Superior Court Judge Paul Bastine isn't running for anything this election. But a comment about his retirement decision is a good prelude to a discussion about his successor. Bastine is serving out the term to which he was elected. Judges don't always do that. Often, they step down in midterm, letting governors appoint their replacements. The replacements then enjoy months of name familiarity that gives them a political advantage over anyone who challenges them on the ballot. Not only name familiarity but the ability to print the title "Judge" before their names. And they accumulate judicial experience to boast about to voters.
WASHINGTON – With another close presidential contest in store, that hardy if indecipherable oddity of American politics, the Electoral College, is back in the news. My esteemed colleague, William Raspberry, has lent his powerful voice to those who for decades have railed against the injustice of the unit rule, which gives all of a state's electoral votes to the candidate who wins a plurality from its voters. Because of that rule, Raspberry wrote in a column the other day, nearly half the Floridians who battled butterfly ballots and official obstacles to vote in 2000 "might as well have stayed at home," because a tiny margin of 537 votes in the official tally gave George W. Bush all 25 of the state's electoral votes – and the presidency.
The Washington Education Association would have you believe that charter schools will severely damage public education. The teachers union claims erroneously that the approval of Referendum 55, which would legalize charter schools, will drain $100 million from state education coffers. If that doesn't scare voters enough, the WEA will use words like "vouchers" and "boot camps" to denigrate an innovative movement that has become mainstream, embraced by 40 other states.
Let's be clear about one thing: No political candidate ever says anything out of the goodness of his heart. He says everything out of the badness of his heart in the fervent hope that the effect of whatever he says will accrue to his own personal benefit. In the catalog of known truths, that one leads the table of contents. Such that when Sens. John Edwards and John Kerry began waxing poetic about the gay daughter of Vice President and Mrs. Dick Cheney in response to campaign questions about homosexuality and same-sex marriage, they were not being nice.
Nicolle Devenish, communications director for the Bush-Cheney campaign, said last week that John Kerry will pay a heavy political price for what he did. Lynne Cheney, the vice president's wife, said, "This is a bad man." The crime? John Kerry in the final presidential debate suggested that we are all God's children and used Mary Cheney as an example of a healthy gay person loved by her family.
The 5th Congressional District race features two candidates of impeccable civility and grace. And while the campaign's ads sometimes have slid off into the mud, the candidates themselves have taken the high road in their public appearances. In short, each one could step in and uphold the district's tradition of sending nice people to Washington, D.C. Voters, of course, need more reasons than that. Neither candidate is the incumbent, so seniority on Capitol Hill isn't a factor. The Republicans probably will maintain control of Congress, so if Cathy McMorris were selected, she would be serving with the majority party.
The public opinion polls are as close as lovers on their honeymoon, but in the end they won't matter, because the only poll that counts in this election is cast by members of a college that charges no tuition, and teaches nothing except a lesson in how our government functions. It's easy to sneer at the Electoral College. Critics say that this undemocratic remnant of a bygone era ought to be abolished, and those cries will surely grow louder and more insistent if next month's balloting ends as inconclusively as it did in 2000.
BOSTON – There are moments in Jon Stewart's hilarious send-up of civic textbooks, "America (The Book)," when the truth pops up like a jack-in-the-box. Consider "The Daily Show" comic's take on political campaigns: "Although the skills needed to woo voters are at times diametrically opposed to those necessary to govern them, the expensive and arduous process exists for a reason: to ensure that those who wish to govern are, if not the most qualified our country has to offer, the ones who want it the most."
"No draft! Got it?" That's what Congress appeared to say when it voted down a military draft bill by a resounding 402-2. But the bill wasn't proposed for passage; it was designed to make the political point that if all young men and women could be pressed into service, the country might be less supportive of military actions.
The following editorial, which does not necessarily reflect the views of The Spokesman-Review, appeared Friday in The Los Angeles Times: How can any government be considered effective if it can't provide protection for its citizens against a public health danger as serious and predictable as the flu? That question apparently hasn't occurred to President Bush or Sen. John F. Kerry, who both seemed stumped when asked in Wednesday's debate to explain why the closure of a single plant in Britain had cut America's flu vaccine supply by half.
George W. Bush promised to be "a uniter, not a divider," but today our country is more divided than at any time since the Civil War. George W. Bush entered office with a reputation as a consensus builder; yet, the United States is at odds with some of its longtime allies. George W. Bush was billed as a "compassionate conservative," but health care and housing for the poorest in our nation remain significant challenges. George W. Bush wasn't what we expected when we endorsed him four years ago.
WASHINGTON – It's not true that people in Washington can't agree about anything. Across the policy spectrum, there's a clear recognition that the present path of budget-making is unsustainable – in fact, ruinous. The Concord Coalition, whose leadership includes prominent Republicans, says that with realistic assumptions but no change in policy, the federal debt will swell by a staggering $5 trillion in the next 10 years. The liberal Economic Policy Institute says that a "budget train wreck" lies ahead. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office warns that it looks as if "substantial reductions in the projected growth of spending or a sizable increase in taxes – or both – will probably be necessary" to avoid fiscal disaster.
WASHINGTON – Anthony Fears, principal of Anne Beers Elementary School, should be the kind of school leader who swears by the No Child Left Behind revolution. In each of the last three years, Fears' students have produced marked increases in math scores on the tests that determine whether their school is a success or failure in the eyes of the federal government. Reading scores at Beers have lagged, but Fears is determined to turn that around; this year, he requires every class to spend two hours each morning on reading instruction.
For much of the past few years, Washington state has been one of the top-ranked states in one of the least desirable categories. Unemployment. The state's next governor needs to respond with a clear, targeted program to reverse that unfortunate status. Republican Dino Rossi has demonstrated the necessary resolve, both in his campaign and as a Senate Ways and Means Committee chairman who was instrumental in delivering a budget without raising taxes. The latter feat is especially noteworthy, given the serious revenue shortfalls that have tormented state government.