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

Monthly Archives: May 2013

The “Tim Eyman Memorial Bridge” meme: Why it got started, why it’s taken off

Last week, in the aftermath of the collapse of a key span of the Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River, a friend of NPI’s (Wu Ming) suggested in a diary on Daily Kos that we begin referring to the out-of-service crossing as the “Tim Eyman Memorial Bridge”. We ran with the meme, creating a now widely-reproduced image depicting the failed bridge with a mock roadsign over it, which you may have seen on Twitter or Facebook. Or maybe even in your inbox.

Tim Eyman Memorial Bridge

Traditional media outlets have taken notice of the meme and are doing stories on it. KIRO Newsradio’s Linda Thomas did a story this morning and C.R. Douglas of Q13 Fox is doing his own report for tonight’s newscast. (I talked to C.R. for the story; if you watch Q13 tonight, you’ll probably catch a glimpse of me).

Naturally, both KIRO and KCPQ contacted Eyman to get his reaction to the meme. Q13′s report hasn’t aired yet, so we don’t know what Eyman told them, but we do know what Eyman told Linda Thomas. From her report:

Throughout social media, the collapsed I-5 Skagit River bridge has a new name – The Tim Eyman Memorial bridge.

Political websites have been sharing various images of the collapsed bridge span, spawning parodies directed at anti-tax initiative guru Tim Eyman.

“Someone suggested we should blame anti-tax terrorist Tim Eyman, which I was kind of impressed with. I thought the anti-tax terrorist turn of a phrase was quite funny,” he says.

The “someone” who has been calling Eyman an “anti-tax terrorist” is Don Smith of Bellevue, who edits the blog Washington Liberals. We don’t agree that labeling Eyman a “terrorist” is appropriate – or funny. Eyman is a snake oil salesman, to be sure, and an admitted liar. His initiatives have caused our state plenty of harm.

But a terrorist is a person who uses violent and coercive means to achieve their ends. And Eyman’s means, while distasteful and often repugnant, are not violent.

Eyman brings plenty of hyperbole to our political discourse as it is. A light-hearted meme that makes an important point is one thing, but we progressives ought to refrain from imitating Eyman’s distasteful tactics. So, Don, if you’re reading this  - please stop calling Tim Eyman a terrorist. It’s unwarranted and unhelpful.

The next bit in Linda’s report concerns my post from last week and Eyman’s response to it. I noted in my post that there is no one in Washington who has done more to sabotage the cause of good roads in the Evergreen State than Tim Eyman. And that’s true. Eyman’s response:

“The power of one person, it is just kind of silly isn’t it,” Eyman responds. “Reality is the voters have sent a very clear message that they want tax increases to be a last resort. They voted for a lot of our initiatives, they’ve rejected them too, so it’s not like we’re some kind of guru or anything.”

One person can wield an awful lot of power, as any student of history knows. One person can be the catalyst for a lot of change… good or bad.

The United States is young compared to many other countries and societies, but we already have a rich and storied political past. Would our country be what it is today were it not for thinkers and leaders like Madison and Jefferson? Madison was just “one person”, but he was influential in the debate over whether the Constitution should be adopted. Jefferson was just “one person”, but he made the decision to buy the Louisiana Territory from France. That had a huge impact on this country.

As to Eyman’s second point, the reality is that the answers you get depend on the questions you ask. (We’re very fond of this phrase at NPI, and we use it a lot, because it’s important). Eyman’s initiatives ask one-sided questions, and when there isn’t an effective opposition campaign, the results are very predictable.

If a pollster asks people if they would like lower taxes, most people will say yes. If that same pollster then turns around and ask people if they would like better public services, most people will again say yes. But it’s simply not possible to have both, because there is no free lunch. We can choose to invest in quality public services, or not invest. We can’t get something for nothing, as Eyman frequently implies.

Eyman is correct that many of his initiatives have been rejected. When that’s happened, it’s been because of the efforts of broad coalitions of concerned citizens and organizations, who took the trouble to educate voters about the cost and consequences of Eyman’s destructive schemes.

I’m glad to hear Eyman freely admit he’s not a guru, because we’ve been trying to get reporters like Linda Thomas to stop calling him that for a long time.

Moving on:

Eyman claims the legislature “jumps at the chance to raise taxes” and they will try to exploit the Skagit Valley accident because “they are desperate to take more of the voters’ money.”

This is false. The Legislature is actually very averse to raising or recovering revenue. We’ve been asking lawmakers like Rodney Tom to close outdated and unwarranted tax loopholes for a decade, and they have made next to no progress.

One of the reasons is because the people they hear from the most are lobbyists who make a living trying to influence public policy on behalf of their employers.

Lobbyists are very, very good at justifying tax breaks, even tax breaks that have no public benefit or a very questionable public benefit. That’s why so few get repealed. And when Tim Eyman’s I-960/I-1053/I-1185 were in effect, it was impossible for the Legislature to repeal a tax break without a two-thirds vote. (It now takes only a majority vote thanks to the Supreme Court’s LEV decision).

What many people do not realize is that tax breaks are really tax expenditures. They’re a form of spending. When the Legislature grants a tax break, it is giving money to a corporation or industry that would otherwise go into our public treasury and be available to fund vital public services.

Lawmakers have repeatedly chosen to balance the state’s books by cutting services instead of raising revenue. There hasn’t even been an equal split between cuts and revenue; it’s been mostly cuts to services. Now, if we cut tax expenditures instead of services, we’d have more dollars available for our services, but the Legislature has mostly chosen tax breaks/tax expenditures over services. The few times they haven’t, they’ve caught nonstop flak from Eyman and the right wing.

Back to Eyman:

Now Eyman says lawmakers are looking for ways to pass a transportation budget that is stalled in Olympia. He calls it “ghoulish and crass” to try to blame him in any way for the I-5 bridge collapse.

“An accident is an accident and it’s kind of hard to peg that on anybody else except the driver of a big truck driving at 15 feet on a 14 foot bridge,” he says. “There’s clearly a lot of people that are trying to exploit this bridge accident in order to push tax increases.”

We don’t blame Tim Eyman for the collapse of the I-5 Skagit River bridge. We blame Eyman and his destructive initiatives for promulgating the infrastructure deficit that has left so many of our roads and bridges vulnerable to disasters like this. It’s the difference between direct and systemic causation.

I’ll let George Lakoff explain.

Two kinds of causation

Direct causation is the simplest kind: There is a single agent who purposely exerts force on something and as a result that thing moves or changes. You throw a ball and the ball goes through the air. You flip a switch and the light turns on. The properties of direct causation are simple: One agent. One entity affected. One action, performed freely (using free will). No intermediate cause. No multiple agents.

What is at issue here is how the event is conceptualized, not the way it occurs in the world.

Overthrowing a dictator may take millions of actions by hundreds of thousands of troops, but it can be conceptualized as a single action, carried out at the level of the army or the nation. “Bush overthrew Saddam Hussein” is an example of a complex phenomenon in the world being conceptualized as direct causation.

Systemic causation is rather different. Complex systems are commonplace. Examples are the stock market, weather systems, the power grid, the economy, a culture, the electorate, an ecosystem, the health care system, a social phenomenon (e.g., crime).

Systemic causation is a casual relation involving at least one complex system. Examples are very common: Global warming is causing the melting of the polar ice cap. The use of fossil fuels is causing global warming. The health care system is breaking down. The rise in health care costs is putting stress on the economy.

