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.

School districts across Washington State lead a revolt against failed federal policies

At least 28 school districts in Washington State have chosen to fight back against U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s demand that they label successful schools as “failures” due to a law backed by George W. Bush. When the state legislature refused to tie teacher evaluations to test scores, Duncan revoked the state’s waiver from Bush’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. The law requires all students in a school to reach a certain level of performance on a standardized test, and if even a single student doesn’t meet the mark, the entire school is labeled a failure.

Duncan required that school districts send letters to parents explaining that their child’s school was a “failure” according to this extremely narrow and misleading metric. But the 28 school districts have decided to follow Vermont’s lead and send their own letter along with the federally mandated letter, explaining that these schools are not actually failures:

But as those letters go out, many Puget Sound districts – including Tacoma – will also be telling parents that No Child Left Behind is “regressive and punitive,” and that their schools aren’t failing at all….

“Some of our state’s and districts’ most successful and highly recognized schools are now being labeled ‘failing’ by an antiquated law that most educators and elected officials – as well as the U.S. Department of Education – acknowledges isn’t working,” the superintendents’ letter says.

“Our bottom line: Your child’s school district is effectively addressing the needs of all students,” the cover letter reads.

The letter does not quite go as far as Vermont’s did, as it does not include a broad-based attack on standardized testing. But it’s a good start, as it signals Washington State schools will not simply roll over to Duncan’s threats, as he hoped they would.

In fact, Duncan’s demand is causing the revolt against teach-to-the-test policies to spread. Danny Westneat, a Seattle Times columnist who usually has his finger on the pulse of public opinion, wrote an extraordinary column applauding the 28 school districts and predicting an outright “revolt” against federal education policies:

That educators now must send out a million letters to families here telling them that all of the state’s K-12 schools are failing has got to be the lowest point yet in the drive to reform public education.

It’s definitely the most absurd point. But maybe it’s also a turning point….

How are you supposed to react, as a parent, upon receiving such a letter?

Many will ignore it (though at some schools they’ll be offering free private tutoring, so take advantage of that). Others may blame the state for not going along with a federal requirement to link test scores to teacher evaluations. But others may decide they’ve had enough of this federal “testocracy” once and for all.

Westneat quotes two leading education advocates, Rep. Chris Reykdal and Garfield High School teacher Jesse Hagopian, explaining how resistance to Duncan is a turning point:

“This is a big moment in the nation’s history,” lefty state legislator Chris Reykdal, D-Tumwater, predicted recently. “Our state is embracing our constitutional Tenth Amendment guarantee to administer our state’s education system. I strongly encourage federal officials to get back to empowering the states instead of coercing them.”

Garfield High School history teacher Jesse Hagopian was blunter: “(Secretary of Education) Arne Duncan has labeled my school — and every school in Washington State — a failure. Cue the revolt.”

States across America, red and blue, have been fighting back against Duncan’s flawed, failed policies. Washington is not the only state to lack an NCLB waiver, but it is the first state to have its waiver revoked. As Washington refuses to give in to federal pressure, it is giving hope and inspiration to other states that are considering doing the same.

Washington State Supreme Court agrees to hear constitutional challenge to I-1240

It looks like within a year or two, we should finally have an answer to the question, Does the Constitution of Washington State allow for charter schools?

That’s because the Washington State Supreme Court says it has agreed to take up a legal challenge to Initiative 1240, the charter schools measure narrowly approved by Washington voters in November of 2012.

The challenge is being brought by a coalition that includes parents, school administrations, community activists, teachers, and the League of Women Voters of Washington. They’re ably represented by Paul Lawrence of Pacifica Law Group, the attorney who successfully argued League of Education Voters v. State. (In LEV, the Court struck down the two-thirds for revenue requirement at the heart of Tim Eyman’s three I-601 clones, as well as I-601 itself).

Oral arguments have been scheduled for October 28th and will be shown on TVW. Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office will be defending I-1240, as required by law.

In an interesting twist, the plaintiffs and the state will be arguing over whether charter schools fall under the definition of public schools, as opposed to whether public money can be used to operate schools outside of the purview of a school district, which was the focus of arguments at the Superior Court level.

King County Superior Court Judge Jean Rietschel partially invalidated I-1240 in a ruling last year, but left it largely intact, allowing implementation to go forward. Seems the Supreme Court has agreed to look at the initiative under a different lens. Usually appellate courts only consider issues raised at the trial court level.

The plaintiffs in the suit are looking for a decision that results in a determination that I-1240 doesn’t pass constitutional muster, which would prevent any more charter schools from opening and cut off any that have from public funds. That would be the best possible outcome. We at NPI strongly support this lawsuit and will be following the case throughout the next few months and beyond.

There are several provisions of the Constitution that refer to the management and funding of the state’s public schools, which include common schools. Among them are Article II, Section 28 and several provisions of Article IX.

Article IX, Section 2 states:

SECTION 2 PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEM. The legislature shall provide for a general and uniform system of public schools. The public school system shall include common schools, and such high schools, normal schools, and technical schools as may hereafter be established. But the entire revenue derived from the common school fund and the state tax for common schools shall be exclusively applied to the support of the common schools.

Because charter schools are operated by private institutions and not subject to the authority of a school district, they arguably cannot be considered part of the “general and uniform system of public schools” the Constitution requires.

Prior to the approval of I-1240 in 2012, Washington State voters had rejected charter school ballot measures by large margins. I-1240 was propelled by a slick, extremely well-funded advertising campaign, while the opposition did not receive the energy and resources of past campaigns opposed to charter schools.

If I-1240 is struck down, it would set an important precedent that would protect Washington’s public schools from future attempts to siphon their funding. That would be a big win for Washington’s youth, their parents, and teachers.

Lauren Bacall: 1924-2014

This week certainly is off to a pretty bad start. First, we lost the great Robin Williams, who tragically took his own life after succumbing to depression. Now we’ve lost Lauren Bacall, one of the finest talents of the last century and a stalwart progressive.

With deep sorrow for the magnitude of our loss, yet with great gratitude for her amazing life, we confirm the passing of Lauren Bacall,” announced the estate of Humphrey Bogart, which is run by Bogart and Bacall’s son Stephen.

The cause of death is said to be stroke.

Bacall, eighty-nine, was a lifelong New Yorker who starred in many films now regarded as classics. She was born Betty Joan Perske on September 14th, 1924, in the Bronx, and began acting on stage at a young age.

Introduced to cinema by Howard and Nancy Hawks, she adopted the stage name Lauren Bacall and rose to fame with her role alongside Bogart in To Have and Have Not, a wartime film that was released in 1944 and loosely based on the novel by Ernest Hemingway. Bacall and Bogart later fell in love and married; it was Bacall’s first marriage and Bogart’s fourth. They remained together until his death in 1957.

Bacall went on to appear in several films noir, including The Big Sleep, Dark Passage, and Key Largo. In the 1950s, she starred in Young Man with a Horn, How to Marry a Millionaire (with Marilyn Monroe), and Written on the Wind. She developed a reputation for being choosy and turning down roles she didn’t find interesting.

