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Monthly Archives: May 2012

Latest tragedy in Seattle a sad reminder: Guns don’t kill people, people with guns kill people

Another late spring day has come and gone, and with it, the lives of more innocent Washingtonians have been blotted out, cruelly cut short by gunfire:

A man who killed four people in a bloody shooting spree at two Seattle locations ended an intense manhunt by turning the gun on himself as officers closed in on him Wednesday.

The Seattle Police Department identified the man as Ian Stawicki.

Harborview Medical Center said he died Wednesday night, as did another victim, bringing the total death toll to six. The lone surviving victim was listed in critical but stable condition.

The day’s first shooting occurred around 11 a.m. at Café Racer in North Seattle, where police arrived to find five people down inside the business.  Three died from their wounds.

Less than an hour later, a man pulled out a handgun and fatally shot a woman in the head during a carjacking at Eighth and Seneca.

Though Seattle police were initially not sure that the two acts of violence were connected, they were later able to determine that all of the shootings were perpetrated by the same individual, Ian Stawicki, who, as reported above, turned his own gun on himself after he was cornered by SPD in West Seattle.

The names of the other people Stawicki killed have not yet been released. They are sadly just the latest victims in a spate of gun violence that has shaken Seattle and caused concern in nearby communities. To recap:

  • In the early morning hours of May 27th, several homes were damaged in a series of drive by shootings. Four homes and vehicles parked in front were targeted by unknown assailants: one on South Frontenac Street, one on South Holden Street, one on Columbian Drive South, one on South Henderson Street . No one was injured, but there were some close calls, as the homes were occupied at the time of the drive-by attacks.
  • Meanwhile, the same night, another Seattle homeowner was shot after he confronted a suspect who had broken into his home. He was transported to a hospital with life threatening injuries.
  • On May 26th, as the Folklife festival was going on, Ryan Burr was shot in the leg while waiting to cross Broad Street near the Space Needle when a member of a street gang pulled a gun on another man who he thought had insulted him. Burr was taken to Harborview Medical Center and later released. The shooter was apprehended by Seattle police inside the Center House and booked into the King County Jail on investigation of assault.
  • On May 24th, forty-three year old father of two Justin Ferrari was killed by gunfire that tore through his vehicle as it was moving through the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Way and East Cherry Street in the Central District. He died at the scene in his father’s arms. Police are still looking for the killer; no arrests have been made yet.
  • On April 22nd, twenty-one year old culinary student Nicole Westbrook was shot and killed in Pioneer Square while walking home with her boyfriend. She had just moved to Seattle, according to news reports.

And then, of course, we have today’s deplorable shootings, all apparently perpetrated by Ian Stawicki, which resulted in the deaths of half a dozen people – inluding Stawicki. Stawicki’s brother Andrew (who shares the same last name), told The Seattle Times his brother was mentally ill and stubborn.

“It’s no surprise to me this happened,” he told the newspaper. “We could see this coming. Nothing good is going to come with that much anger inside of you.”

Sadly, it is all too easy for a person with a mental illness to get his or hands on a gun in the United States, due to loophole-filled laws and lax regulations which the National Rifle Association (NRA) is constantly working to weaken.

A coalition of several hundred mayors from around the country known as Mayors Against Illegal Guns (cofounded by Michael Bloomberg and Thomas Menino) has been working to close such loopholes but has had to contend with the opposition of the gun lobby at every turn. The coalition points out that since 1968, when Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated, more than four hundred thousand Americans have been killed with guns. More than four hundred thousand. To put that number in perspective, that’s equivalent to two-thirds of the current population of Seattle. And more people are killed with guns -  especially illegally obtained guns – every single day.

When is enough enough? When are we going to take action – as a region, as a country, as a society – to keep firearms out of the hands of people who cannot be trusted to store and use them safely and responsibly?

