by Goldy, 02/28/2006, 2:37 PM

Conventional wisdom says that nearly all initiatives dramatically lose support the more voters learn about them. For example, last year’s Initiative 912, which would have essentially repealed the state’s transportation improvement package, enjoyed a 15 point advantage in June, but lost by 10 points in November… a twenty-five point swing in only five months.

Most consultants will tell you that unless your issue polls upwards of 75 percent, you shouldn’t waste your money… thus one of the first things most prospective initiative sponsors do, is commission a favorably worded poll to prove to potential backers that they have overwhelming support.

And that’s exactly what the Washington State Farm Bureau did last fall in preparation for I-933, when it crafted the following loaded polling question:

“If there were an initiative on the ballot that would require state or local government to pay a property owner if a government action damaged the value or use of their property, would you vote yes to support the initiative or no to oppose the initiative.”

Well, gee… an initiative requiring compensation if government damages your property? Well that sounds good. (Actually, it’s already in our state Constitution.) No wonder the question reportedly polled at 79 percent.

But of course, you can’t expect such favorably loaded wording when the Attorney General’s office writes your ballot title. Or can you…?

Concise Description:

This measure would require compensation when any government regulation damages the use or value of private property, forbid regulations that prohibit existing legal uses of private property, and provide for exceptions and conditions.

Uh-huh.

Gee… when I filed my initiative, Deputy Solicitor General Jim Pharris wouldn’t even write me a ballot title that described what the initiative did… and then sought an injunction against me when I challenged the title in court.

But Pharris not only gave the WSFB a ballot title with the most favorable wording possible — using the loaded word “damage” — he apparently relied on their focus group and polling data to craft it. This is a ballot title the WSFB might have written itself. (Perhaps, it did.)

Not that any of this is a surprise. Pharris has long suffered from “Stockholm Syndrome,” identifying with the likes of Tim Eyman after being forced to defend so many of his unconstitutional initiatives. Intentional or not, he routinely gives anti-government initiatives favorable ballot titles.

Neither would it surprise me if Attorney General Rob McKenna — proudly in the pocket the Building Industry Association of Washington — took a personal interest in the Developer’s initiative. The BIAW, a strong backer of I-933, has played a crucial role in developing and supporting WA’s so-called “property rights” movement and its right-wing militia spin-offs. The BIAW also put $275,000 into independent expenditures on McKenna’s behalf in 2004, calling his election one of “the biggest political victories” it has ever had. For his part, McKenna reportedly phoned the BIAW on election night and told them “If it wasn’t for BIAW I wouldn’t have been elected.”

But regardless of the motives or behind-the-scenes wrangling, this is simply a bad ballot title, and I-933 opponents are rightly challenging it in court. Statute requires “a true and impartial description of the measure’s essential contents,” but a brief filed on behalf of the League of Women Voters and other petitioners correctly points out that Pharris’s the WSFB’s wording fails to describe any of I-933′s four main provisions.

Maybe our State’s voters would vote “yes” if the November ballot described this measure’s four basic changes to Washington law. Maybe they would vote “no”. But at the very least, the Concise Description of this measure printed on the november ballot should tell voters what those four changes are. Indeed, Washington’s ballot title statute demands it.

With that, attorney Thomas Ahearne goes on to propose a truly neutral alternative to Pharris’s leading description:

Concise Description:

This measure would require government studies before restricting property use, exempt or pay property owners who object to certain zoning, environmental, and other laws, and prevent development regulations that prohibit previously-existing uses.

Opponents have a single shot at a ballot title challenge; there is no provision for appeal beyond Thurston County Superior Court. If this is an unbiased judge interested in presenting the citizens of this state with an unbiased ballot title, he’ll approve a concise description closer to Ahearne’s than that drafted by the WSFB/AG.

by Goldy, 02/28/2006, 12:22 PM

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

I’ll be there tonight, looking forward to an icey cold Manny’s and another hot podcast. We may even have an interesting special guest. No promises, but we’ll see.

by Goldy, 02/28/2006, 12:21 AM

It’s great to see an editorial board finally expose WA’s disenfranchisement of ex-felons for the national disgrace that it is. Too bad it wasn’t a WA state paper. From an editorial in Monday’s New York Times (Dickensian Democracy):

Stripping convicted felons of the right to vote is a slap at America’s democratic ideals. Many states are backing away from this policy, understanding at last that voting rights are in fact basic human rights that should be abridged only in the rarest circumstances. That lesson has yet to penetrate the state of Washington, which has created a form of disenfranchisement that is straight out of “Oliver Twist.”

Last week, an article by The Times’s Adam Liptak introduced us to a disabled woman named Beverly Dubois who lost the right to vote because she could not pay about $1,600 of charges that were assessed in connection with her marijuana conviction. The debt is growing rapidly because of the interest charged by the state. Ms. Dubois, who served nine months in jail, has paid her debt to society. But until she settles the one to the state, she is stripped of her rights as a citizen. Disabled in a car accident, she can send in only $10 per month. At that rate, she is likely to die before paying off the debt.