Beginning in the 1960s, she had fewer film appearances and more parts in stage productions on Broadway. She won two Tony Awards for her parts in Applause (1970) and Woman of the Year (1981). She did, however, participate in the films Sex and the Single Girl, Harper, and Murder on the Orient Express during these years, sharing the screen with the likes of Henry Fonda, Paul Newman, and Ingrid Bergman. She even collaborated with John Wayne for his final film, The Shootist.

Bacall was politically active throughout her life. In the 1950s, she campaigned for Democratic presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson; in the 1960s, she supported Robert Kennedy’s Senate campaign. She was also a fierce opponent of the politics of disgraced Republican Joseph McCarthy. In 2005, she gave a memorable interview to CNN’s Larry King in which she proudly identified as a liberal, remarking, “Being a liberal is the best thing on earth you can be. You are welcoming to everyone when you’re a liberal. You do not have a small mind.”

As mentioned, Bacall’s death comes just as people the world over are struggling to process Robin Williams’ sudden death.

“What a terrible loss for us all,” Barbara Streisand said in a statement mourning Bacall. “First Robin, who was a genius, and now Lauren. It was my privilege to have known her, to have acted with her, and to have directed her (in 1996’s The Mirror Has Two Faces). And most of all, to have had her as a wise and loving friend. She was an original. Even with all those great films… she will be missed.”

“Lauren Bacall’s life is a life to be celebrated,” agreed comedian and showrunner Seth MacFarlane, who also worked with Bacall.

“I am told her last performance was on ‘Family Guy.’ For that, we are forever honored and privileged. Thank you, Lauren, for teaching us all how to whistle.”

Bacall’s body of work was recognized several years ago by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which bestowed upon her an honorary Oscar at the 2009 Governors Awards. (Video of Bacall’s acceptance speech is on YouTube).

Lauren Bacall was one of the few remaining talents left from the golden age of film. Now she’s gone. She will be greatly missed. We at NPI extend our deepest condolences to her family and close friends.


Robin Williams, a legend: 1951-2014

It was with great sadness this afternoon that I learned that today we lost Robin Williams, one of the greatest comedians and actors of his generation, who was one of my favorites growing up and remains so today.

Williams, sixty-three, was found dead in his San Francisco area home after having apparently taken his own life. Paramedics arrived within just a few minutes of being summoned, but by the time Williams was discovered, he was already gone.

This is a devastating loss not just for cinema and comedy, but humanity. Williams brought so much to the stage, to the big screen, and to television, but he was also a great source of encouragement and wisdom for others.

Comedian Jamie Kilstein explains:

Robin Williams was maybe one of three people in this dumb #$%&@! business that believed in me and kept pushing me. He supported the show when no one would. He radiated kindness and I was comfortable the second I met him for the first time.

He called ME a few months ago to talk me out of MY DEPRESSION. That’s the kind of guy he was. Putting his #$%& aside for others. Our book that’s coming out is even dedicated “To Robin”. We just never thought it would be in his memory. I hope my dumb comedy brought him some joy and wish I could have done for him what he did for me.

He always told me to keep challenging everyone and “keep raising hell”. I hope you guys will do that as well. #$%&.

Williams brought so much laughter and happiness to so many people. He was very  generous with his sense of humor. He put people at ease. It’s very sad that he evidently reached a point where he couldn’t put himself at ease, where the pain and sadness he felt seemed too deafening, too overwhelming for him to continue living.

If only, in his darkest hour, he could have seen, heard, felt the love that is pouring fourth from all quarters now in the wake of his passing. There have been so many tributes posted already… on Twitter, on Facebook, on blogs, in forums. Like many Williams fans, we didn’t know him personally, but we knew him through his work, and we are grieved by his passing like his family and close friends.

To them, we send our deepest condolences.

President Barack Obama aptly summed up the breadth of Williams’ work in an evening statement mourning his death:

Robin Williams was an airman, a doctor, a genie, a nanny, a president, a professor, a bangarang Peter Pan, and everything in between. But he was one of a kind. He arrived in our lives as an alien – but he ended up touching every element of the human spirit. He made us laugh. He made us cry. He gave his immeasurable talent freely and generously to those who needed it most – from our troops stationed abroad to the marginalized on our own streets. The Obama family offers our condolences to Robin’s family, his friends, and everyone who found their voice and their verse thanks to Robin Williams.

Well said, Mr. President.

Robin Williams was so incomparable that many people, myself included, can reel off much of Williams’ filmography from memory: Aladdin, Good Will Hunting, Dead Poets Society, Mrs. Doubtfire, Good Morning Vietnam, Hook, The Fisher King, The Birdcage, Moscow on the Hudson, Insomnia. With the notable exception of Aladdin, many of these films were made before I was old enough to appreciate them, but I later discovered them through film analysis class, TV reruns, and Netflix.

One of the first Robin Williams films I remember enjoying as a child was Jumanji, made in 1995 and based on the children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg. Jumanji remains a classic for me today and I never get tired of seeing it.

Two years later, Disney came out with Flubber. I can still remember seeing Flubber for the first time. Its goofiness gave it an endearing quality. Critics panned it, but moviegoers liked it and it did reasonably well at the box office.

Another underappreciated Williams film is Bicentennial Man, a sentimental Disney flick that came out in 1999. Directed by Chris Columbus (Mrs. Doubtfire), it’s a story of an advanced android named Andrew that develops human-like intelligence and ultimately makes so much progress embracing the human condition that he is accepted as a human by humanity – just before dying.

Williams also has a great many television appearances to his credit. Aside from starring in Mork and Mindy, he has hosted Saturday Night Live many times, appeared on Whose Line Is It Anyway? when it was hosted by Drew Carey, and guested on shows such as Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

Williams has yet to make his final appearance on the big screen. He will be in four films that are currently in post-production, including the third Night at the Museum movie (Williams convincingly portrays President Theodore Roosevelt in that series).

Williams is survived by his wife, Susan Schneider, and three children, Zachary, Zelda, and Cody, all of whom are in their twenties and thirties. Millions of fans are sharing their grief tonight. We’ve lost an outstanding talent and a fine man.

Rest in peace, Robin Williams. You’ll be sorely missed.

POSTSCRIPT: If you are struggling with depression, please, please don’t do what Robin did. If you feel like you can’t go on, talk to someone. There are people standing by day and night who are ready to listen and to help you.

In the greater Seattle area, you can call the Crisis Clinic at 1-866-4CRISIS (1-866-427-4747). There’s also the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). That’s open 24/7.

Matt Isenhower, other Senate Democratic candidates enjoy boost in Thursday count

Freshly tabulated ballots in Washington’s most populous counties have put Democratic challengers within slightly closer striking distance of their Republican opponents, new numbers provided by elections officials show.

In the 45th District, Democrat Matt Isenhower improved to 46.27%, rebounding after losing a little ground to Andy Hill yesterday. On Election Night he had 46.07% of the vote; as of yesterday afternoon, he had slipped to 45.97%. Today, he made up all the ground he lost, plus a little more. That’s very encouraging news for Democrats, who view the 45th as their top pickup opportunity.

