Offering daily news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

LIVE from Bellevue: Governor Inslee unveils plan for investing in Washington’s schools

Good evening from Newport High School in Bellevue, Washington. I’m here with several dozen other activists, reporters, and citizens to participate in a town hall on education with Governor Jay Inslee and his staff. The governor is using the event to unveil his plan to strengthen Washington’s schools, which his office is calling the most substantial investment in education in decades.

People are participating in the town hall from several locations via video link: Columbia Basin Technical Skills Center in Moses Lake, Rogers High School in Spokane, and Jason Lee Middle School in Tacoma.

In his introductory remarks, the governor explained that we can no longer afford to delay or postpone investing in our schools. He reminded the audience that the Supreme Court has held the state in contempt for failing to comply with Article IX of our Constitution, which declares that it is the paramount duty of Washington’s leaders to amply provide for the education of every child.

The governor is calling on the Legislature to respond by walking its talk.

“In the budget I will be releasing this Thursday, I will be proposing adding $2.3 billion to put us back on track,” Inslee said.

His K-12 plan calls for the following:

  • Early learning: Provide $79.8 million for 6,358 new spaces in the state’s preschool solution for children of low income families, and $70 million to train child care providers, which will help 50,639 more children.
  • Reduce elementary school class size: $448 million will go towards reducing kindergarten, first, second, and third grade class sizes to seventeen kids, down from twenty-three kids.
  • Statewide full-day kindergarten: $107 million will provide full-day kindergarten for all students in Washington.
  • Materials and supplies: To ensure teachers have the tools they need, $751 million would go towards materials, supplies, and curricula.
  • Professional pay for teachers: $385 million will fully fund Initiative 732 and provide a cost of living increase for teachers, in line with increases recommended for state employees.

For higher education, Inslee is calling for a tuition freeze for the 2015-2017 biennium. He wants to increase funding for the opportunity scholarship by $100 million and the college bound state need grant by $25 million.

After presenting an overview of his plan and discussing some of the highlights, Inslee began taking questions from educators and citizens at all four video-linked schools, beginning with Spokane, Tacoma, and Moses Lake.

You can read the plan yourself by checking out this PDF from the governor’s site.

Questions from ranged to implementing I-1351 to potential changes to the system used for evaluating teachers to secure a waiver for No Child Left Behind.

Another question zeroed in on how the investments would be funded.

“We have a solid, fiscally sound way of financing everything we’ve talked about today,” Inslee said in response to a question about how the plan would be funded. “I can tell you it’s a real financing plan, not based on indebtedness.”

He promised to share details at a press conference on Thursday.

“The way I look at this… we really are at a fork in the road,” he said, explaining that making an investment is the way to honor our state’s finest traditional values and pursue excellence in education. The unacceptable alternative would be failing to fulfill our constitutional obligations as a state to our young people.

Help us give Geov Parrish a hand up

As someone who’s been involved in progressive politics for almost half a lifetime, I have great admiration and appreciation for people who have dedicated their lives to activism and organizing. Most of us in the progressive movement are part-time activists; we choose to be involved because we care, but our obligations to work/school and family limit the time we’re able to give.

But there are a few among us who are full-time activists. Not consultants or lobbyists, mind you… consulting and lobbying gigs typically come with decent compensation. I’m talking about people who have deliberately chosen to forgo opportunities to make money in favor of trying to build community.

People like Geov Parrish.

Geov has been writing, organizing, and agitating for a more progressive region and country since before there was a blogopshere or a netroots community. Remarkably, he’s persevered at activism despite battling many health problems.

This Wednesday will mark the twentieth anniversary of his double organ transpant (kidney and pancreas!). Doctors told him years ago he didn’t have much time left, but decades later, he’s still around, trying to make our region a better place.

I am personally grateful to Geov for showing up to support NPI at some of our events, particularly our annual Spring Fundraising Gala in April, and donating what he could. He really believes in building community and encouraging other progressives. I so appreciate that, as does everyone else here at NPI.

Geov recently wrote to me and many other friends to let us know that he and his fiancée Revel Smith could really use some help. They’re broke and homeless, having struggled for months to find a place to live, in part because Revel has multiple sclerosis and a sensitivity to many chemicals. For those interested in all the details, Geov’s penned a December missive (2014 – It Was Not A Very Good Year) and given permission for us to share it with you.

It’s one thing to endure being broke and homeless; it’s another thing altogether to summon the courage to ask for help to escape those circumstances.

Geov has done that, and I’m really glad he did. Until he sent out his letter, many of his friends were unaware of his situation. But now we know what’s going on. That means we can emphasize and respond.

Principled progressives walk their talk and reach out to help those in need. Geov has a progressive work ethic and is capable of working, but before he can focus on getting a job, he and Revel need to get out of survival mode.

That’s where we come in. HA Seattle and NPI are teaming up to help Geov and Revel. We’re asking our readers and supporters to join us in giving them a hand up.

If you’re willing to spare a few dollars to assist a good progressive activist in need, please click this PayPal button to send money Geov and Revel’s way.



You can also send Geov a check in the mail:

Geov Parrish
PO Box 85541
Seattle WA 98145

Building NPI has been adventure in more ways that I could have imagined when I set out over eleven years ago to set up a strategy center dedicated to innovative research and imaginative advocacy. Our work has always been sustained by the generosity of fellow activists – including people like Geov Parrish.

I hope you’ll consider helping Geov, so that next December, he’ll be able to tell us that 2015 was a good year filled mostly with positive changes.

U.S. Senate passes $1.1 trillion, giveaway-stuffed “cromnibus” bill in late night vote

Earlier this evening, following in the footsteps of the House of Representatives, the United States Senate passed the massive appropriations bill that has become known as the CRomnibus, sending the legislation to President Barack Obama, who is prepared to sign it without delay.

