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O holiday tree. O holiday tree.

OLYMPIA — Volunteer state workers hoisted the Association of Washington Business Holiday Kids’ Tree onto its stand in the middle of the  Rotunda this afternoon after decorating the top half of the 34-foot noble fir.

Note that the tannenbaum, donated by Winkleworld's Tree Farm in Olympia, is officially a Holiday tree, not a Christmas tree. And it has been since long before some conservative talk show hosts went looking for battles to fight  in the alleged War on Christmas. That's what the AWB has called it since about 1990, and it's the collection of donated presents and cash is their gig.

About a decade ago, then-Rep. John Ahern, R-Spokane, tried to get it renamed to a Christmas tree, lobbying then-Gov. Chris Gregoire to make the change. To which she replied, it ain't her tree to rename. AWB stuck with the name, despite appeals from Ahern and a group called SavingChristmas.com. 

The Holiday Tree remains. Ahern retired and the website has been taken over to promote a movie starring Kirk Cameron that it says will "put the Christ back in Christmas."

The tree is so tall that volunteers decorated the top half before crews pulling on ropes from the third floor balconies pulled it upright and guided it into its stand, which sits atop the covered state seal in the middle of the Rotunda.

A tree-lighting ceremony is scheduled for Friday evening.  Toys and money collected by AWB members will be donated to 15 rural fire departments later this month Volunteers from state offices hoisted the Association of Washington Business 

Post debate: AWB endorses McKenna, Dunn

In a move that may shock no one, the Association of Washington Business endorsed Republicans Rob McKenna for governor and Reagan Dunn for state attorney general.

The business group, which functions as the state's Chamber of Commerce, co-hosted debates in Spokane Wednesday for both offices with McKenna facing off against Democrat Jay Inslee for the first time and Dunn against Democrat Bob Ferguson.

The AWB board determined that "McKenna is the best candidate to lead our state to better times" and Dunn is "the best candidate to represent business interests" in the AG's office.

It probably didn't hurt that McKenna discussed his support for charter schools, which Inslee opposes, and the AWB came out in favor of an initiative that is gathering signatures to put a charter school proposal on the November ballot.

The AWB generally endorses Republicans for the state's chief executive. But it didn't just endorse GOP candidates today. It endorsed Democrat Jim McIntire for state treasurer.

McIntire, it should be noted, is running unopposed.

Sunday Spin: Gov campaign heads for Spokane

Spokane will be in the political limelight Tuesday as Washington’s first gubernatorial debate of the season takes the stage at the Bing Crosby Theater.

The Association of Washington Business and Greater Spokane Incorporated are co-hosting the premier head-to-head between Republican Rob McKenna and Democrat Jay Inslee at 3:30 p.m., the second debate on a two-event card. Two guys who want McKenna’s current job of state attorney general, Republican Reagan Dunn and Democrat Bob Ferguson, are the warm-up debate at 2 p.m.

Usually the AWB waits until the field is winnowed to two by the primary, but this year they wanted a draw for their quarterly meeting in Spokane. Of the seven other gubernatorial hopefuls, the only person who has a semi-legitimate complaint of being shut out is Shahram Hadian, a Republican from Mill Creek who has a full-fledged if underfunded campaign but the misfortune not to be the person his party thinks can put them back in the governor’s mansion for the first time since 1984.

The two business groups have given away all their tickets for the debates, but the four campaigns each got 100 tickets and might have some left, AWB spokeswoman Jocelyn McCabe said.

The Inslee campaign scheduled a debate watch party at the Saranac Public House, 21 W. Main Ave., and Republicans will likely have one, too, although at press time they hadn’t picked a venue. Check with them early this week at (509) 838-6162.

Or watch from home or other favorite location on TVW, which will carry both forums live, with several political reporters offering insightful comments before and after the debates – and me trying not to say anything too embarrassing.

The debate has been an ongoing source of political fodder for months. .  .

To read the rest of this post, or to comment, go inside the blog

Inslee campaign complains about AWB donor

OLYMPIA — The campaign for Jay Inslee said it was concerned about a big donation an oil company gave to the sponsor of next week's gubernatorial debate in Spokane. But the Association of Washington Business said he needn't be.

The $100,000 isn't for use in the governor's race. It's dedicated to an initiative campaign that would try to keep the two-thirds supermajority requirement on all tax votes the Legislature might want to take for at least the first two years of the next governor's term, the AWB says.

AWB got the money from the Tesoro Company, which is the company that operates a refinery in Western Washington as well as gas stations around the state. The refinery was the site of a fire in 2010 that killed seven workers, the Inslee campaign said. The company also gave $1,600 to the campaign of his opponent, Republican Rob McKenna.

"As you can imagine, accepting $100,000 from a major oil company openly supporting Mr. McKenna leaves the impression that the money is intended for eventual use on behalf of Mr. McKenna and against Jay Inslee," Campaign Manager Joby Shimomura wrote. "This raises serious concerns for us, and we imagine it will raise concerns for many viewers and voters as well."

To make sure the public considers everything is fair in next Tuesday's debate, which AWB is co-sponsoring with Greater Spokane Inc., the business organization should give the money back.

Not going to happen, AWB says. The money from Tesoro isn't going to candidates. It was a pass-through, coming in to AWB and out to the Initiative 1185 campaign, as Tesoro and several other big money donors requested.

