Read a Pacific Northwest, liberal perspective on world, national, and local politics. From majestic Redmond, Washington - the Northwest Progressive Institute Advocate.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Leadership of Emily's List makes the trek to WA-08 to support Suzan DelBene

This weekend, the leadership of Emily's List is in our region to help raise money for Suzan DelBene (the Democratic nominee for Congress in Washington's 8th Congressional District) following their earlier endorsement of her candidacy.

At an event hosted at Soundview Strategies today, Suzan explained why she is running for Congress. She said the most important reason she's challenging Reichert is to help families stay on their feet. "[Dave] Reichert voted for policy that got us into this mess," she observed, adding that he seems to lack the "will or desire" to help find meaningful solutions to our challenges.

Suzan made the most of the opportunity to explain why the Emily's List endorsement was so important to her. She reflected that she has been working with women for a long time; when her mother was in the Peace Corps in Botswana, Suzan would talk with the women who her mom worked with and realized that they needed a voice. She continued the cause by giving back to the community and working with Global Partnerships, a microfinance group which works in Nicaragua. Microfinance empowers women and builds voices for women.

Stephanie Shriock, the new President of Emily's List (and the successor to Ellen Malcom) then mentioned how excited she is to be helping Suzan. She reviewed the history of Emily's List (which began twenty five years ago) and was a response to the question, "Why don't we have any Democratic women in the U.S. Senate? Why do we only have twelve in the House?" This led to the creation of an organization which helps pro-choice women win election to Congress.

Nowadays, we have thirteen women in the Senate and fifty six in the House. That may sound like a lot, but it is only seventeen percent of the entire Congress.

Thanks to Emily's List, Stephanie declared, the door has been opened for women in politics. But that doesn't mean the door will stay open. Nor does the success of Emily's List prevent women's rights from being jeopardized.

"Now is not the time to be complacent, this is the time to [hit] the accelerator," Stephanie said, observing that both electing Suzan and reelecting Senator Murray are critical goals. Winning will require expanding their network, growing the online dialogue, and fighting to win. "This is a time to roll up our sleeves and work harder than ever before," she concluded.

When the event was over, I left thinking, this campaign continues to surprise and impress me. It's coming together, slowly but surely, and it's going to be a electoral force. I'm looking forward to seeing it build strength as the year gets older.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Catastrophic 8.8 magnitude earthquake strikes central Chile, spawns tsunami

A huge earthquake, the seventh strongest on record, struck Chile this morning:
A deadly 8.8-magnitude earthquake struck central Chile early Saturday, collapsing buildings, shattering major bridges and highways across a long strip of the country, and sending tsunami warnings along the entire Pacific basin.

The director of the National Emergency Agency, Carmen Fernández, said that 147 people died so far, according to local news reports. The death toll was expected to rise, particularly around Concepción, Chile’s second-largest metropolitan area, which is roughly 70 miles from the quake’s center.
(Photo courtesy of Globovision, reproduced under a Creative Commons license)

This excerpt from Wikipedia makes it plain just how massive this quake was:
It was the strongest earthquake affecting Chile since the magnitude 9.5 1960 Valdivia earthquake (the most energetic earthquake ever recorded worldwide), and is the strongest earthquake worldwide since the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake. It was about 500 times stronger than the recent devastating magnitude 7.0 Haitian earthquake and is tied with a 1906 Ecuadorian earthquake as the seventh strongest earthquake ever recorded. The earthquake was felt in the capital Santiago at Mercalli intensity scale VII (Very Strong), as well as in many Argentine cities, including Buenos Aires, Córdoba, Mendoza and La Rioja.
President Obama has issued a statement and pledged United States support for Chile, should the Chilean government need it (and it certainly seems like they will).

The Pacific Northwest is not expected to be significantly affected by the tsunami the earthquake spawned. NOAA's National Weather Service says:
A Tsunami Advisory is in effect which includes the coastal areas of California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and Alaska from the California-Mexico border to Attu, Alaska.

A Tsunami Advisory means that a tsunami capable of producing strong currents or waves dangerous to persons in or very near the water is imminent or expected. Significant, widespread inundation is not expected for areas under an advisory. Currents may be hazardous to swimmers, boats, and coastal structures and may continue for several hours after the initial wave arrival.
Big waves are not expected in inland waters like Puget Sound, but Cascadians who live along the coast should get off the beach and move to higher ground. Waves are expected to reach our region beginning around 2 PM. They'll hit the western edge of Oregon first, then Washington, and then British Columbia. The National Weather Service warns that big waves are likely to keep coming; the initial wave won't necessarily be the most powerful. So stay away from the surf!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Tackling the greatest threat to America's security: Our dependence on fossil fuels

As a retired member of the U.S. Navy and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, I’ve served in the line of duty in a conflict that was - in large part - about oil.

While I feel honored to have served my country, it is my sincere hope that we do all we can to keep from sending more of our young men and women into harm’s way. America can do this by making the shift away from fossil fuels and to clean, renewable energy and significantly reducing the pollution that causes global warming. We at NPI are urging our Senators, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, to honor our veterans by leading the way.

To that end, last week I joined fellow veterans as part of the National "Veterans for American Power Tour" as we held events at the Capitol Campus and near the Space Needle, to ask our senators to fight for a clean energy future.

The climate crisis is inarguably a crucial national security issue. Global warming-related disasters such as droughts, wildfires and hurricanes are already increasing, and even the Pentagon is worried about the political instability those cataclysms create. Moreover, as we draw closer to the day when the world’s oil reserves run out, the fights over what remains will only grow more bitter and deadly.

In these challenging times, we are all painfully aware of the threats to both our national and economic security. Our diplomatic efforts, defense strategy, and economic security are all inextricably linked to our energy policy.

We are sending billions of dollars overseas to pay for oil, leaving us vulnerable to unstable or hostile regimes.

Our oil expenditures in 2008 broke down to equal $1.2 billion every day; $50 million every hour; $837,000 every minute; $14,000 every second.

By investing in renewable energy, we free ourselves from the peril of dependence on foreign oil. Transitioning to a clean energy economy and improving the electricity grid will allow us to get our power from renewable sources here at home.

By reducing our reliance on oil, we not only reduce our exposure to oil-related conflicts overseas, we also give our energy dollars to a growing number of American business that are providing jobs in clean energy and energy efficiency.

If we spend our energy dollars here at home, we can build more wind farms and deploy more rooftop solar panels, creating millions of jobs that can’t be outsourced.

Washington’s clean energy economy is still growing, in spite of the Great Recession. A study by the Union of Concerned Scientists estimated that our state’s current clean energy policies alone could create 2,000 new green jobs by 2025.

Transitioning to renewable power will save us money, too.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, stronger energy saving standards and building codes could save approximately $750 per household nationwide by 2020 and $3,900 by 2030. Policies that invest in renewable energy and energy efficiency could cut the federal deficit by $24 billion through 2019.

This is a cause NPI cares deeply about, and a cause I worked hard to advance throughout 2009. I journeyed to our nation's capital in June to lobby for the American Clean Energy and Security Act (also known as the Waxman/Markey bill) which narrowly passed. I and the team at NPI remain grateful to Representatives Baird, Dicks, Inslee, Larsen, McDermott, Reichert and Smith, for voting yes.

In late September, I participated in the Governor’s Global Climate Summit with Governor Gregoire, who is calling for a stronger response to the climate crisis.

Now our senators have the opportunity to take action. The Senate must pass a bill to address the climate crisis and our addiction to fossil fuels.

America has the opportunity to be a world leader in the new energy economy, taking control of our future and putting Americans back to work while also improving our national security.

But no one is going to take our commitment seriously so long as climate legislation remains moribund in the graveyard of progress.

We call on Senators Murray and Cantwell to push Majority Leader Reid for climate action this year. The challenge we're confronted with is simply too important to be take a backseat to election-year politicking.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Democratic legislators host town halls; Republicans hide at home

Town hall meetings are a patriotic celebration of democracy in action – a coming together of citizens with their elected representatives to discuss important issues of the day – and last weekend, many Democratic legislators hosted open public meetings with their constituents.

Republican legislators, meanwhile, decided to take a paid weekend off.

Although the legislative session includes the weekends, during which floor sessions are common, they also traditionally set aside a weekend after the mid-session "cut-off" to offer members a chance to head back to their districts and hold meetings with their constituents.

Here's a sampling of the Democrats who took advantage of the opportunity to get in-person feedback from their constituents:
  • Senator Derek Kilmer of the 26th LD held meetings across the Kitsap Peninsula (Bremerton, Port Orchard, and Gig Harbor) with his seatmate Representative Larry Seaquist (video)
  • Senator Chris Marr of the 6th LD held meetings in Spokane (video)
  • Speaker Frank Chopp, Sen. Ed Murray, and Representative Jamie Pedersen of the 43rd LD held a meeting at the First Baptist Church
  • Representatives Eric Pettigrew and Sharon Tomiko Santos, and Senator Adam Kline of the 37th LD held a meeting at the Zion Prep Academy
  • Senator Joe McDermott and Representatives Eileen Cody and Sharon Nelson of the 34th LD held a meeting at the High Point Community Center
And, of course, as we reported earlier, there were townhalls at Crossroads and Kirkland City Hall. The former was hosted by 48th District Democrats Rodney Tom, Ross Hunter, and Deb Eddy. The latter was hosted by 45th District Democrats Larry Springer, Roger Goodman, and Eric Oemig.

Meanwhile, most Republicans simply decided to take a couple of paid days off.

It turns out that when it comes to communicating with their constituents, less is more for Republicans in Olympia. It’s not that they don’t want to talk to them of course; they’d just rather not deal with too many pesky questions.

Republicans would rather hold “virtual” town hall meetings, engineered like talk-radio, where constituents get to call in and have their questions screened by a moderator before they are given the luxury of actually asking them.

It turns out that no fewer than ten members of the House Republican Caucus are scared to meet with their constituents face-to-face. From the HRC Website:
  • Rep. Barbara Bailey to hold tele-town hall meeting Tuesday, Feb. 2
  • Rep. Jaime Herrera to hold tele-town hall meeting Thursday at 7:10 p.m.
  • Schmick to host telephone town hall with constituents Jan. 28
  • 7th District representatives to host telephone town hall Monday, Jan. 25
  • Dammeier invites constituents to his tele-town hall meeting Feb. 4
  • 12th District legislators to hold tele-town hall meeting Jan. 21
  • Angel to host telephone town hall meeting
  • Parker plans telephone town hall with constituents
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not averse to using what Rep. Jan Angel (R – Port Orchard) refers to as “this new technology.” I think telephones are awesome.

And I think a virtual town hall meeting is a great way for our elected representatives in “the other Washington” to leverage technology to get around the scheduling and cost involved in flying home to communicate with constituents in person.

But many of the state legislators who are hosting virtual town halls represent people just an hour or two away from Olympia. I’m willing to bet that most of them manage to go home for the weekend, yet somehow can’t – or won’t – find the time to sit down with their constituents for a genuine conversation.

And to make matters worse, they’re only going to be on the phone for an hour. Exactly how much feedback do they expect to hear from constituents in one hour?

I listened in on Rep. Angel's virtual town hall meeting last week. It included screened questions from about a dozen callers and a couple of push-poll questions that listeners could respond to by pushing a number on their touch-tone phones. The results were given in percentages versus raw numbers, obstructing the actual number of people who were participating.

Republicans are spinning this as “Residents can talk to their state lawmaker from the comfort of their own homes,” but that’s not what this is really about. It’s about them hiding from their constituents behind the façade of a “virtual town hall.”

Just think of it this way: Republicans are “virtually” listening to their constituents. It’s like they “virtually” care about what the people of our state have to say.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Governor Gregoire signs bill neutralizing Tim Eyman's Initiative 960 into law

Today is a great day for democracy in Washington State.

This afternoon, Governor Chris Gregoire signed into law ESSB 6130, which breaks off the unconstitutional, undemocratic shackles imposed by Tim Eyman's Initiative 960 back in 2007. Those shackles prevented majority rule from prevailing on any bills seeking to raise revenue, in direct violation of Article II, Section 22 of the Washington State Constitution.

ESSB 6130 nullifies Initiative 960 until mid-2011, restoring majority rule to the statehouse at least through this November's election, and ending the unjust disenfranchisement of the majority that elected the current Legislature in 2008.

(Tim Eyman is currently collecting signatures for a do-over of Initiative 960, which Permanent Defense is fighting).

The governor was joined at the scheduled 4 PM bill signing by Tim Eyman himself, who stood next to her, holding his nose and giving a thumbs down sign as she cheerfully added her signature to the legislation. Eyman and Republicans are doubly upset about ESSB 6130 because it takes effect immediately, which means that Republicans have just lost their power to singlehandedly kill fiscal bills on the floor (a power they never should have had in the first place).

By signing ESSB 6130 into law, the governor has fulfilled her promise to the people of Washington to bring back majority rule to the statehouse so that we can pursue a balanced response to our budget crisis amidst a lingering recession.

We at the Northwest Progressive Institute heartily thank Governor Gregoire for her courage and steadfastness. We know it's not easy to make tough, moral decisions in the face of unrelenting fire from the Republican Noise Machine.

