Boomerang in front of a blue sky

Column | Be careful, workers. A vote for minimum wage is a vote against yourself.

With Washington State looking to join California and New York in instituting a $15 minimum wage, it is important to understand the actual consequences of such a law. But rather than debating the projected economic impacts, let’s use an easier concept that everyone understands – self-interest.

Obviously, it is in the self-interest of the minimum wage (and near minimum wage) worker to be paid more money. But the real issue is where does that extra money come from? The proponents of the $15 minimum wage law would have you believe it comes solely from the pocket of the business owners, in the form of less profit. Even if the business owner has to raise prices to stay in business, these extra wages are still supposed to come from the owners. They maintain the illusion that this is the only source of the higher wages, because it is the only way that the worker will actually benefit from a mandated higher wage.

But there are several other possible sources for the wage increase. Some employers may offset the increase with cuts to other benefits they currently give, such as paid vacation or sick leave or health care, resulting in no real advance in pay. Others, such as some Seattle area restaurants have done, will raise their prices but institute a no-tipping policy, leaving the employees in many cases earning even less than before. They may just cut hours, leaving an employee who worked 30 hours at $10 with 20 hours at $15. While they may have to work less hours to earn the same wages (assuming they were not one of the employees laid off completely), they find themselves under pressure to work that much faster/harder.

The other recourse employers have is to not pay the minimum wage at all. They might find that the investment in machines to replace $15 an hour workers makes much more sense. They might simply do without that worker doing less than essential tasks, like greeting or sweeping up. They might move their business to another state or another country where labor costs are cheaper. For example, thousands of jobs have moved outside the Seattle city limits since they instituted their new minimum wage law, and an earlier, much smaller increase in the Washington State minimum wage led one company canning asparagus in Eastern Washington to move their entire plant to South America. Being out of work from a $15 an hour job is certainly no better than being out of work from one that pays less than $10.

So which of these alternatives is the low wage worker likely to get? As much as they would like the business owner to foot the bill, the employee is not the one who makes the decision – the business owner is! And the business owner, in their self-interest, will largely choose to let the employees pay for the mandated $15 minimum wage, because in America (at least for now), business owners still have the freedom to make that choice.

[photo credit: gavran333, depositphotos.com]
February 8, 2015 - Houston, TX, USA.  Monopoly money

Public campaign financing could be headed for the ballot in Washington state

 

By now, Washington state voters are familiar with the Seattle Process:

  1. A policy proposal is sketched out on the whiteboard at Democratic HQ.
  2. A beta test commences on the hustings — the Seattle electorate is a test group for determining how to get the public to approve the experimental idea.
  3. Having used Seattle as a proving ground, the idea is pushed in Olympia, then a statewide initiative (if legislative efforts are not successful), and even exported to other states.

Now, another Seattle-hatched idea — socialized financing of political campaigns — is being uploaded into the statewide mainframe.  The current piece of political malware is Initiative 1464, a sleeper measure headed for the November 2016 ballot that may pose a real threat to balanced elections and informed policy in Washington state.

Also known as the Washington Government Accountability Act, I-1464 is a near-clone of the Honest Elections Act passed in Seattle last year and is being promoted as a necessary measure to curb the influence of mysterious ‘dark money’ in state politics.

“It’s going to transform how we do elections in Washington state in a way that brings more focus back on the little guy.” That’s what political consultant and I-1464 co-sponsor Alex Hays told KING 5 political reporter Natalie Brand in a recent interview.

In reality, I-1464 appears to be little more than a new way for Democrats to game political campaign financing rules to their favor, neutralize the input of the business community and activist groups in the formation of public policy, and possibly even lay the tracks for taxpayer subsidization of non-citizen non-voter political contributions.

What would I-1464 do?

The surface appeal of I-1464 is obvious.  In the words of its sponsors is that it would “restore public trust and confidence by requiring greater transparency and increasing political accountability, limiting the influence of lobbyists, strengthening enforcement of campaign-finance and ethics laws, and empowering small donors to ensure everyone in Washington has a voice.”

The real implications of I-1464 are something quite different than those progressive platitudes.  On closer inspection, the measure seems to be little more than a Trojan horse designed to capture the interest of disaffected voters across the political spectrum to enact rules that would provide an almost permanent advantage to interests with a stake in procuring Democratic control over state politics.

No lobbying for you

Many of I-1464’s provisions lay a minefield of “gotcha” rules between informed lobbyists and public officials.  The proponents don’t shy away from disclosing their intent; they want to make it harder for to lobbyists to operate.  In reality, some of the teeth in I-1464 would come as close to criminalizing lobbying — a constitutionally protected right — as any law has tried to do in recent memory.

Although the lobbying profession is a favorite scapegoat and rare stories of abuse are highly public, the positive role that the lobbying community plays in providing informed testimony and insight on proposed legislation is woefully underreported.  Sometimes when an association representing small grocers sits down with the governor, it’s part of an effort to save jobs and keep consumer prices low.  In fact, it’s not popular to say it, but much of the time that’s the outcome, if not the objective, of lobbying efforts.

