Better late than never: Seattle Times finally covers Goldmark v. McKenna

It’s been two months since I first started covering Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna’s refusal to fulfill his statutory obligation to represent Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark, and six weeks since the dispute (as predicted) exploded into a full blown constitutional showdown. And today the Seattle Times finally covers the story with more than a cursory blog post: “Methow power-line fight turns into Supreme Court showdown.”

Of course, the article comes more than a month after the tiny Wenatchee World became the first (and until now, only) newspaper in the state to assign a staff reporter to cover the story, and it’s kinda frustrating to see environment reporter Craig Welch covering such a complicated legal issue when he easily could have devoted all 1,200 words to the complicated environmental issues surrounding the proposed power-line through virgin Methow Valley land (is there really no full time legal reporter in the entire state?), but the Times did publish the story front page, above the fold, so I suppose beggars can’t be choosers and all that.

Still, the article does serve as a reasonable introduction to the story for those readers who don’t frequent either HA or WW, especially the accompanying graphic that illustrates how the entire proposed line runs less than five miles east of an alternate route along Highway 153, much of it less than a mile from the existing highway right of way.

powerline

Hopefully Welch will be given the go ahead to delve deeper into the environmental issues surrounding this controversy, but for the moment, here are a few observations and elaborations on today’s piece:

The fight over the future of the shrub-steppe grasslands above the shimmering Methow River has become what few could have predicted: a constitutional feud between the heads of two state agencies.

Well, at least one person predicted it. Way back on June 16 I warned that McKenna was plunging our state into a “constitutional crisis … that could ultimately lead to a Supreme Court showdown.” Yup, HA readers were once again kept way ahead of the curve.

It’s become a political feud — one that Republicans say Democrats simply have manufactured in hopes of tarnishing a possible GOP contender for the 2012 governor’s race.

To be absolutely clear, I immediately saw this dispute as a tremendous opportunity to tarnish McKenna from the moment the first press release arrived in my inbox — that was in fact what sparked my initial interest — but DNR never proved as cooperative as I had hoped. Goldmark’s goal from the onset was clearly to pressure McKenna into providing an attorney, and his office was never willing to furnish me with potentially damning correspondence from the AG’s office. In fact, I’ve never even managed to get Goldmark to provide me a juicy quote. So whatever the “hopes” of me and other “Democrats,” as the only journalist who has covered this story from day one, I can assure you that Goldmark never showed any interest in playing that particular game.

“I believe it’s squarely the duty of the attorney general to carry out legal issues at my request,” Goldmark said, adding that he believes those duties are spelled out in state law.

McKenna argued his duty extends beyond Goldmark. He said his team of lawyers asked the same questions they do for all appeals: Did the trial judge err? Is there a good legal argument? Could new precedent damage other agencies?

I have extensively analyzed the legal issues surrounding McKenna’s statutory duties, for example here, here and here. It’s worth reading if you’re interested in learning more.

Opponents are represented by wealthy Seattle environmental attorney Peter Goldman, a contributor to Democrats who also happens to be one of Land Commissioner Goldmark’s most outspoken supporters. … Goldmark’s critics contend he took on the battle because it was important to Goldman — a charge Goldmark denies.

Um… Goldman is representing opponents because he’s an environmental attorney, and this is what environmental attorneys do. As for Okanogan County born and raised Goldmark, the Methow Valley is his own backyard, and I’m told he’s walked much of the proposed power-line route with his own two feet. So to imply that Goldmark is fighting to preserve Common School Trust Land in his home county as some sort of payback to Goldman is, well, absurd, especially to anyone who has ever spent any time talking to Goldmark. He is most definitely not your typical politician.

It’s Goldmark’s job to manage state public lands, and it’s McKenna’s job to represent Goldmark in that capacity. And that is what the pending Supreme Court case is all about.

Comments

  1. 1

    rhp6033 spews:

    It’s pretty frustrating as the Times engages in the “he said, she said” stile of reporting. It’s not as if people could weight the merits of the controversey on their own by merely reading the partial-sentence sound bites. I’m hoping that they do more real investigation, explaining both the environmental and legal issues in the near future.

