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WA Lege SpeSess: GOP senators send fan mail to McKenna

OLYMPIA — Most of the country may keep in touch with e-mail and texting, but Attorney General Rob McKenna needs to  keep his letter opener handy for a while. He’s getting messages the old fashioned way, in letters..

His latest pen pals are the 16 Senate Republicans, who Thursday announced that they were sending a him nice letter to him for joining the lawsuit against the federal health care mandates. According to the recently issued press release, they told him:

“Our caucus has long sought to ensure all Washingtonians have access to high-quality, affordable health care while maintaining our commitments to the vulnerable, working poor and elderly. Over the years we have introduced legislation to accomplish this goal,” the letter stated. 
“We believe that the future of our government ‘of the people and by the people’ is in peril when any group sees fit to suspend the constitution and laws in service of their own agenda. …It is vital that our courts address these fundamental constitutional concerns prior to the full implementation of the legislation. We are convinced that a legally sound approach to health reform will be more successful and will better serve our fellow citizens over the long term.”

They also mentioned several pieces of legislation that various Republicans introduced to block federal health care reform mandates in Washington. None of the bills got a hearing or a vote, but they are on the books.

This press release comes just a few  hours after a pair of legislative Democrats, Sen. Karen Fraser and Rep. Eileen Cody, said pretty much the opposite, that federal health care reform is both constitutional and important for the state’s ability to maintain the Basic Health Plan, is constitutional, and should not be challenged by McKenna. They said they were sending  him a letter asking him to drop out of the case.

Earlier in the week, Senate Majority Leader LIsa Brown also sent him a letter with pretty much the same message.

McKenna v. health care reform, Part 2

OLYMPIA — So the day after Attorney General Rob McKenna announced he was joining the lawsuit to challenge federal health care reform, things got ramped up a few notches.

President Obama signed the bill, and Vice President Joe Biden weighed in that this was a BFD.

McKenna didn’t personally answer most media inquiries about his decision, but his staff posted FAQs on the AG Web site and he did do an interview with KING-TV.

Gov. Chris Gregoire repeated her criticism of McKenna’s decision, both at an afternoon press conference and in a separate KING-TV session.

The Washington Policy Center, a conservative think tank, released a review of health care reform that contends it would hurt Washington residents.

State Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, said he was introducing a bill to keep federal health care mandates from taking effect in Washington, and directing the attorney general to sue to enforce them.(Interesting, considering Benton, who is running against U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, has not been in Olympia for the special session.)

U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Eastern Washington, came out in support of fellow Republican McKenna. So did state Sens. Janea Holmquist, R-Moses Lake, and Val Stevens, R-Arlington, who mentioned they had introduced earlier in the session a bill that would keep federal health care mandates from taking effect in Washington. (But doesn’t require an AG to enforce that, like Benton’s bill does. Their bill got no hearing, and no vote in the regular session, but was resurrected for the special session.)

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, sent McKenna a letter asking him to reconsider, and called Benton’s legislation “more theatrics than substance” and said it has “zero chance” of passing in the special session, which is mainly relegated to the budget. The Legislature is at recess until Thursday, so Republicans have a bit of time to strategize a way to try to bring it up, if they are so inclined. (And no, recess for legislators does not include kickball and snacks.)

The Washington State Labor Council asked him to drop the lawsuit. (Yeah, organized labor telling a GOP attorney general to do something…that’ll do it.)

The State Democratic Party filed a public records request for any correspondence or other documents involving McKenna’s decision to join the lawsuit, saying the public has a right to know if he was doing this on behalf of the National Republican Party or the insurance industry.

And with that, you’re pretty much fully briefed. Go inside the blog to see the details, watch some dueling video of the gov and AG, or leave a comment.

McKenna v. health care reform

OLYMPIA—Things were happening so fast and furious Tuesday with Attorney General Rob McKenna’s opting in to a lawsuit against federal health care reform that not everything could fit into this morning’s print edition story.

Based on the number of comments these stories are generating, there may be some appetite for more information. We’re more than happy to oblige.

So here’s a recap:

McKenna announced on Monday he was joining other states in challenging the health care reform that passed on Sunday and was being signed on Tuesday. He was out of town in the morning, and his office couldn’t confirm it until 1 p.m.

Gov. Chris Gregoire said at 1:30 p.m. Monday that McKenna hadn’t consulted with her about filing a lawsuit, and she thought he was getting in on the wrong side of the fight because Washington stands to benefit from health care reform. Her office issued a statement a few hours later.

Several other Democrats weighed in that afternoon and evening, including State Democratic Chairman Dwight Pelz, Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler, and U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee. Jumping in on behalf of McKenna was Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley. (Yes, Shea’s political affiliation was incorrect in Tuesday morning’s story. We apologize to members of both parties who were incensed, and thank them for reading all the way to the bottom of the story.)

