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An in-depth look at the April 22nd special election: Results from across the state

Although the demise of King County Proposition 1 was the most noteworthy outcome of last night’s special election, it’s important to remember there were other measures on the ballot as well.  According to the Washington Secretary of State’s office, there were thirty-five ballot measure on the ballot across the state.

Turnout was depressed this April, which is no different than other special elections in our state, with only about 20-30% of eligible voters casting their ballots in the special election. While we aren’t going to go into detail about all of them, here are some of the important results which came out of last night.

Proposition 1: Neighborhood Parks & Zoo Improvements and Safety Upgrades

Voters in Tacoma were asked to approve a $198 million dollar bond to be used for preserving parks and protecting natural areas, waterfront access, and local landmarks. This money would also be used to update animal care systems and safety at the Point Defiance Park, Zoo and Aquarium in order to maintain national accreditation. A major attraction in the area, the Zoo wouldn’t be able to obtain high-attention animals without the renovations funded by the ballot measure. About a third of the revenue will go towards the Zoo.

Voters in the Metropolitan Park District of Tacoma found it important to fund all of these improvements, and more than 63% of the ballots counted by Election Night voted yes. This is a result unlikely to change as more ballots are counted.

Spokane Valley Library Capital Facilities Area Proposition 1 &2

Spokane Valley, the City of Spokane’s more conservative neighbor (and a municipality whose idea of economic revitalization was putting shrubbery in the medians on the highway a couple of years ago) voted yesterday on two propositions, whether they should establish a Library Capital Facilities Area to raise revenue for library construction and renovation (Prop. 1).

Spokane Valley voters also were asked to decide whether to approve a $22 million bond to fund those projects. In this election, the people of Spokane Valley spoke in strong support for their public libraries and agreed to establish the Capital Facilities Area and fund the bond by around 58% and 54%, respectively.

Okanogan County Methow Valley Recreation District

In this special election about 6,000 voters in Okanogan County were deciding whether or not to create a park district. The Methow Valley Recreation District, as it would be called, would support community-based recreation facilities which are accessible both physically and financially for residents.

Instead of waiting until after the decision was made about whether the district should be established, an election was held concurrently for potential commissioners of the district, the only candidate election this April. Unfortunately, the measure failed with only 380 out of 1,905 votes cast in favor of the creation of the district.

In one of the quirks of this election, each of the winners of the commissioner races to govern the district received more votes for their election than the number of votes in favor of the actual creation of the Recreation District itself.

King County voters turn down Proposition 1; Metro service remans in jeopardy

Well, the initial batch of returns for the April 22nd special election just got reported by King County Elections, and they aren’t pretty. By a vote of 55% to 44%, voters are rejecting Proposition 1, the measure unanimously referred to the ballot by the King County Council to save Metro and fund badly needed road repairs.

The initial tally reported by King County Elections consists of 162,508 votes for Proposition 1, and 200,887 votes against. Hundreds of thousands of ballots remain to be counted, and it is certainly possible that the margin will tighten. But it would take a huge turnaround in the late votes to change the outcome, and there just aren’t enough votes waiting to be counted to overcome the opposition.

Proposition 1′s apparent failure leaves over seventy of Metro’s routes on the chopping block, and leaves several dozen more facing drastic service cutbacks.

King County Executive Dow Constantine, addressing members of the Move King County Now coalition at Kells Irish Pub and Restaurant in Seattle, noted that the numbers did not look good, but he vowed to continue working to protect Metro, even as he proposes legislation to eliminate routes and eviscerate others.

“The voters are not rejecting Metro,” Constantine said. “They are rejecting this particular means of funding Metro. We know the people of King County love and value their transit service. They vote with their feet and with their ORCA cards.”

Proposition 1′s failure will also leave the King County Department of Transportation’s Road Services Division woefully underfunded. KCDOT’s shrinking budget has begun to take a serious toll on road maintenance, particularly in rural areas.

King County Councilmember Larry Phillips and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, who spoke after Constantine, both stressed that they have been around long enough to know that the failure of one particular ballot measure is hardly the end of the road.

They make a very good point.

In 2007, voters in King County overwhelmingly rejected the Roads & Transit ballot measure, which would have increased the sales tax and vehicle fees to pay for road projects and expansion of Sound Transit’s Link light rail system.

But the following year, Sound Transit went back to the ballot on its own. It resoundingly won approval to extend light rail south, east, and north, towards Federal Way, Redmond, and Lynnwood from the voters of urban Puget Sound.

Going to the ballot in April was always risky, but King County leaders, left empty handed after the Legislature failed to agree on a transportation package, concluded that the people of King County deserved the opportunity to weigh in before cuts were implemented… and so they referred to the ballot a plan to save Metro and fix county roads. Unfortunately, those voters who chose to participate in the special election didn’t like the plan. And so we’re back where we started.

Anyone who believes that Metro’s proposed cuts are just a bluff, and voted no thinking that Metro will figure out how to save routes from elimination without new revenue, is in for a very rude awakening.

Metro is actually about to lose a lot of revenue… the $20 vehicle fee the King County Council enacted in 2011 to stave off service cuts is about to expire. When it does, Metro will once again be dangerously dependent on the volatile sales tax.

State Representative Cyrus Habib launches campaign for state Senate in 48th District

Last week, when Rodney Tom announced his decision to retire from the Washington State Senate, we observed that Tom’s departure would likely result in a major shakeup in the race, with either State Representative Ross Hunter or Representative Cyrus Habib getting in, and current senate Democratic candidate Joan McBride swapping places with one of them. As I wrote at the time:

In retiring, Tom has dealt the Republican Party a major blow and bolstered Democrats’ hopes of retaking the state Senate. The 48th LD is perhaps the most Democratic of the state’s suburban legislative districts. And since the redistricting of 2011, it has become bluer still, voting almost exclusively for Democrats.

In 2012, this became very evident when Ross Hunter and Cyrus Habib won their state House races by double-digit spreads. Habib, a first time candidate, dispatched Republican Hank Myers – a Redmond City Councilmember! – with astonishing ease. His massive blowout victory shows that the 48th is now a solidly Democratic district.

With Tom gone, the way is now clear for either Hunter or Habib to run. One of them likely will declare for state Senate, and Joan McBride will then be well positioned to run for whichever House seat then opens up. The Washington Senate Democratic Campaign (WSDC) would undoubtedly prefer to have a proven winner as its candidate, so it can direct money and resources into other districts.

Turns out that is exactly what’s happening.

This morning, in a pair of press releases, Habib and McBride officially announced their new plans for 2014. Habib is running for Senate and endorsing McBride for his House seat. McBride is now seeking Habib’s position in the House, with the additional blessing of the House Democratic Caucus. They’re switching places.

“I am proud to represent a district that leads the country in innovation and invention,” Habib said in a statement. “It is critical that we make the needed investments in human and physical capital to secure our continued prosperity and competitiveness. Unfortunately, the Republican leaders in the State Senate have punted on the most pressing issues of the day: education funding, transportation investments, and job growth. I am running to bring both my legislative experience and our district’s socially progressive yet pro economic growth values to the State Senate, where I know I can make an even greater difference.”

“I am excited to work with Joan as a colleague who shares my passion for strong communities, good schools and a transportation system that works,” he added. “I appreciate the opportunity to join–and improve the effectiveness — of the State Senate, and look forward to the campaign ahead.”

McBride, for her part, said she’s ready to join the House Democratic caucus and announced support from several Eastside leaders for her new campaign.

“I originally ran for two reasons: to defeat Rodney Tom and bring my perspective and experience as a longtime Eastside Civic leader to Olympia and continue my record of service,” said McBride. “With Tom out, my priority is to do what’s needed to make a difference on issues that matter — fixing transportation and transit, investing in our schools and families, and protecting our environment.  I think I can make the most immediate impact as part of a dynamic team in the state House.”

“I’m proud of the pressure we put on Tom, and will continue campaigning with the same excitement and focus for the House,” she said.  “For me, it’s always been about serving the people in the best way I know how, not the particular office.”

