Mission Accomplished Strategy for Victory

Yay… Bush has a plan!

Two and a half years after the American invasion of Iraq, President Bush laid out Wednesday what he called a strategy for victory, vowing not to pull out on “artificial timetables set by politicians” but at the same time offering the first glimpse of his plan for extricating American forces.

Um… I’m no military expert… but shouldn’t we have had a “strategy for victory” before we invaded Iraq?

Maleng ignores own office’s legal advice

I’ve had the opportunity to meet King County Prosecuting Attorney Norm Maleng, and found him rather likable and reassuring, in a grandfatherly sort of way. One of the last of the old-style moderates who used to dominate the state GOP, he’s the only Republican to win a majority in King County in any statewide or countywide race since at least 1998. I don’t remember if I voted for him the last time around, but it’s safe to say I was not the only Democrat who felt comfortable with Maleng serving in an office that demands competence and integrity over partisan political allegiance.

And so it was with great disappointment that I saw Maleng join his party yesterday in grandstanding on the issue of voter registration challenges.

Republican challenges to hundreds of King County voters’ registrations have exposed a “serious flaw” in voter rolls statewide that needs to be fixed quickly to restore public trust, county Prosecutor Norm Maleng said Tuesday.

He called on the attorney general, secretary of state and Legislature for help, and said his office is prepared to investigate voters who persist in maintaining registration addresses at private-mailbox businesses and other locations where they don’t live.

“It is not acceptable that these incomplete and illegal registrations are allowed to stand without being corrected,” the Republican prosecutor said at a news conference.

No, what is needed to “restore public trust”, Norm, is for you and your party to stop cynically distorting the performance of elections officials for cheap, political gain. On the day when King County certified its results, reporting a remarkably well-run election with perhaps the fewest discrepancies ever, you decide to step on the good-news story by staging a press conference that dishonestly implies that there are hundreds of illegal voters on the rolls. And you say your goal is to restore public trust?

Are some voters improperly registered at mailboxes? Obviously. Is there a single scrap of evidence that this is due to anything but an innocent error by voters or elections officials, or that a single one of these voters is otherwise ineligible vote? No. But when Maleng comes out and starts talking about “illegal” registrations, people are going to think he’s talking about “voter fraud”, and that’s just plain wrong… and Maleng knows it. Rather than working with Logan to address the issue, he’s decided to cynically join his party in turning it into an adversarial process.

Earlier this week the Canvassing Board voted 2-to-1 to reject a majority of the registration challenges because Lori Sotelo failed to provide the voters’ actual addresses as required by statute. Maleng calls this legal reasoning “strained” and is asking Attorney General Rob McKenna and Sec. of State Sam Reed to impose a less rigid interpretation. But in doing so, Maleng is actually going against the legal advice of the elections experts in his own office.

In a series of memos and emails (PDF) to the Canvassing Board, Janine Joly — the Sr. Deputy Prosecuting Attorney assigned by Maleng to advise King County Elections — addresses the legal issues in depth, and lays out the grounds for dismissing insufficient challenges.

“The challenger’s failure to allege an actual address either in her challenge form or at the hearing is a fatal flaw and should invalidate the challenge. Any other decision would be contrary to the plain language of the statute even if it appears from the other evidence provided that the challenged voter is not registered at a valid residence address.”

Joly also advises that indeed, according to the WAC, “a mailbox facility could be a nontraditional address since it is an identifiable location,” and if a voter deems this to be his residence he should be “registered and precincted based on the location provided.” In reaching this conclusion Joly addresses an apparent contradiction in the WAC:

“Though the WAC could be read to require those with nontraditional addresses to be registered at public buildings, that interpretation would conflict with one of the purposes of the voter registration statutes and rules, which is to ensure that voters only vote for the candidates and measures that correspond to the area in which they reside and consequently affect them. [...] Based on this principle which has been incorporated in Washington State election laws, the apparent contradiction in the WAC should be resolved in favor of registering a person to vote where he resides — the nontraditional address or mailbox facility.”

The irony of Maleng’s grandstanding is that it was Dean Logan and Dow Constantine who followed the Prosecutors Office’s legal advice, and Maleng’s own representative on the Canvassing Board, Dan Satterberg, who ignored it. Thus in asking Repubicans McKenna and Reed to issue an opinion that would leave the door open to future, poorly researched, mass challenges, Maleng is not only siding with his party against the rights of voters, he is also siding with the GOP against the attorney in his office whose job it is to interpret election statutes.