In this test of leadership, Governor Gregoire and the seventy seven Democrats who voted for ESSB 6130 passed with flying colors.

This is one of the finest moments of their careers... and an achievement that will be celebrated when the history of this era is written.

A 50 billion dollar stimulus package that won't cost taxpayers a dime

Impossible to believe? Could we really dump 50 billion dollars into the economy without creating an equal 50 billion dollar tax burden on hard-working American citizens?

Sure. Just eliminate the anti-trust exemption for health insurance corporations.

Actually, that's not quite accurate. It wouldn't be 50 billion dollars. It would be 50 billion dollars per year. That's the amount of extra scratch insurance companies are estimated to be gouging out of Americans' pockets because of the exemption, and all for the privilege of having bean-counters interpose themselves between us and our doctors.

Had enough? I have. And so has Virgina Representative Tom Perriello. Next week he is expecting to introduce a bill that would eliminate the health insurance industry's "we're-so-special" anti-trust exemption.

Keep in mind, this exemption allows that one industry to do what no other (excepting possibly Major League Baseball, which is certainly not in the same need-to-have category no matter how much you might enjoy our Nation's Pastime) industry can: collude in back-room dealings where they decide how to fix prices across the portions of the marketplace that each one controls.

For everybody else, this is flat-out illegal. For instance: in the 1990s, agro-giant Archer Daniels Midland got busted in a worldwide collusion and price-fixing scheme over the food additive lysine. ADM settled out of court, paying the government a hundred million dollars in fines. That was still real money back then.

Health insurance companies have shown what they'll do when they don't have to follow the ordinary rules of capitalism: they'll pick your pocket with relentless, year-after-year rate hikes that seem attributable to no cause other than padding their profit margins. They'll drop you if you get sick and ask to have some of your premium dollars returned to you in the form of actual coverage. They'll defer preventative care so long as you're young and healthy, because by the time you turn 65 and the effects of not having had preventative care kick in--in the form of cancers that weren't detected early enough, diabetes that could have been prevented, et cetera--you'll be on Medicare and they won't have to pay for you.

They can get away with it because they don't truly have to compete with one another. And why should they complete when they can all just get together, en masse, and decide to raise their prices? They won't, so long as they have that exemption.

So kudos to Tom Perriello for taking the gloves off. What a perfect hat-trick of a bill. In one fell swoop, it would give that 50 billion back to the Americans who earned it, it would fix one of the most serious root-causes of our health care crisis, while also providing an absolutely stark, clear-cut, either/or litmus test for every member of the House and Senate: whose side are you on?

If you're on the side of your constituents, you have no choice but to support the bill. If you're on the side of corporate donors, you'll oppose it. It's that simple. There is literally no reason to oppose the Perriello bill unless you think the needs of health insurance corporations outweigh the needs of the very citizens those corporations claim (ha ha) they exist to support.

None at all.

Stick it to 'em, Tom. I'll be watching this vote with great interest.

Finally! Hummer reaches the end of the road

Good riddance:
Hummer, the brand of big sport-utility vehicles that became synonymous with the term “gas guzzler,” is being shut down after a deal to sell it to a Chinese manufacturer fell apart, General Motors said Wednesday.

G.M. said only that its planned sale of Hummer to the Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machines Company “cannot be completed,” without giving a reason, but the $150 million deal had been stalled as the companies awaited approval from the Chinese government.
Mum may be the word from General Motors, but Tengzhong has issued a statement saying the deal couldn't go through because it could not obtain the government's approval within the agreed-upon timeframe.

The deal's collapse means the end of the road for what is possibly the most wasteful and useless series of vehicles ever sold to civilians. Even before today's death knell, however, Hummer had been cratering:
Hummer sales have fallen 78.3 percent this year, the third-steepest decline behind fellow castoff brands Pontiac and Saturn. At the end of January, there were fewer than 2,500 Hummers in stock, and GM had suspended production at its Louisiana plant pending completion of the brand sale.
Of course, it's not like automakers won't continue to build and sell SUVs. But Hummer was the epitome of the SUV craze: huge, inefficient, and licentious, with a fuel economy so awful that it was exempt from CAFE standards and not rated by the Environmental Protection Agency. Hummers have such a high curb weight that they aren't even legal to drive on some streets.

Since their introduction, Hummers have been cleverly marked to insecure and carefree suburbanites as a status symbol, even though their ancestor (the Humvee) wasn't designed for commuting or city driving.

Even in rural areas, Hummers are not as versatile or useful as, say, a pickup truck, which is better at carrying cargo and towing trailers.

We have always felt that since Hummer serves no moral or useful purpose, it would be better that it didn't exist. Now it won't, and that's a cause for celebration.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Poll Watch: Washingtonians want Murray and Cantwell to fight for a public option

A new poll released by the Progressive Candidate Change Committee, Democracy for America, and Credo Action finds that support for real healthcare reform remains strong in Washington State, the organizations announced earlier today.

The poll of six hundred likely 2010 voters throughout the Evergreen State was conducted by Research 2000. The results were as follows:
QUESTION: What would make you more likely to vote for Democrats in the 2010 elections: If they pass health care reform that includes a public health insurance option but gets zero Republican votes OR if they pass health care reform without a public option but with some Republican votes?

FIGHTBIPARTISANSHIPNOT SURE
ALL 61% 25% 14%
INDEPENDENTS 69% 17% 14%
OBAMA VOTERS 80% 8% 12%

QUESTION: Do you favor or oppose the health care reform bill passed in December by the U.S. Senate?

FAVOROPPOSENOT SURE
ALL 38% 55% 7%
INDEPENDENTS 36% 56% 8%
OBAMA VOTERS 53% 37% 10%

QUESTION: Would you favor or oppose the national government offering everyone the choice of buying into a government administered health insurance plan -- something like the Medicare coverage that people 65 and older get -- that would compete with private health insurance plans?

FAVOROPPOSENOT SURE
ALL 65% 28% 7%
INDEPENDENTS 67% 25% 8%
OBAMA VOTERS 79% 11% 10%

QUESTION: What comes closer to the lesson you think Democrats should learn from the recent Senate election in Massachusetts, where the seat formerly held by Ted Kennedy was won by a Republican: "Voters want Democrats to slow down and try to do less." OR, "Voters are upset about the slow pace of change - and will hold Democrats accountable if they refuse to use their power to fight special interests on behalf of regular people."

MORE CHANGESLOW CHANGENOT SURE
ALL 56% 23% 21%
INDEPENDENTS 60% 17% 23%
OBAMA VOTERS 77% 10% 13%
We're not all than fond of polls here at NPI, but this snapshot of the electorate's mood here in our state certainly indicates that the public option remains popular.

Is it really surprising that Washingtonians support allowing people who get left out in the cold by private insurance companies to obtain healthcare coverage through the federal government? We don't think so.

If healthcare reform had been built around the idea of "Medicare for All", the White House and Congress would be enjoying far greater public support, because people already know what Medicare is and does, even if they don't know that it's a public service. (Remember that infamous quote from last year... "Keep your government hands off my Medicare"?)

Our two United States Senators would do well to make sure that the effort to pass a public option through reconciliation actually happens. Senator Harry Reid and President Obama have suggested they're not opposed to the idea, but nor do they seem interested in doing the heavy lifting to make it happen.

We'd like to see Washington's delegation be among those senators doing the heavy lifting to make the public option a reality... and, if this poll is any evidence, so do our fellow citizens in the Pacific Northwest.

Bill neutralizing Tim Eyman's Initiative 960 heads to Governor Chris Gregoire's desk

ESSB 1630, the bill that temporarily neutralizes Initiative 960 through the end of the 2011 legislative session, has just cleared its final legislative hurdle.

By a vote of twenty six to twenty one (two Republican senators were excused) the Senate has concurred with the bill as passed by the House.

ESSB 1630 now heads to the desk of Governor Chris Gregoire, who is expected to sign it into law quickly. The bill allows majority rule to once again prevail on fiscal bills as our Framers intended, ending the unconstitutional and unjust disenfranchisement of the people who voted for the current Legislature and governor in 2008. Under I-960, even reclaiming revenue for the state by repealing a tax loophole undemocratically required a two thirds vote.

Tim Eyman is attempting to do-over Initiative 960 with a nearly identical scheme, Initiative 1053, that he is trying to qualify for the 2010 ballot. NPI's Permanent Defense project, which just celebrated its eighth anniversary, is already gearing up to fight Initiative 1053 and protect our cherished tradition of majority rule from being taken away again.

NPI's Mike Finkle unanimously appointed to District Court by King County Council

We have wonderful news to share tonight! This afternoon, the King County Council unanimously appointed Northwest Progressive Institute Fellow Mike Finkle to fill a newly created District Court position in the county's East Division.

Mike, a twenty year veteran of the Seattle City Attorney's office, will work out of Redmond's Municipal Campus, which includes the East Division's Redmond Courthouse. District Court judges are elected, and serve four year terms.

Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, resoundingly elected to the post last November, declared in a news release, "Seattle’s loss is King County’s gain. We are very pleased for Mike; he is an excellent attorney and will be an excellent jurist."

We certainly agree with that sentiment.

All of us at NPI are truly honored to know Mike and to have had the opportunity to work with him over the last couple of years.

We anticipate that Mike will weigh in on the news himself here on The Advocate shortly, before he becomes an alumnus. The rest of us, however, would be remiss if we didn't take the opportunity to offer our congratulations... this is a major milestone in his career, and an occasion to celebrate.

Mixed crowd shares concerns with legislators at 45th LD's mid-session town hall

With less than three weeks left in the legislative session, many state lawmakers returned home this weekend in order to hear from their constituents and in return, got an earful.

Disgruntled voters filled the Kirkland City Council chambers to capacity and spilled out the doors at the 45th legislative district’s town hall meeting on Saturday. Senator Eric Oemig and Representatives Larry Springer and Roger Goodman spent an hour and a half deciphering rambling rants from constituents and counteracting them with facts and figures. They used humor to defuse voters’ anger over possible tax increases, and left nothing to chance with two police officers present, an unusual sight for this type of event.

The anti-tax crowd was there in force, but there were also progressives, teachers, environmentalists, and advocates for education and the elderly present. Not everyone was hostile, but the hostile were the most vocal.

The main topics included government spending, taxation and education. It seems that many people don’t remember that only last year the state cut $9 billion from its budget and is now poised to cut a billion more.

Many who were present directed their personal frustrations onto the legislature which is making moves to raise new revenue in order to balance a $2.8 billion budget deficit. One man accused the legislature of extravagant spending. Representative Goodman defended the state’s spending increase in the mid 2000s by explaining that the majority of that increase was requested by voters who passed citizen initiatives to decrease school class size and increase teacher pay. Washington’s surge in population growth during this time also caused the government to grow, since more citizens require more government services.

All three legislators support a bill that is the biggest source of new revenue under Governor Gregoire’s tax proposal, an increase in the hazardous substance tax on petroleum and other toxic chemicals, HB 3181. The bill has two goals: to shore up the state’s general fund and to provide money to protect the Puget Sound from damaging storm water runoff. The legislators think the bill has a good chance of passage, although Representative Springer announced plans to first amend it in the House. Springer believes that money raised by taxing the makers of toxins should go toward cleaning up those toxins and not for general spending. This is also an argument made by the oil industry.

One of the smartest things the legislators did was to share their values with the audience. They told the group that above all, they valued education, protecting our natural resources and supporting Washington’s most vulnerable citizens. The budget they help to pass will reflect those values.

The state will have to continue to cut its budget this year, but it will also raise new revenue. Whether or not voters in the 45th district, or the rest of Washington, will see the resulting budget as a reflection of our state’s values remains to be seen. Some legislators can be proud of standing up for their values against an angry mob. That's leadership.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

WA-03: Deb Wallace withdraws; Denny Heck rakes in out-of-district money

Full Disclosure: I am a supporter and volunteer for Senator Craig Pridemore's campaign to succeed Brian Baird as U.S. Representative in the 3rd District. My opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Pridemore for Congress.

Denny Heck must be confused. First, he's claiming the mantle of the hometown boy done good, even though he hasn't lived in Vancouver for over 20 years. And now, Heck seems to be running for another Congressional seat (Tacoma, Seattle, Dulles, Alexandria, or Washington, D.C.), since that is where most of the money that is funding his campaign (outside of his personal funds that he's loaned the campaign)is coming from.

Of the $114,738 that Denny Heck has collected thus far in the campaign (not counting the personal funds he has loaned the campaign), $78, 738 or 68.6% of his total, has come from outside the 3rd Congressional District. The amounts donated come from the FEC website (linked above) and the information provided on that site has been cross-referenced with Congressman Brian Baird's website to determine if the ZIP codes are in the 3rd District or not. Obviously, the overwhelming majority of Denny Heck's donations are coming from outside the 3rd District, and he's not running a grassroots campaign that speaks to the people of the district. So why should we elect Denny Heck, when he's representing interests outside our district?