Diehard defenders of the Second Amendment would have us believe we’d all be safer if we were armed to the teeth, so we could better defend our homes and our property. They are utterly wrong. The more guns we collectively buy, the more guns we will collectively use. Data has borne this out.

The recent outbreak of gun violence will become even more tragic if it results in more gun sales. As Seattle Times editorial writer Lance Dickie says:

Seattle is suffering a frightening contagion of mindless armed violence. Idiots with guns claiming lives and wounding others with stray rounds. Violence amped up to a delusional defense of honor and pride with murderous consequences for innocent people.

This urban tragedy is all the more disturbing because of the potential for the demented response it will inspire. Other idiots with guns will feel empowered to arm themselves and argue their right to protect the public. Please spare us the cheesy excuse to carry a piece into a diner or grocery store. An anxious city is not comforted by the prospect of hero wannabes itching to shoot back at – whatever.

What can be done to prevent future tragedies like the one our region experienced today from happening again? That’s not a question that is easily answered. There is no panacea. As Danny Westneat laments:

We are a city on edge. A city now in full-fledged crisis.

The mayor, the police and the feds need to quit bickering, sit down like adults — now — and hash out what, if anything, they can do. Because the people, at this point, are literally being caught in the crossfire.

At the least there needs to be far more urgency and more police presence in the neighborhoods, until what the mayor called this “wave of gun violence” is brought under control. Or, more likely, ebbs on its own.

The Stranger’s Jonathan Golob, meanwhile, argues that days like today are the price we pay for gutting public services. A strong social safety net can deter crime, poverty, poor health, and many other problems.

But instead of strengthening our safety net, we’ve been ripping holes in it, year after year. We’ve simply got to stop doing that.

As the title of this post says, guns don’t kill people. People with guns – people with guns who shouldn’t have guns – kill people.

If Ian Stawicki had received treatment for his mental illness, if he’d had more people looking after him, if he hadn’t had access to a firearm… he and his victims would still be alive right now. Today’s tragedy would not have occurred.

Let’s take action to prevent the tragedies of tomorrow by working together to end senseless gun violence, especially at the state level.

BREAKING: Tim Eyman’s I-1053 has *finally* been struck down as unconstitutional!

Joyous news to report out of the King County Courthouse this morning: Superior Court Judge Bruce Heller has just ruled that Tim Eyman’s I-1053 – the third in a series of initiatives undemocratically requiring two-thirds votes of both houses of the Legislature to raise revenue – is unconstitutional on multiple grounds.

The ruling, which Rob McKenna’s office already plans to appeal, marks the first time that a court of law in Washington State has ever decided a legal challenge against the right wing’s repeated efforts to undermine our plan of government with initiatives that undemocratically require two-thirds votes to raise or restore revenue.

Legal challenges to I-1053′s predecessors (I-601, I-960) were dismissed on technicalities and went nowhere; but this time, Judge Heller found that the lawsuit against I-1053 was justiciable and properly brought, and proceeded to rule on the merits of the case, as the plaintiffs had urged him to do.

The judge found that I-1053 violates two provisions of the Constitution: Article II, Section 22, and Article II, Section 1(b):

The majority provision of Article II, Section 22 is a clear restriction on the Legislature’s power to require more than a majority for passage of tax measures. This restriction applies to statutes initiated by the Legislature and to statutes passed pursuant to voter initiatives. While initiative measures reflect the reserved power of the people to legislate, the people in their legislative capacity remain subject to mandates of the Constitution. RCW 43.135.034(1) is therefore unconstitutional.

The mandatory referendum requirement of RCW 43.135.034(2) is unconstitutional for two reasons. First, it eliminates the four percent requirement embodied in Article II, Section 1(b). Second, by mandating the referral of a certain category of bills to the voters for approval, it prevents future Legislatures from exercising their lawmaking power under Article II, Section 1.

Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment is therefore granted. The State’s cross-motion for summary judgment is denied.

