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Spin Control Files: When Spokane was bipartisan Ground Zero

If ever there was a metaphor for bipartisanship in national politics over the last quarter century, it would be the American elm tree planted 25 years ago this Friday in Riverfront Park.

 The elm from the White House was planted by a Republican president and a Democratic speaker of the House. They didn’t just smile and shake hands stiffly for the cameras but went out to dinner, shared a couple bottles of wine, got up the next morning and planted a tree in a show of bipartisanship.

The concept may seem as quaint today as eight-track tape players and phone booths, but there was a sunny day in 1989 when Spokane was kind of Ground Zero for national bipartisanship. . . 

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, continue inside the blog.

Sunday Spin2: Janet Gilpatrick will be missed

Janet Gilpatrick never held elective office but put her stamp on the politics and governance of Eastern Washington for some 17 years by making sure things got done right for someone who did.

That someone was Tom Foley, the Spokane congressman who rose through the ranks to become speaker of the House. While Foley rose from committee chairman to majority whip to majority leader to speaker, Gilpatrick headed up the staff taking care of business back in Spokane.

To many, she was eyes and ears of Tom Foley in Eastern Washington, meeting with business leaders, school officials, farmers and just about anyone else who had an idea or a request for their congressman when he wasn’t around. When he was, she was the person who made sure he got where he needed to be when he needed to be there, no small trick with a boss who lingered at one event talking to constituents while the time got shorter to get to the next one.

But Gilpatrick was adept at covering the miles between cities and towns in the far reaches of the 5th District at speeds that would impress a NASCAR fan. Ever been stopped for speeding, she was once asked after covering the stretch from Spokane to Pullman in an impressively short time span. Oh yes, she replied. Does having the speaker of the House in the car get you out of a ticket? It might if they were allowed to mention it, she said, but they weren’t, so she would just take the ticket and pay the fine.

She also saved my life — well, kept me on my feet, at least — during the 1988 Democratic National Convention by taking pity on a starving reporter and equally famished newspaper photographer who had wandered into a gala political event for her boss and pointed to a table of fancy food and beverages all but untouched by crowd of politicians who were too busy schmoozing. 

Eat before you collapse, she said. Can't do it, we replied, ethics rules say we can't take anything of value from sources, and that food's definitely of value. It's going to be thrown out in a few minutes, she said, I won't tell anyone if you don't.So she fixed us to-go bags and we worked another eight hours straight covering the convention. She never told anyone because Janet Gilpatrick was a woman of her word.

When campaign season came around, as it did every other summer for Foley, she split her time between the congressional office and the campaign. There were things she could tell a reporter on the record, things off the record, and things she couldn’t tell at all. She was the rarest of political operatives – passionate and knowledgeable about issues and loyal to her boss without ever steering anyone wrong.

She took those talents to a career in public relations after closing up Foley’s office. She’d had some health problems lately and went downhill after her longtime husband Thomas passed away, daughter Annie Gilpatrick said. Her memorial will be May 14 at Hennessey Smith on North Division.

Today is the late Tom Foley’s birthday

You are entitled to your own opinion about his public policy positions.

But I was always awed by one of his more personal accomplishments.

He once lost weight at the same time he gave up smoking.

Sunday Spin: Haunting the Capitol

The U.S. Capitol, arguably the greatest building in the other Washington, sometimes seems at though it is America’s answer to the Vatican, where the business at hand is conducted in surroundings adorned with art and replete with history.

The hallways and staircases of both are rich with artists’ renditions of their particular dogma – biblical scenes in one, historical tableaus in the other. God stretches out a finger to Adam on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel; George Washington ascends to godlike status with female figures of Liberty and Victory on the ceiling of the Rotunda…


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TVW to show Foley service live

TVW will show today's memorial service for former Speaker Tom Foley live on its cable system and on its web site.

The memorial service, which is open to the public, is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. at St. Aloysius Church on Gonzaga University campus. Many of the state's current and former political leaders are scheduled to attend. The school is expecting an overflow crowd, so it will also broadcast the service live on a large screen in Martin Centre.

Mayor David Condon has ordered flags on all city buildings to be flown at half-staff to day in honor of Foley, and will present his widow Heather Foley with a proclamation honoring the former congressman and ambassador.

TVW is on cable channel 25 in Spokane. It will rebroadcast the service next week, including at 7 p.m. Monday

In praise of compromise and civility

President Obama speaks at the memorial service for Tom Foley.

WASHINGTON – In a service that contrasted the state of today’s Congress with the House Tom Foley left nearly two decades ago, past and current leaders extolled the former Spokane speaker’s ability to see another person’s point of view, compromise and get things done.

Republicans as well as Democrats praised the late congressman and ambassador, repeating stories he shared or advice he gave about honoring public service. And one leader who acknowledged he didn’t know Foley personally but admired his reputation said it was time to emulate him.

“Now, more than ever, America needs public servants who are willing to place problem-solving ahead of politics,” President Barack Obama said.