The bad news in I-1464’s anti-lobbyist provisions is compounded because of evidence that the measure also appears to carve out exemptions for unions.  It’s hard to see how the public will be more confident in government when the laws and regulations are developed from only the half of the facts that prejudice to he union’s benefit.

Maybe some reform of how lobbying is done would be helpful, but I-1464 is too extreme and would have the unintended consequence of making our public officials less informed.

Spreading the political wealth around

The feature of I-1464 that is likely to get the most attention though is its provision to set up a system for public financing of some political campaigns.

Under the proposal, qualified register voters would be eligible to receive $150 per election cycle in “democracy credits” to be spent on qualified election campaigns.  It would require mandatory mailings from the state to registered voters to notify them of available credits.  The entire process would be administered by the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission.

Although the proposal for using one person’s money to pay for another person’s political speech would initially be restricted to legislative races in even-numbered years, I-1464 explicitly makes provisions to expand the program as early as 2021.  The Legislature would have the ability to amend the initiative even sooner than that, as we know from experience.

But most alarming is a portion of the law that appears to require the PDC to develop a program for distributing democracy credits to permanent resident aliens living in Washington state as early as 2019.  Read carefully from the text of the Act:

By December 1, 2019, the commission shall develop and adopt regulations to allow any adult natural person who is a bona fide resident of the state, not eligible to register to vote under state law, but eligible under state and federal law to donate to a candidate campaign, to request to be verified by the commission as an eligible individual for participation in the program in the year 2020 and thereafter.

That section appears to be crafted to require the state government to give foreign nationals with permanent residency status (read that as possessing a green card) publicly funded vouchers to make contributions to political campaigns.

Who’s backing I-1464?

Integrity Washington is the campaign committee formed to get I-1464 on the Washington ballot.  Who is Integrity Washington?  As with most things, that’s a matter of who’s paying the bills.

As of the end of March, Integrity Washington has received $337,402 in cash contributions, according to filings made to the PDC.  More than two-thirds of the campaign cash — $225,000 — has come from Every Voice, a next-generation progressive political org born out of a 2014 merger that absorbed a super PAC funded by Jonathan Soros.  (Yes, that Soros family.)  The next largest contributor to I-1464 so far is Represent Us, at $100,300.

Modeled on ballot-proven Seattle-grade socialism

Every Voice and Represent Us also played big in the passage of Seattle Initiative Measure I-122, the Honest Elections Act passed by voters of Washington’s most populous city in 2015.  Represent Us lists I-122 as one of the group’s “wins” on their website.

What did the measure do?  In part it required some property owners in Seattle to pay higher taxes to finance “democracy vouchers” for public financing of political campaign contributions.

It will surprise no one that the same city that elected a self-described socialist to its city council also passed I-122 by a 27-point margin.

A total of more than $1.4 million was spent by the proponents of I-122, $390,860.23 of which came from Every Voice.

(Some might suspect that the overkill funding of I-122, a slam dunk measure, was really an early investment in the statewide effort to be named later, now known as I-1464.)

Although the evolution from I-122 to I-1464 has shuffled the cast of characters — I-1464 co-sponsor Alex Hays is a political consultant with a large number of Republican legislators on his past and current client list — Every Voice and its funders are calling the tune.ScreenCap ntegritywashington_org_who-we-ar

(As of this posting, Hays’ picture and bio are still featured on the Integrity Washington website.  Click image to right to view a screen capture.)

In order for Washington voters to weigh in on the proposal, Integrity Washington will need to collect enough signatures to put it on the ballot — just a few thousand less than 250,000.  In mid-February, only weeks before a half dozen Bernie Sanders rallies occurred in Washington, a $100,000 deposit was paid to a California-based signature gathering firm.  Petitions have already been sighted in Seattle.

GovJayInslee

Washington state charter school fix will become law without Gov. Jay Inslee’s signature

On Friday, Gov. Jay Inslee ended speculation on whether he might veto a bill passed by the Legislature to restore the state’s public charter school system to legal status.

Instead of taking an action that would have closed schools for thousands of students for the second time in a few months, Inslee chose not to sign the bill, which under state law allows its enactment.

Washington state voters narrowly approved permitting a publicly funded charter school system in 2012, but legal challenges resulted in the state Supreme Court ruling the law unconstitutional the Friday before Labor Day of last year, only days before most enrolled students were to begin classes.

Inslee’s only Republican challenger in this year’s election, Bill Bryant, has been a vocal supporter of charter schools and made a statement on Facebook regarding the governor’s non-signing of a major piece of education legislation:

https://www.facebook.com/billbryantwashington/posts/540942949410944

In a letter sent to Secretary of State Kim Wyman, Inslee laid out his reservations regarding the bill and his reasons for stepping aside to let it become law.

“I am not interested in closing schools in a manner that disrupts the education of hundreds of students and their affected families,” Inslee wrote.

He went on to reiterate his belief that the new law will not resolve his concerns that charter schools lack accountability to the public.

