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LIVE from Atlanta: Al Gore Takes the Stage for the Closing Plenary of Netroots Nation 2017

It’s a beautiful day in the Northwest, but we’re taking you to Atlanta, Georgia for our live coverage of Netroots Nation 2017. For the closing plenary this evening, attendees are hearing from former Vice President Al Gore, labor leader Dolores Huerta, civil rights leader Rev. Dr. Gerald Durley, NextGen America founder Tom Steyer and DACA recipient Pamela Chomba.

Starting the evening, Angel Kyodo Williams brought the audience together, urging for healthy disagreement, an emphasis on love and the voices of the people, and clear minds. By stating, “We move together with love and with justice.”, she beautifully called for unity and prepared the audience to not only listen to the closing speakers, but to move forward as a movement.

Netroots announced a vigil after the plenary in honor of a counter-protester who died following the “Unite the Right” white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia this afternoon.

Rev. Dr. Gerald Durley came out, following the announcement, and led the crowd in a moment of silence to reflect on those killed or injured in Virginia this afternoon. Durley reflected on his work with MLK, noting that 57 years later, we are still in the same struggle so many years ago.

Quoting the preamble, Durley called out the President and his administration by stating that “we the people” have been put on the back burner, even stating that the country is run by men “who know the cost of everything and the value of nothing”. Durley went on to empower the room by asking, “Are you sick and tired of being sick and tired?” If so, he said, it is time to stand against, resist the opposition, and sacrifice.

In his closing, Durley delivered a riveting explanation of his phrase, “Our resistance must be persistence”, and shared that the environment is his new battle to wage as a fighter of justice.

Next up, the room welcomed Tom Steyer, founder of NextGen America. Steyer also called out the administration for framing the discussion around, “Who is American? Who is worthy of diginity? Who is human?” while refocusing on the history of how these questions were answered in American history and acknowledging the significant names that redefined the answers to those questions in this nation.

Steyer noted that our democracy has been corrupted by corporate interests, mentioning issues from the Dakota Access Pipeline to the predatory practices of pharmaceutical companies.

He moved on to suggesting a game plan, starting with investing in the American people through universal healthcare and education.

Secondly, he stated we need to protect citizen’s rights by ensuring the protection of voter’s rights, labor unions, people of color, immigrants, and LGBTQIA+.

Thirdly, Steyer urged the audience to reclaim a clean America, while noting that failure to act on climate change will not only make us healthier, but will get people higher wages and better jobs.

Following Steyer, Pamela Chomba took the stage, starting with her personal account of ICE coming to her door, with guns and SWAT agents. “I’m muslim, undocumented, Latinx, and I am unsafe”, Chomba stated, “I’m unsafe.”

She said that as a DACA recipient, she felt safe, but under the new administration, DACA recipients are now being detained. “As activists we shout, ‘undocumented and unafraid’, but I am so afraid.”, she stated in tears.

She noted that killing the DACA, as many Republicans have suggested, would take 8,000 workers and thousands of homeowners out of the American economy. Chomba went on to say that immigrants from Haiti, South America, and Mexico are in danger, and that our leaders want to recreate the country in their image.

She then introduced Dolores Huerta to the stage. Huerta stated that, “Racism comes from the stain of slavery on our history.” But that all humans are from Africa, and that the KKK could do be reminded of that.

She went on to state that immigration is not a crime, but that immigration as a crime is important to those in power because it fills prisons and the history of racism in this country. Education, she noted, needs to be our focus. Knowing that African Americans built the schools, Asian Americans built the roads, and Mexican Americans built the infrastructure of this country changes how one sees the nation. Quoting a philosopher, Huerta stated, “If you do not have an educated citizenry, the corrupt and the criminal will govern”.

Huerta pushed the audience to start organizing at the local level, in school boards and recreation boards and water boards. She also urged them, saying, “if we do not do it, no one will.”

Next, Huerta pushed to end the school to prison pipeline, to offer free education and free health care. But she mentioned that the people do not own their natural resources, corporations own them, making it hard to pay for what the nation needs.

Huerta also mentioned that all groups must march together, essentially urging everyone to show up for all causes. Using the poorest people, Mexican farm laborers, coming together against power and winning. But they won because they worked together.

She closed by quoting a Cuban poet who wrote, “They can cut all the flowers, but they cannot stop the spring.” She then led the audience in a chant, “Who’s got the power?” to which the audience responded, “We’ve got the power!”

Heading towards the end of the Plenary, Huerta introduced Al Gore and Mustafa Ali to the stage. The discussion started with looking at the sequel to “An Inconvenient Truth, Gore’s famous movie about the battle for environmental protections, “An Inconvenient Sequel”.

Mustafa asked Gore, “Why is this movie so important right now?” Gore responded by noting that people are seeing the same problems today, but in global proportions. While discussing some statistics regarding the proportions of atmospheric pollution, Gore also mentioned the major environmental disasters that the world is facing right now.

Yet, the major problem is, according to Gore, that those most affected by pollution are defenseless against major corporate polluters, causing violence against those who are poorest and most defenseless.

Mustafa also questioned Gore on the importance of marches and other displays have in this issue. Gore stated that those displays of organization are extremely important, but that building personal connections with people is also a major motor of change.

Referencing the Sanders campaign, Gore also mentioned that the campaign proved to everyone that campaigns can be successful without taking money from billionaires, special interest groups, and lobbyists, giving hope to Americans.