Paul Lawrence, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs (a coalition of NPI allies, which includes teachers, parents, Democratic lawmakers, and progressive organizations) unequivocally praised the decision. “This is a victory for the Constitution,” he said in a statement released by the League of Education Voters (LEV).

He added: “The Constitution establishes the fundamental rules for how our government works. The Framers considered what types of laws require a supermajority vote for passage. Taxes were not identified as requiring a supermajority vote. Fundamental changes in how the government operates have to be accomplished by constitutional amendment, not by passage of a law.”

Washington Education Association President Mary Lindquist characterized the ruling as a landmark decision.

“This decision is a victory for the children of Washington state,” she said. “If it is upheld, this ruling will pave the way for the Legislature to fully fund K-12 public schools as mandated by the Supreme Court’s McCleary decision and the state Constitution. We hope it will be settled soon. Our kids can’t wait any longer.”

The ruling drew a swift, boilerplate response from Tim Eyman. In an email titled “King County judge throws gasoline on the fire for Son of 1053″, Eyman tried to spin the decision as beneficial to I-1185 (his latest initiative, which is a clone of I-1053), and wrongly portray Judge Heller’s decision as a break with well-established precedent. From his opening paragraph:

Three times the state Supreme Court has decided to leave it to the Legislature and to the people to set the rules for raising taxes. Today a King County judge decided otherwise, contradicting various High Court rulings. The Attorney General’s team made – very persuasively – the exact same legal arguments that earned a unanimous 9-0 ruling in 2009 (written by the most liberal justice Mary Fairhurst).

But this particular judge chose to ignore those same arguments and disregard that previous ruling. Is it any wonder that opponents chose to file their case before a Seattle judge? Thank goodness the Attorney General will appeal.

Despite having spent more than a decade pushing initiatives and representing powerful interests like BP and ConcoPhillips as their brash, unelected lawmaker, Tim Eyman’s understanding of the law remains no better than it was back at the end of the 1990s, when Eyman sponsored his first unconstitutional initiative (I-695). That much is evident from his commentary on this and other legal challenges. Bruce Heller is one of King County’s most respected Superior Court judges, according to a recent survey of attorneys by the King County Bar Association (PDF).

When Eyman says the Supreme Court has decided “three times” to “leave it to the Legislature and the people to set the rules for raising taxes”, he is referring to three specific cases (Walker v. Munro, Futurewise v. Reed, and Brown v. Owen) where the Supreme Court declined to take up constitutional challenges filed against I-1053′s predecessors. (Walker was filed in 1993, Futurewise in 2007, and Brown in 2008).

However, those lawsuits were not dismissed because the Court wanted to “leave it to the Legislature and to the people to set the rules for raising taxes”. Rather, they were dismissed because the Supreme Court found that they had not been properly brought. The case against I-1053, however, was thoughtfully prepared and extensively researched to ensure that it would not suffer the same fate as Walker, Futurewise, or Brown. The legal team representing the plaintiffs really did their homework prior to filing this challenge. And it shows.

I’ll let Judge Heller explain:

 This case represents the first constitutional challenge to the supermajority and mandatory referendum requirements brought before a trial court. Unlike Walker and Brown, the plaintiffs are asking for declaratory relief instead of a writ of mandamus. In other words, they are requesting a ruling regarding the constitutionality of a statute, as opposed to an order requiring another branch of government to perform or refrain from performing an act.

For the reasons set forth in this opinion, the court concludes that this is an appropriate case for judicial review. The court also concludes that the proper procedure for implementing the supermajority and mandatory referendum requirements is to amend the Washington Constitution rather than to employ the initiative process.