In the 30th District, Democrat Shari Song improved her standing to 43% of the vote. On Election Night she was at 42.75%; yesterday, she inched up to 42.83%, and as of today, she’s at an even forty-three percent. Mark Miloscia is down to 57%.

In the 28th District, Democrat Tami Green inched forward, adding two-tenths of a percentage point to her share of the vote. She’s now at 43.72%; she was at 43.7% yesterday and at 43.51% on Election Night.

In the 6th District, Rich Cowan made up some of the ground he lost yesterday. He’s now at 42.73%, up from yesterday when he was at 42.64%, but still behind where he was on Election Night, when he had 42.84% of the vote.

Not all Senate Democratic challengers gained, however.

In the 35th District, Democrat Irene Bowling lost a little bit of ground, but not very much. She’s now at 35.23% of the vote, down from 35.42% yesterday, but still further ahead than she was on Election Night, when she had 34.85% of the vote. Tim Sheldon put a bit more distance between himself and Republican Travis Couture today. If that trend holds, Sheldon (who still identifies as a Democrat) will be moving on to the general election along with Bowling.

In the 42nd District, Democrat Seth Fleetwood saw his Wednesday gains completely wiped out. He’s down to 43.07% of the vote, which is where he was on Election Night. He had improved to 43.95% yesterday.

And in the 26th, Judy Arbogast continued her downward slide. She’s now at 43.07%, after having been at 43.12% yesterday and at 43.42% on Election Night.

Pedro Celis overtakes Robert Sutherland for second place in 1st Congressional District

Most of Washington’s thirty-nine counties have just finished tabulating a fresh batch of ballots, and there is significant news to report in the 1st Congressional District: Republican Pedro Celis, who national and state Republican officials recruited to challenge incumbent Suzan DelBene, has now moved into second place after having trailed another Republican, Robert Sutherland, for two days.

Celis is getting a significant boost from King County, where he is ahead of fellow Republicans Sutherland and John Orlinski. Sutherland leads Celis in Snohomish County, while Orlinski leads both in Skagit County. (Readers should note that the 1st Congressional District only encompasses portions of each county).

As of yesterday, Celis was at 15.49% with 14,992 votes. Today, he improved to 16.37%. His total now stands at 18,814 votes. Sutherland is now at 15.63% with 17,974 votes (eight hundred and forty behind Celis).

Incumbent Suzan DelBene remains in first place with more than fifty percent of the vote overall. Percentage-wise, she lost a little ground in today’s count, but not much… she’s still in great shape for November.

If the trend holds Celis’ campaign will be able to continue on to the general; there was speculation Celis might not survive the winnowing election. He needed to at least make up ground today, but he did better than that… he moved into second place. There are ballots still left to be counted, so he can’t celebrate just yet, but his campaign undoubtedly is relieved after having been behind in the first two counts.

The campaign has not updated its website, Facebook page, or Twitter feed yet, but if we get a statement from them we’ll update this post.

Vermont’s heroic response shows the way on No Child Left Behind letters

Earlier this year, Washington legislators rejected a demand from U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan to require teacher evaluations to be based, in part, on student test scores.

One of the primary threats Duncan used in demanding Washington State force schools to teach to the test was that if this change was not made, the state would lose its waiver from many of the terms of the notorious No Child Left Behind law. If it lost the waiver, the state would have to send a letter to parents in any school that did not have 100% of students meeting test score standards. The letter would tell parents that their child’s school was “failing.” This was seen by the Seattle Times and others as so scary a prospect that, in their mind, legislators had no choice but to give in to Duncan’s demand.

Legislators correctly refused to do so, and Washington became the first state to lose its waiver.

But it is not the first state to operate public schools without such a waiver. Five states – California, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Vermont – never received a waiver in the first place. In California, Governor Jerry Brown and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson submitted their own waiver application that proposed much more sensible practices that didn’t require California schools to teach to the test. Duncan rejected this proposal.

Vermont, however, refused to even apply for a waiver. They insisted it was wrong force schools to become test preparation factories, as the chairman of the Vermont Board of Education explained:

Our main interest was in being able to assess students in a more complete way and not have the arbitrary testing and all the repercussions from that, and that’s not what they meant by waiver.

Vermont’s schools are doing just fine without the waiver. But under federal rules, they still have to send the letter to parents explaining that their child’s school is, under the absurd No Child Left Behind rules, “failing.”

Vermont could have hung their heads in shame. Instead, they took the requirement as an opportunity to defend holistic public education and attack Duncan’s test-obsessed policies. Vermont’s letter was published this week and it is a remarkable, even inspiring document that Washington should immediately follow.

Here’s how Vermont opens their letter, immediately reframing the issue and putting Duncan and his absurd rules on the defensive:

The Vermont Agency of Education does not agree with this federal policy, nor do we agree that all of our schools are low performing.

In 2013, the federal Education Department released a study comparing the performance of US states to the 47 countries that participated in the most recent Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, one of the two large international comparative assessments. Vermont ranked 7th in the world in eighth-grade mathematics and 4th in science. Only Massachusetts, which has a comparable child poverty rate, did better.

On the National Assessment of Educational Progress, Vermont consistently ranks at the highest levels. We have the best graduation rate in the nation and are ranked second in child well-being.

By opening the letter this way, Vermont demonstrates the absurdity of calling their schools failures. They cite a broad range of data, beyond just test scores, to show that the state’s schools are doing well by Vermont’s children.

But that was just the warmup. The heart of the letter, in the three paragraphs quoted below, is a resounding endorsement of progressive education values, and a devastating criticism of the focus on standardized tests that has been a hallmark of Duncan’s tenure at the U.S. Department of Education:

This policy does not serve the interest of Vermont schools, nor does it advance our economic or social well-being. Further, it takes our focus away from other measures that give us more meaningful and useful data on school effectiveness.

It is not realistic to expect every single tested child in every school to score as proficient. Some of our students are very capable, but may have unique learning needs that make it difficult for them to accurately demonstrate their strengths on a standardized test. Some of our children survived traumatic events that preclude good performance on the test when it is administered. Some of our students recently arrived from other countries, and have many valuable talents but may not yet have a good grasp of the academic English used on our assessments. And, some of our students are just kids who for whatever reason are not interested in demonstrating their best work on a standardized test on a given day.

We know that statewide, our biggest challenge is finding better ways to engage and support the learning of children living in poverty. Our students from families with means and parents with more education, consistently are among the top performing in the country. However, federal NCLB policy has not helped our schools improve learning or narrow the gaps we see in our data between children living in poverty and children from more affluent families. We need a different approach that actually works.

The letter goes on to lay out a series of questions that parents should ask to determine whether their school is a “success” or a “failure.” Rather than solely focusing on test scores, the questions instead focus on more sensible and useful issues, such as whether students are growing intellectually, gaining proficiency and new skills, and whether they enjoy going to school.

Vermont is charting a better, more sensible course in improving our public schools. The Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn has a chance to follow suit and use the mandated letters to parents to explain why the legislature was right to reject Duncan’s demands. More importantly, he can use the opportunity to lay out a more holistic, sensible, and effective vision for our schools that go well beyond test scores and punishments.

It’s time for Washington State to step up and lead the way out of the testing morass and toward great schools for all our children.

