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: October 2013

U.S. House passes “Citibill” to partially roll back the Dodd-Frank Reform Act

Once again, something is rotten in the people’s House.

Earlier today, the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives voted two hundred and ninety-two to one hundred and twenty-two to pass H.R. 992, officially titled the Swaps Regulatory Improvement Act. Like MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, we’re calling H.R. 992 Citibill because it was primarily authored by Citigroup lobbyists.

It would repeal a key provision of the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, enacted into law in 2010, that forbids banks from using insured deposits for derivatives trading (also known as financial gambling).

Sadly, seventy Democrats, including several from the Pacific Northwest, joined all but three Republicans in voting for this travesty. Why? Why would seventy Democrats vote for a bill written by Wall Street lobbyists to benefit Wall Street?

Well, this is why:

House aides, when asked why Democrats would vote for this proposal even though the Obama administration opposes it, offered a political explanation. Republicans have enough votes to pass it themselves, so vulnerable House Democrats might as well join them, and collect industry money for their campaigns.

“It is a free vote,” one aide explained Monday.

Emphasis is mine.

Is it any wonder ordinary Americans are fed up with Congress? Lawmakers continue to demonstrate that they care more about serving the wealthy and the powerful than their constituents. One in two members of Congress is a millionaire. Most Americans can only dream about having that kind of wealth.

It costs a lot of money to run campaigns these days, especially in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Corporations United decision, which opened the floodgates for shadowy front groups to operate anonymously on behalf of powerful, wealthy donors, spending big bucks to buy elections. It’s sad that many lawmakers seem more preoccupied with running for reelection than governing.

This includes Democrats as well as Republicans, though it’s worth noting that most of the Democratic caucus did vote no on on Citibill, whereas only three Republicans cast no votes. (The dissenting Republicans were Thomas Massie of Kentucky, John Duncan of Tennessee, and Walter Jones of North Carolina).

With the exception of House Democratic Caucus Chair Xavier Becerra, Democratic leadership either did not vote on the bill (Leader Nancy Pelosi, DCCC Chairman Steve Israel) or voted for it (Whip Steny Hoyer, Assistant Leader James Clyburn).

The roll call from the Pacific Northwest was as follows:

Voting Aye: Democrats Rick Larsen, Derek Kilmer, Denny Heck (WA), Earl Blumenauer and Kurt Schrader (OR); Republicans Doc Hastings, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Dave Reichert (WA), Greg Walden (OR), Raul Labrador and Mike Simpson (ID), Steve Daines (MT), Don Young (AK)

Voting Nay: Democrats Suzan DelBene, Jim McDermott, Adam Smith (WA), Suzanne Bonamici, Pete DeFazio (OR)

Not Voting: Republican Jaime Herrera-Beutler (WA)

Only five representatives from our region – all Democrats – had the courage to stand up to Wall Street and reject Citibill. We’re proud to see Suzan DelBene’s name in the no column, as she represents NPI’s home congressional district. We’re also glad to see that Adam Smith also joined Jim McDermott in casting a no vote.

But we are incredibly disappointed in Rick Larsen, Derek Kilmer, Denny Heck, Earl Blumenauer and Kurt Schrader. This vote is a black mark against all five of them. We’re used to Republicans doing Wall Street’s bidding; we expect anyone who calls him or herself a Democrat to have more integrity than that.

According to Maplight, Wall Street is the top source of campaign cash for six out of Citibill’s eight cosponsors. What’s more, Wall Street has given nearly six times more money to the representatives who voted for the bill than the representatives who voted against. That is not a coincidence: money talks.

Citibill may not have much of a future in the U.S. Senate. Presumably it will be referred to the Senate Banking Committee and/or Senate Finance Committee. Senators Maria Cantwell, Ron Wyden, Jeff Merkley, and Elizabeth Warren sit on those committees, and we’re confident they will make sure this awful legislation gets the negative reception that it deserves.

Poll Watch: Tim Eyman’s Initiative 517 is sinking like a rock, new surveys show

It looks like our efforts to educate voters about the cost and consequences of Tim Eyman’s initiative on initiative (I-517) are starting to pay off. Hurrah!

The last two surveys to gauge support for Initiative 517 both show support for the measure dropping, and the most recent of the two – just released today – finds that opposition to I-517 is greater than the support for I-517, with just a week to go before Election Day. This is big news, and very good news.

The polls were conducted by the firms founded by Stuart Elway (out of Seattle) and Bob Moore (run out of Portland). Elway and Moore have both been conducting public opinion research in the Pacific Northwest for a very long time.

Here are the results from Elway’s poll:

Elway Poll on I-517 of 413 registered voters
Conducted October 15th – 17th (landlines and cellphones)
Margin of error is plus or minus five percentage points

Yes: 52% (25% definitely yes)
No: 25% (18% definitely no)
Undecided: 23%

Elway previously polled on I-517 in September and found support for the measure at 58% and opposition at 22%. Elway’s October poll was mostly conducted prior to the launch of the NO on I-517 Coalition’s television spot, “Get Ready”. Moore Information’s poll, on the other hand, was conducted after “Get Ready” had begun airing, and shows support for I-517 collapsing:

Moore Information Poll on I-517 of 500 likely voters
Conducted October 23rd – 24th (landlines and cellphones)
Margin of error is plus or minus four percentage points

Have already voted or plan to vote

Yes: 33%
No: 40%
Don’t know/refused: 27%

Among those who have already voted, Moore found opposition was even higher. 48% said they had voted no on I-517, while 28% said they had voted yes and 24% did not know or refused to answer. That’s a very big gap between yes and no. If the trend holds, we could see I-517 go down to defeat by a comfortable margin.

More insights from Moore:

Importantly, intensity is stronger on the “no” side – among those who have yet to cast their ballots, 21% say they are a “definite” no vote, while only 11% are a definite “yes” vote.

There is plurality opposition to I-517 in Eastern Washington and the Central Puget Sound region, but a plurality of voters residing in the rest of Western Washington outside Central Puget Sound favor the measure.  Both Democrats and Republicans oppose I-517, but Independents are supportive. There are also significant differences in sentiment by age – younger voters (age 18-34) support I-517, while voters age 35-64 are divided and a plurality of seniors are opposed.

It looks like we need to bolster our outreach to young voters. But it’s good to know that our campaign is making a difference.

The NO on I-517 Coalition is one of the most diverse, bipartisan campaigns ever assembled to oppose a ballot measure in Washington State. It includes NPI and the Washington State Democratic Party, as well as the Mainstream Republicans and the Association of Washington Business. Governor Jay Inslee opposes I-517, as does former Attorney General Rob McKenna, who he ran against last year.

Seattle’s major sports teams are on board too, as are most of the state’s retailers, from the independent and family owned grocers that belong to the Washington Food Industry Association to the well-known supermarkets and home improvement stores that have provided financial support to the coalition.

As of this week, the coalition has raised around $600,000 in cash and in-kind contributions. Most of the coalition’s donors are individuals or independently-owned, family-run stores. The largest donations to the campaign have come from Safeway, Kroger, and the Washington Retail Association.

The Yes side has barely reported raising any money since the signature drive ended. Tim Eyman has minimized his involvement in the campaign, and claims to be working on an initiative for 2014. Eyman and his associates’ I-517 operation remains under investigation by the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) for violating the state’s public disclosure laws during the initiative’s signature drive last year.

Tentative deal averts grocery strike here; Bay Area’s BART work stoppage ended by accord

And now, for some good news!

The United Food and Commercial Workers announced this evening that its negotiating team has been able to reach an agreement with Allied Employers on a new (and presumably fair) contract, thereby averting a strike against Fred Meyer, QFC, Safeway, and Albertson’s stores throughout western Washington.

Meanwhile, down in California, striking Bay Area Rapid Transit workers are preparing to go back on the job after their union reached an accord with BART management, ending the latest strike that has paralyzed greater San Francisco.

In a statement, UFCW’s negotiating team said:

We are very pleased to announce that today at 5 PM the union member bargaining team from UFCW 21 & 367 and Teamsters 38 reached a tentative agreement with the national grocery chains in contract negotiations. This tentative agreement has been unanimously recommended by the union member bargaining team.

Details will not to be released until after union members themselves have had the opportunity to review the tentative agreement and vote on it. The times and locations of those vote meetings will be announced in the coming days after arrangements have been made to schedule the votes. [Some union members have been working past the expiration of their existing contract; meetings will be held for them first.]

Allied Employers affirmed that a deal had been reached:

We are pleased to announce that we have reached a tentative settlement agreement with the unions that continues to preserve good wages, secure pensions and access to quality, affordable health care for our employees. Details of the tentative agreement will not be made public pending ratification.

