Category: Washington (Page 1 of 54)

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.
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.]
Drought-ravaged landscape

Holding Washington and other Western states hostage over water | Op-Ed

A dominant theme washing over Capitol Hill in the waning days of the session centers on how Congress can effectively address the diverse and legitimate needs of the many Western States confronting historic drought and water issues. There are nearly two-dozen legislative proposals from both Democrats and Republicans tackling everything from the EPA’s “Waters of the U.S” regulations and carbon-reduction rules to drought relief for farmers and ranchers affecting many Western states.

Drought in Washington and across the West have caused billions of dollars in impacts and are predicted to cost billions more in the coming years.

Our elected officials have taken notice.

Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA-4) is making it his priority to facilitate the construction of new dams and reservoirs to increase Washington’s water storage capacity by introducing the Bureau of Reclamation Surface Water Storage Streamlining Act of 2015.

Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) is pushing the Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project Phase III Act, which provides an integrated approach to addressing water management in Washington’s Yakima Basin. As the Yakima Basin faces continued drought and climate impacts, the federal government has a responsibility to act now to prevent future impacts and costs in meeting its legal responsibilities in the basin.

This summer California Rep. David Valadao (R-CA-21) and 25 bipartisan co-sponsors — including Newhouse and Rep. Scott Tipton (R-CO-3) — introduced HR 2898, a drought relief bill that would benefit Washington, as well as California and our other Western states. It passed in the House, but was coldly received by the Senate, even though many knew that California senator Dianne Feinstein contributed to its provisions.

California Senators Feinstein and Barbara Boxer responded with an alternative, a bill that would grab $1.3 billion in federal funds for California; 12 environmental activist groups helped Feinstein and Boxer draft their measure. While these senators command respect, their bill would do little for Washington and other Western states. Rather, it would simply help expand California’s environmental mandates to our state and many others.

We need much more than that.

By some estimates more than 93 million Americans are now impacted by the Western drought. At least twelve western states are falling victim to drought conditions and receiving USDA drought relief: Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Washington. The impact of the drought ripples across the nation, which has a vested interest in food prices, the security of our food supply and the economy at large.

With over 92% of all federally owned lands located in the West, Americans are growing concerned about impacts on national parks and national forests. After all, issues concerning water, air and other natural resources cross state lines from coast to coast.

The U.S. House of Representatives’ response was to sensibly bundle its Western States package of measures into a comprehensive regional plan to address drought rather than dedicate federal funds to a single state’s crisis. A comprehensive package solves many states’ problems rather than dealing with them piecemeal.

As important as California is, and despite its historic drought crisis, a California-centric approach is myopic and unfair. The federal government must take ownership and responsibility for untangling the unwieldy web of local, state and federal government regulations that control the West’s water.

The drought is regional; it’s bigger than California and any fix should address the needs of the West, not just one state. Senators Feinstein and Boxer know that. The sooner congressional delegations across the West all band together and start treating the water crisis as an American issue of national importance, it helps our state of Washington, the West, and the nation — and that includes California.

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WA-GOV | Dave Reichert stays put, Bill Bryant sole Republican running to unseat Jay Inslee

U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Auburn)

U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Auburn)

After months of speculation culminating in several weeks of deliberate rumor-stoking, the wait is over. Congressman Dave Reichert (WA-8) will not run for Washington state governor… again.

In a statement released Friday, Reichert expressed concern for the state under current Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee’s leadership, but said he believes he can best serve the people by seeking re-election to represent Washington’s 8th Congressional District. Reichert wrote:

Like so many of you, I have been extremely disappointed in the decisions coming out of the Governor’s Office — regarding our schools, the health of our children, and most recently a decision to give the Green River serial killer a chance to enjoy life in a nicer prison. We deserve better.

Yet, I believe I can better serve you now, today, in another Washington where politicians are more interested in fighting each other than fighting for America; where leadership has been in retreat, and courage has been on recess.