Go inside the blog to read full texts of these statements. Tuesday recap continues above.

Gregoire slams McKenna for joining suit against health care reform

OLYMPIA — Washington’s Republican attorney general will join other states in a lawsuit against the federal health care reform plan, a move its Democratic governor denounced as “not representing the people of this state.”

Attorney General Rob McKenna said Monday afternoon he would join a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the health care reform package passed Sunday by Congress and soon to be signed by President Obama. His was a rare discordant voice as other state officials praised the legislation as good for Washington and its troubled budget.

“I believe this new federal health care measure unconstitutionally imposes new requirements on our state and on its citizens,” McKenna said in a statement released by his office about 1 p.m. “This unprecedented federal mandate, requiring all Washingtonians to purchase health insurance, violates the Commerce Clause and the 10th amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”

The 10th Amendment says powers not listed in the Constitution, or prohibited for the states, are left to the states and the people. That amendment is the one most often cited by proponents of greater sovereignty by the states, on everything from health care reform to gun rights to tax collection.

The bill places “an extraordinary burden” on the state budget by expanding its Medicaid eligibility standards, he said in the press release.

An hour later, a visibly irate Gov. Chris Gregoire said she “totally disagrees” with McKenna’s decision, which she didn’t know about until reading a news account. She said she then called him to discuss it.

“I don’t know who he’s representing,” Gregoire said. McKenna is not representing her, the people who will be added to the state’s Basic Health Plan because or the doctors and hospitals who will have larger Medicare reimbursement payments because of the new federal plan.

The attorney general’s office may need to assign an attorney to represent her “because I totally oppose what he’s doing.”

To read more on state officials reaction to the health care reform bill’s passage, click here go inside the blog

State to fight felon vote ruling

State Attorney General Rob McKenna says he’ll take Tuesday’s ruling that felons in prison have a right to vote up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

McKenna, Gov. Chris Gregoire and Secretary of State Sam Reed all said Wednesday they opposed the decision, handed down Tuesday in a 2-1 ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Gregoire told reporters she’d back whichever route McKenna wants to take, whether it was a review by the 9th Circuit “en banc” or up to the Supremes.

“I think that case is not done,” Gregoire said during a presentation to reporters gathered for a legislative preview. “When you violate laws in the state, you lose your civil rights.

The state changed its laws last year to make it easier for felons to have their voting rights restored after they’ve served their time in prison and on parole. But the ruling by the appeals court would allow inmates in prison to cast ballots.

McKenna takes on DirecTV

Customers of the nation’s largest satellite television service are being lured into long contracts they don’t understand with fees they don’t know they must pay, Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna contends.

A spokesman for DirecTV said the company is “disappointed” the suit was filed but predicted it won’t stand up in court.

In a lawsuit filed Monday in King County Superior Court, McKenna accused DirecTV of violating the state’s Consumer Protection law by hiding details of their “one-sided” subscription contracts in the small print of advertising, misusing the term free when describing some services and improperly keeping money from deposits required of some customers.

One Ref 71 impact lives on

By late last week one question surrounding Referendum 71 was settled: The measure passed and the “everything but marriage” statutes go into effect for the whole state, after it was approved handily in most Puget Sound counties and hammered pretty badly elsewhere.

That’s really just the quick question the ballot measure generated. The longer one, which would have survived regardless of the vote count, has political operatives watching closely, legal scholars salivating – and may give legislators something to do in coming years besides sweating  the state’s declining finances.

The question: Are the signatures on R-71 petitions  – or any other statewide ballot measure – public?

The water wars: Franklin County farmers sue over large feedlot’s water demand…

Local farmers today filed a lawsuit against a large-scale feedlot in Franklin County, saying that the cattle operation could use hundreds of thousands of gallons of groundwater a day in one of the driest areas of the state.

The case could mushroom into more than just a Franklin County water fight. A critical change in water law came when Attorney General Rob McKenna — widely assumed to be a future candidate for governor — issued a controversial opinion in 2005. Wells for watering livestock have for decades been exempt from many water regulations, but the state Department of Ecology had long said that such wells are limited to pumping 5,000 gallons a day. In response to a query from Sen. Bob Morton, R-Kettle Falls and then-Rep. (now Sen.) Janea Holmquist, R-Moses Lake, McKenna, however, said that Ecology didn’t have the right to automatically limit such wells to 5,000 gallons. (McKenna also, however, noted that Ecology could step in and impose limits on any water withdrawal in critical problem areas. He also pointed out that lawmakers can modify water law however they wish.)

Now, according to the Spokane-basede Center for Environmental Law and Policy, Easterday Ranches Inc. wants to build a feedlot for up to 30,000 head of cattle, using the stock-watering exemption to pump up to 600,000 gallons a day.