“… I remain deeply concerned about the public accountability and oversight provisions of this bill. At its foundation, our public school system relies upon locally elected boards to oversee expenditures of taxpayer money,” the governor wrote.

Some might say that the fact that the voluntary nature of enrollment in charter schools provides an incentive to provide quality instruction that generates a quicker and more powerful response to the needs of students.  Others might be skeptical of Inslee’s implication that traditional public schools are publicly accountable either.

The 106-year-old state Supreme Court decision that formed the crux of the decision ruling charters unconstitutional last year used language to establish a standard for accountability that most traditional public schools would have a hard time meeting.  From School District No. 20 v. Bryan:

“The complete control of the schools is a most important feature, for it carries with it the right of the voters, through their chosen agents, to select qualified teachers, with powers to discharge them if they are incompetent.”

In the present day, contracts negotiated between elected school officials and teacher’s unions have severed the chain of accountability to voters the Bryan decision sought to protect.  In fact, charter schools are more apt to operate in the spirit of Bryan in this regard.

If Gov. Inslee is truly interested in preserving public accountability — and there’s no reason to suspect that he is not —  then voters should ask him to move forward from his non-signing of this bill and propose major reforms to ensure real accountability in all of our schools.

Click to read Inslee’s letter to Secretary of State Kim Wyman.

Editor's note: After first publication, this article was updated to include a statement made by Bill Bryant on the governor's action.
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Surviving Trump will require cultural change inside GOP

Donald TrumpWhere does Donald Trump’s support come from?  The answer is easy to know but hard for the members of the Republican old guard to accept.  For those who have the courage to embrace reality and let change happen, it begins with a two-word prescription for the GOP moving forward: BE REAL.

The appeal of Trump with conservative voters is replete with ironies and irrational conflicts too numerous to list here, but it is a reaction to a real problem — a critical breakdown of trust that exists between Republican party elites and its true base.

Trump’s supporters aren’t a canary in the coalmine — that bird died long ago, keeling over from exhaustion after chirping angrily for several consecutive election cycles at heedless party leaders.

(This ingredient in the cocktail of Trump’s appeal surfaces in a survey conducted by the RAND Corporation on the 2016 presidential election.  The RAND survey found that the largest determining factor of a person’s intention to vote for Trump was a feeling of alienation or not having a voice.  Respondents who agreed with the statement “people like me don’t have any say” were 86% more likely to prefer Trump.)

Some still contend the rift doesn’t exist; others confirm its existence but try to invalidate its legitimacy.  Those who have spent time in both worlds within the GOP, however, know the divide is real and growing.

Because ignoring the sentiments of voters is always a losing strategy, the time is now to view the precipice of a Trump nomination as a last chance to accept that cultural and structural changes inside the GOP are now matter of survival.  The change starts with breaking out of a dysfunctional cycle in which voter loyalty is taken for granted far too much.

When elected officials fail to live up to expectations, some voters shrug, some turn cynical, and others get angry.  Smart politicians are careful to minimize those conflicts with voters.  If they aren’t careful (or are careless), then voter anger leads to removing them from office through elections.  It can, and does, happen, but voters have learned that unseating a bad politician is no guarantee of replacing them with a good one.

It’s clear what Trump’s support indicates: voters have lost so much faith in the system that they’re willing to crown an anti-Republican hero to savage the party that has failed them.  Their animus is visceral and it’s real.   Apart from the vicious and angry tone, dog whistle racism, and absence of candor by Trump, real is exactly what the Republican party needs more of.

It’s time to recognize that the party machine that recruits and supports candidates, trains politicians on how to deploy talking points and manage appearances, has failed.  It’s time to admit that Congress functions in a way that values deal-making more than keeping promises to voters, not to mention upholding the promises made to the nation by its founders.

It’s a matter of survival because Trump voters are only a militant subgroup of voters who have come to see Republican politics as unresponsive and disinterested.  They have given up believing that there a culture capable of radically resetting its standards will spontaneously grow inside of Republican leadership.  They know that in the giddy atmosphere of election season, that status quo will flip the switch on its dusty conveyor belt, sending candidates forth to deliver passionate promises to fearlessly fight to change how Washington, D.C. works.  Above all, candidates will promise to be different.

“Forget all of the others,” Candidate X purrs. “I’m the only one who listens to and understands you, baby.”

Voters haven’t ever been naïve in their decisions to tie the metaphorical knot and bond to a candidate.  Intellectually, they know the ephemeral nature of campaign promises and they have faith that an ongoing dialogue on the issues will keep elected officials focused on representing their interests.  Some voters even believe — perhaps more irrationally — that they can count on politicians to support their deeply held beliefs, even those not specified in the fine print of the political nuptials.

It’s like the opening act on a Nicholas Sparks-esque pragmatic political romance, but too often Stephen King takes over to author the conclusion and the reality shift is entirely responsible for voter disillusionment.  Yes, the romantic swashbuckler still has sparkling teeth and mesmerizing eyes, but the voter realizes a bit too late that they forgot to carefully vet the candidate as having any tolerance for political risk.  To make matters worse, the candidate’s affection for voters has morphed into a languid infatuation with holding office.

