by Goldy, 01/31/2005, 12:52 PM

Oregon State Rep. Dan Doyle — “the champion of the fiscally conservative, no-new-taxes wing of the House GOP caucus” — resigned today after pleading no contest to theft for listing his wife on his health insurance forms before they were married. (Domestic Partnership benefits, anybody?)

But I was particularly amused by the following statement from the AP article:

Doyle becomes the first lawmaker to resign because of legal troubles since former state Rep. John Mabrey, R-The Dalles, left the Legislature last May.

Wow… what a streak! Oregon Republicans managed to go eight whole months without one of their own being forced to resign due to legal troubles!

Congratulations Oregon GOP!

Correction:
It was Mabry who listed his wife on his health care forms, Doyle diverted campaign funds for personal use. Thanks to Richard for pointing out my mistake.

by Goldy, 01/30/2005, 11:46 PM

I spend an awful lot of time browsing the websites of dozens of Northwest blogs and newspapers. Now there’s a new website that’s trying to make life a little easier for us news-junky progressives.

Pacific NW Portal recently went live aggregating news and commentary from Washington, Oregon and Idaho… including yours truly. It’s not perfect, and a little busy (and it has some problems with my old version of Safari,) but it’s a great start. I’m certainly going to add it to my personal rounds.

by Goldy, 01/30/2005, 7:44 PM

This afternoon I attended the Call to Action Forum presented by the Progressive Democratic Caucuses of the 46th Legislative District.

Wow.

The turnout was amazing. Even though Rep. Jim McDermott was a featured speaker, I didn’t really expect more than 100 people. There must have been at least 500. The audience overflowed out of the main auditorium at the Labor Temple, into adjoining rooms where they could watch on closed-circuit TV.

Anybody who thinks progressives had their morale destroyed by the November election, think again. Today I saw the same kind of energy and dedication that I marveled at during last spring’s caucuses. I have been too immersed in my own battles to have the luxury of feeling confident about our nation’s future. Today I felt confident.

The audience was rewarded by a surprise visit from Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who followed up McDermott’s talk on the Bush administration’s proposed privatization of Social Security, with his own informative presentation on the subject. Opposing Republican efforts to dismantle our nation’s most important social safety net should be the overwhelming focus of Democrats in Congress. After hearing both McDermott and Kucinich put forth such a concise and powerful message, I have renewed hope that Democrats can block Bush’s destructive legislative agenda.

In his discussion, McDermott pointed the audience towards a column by economist Paul Krugman in the New York Times: “Little Black Lies.” In it, Krugman accuses Bush of shamelessly using the “the race card” when claiming that African-American males get a bad deal from Social Security because their life-expectancy is so much shorter than whites. According to Krugman, this not only exploits “the tragedy of high black mortality for political gain instead of treating it as a problem we should solve,” it is also an out-and-out lie.

Here’s why. First, Mr. Bush’s remarks on African-Americans perpetuate a crude misunderstanding about what life expectancy means. It’s true that the current life expectancy for black males at birth is only 68.8 years – but that doesn’t mean that a black man who has worked all his life can expect to die after collecting only a few years’ worth of Social Security benefits. Blacks’ low life expectancy is largely due to high death rates in childhood and young adulthood. African-American men who make it to age 65 can expect to live, and collect benefits, for an additional 14.6 years – not that far short of the 16.6-year figure for white men.

Second, the formula determining Social Security benefits is progressive: it provides more benefits, as a percentage of earnings, to low-income workers than to high-income workers. Since African-Americans are paid much less, on average, than whites, this works to their advantage.

Finally, Social Security isn’t just a retirement program; it’s also a disability insurance program. And blacks are much more likely than whites to receive disability benefits.

Put it all together, and the deal African-Americans get from Social Security turns out, according to various calculations, to be either about the same as that for whites or somewhat better. Hispanics, by the way, clearly do better than either.

Of course, this is exactly the kind of fundamental dishonesty we’ve come to expect from the right when they can’t back up their agenda with the truth. And the truth is, the Bush administration will do or say anything in their effort to dismantle the greatest legacy of the New Deal.

UPDATE:
From The Washington Post (via The Seattle Times):

The congressional Republicans’ confidential plan was developed with the advice of pollsters, marketing experts and communication consultants, and was provided to The Washington Post by a Republican official. The blueprint urges lawmakers to promote the “personalization” of Social Security, suggesting ownership and control, rather than “privatization,” which “connotes the total corporate takeover of Social Security.”

Yes… when proposing legislation designed to dramatically unravel our nation’s most basic social safety net, it’s not economists the Rovians rely on, but rather the “pollsters, marketing experts and communication consultants.”

“Personalization” my ass.

by Goldy, 01/29/2005, 4:41 PM

In the final segment of what has turned into a three-part series on the legal basis of the election contest, I now turn to the election statute itself.