We congratulate UFCW, the Teamsters, and Allied Employers on their successful negotiations. It seems the threat of a strike had a positive effect on the negotiations, and that is what strikes are all about: ensuring workers have some leverage over management, so they can win a fair contract.

Down in the Bay Area, the paralysis caused by Bay Area Rapid Transit going offline is set to end. BART workers are heading back to work after their union reached an accord with BART management. The news was announced by BART General Manager Grace Crunican, formerly of the Seattle Department of Transportation.

We are pleased to announce that we have reached a tentative agreement with union leadership that will bring the trains back into service, starting tomorrow, while union members consider the agreement and vote on it.

This is a good package for our union members while still allowing the District to make the necessary investments in our infrastructure. That investment is critical to the future of the Bay Area.

We believe the tentative agreement will allow us to go forward with a commitment to working together.

I won’t go into details about the tentative agreement. I will simply say it sets BART on a path of partnerships with union members and helps us to prepare for the future.

This has been a long and difficult negotiation. I want to thank the union leaders, the mediators and the BART Board of Directors for the hard work that has gone into getting us to the tentative agreement.

Our thanks to all of you in the public for your patience through this very difficult process.

For their part, the leadership of the Amalgamated Transit Union said they were glad they were able to reach an agreement to end the strike. “We will go back to work and continue our efforts to keep the Bay Area moving,” ATU Local 1555 President Antonette Bryant told reporters at the joint press conference.

Strikes are rarely pleasant; they often inconvenience people and disrupt routines. But that’s the whole point. Employers don’t want to have to idle factories or shutter stores. The threat of a strike gives them motivation to bargain in good faith with their workers. And the occasional strike, like the one that just ended in the Bay Area, reminds employers that the threat of a strike is not an idle one.

Thankfully, UFCW and the Teamsters didn’t actually need to go on strike to win a decent contract this time, and that’s something we can all celebrate.

Know where to shop for groceries in the event that UFCW members go on strike

As of this morning, we are twelve hours away from a possible strike against Fred Meyer, Safeway, Albertson’s, and QFC by our brothers and sisters in the United Food & Commercial Workers, Local 21. The hardworking members of Local 21 are trying to negotiate a new contract with the big chains, but so far, they have been unable to reach an agreement. UFCW Local 21′s members have authorized a strike in the event an agreement is not reached by 7 PM tonight.

In preparation for the strike, the chains have begun putting out signs announcing that they may soon be hiring temporary workers (or scabs, in union parlance).

If there is a strike, we ask that all of our readers honor it by not shopping at any Fred Meyer, Safeway, QFC, or Albertson’s store until the workers agree on a contract with the management of these companies, which are represented by Allied Employers. Stand in solidarity with UFCW workers – don’t cross a picket line.

And even if there isn’t a picket line, don’t go into a store where workers have walked off the job because they were unable to obtain a fair contract.

Here are the sticking points in the negotiations, according to UFCW:

  • No healthcare coverage for everyone working less than 30 hours a week (and that means they will cut hours so no one works more than 30 hours/week).
  • No time-and-a-half on holidays
  • No cost of living wage increase and massive cuts in many parts of their contracts.

Negotiations have been ongoing for months, but have not resulted in an agreement. Time is running out and it looks like a walkout could be imminent.

UFCW has posted a map and a list of all of the local, unionized grocers in Western Washington where you can take your business during a strike. If you’re into eating healthy and eating organic, you’ll be glad to know PCC Natural Markets is on the list of stores that are safe to patronize. You can also shop at Metropolitan Market, Haggen, Top Food & Drug, or Uwajimaya stores.

UFCW also has a list of pharmacies in King County that will be unaffected by the strike. Hopefully they’ll update that list to make it more comprehensive.

By boycotting the aforementioned big chains in the event of a labor dispute, you’re supporting their workers’ efforts to win a fair contract.

The Stand has more information about the negotiations between UFCW and Allied Employers (Fred Meyer, QFC, Safeway, and Albertson’s).

Marco Rubio is wrong: Setting up a website where people can buy something is not simple

This morning, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida appeared on Fox Noise Channel’s Sunday morning show to talk politics with Chris Wallace. One of the topics the two men discussed was the rollout of the Patient Protection Act’s online exchanges, which unfortunately hasn’t gone too well. (Many people have tried to use the exchanges, only to be foiled by glitches and errors).

During Rubio’s appearance, Wallace asked if Republicans were perhaps overstating the extent of the problems. Rubio replied:

No. You know, they need to get 7 million people on this thing. So, at the rate they’re going, even by their own numbers, it’s going to get there. Of course, many of these people that are filled this out certainly had made mistakes. Many — some won’t qualify.

Beyond that, you know, there is a lot of work to be done, in terms of getting other people on there, and there is no mechanism for them to be able to do that.

And let me tell you why that’s concerning — if enough people don’t sign up for this program, certain background in terms of health and so forth, the premiums on this program are going to become unaffordable. It gets into the sort of debt spiral where the premiums keep going up and then the whole program collapses.

And that’s the direction that we’re headed in.

But, again, I… the point that I wanted to make was, setting up… in [the] 21st century, setting up a Web site where people can go on and buy something is not that complicated. People do this every day. The inability of the federal government to set up a Web site where people can go on and buy something like health insurance does not bode well for the much more complicated elements of this law that are yet to be rolled out.

Emphasis is mine.

To me, Senator Rubio’s comment shows just how out of touch he is. I bet he’s never had to set up a website where people can “go on and buy something.” I have, and I can say from experience that Marco Rubio is wrong. Setting up an ecommerce storefront and getting it to work properly is a complicated endeavor.

Let’s consider what is involved, shall we?

We’ll begin by discussing the difference between just publishing something on the Web and doing business on the Web.

Web publishing is easy to do. If you want to publish something for the world to see, all you need is a computer or a device that can connect to the Internet (which most Americans have or can get access to). You can set up a blog or a web page in minutes using any number of different platforms. You can also establish an account on Facebook, Twitter, or another social network.

Doing business on the Web is not as simple as publishing to the Web. Why? Well, because when you buy or sell goods and services on the Web, you exchange sensitive information with other people. Typically, that includes your name, address, phone number, email address and your payment details, including credit card number. Or maybe even your bank account number and bank routing number.

This information needs to be properly stored, and handled with care while it is in transit. This is where encryption comes in.

Ordinarily, when you connect to a website, you do so over an unencrypted connection. In other words, the bits flowing between your computer and the remote server (i.e. nwprogressive.org) are being transmitted in the clear, which means your communications can be easily intercepted and read by others.

Most web browsing happens over unencrypted connections. There are those who believe encryption really ought to be the default, and we are among them.

However, encryption is the default for ecommerce sites already. It has to be, because otherwise that sensitive information would be transmitted to and from websites in the clear. It is ridiculously easy to eavesdrop on unsecured web traffic.

To guard against snooping, we have SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) and TLS (Transport Layer Security). These protocols scramble traffic before it goes over the Internet so it can’t be easily read. SSL and TLS aren’t foolproof – in fact, we recently learned the NSA has compromised them – but they nevertheless provide important protection against snooping and eavesdropping. SSL and TLS are used by ecommerce sites large and small, from Amazon and Newegg on down.

An entrepreneur not worried about branding or having full control over their users’ experience can use a site like CafePress to set up a store. CafePress is essentially an online marketplace that lets people buy and sell merchandise. Sites like CafePress take care of all of the hosting, maintenance, administration, and security.

But, if you want to set up “a website where people can go on and buy something”, as Senator Rubio put it, you become responsible for those things.

To get started, you need:

  • a domain name for your website that reflects your brand or company name
  • a web hosting account that supports secure hosting and comes with a unique IP (Internet Protocol) address
  • a secure certificate
  • shopping cart software to run your storefront (either a standalone solution like Zen Cart or a bolt-on ecommerce plugin like WooCommerce for a content management system like WordPress)
  • a theme (set of templates) to control the look and feel of your store
  • optionally, addons to allow your shopping cart solution to talk to your payment processor and simplify order fulfillment

Nearly all of these things cost money, so the first order of business is really raising money to set up the store. Minimally, an entrepreneur needs a few hundred dollars for the above. That doesn’t include any other startup costs.

People expect to be able to pay by credit card when they shop online (it’s the standard) so if your intention is to operate an online store that does a lot of business, you simply have to have the capability to take credit cards. To do that, you’ll minimally need a bank account and a payment processor.