(from Whose Freedom? The battle over America’s most important idea)

Tim Eyman was not driving the overheight truck that we believe triggered the collapse of the span that failed. He isn’t directly responsible for what happened. However, as I explained last Friday, since 1999, Tim Eyman’s initiatives – and the Legislature’s reinstatement of two of Eyman’s most destructive initiatives – are a major reason why our infrastructure deficit is as bad as it is.

Take I-695, the first of those two. I-695 was the first product of Tim Eyman’s initiative factory, not counting I-200, which Eyman also had a hand in.

When the Supreme Court threw out I-695 as unconstitutional (it violated the single subject rule) Governor Gary Locke and lawmakers foolishly rushed to reinstate it. Instead of taking an opportunity to fix what was wrong with the MVET, they simply got rid of it, wrongly believing appeasement to be the best strategy.

The implementation of I-695 alone caused tremendous damage, as we can see by looking over the fiscal impact statement prepared by OFM:

Under current law, the state MVET is expected to generate approximately $1.5 billion in revenues during the 1999-01 Biennium.  Approximately 47 percent of that amount is designated for state transportation programs, 29 percent for local transit districts, and the remaining 24 percent to local governments for transportation, criminal justice and other purposes. Specific designations are as follows:

  • Local transit districts
  • County public health account
  • Distressed county assistance account
  • Ferry capital construction account
  • Ferry operations account
  • Motor vehicle fund
  • Transportation fund
  • City & county sales tax equalization
  • Municipal & county criminal justice

A further $1.7 billion that would have been generated by the MVET in the 2001-2003 biennium was lost when I-695 was implemented.

WSDOT has still not recovered from the loss of the MVET, despite the Legislature’s backfilling. The loss of that revenue source has had serious and negative ramifications for our roads, bridges, and ferries.

Had revenue from the MVET been available to WSDOT during the past decade, our roads and bridges would be in much better shape. There would have been much more money available to replace obsolete structures like I-5′s Skagit River Bridge.

But the long-term costs and consequences of gutting the MVET weren’t something that Eyman and other I-695 proponents wanted to talk about in 1999. In fact, Eyman has never been interested in discussing the repercussions of his initiatives. When Senator Adam Kline has tried to get Eyman to identify what cuts in services he would make to make the books balance, Eyman has consistently refused.

Fourteen years later have gone by since the 1999 campaign. In that time Tim Eyman has sponsored over a dozen initiatives that have worsened our infrastructure deficit. Voters have rejected some of them, but not all of them.

The ones they haven’t rejected have negatively impacted our quality of life and worsened our infrastructure deficit. That’s the link. Passage of Tim Eyman initiatives hurts Washington’s common wealth, which in turn results in a burgeoning infrastructure deficit (because there aren’t enough funds to fix or replace aging bridges, water mains, or power lines). The unaddressed infrastructure deficit results in preventable disasters and tragedies like we saw last week.

That’s systemic causation.

Ultimately, in the long run, the tax cuts and tax limiting schemes that Tim Eyman hawks don’t even save Washingtonians money. We simply end up having to pay more down the road (pun intended). The costs that stem from a bridge collapse (which include economic impacts) are far greater than the costs of proactively replacing a bridge that has outlived its useful life.

It’s therefore appropriate and fitting that the failed I-5 Skagit River span is becoming known as the “Tim Eyman Memorial Bridge”.

People are checking in to the Tim Eyman Memorial Bridge on Foursquare, reporting how their detour around the Tim Eyman Memorial Bridge went on Twitter, and sharing the mock signage we created on Facebook and Pinterest.

Tim Eyman Memorial Bridge

The meme has taken off because those who are able to appreciate the systemic link between Eyman’s initiatives and the bridge collapse want Washington to learn a lesson from it. Continued passage of destructive Eyman initiatives will only inflict more harm upon our communities. It may not be felt right away, but it will be felt.

Tim Eyman is a full-time lawmaker and should be held accountable for the initiatives that he proposes. He may not be an elected lawmaker, but he is a lawmaker nonetheless, who has kept his initiative factory in business for quite a long time, with the help of his wealthy benefactors.

Of course, we’ve seen that we cannot count on Eyman to behave ethically and responsibly. That’s why it is important that Eyman be held accountable at every turn. And the “Tim Eyman Memorial Bridge” meme is helping to do that.

Inslee: We have a plan for making I-5′s Skagit River Bridge driveable again by mid-June

The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) has devised a plan to make Interstate 5 between Mount Vernon and Burlington passable again by mid-June, Governor Jay Inslee announced this afternoon.

State bridge engineers have been working feverishly to figure out how the bridge that carries Interstate 5 over the Skagit River might be repaired. The state’s goal is to temporarily replace the span that failed while a permanent replacement is built.

WSDOT released this image showing what the temporary span will look like:

Skagit River Bridge visualization

Skagit River Bridge visualization (Image: WSDOT)

Further details were provided by Inslee’s press office on behalf of WSDOT.

The temporary four-lane bridge will carry I-5 traffic over the Skagit River at a reduced speed and capacity. The bridge will consist of two, 24-foot wide structures to replace the collapsed section of the bridge. These structures will be pre-built and trucked to the site to allow for accelerated installation. The remaining southern section has been examined and will not need to be replaced.

“The plan minimizes the closure time and keeps clear access to popular Skagit County retail business and destinations including the Anacortes ferry terminal,” said Inslee. “I’m proud of all the work done by the Department of Transportation and all our local and federal partners that resulted in this innovative plan.”

If the remaining inspections of the bridge structure find no additional damage, the temporary bridge could be in place within weeks.

Once debris has been removed, further underwater structural examinations will determine if additional repairs are needed before installing the temporary span.

Crews will immediately start work on the permanent bridge when the temporary span is put in place.

Crews will put temporary piers into the river to support a platform adjacent to the collapsed span where the new section will be built. Once complete, the temporary span will be removed and the new permanent span will be moved into place. WSDOT hopes to have the permanent bridge open to traffic in early fall.

By permanent replacement, WSDOT doesn’t mean a brand new bridge engineered to modern standards, but rather a replacement span to take the place of the chunk of bridge that fell into the Skagit River on Thursday.

Apparently a brand new bridge is not being considered because it would cost more. We question whether this is an appropriate long-term view.

The Skagit River bridge is “functionally obsolete”, and, as we saw on Thursday, very vulnerable to failure. Thursday’s incident was not the first time that bridge and other bridges have been struck by overheight vehicles, as WSDOT has admitted.

Why, then, shouldn’t we use this as an opportunity to replace the whole structure? WSDOT should put the temporary span in place and then start work on a whole new bridge to replace the entire Skagit River crossing. One that won’t have a single point of failure anywhere. Our motto should be “Safety First”.

We are spending big bucks to replace, not retrofit, the Alaskan Way Viaduct and Evergreen Point Floating Bridge (SR 520 over Lake Washington) because it’s not worth it to try to extend the life of those structures any further. We should take the same approach with the I-5 Skagit River Bridge.

Now would be a good time to take another fracture-critical bridge off of our list of functionally obsolete crossings. If we don’t do this now, we are only postponing the day when we have to replace the whole thing.

Why not put the $15 million the state is planning to spend on the “permanent” span towards a new and safe bridge? (Ninety percent of that $15 million is going to be provided by the federal government, incidentally, according to Inslee’s release).