The final vote was fifty-six to forty; four senators did not vote.

The cromnibus (officially, H.R. 83, the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015) met with fierce opposition from the Republican Party’s Tea Party faction (who want to shut down the government again) as well as movement Democrats whose priority is the well-being of the American people, not playing Santa Claus to lobbyists for the likes of Citigroup.

Opposition to H.R. 83 among Democrats was led by Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who decried the many giveaways to Wall Street and K Street that were stuffed into the bill in a series of rousing, powerful floor speeches.

The final vote on H.R. 83 did not break down along party lines, but instead reflected the unusual divisions created as a result of the bill’s secret assembly in a backroom (with assistance from corporate lobbyists).

The roll call from the Pacific Northwest was as follows:

VOTING AYE: Democrats Patty Murray (WA), Mark Begich (AK), and John Walsh (MT); Republicans Lisa Murkowski (AK)

VOTING NAY: Democrats Maria Cantwell (WA), Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden (OR), Jon Tester (MT); Republicans Mike Crapo and Jim Risch (ID)

None of us at NPI can recall a roll call quite like this one before.

Crapo and Risch’s no votes were predictable; Idaho’s two Republican senators have a reputation of reflexively voting NO on pretty much everything.

Readers may recall that Crapo and Risch refused to vote to reopen the federal government last year. They wanted to keep everything shut down.

Maria Cantwell, Jeff Merkley, Ron Wyden and Jon Tester voted no on principle.

Following the vote, Senator Cantwell’s office released a statement explaining her vote against the cromnibus, which was emailed to NPI.

“I strongly oppose the derivatives provision of this bill, which would overturn a critical component of our work on the 2010 Wall Street Reform legislation,” Cantwell said. “I am also opposed to the changes that would weaken protections for current retirees who depend on multi-employer pension plans.”

Since her reelection to the United States Senate in 2006, Senator Maria Cantwell has been a tireless fighter for sensible financial regulation and has established a very progressive voting record. We are proud to be represented by her.

We have never forgotten that Senator Cantwell refused to vote for the Bush/Paulson/Bernanke bank bailout six years ago. She took a bold, courageous stand, saying that giving Wall Street banks a blank check was wrong.

Several months later, when Barack Obama unwisely nominated Ben Bernanke for another term as Fed Chair, she voted against his confirmation.

In 2010, when the Senate was working on the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act of 2010, Cantwell withheld her vote until stronger rules regulating derivatives were included. Only then did she offer her support.

Naturally, the Citigroup-authored provision tucked into the cromnibus was a dealbreaker for her… as it should have been to every Democratic senator.

Other Democrats who voted against the cromnibus were:

  • Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)
  • Cory Booker (D-NJ)
  • Barbara Boxer (D-CA)
  • Sherrod Brown (D-OH)
  • Al Franken (D-MN)
  • Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)
  • Tom Harkin (D-IA)
  • Mazie Hirono (D-HI)
  • Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
  • Carl Levin (D-MI)
  • Ed Markey (D-MA)
  • Claire McCaskill (D-MO)
  • Bob Menendez (D-NJ)
  • Jack Reed (D-RI)
  • Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
  • Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)
  • Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)

Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Rand Paul – who have all been mentioned as possible contenders for the Republican nomination for President – led several of their colleagues in opposition to the bill from the other side.

Four senators did not vote: Dianne Feinstein of California, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, and James Inhofe, also of Oklahoma.

H.R. 83 now goes to President Obama, who is expected to sign it rather quickly, ensuring that top executives and lobbyists on the payroll of the several of the country’s most powerful corporations will have something even better than bonuses to be giddy about this Christmas.

U.S. House passes massive appropriations bill laden with gifts for Wall Street and K Street

A short time ago, the United States House of Representatives narrowly voted to pass a mammoth-sized, Republican-engineered appropriations bill loaded with goodies and gifts for Wall Street and K Street. Nicknamed the CRominbus (continuing resolution + omnibus appropriations bill), it would keep most of the federal government open till September, but at an unacceptably high cost.

H.R. 83 passed with the votes of a majority of Republicans and a minority of Democrats after having sat in limbo for much of the day as John Boehner and top Republicans (lacking the votes to pass the so-called CRominbus themselves due to their breakaway Tea Party wing) waited expectantly for the House Democratic caucus to capitulate and pony up the necessary votes for its passage.

That happened at around 6 PM Pacific Time, after the White House and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (their man on the inside) were confident they had the votes to guarantee Boehner success. The House returned from recess to begin voting. In the end, fifty-seven Democrats – including Hoyer and James Clyburn – joined with one hundred and sixty-two Republicans to back the CRomnibus. The final vote was two hundred and nineteen to two hundred and six, with ten not voting.

The CRomnibus now goes to the U.S. Senate.

The rest of the House Democratic caucus stuck with Leader Nancy Pelosi, who adamantly withheld her support and circulated a short letter thanking supportive members of her caucus for standing with her.

Pelosi might have succeeded in forcing House Republicans to make changes to the CRominbus if President Barack Obama if he had let her, but instead he intervened on John Boehner’s behalf, all but destroying the goodwill he has built up in the wake of the 2014 midterms with the Democratic Party’s progressive base. His White House certainly has a penchant for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

It is absolutely absurd that Democrats are allowing Republicans to exact a heavy price just for keeping the federal government open for a few more months. H.R. 83, a product of establishment sausage-making, includes a high number of awful riders, including one that rolls back some of the most important provisions of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act of 2010.

Another allows political parties to accept much larger sums of money from individual contributors. Still another would prevent the Export-Import Bank from opposing coal fired power plants built abroad.

Given that John Boehner did not have the votes from his own caucus to pass a continuing resolution of any sort, Democrats should have been able to demand a clean CR free of gifts to K Street and Wall Street. But instead of using their leverage, they capitulated, like they have so many times before. And the result will be that needed appropriations will be accompanied by very bad public policy.