In other 3rd Congressional District News, state Representative Deb Wallace has dropped out of the race. Unlike Senator Craig Pridemore, who is not up for re-election to the Senate this year, Wallace is and would have to give up her seat if she lost the congressional race. Deb Wallace issued the following statement on her withdrawal:
Citing the need for Democrats to come together around one strong candidate, Rep. Deb Wallace, candidate for Congress in the 3rd Congressional District, announced yesterday she would no longer continue her bid for Congress.

“We cannot let the 3rd Congressional Seat go to an anti-choice, anti-health care Republican,” Said Wallace. “We must come together and support a Democrat who will keep the people at the heart of their mission to serve.”

Although Wallace is not making an endorsement for another candidate at this time she believes we need to elect a true moderate Democrat who has the wherewithal to win this election.

Wallace is focused on finishing the current 60 day legislative session where she is fighting to keep college tuition from increasing and working to promote new job creation. She will continue to serve out her term as State Representative from the 17th Legislative District and as Chair of the House Higher Education Committee.

Though Wallace says she's not endorsing anyone at this point, her remarks about electing a "true moderate candidate" appear to be a parting shot at Craig Pridemore, who has demonstrated that he's the progressive champion in the race.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Eastside progressives turn out in force at town hall to support 48th LD's Democrats

I just got back from a town hall meeting with Representative Ross Hunter, Deb Eddy, and Senator Rodney Tom. At a government funded community center, people who support rebuilding our economic future with essential revenue clashed with anti-tax reactionaries.

As we were coming in the door, we were bombarded by Senator Tom's challenger Gregg Bennett. He was competing for space at the door with Fuse, and the Washington Education Association, who sent folks to remind town hall participants that an all-cuts budget is not the answer.

The legislators took comments for the first thirty minutes, responded for an hour, and then took more comments. About 70% of those who spoke were in favor of raising revenue to offset cuts, and 30% were purists against taxes.

The list of services speakers supported were very diverse, and included:
  • Senior home-based community care
  • Community healthcare
  • Public safety and our courts
  • Residential rehabilitation centers
  • Public schools (As the Constitution says, the education of Washington's youth is the paramount duty of the State)
  • Affordable housing
Speakers also urged the 48th's delegation to support automatically sunsetting tax exemptions unless they are explicitly renewed by the Legislature.

There was a relatively little amount of heckling from the crowd, which was peaceful. Most people in the room seemed very happy with their representation.

One of the biggest issues was the restoration of majority rule. Initiative 960 currently allows Republicans to block any bill that raises revenue.

Senator Tom and Representative Hunter both voted to neutralize Initiative 960, while Representative Eddy voted with the Party of No.

Representative Eddy claimed her decision was based on not having a plan for the rest of the session. She also stated that she was okay with suspending it, but not okay with what might happen during the rest of session. Representative Eddy assured me that if her vote was necessary needed for passage, she would have voted for majority rule.

Senator Tom's rationale for suspending I-960 was that "we live in a representative democracy". He further observed that requiring supermajorities to pass budgets simply does not work in practice: it jams the gears of government.

Representative Hunter continued the remarks about I-960 in that he is not a "100%er". He does not support closing the budget gap exclusively with new revenue. Nor does he support an all-cuts budget. He mentioned how California's budgeting process does not work, and continued by saying that we do not want to become California where bad budgeting and "a lot of pork" is common.

After the talk about suspending I-960, Representative Hunter outlined what he thinks will happen next. Legislators expect $400 million from the federal government, which will leave a $1.5-1.8 billion shortfall. Revenue will be raised, but there will still be painful cuts.

NPI urges all the Legislature not to go home without passing a budget that relies on new revenue to replenish our common wealth.

Public services have only become more vital as the Great Recession has stretched on; now is the wrong time to take an axe to our safety net.

Friday, February 19, 2010

WA-03: Blue America endorses Pridemore

Full Disclosure: I am a supporter and volunteer for Senator Craig Pridemore's campaign to succeed Brian Baird as U.S. Representative in the 3rd District. My opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Pridemore for Congress.

Great news today as Blue America has decided to endorse Craig Pridemore for Congress. Craig becomes the third candidate backed by Blue America, the others being Congressman Alan Grayson and Marcy Winograd who are repeating as supported candidates, and the only first-time congressional candidate currently receiving its support.

Tomorrow at 11 a.m. Senator Pridemore will join John Amato and Howie Klein in a live chat over at Crooks and Liars, where he will take questions and inform you about why he is running for Congress in the 3rd District.

Instead of waiting until tomorrow to find out who Craig is and why he's such a great progressive champion for the 3rd Congressional District, go check out the video he's just released. To summarize, Craig Pridemore has the strongest record of all the candidates on issues that matter to working families, he supports equality for everyone and reproductive freedom for women, he's a staunch protector of the environment (including authoring the landmark state law to keep electronic waste out of landfills), and opposes the corporate giveaways we've seen in recent years. In short, Craig represents the Democratic wing of the Democratic party.

If you like what you see in Craig Pridemore as a candidate, please consider sending him any amount you can spare (every penny makes a difference), join his supporters on Facebook , or join his official Facebook fan page.

And don't forget to join Craig at Crooks and Liars at 11 a.m. tomorrow morning.

Of planes and patriots

When I first heard about yesterday's incident in Austin, where a small aircraft crashed into a local IRS office building, I didn't know what to make of it.

Then, of course, we learned that the culprit - who I won't honor by name - was a disgruntled, anti-government conservative, fed up with how "the system" had treated him over the years. I read the suicide note he posted online.

Reading between the lines was a pretty interesting exercise. On the one hand, there is much truth in what he says about how the de-facto reality of the American legal system today is in practice unjust. Celebrities get away with shoplifting and drunk driving. Corporations get away with, well, whatever they want.

Sure, that's frustrating. But where this particular crackpot showed his true stripes was in his response to it.

I mean, I completely empathize with the desire for a system that treats everyone fairly. Genuinely fairly. I totally empathize with the desire for a fully functioning democracy in which the rich can't stomp on the poor, and the voices of the people carry more weight than the voices of corporations.

Those are, at heart, true American values. Believing deeply in those values is the core of patriotism. It is deeply American to voice objections to the way government operates. There is very little we hold more sacred than our right to petition the government for our grievances.

Yet, patriotic values alone do not make a patriot. Not without patriotic actions to back them up.

So let me be clear: murder is not patriotic. I'm down with dissent. Absolutely. But not with murder. That is where I and this homegrown kamikaze pilot, this latest domestic terrorist, part ways. A plane is not a petition, no matter how severe your grievances.

Predictably, the extreme right-wing in American politics is now lauding this domestic terrorist's actions. They do so on some of the same grounds the man cited in his suicide note: that the government itself has stopped following the Constitution.

Well guess what, tea-baggers: so have you.

Here's the thing. The very same Constitution these right-wingers claim to revere so strongly provides 100% legal mechanisms for challenging the government and changing the way government operates.

This Austin killer, apparently, was particularly upset with the tax code. Fine. I'm no great fan of it either. But the thing to do is marshall a whole lot of like-minded folks across the country and petition the Congress to change it. If they won't, then run for office and change it yourself. Do it the right way. The civilized, above-board way. The legal way. Do it like the Founding Fathers intended.

Real patriots don't murder their fellow citizens. Real patriots do not fly planes into buildings, killing themselves and a handful of fellow Americans, some of whom may happen to work for the agency whose operations the killer disapproves of.

That isn't patriotism. It's murder. It's terrorism. It's treason.

Anybody who does something like that isn't a patriot. They're a traitor. And anybody who condones or praises actions like that isn't a patriot either. The tea-baggers sitting on the sidelines, cheering on this suicidal anti-tax maniac, are little more than cowards. They're lazy cowards to boot, upset with the system but unwilling to do the hard, legal work of changing the system they don't like.

If you aren't willing to change the system the way the Founding Fathers intended - if, in fact, you throw over that process in favor of borrowing Al Qaida's signature tactic - then guess what? You're not a patriot, you're a terrorist.

You cannot claim to respect the Constitution - the bedrock of our entire legal system - while acting wholly outside the bounds of the law.

Here's a simple rule of thumb that anybody - tea-baggers and progressives alike - can follow: Crashing the gate is patriotic. Crashing a plane is not.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Martin Bosworth: 1975-2010

This morning, we at NPI received the sad and unexpected news that a great netroots activist, Martin H. Bosworth, died yesterday at his home in Los Angeles, reportedly affter suffering a heart attack. He was thirty five.

A self-professed "writer, editor, technologist, futurist, geek, advocate, humanist, & pragmatic Internet optimist", Martin worked at the Department of the Army, Walter Reed Hospital, and the City of the District of Columbia before graduating from Boston University. He later landed at ConsumerAffairs.com, and was eventually named its Managing Editor in 2008.

In 2007, he helped found the blog Scholars & Rogues with several friends, including Sam Smith. He was also active on social networking sites: at the time of his death, he had posted 11,475 tweets on Twitter. He was a person who was unafraid to speak out; as his friend Jason Rosenbaum relates, he did not hesitate to share the story of his struggle with his health insurance company when asked.

Free Press' Tim Karr neatly summarized Martin's passion for consumer rights in a post at SaveTheInternet:
“I’ve tried many different things in my relatively short life,” Bosworth wrote of himself recently. “But it keeps coming back to putting my thoughts out for the world to hear. Whether by luck or happenstance, I’ve been tasked as an opinion mover by my circle of friends, acquaintances, loved ones, and colleagues.”

Bosworth wrote about topics ranging from Net Neutrality to the collapse of the housing market. His opinions always fell on the side of people struggling for their right to be heard. He pursued every issue with a natural curiosity and compassion that is the hallmark of a great writer and reporter.
Elana Levin is compiling an anthology of Martin's "greatest hits" over at Daily Kos. Feel free to head over there and make a suggestion.

A memorial service is being planned for Martin by his family. It is scheduled to be held this coming Monday, February 22nd, at Eden Memorial Park (11500 Sepulveda Boulevard) in Mission Hills, California. Those who can't make it are urged to leave remembrances on Martin's Facebook memorial page.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

State House votes to suspend Initiative 960, restore majority rule to our democracy

The Washington State Legislature has just miraculously done something that we scarcely believed the institution capable of a few years ago: It has, for the first time, neutralized a government-wrecking Tim Eyman initiative, restoring majority rule to our democracy in the process.

History was made first in the Senate, which voted twenty six to twenty two to suspend Initiative 960 last week. Minutes ago, after an excruciatingly long debate, the House followed suit by a vote of fifty one to forty seven.

The roll call was as follows:
Voting Yea: Representatives Appleton, Blake, Carlyle, Chase, Clibborn, Cody, Conway, Darneille, Dickerson, Dunshee, Ericks, Flannigan, Goodman, Green, Haigh, Hasegawa, Hudgins, Hunt, Hunter, Jacks, Kagi, Kenney, Kessler, Kirby, Liias, Linville, Maxwell, McCoy, Moeller, Morris, Nelson, O'Brien, Ormsby, Orwall, Pedersen, Pettigrew, Quall, Roberts, Rolfes, Santos, Sells, Simpson, Springer, Sullivan, Takko, Upthegrove, Van De Wege, White, Williams, Wood, and Mr. Speaker (Representative Frank Chopp)

Voting Nay: Representatives Alexander, Anderson, Angel, Armstrong, Bailey, Campbell, Chandler, Condotta, Crouse, Dammeier, DeBolt, Driscoll, Eddy, Ericksen, Fagan, Finn, Haler, Herrera, Hinkle, Hope, Hurst, Johnson, Kelley, Klippert, Kretz, Kristiansen, McCune, Miloscia, Morrell, Nealey, Orcutt, Parker, Pearson, Priest, Probst, Roach, Rodne, Ross, Schmick, Seaquist, Shea, Short, Smith, Taylor, Wallace, Walsh, and Warnick
Democrats who sided with the Republicans included John Driscoll, Deb Eddy, Fred Finn, Chris Hurst, Troy Kelley, Mark Miloscia, Dawn Morrell, Larry Seaquist, and Deb Wallace. Naturally, not a single Republican voted for the bill.

I want to reiterate how incredibly historic tonight is.

Up until now, the only way to scrub a destructive Tim Eyman initiative off our books was to ask the state Supreme Court to find the measure in violation of our Constitution. (And in fact, the Court was asked twice to declare I-960 unconstitutional, and it declined to do so on each occasion).

Now, for the first time, the Legislature has stepped up, and our lawmakers have bravely done the deed themselves. In doing so, they've demonstrated more courage than our state's nine elected justices, who, as respected constitutional lawyer Hugh Spitzer has suggested, are terrified of having to actually consider whether I-960 is constitutional or not.

We are very, very, very proud of the seventy seven Democrats who voted for ESSB 1630. I myself want to express my profound gratitude to my own representatives, Larry Springer and Roger Goodman, and my senator, Eric Oemig, for being among those seventy seven Democrats. Kudos also to Speaker Chopp and Majority Leader Brown for showing steely resolve and backbone in getting this bill through the Legislature. All that remains now is for the Senate to concur with the House's amended version, and for Governor Gregoire to sign the bill.

