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Monthly Archives: September 2012

Frank Blethen’s Seattle Times tells Supreme Court to bring back Tim Eyman’s I-1053

Well, that didn’t take long.

Less than seventy-two hours after the Supreme Court heard oral argument in League of Education Voters v. State of Washington (the legal challenge to Tim Eyman’s Initiative 1053), Frank Blethen’s Seattle Times released an editorial telling the Supreme Court to bring back Tim Eyman’s I-1053, which was struck down in May by King County Superior Court Judge Bruce Heller.

Republican gubernatorial candidate and current Attorney General McKenna – whose office is defending I-1053 on behalf of the state – has asked the Supreme Court to throw out the case and not even decide if I-1053 is constitutional or not. Failing that, he wants the Court to legitimize Eyman’s two-thirds scheme anyway.

In briefs and in oral argument, McKenna and his team have claimed that Article II, Section 22 of the Constitution, which specifies that the threshold for passage of bills is a majority vote, only sets a floor and not a ceiling.

In other words, they’re arguing the threshold cannot be lowered by statute, but it can be raised to something higher. Like two-thirds for bills that raise revenue. Or three-fourths for the same. Or nine-tenths for other types of bills.

Or unanimous consent for all legislation, period.

I examined their argument in depth yesterday and explained (at great length) why it doesn’t make sense. I’m not going to repeat that post word for word here, but I will summarize the main point I was making, which is this: In a democracy, there is no principle more basic than majority rule with minority rights. In ancient Greece, democracy was considered to mean government by the many, as opposed to an autocracy or oligarchy, where power is concentrated in the hands of a few.

Without majority rule, there can be no democracy, because decisions end up getting made by the few instead of by the many.

Majority rule, and majority vote, can only mean greater than fifty percent. No more, no less. Otherwise, the outcome is not in the hands of the many, it’s in the hands of the few. I illustrated this point yesterday with a series of pictograms. When a two-thirds vote is required in our House and our Senate, it means thirty-three representatives and seventeen senators control the outcome, because they can block their colleagues from taking action.

Frank Blethen’s Seattle Times and Rob McKenna’s legal team argue that the definition of majority is flexible. They’re wrong. A supermajority is not a majority, just as a submajority is not a majority. Allowing thirty-three representatives and seventeen senators to block revenue legislation is as democratic as allowing one-third of each house to pass such bills. The scenario I’ve just described is merely the inverse of the same unconstitutional idea.

If majority can mean 66.6%, it can also mean 75%, 90%, or 100%. Or maybe even ninety percent plus Santa Claus, as Justice Chambers joked on Tuesday. That is the totally illogical interpretation of Article II, Section 22 that Rob McKenna and Frank Blethen want the Supreme Court to bless.

Consider the consequences of that interpretation. I could sponsor an initiative requiring unanimous consent of the Legislature to modify any regulation. It would be constitutional, according to Rob McKenna and Frank Blethen. All I would need to do to create endless gridlock in the statehouse would be to get voters to sign off on an initiative instituting a new vote requirement under a certain set of circumstances. Cue dysfunction and turmoil.

The people who wrote our Constitution deliberated and debated where it made sense to give control over the outcome of a vote to the few instead of to the many, as David Perez’ research shows. They concluded that under normal circumstances, the many should prevail, and that is why the words “majority of the members elected to each house” appear in Article II, Section 22.

The McKenna/Eyman/Blethen interpretation rests on a very flimsy, unsupportable argument, as David Goldstein explains in The Stranger:

If the editors had actually bothered to read the briefs in LEV v. State instead of just parroting Rob McKenna’s press releases, they might have understood why Solicitor General Maureen Hart spent most of her time before the court arguing justiciability. It is because the negative phrasing argument, upon which the state’s defense of super-majorities wholly relies, was already rejected by the court in 1998’s Gerberding v. Monroe.

Gerberding challenged the constitutionality of I-573, the term-limits initiative approved by voters in 1992, and overturned by the court in 1998. And in its defense of I-573, the state adopted the same failed argument that it is using today (and that the editors “believe” simply because McKenna told them so): That the negative phrasing of Article II, Section 7 establishes a floor for qualifications, not a ceiling.

SECTION 7 QUALIFICATIONS OF LEGISLATORS. No person shall be eligible to the legislature who shall not be a citizen of the United States and a qualified voter in the district for which he is chosen.

In Gerberding, both the state and intervenors argued that the negative phrasing of the clause implied a statutory power to add additional qualifications on top of those specified in the Constitution. But citing multiple precedents, including a U.S. Supreme Court decision, the majority rejected this argument, writing that “the Court recognized the qualifications clause provides an exclusive list of qualifications, notwithstanding its negative phrasing.”

Alaska’s Supreme Court reached the same conclusion in the 2007 case Alaskans for Efficient Government v. State of Alaska, which I have repeatedly cited over the years, and discussed extensively in 2010. That case regarded a measure that was similar to I-960, I-1053, and I-1185. Alaska’s Department of Law advised the Lieutenant Governor of Alaska that the measure was unconstitutional, so he refused to certify that it was in good form. (In Alaska, initiatives can’t go to the signature gathering stage until they have undergone a preliminary review for form).

The sponsor of that measure, Karen Bretz, subsequently asked the courts to overturn the Lieutenant Governor’s determination. The Alaska Supreme Court heard the case on appeal and sided with the state, writing:

AFEG insists that the negative phrasing of Section 14’s majority-vote clause — “[n]o bill may become law without an affirmative vote of a majority” — should be read as signaling the framers’ intent to set a floor, not a ceiling: to require at least a majority vote while allowing laws imposing stricter requirements. If the framers had intended to require no more than a majority vote, AFEG contends, they would have drafted the clause to read: “Any bill may be enacted by an affirmative vote of the majority of the membership of each house.”

But as the state correctly observes, other courts interpreting constitutional language have wisely refrained from attributing any automatic significance to the distinction between negative and positive phrasing. Here, for example, had the framers said “any bill” rather than “no bill,” AFEG’s logic would just as readily compel the anomalous conclusion that section 14 was meant to set a ceiling but not a floor — that a majority vote would be the maximum needed to enact any bill, but the legislature would remain free to specify a sub-majority vote as sufficient to enact laws dealing with specified subjects, as it saw fit.