You can outsource payment processing to PayPal, but serious merchants avoid PayPal because PayPal isn’t a bank and doesn’t have to follow federal banking regulations. It’s better to have a merchant services account and use an alternative payment processor that can integrate tightly with your shopping cart. That way, you have complete control of the checkout process.

If you accept credit cards, you must comply with Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS). PCI DSS is essentially a set of mandatory best practices for handling cardholder information that evolved from five separate standards created by Visa, MasterCard, Discover, JCB, and American Express. The requirements are complex – the document explaining them runs seventy-five pages.

Some businesses must also comply with federal laws like HIPAA and Sarbanes-Oxley (Sox or Sarbox) if they take/store certain kinds of sensitive information.

Before you can do any test transactions, you have to set up your bank account, merchant services account, and web hosting account.

As mentioned above, your website needs to have its own unique IP address. This is because older computers and smartphones running older operating systems don’t understand Server Name Indication. (SNI is a technology that allows multiple websites to share one IP address for secure connections). Because IPv4 addresses are scarce, getting a unique IP often costs extra money.

You also need a secure certificate so that users don’t see an “Untrusted” warning in their browser when they visit your store. There are many different types of certificates available to choose from. The ones with the most bells and whistles are called EV (Extended Validation) certificates. If you get one of these, users’ browser URL bars will turn partially or completely green when they visit your online store, signifying a secure and trusted connection.

After you buy a certificate, you’ll need to install it, just like everything else.

Once you have all of this, you need to decide what shopping cart software to use. Again, there are many choices. Some solutions are more feature-complete than others. WooCommerce, for instance, is a free plugin that lets you set up a store inside of the content management system WordPress, but you’ll have to buy add-ons to make it work with your payment processor and your courier of choice.

Shopping cart solutions are designed to help you do the following (and more!):

  • Set up product pages and upload product images
  • Create promotions and optionally promo codes
  • Manage product inventory; disallow sales of a product when the existing inventory has been depleted, or switch the product to backorder/preorder
  • Calculate sales taxes or other taxes and add these to the total
  • Calculate shipping charges and simplify order fulfillment if you’re selling a physical good of some kind that will need to be delivered
  • Perform address verification and transmit credit card information to the payment processor for authorization and capture
  • Email the customer a receipt after they complete a purchase

Even though shopping cart solutions cut down the amount of work that’s involved, they still need to be configured. Most software packages come with a large number of controls to accommodate users who want to be able to fully customize their stores. Learning what all the different controls do can take some time.

People do, as Marco Rubio said, set up online stores every day. But that doesn’t mean it is easy. Is it as complicated as, say, rocket science, to use the cliché? No – setting up an online store is easier than stepping into the shoes of a NASA engineer or scientist. But it’s not a piece of cake, and it can’t be done in a day, even by someone with a lot of experience. There’s just too much work involved.

Think about all the decisions that go into setting up a business and a store. There are some big ones. Choosing a bank or credit union. Choosing a merchant services provider and payment processor. Choosing a web host. Choosing the software that will run the store. Choosing a courier or couriers.

I have set up donation infrastructure for nonprofits and ecommerce infrastructure for for-profits. Every project I’ve done or helped with has been complex.

I’m guessing Marco Rubio has never set up an online store, otherwise he would not have gone on national television and said “setting up a Web site where people can go on and buy something” is “not that complicated.”

Because it actually *is* that complicated.

I’d wager that if Rubio had to create his own online store from scratch, even with a small team of technical advisors and consultants at his side, it would take him weeks. Even if he was doing it for a firm that had already incorporated.

There’s no question in my mind the rollout of the exchanges could have been handled better. In the software world, you don’t release to manufacturing or go gold until you’ve done a sufficient amount of beta testing.

The Obama administration is realizing this. They weren’t prepared enough for October 1st. They’re now bringing in programmers and Web infrastructure specialists to help make healthcare.gov and its associated websites work better.

It would be nice if Republicans were interested in being constructive and making the Patient Protection Act work. But instead they’re bent on repealing it. They would rather make political hay out of the online exchanges’ glitches than fix them.

NPI launches BallotGuide.info, a microsite that demystifies ballot measures

On behalf of the team at here at the Northwest Progressive Institute, I’m pleased to announce this evening that we have launched BallotGuide.info, a new microsite designed to help progressive voters navigate the many measures on the 2013 general election ballot in Washington State.

(Microsites, for those who don’t speak tech, are very small standalone websites that consist of either a single web page or a few web pages. BallotGuide.info is extremely simple – it is a single web page at its own domain).

BallotGuide was created to demystify voting on ballot measures. Measures are represented on the pieces of paper we do our voting on as ballot titles (or ballot questions, if you like). These ballot titles, typically written by the Attorney General’s office, are sometimes lacking context or even devoid of context.

For example, Initiative 517, which NPI’s Permanent Defense has been fighting for months, is a self-serving Tim Eyman initiative that violates free speech rights and property rights. It’s opposed by a diverse coalition of businesses, labor unions, sports teams like the Seahawks and Sounders, progressive organizations like NPI and conservative organizations like the Mainstream Republicans.

But you wouldn’t know that from reading Initiative 517′s ballot title.

Similarly, the backstory on the five “advisory votes” that are on our ballots below the two initiatives is missing. The language of the advisory vote questions is dictated by Tim Eyman’s Initiative 960, as are the answers (“Repealed” and “Maintained”). The language is one-sided and largely without context. Nowhere is it explained that the advisory votes are nonbinding and meaningless, or that the revenue increases in question were already passed by the Legislature as part of the state budget, or that the advisory votes are required by a Tim Eyman initiative.

BallotGuide.info seeks to mitigate this problem by providing a marked-up example ballot. Overlaid notes on red text provide useful context, while arrows point to the correct ovals that a progressive voter should fill in. To the right of the example ballot are NPI’s recommendations, with even longer explanations and links to the relevant campaign websites (like Yes on 522 and No on I-517).

At the bottom are links to additional resources a progressive voter can make use of while filling out his or her ballot. We don’t endorse candidates or do electioneering for or against candidates; we only cover contests for elected office through our publications, including The Advocate. But Fuse Washington maintains a progressive voter’s guide and the Washington State Democratic Party has an endorsements finder. We’ve included links to both of those tools on BallotGuide.info.

We encourage you to check out BallotGuide.info and share it with friends, family, and neighbors. Help others cast an informed vote in 2013.

House Speaker Tom Foley: 1929-2013

This morning, we lost a legend in Washington and U.S. politics.

Tom Foley, who served the Evergreen State with distinction in the House of Representatives for several decades, died of complications from multiple strokes in the early hours of the day today, his family has announced. He was eighty-four.

Tom Foley (Portrait from The Legacy Project)

Tom Foley (Portrait from The Secretary of State’s Legacy Project)

Foley, the last Democrat to represent Washington’s 5th Congressional District, rose to be Speaker of the House of Representatives in the late 1980s, becoming the first Speaker of the House from west of Texas.

He was an effective legislator, an able listener, and an enthusiastic mentor to younger lawmakers.

His career was abruptly ended in the 1994 midterm elections, when attorney George Nethercutt ousted him from office, but he went on to serve as the United States’ ambassador to Japan on behalf of President Clinton, and he remained engaged and involved in politics throughout his final years.

I caught up with him last year with Charlotte at the Democratic National Convention; he joined the Washington State Democratic delegation’s morning breakfasts and sat with us inside Time Warner Cable Arena during the general sessions.

It was a great honor to meet with him and talk politics with him.

Following his defeat in the 1994 midterms, The Spokesman-Review praised him for serving with integrity while in office and accepting defeat with grace. Unlike his successor, he was an honorable man… a wise and thoughtful elected leader.

Remembrances and tributes have been flowing freely since the family acknowledged his passing, from the White House on down.

“Today, America has lost a legend of the United States Congress,” said President Barack Obama in a statement. “For thirty years, Tom Foley represented the people of Washington’s 5th district with skill, dedication, and a deep commitment to improving the lives of those he was elected to serve.”

“Tom’s straightforward approach helped him find common ground with members of both parties, eventually leading to his election as the 57th Speaker of the House,” the President added. “After his career in Congress, Tom served as the U.S. Ambassador to Japan, where his poise and civility helped strengthen our relationship with one of our closest allies. Michelle and I send our thoughts and prayers to Tom’s wife, Heather, and the entire Foley family.”

“Jill and I were saddened to hear of the passing of former Speaker Tom Foley,” said Vice President Joe Biden. “Tom was a good friend and a dedicated public servant. It was an honor to work with him during the budget summits of the 1980s that did so much to secure our nation’s future, and when he served overseas as our nation’s Ambassador to Japan. He was a good man.”