There is a trail of micro- and macro-betrayals that animates much of Trump’s base.  Despite wishful protestations by some pundits, those perceptions do have some rational basis, even if Trump’s campaign is doing nothing more than courting them into the mother of all bad relationships.

There certainly isn’t a single political event that spawned the outbreak of Trumpism, but it’s obvious to most political observers that a trail of controversial actions (to be fair, most of them orchestrated by Pres. Obama and the Democrats to create wedges within the GOP) added to friction inside the base.

In 2010, voters gave the Republicans a majority in the U.S. House.  Did those voters have a warm feeling about the 2011 budget sequestration compromise in which two core universal Republican values, fiscal discipline and strong national defense, collided head-on and national defense lost?  It’s inarguable that the sequester deal forced Democrats to accept a reduction in deficit spending, but the mandated cuts to defense spending given up by Republicans accelerated a gutting of the U.S. military.  Most Americans have the perception that the world is becoming a less safe place.  Do Americans believe the size and scope of the federal government is shrinking?  It’s hard to imagine that a storyline like that doesn’t benefit to Trump with fed-up voters.

Other warmed-over “wins” such as the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank or the mystifying maneuver by Republicans in the Senate to define as an executive order what by all definitions would be a treaty with Iran on nuclear weapons.

The problem is that to far too many political insiders, the outrage over any of these transgressions is perceived as an overreaction or extremism and an organization that moves to invalidate the emotional response of its base is courting disaster, particularly when the damage is multiplied through millions of voters, each of whom has scars to bear from a sucker punch, or two, or ten.  When enough voters carry enough scars, an impulse for punishment of the perceived assailant — or in the case of the GOP, a group some feel hasn’t done enough to actively restrain the assailant — is inevitable.

Trump leverages these psychic woundings with devastating effect like a Lothario lurking in the bar down the street from divorce court.  It may be the single strategic reason behind his campaign’s stubborn lack of specifics, a void that translates as an absence of commitment.  It could also be the reason that his incivility, crassness and an almost total lack of civic knowledge don’t seem to diminish his appeal.

It’s too simple to say that his crudeness is enjoyed just because it’s a rejection of unpopular modes of politically correct speech.  It seems more possible that all of the hot talk between Trump and his army about the border, and RINOs, and making America great again is just rhetorical heavy petting on the way to a misguided, heated and emotional act of vengeance?  After all, if you’re a voter who feels they’ve been abused by smart, prepared and polished politicians (grrrrr), a natural instinct is to seek the exact opposite.  Trump is the exact opposite of smart, prepared and polished.

As with most hate-inspired flings, the one who comes away more harmed is usually the one who went in already wounded.  In the case of Trump, if his supporters are successful in handing him the nomination, it will be all of us who have to make the walk of shame.

A great deal of goodwill could be restored by allowing Republicans to simply be real.  The appetite that disaffected voters have for anything different doesn’t have to be fed by anyone who figures out the right buttons to push to get votes.  It could be someone of substance and credibility, but they have to pass the authenticity sniff test in order to be palatable.

For once, maybe a politician says they’re sorry for breaking our political hearts, or owns up to a bad vote.  That kind of honesty is a start toward restoring the amount of faith necessary to avoid sending spurned voters running into the arms of a Trump.

On the local level, being real has had some encouraging results, but Republicans should exercise caution in thinking the Trump effect is only a national phenomenon.  In many state legislatures across the country, such here in Washington state, Republicans have been made enormous progress toward restoring faith with voters.  But it doesn’t take much for that goodwill to be squandered by careless votes or positions dictated by special interests.

There’s a thirst for change, it’s reaching a critical mass, and those who want it have very little patience for anyone who will avoid taking the fight to Democrats on core issues.  Republicans might even forgive our team for losing a good battle, as long as they see clearly that one is being fought.

[Editor’s note: This article has been substantially edited for content since first publication, but no factual elements have been changed.]

[Image used under Creative Commons license: DonkeyHotey]
Image rights: http://depositphotos.com/33199947/stock-photo-mobile-security-with-mobile-phone.html?qview=33199947

5 critical things people may be getting wrong in the Apple encryption debate

(Spoiler: It’s not even really about encryption.)

Who knew that something as friendly as the iPhone would be the catalyst for a debate on where we draw the line between privacy and national security?

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is seeking help from Apple to disable a security feature — after 10 unsuccessful password attempts, all data is automatically “wiped” from the device — on an iPhone phone used by San Bernardino terrorist Syed Riswaan Farook.

Although a healthy conversation is taking place, there’s a lot of misinformation being carried into this important debate. We should dispense with the less logical arguments and define our terms.  Here are a few common arguments being made in support of Apple’s stand to deny the government’s request that are worth taking a closer look at.

1. “If Apple cooperates, eventually the government would have a backdoor into all iPhones.”

The problem with this argument is that it ignores the issue at the heart of the matter: the iPhone feature designed to self-wipe the device after 10 unsuccessful password entries.  The FBI isn’t asking for Apple to give them a key, they’re asking for them to disable the data equivalent of a neutron bomb within the phone.