But Gore also detailed the crisis of American democracy, that politicians spend most of their time campaigning for money from the wealthiest people. In turn, they represent those who are wealthy in legislation. Gore pushed for an end to this system, stating that we must to reclaim our democracy.

Mustafa continued by asking Gore about the Paris Agreement and what it would mean to leave the agreement. Gore sounded hopeful, noting that the American people are dedicated to protecting our environment and that any new leadership in our future may easily rejoin the agreement. Gore stated, “This could just be a speed bump in the plan.”

Finally, Gore discussed the framing of climate change as a moral issue, as asked by Mustafa Ali. Gore stated that it never should have been a political issue first, but that the younger generations will question why we left them with the problems we did; that in itself is a moral issue.

Gore, like Steyer, continued to discuss how the alternative is better: that climate change can be mitigated by innovations that will revolutionize our economy, pay our workers more, and will save our younger generations.

Gore and Mustafa also discussed the need for diversity in the environmental movement.

 

Netroots Nation 2018 will be held in New Orleans, Louisiana, from August 2nd-4th

It’s official: America’s largest annual gathering of progressives will be heading to the Big Easy next year during the first few days of August.

Chuck Rocha, who memorably inspired attendees of Netroots Nation 2009 in Pittsburgh with a powerful, well-received speech, just announced onstage that New Orleans will be the host city for next year’s convention.

“We plan on standing on levees! We plan on standing in Ward 9 when Netroots Nation comes to New Orleans!” Rocha declared.

Jubilant Netroots Nation staff then joined Rocha onstage, tossing beaded necklaces into the hall for attendees to catch.

Netroots Nation 2018 will be in New Orleans

Netroots Nation 2018 will be in New Orleans

The venue will be the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center; lodging will be offered through the Hilton Riverside.

“The freshly renovated New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center is an essential component of what makes the city’s major business events so successful,” the center’s website proclaims. “With 1.1 million square feet of contiguous exhibit space, the Convention Center is the sixth largest convention facility in the nation, and it consistently ranks in the country’s top ten of facilities that hold the most conventions and tradeshows annually.”

The convention center is “steps away” from the French Quarter, which should make for a great AFTer party scene each night following the end of scheduled activities.

The convention will remain in the month of August for a second straight year (it is always in June, July, or August). Thursday, August 2nd will be the opening day of the 2018 convention and Saturday, August 4th will be the closing day.

If you’re interested in attending, you can register at the early-bird rate here.

LIVE from Atlanta: Netroots Nation hears from Ben Jealous and Elizabeth Warren

Good morning, and welcome back to our continuing live coverage of Netroots Nation 2017, taking place in Atlanta, Georgia. Attendees are once again coming together in the Centennial Ballroom for a morning plenary session with Elizabeth Warren and many other distinguished speakers.

The Rev. angel Kyodo williams, author of Radical Dharma, returned to open the session and warm up the crowd. She referenced the news of the weekend’s white supremacist march on the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia.

“Acknowledge a lot of us are feeling some anxiety about what may be going on in Charlottesville,” referencing the white racism march on the University of Virginia there. “We are standing with them.”

Williams said it wasn’t an accident that the right continued to use the strategy of distraction to try to split the attention of people on the left, but warned that it wasn’t possible think our way out of distraction. “We have to have a practice,” she said. “We have to know what matters to us so we don’t get distracted.”

Williams said those looking to resist the efforts of the radical right and hate-filled white supremacist groups need to “take care of ourselves and we do the work that allows us to be resilient, that allows us to be sustainable.”

Democratic Representative Stacey Evans then took the stage to speak about her candidacy for Governor of Georgia. Evans is competing for the Democratic nomination with fellow State Representative Stacey Abrams, who was enthusiastically received by the convention during Thursday’s evening plenary.

Shortly after Evans began her speech, protesters walked to the front to confront her with signs comparing her to Department of Education head Betsy DeVos and chanting “Trust Black Women”. In the hall, at the front tables, the protesters’ chants drowned out the audio of Evans’ speech, but on the livestream, only Evans’ rebuttals and the larger crowd noise were audible.

At first, Evans tried to disarm it with a joke.

“Oh, come on,” Evans said. “Betsy DeVos is scared of bears. I’m not scared of bears. I’m scared of Republicans.”

That didn’t dissuade the protesters at the front of the room, and some in the audience began a sporadic counter chant of, “Let her speak! Let her speak!”

Evans made attempts to continue with her speech, appealing to Democratic values “Do we want to drown out each other, or do we want to drown out Trump?”

But even with the microphone, she spent the first five minutes of her time without control of the room of ability to continue her prepared speech.

“The South has her problems,” Evans said, “but I can think of another movement that started right here,” referencing the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. However, she drew a contrast with the protesters in front of her, who she characterized as unwilling to engage in dialogue.

Evans did eventually return to her prepared remarks, determined to finish her speech and offering a biographical sketch. Evans comes from rural Georgia, utilized a scholarship to go to law school, and first won election to the state Legislature in 2010. She spoke of uniting despite differences against common enemies.

The Rev. williams then came back on stage to ease the tension stirred up in the convention hall prior to the introduction of the next speaker.

“This is what democracy looks like, y’all,” she said, while noting she would have confronted Evans differently (and more respectfully).

“That is peaceful protest, and that’s all right.”