Certainly it would cost more upfront to build a whole new bridge now. But by making such an investment, we can save money down the road. Our reluctance to invest – our willingness to dither, procrastinate, put off – is what has gotten us in the lousy position of having so much of our infrastructure in a decrepit condition.

Time to give the failed I-5 Skagit River span a new name: The Tim Eyman Memorial Bridge

Yesterday afternoon on Daily Kos, progressive activist Wu Ming suggested that, in the wake of the failure of Interstate 5′s Skagit River crossing, which carries more than seventy thousand vehicles a day, it would be appropriate to give the span a new name: The Tim Eyman Memorial Bridge. Ming wrote:

As I watched the coverage of the Skagit River bridge collapse last night, this image came to me. Washingtonians are well familiar with Tim Eyman, Washington’s own Howard Jarvis equivalent and horse’s ass, who has been championing initiatives for decades to cut vehicle excise taxes and license registration fees, and generally defund state government and public infrastructure. In honor of his life’s work enabling the disinvestment in infrastructure that facilitated this bridge collapse, please feel free to share this image far and wide.

We would say dishonor, but otherwise, we concur with Wu. His idea makes sense. No one can drive on the bridge or use it, and that’s the fate that awaits all of our other public services if we don’t put a stop to Eyman’s destructive schemes – past, present, and future. So why not rename it after Eyman?

Wu illustrated his idea by captioning a picture of the failed span with the words “Tim Eyman Memorial Bridge”. The team at NPI figured, why not put a roadgeek spin on the meme? So I fired up Adobe Fireworks and put this together:

Tim Eyman Memorial Bridge

The photo is by WSDOT. The graphics are by NPI. Here’s a graphic only version:

Tim Eyman Memorial Bridge

The “Tim Eyman Memorial Bridge” is what engineers call a “fracture-critical” bridge. That means it has a single point of failure. The bridge actually predates the construction of I-5; it was built in 1955 to carry Highway 99 over the Skagit River. The bridge wasn’t designed for the traffic volumes it used to handle until yesterday, but it has not been replaced because we have not been proactive in modernizing our infrastructure. There are hundreds of structurally deficient or functionally obsolete bridges all over Washington that need replacing.

Under current fiscal constraints, there is no intent at this point to rebuild the entire bridge.”

— Washington Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson, speaking to reporters at a press conference yesterday

Since 1999, Tim Eyman’s initiatives – and the Legislature’s reinstatement of some of Eyman’s initiatives – have wiped out billions in funding for public services, including ferries, highways, roads, bridges, and mass transit.

Eyman has also fought against pretty much every attempt to reverse the damage he has caused and invest in new transportation infrastructure.

He tried to kill Sound Transit’s Central Link in 2002 with I-776 (which also repealed local vehicle fees in four counties that paid for county roads), opposed the nickel gas tax increase passed by the Legislature in 2003, and campaigned for I-912, a 2005 initiative spearheaded by John Carlson and Kirby Wilbur that sought to gut the 2005 Transportation Package approved by lawmakers and Governor Gregoire.

Eyman subsequently tried to repeal funding for Amtrak Cascades and freight mobility the following year with I-917, which narrowly missed the ballot due to his incompetence. (He collected signatures, but not quite enough). After I-917 failed, Eyman campaigned against the Bridging the Gap levy in Seattle, but it passed.

If that weren’t enough, Eyman has tried on three occasions to mess with transportation planning. He proposed an initiative in 2000 (I-745) to require that 90% of WSDOT’s budget be spent on roads. Voters rejected it.

In 2008, he proposed a similar measure (I-985) which voters also rejected.

And two years ago, he tried to block Sound Transit’s East Link project and make variable tolling illegal with I-1125. Voters rejected that as well.

There is no one in Washington who has done more to sabotage the effort to ensure the Evergreen State has good roads and safe bridges than Tim Eyman. Eyman has unequivocally earned the dishonor of having our state’s most prominent failed stretch of highway named after him. At least until it’s fixed or replaced.

Hurray for Amtrak! Third daily Cascades train between Seattle and Bellingham is coming

A big kudos to WSDOT, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, and Sound Transit for figuring out how to pull this new service together on short notice:

To assist travelers affected by yesterday’s I-5 highway bridge collapse in Skagit County, Amtrak Cascades will add one round trip route between Seattle and Bellingham, Wash., in the coming weeks.

Amtrak, the Washington State Department of Transportation, BNSF Railway and Sound Transit are working together to add this service, a morning departure from Seattle to Bellingham with an early evening return, to help those who normally drive this route. More details will be released as they become available.

Amtrak Cascades provides four trips each day over the Skagit River Rail Bridge, which is fully functional. Amtrak Cascades Thruway buses add ten more trips through the area. For schedules, reservations and tickets, visit AmtrakCascades.com or call 800-USA-RAIL.

WSDOT’s rail office had previously been working on plans for a third daily round trip between Seattle and Canada’s Vancouver, but yesterday’s events have necessitated an acceleration of the timetable. We look forward to hearing more details.

The third round-trip train will only go as far as Bellingham according to the announcement; British Columbia-bound travelers should continue to take the No. 510 (morning) or No. 516 (evening) trains out of King Street Station.

Presumably, the new train will make all regular stops between Bellingham and Seattle, which are Mount Vernon, Stanwood, Everett, and Edmonds.

The announcement doesn’t say if this new train will stop in Mukilteo. Sounder North stops in Mukilteo on its way to and from Everett, but Cascades currently does not.

It’d be nice if this third Cascades train stopped in Mukilteo too.

Sound Transit’s taxing district does not extend beyond urban Snohomish County, which is why ST doesn’t provide any commuter rail service to points north of Everett, like Mount Vernon or Bellingham. ST sensibly does have a partnership with Amtrak Cascades, however. That partnership is definitely going to make a difference for North Sound commuters in the weeks and months ahead. ‘

More rail service is exactly what Washington State needs. We applaud this announcement and encourage any readers who are able to take advantage of this new service to do so once it begins. In the meantime, have a chuckle on us by watching this fantastic Amtrak commercial, titled “Kids Repeat”.

Governor Inslee: Repair of collapsed I-5 Skagit River Bridge is estimated at $15 million

It’s only been sixteen hours since a section of the bridge that carries Interstate 5 over the Skagit River collapsed, but already the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) is working on a plan to put the span back together.

Experts have estimated the cost of a bridge repair at around $15 million, according to an emergency proclamation signed by Governor Jay Inslee this morning.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has already committed $1 million in federal dollars towards the project. Further help is likely to be forthcoming from Washington State’s congressional delegation; our senior senator, Patty Murray, just so happens to be the Chair of the Senate’s Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies.

We have to ask: Wouldn’t it make more sense to completely replace this functionally obsolete bridge, given that one section of the span has already collapsed? The bridge is going to be out of service for a while. Perhaps a complete replacement would take more time to design and build. But it would save time, disruption and money down the road (pardon the pun).

It’s troubling that a section of the existing bridge was apparently brought down by an overheight vehicle striking the superstructure. If that’s the kind of impact that could suddenly send the bridge deck into the river, then it’s not a bridge that I or anyone else at NPI wants to be driving over any longer. Time to demolish this structure and put in a new one engineered to modern standards.