The future is local: China and the trade deficit

In case you hadn't heard, President Obama is meeting with his holiness the Dalai Lama tomorrow. This is basically unavoidable: American presidents have a tradition of meeting with the Dalai Lama going back to the George Bush the Elder in 1990. Given the nature of these two men, I'm sure he's looking forward to it. But even if he wasn't, there's really no way he could avoid it.

China will certainly condemn the meeting. This, too, is basically unavoidable. Given China's occupation of Tibet and their territorial claims on that region, they have to or else they undermine their own position.

Talking heads across the cable spectrum are already wringing their hands that this may signal renewed difficulties in the U.S./China relationship.

To be honest, I could scarcely care less about China getting their collective panties all in a twist because the President wants to meet with Tibet's spiritual leader. Really, who cares?

Here's what I care about.

  • Fact: consumer spending accounts for the single largest share of the U.S. economy.

  • Fact: America has an un-sustainable trade deficit because we buy more stuff from foreign nations than we sell to them.

  • Fact: A ridiculous portion of that trade deficit comes from the American addiction to cheap crap manufactured in China.

  • Fact: This gives China the ability to buy U.S. Treasury notes, which they do in historically large quantities

  • This in turn gives the U.S. Treasury the ability to issue new debt for purposes such as helping the U.S. economy get out of recessions.



Like the one we're struggling through right now.

That's all great until China decides to start selling U.S. debt instead of buying it. Which, just the other day, it did. China signaled that it's going to be backing off on the amount of U.S. debt it holds, to the tune of three or four hundred billion dollars.

Why does this matter? Because the fact that China buys up a lot of our debt means it has leverage over our economy. China can use that leverage to help us or hurt us. Or they can do whatever the hell they want without regard to whether it helps us or hurts us.

That's pretty much what's happening, except right now it's hurting us. When the banking crisis hit back in 2008 and early 2009, suddenly the safest appearing investment in the world was U.S. Treasury notes. So China bought a lot of them. Now that things are a bit more stable and China wants cash to fuel their own economy, they're easing back on their U.S. Treasury holdings.

Fine for them, but bad for us. The net effect is that this makes it harder for the Treasury to issue new debt, which makes it harder to jump-start our struggling economy.

We have no one to blame but ourselves. We--the great American Shopper--are the ones who created this gigantic trade deficit. We're the ones who sent so many dollars, so much of our economic power, to China in exchange for cheap floor lamps, disposable consumer electronics, and plastic trinkets galore. We did that.

China will do what China will do, regardless of whether the President meets with the Dalai Lama, in response to what they feel best helps China. As it happens, we've created a situation where China helping China has the unfortunate side effect of kicking the U.S. economy while it's down.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: the future is local.

If we ever want to have a safe, stable economy where our fates as Americans isn't impacted by what China decides to do for itself, then we have to unwind that whole series of causes and effects that have brought us to this precarious state.

We have to stop buying cheap crap from China and turn our trade deficit into a trade surplus. We have to bring manufacturing jobs back home by buying American, even if it costs a bit more. We have to stop sending the lion's share of our economic power to a country that is--however understandably--more concerned for its own fate than ours.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Homebuilding Revitalization Act, Supreme Court public financing bill die at cutoff

Two important bills that NPI supports have effectively just died for the session.

The first, SSB 6701 - the Homebuilding Revitalization Act - would have extended the same protections that condo owners enjoy to owners of single family homes. The bill was never brought up for a vote because Mary Margaret Haugen - who Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist Joel Connelly has nicknamed Belle of the BIAW - was believed to have enough votes for a poison pill striking amendment that would have gutted the bill and replaced it with language drafted by the Building Industry Association of Washington's lawyers.

This is precisely the fate that befell similar legislation last year.

Although we knew that Senator Haugen would try to torpedo all the good provisions of our bill again this time around, we had hope that we might be able to persuade the Democrats siding with her to see the light. Regrettably, we couldn't get firm commitments out of the senators we approached, and consequently, Senate leadership did not bring up SSB 6701 for a vote.

Democratic senators known or suspected to be in Haugen's camp included Steve Hobbs, Brian Hatfield, Jim Hargrove, Kevin Ranker, and Derek Kilmer.

Haugen's camp also includes the entire Republican caucus (surprise, surprise), plus Tim Sheldon of Mason County, a wannabe Republican.

What makes Haugen's interference all the more maddening is that it shouldn't be a bill-killer. Several of the aforementioned senators have previously voted for prior versions of the Homebuilding Revitalization Act, but are refusing to do so now, so as a result, Majority Leader Lisa Brown and sponsor Adam Kline can't move the bill.

House Judiciary Chairman Jamie Pedersen had actually scheduled a hearing on SSB 6701 in anticipation of Senate passage, but now that hearing will be canceled.

So congratulations, lawmakers.

For the umpteenth year in a row, incredibly important consumer protection legislation has been squashed because a majority of you would rather do the bidding of the state's most powerful right wing lobby, the BIAW, than help victimized constituents. Homeowners will continue to have no recourse when something goes wrong with their home. Meanwhile, the message from most of you, their representatives, has remained the same: We don't care.

It's as well that this is supposed to be Mary Marget Haugen's last term in office. She is a disgrace to Democratic ideals as far as I'm concerned. If she does end up deciding to run for reelection, I will personally make a point of traveling up to her legislative district to campaign against her. I'm that sick of her. (Besides carrying water for the BIAW, Senator Haugen - who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee - has also attempted to get rid of Sound Transit. Fortunately she has been unsuccessful in those efforts).

The other bill that came up short tonight is the Supreme Court public financing bill (SB 5912) which got to the floor but was never voted upon. That bill would have provided public funding for Supreme Court candidates who obtain at least five hundred grassroots contributions minimally totaling twenty-five times the filing fee. It was strongly supported by Washington Public Campaigns, and was even placed on third reading this afternoon. But, as five o'clock rolled around, it was still on the order of consideration and hadn't received a vote.

The bill's champion, Senator Eric Oemig, told NPI yesterday that he believed Senate Democrats had the votes to get the bill through. Either they didn't when they did a final vote count, or they somehow ran out of time to get organized. Whatever the reason was for not taking up the bill, its demise means yet another setback for clean elections in Washington State.

UPDATE, 10:12 PM: Here's what happened to SB 5912, courtesy of Washington Public Campaigns, who just sent out a message to supporters a few minutes ago.
Immediately after bill sponsor Sen. Eric Oemig (D-45) motioned SB 5912 for approval, Sen. Don Benton (R-17) [who is a co-sponsor of Tim Eyman's Initiative 1053] stopped the proceedings with a point of order. Benton contended the bill would need a two-thirds vote to pass because the $3 surcharge on court fees was actually a "tax" not a "fee".

This required a ruling from Lieutenant Governor Brad Owen - presiding in his capacity as president of the Senate - based upon language and provisions in the bill itself plus language of Initiative 960 and other applicable state laws.

You may know the Senate has approved a bill amending I-960 to eliminate the "supermajority" requirement of a 2/3rds legislative vote for any tax increase. But that bill has not yet passed the House or been signed by the Governor, so original language in I-960 is still the law.

And so, the Senate set aside further deliberations on the bill and went on to other business, while staff lawyers (counsel to the Senate) researched the question. After consultations, Senate President Brad Owen ruled that the $3 surcharge must be considered a tax... and therefore the bill would require a two-thirds vote in the Senate, to pass.

In fact we had (and have) 27 confirmed "Yes" votes (of 49) in the Senate - enough for majority passage, but not enough for two-thirds. Therefore, Senate leaders set the bill aside - for today.
Bills can, of course, be revived after cutoff if there is enough support in the chamber to do so. After ESSB 6130 is signed into law, I-960's shackles will be removed, making it possible for SB 5912 to move forward.

Taxes create family-wage jobs

We're getting tired of hearing how taxes kill jobs.

I got a double dose of this uninformed sentiment while covering yesterday’s tea party rally at the Legislative Building with Andrew.

It’s obvious that quite the reverse is true. Taxes create good, middle class jobs, the kind you can raise a family on. The most common job of the around 111,000 jobs provided by the state of Washington and paid for by our tax dollars is that of K-12 teacher. Other jobs supported by state taxes include state trooper, public health nurse, college professor, judge, parole officer and road construction worker. These are family-wage jobs educating, nursing and protecting the citizens of Washington. They definitely provide something for our money.

When Washington cuts taxes, it must cut services, which means laying off the state workers who provide these services. Because the bad economy put a huge dent in state revenue, three thousand state employees lost their jobs last year and potentially 1,500 more state workers could lose their job during the next round of budget cutting. Cutting taxes kills jobs, taking money out of our economy.

If you want to see what slashing taxes does to a community and its jobs, take a look at Colorado Springs, the second largest city in Colorado. The Denver Post reported on January 31st:
More than a third of the streetlights in Colorado Springs will go dark Monday. The police helicopters are for sale on the Internet. The city is dumping firefighting jobs, a vice team, burglary investigators, beat cops — dozens of police and fire positions will go unfilled.

The parks department removed trash cans last week, replacing them with signs urging users to pack out their own litter.

City recreation centers, indoor and outdoor pools, and a handful of museums will close for good March 31 unless they find private funding to stay open. Buses no longer run on evenings and weekends.
Tea partiers, beware of what you wish for.

There was anger hovering in the air at yesterday’s rally at the Capitol, some of it justified but misplaced. Anger at losing your job and frustration at not being able to find a new one and anger from struggling to keep your small business alive during the recession is more than understandable.

What the tea partiers don’t get is that when the government is employing people whose paychecks fuel the economy, when it's helping the unemployed retrain and find work and when it's providing health services to people who can no longer afford them, it's part of the solution.

The tea partiers are misguided to call for eliminating or gutting state revenue, but if they are interested in changing the unfair way Washington taxes its citizens, they could make a positive difference. Washington’s regressive tax system (the most regressive in the country) allows the richest to pay little in taxes, while those with the least pay the most. This should make you angry.

According to Lisa Brown, economist and state senate majority leader:
In Washington, individuals in the lowest 20 percent of the tax bracket pay 17 percent of their annual income in state taxes, and individuals in the top 20 percent of the tax bracket pay less than 3 percent.
What Washington needs to do is flip its tax system over -- increase taxes on the wealthy and decrease taxes on low to middle-income earners so that everyone is paying their fair share. One method of doing this is through a high earners tax, coupled with a decrease in the state sales tax. This idea is supported by progressives. Is it something that the anti-tax tea partiers could get behind too?

Monday, February 15, 2010

State Senate passes bill to regulate paid signature gathering industry

The Washington State Senate voted this evening to approve a bill prime sponsored by Senator McDermott that would regulate the paid signature gathering industry, requiring petitioners to register with the Public Disclosure Commission and requiring the Secretary of State to reject petitions which lack signed declarations certifying that the information on the petitions is true and correct.

NPI has long urged the Legislature to protect the spirit and the integrity of the initiative process by regulating the industry. I testified in support of this bill several weeks ago. Although we commend the Senate for passing ESSB 6449, we believe it needs some improvements before it is ready to go to the governor's desk. We'll be working with members of the House to strengthen this bill in the coming days.

The bill passed the Senate by a vote of twenty nine to nineteen. The roll call:
Voting Yea: Senators Berkey, Brown, Eide, Fairley, Franklin, Fraser, Gordon, Hargrove, Haugen, Hobbs, Jacobsen, Kastama, Kauffman, Keiser, Kilmer, Kline, Kohl-Welles, Marr, McAuliffe, McDermott, Murray, Oemig, Prentice, Pridemore, Ranker, Regala, Rockefeller, Shin, and Tom

Voting Nay: Senators Becker, Benton, Brandland, Carrell, Delvin, Hatfield, Hewitt, Holmquist, Honeyford, King, Morton, Parlette, Pflug, Roach, Schoesler, Sheldon, Stevens, Swecker, and Zarelli

Excused: Senator McCaslin
ESSB 6449 will probably land in front of the House's State Government & Tribal Affairs Committee, which considered similar legislation earlier this session.

Surly, selfish, and sour: Tea partiers show up at statehouse to grumble about taxes

This morning, several hundred of Washington's most ardent conservatives and libertarians showed up on the north side of Washington's Legislative Building to chant anti-Obama slogans, grumble about the Legislature's decision to suspend Tim Eyman's Initiative 960, and jeer at public employees.

The event, organized by the right wing Evergreen Freedom Foundation, drew about five hundred people, in advance of a rally organized by the Rebuilding Our Economic Future Coalition (of which NPI is a member) which drew close to two thousand people. (The State Patrol has suggested that attendance at both events was much higher; we were there and we believe their estimates are inflated).

Most of the homemade signs that tea partiers were carrying read No new taxes, or something to that effect. There were, however, some sillier and more pathetic messages. Here's a sampling of my favorites:
Bumper stickers
Feed the Mooches
Don't Blame Me, I Voted for Palin
He's Not the Messiah
I Love Global Warming
Obama bin Lyin

Signs
Get Rid of the Queen
Recall Gregoire
Atlas Has Shrugged
Slavery Redux 2010
the great Peasant Revolt of 2010 begins
Shut Down Medicare Now! Is Socialism! Go Palin 2012!
Time to Roll Back Taxes Like Wal-Mart Rolls Back Prices
Obama and his Czars Create the Soviet States of America
Suspend 960 November 2010 Your Fired
Naturally, Tim Eyman showed up to circulate petitions for his Initiative 960 do-over (Initiative 1053) and xenophobic tea partiers were circulating petitions for an anti-immigrant measure (Initiative 1056).