Williams made an effort to bring the two sides together, pointing out that Repfdxdngzgi d Evans, a white woman, didn’t ask to have the protesters removed as they demonstrated, and she pointed out they were right to ask to trust black women. But if there was going to be a conflict, it was a sign that a conversation needed to happen between groups who might be from different styles of disagreement as much as different values.

“We need to conflict well.”

The next speaker, Vice President of the National Education Association Becky Pringle, was not interrupted and proceeded to give a very passionate speech.

Pringle reminded the crowd that the NEA is the largest union in the nation before going on to list some of the worst threats to education (both existing and looming) coming from the Trump/DeVos regime, which took power in early 2017.

Explaining how she views Trump, Pringle quoted the poet Maya Angelou (“When someone shows you who they are, believe them.”)

Already, she said, the administration had made it clear their agenda was to destroy public schools, cutting the budget for federal education dollars, as well as denying a safe learning environment for trans students, jeopardizing Title IX protections, trying to privatize the education for students with special needs, and most ridiculously, supporting guns in classrooms to protect against grizzly bears.

“We should have believed them.”

Pringle said that as disheartening as recent developments have been, progressives have to find a way to mount an effective defense.

“We need you to demand every public school looks like our best public schools!” Pringle said. “When they say we can’t afford it, call them up and tell them you could afford it for some of our children, but not for all of our children.”

Pringle pointed out that’s easy to feel inspired by accomplishments in the past but it’s much more difficult to be inspired in the present.

When Rosa Parks was arrested for not giving up her seat, it wasn’t a quick or easy fight for those who worked to end segregation and Jim Crow laws.

“For three hundred and eighty-one days they walked, and their feet bled. … They demonstrated they were willing to do whatever it takes to bring about a better world,” Pringle said. “It is our time to demand what’s right.”

In order to do that, progressives need to support the right to collectively organize and be the most dangerous collective voice against the regime and the forces that want to slowly eviscerate our public schools (and our colleges and universities).

“Our babies are depending on us to be worthy of them,” Pringle said.

“There’s no turning back.”

Ben Jealous, former NAACP president and a candidate for governor of Maryland, followed, echoing Pringle’s sentiment about needing to be strong in the wake of the psychic damage of the Trump election.

Referencing the Serenity Prayer, he said the most important thing is to know what you can change — because Republicans certainly do.

“They now have enough governorships [38 of 50] to re-write the Constitution if they can get their state legislatures to go along with them,” Jealous said.

The paucity of executive branch control not just at the presidential level but in the state level has resulted from Democrats losing their way in what they talk about and care about, Jealous said.

Progressive figures of the past like John and Robert Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. weren’t just on fire for fighting civil rights injustice, “they were also on fire for ending poverty and expanding opportunity”

Their successes were centered in economic justice, and in all of the disagreements looking back to the past for the best way forward, that model seemed pretty clear.

“In other words,” Jealous said, “I would suggest that we run as Democrats. Republican-lite just don’t cut it.”

Originally from Baltimore, Jealous said that his family was able to go from his mother growing up in housing projects to him attending Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar in one generation. It took hard work but also a context in which hard work could be enough for success.

That included as affordable higher education for everyone, high school education that readied graduates for the contemporary labor market, and union jobs that were plentiful and easy to find so more things could be affordable for more people. Now, people had to be lucky just to get by.

Jealous said this message would be appealing not just to the people in the room but across the nation, from downtown Chicago to the Ozarks where a room’s color diversity tended to be restricted to the camo pattern.

Paraphrasing his colleague the Rev. Dr. William Barber II, he said, “If someone is fool enough to ask ‘Is it race or is it class?’… just say ‘Yes’.”

To illustrate this, Jealous told the story of speaking with a Trump voter whose most important question was whether Jealous supported single-payer healthcare.

When Jealous said he did, the man replied, “I’ll vote for you, and I’ll organize other Trump voters to vote for you, too.”

Jealous elaborated that the man, his company’s financial manager, told him that despite believing in a robust private sector, he had come to realize that healthcare must be a provided as a public service for the benefit of all.

That Trump voter gets it. If we continue to rely on large, for-profit companies, we will have a healthcare system that serves the few instead of the many. Small business owners need healthcare provided as a public service to control their costs.

With that as an example, Jealous said rather than running toward the right or the left on the issue, to win he was going to “run toward the people.”

That includes getting more people involved and represented. Jealous listed margins in close states Hillary Clinton lost in the 2016 presidential election, then pointed out those margins are exceeded by the number of unregistered people of color in each of those states, sometimes by a factor of more than twice as much.

“The antidote to massive voter suppression has always been massive voter registration,” Jealous said. “So let’s go do it.”

When Saturday morning’s keynote speaker U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren came up on stage, she echoed Jealous’ theme of running towards the people.

Warren pushed back against a New York Times opinion piece that argued that in the wake of the 2016 presidential election and continued minorities in Congress, Democrats needed to “return to the center” and ditch identity politics.

She said, that thanks to the efforts of progressives like the 3,000 cheering Netroots Nation attendees in the room with her, the party isn’t going back to milquetoast centrist policies like gutting assistance for the needy or lukewarm support on women’s reproductive choice or groveling on Wall Street for corporate scraps.

“We wanted a movement, and now look around,” Warren said.

Progressives are now the heart of the Democratic Party, but Warren said there didn’t need to be a choice of either the disaffected white working class or Black Lives Matter, or a run to the center to split the difference between them. The same message of protecting people from over-powerful forces already spoke to both.