Let’s use an analogy of home security for a thought experiment.  The iPhone’s self-wiping feature isn’t a lock on the front door, it’s the equivalent of an explosive booby-trap rigged to demolish the home to prohibit unauthorized entry.

The proper question in this debate should not be whether backdoor encryption keys should be created — they should not be — but whether it should be legal to sell street versions of devices that conform to the security specifications of the world’s most dangerous organizations.

Put another way, yes, any move by Apple to remove this feature from one of their phones would downgrade their user’s data security, but should we be permitting companies to market phones with this nuclear option?

(Is it possible that Apple only sidesteps charges of aiding in a crime because the wiping of the phone makes it impossible to document what evidence has been destroyed by software specifically designed for that purpose? Maybe.)

2. “The government already has the information they need. They don’t need what’s on the phone.”

This is perhaps the most ridiculous argument roaming out there.  In the investigation of terrorist attacks such as the San Bernadino massacre, there should be no stone left unturned.

Consider that in the wake of 9/11, scores of human assets were busily gathering intelligence data on high value terrorists.  Intelligence experts acknowledge that hard drives, phones and physical files often contain critical information not found through other means of investigation.

Smartphones are computers and can store files and information not discoverable by accessing phone records.

Furthermore, is it likely that a terrorist who used a phone with a self-wiping feature would have chosen that place to hide the most critical information?  Yes, if that terrorist was smart.

Note: When confronted with this counter-argument, privacy advocates will immediately pivot back to argument #4.

3. “Apple has already turned everything over, including what’s backed up on the cloud. There’s no reason they need to get into the phone.”

This is an interesting subspecies of argument number 2 that manages to almost surpass its ridiculousness.  It stems from a persistent desire by many to treat digital spaces as having different rules than physical ones when it comes to lawful search.

Start thinking of your smartphone in the same way you do a home or a car.  Now consider that an FBI agent has a warrant to search a home rented by a suspected terrorist.  Upon arriving at the home, the agent finds the landlord in the driveway surrounded by boxes and other items.  The landlord says, “Everything’s here.”  Does the agent take his word for it?  We all know the answer to that question.

In the case of Apple, no one would suggest that they are withholding evidence found on the terrorists. Still, the public deserves to know that law enforcement doesn’t outsource the critical matter of evidence gathering.

4. “We shouldn’t give up privacy to get security.”

This bastardized version of Benjamin Franklin’s admonition — “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” — is frequently cited by privacy advocates.

But privacy advocates have lost an important distinction by making the loose translation.  Even though they may be mutually necessary in a free society, liberty and privacy are very different ideas.  What’s more, Franklin wasn’t originally writing about liberty in that sense.  Franklin first made the statement in 1755 in a letter to the British-appointed governor of colonial Pennsylvania concerning a proposed tax.  If you want to know how the quote is being misused, please read the original text.

It should be said that Franklin also never advocated that anyone charged with a crime and receiving due process should be exempt from search.  Half of the Bill of Rights deals with due process because the framers saw the need to constrain the government’s power, not to eliminate it.  Nowhere in the five amendments dealing with due process, crime and punishment is a right to destroy evidence contained.

5. “If Apple gives the government the ability to search a terrorist’s phone, they’ll have access to all phones.”  

There’s some legitimate reason to worry about a government backdoor, but the government isn’t asking for Apple to create a backdoor.  This standoff isn’t a matter of Apple not wanting to hand its encryption keys to the FBI (though that would be inarguably their legal obligation if we were talking about any other type of property), it’s a matter of an Apple-designed feature in the iPhone operating system that wipes the drive after 10 failed password attempts.

We should have an expectation of privacy and the Fourth Amendment matters.  We have the right to put things in places where no one — including the government — can see them until government comes to us with a legally acquired warrant.  We do not, however, have the right to rig our property to for self-destruction in a way that thwarts legal searches.

Image: WSDOT

Column | The time has come for Washington to elect its state transportation chief

Even in politically heterogeneous Washington, one issue can bring people to agreement like no other: transportation.  Democrat, Republican, or independent. Rural, suburban or urban. Employee, employer or stay-at-home mom.  Everyone is affected by their ability—or lack thereof—to move from place to place.

Randomly strike up a conversation in Yakima, Vancouver or Seattle about the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement tunnel project — “Bertha” — and universal eye-rolling and molar-grinding will ensue.

In the crescent of ‘burbs and burgs east of Lake Washington, from Everett to Auburn, mentioning Interstate 405 tolling will elicit a similarly sour response.

Mentioning ferries among island-dwellers now qualifies as a micro-aggression.

Problems of mismanagement and waste within the ferry system are heirloom-grade dysfunctions in the culture within the State Department of Transportation.  Other more general road and bridge-related issues stemming from departmental priorities which are seriously out of step with the reality are more recent additions to a growing collection of grievances the public has with the agency.