“I’m excited for Joan to join our caucus and efforts to complete 520, fund our schools and protect the character and quality of our eastside communities,” said senior Democratic State Representative Larry Springer, who has represented the neighboring 45th LD since 2005. “She is a strong, principled voice for our region and will make an immediate, positive impact in the House.”

McBride is also running for House with the support of Ross Hunter, County Executive Dow Constantine, and the mayors of Redmond, Kirkland, and Bellevue (John Marchione, Amy Walen, and Claudia Balducci).

“I know I speak for many when I say that I am thrilled Joan is going to campaign for the House, and we will see her in action next year in Olympia — where we desperately need her passion and commitment to our families and communities,” said Balducci, who has been on the Bellevue City Council for many years. (Bellevue has a council-manager form of government, as does Kirkland).

So, that’s that. The musical chairs have stopped for the time being: Cyrus Habib is now the Democratic Party’s candidate for Senate in the 48th, and Joan McBride is the candidate for the House seat he is vacating. Habib is a proven winner and well liked in his district; he will be favored to win in November against whoever the Republicans send up against him. McBride will be very well positioned to win as well, since the Republicans hadn’t found anyone credible to challenge Habib.

What a difference a week makes. The Democratic Party is now in excellent shape in the 48th Legislative District, and poised for a sweep of legislative races there this fall. That will free up resources to go to races in the 45th and 28th.

I know from talking to activists in the 48th that Cyrus Habib was always at the top of the list of who they wanted to see take on Rodney Tom. He is universally admired and respected within the 48th District Democrats. Thanks to Rodney Tom’s decision to retire – the best thing he ever did for his district – the 48th District Democrats are getting the Senate candidate many of them always wanted.

Joan McBride, meanwhile, is stepping into a race that she has an even better chance of winning. As a new member of the House Democratic caucus from the Eastside, she will have plenty of influence in the caucus room, and she will have quite a few colleagues that she can count on for advice and counsel, including Larry Springer, Ross Hunter, Roger Goodman, Judy Clibborn, and Tana Senn.

State Representative Ross Hunter tells 48th District Democrats he’s “staying in the House”

State Representative Ross Hunter (D-48th District: Bellevue, Redmond, Kirkland, Clyde Hill, Medina, the Points communities) announced this evening that he has decided against a bid for the state Senate in the wake of Rodney Tom’s retirement, and will instead run for reelection to the House of Representatives.

At the April monthly meeting of the 48th District Democrats, Hunter declared, “I am staying in the House.” Acknowledging the rampant speculation that began in the wake of Rodney Tom’s retirement announcement on Monday, he observed that as the chairman of the Ways & Means Committee (the chamber’s top budget writer), he is an excellent position to continue working on the issues that he cares about, including some of the structural problems our state faces.

Hunter’s seatmate, Representative Cyrus Habib, also addressed the meeting and used his time to urge support for Proposition 1, the measure to save Metro and fund badly needed road repairs. He did not bring up the Senate race during his remarks, and no one attempted to put him on the spot about it.

Joan McBride, who has been running for state Senate with the endorsements of both Representatives Hunter and Habib, told the 48th District Democrats that although she had not been expecting Rodney Tom to quit the race, she is committed to finishing the campaign for Senate that she began several months ago. (Her presentation to the organization preceded Hunter’s and Habib’s).

McBride’s supporters have been pointing out that Joan stepped up to run for Senate at a time when other potential candidates had bowed out, having decided for one reason or another not to challenge Rodney Tom. This is certainly true, but there’s no guarantee that McBride would remain the sole Democratic candidate in the race even if Habib were not to run. Tom’s retirement has created an open seat, and it’s not uncommon for open seats to bring candidates out of the woodwork.

If Habib does declare for Senate, McBride could choose to run for the House seat he would then have to vacate, as I observed on Monday.

In running for House, McBride would have a higher likelihood of joining a caucus that will be in the majority following the midterms. House Democrats currently have fifty-five seats and are expected to still have about that many seats after November 2014 has come and gone. Senate Democrats, on the other hand, need to have a net gain of two seats in November to reclaim the majority.

What is happening now in the 48th is not unusual. Retirements often set off games of musical chairs and provide plenty of grist for the rumor mill in the process.

For instance, several years ago, attorney David Frockt decided to challenge longtime Democratic Senator Ken Jacobsen in the 46th. He launched his campaign during the wintertime and began campaigning energetically for the position.

Prior to the close of filing, however, Jacobsen opted to retire, and then-State Representative Scott White swiftly declared his candidacy for Jacobsen’s seat.

Frockt then opted to run for White’s House seat rather than stay in the race for Senate and face White. They each won their respective races several months later. White moved over to the Senate, and Frockt took White’s place in the House.

Tragically, in late 2011, White died, and Frockt was appointed to succeed him in the Senate by the King County Council, acting on the advice of the 46th District Democrats and the King County Democratic Central Committee.

In a second twist, to fill the vacancy created by Frockt’s move over to the Senate, the Council chose Gerry Pollet (again on the advice of the 46th LD Democrats and KCDCC) who was Scott White’s opponent in the 2008 election for state House.

Filing week is now less than a month away, so we will soon have a clearer picture of who will be running for what, and where. One thing we know as of tonight: Ross Hunter will be running for reelection to the State House of Representatives.

Rodney Tom ends reelection bid; fallout will reshape the 2014 electoral landscape in WA

Democrats across Washington who have been longing for an end to the Rodney Tom error in Evergreen State politics got their wish fulfilled today with the unexpected news that Tom is dropping his reelection bid to care for his injured father and spend more time with his family.

Tom, fifty, is the Majority Leader in Name Only of the Washington State Senate. He began his career in the Legislature over ten years ago, winning election to the state House twice as a Republican. In early 2006, Tom abandoned the Republicans and became a Democrat, announcing that he would run for Senate against then-incumbent Senator Luke Esser, also a Republican.

The Democratic Party establishment embraced Tom and withdrew its support for its own candidate, Debi Golden, believing Tom’s chances of winning to be better than Golden’s. It was a decision the party establishment would come to regret.

Tom easily defeated Esser and moved from the House Democratic Caucus to the Senate Democratic Caucus. In 2010, Tom was challenged by wealthy Republican Gregg Bennett for reelection, but with the help of the state, county, and 48th District Democratic organizations, he won reelection for a second consecutive term.

Two years ago, in the spring of 2012, Tom and his colleagues Jim Kastama and Tim Sheldon abandoned the Senate Democratic caucus and helped Republicans seize control of the floor of the Washington State Senate using a parliamentary maneuver known as the Ninth Order. The trio provided Republicans with the votes to adopt an irresponsible supplemental budget and prevent several Democratic policy priorities, including the Reproductive Parity Act, from receiving a vote.

Kastama, the only one of the trio up for election that year, chose to leave the state Senate to run for Secretary of State. He came in fourth in the winnowing election, well behind Republican frontrunner Kim Wyman, Democratic frontrunner Kathleen Drew, and former Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels. The Republicans captured his Senate seat later that year in the general election.

Following the election, Tom and Sheldon brokered a deal with the Republicans to seize control of the state Senate for the 2013 and 2014 sessions. Tom became the Majority Leader and Sheldon became the President Pro Tempore.

The Republicans, meanwhile, took over nearly all of the committee chairmanships and restructured the Senate’s committees to their liking.

Tom and Sheldon continued to call themselves Democrats, but the party disavowed them and began working for their defeat. The Washington State Democratic Party launched a Retire Rodney Tom Project, and the 48th District Democrats passed a resolution making Tom ineligible for their support in 2014.

In January, former Kirkland Mayor Joan McBride declared against Tom, and the following month, Democrats found a candidate to run against Tim Sheldon… Irene Bowling, who announced her candidacy at the Washington State Democratic Party’s annual Crab Feed in Lacey, which is held every Presidents Day.