Democrats appear well-poised to once again win a majority in Washington’s state Senate

This morning, when I clicked over to Crosscut from NPI’s Pacific NW Portal (where I usually begin my daily rounds), I noticed, with some amusement, that former Washington State Republican Party chairman Chris Vance had posted yet another one of his Republicans are doing great and well-positioned for the next election columns, which he has been churning out in one form or another for years.

The piece serves as Vance’s commentary on the Top Two election more broadly, but the headline and teaser plainly reflect the narrative that Vance is no doubt anxious to see editorial writers, prognosticators, and reporters adopt:

Republicans appear well-poised to hold state Senate
Inside Politics: Incoming primary results are swaying right, a likely predictor of what the November results will be.

Vance’s piece buries the lede and begins with commentary on the congressional races, but he eventually does offer his opinion of the Senate contests.

Having surveyed the electoral landscape and looked at the numbers in the swing districts, Vance declares that Democrats “appear to face long odds in their quest to gain two seats and retake control of the state Senate floor”. He then goes on to predict (unsurprisingly) a Republican victory in every single competitive race, with the exception of the 35th LD, in the event that Tim Sheldon fails to advance.

Vance’s assessment represents wishful thinking on the part of Republicans. They’d like us all to believe that that the winnowing election is an all-important barometer. Consider this excerpt from a piece Vance wrote for Crosscut in 2010:

Make no mistake, the [Top Two] results do function as a rough poll.  Past elections have demonstrated that the results in November rarely deviate more than a few percentage points from the [Top Two election] results. We now know with a high degree of certainty which races will be close, and which races are already over.

Actually, what the electoral history shows is that there is plenty of deviation. The Top Two and November general (runoff would be a more accurate term) are separate elections. Consider the following differences:

  • The Top Two takes place in August when fewer people are paying attention to politics; the general takes place in mid-autumn after a multi-week campaign season that draws far more news coverage and interest.
  • The Top Two typically has low turnout; the general election (particularly in even-numbered years) typically has much higher turnout.
  • The Top Two features contests with many candidates, in the general, there are only two candidates competing for each position.

The results of the Top Two are certainly interesting, but not indicative or predictive of what will happen in November. A candidate can “lose” in the Top Two (in other words, come in second place) but win in the general election, as Suzan DelBene did in 2012 against John Koster in the 1st Congressional District.

A candidate can also appear weak in the Top Two, but go on to win in the general.

For instance, Tami Green, who is challenging Steve O’Ban in the 28th, found herself well under fifty percent in the August 2010 winnowing election four years ago with just 47%. Her two Republican opponents combined garnered 53% of the vote. She was one of the Democratic House incumbents that Vance and other Republican operatives considered to be vulnerable. But she went on to win, ultimately capturing 51% of the vote in the general in a tough year for Democrats.

If electoral performance matters so much to Vance, why doesn’t he factor the results of the 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, and 2012 general elections factor into his analysis? Maybe it’s because it would undermine his narrative.

See, the people of Washington State have been consistently electing Democratic majorities to the House and Senate for a decade now.

Even in 2010, a difficult year for Democrats, the party managed to retain control of both the state House and the Senate, after Vance suggested they might not in numerous installments of his “Republican Party Rising” series.

Vance didn’t confine himself to prognosticating on legislative races in those installments, either. For instance, on August 18th, 2010, Vance wrote:

For months, many political observers have scoffed at the idea that Patty Murray was in danger of losing. Now all doubt should be gone. Sen. Murray is a formidable politician, but she has had the good fortune to be on the ballot in years when the tide was running against Republicans in Washington state. Now the opposite is true. This race is a toss-up, with the slightest of advantages going to Dino Rossi.

All doubt should be gone, eh? The slightest of advantages to Dino Rossi?

Just a few weeks later, of course, Patty Murray proved she could win regardless of whether political headwinds were with her or against her. Initial results showed Murray ahead on Election Night; Rossi conceded the race within twenty-four hours, having lost his third straight statewide election. Murray ultimately prevailed with 52.36% of the vote – not her best-ever showing, but certainly respectable given the political climate and the money spent against her by Rossi’s Republican backers.

Nowhere in his latest piece for Crosscut does Vance admit that the people of Washington State have elected a Democratic majority to govern the Washington State Senate for five cycles in a row. Republicans did not win control of the Senate in the 2012 elections; they came to power thanks to a post-election coup that they engineered with Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon. It’s more accurate to say that Republicans are trying to win a majority, as opposed to holding one.

Rodney Tom has since decided to retire, a development Vance described as “terrible news for the Republicans” in an interview with Austin Jenkins.

Tom’s successor will almost certainly be Democratic State Representative Cyrus Habib, who is winning more than 60% of the vote in the 48th LD.

Tom’s sudden retirement in April reset the map back to where it was following Nathan Schlicher’s defeat last autumn to Jan Angel, leaving Democrats in a position of needing to win in two of the several swing districts that have a tradition of electing both Democrats and Republicans.

Among those are the 30th (in south King County), the 45th (in eastern King County), and 28th (in western Pierce County). Republicans Andy Hill and Steve O’Ban represent the latter two. In the former, Democrats are trying to hold on to the Senate seat that is being vacated by Tracey Eide.

The Republicans recruited former Democratic State Representative Mark Miloscia, who holds a sizable lead in early returns. The Democrats are sending up Shari Song, who has roots in the district but is not well known there. Song unsuccessfully ran against Reagan Dunn last year for King County Council.

The reality is that there are multiple paths to a Democratic victory in November, which is the basis for the title of this post, a riff on Vance’s headline for Crosscut. In Matt Isenhower and Tami Green, the Democratic Party has two strong challengers to Hill and O’Ban, who are probably the Republicans’ most vulnerable incumbents.

If the Republicans didn’t think Green and Isenhower could beat their candidates, they wouldn’t have spent big sums on early independent expenditures against them. Isenhower was the target of duplicitous concern trolling, while Green had everything but the kitchen sink thrown at her in attack mailers and television ads.

A combined Isenhower/Green victory is one pathway to victory. There are others.

As Vance noted, Tim Sheldon is seeking reelection in the 35th to another four-year term, but is being challenged by a real Democrat, Irene Bowling, who currently leads both him and Republican Travis Couture.

Bowling’s candidacy has not attracted the same interest that Green’s and Isenhower’s have to date, but that’s probably going to change now, given her unexpectedly strong showing in the 35th’s three-way race.

Bowling and the other Democratic challengers (Rich Cowan in the 6th, Seth Fleetwood in the 42nd, Judy Arbogast in the 26th) offer the Democratic Party flexibility and options. If just one of them happens to catch fire and break through, then the party won’t need to win in two of the three most talked-about districts (the 28th, 45th, and 30th) – it would only need to win in one of them.

In other words, if the party intelligently supports its challengers and works hard to shape its own destiny, it could have a profound effect on the electoral landscape.

Senate Democrats’ goal is to once again have a true blue majority for the 2015 and 2016 legislative sessions. So long as they win two of the aforementioned swing districts, they’ll be in charge. But even if they don’t, it won’t necessarily mean that voters will have elected a de jure Republican majority. Nor will it mean that the Republicans will be ready for the next session and able to move legislation.