The GOP petition claims the court has jurisdiction to set aside a gubernatorial election “pursuant to RCW 29A.68.011 et seq., and the court’s plenary powers.” Yesterday I suggested that the irregularities alleged thus far do not constitute the “gross violations” necessary for the court to nullify the election under its general equity jurisdiction. Today I’d like to briefly discuss the statute itself, and how the various allegations might fit into a decision.

The GOP clearly relies on Foulkes v. Hays for precedents, a 1975 case in which an Adams County commissioner’s race was set aside due to ballot tampering. The following excerpt provides the heart of the Rossi camp’s arguments. (Please note that RCW 29.65.010 is now RCW 29A.68.020, and RCW 29.04.030 is now RCW 29A.68.011.)

[2] Here the trial court correctly ruled that RCW 29.65.010 did not apply to respondent Foulkes’ claim. The only subsection of that section which is claimed to be applicable is subsection (5), which allows contests to be brought on the basis of “illegal votes.” But, as the trial court held, the term “illegal votes” has been held to refer not to fraudulently altered ballots, but to votes “cast by persons not privileged to vote and votes not entitled to be counted because not cast in the manner provided by law.” … Such a limited interpretation of this phrase here is especially appropriate in light of RCW 29.65.090 , which requires a person alleging illegal voting in a statutory election contest to provide the court with the names of those who cast them. In a situation such as the trial court found existed here, it might be impossible to show by whom the ballots were altered, though it is proven that the alteration took place. To impose a requirement that an election contestant produce a “smoking gun” to obtain relief in such circumstances would deprive him of relief despite the clear merits of his claim that the election was invalid. RCW 29.65.010 therefore did not apply, and the trial court correctly proceeded under the alternative authority provided it by RCW 29.04.030 .

Essentially, we have two kinds of allegations: illegal votes, and other irregularities. Illegal votes in this case most likely consist of those cast by felons or on behalf of dead people, and those cast by people who voted twice. The disputed provisional ballots are not illegal; they were “cast in the manner provided by law” but improperly canvassed. None of the other alleged irregularities — enhanced ballots, disenfranchised military voters, voter roll discrepancies — can rightly be considered illegal votes.

As defined in RCW 29A.68.020, illegal votes will be considered under the standard set forth in RCW 29A.68.110:

No election may be set aside on account of illegal votes, unless it appears that an amount of illegal votes has been given to the person whose right is being contested, that, if taken from that person, would reduce the number of the person’s legal votes below the number of votes given to some other person for the same office, after deducting therefrom the illegal votes that may be shown to have been given to the other person.

Except for the phrase “unless it appears” there is nothing ambiguous about this statute. Contrary to the oft repeated GOP mantra that all they need to do is prove 129 illegal votes, it is clear that they must at least show the appearance that these votes benefited Gregoire over Rossi in numbers sufficient to have changed the outcome. Fat chance. It will be amusing, if the GOP has the balls to issue subpoenas, to see how many felons actually voted for Rossi.

But the bulk of the GOP’s allegations regard the other irregularities. The question remains… what is the standard for evaluating the impact of these irregularities, and what are the available remedies.

Rossi supporters take solace from Foulkes, where the court ruled that the altered ballots were not “illegal” as defined by statute, but rather, fraud that resulted from neglect. Since RCW 29.65.010 could not apply, the Supremes upheld the lower court’s decision to rely on RCW 29.04.030 (now RCW 29A.68.011.) Indeed, Foulkes apparently set aside the election based on this statute. But Foulkes is not the last word in court decisions.

In seeking to prove that the courts have jurisdiction over contests for statewide office, the GOP petition also cites a more recent 1995 case, Becker v. Pierce County. This decision also discusses RCW 29.04.030, and curiously concludes:

Finally, if Becker were limiting her claim for relief to that provided by RCW 29.04.030(4) alone, invalidation of the election, the relief she seeks, is not a possible result. Under that statute, the only relief that a court may afford is to order that the offending person “forthwith correct the error, desist from the wrongful act, or perform the [neglected] duty and to do as the court orders”.

This appears to directly contradict the Foulkes decision.

So, does the contest statute address the types of irregularities alleged by the GOP? Well, if you accept that an error implies “neglect,” and that neglect implies “misconduct,” then RCW 29A.68.070 clearly comes into play:

No irregularity or improper conduct in the proceedings of any election board or any member of the board amounts to such malconduct as to annul or set aside any election unless the irregularity or improper conduct was such as to procure the person whose right to the office may be contested, to be declared duly elected although the person did not receive the highest number of legal vote.

Read it any way you want, but it seems clear to me that the standard for annulling an election due to “irregularities” is awfully similar to the standard for “illegal votes.” Indeed Foulkes, actually sets a very high standard. The evidentiary findings concluded that failure to properly secure ballots constituted neglect, that this neglect resulted in ballots being fraudulently altered, and that these ballots were altered “such as to procure” the election for the appellant.

I just don’t see how Rossi meets these standards, for while he certainly might prove neglect, there is no evidence that such neglect resulted in fraud or served to procure the election for Gregoire.