Several states permanently marginalize ex-offenders by saddling them with unfair charges and fines that are supposed to help pay for public defenders, drug tests, halfway houses and other “services.” But Washington leads the pack in dunning impoverished offenders. People who commit certain crimes are even charged for having their DNA registered in the offender database.

In addition to devastating poor families that can barely feed themselves, these fees push ex-offenders even further into the margins of society. And Washington’s policy of stripping people of their right to vote until they can cough up enough money to pay these unfair charges is morally outrageous.

Lets be blunt. WA’s felon disenfranchisement policy is modeled on post-Reconstruction laws, specifically designed to deny African Americans the right to vote. And it works: about a quarter of all African American males in WA state are denied the franchise due to felony convictions. WA’s felon disenfranchisement laws are clearly racist in impact, if not in intent.

Republicans can come up with all the moralistic arguments they want, but there is absolutely no social benefit to further marginalizing ex-felons by denying them the right to vote… indeed, none other than the American Correctional Association recommends changing these laws so as to restore the franchise upon release from prison.

The truth is, the state GOP opposes changing the law because they’ve done the math: African Americans disproportionately vote Democrat, and the law disproportionately disenfranchises African Americans. I guess the only thing that’s really changed since Reconstruction is party allegiance.

by Goldy, 02/27/2006, 3:50 PM

NARAL Pro-Choice Washington executive director Karen Cooper accuses GOP senate candidate Mike McGavick of “playing politics with women’s lives,” writing in a press release that the presumptive Republican nominee prevaricates on abortion because he knows an openly anti-choice candidate cannot win elections statewide.

“Real pro-choice candidates stand up for the right of every woman to access reproductive healthcare including the right to access contraception, bear healthy children and choose safe legal abortion. [But...] “McGavick is like a slick salesmen; every time I turn around I hear something different from him about where he stands on fundamental freedoms for women.”

Aww gee… it couldn’t be that confusing, could it? I betcha the professionals have him all figured out. Let’s see… just yesterday, Seattle Times editorial columnist Joni Balter definitively wrote about McGavick:

“He is for a woman’s right to choose.”

Well that settles it. Except… according to a November 6, 2005 Times editorial:

“Like Dino Rossi, McGavick is Roman Catholic and opposes abortion.”

So… on this very high-profile issue, Balter comes to the opposite conclusion from her paper’s editorial of just a few months ago… an editorial which she herself may have written. (I’m told Balter tends to write the political editorials, but I’ll have to defer to Stefan, who claims to be an expert on unsigned Balter editorials.)

Hmm. Well… if the Times — which fancies itself WA’s paper of record — can’t figure out McGavick’s position on abortion, how the hell are us simple-minded voters expected to do so?

Which of course, is exactly the point. McGavick doesn’t want us to figure out his position on abortion, because either way, it loses him votes. Just look at Balter’s tortured attempt to figure it out for herself:

He is for a woman’s right to choose, but against federal funding for abortion, which unnerves those who bristle at limiting rights for a class of women. He won’t say if Roe v. Wade should be overturned. His limited pro-choice stance must be reconciled with his support for Alito, who is almost certainly another vote to overturn Roe.

So… um… McGavick is for a woman’s right to choose… but against federal funding, for parental notification, and for a ban on “late-term” abortions. And he won’t say whether Roe v. Wade should or should not be overturned. (Though he supported Alito, who almost certainly will vote to overturn it.)

McGavick’s campaign calls his abortion stance “complicated.” Balter describes it as “moderately pro-choice.” I call it “lying,” for this is a candidate who won’t come right out and say that he opposes abortion, but obviously will not lift a finger to stop his Republican colleagues from outlawing it. It’s kinda like George Bush saying he’s opposed to domestic wiretapping.

After all, it doesn’t really matter what a politician says he believes about an issue if he votes the opposite, and anybody who thinks a Sen. McGavick wouldn’t just be another vote for banning abortion is out of their minds.

McGavick is anti-choice and anti-Roe, and with a wink and a nod, you can be sure that the right-wing of his party understands this. Anybody who cares deeply about choice, simply can’t vote for McGavick… and neither can anybody who cares deeply about keeping politicians honest on the issues.

by Goldy, 02/27/2006, 9:01 AM

The Seattle Times editorial board wants to elect all judges, including part-timers on the Municipal Court, claiming that elected judges are more independent.

Uh-huh.

So the argument, I suppose, is that the best way to take politics out of judicial decisions is to turn all our judges into politicians, huh?

Sure, the Times makes a reasonable sounding argument that directly electing judges might make them more independent from those who would otherwise appoint them. (Though they neglect to provide any evidence that our Municipal Courts currently lack judicial independence.) But even if the Times is right, judicial elections would likely make judges more dependent on those who would finance their campaigns… and right now, there are absolutely no restrictions on individual contributions to judicial candidates.

National organizations like the US Chamber of Commerce are already spending hundreds of millions of dollars on local judicial races, completely changing the ideological complexion of courts in state after state. Here in WA, the aggressively political Building Association of Washington — an organization with ties to right-wing militia groups — spent at least $500,000 putting their lawyer, Jim Johnson, on the state Supreme Court.