Not coincidentally, in the footnote to the first sentence of the second paragraph, the Alaska Supreme Court cites Gerberding. And that’s because Gerberding is part of the established case law. It was decided by our Supreme Court, not Alaska’s, but our justices are peers of Alaska’s justices, and vice versa. It would be appropriate and fitting if our Court cited AFEG in their forthcoming decision.

Frank Blethen, on the other hand, wants the Court to ignore Gerberding and AFEG and make a ruling based on political considerations:

On no matter of public policy, except perhaps the income tax, have the voters of Washington been any clearer. In a few weeks, they will very likely pass Initiative 1185, resetting the two-thirds bar for another two years.

The success of that measure should be noted by the court.

No. It would be entirely inappropriate for the Court to take any notice of how well Initiative 1185 does in November. The Supreme Court is a court of law, not a court of public opinion. When a justice is elected or reelected, he or she is required to swear (or affirm) the following oath of office:

I do solemnly swear (or affirm, as the case may be), that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Washington, and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge the duties of the office of judge of the supreme court of the State of Washington to the best of my ability.

Were Frank Blethen and his editorial writers paying attention in civic class? The role of the Attorney General’s office is to defend voter-approved initiatives. The role of the Supreme Court is to defend the Constitution.

If the Court finds that an initiative approved by the people or a bill signed into law by the governor violates the Constitution, it is the Court’s duty to strike it down. It is not the Court’s duty to decide whether a statute is good public policy or not. I-1185’s existence is therefore only relevant to LEV v. State in that it is a reminder that a justiciable controversy exists.

Blethen & Co. are also wrong in asserting that “On no matter of public policy… have the voters of Washington been any clearer.”

As I documented last week, on this matter, the electoral history is mixed. Voters narrowly approved I-601 in 1993 while defeating I-602 (a similar, more extreme measure); in 2007, the people narrowly approved I-960 while also approving HJR 4204, which abolished supermajority vote requirements for school levies.

Only I-1053, in 2010, passed by a large margin. And that was in part because no resources were raised to fight the measure until very late, and the poor economy made voters more receptive to the idea of messing with our plan of government.

And by the way, the Times itself has been inconsistent on this matter.

In 1993, Blethen’s editorial page urged voters to reject both I-601 and I-602. In 2007, Blethen endorsed ratification of HJR 4204, then turned around a week later and threw his paper’s support to Tim Eyman’s I-960. Since then, the Times has enthusiastically backed I-1053 and now I-1185, all the while bemoaning the Legislature’s inability to find more money for our colleges and universities.

At The Stranger, David Goldstein routinely takes offense at the nonsense the Times prints on a weekly basis, and he frequently strikes back with a profanity-laced rebuttal… like he did today.

I suppose it’s a good thing that somebody still gets upset when the Times publishes a dumb editorial. I’m so accustomed to reading incoherent blather nowadays that I just don’t get that reaction. They could publish an editorial tomorrow denouncing I-1185, and I wouldn’t be very surprised. I’d just attribute it to Frank Blethen’s Jekyll and Hyde personality. I never know when I’m turning to the editorial page whether I’ll be seeing the effects of Jekyll’s influence… or Hyde’s (well, unless I’ve already seen that day’s editorials online).

To be frank (pun intended), I’ve become more concerned with the quality of the Times’ reporting. I don’t want to see that go any further downhill. But I believe it’s still worth occasionally taking the trouble to show just how discombobulated the Times editorial page has become, for the benefit of readers who aren’t in on the joke yet. And that’s why I wrote this post.

If the above has you thirsting for more examinations of cognitive dissonance, you might want to check out these posts from the NPI Advocate’s archive:

Sound Transit selects contractor to extend Link light rail into south SeaTac

Sound Transit’s board of directors have selected a contractor to expand Link light rail south from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to the intersection of South 200th St and 28th Avenue South, the agency announced today.

PCL Civil Constructors, Inc. has been awarded a contract to bring Link’s southern terminus into the southern part of SeaTac, with service to begin just four years from now, in September of 2016. PCL’s bid came in at $169 million, which is less than the $170 to $190 million cost Sound Transit had projected.

Over the next four years, PCL will design and build the guideway for the 1.6 mile extension (which I’m going to call Angle Lake Link for the sake of brevity and clarity) as well as the station, which does not yet have a final name. (It will be either South SeaTac, S. 200th Street, or Angle Lake; I personally prefer Angle Lake).

“After reviewing technical and cost proposals from four previously-qualified proposers, Sound Transit identified PCL as the highest ranking firm with demonstrated expertise in design-build methods,” said Ahmad Fazel, Executive Director of Design, Engineering, and Construction Management in a news release.

Proposed Angle Lake Link alignment

The proposed alignment for the Angle Lake Link light rail extension, courtesy of Sound Transit. The new station is shown near the bottom left corner of the image with the label “S 200th Station”.

“The important work PCL and Sound Transit will accomplish together will enable the agency to deliver the South 200th Link Extension project on an accelerated schedule.”

The words accelerated schedule are an understatement, if you ask me. What Sound Transit has accomplished over the last year is really significant. They’ve moved up the completion date for this component of Link’s expansion from 2020 to 2016. For real. That’s huge. It means that in 2016, Link will be expanding in two directions simultaneously – north (to the University of Washington) and south (to Angle Lake in SeaTac) – adding a total of three new stations.

Plans for the Angle Lake station call for a parking garage with seven hundred stalls, though that will be built separately under a different contract than the agreement approved today. Sound Transit is also looking at adding several hundred additional parking spaces to accommodate people who want to park and ride.

Here’s an overview of what people can expect from the new station:

The elevated station will include passenger platforms with covered waiting areas, a transfer area for local and rapid ride bus connections, dedicated areas for passenger pickup and drop off, and vanpool parking. Secured bicycle storage, street improvements to accommodate traffic circulation, bicycle and pedestrian access, landscaping and public art are also elements of the project.