Emphasis is mine. Heller then goes on to address Attorney General Rob McKenna’s objections to allowing the case to be decided on the merits:

Before reaching the merits, the court must address the State’s contention that this case should not be heard. Plaintiffs have brought their challenge to RCW 43.135.034 under the Uniform Declaratory Judgment Act, which authorizes courts to adjudicate “the rights, status and other legal relations” of the parties. RCW 7.24.010. To obtain a declaratory ruling, a party must show that the case either (1) raises an issue of public importance, or (2) is “justiciable” — one that involves an actual dispute between opposing parties having a genuine stake in the outcome, as opposed to a hypothetical or speculative disagreement. Nollette v. Christiansen, 155 Wn.2d 594, 598-99, 800 P.2d 359 (1990). ToRo Trade Sho-ws v. Collins, 144 Wn.2d 403, 411, 27 P.3rd 1149 (2001). The court concludes that both requirements are satisfied.

Contrary to what Eyman claims, Judge Heller’s ruling today does not contradict the Supreme Court rulings that ended Walker, Futurewise, and Brown. In dismissing those cases, the Supreme Court only looked at whether each suit had been properly brought, not whether a law requiring two-thirds supermajority votes to enact certain categories of bills passed constitutional muster. The Supreme Court concluded in each instance that it could not reach the constitutional question, and so left the matter unresolved – to the frustration of many Washingtonians.

But this case is different. As Judge Heller explained above, in this case, here the plaintiffs were not seeking a writ of mandamus from the Supreme Court like the plaintiffs were in Walker and Brown. Instead, the plaintiffs went to a trial court (King County Superior Court) and asked for declaratory relief. And they got it, because in making their prayer for relief, they crossed all of their t’s and dotted all of their i’s. They brought a sound legal challenge to an initiative that is unconstitutional on its face, and left the court with no choice other than to strike it down.

Governor Chris Gregoire has yet to issue a statement commenting on today’s ruling. However, we’re guessing that she is happy with it, given her past opposition to I-960 and I-1053, and her active interest in this case.

(The governor was independently represented by her own counsel during oral argument; her attorney urged Judge Heller to reject Attorney General Rob McKenna’s argument that the case should not be heard).

McKenna, for his part, wasted no time in announcing that he would be appealing the decision to the Supreme Court.

“We thank Superior Court Judge Heller for his thoughtful consideration of this matter,” McKenna said. “However, we will appeal this decision because we believe these voter-enacted laws are constitutional, and we are determined to defend the will of the voters, just as we defend laws passed by the Legislature.”

Who exactly is McKenna talking about when he says “we”? Who is he speaking for? Certainly not Governor Gregoire or legislative leadership – they believe I-1053 to be unconstitutional. Is McKenna thinking of his buddy Tim Eyman, the sponsor of I-1053, who was once his client? (For those who don’t know, prior to becoming Attorney General, Rob McKenna co-wrote Tim Eyman’s Initiative 747 in 2001. It was later struck down by the Supreme Court in 2007 as unconstitutional).

McKenna and Eyman are wrong in asserting that I-1053/I-960/I-601 are constitutional. Article II, Section 22 of our state Constitution is clear: Bills shall pass by majority vote. And majority vote means greater than fifty percent. No more, no less. When it comes to deciding the fate of legislation, a supermajority is like a submjaority – in either case, the minority controls the outcome, contrary to what the founders of our state intended.

McKenna and his solicitor general, Maureen Hart, have tried to claim that Article II only establishes a floor instead of a floor and a ceiling. Their position was rejected in a similar case decided in Alaska back in 2007 (Alaskans for Efficient Government Inc. v. State of Alaska) which was cited by Judge Heller in today’s decision, and which I have extensively written about. Here is Judge Heller again:

Consistent with Gerberding, the courts of California and Alaska have rejected the argument that a majority vote requirement in their constitutions constituted a floor, not a ceiling.

[...]

In Alaskans for Efficient Government, Inc. v State of Alaska, 153 P.3rd 296 (Alaska 2007), the court addressed the identical issue presented in this case: whether an initiative requiring a two-thirds legislative vote for the passage of tax increases was inconsistent with Art. II, §14 of the Alaska Constitution, which provides: “No bill may become law without an affirmative vote of the majority of the membership of each house.” Id. at 299. The Alaska Supreme Court reasoned that the inclusion of supermajority provisions elsewhere in the constitution was “convincing evidence of the framers’ intent to include provisions in the Alaska Constitution describing all instances in which supermajority votes could be required to enact a bill.” Id. at 301.