No doubt Maleng has been under great pressure from members of his own party, but if this entered his political calculus, he may have made a huge mistake. Nothing he does can possibly shore up his support amongst the rabid right that is seizing control of the KCGOP leadership. And he is sending a clear message to moderate Democrats and independents that we no longer enjoy a political climate where we have the luxury of electing centrist Republicans, without the risk of unforeseen political consequences.

Maleng will never draw fervent support from the activists in his own party, and his recent actions will surely turn off some of the Democratic swing voters to whom he owes his previous victories. If the Democrats field a strong challenger in the next election, Maleng could easily find himself joining the likes of Dan Evans and Ralph Munroe, on the outside looking in at more radical, more mean-spirited, and ever smaller Republican Party.

And it will be his own damn fault.

UPDATE:
The Seattle P-I editorial board basically agrees with me, saying that “Maleng has actually turned the partisan volume not down, but up.

King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng is right in saying that it’s time for political parties to “lower their voices” over disputed voter registrations. So why raise his own voice on the issue?

Maleng is a respected public official, but he is a partisan politician. The Republican Party has tried to criminalize election issues by alleging that nearly 2,000 voters violated the law by registering at mailboxes and mini-storage units.

What’s up Doc?

In the wake of Rep. Randy Cunningham’s tearful confession to taking at least $2.4 million in bribes in exchange for lucrative military contracts, the NY Times editorial board takes the House Ethics Committee to task for its failure to… well… do anything.

It was a symbiosis between an ethically challenged lawmaker, who resigned on Monday, and easy-money boosters that might still be under way had San Diego newspapers not discovered a suspicious home sale by the congressman that concealed a payoff.

It was federal prosecutors – and certainly not any Congressional ethics monitors – who followed the rent-a-lawmaker trail. As Congress mulls over the larger lessons of the Duke’s demise, it should begin with the House’s ethics process, which has been shamefully locked into immobility for the past year while scandals have arisen as predictably as the new moon. The Republican majority has already seen its leader, Tom DeLay, indicted. The influence-peddling schemes attributed to the lobbyist Jack Abramoff are said to be unraveling, with prosecutors reported to be focusing on the dealings of at least a half-dozen lawmakers in both houses.

Where is Congress’s resolve to show the public that it can police itself? Something far better than passive denial was writ large in the first sentence of the Contract With America – the campaign tract that helped Republicans take power a decade ago – with its promise “to restore the bonds of trust between the people and their elected representatives.”

No doubt Delay elevated Rep. Doc Hastings (WA-4) to Chair the House Ethics Committee exactly for his well-earned reputation of doing nothing in Congress… and he hasn’t disappointed the Republican leadership. Under his control the Committee has sat in gridlock as scandal has erupted around them.

Common sense would dictate that it would be a waste of resources for Democrats to challenge Hastings in his bright red, Eastern WA district… but a profound aversion to political corruption is one issue that unites both Democrats and Republican voters alike, if not their respective party leaders. Hastings deserves to pay a price at home for his political toadyism in the other Washington, and we need to find a way to extract it.

2006 is already shaping up to be a disastrous year for the GOP. It’s possible we could be looking at the makings of a 1994-like shift, and if the Dems manage to field a credible challenger, Hastings could be vulnerable.

Finkbeiner resigns as state Senate Minority Leader

The WA state GOP continued its self-destructive lurch to the right today, when state Sen. Bill Finkbeiner announced that he was resigning his position as Senate Minority Leader. Amongst other reasons, Finkbeiner said he wanted to spend more time with his family. Uh-huh.

“Unfortunately, there are only 24 hours in a day,” said Finkbeiner, R-Kirkland. “There is a significant time commitment that comes along with the honor of representing your neighbors in the Legislature. When you add to that the tremendous time it requires to lead and represent a legislative caucus, there is sometimes little left over for other things that are equally or even more important, including work and family. To be honest, I was being pulled in many different directions and was stretched pretty thin.”

Mostly he was stretched between the interests of his relatively moderate constituency and the demands of the ultra-conservative Republican Senate Caucus. I’m sure Finkbeiner really does want to spend more time with his family, but in political talk, that’s usually just a face-saving euphemism. Finkbeiner barely survived a leadership challenge last spring, and he likely faced another tough battle before the coming session.

