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Spin Control: Spin Control: Senate GOP getting documents they want, need their own expert to handle them

Jim Camden (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Jim Camden (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Senate Republicans trying to delve deep into the early-released-inmate scandal may be learning firsthand the truth of the old adage, “Be careful what you ask for because you may get it.”

Early in the week they muscled subpoenas for Department of Corrections records, resulting in the issuance of the first legislative subpoenas since the Bangles were singing “Walk Like an Egyptian.”

This was necessary, they insisted, because their public records request to the department after the scandal broke was returned to them after nine days with nothing but a note saying they had sent it to the wrong office.

Nine whole days, they fumed, just to be told to resubmit it to the proper bureaucrat. The fact the nine-day stretch included the holiday weekends of Christmas and New Year’s was rarely mentioned, and their peevishness got little sympathy from reporters who regularly wait much longer for any sign of public records requested.

One could argue that that someone from the caucus staff could have checked online to see exactly who gets a public records request at the department. But one could also argue someone in the department should have had the sense to walk the request down the hall to the proper office, even though there appears to be nothing in state public records statutes that says legislators get a special deal.

Subpoenas were issued Tuesday, and by Thursday documents were coming in. Senate Republicans now confronted the bigger problem that public records seekers often have: Someone has to read all this stuff. Thursday evening they had a special meeting to hire their own investigator, Seattle attorney Mark Bartlett, a partner at a major Seattle law firm who had agreed to give them a deal by cutting his regular hourly fee of $615 nearly in half, to $325.

Senate Democrats managed to get a $50,000 spending cap on this, but if the investigation deepens, Republicans could ask for more.

GOP leaders also had a return volley for Gov. Jay Inslee, who in questioning the need for subpoenas at this point touted the credentials of his two outside investigators, former federal prosecutors Carl Blackstone and Robert Westinghouse.

Bartlett used to be in the U.S. attorney’s office in Seattle, too, said Law and Justice Committee Chairman Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley. At one point, Bartlett was even supervisor for Blackstone and Westinghouse. But hey, he’s got some bipartisan cred, Padden said. He once worked for former U.S. Rep. Tom Foley.

Not getting involved

If the Spokane Tribe and some local environmental groups are holding their breath for the governor to weigh in on the Mount Spokane ski run expansion fight, they might want to exhale.

They made the request about three weeks ago in the ongoing dispute over adding seven runs and a chair lift to the backside of the mountain, in an area opponents say has the largest stretch of subalpine ecology in the county.

Inslee shows no signs of getting involved. Asked at a press conference whether he’d intervene as requested, and whether he thought all the questions about the project have been answered, the governor begged off.

“I just have not been briefed on this,” said Inslee, who declared himself stumped on the question.

His staff later followed up by saying the Parks and Recreation Commission, which greenlighted the expansion, is appointed by the governor but has independent authority over the project. And the dispute is in court, so his office is not getting involved. What he meant was he hadn’t been briefed on any updates, the office said.

No answer yet on whether he thinks all the questions have been answered on the expansion project.

An official unappointment

The long-standing enmity between Sen. Pam Roach and Lt. Gov. Brad Owen heated up last Monday, with Owen bouncing the Sumner Republican off a special task force on human trafficking after he got several earfuls of bad reports about her conduct at the group’s first meeting.

In a memo he once wrote to Roach titled “Indecorous and Inappropriate Conduct,” she was warned about “poor public behavior and abusive treatment of staff.”

Her comments to participants – who included human trafficking victims and staff of the Commerce Department who set up the December session – were more of the same, he said.

“I do not have the legal authority to remove you from the Senate,” he wrote. But he did appoint her to the committee at the suggestion of her caucus, so he could unappoint her.

Roach said she was critical of the department for taking seven months after the task force was authorized to hold the first meeting. She also shot back that, unlike Owen, she hasn’t been fined by the Executive Ethics Board – something that happened in 2014 over questions about an anti-bullying nonprofit and for which Owen insists he did nothing wrong.

This should make it all the more interesting any time Roach, in her job as Senate president pro tem, takes over control of the floor for Owen.

Spin Control, a weekly column by Olympia reporter Jim Camden, also appears online with daily items and reader comments, at www.spokesman.com/ blogs/spincontrol.

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