Spin Control: Laws on lawmen color initiative campaigns

SUNDAY, OCT. 2, 2011

The campaigns for and against the get-the-state- out-of-the-booze-biz initiative seem in a competition for “first responders” willing to endorse their stance.

It started with the ad by Protect Our Communities, the official name of the No on I-1183 committee, which enlisted a county sheriff, a city police chief and a pair of firefighters to denounce the proposal.

They look earnestly into the camera, sometimes with lights of emergency vehicles flashing in the background, to suggest the proposal is just a few short steps from turning Washington into a perpetual kegger for teens.

Wait a minute, you might say when first seeing the ad. Isn’t the use of government equipment banned from campaigns for or against a candidate or ballot measure?

Yes. But look closely and you’ll see that the vehicles aren’t identifiable as a particular department’s squad car or agency’s ambulance. They’re generic rentals, not actual emergency vehicles.

Public employees aren’t banned by state law from appearing in campaign ads, although there can be a question if the city or county – which is to say its taxpayers – foot the bill for their uniform and they don’t have permission from the boss. Again, look closely and you’ll see the firefighters aren’t in turnout gear. One of the lawmen, Cowlitz County Sheriff Mark Nelson, is in fairly generic brown attire except for the badge. Castle Rock Police Chief Bob Heuer is the only one who appears to be in full uniform.

Everyone in the ad had permission from their department to appear, said Alex Fryer, a spokesman for the no campaign.

The Yes on 1183 campaign has countered with its own lawmen on camera and in mailers seeking contributions. Their rapid response commercial shows a cop getting out of a squad car – again, note that the name of his jurisdiction is obscured by on-screen graphics, and his agency patch isn’t clear although his sergeant stripes are – then administering a breathalyzer to a teen.

Use logic here: Is it more likely that they caught a teen who was both stupid enough to drive drunk and to have the event recorded on film, or that these are actors?

The Yes folks’ recognizable on-camera faces are generally retirees, such as former state Attorney General Ken Eikenberry, who aren’t under any restrictions.

If the campaign goes on long enough, perhaps each side can feature ads with fake cops, like Starsky and Hutch, Ponch and Jon or Crockett and Tubbs. In the end, someone might bring in Sgt. Joe Friday to give us “just the facts.”

Mark two dates for caucuses

Washington’s major political parties have set a date for their precinct caucuses next year. Actually, they’ve set two dates.

Republicans will caucus on March 3 to begin the process of picking delegates for the presidential nomination. That should be early enough that the nominee is still in doubt, although with Florida announcing Friday it will hold its primary on Jan. 31, it’s not as early as it seemed five days ago. Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina are all expected to move their primaries or caucuses ahead of Florida, and other states may jump into February despite the Republican National Committee’s efforts to slow the process.

Washington Democrats, who already know who their nominee will be, are holding their precinct caucuses on April 15, which is a Sunday. No word yet if they’ll be serving brunch.

Holding caucuses on separate days isn’t unprecedented. That happened in 2004, when Democrats had a crowded contest and Republicans already had a nominee.

Redistricting hearing set for Oct. 11

The state Redistricting Commission has a hearing on Oct. 11 to give the public one more chance to weigh in on the proposed redrawing of lines for political districts. Each of the four commissioners submitted maps earlier this month for the 10 congressional districts and 49 legislative districts, and the commission put those maps on its website.

The hearing is in Olympia, but will be broadcast live on TVW and online. The panel will take comments in person, on the phone and via the Internet.

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

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