.

WA Lege: Senate Republicans pull budget coup

Senate Democrats try to regroup after Republicans seized control of the budget debate with parliamentary maneuvers.

OLYMPIA — Senate Republicans, aided by three conservative Democrats, used parliamentary tactics to push their alternative budget to a vote Friday and embarass the majority of Democrats who up until that afternoon controlled the chamber.

They presented a budget that has no tax increases, some $773 million in cuts and avoids some of the accounting shifts that Democratic plans use to close a gap between the state's expected revenues and its planned expenses.

On a series of 25-24 votes, Republicans pulled a now obsolete budget proposed by the governor from the Ways and Means Committee where it has languished for months, then made a motion to substitute their alternative spending plan for the governor's.

The governor's budget was drafted before the latest economic forecasts, and has draconian cults that are no longer needed, Ways and Means Chairman Ed Murray, D-Seattle said. The Republican alternative hasn't even had a hearing.

“Transparency is being tossed out the window along with any hope for bipartisanship,” Murray said.

But Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, said  bipartisanship has been lacking since the session started in January. Unlike last year, when Senate Democrats and Republicans worked together on a budget, Republicans felt shut out of discussions over budget cuts and reforms. But with less than a week left in the session, Senate Democrats still didn't have the votes needed to pass their budget, he said.

“This is not about partisan politics. This is about trying to get things to work right,” Hewitt said.

Democrats objected at every turn, as bills were moved around by parliamentary rules. But they didn't have the votes to stop it as three of their own — Sens. Jim Kastama, Tim Sheldon and Rodney Tom — voted with Republicans. As a delaying tactic, the remaining Democrats invoked a rule that requires a bill to be read aloud in the chamber unless Senators waive that rule with a two-thirds majority.

Reader Ken Edmonds began reading the budget, more than 235 pages, in full, enunciating every digit, funding change and even website address. It's a rule that hasn't been successfully invoked in decades, longtime staffers said, and a process that one estimated could take at least five hours.

While Edmonds read on, Democrats gathered in the wings to draft amendments and Gov. Chris Gregoire met with House leaders, who have already approved a budget and were expecting to negotiate compromises in the coming days.

At about page 35, senators agreed to a pause while both sides ate dinner and Democrats began preparing amendments to the Republicans' amendment.

A clearly angry Gregoire emerged from the meeting, and with a voice cracking from laryngitis, blasted Senate Republicans for dropping an unseen budget never subjected to public hearings into the process with less than week remaining in the session. “This instittion is about transparency, it's about letting the voices of the people through the door,” she said.

Gregoire dismissed Republican complaints that they'd been shut out of the budgeting process. “I have reached out and worked with them. They never brought (their budget) to me.”

She said final negotiations on the state's $30 billion budget would be based on the House budget, which has had public hearings.

Hewitt shrugged when told of the governor's comments. “At least we broke the logjam,” he said.

Senators returned at 8 p.m., with a stack of amendments from Democrats that would restore funding to a wide range of programs. Amendments that would add funding for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families and the Disability Lifeline to the state Energy Office, food assistance for legal immigrants all failed on votes of 24-25, or were shouted down on voice votes.

Senators clashed over whose plan was better for public schools when Democrats tried to restore state money for school-based medical services. The program involves medically fragile children the schools are required to serve, but by cutting the funding, Brown said “Olympia is saying 'Gee, sorry, you have to do it but we won't help.'”

Sen. Joe Zarelli, the ranking Republican on Ways and Means, said the GOP budget proposal spends $251 million more on public schools than the plan Senate Democrats released on Tuesday. But that's “slightly disingenuous,” Murray said, and only true if they count some $330 million that Democrats “save” through an accounting shift that moves a payment to schools from the last day of this biennium to the first day of the next.



Paul draws about 1,000 to Spokane Convention Center

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Ron Paul talks to press after rally

About 1,000 people turned out to hear Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul on Friday at the Spokane Convention Center. He hit on many of the same things he did two weeks ago at a rally in the same location. But this time he also talked about revelations this week that two former United States senators believe that Saudi Arabia may have had involvement in the 9/11 attacks. He talked about that again in a press conference after his speech. He also talked about his campaign strategy and Super Tuesday. You can hear most of the press conference in the link above.

PHOTO: Republican presidential candidate, Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas speaks at a rally in Spokane on Friday. (AP Photo/Jed Conklin)

Senate passes health exchange bill

OLYMPIA – Despite Republican objections that it was moving too fast, and reported threats of political reprisals, the Senate approved changes to a system of shopping for medical insurance care that supporters liken to internet sites like Travelocity.
By a 27-22 vote, senators set new rules for the state’s fledgling health care exchange, which is being set up in conjunction with the federal Affordable Care Act.

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Democrats target Romney

Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, and possibly Congressman Ron Paul, are getting some help in their bids for the GOP presidential nomination from an unusual source: The Washington State Democratic Party.

The state party is targeting GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney with a blitz in advance of Saturday's GOP caucuses describing the former venture capitalist as having contributed to America's loss of good-paying manufacturing jobs rather than helping solve the worsening problem.

“Mitt Romney comes to Washington this week, bringing with him a failed manufacturing record of offshoring jobs as Governor of Massachusetts and CEO of Bain Capital,” the Democratic Party declared in advance of a morning event in Seattle.

Romney is arriving with two fresh victories under his belt, though Michigan was closer than his supporters had hoped.

Meanwhile, his campaign has scheduled a campaign stop Friday in Bellevue where people don't have to pay to see him. Romney's previous visits to the state have largely been fundraisers.

How to find your GOP precinct caucus location

Spokane County Republicans have more than 90 locations for their precinct caucuses, which begin at 10 a.m. Saturday. For help finding yours, click here.

To find GOP precinct caucus locations elsewhere in Washington, click here.

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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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