We have to get serious about investing in our infrastructure. There is a reason that we at NPI are committed to fighting Tim Eyman’s initiative factory year in and year out. Tim’s destructive initiatives prevent us from taking care of problems like this before they happen. Without funding to replace functionally obsolete and structurally deficient bridges, we can’t head off bridge collapses and bridge closures.

In 2005, when we fought Initiative 912, NPI’s Washington Defense PAC paid for hundreds of signs shaped like orange construction warning signs reading, “NO 912 – SAFETY FIRST”. We used these signs during our Viaduct Hazard Demonstration.

In defeating Initiative 912, we saved the 2005 Transportation Package and allowed a whole host of highway safety projects to move forward.

Unfortunately, the 2005 Transportation Package didn’t include funding to replace all of our ageing bridges. That’s why a new package is needed.

House Democrats proposed a new transportation package a few weeks ago, but unfortunately it is oriented around new highway lanes. Lawmakers should reprioritze and adopt the mantra we used during the NO on I-912 campaign: Safety first!

The proclamation signed by Governor Jay Inslee this morning declares that a state of emergency exists in Skagit, Snohomish, and Whatcom counties, and puts Washington’s Military Department in charge of the response.

WHEREAS, a section of the Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River in Skagit County collapsed on May 23, 2013, closing the Interstate in both directions, requiring implementation of detours through adjacent neighbo rhood roadways, causing extensive disruption of the primary north and south bound transportation route through Western Washington, and impacting our citizens, businesses and economy in Skagit, Snohomish and Whatcom Counties; and

[WHEREAS] the estimated cost to repair the bridge is $15,000,000. Repairs and necessary interstate highway closures require the approval of Washington’s Secretary of Transportation, and the Washington State Department of Transportation is coordinating resources and working to implement damage repairs. These emergency conditions warrant closure of affected roadways for a significant period and implementation of emergency procurement procedures to hire a contractor to repair the damage; and The roadway damage and its effects continue to impact the life and health of our citizens, as well as the property and transportation infrastructure of Washington State, all of which affect life, health, property, or the public peace, and constitute a public disaster demanding immediate action; and

[WHEREAS] the Washington State Military Department has activated the state Emergency Operations Center, implemented response procedures, and is coordinating resources to support local officials in alleviating the immediate social and economic impacts to people, property, and infrastructure, and is continuing to assess the magnitude of the event.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, Jay R. Inslee, Governor of the state of Washington, as a result of the above – noted situation and under Chapter 38.52 and 43.06 RCW, do hereby proclaim that a Stat e of Emergency exists in Skagit, Snohomish, and Whatcom Counties in the state of Washington, and direct the plans and procedures in the Washington State Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan be implemented. State agencies and departments are directed to utilize state resources and to do everything reasonably possible to assist affected political subdivisions in an effort to respond to and recover from the event. As a result of this event, the Washington State Military Department, Emergency Management Division, is instructed to coordinate all incident – related assistance to the affected areas.

A media availability has been scheduled for 12:30 PM at the Skagit County Administrative Building. Governor Jay Inslee, State Patrol Chief John Batiste, and Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson will be joined by Senators Murray and Cantwell and Congresswoman Suzan DelBene, who represents Mount Vernon. They will be discussing next steps and taking questions from reporters.

Investigators for the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) are headed to the site and are expected to join in the news conference. The NTSB announced last night it was mobilizing to respond to the disaster. From their announcement:

The National Transportation Safety Board has launched a go-team to investigate the I-5 bridge collapse over the Skagit River in Mount Vernon, WA. The collapse occurred at 7:00 pm local time, last evening.

Highway Safety Investigator Robert Accetta will serve as the investigator-in-charge, leading a multi-disciplinary team of NTSB personnel. An NTSB investigator from the Seattle office is en route to the scene and the remainder of the team will arrive on-scene later today.

NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman is accompanying the team and will serve as the principal spokesperson during the on-scene phase of the investigation.

The NTSB is perhaps best known for investigating plane crashes and aviation mishaps, but it also has the authority to take the lead in investigating other incidents, like train derailments and highway bridge failures.

Washington’s elected leaders respond to collapse of I-5 bridge over Skagit River

As the evening goes on, more and more elected leaders are reacting to tonight’s breaking news out of Skagit County. A section of the bridge that carries Interstate 5 over the Skagit River, just north of Mount Vernon, has collapsed into the water. The cause of the disaster is believed to be an overheight truck that struck the superstructure, but this has not been officially confirmed yet.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee, Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson and their entourage have arrived in Skagit County to respond. The governor is expected to address the news media shortly at a site not far from the interstate.

Congressman Rick Larsen, who represents western Skagit County, was among the first elected leaders to respond, with a statement issued at 8:27 PM.

“I am monitoring the bridge collapse in Skagit County,” he said. “My office stands ready to assist emergency responders and local and state officials. I encourage people to follow police instructions and stay away from the site of the collapse to let first responders address the situation safely.”

Senator Maria Cantwell sounded similar notes in a statement released just a bit ago.

“My thoughts and prayers go out to the families affected by this collapse and to the emergency responders on the scene,” Cantwell said.

“My office is closely monitoring this situation in coordination with federal, state and local officials. We stand ready to help the community in Skagit County and to support the ongoing emergency response efforts. I encourage people in the area to avoid I-5 and to follow the directions of local officials.”

Congresswoman Suzan DelBene, who represents eastern Skagit County (as well as NPI’s hometown of Redmond) likewise indicated she stands ready to help.

“I’m closely monitoring the bridge collapse in Skagit County this evening. I am deeply relieved at the early reports of no known fatalities from the bridge failure. As emergency response efforts continue and inspection crews investigate the cause of the shocking collapse of this bridge, I stand ready to assist in any way I can.”

“This evening, as I am urgently traveling to the scene from Washington, DC, my staff is currently at the Skagit County Emergency Operations Center to help in coordination with federal, state and local officials. My staff and I are also in communication with the NTSB as they send a team to investigate and assist.

“I encourage the public to avoid the scene and follow the directions of local officials and all suggested detours in the area.”

Patty Murray announced an hour and a half ago on Twitter that she is following developments as well, with a tweet signed “PM”.

Closely monitoring #SkagitBridge & my staff is working w/ @GovInslee, @wsdot, & local officials to assist in any way possible. -PM

—  @PattyMurray, 9:09 PM

“My thoughts are with the injured and their families, and I am thankful there appear to be no fatalities. King County stands ready to assist in the response to the I-5 bridge collapse,” King County Executive Dow Constantine added on Facebook.

Here’s some reaction from state lawmakers:

“Thinking of those affected by tonight’s events in Skagit County. I’m especially thankful for the dedicated WSDOT crews that are working hard tonight.”

State Representative Marko Liias

“What a terrifying experience for the people thrust into the nightmare of a collapsed bridge. We’ve all taken this route a million times…sending prayers to those families directly effected.”

State Representative Reuven Carlyle

“We need to invest in our transportation infrastructure not just for our economy but for our safety!”

- State Representative Dave Upthegrove

“[A Columbian] reporter just called and asked if this bridge collapse changes the debate on the CRC [Columbia River Crossing]. First, I had not heard of the collapse before his call as I had just gotten off work late and went directly to the store. I hope and pray everyone is alright – that would be a miracle! However, I believe this collapse only intensifies the debate in Olympia on the I-5 bridge’s safety which has always been a primary issue, particularly the much older northbound span. The critics voices will say they want a new bridge – but their actions say they really don’t want a new bridge. They will say we can build a “cheaper” bridge – a total myth. They will point to a number of what they consider “problems” but never address the core issues with a VIABLE alternatives that have not already been explored and discarded by their peers. No, I hope and prey no one was seriously hurt but the need is there even more now to build that bridge!”