"None of these funds were allocated toward any candidates. Our PDC filings indicate as much," Don Brunell, president of AWB wrote back. "Moreover, we are not in a position to dictate where our members choose to donate their own political funds. We only control those funds given to us, and in this case, they were received and then transmitted to the I-1185 campaign for the purposes of signature gathering."

To be fair, the PDC records, some of which were filed by AWB the same day the Inslee campaign sent its letter, aren't crystal clear on this. Tesoro money came in on April 24 and was part of a total of $185,000 reported to the PDC on May 15 as earmarked for I-1185, although nothing was said about signature gathering on that report.

No such amount shows up on the I-1185 campaign reports, and AWB's Tuesday filing doesn't mention the initative, it says it paid the $185,000 to Citizen Solutions, a signature gathering firm, but doesn't say for what. The I-1185 campaign, which does use Citizen Solutions, has yet to report the $185,000 as an in-kind contributions.

But Brunell has a point. AWB couldn't spend that kind of money on McKenna, or any other candidate. The only place where a PAC can dump six figures is in an initative campaign.

Taken a step farther, if some company wants to give AWB $100,000 to pass along to an initiative campaign, who is AWB to say "no way, Jose"? People who don't like this kind of money maneuver should take it up with the Legislature, not the poor PACs.

Brunell added the business group is "pleased to know that Mr. Inslee remains committed to our debate … and look forward to hearing him articulate his ideas about the key issues facing our state."

Just as Inslee's letter could be seen as lobbing a few shells before the big battle, that line from Brunell could be seen as just the tiniest dig, because AWB and the Inslee campaign had a minor dust up over the debate scheduling earlier this year that almost led to the organization giving the stage to McKenna, solo.

But maybe it was just a heartfelt, "see you in Spokane."

That debate, and a head-to-head for the two main attorney general candidates, occurs Tuesday afternoon at The Bing. They will also be televised live on TVW.

Gregoire: No special session before November

Gov. Chris Gregoire at the Suncadia Lodge.

CLE ELUM — Washington's economic outlook is so much more likely to get worse in the next two months that Gov. Chris Gregoire said she won't call the Legislature into a special session until November.

"It would be premature for me to call them back before the next forecast. They need to know how large the problem is," Gregoire said.

Speaking to the annual "policy summit" of the Association of Washington Business, Gregoire said the state's chief economist has told her it's about four times more likely the state's revenue outlook will be worse for his November forecast than it was last week. That's when he said the state can expect a drop of about $1.4 billion from the amount the Legislature expected when it wrote the 2011-13 general fund budget.

Before last week's forecast, Gregoire told state agencies to prepare plans to cut 5 percent and 10 percent from their current appropriations. But Chief Economist Arun Raha's forecast last week essentially blew those apart.

"Neither of those would be enough," she said.

The asssociation, which represents businesses throughout the state, is holding its annual conference at the Suncadia Lodge, a golf, winery and lodging complex on the eastern slope of the Cascades. Advocates for higher taxes on businesses are massed at the entrance, demanding an end to tax preferences — they use the term loopholes — for businesses rather than another "all cuts" budget.

Gregoire didn't mention a tax preferences of a tax hike in her talk to the business leaders, and none asked her about them in the brief question and answer session after her speech. But she left open the prospect that the state would consider some, urging the crowd "everything is on the table" — presumably taxes as well as cuts.

"I'm asking you… not to draw lines in the sand," she said.

Terre’Blanche’s funeral in South Africa…

Good morning, Netizens…

[Photo: AP]

Mourners give the Nazi salute as a hearse containing the body of slain white supremacist leader Eugene Terre’Blanche drives by in South Africa yesterday. The South African white supremacist was buried on Friday, six days after being hacked to death by two black farm workers.

In South Africa, until his death, Terre’Blanche was the founder and leader of the AWB (Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging) which, in English is Afrikaner Resistance Movement, a separatist neo-Nazi organization dedicated to the creation of an independent Boer-Africaner organization. According to several sources, 7% of South Africa still supports this separatist organization.

Although the AWB proclaims they are not practicing racial hatred, this picture is indeed troubling.

Does this picture, with the Nazi salutes and liberal use of the Swastika on the flag of the AWB have implications in the United States?


State’s biggest business group to lawmakers: Step away from the $4 billion unemployment trust fund…

As lawmakers plan to tap the state’s $4 billion unemployment insurance trust fund, the state’s biggest business group is trying to stop the train.

In a letter to Gov. Chris Gregoire recently, Association of Washington Business President Don Brunell said nobody knows how bad unemployment is going to get, and that tapping the money for things other than unemployment checks “is a risk not worth taking.”

Democratic legislative leaders say the fund is the healthiest in the nation. They’ve said they’d like to dip into it to boost benefits, perhaps $45 a week. That would cost about $200 million over the next two years. AWB objects to this, spokeswoman Jocelyn McCabe said, for fear of draining the fund faster than it should be in tough times.

Lawmakers have also floated the idea of using another $200 million from the fund to pay for a new tax break for businesses, or of using some of the money for job training. AWB thinks that, too, is a bad idea.

According to Brunell, Washington businesses pay the second-highest unemployment rates in America: $637 per worker, compared to a national average of $281. He also points to California, which is trying to borrow money to replenish its dwindling unemployment coffers.

“Other states are in similarly dire circumstances,” Brunell wrote. “We do not want to join them.”