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Spin Control: Farewell to 2021 and some of its highs and lows

The year started with such great hopes. After all, 2020 was so bad, its replacement had to be better, right?

It was better in some respects but worse in others, which is pretty much how years go. But looking back with the perspective of 51 weeks gone, here’s Spin Control’s list of some highs and lows of 2021:

Politician most likely to be missed: Kim Wyman. The longtime and now former secretary of state held up to pressure and even threats from members of her own party who somehow thought Washington’s 2020 election was rigged to cheat Donald Trump and would-be governor Loren Culp out of hundreds of thousands of votes; calmly explained why the circus in Arizona was not a forensic audit and was not needed here; and was Washington’s only statewide elected Republican. In October, she took a job with the Biden administration to help make the nation’s elections more secure.

Most calculated political maneuver: Wyman’s departure less than a year into her latest term meant Gov. Jay Inslee got to name a replacement. Unlike local appointments to empty seats, the party of the exiting official does not get to nominate the list of possible replacements. Free to choose anyone, Inslee didn’t just go with a fellow Democrat. He chose state Sen. Steve Hobbs, removing from the Senate Transportation Committee of one of the caucus’s more moderate members and one who has been a roadblock to some of Inslee’s proposals to deal with climate change.

Biggest flip-flop: Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who arguably committed a flip-flop-flip on the question of who won last year’s presidential election. She signed on to a U.S. Supreme Court motion challenging the results from four states and announced she would vote against House certification of the results to “amplify the voices of millions” who didn’t trust the process. When some of the people connected to those voices stormed the Capitol, the nine-term congresswoman flipped and voted to certify. When the House voted to impeach Trump for his part in inciting the riot, she flipped back and was the only House member from Washington to vote no. She has since voted against requests from the special House committee investigating the riot to issue contempt citations for witnesses who refuse to testify. Republicans and Democrats will disagree on which of these flips were flops.

Least ambidextrous maneuver: Gov. Inslee turned what’s usually a pro forma ceremony, the signing of legislation, into a political mystery when he signed two bills at the same time, one with his right hand and one with his left. To be fair, the problem started with the Legislature, which liked two bills on expanding broadband so much that, even though they were slightly different, it passed both. Because state law says the most recent law takes precedence, signing both at the same time raised questions about which was controlling on the question of who has the authority to expand broadband into certain “unserved areas.” That left it to Wyman to determine which was newer. In checking the record, she found one had been signed in both the Senate and House on April 24, but the other had been signed in the House on April 24 and the Senate in April 25, so it was the newer and thus controlling statute.

When trying to beat the clock beats back: The Washington Redistricting Commission. When it embarked on its once in a once-in-a-decade task of redrawing legislative and congressional boundaries, the commission looked like it had plenty of time, even though the deadline had been moved up from Jan. 1 to Nov. 15. But with slow results from the Census data and time-consuming map-making, the really tough decisions were put off until the deadline. For the commission, that meant the horse trading on the final legislative district boundaries stretched into the evening, behind closed doors, and commission didn’t vote for the final deal until after midnight on Nov. 16. That sent the job to the state Supreme Court.

Close enough for government work: The aforementioned court, deciding that it didn’t want a carriage that had turned back into a pumpkin – and possibly to stay as far away as possible from drawing the boundaries for another branch of government – ruled the commission “substantially complied” with its job and gave the panel the authority to finish the work. But the commission will be back in court over complaints that it violated the state open meetings law over backroom negotiations.

Most overdue legislation to pass: Ban on most use of Native American names or mascots by Washington high school teams. Such use can only be allowed if the school’s boundary includes tribal lands, or is in an adjacent county AND the school gets tribal approval after negotiating and forming a partnership.

Most overdue legislation needed: How long is an emergency? When COVID-19 began to take hold in 2020 just after the Legislature had left town for its short session, Inslee declared an emergency to deal with the pandemic. Some 20 months later, some emergency rules remain in effect. That’s not to say that some of those rules aren’t needed, but that the time limits in state law seems designed to address emergencies with shorter durations – like earthquakes, volcanic eruptions or wildfires – than a multiyear pandemic.

Flimsiest strawman: Critical race theory. Originally posited as a way for legal scholars and lawyers to look at the effects of systemic racism in American society, it became a catchword for some people to describe anything they don’t like about depictions of racism or equity in history, literature or social studies. Efforts to ban critical race theory in Washington public schools seem to ignore the fact that it’s not something the schools teach.

Worst new trend: Face-mask litter. Whether one supports or opposes requirements to wear a face mask in certain public venues, can’t we all get agreement that it’s bad form, as well as unsightly and unsanitary, to toss the used mask onto the sidewalk, parking lot or street once you’ve removed it?

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