Most judicial races continue to be low profile, low money affairs, making them the Baltic and Mediterranean Avenues of political Monopoly. A relatively small injection of cash into a campaign where name recognition is your most valuable asset, can easily determine the outcome, making judicial races an absolute bargain for wealthy special interests intent on monopolizing our courts.

But what we need on the courts are judges who know the law, not those who know how to appeal to wealthy backers or even fickle voters. Our judicial system is supposed to be free from politics, not absolutely dependent on it.

A better solution might be one in which an independent commission recommends limited slates of qualified candidates for open judicial seats, subject to executive appointment and legislative confirmation. Once appointed, judges would serve for life, subject to periodic retention votes in which the public gets to cast a thumbs up or down on each sitting judge. Such a system would ensure judicial independence from both those who appointed them, and from the whims of public sentiment… not to mention wealthy special interests. It would also unclutter the ballot of judicial races on which, quite frankly, most voters (including myself) are usually unqualified to make an informed decision.

The Times proposal, to elect more judges, has a simple, populist appeal. But it will do nothing to increase the quality and independence of judges serving on our Municipal Courts.

by Goldy, 02/26/2006, 10:49 PM

This is what makes America great:

ORLANDO, Fla. — Fistfights broke out and police made 17 arrests Saturday at a neo-Nazi rally and march through a predominantly black neighborhood.

In khaki uniforms, tall black boots and red arm patches bearing swastikas, about 30 members of the National Socialist Movement were barricaded on one side by SWAT team members at the rally.

Of course, it’s not the Nazis who make America great, but rather, the fact that even Nazis have the same right to free speech as any other American… you know… except for VA nurses.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) has asked Veterans Affairs Secretary James Nicholson for a thorough inquiry of his agency’s investigation into whether a V.A. nurse’s letter to the editor criticizing the Bush administration amounted to “sedition.”

[...]

Laura Berg, a clinical nurse specialist for 15 years, wrote a letter in September to a weekly Albuquerque newspaper criticizing how the administration handled Hurricane Katrina and the Iraq Wwr. She urged people to “act forcefully” by bringing criminal charges against top administration officials, including the president, to remove them from power because they played games of “vicious deceit.”

[...]

The agency seized her office computer and launched an investigation. Berg is not talking to the press, but reportedly fears losing her job.

That’s right… Nazis are permitted to march near Disney World, but when a VA employee criticizes the Bush administration, they’re actually investigated for sedition. Sedition!

V.A. human resources chief Mel Hooker had said in a Nov. 9 letter that his agency was obligated to investigate “any act which potentially represents sedition,” the ACLU said.

Peter Simonson, executive director of the ACLU of New Mexico, told The Progressive magazine: “We were shocked to see the word ‘sedition’ used. Sedition? That’s like something out of the history books.”

In a press release, Simonson also said: “Is this government so jealous of its power, so fearful of dissent, that it needs to threaten people who openly oppose its policies with charges of ‘sedition’?”

Um… yeah. Unless, apparently, you happen to be some harmless Nazi.

by Goldy, 02/26/2006, 9:33 AM

A couple tidbits from AP state political writer Dave Ammons’ weekly column, that puts the Cantwell-McGavick race in perspective:

–DUELING POLLS. Last week’s report mentioned a Republican poll that showed Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., with just an eight point lead over her likely GOP challenger, Mike McGavick. Big trouble? Now independent pollster Stuart Elway reports Cantwell with a runaway 30-point lead – 55 percent definitely voting for her or inclined to do so, versus 25 percent inclined or definitely voting McGavick’s way. Elway interviewed 405 voters by phone Feb. 6-9; margin of error plus or minus five percentage points.

-BUSH DRAG. Elway said his polls show Cantwell’s popularity gaining over the past five years and that the state is “darker blue” this year. Referring to President Bush’s dismal numbers here, Elway says “Cantwell will try in this campaign to make McGavick’s middle initial `W.’” Thus far, McGavick hasn’t shown voters a compelling reason to dump Cantwell, he says.

A 30-point lead amongst firm voters… and this is before the dirt starts flying against former insurance industry CEO and lobbyist McGavick. (And as one of the state’s leading muckrakers, I promise you, dirt will fly.) Cantwell’s base, as reflected in the Elway Poll, also doesn’t likely include support from many disenchanted members of the left wing of the Democratic Party, who would prefer a more uniformly liberal nominee, but most of whom will eventually cast their votes for Cantwell.

Sen. Cantwell is a proven leader on environmental, energy, and port security issues, and as Elway points out, her popularity continues to grow. Not only is McGavick faced with the daunting task of providing a compelling reason to dump Cantwell, the reason must be so compelling as to convince independents (and even some moderate Republicans) that it’s worth the risk of handing the Bush administration the 60-vote majority needed to shut down all Democratic filibusters… like the one Sen. Cantwell successfully led to block oil drilling in the sensitive Alaska National Wildlife Refuge.

by Goldy, 02/24/2006, 8:36 PM

I’ll be in transit Saturday, returning from a week of Florida sunshine. So talk amongst yourselves.

by Goldy, 02/24/2006, 8:45 AM

Hubert G. Locke, former dean of the Daniel J. Evans Graduate School of Public Affairs at the UW, has a guest column in the Seattle P-I, arguing that we have an “imperfect initiative system worth keeping.” He particularly singles out Tim Eyman for the way he has abused the process, turning it into a lucrative business.