Military ballots were sent out on time, and returned and counted in percentages consistent with overall voter turnout. Ballots were enhanced consistent with WAC 434-261-080, and there is no evidence the process favored Gregoire. Provisional ballots were improperly scanned at polling places throughout the state, and the vast majority would have been legally counted anyway. And the “discrepancy” between the voter list and the number of ballots cast is not evidence of fraudulent votes, but at worst, the lack of evidence to the contrary.

Based on the evidence presented thus far, this election and that in Foulkes have very little in common, and thus little if any precedent can be drawn from the prior case. Rossi’s case does not meet the high standards of that in Foulkes, nor those required for setting aside an election under the cited statutes. Furthermore, Rossi’s appeal to the “plenary powers” of the court is undermined by his reliance on a contest statute that clearly anticipates such irregularities as those alleged, and clearly states that annulling an election is not an appropriate remedy unless it can be shown that these irregularities changed the outcome.

But, much to my mother’s chagrin, I’m not an attorney. So what do I know?

by Goldy, 01/28/2005, 1:05 PM

In my previous post I suggested that Rossi’s attorneys would attempt to convince the court to reach outside the confines of the contest statute. Indeed, the GOP petition requests relief in the form of setting aside the election, and claims the court has jurisdiction “pursuant to RCW 29A.68.011 et seq., and the court’s plenary powers,” (it’s the “plenary” part I was referring to.)

The GOP clearly relies on Foulkes v. Hays for precedence, a case in which an Adams County commissioner’s race was set aside due to ballot tampering. Ignoring the Democrat’s argument that the contest statutes do not apply to statewide offices, the Foulkes decision clearly states that the court has jurisdiction over election contests in general.

[1] Appellant’s most basic challenge is to the power of courts to inquire into the conduct of elections and order new elections to correct improprieties therein under RCW 29.04.030 .

by Goldy, 01/27/2005, 4:02 PM

I am continuing to work on my analysis of Dino Rossi’s BIAW-backed election contest, and I’m still trying to get some expert legal advice. But I thought I’d share a little epiphany I had about what does or does not constitute a flawed election.

I have argued for months — before the hand recount even began — that the margin of victory in this election is so far within the margin of error, that we could never confidently determine the outcome. This is supported by the scientific literature, and as it turns out, by the known facts in this case.

For pragmatic reasons, I have always been comfortable with a degree of uncertainty… and apparently, so were the legislators who drafted our election laws.

Implicit in the recount provision is the acknowledgment that elections are imperfect (we wouldn’t conduct a recount if they were not.) While statute clearly assumes that a recount is more accurate than the original preliminary count, there can be no reasonable expectation that it be flawless. The statutory remedy for an extremely close election — even one in which the final margin of victory is but a handful of votes out of 3 million — is a single, hand recount. Statute accepts these results as final, despite the statistical (and common sense) likelihood that a second hand recount might produce different results.

There is a contest statute, however its purpose is not to prove that an election is flawed… we already know that. The intention of the contest statute is to allow us to fix errors and illegal votes while they are still correctable, or, to redress an election in which it appears that fraud, misconduct, or errors have actually changed the outcome. Rossi’s burden, at the very least, is to show the appearance that these disputed ballots accrued to Gregoire over him in numbers sufficient to have given her the governorship.

Given the evidence made public thus far, he cannot do this.

The acceptance of uncertainty implicit in our recount provisions is equally implicit in the contest statute… and with good reason. If the standard for setting aside an election was merely to prove that the margin of error is greater than the margin of victory, then all close elections would end up in court, and nearly all would be set aside. Such a policy would be impractical and untenable.

Rossi’s attorneys understand this, and while they’ll take a shot at repeating in court the same lame arguments they’ve made in public, their real hope lies in convincing the court to reach outside the contest statute entirely. To do this they will have to prove that this election was so fundamentally flawed, so outside the norm of accepted practices, that the courts must take extraordinary steps to restore the public’s faith in the process.

But as I’ve repeatedly stated, the only thing extraordinary about this election is its extraordinary closeness. Errors occur in every election, and while Rossi supporters might consider this explanation a load of shit… well, shit happens.

Perhaps Republicans really do believe that Democrats are so corrupt and dishonest, that if they looked hard enough they would surely find evidence of a “stolen election,” instead of just the typically flawed one we always have. I suspect the dispirited attitude now emanating from the right-blogs, flows from the growing realization that there is no corruption, no fraud, no widespread pattern of pro-Gregoire “mistakes”, just the usual distribution of random errors.

Could these errors have changed the outcome? Absolutely. But unless Rossi can prove that they probably did, his best shot at a new election will be in 2008.

by Goldy, 01/26/2005, 7:44 PM

I plan to devote a lot of pixels to the so-called “property-rights” debate, and the inevitable, BIAW-backed takings initiative. So I was interested to see Knute Berger’s latest Mossback column include the following comments on the issue from Robert Kennedy Jr.:

During our interview, I asked him mostly about the property-rights movement. It is making new headway in Oregon and resurging here in Washington as Tim Eyman and the development lobby consider a new ballot initiative, similar to Oregon’s recently passed Measure 37, which would compensate property owners if the value of their land goes down as the result of zoning and land-use laws.