Here’s why.

All of the Senate Democratic caucus’ incumbents happen to be in good shape, even Steve Hobbs in the 44th, who Chris Vance previously tried to tag with the “vulnerable” label. Furthermore, as mentioned, Cyrus Habib is a shoo-in in the 48th. That means the Democratic caucus will have at least twenty-three members.

Their base roster will most likely look like this:

  1. Andy Billig
  2. Maralyn Chase
  3. Annette Cleveland
  4. Steve Conway
  5. Jeannie Darneille
  6. Karen Fraser
  7. David Frockt
  8. Cyrus Habib
  9. Jim Hargrove
  10. Bob Hasegawa
  11. Brian Hatfield
  12. Steve Hobbs
  13. Karen Keiser
  14. Pramila Jayapal or Louis Watanabe
  15. Jeanne Kohl-Welles
  16. Marko Liias
  17. Rosemary McAuliffe
  18. John McCoy
  19. Mark Mullet
  20. Sharon Nelson
  21. Jamie Pedersen
  22. Kevin Ranker
  23. Christine Rolfes

Since all the Democratic incumbents appear safe, Republicans are left with just one pickup opportunity this cycle, in the 30th LD. There, as I mentioned, they recruited former State Representative Mark Miloscia, which prompted incumbent Tracey Eide to retire. (Eide later claimed she had been planning to leave for a long time, but her decision to retire came as a surprise to her caucus).

Unlike Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon, however, Mark Miloscia has traditionally held more progressive stances on economic issues. By his own admission, it is his stances on social issues that prompted his decision to leave the Democratic Party.

It is not clear how Miloscia, a historically pro-labor legislator and a self-proclaimed champion for the rights of working men and women, will fit into the Senate Republican caucus, which holds extreme right wing views on economic issues.

This matters because the Republicans could end up needing Miloscia’s vote on, well, everything. See, without Miloscia and/or Sheldon, Republicans won’t be able to count to twenty-five in the Senate – that’s the bare minimum needed for a majority.

The takeaway from this is that even if Republicans successfully defend all of their incumbents and Senate Democrats don’t win an outright majority, they’ll still be in for a rough two years. They’ll most likely still be a dysfunctional caucus, just as they’ve been since they absorbed Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon at the end of 2012, unable to agree with themselves and unable to work with either the House or Governor Inslee on major issues of importance, like funding education.

By the way, if Sheldon makes it to the general and beats Irene Bowling, and the Democratic Senators who are up this year all win along with just one of the Democratic challengers somewhere, it will result in the Senate having twenty-five members who call themselves Democrats. Meaning, the voters will once again have elected a Democratic majority… if in name only.

There’s no reason to believe Tim Sheldon would switch caucuses again – or that even if he wanted to, the Democrats would welcome him back. But he and Mark Miloscia, if they win, will certainly enjoy influence that the more conservative Republican members would undoubtedly prefer they not have.

The dynamics of the caucuses going forward aren’t something that Chris Vance bothered to address in his piece for Crosscut, but they matter. Politics is not a game; the winners of elections have a responsibility to govern.

Senate Republicans have already demonstrated that’s not a responsibility they can handle. Ironically, their hopes of victory this fall rest on Democratic defectors. If they pull it off, it could well turn out to be a Pyrrhic victory, resulting in two more years of dysfunction in the Senate in the buildup to a presidential election year.

Democrats, on the other hand, are hoping to win an outright majority so that Governor Inslee has a partner in both houses of the Legislature – a partner that will work collaboratively with him and the House on complying with the McCleary decision, putting together a transportation package, passing the Reproductive Parity Act, and broadening prosperity for all Washingtonians.

Democrats have recruited many compelling candidates, their base is far more energized than it was in 2010, and their challengers have a strong case they can make after two years of inaction in the Senate.

In my view, Democrats are well-poised to once again win a majority. Whether they can pull it off remains to be seen, but the opportunity is most definitely there.

Chris Vance is free to think that the winnowing election portends a Republican Senate in 2015 and 2016, but he ought to be mindful that pundits and their prognostications turn out to be wrong – and more often than they’d like to admit.

Ready, set, match! Fall congressional contests taking shape thanks to today’s election

Back in May, more than fifty individuals filed paperwork (either in person, by mail, or electronically) to formally declare their candidacies for United States House of Representatives in one of Washington’s ten congressional districts.

By the time the August winnowing election is certified later this month, only twenty will be left, with nearly half of them incumbents.

In a couple of districts, it’s not clear who will be moving on to November just yet, but in the other eight, it seems pretty safe to project the winners.

Here’s a rundown of what to expect this November.

1st District: Suzan DelBene versus a Republican to be determined

In the 1st District, Suzan DelBene is having a great night. She’s winning more votes than all her opponents combined and has an outright majority, despite having six opponents (more than any other incumbent). It’s not clear yet who her opponent will be – surprisingly, the candidate recruited by the Republican establishment to challenge her (Pedro Celis) is running behind a Republican with no credibility or name ID. This post offers a more in-depth look at the results in the 1st.

2nd District: Rick Larsen versus B.J. Guillot

Incumbent Rick Larsen did not face a strong challenge in this election. He has 56.52% of the vote and will face second-place finisher B.J. Guillot, a Republican. Independent Mike Lapointe garnered over 11% of the vote – a decent showing for an independent with no money, but still dead last in this three-man race.

3rd District: Jaime Herrera-Beutler versus Bob Dingethal

Two-term Republican incumbent Jaime Herrera-Beutler, as expected, will face Democrat Bob Dingethal in November. Dingethal is an accomplished businessman and community leader with deep roots in the district; he has been waging a vigorous campaign. Herrera-Beutler had one other challenger, Republican Michael Delavar, who will not be moving on. He’s got over 12% of the vote.

4th District: Clint Didier (likely) versus Dan Newhouse (likely)

Doc Hastings’ decision to retire in the 4th District yielded an unusual open seat contest this year that attracted twelve candidates, most of them Republicans. Sadly, because Washington uses a stupid, deeply flawed system for selecting candidates called “Top Two” in place of a real primary, it is possible to have two candidates from the same party competing against each other through November, leaving voters of different political persuasions totally unrepresented on the ballot.

Up till now, runoffs between candidates from the same party had been confined to legislative and local partisan races. But now it appears that for the first time, a major political party (the Democratic Party) will have no candidate on the ballot in a federal race, as former football player Clint Didier and farmer Dan Newhouse (both Republicans) stand head and shoulders above the rest of the field, which includes two Hispanic Democrats and three independents.

5th District: Cathy McMorris Rodgers versus Joe Pakootas

The results out of Washington’s other ultraconservative district are much better for Democrats, who will be sending up dynamic tribal leader Joe Pakootas to face incumbent Republican Cathy McMorris Rodgers. McMorris Rodgers is so far capturing 51.7% of the vote. Pakootas has 28.9% of the vote, with the remainder going to another Republican and an independent. The 5th is not an easy place for a Democrat to compete in, so Pakootas’ showing is certainly respectable. He’ll have to run a very unconventional and powerful campaign to put the seat in play.