At least the Washington and Oregon Democratic delegations held together and followed Nancy Pelosi’s lead. The roll call from the Pacific Northwest was as follows:

VOTING AYE: Republicans Jaime Herrera-Beutler, Doc Hastings, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Dave Reichert (WA), Greg Walden (OR), Mike Simpson (ID), Don Young (AK), Steve Daines (MT)

VOTING NAY: Democrats Suzan DelBene, Rick Larsen, Derek Kilmer, Jim McDermott, Denny Heck (WA); Suzanne Bonamici, Earl Blumenauer, Peter DeFazio, Kurt Schrader (OR); Republican Raúl Labrador (ID)

NOT VOTING: Democrat Adam Smith (WA)

With the exception of Idaho’s Raúl Labrador, the Pacific Northwest’s congressional delegation voted along party lines.

Labrador belongs to the Tea Party wing of the House Republican caucus, which has been almost ceaselessly agitating for another government shutdown.

U.S. Representative DelBene, who represents NPI’s home district, released a forceful response condemning the vote within minutes of its conclusion.

“I am extremely disappointed that Congress has opted to push through a divisive spending bill that was injected with irrelevant, controversial and harmful provisions,” she said in an emailed statement. “It contained measures that will re-open the door for taxpayer-funded bailouts of Wall Street and weaken campaign finance law to give even more influence in our elections to special interests.”

“Instead of offering a responsible approach to keep the government funded, this legislation represents a cynical effort to jam unrelated policies that threaten the stability of our economy and democracy into the appropriations process.”

“Moving forward, I urge House leaders to work in a more collaborative and transparent process to pass a clean appropriations bill that funds the government and separately allows for a reasoned, vigorous debate on bipartisan policies to grow our economy and create jobs.”

Derek Kilmer piled on a few minutes later.

“Part of the reason Congress is held in such low esteem is that it does things like this,” said Kilmer. “While I’m all for funding government, adding a provision at the last minute to a must pass bill that benefits the wealthiest donors and floods our elections with even more money undermines our democracy.”

We can be thankful that none of our region’s Democrats were among the fifty-seven who gave John Boehner a victory tonight. Those Democrats, by the way, were:

Ron Barber (AZ)
John Barrow (GA)
Ami Bera (CA)
Sanford Bishop (GA)
Timothy Bishop (NY)
Julia Brownley (CA)
Cheri Bustos (IL)
John Carney (DE)
William Lacy Clay (MO)
James Clyburn (SC)
Gerry Connolly (VA)
Jim Costa (CA)
Joseph Crowley (NY)
Henry Cuellar (TX)
Susan Davis (CA)
John Delaney (MD)
John Dingell (MI)
Sam Farr (CA)
Chaka Fattah (PA)
Bill Foster (IL)
Pete Gallego (TX)
John Garamendi (CA)
Jim Himes (CT)
Steven Horsford (NV)
Steny Hoyer (MD)
Marcy Kaptur (OH)
Ron Kind (WI)
Ann M. Kuster (NH)
Dan Lipinski (IL)
Nita Melnikoff Lowey (NY)
Dan Maffei (NY)
Sean Maloney (NY)
Jim Matheson (UT)
Carolyn McCarthy (NY)
Gregory Meeks (NY)
George Miller (CA)
Jim Moran (VA)
Patrick Murphy (FL)
Donald Norcross (NJ)
Bill Owens (NY)
Steven Palazzo (MS)
Ed Pastor (AZ)
Ed Perlmutter (CO)
Scott Peters (CA)
Gary Peters (MI)
David Price (NC)
Mike Quigley (IL)
Cedric Richmond (LA)
Raul Ruiz (CA)
Dutch Ruppersberger (MD)
Brad Schneider (IL)
Allyson Schwartz (PA)
David Scott (GA)
Terri Sewell (AL)
Brad Sherman (CA)
Krysten Sinema (AZ)
D. Wasserman Schultz (FL)

Names highlighted in bold are members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, who should have been adamantly against this awful legislation.

Hoyer and Clyburn are highlighted in yellow, along with Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the ineffective chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, who doesn’t seem to understand what real leadership is all about.

Shame on these fifty-seven Democrats for enabling tonight’s disgraceful vote on H.R. 83. Instead of putting the CRominbus on ice and forcing House Republicans back to the drawing board, they made John Boehner’s night. They might as well all be honorary members of Boehner’s caucus; they certainly filled in nicely for the sixty-seven Republicans Boehner couldn’t convince to vote yes.

King County Council unanimously backs Carol Gregory for 30th District House vacancy

After speaking with all three of the candidates nominated last week by the Washington State Democratic Party to succeed the late Representative Roger Freeman, the King County Council this afternoon unanimously voted to back Carol Gregory (the party’s first choice) to fill the vacancy in the 30th Legislative District.

Because the 30th is a joint district spanning two counties (there are seven precincts in Pierce County), the Council’s action today does not constitute an appointment. Gregory will only take office when and if the Pierce County Council concurs.

If it does not, the counties would either have to reconcile their differences somehow, or the matter would be resolved by Governor Jay Inslee once sixty days have elapsed since the date the vacancy was created.

Councilmembers Larry Phillips, Rod Dembowski, Dave Upthegrove, Larry Gossett,  Joe McDermott, Reagan Dunn, Pete von Reichbauer, and Kathy Lambert took part in the vote. Councilmember Jane Hague was absent.

During the Q&A prior to the vote, councilmembers asked a number of questions of the candidates (Carol Gregory, Richard Champion, and Shari Song). Some of the most pointed and interesting questions came from Pete von Reichbauer, who asked about McCleary compliance, possible light rail alignment through the south county, and whether the candidates would support an income tax. Councilmember Kathy Lambert asked the candidates if they knew the state’s per pupil spending figures.