Sounds good. It sounds like the Tukwila International Boulevard Station, actually, which was the southern terminus of Link for the six months in between opening weekend and the completion of the airport extension.

Angle Lake Link will also bring light rail one step closer to Federal Way, whose leaders have been upset with Sound Transit ever since the agency disclosed that the South King subarea just isn’t generating enough revenue for the agency to expand Link to Federal Way by 2023 as originally planned. Link could still get to Federal Way within the next fifteen years if money is found, but at the moment, Sound Transit only has funds for planning work.

Redmond, NPI’s hometown, is in the same boat. Sound Transit is committed to getting East Link to Overlake, but light rail won’t reach downtown Redmond until more money is found. The city has incorporated the arrival of light rail into its transportation planning so construction doesn’t have to be needlessly delayed once money is available. Redmond is doing its best to be patient; Federal Way’s elected officials would be wise to follow Redmond’s example.

We encourage Sound Transit to keep hunting for dollars to get light rail to more communities. Each new extension boosts ridership and makes the system accessible to more people. Our region badly needs more light rail and streetcars to give people transportation choices so they’re not forced to drive to get around.

Ad Watch: Obama/Biden 2012 turns infamous Romney gaffe from secret video into an ad

Welcome back to Ad Watch, our newest special series, which is running weekly from now until election week. The purpose of this series is to attempt to catalog, or index, the many campaign ads that are going up on television (and sometimes radio) to influence elections in the Pacific Northwest. In each installment, we’ll briefly describe ads we’ve seen that are being paid for by candidates, ballot measure coalitions, political parties, or shadowy special interests masquerading as grassroots groups, and provide links so you can watch the ads for yourself.

This week in Ad Watch:

  • Obama/Biden 2012 has quietly released a brutal new ad entitled My Job that consists solely of audio extracted from the video Mother Jones released of Mitt Romney speaking at a fundraiser for high-roller donors back in May. As Romney dismisses the “forty-seven percent”, images are shown of families, veterans, and working men and women with somber or quiet expressions. “I’ll never convince them to take personal responsibility and care for their lives,” Romney says as the ad ends. The ad is similar to a spot Obama/Biden produced back in the summer, titled Firms.
  • Another Obama/Biden ad released this week is called Table. It’s long – it clocks in at two minutes – and its star is the president himself, discussing his fairly modest goals for a second term. It is reportedly set to run in battleground states, but it may also be seen on cable channels here.
  • Rob McKenna’s newest TV spot (We Need Jobs) is quite possibly the weakest ad his campaign has released so far. It awkwardly and unconvincingly claims Jay Inslee stands for “more government, more taxes, and more lost jobs” … without even bothering to level any specific charges against Inslee.

Neither Maria Cantwell nor Michael Baumgartner’s campaigns have unveiled new ads since the summer. Perhaps they’re keeping their power dry until October – though if you ask us, that doesn’t make too much sense, because the airwaves are only getting nosier and more crowded.

Autumn has arrived!

Well, it looks like another season has come and gone.

As of today, summer 2012 is officially over, and autumn 2012 has begun. The third full season of the year will last almost ninety days, encompassing part or all of four months: September, October, November, and December. Winter will officially begin four days before Christmas this year (December 21st).

The beginning of autumn always coincides with the southward equinox. During an equinox, the center of the sun is in the same plane as the equator, because the tilt of the Earth’s axis favors neither the northern or southern hemispheres. There are about as many minutes of daylight as there are minutes of night. Following an equinox, the balance shifts, and the days get shorter and shorter, culminating in the shortest day of the year on the winter solstice.

This promises to be a momentous season. Almost exactly at its halfway point, we will conclude the fifty-seventh presidential election in American history.

Either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney will then begin preparing to govern the country for the next four years. In Washington, the entire state House of Representatives is standing for election, along with half the state Senate and all of the state’s executive department officers (including governor).

A dozen ballot measures are awaiting voters’ approval or disapproval, and several judicial positions must be filled. (Many judicial races were decided in the winnowing election, so there won’t be many contested positions on the November ballot).

In some places, there are also local races, like in Island County, where two of the three county commissioners are facing the voters. Unusually for an even-numbered year, King County has a sheriff’s race.

There is a great deal at stake in this election. That statement may sound like a cliche, because every election is billed as important nowadays, but it’s true. Participation matters; democracy is not a spectator sport, as the saying goes. In fact, it’s not a sport at all. It is realer than sports.

The consequences of elections affect our lives. There isn’t a good excuse for not paying attention, for not participating.

So do some research. Vote. Make your voice heard. Make that ballot count this autumn. And remember to turn off the television set, step outside, and enjoy the season… rain or shine. Autumn is about so much more than attack ads on the airwaves and in mailboxes. To appreciate it, you have to flex your muscles.

Colorado gets new national monument thanks to President Obama; will Washington be next?

Earlier today, with the stroke of a pen, President Barack Obama transformed one of Colorado’s most beloved and best known sights – previously protected as Chimney Rock Archaeological Area – into Chimney Rock National Monument, exercising his authority under the Antiquities Act of 1906.

The move brings the site one step closer to the coveted status of national park, which can only be conferred by an act of Congress. (Not surprisingly, national monuments tend to be the best candidates for new national parks, considered to be the crown jewels of America’s national parks system).

In a proclamation signed by the President, the Obama administration laid out the reasons why the site is worth protecting:

The Chimney Rock site in southwestern Colorado incorporates spiritual, historic, and scientific resources of great value and significance.  A thousand years ago, the vast Chaco civilization was drawn to the site’s soaring massive rock pinnacles, Chimney Rock and Companion Rock, that rise hundreds of feet from the valley floor to an elevation of 7,600 feet.  High atop ancient sandstone formations, Ancestral Pueblo People built exquisite stone buildings, including the highest ceremonial “great house” in the Southwest.

This landscape, encompassing both Chimney Rock and Companion Rock, and known today as Chimney Rock, holds deep spiritual significance for modern Pueblo and tribal communities and was one of the largest communities of the Pueblo II era (900 1150 A.D.).  The Chimney Rock site also includes nationally significant archaeology, archaeoastronomy, visual and landscape characteristics, and geological and biological features, as well as objects of deep cultural and educational value.