Over decades, the changing cast of characters in the Legislature and the governor’s mansion have gripped opposite sides of a tug-of-war rope on transportation, one side pulling hard for reform and the other pushing back to maintain the status quo.

More than a decade of Democratic dominance over the state House has provided the time necessary to put the right people in charge of the right committees, a firebreak of Machiavellian brilliance in its construction, manned by representatives whose own political fate is insulated from the fires that rage around them.  There’s no better example of that stalemate than the decision by state Rep. Judy Clibborn’s (D-Mercer Island) refusal to hold a vote on a bill to remove tolling on one lane on the north section of I-405.  (Taxpayers had been told that an increase in gas taxes would be used to create the additional lane for general purpose use.)

In theory, voters can break through Clibborn’s obstruction (beyond which exist the failsafe options of a blockade by Speaker of the House Frank Chopp and a veto from Gov. Jay Inslee) at the ballot box.  Ultimately, Inslee appoints the director of the Department of Transportation who sets the tone inside the agency; Inslee could be voted on if voters chose to make the election a mandate on transportation policy.

But in the real world, the temperature of anger on single issues rarely rises to a level in state politics needed to cook an individual elected official on Election Day.  It’s a problem of diffused accountability.

It’s true, the governor does appoint the head of WSDOT, but the matter of direct accountability is less clear. After all, the governor is responsible for managing a range of things and promoting a broader agenda.  It makes the decision to reject a governor on the basis of transportation policy a bit like declining an invite to a Super Bowl party based only on the quality of the chili being served.  Because transportation is something that affects everyone, it is a matter best decided on an a la carte basis.

Voters deserve to have a more direct path of accountability when it comes to the government’s involvement in their daily lives.

The time has come to make the Washington State Department of Transportation accountable to the people, by allowing the people to choose its top official.  Such a change would shift the agency’s relationship to taxpayers and create a mechanism through elections to align our transportation system with the needs of Washingtonians.

Let’s not kid ourselves.  It won’t be easy.  The state constitution would need to be amended and that begins in the Legislature.  Would Republicans be willing to make the promise to voters that they would pass the necessary legislation if voters gave them control of both legislative bodies?  If they did campaign on such a promise — one element of a contract with Washingtonians — it would send a clear message that their party stands for direct accountability to the public on matters that affect our daily lives.

GYEKENYES- OCTOBER 6 : War refugees at the Gyekenyes Zakany Railway Station on 6 October 2015 in Gyekenyes, Hungary. Refugees are arriving constantly to Hungary on the way to Germany.

Column | Inslee’s case for Syrian refugees is based on a seriously flawed reading of history

GYEKENYES- OCTOBER 6 : War refugees at the Gyekenyes Zakany Railway Station on 6 October 2015 in Gyekenyes, Hungary. Refugees are arriving constantly to Hungary on the way to Germany.

GYEKENYES- OCTOBER 6 : War refugees at the Gyekenyes Zakany Railway Station on 6 October 2015 in Gyekenyes, Hungary. Refugees are arriving constantly to Hungary on the way to Germany.

When a Republican politician steps out to take a minority position on the issue of the day, they can expect to be portrayed by the media as an outlier, ranging from simply being out-of-step to an enemy of freedom. When a Democrat swims against strong public opposition, they are labeled a champion.

Today, the Washington Post ran this headline on The Fix political blog: “This governor just made the most powerful argument yet for accepting Syrian refugees.” Building from that grabber, journalist Amber Phillips shined a warm spotlight on Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, one of 10 governors still voicing support for the Obama administration’s plan to bring at least 10,000 refugees into the U.S. And as is so often the case, the media’s effort to lionize another Democratic champion leads with a lie.

Phillips writes with careful intent:

There’s a saying I recall hearing as a child… : “Don’t make decisions when you’re upset.”

If you do, the saying goes, you risk making a decision guided by the same fear and anger that caused you to be upset in the first place instead of making a decision guided by reason.

Having set the scene, Phillips introduces the public to its hero:

That’s essentially the argument Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) made in a succinct but powerful interview with NPR’s Steve Inskeep on Wednesday morning about why America should accept 10,000 Syrian refugees who need a home. America is understandably afraid after the terror in Paris and its roots on the migrant trail from Syria, he said, but if we close the door on Syrian refugees, we are doing so out of fear, not any reality-based rationale — and that would be a mistake.

Then, for those who might still hold on to their concerns, Phillips and Inslee shove a mirror in front of Joe and Jane America, and imply that fear is only a manifestation of darker blemishes on our nation’s soul:

To emphasize his point, Inslee recalled a moment in American history when the nation collectively did just that: Made a mistake because it was afraid.

“I live on Bainbridge Island, this little island just west of Seattle. And it was the first place where we succumbed to fear, in 1941 after Pearl Harbor,” he said. “And we locked up Washington and American citizens, and we sent them to camps for years while their sons fought in the Army in Italy and were decorated fighting for democracy.”

Inslee’s reference of course, is to Japanese internment camps.

Phillips ends her piece by concluding that “reason is a better guide than fear.” Yet, Inslee’s position is not based on reason. His case for welcoming Syrian refugees into the U.S. and Washington state is based on emotion and a very flawed reading of history.