“It’s a propaganda campaign to deceive the public,” says Bobby Jr. flatly. “There has never been a right to use your property in a way that injures your neighbor’s property.” The property-rights movement, he says, wants to exploit public assets for private gain. “The property-rights advocates have turned property rights on its head. . . . If government had to pay you not to put toxics in the air, not to dump sewage in water, the government couldn’t print enough money to do that. They’re about destroying the whole notion of community.” They are asserting a constitutional right to pollute, he says. “Look around at the communities that are the wealthiest, and they have the most controls. . . . If we all agree as a community to obey these laws and guidelines, we’ll all get richer.”

Some politicians have a gift for distilling an issue into a powerful, simple, and easy-to-digest message… and RFK Jr. is clearly one of them.

Others have a gift for sarcasm, so while we’re on the subject I thought I’d point you to Carl Ballard’s amusing “Dear Citizens’ Alliance for Property Rights“.

by Goldy, 01/26/2005, 1:29 PM

Oh… so now I get Tim Eyman’s patently stupid “initiative” initiative. (It’s true, Tim actually has a patent on “Stupid Initiatives”: US Patent No. 6,479,010.)

It was just a publicity stunt.

At a press conference today in the Secretary of State’s office, crotchety government-hating senators Pam Roach and Don Benton joined Tim as he filed his latest unconstitutional initiative. But it was all really just a subterfuge to get media into the room to witness them being the first to sign Tim’s floundering Initiative 900.

I-900 would finally enact performance audits… six months after they are enacted by the Legislature. But I-900′s total lack of political relevance is far from its weakest point; it is complicated, confusing, and unlike his successful campaigns, doesn’t put a penny back into voters’ pockets. Like 2003′s dismal I-807, this is a policy-wonk issue that will have trouble riling even his most loyal sycophants… an ever shrinking core group of supporters who have proven incapable of raising half the money Tim needs to qualify an initiative for the ballot.

So clearly, today’s initiative filing is just a load of hooey, much like the 776-Lite initiative he filed in February of 2003 in a desperate attempt to generate news coverage for his doomed I-807. Without a sugar daddy like the gambling industry, Tim is incapable of qualifying a single initiative for the ballot, let alone two. And just like two years ago, he has no intention of gathering signatures for this calculated farce.

The ploy may work, and Eyman may generate some news coverage from today’s events. But just a word of caution to my friends in the media: I do so enjoy I-told-you-so’s, and I intend to tell-you-so when this phantom initiative campaign fails to materialize.

by Goldy, 01/26/2005, 12:41 AM

Speaking of Tim Eyman… I’ve been doing some speaking of Tim Eyman:

A leading Eyman critic, David Goldstein, said Eyman has lost his touch for finding topics anyone would care about. “It’s really just whining,” he said.

That’s from an AP article by David Ammons, revealing that Tim Eyman is about to file an initiative about initiatives. How meta.

This paranoid piece of nonsense would apparently require voter approval of all legislation restricting initiatives. Unfortunately for Tim, it would also require a constitutional amendment, since Article II, Section 22 clearly specifies a simple majority in both houses to pass a bill… not that he’s ever allowed something as trivial as the Constitution to get in his way.

Of course, I can understand Tim’s concern. After all, over the past few years the Legislature has passed a number of bills restricting the initiative process… that number being exactly zero. Indeed, Timmy admits as much:

“It’s a perpetual battle with politicians wanting to gut the initiative process,” he declared. “…It’s something the voters shouldn’t have to always worry about.”

(HINT: the secret to understanding Eyman-speak is to believe the opposite of everything he says.)

“Battle politicians, blah, blah, blah. Voters worry, blah, blah, blah.” Poor Tim. Voters, legislators and the media have all started to tune him out, his predictable rants eliciting little more than that head-cocked, glassy-eyed stare you get when talking to your dog.

First he files a performance audits measure after it’s become apparent that the Legislature is already going to pass one, and now he files an initiative to protect the initiative process from a legislative onslaught that doesn’t exist. It’s not been a good year for Tim, and I think it’s beginning to take its toll. I’ve always suspected he suffers from a mild bipolar disorder, and this is just the sort of paranoid, political miscalculation that’s typical of his depressive phase.

How else can you explain an initiative campaign so carefully crafted to appeal to the voices in Tim’s head? It is true that hundreds of initiatives have been filed over the past six years, but even if a third of them had not been filed by Tim himself, it still wouldn’t leave this initiative with much of a constituency.

It’s been over two years since an Eyman initiative has passed at the polls. Tim hasn’t just lost touch with voters… he’s lost touch with reality.

by Goldy, 01/25/2005, 6:37 PM

Well, I never had a chance to say hello to Tim Eyman this morning… he refused to make eye contact with me, and rushed out as soon as his Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) enforcement hearing was over.