- State Representative Jim Moeller

“Thoughts and prayers for those in Skagit Valley. Very serious situation for victims and first responders.”

- State Representative Chris Reykdal

“Maybe we should increase the size of the proposed transportation package so we can make sure our state’s highways are safe.”

- State Representative Joe Fitzgibbon

UPDATE, 11 PM: The governor is being briefed and his news conference is expected to begin in a few minutes. It will be carried live on all major stations.

UPDATE, 11:59 PM: The governor’s news conference didn’t last too long. Not all the networks carried all of it because they were talking to a survivor at Skagit Valley Hospital. Here is Governor Jay Inslee’s statement:

“I’m thankful there were no fatalities tonight. I want to thank the U.S. Border Patrol, our State Patrol and local fire, police and other emergency personnel who participated in a very successful rescue effort.”

“Our hearts are with those who have been injured and we hope to hear good news soon of their speedy recovery. Witnesses say a truck hit the bridge and caused it to collapse, but an investigation has been launched to confirm that. Any witnesses or people with information should contact the State Patrol.”

“I urge everyone driving through this area to pay close attention to the detour and travel information that our state Department of Transportation and State Patrol will be providing. The National Transportation Safety Board is on their way tomorrow, and I’ve been in touch with our federal partners.”

“We will be involved in a vigorous and diligent effort to get traffic flowing again through the Skagit bridge corridor and I will issue an emergency proclamation tomorrow to make sure we have the resources to do so as quickly as possible. This is an opportunity for us to pull together to show strength of character and patience and good citizenship as we deal with this disruption. “

BREAKING: A section of the Interstate 5 bridge over Skagit River has collapsed

Breaking, hugely consequential news out of Skagit County tonight: A section of the Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River near Mount Vernon has collapsed, according to the State Patrol and eyewitness reports on Twitter.

The collapsed section of the bridge that carries I-5 over the Skagit River

The collapsed section of the bridge that carries I-5 over the Skagit River (Photo via Northwest Cable News)

The Seattle Times has an even more remarkable photo.

The structural failure occurred just before 7 PM, the State Patrol said. The Skagit County Sheriff said at least three people had been rescued from the water.

Map of location

The collapse affected a structure that carries Interstate 5 over the Skagit River just north of downtown Mount Vernon

The disaster has affected both north and southbound lanes of travel and made I-5 completely impassable between Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia. Traffic is now being rerouted by the State Patrol; there have been huge traffic backups in both directions. Traffic is being detoured to Highway 9 to the east.

A Patrol spokesman says that Governor Inslee and Transportation Secretary Peters have been notified; the spokesman indicated they were both enroute to the area.

(UPDATE: The governor’s office has now confirmed to NPI and other media that Governor Inslee is headed to Skagit County with Secretary Peterson).

Another view of the I-5 bridge collapse

Another view of the I-5 bridge collapse (Photo: Gina Cole)

Every major Seattle television station has broken into its regular programming to carry live feeds. KOMO has a helicopter on scene already and KIRO and KING are expected to have their own choppers over the scene shortly.

A 2008 report categorized the bridge as “structurally sound and safe”. Obviously, the bridge’s failure makes it painfully apparent this was not the case.

The bridge has also been classified as obsolete, but it had not been listed by the state as structurally deficient, contrary to what some people have said on Twitter.

Photos and videos show that several other sections of the bridge remain standing – the collapse only brought down one section. It is one of last sections over the water.

Rescuers have been working to pull affected motorists out of the water. Police, fire, and paramedics are all on the scene, and a medical helicopter has evidently been employed to ferry injured people to hospitals.

I’ve traveled over this bridge a number of times, most recently on May 12th, when I returned from Vancouver, B.C. It’s scary to see a section of highway I’ve regularly traversed in pieces in the river below.

UPDATE, 9:21 PM: Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) has halted train traffic over the Skagit River while it inspects its own bridge.

WSDOT’s Travis Phelps has confirmed eyewitness speculation that an overheight vehicle is believed to have triggered the bridge collapse; it apparently struck a girder as it traversed the highway over the Skagit River. The bridge clearance is listed by the State Department of Transportation as fifteen point four (15.4) feet.

No fatalities have been confirmed thus far. Injured individuals have been taken to the Skagit Valley Hospital to be treated.

The news that this bridge collapse was likely caused by an overheight vehicle brings to mind the incident that damaged an overpass near Roslyn a few years ago, as well as this incident from 2011, in which an overheight vehicle damaged the girders that carry Interstate 90 over Highway 18 near North Bend.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is gearing up already to help with the investigation. The agency announced on its Twitter feed that personnel are preparing to depart for the Evergreen State immediately.

NTSB will be sending full go-team to investigate the I-5 Skagik [sic] River bridge collapse in Washington. More details soon.

— NTSB (@NTSB) May 24, 2013

King County Executive Dow Constantine has released a statement offering the resources of the state’s largest county to help with the response.

 

U.S. House passes bill to take decision on Keystone XL pipeline out of president’s hands

By a vote of two hundred and forty-one to one hundred and seventy-five, the U.S. House tonight opted to approve a Republican-backed bill that essentially seeks to give Canadian petroleum giant TransCanada final approval to build the Keystone XL pipeline through the American Midwest (and across the border into Alberta).

Nineteen Democrats sided with two hundred and twenty-two Republicans to pass the bill (H.R. 3). No Republicans voted against the bill, but some did not vote.

The Pacific Northwest’s delegation broke down by party lines. The roll call:

Voting Aye: Republicans Doc Hastings, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Dave Reichert (WA), Greg Walden (OR), Raúl Labrador and Mike Simpson (ID), Steve Daines (MT)

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

Not Voting: Republicans Jaime Herrera-Beutler (WA), Don Young (AK)

The nineteen Democrats who voted against protecting our environment and for rubber stamping TransCanada’s application to build Keystone XL were:

  • John Barrow (GA-12) Blue Dog
  • Sanford Bishop (GA-02) Blue Dog
  • Cheri Bustos (IL-17)
  • Jim Cooper (TN-05) Blue Dog
  • Jim Costa (CA-16) Blue Dog
  • Henry Cuellar (TX-28) Blue Dog
  • William Enyart (IL-12)
  • Al Green (TX-09)
  • Gene Green (TX-29)
  • Ruben Hinojosa (TX-15)
  • Sean Maloney (NY-12)
  • Sean Matheson (UT-04) Blue Dog
  • Mike McIntyre (NC-07) Blue Dog
  • Patrick Murphy (FL-18)
  • William Owens (NY-21)
  • Colin Peterson (MN-07) Blue Dog
  • Terri Sewell (AL-07)
  • Filemon Vela (TX-34)
  • John Yarmuth (KY-03)

(Thanks to Daily Kos for compiling the list).

The bill now moves to the Senate, which has previously indicated its support for allowing the pipeline project to go forward. However, President Barack Obama has threatened to veto the bill – on Tuesday, the White House released a statement making its opposition to H.R. crystal clear.