Eyman’s hijinks are such that one is tempted to think about scuttling the entire business. While that would be a mistake, the larger one is allowing this political wild card to continue running amok, trumping the legislative process and, for all practical purposes, wielding a personal veto over well-considered government decisions.

Personally, I don’t share Prof. Locke’s faith in the initiative system, and remain convinced that it almost always results in language inferior to that produced by a deliberative, legislative process. But I’m enough of a pragmatist to understand that eliminating the initiative process entirely is simply not politically realistic.

So how do we stop “this political wild card” from “running amok,” short of taking Timmy out behind the wood shed and shooting him? (Also not a politically viable solution.) We need some initiative reforms to directly address the most blatant abuses of the last few years, and here’s a few suggestions in no particular order.

Ban paying per signature
The overwhelming majority of signatures are gathered by paid workers, who currently earn a street price of anywhere from $0.75 to $3.00 per signature, depending on the time of year and the competition. This not only encourages outright signature fraud, it discourages petitioners from actually taking the time to educate signers about the issues. (Most signature gatherers are paid mercenaries who carry petitions for several initiatives at once.)

I’d prefer to ban paid signature gathering entirely, but the courts have already said no. Oregon requires signature gatherers to be paid hourly, and so should we.

Restrict content on petitions
Tim Eyman is a liar, and his petitions are filled with lies. For example he once titled a 25% property tax cut initiative with the bold headline: “No New Income Tax!” That’s just plain wrong.

Since we surely don’t want government censures approving editorial content, the solution is to eliminate it entirely. The law already strictly lays out required elements, such as signature lines, ballot title, ballot summary, and certain notices. Those should be the only elements legally allowed on a petition.

The current mix of proscribed legalistic elements and lying, propagandist bullshit can only serve to confuse voters as to the actual intent of the initiative. Let’s just give potential signers what they’ll see on the ballot, and not leave room for any lies.

Allow legal challenges prior to the ballot
With the notable exception of my initiative to proclaim Tim Eyman a horse’s ass, the general legal rule is that initiatives are not ripe for challenge until after they have been approved by voters. At the time of the AG’s humorless scope challenge of my initiative, I wrote that I wouldn’t have minded so much if such policy were applied uniformly. And that’s exactly what we need to do.

Citizens should have the right to challenge any initiative on grounds that it violates the constitution or federal law, and petition the courts to bar it from the ballot… and voters should have a right to know that when they approve an initiative it will actually become law. Our recent history of initiatives being tossed out by the courts after the fact, only serves to undermine public trust in politics; a little pre-ballot vetting would do the process good.

No, it wouldn’t necessarily prevent lying schemers like the EFF from running cynical, political stunts like their voter purge initiative, but it would force them to draft a measure that is at the very least, legal. Our supposedly hallowed system of “direct democracy” should require a little effort.

Create incentives for filing initiatives to the legislature
We should increase the number signatures required to file an initiative to people, and decrease the number required to file an initiative to the legislature, thus providing a substantial incentive for initiative sponsors to pursue the latter.

Of the two, initiatives to the legislature are by far the more reasoned and deliberative process, as they require the legislature to hold hearings and debate the initiative, or put it on the ballot… with or without a proposed alternative. This gives the average citizen (with half a million dollars to buy signatures) the opportunity to force the legislature to address an issue, but potentially gives voters more than just a simple up or down vote on a measure drafted entirely by some angry watch salesman sitting in the bonus room of his Mukilteo McMansion.

Charge a reasonable filing fee
Tim Eyman files dozens of initiatives a year, and while each one costs taxpayers thousands of dollars to process, Timmy only pays a $5.00 filing fee. That’s ridiculous.

The Sec. of State should be able to charge a reasonable fee — say, $150.00 — waived or refunded upon submission of a reasonable number of signatures. We charge candidates much more to file for office… I suppose to discourage frivolous filings. Well, in recent years the SOS’s office has been inundated with frivolous filings, and the best way to discourage this is to require sponsors to put a little bit of effort (or money) up front.

Anyway, those are a few of my suggestions for initiative reform. I’d love to hear yours.

by Goldy, 02/23/2006, 2:36 PM

In writing about the Evergreen Freedom Foundation’s plan to file an initiative purging WA’s voter rolls, and forcing everybody to reregister, WashBlog’s Noemie Maxwell asks:

Why does the Evergreen Freedom Foundation pour probably hundreds of thousands of dollars – the talents and time of its staff members and dedicated citizen volunteers, into the project of convincing the voters of Washington State, despite all evidence to the contrary, that our government and our citizens cannot be trusted?

But to answer this and other questions about the EFF’s voter purge proposal, all one really needs to know about this initiative is that it is ILLEGAL… and they know it.