Ah, well. Screw him.

As it turns out, Tim only got a slap on the wrist, a fine of $150.00 each for two incidents of failing to report an in-kind contribution ($300.00 total.) Looking a bit haggard and unshaven — and lacking his usual shit-eating grin — the early morning drive down to Olympia for an 8 AM hearing seemed to be worse punishment than the punishment itself.

The enforcement was in response to a complaint I jointly filed on behalf of TaxSanity.org with my fellow Eyman-watchers, Steve Zemke of Taxpayers for Washington’s Future, and Andrew Villeneuve of Permanent Defense. I stand by my allegations of conspiracy to defraud contributors, but clearly the PDC is not the proper forum to pursue justice. If you provide a detailed complaint of an isolated violation they will investigate and respond accordingly. But they seem unwilling (or lack the jurisdiction) to connect the dots.

Essentially, Tim’s whole public charade of separating his initiative campaigns and his personal compensation fundraising into two separate Political Action Committees is a total sham. Funds raised for one are used to support the activities of the other, and vice versa. This, despite the unambiguous disclaimer that appears in his most recent fundraising email:

Voluntary donations to I-900, the Performance Audits of Government Initiative, will be used to qualify this important taxpayer protection initiative for the ballot. A different political action committee, “Help Us Help Taxpayers,” raises money for a compensation fund for Tim Eyman, Jack Fagan, & Mike Fagan for their effective political work on behalf of taxpayers. These two campaign committees are kept separate and donations and expenditures for each fund are publicly reported every month.

What he doesn’t tell you is that absolutely 100 percent of HUHT’s activities are paid for out of VWMC funds. And, that money raised this fall for HUHT, is currently being used to subsidize the early fundraising activities of VWMC.

(Did I ever mention that Tim Eyman is a lying, thieving, blowhard?)

Anyway, perhaps we’ll just have to take our evidence someplace else — like a prosecuting attorney’s office — for the PDC is apparently too damn busy protecting the integrity of our system from the real villains. You know, like Rev. Paul Benz, who lobbies for social justice issues on behalf of the Lutheran Church, and was fined $100 today for reporting late on his lobbying fees for November, 2003… a month he didn’t have any lobbying fees.

Who the hell files a PDC complaint against a Lutheran minister for reporting late on absolutely nothing? I don’t know, but I did find out who tattled on the two unfortunate teachers who were fined $500.00 each this morning for distributing R-55 petitions to fellow teachers on school property… why, the Evergreen Freedom Foundation of course. (I’d call EFF a bunch of mean-spirited, vindictive bastards… but Marsha might shoot me.)

Meanwhile, Tim Eyman, a professional liar with a documented history of flouting the public disclosure laws, is fined only $150.00 per violation. And last spring, when the PDC ruled he had filed his January reports three months late, he was fined nothing at all. But I guess Tim deserves the benefit of the doubt… unlike that shady Rev. Benz.

Whatever.

Tim should rest assured that he shouldn’t rest assured, for we’ll continue to monitor his public disclosure filings, just to keep him honest. Hell… somebody’s got to.

by Goldy, 01/25/2005, 6:38 AM

I’m off to Olympia again this morning, first for what I assume will be a brief run-in with our friend Tim Eyman, and then off to the House Finance Committee to hear Bill Gates Sr. testify on tax structure reform. (Talk about a couple of odd hobbies.)

For those who don’t know, Mr. Gates chaired the Washington State Tax Structure Committee, whose final report included recommendations to implement a state income tax. Whatever you think of its recommendations, the Committee’s report should be the starting point for anybody wanting to educate themselves on the structural deficit and basic unfairness of the nation’s most regressive state and local tax system.

I’ll report back late this afternoon on both events, but for now I point your attention to a couple of items in today’s Seattle P-I. First, the news that local clean-elections activist Bev Harris has been vindicated in a whistle-blower suit in California, against dominant election equipment manufacturer Diebold (“I guarantee Bush will win Ohio”) Election Systems.

The second is Paul Loeb’s guest column: “Revote? If Florida and Ohio go first.”

by Goldy, 01/24/2005, 10:02 PM

By now, many of you have probably already heard the revelations about the Pentagon’s new in-house espionage agency, an organization so secret that not even Congress knew about it. Intended to operate without detection and to get around the military’s “near total dependence on the CIA”, the agency has also done a pretty good job of getting around a couple of other pesky obstacles, like appropriations, congressional oversight… the US Constitution.

Pentagon officials said they established the Strategic Support Branch using “reprogrammed” funds, without explicit congressional authority or appropriation. Defense intelligence missions, they said, are subject to less stringent congressional oversight than comparable operations by the CIA.

Ahh… don’t you love the military’s newspeak-like love of language? “Reprogrammed funds.” Which of course translates into “we appropriate money for this, but we secretly spend it on that.”

I suppose then — what with their Orwellian attention to linguistic detail — the Defense Department is perfectly comfortable with the secret name they chose for this secret organization: the Strategic Support Branch.