McBride has been raising money at a fast clip, the second most of any challenger in the state. The contest between her and Tom was shaping up to be an epic fight.

But now it will not take place.

In retiring, Tom has dealt the Republican Party a major blow and bolstered Democrats’ hopes of retaking the state Senate. The 48th LD is perhaps the most Democratic of the state’s suburban legislative districts. And since the redistricting of 2011, it has become bluer still, voting almost exclusively for Democrats.

In 2012, this became very evident when Ross Hunter and Cyrus Habib won their state House races by double-digit spreads. Habib, a first time candidate, dispatched Republican Hank Myers – a Redmond City Councilmember! – with astonishing ease. His massive blowout victory shows that the 48th is now a solidly Democratic district.

With Tom gone, the way is now clear for either Hunter or Habib to run. One of them likely will declare for state Senate, and Joan McBride will then be well positioned to run for whichever House seat then opens up. The Washington Senate Democratic Campaign (WSDC) would undoubtedly prefer to have a proven winner as its candidate, so it can direct money and resources into other districts.

Last month, Republicans shook up the electoral landscape by recruiting Mark Miloscia to run for Senate in the 30th as a Republican. Miloscia’s entry into the race prompted incumbent Democrat Tracey Eide to announce her retirement, leaving Democrats scrambling. (The party establishment ultimately recruited Shari Song, who unsuccessfully challenged Reagan Dunn last year, to run against Miloscia).

Now Republicans are the ones left scrambling. They have no candidate in the 48th and will need to find one in a hurry. But regardless of who they find, they are likely going to be going up against a Democrat who has won in the district before and has plenty of name recognition. The Democratic Party would be heavily favored to win in the 48th with either Habib or Hunter as the standard bearer for Senate.

Even McBride would have an advantage, given the district’s Democratic makeup.

That means that even if the party loses Eide’s seat, it only has to win in two other districts to regain the majority. And the party has stellar candidates running against incumbent Republicans Andy Hill (45th LD: Redmond/Kirkland/Woodinville) and Steve O’Ban (28th LD: Suburban Pierce County)… Matt Isenhower and Tami Green. Democrats are also challenging Michael Baumgartner in the 6th (Spokane area) with Rich Cowan and Jan Angel in the 26th (Kitsap Peninsula) with Judy Arbogast.

Tom chose to break the news of his retirement by email to his colleagues. Here is the text of what he sent to other members of the Senate Republican caucus:

I wanted to let you know I will not be running for re-election to the state senate this year. A sequence of events just make this the right decision for me. I’m still working through some health issue related to my kidney stones adventure that I had at the end of session. The final straw was on this past Thursday, my 85 year old father was hit by a car while walking in the grocery store parking lot (in a crosswalk with his cane). It broke his femur, as well as damaging his hip. He’s going to require a lot of physical therapy over the next several months, and I’m his only son that lives in the area. I have always said that health and family are my number one values, and instead of that being merely a campaign slogan, I really do try to live by them.

It has been an incredible honor to serve in the Legislature these past 12 years, especially these last two years working with the Majority Coalition Caucus (MCC). It has been a thrill of a lifetime working with all of you (well, most of you!). I really do believe we did an amazing job for the citizens of Washington state these past two years in focusing on jobs and the economy, creating a great education system for all of Washington from pre-K to our colleges and universities, all while maintaining a sustainable budget that empowers our economy.

I wish you all the best of luck in the future, you’re an amazingly talented group of individuals. I hope you stay true to the core principles of the MCC, and leave the social and other divisive issues aside. If you stay focused on what really matters in driving our economy forward, the citizens of this state will be well served. 

Emphasis is mine. Tom’s flowery language is unlikely to endear him to his Republican pals. They had counted on Tom being able to at least keep the 48th in play. But now that district is very likely to be in the Democratic win column this November. The money that was going to be spent against Tom will now be freed up for campaigns elsewhere, particularly in the 45th and the 28th.

In a statement released this afternoon, Joan McBride indicated she’s ready for whatever may happen in the wake of Tom’s announcement.

The announcement this morning from Rodney Tom came as a surprise, and I wish him, and his ailing father, only the best.

But his departure only underscores what I have heard for weeks on the campaign trail:  voters in the 48th ready for new leadership, consistent with our Eastside priorities, and reflecting our progressive social values.

I’m proud of the campaign we have run so far, knocking on thousands of doors and raising nearly $100,000. I’ll continue to work hard to build the confidence of the voters in the 48th, and look forward to the next stage of the campaign.

The fallout from this retirement cannot be understated. The electoral landscape has just shifted in a big way. Republicans thought they had improved their chances by putting Tracey Eide’s seat in play with Mark Miloscia (who really is an odd recruit; he has progressive views on many economic issues). But Rodney Tom, the man they thought they had a deal with, has just gone and reset the map. Now Democrats just need to pick up two seats to get the majority… or one, if they hold the 30th.

Over the course of his political career, Rodney Tom has shown that he’s not a team player. Neither Democrats nor Republicans have any reason to trust Tom, who has proved himself to be an arrogant opportunist. He scored a big corner office and a nice title when he and Tim Sheldon made a deal with Republicans to seize power in 2012. But he got more than he bargained for when he rejoined his former party that year… as even he admits in his own retirement announcement. He nominally presides over a caucus that can’t agree with itself on issue after issue.

It’s fitting that Tom’s career is ending this way. He is the only man to have been a part of all four of the state Legislature’s caucuses… and now, with his retirement, he has jilted three of them (the House Republicans, the Senate Democrats, and the Senate Republicans). Tom may be retiring for very good reasons (family should come first) but that’s not going to make Senate Republicans feel any better. He had hired a campaign manager – former Republican communications director Keith Schipper – and he was planning to seek reelection. But now he’s out.

It’s a good day for Washington State.

U.S. Representative Denny Heck to keynote NPI’s 2014 Spring Fundraising Gala

As of this evening, we are just seventeen days away from our 2014 Spring Fundraising Gala, which (as in past years!) will be taking place in the heart of King County at the Mercer Island Community & Events Center. For the past few months, we’ve been busy organizing the event and putting together a great speaking program for your education and enjoyment.

Last month, we announced that State Representative Chris Reykdal, a true champion for working families, would be our opening speaker. Tonight, we’re delighted to announce that our keynote speaker will be U.S. Representative Denny Heck, who has ably represented the new 10th Congressional District since its inception following the 2011-2012 redistricting process.

The 10th District encompasses most of what is colloquially known as the South Sound. Its northern edge stretches from Pacific along the King/Pierce county line to Shelton to Mason County, and it takes in Rainier and Tenino along its southern border. The cities of Lacey and Olympia sit at approximately its center.

Denny has a long history of involvement in Washington State politics. During the 1970s and 1980s, he served five terms in the state House, representing southwest Washington and rising to the post of Democratic Majority Leader under Speaker Wayne H. Ehlers. He subsequently became the Chief Clerk of the House.

In 1990, then-Governor Booth Gardner tapped Heck to serve as his chief of staff through the remainder of his time in office. (Gardner was succeeded by Mike Lowry in 1993, following the 1992 presidential and gubernatorial elections).

Heck later cofounded and served as the chief executive officer of TVW, Washington’s version of C-SPAN, which provides gavel to gavel coverage of the Legislature and the Supreme Court. In 2010, he ran to succeed Brian Baird as U.S. Representative in the old 3rd Congressional District, but lost to Republican Jaime Herrera-Beutler.

He was redistricted into the new 10th and elected to represent the 10th in November of 2012, easily defeating Republican Dick Muri.

Following his election to the U.S. House, Representative Heck was assigned to the House Financial Services Committee. He serves on two of its subcommittees: Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit and Oversight and Investigations. He is the only member of Congress serving on Financial Services from our region.

We’re very happy to have Representative Heck as our keynote speaker this year. Denny is both one of the newest members of our state’s congressional delegation and one of the most experienced, having served in the legislative and executive branches at the state level. He’ll be giving us an update on the happenings (or lack thereof) in the House and sharing his perspective on what our movement needs to do to uphold and expand the rights of working men and women.