The speechifying, organized by the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, lasted for about an hour before the rally broke up. The shorter version of it was No taxes good, Legislature bad. Nobody in the crowd bothered to acknowledge the link between the tax dollars we pay (our membership dues to Washington State) and the services we get in return.

Libertarian sign calling for end to Medicare

One person did have a sign calling for Medicare to be abolished (as noted above), and although we at NPI disagree with him, we commend him for being honest about what he believes. We suspect, however, that most of the people who came to the statehouse to grouse about taxes today are looking for a free lunch. They want public services to exist; they just don't want to have to pay for them.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

State Republicans vote against protecting religious outreach to the homeless

Since most Republicans have a penchant for the "you should be able to do anything you want with your land" mantra of libertarian property is sacred activists, and are equally fierce advocates of "faith-based" solutions replacing public services, you’d think that they’d champion legislation that gives churches greater authority to provide shelter or housing for homeless persons.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case this week in the Legislature, where House Bill 1956 passed on a largely party-line vote of 57-39.

The bill is pretty straightforward: it authorizes a church to host temporary encampments for the homeless on property owned or controlled by the church, and prohibits a local government from enacting an ordinance other action that unreasonably interferes with the decisions or actions of a church regarding the housing or shelter for homeless persons on property the church owns or controls.

What gives?

Is conservative disdain for the homeless really so strong that Republicans will vote against a bill that protects churches from overzealous municipal ordinances? Regrettably, the answer appears to be yes. So much for private charity...

Friday, February 12, 2010

LIVE from Seattle: A cheery and warm reception for Vice President Joe Biden

Vice President Joe Biden just stepped down from the stage here at The Westin Seattle after speaking for forty minutes on behalf of his friend - or, as he put it - his little sister, Patty Murray.

“Patty has this dangerously disarming way of making you think that she is your sister and just looking out for your interest, but you come to think that your interest lies in Washington State. I don’t know how it happens, but it happens,” he joked early on, to chuckling and laughter.

Biden on stage
Although his remarks were frequently punctuated by applause, the room was extroadinarily quiet for most of the Vice President's speech.

That's because he - like Murray, Inslee, and Constantine before him - was barely audible due to an incorrectly configured sound system. It seemed like the problem might have been that the microphones weren't sensitive enough, because the speakers appeared to be at maximum volume. (We could hear the hissing of line noise throughout each speech).

Whatever the issue was, it resulted in a very hushed and respectful audience who quietly drank in the Vice President's remarks.

At times Biden appeared pensive; at other times, he was more forceful, especially when talking about the bailout (which Patty Murray voted for, although her seatmate, Maria Cantwell did not) or the dysfunction in the Senate, which he appropriately blamed on the Republicans.

"I don't ever recall a time in post-civil war history, with the exception of the Voting Rights Act vote, where the opposition has required a supermajority vote to get anything done," the Vice President declared.

He did commend the House for acting on the administration's priorities.

Biden referenced high speed rail several times as he talked about strengthening economic security, crediting Murray for helping to secure over half a billion dollars to improve the reliability of Amtrak Cascades. (The grant doesn't mean Amtrak will soon be running bullet trains between Seattle and Portland, but it will mean more speedy and frequent Cascades service, which is sorely needed).

He assured attendees that Democrats would do okay in the 2010 midterms. "We are creating jobs, our foreign policy is once again respected in the world, we are bringing our troops home from Iraq. We are once again leading the world," he said as he concluded. "That’s who we are as Democrats, that’s what we’re going to be able to do, and that’s what we’re going to be able to run on."

The Vice President stuck around for about fifteen to twenty minutes afterwards, shaking hands over the rope line and happily posing for pictures. Rarely have I seen an elected leader so at ease and in no hurry to go anywhere.

Biden on stage
Some people brought up books for him to autograph, which he passed on to his security detail to be saved for signing later.

Biden's next stop will be Vancouver, British Columbia, where he will lead the United States delegation at the opening ceremony for the 2010 Winter Olympics. That obligation is the reason why this event with Senator Murray was changed to a breakfast instead of a luncheon.

It was previously scheduled for last November, not long after the election, but was canceled so that Senator Murray could attend the funeral of slain Seattle police officer Timothy Brenton.

I'll upload a few pictures into this post as soon as I have a chance to get back to my computer. Blogging from a smartphone has its limits.

LIVE from Seattle: Washington Democrats welcome Joe Biden to Evergreen State

This morning, on his way to the opening ceremonies at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, Vice President Joe Biden is stopping by the Evergreen State to help out Washington's own Patty Murray, who is seeking reelection to the U.S. Senate for the fourth time. (She was previously reelected in 1998 and 2004).

Biden is due to appear shortly before a packed ballroom at the Seattle Westin, where breakfast is being served to perhaps a thousand Democrats and progressives. (There are about a hundred tables in the room - numbered from left to right facing the stage - and each table seats at least ten people.)

Kicking off the main program was King County Executive Dow Constantine, who thanked table captains, elected officials, sponsors, and guests.

The Murray campaign then showed a video with highlights from the Senator's third term in office, working for veterans, environmental protection, healthcare reform, and economic security.

Then, Representative Jay Inslee urged attendees to break out their checkbooks to help Patty. He suggested Democrats take a pen and write "Reelect Patty Murray" on the palm of their hands to "send a message that the Republicans would understand", drawing outbursts of laughter.

We are now waiting for Senator Murray and Vice President Joe Biden to take the stage, which should happen momentarily.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Bellevue City Council and Sound Transit Board meet to address East Link differences

In an effort to strengthen dialogue about East Link between the Bellevue City Council and the Sound Transit board, the two bodies met today at the Meydenbauer Center, just across the street from the Bellevue Transit Center.

After an hour of introductions from the eighteen members of the Sound Transit Board and the seven members of the Bellevue City Council, the meeting began with a report from CH2MHILL about the four different alignments currently being studied in Downtown Bellevue: C9T, C9A, C11A, and C14E.

The City Council and Sound Transit Board disagree on what would alignment would best serve downtown Bellevue. Currently, Sound Transit prefers C4A, an at grade couplet running from Main Street to 12th Ave on 108th and 110th Ave's.

The City Council has recently been infatuated with Kevin Wallace's C14E proposal which would place East Link next to I-405, resulting in lower ridership. Bellevue mayor Don Davidson, deputy mayor Conrad Lee, and Kevin Wallace indicated during the meeting they are more concerned about preserving the status quo than making Bellevue more transit-friendly and accessible to those without a car.

There are now only two serious proposals left on the table (in addition to C14E, the "Vision Line", or as we like to call it, the Highway Alignment.

These proposals are: C9T (which runs underground from Main Street and becomes elevated on NE 6th next to the Meydenbauer Center, just east of the transit center) and C11A (which runs at grade from Main Street to NE 6th on 108th Ave and has a stop at the current transit center before becoming elevated next to the Meydenbauer Center.) Both have a ridership estimate of eight thousand.

C11A is the most promising alingment for walkability.

76% of downtown jobs and 53% of downtown residential housing is less than a five minute walk from the stations in C11A.

Much of downtown Bellevue, including Kemper Freeman Jr.'s Bellevue Collection, would be within a five or ten minute walking radius of a C11A station.

C9T is close to C11A, but its walkshed is smaller. Only 44% of jobs and 21% of residents are within a five minute radius (97% of jobs and 66% of residents would be within a ten minute walking radius).

The "Lack of Vision" Line (C14E) is much worse. Only 27% of jobs and 7% of residences are within a five minute walk. Over 20% of Downtown Bellevue's jobs are over a ten minute walk from the stations and less than half of the residents are within a ten minute walk. Those projections include the moving walkway canopy.

The best part of today's joint meeting was the presentation. I enjoyed looking at the design pictures for the different alignments. It's fun to envision trains swiftly serving downtown. Readers, take a look through the eighty four page report (mostly pictures) to see what East Link will probably look like (PDF).

In the end, all the City Council and Sound Transit Board members agreed that the conversation was very important and they look forward to meeting again in April. Once April comes around, the EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) stage will be over and it will be time to start making decisions about East Link.

We urge the Bellevue City Council to put NIMBYist fears about light rail aside and join the Sound Transit Board in supporting an alignment for East Link that places trains within walking distance of the places that riders want to go.

Activists push on education bill

The League of Education Voters, a Washington education advocacy group, rallied the troops yesterday, sending some members to Olympia and instructing others to send their message to lawmakers by phone or email. Their timing was good. A bill to make Washington more competitive in its quest to secure federal Race to the Top funds, designed to spur nation-wide education reform, went to a vote in the Senate Ways and Means Committee yesterday and passed out unanimously.

The legislature must pass strong education legislation to make the Obama administration even look twice at Washington’s Race to the Top application. Our state passed up applying for the first round of funds in January with an eye to improving our odds in the second round after passing good legislation this legislative session. With the second round of applications due on June 1, this is our last opportunity to get our ducks in a row.

I visited all three of my legislators yesterday, urging them to support SB 6696 and strengthen it with amendments on measuring student progress, linking this progress to teacher and principal evaluations, and creating a process for easing under-performing teachers out of the system. Providing students with effective teachers and principals is at the core of Obama's mission to improve America's schools.

My conversations were enlightening. I encountered not only understanding and support where I did not expect to find them, but also disagreement. It’s hard to know whether my involvement made much of a difference or not, but I do think there’s truth to the idea that legislators are much more interested in hearing from concerned constituents, especially face to face, than in hearing from a member of the army of lobbyists that canvass the Capitol every day.

Voters do count and activists make a difference. Don’t give up. If you can’t get to the Capitol to support an issue that's important to you, pick up the phone, write a letter or an email, but keep sharing your opinion with your legislators. Remind them who they’re working for back home.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Senate moves forward with bill to bring back majority rule to the Legislature

This evening the Senate voted 26-22 to suspend Tim Eyman's Initiative 960, which unconstitutionally requires supermajorities to raise revenue. The Senate's action clears the way for House to follow suit and return fiscal sanity to Washington state.

The roll call was as follows:
Voting Yea: Senators Berkey, Brown, Eide, Fairley, Franklin, Fraser, Gordon, Hargrove, Hatfield, Haugen, Jacobsen, Kastama, Keiser, Kline, Kohl-Welles, McAuliffe, McDermott, Murray, Oemig, Prentice, Pridemore, Ranker, Regala, Rockefeller, Shin, and Tom

Voting Nay: Senators Becker, Benton, Brandland, Carrell, Delvin, Hewitt, Hobbs, Holmquist, Honeyford, Kauffman, Kilmer, King, Marr, Morton, Parlette, Pflug, Roach, Schoesler, Sheldon, Stevens, Swecker, and Zarelli

Excused: Senator McCaslin
SSB 6130's passage was preceded by a lengthy debate and the rejection of several ill-advised Republican floor amendments. Not much was said that hadn't already been said during the debate over SB 6843 (the Senate's first attempt to neutralize Initiative 960, which contained the wrong language).

Initiative 960, which was narrowly approved in 2007, unfairly and undemocratically calls for two-thirds majority to raise any taxes (in violation of Article II, Section 22 of the State Constitution) and has hamstrung the ability of the Legislature to adopt responsible fiscal policies that balance budget cuts with revenue enhancements.

Although the Democrats do have a majority in both chambers of the Legislature, it is not enough to clear the two-thirds hurdle. Republicans, of course, don't want I-960 neutralized because I-960 gives them veto power over the Democratic majority.

Republicans stood up one after another to complain that “the will of the voters” was being overridden, in spite of the fact that many of them had previously endorsed the suspension of initiatives that passed with even larger margins than I-960 did, including:
  • Initiative 728 focused on reducing class-sizes in Washington schools, and was passed by 72 percent of the electorate in 2000.
  • Initiative 732 provided automatic cost of living adjustments to teacher salaries, and was passed by 63 percent of the electorate in 2000.
Republicans had no problem overriding “the will of the people” by suspending those initiatives when they were in the majority back in 2003.

Now, however, they’re singing a different tune, and Sen. Jim Hargrove (D-Hoquiam) called them out on it:
"While I respect the will of the people, I find it a little disingenuous to suggest one side of the aisle upholds the will of the people and the other side does not," he said. "Initiatives are taken seriously."
SB 6843 now goes to the House of Representatives – let’s hope Democrats there have the courage to follow through and send it to the governor.

So far, a strong February for Suzan DelBene

Nearly a year after declaring her candidacy for United States Representative in Washington's 8th Congressional District, Democratic hopeful Suzan DelBene is on a roll. At the end of January, she was officially chosen by the Washington State Democrats as the party's nominee, and just seventy two hours later, she celebrated the opening of her campaign headquarters in Renton to much fanfare.

Supporters were able to meet the campaign team, listen to Suzan give an update on how the campaign is going, and tour the building.