In many ways, Gregory was the obvious and logical choice. She was the winner of the runoff for first place at the nominating caucus (although only by one vote, and not all of the 30th’s PCOs participated). She has extensive public sector experience and presently serves as a school board member in Federal Way, having been elected to that position in 2013. And she is a knowledgeable speaker. She gracefully and competently fielded the questions that were asked of her at the meeting.

If Pierce County concurs in the appointment for each vacancy, Gregory would minimally serve through the end of next year. A special election to determine Freeman’s elected successor will be held concurrent with the next general election in 2015. Gregory has indicated she would be a candidate in that special election.

LIVE from Federal Way: 30th District Democratic nominating caucus underway

Good evening from Federal Way. I’m here at the headquarters of the Washington Education Association, where the Democratic precinct committee officers of the 30th Legislative District are gathered to draw up a list of candidates to succeed the late Roger Freeman. First elected to the Washington State House of Representatives in 2012, Freeman was in the final days of the campaign for a second term when he tragically succumbed to colon cancer.

Because Freeman went on to win the election posthumously, a vacancy now exists for state representative in the 30th. The Washington State Constitution stipulates that the process for filling a Democratic legislative vacancy begins with the naming of three candidates from the same district and of the same party by the Washington State Democratic Central Committee.

The WSDCC, of which I am a member, specifies in its bylaws that when a vacancy is declared, the state party chair shall call a special nominating caucus of precinct committee officers from that district for the purpose of drawing up a list of three names to recommend to the WSDCC for its consideration.

That’s what’s happening tonight. I will be updating this post at periodic intervals to summarize the proceedings that are taking place.

7:07 PM: The meeting has been called to order by State Party Secretary and NPI Advisory Council member Rob Dolin.

7:15 PM: Rob has welcomed everyone to the meeting; the first item of business was a parliamentary inquiry as to whether the agenda for the nominating caucus could be amended. Rob ruled it could not be amended because the caucus was a special meeting called by the state party, and not the 30th District Democrats. His decision was appealed and sustained on appeal.

7:20 PM: Rob has finished reading a letter penned by State Party Chair Jaxon Ravens welcoming the PCOs to the caucus.

7:38 PM: The caucus has just decided what method of voting to use in drawing up the list of three names. The state party offered two different voting methods. PCO Keith Tyler rose to propose an alternative method of voting, which Rob ruled out of order. Keith appealed the ruling, but Rob’s decision was upheld. The caucus then opted to use the first proposed method of voting, which will consist of a set of three elections… one for the first spot on the list, another for the second spot on the list, and still another for the third spot.

7:42 PM: On to candidate nominations.

  • Michael Kun has nominated Richard Champion
  • Jodi Riker-Yap has nominated Hope Elder
  • Walter Brooks has nominated Roger Flygare
  • Ginny Leach has nominated Carol Gregory
  • Karen Backman has nominated Shari Song
  • Rose Osherin Edwards has nominated herself

30th LD Chair Tim Burns has moved to close nominations. Motion carries.

7:50 PM: The caucus has voted to recess for fifteen minutes to allow PCOs to mingle with the candidates or visit the washroom.

8:08 PM: We’re returned from recess. We’re moving on to candidate speeches. Candidates will speak in the order that they were nominated. Each candidate and their supporters will have five minutes to speak, so we’ll have a half hour’s worth of speecifying here tonight. Then we’ll proceed to voting.

8:46 PM: The speeches have concluded. There are twenty-nine precinct committee officers present and able to vote (which is a good turnout). The first ballots have been cast and are now being counted.

8:54 PM: Here are the results from the first round of voting:

  • Richard Champion: 9
  • Hope Elder: 1
  • Roger Flygare: 7
  • Carol Gregory: 8
  • Shari Song: 4
  • Rose Osherin Edwards: 0

(Total: 29)

We now move to a runoff between Richard Champion and Carol Gregory.

9:02 PM: Here are the results from the second round of voting:

  • Richard Champion: 14
  • Carol Gregory: 15

(Total: 29)

Talk about close! Carol Gregory is the first place finisher…. by one vote.

9:09 PM: Here are the results from the third round of voting (for second place):

  • Richard Champion: 17
  • Roger Flygare: 6
  • Shari Song: 6

(Total: 29)

Richard Champion won an outright majority and is therefore the second place finisher. We are now into the fourth round of voting.

9:15 PM: Here are the results from the fourth round of voting (for third place):

  • Roger Flygare: 10
  • Shari Song: 14
  • Hope Elder: 2
  • Rose Osherin Edwards: 2

(Total: 28)

There will be one final vote… a runoff between Roger Flygare and Shari Song.

9:24 PM: Here are the results from the fifth/final found of voting (for third place):

  • Roger Flygare: 11
  • Shari Song: 18

(Total: 29)

Shari Song won an outright majority and will be the third name on the list.

9:28 PM: The special caucus is adjourned. The names of Carol Gregory, Richard Champion, and Shari Song will be recommended to the WSDCC for transmission to the Pierce and King County Councils.

President Obama pledges to treat more new Americans with dignity in immigration speech

In a groundbreaking speech, Barack Obama announced this evening that he is using his authority and discretion as President to end the oppression of over five million new Americans by granting them a reprieve from the threat of deportation, provided they identify themselves to the federal government and pay their taxes.

Speaking from the White House, the President declared that America’s immigration system was broken, that Congress’ inaction was inexcusable, and that it was his moral duty to use his authority as the nation’s chief executive to make pursue a more sensible and responsible approach to enforcing our existing laws.

“We expect people who live in this country to play by the rules,” Obama said. “We expect those who cut the line will not be unfairly rewarded.”