We’re very excited to have Denny and Chris anchoring our speaking program this year, and we hope you are, too. If you haven’t yet bought your ticket to our 2014 Spring Fundraising Gala yet, we urge you to do so now using one of these buttons. A household ticket admits all the members of an immediate family and is a good value if you plan to attend with your spouse or children. (The gala is a family-friendly event, and young people of all ages are welcome!)

$60

Admits one person

$90

Admits a family

Here’s what else you can expect at our 2014 Spring Fundraising Gala:

  • A full dinner buffet with vegetarian and vegan choices
  • Beer and wine selections from our cash bar
  • Opportunities to mingle with fellow activists and elected leaders
  • A chance to win a scrumptious dessert for your table at our second annual Dessert Dash, organized by our Host Committee
  • A family-friendly atmosphere

If you’d like to RSVP for the gala on Facebook, you can do so here.

Students who want to volunteer to help put on the event can get in the door free. If you’re interested in volunteering, please get in touch with us.

During the next few days, we’ll be sharing more details about our 2014 gala, including the names of our final two speakers. We hope you’ll help us make our biggest event of the year a success by buying your ticket and committing to attend.

See you on April 25th!

Can’t attend the event? Please make a contribution to support NPI’s work. NPI needs your help now to keep our many projects going strong, and to strengthen our research and media capabilities.

Even if it’s just $10 or $20, your donation will make a huge difference.

Flashback: The Seattle Times was for funding Metro bus service before they were against it

Readers, welcome to another installment in our Flashback series, where we enlist the help of past Seattle Times editorial boards to debunk shortsighted and poorly reasoned editorials published on the Times’ op-ed page in the present day.

Today, 2000, 2006 and 2008 Seattle Times are going to be helping us defend Metro against 2014 Seattle Times, which is urging voters to oppose King County Proposition 1 in a myopic editorial which ran in print yesterday.

First, some background: King County Proposition 1 is a measure on the April 22nd special election ballot that would address the chronic transportation funding problems created by the implementation of Tim Eyman’s Initiatives 695 and 776, which were on the ballot in 1999 and 2002, respectively.

I-695 attempted to do two things, in violation of the single-subject rule for initiatives: Repeal the statewide motor vehicle excise tax (MVET) and require future increases in revenue be subject to a public vote. I-695 was overturned by the courts, but then-Governor Gary Locke, afraid to stand up to Tim Eyman, asked the Legislature to reinstate the repeal of the MVET, and it complied, blowing a huge hole in state and local transportation budgets.

In 2002, Eyman followed up with I-776, which sought to repeal local motor vehicle excise taxes collected in just four of Washington’s thirty-nine counties (King, Snohomish, Pierce, and Douglas). I-776 passed narrowly. It, too, was challenged in court, but it was partially upheld on appeal.

Eyman, an anti-rail libertarian, had hoped that I-776 would force the cancellation of Sound Transit’s Link light rail project by eliminating Sound Transit’s MVET, along with the MVETs collected by the four counties named above. However, the courts ruled that since the agency had already pledged the MVET’s revenue to pay off bonds, it could not be repealed. Sound Transit has continued to collect its MVET, but King County’s MVET – a crucial source of funding for county roads – went away.

With the loss of statewide and local MVET funding, King County became very dependent on the sales tax to fund transportation improvements and operations.

When the Great Recession hit, Washington families sharply curtailed their spending, which in turn caused sales tax revenue to fall dramatically. Metro’s financial situation became precarious, and King County appealed to the Legislature for help.

The Legislature authorized King County leaders to raise vehicle fees to save Metro bus service, but only temporarily, and only if a supermajority of the council voted aye. The votes were mustered and the fee was enacted, but it is now due to expire, and Metro is once again in a very precarious situation.

King County leaders, well aware that serious cuts to bus service had only been temporarily averted and mindful of the need to do something about the deteriorating condition of many of the county’s roads, soon began lobbying the the Legislature to pass a comprehensive transportation package that would allow the county to once again collect an MVET. But session after session, they got nowhere.

The House did pass a transportation package in 2013, but the hopelessly and bitterly divided Senate Republican caucus refused to even put a proposal on the floor for a vote, producing only hot air and excuses in the wake of fruitless negotiations, to the great frustration of the House and Governor Inslee.

With time running out to save Metro and fix deteriorating county roads, the King County Council opted to use the only tool left in its toolbox: Form a transportation benefit district and ask the people for the authority to act.

That is how we ended up with Proposition 1, which asks voters to replace an expiring vehicle fee and raise the sales tax one tenth of one percent.

The Seattle Times, sadly, is against Proposition 1. As mentioned, in an editorial that ran in the print edition yesterday, Frank Blethen and his editorial board equate the steep cuts that have been proposed to bus service to scare tactics, and urge a no vote to “send King County government a message.”

It’s easy to forget that once upon a time, Blethen’s Times was in favor of raising revenue to protect existing service and make possible new service.

The 1996 Seattle Times backed the Sound Move proposal to build a regional light rail system. The 1999 Seattle Times opposed Initiative 695. The 2000 Seattle Times supported a proposal to backfill the hole blown by I-695 with a sales tax increase. The 2002 Seattle Times opposed I-776, and the 2006 Seattle Times supported the Transit Now proposal to expand RapidRide.

But the days when the Seattle Times could be considered pro-transit are over. The Times now not only opposes funding for transit expansion, as it did in 2008 when it blasted Sound Transit Proposition 1, but also funding to preserve existing service. Yesterday’s editorial doesn’t explicitly acknowledge the change in position, but alludes to it by repeatedly finding fault with King County leaders for trying to save Metro and invest in the county’s beleaguered road services division.

Blethen’s Times professes to still care about Metro, but refuses to support a measure that would save over sixty of its routes from elimination, and dozens more from severe cutbacks in service. The Times argues:

Saying no to Proposition 1 is not a message that transit does not matter. It does. The region, particularly job-dense downtown Seattle, needs reliable bus service. Nor should a no vote be read in Olympia as a sign the state Legislature does not need to pass a transportation package that includes less regressive transit tax options. It does.

Vote no on Proposition 1, and send King County government a message that Metro has more work to do on righting its cost structure before asking voters for more revenue.

What universe is the author of this unsigned editorial and his boss living in?

Metro has already cut costs. It has already raised fares (four times since the recession hit). It has already deferred capital projects to protect existing service. The agency has been backfilling for years. It is now out of Band-Aids.

KCDOT (the King County Department of Transportation), meanwhile, is even more pitiful shape. Badly needed repairs and maintenance to county roads are being deferred because KCDOT has so little funding to work with.

If the Times really cared about reliable bus service and well-maintained roads, it would wholeheartedly support Proposition 1, and welcome King County leaders’ efforts to act when the Legislature would not. Instead, the Times is urging a no vote and foolishly holding out hope for a statewide transportation package.

The Seattle Times of yesteryear would have mocked and debunked the arguments that today’s Seattle Times is making. Don’t take our word for it. Here’s the 2000 Seattle Times on the importance of saving Metro bus service:

King County Executive Ron Sims wants the County Council to put a sales-tax increase on the November ballot to keep buses rolling and fix a variety of regional transportation snarls.

The council on Monday should meet him two-thirds of the way.

All of the council’s attention, and political energy, must be on forestalling deep cuts in the Metro bus system that are coming courtesy of Initiative 695.

Sims wants three-tenths of a cent, but the council should stick with two-tenths of a cent. That increase would raise $80 million a year, which, combined with administrative cuts and a 25-cent fare increase, should keep the Metro bus system whole.

Emphasis is mine.

That editorial, which went on to discuss the possibility of some money going to Sound Transit to help with light rail construction costs, concluded by unequivocally declaring that King County Metro bus service was worth protecting:

Slow down. Take first things first. Sound Transit may crave the extra money, but it has the decency to say the first priority needs to be protecting the buses.