6th District: Derek Kilmer versus Marty McClendon

In the 6th, freshman Democrat Derek Kilmer is in excellent shape. Impressively, he’s capturing around 58.9% of the vote. Of his three opponents, only one managed to attract any significant support: Republican Marty McClendon, who will be Kilmer’s general election opponent. It doesn’t appear that Kilmer is going to have much difficulty at all holding the seat that formerly belonged to Norm Dicks.

7th District: Jim McDermott versus Craig Keller (likely)

No one identifying as a Democrat filed against Jim McDermott this year, which has resulted in a fairly lopsided contest. Jim (who critics sometimes refer to as Mr. Congressman for Life) is utterly dominating his challengers with a whopping 76% of the vote. All of his challengers are stuck in the single digits. The second highest vote getter is currently Republican Craig Keller, who will probably get to move on to the general election and get crushed by an even bigger margin.

8th District: Dave Reichert versus Jason Ritchie

Lazy Republican incumbent Dave Reichert faced two Democrats in the winnowing election: Jason Ritchie and Keith Arnold. Arnold did little campaigning and isn’t mustering more than 8.7%; he’s the third place finisher, so he’s out. Ritchie has been trying to build a credible campaign with the support of Democratic activists throughout the district, and had no problem winning the second place spot. But he isn’t cracking thirty percent in a district that voted for President Obama, which is concerning to Democrats. Reichert, who faced no Republican opposition, is coasting along in first place with more than 62% of the vote.

9th District: Adam Smith versus Doug Basler

While Democratic incumbent Adam Smith isn’t managing to put up Jim McDermott-like numbers in the 9th District, he does have a commanding 63.14% of the vote. His closest rival is Republican Doug Basler, who outdistanced Democrat Don Rivers and independent Mark Greene with 28.22%. The 9th is considered Safe Democratic, like the 7th, and Smith probably won’t have any trouble defending it.

10th District: Denny Heck versus Joyce McDonald

Freshman Democrat Denny Heck was able to put some distance between himself and Republican Joyce McDonald as the night wore on, but he still has the narrowest lead of any of the state’s Democratic incumbents. Republican Joyce McDonald will be his general election opponent. She represents the Republican Party’s best chance of taking a seat in Congress in this state. She’s managed to score 41.44% of the vote so far, which is quite impressive, and will likely be the beneficiary of big Republican money in the weeks to come. Two other candidates, Sam Wright and Jennifer Ferguson, barely registered and won’t be moving on.

Suzan DelBene cruising in early returns; redrawn 1st District looks safely Democratic

Ever since Washington’s 1st Congressional District was redrawn back in 2011, it has been widely characterized as the state’s most evenly divided political subdivision… a true “tossup” district if there ever was one.

But looking at tonight’s winnowing election results, a newcomer to Washington politics might be forgiven for thinking that the 1st is a district with a strong Democratic lean. With Whatcom County, King County, Skagit County, and Snohomish County all having reported in, freshman Democratic Congresswoman Suzan DelBene holds a huge lead over her six opponents with 51.71% of the vote.

Republicans have tried to pin the vulnerable label on DelBene, but she certainly doesn’t look it tonight. She has more votes than her three Republican opponents twice over. And embarrassingly, Pedro Celis, who the Republican political establishment in D.C. recruited to challenge DelBene, isn’t even coming in first among the Republicans. He’s trailing Robert Sutherland, who has raised little money and hasn’t done much active campaigning. Ouch!

Results as of 9:20 PM Pacific Time, August 5th, 2014

Suzan DelBene
Democrat (incumbent)
51.71% (44,244 votes)
Robert Sutherland
15.93% (13,626 votes)
Pedro Celis
15.08% (12,906 votes)
John Orlinski
10.24% (8,761 votes)

There’s still a possibility Celis could pull it out, but even if he does, his weak showing won’t help his credibility for the autumn campaign season. Notably, Celis is losing big in Snohomish County, which is a crucial portion of the district.

Prior to the election, Celis’ campaign was practically invisible. About the only evidence of its existence were its website, an occasional cable television advertisement, and the red “Vote for Pedro” signs placed in a few places around the district by Celis’ supporters. (The slogan is a riff on Napoleon Dynamite).

Bizarrely, the campaign barred reporters from attending its kickoff a few weeks ago, and it appears they left a lot of money sitting in the bank ahead of the election. Celis’ operatives have acted as if their goal was to keep his candidacy a secret from the voters, and they may have well succeeded in doing so.

We’ll have a better idea tomorrow.

Celis’ candidacy may also be suffering from a lack of enthusiasm among the Republican base, which contains the most xenophobic members of Washington’s population: far-right wing paleoconservative extremists who don’t like immigrants.

Celi’s poor showing is just the latest indication that the Republican Party continues to have a big problem on its hands: it is hostile and unwelcoming to new Americans and people of color. That doesn’t bode well for the party’s future.

America is an increasingly a non-white nation; before long, whites will be a minority of the population. Despite this shift, the Republican Party is becoming more xenophobic, not less. The caucus Pedro Celis is seeking to join just passed two pieces of shameful legislation out of the House of Representatives that would mandate more forcible deportations – even of children.

Suzan DelBene voted against those bills and delivered a strong speech in opposition. Pedro Celis, on the other hand, had nothing to say about them (at least not that we could find; we checked his website and Twitter feed).

The Republican Party itself has recognized the peril it faces. “We must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform. If we do not, our party’s appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only,” concluded a five-member panel of the Republican National Committee following a review of the 2012 presidential election, which was won by Barack Obama and the Democratic Party.

Since that report was produced, the Republican Party has shown a total lack of interest in working with either President Obama or the Senate on comprehensive immigration reform. It finally became so embarrassingly obvious that John Boehner decided he needed to bring a bill to the floor of the U.S. House for a vote. But once again, he was foiled by the Tea Party faction of his caucus, who demanded – and got – a pair of bills that are breathtakingly draconian, stupid, and mean-spirited.

Republicans may not want to admit it, but Suzan DelBene is well-liked and well-respected by her constituents. She’s not afraid to tackle tough issues; her work to rein in the NSA has been especially important. She is responsive and eager to connect with constituents. Case in point: After stepping off her plane from D.C. this past weekend, she was off to tour the The Root Connection with constituents and local elected officials from the Woodinville area.

Suzan’s concern for her people shows. She has spent many days in the Oso area offering an empathetic ear to people displaced by the horrific mudslide last spring. At her election night party tonight, she was introduced by the mayor of Darrington, who repeatedly praised her as an exceptional leader in a heartfelt introduction.

Thanks in no small part to Suzan’s strong work ethic, it looks like the 1st Congressional District will be staying in the Democratic column for another cycle.

Senate challengers Matt Isenhower, Irene Bowling looking strong in 45th and 35th LDs

Democrats’ hopes of retaking the Washington State Senate this autumn may rest on the fate of the campaigns of first time candidates Matt Isenhower and Irene Bowling, if tonight’s election results are any indication.