“We can care about the dad who’s worried that his kid will have to move away from his factory town to find decent work and we can care about a mom who’s worried her kid will get shot at a traffic stop,” Warren said.

“The system is rigged against both of them and against their kids.”

In all of the economic games of recent decades, most people haven’t seen those benefits. Rather than being a place where everyone can get a fair shot, the feeling is that our nation’s institutions on Capitol Hill only work to the benefit of the rich and powerful. Warren contended that’s why Trump was able to appeal to lots of people who should have been Democratic voters.

But the system is rigged even more now more than it was before November, Warren said, including against those more vulnerable than working class whites: LGBTQ+ Americans, immigrants, Muslims, women, poor people, people of color.

“Spare me the argument about whether we ought to be trying to bring back folks who voted for Donald Trump or turn out people who stayed to home,” Warren said to rousing applause. “We can’t do either of those things until we show that things change and that we will fight to change them.”

“We have to show people that when we get the chance to lead, things will get better. And that starts by showing we have backbone — not just backbone when we stand up to Donald Trump, but backbone when we put forward our own agenda.” (In other words, having the courage to campaign on our own ideas.)

And what are our ideas?

Warren was generous with her examples. She mentioned strengthening the basic social contract on labor, demanding for equal pay for equal work, protecting access to reproductive health services, allowing everyone to purchase affordable prescription drugs, and having a criminal justice system where people’s lives won’t be ruined by a bag of marijuana or ended by a traffic stop.

“We don’t have to tiptoe anymore.”

And, possibly channeling former Mexican President Vicente Fox, Warren declared: “Mr. President, we’re never, ever, going to build your stupid wall.”

LIVE from Atlanta: Stacey Abrams, Barbara Lee anchor opening night of Netroots Nation

Good afternoon, and welcome back to NPI’s live coverage of Netroots Nation 2017, taking place in Atlanta, Georgia today through this coming Saturday.

Netroots Nation is America’s largest annual gathering of progressive activists, advocacy journalists, and grassroots organizers. NPI has had a presence at every Netroots Nation conference, going back to 2006, when the convention was known as YearlyKos. (The name was changed in 2008.)

Each year, Netroots Nation traditionally brings conventiongoers together for the first time for an opening night plenary session, where attendees hear from distinguished elected leaders, entrepreneurs, and activists. Tonight’s plenary session features a diverse array of speakers with powerful stories to tell.

As the session unfolds, we will be offering periodic live updates. You can also follow along from home yourself by going to Netroots Nation’s Facebook page.

Rev. Angel Kyoto Wiliams kicked off the plenary session by asking attendees to think about what motivates them personally. She emphasized the importance of sustainable practices for prolonged activism, asking each participant to reflect upon their motivation for activism and what matters to them. Williams challenged audience participation to find specific and personal causes of motivation.

Next to take the stage was Arshad Hasan, the Chair of the Board of Directors of Netroots Nation. Hasan explained to new attendees that Netroots Nation is actually two organizations: the 501(c)(4) organization that organizes the convention, and the Netroots Foundation, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization which supports the work of the progressive community through initiatives like Win the Internet.

Hasan then relayed the sad news that Netroots Foundation Chair Joel Silberman is unable to attend Netroots Nation this year due to having recently been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer (which he is undergoing chemotherapy for). Silberman did, however, record a message of welcome, in which he talked about his cancer diagnosis, his treatment, and his hopes for this year’s Netroots Nation.

Silberman credited the quality healthcare he’s receiving to the work of progressive activists, explaining he believes he would not be alive today otherwise.

Progressives have accomplished much together (the Patient Protection Act, marriage equality, net neutrality), but our values, principles, and policy directions are now gravely threatened by a right wing regime that Silberman says is trying to “divide, distract, and discourage” us. Netroots Nation must respond by committing to “unify, focus, and organize,” Silberman declared.

Let America Vote President Jason Kander was next to address the convention.

He began his speech by talking about the circumstances that led to the creation of this memorable ad. Kander explained that during his campaign for the U.S. Senate in Missouri, he wore the NRA’s “F” rating of him as a badge of honor.

Kander noted that although he lost his Senate bid, his candidacy is nevertheless evidence that voters respond enthusiastically when the Democratic Party fields unaplogetically progressive candidates. Kander significantly outperformed Hillary Clinton in the Show Me State, earning support from many Missourians not as progressive as he, but appreciative of his his honesty and integrity.

Kander further noted that in his 2012 campaign for Secretary of State (which he won), he was able to attract support from voters despite being vocally opposed to voter ID schemes. Even voters who disagreed with him about that were willing to vote for him because they were drawn to him as a Democrat with integrity.

Kander finished his speech by talking about his friendship with Salam, a Muslim American from his hometown of Kansas City.

Kander recollected that he had been told not to advertise or tell fellow servicemembers about his Jewish faith, and that he ultimately decided to ignore that admonition and tell his buddy Salam that he was Jewish — only to find out that Salam had known all along, as his family had a connection to Kander’s family.

We can’t be afraid to be ourselves, Kander concluded.

Manka Dhingra now has a double digit lead over Jinyoung Lee Englund in 45th LD

The second week of ballot counting is underway in Washington’s 2017 Top Two election, and with today’s drop, the good news continues for Manka Dhingra and the Democratic Party. Dhingra today achieved the symbolic threshold of a double digit lead over Republican opponent Jinyoung Englund, once again widening her lead in what has become the district’s most lopsided Senate race in years.