The coming cuts in bus service are real. This is a region that depends on buses for commuters and as basic transportation for thousands of households.

Don’t play games with the buses; shore up their financing. That is the best choice on Monday.

Again, emphasis is mine.

Don’t play games with the buses; shore up their financing. That’s what the Seattle Times told county leaders to do in September 2000. Their words!

And the following month, they offered the same advice to voters:

If motorists think traffic is nasty now, imagine it with another round of Metro transit cuts if King County Proposition 1 is defeated.

The measure, which would increase the county sales tax from 8.6 percent to 8.8 percent, is a response to the car-tab initiative that rolled back state vehicle licensing fees to $30. State money for roads and transit was slashed, and transit-dependent King County will get a serious hit.

The Legislature softened the blow with a one-time grant of $36 million, but 160,000 service hours were cut, and another 475,000 hours are at stake in next Tuesday’s election.

Though the state Supreme Court struck down I-695, the financial impacts remain.

Transit has two kinds of clients. Commuters are a large bloc who ride the bus to work, but have an alternative.

Pare back bus routes, and more cars will blossom on roads.

Well said, 2000 Seattle Times! If we don’t protect our Metro routes, gridlock will only get worse. Metro riders who do own vehicles aren’t going to keep riding the bus if service becomes infrequent and inconvenient as a result of deep cuts.

In 2006, the Seattle Times continued its pro-Metro advocacy by backing a proposal nicknamed Transit Now to create several RapidRide lines throughout the county, arguing the increase in the sales tax was well worth it:

Of all the transportation-related money measures facing voters the next few years, the easiest “yes” vote belongs to King County Proposition 2, which boosts bus service throughout the county.

The downside of the “Transit Now” proposition is it would raise our already-high sales tax one-tenth of 1 percent. The upside, a dramatic increase in bus service throughout the region, is altogether more important. This forward-looking plan promises such reliable bus service that riders along key lines can throw away their bus schedules. Another bus will be along shortly, within 10 minutes.

That editorial went on to say:

Traffic in our area, especially in our rapidly growing suburbs, is reaching a breaking point.

The region cannot accommodate an employment population projected to grow by 22 percent over the next decade if our entire focus is on cars. Buses are flexible and reasonably priced. We need a dependable bus system to ease the headaches of anticipated highway construction, such as replacement of the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

This worthwhile investment would raise $50 million a year at the beginning, $75 million a year the 10th year. It would likely convert thousands of automobile drivers into bus riders and take some of the sting out of the daily commute.

The juxtaposition between these editorials and yesterday’s is really something.

2006 Seattle Times is correct. We do indeed need a dependable bus system to ease the headaches of highway construction. But we won’t have one if we don’t pass Proposition 1, because service would be cut system-wide by about 17%. 2014 Seattle Times failed to mention this, but it is worth noting that the cuts would fall disproportionately harder on rural and suburban communities.

Two years after endorsing Transit Now, one of the arguments the Seattle Times used against Sound Transit Proposition 1 (which proposed extending light rail in three directions) was that we should be funding Metro instead:

No doubt, more people will take transit. But they will demand service over a wide area — and a price they can afford. Wide and cheap. A spider web of service.

In King County, that’s Metro: It costs 0.9 cents of tax on every dollar and has buses that go to more than 9,000 stops.

In the very first installment of the Flashback series, we turned to the 1996 Seattle Times to help us refute the argument that we should not be building light rail.

Now we see that the Seattle Times has turned its back on Metro as well as on Sound Transit. The transformation is complete. Frank Blethen’s op-ed page is now a full fledged member of the anti-transit libertarian flying circus.

The Times says we need to send county government “a message” by voting no, but last year, it was for continuity in county government, not for “throwing the bums out”. It endorsed Dow Constantine and the returning incumbents on the county council for reelection who faced challengers. Of Constantine, the Times wrote:

Dow Constantine deserves to be re-elected — and no doubt will be re-elected — as King County executive.

He has done a good job even in the eyes of many who voted for his opponent. He has been an able administrator of county government during a time of prolonged economic weakness.

King County Proposition 1 has the unanimous support of the King County Council as well as Executive Dow Constantine. We have to wonder: Why is it the Times doesn’t trust the word of the very people it supported to govern King County, who have patiently been explaining everywhere they go why Proposition 1 is necessary?

Maybe it’s because the Times, like Rodney Tom, fears that passage of Proposition 1 would prevent the road warriors in the Senate Republican caucus from using Metro as a pawn in future negotiations over a statewide transportation package.

Whatever Frank Blethen’s real reasons may be for opposing Proposition 1, the rest of us can’t afford to live in the fantasy world he and his editorial board increasingly inhabit. Metro’s peers to the north and south have responded to revenue shortfalls by eviscerating service. If we were to do the same in King County, traffic would become much worse than it is today, hurting our quality of life, negatively impacting freight mobility, and leaving families in many communities stranded.

We are for Proposition 1 because playing games with Metro’s future and ignoring our roads maintenance backlog would be a dangerous mistake.

Like the 2014 Seattle Times editorial board would if it had any of the sense of its predecessors, we urge an enthusiastic yes vote.

Grandpa George Storm: 1915-2014

Sad news to share today: I’ve just learned that Grandpa George Storm, the patriarch of my mother’s family and the best storyteller I’ve ever known, died peacefully this morning, before dawn. He was ninety-eight years old.

My family and I had known this day was coming for some time – Grandpa had been coping with complications from strokes since late December 2012 – and it is comforting to know that he is finally at rest. But we will miss him greatly.

Born November 10th, 1915 to Martin and Jovita Storm, George was the sixth of fifteen children, four of whom died in childbirth. He had two older brothers and two older sisters, as well as two younger brothers and four younger sisters. He grew up on a farm in central Pennsylvania near the township of Chest Springs, at a time when computers did not exist and aviation was in its infancy.

Grandpa lived through a nearly a century of rapid change, technological progress, and worldwide conflict. His life spanned two world wars and over a dozen presidencies (from Woodrow Wilson’s to Barack Obama’s).

He grew up in the roaring Twenties, came of age in the depressed Thirties, and started a family in the war-torn Forties. After the war, he grappled with the death of his young wife Gertrude, with whom he was raising five children.

He remarried in the Fifties, and, with his new wife Isabelle, became a parent to three more children… my mother and her sisters.

He and Isabelle lived together through the Sixties, Seventies, Eighties, Nineties, and Aughts in Portland, Oregon until her death in April 2008.

Grandpa was a hardworking man who held many different jobs throughout his life. He once sold potatoes and bibles door to door. At another point, he was a hot dog vendor and  a proprietor of a drain cleaning business. Ultimately, he developed a successful milk route which was taken over by one of his sons.

He was a huge fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and unlike most of us here in the Pacific Northwest, was not disappointed in the slightest when they defeated the Seattle Seahawks in 2006 to win Super Bowl XL. When the Seahawks were not playing the Steelers, however, he would root for them. He owned a lot of Steelers paraphernalia, including a Terrible Towel that I brought back from my Netroots Nation trip for him in the summer of 2009.

He preferred to watch low-scoring football (gridiron) games that pitted two great defenses against each other. A game that ended with a score of 6-3 was the kind of game he wanted to watch from start to finish.

He was a prudent investor and careful with money. He never really retired; he was an extremely active person who loved working in Portland’s Hoyt Arboretum and fixing up old houses, well into his eighties. He was always ready to lend a helping hand at the Carmel of Maria Regina in Eugene, the monastery where his second oldest daughter continues to live and work. At his home in Portland, he maintained a vegetable garden and grew food for himself and Isabelle.

Thanks to his hobby of fixing up and reselling houses, he had a good vantage point from which to observe the bursting of the housing bubble in 2007. When Washington Mutual collapsed the following year, it was no surprise to him. As I can well remember him telling me: I knew that no bank that was operating in that fashion could stay in business for long.