“When I was first elected to Congress, Tom was serving as Speaker of the House, and I will never forget the way he welcomed me to ‘the other Washington,’ and the incredible example he set as a tireless public servant for our state,” said Washington’s senior senator, Patty Murray.

Tom Foley and Patty Murray

Former House Speaker Tom Foley confers with U.S. Senator Patty Murray at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo: Washington State Democratic Party)

“Tom spent his life serving his state and his country, and his legacy is felt not only in Eastern Washington, but around the world. From his work to build new roads, protect public lands, and bring federal resources to Spokane, to his career as a statesman overseas, Tom touched the lives of everyone he encountered, whether it was a wheat farmer in Washington or a foreign dignitary in Japan.

“He will be missed by me and by all those who knew him. My thoughts are with his wife, Heather, and all of his family and loved ones today.”

“Washington lost a historic figure today with the passing of former U.S. House Speaker Tom Foley,” agreed Governor Jay Inslee. “Trudi and I extend our condolences to Heather, the entire Foley family and his friends.”

“Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, prosecutor, Ambassador to Japan – Tom Foley did all of those things in the course of his life. And at the heart of  every one of those roles was a passion to serve. He served the victims of crime. He served the citizens of Spokane. He served the State of Washington.”

“And he served this great nation of ours. He was a giant at a time when bipartisan cooperation for the good of the country was the norm, not the exception. He dedicated his life to making his community, his state, and his country a better place. He did it by reaching across the aisle, by bringing people together, by finding common ground. A true statesman knows how to unite people around their mutual, shared interests, while still respecting the differences among individuals.

“That’s the example Tom set, and it’s something all public servants should strive to emulate. It was an honor to serve with him during my time in Congress.”

“America has lost a great leader and a wonderful human being,” said Senator Maria Cantwell. “Tom Foley typified what is best about political leadership, leading no matter what the consequences. Today, all Washingtonians’ thoughts and prayers are with Tom’s wife, Heather, and the Foley family.”

“Everyone liked Tom Foley… He had an unbelievable ability to communicate and fight for the people he represented. A proud son of Spokane, Tom rose to become the nation’s first Speaker of the House from west of the Rocky Mountains.”

“He became one of the most powerful politicians in the country, but he never forgot where he came from. His footprints are left all over the State of Washington and our nation, from modern agriculture and trade policy to Fairchild Air Force Base and the expansion of the Grand Coulee Dam.”

“Tom Foley will always be remembered as the King of Agriculture. He worked across the aisle to create the modern food stamp program, combating hunger in America while broadening the agriculture market.”

“Representing an agricultural district, Tom worked to make sure products grown in Washington State made it to dinner tables all around the world. He was a leader in opening Asian and other markets to Northwest wheat and cherries. And he worked with both President Carter and President Reagan to continue the Columbia Basin Irrigation Project that kept water flowing in Eastern Washington.”

“As Tom said: ‘A strong agriculture economy is absolutely essential for a strong national economy.’ Today, those words still ring true. Tom Foley’s impact will be felt for generations to come in Washington state and across our nation. Tom was a true legend, and he will never be forgotten.”

“For thirty-six years, Speaker Tom Foley served our country as a quintessential champion of the common good,” said House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, who became America’s first woman speaker and the second from west of Texas in 2007.  “A proud son of Washington State, he stood on the strength of his principles and inspired a sense of purpose and civility that reflects the best of our democracy.”

“In his years leading the House of Representatives, Speaker Foley’s unrivaled ability to build consensus and find common ground earned him genuine respect on both sides of the aisle. The year I took office, he secured a much-needed budget compromise that restored public faith in our financial security and confidence in Congress. That characteristic passion for fairness and deep respect for others later defined his extraordinary work as President Clinton’s Ambassador to Japan.”

“Today, our country mourns the loss of a leader whose authenticity, dedication, and diplomacy will forever serve as an example to all of us who strive to make a difference through public service. It was an honor to serve with him as a colleague; it was a privilege to know him as a friend. We only hope it is a comfort to his wife Heather and his family that so many mourn their loss at this sad time.”

Obituaries and appreciations worth reading:

President Barack Obama signs legislation to reopen government and avert default; federal employees directed to return to work

Our latest Republican-instigated manufactured fiscal crisis is over. Finally.

From the White House, received moments ago:

On Thursday, October 17, 2013, the President signed into law:

H.R. 2775, the “Continuing Appropriations Act, 2014,” which provides fiscal year 2014 appropriations for projects and activities of the Federal Government through Wednesday, January 15, 2014.  The effective time for the continuing resolution begins on October 1, 2013.  H.R. 2775 also extends the Nation’s debt limit through February 7, 2014.

H.R. 2775 is now the law. That means the shutdown is over and there will be no default tomorrow. We have narrowly avoided what could have been a major, awful, terrible, horrible, no-good economic catastrophe.

Prior to the bill signing, President Obama’s budget director, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, announced that federal employees would be expected back at work on Thursday morning.  “Employees should be checking the news and OPM’s website for further updates,” she said in a brief statement issued at 7:55 PM Pacific Daylight Time.

The White House later released the text of a memorandum prepared by Burwell for agency leaders and Cabinet departments. The memorandum reads as follows:

M-14-01
Memorandum for the heads of executive departments and agencies

FROM: Sylvia M. Burwell, Director
SUBJECT: Reopening Departments and Agencies

This memorandum follows the September 30th memorandum M-13-24, and updates the status of appropriations for Fiscal Year 2014.

Today, the President signed a continuing resolution that brings employees back to work and reopens many government functions. All employees who were on furlough due to the absence of appropriations may now return to work.

You should reopen offices in a prompt and orderly manner.

We appreciate very much your cooperation and efforts during this difficult period. Thank you and your teams for your service and your continued work on behalf of the American people under the challenging circumstances of the past few weeks.

Reopening the government won’t be simple, easy, or cheap, but at least it will begin happening as of tomorrow morning, and that is welcome news for every American family and every American business. All of the crucial public services that depend on congressional appropriations will begin functioning again.

Meanwhile, the Department of the Treasury will be able to pay our nation’s bills, at least until February, when further congressional action will be needed.

“We welcome the bipartisan action Congress is taking to resolve this crisis, re-open the government, and lift the cloud of uncertainty hanging over the economy,” said Secretary Jacob Lew in a statement released by the Department of the Treasury.

“Over two hundred and twenty-four years, the United States has established our credit as the strongest in the world. The United States is the anchor of the international financial system and the world’s reserve currency. We are the world’s largest economy with the deepest and most liquid financial markets. When risk rises, the flight to safety and to quality brings investors to U.S. markets.”

“Because of today’s efforts, we will continue to honor all of our commitments – a core American value – and preserve the full faith and credit of the United States.”

U.S. House signs off on deal to reopen the federal government and pay America’s bills

An eleventh-hour agreement negotiated by Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell to reopen the federal government and pay America’s bills was accepted by the U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday night after top House Republicans admitted that their attempts to extract a ransom in exchange for simply fulfilling their basic responsibilities as representatives had failed miserably.

With less than few hours to spare, the House signed off on the Senate’s amendments to H.R. 2775, sending the legislation to President Barack Obama for his signature. The White House said the president was prepared to sign the legislation immediately, thereby allowing agencies that depend on congressional appropriations to reopen for business beginning tomorrow. The Department of the Treasury, meanwhile, will soon have the authority it needs to pay the nation’s bills.

The deal proposed by Reid and McConnell and passed by Congress can be likened to a band-aid that was quickly placed over a wound that was on the verge of beginning to bleed very badly. It treats only symptoms and does not address any of the underlying root problems that have caused us to lurch from one manufactured fiscal crisis to another. But its importance cannot be understated.

The agreement keeps the so-called “sequester” in effect and only keeps agencies subject to the appropriations process funded through mid-January, setting up another budget showdown after the new year. The so-called debt ceiling (debt repayment ceiling would be more appropriate) will need to be raised again by mid-February in order to once again prevent a default.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi rallied her entire caucus behind the agreement. With the exception of two Democrats who are out sick, Pelosi and her leadership team delivered the votes of every single Democratic member of the House. John Boehner, on the other hand, was only able to persuade eighty-six of his colleagues to vote with him to reopen the government and pay America’s bills. One hundred and forty-four Republicans refused to go along.

The final tally was two hundred and eighty-five ayes, one hundred and forty-four nays. As noted, all of the nays came from Republicans.

