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Opinion >  Column

Breaking into the paper’s Olympia office didn’t take a mastermind

UPDATED: Thu., Sept. 3, 2020

Campaign buttons that were on the wall of The Spokesman-Review's Olympia office were stolen in a break-in last week.  (Jim Camden / The Spokesman-Review)
Campaign buttons that were on the wall of The Spokesman-Review's Olympia office were stolen in a break-in last week. (Jim Camden / The Spokesman-Review)

Sometime on Thursday night or early Friday morning, some “criminal masterminds” broke into the building on the Capitol Campus with the office for The Spokesman-Review and two other newspapers.

I use the description ironically because we are located in a century-old Craftsman bungalow only slightly more secure than a backpacking tent. The front door is mostly plate glass, although they didn’t throw a brick through it, which is how I always assumed someone would break in.

Before last week, no one ever wanted to.

The doors don’t always latch very well, so they might’ve pushed hard enough to make one pop, or they might’ve climbed in through the window where they moved a plastic lawn chair.

The French doors to my office – it used to be the home’s dining room – have a latch that could be popped open with a screw driver, a butter knife or even a piece of stiff cardboard.

Not only were they not particularly stealthy, but they weren’t smart enough to realize there’s little of resale value in a remote newspaper office, particularly in the time of COVID. We work at home most days so the most expensive things we have, laptops and digital cameras, weren’t there.

They moved photos of my grandkids, tore posters and campaign bumper stickers off the wall, swept books and the office coffee pot off desks or file cabinets and into a trash can. They pulled down my yellow Gadsden “Don’t Tread on Me” flag and left it on the floor. (If they were would-be anarchists who thought they were making a point to some closet tea party member, joke’s on them. That flag is more than 40 years old, flown by my father to protest a city project forcing everyone to move out of our old neighborhood.)

The most valuable thing they stole was my campaign button and paraphernalia collection, which had lapel buttons I started picking up when first assigned to the political beat. Some were gifts – I didn’t really cover FDR, Ike or Goldwater – but most of those had stories from the people who gave them to me. The buttons didn’t cost me anything, but they were priceless.

They emptied an old newspaper machine of a stack of papers that would be hard to replace but mostly wouldn’t mean much to anyone else. There was a copy of The Spokesman-Review Extra edition from Sept. 11th and a copy of the paper the day Osama bin Laden was captured. Most of the others were papers from days after elections, so unless these “geniuses” are political junkies, I hope they at least recycle the newsprint.

One of the difficult things was explaining to the Washington State Patrol detectives investigating the break-in what was stuff the burglars trashed and what was just normal mess from a newspaper office.

They left some things a smart crook would have taken, like my dog tags from being embedded with the Washington National Guard in Saudi Arabia. They have my Social Security number on it, which could let them do all kinds of stuff.

But they stole a manual typewriter, which was about 50 pounds and doesn’t actually work. It’s not even mine. It was on loan from a former reporter who is now the governor’s chief of staff. His boss is also the boss of the Washington State Patrol detectives investigating the break-in.

You could check the map

Either Jay Inslee wasn’t paying attention in fifth- grade geography or got so excited about the selection of Kamala Harris he let hyperbole overtake his description a couple times last week in extolling her Western roots.

“This nation has been waiting for 244 years for a nominee for a president west of Arkansas, and we have it in Kamala Harris,” he said during a Zoom meeting for Democratic convention delegates from Western states.

Allowing that he might’ve just inadvertently dropped “vice” from before president, that still would’ve been hard for the first 60 years after 1776, because there was no Arkansas to be west of.

It also ignores Lyndon Johnson, who was on the ticket as vice president in 1960 and president in 1964, being from Texas, as was Lloyd Bentsen, the veep candidate in 1988. My map has Texas mostly west of Arkansas. That Obama guy was born in Hawaii, even though he moved around and was an Illinois senator before being president. Hawaii is way west of Arkansas.

Going farther back, William Jennings Bryan was from Nebraska when he was the party’s presidential nominee in 1896, 1900 and 1908. That was a while ago, but even back then, Nebraska was west of Arkansas.

Harris is the first Democratic nominee from a West Coast state, which helps with Inslee’s theory that good ideas start in the West Coast and move East. But his party lags behind Republicans on that score. They had Richard Nixon – born and raised in California – on various tickets for 20 years as vice president and later president plus Ronald Reagan – born in Illinois but a Californian for much of his life – in 1980 and 1984.

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