He was the kind of person who would actually read the annual reports that companies sent to their investors, from cover to cover.

He was also a beloved and caring grandfather. He adored his dozens of grandchildren and we loved him in return. Whenever I visited him, he would greet me with a loud and cheerful, “How do, Andrew?”

Prior to his stroke in 2012, Grandpa had an amazing ability to tell stories. He could hold my attention, and my cousins’ attention, for hours. While there were certainly many stories I heard several times, there were a greater number that I heard only once. Grandpa had a rich memory and a knack for recalling details.

Beginning around the time that we lost Grandma Isabelle, I began making an effort to capture as many of Grandpa’s stories as I could using professional equipment. I’d place the audio recorder on the table or on the swing and it would run for hours and hours as Grandpa earnestly told one story after another. I would ask questions in between, and Grandpa would sometimes began his answers with an exclamation, “Oh! Well!” and a chuckle as he launched into another tale.

Being a history buff, I was always hungry for more. Listening to Grandpa, I got a sense of what it was like to live through the Depression, through World War II, and through the Cold War. As any scholar will tell you, primary sources are better than secondary sources. Grandpa had lived through all these events that I had only read or heard about. I preferred his stories to my favorite history texts.

Aside from listening to Grandpa’s stories, I enjoyed playing Scrabble with him and going on walks and day trips. We did a tour of the Columbia Gorge a few years ago, stopping in at Crown Point and Multnomah Falls, among other places.

My family once journeyed back to central Pennsylvania and met him there to visit the farmhouse and the town where he grew up, as well as to see Gettysburg National Battlefield for ourselves. At the time, several of Grandpa’s siblings were still alive, and the family back there organized a big reunion to welcome us.

There were so many Storms in attendance that I could not keep track of all of the cousins I was being introduced to. Everyone wore nametags which read, “I BELONG TO…” followed by the name of one of Martin and Jovita’s children. (My family and my closest cousins, of course, wore nametags declaring, “I BELONG TO GEORGE”).

Since that journey to Pennsylvania, Grandpa’s remaining siblings have all passed away. He was the last of his big family. And now he’s gone. But many of his stories, thankfully, have been preserved as digital audio. We will listen to a selection of them when we gather as a family for his memorial service in a few days.

Grandpa and I discussed politics on many occasions. He was not a progressive, but he held progressive viewpoints on important issues. He was a spiritual man and his views generally reflected the teachings of the Catholic Church. His work ethic was certainly progressive and he believed in giving back. He was beloved by the staff of the Hoyt Arboretum. He often gave guided tours there, delighting untold numbers of young people with his sense of humor and knowledge of flora and fauna.

George is survived by seven of his nine children and several dozen grandchildren and great-grandchildren. We keenly feel his loss but we know he’s in a better place.

Dino Rossi, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, and Tim Eyman to join NPI’s Advisory Council

We have some exciting news to share today on this glorious first day of April.

As I mentioned a few days ago, on Saturday, NPI’s board appointed four outstanding individuals to serve as the founding members of our Advisory Council: Steve Zemke, Martin Chaney, Rob Dolin, and State Representative Luis Moscoso. Today, we’re pleased to announce that they will soon be joined by Dino Rossi of Sammamish, Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Spokane, and Tim Eyman of Mukilteo.

While these appointments are still pending and must be confirmed at a meeting of our board, I’m already looking forward to working with Cathy, Dino, and Tim.

Now, you may be wondering: Why these three? What makes them uniquely qualified to sit on NPI’s Advisory Council? Well, the answer is simple. In Steve, Martin, Rob, and Luis, we have a stellar group of progressives who will give us lots of suggestions and ideas as to what we should be doing. It occurred to us that it would be helpful for our Advisory Council to have some ideological diversity. That way, we’d have a very good grasp of what we should not be doing, as well.

There are few people active in the Republican Party who are worse at governing than Dino Rossi, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, and Tim Eyman. By consulting closely with them, we hope to become more familiar with the specifics of the right wing’s anti-government agenda, so we can better make the case against the destruction, dismantlement, and privatization of the public services that all Washingtonians depend on. Each of them has a great deal of experience to offer.

Cathy McMorris Rodgers, forty-four, is a member of the Do-Nothing House Republican Caucus, which specializes in theatrics and political choreography. Though it is not interested in helping the unemployed, students, seniors, small business owners, or working men and women, the caucus has managed to churn out a record number of fill-in-the-blank attack press releases since winning the majority in 2010. As the fourth-highest ranking Republican in the caucus, it was McMorris Rodgers’ job to present a response to President Obama’s State of the Union address this year that was almost entirely devoid of substance. And she delivered.

Dino Rossi, fifty-four, is a three-time candidate for statewide office who unsuccessfully ran against Chris Gregoire twice and Patty Murray once. Rossi was previously a senator from the 5th LD who chaired the Ways & Means Committee during the 2003 session. His most impressive accomplishment while in office was writing an unsustainable budget that made deep cuts to Washington’s health and human services and did nothing to address the state’s structural problems, such as its broken tax system. Since leaving the Senate, Rossi has perfected the technique of closing off sections of public parks with police tape for campaign events.

Tim Eyman, forty-eight, is a seller of incredibly destructive ballot measures intended to wreck Washington’s government and common wealth. Eyman has over a decade of experience using six-figure checks from wealthy benefactors to force public votes on ill-conceived schemes to sabotage Article II, Section 22 of our state Constitution, eviscerate funding for vital public services like education, and prevent the construction of Sound Transit’s voter-approved Link light rail system. Eyman is the state’s leading expert on fouling up the Revised Code of Washington with initiatives that blatantly violate the plan of government that our founders gave us.

I think you’ll agree, these individuals’ resumes speak for themselves. I’m confident we will benefit tremendously from their lack of wisdom, their terrible ideas, and history of poor judgment. These three could easily write a book on how not to lead, and we’d certainly consider working with them on such a project.

I’ll be checking back in next April 1st to let you know how this bold experiment went. We have high hopes and we’re excited about getting started.

Robert Cruickshank elected president of the Northwest Progressive Institute for 2014

Spring has often been called the season of renewal, and we’ve always thought it’s as good of a time as any to recalibrate and reorganize. To that end, each March, before we file our yearly report with the Secretary of State’s office, our board holds its annual meeting. The principal business of this meeting is the election of NPI’s directors (for terms of two years) and officers (for terms of one years).

NPI’s 2014 annual meeting was held earlier today. At that meeting, we reelected three of our current board members (Gael Tarleton, Ralph Gorin, Kathleen Reynolds), honored two departing board members (Martin Chaney and Rob Dolin), and elected a new member of the board (Kim Allen, who readers from NPI’s hometown know well as one of our seven city councilmembers).

Robert Cruickshank

NPI President Robert Cruickshank (Photo: Lincoln Potter/Samaya)

We also chose our officers for the coming year. For the first time in many years, NPI has a new president: Robert Cruickshank.

Robert is currently a senior campaign manager for Democracy For America, the permanent people-powered campaign that Howard Dean founded ten years ago at the end of his bid for the U.S. presidency. Prior to that, he was a senior communications adviser to former Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn.

Robert is well-versed in the politics of America’s Left Coast, having lived and traveled extensively in both Washington and California.

He grew up in Orange County and graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a B.A. in History in 2000. He received his PhC in History from the University of Washington after attending graduate school there during the 2000s. He returned to California and was for several years the Public Policy Director for the Courage Campaign, one of the Golden State’s leading progressive organizations. He and his wife Rose now make their home in Seattle with their son Ian.

Robert exemplifies the qualities that we value in our board and staff members. He understands the importance of thinking critically and thinking long-term, beyond the next election cycle. As a history major, he knows that we are doomed to repeat our mistakes as a movement unless we learn from them. He appreciates the need for reframing and teaching reframing skills. And he has provided steadfast encouragement over the years as NPI has taken on Tim Eyman’s initiative factory. I’m glad to be able to have the opportunity to work with him.

Robert succeeds State Representative Gael Tarleton, who is our new Secretary.

