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Spin control: Washington-based reference during Trump ballot arguments was easy to miss

The Supreme Court has heard arguments in the case of former President Donald Trump and the 14th Amendment.  (Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images North America/TNS)

Trivia question for political nerds: What was the brief Washington state-related reference during Thursday’s U.S. Supreme Court hearing over the prospect of keeping Donald Trump off the Colorado ballot?

Hint one: The state wasn’t specifically named and it had nothing to do with a pending request for similar action in Washington.

Hint two: It came up initially during the questioning by Chief Justice John Roberts on how a state could have a broad power to disqualify candidates when that’s nowhere in the 14th Amendment.

Hint three: It was uttered by Jason Murray, the attorney for Colorado Republicans asking to disqualify Trump.

Murray said states have broad powers and there wasn’t anything in the 14th that said states couldn’t. “As this court said in Chiafalo, that power is merely plenary unless something in the Constitution tells states they can’t do it,” he said. Plenary power is essentially unlimited.

A few minutes later, Justice Samuel Alito sought further clarification on how much power Murray thought the states had. Could a state decide to keep a candidate off its ballot three days before an election when “the polls look bad,” he asked.

“I think they probably could under this court’s decision in Chiafalo, where this court emphasized that for much of American history state legislatures picked their own electors and assigned their own electors themselves,” Murray replied.

That 2020 decision was named for Peter Chiafalo, one of three “faithless electors” in the 2016 election who, though selected by state Democrats to cast their votes for Hillary Clinton if she won the state, voted for other candidates. They were fined $1,000 under a state law that punished electors who don’t vote for the winner of the state’s presidential election.

If you were super nerdy and said it was a reference to a U.S. Supreme Court case that outlawed congressional term limits, you were close but no cigar. The Washington term limits law was pending before the court after being struck down by the state Supremes, but the decision that knocked out the law for nearly half the states was from Arkansas.

Third on the longevity list

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers’ announcement last week that she will step down at the end of her term surprised many in the 5th District, which has a history of long-serving congresspersons.

McMorris Rodgers will have served 20 years, which makes her the third longest-serving representative of the district since it was formed in 1914. Tom Foley was the longest with 30 years, from 1965 through 1994. He replaced Republican Walt Horan, who served 22 years, from 1943 through 1964. Samuel Hill served more than 13 years, winning an election for a vacant seat in mid-1923 until stepping down in mid-1936. George Nethercutt, who beat Foley in the 1994 election, served 10 years, from 1995 through 2004.

Octopus’s garden might be fine; octopus farm not so much

Washington waters do not contain any octopus farms and the closest it may ever come is singing along as the Beatles rhapsodize about “an octopus’s garden in the shade.”

On a 70-27 bipartisan vote, the House last week passed and sent to the Senate a bill to ban the establishment of octopus farming in the Puget Sound, Hood Canal or along the Pacific Coast.

It’s a proactive step to make sure Washington “doesn’t go down that road,” said Rep. Strom Peterson, D-Edmonds. Octopi are sentient creatures who don’t do well in captivity and the farms could pollute the state’s fragile coastal ecosystems, he said.

The state’s 2017 experience with salmon farms, in which a pen failed and hundreds of thousands of nonnative Atlantic salmon escaped into the Sound, was apparently still fresh enough in everyone’s mind it didn’t have to be mentioned in the debate. The Legislature banned nonnative fish farming in 2018, and in 2022, also banned the farming of steelhead to protect the native salmon runs.

No one spoke against octopi directly, but several Republicans said they struggled with giving special protections to the cephalopods that aren’t afforded others. Rep. Jenny Graham, of Spokane, said she loves all sea creatures as a diver but thinks in a short legislative session lawmakers should concentrate on protections for families.

Rep. Tom Dent, Moses Lake, said one could argue that no species should be farmed but humans like to eat. He raises American bison, which are “way smart and have a lot of emotion,” but he can’t just keep thousands around and not use them for something.

“At the same time we want to give protection to octopus, those same protections of life aren’t given to unborn human beings,” said Rep. Joel McEntire, of Cathlamet. “It’s very confusing about what really requires protection.”

I may be confused, but am pretty sure there are laws that protect human beings from being farmed and eaten.

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