Pundits and political observers had been expecting a close contest, with a narrow win possible by either side. But this result is basically the opposite of that.

With today’s count in, Dhingra has 19,545 votes (51.49%); Englund has 15,745 votes (41.48%). The gap between Dhingra and Englund is now 3,800 votes.

Dhingra’s lead in this election is bigger than any that have been held by either Andy Hill or his predecessor over the past eleven years. Take a look:

  • 2014 General Election, 45th LD Senate (Difference: 2,660 votes)

    • Andy Hill (R): 25,816 votes
    • Matt Isenhower (D): 23,156 votes
  • 2010 General Election, 45th LD Senate (Difference: 1,124 votes)
    • Andy Hill (R): 29,606 votes
    • Eric Oemig (D): 28,482 votes
  • 2006 General Election, 45th LD Senate (Difference: 2,780 votes)
    • Eric Oemig (D): 25,027 votes
    • Toby Nixon (R): 22,247 votes

Republicans seem utterly bewildered that the $642,636.19 they sunk into ads smearing Manka Dhingra have failed to bolster Englund’s candidacy. Not only did Englund begin Election Night in a big hole, but that hole has gotten deeper… and deeper… and deeper… which isn’t what they were expecting.

With nothing but bad news coming out of the 45th LD, the state Republican Party has opted to ignore the election results and instead focus on other (mostly trivial) things. The party did post a tweet the day after the election which read:

Thank you to our hardworking canvassers Dio, Brendan, Joe, and Austin. They’re making canvassing great again!

More like the Democrats are making canvassing great again. The Dhingra campaign has truly demonstrated a mastery of field operations in this election. As a consequence, the party is an excellent position heading into the general election, and will benefit from high morale and enthusiasm down the home stretch.

I can’t remember a legislative contest in which a candidate down by as much as Englund is in this election came back to win in the general. (Readers, if you know of an example, please mention it in the comments.) Top Two performance does not precisely predict general election performance, but there is a correlation.

A reprise of what we’re seeing now in the general election would mean more than just a change in who runs the Senate. For decades, the Eastside of King County has been a political battleground, where legislative majorities have been made and unmade. But increasingly, the Eastside is becoming Democratic territory.

Two of the region’s four core legislative districts are now all-Democratic (the 41st and the 48th). The 45th is weeks away from potentially joining them. And next year, Democrats will have a fresh opportunity to make inroads in the 5th when House positions held by Republicans Jay Rodne and Paul Graves are up.

Late ballots continue to bolster Manka Dhingra in 45th LD, confounding Republicans

Democratic Senate hopeful Manka Dhingra has ended the first week of counting in the August Top Two election in an incredibly strong position, having gained distance from Republican opponent Jinyoung Lee Englund with each and every tabulation thus far. Dhingra’s electoral performance demonstrates that the Democratic Party was very successful in getting out the vote last month, which bodes well for the party’s chances of retaking the state Senate this autumn.

A victory for Dhingra would give Democrats twenty-five seats in the Senate and the ability to bring progressive school funding solutions up for a vote.

Dhingra ended the week with 51.45% of the vote — nearly ten percentage points above Englund, who dropped to 41.54%.

On Election Night, Dhingra had 50.51% of the vote, while Englund had 42.57%. As mentioned, the gap between the two candidates has continued to widen, which is definitely not something that Republicans expected to happen.

King County Republican Chair Lori Sotelo released a statement earlier this week in which she predicted that Englund would start to make up ground:

It’s my understanding that there are 5,000 or so ballots waiting to be counted at King County Elections and more to come in over the next few days. Late voters trend our way. I expect the gap to narrow giving Jinyoung Englund a strong platform heading into November.

Wrong on both counts, Lori.

Late ballots can actually trend in any number of directions. Last year, late ballots helped sink the candidates of Democrats Jason Ritchie and Teresa Purcell, who were leading on Election Night in the 5th and 19th Legislative Districts, respectively.

But in the 45th this year, the late ballots have favored the Democratic Party, to the evident consternation and confusion of Republican operatives.

What’s going on here? Well, to put it simply, Democrats succeeded in mounting a very successful get-out-the-vote (GOTV) operation while Republican attack ads backfired horribly, generating even more votes for Manka Dhingra.

Strong field operations are a classic hallmark of winning Democratic campaigns. Longtime Democratic Party workers can feel very good about the party’s efforts in the 45th in this election, which continue to bear fruit, day after day.

Republicans made a big bold bet when they recruited Jinyoung Lee Englund to run against Dhingra a few months ago, prioritizing attributes like party experience over community connections (which were Andy Hill’s strength as a candidate).

That bet is not paying off.

As mentioned, also not paying off are the million plus dollars Republicans have spent frantically trying to tarnish Manka Dhingra’s reputation.

Republicans will be loathe to give up their power in the statehouse, so we fully expect they’ll be back with more attack ads in the autumn in a desperate attempt to stave off the loss of their fragile Senate majority.

Democratic Party’s Manka Dhingra pads lead over Republican Jinyoung Englund in 45th LD

Democratic Senate hopeful Manka Dhingra has surpassed 51% in the second round of Top Two election vote counting, putting more distance between herself and Republican opponent Jinyoung Lee Englund in the fiercely contested race to elect a successor to appointee Dino Rossi in the 45th Legislative District.

