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Watching West Side politics with an East Sider’s outlook

OLYMPIA – For many years, the last leg of my commute to work included a walk across the Monroe Street Bridge into downtown, reminding me of some things I like best about Spokane.

The river below, which rushes so fast in spring that the mist rises above the bridge, and the banks below that are green in the summer and golden in the fall. Riverfront Park is on the left, and Peaceful Valley on the right. The downtown in front has interesting buildings like an art deco City Hall, and a few strange ones, including the one where I work, which is topped by a witch’s hat strung with Christmas lights.

I started making that walk more than 28 years ago as a beginning reporter saving money for a baby on the way, because one can park on Ide Street for free. I kept making it, not just because I’m thrifty (or cheap, as my two kids might say) but because it could jump-start a day covering government and politics around Spokane.

The people along that route – store clerks and office workers also heading for jobs, the Spokane Club crowd rushing to work after workouts, the homeless standing at the south end of the bridge with hand-lettered cardboard signs – are the ones affected by the government officials and the politicians I cover.

For more than a quarter- century, it’s been my job to tell Spokesman-Review readers what their politicians were doing for them or to them. The list of characters is long and pretty colorful, such as the county commissioner who hopped out a courthouse window to avoid a press conference. Many of the issues have been serious, although a few were delightfully bizarre, like the suggestion Eastern Washington should form its own state or that Barack Obama’s birth certificate is phony.

A few months ago, I offered to trade some of those politicians for another set about 300 miles west. The Spokesman-Review had an opening at its Olympia Bureau that seemed like a good fit for me and my family, with both adult “kids” living in Seattle.

It was a hard choice, because I love many things about Spokane, from its parks and river to the quirky voters who are averse to fluoride, the B&O tax and re-electing mayors. My two kids were born and raised here. We made friends with people we met at ballet lessons, on the sidelines of youth soccer or Little League baseball, in the classrooms of District 81 schools.

I’m guilty of still saying District 81 rather than “Spokane Public Schools” and sometimes even WWP instead of Avista. I’ll always say Whoops instead of Energy Northwest.

That the paper is even filling the spot shows a commitment to covering news we believe matters. The full-time Capitol press corps is down from about 20 in 2005 to eight right now. With the closure of the Seattle P-I and cutbacks at other papers, there’s no shortage of unemployed journalists in the Puget Sound region; we could have hired a stringer to cover the upcoming session and left the office dark the rest of the year.

But even if that reporter knew Spokane doesn’t rhyme with cocaine, odds are he or she would have understood Seattle much better. For years, we’ve worked to make sure our Olympia coverage is tailored to an East Side audience, and when we say East Side we don’t mean Bellevue and the ’burbs on the other side of Lake Washington.

The upcoming legislative session could be one of the most contentious in a generation, and when the honorables blow Dodge after 60 days, the rest of state government will be left to make sense of what they wrought.

You deserve a reporter who knows not just that a river runs through Spokane but that the river has significant challenges for local, state and federal governments to address. One who knows that the North-South Freeway has been discussed so long that its name changed to the North Spokane Corridor; that Colfax is south, Colville is north and the first syllables of those towns are pronounced differently; that Hanford is upwind and the Silver Valley is upriver; that central Spokane is Democratic, the Valley is Republican, and there’s not much anyone can do about that. And lots of other things readers can call or write to remind me if I seem to forget, because I’m keeping this column, my e-mail address and a Spokane cell phone number.

Like me, I know many of our readers are, um, thrifty and won’t want to call long-distance to tell me what they think I should already know.

So now my daily commute involves a drive along the end of the Puget Sound where Olympia sits and a jog past the Capitol. It’s a nice drive, but I miss that walk across the bridge.

Spin Control is a weekly column by political reporter Jim Camden, who can be reached at jimc@spokesman.com and (509) 879-7461. It also appears online at www.spokesman.com/ blogs/spincontrol with daily posts, reader comments and other extras.

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