    As for the authority of the A.G. issue, it’s patently ridiculous for him to assert that he pretty much has unfettered discretion to decide what cases he handles. He’s the sole representative of the state in legal matters. If his authority were as broad as he asserts, then he could decide to NOT defend a state law which was under attack, because (a) he didn’t really agree with that law anyway, and (b) he just didn’t feel like it that morning. McKenna could, in effect, exercise veto power over any law he didn’t like, by refusing to enforce or defend it.

  2. 2

    Ekim spews:

    Okanogan is not a rich county. Where is the PUD getting the money to build the power line?

  3. 4

    slingshot spews:

    The Times failed to mention that McKenna’s actions on this case could just as well be percieved as being politically motivated to benifit his upcoming assault on the governor’s mansion.

  4. 6

    Larry Osterman spews:

    First off: I think that what McKenna is doing is hideously wrong and I hope he gets his hand slapped HARD.

    But I do have a question: When Rob McKenna refuses to defend Goldmark, it’s a constitutional crisis.

    Why isn’t it a constitutional crisis when Jerry Brown refuses to defend Prop 8 in California? Why is ok for the Atty General of California to refuse to defend a law of the state but not for the Atty General of Wa to refuse to defend the lands commissioner?

    Why weren’t the leftist CA political blogs up in arms about Brown’s refusal to defend the laws of his state on political grounds? If Goldy covered CA politics instead of WA politics, would he be as strong in his disapproval of Brown’s actions as he is of McKenna’s actions?

    Again: I think that what McKenna did was reprehensible and wrong. But I also think that what Brown did was equally wrong (even though I abhore Prop 8 and am ecstatic at judge Walker’s ruling).

    But I think the two cases speak to a double standard – when a Republican/conservative refuses to defend his state’s constitution, it’s bad, but when a Democrat/liberal refuses to defend the laws of his state, it’s good.

  5. 7

    Contemplate this, on the Tree of Woe spews:

    double standards? from the party hacks? say it aint so!

    goldy and his HA cadre all about double standards..

    kinda fits in with the whole “do as I say, not as I do” liberal screed…

  6. 8

    tpn spews:

    @6: That’s called the “that’s different” rule. No explanation required. The punishment for questioning it is to be called a right winger, regardless of how much on the left one is situated.

  7. 9

    Chris Stefan spews:

    @6
    It really depends on what the law in California says about the role of the AG in that state. Some states allow the AG broad authority in deciding which statues or agencies to defend in court. Other states like WA don’t give the AG a lot of wiggle room.

    It may be that AG Brown was seriously out of line in refusing to defend Prop 8. On the other hand his refusal to defend Prop 8 may very well be within his consitutional and statutory authority.

    So it isn’t a case of double standards or being hypocritical but a case of not being familiar with California law and the fact that all 50 states are slightly different when it comes to the statutory authority given to state officers like the AG.

    In the case of McKenna it is fairly clear what WA state law and the WA state consitution says, I’m sure the critique would be the same were the AG a Democrat rather than a Republican.

  8. 10

    rhp6033 spews:

    # 9: Agreed. In some states if an agency asks the A.G. to defend them, and the A.G. refuses, they can hire their own attorney to do so. But in Washington State the state agencies are absolutely forbidden to hire an outside attorney. So unless McKenna does so, then they can’t proceed at all.

    Of course, most of the time this can be avoided as reasonable government servants explain their reasoning and decide to act in agreement. But the PUD case creates such bad precedent with respect to the sovereignty of the state that I would think McKenna would be going out of his way to prosecute the appeal, all other considerations aside. The fact that he is refusing to do so is quite curious (putting the best possible spin on his conduct).

  9. 11

    Nindid spews:

    tpn spews @6: That’s called the “that’s different” rule. No explanation required. The punishment for questioning it is to be called a right winger, regardless of how much on the left one is situated.

    No, this is called let’s ignore the facts and hyperventilate about double standards without bothering to look at the facts.

    As Chris said above, the facts might be that Brown was within his discretion or out of line. But taking Goldy to task for not attacking a Californian politician on a WA blog seems to be looking for double standard rather than finding it.

  10. 12

    Contemplate this, on the Tree of Woe spews:

    @11..

    what the fuck???? did you actually read what you wrote?

    “the facts MIGHT be that brown was within his discretion or out of line”

    how the fuck can facts be “might be”??