A celebration is being held today at Chimney Rock to commemorate its designation as a national monument. Senator Michael Bennet, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack are slated to speak.

Ahead of the celebration, Bennet issued a statement marking the occasion.

“This is the culmination of years of hard work and team work by Coloradans who recognize Chimney Rock for the spectacular site that it is,” Bennet said.  “When the local communities asked me to engage in these efforts, I was thrilled to take their message to Washington. Chimney Rock is more than an amazing geologic formation. It is full of extraordinary cultural, historical and archaeological significance. The president’s proclamation will help preserve, protect, and restore the site and will help boost Colorado’s tourism at a critical time.”

The All Indian Pueblo Council also applauded the announcement. Chandler Sanchez, the group’s chairman, commended the President for establishing the monument.

“The story of my tribe, the Pueblo of Acoma, and our history is intimately connected to Chimney Rock. This place is still sacred to my people, and we are glad to see it will now be protected for our children and grandchildren,” he said.

Chimney Rock is only the third national monument President Obama has created during his first term in office. But hopefully it won’t be the last.

Senator Maria Cantwell and Representative Rick Larsen of our state are leading the charge to get President Obama to agree to create a new national monument in Washington, in the San Juan Islands, that would protect nearly a thousand acres of land already owned by the federal government and currently administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

Cantwell and Larsen, along with Senator Patty Murray, have written to President Obama in support of the proposed monument.

The BLM lands include several dozen sites on major islands like San Juan and Orcas, along with all of Patos Island and substantial tracts on Stuart and Lopez Islands.

More than one hundred local businesses have endorsed the effort to get the county’s BLM lands protected as a national conservation area or national monument. All that is needed now is for the president to act.

We at NPI strongly encourage the White House to take up this matter as soon as possible. There’s no reason to wait. Protecting public lands is one of the most important legacies that a president can leave. We would not have the great national parks system we have today were it not for the courage of past presidents like Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, or Jimmy Carter.

The Antiquities Act exists so that presidents can bypass legislative gridlock and protect important places like the seventy-five plus sites in the San Juans under BLM jurisdiction. There’s no disputing that our current Congress is among the most ineffective and unresponsive Congresses in American history.

By creating a San Juans National Monument, President Obama could ensure that some of our state’s most beautiful shoreline is preserved for future generations.

Republicans shamelessly block Patty Murray’s veterans jobs bill in U.S. Senate

As if we needed further proof that Republicans aren’t interested in helping create jobs and strengthening economic security for Americans, the Notorious G.O.P (which stands for Graveyard of Progress these days) has blocked Senator Patty Murray’s veterans jobs bill from coming up for a vote in the U.S. Senate, effectively killing it for the year:

Eager to shoot down President Obama’s legislative agenda just weeks before the election, Senate Republicans on Wednesday blocked a measure that would have provided $1 billion over five years to help veterans find work in their communities.

The measure, which would have potentially created jobs for up to 20,000 veterans, was blocked on a procedural point by Republicans, who argued that the bill was unpaid for. Senator Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat and the bill’s main sponsor, said the bill would have covered the costs in part with fees on Medicare providers and suppliers who are delinquent on their tax bills.

Republicans in Congress continue to act as if the Bush error never happened. They would like us all to forget that while they were in charge, they repeatedly sent George W. Bush legislation that increased our nation’s debt. There were the Bush tax cuts, which primarily benefited the wealthy. There were the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. And there was the Medicare Part D overhaul. Republicans had no problem voting for those things during the early 2000s. But now that a Democrat is in the White House, and they’re in the minority in the Senate, they have become uncompromising obstructionists. And no wonder: their number one priority is the defeat of our current president, not the betterment of the nation. As Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell freely admitted a couple of years ago, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

Accordingly, Republicans are unwilling to cooperate with Democrats in passing a jobs measure for our veterans, who have served our country with distinction and deserve to have jobs to come home to. Their shameless obstructionism is a slap in the face to all of the military families who have sacrificed so much.

It’s both shocking and shameful that Republicans today chose to kill a bill to put America’s veterans back to work. At a time when one in four young veterans are unemployed, Republicans should have been able, for just this once, to put aside the politics of obstruction and to help these men and women provide for their families,” Senator Patty Murray said in a statement expressing her disappointment regarding the outcome.

“But this vote is stark reminder that Senator McConnell and Senate Republicans are willing to do absolutely anything to fulfill the pledge he made nearly two years ago to defeat President Obama. It doesn’t matter who gets in their way or which Americans they have to sacrifice in that pursuit, even if it’s our nation’s veterans.”

We’d quibble with one aspect of Murray’s statement: In light of how Republicans have behaved over the last few years, it is not shocking that they would filibuster a jobs bill for veterans. When Republicans say they are for creating jobs, what they really mean is that they are theoretically for increasing employment. In reality, they couldn’t care less about America’s middle and low income families. Their objective is to sound good so they can win elections and seize power. They are not interested in governing justly or responsibly.

A few Republicans did break with their party and vote to allow the bill to move forward. That almost got Democrats to the sixty-vote threshold… the final tally on the procedural motion ended up being 58-40.

The roll call for the Pacific Northwest was as follows:

VOTING AYE: Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell of Washington, Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden of Oregon, Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska

VOTING NAY: Mike Crapo and Jim Risch of Idaho

The Republicans who broke with their party were Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Dean Heller of Nevada, and Scott Brown of Massachusetts. No Democrat sided with the Republicans to block the bill.

U.S. Representative Rick Larsen leads the charge to stop voter suppression

Reacting to laws making aiming to increase the difficulty to vote since conservatives took control of  state governments in the 2010 midterm elections, Congressman Rick Larsen, along with 14 other House Democrats, introduced a bill yesterday to “combat voter suppression efforts across the country“. Only two of the current co-sponsors represent a state which has enacted a voter ID law since 2010, though Virginia, where co-sponsor Rep. James Moran represents the 8th District, tried to enact voter ID provisions in 1999.

