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Spin Control: Business leaders compile Top 12 list for candidates

Sun., May 27, 2012

As candidates wander around their respective district, county or state looking for support, it’s up to us the voters to have an idea what to expect from them.

They’re trying to cajole your vote with cheesy pictures in brochures or fancy camerawork in commercials. It’s our job to make them work for that vote with something more than a nice smile or catchy slogan on a billboard.

The assignment for Voter 101 is to figure out what’s important to you and ask the candidate standing at your door or on the podium, “What’s the plan, Stan?”

The Washington Roundtable figured one out recently and released what it calls the “Benchmarks for a Better Washington,” a dozen items it is watching and will ask candidates to address. Considering that the Roundtable is an organization made up of 40 of the state’s top business executives, it’s not surprising that the benchmarks have something to do with business.

They rounded up a wide array of statistics about everything from the condition of roads to the science test scores of eighth-graders and figured out where Washington ranks among the 50 states. For areas where the Evergreen State is more in the red, like low high school graduation rates and bad bridges, they’ll be asking candidates: What will you do to fix it?

“We want to be at least a part of the discussion,” Steve Mullin, the Roundtable president, said recently. They have thoughts on how to address some things like bad roads and dropout rates, but they’re interested in the candidates’ ideas.

One can quibble with the 12 items the Roundtable chose or how well some relate to others. For example, several factors seem to be good for biz, with the state in the top 10 for private-sector job growth and patents granted, and No. 1 for electricity rates. (Thank the feds, their dams and all those decimated salmon runs for that last one.) But it’s in the bottom third for average commute time, business tax burden and bachelor’s degrees awarded, and dead last on workers’ comp benefits paid. (Maybe a good thing if you are an injured worker in need of comp; maybe a bad thing if you’re paying the taxes to support that.)

It would be difficult to come up with an equation that properly weighs each benchmark, then calculates whether the state is, in the Roundtable’s phrase, “a top 10 state for quality of life and innovation.”

But politics isn’t about math. It’s about ideas. And the Roundtable has ideas about what it expects from candidates. If you agree with them, fine; you can read more about them at the group’s website, waroundtable.com.

If you think there are more important things, that’s fine, too. But figure out your benchmarks, do your homework, and hold candidates accountable for your issues.

State to ‘monitor’ gas prices

If your motor is racing because Washington’s gasoline prices are going up while most of the rest of the country’s prices are going down, here’s something that may tach it up further.

A state agency is now in charge of keeping tabs on prices and supplies. Gov. Chris Gregoire on Friday told the state Department of Commerce to “closely monitor Washington state and West Coast supplies and prices.” Spin Control’s crystal ball might predict its first few reports:

Week 1: “Hey, gas is damned expensive.”

Week 2: “Hey, it’s even worse than last week.”

Week 3: “Gas is so expensive we can hardly afford to drive to work. Can we have a raise?”

The department is also charged with “reporting any market concerns to the attorney general’s office.” That’s an interesting idea, but it could get Gregoire in trouble with fellow Democrats. Suppose Commerce tells the AG it thinks there’s something fishy about gas prices this summer and the AG announces a plan to investigate ways to make oil companies lower the prices. And shortly after that, prices come down, which they might just from market forces. The attorney general, Republican Rob McKenna, might be elected governor for life in November.

Gregoire also sent a letter to the refineries in Washington, including BP’s Cherry Point refinery that is thought to be part of the reason prices are going up because a fire earlier this spring forced it to shut down. It’s not what you’d call a “come to Jesus” letter demanding they stop dinking around and open the gasoline spigots. It’s more of a reasoned, “we’re all in this together” sort of missive:

“I urge you to take all prudent measures to increase production and supplies sufficiently to reduce prices for our consumers,” it says in part. A link to the full letter can be found online at the Spin Control blog.

Spin Control, a weekly column by Olympia reporterJim Camden, also appears as a blog with daily items and reader comments at spokesman.com/ spincontrol.


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