“So we’re going to offer the following deal: If you’ve with been in America more than five years, if you have children who are American citizens or illegal residents, if you register, pass a criminal background check and you’re willing to pay your fair share of taxes, you’ll be able to apply to stay in this country temporarily without fear of deportation. You can come out of the shadows and get right with the law. That’s what this deal is.”

“Now let’s be clear about what it isn’t,” the President continued. “This deal does not apply to anyone who has come to this country recently. It does not apply to anyone who might come to America illegally in the future. It does not grant citizenship or the right to stay here permanently, or offer the same benefits that citizens receive. Only Congress can do that. All we’re saying is we’re not going to deport you.”

“I know some of the critics of the action call it amnesty. Well, it’s not. Amnesty is the immigration system we have today. Millions of people who live here without paying their taxes or playing by the rules, while politicians use the issue to scare people and whip up votes at election time. That’s the real amnesty, leaving this broken system the way it is. Mass amnesty would be unfair. Mass deportation would be both impossible and contrary it to our character. ”

Democrats and advocates for immigrants’ rights hailed the speech.

“Tonight President Obama outlined humane, necessary reforms to provide relief to hard-working, law-abiding Washington families and to support our state’s economy, including the important agricultural sector,” said Washington Governor Jay Inslee. “The plan will also increase border security and enforcement where it should be – against criminals and individuals who would pose a threat to our national security.”

“I have repeatedly urged Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform. The president’s action should not absolve Congress of its responsibility to act in the face of a broken immigration system. Washington residents and businesses have waited long enough for action.”

U.S. Representative Suzan DelBene concurred.

“Everyone agrees that our immigration system is broken, but after more than a year of refusing to act on immigration reform legislation, House Republicans have shown themselves to be unwilling to make progress on this important issue,” said DelBene. “Time and again, they have refused to bring meaningful legislation to a vote on the House floor. If Republican leaders allowed a vote on H.R. 15, the bipartisan bill that I helped introduce, it would likely pass by a strong majority.”

“In light of House Republicans’ consistent failure to act on immigration reform, I understand President Obama’s decision to take reasonable steps to provide temporary relief to the families being torn apart by our current system. The Administration should focus its limited enforcement resources on individuals who pose a threat to public safety, not honor students and workers contributing to our economy. We must continue the critically important efforts to ensure a secure border and the deportation of dangerous criminals, and the President’s actions today are consistent with this priority.”

“The only long-term solution to fix our broken immigration system is for Congress to fulfill its responsibility to pass legislation. My commitment to passing immigration reform remains unwavering, and I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to achieve this goal.”

 

Bill intended to force construction of Keystone XL pipeline fails to advance in U.S. Senate

By the tightest of margins, the U.S. Senate this evening defeated a poorly conceived bill intended to give oil giant TransCanada a green light to build its proposed Keystone XL pipeline through Montana, the Dakotas, and Nebraska.

S.2280, prime sponsored by Republican John Hoeven of North Dakota and promoted by an increasingly desperate Mary Landrieu of Louisiana since Election Night two weeks ago, needed sixty votes to pass. It received fifty-nine.

Thirty-nine Democrats and two independents who caucus with Senate Democrats (Angus King of Maine and Bernie Sanders of Vermont) courageously stood up to the dirty fossil fuels industry and voted no on the bill, leaving Senate Republicans and the oil wing of the Senate Democratic caucus one vote short of victory.

The opposition to S.2280 was led by Barbara Boxer of California, who thoroughly debunked Republican claims about the proposed pipeline. (Republicans falsely say the pipeline will create a lot of jobs… they’ve increasingly shied away from saying how many… and that it would not harm the environment.)

The Pacific Northwest’s delegation split along ideological lines rather than party lines. This was the roll call vote from our region:

Voting Aye: Democrats John Walsh and Jon Tester (MT), Mark Begich (AK); Republicans Mark Crapo and Jim Risch (ID), Lisa Murkowski (AK)

Voting Nay: Democrats Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell (WA), Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley (OR)

Aside from Begich, Walsh, and Tester, the Democrats who broke with the rest of their caucus to support the bill were:

  • Mary Landrieu, Louisana
  • Michael Bennet, Colorado
  • Tom Carper, Delaware
  • Bob Casey, Pennsylvania
  • Joe Donnelly, Indiana
  • Kay Hagan, North Carolina
  • Heidi Heitkamp, North Dakota
  • Joe Manchin, West Virginia
  • Claire McCaskill, Missouri
  • Mark Pryor, Arkansas
  • Mark Warner, Virginia

Hagan and Pryor will not be returning to the U.S. Senate for the 114th Congress.

Landrieu had hoped that Angus King of Maine might be the sixtieth vote for the legislation, but he announced a few hours ago he would not support the bill.

“Congress is not — nor should it be — in the business of legislating the approval or disapproval of a construction project,” King said in a press release.

“And while I am frustrated that the President has refused to make a decision on the future of the pipeline, I don’t believe that short-circuiting the process to circumvent his Administration is in the best interest of the American people. I urge the President to make a decision soon, and, if he doesn’t, I look forward to working with Congress to put a timeframe on this decision.”

Landrieu had previously told reporters that she was confident she had sixty votes, saying “I feel comfortable.” Thankfully, it turned out she didn’t really have sixty.

S.2280 is appropriately titled “a bill to approve the Keystone XL pipeline.” That’s truly all it is: a shameful, blatant attempt to do a big oil company’s bidding. The text of S.2280 consists of just a few provisions. Here it is in its entirety:

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

SECTION 1. KEYSTONE XL APPROVAL.

(a) In General- TransCanada Keystone Pipeline, L.P. may construct, connect, operate, and maintain the pipeline and cross-border facilities described in the application filed on May 4, 2012, by TransCanada Corporation to the Department of State (including any subsequent revision to the pipeline route within the State of Nebraska required or authorized by the State of Nebraska).