This legislation is particularly as Republicans try to use voter eligibility and access to the right to vote a political tool in order to help the electoral chances of their candidates, including the much aired statement by Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, who said that the law enacted in Pennsylvania, the one which was ordered yesterday by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to be reconsidered, would “allow Governor Romney to win the state”. Think Progress just reported today that the Ohio Secretary of State told Tea Partiers that strict voter ID laws be pushed through their General Assembly once the November election was over.

Rep. Larsen was interviewed by NPR today about the bill introduced by himself and his colleagues, where he likened the “states rights” arguments which might be used against this legislation, likening voter ID to previous attempts at voter suppression in the past, referencing Jim Crow laws and poll taxes, more explicit forms of disenfranchisement. He described the legislation as similar to Washington’s system, where voters sign an affidavit attesting to their identity. While this eases voting, it carries high penalties for fraud, just like we have in Washington.

The federal government has stepped in before when the right to vote has not been upheld for all citizens, and the America Votes Act of 2012, as it is called, is no different, preventing rights from being subject to political calculation. The bill provides a simple solution to problem which pushes large swathes of voters out of our democratic system. Considering the current composition of the House (that’s a recurring theme, isn’t it?) action is unlikely to be taken about a bill which hurts the Republican House majority’s chances, but at least some of our elected officials are trying to take action to solve a problem which affects the rights of everyday citizens.

 

Wolves’ comeback breeds tensions

A controversial and divisive figure is rearing its scruffy head in Washington. Absent from our state for at least seventy years, the wolf is making a vigorous comeback. And while Native Americans honor it in story, animal lovers appreciate its ecological role (not to mention its family loyalty and intelligence), many ranchers distrust it because it preys on livestock.

It’s satisfying to have an emblem of the wild like the wolf living in our state, but its return has led to tensions between rural residents and nature lovers.

Successful wolf reintroduction programs in Idaho and Yellowstone National Park (in the northwest corner of Wyoming) in the 1990s allowed wolves to multiply and to eventually regain a foothold in Eastern Washington.

Wolves and humans in the state were getting along fairly well until this past July when Stevens County’s “Wedge” pack was accused of killing a large number of cattle. This prompted the state to kill one wolf, and after more cattle were attacked, to consider killing up to four more wolves in order to disrupt the pack.

On the other side of the wolf debate are wolf advocates who think it’s too risky to eliminate more wolves right now.  Seven advocate groups are protesting this action and are pressing Governor Chris Gregoire to spare the animals’ lives.

In a letter dated Friday, the groups said Washington Fish and Wildlife Department officers did not find conclusive evidence that wolves were responsible for killing and injuring Diamond M Ranch cattle, so no more wolves should be killed.

In typical fashion, ranchers and wildlife advocates are starting to butt heads over how best to manage the wolf. Livestock depredation is the same issue that led to the wolves’ forced eradication from Washington in the early twentieth century. If we are going to keep wolves in our wild lands, we need to find a solution that works for everyone.

While wolves are listed under the Federal Endangered Species Act in the western two-thirds of the state, they are only under state control in the other third, and the state’s new wolf management plan allows wolves to be culled if they kill livestock. While this may seem harsh for an endangered animal, the state considers wolves to be different than other listed animals.

Unlike many other listed species that may require habitat protections in addition to “take” restrictions, wolves are resilient and prolific generalists that can thrive in many suitable habitat types, assuming sufficient prey, and social tolerance.

Wolf depredation takes a toll on ranchers’ profits, and while some ranchers would like all wolves to be eradicated, other ranchers think that cattle and wolves can coexist. Idaho and Montana have been having some success.

Fifteen years ago, Montana faced the same wolf problems as Washington, and by using creative solutions wildlife groups were able to dramatically decrease wolf-cattle predation. Unfortunately, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department has suffered years of resource-depleting budget cuts which limit its management options. Hopefully, wildlife groups can help fill the gap.

But many environmental organizations are pinching pennies, too. People for Puget Sound just announced it is folding itself into the Washington Environmental Council due to difficulties raising money.

Understanding how crucial the public’s perception of the wolf is to its survival, a top priority for Washington’s wildlife department is building cooperative relationships with stakeholders such as ranchers, hunters and rural residents, in order to build trust and support for their management methods. Cooperation will be key to growing and maintaining a healthy wolf population.

Washington is new to wolf management and the state is feeling its way along. While our wolf population is expanding – up to eight confirmed packs and a possible four more – it’s still fragile and killing any wolves will have an impact on the population’s health. It’s important that Washington develop systems and a culture that allow wolves to take their rightful place in the natural ecosystem, while at the same time protect livestock.

Washington lawmakers should act to abolish executions in the 2013 legislative session

A few months ago, as spring reached its apex, Connecticut’s Governor, Dannel Malloy, a Democrat, signed a bill outlawing capital punishment. “Connecticut joins sixteen other states and the rest of the industrialized world by taking this action,” he noted as he signed the bill into law.

The signs are obvious for anyone who looks. Capital punishment is in decline. How long will it take Washington to join Connecticut and the rest of the industrialized world? If you believe, as we do, that abolishing executions is an imperative action for a civilized society to take, your next step should be to join the Washington Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and learn more.

The United States of America is one of a small handful of countries that continues to execute its own citizens (though, as mentioned, some states have outlawed this barbaric practice). With forty-three executions in 2011, the U. S. ranks fifth – behind China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq. Those are not countries whose human rights records deserve emulation.

We should all be alarmed by the frequency with which innocent men and women are sentenced to death. When Illinois outlawed executions in 2011, Democratic Governor Pat Quinn declared that it was “impossible to fix a system that wrongly condemned twenty men who were later found to be innocent.”

He was speaking only of Illinois; since 1973 one hundred and forty people in twenty-six states have been released from death row with evidence of their innocence. Why do people get unjustly convicted? Because human beings make mistakes. And all judges and jurors are human beings.

Sometimes the prosecution withholds exculpatory evidence, sometimes suspects are coerced into making false confessions.

Sometimes eyewitnesses make mistaken identifications.

Plea bargains can effectively bribe witnesses into making false testimony. All of these things are documented to happen with significant frequency.