Gael has been a tremendously effective leader for NPI since assuming the presidency in 2011, and I deeply appreciate all of the guidance and counsel she has provided to myself and to NPI’s staff and contributors. I look forward to continuing to advance the common good with her as NPI’s Secretary, and I am also very grateful to Ralph Gorin for faithfully discharging the duties of that office for so many years.

Kathleen Reynolds, who has been with NPI since 2007, is continuing as Treasurer. Kathleen brings a very strong work ethic to the causes that she is involved in, and we are incredibly fortunate to have her as a board member and as an officer.

I also want to recognize our departing boardmembers Rob Dolin and Martin Chaney for their service. Rob became a father only a week ago, and we are happy for him and his wife Hillary as they begin an exciting new chapter in their lives.

As one of NPI’s founding board members, Rob has been instrumental in helping improve the organization’s governance and operations. Rob has a keen interest in new technologies and is a dependable problem-solver. We have all benefited from his cheerful disposition and his constructive ideas.

Martin has been with us since 2012, and has repeatedly stepped up to keep NPI on track and running smoothly, from hosting board retreats to supplying needed audiovisual equipment when we needed it. Martin contributed a great deal to the success of our events during his service as a boardmember, particularly last year’s Spring Fundraising Gala and Tenth Anniversary Picnic.

We have Martin to thank for conceiving and organizing the gala’s successful Dessert Dash, which has become an annual tradition.

(If you weren’t there last year, make sure you experience the Dash this year by buying a ticket to our 2014 Spring Fundraising Gala!)

I am very pleased that both Martin and Rob will continue to be involved with NPI in the coming years through our Advisory Council, which we created last year to help guide the work of our staff and board. Rob and Martin were appointed to terms on the Council today, along with retired founding board member Steve Zemke and State Representative Luis Moscoso. In the ensuing weeks, we’ll be announcing several more appointments to the Council, so stay tuned for that.

Building a nonprofit is difficult, challenging work, and it can’t be done by one person. That’s why I’m grateful every day to work with a team of people who are equally committed to revolutionizing grassroots politics, so that our government, our laws, and our communities reflect the values that our nation was founded upon.

U.S. House passes ill-conceived bill to gut the Antiquities Act, which allows presidents to designate national monuments

Acting as if they don’t have anything better to do (and they certainly do!) the Republican “leadership” in the U.S. House of Representatives today engineered a vote on a bill that would gut the Antiquities Act, legislation dating back the early 1900s that allows presidents to designate national monuments.

As Ken Burns and his team explained in his wonderful documentary series The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, the Antiquities Act, enacted during the early years of the Progressive Era, has been a great blessing to our country.

Presidents from Teddy Roosevelt to Barack Obama have used it to safeguard a number of national treasures, including several here in Washington State.

But the modern Republican Party unfortunately doesn’t believe in conservation or wilderness protection. There seem to be fewer and fewer Republicans interested in preserving the majesty and grandeur of America (what’s left of it, anyway) for future generations. Republicans would rather blow up our mountains, cut down our forests, pave over our prairies, and mutilate our coastlines. It’s really sad.

Republicans clearly don’t want President Obama designating any more national monuments. The President used his powers under the Antiquities Act sparingly during his first term, but under Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, formerly of REI, the Obama administration has signaled that it plans to make protecting more of the nation’s public lands a priority. That has got House Republicans all upset.

Over two hundred Republicans (and, I’m sad to report, three Democrats) voted in favor of H.R. 1459, titled, “To ensure that the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 applies to the declaration of national monuments, and for other purposes”. The final vote was two hundred and twenty-two to two hundred and one.

Ten Republicans broke with their caucus to vote no, including Dave Reichert of Washington. The roll call vote for the Pacific Northwest as follows:

Voting Aye: Republicans Doc Hastings, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Jaime Herrera-Beutler (WA), Greg Walden (OR), Don Young (AK) Labrador and Mike Simpson (ID), Steve Daines (MT)

Voting Nay: Democrats Rick Larsen, Derek Kilmer, Jim McDermott, Adam Smith, Denny Heck (WA), Suzanne Bonamici, Earl Blumenauer, Peter DeFazio, Kurt Schrader (OR); Republican Dave Reichert (WA)

Not Voting: Democrat Suzan DelBene (DelBene is here in Washington due to the mudslide in Oso, which is part of her district)

Excerpt for Reichert, our region voted along party lines. The three Democrats who voted with the Republicans for the bill were Jim Matheson of Utah, Henry Cuellar of Texas, and Mike McIntyre of North Carolina.

Many Democrats excoriated the legislation, which basically restricts the President of the United States to designating one national monument per four-year term.

“We shouldn’t play games with Washington’s protected public lands,” said Representative Denny Heck. “Both Democratic and Republican presidents have used this law to preserve some of the most beautiful sites in our state and country, and this bill would needlessly complicate the process.”

Among those places are the Olympics. Although Olympic is today a National Park, it was first designated a National Monument by Theodore Roosevelt in 1909. It was upgraded to a National Park under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1938. In 1981 it was recognized as a World Heritage site. Some ninety-five percent of the park was subsequently given wilderness protection by Congress in 1988.

Had the Olympics not been protected by Teddy Roosevelt, we would not be able to enjoy them as we do today. Many of the other national parks that we know and love also began as national monuments, such as the Grand Canyon… a place so important to Arizona’s identity that it calls itself “the Grand Canyon State”.

H.R. 1459 is yet another time-wasting bill. Even if it were to get through the Senate (and it won’t), it would be vetoed by President Obama. This is ill-conceived legislation that seems to have been designed to allow Republicans to pander to their base… which is about all that they ever really do.

The 2010s era House Republican Caucus easily ranks among the worst in American history when it comes to governing, let alone governing well.

President Obama signs emergency declaration for Washington State to help mudslide victims

Good news. This just in from the White House:

Today, the President declared an emergency in the State of Washington and ordered federal aid to supplement state and local response efforts due to the emergency conditions resulting from flooding and mudslides beginning on March 22, 2014, and continuing.

The President’s action authorizes the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to coordinate all disaster relief efforts which have the purpose of alleviating the hardship and suffering caused by the emergency on the local population, and to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures, authorized under Title V of the Stafford Act, to save lives and to protect property and public health and safety, and to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe in Snohomish County.

Specifically, FEMA is authorized to identify, mobilize, and provide at its discretion, equipment and resources necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency.  Emergency protective measures, limited to direct federal assistance, will be provided at 75 percent federal funding.

W. Craig Fugate, Administrator, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Department of Homeland Security, named Michael J. Hall as the Federal Coordinating Officer for federal recovery operations in the affected area.

The Obama administration’s prompt authorization of federal assistance is greatly appreciated. The Stillaguamish River remains mostly dammed by the massive mudslide that wiped out entire neighborhoods near Oso and buried a mile-long stretch of State Route 530 between Darrington and Arlington in muck.

The death toll now stands at fourteen and over one hundred people are still listed as missing. Hopefully those still missing can still be accounted for.

Governor Jay Inslee issued a statement a little bit ago respectfully asking the news media to give families affected by the mudslide some privacy:

This is an extremely difficult and emotional time for the families and friends of those impacted by the Oso mudslide.

Family members are grieving, trying to focus on finding missing loved ones or working through the process of rebuilding what was lost.

I understand the news media plays an important role in tragic events like this and in this instance has worked long hours to help warn the public of dangers and publicize where people can turn for help.

But some families have asked us to ask the media to be respectful of their privacy and their grief. This is especially true for displaced families in local shelters. I want to reinforce local officials’ request that the media allow those shelters to be a zone of privacy while reporters continue to do their vital job. Thank you.

Kudos to the governor for speaking out on behalf of the affected families, many of whom lost their homes and their belongings (and likely their property as well). They are not the stars of a disaster reality show, and they shouldn’t be made to feel like they are. They’re the victims of a geologic hazard that struck without warning, wiping out a rural Snohomish County community alongside the Stillaguamish.