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, continue inside the blog.

Capitol service remembers Spokane speaker

Live coverage of the Foley memorial service at the U.S. Capitol



Obama orders flags at half-staff for Foley

Flags are flying at half staff outside the U.S. Capitol and at federal buildings around the nation today in honor of former Rep. Tom Foley of Spokane.

President Barack Obama ordered the flags lowered Monday for Foley, who served in the House of Representatives for 30 years — five of them as speaker — and as ambassador to Japan.

Obama and former President Bill Clinton are scheduled to attend a memorial service today in the Capitol's Statuary Hall for Foley.

Obama to attend Foley service at Capitol

President Barack Obama will be among current and former leaders attending a memorial service for the late Tom Foley, former House speaker and U.S. ambassador, Tuesday at the U.S. Capitol.

The White House announced this morning that Obama will attend the service in Statuary Hall. Former President Bill Clinton, whose first two years in the White House coincided with Foley's last two as speaker, is also scheduled to attend.

Foley, 84, died last Friday of complications from a stroke. He served for 30 years as the representative from Eastern Washington's 5th Congressional District, the last five as speaker of the House.

The Capitol service is scheduled for 3 p.m. Tuesday. A Spokane memorial service is scheduled for 11 a.m. next Friday at St. Aloysius Church on Gonzaga University campus.


Foley Spokane memorial set for Nov. 1

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A memorial for Tom Foley, former speaker of the House and U.S. ambassador to Japan, will be held at 11 a.m. Nov. 1 at St. Aloysius Church on the Gonzaga University campus.

Foley, a Spokane native who served 30 years in the House, died last Friday in Washington, D.C., of complications of a stroke.

The Spokane service will be the second memorial next week for Foley. A service in Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol is planned for Tuesday afternoon.

The federal shutdown of 1990

Some readers have taken issue with Sunday's column and whether a federal government shutdown ke the one we just experienced would have happened if Tom Foley were speaker.

There was a shutdown, after all, in October 1990, when Foley was speaker, several pointed out in the comments section. So clearly, to some weighing in on the main website, Sunday's column is either deliberately wrong or so misinformed as to be totally discounted for further consideration.

Some take issue mainly with the headline, which does say “never”. Reporters don't write headlines, but it would have been hard to fit a “shutdown like we just saw” in the space alloted. The blog column uses “showdown” which would have been a better noun. The column wasn't designed as a historical look at shutdowns and a point-by-point comparison, but here are a few things to consider:

At the end of September 1990,  Congress and President George H.W. Bush were debating spending cuts and tax increases. They'd been negotiating for several months but hadn't reached a compromise. On Sept. 30, a Sunday, the last day of the fiscal year, the Bush Administration and congressional leadership agreed on a package that would have cut $500 billion over 5 years, raised gasoline and beer taxes, reduced Medicare and farm subsidies. It had detractors from both parties, although Bush publicly suported it and Foley said it was a good compromise even though no one was going to be thrilled with it. Both tried to convince members of their party to vote yes over the next two days, although the more the public learned about the proposal, the more opposition it generated. During this time, the federal government continued to operate.

On Thursday of that week, the House rejected the compromise package on a bipartisan vote. On Friday, Bush said he would shutdown the government over the weekend. Monday of the following week was the Columbus Day holiday, so most federal offices were going to be closed for three days, and the main effects were felt at national parks and monuments.

Negotiators from Congress and the White House worked through the weekend to come up with a new package, which was approved by the House in a bipartisan vote sometime after midnight (Foley said he'd keep the House in session until they voted on the budget compromise and a plan to reopen the government) and passed later that day by the Senate. Federal employees reported for work on Tuesday morning.

So Congressional leadership and the White House agreed to a budget  compromise, it couldn't pass the House, so they worked out another compromise, and it passed. There was no discussion of not raising the debt limit during that dispute.

Whether this sounds remotely like 2013 shutdown is up to you. As the column said, in quoting members of Congress who served with Foley, he and Bush would've gotten together and worked something out. The accounts of 1990 suggests that's what happened back then, a testament not just to Foley but Bush senior, or put another way, a knock against both House Republican leadership and President Barack Obama.

Feel free to weigh in by clicking on Comments.

Sunday Spin: A Foley debt showdown hard to imagine

It's probably just a coincidence that Tom Foley passed away slightly more than a day after the Congress he loved and served so well managed to end the partial government shutdown and spare the nation the ignominy of default.

He'd been sick for months and on hospice care, and his remaining time was being measured in days not months, his wife Heather had said the previous week. Still, the not so practical part of my brain likes to think the former speaker held on just long enough to make sure the House passed a bipartisan bill to do what most folks thought they needed to do all along.

One of Foley's great maxims was that in Congress, the perfect is often the enemy of the good. . .