Thankfully, many prosecutors have begun to realize that capital punishment serves no useful purpose. That may help explain why execution rates in the U.S. have been falling pretty steadily since a high of ninety-eight in 1999.

But as execution rates drop, the morality and constitutionality of capital punishment continues to be debated. With execution rates a fraction of a percent of the murder rate, application of the death penalty is mostly a matter of chance. Somewhat like “being struck by lightning”, as Justice Potter Stewart said in 1972, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the death penalty.

Its arbitrary application was the main consideration in that ruling, and the hope that a system had been devised to prevent it was the rationale for its return in 1976. But that hope has proved false.

It’s time to abolish executions once and for all.

Another key constitutional issue is whether the death penalty actually serves the goals of retribution and deterrence. The statistical evidence is a resounding NO. In study after study, states without capital punishment have consistently lower murder rates. In 2010, the average murder rate in death penalty states was 4.6, while that in states without the death penalty was 2.9 per 100,000. The existence of the death penalty cheapens the value of life.

Each time a state enacts legislation outlawing capital punishment, it brings us closer to the day when the U.S. will be able to join the rest of the civilized world in respecting the sanctity of human life. Washington has a choice. We can help bring about meaningful and positive change, or we can let change be brought to us.

For me, the choice is obvious. I hope it is for you, too.

Fallout from anonymously-produced video mocking Islam continues all over Middle East

Less than one hundred hours after the eleven year anniversary of September 11th, Islamic fundamentalists have seized upon an anonymously-produced video that mocks Islam to fan the flames of anti-American sentiment all across the Middle East… in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Lebanon, and other countries.

The U.S. Department of State on Thursday issued travel warnings advising Americans against traveling to Algeria or Libya due to recent violence there, including the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi.

U.S. embassies in Tunisia and Yemen have been attacked by angry mobs, although the fallout was limited to looting and some destruction of property because embassy personnel had been evacuated.

The German and British embassies in Sudan were also targeted by protesters there, although again, embassy personnel weren’t hurt.

Under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which most nations recognize, embassies are considered inviolate, and the receiving nation is under obligation to protect them from damage or impairment of dignity.

The violent and disrespectful protests we have seen this week have unquestionably been in defiance of longstanding international law.

The White House said that President Obama had talked to the leaders of several of the aforementioned nations where American diplomatic facilities were coming under siege. The President spoke on Wednesday night with Mohamed Magariaf of Libya and Mohamed Morsi of Egypt about the video and the ensuing attacks on American diplomatic missions. Yesterday afternoon, the President spoke to Abd Rabbuh Mansur Al-Hadi of Yemen.

Several protesters were injured or killed when they clashed with police deployed to protect the embassies, Al Jazeera reported.

A major reason why the U.S. and authorities in the Middle East are having difficulty calming down the protesters is that many citizens of countries like Libya and Yemen just don’t understand or appreciate what freedom of speech means.

The U.S. Constitution guarantees to all Americans the right to speak and publish freely; speech cannot be censored simply because a person or group of people finds it offensive or hateful. Similarly, the Constitution guarantees a free press, which means government can’t decide what gets published or broadcast (although executives at large media conglomerates in the U.S. do effectively serve as gatekeepers for their properties).

These freedoms are not available to people in the Middle East. Consequently, the continued availability of the trailer for the bizarrely-named film Innocence of Muslims has outraged adherents of the Islamic faith, because it offensively and inappropriately depicts the prophet Muhammad (محمد بن عبد الله بن عبد المطلب in Arabic) who is considered by Muslims to be the last of the prophets sent by God to the people of Earth. The trailer was actually first posted months ago, but it was not translated into Arabic at the time, which explains why it has only just sparked angry protests. Many protesters are blaming the U.S. government for the video, not realizing the government isn’t responsible for it, nor possesses the legal authority to prevent the video from being disseminated.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S.-based media have, however, been trying to ascertain the identities of the people who created the film.

A conservative Coptic Christian living in California who was previously convicted of fraud has been identified as one of the key people involved with the production and Internet distribution of the film.

Though we don’t know the identifies or true motives of these people, it seems probable to conclude – based on what we know so far – that they are a very small group of Christian fundamentalists whose objective was to provoke Islamic fundamentalists in the hopes of getting attention, or maybe just igniting conflict and chaos between Christianity and Islam. Unfortunately, the Islamic fundamentalists took the bait, perhaps not realizing that they were being played.

Hotheaded extremists causing trouble is not a new phenomenon; it’s been happening for centuries. It predates the founding of Christianity and Islam. But our world is more interconnected than it used to be. An insult – or a derogatory video – can now travel around the world in seconds. Speech is not constrained by distance like it used to be. At the same time, cultural barriers have remained. So it has become very easy for people to offend each other – even if they live half a world away. That is a very serious problem, because some people resort to violence when they get offended, as we have been reminded this week.

Ad Watch: Our Washington goes after Rob McKenna, says he’s not who he says he is

Welcome to Ad Watch, our newest special series, which will run weekly from now until election week. The purpose of this series is to attempt to catalog, or index, the many campaign ads that are going up on television (and sometimes radio) to influence elections in the Pacific Northwest. In each installment, we’ll briefly describe ads we’ve seen that are being paid for by candidates, ballot measure coalitions, political parties, or shadowy special interests masquerading as grassroots groups, and provide links so you can watch the ads for yourself.

This week in Ad Watch:

  • Our Washington, a coalition of unions, Democratic donors, and the Democratic Governor’s Association (DGA), have unveiled their first anti-Rob McKenna TV spot. It’s titled Clean Up, and it is accompanied by a new website, The Real McKenna. The central theme of the ad is “Rob McKenna isn’t who he says he is.”
  • The aforementioned anti-McKenna ad was launched only days after the Republican Governors Association (RGA) put up their first anti-Jay Inslee ad. Titled Time after Time, it attacks Jay Inslee for voting in favor of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The ad characterizes ARRA as a failure, when in reality, it saved millions of jobs.
  • Inslee’s own latest ad is titled Built, and in it, the Democratic gubernatorial standard-bearer points out that in the private sector, not all firms succeed… but some startups go on to be big, successful companies like Boeing or Microsoft. Inslee has said he wants to encourage and promote innovative startups as governor, especially in the field of clean energy.
  • Rob McKenna’s newest ad is titled Good Reasons and attempts to put a shine on McKenna’s record as attorney general, and to inoculate McKenna against Democrats’ “war on women” frame. It ends by saying “As governor, Rob McKenna will continue protecting Washington’s women and children. After all, he has good reasons.”
  • Washington United for Marriage has unveiled its latest pro-marriage equality spot, titled Boehler. It features Robin and Steve Boehler talking about one of their daughters (who is a lesbian) and their hope that she will be able to marry the woman she loves when she’s ready.