Isenhower, thirty-four, is trailing incumbent Republican Andy Hill in the 45th by just a few percentage points. He’s outperforming every other Democratic Senate challenger, which is noteworthy. Isenhower is contesting a seat in an area that is increasingly blue, but still considered a swing district. It will be interesting to see tomorrow if the gap between Isenhower and Hill tightens at all.

The 45th, in eastern King County, takes in part of Kirkland, a slice of Redmond, most of Woodinville, a big chunk of Sammamish, and incorporated Duvall, along with many unincorporated King County precincts in between those cities.

In the 35th LD, Democratic challenger Irene Bowling is making an incredibly strong showing, performing beyond the expectations of most pundits. She leads entrenched incumbent Tim Sheldon and his Republican challenger Travis Couture, and now seems set for a November duel with Sheldon.

Take a look at the numbers:

Irene Bowling
34.85% (8,240 votes)
Tim Sheldon
Republican (incumbent)
33.41% (7,900 votes)
Travis Couture
31.74% (7,504 votes)

Sheldon, readers will recall, is one of two legislators elected as a Democrat who defected to the Republican caucus at the end of 2012. The other, Rodney Tom, opted not to run for reelection – his successor is likely to be progressive Democrat Cyrus Habib, who has more than 60% of the vote in early returns.

The 35th is a rural western Washington swing district that covers much of Mason County. Sheldon has represented it for years; he also serves on the Mason County Commission, which has long been a sore spot with many of his constituents.

NPI’s Eleventh Anniversary Picnic is in three weeks: Don’t forget to RSVP!

Three weeks from today, we’re going to be celebrating NPI’s eleventh anniversary (along with the defeat of Tim Eyman’s I-1325!) in style at Redmond’s Perrigo Park with a festive summer picnic, continuing a tradition we began last year.

We will have several special guests with us, including state Senate candidate Matt Isenhower (running in the 45th District) and Holly Mortlock from the office of Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler. Holly will be fielding questions about Washington’s efforts to implement the Patient Protection Act.

NPI President Robert Cruickshank and I will also provide an update on NPI’s work and explain how Washington can move beyond Tim Eyman.

Along with the short speaking program, we’ll have an exhibit showcasing the photojournalism of NPI’s staff, including yours truly, and anyone who would like to will be welcome to play volleyball or badminton in the sand-filled courts adjacent to the roomy picnic shelter. (We’re anticipating good weather – it’s August, after all! – but the show will go on even in the very unlikely event of rain.)

Of course, as usual, we’ll have plenty of food… including hamburgers made from locally-raised, grass-fed beef, all natural hot dogs, salmonburgers, gardenburgers, plus chips, salad, watermelon, pies, and an anniversary cake. So please plan to join us on August 22nd for what promises to be a very fun evening.

Desserts at NPI's Tenth Anniversary Picnic

The dessert table at last year’s summer anniversary picnic. (Photo: Lincoln Potter/Samaya LLC)

The picnic will kick off at 5 PM and run until dusk at around 8:30 PM. No admission will be charged – this is is a “pay what you can” event, with a suggested donation of at least $25. We’re asking supporters to RSVP so we know how much food to get.

Perrigo Park is located at 9011 196th Avenue NE, Redmond, WA 98053 (between Union Hill Road and Novelty Hill Road). It is a fantastic public park, owned and operated by the City of Redmond. Note that city law prohibits the sale or consumption of alcoholic beverages in parks, so we are not able to offer beer, wine, or spirits at the picnic (and we ask that you not bring any, either). But we will have refreshing non-alcoholic beverages for your enjoyment.

Here’s the link again to RSVP. We hope to see you on August 22nd!

How democracy saves Seattle schools from bad superintendents

With the departure of Jose Banda from the post of superintendent of Seattle Public Schools, we’ve seen the usual hand-wringing and recriminations over the future of the district. Banda’s departure led the Seattle Times to publish an article and an editorial decrying supposed meddling by the board in the operations of the district.

The editorial hinted at the Times’s true agenda – taking away power over the school district from the people’s elected representatives:

By the widest margin, most schools are overseen by school boards, not boards and mayors, or mayors alone. But the chronic melodrama on the Seattle School Board certainly stirs a curiosity for a change in governance.

The real story, the one the Seattle Times does not want to tell for fear of undermining their anti-democratic agenda, is one of repeated mismanagement by a succession of superintendents and of a central staff that is unresponsive or overtly hostile to the board and the general public.

For nearly 15 years Seattle has had superintendents who lost public faith through bad leadership or outright scandal. After the beloved John Stanford suddenly died three years after being hired, his successor, Joseph Olschefske, left after a financial scandal. Olschefske’s successor, Raj Manhas, quit after the school board listened to public anger over a flawed school closure plan he pushed through. The plan was quickly reversed when it emerged the district had badly erred in its student population estimates.

Manhas’s successor, Maria Goodloe-Johnson, was fired after another financial scandal. Her immediate successor was the interim Susan Enfield, who like Jose Banda left the district when it became clear that the board was not going to sit back and let them have free reign over the people’s schools.

Banda left scandal in his wake as well. Though the school district’s finances appear sound, the horrifying story of a Garfield High student who was raped on a school trip and failed to get justice from the district suggests that Banda was not quite an effective leader.

Banda cited the debate over math textbooks in his departure letter, but these are often contentious issues in any school district. A good superintendent would have navigated it more effectively, accepting the board’s decision and moving on. After all, math curriculum figured prominently in the 2011 school board campaign, and parents had been vocal in their call for a different approach. Rather than accept the verdict of the board that employs him and the public that he serves, Banda – already looking for the exit – used the issue as one of his justifications for leaving. He wasn’t a good leader. He was a quitter.

The common denominator here isn’t the school board. Instead it is poor quality superintendents who are not accountable to the board or the public, who believe the Seattle Times when they say the superintendent’s job is to do as they please.

These issues play out against the broader backdrop of an all-out national battle over the future of public education. Since 2001 the federal government, under both a Republican and a Democratic president, have pursued education policies emphasizing standardized testing, school closures, and mass teacher firings. These policies have created sizable public backlash in cities large and small, in districts urban and suburban.

Seattle has played an important role in this backlash. One of the largest boycotts of standardized tests took place in Seattle in 2013. A majority of the current school board shares the broad skepticism of so-called “education reform” policies, a stance shared by large swaths of Seattle parents and voters.

Which brings us right back to the Seattle Times’ attack on the school board. In cities like Chicago, control of school districts have been taken away from elected representatives who might oppose mass teacher firings, school closures, and teaching to the test. The districts have been instead turned over to the mayor, on the theory that a municipal executive can better oversee these unpopular reforms.

Mayoral control is thus a deliberate attack on democracy in order to force through reforms that might not survive the democratic process. No wonder that Tim Burgess and Reuven Carlyle, two of Seattle’s leading proponents of teaching to the test and undermining public schools through charter schools, are quoted extensively in the Seattle Times article attacking the elected board for doing their jobs.

As it turns out, mayoral control is extremely unpopular, and may cost Rahm Emanuel his job as mayor in next year’s election.

It is also not very effective. I’ve worked in a mayor’s office, serving in the administration of Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn from 2011 to 2013. The idea that a mayor would provide close oversight of the schools is ridiculous and flies in the face of reality.