Yes… it’s the SS! Many people have noted this administration’s fascist tendencies, but they’re not even trying to hide it anymore.

Yeah, I know there’s a “B” in there for “Branch”, but it could have been an “A” for “Agency” or a “G” for “Group” or something like that. You can be sure that when they sat down to name this organization, somebody must have looked at the abbreviation and thought “hmm… SS… some folks might find that a touch disturbing.” They just didn’t care.

Well, at least we can take comfort in the fact that our SS doesn’t operate on domestic soil. (Not that we’d know if it did.)

But whatever its name, these covert covert-operations raise a lot of troubling questions about the administration’s lack of accounta… wait a minute, somebody’s at my door. I’ll be right back….

by Goldy, 01/24/2005, 3:34 PM

We’ve had quite a debate going on in the comment threads over growth management, taxation, and other policies that exacerbate the urban-rural political divide in Washington state. Personally, I’m of the opinion that both sides usually get it wrong… that we are actually a lot more interdependent than we like to acknowledge, and thus have much more common ground than some provocateurs would have us believe.

I’d like to add some nuance to this debate by pointing to Kate Riley’s excellent column in today’s Seattle Times: “Getting city-slickers to listen to the states oldest industry.” Riley lays out the case made by the WA State Horticultural Association and the WA Tree Fruit Commission, that agriculture is a vital industry deserving the same attention and consideration as high tech.

“The Legislature would not consider changes to the tax code, transportation rules or environmental standards without first considering their effect upon economic engines like Boeing or Microsoft,” says Jim Hazen, executive director of the association. “Neither should policymakers adopt new laws and rules without considering their impact upon an industry that is the state’s second-largest employer and among the top 10 revenue generators.

I’m not enough of an Olympia insider or observer to know whether agriculture really does get short shrift in the Legislature, but I agree that it shouldn’t. In fact, one of the components of our Growth Management Act that I find most attractive is protecting productive agricultural lands from encroaching urban sprawl.

Ironically, Riley credits our high-tech Senator, Maria Cantwell, for being one politician who has embraced agricultural issues, and has worked hard in the other Washington on behalf of her rural constituents.

The senator shares farmers’ frustrations with the urban blind spot to agriculture, noting she reminded participants at a recent Seattle chamber discussion on biotechnology that agriculture research should be considered, too. “If you care about jobs in Washington, you need to care about agriculture,” Cantwell said.

It is rhetorically lazy to couch issues like this in the kind of “red-blue”, “right-left”, “east-west” dichotomy that turns every policy decision into an uncompromising ideological struggle. Demagogues like Tim Eyman may be good at sending angry messages, but they do a crappy job of writing rational policy that works for all our citizens.

And after all… we all have to eat.

by Goldy, 01/24/2005, 9:10 AM

A quick link to an article by the AP’s Rebecca Cook: “Dead voters won’t count in Rossi’s election challenge.”

Allegations of dead voters and election fraud elicit gasps from outraged voters and pundits, but they won’t really matter in the legal challenge to the Washington governor’s election.

As legal arguments unfolded in court last week, it became clear the case will turn instead on a close reading of the state constitution. Who has jurisdiction over election challenges — the courts or the Legislature? What is an “illegal vote”? What kind of proof does the constitution require to nullify an election?

These questions lack the sexy sparkle of voting felons, true, but the answers will determine whether Gov. Christine Gregoire stays in office.

I found the article a touch confusing (and perhaps, confused), but then… the legal issues involved are very confusing themselves. I’m working on getting some of my own questions answered, and plan to come back shortly with a more in-depth legal analysis (hopefully, from a real-life lawyer!)

In any case, in addition to the constitutional issue that has been raised over who has jurisdiction, the Legislature or the Courts, there appear to be a couple of issues at dispute: the definition of an “illegal vote”, that standard by which an election may be set aside on account of illegal votes, and the actual powers granted the courts by the controlling statutes.

Personally, I still think the GOP is essentially asking the court to ignore state statute and just set the election aside because it supposedly is “a mess.”

by Goldy, 01/23/2005, 9:51 PM

I was on the phone talking to family back east after watching my beloved Philadelphia Eagles whoop Atlanta on their way to the Super Bowl (fourth time’s the charm), when I looked out the window, and there, standing by a rat my cat had killed, was a peregrine falcon. The falcon looked around for a moment, hopped on top of the rat, and flew away with the rodent secure in its talons.

It was probably the best catch I saw a falcon make all day.

This is a region of spectacular wildlife that extends into the very center of our cities. In my South Seattle neighborhood I see eagles, and parrots, and blue herons, and peregrine falcons… an aviary far more diverse than the crows and pigeons of my native Philadelphia.

As I prepare to join the fight to protect our zoning and growth management policies from the inevitable, extreme “takings” initiative, I do so, inspired by the great natural splendor that makes Washington such a special place to live. Yes, there needs to be balance in all our policies, and I look forward to an informed debate. But if anybody thinks we’re going to get a balanced initiative from the likes of Tim Eyman and the BIAW, then… um… well, I couldn’t think of anything particularly witty, but you get the point.