I’m no lawyer (much to my mother’s chagrin,) but most statutes really aren’t all that difficult to read, and the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 — commonly known as “Moter Voter” — lays down very clear guidelines governing the circumstances by which states can purge voters from the rolls… and pandering, partisan paranoia is not one of them.

Go ahead, argue the EFF’s case all you want, but Sec. 1973gg-6 (a) ensures that in the administration of voter registration for federal elections, states shall:

(3) provide that the name of a registrant may not be removed from the official list of eligible voters except –

( A ) at the request of the registrant;
( B ) as provided by State law, by reason of criminal conviction or mental incapacity; or
( C ) as provided under paragraph (4);
(4) conduct a general program that makes a reasonable effort to remove the names of ineligible voters from the official lists of eligible voters by reason of –
( A ) the death of the registrant; or
( B ) a change in the residence of the registrant, in accordance with subsections ( b ), ( c ), and ( d ) of this section;

That’s it. Once registered, a voter “may not be removed from the official list of eligible voters except” at his own request, or due to felony conviction or mental incapacity, death, or change of address. There are absolutely no other circumstances under federal law that a registrant may be removed from the rolls. None. Nada. Bupkis.

There’s not much room for interpretation here, especially in light of the stated legislative intent:

The purposes of this subchapter are –

(1) to establish procedures that will increase the number of eligible citizens who register to vote in elections for Federal office;

Clearly, purging the entire voter roll and forcing everybody to reregister could only achieve the opposite.

Which of course, the EFF wouldn’t mind. But they’re not stupid, and neither are their lawyers, so of course they understand at least as well as I do that their initiative cannot possibly achieve their stated objective. Which brings us back to Noemi’s question: why would the EFF pour hundreds of thousands of dollars into such a blatantly undemocratic, illegal, and ultimately futile initiative?

Hmm. Well… because this initiative has absolutely nothing to do with ensuring the integrity of the voter rolls. No, this cynical little abuse of the initiative process is purely strategic, and is focused entirely on propping up the election prospects of Mike McGavick, Dave Reichert, and Republican state legislators.

You see, even a losing campaign can be a worthwhile investment if it pays collateral benefits on election day, and anybody who thinks initiatives are simply about passing laws, hasn’t been paying close attention to how the parties and their surrogates routinely use initiative campaigns to influence public opinion and strategically drive voter turnout. Indeed, some initiatives — like the EFF’s latest stinking pile of political bullshit — are entirely strategic, having absolutely no reasonably obtainable, direct legislative goals whatsoever.

So why would the EFF sponsor this initiative? Because they are a bunch of deceitful, manipulative, calculating liars, whose only goal is to seize political power for themselves and their right-wing fellow travelers, at any cost. It is fair to say that everything about this initiative is a lie, from their feigned concern over the cleanliness of our voter rolls (our Republican Secretary of State has found no evidence of illegal votes,) to their absolutely bizarre proposal to eliminate voter fraud by, um… eliminating voters.

I could spend pages refuting the EFF’s arguments, but to do so in the context of an initiative that clearly violates federal law is not only a waste of time, it’s exactly what the EFF wants. The entire purpose of this initiative is to rile up the paranoid Republican base enough to turn them out on election day, and I for one, am not interested in giving the EFF the bogus debate they want.

The EFF has proposed a laughable and illegal initiative, aimed at a problem that doesn’t exist… and it only deserves to be debated as such.

by Goldy, 02/22/2006, 8:59 PM

I guess one of the advantages of being Jewish is that no matter what I write, our local Nazis can’t exactly label me a “race traitor,” can they? Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Dave Niewert of Orcinus, who occasionally pisses off the right-wing extremists he covers.

Both of us were recently named “race traitors” at the Website of the regional National Socialist Movement outfit (sorry, I won’t link to it). There is an innate threat in such a listing, of course, but it’s one I’m accustomed to, not to mention well prepared to deal with.

Still, it underscores the potential problems that lie in wait for anyone publishing a blog like this. In addition to the harassment that comes with these things (the NSM folks kindly urged their followers to dump hate material in my comments, which I’ve been very easily deleting), there’s always the potential for these things to trickle over into your private life. The NSM is a tiny contingent, really, but all of these groups attract unstable and violent followers, and they are an actual threat.

Clearly, shit like this is meant to harass and intimidate — and I suppose, in their dreams, eventually eliminate. Yeah… they’re just a handful of pathetic wackos playing dress up, but as Dave points out, it only takes one unstable nut case to do some real damage.

So, what can we do about threats like this? Dave wants to turn it against them.

I recently wrapped up my regular fund-raiser (I raised over $2,000, and will report in a separate post on that). But I’ve decided to run a supplemental fund-raiser, based on a campaign of refutation for this kind of intimidation.

What I want is to be able to turn their campaign against them: For every post and threat they make, people can donate to the cause of keeping Orcinus afloat.

I’m asking folks to toss a fiver (or whatever amount you like) in the PayPal kitty at the upper corner (or write me at P.O. Box 17872, Seattle WA 99107), and designate it with the phrase, “Say No to Nazis”. I’ll report on the fund’s progress in the coming weeks.