Seattle’s mayor oversees 11,000 employees in 27 departments. They include two huge utilities, Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utilities, that would be big businesses were they privately owned. It includes the Seattle Department of Transportation, itself a huge responsibility. And of course, it includes the Seattle Police Department. Overseeing the police was nearly a full-time job for Mayor McGinn, just as it is for any mayor in any city.

If Seattle’s schools were under mayoral control, they would have to compete with all 27 other departments for the mayor’s attention. He or she would be able to devote only a brief amount of time to the schools. Instead real control would be exercised by a bureaucrat who is several steps removed from the voters.

In other words, power would really rest with a superintendent-like figure who would recreate all of the failings of Seattle’s recent string of school superintendents.

Seattle’s school district suffers not only from a series of bad superintendents. It also suffers from a central staff that is incompetent and contemptuous of the public and parents. Central staff were leading an effort to try and undermine the board’s math curriculum decision until Banda finally called them off. They badly mismanaged the process of drawing new school boundaries in the fall of 2013. They have failed to resolve longstanding issues with special education and advanced education. And as we are seeing with a federal Title IX investigation spurred in part by the Garfield rape case, the central staff are unable to guarantee the basic safety of students or compliance with federal civil rights laws.

The last thing Seattle needs is a superintendent who has too much power to implement their will. What we need is more democracy and a board that is even more involved. State Representative Gerry Pollet understands this well, as quoted in the Seattle Times article:

“There are some areas where I would encourage the board to delve deeper and manage more,” Pollet said, especially regarding the special-education department and the continued overcrowding of schools.

Seattle residents and parents care deeply about their public schools. They want them to be great. They have opened their wallets, repeatedly, to support public education. They’ve elected a school board that reflects the public’s desire to be engaged participants. A good superintendent will embrace this spirit, rejecting the undemocratic, unpopular, and ineffective “education reform” policies of punishing kids and teachers.

A good superintendent will instead emphasize the basics. They’ll clean out the central staff and replace them with competent people who treat the public with respect. The next superintendent will be a national leader in blazing a trail away from standardized tests and fads toward holistic education practices that ensure every child gets a good education.

Those are the qualities the Seattle school board – and the people of Seattle – should demand from the next superintendent. The board and the public should be full partners in the process, and should strongly assert their duty of oversight to ensure the superintendent and his staff get it right. A good superintendent will not be fazed by it.

After all, that’s how good public schools are run in a functioning democracy.

House Republicans authorize John Boehner to file baseless lawsuit against President Obama

John Boehner and his caucus continued their political theatrics on a grand scale today by forcing the United States House of Representatives to vote on a resolution authorizing John Boehner to initiate litigation against Barack Obama for failing to properly discharge his duties as President of the United States of America.

All but five Republicans voted in favor of the resolution, resulting in its passage by a vote of two hundred and twenty-five to two hundred and one. No Democrats voted aye. Three Democrats and three Republicans did not cast votes.

In a lengthy floor speech opposing the resolution, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi eviscerated John Boehner and the Republicans for wasting the American people’s time and money on a baseless lawsuit designed to score political points with the far right. Here’s an excerpt from her remarks:

The lawsuit is only the latest proof of the House Republicans’ contempt and disregard for the priorities of the American people.

It is yet another Republican effort to pander to the most radical right-wing voters at taxpayers’ expense: $2.3 million spent defending DOMA – a doomed case – defending DOMA, more than $3 million on the Select Committee to exploit Benghazi – and by the way, something that had been investigated again and again, at the very admission of leaders on the Republican side. Why are we doing this? And then this, which we don’t have a price tag on that they will reveal to us.

But again, why would you sue somebody unless you want to prove something? And why would you go down that path unless you wanted to do something about it?

But the fact is: Republicans in Congress have no standing on this suit. Most constitutional scholars have, or do, admit that. Even your expert witnesses have in the past said you don’t have standing on it.

Middle class families don’t have time for the Republican partisan grudge match with the President.  They know this is – it’s a funny thing – well funny in one strange interpretation of the word ‘funny’: but a couple of weeks ago, on the steps of the Capitol, House Democrats were there to launch our ‘Middle Class Jumpstart’ about some of the issues I raised: job creation here in the US, affordability for college, early childhood education, all of those things, equal pay for equal work, raise the minimum wage.  We were doing that on the steps of the Capitol.

And in the Capitol building, the Republicans were launching their lawsuit against the President. What could be more different in terms of addressing the needs of the American people? We made the point that this was all happening on the same day.

In Kansas City, Missouri, President Obama echoed Pelosi’s comments, slamming House Republicans for their hypocrisy (they refuse to do their jobs while charging that he isn’t doing his). From the transcript of his speech at the Uptown Theater:

But think about this — they have announced that they’re going to sue me for taking executive actions to help people.

So they’re mad because I’m doing my job. And, by the way, I’ve told them — I said, I’d be happy to do it with you.

So the only reason I’m doing it on my own is because you don’t do anything. But if you want, let’s work together.

I mean, everybody recognizes this is a political stunt, but it’s worse than that, because every vote they’re taking like that means a vote they’re not taking to actually help you. When they have taken fifty votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act, that was time that could have been spent working constructively to help you on some things. And, by the way, you know who is paying for this suit they’re going to file? You.

The roll call vote from the Pacific Northwest on the resolution broke down strictly along party lines and was as follows:

Voting Aye: Republicans Jaime Herrera-Beutler, Doc Hastings, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Dave Reichert (WA), Raúl Labrador and Mike Simpson (ID), Greg Walden (OR), Steve Daines (MT), Don Young (AK)

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

The five Republicans who voted against the resolution were Scott Garrett of New Jersey, Walter Jones of North Carolina, Paul Broun of Georgia (a member of the Tea Party faction), Thomas Massie of Kentucky, and Steve Stockman of Texas.

The Democratic National Committee and the party’s two congressional campaign committees have already been using the threat of the lawsuit to raise record sums of money this cycle from donors, and are already using today’s vote as fodder to raise even more. An email from DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz has just gone out urging Democratic donors to “chip in” to fight the Republicans.

“I just walked off the floor of the House after the Republican majority voted to sue the President of the United States for the first time in our history,” the email, signed by Schultz, begins. It goes on to say, “I wish I could say it was surprising, Andrew. But frankly, with these folks, endless stunts and empty-headed wastes of time have become the norm. After today’s vote, it couldn’t be more clear that it’s time to elect Democrats and send this shutdown/lawsuit crowd packing.”

Jason Ritchie, who is among four Democrats challenging Washington State’s incumbent Republicans for House this cycle, condemned his opponent Dave Reichert (who has claimed in the past to be an independent thinker) for voting in lockstep with the House Republican leadership. (There exists, if you haven’t seen it, a great clip of Reichert admitting that he does what he’s told when he’s back in D.C.).

“The people of the 8th District want an end to partisanship and gridlock. Instead Congressman Reichert voted to spend taxpayer money suing the President. He and his D.C. friends are wasting taxpayers’ time and money on a frivolous lawsuit when they could be addressing real economic issues like infrastructure and immigration,” said Ritchie in a statement sent to NPI.

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