Did we miss an add that should be on this list? Let us know in the comments.

Seattle Chamber of Commerce announces opposition to AWB and Tim Eyman’s I-1185

Great news: Earlier today, the Seattle Metro Chamber of Commerce announced that after careful consideration, it has decided to join the opposition to Tim Eyman’s Initiative 1185, which would reimpose the unconstitutional two-thirds vote requirement to raise revenue on the state Legislature.

The decision is significant because the primary financial force behind I-1185 is the Association of Washington Business, which calls itself the state’s chamber of commerce, and because the Seattle Chamber supported I-1053 two years ago. As was the case with I-1053, AWB executive Don Brunell and his associates were instrumental in marshaling lobbyists to write checks to Tim Eyman and his pals Eddie Agazarm and Roy Ruffino to pay for signatures for I-1185.

We understand the AWB recently sent Amber Carter to join Tim Eyman in pitching I-1185 to the Seattle Chamber. But the Chamber’s Policy Council was persuaded by NO on I-1185 co-chairs Reuven Carlyle and Doug MacDonald (both friends of NPI) to take a courageous position against the measure.

Here’s the rationale the Chamber laid out today for its stand:

The resolution adopted by the Chamber’s Board of Trustees notes that if passed, I-1185 would make it more difficult to execute two key components of the Chamber’s strategic plan: passing a long-term, comprehensive transportation funding package, and securing investments in K-12 and higher education. “Investments in Washington’s education and transportation systems are essential to keeping our state a competitive place to do business,” said Chamber President and CEO Maud Daudon.

Daudon explained that while the Chamber supported Initiative 1053 in 2010 as a tool for fiscal responsibility, Chamber members concluded that locking the legislature into a supermajority requirement for another two years would make it virtually impossible to address our state’s education funding crisis and to make crucial improvements to our state’s infrastructure. “These are pressing needs that can’t wait until 2015. A simple majority is the threshold for any other measure that our legislature passes. I-1185 only extends the time it takes to make decisions on vital investments.”

NPI opposes I-1185 because, like I-1053 and I-960, it is unconstitutional, undemocratic, unfair, and unsound. Our Model Resolution Opposing I-1185 lays out the case for why we are opposed to this poorly conceived initiative.

We applaud the Seattle Chamber’s decision to join the opposition to I-1185, and we invite other organizations and individuals still on the fence to do the same.

Terrorist attack in Benghazi kills American ambassador to Libya, two U.S. Marines

U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher J. Stevens, Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith and two U.S. Marines were killed yesterday when terrorists attacked the American consulate in Benghazi with rocket-propelled grenades and firearms during a protest by angry Libyans upset with a trailer for an anonymously-produced film that denigrates Islam, the White House has confirmed.

The attack on the consulate is believed to have been carried out following some methodical planning on the part of the terrorists. A group affiliated with al Qaeda is reportedly considered to be the top suspect.

“I strongly condemn the outrageous attack on our diplomatic facility in Benghazi, which took the lives of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens,” President Barack Obama said in a statement.

“Right now, the American people have the families of those we lost in our thoughts and prayers. They exemplified America’s commitment to freedom, justice, and partnership with nations and people around the globe, and stand in stark contrast to those who callously took their lives.”

“Chris was a courageous and exemplary representative of the United States. Throughout the Libyan revolution, he selflessly served our country and the Libyan people at our mission in Benghazi. As Ambassador in Tripoli, he has supported Libya’s transition to democracy. His legacy will endure wherever human beings reach for liberty and justice. I am profoundly grateful for his service to my Administration, and deeply saddened by this loss.”

In remarks in the Rose Garden this morning, the President noted that Libyan authorities attempted to protect Stevens and his team in the face of the attack.

“Libyan security personnel fought back against the attackers alongside Americans.  Libyans helped some of our diplomats find safety, and they carried Ambassador Stevens’s body to the hospital, where we tragically learned that he had died.”

A squadron of fifty U.S. Marines who have received special training on protecting U.S. diplomats have been sent to Libya, President Obama said.

The American embassy in Cairo, Egypt was also stormed by an ultraconservative mob upset by the film trailer. Some individuals from the mob scaled the embassy’s walls, tore down the American flag, and replaced it with a black Islamist flag. Thousands of Egyptian police officers in riot gear responded to the mob. They persuaded those inside the compound to leave, and then remained on guard to keep watch on the crowd outside of the embassy.

No one inside the Cairo embassy was hurt.

Libyan leaders quickly expressed their condolences and vowed to find and punish those responsible for the attack on the consulate.

“We apologize to the United States, the people and to the whole world for what happened. We confirm that no one will escape from punishment and questioning,” said Mohamed Yousef el-Magariaf, the President of the General National Congress of Libya, echoing comments by Libya’s prime minister.

In an attempt to quell anger directed towards the United States, the American embassy in Cairo released a statement concerning the film that it did not clear with the Department of State. “[W]e firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others,” the statement read, adding that the embassy “condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims”. The statement was apparently put out before the violent attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, and before protesters scaled the walls of the embassy in Cairo.

The statement has since been disavowed by the Obama administration, even though it did not appear in any way to contradict official U.S. policy.

Writing for The Atlantic, Max Fisher mused that the incident demonstrates the complexity of diplomacy in the Middle East.