As pointed out in Alaskans for Efficient Government, with the exception of Washington, every state that has adopted supermajority or voter-approved requirements for enacting tax-related bills has done so through constitutional enactments or amendments. 153 P.3d at 299, n.12. Those states include Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Oregon, and South Dakota. Id. Significantly, many of these states recognized the need to amend their constitutions, even though the language in many of their constitutions contained the same negative phraseology as Washington’s Article II, §22. Amended Exhibit L to Declaration of Paul Lawrence.

If Judge Heller’s ruling is upheld on appeal, as we hope it will be, I-1053 will be erased from the Revised Code of Washington, which would be a great thing. But the prospect of losing on appeal isn’t going to stop Eyman from trying to get I-1053 reenacted in the form of I-1185 this year; nor will it prevent Eyman’s cohorts in the Legislature from reintroducing I-1053 as a constitutional amendment, as I-1053 cosponsor Janea Holmquist Newbry said today that she plans to do next session. (Ironically, constitutional amendments require a two-thirds vote of each house of the Legislature before they can be submitted to the people for ratification, which is a high bar that Newbry and her sympathizers will find difficult to meet).

I-1053 has now suffered a preliminary defeat in a court of law. Now we move to the final round at the Supreme Court. But we also need to engage the people of Washington Sate in the court of public opinion. We need to reframe the debate around taxes, our common wealth, and fiscal responsibility. It’s vital that we do so. Our economic security, future prosperity, and quality of life depend on our efforts.

Baumgartner comes to WWU, response is lukewarm

Michael Baumgartner, current State Senator (6th-R) and opponent to Maria Cantwell, came to Western Washington University today to talk to students with slightly grammatically incorrect campaign material.

A few students stopped to talk, but most students were huddled around the very enthusiastic evangelical preacher yelling to students in Red Square or were targets of three Mormon missionaries spreading their message across the square (who are normally viewed as quite bothersome by students). All this activity was quite a sight, and Baumgartner was relegated to one corner of the square.

Approaching Baumgartner to ask him about his views, he talked about ending the war in Afghanistan (actually a good way to speak to students) and about supporting education (but nothing about his support for the Zarelli budget which would have cut 30 million from higher education. He spoke a lot off fluff, but not much more.

Even if Baumgartner came on a more normal day, the response wouldn’t have been any more warm. The politics of Western aren’t favorable to a candidate of his ideology, and Baumgartner’s sponsoring of a bill which hurts reproductive rights, among other issues, will not sit well with students. Better luck next time.

Update: The Stranger has their own take on Baumgartner’s visit to campus.

BP and ConocoPhillips revealed as the big money behind Tim Eyman’s I-1185

The wheels and gears of Tim Eyman’s initiative factory are once again being lubricated with piles of money from greedy multinational oil companies, newly updated Public Disclosure Commission records show.

Minutes ago, Tim Eyman’s treasurer uploaded campaign finance reports for the latest incarnation of Eyman’s “Voters Want More Choices” committee for the month of April, which is serving as the repository for the money Eyman is raising for I-1185, his latest destructive initiative, which is essentially a carbon copy of I-1053 from two years ago. Of the $247,285.59 raised for I-1185, more than eighty percent$200,000 – came from BP and ConocoPhillips, which sent Eyman matching checks dated April 11th and April 30th, respectively.

This isn’t the first time BP or ConocoPhillips have contributed to Eyman’s initiative factory. As regular readers no doubt remember, both companies were big donors to I-1053 two years ago, and prior to their just-revealed April contributions, they were already among Eyman’s top ten all time wealthy benefactors.