Sounds good to me. I just made my contribution and I urge you to make yours.

by Goldy, 02/22/2006, 2:21 PM

After I lavished praise yesterday on King County Executive Ron Sims’ leadership skills, The Seattle Times reminds me today that leadership comes in different forms:

Gov. Christine Gregoire’s strong suit is getting feuding interests in a heated political fight together until they reach agreement. The latest example is her notable leadership on medical-malpractice law. [...] Gregoire’s hard-nosed negotiating skills prove once again to be one of her most successful leadership traits.

While I’m a huge fan of Sims’ willingness to step up to the bully pulpit, take a stance (however unpopular,) and lead, Gov. Gregoire deserves a ton of credit for the quiet, methodical way she gets things done. The Times notes her accomplishments as the lead negotiator on the multibillion dollar tobacco lawsuit as Attorney General, and on the Hanford cleanup settlement as state ecology director. Just as impressive was the way she brokered a bipartisan deal last year on the transportation improvement package, even as the state GOP worked tirelessly to undermine her authority with their muck-strewn election contest lawsuit.

This compromise medical malpractice legislation — coming in the immediate wake of bitter, dueling initiatives — is yet another example of Gov. Gregoire’s talent at “herding cats”… a talent that has made her an extraordinarily effective governor. It is particularly impressive considering the classically partisan nature of this epic conflict between trial lawyers and the insurance industry.

The Republicans have never simply approached medical malpractice as an opportunity to enact good policy (though I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that that is at least part of their goal.) Indeed, some GOP leaders sounded downright disappointed at news of a compromise.

Senate Republican Leader Mike Hewitt of Walla Walla later said the measure fell so far short of a solution for the “med-mal” problem that it was really “mini-mal.” Hewitt’s caucus has long supported caps on damages.

Of course they do. That’s because trial lawyers generally give to Democrats, whereas the insurance industry on the other side of the table generally gives to Republicans. To the GOP, the enduring appeal of tort reform — just like so-called “right to work” legislation and its resulting blow to organized labor — has always been the opportunity to defund the Democratic Party. (Just take a look at the electoral shift in Texas for an example of how successful that strategy can be.)

That Gov. Gregoire was able to broker a deal in this context makes her feat all the more impressive. That’s leadership for you.

by Goldy, 02/22/2006, 7:55 AM

The good news is, our weekly podcasts from Drinking Liberally continue to improve. The bad news is, much of the improvement came this week… without me. Anyway, download the latest installment here.

Will did a great job subbing for me as host, and I’m cool with that. In fact, to show my appreciation, I’m taking him out for a little quail hunting.

UPDATE:
I just finished listening to the whole thing, I have to say it was thoroughly enjoyable. And I almost forgot… special thanks once again to Richard and Gavin for producing the show; I also highly recommend their own podcast, The Confab Show.

by Goldy, 02/21/2006, 10:10 PM

In the heat of last year’s King County executive race, somebody asked me what it was about Republican challenger David Irons that made me come down on him so hard, and I answered without hesitation, simply… that he wasn’t Ron Sims.

Sims is without a doubt my favorite politician in the state for any number of reasons, but mostly for a rare willingness to expend political capital. What some critics decry as arrogance, I applaud as leadership, even when I occasionally disagree with him on policy. Ron Sims clearly believes in what he is doing as county executive, and I believe in Ron Sims.

Apparently, Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. has become a bit of a believer as well.

Ron Sims, the county executive in Washington state’s King County, believes government’s job is “to help create wealth more efficiently.” That view comes naturally to a leader of the entrepreneurial Seattle region, which has improved the nation’s experience of everything from technology to coffee.

I can’t say that Dionne is one of my favorite writers, but he’s certainly one of the most experienced and best respected political columnists in the nation. In this capacity Dionne meets an awful lot of politicians, and for a local elected to draw such glowing coverage is truly a feather in Sims’ cap… though not surprising. Most people who have the opportunity to meet with Sims come away as impressed as Dionne by his passion and dedication.

Meeting Sims and reading the Urban Institute manuscript provided a bracing reminder that there is an authentic search going on outside of conventional politics for the new ideas to animate a new political era — precisely what Democrats are supposed to be seeking.

Sims is a bluff, warm man who gets excited about problem-solving. A Democrat, he will talk your ear off about the King County government’s effort to work with local employers in creating a new heath care delivery system. The idea is that government can be a catalyst for negotiation, research and reform and save both public and private employers money while producing better health outcomes for consumers.

It fits with Sims’s larger idea that government, far from being a drain on the nation’s wealth, ought to “provide the social infrastructure and the physical infrastructure to help wealth be created.” He said during lunch here the other day that Democrats should run under the slogan: “Rebuild America.”

Sims notes that after World War II, the federal government helped unleash an era of exceptional growth through investments in schools, interstate highways and higher education. Both India and China are “making intelligent moves for economic growth” and the United States cannot stand by and watch. “You need people and brains to create an economy,” he says. “You need transportation to move an economy. And you need an environmental policy to create clean air and clean water.”