The fifth-term congressman and former King County Sheriff’s displeasure with Inslee’s performance seems to be shared by voters. The governor’s job approval rating in some non-published polls is soft — hovering in the mid-40s — and the most recent Elway Poll finding that only 30 percent of voters would definitely vote to give the governor a second term each indicate weakness.

Reichert’s decision to remove his name from consideration leaves Republican candidate for governor and Seattle Port Commissioner Bill Bryant with an open field to run in toward the primary, at least for now.

(The absence of any mention of Bryant in Reichert’s statement was noticed by some Republican insiders.)

Seattle Port Commissioner and candidate for governor Bill Bryant

Seattle Port Commissioner and candidate for governor Bill Bryant

Bryant knew his cue and quickly blasted an email to supporters complimenting Reichert for his public service and sending the signal that his campaign was shifting into a higher gear. Bryant wrote:

My campaign for governor of Washington State now moves into a new phase; a phase focused on the challenges confronting our kids, teachers & classrooms, on the challenges confronting communities across Washington that need family wage jobs, and on the challenges facing the Puget Sound and the salmon runs that are part of our history, culture and economy.

Our campaign needs to make some noise, offer the people an alternative leadership style, one that not only articulates a vision, but that is capable of building coalitions that gets stuff done.

State Republican Party Chairwoman Susan Hutchison issued her own statement giving praise to both Reicher and Bryant. Hutchison wrote:

Congressman Reichert has an exemplary record of public service, and the people of his district, Washington State, and the country will be well served by him focusing on his current role.

Republican Bill Bryant is running a strong campaign for Governor, meeting voters across the state and building support to replace the Governor who can’t govern, Jay Inslee.

The relatively minimal statements of Hutchison, Reichert and Bryant marked an important plot point in a story stretching back nearly three years.

Chatter among Republicans as to who could beat Inslee in 2016 began not long after Election Night 2012. Conversations took place at conferences, in coffee shops and among groups gathering through social media, but along the GOP grapevine Bryant’s name wasn’t registering in those early discussions as the top-tier choice of Republicans. Reichert, however, was mentioned often as an A-list option, a candidate with considerable name identification and a persona that matched up against Inslee’s protector archetype. In certain circles, prospects for a run by state Senator Andy Hill (R-Redmond) generated proportional excitement, originating largely from his calm leadership under fire during budget battles in Olympia and his record of winning in part of King County.

Meanwhile, Bryant went to work to build and strengthen his reach across Washington, crisscrossing the state and subjecting himself to the rigors of rubber chicken dinners at Lincoln Day events in nearly every county. He recruited grassroots activists into his campaign and racked up a significant list of endorsements including leading state legislators from both sides of the Cascades, port commissioners, as well former Gov. Dan Evans and former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton.

Since launching his official campaign this May, Bryant has also drawn financial support, raising more than $575,000 in the doldrums of the 2nd and 3rd quarters of this year.

[Bryant’s accumulated campaign finances may have been one factor in Reichert’s decision. Reichert’s federal campaign coffers hold just over $607,000 as of Sept. 30, which would put him slightly ahead of Bryant in the fundraising contest, but the procedure for sweeping those monies over for use in a state race is tedious and could reduce the total available. (See “Inslee Discloses Details of Disputed $200K Transfer from Fed Account, Several Donors Over the Max,” Northwest Daily Marker, 9/3/11.)]

Bryant still has a lot of work to do to catch up to Inslee in fundraising. Even contending with several financing blackouts during regular legislative sessions, overtimes and triple overtimes, Inslee has amassed almost $2.4 million, though it’s worth noting that $320,000 of Inslee’s contributions in 2015 came as transfers from the state Democratic machine. Without those as early and necessary cash transfusions, Inslee’s fundraising edge in 2015 narrows to less than $280,000. Not a photo finish, for sure, but neither is it a runaway for the incumbent.