As a result of its April 11th contribution, BP has now moved into the fifth spot on the all-time wealthy benefactors list, ahead of deceased helicopter logging magnate Wes Lematta. And ConocoPhillips has now gone from being tied for ninth place in the rankings to seventh place with its own $100,000 check.

Eyman has already funnelled some of his new oil money into the coffers of his friends Roy Ruffino and Eddie Agrazarm, who run “Citizen Solutions”, the firm that has brought in most of the signatures for all of Eyman’s recent initiatives. In fact, the very same day that BP’s check arrived (April 11th), Eyman wrote a check for an identical amount to Citizen Solutions, records show.

If history is any indication, contributions from other corporations are sure to follow. Eyman doesn’t have to report what he hauls in for the month of May until June 10th. That’s several weeks from now.

Back in January, Eyman told his followers that he and his cohorts – Mike and Jack Fagan of Spokane – hadn’t decided what their initiative would be for 2012. We interpreted that announcement (or non-announcement) to mean that Eyman didn’t have money lined up to do a signature drive.

But evidently he had some conversations with powerful lobbyists as the year wore on, and secured a financial commitment from BP to launch I-1185.

We have long said that anyone willing to put up half a million dollars to run an initiative can buy themselves a spot on the ballot. BP and ConocoPhillips alone could make sure that Eyman’s I-1185 qualifies by sending the Mukilteo profiteer a few more checks. It’s possible they already have sent Eyman more money and we don’t know it yet.

For the last few weeks, we’ve been gearing up to fight I-1185, operating under the assumption that Eyman had the money to buy the signatures he needed to get it on the ballot. It’s clear that our assessment of the danger was spot-on.

Now we must shift into higher gear.

Washington simply cannot afford for Eyman’s unconstitutional, undemocratic “two thirds for tax increases” scheme to remain in place. It’s choking our common wealth and the public services our common wealth pays for.

We at NPI will do all we can to defeat I-1185. But we’re going to need your help. This is going to be an extremely difficult battle. But we can’t afford not to fight. Nothing less than Washington’s economic security is at stake. We have to stop Tim Eyman and the powerful interests that are using him as a puppet from winning. We have to protect our state’s future.

PubliCola closes its doors; writers moving gossip site’s feature columns to Crosscut

PubliCola, the political news and gossip blog launched by former Stranger news editor Josh Feit three and a quarter plus years ago, is ceasing publication, its founder announced this afternoon.

Feit’s farewell post, which went live just before 3 PM, didn’t mince words.

“I’ve got a serious afternoon Jolt: PubliCola is going out of business. Sort of,” Feit wrote. He added:

While PubliCola has been successful producing influential, must-read news coverage and building a loyal readership (more than 400,000 monthly page views during the election season and currently more than 10,000 Facebook and Twitter followers), we haven’t been successful as a business. Advertising revenue has been limited and inconsistent.

Consequently, the site is shutting down, thought Feit says its main features will continue to live on for the time being at Crosscut, another local news startup. Feit and fellow PubliCola writer Erica C. Barnett have already moved into Crosscut’s offices in Pioneer Square, and may ultimately wind up as beat writers for Crosscut – though no long-term agreement has been reached yet.

Feit and Crosscut founder David Brewster have reportedly been in discussions about a tie-up for weeks and are still talking.

Feit sounded optimistic that something will get worked out.

We don’t know where this Crosscut PubliCorner, if you will, is going to lead. But there do seem to be some exciting possibilities: A combo of these two prominent local news sites—with Crosscut’s in-depth, analytical weekly articles and PubliCola’s on-the-ground, breaking news—could be awesome. And we’re considering it. Plus we could use their infrastructure, editors, and  copy editing (they’ve got all that too). And they could use our younger readers and progressive voice. This could end up being a real win for the community.

Brewster, for his part, told The Stranger’s Dominic Holden he is working on raising money to allow Crosscut to afford the new hires.

There is an ambitious effort to raise this money over a two-year period to allow us to hire an impressive figure as leader of the company… I and the board want to see Crosscut operating at a considerably higher level of funding in order to have more stability, more impact, and more full-time reporters.

