Spin Control: Right-to-work weird for Washington

SUNDAY, NOV. 17, 2013

Somewhere in the great beyond, James “Big Jim” Farley is having a good day.

The former Tammany Hall boss and political strategist for Franklin Delano Roosevelt may have been pulled out of a celestial poker game late last week when word drifted heavenward about a news release from state Sen. Mike Baumgartner. The Spokane Republican came up with a solution to the fix Washington could find itself in after Boeing’s union machinists voted down a contract extension that would have guaranteed the 777X be built in the state.

Call a special session to turn Washington into a “right-to-work” state, Baumgartner said.

Such a suggestion must’ve made Farley spit out his cigar, if smoking is allowed in whatever suburb of the afterlife old pols inhabit.

Farley, after all, supposedly described America of the Great Depression as “47 states and the soviet of Washington” in deference to its left-wing politics and the strength of its unions. The story may be apocryphal: Farley denied ever making such a statement, but it’s attributed to him in countless books. No matter. The staying power of the description may be a testament to its accuracy, and a person can own worse quotes after passing to their eternal reward.

What has the Evergreen State come to, Farley must be wondering, if a politician – even a Republican from Spokane – could issue a news release about making union membership and dues voluntary?

Baumgartner defended the idea by saying that Michigan, once a bastion of organized labor, has become right-to-work and many states that will be sending Boeing love letters now have such laws on the books. It should be noted, however, that one of the states Boeing reportedly is considering – California – definitely is not.

Reaction from Gov. Jay Inslee’s office was, in a word, dismissive. Right-to-work legislation has come up in past sessions and gone exactly nowhere, Inslee spokesman David Postman said. Boeing never mentioned right-to-work in any of its discussions with Inslee on things it wanted in exchange for a promise to build the next generation of its wide-body jet in the Puget Sound.

Inslee wasn’t going to call a special session for such a bill, Postman said. But if a special session gets called for a transportation package, Baumgartner and other legislators are pretty much free to introduce whatever they want.

That drew an outraged news release from Baumgartner, accusing the governor who 10 days earlier had called a special session for Boeing of a “persistent lack of leadership” in making Washington more attractive to businesses and saving jobs. The governor’s afraid to stand up to unions, some of which are his donors, the senator contended.

Democrat Rich Cowan, a Spokane businessman planning to run against Baumgartner next year, accused the incumbent of grandstanding. A right-to-work bill was introduced earlier this year, Cowan said. It got no hearing and collected only one sponsor: Baumgartner.

To be fair, Baumgartner didn’t introduce his bill until the start of the first special session, during which almost nothing got a hearing. It languishes until legislators return, either for yet another special session or for next year’s regular session, when it might get resuscitated or reintroduced. Or further ignored.

Cowan also recalled that during the late, great special session for Boeing, Baumgartner was a critic of the process that bred hurry-up legislation. “And now he wants his own special session?”

So, to review, a Democratic challenger is criticizing an incumbent Republican who is criticizing a Democratic governor over an idea that is completely out of step with the state’s history and political landscape and has prospects of coming to fruition that might be measured in negative numbers.

For Big Jim Farley, things probably don’t get any more entertaining.

Spin Control, a weekly column by political reporter Jim Camden, also appears as a blog with daily items and reader comments at

There are four comments on this story »