Millions of people watched the Eagles and Falcons on TV today, but I actually get to watch the real things from my back yard. And that’s something worth protecting.

by Goldy, 01/22/2005, 12:28 PM

I’ve already documented the close connections between Dino Rossi and the Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW). In addition to spending $750,000 on Rossi’s election, the BIAW has also led the legal and PR effort in pushing for a new election, dedicating its entire staff of 30 to scouring the voting lists for hint of scandal.

Now activist website and longtime Tim Eyman nemesis Permanent Defense reveals the close political alliance between Rossi and our state’s most prolific initiative-peddler. [Tim Eyman and Dino Rossi: Friends and Allies]

Washington State GOP gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi likes to promote himself as a sunny moderate who will bring prosperity back to Washington State.

But what most people don’t know about Dino Rossi is his extremist positions – including his ties to initiative profiteer Tim Eyman, as well as his similarity to previous GOP candidates John Carlson (2000) and Ellen Craswell (1996).

Permanent Defense cites a string of quotes from both Eyman and Rossi attesting to their support for each other.

Surprise.

It’s hard to blame Rossi for attempting to recast himself as a moderate in the wake of Carlson’s and Craswell’s right-wing electoral debacles. But gullible voters who deserve blame for believing it.

by Goldy, 01/21/2005, 12:57 PM

Earlier this week I blogged on Seattle Times and AP reports on the financial woes of small-town Washington, like Mansfield and Bridgeport in rural Douglas County. ["Unintended consequences" Part 1 and Part 2]

Josh Feit follows up on the mainstream media’s sympathetic news coverage, but in The Stranger’s characteristically mean mien: “You Made Your Bed.”

Josh interviews Tricia Sima, tiny Mansfield’s beleaguered town clerk, who has been forced to cut a host of services — and add custodial duties to her own job description — as the city lost 76% of its revenues in the wake of Tim Eyman’s anti-car-tab I-695, and anti-property-tax I-747. Josh was decidedly unsympathetic.

After I established that Sima was a Republican (“I’m a bit conservative,” she chimed proudly) I asked her my question: Had the harsh reality of budget cuts made her reevaluate her conservative convictions about taxes? “No,” she told me emphatically. “I believe we can cut other programs that would not hurt the small rural areas.” (How’s that for traditional values? Greed and selfishness.)

According to Josh, compared to a rural county like Douglas, an urban county like King contributes 110 percent more state sales tax per capita, yet gets back from the state only 21 percent more. And King County actually generates 41 percent of state sales tax revenues, while Douglas County nets nearly $300,000 in special assistance. I have been warned in the past that revenue flow comparisons such as these can be complex and misleading, but have been assured by every “expert” I have consulted that, contrary to the myth oft repeated by politicians east of the Cascades, revenue does indeed flow from urban to rural areas.

Yet Douglas County voted 70.3 percent for I-695 and 69.9 percent for I-747. Josh is justifiably irritated at the suggestion that we should cut our services to maintain theirs.

Despite their disproportionate role in the equation, Republicans like Sima think services for the rural areas should take priority when taxes are cut. To that I say, I hope Mansfield’s leaky sewage lagoon is somewhere near Sima’s home.

Now some might (will) argue that if Mansfield wants more public services they are free to tax themselves. But Eyman’s I-776 was a statewide initiative aimed at preventing voters in three urban counties from doing exactly that… taxing themselves. A political “fuck you” that promised to stop Sound Transit from building light rail, it passed by a comfortable margin throughout most of the state, but failed in nearly every precinct within the Sound Transit taxing district.

Understand that the local MVET taxes I-776 banned were only levied in a handful of western Washington counties, and yet people like Sima voted to prevent us, from taxing ourselves, to maintain our public infrastructure… while at the same time expecting us to divert our dwindling tax revenues to subsidize theirs.

Don’t get me wrong; I believe most voters go to the polls attempting to do what they believe is right for their community. Unfortunately, our sense of community has grown so incredibly narrow, that we often fail to see the complex tangle of social, political, and economic interdependencies that Washington state really is. I join Josh Feit in his justifiable outrage over Sima’s misinformed and shortsighted politics, but rather than taking I-told-you-so satisfaction from the image of her backyard overflowing with sewage, I view it as a disturbing metaphor for Washington’s potential future.

There is a growing consensus in Olympia that structural flaws in Washington’s tax system are so profound, that beyond the perpetual budget crises we have now, state and local governments will eventually fall into a catastrophic financial meltdown, sometime within the next decade. Some Democrats see this as an opportunity, a point at which Washington will have no choice but to accept an income tax… or cease to be a modern economy.

I’m not so confident that given the current political climate, voters will make the responsible choice. Major tax restructuring is absolutely essential if we are to stay vital and competitive. But not even a fatal crisis will get us there, unless we first educate voters as to the realities of our current system, and the advantages of a new one.