The Administration strongly opposes H.R. 3, which among other things, would: (1) declare that a Presidential Permit is not required for the Keystone XL crude oil, cross-border pipeline, including the Nebraska reroute evaluated by the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality; (2) deem that the final Environmental Impact Statement issued by the Department of State on August 26, 2011, satisfies all National Environmental Policy Act and National Historic Preservation Act requirements; and (3) deem that Secretary of the Interior actions satisfy Endangered Species Act requirements enabling the needed right-of-way. Further, the bill would require the Secretary of the Army to issue project-related permits pursuant to the Rivers and Harbors Appropriation Act and Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, and prohibit the EPA Administrator from restricting or disallowing any activities or uses of areas authorized by the bill.

H.R. 3 conflicts with longstanding Executive branch procedures regarding the authority of the President, the Secretaries of State, the Interior, and the Army, and the EPA Administrator. In addition, the bill is unnecessary because the Department of State is working diligently to complete the permit decision process for the Keystone XL pipeline. The bill prevents the thorough consideration of complex issues that could have serious security, safety, environmental, and other ramifications.

Because H.R. 3 seeks to circumvent longstanding and proven processes for determining whether cross-border pipelines are in the national interest by removing the Presidential Permitting requirement for the Keystone XL pipeline project, if presented to the President, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto this bill.

Emphasis is theirs.

An override of a presidential veto requires a two-thirds vote of each house. There are four hundred and thirty-five members of the U.S. House and one hundred members of the U.S. Senate. H.R. 3 did not pass with a two-thirds vote; even if the Republicans who did not vote in favor yesterday were to have voted aye, the bill would still not have passed with a veto-proof majority.

Republicans cannot get to a veto-proof majority in the House to pass H.R. 3 unless more Democrats were to flip and cross over. It seems very unlikely that any of the Democrats who voted nay yesterday would be interested in changing their votes in order to override a veto by President Obama.

Given that the president has threatened to veto the bill, it doesn’t seem that Senate Democratic leadership has any incentive to capitulate to Republican demands to give the bill a vote. H.R. 3 may simply die in committee.

Republicans really want Keystone XL built, but they’d need the cooperation of some oil-stained Democrats to pass H.R. 3. They’d need even more Democratic help to override a presidential veto… help they are extremely unlikely to get.

Monster tornado rips through Moore, Oklahoma, killing at least thirty-seven people

Disaster strikes again:

A massive tornado roared through Moore and south Oklahoma City on Monday afternoon, grinding up neighborhoods and ravaging at least one elementary school in its path.

Terror quickly spread as the Emergency Medical Services Authority rushed ambulances to Briarwood Elementary School in the Moore School District and to several homes, businesses and intersections in response to reports of multiple injuries.

Parents of children could be seen rushing toward the school, dodging downed power lines and scattered debris.

The tornado, which preliminary data suggests was a Level 4 storm on the Enhanced Fujita (EF) scale, is said to have been two miles wide, with winds stronger than one hundred and seventy miles per hour. As it ripped through Moore and other suburbs of Oklahoma City, it left a wretched trail of massive devastation in its wake.

The monster tornado that ripped through Moore, Oklahoma earlier today (Image shown on KTOR's live feed and courtesy of KTOR)

The monster tornado that ripped through Moore, Oklahoma earlier today (Image shown on KFOR’s live feed and courtesy of KFOR)

In addition to ravaging Briarwood Elementary School, the tornado also shredded apart Plaza Towns Elementary School. At least seventy-five children were inside Plaza Towns at the time it was hit. The building was reduced to rubble.

Thirty-seven people have been confirmed dead by the state medical examiner’s office. The actual number of casualties may rise as more bodies are found. Survivors are still being pulled out of the debris of destroyed buildings.

Those who have lived through horrific events like Hurricane Katrina or Superstorm Sandy and seen their property wiped out can no doubt empathize with the people of Moore, who have sadly seen destructive twisters before. (An equally-fierce tornado hit Moore just over fourteen years ago, in May of 1999).

Devastation as seen from the air

Devastation as seen from the air (Image courtesy of KFOR’s live feed)

The White House said that President Barack Obama had placed a call to Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin to assure her that the federal government would provide whatever support the state might need. Here’s a readout of that call:

This evening the President spoke with Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin to express his concern for those who have been affected by the severe weather beginning last night and continuing today. While information is still coming in, the President made clear that his Administration, through FEMA, stands ready to provide all available assistance as the Governor’s team responds to the storm and that he has directed his team to ensure that they are providing available resources as the response unfolds. FEMA has deployed an Incident Management Assistance Team to the state emergency operations center in Oklahoma City to support state and local officials on the ground and additional personnel and resources stand ready to be dispatched as necessary. The President told Governor Fallin that the people of Oklahoma are in his and the First Lady’s thoughts and prayers and, while his team will continue to keep him updated, he urged her to be in touch directly if there were additional resources the Administration could provide.

The Red Cross has activated its “Safe & Well” website to help friends and relatives connect with individuals and families who are/were in the affected area. If someone is registered, you’ll be able to find him or her by doing a search.

UPDATE, 6:02 PM: The death toll is now at fifty-one. More than a hundred and twenty people are being treated for critical injuries as a result of the tornado.

Christy Clark declares victory in B.C., but trails the NDP’s David Eby in her own riding

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark, whose B.C. Liberals scored a huge upset over the New Democratic Party, has just finished delivering her victory speech in downtown Vancouver in front of hundreds of cheering supporters.

Smiling broadly, Clark declared that her party had won a clear mandate to govern and would move forward with its plans to help oil companies drill more wells and build more pipelines to increase the province’s fossil fuel exports.

Less than an hour and a half earlier, the NDP’s Adrian Dix conceded defeat in front of a subdued crowd of activists who had hoped to be celebrating the end of Liberal rule but instead found themselves shellshocked at the margin of their defeat.

“Sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose, and in British Columbia it often rains,” Dix told supporters as he acknowledged the defeat with dignity.

“Tonight, we are disappointed, but we are unbowed,” he added.

“We’ve elected a very strong team that is going to hold the Government accountable… This party’s determination to bring change will continue.”

Perhaps, but the NDP is now in a much weaker position than it was before the election. That’s not the result Dix wanted, hoped for, or expected.

Dix himself will return to Victoria as the MLA for Vancouver – Kingsway. But he will return with less clout and less credibility than he had when he left to campaign as the public face of the New Democratic Party.

And whether he will remain the party’s leader is an open question. The NDP performed worse with him at the helm than it did with Carole James in 2009. (James, incidentally, won reelection in her own riding and will also return to Victoria).

Speaking with reporters after her victory speech, Clark lavished praise on her party’s volunteers and basked in the glow of victory.

“Oh my gosh, you guys, I’m feeling really honored,” she exclaimed when asked about her reaction to the unexpectedly great results for her party.

Naturally, she was also asked about the polls.

“If there’s any lesson in this, it’s that pollsters and prognosticators do not choose the government,” she replied.

That’s certainly true: we at NPI are fond of saying that the only real poll happens on Election Day (south of the border, here in Washington and Oregon, it’s more like Election Month, but the same principle applies).

However, it appears that the voters in Clark’s own riding are on the verge of choosing someone else to represent them in Victoria. The NDP may well come out of this election with at least the satisfaction of having knocked out Clark in Vancouver – Point Grey with a stellar candidate, David Eby, who used to serve as executive director of the B.C . Civil Liberties Association.