Sims’s idea reminds Democrats that a commitment to active government is not simply about redistributing wealth. It is also rooted in the historically sound insight that effective government has always been essential to robust economic growth. Government, in the Sims formulation, should be a dynamic player in our nation’s economic life.

What Dionne describes — what Ron Sims embodies — is the very essence of American liberalism… a profound belief in the power of government to improve the lives of all its citizens. It is an optimistic political philosophy grounded in the American experience

While it has become fashionable for neo-conservative cynics to simply dismissively ridicule us liberals, I find their nearly blind, deterministic faith in the power of unfettered markets to be sad, simplistic, and willfully ignorant of history. It was under the sway of liberalism that America climbed out of the Great Depression, defeated the Axis powers, and grew into the greatest economic, military and political power in the history of the world. It is under the neo-con policies of the Bush administration and our Republican congress that America risks collapsing into a debtor nation and a failed empire.

Dionne concludes that Sims’ “practical focus on government’s role in wealth creation” is both “good public policy” and “good politics.” It also happens to be backed up by history.

by Goldy, 02/21/2006, 12:54 PM

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

Unfortunately, I’m stuck down here in Florida, forced to endure 80 degrees and sunshine, so I want be able to join you tonight.

And FYI, the first gathering of the Burien chapter meets tomorrow, 7PM at Mick Kelly’s Irish Pub, 435 SW 152nd St. I promise to stop by the first chance I get.

by Goldy, 02/21/2006, 9:20 AM

According to the Palm Beach Post, it looks like Ann Coulter will be investigated for felony voter fraud after all.

Supervisor of Elections Arthur Anderson said on Friday that Coulter’s voting in the wrong precinct this month in a Palm Beach Town Council election was an isolated incident, one that will be referred to State Attorney Barry Krischer. When that happens, Democrat Krischer, who didn’t return calls for comment, will be investigating two White House cheerleaders based on The Island. The other one is radio talker Rush Limbaugh, subject of a doctor-shopping probe.

Both Coulter and Limbaugh under investigation? Hmm. Perhaps I should reconsider my support of restoring voting rights to convicted felons?

by Goldy, 02/20/2006, 9:58 PM

Carl doesn’t always have a lot to say, but he’s constantly pointing me towards interesting people who do. Like this nice, pithy piece from Washington Outsiders, a local blog I’d never even heard of.

Remember when the Washington State Republican Legislators announced they had a plan, a “Commitment to Washington”? Well they have a progress report on their plan. And it turns out their plan is to take credit for what the Democrats have done!

Apparently, House GOP Floor leader Doug Ericksen — the only Republican to join 30 Dems in co-sponsoring HB 2370 — now claims the bill’s passage as a GOP victory.

Hmm. Don’t know why they feel the need to pad their legislative accomplishments. For example, we’d never have that new bill banning fake sex offender notices, if not for the actions of the House GOP.

by Goldy, 02/20/2006, 8:25 PM

Today is blatherWatch‘s first blogoversary, and well… I feel somewhat ashamed. Michael Hood had asked me for a testimonial to join the many others he’s posted online, and well… I just plain forgot.

I may actually be blatherWatch’s most loyal reader, having “discovered” it on it’s 2nd day of life… after Michael sent me an email fishing for a link in my blogroll. I’ve been a regular reader ever since, not just because I’m fascinated by his subject matter, but because it happens to be one of best written and most entertaining blogs out there.

I also feel a touch of pride over blatherWatch’s success, and not just because of my early efforts to kick traffic its way. Looking back at our first email exchange, I see that I not only enthusiastically welcomed Michael’s efforts, I also discovered that I made a tiny contribution to blatherWatch’s unique personality:

I’ve actually imagined just such a blog, and would be happy to offer you my tagline: “Listening to talk radio, so you don’t have to.” Or something like that.

And the rest is history. Thanks Michael, for a great first year, for unselfishly taking this extraordinary burden upon yourself… and for giving that tagline a better home than I ever could have.

by Goldy, 02/19/2006, 10:30 PM

A couple weeks ago I criticized a Seattle Times editorial urging the state Supreme Court to force Sound Transit to pay off its bonds and stop collecting the car tabs that I-776 attempted to eliminate. I argued that the Times editorial board was wrong both on policy and on points of law.

But in closing, I also took a swipe at the Times’ penchant for instructing courts how to rule on the law:

The Times has an established history of attempting to influence the courts, but personally, I’ve always felt that judicial decisions should be based purely on statute and the constitution, free from the pressure generated by special interest groups like, you know… editorial boards.

Well, they’re at it again.

In a Sunday editorial the Times chides justices for ruling that property owners are “not entitled to actual individualized notice” of condemnation hearings. The Times admits that “the law is fuzzy on it,” but criticizes the court for siding with Sound Transit:

Notice of the property to be condemned should also have been delivered to the people who own it. “Due process of law” should require no less.

As a policy issue, I cannot argue with the Times’ conclusion. If it were my property being considered for condemnation, I would damn well expect to receive an official notice of the hearing.

But… courts don’t decide policy issues, they decide legal issues… so rather than berating justices for ruling based on the statute, the Times should be urging the Legislature to change it.