The campaign office is centrally located in Renton, offering convenient access to most of the 8th District. The space itself is amazing. It is at least twice the size of Darcy Burner's Bellevue campaign office; there is plenty of room to run a ground game. The building formerly housed a post office and an accounting firm.

The next day, Suzan was enthusiastically endorsed by the 45th Legislative District Democrats. (The 45th overlaps with a rural, northern slice of the 8th Congressional District. It includes the community of Ames Lake, Darcy Burner's home.)

But that wasn't all. Suzan also picked up the support of EMILY's List, which announced its endorsement in a press release sent to NPI:
Suzan DelBene is an accomplished businesswoman and will be an excellent member of Congress. Suzan understands that the stakes for Washington State families could not be higher. People are facing tough times. That’s why in Congress, Suzan will work to create jobs, promote innovation, and provide quality, affordable health care for Washington State families. Her vast business experience and her work with nonprofit organizations set her apart from her competition and make her a great fit for the district. EMILY’s List is proud to endorse Suzan DelBene for U.S. Congress.”
The endorsement will likely focus more national attention on DelBene and the contest in the 8th Congressional District.

It is also likely to help Suzan build a larger war chest; although she is already doing well in the fundraising department. Her campaign recently announced that she has raised $1,047,872.72 in total and has $773,327.12 in the bank. This represents a nearly $300,000 cash on hand lead over Dave Reichert.

If this is any indication of what's to come, I wouldn't want to be Dave Reichert.

Representative Bob Hasegawa proposes state-owned Bank of Washington

Many experts say that the key to economic recovery lies in small business growth, but many of these very businesses are having a hard time accessing capital as traditional financial institutions become increasingly risk-averse.

Could this be the time for a new kind of bank? One state legislator thinks so.
Imagine controlling our money and investing to stimulate the economy. Imagine financing student aid, infrastructure, industry and community development. Imagine providing access to capital for small businesses, or otherwise leveraging our resources instead of having to do it with tax incentives. Imagine keeping our resources local instead of exporting them as profits, never to be seen again—that’s what this bank could do.”
That's how Rep. Bob Hasegawa (D-Seattle), vice chair of the House Finance Committee, describes HB 3162, which would create the State Bank of Washington. Under this bill all state funds would be deposited at this bank and would be guaranteed by the state.

The State Bank of Washington would promote agriculture, education, community development, economic development, commerce and industry.
As we weather this depression, the lack of accessible capital for small businesses is worsening the economic hardships that hundreds of working families are going through. Small businesses are the economic drivers that help Washington’s commerce run smoothly, but when they cannot access the capital they need, the consequences result in chain reactions that invariably end up hurting most, if not all, working families, small businesses and family farms in our state.
Currently, the State Treasurer invests the state's operating cash in short-term, interest bearing accounts in public depositories. This provides the state with a return while preserving the state’s ability to access the funds. Public depositories are banks and thrifts that are approved to hold state and local government deposits. They may be small community banks or large national banks.

If Washington had a state-owned bank, the Treasurer would deposit state funds into it. This way the state bank could lend money, assume debt and invest in private companies just like a private bank does. This could lead to greater returns on the state funds. It could also provide access to capital to businesses that desperately need it to not only stay afloat, but to thrive.

The state could assume risk and could make money, which would lead to greater sums that could be reinvested in loans or provided to the General Fund.

Here's Hasegawa again:
My bill is modeled after the Bank of North Dakota, the only state-owned bank in the nation. By the way, North Dakota isn’t going through a financial crisis right now and the Bank of North Dakota is credited with being a large part of the reason for that.
Creating a Bank of Washington would require an amendment to the state Constitution, meaning some Republicans would have to support the idea.

HB 3162 was referred to the House Financial Institutions & Insurance Committee, but since it has not been scheduled for a hearing, it is unlikely to go anywhere.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Special election results are in: Voters showing support for public services

This evening, elections officials across Washington are releasing results for jurisdictions with propositions on the ballot in this month's special election.

In King County, suburban and rural voters are narrowly approving a proposition to relieve the King County Library System from the suffocating restraints of Initiative 747. 91,215 are for the measure; 89,359 are against.

Most school district levies throughout King County were passing comfortably, with the only exception being Federal Way's capital levy. The Seattle School District's levies were passing with over seventy percent support. Mercer Island's and Bellevue's levies all had more than sixty percent support.

Voters in Redmond and Kirkland, however, were offering more muted support to the Lake Washington School District. Its operations and technology levies appear headed for passage, but its general obligation bonds appear to be far short of the supermajority threshold required. Voters to the immediate north, however, are saying yes to Northshore's bond request as well its levy requests.

America should skip NBC's sure-to-be-awful Winter Olympics coverage

Ever since the 1964 Summer Olympics, the National Broadcasting Corporation - or NBC - has been the network carrying coverage of the games to U.S. viewers. In recent years, NBC has paid a princely sum to maintain its broadcasting rights, but has let Americans down by doing a truly awful job of covering the games.

NBC's biggest sin is that it refuses to offer live coverage of the Games for viewers on the Left Coast, which is all the more outrageous this year considering that the Games are taking place on the Left Coast. In the time that transpires between when an event actually occurs and when NBC broadcasts it here, a Seattle area resident could be across the Canadian border and have found a public place to watch the next event to be broadcast live on Canadian television.

But that's not the only reason NBC's Olympics coverage stinks. Compared to broadcasters in other nations, NBC's coverage is laughably incomplete and pared down. That's because NBC only broadcasts the events that it thinks will get ratings. Of course, most viewers have no idea what they're missing... not that NBC cares.

But it gets worse. NBC does a lousy job of covering the Olympics objectively. Apparently the corporate suits in charge haven't considered that American viewers are interested in seeing more than just celebrity-style reporting about the trials, tribulations, and successes of U.S. athletes. (In 2008, Slate ridiculed NBC by launching a daily Sap-o-meter to track the drippy language used in the network's many background pieces).

To protest NBC's lackluster and poor coverage, I plan to stay away from my television during the Games. Instead, I'll watch on the Internet, using proxy servers to tune into live streams offered by broadcasters in other countries. I'm taking matters into my own hands because I refuse to allow big corporations like NBC to decide what I get to see and when I get to see it.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Supreme Court Fair Elections bill would maintain the integrity of our highest court

Update: Senate Bill 5912, establishing a program of publicly financed supreme court campaigns, advanced farther than it has in any other legislative session when it passed out of the Senate Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday. Its next step is to be scheduled for debate on the Senate floor. Call or email your senator and ask them to support this bill.

To what should a judge’s first allegiance be? To the rule of law, or to the organization that helped him get elected by spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on his behalf?

Would you like to oppose a group in court who funded the election campaign of your presiding judge? So much for equal protection under the law.

This year, three Washington State Supreme Court justices will be up for reelection. Will we see a repeat of 2006, when a record $4.2 million was spent campaigning for just three Washington Supreme Court seats? We can only hope not and unfortunately it’s too late to prevent it, but there’s still time do something about the 2012 race.

Public campaign finance advocacy group Washington Public Campaigns is fighting to pass a Supreme Court Fair Elections bill that will create a program of optional public financing of state Supreme Court campaigns.

Here’s how the bill works according to Washington Public Campaigns:
The Supreme Court Fair Elections bill will create a public financing program, optional for candidates seeking election to the supreme court only. Candidates would qualify for public funds by raising at least $41,055 in contributions of $10-$400, from at least 500 citizens. This qualifies them for a set sum for a primary race, and if they win, an additional sum for the general election - amounts sufficient to run a competitive, robust campaign.
If a candidate is outspent by a traditionally-funded opponent or faces opposition from independent PACs, they receive matching "rescue funds" - up to capped limits set in the bill.

The program would begin once $3 million (per biennium) has been generated by a small surcharge of $1 on court filing fees - paid by users of the court, not by taxpayers.
Seven states already have “clean elections” programs for some political offices. North Carolina has offered optional public financing to statewide judicial candidates since 2004, and the program has been not only increasingly popular, but successful as well. In 2006, eight out of twelve candidates ran a publicly financed election, including five out of the six winners.

Running for office on public, no-strings-attached money works. The top benefit for the candidate is that it allows her to focus on the issues and on voters, not on fundraising. For their part, voters like knowing that their interests won't be put behind those of well-heeled donors.

This fall, all of Washington’s state representatives and half of its senators will be running for reelection. One question we should ask these candidates is whether or not they support publicly financed elections. Clean elections bills in the legislature are not going away.

Creating a program for state Supreme Court elections is a good start, but public campaign financing would strengthen the integrity of all office holders. After achieving Supreme Court public financing, Washington Public Campaigns hopes to expand the program, and loosen money and lobbyist’s hold on even more of Washington’s elected officials.

Let’s make elections about issues and voters, not fundraising. Democracy and justice shouldn’t be for sale.

John Murtha: 1932-2010

Sad news... Pennsylvania's longest-serving United States Representative has died:
Representative John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania, a gruff ex-Marine who was one of the most hawkish Democrats in Congress but who became an outspoken critic of the Iraq war, died on Monday in Arlington, Va. He was 77.

He died while under treatment for complications of gallbladder surgery, his office said.

The first Vietnam veteran to serve in Congress, Mr. Murtha voted in 2002 to authorize use of military force in Iraq. But he evolved into a leading foe of the war as it was conducted under the administration of President George W. Bush.
Murtha will also remembered for challenging Steny Hoyer for the position of House Majority Leader in late 2006, as Democrats prepared to take control of Congress.

Murtha's decision to speak out against the occupation of Iraq (after having supported it early) was perhaps the highlight of his long career in Congress, which began when he won a special election in 1974. Murtha's stance eventually helped unify the House and Senate Democratic caucuses against the administration.

Murtha had a deserved reputation as a horse trader; he pushed vast sums of money into his district (which spans parts of Central Pennsylvania) from his position as chairman (and ranking member) of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee. He is likely to be succeeded as chairman by our own Representative Norm Dicks, who represents Washington State's 6th Congressional District.

The White House released the following statement in response to Murtha's death:
Michelle and I were deeply saddened today to hear about the passing of Congressman John Murtha. Jack was a devoted husband, a loving father and a steadfast advocate for the people of Pennsylvania for nearly 40 years. His passion for service was born during his decorated career in the United States Marine Corps, and he went on to earn the distinction of being the first Vietnam War combat veteran elected to Congress. Jack’s tough-as-nails reputation carried over to Congress, where he became a respected voice on issues of national security. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife of nearly 55 years, Joyce, their three children, and the entire Murtha family.
A special election will be held to determine Murtha's successor in Congress.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Republican State Senator Don Benton announces he'll run against Patty Murray

Didn't see this coming, but whatever:
Republican state Sen. Don Benton announced Saturday evening that he’s planning a run against Democrat U.S. Senator Patty Murray.

Benton made his announcement at the Clark County Republican Party’s Lincoln Day Dinner at the Hilton Vancouver Washington before hundreds of attendees. He said he’s been considering entering the race for weeks and made up his mind earlier this week.

“I’m running because we need a senator who will represent all the people of the state of Washington and not just the government,” Benton said.
We already have such a senator and her name is Patty Murray.

Considering Don Benton's lousy attendance record for floor votes and committee hearings in the State Senate, Murray has nothing to worry about from him. The first rule in politics is show up, and Benton, well... doesn't.

Benton, by the way, once ran against Brian Baird for U.S. Representative and lost. This year, has lent his name to be used as a cosponsor of Tim Eyman's Initiative 1053, as have fellow senators Janea Holmquist and Pam Roach. Roach and Homquist showed up at Eyman's press conference on January 11th to hype the initiative. Benton, of course, failed to make it to the Secretary of State's office.

Benton, who represents the 17th Legislative District (Vancouver area), also chaired the Washington State Republican Party at the turn of the millennium. He did such a good job that he was fired after only eight months on the job:
Benton's clashes with party leaders in his eight months opened the way for an unusually public race for party chairman. He has been criticized for not spending enough money on candidates in the fall campaigns, and for buying a building in Olympia and announcing the party would move there from Tukwila without getting approval of the party's executive board.

The board asked Benton, a state senator from Vancouver, to resign last month but he refused.

Diane Tebelius, GOP national committeewoman, said after the vote that the state party still has "substantial problems" with the Republican National Committee because of how Benton managed campaign money.

When Benton took over the party last year he angered some members by firing the staff and changing the locks on the party headquarters.
Benton apparently fancies himself to be the next Scott Brown... he says he's hired the same consulting team that worked with Brown to help him.

It remains to be seen whether his decision to run will complicate matters for Republicans trying to field a credible challenger to Murray.

Meet the hypocrites: Senator John McCain

With wife Cindy and daughter Meghan supporting marriage equality, holiday dinners with the family sure must be hard for Senator John McCain (being outnumbered by his "enemy" and all). Not only does McCain not support marriage equality, but he also continues to live in Fantasyland, believing that "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is just peachy, despite saying he'd change his views if the nation's top military commanders asked him to.

So much for Captain McCain respecting the chain of command.