(I profiled Eby on Saturday and came away very impressed).

Eby, who has traded the lead with Clark a couple of times during the course of the night, is presently ahead by several hundred votes, which is rather remarkable. With one hundred and seventy-three of one hundred and seventy-three ballot boxes reported, Eby has a three hundred and sixty vote lead over Clark.

Advance polls (early votes, as we’d say in the U.S.) still need to be counted, but the NDP made a big effort to get British Columbians to vote early, and it seems unlikely that the advance polls will favor Clark.

If Eby ekes out a victory, it will be bittersweet for him, but very satisfying for the NDP… a bright spot on an otherwise very grim electoral map.

Clark would then find herself in the embarrassing position of having to ask one of her own victorious Liberal candidates to step aside so she can hold a seat in the B.C. Legislative Assembly. (As I’ve previously noted, in British Columbia, an MLA does not have to reside in the riding that he or she represents).

As of 11:40 PM, these were the results in Vancouver – Point Grey:

Christy Clark BC Liberal Party 7,987 44.31%
David Eby BC NDP 8,347 46.30%
William Gibbens Independent 60 0.33%
Hollis Jacob Linschoten Work Less Party 42 0.23%
Duane Nickull BC Conservative Party 274 1.52%
Marisa Palmer Libertarian 43 0.24%
Françoise Raunet Green Party of BC 1,264 7.01%
Bernard Bedu Yankson The Platinum Party 10 0.06%

Despite having undoubtedly lost some progressive voters to Françoise Raunet of the Green Party, Eby is still ahead, and leads by a slightly more comfortable margin at present than he did earlier. It’s looking pretty good for him.

Not-so liberal Liberals projected to win in British Columbia; score huge upset over NDP

So much for all those predictions of a big NDP victory.

It’s been an hour and fifteen minutes since polls closed in British Columbia’s 2013 provincial elections, and the New Democratic Party (NDP) has yet to overtake the Liberals in the count of leading/elected MLAs (Members of the Legislative Assembly). And it looks like they’re not going to.

As the minutes tick on, the NDP’s chances of victory seem increasingly slim. There is no talk of an NDP landslide now on Canadian networks; in fact, one (CTV) has already called the election for the Liberals, projecting they will retain their majority. And on Global (which I’m watching from here in the States), anchors and pundits are already suggesting that Christy Clark will be basking in the glow of victory tomorrow while the NDP does some soul-searching.

UPDATE, 9:47 PM: Global has now called the election for the Liberals as well.

Why are the Liberals ahead? Well, they’re doing much better than expected in many areas of the  province, including Prince George and the Lower Mainland.

Some of the rising stars the NDP was counting on to help carry the party to victory aren’t faring too well. For example, Chris Wilson, whose campaign I covered on Saturday, is trailing in Coquitlam-Burke Mountain.

It appears the Liberals could end up with more seats than they had at the dissolution of the B.C. Legislative Assembly, although ballots are still being counted and the numbers will change. That would be a stunning outcome.

In a bit of good news for the NDP, in Vancouver – Point Grey, the New Democratic Party’s David Eby is now ahead of Christy Clark. As of 9:40 PM:

Christy Clark BC Liberal Party 3,401 44.56%
David Eby BC NDP 3,514 46.04%
William Gibbens Independent 26 0.34%
Hollis Jacob Linschoten Work Less Party 18 0.24%
Duane Nickull BC Conservative Party 118 1.55%
Marisa Palmer Libertarian 14 0.18%
Françoise Raunet Green Party of BC 537 7.04%
Bernard Bedu Yankson The Platinum Party 4 0.05%

There will likely be pressure on the NDP’s Adrian Dix to step down as NDP leader, at least from some quarters. Dix’s strategy of trying to run a positive campaign and deflect Liberal attacks – instead of aggressively counterattacking – appears to have backfired, and cost the NDP the election.

The NDP wasn’t apparently able to capitalize on dissatisfaction with the Liberal government, despite all of the public opinion research that suggested voters were unhappy with the B.C. Liberals and ready to turn them out.

The results are so at odds with the polling – like in last year’s provincial election in Alberta – that Canadian media are suggesting it will be a watershed moment (and not in a good way) for pollsters and public opinion research firms.

Instead of it being a history-making night for the NDP, it’s turning out to be a great night for the Liberals and a good night for the Green Party, who have apparently managed to elect their very first MLA (Andrew Weaver) to the Assembly in the Oak Bay – Gordon Head riding on Vancouver Island.

The Conservatives, meanwhile, are having a pretty bad night as well. They haven’t won any seats or led in any ridings the whole evening.

It appears many of the British Columbians they were wooing decided to support the incumbent Liberals instead of voting Conservative.

The progressive vote, meanwhile, appears to be more split between the NDP and the Green Party. The NDP had repeatedly appealed for progressive voters to vote NDP during the campaign, but many still chose to vote Green.

Some of the ridings that the NDP was thought to stand a very good chance of winning that are currently going Liberal instead include:

The Liberals’ platitude-filled rhetoric about creating economic opportunity and exploiting the province’s natural resources, coupled with a sustained effort to sow fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) about the NDP into the minds of British Columbia voters, appears to have succeeded beyond their wildest expectations.

The results once again offer proof that while voters say they don’t like negative campaigning, it is effective. Dix and the NDP allowed themselves to be defined by the B.C. Liberals, especially towards the end of the campaign, and it resulted in an election night catastrophe of huge proportions. Instead of taking power or at least cutting into the Liberal majority, they have lost ground – and the Liberals will return to Victoria with an even bigger caucus than the one they left with.

The Tyee: British Columbia’s New Democratic Party poised for a landslide victory tonight

British Columbia’s New Democratic Party (NDP) is on the cusp of a historic victory tonight over the not-so liberal B.C. Liberals, according to The Tyee, the province’s best-known online-only publication.

The Tyee’s final electoral prediction breaks down as follows:

  • NDP: Fifty-seven seats
  • Liberals: Twenty-seven seats
  • Independents: One seat

The Tyee classifies thirty-four seats as “definitely” NDP, with only thirteen “definitely” Liberal. A further twenty-three seats are considered “Likely” NDP and fourteen “Likely” Liberal. The Tyee no longer has any races classified as tossups.

If the NDP does indeed capture fifty-five plus seats tonight, it will be an electoral victory of mammoth proportions, and Adrian Dix will take over as the province’s next premier with a clear mandate to govern.

Eleventh hour polls indicate the NDP remains comfortably ahead of the Liberals, although polls in other recent provincial elections have been less than reliable.

But there’s no evidence that suggests that the Liberals are going to eke out an upset here at the end. They haven’t conceded defeat, but they lack the energy and the momentum that the NDP is clearly enjoying.

They’ve attempted to scare British Columbians into not voting NDP, and that tactic has certainly worked in the past, but this may be the year it fails spectacularly.

The NDP, under Adrian Dix, has remained cool and collected in the face of Liberal attacks for weeks, and is countering television ad campaigns with people power. The NDP is fielding its best slate of candidates in years and has improved its GOTV (get out the vote) operations to compensate for the Liberals’ money advantage.
I saw this firsthand when I visited the Vancouver area over the weekend.