Nevertheless, Team Bryant’s early totals are a respectable ante to play in the contest ahead. As an incumbent holding statewide office, Inslee’s name identification is high and Bryant’s is relatively low; closing the gap will require more than just the candidate’s shoe leather and an army of enthusiastic volunteers.

The question of exactly how much money Bryant will need to raise depends largely on whether he remains the only candidate drawing on Republican and conservative votes in the primary. On the conservative right, there has been very little buzz about potential entrants into the primary who might appeal to voters whose tastes tend more toward Clint Didier, leaving some wondering if a challenge to Bryant from the right could still emerge late in the race.

WACapitolTempleOfJustice

Column | Supreme Court should apply ‘common school’ standard evenly to all schools

With all of the subtlety and compassion of a slumlord tacking a three-day eviction notice to the door on Christmas Eve, the Washington Supreme Court last week handed down a 6-3 ruling to strike down the state’s voter-approved charter school law.

The timing of the decision was callous and cowardly, coming late on a Friday heading into a three-day holiday weekend when an estimated 1,200 charter school students had either already begun classes or were eagerly anticipating the first day.

The Court took nineteen pages to justify its ruling, but their opinion can be boiled down to one idea: “[C]harter schools do not qualify as common schools.” The Court has previously ruled that schools that are not common schools cannot use funds intended for common school purposes.

That leaves one small matter — what is a “common school?” The word itself may lead the average person to believe a common school is just a school that is open to all students and does not charge tuition, but the full definition is established in precedent that goes back 106 years.

In School District No. 20 v. Bryan [1909], the Court established a set of standards for common schools. Aside from aspects of open enrollment and local control, the spirit of the decision seems to coalesce around preserving accountability to the voters for how publicly funded schools would be operated. From Bryan: [ed. bold added]

“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.”

Hang on a second. You say that complete control is “a most important feature” of a common school? Agents chosen by the voters (a.k.a., school board members) need to have the ability to get rid of bad teachers?

Chief Justice Madsen and Company, I believe you’ve inadvertently raised the question of whether any schools in Washington are, in practice, constitutional.

In the sense of how schools function and whether the degree of accountability, most balanced observers of our K-12 system would have to find it falling far short of the bar set in Bryan.

By affirming the plainly written common school standard in Bryan, did the Court condemn charter schools and traditional schools alike? Because while it’s technically true that schools can act to dismiss bad teachers, the practical reality is painfully obvious. The swift and authoritative mechanism the justices were striving to protect with Bryan has — in the intervening 106 years — been subverted by a thicket of union-strewn contractual red tape that has the effect of protecting bad teachers.

Union rules have made getting rid of incompetent teachers so cumbersome that in too many cases the cure is worse than the disease, and so incompetence is internally managed. The kids suffer, particularly minority and low-income students who often can’t just move to a more expensive neighborhood in order to evacuate a school that is not meeting this basic common school standard.

This new normal across large swaths of the K-12 universe is, in fact, a large part of why voters approved Initiative 1240 in the first place.

Could the Court have decided differently? Could they have overturned Bryan and avoided sending 1,200 students into a state of educational limbo?

We’re told by proponents of an activist judiciary that constitutions are living things, and that they need to adapt with the times. Justices in 1909 were still in the process of protecting the institution of public education during its adolescence. It’s unlikely their deliberation would have included imagining a future in which unions with crushing political power would place virtual handcuffs on school boards and administrators to make the need for local control just a quaint notion; an idea that went out of fashion right along with spats on shoes and flapper dresses.

How would the Seattle or Tacoma School Districts fare if measured by a future Court against the Bryan standard, particularly if that panel of justices required evidence of local control in staffing decisions to find the common school standard had been met?

Times have changed. Chief Justice Madsen, Associate Chief Justice Johnson, and Justices Owens, Stephens, Wiggins and Yu should be able to recognize that and it was within their grasp to do something about it. They chose to maintain the status quo.

Elections matter. Of the justices who signed onto the 6-3 decision, the terms of Associate Chief Justice Charles Johnson and Justice Debra Stephens are up at the end of this year.

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