News helicopter shared by KOMO and KING crashes near Seattle Center, killing two

Awful, awful news this morning:

Two people were killed and one was critically injured when the KOMO News helicopter crashed and burst into flames Tuesday morning on Broad Street only yards away from the Space Needle.

Emergency personnel immediately rushed to the scene as thick smoke poured over the city at the height of the morning commute.

Two cars and a pickup truck on Broad Street were struck in the crash. Occupants of two vehicles were able to escape without injury, but the driver of a third vehicle was badly burned.

Witnesses said the thirty-eight-year-old Seattle man could be seen running from from his car with his clothing on fire, and he was extinguished by officers at the scene. The man suffered burns on his lower back and arm, covering up to twenty percent of his body, Harborview hospital spokeswoman Susan Gregg said. He was originally listed in critical condition but was upgraded to serious condition Tuesday afternoon, Gregg said, adding the the man will eventually need surgery for his burns but not immediately.

Inside of the chopper were pilot Gary Pfitzner and veteran KOMO photographer Bill Strothman, both of whom worked for Sinclair Media Seattle as contractors.

(Sinclair purchased Seattle-based Fisher Communications last year in a megadeal that saw the once independent Pacific Northwest media group swallowed up by a national conglomerate with right wing ownership. It now owns KOMO, KATU, and a number of other radio and television stations in the region).

The helicopter, a temporary replacement for the actual Air 4 (which is in the shop for upgrades), had been taking off from the roof of Fisher Plaza around twenty minutes before eight o’clock when something went terribly wrong. Apparently full of fuel, it crashed and then burned after hitting the ground, creating a nightmarish scene adjacent to the Space Needle and Fisher Plaza that horrified bystanders.

Firefighters rushed to Broad to put out the fire and tend to the injured on the ground. Sadly, Pfitzner and Strothman were dead.

KOMO suddenly found itself in the position of reporting on the death of two of its own as the lead story for the morning, yards from its own newsroom.

And report it did, though crew and reporters alike understandably struggled to keep their composure. Anchor Dan Lewis, enroute to the White House to talk to President Obama, rushed back to Fisher Plaza to be with the KOMO family.

According to eyewitness Chris McOlgan, who had a front-row seat to the disaster from his own vehicle: “It just blew up instantly… Nothing could have been done.”

The helicopter, which the Federal Aviation Administration confirmed to be a Eurocopter AS350, is owned by Helicopters, Inc. of St. Louis, Missouri. The company says on its website that it “specializes in the design/build and leasing of news gathering helicopters for television and radio stations nationwide.”

The Eurocopter AS350 is a single-engine helicopter manufactured by Airbus in France. It was designed by Aérospatiale, which later merged with Daimler-Benz Aerospace AG to create the Eurocopter Group in 1992.

The merger of Eurocopter Group’s owners made the company a division of Airbus, and it was renamed Airbus Helicopters in 2000.

The AS350 is considered a versatile chopper; it has been in production since the 1970s. In 2005, an AS350 was landed on Mount Everest by a test pilot. It is used by the Los Angeles Police Department and the United States Border Patrol.

The National Transportation Safety Board said in a tweet that it was investigating the incident. Air crashes always investigated by the NTSB, as are railway accidents and major highway mishaps like the Skagit River Bridge collapse. NTSB personnel are already at the crash site, working with first responders.

KIRO TV said in a statement that it was grounding its own helicopter, Chopper 7, out of an abundance of caution, until the aircraft can be inspected.

The Space Needle, Experience Music Project, Chihuly Garden and Glass and Seattle Monorail are closed and will remain closed for the rest of the day. The Monorail may be out of service for the rest of the week while authorities investigate the tragedy.

Local political leaders offered their sympathies to KOMO.

“I just returned from Fisher Plaza where, as you know, a KOMO Air-4 news helicopter crashed at takeoff this morning,” said Seattle Mayor Ed Murray at a news conference at City Hall. “Two individuals, both KOMO employees, were tragically killed. In times like this, we’re reminded that the media — like many of us — are also public servants.”

“I met with the family of one of those who is deceased as well as with many of their coworkers. As you can imagine, they are in a state of shock, and they are devastated. On behalf of Seattle, I want to express my deepest condolence to the families of both the victims and to all their colleagues at KOMO. Our thoughts and prayers are with you during this incredibly difficult moment. Our thoughts are also with those who have been injured in the situation.”

“This morning two members of the KOMO news family were killed in a tragic crash,” said Governor Inslee. “Trudi and I send our condolences to their families and to the men and women at KOMO who, despite the personal impacts of this tragedy, have been reporting on this loss with impressive professionalism and grace. Our hearts go out to you. I know the people of Seattle – and the people of Washington – are keeping you in their thoughts. We also hope for the best for those injured.”

“My thoughts and prayers go out to the families of Bill Strothman and Gary Pfitzner and to the entire KOMO family,” said Senator Maria Cantwell. “Today’s tragedy is an unimaginable loss for Seattle’s journalism community. Today, we are all thankful for the journalists who face risks every day to report the news in our communities.

“I join Washingtonians in offering our deepest condolences to the families of the victims of this horrific accident, and praying for the safe recovery of those injured. And we thank Seattle first responders and the National Transportation Safety Board for their quick response to this tragic incident.”

Washington legislators reject Arne Duncan’s demand, refuse to force schools to teach to the test

Yesterday the Washington State Legislature adjourned without taking action on two bills that would have tightly linked teacher evaluations to student test scores, despite plenty of evidence doing so is a bad idea. Legislators faced an enormous amount of pressure to pass these bills from U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who threatened to revoke the state’s waiver from the No Child Left Behind law, as well as from education reform groups and newspaper editorial boards like that of the Seattle Times. Yet legislators refused to give in and instead chose to stand up for our children, their teachers, and for great schools.

By refusing to demand schools teach to the test, Washington State has added inspiring new momentum to the rapidly growing national movement of bipartisan resistance against overtesting of our children. After a parent revolt in New York State, legislators were forced to revisit standardized testing policies. Parents and teachers in Chicago have begun a boycott of a standardized test. Idaho voters rejected state laws in 2012 that would have tied teacher evaluations to test scores, and Maryland recently voted to delay such a link. Leading education experts from around the nation have called for Congressional hearings on the way standardized tests are being used and abused across the country.

This resistance is growing as parents and teachers see the damaging effects that linking teacher evaluations to test scores has on our classrooms. Such requirements ignore specific needs or issues students may have that are outside teacher control. There are reports that these rules disadvantage low-income and minority students.

In states that have pressed ahead with these policies, one of the results is a teaching profession that feels demoralized as their curriculum is narrowed to focus solely on test scores. Studies have shown students are learning fewer subjects, with less instructional time in subjects like art, music, history, and science so that teachers can keep their jobs by focusing only on what will be on the test.

In January I wrote an op-ed published in the Seattle Times calling on legislators to reject the federal demand. In February the State Senate rejected an earlier version of a bill that would have linked teacher evaluations to test scores.

Newspaper editorial pages demanded the legislature give into federal demands and link teacher evaluations to test scores. They argued that the state would be wrong to risk losing the NCLB waiver and lose flexibility in how to spend over $30 million in federal grants.

But they never made the case for standardized testing itself. These editorials never explained why it was good for teachers to feel their jobs would be in jeopardy unless students were doing well on narrow, limited, flawed tests. They never addressed widespread objections from parents, teachers, and school administrators to the practice. They never acknowledged the growing national movement to resist these tests.

These editorial writers hoped that threats and fears would be sufficient to scare legislators into approving this radical change. Instead, legislators chose to listen to their constituents and stick with the fair compromise they crafted several years ago on the issue.

As a parent, I am very glad they did so. I want my child to get a well rounded education when he goes to school. The last thing I want is for him to simply be studying for and taking a bunch of bubble tests. So thank you to everyone else in the Legislature who did what was right – especially when it wasn’t easy.

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