Here's Senator McCain on DADT in 2006:
"The day that the leadership of the military comes to me and says, Senator, we ought to change the policy, then I think we ought to consider seriously changing it because those leaders in the military are the ones we give the responsibility to."
And just this past week Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, came to Senator McCain and the Senate Armed Services Committee and expressed the need to end the failed policy.
“No matter how I look at the issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens,” Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Senator John McCain, despite hearing from the President's top military advisor, responded with the typical dogmatic and rigid conservative Republican stance:
This would be a substantial and controversial change to a policy that has been successful for two decades. It would also present yet another challenge to our military at a time of already tremendous stress and strain. Our men and women in uniform are fighting two wars, guarding the frontlines against a global terrorist enemy, serving and sacrificing on battlefields far from home, and working to rebuild and reform the force after more than eight years of conflict. At this moment of immense hardship for our armed services, we should not be seeking to overturn the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy.
The reason for the Senator's hypocritical stance on this issue, which is completely out of line with the "maverick" Wizard-of-Oz-pay-no-attention-to-the-man-behind-the-curtain image that he has carefully cultivated, is that McCain is facing a primary challenge from conservative former Congressman and talk radio host J.D. Hayworth. In a state where Republicans have made an art form of demonizing people who are different, specifically the Hispanic and LGBT communities, McCain must feel that he can't afford to be out-teabagged by a teabagger. Surely if the Senate goes to work on immigration reform, McCain will alter his viewpoint on that issue to fit his political needs.

It just goes to show that biconceptuals like John McCain and Dave Reichert follow the political winds which ever way they may blow, in order to keep their seats. It's doesn't make for good public policy, but most always shows that they are hypocrites.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Vote yes for public schools this weekend

It's finally Saturday and a great time to dig your ballot out of the pile of mail on your counter, mark it and send it in.

Voters across Washington are being asked to approve school district levy and bond requests. Ballots are due Tuesday, February 9, making today a great time to get yours into the mail.

While passing levy and bond requests has always been important to school quality, this year fulfilling such requests is absolutely crucial. Because education is such a large part of the state's budget, school districts will take huge cuts in state funding this year, on top of last year's cuts, as the legislature covers a $2.6 billion budget deficit. Thursday's ruling in the Network for Excellence in Washington's Schools (NEWS) lawsuit against the state, charging that it is failing to adequately fund its public schools, highlights how the state has not been living up to its "paramount duty."

From the ruling of Superior Court Judge John Erlick:
State funding is not ample, it is not stable, and it is not dependable. Local school districts continue to rely on local levies and other non-State resources to supplement state funding for a basic program of education.
Local levies provide for such things as textbooks, teachers, art and athletics. In many school districts, they cover 19% of the district's expenses.

From the Wenatchee World:
If passage of school levies ever was a necessity, it is now.

Local school districts have been under increasing pressure for years, since it is a rule of thumb in Washington that financial demands on education grow faster than the Legislature’s willingness to fund them. Consequently, maintenance and operations levies that once funded additions now fund essentials. And so it is, more and more, year after year.

So, while you have a little free time this weekend, make a point to fill out your ballot and drop it in the mail. We must continue to push hard on the state to do its part in funding schools, but for now, our levies and bonds are filling the gap.

"Snowpocalypse" hits the Other Washington

Well, at least it's not us this time:
The full weight of winter brought life in much of the Washington region to a standstill Saturday as a storm predicted to be one of the most powerful on record dumped 12 to 21 inches of snow overnight.

Police reported two fatalities -- a father and son hit by a tractor-trailer in Virginia when they stopped to help a stranded motorist -- and with the snowfall expected to outpace plows' ability to clear it, officials pleaded with people to stay off the roads until conditions improve.
This is looking to be an epic storm... it's so bad the Postal service has canceled delivery and decided to shut down all of its D.C. area retail locations. Most flights out of Reagan, Dulles, and BWI have been canceled. Amtrak isn't running trains and Metro, the public transportation agency, has immobilized its entire fleet except for underground trains. Navigating throughout the area has become all but impossible.

The Post quoted Karyn LeBlanc from D.C.'s Department of Transportation as saying the snow is coming down so fast and so hard it can't be cleared.
"We are not in the residential streets now because we have to keep the major roads open. Once the snow stops, our main priority is to get back into the residential streets."

She said the focus now is on plowing. "We've stopped salting and treating."

"It's been coming so heavy that by the time you get down the [plow] route you have to return and do it over again."

Tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people are said to be without power across the Mid-Atlantic this morning.

Power may be out in some neighborhoods for days because crews cannot attempt to restore power in blizzard-like conditions.

The blizzard has not, however, stopped the Democratic National Committee meeting from taking place. The White House "SNOTUS" pool reported less than an hour ago that President Barack Obama's motorcade left the White House at 7:15 AM Pacific Time for the Capital Hilton, where the meeting is taking place, and arrived four minutes later. The motorcade managed to get there safely, with the only mishap being a fender bender between an ambulance and a press SUV.

The Washington Post has a pretty impressive storm gallery for those who want to see what the record snowfall looks like.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Colorado's I-1033, recession, and miserly electorate combining to kill Colorado Springs

This is the future that we gave ourselves a chance to avoid by saying NO to Tim Eyman's Initiative 1033 last autumn:
COLORADO SPRINGS - This tax-averse city is about to learn what it looks and feels like when budget cuts slash services most Americans consider part of the urban fabric.

More than a third of the streetlights in Colorado Springs will go dark Monday. The police helicopters are for sale on the Internet. The city is dumping firefighting jobs, a vice team, burglary investigators, beat cops — dozens of police and fire positions will go unfilled.
First responders, who needs 'em? Tea partiers in Colorado Springs have apparently managed to convince a majority of their neighbors that they don't need police, fire, or emergency medical response, let alone libraries, schools, and pools. Or hospitals. Or parks... Colorado Springs no longer has the money to maintain its urban oases:
The parks department removed trash cans last week, replacing them with signs urging users to pack out their own litter.

Neighbors are encouraged to bring their own lawn mowers to local green spaces, because parks workers will mow them only once every two weeks. If that.

Water cutbacks mean most parks will be dead, brown turf by July; the flower and fertilizer budget is zero.
Lovely. So much for beautification. But it gets worse:
City recreation centers, indoor and outdoor pools, and a handful of museums will close for good March 31 unless they find private funding to stay open. Buses no longer run on evenings and weekends. The city won't pay for any street paving, relying instead on a regional authority that can meet only about 10 percent of the need.
I wonder if there are any progressives left in Colorado Springs who can save the city. Conservatives certainly aren't going to. No doubt they still think, even now, that their own city government is bloated and wasteful, even though it's clearly drowning in a bathtub at this point.

Grover Norquist and all his clones (Tim Eyman, Bill Sizemore) should move to Colorado Springs and buy houses next to Douglas Bruce, 'cause they're living the tea party dream down there. Their common wealth is disappearing, and with it, their public services. It's a conservative utopia... I mean, dystopia.

We up here in Washington, meanwhile, have an opportunity to be generous towards each other and our children in this Tuesday's special election. Many school levies and bonds are on the ballot, and they need our "yes" vote. We owe it to ourselves and to our children to invest in our public schools. Rejecting right wing schemes like Tim Eyman's Initiative 1033 are only half the equation.

The other half is actually stepping up to fund public services.

Some libraries are also requesting money so they can maintain service levels for patrons rather than going sod-all, as is the case in Colorado Springs.

So fill in the "Yes" ovals on that special election ballot, and be sure to mail it back in by this Tuesday, February 9th. Let's work together to keep our communities strong and avoid the fate of Colorado Springs.

POSTSCRIPT: Our favorite reaction to this post...
I currently live in Colorado. The situation is dire. I am a teacher who no longer has health benefits, has had their salary reduced by 10%, has 43 kids to teach, and will be taking furlough days. And I live in the "affluent" area. Timmy can come down here and live the vision of the American Enterprise Institute. It sucks.
I shudder to think what might have happened to us here in the Evergreen State had Initiative 1033 passed and gone into effect.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Democratic legislators begin courageous and noble effort to neutralize Tim Eyman's I-960

Earlier this week, Washington's Democratically-controlled Legislature finally began moving towards amending Tim Eyman's Initiative 960, which for the last two years has unconstitutionally outlawed majority rule from prevailing on fiscal decisions. Designed to allow the Republican caucuses in the House and Senate to wield veto power over the democratically elected Democratic majority, Initiative 960 has been on the books since it took effect early in December 2007.

Democrats have not had the ability to amend Initiative 960 until this legislative session because (ironically) the Constitution prohibits the Legislature from modifying initiatives after they have passed for two years. Now that that prohibition has expired, however, Democrats have the ability to neutralize this undemocratic initiative and restore majority rule to our statehouse.

"I-960 in practice is an impenetrable roadblock to thoughtful, reasoned governing," declared State Representative Ross Hunter, the prime sponsor of a bill to raise revenue and repeal outdated tax exemptions (HB 3176), which will move forward as soon as Tim Eyman's Initiative 960 has been amended.

"Not only does it keep us from making sensible fixes to our tax code, the 2/3 majority requirement leads to the worst kind of politicking and vote-trading, as witnessed in national efforts to pass health care reform, or in efforts to pass a budget in California where a 2/3 majority is required," Hunter added.

The Senate is taking the lead on amending Initiative 960, as agreed by Democratic legislative leaders. This afternoon the Senate Ways & Means Committee held a public hearing on SB 6843, which abolishes minority rule by amending I-960.

"I-960 is clearly unconstitutional. But the Supreme Court punted. They said the Legislature can fix it and that's what we're doing," Chair Margarita Prentice said.

Senator Prentice absolutely correct. We could have hardly said it better.

Tim Eyman, predictably, showed up to stomp his feet, wave his arms, call names, and throw a temper tantrum. And for good reason: his bluster is failing to deter Democratic legislators from thwarting his un-American, undemocratic assault on our cherished tradition of majority rule. Sadly, Eyman's temper tantrum is being echoed by people who should know better.

Like KOMO's Ken Schram, a quasi-libertarian who opposes Tim Eyman measures when they're on the ballot but then turns around and claims that amending them would be violating the will of the people:
Democrats in the House and Senate have the legal authority to scrub 960 but I maintain they have the moral obligation not to.

It doesn't mean a tinkers dam whether I didn't vote for 960 or if it makes their jobs harder.

It's what the people of this state voted for.
Wrong. It's what the people of this state voted for once upon a time. Since that election, the people have overwhelmingly voted down two Tim Eyman initiatives (I-985 in 2008, I-1033 in 2009), reelected Governor Chris Gregoire, and reelected the Legislature's Democratic majority in both houses to new terms in office.

Is Schram implying that the people spoke less clearly in those elections than in 2007, when Initiative 960 narrowly passed?

Let's not forget that 2007 was an off-year election with far lower turnout than either 2006 or 2008, when legislators stood for election.

Let's also not forget that in that same off-year election, besides narrowly voting to approve Initiative 960 (which took away majority rule) the people of the State of Washington also approved HJR 4204, which amended the State Constitution to allow school levies to pass by simple majority.

Initiative 960 might not have passed at all had voters understood that Initiative 960 would take away our cherished tradition of majority rule. The campaign against did not do a good job explaining the consequences.

But that's irrelevant.

What is relevant is this: The people of the State of Washington, voting in an election, have no authority to take away the rights of the majority in another election. It's un-American and it's undemocratic.

Yet this is precisely what happened with Initiative 960. A majority in an off-year election narrowly approved the initiative. The following year, a larger majority affirmed Democratic control of the Legislature.

The Legislature did not have the option of raising revenue to offset budget cuts in last year's legislative session because I-960 was in the way. And they couldn't remove I-960 because the Constitution prevented them from doing so. (Lisa Brown did go to court to try to have I-960 stricken, but the Supreme Court chickened out and refused to rule on I-960's constitutionality.)

Now Initiative 960, which itself violates the State Constitution, is no longer protected by that sacred document. Consequently, Democrats are acting courageously to neutralize the initiative so Republicans no longer have the power to veto the will of the majority. Our common wealth is in grave danger and Democrats are acting to protect it from being further damaged.

Just today, a King County Superior Court judge ruled that the state is failing to adequately provide for the education of young Washingtonians, as the State Constitution demands. That obligation is the state's "paramount duty", but for years the Legislature has passed the buck.

Now, at last, legislators are doing the responsible thing, and what thanks do they get? Nasty, derisive invective from the likes of Tim Eyman, perhaps the most irresponsible, greedy, self-centered, penny wise and pound foolish individual ever to live in the State of Washington, who, eight years ago to this day, tearfully admitted to pocketing hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own supporters' money for personal profit and then lying about it.

No one in this state is more unqualified to preach about fiscal responsibility than Tim Eyman. Eyman's backing singers - especially Seattle Times publisher Frank Blethen and his editorial writers - should be heartily ashamed of themselves for not only supporting Initiative 960 in 2007, but for editorializing in favor of keeping its shackles in place this legislative session.

Their reasoning is unsound and their abetting of Tim Eyman is disgraceful.

We live in a democracy. For democracy to work, the decisions of the majority must prevail. Anything else is tantamount to oligarchy, or rule by the few. The only decisions that a minority should ever be able to block are decisions that would take away minority rights. This is why we have a Constitution that cannot be easily changed. Our State Constitution was written to protect both majority rule and minority rights. Majority rule is explicitly mentioned in Article II, Section 22 which says that bills shall pass by majority vote.