The roll call from the Pacific Northwest was as follows:

Voting Aye: Democrats Suzan DelBene, Rick Larsen, Derek Kilmer, Jim McDermott, Adam Smith, Denny Heck (WA), Suzanne Bonamici, Peter DeFazio, Earl Blumenauer, Kurt Schrader (OR); Republicans Jaime Herrera-Beutler, Doc Hastings, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Dave Reichert (WA), Don Young (AK), Steve Daines (MT), Mike Simpson (ID)

Voting Nay: Republicans Greg Walden (OR) and Raúl Labrador (ID)

Earlier today, NPI asked the Republican members of our region’s congressional delegation to vote to reopen the federal government and authorize the Department of the Treasury to pay the bills. Most did so, even Doc Hastings and Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who represent the most conservative districts in Washington State.

To them, we say thank you. The shutdown never should have happened in the first place, and Republicans were wrong to try to extract a ransom just for doing their jobs. But all of the Republicans in the aye column above deserve credit for their votes. They did what we asked them to do today, and we are grateful.

Greg Walden and Raúl Labrador, on the other hand, failed to do as we asked. They voted to keep the government closed and to bring on a catastrophic default. They may think or say they cast a principled vote. But in truth what they did was incredibly irresponsible and reckless. And that’s putting it mildly.

Walden, in particular, should be ashamed of himself. Labrador is a known member of the Ted Cruz fan club – his vote was certainly irresponsible, but it also wasn’t much of a surprise. Walden, however, is part of John Boehner’s circle. He is much more experienced and he should know better. He should have joined with Boehner and McMorris Rodgers in voting aye. We at NPI hope the progressive constituents in his district won’t let their fellow citizens forget about his vote tonight.

We cannot commend Nancy Pelosi enough for her leadership. Once again, she has shown what a capable organizer and legislator she is. She kept the entire House Democratic caucus together and made sure that every Democratic representative voted to reopen the federal government and pay America’s bills.

Her efforts and Harry Reid’s efforts resulted in a remarkable outcome: Total and complete Democratic unity in both houses of Congress. No defections. Not one. This is something that we have rarely seen, but it’s wonderful.

We can all sleep a bit easier tonight knowing that we will not have to wake up to scary headlines tomorrow morning and and the frightening prospect of our government defaulting on our nation’s debt.

U.S. Senate votes overwhelmingly to reopen federal government and pay America’s bills

At long last, we finally have some decent news out of the Other Washington.

By a vote of eighty-one to eighteen, the United States Senate has voted to approve legislation that reopens the federal government through mid-January and allows the U.S. Department of the Treasury to pay America’s bills through mid-February. More than half of the Senate Republican caucus joined with every single one of the Senate’s Democrats and the chamber’s two independents to pass the bill.

“I want to thank the leaders of both parties for getting us to this point,” said President Barack Obama in an appearance at the White House following the vote, referring to Senators Harry Reid of Nevada and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

“Once this agreement arrives on my desk, I will sign it immediately. We’ll begin reopening our government immediately, and we can begin to lift this cloud of uncertainty and unease from our businesses and from the American people.”

“I’ll have more to say about this tomorrow. And I’ve got some thoughts about how we can move forward in the remainder of the year and stay focused on the job at hand, because there is a lot of work ahead of us, including our need to earn back the trust of the American people that has been lost over the last few weeks. And we can begin to do that by addressing the real issues that they care about.”

The Pacific Northwest roll call on H.R. 2275, as amended, was as follows:

Voting Aye: Democrats Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray (WA); Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley (OR); Mark Begich (AK); Jon Tester and Max Baucus (MT); Republican Lisa Murkowski (AK)

Voting Nay: Republicans Jim Risch and Mike Crapo (ID)

Jeers to the Idaho delegation for being among the eighteen intransigent Republicans who voted no. Even Mitch McConnell and John Thune voted to avert a default. But Jim Risch and Mike Crapo? Nah, they’re not interested in preventing an economic calamity from befalling this country and the world community.

Washington’s own Patty Murray, the fourth highest ranking member of the Senate Democratic caucus and the chairwoman of the Committee on the Budget, issued a lengthy statement following the Senate vote. She said:

Tonight I share with every Washington State family a deep sense of relief that this embarrassing episode is nearing an end.

These past few weeks have seen the dysfunction in Washington D.C. seep its way into the lives and livelihoods of families in ways that are completely unacceptable and that were entirely preventable.

Families across our state have every right to be angry with the fact they’ve been made victims by an unnecessary crisis that they didn’t create and had no control over.

I hope that if any lesson comes of these last few weeks it’s that the American people will not tolerate being held hostage and that the constant cycle of governing by crisis must come to an end.

Thankfully, as part of the agreement to end this crisis, Republicans have now finally agreed to the budget conference committee that I have been asking for over the last six months. I am looking forward to the big challenge that bridging the significant differences between the House and Senate budgets presents, I am absolutely committed to finding common ground, and I hope Republicans are too.

I first ran for the Senate because I saw a Congress that was disconnected from the lives of my neighbors and friends.

I believed then – as I continue to do now – that bringing the struggles, successes, and hopes of regular Washington state families to the debates in Washington D.C. helps create a government that is more responsive to their needs.

Today we find ourselves at a similar crossroads, where so many Americans rightly feel like their voices aren’t being heard. Too often regular Americans’ calls for bipartisanship and progress are being hijacked by whoever yells the loudest or causes the biggest commotion. Despite all that we have in common, our politics continues to be more and more defined by what sets us apart.

My hope is that in the weeks and months ahead we can heal many of the partisan divides that keep us from addressing the big challenges we face, including returning our focus to creating jobs and improving our economy. But most importantly, I hope that we heed the call of every American to do everything we can to ensure we never repeat the damaging crises we are on the verge of emerging from.

We expect a statement from Senator Maria Cantwell soon and will update this post when we get it. We are also hoping to get reaction from Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley of Oregon. Most senators have furloughed their staffs, so they are not operating normally due to the shutdown.

H.R. 2275 (as amended) now moves to the U.S. House of Representatives. John Boehner and his deputies have signaled they will put the bill on a fast track to passage so that it can get to President Obama’s desk quickly. It’s not clear how many Republican votes Boehner will be able to deliver, but it’s expected that Democrats will provide the overwhelming majority of votes to reopen the government and allow Treasury to pay the nation’s bills.

An open letter to the Pacific Northwest members of the House Republican caucus

Editor’s note: The following letter was transmitted by facsimile to the offices of Dave Reichert, Greg Walden, and Mike Simpson this morning. A slightly different letter was sent to Raul Labrador, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, and Doc Hastings, who are known for being hardliners. All of the aforementioned individuals represent (or purport to represent) portions of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho in the United States House of Representatives as Republicans.

Dear Representative:

As of tomorrow, October 17th, 2013, we will have reached the point at which the Department of the Treasury says it will no longer have the ability to use “extraordinary measures” to continue paying bills on behalf of the United States. Furthermore, it will have been two and a half weeks since much of the federal government had to shut down due to you and your Republican colleagues’ indefensible refusal to pass a continuing resolution to keep public services that depend on congressional appropriations open and functioning.

I am writing to ask you to join House Democrats in voting for the legislation that Senate leaders from both parties are drawing up that would reopen the government and authorize Treasury to pay our nation’s bills. An agreement has been reached and the Senate is expected to codify it within the next few hours.

I fully appreciate that in casting such a vote, you’ll be risking the wrath of some in your party who see Democratic capitulation as the only acceptable outcome of this manufactured fiscal crisis. But I’m asking you to take that vote anyway.

I’m asking you to put your country first and restore some semblance of calm and confidence in our system of government, which appears to be malfunctioning horribly because your caucus is in the grip of extremists.

Yesterday, your colleague, Representative Herrera-Beutler, released a statement in which she pledged to vote to end the shutdown and prevent us from defaulting. Here is an excerpt from her news release:

Despite my skepticism, until now I have refrained from public comment on the House budget negotiating strategy. I wanted to give House Republican leaders leeway to craft the best deal they could. But it’s time to reopen the government and ensure we don’t default on our debt. I will not vote for poison pills that have no chance of passing the Senate or being signed into law. [...] Nothing positive will be achieved by prolonging this shutdown any longer, or crossing the debt limit threshold. It’s time for my colleagues to face reality.

Though I wish Representative Herrera-Beutler had said this weeks ago, I’m very glad she has finally chosen to go on the record and clearly state that she is prepared to vote to reopen our government and pay our bills.

I ask that you now make the same public commitment that she has.

Even the people who run the organizations who have been demanding that House Republicans take a hard line appear to understand what the reality is.

Just this morning, the chief executive officer of Heritage Action, Michael Needham, was on Fox’s America’s Newsroom, and he admitted that what House Republicans have been trying to accomplish is not realistic:

Well, everybody knows that we’re not going to be able to repeal this law until 2017, and that we have to win the Senate and win the White House.

