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Paul Turner: My missed opportunity for inherited wealth is a missed opportunity for a better Spokane

The world's first commercially successful oil well is shown in the historic photo above. The well was completed at Titusville, Pa on August 27, 1859, by Colonel Edwin L Drake and the event marked the birth of the oil industry. Drake's success ushered in a new era of social and economic advancement for the world. (BBDO News Bureau)

As I have noted a number of times over the years, a distant relative of mine drilled the first oil well.

Edwin Drake accomplished that feat on this date in 1859 near Titusville, Pennsylvania. I’m not exactly sure where the genealogical connection comes in. But my father’s mother was a Drake, and her family lived near where Edwin did in Vermont for a time.

That first well was commemorated on a 4-cent postage stamp issued in 1959. I used to have a sheet of those, but we sent them to my wife’s cousin, a petroleum something or other in Houston. We also mailed him a copy of a 1959 special section of the long-gone New York Herald Tribune celebrating the “Oil Century.”

Drake was a decent engineer and had an impressive beard, but he was not much of a businessman. So his descendants never had to worry that they would wind up spoiled and purposeless because of the initiative-killing curse of inherited wealth.

It has always been enough for me that Old Edwin did his part to save the whales, even if inadvertently.

And no, since you ask, I do not believe my extended family is personally responsible for global warming.

But I’ve been rethinking this inherited wealth business. The recent death of billionaire David Koch, who poured money into all sorts of right-wing causes, made me wonder.

If I had piles of trust fund dough, how could I bend Spokane to my will?

Politics comes to mind, of course. I could endow shadowy organizations whose sole purpose would be to elect Inland Northwest candidates who do not annoy me. Thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling of a few years ago, I suspect I could operate with a free hand and pretty much buy whatever elections I wanted. (Well, maybe not in Spokane Valley or Idaho.)

I think I would enjoy that. And let’s face it, it’s the American way.

If the victorious candidates asked how they could ever repay me, I’d be happy to provide them with a few ideas.

But purchasing candidates would just be the beginning. I could put my money where my mouth is in all sorts of areas.

For instance, I could secretly fund a lobbying group dedicated to the proposition that not everyone in Spokane needs to drive an SUV or extra-long pickup.

I don’t want to give away our strategy here. Let’s just say that if, all of a sudden, there was a hefty new local tax on those vehicles, I would be prepared to answer reporters’ questions.

“I’m not sure what you are insinuating, but I am just a concerned citizen interested in good government. My bank balance or the size of the checks I write is my business.”

Or say some kid on an e-scooter runs into you on a downtown Spokane sidewalk and then sues, alleging you were at fault. My Pedestrians’ Legal Defense Fund could put a powerful and aggressive team of lawyers at your side. They might suggest you countersue the kid and his parents back to the Stone Age. I would be delighted to invisibly pick up the tab.

Perhaps by the time a small sliver of Edwin Drake’s hypothetical money made its way to me, I might not have adequate resources to purchase Spokane TV stations outright. But maybe I could spearhead targeted advertiser boycotts until on-air people learned to keep their opinions about the weather to themselves.

“What ever happened to that kid newsreader who used to pine every night for 95 degrees?”

“I heard she’s exploring exciting new opportunities in North Dakota.”

The list goes on.

The League of Sane Cyclists could sponsor education programs aimed at identifying and rehabilitating the small percentage of annoying bike riders who give all the rest of us a bad name.

Spokane Citizens for Mullet Prevention could subsidize haircuts that do not embarrass the Lilac City. Our motto: “Remember, only you can prevent mullets.”

The Spokane Safe Haven Refuge could offer a place to stay for a night or two to those who live with loud Fox News addicts and Matt Shea apologists and need to get away from the justifying and rationalizing.

Helping Hand Spokane could assist those who need assistance recognizing that they have become incapable of talking about anything besides WSU football and GU basketball. As they say, realizing you have a problem is the first step on the road to recovery.

The Inland Northwest White Christmas Alliance would advocate for the graceful acceptance of winter – even among that segment of the Spokane population that trembles at the thought of snow. Members would be known as Bings and the Alliance’s slogan would be “Put a hat on, for Pete’s sake.”

But don’t get the idea that I would use my inherited riches just to be a bully and pursue an agenda shaped by my own pet peeves.

No, I’d like to think some of Uncle Edwin’s oil money could have funded Spokane-area programs geared to assist needy children and abandoned animals.

We could have even had a theme song. Do you remember “The Beverly Hillbillies”?

One little lyrical tweak and we’re in business.

Come and listen to my story ’bout a man named Ed …

Columnist Paul Turner can be reached at

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