(b) Environmental Impact Statement- The Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement issued by the Secretary of State in January 2014, regarding the pipeline referred to in subsection (a), and the environmental analysis, consultation, and review described in that document (including appendices) shall be considered to fully satisfy —

(1) all requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.); and

(2) any other provision of law that requires Federal agency consultation or review (including the consultation or review required under section 7(a) of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (16 U.S.C. 1536(a))) with respect to the pipeline and facilities referred to in subsection (a).

(c) Permits- Any Federal permit or authorization issued before the date of enactment of this Act for the pipeline and cross-border facilities referred to in subsection (a) shall remain in effect.

(d) Federal Judicial Review- Any legal challenge to a Federal agency action regarding the pipeline and cross-border facilities described in subsection (a), and the related facilities in the United States, that are approved by this Act, and any permit, right-of-way, or other action taken to construct or complete the project pursuant to Federal law, shall only be subject to judicial review on direct appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

(e) Private Property Savings Clause- Nothing in this Act alters any Federal, State, or local process or condition in effect on the date of enactment of this Act that is necessary to secure access from an owner of private property to construct the pipeline and cross-border facilities described in subsection (a).

Aides to Barack Obama had indicated that he was prepared to veto S.2280 had it passed, but now it’s dead, so he won’t have to.

Republicans have promised to hold another vote on similar legislation in early 2015 once they control the U.S. Senate majority. And although a couple of senators who voted against Keystone XL today are departing the Senate (Mark Udall, Tim Johnson), Republicans can’t necessarily count on Michael Bennet and Tom Carper to remain votes for advancing the pipeline – which means the next S.2280 may still not reach Obama’s desk in the 114th Congress.

The votes already exist to do TransCanada’s bidding in the House; the House voted out a bill on Friday similar to S.2280 with Mary Landrieu’s opponent’s name on it. The Rosebud Sioux Tribe of South Dakota, whose tribal lands TransCanada intends to run Keystone XL through, responded to the vote forcefully.

“We are outraged at the lack of intergovernmental cooperation,” tribal president Cyril Scott said in a statement. “We are a sovereign nation and we are not being treated as such. We will close our reservation borders to Keystone XL. Authorizing Keystone XL is an act of war against our people.”

It takes a great deal of courage to stand up to a lobby as powerful as the oil industry. We are grateful to Tribal President Scott, activist leader Jane Kleeb, and all the other good people organizing to ensure this destructive, dirty pipeline project never gets built. It makes zero sense for the United States to assume the risks for a high polluting energy project that will send dirty fuel abroad for other nations to burn and generate profits for a foreign oil conglomerate.

Class size initiative now has 18,000+ vote lead; Snohomish swings back into yes column

Today was a great day to be a supporter of I-1351, the initiative to lower class sizes in primary and secondary schools across Washington State.

After having trailed and alternated between leading and trailing for the first three days post-Election Night, the initiative appears to have moved away from the precipitous edge, thanks to Washington’s three most populous counties, which finished tabulating another batch of ballots during a special Saturday count.

Counties don’t often tabulate ballots on weekends, but this year, there was evidently such a late influx of ballots that officials in King, Snohomish, and Pierce each brought in workers today to keep the ballot processing going.

As of this evening, I-1351’s lead stands at over 18,000 votes, and Yes has 50.49%. It’s still close, but if the trend holds, we project that I-1351 will pass.

Yesterday, Snohomish County swung back into the Yes column after defecting to the No column two days prior. Also new to the Yes column is the small county of Pacific, which includes the cities of Raymond, South Bend, Long Beach, and Ilwaco.

Snohomish and Pacific join King, San Juan, Pierce, Jefferson, Kitsap, Whatcom, Spokane, Island, Grays Harbor, and tiny Asotin as counties supporting I-1351.

(Asotin and Island flipped into the Yes camp on the second day – Wednesday – while Spokane joined the Yes side on Thursday. King, San Juan, Pierce, Jefferson, Kitsap, Whatcom, and Grays Harbor have been on the Yes side all along.)

The rest of Washington’s thirty-nine counties are in the No camp, which isn’t really all that surprising, with the notable exception of Thurston County, which generally breaks progressively when most other swing counties do.

Here is a chronology of the count:

  • Election Night, Tuesday, November 4th: I-1351 trails by 13,555 votes
  • Wednesday, November 5th (end of day): I-1351 trails by 11,431 votes
  • Thursday, November 6th (end of day): I-1351 leads by 4,473 votes
  • Friday, November 7th (end of day): I-1351 leads by 11,373 votes
  • Saturday, November 8th (today): I-1351 leads by 18,495 votes

The trend seems pretty clear: I-1351 is headed for passage. That’s good news for Washington’s kids. The icing on the cake is that a win for the Class Size Counts coalition would mean that all of Washington’s statewide ballot measures would have had progressive outcomes for the first time since 2009.

There will be no new numbers until Monday afternoon.

North Korea releases imprisoned Americans Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller

Finally, some good news for a change!

The Obama administration announced today that it has secured the release of Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller, two Americans who were being held by North Korea. Both are on their way home to the United States on a U.S. aircraft with National Intelligence Director James Clapper, who secretly flew to North Korea to rescue them from the clutches of the regime.

Asked to comment on the release of Bae and Miller following an event introducing his nominee for Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, President Barack Obama said, “Well, I think it’s a wonderful day for them and their families.  And obviously, we’re very grateful for their safe return. And I appreciate Director Clapper doing a great job on what was obviously a challenging mission.”

Of the two men, Bae had been held the longest, having been imprisoned just over two years ago, in November of 2012. He was arrested while leading a tour group in North Korea, and later “convicted” of attempting to overthrow the regime.

Bae’s sister, who has pleaded with both North Korea and the U.S. government to help her brother, released a statement expressing her great relief.