And I most emphatically object to the headline the Times affixed to the editorial: “More arbitrary taking of land by the court.”

Arbitrary or no, the court did not take anybody’s land… Sound Transit did. All the court did was rule that Sound Transit acted within the constraints of current law in doing so.

Such a grossly slanted headline is particularly irresponsible in the context of the looming battle over the Farm Bureau’s developer windfall initiative. At the very least, such misleading rhetoric fans the flames of the property rights folk. At its worse, one wonders if the Times is telegraphing an intention to aggressively support the Farm Bureau in its efforts?

I do not blame the Times for being disappointed by the court’s ruling, but reasonable people can disagree over the interpretation of “fuzzy” law. And to use this decision as an opportunity to label the court a bunch of arbitrary land stealers, adds nothing constructive to the public debate… and suggests ulterior motives. If Frank Blethen and his editorial board wish to advocate a particular policy position, they should at least be forthright in doing so.

by Goldy, 02/18/2006, 2:01 PM

To my friends in the traditional media: notice has been served:

  1. The Washington Farm Bureau is shamelessly lying to you in support of their dangerous, land use initiative, and
  2. Us bloggers are going to make you look awfully damn foolish if you repeat these lies unchallenged.

Noemie Maxwell has posted an absolute, must-read piece over on WashBlog, dissecting just some of the lies with which Washington Farm Bureau President Steve Appel peppered his initiative campaign kickoff speech. Noemie presents a solid bit of sleuthing that pulls the veil from the Farm Bureau’s efforts to mislead the public on this very important issue; it’s a tad wonkish, but a fascinating read.

And I especially encourage reporters and columnists who plan to cover this initiative to pay close attention, because I promise you that this is the type of relentless fact checking local bloggers will pursue throughout this initiative campaign… and if you fail to do same, we will do everything in our power to mercilessly expose your lack of professionalism.

In this particular instance, Noemie focuses on the claims of Bruce Ritter, a small landowner whose plight Appel highlights as typical of thousands of others across the state. That the head of the Farm Bureau could not find an actual farmer to serve as his property rights poster boy was the first thing to touch off Noemie’s suspicions. But …

Odder than this choice of a representative landowner, and more troubling, is the inaccuracy in Mr. Appels’ statement about the Ritter property. Half of the assertions made by Mr. Appel are easily debunked. The other half are not substantiated and are, in fact, shown by the public record to almost certainly be untrue.

Noemie then proceeds to debunk Appel’s assertion that under the proposed Thurston County Critical Areas Ordinance, Appel would lose the use of 90% of two adjoining, 5-acre parcels, his “mobile home, horse barn, well, and septic system all regulated out of existence… his land would be virtually worthless.”

Yeah. Right.

In fact, as Noemie points out, the proposed regulations are public record, and they clearly state that not only are existing structures grandfathered, a “reasonable accommodation” of up to 5000 square feet is allowed per parcel.

Noemie then delves into testimony before the Thurston County Planning Commission, and other public records, and easily discovers further holes in the Ritter anecdote. In fact, a good portion of Ritter’s property is covered by wetlands, and thus development was already restricted under current regulations at the time Ritter purchased the properties in 1995. Thus the poster boy for the Farm Bureau’s initiative is a non-agricultural landowner who wants to obtain via initiative development rights on critical wetlands that he did not have at the time he purchased the property.

And how have these claims been reported in the press? Well, looking at an article in the Seattle P-I, exactly as the Farm Bureau cynically intended:

He points to people such as Bruce Ritter, who owns two adjacent 5-acre lots in Thurston County crisscrossed with wetlands and streams. Under proposed ordinances, he wouldn’t be able to build on 9 acres, Boyer said.

“When you draw all these buffers around these waterways, suddenly he’s left with no usable land, and the home and horse barn and well and septic system that he’s been sitting on for years are literally regulated out of existence,” he said.

This was a statement of fact, not of opinion, and thus the P-I had a professional obligation to fact check it before substantiating it in print. The fact that reporter Jennifer Langston cloaked the statement in attribution is no excuse, for it is demonstrably false, and thus should have been exposed as such, if repeated at all.

When Langston repeats such untruths, unchallenged, she becomes — willing or not — a collaborator with those who are trying to mislead the public for political gain. Indeed, our daily newspapers and other traditional media outlets are the essential cogs in the propaganda machine that transforms calculated lies into common knowledge: Ritter’s misleading testimony is cited by Appel who is cited by the P-I which is cited by others as an authoritative, objective source. This is the news equivalent of money-laundering, and it requires the passive assistance of professional journalists, if not their actual complicit cooperation.

Don’t get me wrong… I admire the profession. I am an avid news consumer, and I personally like and respect nearly every journalist I have met. I even consider some of them my friends. Hell… I’d kill for a shot as a paid columnist at a regional daily.

But this initiative is simply too important to hold my tongue when my friends and (gasp) colleagues screw up!

So notice has been served. Noemie and I and others will be scrutinizing every word you write on this subject between now and November, and I encourage all my fellow bloggers to link to Noemie’s post, and announce to your readers that you will be joining us in our campaign to keep this an honest debate.