So what’s with the hostage-taking, then? It has not led to any positive outcome of any kind. As your colleague Peter King told The Washington Post: “We didn’t get anything. This has been a total waste of time.”

Senator John McCain, your party’s nominee for president in 2008, said much the same thing earlier this week. I quote: “Republicans have to understand we have lost this battle, as I predicted weeks ago, that we would not be able to win because we were demanding something that was not achievable.”

I get that you don’t like the Patient Protection Act. You don’t have to like it. I’ve yet to meet a fellow citizen or activist, progressive or conservative, who thought that it was perfect. My team and I don’t think the Patient Protection Act is enough. We believe America needs and deserves Medicare For All.

But the Patient Protection Act is the law of this country, and it has the potential to do a tremendous amount of good once it is implemented. It was passed by a majority of the House, approved by the Senate after overcoming a filibuster, signed by the President, upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States, and sanctioned by the people of the United States in the last election.

The Republican Party had an opportunity last year to persuade voters to elect someone who campaigned for more than a year on a platform that included repeal of the Patient Protection Act as a central tenet. A great deal of time and money was certainly spent in the attempt. But it was not successful. Barack Obama was reelected, Mitt Romney was defeated, and my party, the Democratic Party, picked up seats in both houses of Congress. That was the outcome of the 2012 elections.

Unfortunately, it seems your caucus has forgotten what the will of the voters was less than one year ago. You were elected to help govern this country too, but so far this month, you and your colleagues have refused to do your jobs.

You’ve shut down much of the federal government for no good reason and brought us to the brink of default. Is it any wonder that Congress’ approval rating is at an all-time low? People are absolutely disgusted.

I have to wonder: Is winning more important than governing to you? Because your actions (or lack thereof) have left me with that impression.

I don’t make this observation as a proud Democrat, Representative… I make it as a dismayed American. The world is watching and wondering why the government of the United States of America can’t get its act together. President Obama and Senate Democrats have offered to negotiate a budget if the House would only vote to reopen our government and pay the bills. The House has, so far, refused.

My party did not win back the House of Representatives last year, even though most Americans who voted cast a vote for a Democratic candidate for U.S. House.

I could go on a long rant about the role that gerrymandering and Citizens United played in helping Republicans win, but I won’t.

Instead, I’ll say this: I accept that, for the time being, your party has a majority in the House of Representatives. I don’t like it, but I accept it.

However, it isn’t clear to me that everyone in your caucus accepts that President Barack Obama is the legitimately elected president of the United States. You and your colleagues talk a lot about cooperation and collaboration, but the Ted Cruz fan club in your caucus insists on capitulation. That’s not a reasonable position. And blackmail is not an acceptable legislative strategy.

Had the election turned out differently, I feel confident Congress would be working on priorities like immigration reform and tax reform under Speaker Nancy Pelosi, instead of staring at the possibility of default while hundreds of thousands of public workers are at home or idle due to the unnecessary shutdown.

You and your colleagues control the U.S. House. As Representatives, you swore or affirmed an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States.

The Constitution charges you with the responsibility of governing, and more specifically, budgeting. Article II, Section 8 explicitly states, “The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States.”

Section 8 also provides that Congress shall have power “To borrow Money on the credit of the United States.”

I think you’re well aware that throughout our history, Congress has used its power to borrow money to finance the government’s operations. Decades ago we borrowed huge sums of money to fight the Depression and win World War II.

More recently, the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as George W. Bush’s Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act, were financed on America’s credit card by Republicans. At the same time, Republicans gave the wealthy huge tax breaks that they didn’t need.

We are still living with the consequences of those decisions.

I do not have a problem with you expressing opposition to the Patient Protection Act, or to the budget proposed by Senate Democrats. I do not view partisanship or ideology as evils. I view partisanship and ideology as healthy and necessary in a democracy. Anyone with a position on any issue can be called a partisan, whether they are affiliated with a political party or not.

Furthermore, anyone who uses the progressive or conservative values system (or a mixture of both) in their political thinking is an ideologue. There is no taking partisanship or ideology out of democratic politics, because if people do not have the freedom to disagree, they are not free. Partisanship doesn’t equal extremism.

But when partisanship is combined with militant means and a demand for a lot of change in a short period of time, the result is extremism. Sadly, your caucus, the House Republican caucus, is in the grip of extremism. The extremists are in control and the rest of us are their hostages.

I have a problem with that…. as do most of my fellow Americans.

If the House were truly a democratic institution, it would have already voted to reopen the government, because enough Republicans have individually issued statements like Representative Herrera-Beutler’s, saying they’d vote for a clean continuing resolution. I’d wager there are even more Republicans willing to support just authorizing Treasury to continue paying our nation’s bills.

But because of the so-called Hastert rule, there has been no such vote. There have only been votes on piecemeal bills to fund a few different agencies that have become the poster children of the shutdown, like the National Park Service.

The time for games and gimmicks is over. This shutdown needs to end, and the American people and the world need to know that the United States will pay its bills. Please commit today to voting in favor of the legislation the Senate is putting together to resolve this manufactured crisis… and to crossing the aisle to do so, if necessary. Show us that you’re an American first and a Republican second.

Sincerely,

Andrew Villeneuve
Founder and executive director
Northwest Progressive Institute

Live from Whatcom: Senate Republican Transportation Listening Tour

It’s been a foggy day here in Bellingham, but the low visibility has not kept people from coming to the Bellingham leg of the Senate Republican’s listening tour, because this place is packed. As we covered earlier this month, Bellingham was not originally a place scheduled to be part of the tour, but the size of the audience shows no indication of that.

It’s not all Republican legislators who are here, but in attendance are Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom (who probably still thinks he’s a Democrat), Senator Curtis King (co-chair of the Senate Transportation Committee), the insufferable Senator Doug Ericksen (42 LD) , the “roadkill” Democrat Senator Steve Hobbs, and Representatives Jeff Morris (D-40) and Vincent Buys (R-42).

Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson spoke first after introductions to give context about transportation issues, and then they went straight into public comment.

[6:28] It seems like a lot of union members are here in attendance, I spot about 6 or 7 people in the orange shirts they normally wear.

[6:30] It looks like one of the was just called up for comment. A member of the laborer’s local, he advocated for a gas tax increase as critical to the state.

[6:34] A contractor from Snohomish county advocated before the legislators a 10 cent gas tax increase and the critical infrastructure projects it would fund. When Republicans wouldn’t pass a transportation budget last session, they were hurting the businesses they claim it’s their mission to help.

[6:36] Two members of the audience in a row just advocated for separated bike lanes and better public transit. As a bike-heavy town, this is not a surprising sentiment at all. One of the commenter also plugged Seattle Metro being able to raise their own levies. Truly a state whose residents cares about each other.

[6:43] A few people it very policy-specific concerns just spoke, advocating minor changes in specific policy areas which didn’t have much impact into other parts of the transportation system. More people spoke in favor of increasing the gas tax.

[6:46] Chris Johnson, the business agent for the laborers union in the area, asked legislators not to save money on the backs of workers, that taking money out of workers’ pockets is not really saving money at all. He’s afriad the Senate Republican’s will try to take away the prevailing wage, which would be a major blow to workers across the state.

[6:53] Local funding options for transit district has returned as a point by the commenters. In Bellingham, just as in Seattle, citizens want to make decisions in their communities about important issues like mass transit, instead of being held back by the state.

[6:56] Community activist Stoney Bird came up to speak, speaking about changing transportation trends and “climate disruption” and “climate catastrophe” being large pressures which required the legislature to act on a transportation package.

[7:00] The chair of the Anacortes Ferry Advisory Committee first thanked Rep. Jeff Morris for his support of the ferry, and then launched into the need for a dedicated source of revenue. Practically no one has spoken against raising the gas tax, it seems most people recognize there’s a problem, the legislature just actually needs to do something about it.

[7:03] Another member of the carpenters union spoke against getting rid of the prevailing wage. Labor seems to be very afraid of prevailing wage provisions going away, and expect a lot of mobilization if the Republicans propose it this session.

[7:12] Someone just spoke against the gas tax but supports living wages. And getting bicyclists to pay some sort of gas tax themselves. Interesting, but her comments are unique in that she’s the only one so far to have said anything like it.

[7:22] More and more union members have shown up, showing that this is an issue that’s important to them and their livelihoods.

[7:28] In an interesting turn of events, the chair of the state Libertarian Party showed up to speak, advocating for…what libertarians normally advocate for. How starkly different he was than the rest of the speakers was apparent as he called for privatizing the ferry system, creating transportation vouchers, and gutting mass transit.

