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Wednesday, June 3, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spin Control: LaHood unable to bridge partisan divide

OLYMPIA – When a federal Cabinet secretary stopped by the Capitol last week, trying to prod the Legislature into action on a big multistate project, he got a warm welcome from Gov. Jay Inslee. Not so much from Senate Republicans.

So what would one expect for a member of a Democratic president’s administration, you might be thinking. Considering it was Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a former Republican congressman, some folks were expecting something a bit more politic.

LaHood was in town to push the Columbia River Crossing, a bridge between Vancouver and Portland that is the most controversial topic in Southwest Washington. Take the heat Spokane’s north-south freeway generated in its earlier days, multiply it by 10 and you might get to the animosity between supporters and opponents of the CRC.

When LaHood and Inslee stopped by the Senate Republican Caucus room to urge them to pass a transportation budget with money for the bridge, and thus allow the state to get its hands on lots of federal money, he was, to put it mildly, rebuffed by opponents like Sen. Don Benton, of Vancouver … while someone was videotaping the exchange.

Later that day, Inslee and LaHood held a news conference in the governor’s conference room to make a public appeal for the Legislature to vote for money for the bridge. As soon as they left, Benton emerged from the back of the room to hold a counter news conference to say that it shouldn’t. The senator’s office later circulated a press release exclaiming he had “schooled” LaHood on the bridge and declared the score “Benton 1, transportation secretary 0.” The caucus sent out a link to a YouTube clip of their discussion in the caucus room.

This appalled Senate Democrats, who thought a Cabinet secretary should be treated with greater respect and shouldn’t have his conversations taped without his permission. Senate Republicans promptly took the video clip off YouTube. Majority Leader Rodney Tom, of Medina, later told the Seattle Times it had been inadvertently posted. How it could be edited with an intro, sent to YouTube, a link created and connected to a tweet isn’t immediately clear. But they didn’t pull down the video before Democratic staff had captured and saved it, obligingly reposting it for anyone wondering what all the fuss was about.

LaHood got a letter of apology from Senate Democrats for his reception by Senate Republicans. Inslee got a letter from the Republican-dominated Majority Caucus asking for a formal investigation of CRC contracts and spending.

A vote on the state’s transportation budget, which would contain the bridge funding, has yet to be scheduled.

Electoral College pay raise

The Legislature decided to bring the state’s Electoral College remuneration into the 21st century – skipping completely the 20th – by raising both the pay and the mileage reimbursement electors will receive in 2016.

Last December, when Washington’s Electoral College met at the Capitol to cast votes for the state’s choice for president, the 14 members received $5 a day and 10 cents a mile, a rate set in 1891.

The bill headed for the governor will up that to the standard rate state officials get when they’re on the road. Right now, that inflation-adjusted rate is $77 for lodging, $46 for food and 56.5 cents for mileage.

There was a move to scale that back a bit, to $25 a day and 50 cents a mile. Interestingly enough, it came from the only member of the chamber who has actually been an elector: Sen. Mike Padden. The rate should come up a bit, the Spokane Valley Republican argued, but the position is mainly an honor that doesn’t need such a significant bump. There’s no shortage of people seeking the job of elector at state party elections in presidential years, he said.

Padden may someday be a Final Jeopardy question, if the category is Electoral College and the answer is “He was the first elector to cast a vote for Ronald Reagan.”

As an elector in 1976, when Washington voters went for Gerald Ford, who finished ahead of Reagan in that year’s nomination process. But the nation went for Jimmy Carter, so when Padden went to Olympia, he voted for Reagan, giving the former California governor one Electoral College vote four years before he routed Carter. And allowing Padden to say he was just ahead of his time.

Spin Control, a weekly column by Olympia reporter Jim Camden, also appears online with daily items and reader comments at spincontrol. A link to the LaHood video can be found there.

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