As far as Republicans go, Finkbeiner is one of those most in touch with mainstream WA voters… which means he’s totally out of touch with the mainstream of his own party’s leadership. First elected to the state House as a Democrat in 1992, he switched parties to run for the Senate in 1994, but his core ideology apparently never bothered to switch with him. Last session he angered many fellow Republicans by breaking ranks on a stem cell research bill and the controversial transportation improvement package (recently affirmed by voters in rejecting I-912.)

The transportation vote was one “I feel really good about,” he said. “We were able to keep that issue bipartisan.”

Which is exactly what the rest of the GOP didn’t want, and payback was inevitable.

Oh well. It’s not like a man with a “latte liberal”, environmentalist wife (and recent author of The F Word: Feminism in Jeopardy) was ever going to win the hearts and minds of the current WA GOP.

In the long run, I’m guessing Finkbeiner is better off politically disassociating himself from the right-wing of his party. Outside the leadership he can better serve a district that continues to trend Democratic, and enjoy the freedom to consistently vote his own conscience… both of which will serve him well if he ever wants to run for higher office. Indeed, freed of the burden of leadership, don’t be surprised to see him vote his conscience on HB 1515 (prohibiting discrimination based on sexual preference) when it is reintroduced in the coming the Legislative session.

I look forward to following his political evolution, and remain hopeful that Finkbeiner can grow into the kind of Republican I can respect.

Drinking Liberally

The Seattle chapter of Drinking Liberally meets tonight (and every Tuesday), 8PM at the Montlake Ale House, 2307 24th Avenue E.

In honor of Lori Sotelo, I plan to be there tonight, challenging the drivers licenses of all those who attempt to order alcohol. I’m hoping maybe Andrew shows up, so that I can achieve as high a disqualification rate as she did.

King County Elections meets the challenge

I emailed Democratic attorney David McDonald for some comments on the outcome of the GOP’s voter registration challenge, and he cut straight to the point.

No matter how you cut it, this is incredibly sloppy work by Sotelo and her gang. About 80% of the challenges that they pursued to hearing in the last ten days were rejected [or withdrawn] for lack of adequate proof. On top of that are all the rest of the challenges that they withdrew before the hearing but after they forced the voter to use a challenged ballot.

They have consumed a lot of public money, time and employee resources with this wave of last minute challenges. It is unclear that the result is any different than if they had taken Dean Logan up on his offer to check any list that they gave him rather than filing mass challenges, other than they have spent much more taxpayer money.

Out of 1944 challenges filed with great fanfare just days before the November 8 election, only 58 ballots have been disqualified… less than 3 percent. Meanwhile, hundreds of legal voters have been wrongly inconvenienced and harassed, all so the GOP could make a political point.

And a cheap, weak political point it was… though of course, that didn’t stop state GOPolitburo chair Chris Vance from repeating it in the wake of their disastrous voter intimidation scheme:

“Even though our challenges have been formally rejected, we have achieved our objective,” he said. “The objective remains the same as it’s always been: to persuade King County to clean up its process and clean up its voter rolls.”

So let me just take a moment to say something that I’m sure a lot of people in the elections office and the Democratic Party are thinking, but that is too impolitic for most people to say out loud: Hey Chris… fuck you!

King County has been doing its job maintaining the voter rolls since long before Vance and Lori Sotelo filed their cynical, bogus challenges. That’s not just my conclusion… that’s the conclusion of the Republican Secretary of State’s office, and of every county auditor contacted for comment by the Seattle P-I.

Republican charges that the King County elections office doesn’t police voter-registration addresses closely enough are unreasonable, the state elections director says.

“It’s a pretty high burden to place on a county, especially a county the size of King,” Nick Handy said Monday.

Snohomish County doesn’t screen registrations for nonresidential addresses. Neither does Island County. And neither does Republican Chelan County.

Evelyn Arnold is the auditor in Chelan County, overseeing a little more than 36,000 registered voters (outside of King County, elected auditors run the county elections departments). A Republican, she testified in May as the leadoff witness for the GOP in its legal challenge to the 129-vote victory of Democrat Christine Gregoire in the 2004 governor’s race. [...] Arnold said this week that her office does not systematically investigate residence addresses or other information on registration applications.

“When people come in to register, we take their word,” she said. “They have signed an affidavit (the registration form), and we take their word for it.

“We don’t cross-examine,” she said. “We can’t, really. We don’t have the authority to do that, in my opinion.”