“after over 100 years of conservative farming on some of the driest land in Washington, our lives and our livelihoods are in jeopardy from this huge industrial feedlot,” dryland wheat farmer Scott Collin said in a press release announcing the lawsuit today.

(The full text of the press release is below, after the jump.)

McKenna: Economy a bipartisan mess

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Rob McKenna / 2012 election
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Rob McKenna / deregulation

The crisis in the financial markets is a “bipartisan mess” involving both of Barack Obama’s immediate predecessors, Congresses over the past 10 years and people who thought housing prices would always go up, Washington’s attorney general said Thursday.

Rob McKenna told the Washington Realtors Conference that different people spotted parts of the problems in recent years. He and the Iowa attorney general tried in 2006 to get tighter regulations and prevent fraud in the subprime loans process, and several states made attempts at consumer protection.

But the economic crisis was the result of “a confluence of events,” he said, including an economic boom fueled by debt, lenders losing their connection with borrowers and home buyers being enticed by unaffordable mortgages.

“I didn’t see the whole picture. None of us did,” McKenna said. “No one predicted foreclosure begets foreclosure.”

A new round of an old fight: water dispute pits cattle industry against environmental groups…

Environmentalists and cattlemen clashed Thursday over a decades-old law that allows largely unlimited pumping from wells – with no permit – as long as the water is used for livestock.

To ranchers, that’s a common-sense exception that helps agriculture and dates back many decades.

To environmental groups and some Indian tribes, it’s a glaring loophole that’s being wrongly applied to industrial-scale feedlots.

“We don’t have water left to be giving away exempt water rights in large quantities,” Spokane environmental attorney Rachael Paschal Osborn told state lawmakers Thursday. If the Legislature wants to encourage the cattle industry and feedlots, she said, “they can go out and buy a water right just like everyone else in this state.”

From the notebook…

“At this very moment, we’re not losing anybody, because where would you go?”
          -Attorney General Rob McKenna, telling a state salary commission that he’d like to pay his lawyers more, but that the recession has curtailed turnover for now.

“I’ve never been flipped off more times in my life.”
          -new state Rep. Kevin Parker, R-Spokane, recalling what it was like to stand at an intersection waving signs during the campaign.

Roundup: Lisa Brown for governor? and bleak news about two state reps and a hardworking blog…

-In a discussion of the significance of an anti-Building-Industry-Association-of-Washington-button at a Democratic fundraiser, horsesass.org writer Josh Feit offhandedly mentions Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown and Congressman Jay Inslee as gubernatorial candidates in 2012. Writes Feit: “I was talking to a Democratic state Senator about the 2012 governor’s race. We were handicapping state Senator Lisa Brown’s (D-3, Spokane) chances vs. U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee’s chances, in what’s likely to be a bruising primary between the two anticipated candidates. And could either one beat GOP media darling, AG Rob McKenna?” -Rep. Steve Hailey, R-Mesa, is stepping down in January, citing weakness from cancer treatments. Elected in 2006, Hailey was just starting his second session this year when he was diagnosed with colon cancer. He spent most of the session at home, trying to keep up with legislative work in between chemotherapy. Hailey. 63, last week wrote to Gov. Chris Gregoire, saying “My health is such that I cannot represent the interests of my constituents in the fashion they deserve.” It’s increasingly difficult, the third-generation farmer and rancher said, to summon the physical strength to keep up with the demands of being a lawmaker. He said the treatment has been “tough but tolerable” and said he’s determined to beat the disease. “He leaves office with the same class and dignity in which he served,” said Rep. Joe Schmick, who also represents the mostly-Palouse 9th district. “I would ask that people keep Steve and his family in their thoughts and prayers.” -Politicker.wa has stopped updating its posts since last week and is apparently shutting down after a promising run as a one-stop, all-politics website. Olympian political editor Brad Shannon wrote: “Blogger Bryan Bissell at politickerwa.com just posted an item today, titled Goodbye, and Good Luck, saying he has lost his job. The Tacoma native said parent company politicker.com pulled the plug. The online news service was serving 20 states but is down to five, and the cuts came as a surprise, Bissell told me.” That farewell post has since disappeared from Politickerwa’s website. -Longtime Eastern Washington state Rep. Bill Grant, D-Walla Walla, has been diagnosed with a rare form of lung cancer. In an announcement to fellow lawmakers, Grant said that a lung biopsy in Seattle revealed the cancer and that he’d returned home to discuss treatment options. Note: We’re still working some of the kinks out of this new blogging platform, which is why the links in the above post aren’t showing up properly. Working on this…Also, I have no idea why Brown’s name is lower-cased in the tags. No slight intended. RR