If the NDP wins tonight, the entire Left Coast – stretching from the U.S.-Mexico border to the Alaskan coast – will have Democratic/New Democratic, progressive chief executives in charge. (Oregon and California elected John Kitzhaber and Jerry Brown in 2010, while Washington elected Jay Inslee just last year).

And British Columbia will have a government committed to job training, economic opportunities, protecting the province’s coasts and addressing the climate crisis.

We will have live coverage of the B.C. provincial election here on The Advocate tonight beginning at 8 PM. Check back for instant analysis as the results roll in and we learn who will be the next Premier of British Columbia.

B.C. Journal: A Tsawwassen sunset

One of the joys of traveling is unexpectedly encountering a scene or landscape that is so beautiful that it takes your breath away. That happened to me last night as I was journeying south towards the United States-Canada border. I decided to detour off of Highway 99 into Ladner and Tsawwassen and came across this sight:

A Tsawwassen sunset

Sunset on Sunday, May 12th, as seen from Tsawwassen in southern British Columbia (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

I hadn’t expected there to be much of a sunset on Sunday, especially considering the low-visibility rainstorms I’d been driving through.

But as dusk approached, I noticed the sky was getting rosier, and that indicated to me that a truly great sunset was getting under way.

Fortunately, I was on a road that allowed me to pull over with no difficulty once the horizon came into clear view, and get the shot you see above.

It’s easily one of my favorite photos of the trip.

At the moment the picture was taken, the sky was filled with some pretty spectacular sunbeams, or crepuscular rays. These only lasted for a few minutes, and I’m very glad I didn’t miss them. They add a lot of warmth to the image.

Any readers who have ever taken a ferry to Swartz Bay/Victoria have probably been through Tsawwassen. It’s part of the Delta South riding, which is currently held by an independent, Vicki Huntington. She’s expected to retain her seat tomorrow.

B.C. Journal: Liberals hold telephone town hall to connect supporters to leader Clark

With less than one hundred hours to go until the polls close in British Columbia’s 2013 provincial elections, party leaders Christy Clark and Adrian Dix are keeping busy schedules. As I reported earlier today, Adrian is spending most of his Saturday in the Vancouver suburbs. He was in Coquitlam this morning for the pancake breakfast with Chris Wilson (where I had a chance to meet him), then North Vancouver, Burnaby, and Surrey during the afternoon.

B.C. JournalPremier Christy Clark hasn’t made as many stops, but she is out and about – just not in her own riding.

At 9 AM she paid a visit to Sealand Aviation in Campbell River, then trekked to Abbotsford to promote Darryl Plecas’ candidacy at his campaign office.

A little while later she showed up at Peter Fassbender’s campaign office in fast-growing Surrey to do the same thing.

And this evening, she and the B.C. Liberals are holding a province-wide telephone town hall so that supporters can connect with her and ask (prescreened) questions.

I’ve been listening in to the tele-town hall for around a half hour; it’s just wrapping up. I was kind of hoping to hear Clark articulate some specific policy directions from the platform, but most of what I’ve heard is boilerplate.

Consequently, I haven’t learned much except that Clark and the Liberals really like LNG (liquefied natural gas) and are eager to help big oil companies drill like there’s no tomorrow. Clark even answered a question about education and school funding by pivoting to LNG. (She claimed the development of LNG would allow schools to be amply funded without needing to raise taxes).

The B.C. Liberals’ platform talks about exploiting LNG as if it was a renewable resource that will provide jobs indefinitely. But this isn’t true.

Natural gas does burn more cleanly than coal or oil, but it’s still an exhaustible fossil fuel. Burning it produces emissions and it cannot be extracted without harming the environment – contrary to what the Liberals say in their LNG platform plank:

LNG: Jobs and prosperity

Under our feet lies as much energy as Alberta has in its oil patch. It is in the form of natural gas, a cleaner alternative to oil or coal, in the Northeast corner of British Columbia.

Today, our market for natural gas is in North America, where we only ship it via pipeline.

Tomorrow, our goal is to have a Liquefied Natural Gas industry that will add value to our abundant natural gas resource by shipping it by sea to Asia where it currently sells for over five times the North American price. By realizing this vision we can deliver jobs, opportunity, and a legacy for future generations.

What we are doing about it

LNG facilities are currently proposed by business groups that include some of the world’s biggest energy companies – Shell, Imperial, Chevron, British Gas, Petronas, SK & ES of South Korea, Inpex and the Chinese National Offshore Oil Corporation, to name some of the major players. It’s no fantasy.

The projects means 39,000 jobs to British Columbia during construction with another 75,000 full time jobs once in operation. We can create $1 trillion in economic activity and create the BC Prosperity Fund with $100 billion over 30 years.

An opportunity this good faces lots of global competition. Premier Christy Clark and Today’s BC Liberals have worked diligently to enable LNG as an economic generator for decades to come.

It’s hard to imagine a rosier pitch for LNG. This plank reads like it was written by lobbyists for big oil companies. (And perhaps they did help write it – who knows).

We agree that LNG facilities are no fantasy. And that should be of great concern to all of us here in the Pacific Northwest. If we let oil companies build all the wells, pipelines, and terminals they want, we’ll be sanctioning massive environmental destruction and permitting the release of billions more tons of carbon dioxide and other climate crisis-causing pollutants into the atmosphere.

Is that really the “legacy” we want to leave for future generations?

Our ancestors mined western North America in the 1800s and early 1900s without regard to the cost or consequences. Environmental science wasn’t a science back then. They didn’t know what we know about the environmental ramifications of blowing up mountains or injecting a brew of toxic chemicals into the ground.

Reading the B.C. Liberals’ platform, you’d think they don’t know, either. What century are they living in? They call themselves “Today’s B.C. Liberals”… apparently because they’re too embarrassed to run on their record. No doubt they’d like British Columbians to forget about the scandals of Gordon Campbell’s government (we in America would say administration). But many are determined not to forget.

Clark and her party have spent more time and money campaigning over the last few years than governing, the NDP’s candidates like to say.

Judging by what I’ve seen and heard, plenty of British Columbians share that view and are ready for a change. The NDP has worked hard to capitalize on this sentiment by making “Change for the Better” its official campaign slogan.

Clark, meanwhile, hasn’t done herself any favors. She’s been so ineffective at governing that it was perhaps fitting she spoiled her own ballot by voting for herself instead of the Liberal running to represent her riding. (In British Columbia, a candidate does not have to live in the riding he or she represents – and Clark doesn’t. She lives just outside the border of Vancouver – Point Grey).

Considering how much money Clark’s government has spent campaigning, I was surprised when I joined the call to hear Clark answering questions from a speakerphone. The prescreened callers (many of whom sounded like undecided voters up until they said “You’ve got my vote”) were coming in more clearly than Clark and her facilitator, who interposed lavish praise of Clark in between Clark’s boilerplate-filled answers and questions from callers.

Most of the callers chosen to participate in the tele-town hall were women; it seems Clark and her party feel that they need to shore up their support among women. Recent polling – including a poll released today by AngusReid Public Opinion – shows that women prefer the NDP to the Liberals.

The BC Liberals have not released a campaign schedule for tomorrow but there’s no chance Christy Clark won’t be out and about. The NDP, for its part, has announced a big afternoon rally at the Vancouver Film Studios in the city’s film district. I’ll be at the rally, which will feature NDP leader Adrian Dix and other NDP candidates.

Look for more coverage of the B.C. elections here on The Advocate tomorrow.