Only two days ago, Inslee made a shaky linkage to compare the Syrian exodus to the Vietnamese refugee crisis of the 1970s. (There had never been serious threats to the homeland stemming from the Vietnam War aside from those committed by homegrown terrorists.) As he skimmed further back in his world history notes to the mid-20th century, the governor’s ability to interpret the lessons of the past is even less steady.

Inslee’s thinly veiled analogy between the forced internment of American citizens who were ethnically Japanese during World War II and the present-day decision to allow Syrian citizens to be settled into the U.S. is ludicrous in the extreme. Depriving U.S. citizens of their rights on the basis of race was an ugly process, but one that bears no similarity to the current case of Syrians.

The governor’s approach is a mix of shame and emotion intended to produce compliance, not consensus. It follows the president’s slanderous line of attack on opponents of the refugee plan. Most disappointing, it further polarizes this important discussion making it harder, if not impossible, to find common ground.

This is the game into which our political discourse has devolved — a rhetorical three-card Monte game in which facts, emotions and half-truths are swapped quickly through the dialogue to produce “truthiness,” a warm feeling that gives us more comfort and social acceptance than reality ever can.

If Inslee was just a professor teaching bad history, the damage from his erroneous lesson would be measured only in dozens of minds wasted. But the concerns of citizens and experts about security risks and whether adequate safeguards can be put in place are legitimate; because the stakes are high we should demand intellectual rigor from those who wish to influence the debate.

[Image credit: iStock]
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WA-GOV | Republican Bill Bryant wants caution, ‘strict screenings’ of Syrian refugees

Front-running Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Bryant wants a compassionate but cautious approach to settling Syrian refugees in Washington state to include “strict screenings,” according to a statement made Monday.

“While most Syrian refugees are also just looking for a new start in a free country, we should not let our compassion blind us to legitimate public and personal safety concerns and to those who might take advantage of our generosity and openness,” Bryant said. “We should act compassionately only after it is clear strict screenings have been completed.”

Bryant also indirectly sparred with the man he will almost certainly face next year on the campaign trail, Gov. Jay Inslee.

Earlier Monday, Inslee issued a statement on the Syrian refugee question in which he compared the present-day Syrian exodus to the Vietnamese refugee crisis in the 1970s.

“We have been and will continue to be a state that embraces compassion and eschews fear mongering, as evidenced so well by Republican Gov. Dan Evans’ welcoming of Vietnamese refugees here in the 1970s,” Inslee said.

Bryant disagreed with Inslee’s somewhat flawed history lesson.

“Our situation today is very different from when our state welcomed Vietnamese refugees. I know. I tutored some of those refugees who arrived looking for a new life,” Bryant said.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee

Gov. Inslee: Washington state will welcome Syrian refugees

Inslee compares present-day Syrian exodus to 1970s Vietnamese refugee crisis

Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA) is supporting Pres. Barack Obama’s plan to allow thousands of Syrian refugees to settle in the U.S., some of whom may be sent to live in Washington state, according to a statement made Monday.

Controversy has intensified over the issue of allowing people leaving war-torn Syria to settle in Europe and the U.S. has become in the aftermath of last week’s horrific terror attacks in Paris that killed 129. Investigations revealed one of the terrorists who carried out the attacks was carrying a Syrian passport and is believed to have come into Europe as part of a recent Syrian exodus.

Earlier this year, U.S. counterintelligence officials expressed concerns about opportunities for terrorists to hide within refugee populations in order to carry out attacks inside of Western countries.

By speaking out, Inslee chose a side in the hastening debate among governors over whether to support or oppose the Syrian resettlement plan, adding his name to a list of six Democratic governors supporting the president’s proposal.

“I stand firmly with President Obama who said this morning, ‘We do not close our hearts to these victims of such violence and somehow start equating the issue of refugees with the issue of terrorism,’” Inslee said.

Inslee also asserted that he has very little power in the matter.

“It’s important to note that governors do not decide whether refugees come to their states. Those decisions are made by the federal government…,” Inslee said.

Washington State Chief Refugee Coordinator Sarah Peterson told us by email that the State Department plans to settle just over 3,000 refugees in Washington state during 2016, but that there has been no indication how many of those will be from Syria. A State Department spokesperson said that while there are no official projections on how the Syrian refugees will be allocated among the states next year, those decisions will be made in close coordination with state and local civil society organizations and government elected officials.

Inslee compared allowing Syrian refugees into Washington to former Gov. Dan Evans courageous decision to welcome refugees fleeing war-torn Vietnam in the 1970s. The comparison lacks clarity in any historical context.

It’s true that there were acts of terrorism inside the U.S. during the time Americans were at war with North Vietnam. That violence was undertaken by ultra-nationalist groups and homegrown terrorists such as the founder of both the Weather Underground and Pres. Barack Obama’s political career, Bill Ayers. But at no time were agents of communist Vietnam conducting attacks on the American homeland. And therein lies all the difference in the world.