As the meeting ended, it was apparent that most people wanted more investment in our infrastructure while protecting decent jobs and alternative transportation. While there were a few naysayers, and no Tim Eyman to boo, it showed that at least in this part of Washington, people want the legislature to invest more in transportation and in actual solutions, instead of pushing half-measure that decrease our quality of life and hurt our shared society.

Tim Eyman gets an earful in Seattle after stepping to the mic to recite his talking points

Initiative profiteer Tim Eyman got a taste of what it’s like to be interrupted and heckled tonight when he showed up in Seattle to speak at the second to last stop on Rodney Tom and Curtis King’s transportation autumn “listening tour”, which has been traveling around the state since mid-September.

Eyman, who was also at the Everett stop a couple of weeks ago, came prepared with a set of provocative talking points to recite. When his name was called late in the third hour, he got up from his seat and walked to the center aisle as whispers filled the sanctuary of the First Presbyterian Church in Seattle.

“Did he just say Tim Eyman?” someone near me asked. “Yep,” I replied. “Tim’s here, and when he speaks this room is going to get much noisier.”

And, sure enough, a few minutes later, Eyman stepped to the microphone, and the fun times began. Anyone who was snoozing in their seat was jolted awake.

Tim Eyman testifies

Tim Eyman addresses lawmakers (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

“My name is, uh, Tim Eyman,” Eyman began. I think he then tried to say that he was from Mukilteo, but that got drowned out by the loud chorus of boos and jeers that immediately filled the room. The Republicans up at the front of the room smiled weakly or looked grim. The Democrats seemed amused.

“You’re a joke!” yelled one audience member.

Undeterred, Eyman went on.

“The people attending these meetings, including myself, are not a representative sample of the taxpayers of Washington,” Eyman said, instantly drawing another round of boos and jeers. “Normal people are at home recovering from a long day at work, but their voices deserve to be heard too,” he added.

“We’re normal people!” shouted several indignant audience members in a near simultaneous (but uncoordinated) reply. “I came here straight from work,” one young woman sitting near me said loudly.

People in the room were offended, and certainly they had every right to be.

Were I not an activist who has been watchdogging Tim Eyman and fighting his destructive initiatives for over a decade, I would have been offended too. I’d have resented Eyman’s sneering implication that I was not a “normal” person because I had chosen to give up part of my evening to share my opposition to Metro service cuts with the people charged with deciding what our laws and budget should be.

But I’ve heard Eyman give testimony so many times that I know what to expect. Condescension is part and parcel of Eyman’s schtick. He can be disarming in person, but when he’s got an audience, he is consistently rude and disrespectful. It’s sad. He doesn’t care about being on topic; he only cares about stuffing as much dishonest anti-government propaganda as he can into two minutes.

As far as I’m concerned, normal people are people who are civic-minded and make an effort to vote, show up to jury duty, and participate in politics. Apathy or disinterest in public affairs is not normal or healthy in a democracy -  it’s dangerous.

Eyman may not be normal – after all, he’s a well paid professional politician – but plenty of people who showed up at tonight’s hearing are regular Washingtonians who claim to represent nobody but themselves. They spoke as citizens and activists, not lobbyists or political operatives. Unlike Eyman, they don’t get paid big bucks to promote cynical initiatives designed to wreck government.

Every person in this country should be an activist. Activism is normal. What is not normal is passivism. I used to be a passivist, but then I saw the damage that Tim Eyman’s initiatives were doing to my community, and I decided I could not sit on the sidelines any longer. I became an activist. Eleven and a half years later, I still am.

After insulting the other people in the room, Eyman proceeded to heap praise on Rodney Tom, Tim Sheldon, and the other Senate Republicans for not having voted to raise revenue to fund vital transportation improvements.

He then deployed one of his favorite catchphrases, also emblazoned on his t-shirt: Let the voters decide. Eyman uses this one a lot because it is simple and appealing. What could be more democratic than letting the voters decide, after all?

But Eyman is no populist. He’s a pretender. He merely employs populist rhetoric to disguise his extreme, anti-government views. Like his idol Grover Norquist, he is opposed to raising or even recovering revenue under any circumstances. When lawmakers do put a levy or an infrastructure funding package on the ballot, Eyman opposes it. If it affects him, he can be counted on to campaign against it.

In fact, I’m not aware of any instance where Tim Eyman has supported a ballot measure – let alone a bill in the Legislature – that would raise revenue.

(Tim, if I’m wrong on this, feel free to leave a comment and tell us which levy or levies you’ve voted in favor of, or urged others to vote for).

So it is disingenuous for Eyman to say Let the voters decide, since he is not really for letting the voters decide. The only public votes that matter to him are the public votes he can cite to buttress his anti-government talking points.

What Eyman *is* for is destroying our vital public services. Drowning government in a bathtub, in the infamous words of Grover Norquist.

That is why, over the span of a decade, he has sponsored more than a dozen initiatives to slash taxes or put budgeting and revenue decisions in the hands of his anti-tax friends in the Legislature… even when they are not in the majority.

Most of these initiatives have been defeated by voters or struck down by the courts because they were unconstitutional. But again, Eyman doesn’t like to talk about his defeats. He only talks about the times when voters have backed his position. He presents a very distorted and warped view of past events. He did it again tonight when he recounted the fate of two of his earliest initiatives.

In 1999, Initiative 695 set car tabs at thirty dollars per year… it was overwhelmingly approved. Then-Governor Gary Locke [later] said thirty dollar license tabs are here to stay.

In 2002, Initiative 776 again set car tabs at $30 a year, and it was overwhelmingly approved.

As usual, Eyman was fibbing. Here is what really happened all those years ago.

In 1999, Tim Eyman sponsored I-695. I-695 tried to do two things: repeal the statewide motor vehicle excise tax – which mainly funded roads, ferries, and transit – and require that future increases in revenue be subject to a public vote. I-695 passed statewide, but not overwhelmingly. It failed in King County.

The next year, the courts struck down I-695 as unconstitutional because it violated the single-subject rule. The Legislature then unwisely decided, at Gary Locke’s urging, to repeal the MVET, which to this day remains a very costly mistake.

However, it left local MVETs in place at the local level, which meant that most Washingtonians continued to pay more than $30 in annual vehicle fees.

In 2002, Tim Eyman sponsored I-776, which he nicknamed “Son of 695″. I-776 sought to repeal those local motor vehicle excise taxes that the Legislature had left in place. As of 2002, four counties (King, Snohomish, Pierce, and Douglas) collected MVETs, along with Sound Transit. Eyman’s primary goal with I-776 was to rob Sound Transit of one of its revenue sources, thus making it impossible for the agency to move forward with plans to build a regional light rail system.

I-776 was the first Eyman initiative I was involved in fighting. Sadly, in November 2002, I-776 narrowly passed statewide. However, it failed in King County and in Sound Transit’s jurisdiction. The courts later ruled that because Sound Transit had pledged the revenue it was collecting from the MVET to bonds it had sold to finance light rail construction, the MVET had to continue to be collected. And it was. Central Link broke ground in 2003 and opened to strong ridership six years later.

So, just to recap: Neither of Tim Eyman’s “thirty dollar car tab” initiatives actually set vehicle fees at thirty dollars across Washington. Neither passed overwhelmingly. And neither was approved in King County, the locale of tonight’s transportation listening tour, and the area represented by most of the lawmakers present.

Contrary to what Eyman said, vehicle fees are not “radioactive”, nor is the motor vehicle excise tax a “corrupt tax”. Eyman made a name for himself trying to repeal vehicle fees, so it’s no surprise that he is strongly opposed to the Legislature reinstating vehicle fees to pay for ferries, roads, and transit.

The old MVET certainly had problems, but it should have been reformed, not repealed. The loss of the revenue the MVET provided has left us in bad shape. If the 2000 Legislature hadn’t been so shortsighted, our needs now would not be so great. Vehicle fees should be raised as part of a new transportation package, so we’re not just relying on an increase in the gas tax to pay for projects and services.

After Eyman’s time had expired, an irritated Curtis King admonished the audience for repeatedly interrupting Eyman with boos and jeers. While I would agree that the audience wasn’t respectful of Eyman’s time, they were only giving Eyman a taste of what it’s like to be treated rudely. People are justifiably sick and tired of Tim Eyman’s toxic politics and his destructive initiatives.

People in King County are especially fed up. King County is a place where progress and public investment is valued, and where interdependence is acknowledged and appreciated. We are all in this together. We can do more for ourselves when we pool our resources to get things done. That’s why nearly every person testifying besides Tim Eyman urged lawmakers to go back to Olympia, hammer out a transportation package that is multimodal, not auto-centric, and enact it into law.