From an American perspective, it was immediately clear that the offending film, Innocence of Muslims, represented only the deranged views of its still-mysterious hobbyist producers. It is also immediately clear that one cost of free speech is that you will sometimes be offended. But, in the Egyptian context, this might not have been quite so obvious. “People [in the Arab world] commonly believe that whatever happens in the American media … inevitably the American government is involved,” American University professor and former Pakistani ambassador Akbar Ahmed said on NPR this morning, explaining that, in countries such as Egypt, often a movie can’t get made without the government’s approval. This may explain some Egyptians’ apparent belief that the U.S. government approved of the film, which may in turn explain the embassy’s desire to clarify that they certainly do not.

Meanwhile, Egyptian pro-democracy activist Wael Ghoneim tried to explain to the Arab world how the attacks would be viewed in the United States:

[A]ttacking the US embassy on September 11 and raising flags linked to al Qaeda will not be understood by the American public as a protest over the film about the prophet… Instead, it will be received as a celebration of the crime that took place on September 11th.

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney made the deplorable decision to attempt to use the tragedy to score political points. Instead of simply expressing sorrow for the death of Ambassador Stevens, his assistant, and protective detail, Romney blasted the Obama administration for the way it handled the incident.

Romney offensively claimed that the administration’s response appeared to “sympathize with those who waged the attacks”.

Romney also erroneously described the American consulate in Benghazi as an embassy (there is a big difference between the two types of facilities) and referred to the city as the capital of Libya (the capital is actually Tripoli).

The Obama campaign rebuked Romney for his remarks.

“We are shocked that, at a time when the United States of America is confronting the tragic death of one of our diplomatic officers in Libya, Governor Romney would choose to launch a political attack,” said Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt.

“Gov. Romney’s comments are about as inappropriate as anything I have ever seen at this kind of a moment,” added Senator John Kerry, who chairs the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee and is considered to be a possible successor to Hillary Rodham Clinton as Secretary of State.

“They are flat wrong, but they demonstrate an insensitivity and a lack of judgment about what is happening right now.’

“To make those kinds of statements before you even know the facts, before families have even been notified before things have played out is really not just inexperienced, it’s irresponsible, it’s callous, it’s reckless.”

Romney did not back down from his statement after reporters questioned the statement he had released late yesterday evening.

But other Republicans were far more thoughtful and tactful, choosing to behave like statesmen instead of political opportunists.

Republicans versed in foreign policy were aghast over the Romney statement, according to BuzzFeed.

“They were just trying to score a cheap news cycle hit based on the embassy statement and now it’s just completely blown up,” said a very senior Republican foreign policy hand, who called the statement an “utter disaster” and a “Lehman moment” — a parallel to the moment when John McCain, amid the 2008 financial crisis, failed to come across as a steady leader.

Tellingly, even Romney’s own running mate – U.S. Representative Paul Ryan – has refrained from the kind of unrestrained and unfair criticism leveled by Romney in his reaction to the tragedy. Romney, as mentioned, has chosen to double down on his original statement, which won’t go over well.

In memoriam, eleven years later

Today is the eleventh anniversary of the September 11th attacks, which destroyed New York’s World Trade Center, damaged the Pentagon, and claimed the lives of thousands of innocent Americans. In honor of those who died that day, we’re republishing a poem that we post annually here on The Advocate.

New York's Twin Towers

September 11th memorial service in Hickory, North Carolina

An American flag flies from two fire truck ladders in Hickory, North Carolina, on the ninth anniversary of the attacks. (Photo: City of Hickory).

Two thousand one, nine eleven
Two thousand plus arrive in heaven.
As they pass through the gate,
Thousands more appear in wait.
A bearded man with stovepipe hat
Steps forward saying, “Let’s sit, let’s chat.”

They settle down in seats of clouds,
A man named Martin shouts out proud,
“I have a dream!” and once he did
The Newcomer said, “Your dream still lives.”

Groups of soldiers in blue and gray
Others in khaki, and green then say
“We’re from Bull Run, Yorktown, the Maine”
The Newcomer said, “You died not in vain.”

From a man on sticks one could hear
“The only thing we have to fear…”
The Newcomer said, “We know the rest,
trust us sir, we’ve passed that test.”

“Courage doesn’t hide in caves.
You can’t bury freedom, in a grave.”
The Newcomers had heard this voice before
A distinct Yankee twang from Hyannisport shores.

A silence fell within the mist
Somehow the Newcomer knew that this
Meant time had come for her to say
What was in the hearts of the two thousand plus that day.

“Back on Earth, we wrote reports,
Watched our children play in sports
Worked our gardens, sang our songs
Went to church and clipped coupons
We smiled, we laughed, we cried, we fought
Unlike you, great we’re not”

The Pentagon September 11th memorial

The Pentagon Memorial is made up of 184 memorial units representing each individual who lost their life during the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon. The project broke ground June 2006 and opened the month of September 2008, commemorating the seventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. (Photo: Army Staff Sgt. Michael J. Carden/Department of Defense)

The tall man in the stovepipe hat
Stood and said, “Don’t talk like that!
Look at your country, look and see
You died for freedom, just like me.”

Then, before them all appeared a scene
Of rubbled streets and twisted beams
Death, destruction, smoke and dust
And people working just ’cause they must

Hauling ash, lifting stones,
Knee deep in hell, but not alone
“Look! Blackman, Whiteman, Brownman, Yellowman
Side by side helping their fellow man!”
So said Martin, as he watched the scene
“Even from nightmares, can be born a dream.”

Down below three firemen raised
The colors high into ashen haze
The soldiers above had seen it before
On Iwo Jima back in ’44

The man on sticks studied everything closely
Then shared his perceptions on what he saw mostly
“I see pain, I see 20 tears,
I see sorrow – but I don’t see fear.”

“You left behind husbands and wives
Daughters and sons and so many lives
are suffering now because of this wrong
But look very closely. You’re not really gone.

All of those people, even those who’ve never met you
All of their lives, they’ll never forget you
Don’t you see what has happened?
Don’t you see what you’ve done?
You’ve brought them together as one.”

With that the man in the stovepipe hat said
“Take my hand,” and from there he led
two thousand plus heroes, Newcomers to heaven
On this day, two thousand one, nine eleven.

— by Paul Spreadbury, dedicated to the victims of September 11th