Opposing the White House plan are 27 governors, including the Democratic governor of New Hamphire, Maggie Hassan. Kentucky Governor-Elect Matt Bevin is not included in that number, but has said he will oppose settlement in his state.

Immediate reactions on Twitter to Inslee’s statement were mixed. Some applauded the decision as a show of tolerance, while others characterized the Democratic chief executive as reckless.

[Note: Updates have been made to this story since original publication. The number of governors opposing the White House refugee plan increased from 19 to 27 and that information has been changed to reflect that fact.]
Kshama_Sawant_at_University_Commons_Groundbreaking

Seattle’s biggest loser on Election Night 2016 was Kshama Sawant. Here’s why.

Kshama_Sawant_at_University_Commons_GroundbreakingIt’s clear that after last week’s elections, Seattle is in no danger of losing its place as the new West Coast capital of socialist politics.

But a reading of results on ballot measures and Seattle City Councilwoman Kshama Sawant’s comfortable re-election may obscure other indications that Seattle socialist movement has stalled, at least for now.

In general, Seattle affirmed and intensified its reputation as a bastion of liberal politics. They passed a transportation package that will move bikes — but not cars — marginally more efficiently and substantially more expensively through downtown.

Seattle voters also stood apart from the rest of Washington by rejecting yet another widely popular measure meant to constrain the state’s ability to raise taxes — Initiative 1366.

For good measure, they enacted an arguably unconstitutional, property tax-funded public campaign financing scheme, one that must have union and community organizers salivating in anticipation of opportunities for graft and electoral corruption like Seattle hasn’t seen for maybe a century or more.

One might assume that if you’re a moderate Democrat in Seattle, after all of those harbingers of civic decay rolled in, Sawant’s re-election would have come as a coup de grâce — a finishing blow.

Nevertheless, it’s easy to imagine that some of Seattle’s moderate city council members and frustrated business leaders may have quietly celebrated Election Night 2015 as “Freedom from Sawant Day.”

That’s because amid all of the signs that Seattle’s political hue has darkened from navy blue to blue-black, Sawant’s brand of militant ‘eat the rich’ socialism failed to expand either its market share or its legislative power.

As Sawant’s influence over the Seattle City Council has been enabled by belief that she represented the leading edge of a surging socialist tilt, so would the rejection of two city council candidates who campaigned alongside her on the issue of rent controlLisa Herbold (District 1) and Jon Grant (Position 8, at-large) — be recognized as the sleeper takeaway from the 2015 election: the empress has no coattails.

(Note: As of Nov. 12, Herbold only trails her opponent Shannon Braddock by six votes. Yes, that’s the number six as in half the number of eggs that go into the infamous mega-omelette at Beth’s Cafe. It’s hard to say whether a narrow win by Herbold would be interpreted as a mandate of any kind, but it seems certain that it can’t be seen as evidence of a socialist surge.)

Although Sawant’s ability to mobilize against her opponents has had moderates and progressives tripping over each other in a mad rush to move to the left, in order for those shifts to become permanent her ideological partners in crime needed to win.

Sawant may privately recognize the impact of Tuesday’s election, though socialist-friendly media may begin churning out cheap fan fiction featuring tales of secret Republican money and gerrymandered districts to explain away the losses by Herbold and Grant.

But money is just a means of activating voters, not a method of engineering votes. Voters spoke by rejecting candidates who did all but pinky swear to charter a Sawant-led caucus and form a new voting bloc if elected. Those losses dealt Sawant a double blow, politically, by depriving her of two reliable votes on her shoulders and by revealing to her adversaries that she lacks the power to unseat them.

Plain and simple: Sawant lost big time because elections matter more than choreographed protests when it comes to creating permanent political change.

I won’t cry for Kshama, but if she feels like forcing a tear or two she could reflect on the comparative success Tea Party and conservative groups have had in shifting the center of gravity in the Republican Party.

The stunning primary election ouster of then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor by Rep. David Brat (R-VA-7) in 2014 was one such event that sent a message to the GOP establishment.

Last Tuesday in Kentucky, another such message was pounded home by hardcore conservative Republican Matt Bevin, who had run an unsuccessful primary effort in 2014 to unseat Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, was comfortably elected to become the state’s next governor.

In Washington state in 2014, many Republicans held their breath through a narrow victory by Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA-4) against fire-breathing farmer and former pro football player Clint Didier.

Conservative wins are incentivizing the Republican establishment to face a reality: intense conservative urges still exist within its base. A craving for more active responses to fiscal nonsense and creeping codification of progressive social policy might have been dismissed if not for the wake-up call that only elections can provide.

Sawant is a key figure in a fringe movement within the universe of Democratic voters. Seattle elections this year were an early opportunity to transform the mobilizing strength of her movement into electoral victories and expand legislative power. She lost that battle to win the political heights. Whether more reasonable, pragmatic minds will read the tea leaves and move to circumscribe Sawant’s power inside a smaller, appropriately sized space remains to be seen.

[The story has been edited since publication to reflect the very close race in Seattle City Council District 3.]

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