The session started at noon Monday, and the Senate Law and Justice Committee had Corrections Secretary Dan Pacholke at the witness table 90 minutes later, trying to get the 411 on the department’s computer problem and determine whether it was, in military terms, merely a SNAFU or a full-blown FUBAR. (This is a family newspaper, so those of you without military backgrounds will have to look those terms up in your Funk and Wagnalls or Google.)
They were also interested in what Pacholke could tell them about the independent investigation Gov. Jay Inslee had ordered. Not much, Pacholke replied, because it was being conducted by independent investigators. That didn’t sit well with legislators wondering about the true independence of this investigation, on which they hadn’t been consulted; but one can only imagine the high legislative dudgeon about a lack of independence had Pacholke, an Inslee Cabinet officer, quoted chapter and verse from the investigators’ notebooks.
By 9:43 p.m. Wednesday, Senate Republicans had decided they would get to the bottom of this mess by issuing subpoenas, something legislators have not done since 1987, and sent out a news release to announce them. They also set up a news conference at 10:30 a.m. Thursday to explain their concerns about the problems and the investigation, which included a lack of consultation with a co-equal branch of government.
There was a suggestion at the conference by Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, that the department has been “sandbagging” news about the massive foul-up by releasing information around the Christmas and New Year’s holidays when news staffs are short and public attention shorter. Schoesler wasn’t the first to wonder about that timing of bad news being dribbled out at odd times, although some might also wonder about a late-night announcement of the first subpoenas in 29 years at a time when most reporters were long gone from the Capitol and most newspapers past deadline.
The GOP Senate media folks obligingly closed off questions at their event in time for the reporters and television cameras to amble across the street to the previously scheduled 11 a.m. Inslee news conference, where one could logically assume questions about subpoenas and investigative independence might fill a presser billed as a “general media availability” on the first week of the session. But the governor opened with comments about the need to shut down the state’s biggest transportation fiasco, the Alaska Way tunneling project, where sinkholes had opened up almost as soon the long-dormant Bertha had resumed digging.
There is almost nothing Seattle television newscasts love more than the travails of Bertha, so questions on the viaduct replacement were all but guaranteed to compete with the questions about the GOP subpoenas.
Inslee segued into the Corrections foul-up by defending the independence of the investigation, adding that if legislators really wanted – as they said they did – to know if he planned to edit the report from investigators or invoke executive privilege, they need only have called him.
Which they hadn’t, but if they had, he would have said no, and no.
But did he call legislative leaders before naming the special investigators? “I don’t believe so. But I have not heard any legislators – and I think this is kind of interesting – I haven’t heard any legislators suggest that the two former federal prosecutors, in any way, aren’t the best people for this job.”
He also opined that former federal prosecutors are probably more credible in most people’s opinions than politicians. “Are they proposing that I not get to the bottom of this?” Inslee asked rhetorically, but pointedly. “Are they proposing that I should do nothing about this?”
Clearly not. With thousands of inmates let out of prison early and at least two deaths connected to those early releases, ain’t nobody proposing that nothing be done. The question seems, rather, whether all the somebodies that want something done will keep everybody from getting anything done, anytime soon.
Spin Control, a weekly column by Olympia correspondent Jim Camden, also appears online with daily items and reader comments, at www.spokesman.com/blogs/spincontrol.
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