As of last night, Dhingra had 50.51% and a 1,876 vote lead, with 11,928 votes to Englund’s 10,052. Today, her lead expanded to 2,556 votes.

If the trend continues, Dhingra will be nicely positioned to head into the autumn having aced what amounted to a mandatory dress rehearsal.

Dhingra’s candidacy is record-setting in many ways, including with respect to performance. No Democratic candidate for the Washington State Senate in the 45th District has led by this many votes against a Republican opponent before, although Democratic state representatives Larry Springer and Roger Goodman have easily dispatched Republican opponents in their House races in recent cycles.

Democratic activists all over Washington State have been celebrating Dhingra’s strong showing in the initial results since the minute the numbers dropped last night. Today, they have reason to celebrate yet again.

Last night, I noted that Dhingra may have actually been helped by all of the negative attacks Republicans mounted against her, partly because the attacks were fabrications that Republicans simply made up out of desperation, and partly because Dhingra has been all over the 45th introducing herself to voters.

When people get a mailer with grainy pictures and dubious claims that doesn’t match the impression they formed of a person they talked to at their door, they tend not to view the contents of the mailer very credibly.

Basically, Republicans just spent a boatload of money trying to influence voter attitudes in the 45th District, but instead of bolstering Jinyoung’s candidacy, they wound up helping Manka Dhingra increase her name recognition.

They’re so desperate to cling to power I expect them to try to come back in the general election with another torrent of mailers, robocalls, and TV ads. However, it may all be for be for naught, just as it was in this election. Money is potent and tends to be influential in elections, but it can’t buy everything.

Progressive slate leads in closely watched 2017 Seattle School Board contests

Grassroots education advocates in Seattle can take comfort in early results for this year’s contests for school board positions. Emerald City voters are enthusiastically backing a trio of candidates whose commitment to public schools is not in doubt.

In the contest for Position #4, Washington’s Paramount Duty cofounder Eden Mack is truly cleaning up with an astonishing 67.46% of the vote. She has more support than all of her opponents combined… times two. That’s really impressive.

A jubilant Mack commemorated the big lead on Facebook by posting photos from her election night party, where everyone was in high spirits. “Celebrating 67% of the vote with my neighbors at our block party! Thank you all who voted for me!!!!”

In the contest for Position #5, Zachary Pullin DeWolf has established a comfortable lead of his own, although not as impressive as Mack’s. He’s got 43.19% of the vote, trailed by Omar Vasquez at 18.18% and Andre Helmstetter at 16.46%.

Helmstetter is close enough to Vasquez that he may be able to move into second place as late ballots are counted. Grassroots education activists would like to see Vasquez eliminated, as he is a supporter of charter schools.

In the contest for Position #7, Betty Patu appears on her way to a third term. The widely respected incumbent school board member is crushing it with 65.52% of the vote. Challenger Chelsea Byers is far behind at 22.76%.

Mack, Pullin DeWolf, and Patu were all backed by the King County Democrats and the city’s Democratic legislative district organizations.

King County voters reject proposition to fund the arts with sales tax increase

Let’s stop deepening our reliance on regressive taxes to fund things we care about.

That seems to be the message that King County voters are sending tonight to King County Executive Dow Constantine and King County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles by rejecting Access for All, the latest measure to carry the moniker “Proposition #1”, which would have bolstered funding for arts programs, but at an unappealing cost: an increase in the already-high, very regressive sales tax.

Constantine and Kohl-Welles were able to overcome strong objections from their Democratic colleagues Dave Upthegrove and Larry Gossett back in the spring to secure Council approval of a resolution referring Proposition #1 to the people.

But they could not overcome voters’ objections, despite having a resource-flush Yes campaign that raised $1.6 million and had no organized opposition.

NPI took a position in support of Access for All, but with strong reservations. Had it been up to us, Proposition #1 would not have appeared on the August ballot to begin with. Councilmember Larry Gossett characterized it in the voter’s pamphlet as the wrong tax at the wrong time with the wrong priority, in a strongly-worded opposition statement he coauthored with Republican Senator Dino Rossi.

Gossett may not have had a million bucks to reinforce his argument in a series of glossy mailers, but it resonated with the electorate regardless.

The League of Women Voters of Seattle-King County could not reach a consensus on what position to take due to sharing Gossett’s concerns.

Back in May, Constantine justified the decision to push Access for All to the ballot for a vote by saying, “Voters deserve the opportunity to learn more about all that this package can deliver to the region, and decide for themselves the value of those investments. The arts and sciences connect us and bring us together, and a strong cultural sector is an essential building block of a healthy community.”

We agree the arts and sciences are incredibly valuable to our society, and that is precisely why we believe they deserve a better funding source than the sales tax.

It’s important to remember that the sales tax isn’t just regressive; it’s unstable. During recessionary gaps, which are cyclical, sales tax revenue tends to fall, sometimes sharply, as as households and firms scale back their purchases.

Washington’s unhealthy reliance on sales taxes led to severe fiscal repercussions for public services at the state and local levels during the Great Recession.

Sound Transit, for instance, was forced to scale back ST2 projects in its southernmost subareas due to lack of sales tax revenue.

When we pay taxes, we are pooling our resources to get things done. Ability to pay ought to the primary factor in deciding who pays and how much.

But in Washington State, it isn’t. Our tax code is upside down. Middle and lower income families are paying a much higher percentage of their income in taxes than wealthy families are, and have been for decades. That’s wrong.

