August 7, 2011 in City

Spin Control: Bill of Rights back, and fight awaits

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Conspicuous by their absence last Monday were leaders of Greater Spokane Incorporated, when the City Council voted to place the latest version of a Community Bill of Rights before voters.

That shouldn’t be taken as a sign the business community is okey-dokey with the ballot measure.

The council had no choice in the matter, as some members made clear. Envision Spokane gathered the necessary signatures to put a charter change on the ballot, and that, pretty much, was that.

Two years ago, there was a bit more done. The council apparently feared the plebeians might somehow be lulled by the salubrious phrase “Bill of Rights” and vote yes, thinking they were reaffirming their freedom of speech or religion or, more importantly, the right to bear arms. The city might then wake up the morning after Election Day to find itself in the throes of a gigantic shift toward Bolshevism.

The council created a couple of “poison pill” ballot measures to preface the Bill of Rights, essentially asking voters if they were really, truly, absolutely sure they’d want these changes so bad that they’d pay higher taxes or cut existing city services.

Just advisory propositions, council members said at the time. Wink. Wink.

There’s still time, if barely, to craft such measures and get them on the ballot, but no apparent movement to do so. It would seem Envision Spokane will get one thing they requested from the council, a “clean up-or-down vote.”

Criticism from the public also was largely muted at the council meeting before the unanimous vote to put it on the ballot. Opponents managed to stick almost exclusively to the topic at hand – whether the measure should be referred to the ballot – without straying into suggestions it was the worst idea for government since the Weimar Republic.

Turns out Greater Spokane Incorporated, the erstwhile Spokane Chamber of Commerce, dislikes this latest iteration only slightly less than the 2009 version. About the only nice thing GSI President Rich Hadley could think to say about it last week was that Envision Spokane had whittled the list of rights from 10 to 4, getting rid of such provisions as guarantees for livable wage jobs and health care.

With sections on neighborhood control over development, protections for the Spokane River, guarantees of collective bargaining and restrictions on corporate rights, the current version still has too many subjects when state law says one subject per ballot measure, Hadley contends. GSI will once again be joining up with the homebuilders, general contractors, Realtors and other business groups in an effort to quash, or squash, the ballot measure in November. They’ll crank up their political action committee, JOBS, in the near future, and argue some of the sections are unnecessary and others unconstitutional.

The one-issue, one-measure argument is an interesting legal one, but a less-convincing political one. Does anyone think that if Envision Spokane had proposed four separate charter changes, gathered signatures for each one in unison, turned them all in, got them counted and forced the council to put four measures on the ballot, that the council or the business community would be any more supportive of them?

Probably not.

This is not to suggest that Spokane automatically votes the way business tells it. The most resounding defeat of a major ballot measure in the last half century was not the 2009 Community Bill of Rights, but the 1982 proposal to create a port district in Spokane. It suffered an 80 percent Hell No vote, compared to the CBR’s 76 percent.

And that was something the business community said was a really great idea.

Drilling down on an issue

Some candidates, particularly novices, have an annoying habit of announcing a vague stand for or against something when they kick off their campaign, and never refining, clarifying or elucidating it later.

Not so with mayoral candidate Barbara Lampert. She came out four-square against varmints when she began her campaign. Her latest campaign literature, a 3.5-by-8.5-inch door insert, brings the issue into sharp focus. Eliminate skunks. Lessen the squirrel population. Eradicate crows. Decrease marmots.

It is possible that Lampert, a perennial candidate who has run for something or another for the last 15 years, knows not to make a rookie mistake.

It’s unlikely, however, she’ll get much support from those who like their furry or feathery friends. Sure, skunks can be smelly, squirrels annoying and crows obnoxious. But marmots? They’re cute.

Spin Control, a weekly column by Olympia Bureau Chief Jim Camden, also appears online with daily items, reader comments and videos at www.spokesman.com/blogs/spincontrol.


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