Why is that language there?

Because the people who wrote that document foresaw, wisely, that at some point, somebody (like Tim Eyman) might propose changing the rules because he or she didn't like the decisions the Legislature was making.

So they put in the word majority. And what did they mean by majority? Fifty percent plus one. A supermajority is a majority, but a supermajority requirement is a minority veto threshold. Not a majority.

If minority veto thresholds, such as the one contained in Initiative 960, are so wonderful, why don't Tim Eyman and The Seattle Times propose the same for any initiative that raises or lowers revenue? And, incidentally, why stop at two thirds? How about three fourths, or nine tenths? Think of that... nine tenths approval required for all of Tim Eyman's initiatives!

No Tim Eyman initiative has ever met such a threshold. In fact, no Tim Eyman initiative has ever met the threshold contained within Initiative 960. If we had a law that made it tougher to pass initiatives, all Tim Eyman initiatives would have failed at the ballot. Every last one. Even Initiative 695.

If anybody even seriously proposed such a law, Tim Eyman would scream like a banshee. That's how much of a hypocrite he is.

Unlike Tim Eyman, our Democratic legislators have sworn or affirmed an oath to uphold the Constitution of our state. They have a moral obligation to strike Initiative 960's shackles and a moral obligation to govern wisely and justly. With our state in the midst of a recession and public services in danger of going bankrupt, they likewise have a moral obligation to raise revenue so that our common wealth remains strong. Our welfare and our future depend on their courage.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Reducing congestion on our roads

Yesterday I was driving on a mercifully un-congested road, listening to KUOW's The Conversation, and caught a segment about the proposed 520 bridge replacement. Briefly, the proposal is for a six-lane bridge, with two regular and one HOV lane in either direction. The 520 bridge currently has no HOV lanes, which makes the HOV lanes on the eastern portion of 520 kind of useless because they do nothing to alleviate the choke-point that is the bridge.

The crux of the issue under discussion yesterday is that while this proposal has been in the works for some time, a "Citizens Group" that happens to include Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and House Speaker Frank Chopp is saying what the bridge really needs are dedicated mass transit lanes instead. Governor Gregoire dislikes this change because it would delay the bridge replacement by up to two years, which she says isn't in the interests of public safety.

What I was really struck by in listening to people calling in to the program, either yammering for or against the change, was the level of blithe misinformation about mass transit that seems to be informing a lot of people's thinking.

One caller in particular captured this ill-informed viewpoint perfectly. She was against the transit lane proposal because she didn't want to crowd the cars into the remaining two regular lanes. And I quote: "Mass transit lanes are not going to be the most efficient use of a travel lane." She then went on to say that she "has a strong desire for mass transit" in the long term, but that for now she just couldn't see not making the most efficient use of the lanes we have.

Which would make sense except for one thing: She's flat-out wrong in her assessment of lane efficiency. Mass transit actually is the most efficient use of a lane. Period.

One bus, because of its enormous capacity to hold people, moves more people per minute down each mile of freeway than an equivalent carrying capacity of cars does. True, there's not a bus going by every twenty seconds, but because that bus carries so many people, there doesn't need to be.

The bus is a win for everybody. It moves its passengers more efficiently than they could move themselves in cars, and by getting those passengers' cars off the road, it reduces congestion for the luddites who are still in their single-occupancy vehicles.

Light rail is even more efficient because trains don't share the same physical space as cars. A light rail lane would, for obvious safety reasons, probably have to be walled off from regular traffic lanes, which is a good thing all around. The train can zip across the bridge at full speed, carrying the equivalent of hundreds of cars worth of people, in less time than a single car can cross the bridge.

This is what people don't get. Mass transit really is more efficient than private car fleets. It's counter-intuitive, but it's true. We see the freeway filled with cars, and when things are moving well it seems like the cars are zipping right by and thus we have the perception that a lot of people must be getting where they're going pretty quickly.

But the rider-density of all those cars is so low, even with carpooling, that the car fleet just can't compete with mass transit. When traffic is flowing well, you might see twenty cars per minute pass by any given point. On the generous assumption that one quarter of those cars have a passenger, that's 25 people per minute per lane.

A dedicated mass transit lane carrying busses, even if only one bus per minute passed by your observation point, can easily carry 50 or more people. And with a bus fleet collecting riders from the entire Bellevue/Redmond/Kirkland area, it's not difficult to imagine meeting that one bus per minute metric. A dedicated mass transit lane can out-perform even two regular traffic lanes, without breaking a sweat.

This is what people fail to understand. Busses and light rail are much more efficient than cars. They always will be, unless you can find a way to fit fifty people into a Toyota.

The 520 bridge replacement needs dedicated mass transit lanes in order to serve the region's short term AND long term needs. It's the only way we're ever going to really reduce congestion, on 520 or anywhere else.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Seattle's scheme to eliminate HOV lanes from new SR 520 bridge is outrageous

Yesterday morning, a cadre of elected leaders representing Seattle - Mayor Mike McGinn, City Councilmembers Nick Licata and Mike O'Brien, Speaker Frank Chopp, Representative Jamie Pedersen, and Senator Ed Murray - held a well attended news conference surrounded by constituents in the Washington Park Arboretum to formally state their opposition to the state's preferred alternate for replacing the SR 520 bridge span, Option A+.

The group doesn't deny that we need a new bridge across Lake Washington. What it wants is a bridge footprint smaller than what the plans currently call for. The members of the group seem to have convinced themselves that if we throw the HOV lanes out of the bridge plans and replace them with "transit-only" lanes, the bridge's footprint will be smaller.

We disagree. We've seen no evidence that would back up such an assertion. Buses and trains require a lot of room to manuever. In fact, they require more room than cars do. We certainly won't save space on the bridge itself building isolated "transit-only" lanes that are physically seperated from what we'll call the solo lanes.

So what is the "benefit" of not having HOV lanes? Supposedly, it's smaller ramps (and that's all), but again, we've seen no evidence that demonstrates that replacing the HOV lanes with "transit-only" space would result in smaller ramps.

We understand and appreciate that westsiders want a compact Montlake interchange that doesn't cover the entire area betwen the Montlake and University District neighborhoods in concrete and asphalt.

At the same time, we Eastsiders (most of us at NPI live on the Eastside) are sick and tired of watching people who represent Seattle and run Seattle delay this project by throwing up roadblocks. Senator Rodney Tom put it well when he told the Seattle Times: "To me, every time they turn the corner they come up with a new wrinkle. We have an agreement; let's move forward."

In 2005, when we at NPI fought to save the gas tax increase from being repealed, we talked about the need to quickly replace vulnerable structures like the Alaskan Way Viaduct and Evergreen Point Floating Bridge before disaster struck.

Four and a half years later, we are still arguing over the design of both of those megaprojects, with most of the repeated cries of "Stop! Let's rethink everything... again!" coming from Seattle.

Let me say this as plainly and clearly as I can: The new SR 520 floating bridge must include high occupancy vehicle lanes.

Seattle should be grateful that the Eastside is currently represented by pragmatic Democrats instead of Republican road warriors (remember Jim Horn?) We on the Eastside are willing to support the construction of a replacement bridge that lacks new lanes for solo drivers. That's a pretty big concession considering that we still have plenty of pavement-hungry conservatives living over here.

However, our support for a replacement bridge with no new solo lanes hinges on the inclusion of high occupancy vehicle lanes.

Unlike Seattle, we have very few neighborhoods that could be described as walkable or pedestrian friendly. Downtown Bellevue, Kirkland, and Redmond are becoming much denser and easier to navigate on foot, but most Eastsiders live in subdivisons that are only readily accessible by car, and not well served by transit.

To atone for having chosen to live in such an auto-dependent place, many Eastsiders commute to work by carpooling and vanpooling, or taking advantage of shuttles provided by their employers (for example, Microsoft's Connector). When they get on the highway (which is where most of the congestion is), they promptly take advantage of HOV ramps and HOV lanes to bypass traffic. The value of HOV lanes is that they reward drivers who act sustainably.

We aggressively fought Tim Eyman's Initiative 985 in part because we wanted to be able to strengthen our HOV system in the future (and we obviously could not do that if it was destroyed). The Evergreen Point Floating Bridge has always been the biggest missing link in the HOV system. Not coincidentally, that's also where some of our region's worst traffic congestion is.

Today, vanpools and carpools coming from the east are forced to merge into the "general purpose" lanes before entering the bridgespan.

This is one of the major factors that creates the traffic phenomenon I call the Great Lake Washington Line (it's also been called the Kirkland Crawl) which is one of Puget Sound's worst traffic jams.

It can be seen pretty much every weekday morning and evening on WSDOT's traffic map: a black and red band typically stretching from the I-405 interchange to the water's edge. The state has added metered onramps to attempt to mitigate the congestion, but they haven't had much effect.

WSDOT, armed with a federal grant, is now in the process of adding variable speed limit signs over the stretch of SR 520 where the Line materializes, but this also won't have much more than a cosmetic effect.

The new bridge, on the other hand, holds more promise, because if it is built according to the current plans, buses, carpools, vanpools, and shuttles won't have to merge when they reach Evergreen Point. They'll be able to stay in HOV lanes. That would speed up travel for everyone trying to get across the lake.

But now Mayor Mike McGinn, Speaker Frank Chopp, and some of their some of their whiniest, noisiest constitutents want to take away the long planned right-of-way on the new bridge from people who rideshare.

Really... it's just unbelievable.

Chopp, especially, should know better. The Eastside is the linchpin of the majority he has built in the state House of Representatives. By obstructing the progress of one of the Eastside's most important priorities, he risks angering the very voters who (indirectly) made it possible for him to be Speaker.

And people on the Eastside are starting to get angry. I've seen the disgust reflected in the questions that my neighbors ask of our legislators at town halls. They want to know why the people who represent Seattle so often act like children.

I'm not kidding; that's the impression that people on this side of the lake have. And sadly, it doesn't seem to be wrong, either.

At this point, our patience is really starting to wear thin.

We will happily support having the state investigate ways to minimize the footprint of the rebuilt SR 520 as it passes through Seattle.

But we won't permit HOV lanes to be eliminated from the new bridge.

POSTSCRIPT: I forgot to mention that the current plans for the bridge do not preclude the state and Sound Transit from adding high capacity transit (or, in other words, light rail) to the bridge in the future. Years from now, when we actually have the money, we can add a light rail spur that goes across State Route 520.

In the meantime, we'll have the HOV lanes, which are essentially enhanced transit lanes that carpools and vanpools can make use of. For a good explanation of why new general purpose lanes are not part of the designs for the new SR 520 bridge, see Jason's post about capacity efficiency.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Obama must tell a better story

It’s a Democratic conundrum that we see playing out over and over again: Why do Americans vote and speak (often angrily) against their self-interest? Why did the truck driver vote for a guy who lowered taxes on the rich? Why is the waitress so furious because Democrats in Congress are trying to ensure that she and her kids can afford health insurance?

As President Obama enters his second year in office, pundits are prescribing many ways for him to improve: be more like Ross Perot, be more forceful, be more progressive.

Writing for Common Dreams.org, political scientist Dr. David Runciman has a suggestion that resonates with both the fact-loving side of my brain and the emotional side. He suggests that Obama isn’t telling enough good stories.

My left brain is aware that breakthroughs in brain science have found that for logical thinking (the kind that Democrats seem to favor) to be effective it must go hand in hand with emotional thinking, that is, with stories. My right brain says, yes, it knew this all along.

Runciman describes the work of psychologist Drew Westen, the author of The Political Brain:
For Mr Westen, stories always trump statistics, which means the politician with the best stories is going to win: "One of the fallacies that politicians often have on the Left is that things are obvious, when they are not obvious."
The story that conservatives are good at telling is one of "elite Democrats" who talk down to Americans and tell us what’s best for us. This image strikes a nerve with lower and middle income people who feel like our economy and politics have left them behind. This story certainly worked for George W. Bush.

Runciman writes:
If people vote against their own interests, it is not because they do not understand what is in their interest or have not yet had it properly explained to them. They do it because they resent having their interests decided for them by politicians who think they know best.

There is nothing voters hate more than having things explained to them as though they were idiots.
On top of better storytelling, in order to get more support for his policies, President Obama must work harder to understand his opposition. According to the author of Management Rewired, a study of brain science and business management, using empathy is key to getting cooperation from others.

Since conservatives and independents want the government to “keep their hands off their Medicare,” it will take empathy, not logic, for Obama and Democrats in Congress to understand where this anger is coming from and how to get these groups' support. Understanding what motivates voters will help lawmakers find the right story to sell their policies.

Runciman describes how the right-wing has used empathy to pervert U.S. politics:

Right-wing politics has become a vehicle for channeling this popular anger against intellectual snobs. The result is that many of America's poorest citizens have a deep emotional attachment to a party that serves the interests of its richest.
Democrats should tone down the facts and figures and integrate them with stories that resonate with Americans' experiences. The human brain is programed to use stories to understand the world, and Democrats should tap into that natural inclination. It's not what we're saying, it's how we're saying it.