The day we’ve been praying for has finally arrived! Early this morning, my family heard news from the US State Department that my brother was on a plane from DPRK (North Korea) with fellow detainee Matthew Todd Miller. They had left North Korean airspace, bound for America.

Words cannot adequately express our relief and gratitude that Kenneth is finally coming home! We have been waiting for and praying for this day for two years. This ordeal has been excruciating for the family, but we are filled with joy right now.

I am thrilled to imagine hugging my brother soon. He will not have to spend another day at a labor camp. He can now recover from this imprisonment and look forward to his wife, kids and rest of his life. Our Thanksgiving celebration this year will be one we will never forget.

We sincerely thank the United States government for all the hard work and dedication to securing my brother’s release, as well as the release of Matthew Todd Miller. We are also grateful to the DPRK government for allowing them to come home. We must also thank the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang for their tireless efforts to advocate for Kenneth during his prolonged imprisonment.

We are grateful to everyone who has supported my brother’s cause, including reporters and editors who cared enough to see this through. We are thankful for people here in Seattle and across the world who have continued to advocate and pray for Kenneth.

We believe that God is with people who endure hardship, and that He never leaves them. It is with great joy and with thankfulness to God to see Kenneth released. Our family could not have been sustained without the knowledge that Kenneth was in God’s care, when it seemed we were helpless to do anything.

U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell hailed Bae’s release.

“It is overdue but much appreciated good news to hear of North Korea’s release of Washington resident Kenneth Bae. Puget Sound and Lynnwood, Washington, cannot wait to welcome him home,” she said in a press release.

“I want to thank the State Department, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and the Obama administration for securing the release of Mr. Bae.

“Kenneth Bae’s family remained resolved and focused for the last two years, constantly advocating for his release. His sister, Terri, and son, Jonathan, made numerous trips to Washington, D.C., and other locations advocating for Kenneth.  They were steadfast. For all those involved, we give our heartfelt thanks for ending what could have been more than a decade of further detainment of Kenneth Bae. It will be good to have Kenneth on American soil.”

U.S. Senator Patty Murray agreed.

“I am so thrilled that Kenneth Bae has finally been released from North Korea along with Matthew Todd Miller. It has been a long two years for Kenneth’s family, but they never stopped fighting for him, and they never lost faith that this day would come. Kenneth’s family has spent the last two years doing everything they could to hasten this moment and see their brother, son, father, and husband once again.”

“Kenneth’s sister Terri, in particular, has made it her personal mission to bring her brother back and her powerful voice and hard work truly helped make this day possible. This is a great day for Kenneth’s family, friends, and all of us in Washington who have worked, hoped, and prayed for Kenneth’s return over the last two years.”

This region has been in need of something to celebrate, and the release of Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller is unquestionably a joyous occasion. Thanksgiving will indeed be all the more wonderful this year because these Americans will be back home in the United States with their families.

Welcome home, Kenneth and Matthew!

Initiative to lower class sizes in Washington now passing by a slim margin

Some happy news to report tonight: Initiative 1351, which mandates lower class sizes in Washington’s primary and secondary schools, is finally passing after having trailed on Election Night and in yesterday’s count.

After King County finished tabulating and reporting a fresh batch of ballots (its second count of the day), I-1351 went from losing to winning. What fortuitous timing! Just a few hours ago, Tim Eyman had sent out an email to the media crowing about the initiative being down. But now it’s prevailing!

Here’s where things stand now:

Yes on I-1351: 810,243 votes (50.14%)
No on I-1351: 805,583 votes (49.86%)

This means the Yes side has a fairly slim 4,660 vote lead.

Spokane County has flipped into the Yes column, a day after Snohomish County flipped to No. Snohomish is still No, but not by much.

What accounts for the change? In a few words, late ballots from more populous counties. The more sparsely populated rural counties are voting I-1351 down by significant margins. For the most part, those counties have few ballots left on hand to process, so their influence on the result is waning.

The populous counties, on the other hand, still have plenty of ballots to tabulate. King County alone has 132,042 ballots still to work through. Pierce County has 21,000; Snohomish has 78,000, and Spokane has 26,000.

If the trends hold, we project a win for the Yes on I-1351 coalition. It won’t be a landslide victory, but it will be a victory nonetheless.

Counties where I-1351 is winning include King and San Juan (reliable Democratic strongholds), along with Jefferson, Kitsap, Pierce, Spokane, Whatcom, Grays Harbor, and…. wait for it… Asotin! It’s very unusual to see King and Pierce in an alliance that does not include Snohomish County, but, there you have it.

Snohomish and Mason are barely in the No column, and Snohomish might just flip back before the election is certified. We’ll have to see.

Other counties that are somewhat close but still No are Skagit and Thurston.

Biggest political loser last night: Tim Eyman

This morning, as I had rather expected he would, Tim Eyman sent out a celebratory email basking in the results of the 2014 midterms, which President Obama referred to earlier today as a good night for Republicans.

Eyman did his very best to spin the results of the election in Washington as some kind of sweeping repudiation of Governor Jay Inslee and his agenda, even calling Inslee “the biggest political loser last night”. When I saw that subject line, I had a good, long laugh, and knew immediately what the title of this post would be.

Especially compared to many other Democrats across the country, Jay Inslee had a decent night. It wasn’t great, but it also wasn’t terrible.

While it’s true Democrats didn’t elect a majority to the state Senate, the Senate Democratic caucus didn’t lose anybody (it’ll still have twenty-three members after the election), and the House will still have a Democratic majority.

The most important result of the night, though (which Eyman neglected to even mention) is the overwhelming passage of I-594 and the defeat of I-591.

As the governor said in his remarks in Seattle and Woodinville last night, this is a watershed moment. Washingtonians have decisively voted to make our communities safer and require universal background checks on gun sales.