LIVE from Seattle: Transportation “listening tour” comes to the Emerald City

Good evening from Seattle. I’m here at the First Presbyterian Church on First Hill, where a dozen members of the state House and Senate are holding a public meeting to talk about Washington State’s transportation needs. This is the latest stop on what’s been called a “listening tour” instigated by Rodney Tom and Senate Republicans following the Senate’s failure earlier this year to take up the statewide transportation package passed by the House, or even propose their own.

I’ll update this post as frequently as I can. The hearing is scheduled to run from 6 PM to 9 PM and there will be a lot of testimony.

UPDATE, 6:22 PM: We’re finally getting started. It took twenty minutes just for all of the legislators to introduce themselves and for Senator Curtis King (co-chair of the Senate Transportation Committee) to go over the ground rules. The crowd here is a bit restless and we’ve heard calls from the audience to get started.

UPDATE, 6:24 PM: Our first speaker notes that there have been too many cutbacks in ferry service, which has hurt ferry-dependent communities like Vashon Island, Bremerton, Whidbey Island, and the San Juans.

UPDATE, 6:24 PM: King County Executive Dow Constantine is addressing the panel. “We must invest in our transportation needs. We must do it now,” he says. “Mobility is essential for the economy of this region and this state.” He notes that King County Metro carries nearly 400,000 people each weekday, and that Metro is preparing to release details on what routes will have to be cut if the state Legislature doesn’t give the county the ability to raise revenue for Metro.

UPDATE, 6:26 PM: Seattle City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw is talking about the connection between gridlock and port competitiveness. If our ports can’t efficiently move cargo, it hurts our ability to compete with Vancouver and Prince Rupert. “I’ve heard from truck drivers in Eastern Washington who are so frustrated that the [I-90 traffic] backups start in Issaquah,” she says.

UPDATE, 6:30 PM: Republican King County Councilmember Kathy Lambert says we need a transportation package with a mix of roads and transit. She says the time for dithering and procrastination is over.  She reminded the legislators up at the tables in the front, “A stitch in time saves nine.”

UPDATE, 6:33 PM: King County Councilmember Larry Phillips got lots of applause for yielding his time and letting the citizens standing behind him begin to address the panel. He joked that it might take “divine intervention” to get a transportation package, but we really, really, really need one.

UPDATE, 6:37 PM: Our first few speakers have done a very good job of explaining the consequences of Metro bus service being cut. Metro is underfunded as it is, and draconian service cuts will only make things much worse.

UPDATE, 6:40 PM: Our most passionate citizen speaker so far brought up an important point: Washington has the most regressive tax structure in the state. “We have some of the richest people in this country here in this state,” said the activist. “It’s about time you show you can serve the ordinary people instead of the corporations you have served so far.”

UPDATE, 6:41 PM: Republican King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn says there is bipartisan support for a comprehensive transportation package that empowers cities and counties to tackle traffic congestion and improve transit service. He urged the Legislature to act without delay.

UPDATE, 6:47 PM: Redmond City Councilmember Hank Myers, who ran for state House last year against Cyrus Habib, just spoke about the lousy track record of the HOT lanes the state has created on highways like SR 167. (HOT lanes, pejoratively called “Lexus lanes”, are HOV lanes that allow single occupancy vehicles to travel in the lane during congested periods if they pay a toll).

UPDATE, 6:48 PM: We just heard from Celeste Gilman, who stressed the importance of quality transit service and explained how she and her daughter depend on Sound Transit and Metro to get around. “We need you to act to call a special session to pass a lasting revenue package that will provide us with the transit, walking [opportunities], and biking [opportunities] that we need,” she said. Loud cheers filled the church sanctuary as she walked away from the microphone.

UPDATE, 6:58 PM: Outspoken activist Chris Mobley of the Transit Riders Union is speaking. He is pulling no punches, castigating the so-called “Majority Coalition caucus” for trying to promulgate a 1950s-era transportation system where driving is the only option. He condemned Senate Republicans (several of whom are here) for failing to get anything done during the session and for trying to advance a right wing agenda. He concluded his remarks by ripping up a copy of the Senate Republicans’ transportation plan. The church sanctuary exploded in cheers and applause, and a sustained chant of “Save Our Metro” broke out.

UPDATE, 7:04 PM: A union carpenter is speaking now. “I’d like to tell everyone here, you can either listen to them and their bells and whistles, or you can fight,” he said, addressing fellow activists in the audience. Like a couple of speakers before him, he pointed out that our state’s tax obligations fall most heavily on low and middle income families, not the wealthy, who can most afford to pay.

UPDATE, 7:11 PM: We continue to hear from speakers who support a transportation package. Our latest speaker notes that we can’t continue to build a sustainable society around the internal combustion engine. He’s recounting his visit to his childhood home in Houston, where he says there is now a fourteen lane highway instead of a two-lane one and signs declaring that bicycles are not allowed.

UPDATE, 7:17 PM: Katie Wilson of the Transit Riders Union just gave a barnstormer of a speech, castigating Senate Republicans for their failure to pass a transportation package and calling the listening tour a sham. I’ll try to transcribe her remarks later. She was passionate and eloquent.

UPDATE, 7:25 PM: M.C. Halverson, who owns property in one of the city’s industrial zones, says the state of the roads in our industrial areas is a disgrace and that we ought to be more concerned about road maintenance.

UPDATE, 7:29 PM: A lot of city councilmembers have signed up to speak tonight. We’re hearing now from Pat Hulcey of Fife, who’s talking about the need for completing SR 167 and other projects. We’ve already heard from councilmembers in Kent, Mountlake Terrace, Redmond, and many other cities in the greater Puget Sound region, who have offered some very cogent observations.

UPDATE, 7:34 PM: A Google engineer is telling lawmakers he recently had a bike accident on a trail that was supposed to be improved, but hasn’t been yet. He stressed the need for people who walk and bike to work, school, or anywhere else to be able to do so safely. We need safe and complete streets.

UPDATE, 7:36 PM: A disabled speaker says that he often has to wheel himself a mile to get to a bus that is capable of allowing him to board. He called on legislators to fund public transportation and stop creating new megaprojects.

UPDATE, 7:49 PM: Our last speaker, a blind man, noted the devastating impact that the implementation of Tim Eyman’s 695 has had since the turn of the century. 695 wiped out billions of dollars in funding for ferries, roads, and transit. It’s the first name Eyman’s name has been mentioned tonight. Eyman is sitting not far away from the microphone, quietly listening to the testimony.

UPDATE, 8 PM: One more hour to go. We continue to hear nothing but support for a statewide transportation package and, in particular, a local options bill that would allow King County to raise money for Metro to stave off draconian cuts. Senator Andy Hill, who represents the 45th District, has excused himself and apparently left, but the other legislators are still here.

UPDATE, 8:18 PM: It’s always reassuring to see so many people take time out of their busy schedules to participate in a public meeting like this. We have heard from transit activists, union carpenters, veterans, business owners, elected leaders, and concerned citizens tonight. The people have done most of the talking for a change, and the lawmakers who are here seem to be paying attention.

UPDATE, 8:20 PM: Some of the issues that speakers have touched on tonight:

  • Port competitiveness. We need to improve freight mobility so we can get goods to market through our ports, chiefly the Port of Seattle and the Port of Tacoma. Washington is the most trade dependent state in the nation.
  • Washington’s tax structure is regressive. We have the most regressive tax system in the country, which means low and middle income families have higher tax obligations as a percentage of their income than the wealthy. That’s not right, and we need tax reform in addition to stronger public services.
  • Transit service cuts fall hardest on people who don’t drive. Many speakers have pointed out that when bus routes and service hours are cut, those cuts disproportionately affect the disabled, the poor, and people who choose not to own or lease an automobile.
  • Home rule. Cities and counties stand ready to make investments in local roads and better transit, but they need the authority to raise revenue from the state before they can make those investments.
  • Megaprojects are eating up too many tax dollars. Several speakers have argued that WSDOT should scale back megaprojects like the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge replacement and redirect the funds to other needs.
  • Investing in transit for all is good for our economic security. Transit expansion projects create good union construction jobs and improve livability in urban and suburban neighborhoods.

UPDATE, 8:32 PM: Senator Curtis King has called Tim Eyman’s name. Guess Eyman is planning to testify. We’ll see how well behaved he is.

UPDATE, 8:34 PM: Our most recent speaker, from the Transit Riders Union, brought up Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon’s coup in the state Senate last year and told Tom “You should be ashamed of yourself.”

More updates to come….