Local governments only have the revenue options that the state gives them, so this sorry state of affairs has to be addressed at the state level. To date, it hasn’t been. Instead, the Legislature has worsened the problem by occasionally giving counties and cities the authority to levy higher sales taxes while refusing to provide progressive alternatives. And it has failed to repeal and replace Tim Eyman’s I-747, which continues to slowly choke cities and counties, especially rural ones.

The Legislature has also squandered countless opportunities to make the state’s tax code more progressive. There’s been a lot of talk about the problem, but scant action. Lawmakers have been unable to agree to take even small steps.

Many legislators seem to prefer the devil they know — an outdated, antiquated system that principally relies on taxing gross receipts plus sales of most goods and certain services — to unimplemented progressive alternatives.

But next year just might be different. Voters in the 45th LD are delivering a big victory to Democratic Senate hopeful Manka Dhingra in the Top Two election, which suggests Democrats could control the Senate by the end of the year.

2018 will be a short session, but it could be a fruitful one, if Democrats get their act together and prioritize improving the tax code. Governor Jay Inslee and House Democrats have gotten on board with new ideas we need, like a capital gains tax. The hangup has been in the Senate, controlled by Republicans since 2012.

Better, more progressive revenue options for local governments must be part of the reform agenda. King County leaders, including Constantine and Kohl-Welles, should make lobbying for such options their top legislative priority.

Washington is one of the richest states in the country. We can afford to increase revenue for the arts, and we should. But we owe it to ourselves to do it in a way that doesn’t exacerbate the wretchedness of our regressive tax structure.

Incumbents winning easily in 7th, 31st, 37th, and 48th special legislative elections

Five appointed legislators running to keep their seats this year in a set of special legislative elections are having an easy go of it thus far, suggesting that they could all be retained by voters in their respective districts as of November.

In the deep red 7th Legislative District, spanning the rural counties in northeastern Washington, Republican Senator Shelly Short has garnered 67% of the vote and holds a two-to-one margin over Democratic challenger Karen Hardy, who’s at 32.74%. Meanwhile, Republican Jacquelin Maycumber, who has taken over Short’s old House seat, enjoys a similarly comfortable lead of more than twenty points over her Democratic opponent Susan Swanson.

In the 31st Legislative District (a wedge of the rural South Sound not far from Mount Rainier), Republican Senator Phil Fortunato has a big lead over Democratic challenger Michelle Rylands, with 58.55% of the vote.

In the contest for the accompanying House seat vacated by Fortunato when he took over the Senate seat from Pam Roach, Republican Morgan Irwin is well ahead with 56.88% of the vote. Democratic challenger Nate Lowry has 43.12%.

Republicans were quick to point out these apparent lopsided victories on social media, anxious for something to crow about given the incredibly lackluster performance of Jinyoung Lee Englund in the 45th LD. But Republicans have been expected to win all four of these races from the get-go.

Democrats expressed satisfaction at having successfully recruited candidates who will advance to the general election in each of the four contests. Democrats have been mostly shut out in the 7th Legislative District in recent cycles, failing to advance any candidates to the general election. That’s not the case this year.

“Democrats are competing in races across the state,” said State Party Chair Tina Podlodowski. “Michelle Rylands, Karen Hardy, Nate Lowry, and Susan Swanson are beating expectations in tough legislative districts for Democrats. We’re building our party across Washington to fight back against the Republicans and the toxic agenda of Donald Trump, and tonight’s results make it clear that the people are fired up to resist as well. There’s still a lot of work to do, but with results like these, I’m very excited for November and the general election.”

Republican operatives made a point of stressing that their incumbents couldn’t raise money due to the session freeze while their Democratic challengers could. But the same is true of Democratic incumbents Patty Kuderer and Vandana Slatter in the 48th LD: they were subject to the freeze, but are also cruising along comfortably.

Kuderer was elected to the state House last year after having been appointed to succeed State Representative Ross Hunter. She moved over to the Senate this year and her House seat was taken by Vandana Slatter, formerly of the Bellevue City Council. Kuderer is mustering 60.36% of the vote against two opponents, including a fake Democrat recruited by the Republicans, Richard Knierim.

Knierim is in third place with 15.98%, well behind Libertarian Michelle Darnell, who has 23.66%, so he will not advance to the November general election.

Slatter, meanwhile, has a whopping 76.6% in the vote in her House race against her sole Libertarian opponent Ciaran Dougherty.

It wasn’t that long ago that the 48th was an Eastside swing district that was fiercely fought over. But Republicans appear to have given up on it completely, not even bothering to recruit candidates to run there as Republicans. Notorious party switcher Rodney Tom is the last Republican to have been elected in the district; it has been enthusiastically embracing progressive Democrats for several years now.

Lastly, we’ll note that Democrats have already locked up the 37th Legislative District, where incumbent Democratic Senator Rebecca Saldaña is unopposed. Saldaña is on the ballot despite not having any opponent, as state law requires that legislative races appear on the ballot regardless of how many candidates have filed.

What all these results portend is a 2018 state Legislature with a fifty member House Democratic caucus, a forty-eight member House Republican caucus, a twenty-five member Senate Democratic caucus (considering the result in the 45th), and a twenty-four member Senate Republican caucus. Democrats could end 2017 in control of both chambers for the first time in five years.