Politics is rarely about leadership. Most successful politicians are more adept at convincing voters that they agree with us, than at persuading us to agree with them. But giving voters what they want is not leading… it is following.

It is time for individuals and organizations to take on the arduous and nearly-impossible task of shifting public opinion. Whether rising above the rhetorical rancor, or harnessing it to their own devices, it is time for leaders to step forth and risk their political careers in the service of persuading voters that tax restructuring is in the self-interest of all of Washington’s citizens, even those few at the top who will surely see their taxes rise. It is time to build a consensus for a tax system that at the very least meets the needs of a twentieth-century economy, if not the twenty-first.

Republicans refuse to engage in an honest public debate over the proper size and scope of government, because despite the loudmouthed libertarians on the right-wing blogs, they know they’ll lose. And Democrats are equally fearful of telling voters the truth about what it actually takes to give us the services we demand; instead, they perpetuate the charade that we can continue to close an endless series of multi-billion dollar budget gaps without raising revenues… or reverting to a nineteenth-century economy.

Yes I know that I am generalizing; there are some politicians willing to speak out on these issues, but rarely loud enough. For when someone like Ron Sims does, we the people take out his knees, desperately angry at the messenger for telling us what we don’t want to hear. Meanwhile, the politicians who lie the best, we reward the most. There is an odd, pathological symbiosis between us voters and our elected officials, that I would say is suggestive of the “Stockholm Syndrome” if only I could figure out who has been taken hostage by whom.

But we need political leadership whether we want it or not. So somebody better provide some before there’s no one left to lead.

It may be spitefully satisfying to envision Tricia Sima encamped on the edge of her leaking sewage lagoon, but it won’t be so amusing ten or twenty years from now when we are all wallowing in our own communal, political shit, passionately blaming the other guy for what went wrong.

Personally, I’m still willing to help Tricia clean up her mess, if she’s willing to help me clean up mine.

by Goldy, 01/21/2005, 2:00 AM

One of the reasons Judge Bridges denied the Republican request to expedite the discovery process was the incredible burden it was placing on some of the 39 counties, particularly the smaller ones. According to the Seattle Times:

One even accused Republicans of attempted extortion, saying the party offered to cut back its information request in exchange for the county agreeing not to fight some issues in court.

Republicans have apparently already made deals with ten counties:

Republicans offered to narrow their subpoenas, not seek attorneys’ fees and drop the counties as parties in the suit

by Goldy, 01/20/2005, 12:58 PM

In an overwhelming victory for bloggers everywhere, Chelan County Superior Court Judge John Bridges denied a Republican request for an expedited schedule in their contest of the gubernatorial election. The next hearing will be held Feb. 4.

He said the old maxim that justice delayed is justice denied has a corollary, “And that is justice hurried is also justice denied.”

Bridges said the speeded-up schedule requested by Republicans would have been “expedited chaos.”

The ruling is a crushing blow to the GOP’s legal strategy, which was relying on “chaos” in the state court proceedings as the underpinnings of their inevitable federal court challenge.

Judge Bridges also denied Democratic efforts to suspend discovery until jurisdictional and legal issues are settled… much to the consternation of Ferry County Prosecutor James von Sauer, who says county officials have no idea why they were named in the suit.

“Even the Republican Party doesn’t know what we did wrong because they are asking all sorts of questions that have nothing to do with Ferry County,” von Sauer told Bridges.

He said to comply with the Republican requests for information would require the auditor to do nothing else.”

“As a county are we obligated to quit serving the public in order to respond? … This is really a serious matter for the small counties.”

Sounds to me like what’s known in legal circles as a fishing expedition. So here’s a suggestion, maybe all the county auditors should just chip in and send Dino Rossi a nice gift basket from my favorite seafood store, Jack’s Fish Spot in the Pike Place Market?

by Goldy, 01/20/2005, 10:29 AM

It’s beginning to piss me off! So just a quick reminder to my friends in the media as you prepare to report on today’s hearings in Chelan County:

Dino Rossi is not asking for a “re-vote.” He is asking for a “new election.”

This is not a subtle distinction. A “re-vote” is evocative of a “recount;” it implies that we just need to vote again to make sure we got it right.

But what we really would get is an entirely new election… new year, new campaign, new voters… new issues. It would come months into a Gregoire administration, after an unprecedented and virtually unopposed paid media and PR assault designed to undermine public trust in Christine Gregoire, the Democratic Party, and government in general.

There would be absolutely nothing “re” about this election… it would be entirely different.

In the unlikely event the GOP manages to meet the high standards of the contest provision, and the court orders a new election, well… we’ll just have to live with the dramatic and incredibly disruptive aftermath. But the public should not be lulled by carelessly repeated partisan PR fluff, into believing that a new election is — in and of itself — a good thing, regardless of the legal grounds.

The shamelessly partisan liars at the BIAW are free to call it whatever they want, but you in the media are not. Call it a “re-vote” and you are promoting their cause. But if you want to be accurate and neutral, you will call it what it is: a “new election.”