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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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State’s hodgepodge primary system is ignored – until it’s endangered

OLYMPIA – One casualty of the state’s budget woes could be the 2012 presidential preference primary. It’s on the block in Gov. Chris Gregoire’s budget proposal, and a good fiscal conservative can make the case that these aren’t the times to spend $10 million for a largely symbolic vote.

State political leaders were dragged, kicking and screaming, into the presidential primary in 1989 by an initiative. Since that time, state Democratic officials have done everything they could to ignore the primary, while state Republican officials have partially ignored it.

That is, Democrats have used it to award no convention delegates to presidential candidates and rely solely on the precinct caucus-county convention system. Republicans have sometimes used it to award up to half their presidential delegates and rely on caucuses for the rest.

This creates a unique and confusing system, with the caucuses and primary sometimes separated by a few days, other times by several weeks. There’s always a concern that the primary will get short shrift from the candidates because it’s scheduled too late or on the same day as a dozen other bigger states. State officials talk about setting up a regional primary, but all that ever gets us is … talk.

Instead, Washington faces each presidential season with a system harder for the general public to fathom than college football’s BCS rankings.

After Gregoire proposed axing the presidential primary, one might’ve thought the election was as sacred to state Republicans as Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment.

“Eliminating the presidential primary directly contradicts the will of the people as expressed by Initiative 99 in 1989, and it disenfranchises military voters serving overseas and many other voters,” state GOP Chairman Luke Esser said of Gregoire’s proposal. “The voice of the brave members of the armed forces fighting for freedom in faraway lands will be silenced because they can’t attend a precinct caucus, as will the voices of those who must work during the caucus, who are home-ridden or tending sick children.”

He’s going for a trifecta. Brave soldiers overseas. Disabled adults. Sick kids. Someone more cynical might have wondered why there was no mention of Gregoire’s plans to increase class sizes or suspend teacher raises, which were also the result of “will of the people” initiatives. But truly, one can muster only so much outrage in a single news release.

History may be on Gregoire’s side, even if voter sentiment is not. Faced with budget woes in 2003, along with Democratic recalcitrance and Republican indifference, Gov. Gary Locke got the Legislature to save money by canceling the ’04 presidential primary.

Secretary of State Sam Reed said he will reluctantly propose legislation to suspend the presidential primary for 2012, with hopes that it would be back in 2016. One can only hope that by then the state and the two major parties will have settled on a uniform presidential nominating system that is either a primary or caucuses, not all of one or some of both, depending on which party one best relates to.

Congressional maternity leave cuts into votes

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers was listed as not voting on several of the major pieces of legislation last week, such as the end to the “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule. But she did vote yes on extending tax cuts and unemployment insurance.

That’s because she’s essentially been on an excused absence since her daughter was born Dec. 1, a spokesman said. She did come in briefly on Thursday for the tax-cut legislation, which she considered a historic vote, he said.

Oh. Tannenbaum? No tannenbaum

With relatively little fanfare, and no complaints so far from talk radio or cable news talking heads, Seattle atheists put up a decorated tree on the Capitol campus last week. It’s a nicely shaped fir with ornaments on the boughs, but it is not a Christmas tree, the group says.

It’s a tree of knowledge. The ornaments are mainly pictures of famous scientists, like Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein, or scientific items like a small periodic table of elements. Yep, these atheists really know how to trim a tree.

A photo of the tree and some ornaments can be found on the blog.

Spin Control, a weekly column by political reporter Jim Camden, also appears online with daily items, reader comments, videos – and more seasonal offerings this week – at
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