Foley: state’s last major politician who also was a hunter

HUNTING — The pressure on sportsmen applied by the NRA and other gun rights organizations to “vote their sport” is particularly troubling since in the past 25 years it’s strayed from the big picture of fish, wildlife and habitat conservation to the narrow premise that a candidate is viable only if he has an unblemished record of opposing gun control.

This narrow approach to voting in 1994 helped unseat former Speaker of the House Tom Foley, the last major Washington candidate, I believe, to pose in a duck blind with a shotgun for statewide campaign ads.

Sportsmen are distinguished for being politically savvy, but they got snookered in that election.

RIP Tom Foley.  I hope sportsmen reflect on your service and ability to work with all parties to keep wildlife in the equation.

My Tom Foley scar

Back in 1989, when Rep. Tom Foley was about to become Speaker of the House, my colleague Dan Pelle and I went back to Washington, D.C., to profile the congressman.

One morning, when were about to leave our hotel and head over to the U.S. Capitol, I was looking at some papers as I headed to the elevators. I managed to walk into the corner of a couple of walls. I butted it hard enough to open up a small gash on my forehead right at the hairline.

There was enough blood that I had to summon Dan from the lobby and change my clothes.

A bit later, when Foley studied the band-aids Dan had applied to my forehead, he winced and said something about how it must really smart. I can't remember what I said. I assume I hurried to change the subject.

For many years, I would see a little scar in the mirror and remember spending a couple of days with the congressman. Triggered all sorts of memories.

Soon after hearing the news of his passing this morning, I found myself in the newsroom men's room. I leaned over the sinks and tried hard to find my Tom Foley scar in the mirror.

But it's gone, too.

Former Speaker Tom Foley, 84, RIP

In this Sept. 22, 1993, file photo, President Clinton prepares to outline his plan for health care reform before a joint session of Congress. Vice President Al Gore is above left, and Speaker of the House Tom Foley, D-Wash., right. Foley has died at the age of 84, according to House Democratic aides. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds, file)

Tom Foley, a Spokane native who rose to the highest position in the U.S. House of Representatives – a spot two heartbeats away from president – is dead at 84. Arguably Spokane’s most successful politician, Foley served 30 years in the House representing Eastern Washington’s 5th Congressional District, the last five of them as speaker, before losing both jobs in a historic electoral defeat in 1994. He went on to serve as U.S. ambassador to Japan for President Bill Clinton from 1997 through 2001, was a presidential advisor on foreign policy matters, a principal at a high-powered Washington, D.C., law firm and a member of many directors boards. Tall and in his later years silver-haired, Foley looked like a congressman ordered up from Hollywood’s Central Casting, but he worked his way up through the ranks of House/Jim Camden, SR. More here.


Honoring Tom Foley

H.T. Higgins remembers Tom Foley coming to his parents’ house in the early 1960s, smoking and talking politics for hours with his dad, Hank.

“It was so smoky you could hardly see across the room,” said Higgins, who was then just a young cousin to Foley. His dad and Foley munched on milk and cookies – they weren’t coffee drinkers – fresh from the oven.

H.T. Higgins and his mother, Mary Lou, sat in the front row of the Bing Crosby Theater in downtown Spokane on Wednesday night, its lobby transformed into an exhibit honoring the Eastern Washington Democrat who rose to the highest ranks of Congress during a tenure that spanned seven presidencies. But the overwhelming picture painted during the living tribute to Foley, 84, was of a vivid storyteller, a political straight shooter and a rare beacon of bipartisanship absent in today’s political climate. Kip Hill, SR

When I was a baby Tom Foley came to my parent's house and delivered an baby care book. He autographed. I still have it.

Are there currently any political statesman like Tom Foley serving in Congress?

Bunny plan hints at burdensome bureaucracy

The Washington Post today has a great read about a new federal rule so broad that it requires a Missouri magician who pulls a rabbit out of a hat to write a disaster management plan to explain how he will protect his rabbit in case of emergency.

There's brief mention in the article of Spokane's former U.S. Rep. Tom Foley, former Speaker of the House.

Be sure to read the 28-page disaster plan for Bunny written to satisfy the new rules.

Foley tribute planned for July 24 at Bing

Tom Foley, in 1989, just before being elected speaker of the House. File photo.


Spokane’s longest-serving congressman, Tom Foley, will be the subject of a “living tribute” organized by a pair of local businessmen later this month…



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What’s unusual about this photo?

S-R photo by Sandra Bancroft-Billings

Today's story about assault-weapon bans had this photo from the 1994 campaign of then House Speaker Tom Foley shooting a buffalo rifle at a local shooting range.

It's one of my favorite photos from the campaign, in part because there are two things about Foley that most people might say they'd rarely or never seen before.

One, obviously, is him shooting a buffalo rifle.

What's the other one?

Answer inside the blog.

Had you watched PBS Clinton 2-nighter

You would have seen the onetime Speaker from Spokane, Tom Foley, in this very setting. Except it wasn't Nelson Mandela at the microphone.


He’s back

Oh, wait. Never mind.