Brewster is also trying to bring aboard former Seattle P-I managing editor David McCumber to run Crosscut and oversee its team of writers. The Seattle Weekly reports that discussions between Brewster and McCumber are still ongoing.

While we never much cared for PubliCola’s gossip-laden, horse-race driven features (Morning Fizz and Afternoon Jolt) we did appreciate the legislative session coverage the site offered, as well as the guest posts and more lengthy stories it published.

We wish Josh and Erica the best as they decide whether joining Crosscut’s stable of writers is what they want to do long-term.

François Hollande elected President of France; Nicolas Sarkozy ousted after one term

It’s official: the République française will soon have a new leader.

The people of France ousted incumbent president Nicolas Sarkozy today in a runoff election, denying the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Union for a Popular Movement) leader a second term in favor of Socialist François Hollande, who has called for more investment in France’s public services and fewer austerity measures. The closely-watched election is expected to have significant repercussions, particularly in Europe, which is still trying to shake off a fiscal crisis.

Supporters of Hollande celebrate victory

Socialist supporters of President-elect Francois Hollande celebrate victory outside The Bastille in Paris (Photo: Rodrigo Sepúlveda Schulz, reproduced under a Creative Commons license)

“My dear countrymen: On this day, May the 6th, the French have chosen change, and have elected me to the Presidency of the Republic,” Hollande told supporters in a victory speech in Tulle. “I am keenly aware of the honor done to me and of the greatness of the task ahead of me. And, here before you, I undertake to serve my country – with the devotion and the exemplariness required of this high office.”

Sarkozy, meanwhile, conceded defeat. He accepted “total responsibility” for the results and wished Hollande well, acknowledging him as the President-elect of the Republic. “My involvement in the life of my country will be different now,” Sarkozy told supporters. “But time will never weaken the ties between us.”

For those unfamiliar with French politics, Sarkozy’s party, the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP), and Hollande’s party, the Parti socialiste (PS), are the two major political parties in France. They are, to some extent, the equivalent of the Republican and Democratic parties here in the United States, though not quite as dominant (France’s minor parties are stronger than America’s minor parties). Ideologically, the UMP is considered to be right wing (though not far right) and the PS is considered to be left wing (though not far left).

The just-concluded presidential election has been characterized by many observers as a referendum on Nicolas Sarkozy, who came to power five years ago and, for a time, enjoyed widespread support. His popularity has since tanked, in part due to his embrace of ineffective austerity measures as a response to the the worldwide financial crisis and accompanying economic downturn.

The White House announced that President Obama had already reached out to President-elect Hollande. According to Press Secretary Jay Carney, the two men spoke briefly by telephone after the outcome of the election became known.

President Obama called President-elect Francois Hollande of France to congratulate him after the results of the French election were announced today. President Obama indicated that he looks forward to working closely with Mr. Hollande and his government on a range of shared economic and security challenges. President Obama noted that he will welcome President-elect Hollande to Camp David for the G-8 Summit and to Chicago for the NATO Summit later this month, and proposed that they meet beforehand at the White House. President Obama and President-elect Hollande each reaffirmed the important and enduring alliance between the people of the United States and France.

Hollande has also spoken with the democratically-chosen leader of the United Kingdom, a spokesperson for Prime Minister David Cameron confirmed:

The Prime Minister called President-Elect Hollande this evening and congratulated him on his victory. They both look forward to working very closely together in the future and building on the very close relationship that already exists between the UK and France.

Hollande, who will be sworn into office very soon (possibly a week from tomorrow) is expected to travel to Berlin to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Merkel, like Cameron, had supported Sarkozy’s reelection campaign, but will now have to get used to working with Hollande, who will be France’s president for at least the next five years. Sarkozy’s defeat isn’t the only loss Merkel will be ruminating over during the course of the next few days; her own party is performing poorly in local elections today in Germany.