If an employee in her office recognizes a residence address as bogus or if that information comes to her from outside, Arnold said, she’ll look into it — but she said she’s loath to eliminate a registration on that basis.

“We don’t want to disenfranchise any voter because their address is suspect,” she said.

Spokane did recently create a database to screen registrations, but only after they dealt with more important priorities. And according to Audtior Vicky Dalton, they only check addresses after voters have been placed on the rolls.

“We do not deny registration based on that address,” she said. “We take the registration, and then we work to clean it up.”

Why didn’t Vance and the GOP go after these other counties? And why, after all their efforts, were they able to disqualify such a small number of voters — otherwise eligible, and mostly due to technical errors in their registration? Because KCRE was doing its job as required by statute, and consistent with the procedures in every other county in the state.

The only thing this incident proves is that the state GOP, under Vance’s direction, is willing to do and say anything for a perceived political advantage… even if it means unfairly maligning innocent people, and disenfranchising legal voters.

58 / 1944 = 3%

Just thought I’d point out that of the 1944 voter registration challenges the GOP filed with much fanfare just days before the November 8 election, only 58 ballots have been disqualified. That’s a success rate of less than 3 percent.

Nice going, Lori.

King County Canvassing Board votes to reject large number of GOP challenges

The King County Canvassing Board voted today to reject over half two-thirds of the voter registration challenges brought by the GOP several days before the election. The rulings only concerned those challenged voters who cast a ballot in the November 8 election.

While the proceedings were still ongoing when I left, a pattern quickly emerged. Dan Satterberg (representing County Prosecuting Attorney Norm Maleng, a Republican) voted to accept all the registration challenges, arguing that mailbox businesses could never be used as a registration address, whereas Elections Director Dean Logan and Democratic Councilman Dow Constantine only accepted those challenges for which “clear and convincing evidence” was provided either by the GOP or the voters themselves, that this was not their actual residence.

This party line split is not like to satisfy either side, for while it establishes a precedent by which challengers must meet a high standard in order to prevail, it does nothing to discourage the GOP from filing similar speculative, poorly researched challenges in the future. And the lack of unanimity will only feed into partisan tensions.

Ironically, the Democrats’ willingness to accept a challenge, even though the challenger failed to meet the statutory requirement of providing evidence of the voter’s actual address, created the odd situation in which those voters who actively defended their ballots were those most likely to be disqualified. Logan and Constantine voted to accept the challenge of those voters whose testimony in person or via affidavit provided an alternate address. For those who did not testify and for which the GOP could not prove another residence, the challenge was rejected.

The philosophical difference between Constantine and Logan on the one side, and Satterberg on the other was best illustrated by the case of David Combs, a homeless man, registered at a UPS mailbox store, who testified that the owner actually gave him a key so that he could sleep inside the store on cold nights and use the facilities.

Constantine cited this as an example that “the challenger’s assertion that certain classes of property could not be used as a residence was not acceptable,” and that the board “cannot conclude as a matter of law” that all such mailbox registrations are invalid. Satterberg nonetheless repeated his interpretation that a mailbox facility could never be a valid residence, regardless of the circumstances.

I’ll provide my thoughts and analysis in a separate post, once the final tally is in.

UPDATE:
Unofficial tally: 57 challenges accepted, 132 challenges rejected.

UPDATE, UPDATE:
WashBlog’s mysterious Anonym has more on today’s hearing, but be sure to link on over to his cross-post at Daily Kos and recommend the diary, so this important local story gets maximum national exposure.

BIAW supports higher taxes (on other people)

The Seattle Times has an interesting piece on an unusual political split:

The Washington Association of Realtors has launched a $1 million campaign aimed at squashing a proposed tax increase on real-estate sales.

The group has started running TV, radio and newspaper ads warning that the tax increase would cost homeowners thousands of dollars in “hard-earned equity” when they go to sell.

But in their fight, the Realtors face an unlikely foe: the typically anti-tax Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW).

The homebuilders group, which

The wisdom of Herman Goering…

“Of course the people don’t want war. But after all, it’s the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it’s always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it’s a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger.”

— Herman Goering at the Nuremberg trials

Don’t be a stranger, Stefan

A couple weeks ago I quipped:

What do Judy Miller and Stefan Sharkansky have in common? They’ve both been booted from their respective papers.