Inslee noted that he was turned out of office in 1994 after voting to ban assault weapons. (He was a member of Congress from Eastern Washington from 1993-1994). He knew that vote might cost him, and it probably did. Nevertheless, he has no regrets about it. Stopping gun violence is something Inslee cares deeply about, and for him, the passage of I-594 and failure of I-591 are great victories.

Furthermore, voters are reelecting Suzan DelBene and appear to have chosen Dan Newhouse to represent the 4th Congressional District, not Tea Party darling Clint Didier. Newhouse served in Chris Gregoire’s administration and is a major upgrade over Doc Hastings, who opted to retire this year.

The retention of DelBene and the election of Newhouse are certainly outcomes that Inslee and his administration were hoping for. Inslee is also undoubtedly pleased that Seattle voters approved more funding for Metro and signed off on a pilot project to implement universal preschool.

Really, the biggest political loser in Washington politics last night was Tim Eyman. Not only did Tim not have an initiative on the ballot for the first time in eight years, he didn’t get the results he wanted from his “advisory vote” push poll scheme. Voters are voting “Maintained” on both Advisory Votes 8 and 9, even though the wording of both encouraged a vote for the other option… “Repealed”.

Some background: Advisory votes are required by a provision in I-960, which was narrowly passed in 2007. They are triggered whenever the Legislature takes an action that raises or recovers revenue for the state treasury. Their results are not binding (meaning state law is not changed at all) and their wording/format is dictated by I-960. As we explained in a special report for Permanent Defense last year, these “advisory votes” are akin to push polls that ask leading questions.

This year, the Attorney General’s office determined that there were two bills passed that triggered advisory votes, and so we ended up with Advisory Votes 8 and 9.

We believe Eyman’s advisory votes scheme is unconstitutional. The state Constitution is very clear and specific about how direct democracy works in Washington State. There are initiatives, referenda, and constitutional amendments. Referenda can be initiated by citizen petition or by legislative referral. But in either case, a constitutionally valid referendum has a bindng outcome.

The Constitution does not provide for nonbinding referenda or plebiscites, which is basically what the advisory votes amount to. Consequently, the provision of I-960 that requires them is invalid and should be struck down or repealed.

Tellingly, all the email Eyman has been sending to his followers lately has contained a pitch focusing on next year’s legislative session, not a promise of a new initiative. Eyman’s not saying, Give me money so I can get ready to launch a new initiative after the new year. Instead, he’s saying, Help me gear up for the 2015 legislative session. Or, in Eyman’s words:  “Next year’s session is still going to be a knock-down, drag-out fight… Will you help us represent and defend the taxpayers next year?”

Is Eyman morphing into a lobbyist? If he is, it’s not by choice. Eyman loves doing initiatives, but he has been unable to mount a successful signature drive since I-517 and I-1185 in 2012. Lately, he’s been trying to get business groups interested in funding an initiative to prevent minimum wage increases at the local level.

But so far, only two Seattle Republicans have given him money (that we know of, anyway): Fremont’s Suzie Burke and Faye Garneau. They’ve each put up $50,000, which is not enough to run a signature drive.

As we have seen the last two years, the gears of Tim Eyman’s initiative factory simply cannot turn if they are not being lubricated with money… lots of money.

We have no doubt that Eyman will continue trying to find a new wealthy benefactor in an attempt to stay relevant, but there is no good reason why anyone should trust him or pay him to do anything. His politics are toxic, his conduct unprofessional, and his initiatives destructive. It was fantastic that Eyman had nothing on the ballot this year; that needs to become the norm in Washington, not the exception to the norm.

Class size initiative too close to call

With 49.5% of the vote, it’s too soon to tell if Initiative 1351 will pass. If approved by voters, the initiative would lower public school class sizes in grades kindergarten through 12. Washington’s pupil-teacher ratio ranks 47th nationally, and both the state and national teachers unions were the primary supporters of the campaign.

State Superintendent Randy Dorn is also on board:

If it passes, I-1351 will place those recommendations into law. Reducing class sizes is key to improving student learning, particularly with at-risk students. That, in turn, will improve graduation rates. When I-1351 passes, the next step will be for the Legislature to fund those class-size levels.

Since there’s no funding associated with the initiative, it remains to be seen how passage of I-1351 would affect the legislature’s attempt to satisfy the McCleary obligation to fully fund public education. Decreasing class size is just one part of the McCleary court order to increase education funding, which also includes providing more money for transportation, materials and operations, and salary increases.

Initiative 594 leading–Washington just got safer

Owning a gun is a big responsibility, one which increases the risk of suicide or homicide for gun owners and their families. In Washington state, nearly 6,000 people were killed with a gun in the last decade.

Thankfully, today Washington voters are making a decision that will save lives, by passing Initiative 594 by a margin of almost 20%. According to gun safety organization Washington Ceasefire, “Those states that have the most reasonable gun laws have far fewer gun deaths than those states that have the least restrictions.”

I-594 will require background checks of gun buyers at private sales and gun shows. Our current law contains a loophole—it only requires buyers purchasing a gun from licensed dealers to undergo a background check. Until the passage of I-594, it was legal for anyone to buy a gun out of a trunk in a parking lot or over the Internet. Criminals, domestic abusers and people with severe mental illness could evade a background check by avoiding licensed gun dealers.

This initiative and opposing initiative, I-591, are the first gun-related ballot measures in the country since the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting. This has made them the focus of national media and big contributors, such as Bill and Melinda Gates, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the National Rifle Association.

The country’s watching, and I-594’s strong victory will likely energize gun safety efforts in other states.

Background checks have been shown to save lives, something that important to people in Washington who are struggling right now to understand last week’s violent deaths of Marysville-Pilchuck High School students. This vote is a good step towards a safer state.

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