    In other words, you dont have a clue as to what the facts are.

    YOu talk about “facts”, yet you dont know what they are….LMFAO….its pure fucking conjecture by everyone, including Chris Stephan, as to whether or not the AG’s duty is different in WA and CA in this instance.

    what a joke….

  11. 13

    Chris Stefan spews:

    @12
    Hey dumbass why the fuck does that matter? Why should we give a flying rats ass what the AG of California does?

    If you recall you were running around claiming Goldy was applying a double standard for not being outraged about California AG Jerry Brown not defending Prop 8. I simply pointed out that depending on what the law in California it may not be a similar situation. Now you chide me for not bothering to research California law. Again why should I care? If you think the situations are similar YOU prove it by doing the legwork to find out what the statutory and constitutional authority of the California AG’s office is.

  12. 14

    spews:

    Goldy could post “1+1=2″ and “tehchickenshit” (@7 and 12) would look at it as a leftist plot.

  13. 15

    Contemplate this, on the Tree of Woe spews:

    @14

    typical lazy YLB…nothing to contribute because its all over his little head….

    as with everything else in your life, the best you got just aint good enough.

  14. 16

    Contemplate this, on the Tree of Woe spews:

    @13

    well, to answer your question, because goldy already thinks that the overturning of the CA law will have an effect on same sex marriage law here in WA……

    …or did you miss his post on that one too?

    here, let me help you remember…
    http://horsesass.org/?p=28885

    Besides, YOU were the prancing around as the expert on all things AG, stating that some states are different that WA, and others are the same….so, lets have it then, list them out….or were you just pulling shit from your ass?

    or is it just easier to say “hey, there is a double standard here at HA”, and just be done with it.

    burp…..

  15. 17

    Ekim spews:

    6. Larry Osterman spews:

    Why isn’t it a constitutional crisis when Jerry Brown refuses to defend Prop 8 in California? Why is ok for the Atty General of California to refuse to defend a law of the state but not for the Atty General of Wa to refuse to defend the lands commissioner?

    In “Perry v. Schwarzenegger” none of the state officials named in the suit sought to defend the law in court nor requested legal representation.

  16. 18

    Toby Thaler spews:

    Ekim asked (at #2):

    “Okanogan is not a rich county. Where is the PUD getting the money to build the power line?”

    Ratepayers in Okanogan, but also you and me. I cannot recall exact proportion, but since OkPUD supplies juice to the electric coop in the Methow Valley, BPA will pay for some of the capital cost of the new line. That relatively small in the big picture expenditure will get spread to all of us in the NW.

    As for good bits in Welch’s article, I thought the note about hand dug pole holes into solid rock was choice. OkPUD is incompetent. Such as wasting millions on diesel generators (http://www.wenatcheeworld.com/.....ss-/?print).

    Having obtained and reviewed most of the documents concerning the proposed line (at least through c. 2007), I am convinced that there are better options to secure more reliable power in the Methow (which I agree is needed). Either a second, parallel line next to the existing one over the Loup, or up Highway 153. Cost differential is not that great when you add difficult to quantify environmental impacts of a new route. And then there’s that rock to hand dig…

  17. 19

    Zotz sez: Puddybud is just another word for arschloch spews:

    @18: Toby: Thanks for posting here. I’m a big fan of your work.

    Question:

    Is there still an environmental process here or this expedited under what I believe were laws passed to enhance grid enhancement in the last admin?

  18. 21

    Chris Stefan spews:

    @16
    That is because Judge Walker’s ruling is on broad Constituional grounds. This means every similar law in other states can be fought with similar arguments. Since this is being appealed to the 9th Circut their ruling will presumably effect Washington’s DOMA law. This has nothing to do with the authority of the respective AG’s. See Loving v. Virgina which not only overturned Virgina’s ban on interracial marrage but all similar laws in all states and territories.

    If you will remember Goldy’s earlier posts on the subject, he points out that the authority of a state AG varies from state to state. Some states have very specific language on the responsiblity of the AG’s office to defend state agencies, officers, statutes, etc. similar to the language the WA state constitution and RCW uses. I don’t recall California as being one of those states.

    Again why the fuck am I obligated to do your research for you?