Truth is, I hadn’t bothered to look into the circumstances surrounding Stefan’s departure from The Stranger… my unsupported insinuation was just a little friendly dig, mostly intended to serve as a springboard for linking to the Judy Miller story.

But a couple of “the Shark’s” sycophants expressed displeasure in my comment thread, so in the interest of fairness, I thought I’d point you towards BlatherWatch, where Michael has the inside scoop on the sudden end to Stefan’s strange tenure at The Stranger.

This came to a halt, we’re told by someone inside The Stranger, when Sharkansky attended a pair of press conferences wearing a different hat to each.

According to our source, Sharkansky attended the Republicans’ press conference first, where he was hailed as a hero; invited to stand up in front, got the “googly eyes from Kathy Lambert” (not that hard to get, actually, if you’re of the male species) and perhaps even spoke to them. Then shoving his Republican political operative hat back in his pocket, he donned his journalist hat, (made with duct tape and Superglue on PhotoShop, no doubt) and as a Stranger reporter, went to the Elections Department presser, where he presumably asked searing questions ala Mike Wallace.

That a reporter would stand as a party operative, and then be a reporter on the same afternoon would embarrass any news organization. Feit was not amused to say the least, according to our source. He decided then and there to kick him off the paper after the election.

So, apparently Stefan was dumped by The Stranger. Lucky guess.

But gee… I sure hope I had something to do with it when I wrote about his fake press conference back on 10/13.

But perhaps the most embarrassing detail for Irons and his GOP comrades is that they seemed unembarrassed to stand there side by side with WA state’s most famous conspiracy theorist, our friend Stefan of (un)Sound Politics, whose tireless efforts to find patterns of fraud in KC’s voter databases borders on numerology, and whose aluminum-hat-analyses have earned him every last drop of incredulity he enjoys. Stefan actually had the temerity to stand before the assembled media throng and claim he was one of them, ignoring the fact that real journalists cover press conferences… they don’t conduct them.

Whatever.

It was bound to end sometime. Stefan was never a very good fit at The Stranger, not so much for his politics, but because he’s such an extraordinarily godawful boring writer. The Stranger’s hip cultural coverage is totally lost on me (I’m hip-challenged), and I occasionally find their political analysis a tad annoying, but Dan Savage has certainly populated the staff with gifted and entertaining writers… and, well… Stefan… not so much.

So am I happy to see Stefan lose his weekly soapbox? Hell yeah. And is it unprofessional of me to rub salt in his wounds this way? Yeah, sure… I suppose. But then, unlike Stefan, I’ve never pretended to be a professional journalist.

UPDATE:
In the comment thread, Dan Savage (or at least, somebody claiming to be Dan Savage… how should I know?) claims that Stefan was not in fact dumped for the “two hats” incident. I suppose Dan (if it is Dan) would know.

Whatever. The Stranger is still better off without him.

Time for campaign limits on judicial races

Unable to achieve their agenda through the legislative process, the BIAW and other conservative groups are attempting to pack the bench by spending huge sums on low-profile judicial races:

For the first time in this state, a political action committee has been formed to help elect candidates to the state Supreme Court and Court of Appeals. The Constitutional Law PAC has a right-of-center orientation.

The development alarms some court observers, who say an agenda-driven PAC for judicial elections could threaten the independence and impartiality of the state’s judiciary, and that the emergence of one will lead to other, countervailing PACs.

It’s especially troubling, he said, since Washington is one of only four states that elect judges but have no finance limits on their campaigns. Contributions to candidates for other statewide offices are limited to $1,350 per donor. A bill to place that limit on judicial candidates passed the state House this year but died in the Senate.

This development makes it clear that we absolutely need to pass legislation applying campaign limits to judicial races; if we can’t get it through the Legislature, we need to (gasp) run an initiative. These races have already been heavily politicized, and we simply cannot continue to allow wealthy special interests to pack the bench with judges that favor their agenda.

It also makes it clear that progressives need to create their own version of the BIAW… a blatantly self-interested, partisan organization that exploits a loophole in the state workers compensation system’s “retro rebate” program, to fund candidates and causes.

What we need is a Progressive Industry Association of Washington, that hires away a retro manager from one of the other groups, and competes for business and influence on an even playing field. If we can’t change the rules to make them more fair, then we need to start competing using the rules in place.

Thanksgiving

On this Thanksgiving Day — as on all days — I am thankful for the greatest run-on sentence in human history:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

There is nothing more American than dissent.