Here’s the projection from Pacific NW Portal’s Balance of Power projector:

BALANCE OF POWER: Who will control the Washington State House and Senate in December?

Who will control the Washington State House and Senate in December? PROJECTION: If current results in legislative races hold in the November general election, both the House and Senate will be controlled by the Democratic Party.

Manka Dhingra, Democratic Party winning big in crucial 45th District State Senate contest

Democrats are on track to recapture control of the Washington State Senate this November, if early results in the 45th Legislative District are any indication.

Democratic Senate hopeful Manka Dhingra has an impressive eight point lead over Republican opponent Jinyoung Lee Englund as of tonight’s initial count, which King County Elections released shortly after 8 PM. Dhingra has 50.54% of the vote, while Englund has just 42.59%. Independent candidate Parker Harris has 6.86%.

Jubilant Democratic activists broke into hearty cheers and applause at Dhingra’s Redmond headquarters when the results were announced. With representatives of her Teen Campaign Committee gathered around her, Dhingra delivered an upbeat twilight victory speech noting that much work remains to be done, but that the result demonstrated what could be accomplished through people-powered politics.

“Our campaign faced unprecedented attacks from special interests, but we were focused on speaking with voters at their doorsteps and listening to neighbors across the 45th District,” said Dhingra, who is campaigning on a platform of fully funding public education through progressive revenue reform.

“With the help of over five hundred local volunteers, we have knocked on more than 40,000 doors in the last few months and are ready to carry this energy into the general election. Together we can ensure experienced, effective, and local leadership represents 45th District families in Olympia.”

Washington State Democratic Party leadership touted Dhingra’s victory.

“Democrats across the state turned out to vote, and we saw that show up clearly in tonight’s results,” said State Party Chair Tina Podlodowski.

“I’m especially thrilled with Manka Dhingra’s strong performance in the 45th District – we were optimistic, but this is even better than expected. Manka’s results tonight put us in a great position for November’s general election, when turnout will be higher and even more favorable for Democrats.”

“These results make it clear – the millions of dollars in lies that Republicans paid to put out didn’t work, and voters went for Manka Dhingra, the candidate who reflects their community and their values.”

Republicans seemed speechless.

The Washington State Republican Party retweeted screen captures of results from the 31st and 7th Legislative Districts (which are considered fairly and safely Republican, respectively), but offered no reaction to the result in the 45th. Neither did Jinyoung Lee Englund’s official Twitter account.

Republican operatives were also silent about the outcome in the 45th on social media… though they had plenty to say about results elsewhere.

Englund’s campaign ultimately distributed a mostly boilerplate press release unenthusiastically noting that Englund had “advanced” to the November general election, complete with this “me too” bit at the end:

Englund adds, “On another note, today we’ve made history as two women candidates of Asian heritage running in the most expensive and important legislative race in Washington state. Regardless of party affiliation or personal feelings, this is something we can all come together to celebrate.”

Yes, by all means… let’s come together to celebrate. Does this statement mean voters can expect to see Englund spending quality time in the 45th, as opposed to skipping neighborhood candidate forums to attend fundraisers in a different county, or holding major campaign events two districts away?

Republicans have spent a fortune trying to smear Dhingra with false and misleading attack ads, blanketing the district with mailers and distributing multiple snotty robocalls in addition to financing television and Internet ads.

Tonight, it’s evident those attacks didn’t work.

Like Lisa Wellman in the 41st District last year, Dhingra may have actually benefited from a voter backlash to the negative ads. Wellman memorably overcame a blizzard of attack mailers to score an upset victory over entrenched Republican incumbent Steve Litzow in the Top Two election, then went on to win a few months later in the November general election with the backing of President Barack Obama.

Wellman’s victory reduced the Senate Republican majority to twenty-five, which set the stage for this year’s decisive showdown in the 45th.

If Dhingra wins in November, the Republican Party will be out of power in Olympia and the Senate will be back in Democratic hands for the first time since 2012.

Turnout abysmal across Washington State with twenty-four hours left to vote

Earlier this month, ballots for the August Top Two election (which concludes tomorrow) were mailed to 3,850,467 voters in Washington State. Regrettably, only
541,577 have been returned thus far… an abysmal turnout rate of just 14.1%.

No county elections division has seen a majority of ballots issued come back, although some small counties have had about a third of their ballots come back.

Tiny Garfield County is currently the turnout leader with 36%, followed by little Lincoln County at 33% and itty bitty Skamania County at 32%.

The larger counties are all at under 20% turnout. Pierce is really lagging, with just 10.5% of ballots returned. Snohomish is sitting at 12% and King County is at 13.7%. Kitsap is faring somewhat better with turnout of 18.8%, while Whatcom is at 18.9%. Spokane is at 13.9% and Clark is at 12.3%.

Unless a lot more people vote over the next twenty-four hours, there’s a very real possibility Washington could set a new record for low statewide turnout in a Top Two election, which would be a disappointing development.

Two years ago, in 2015, turnout was a measly 24.37% statewide… less than a fourth of ballots came back. That was a decline from 2013, when Top Two turnout was 25.99%, and 2011, when Top Two turnout was 29.54%.

Turnout isn’t just declining in local elections, either. It is declining in every type of election, which is very worrying. We talked a lot about this trend last year, when Tina Podlodowski (now the Chair of the Washington State Democratic Party) was challenging Kim Wyman for Secretary of State.

Wyman has said repeatedly turnout is cyclical and dependent on what’s on the ballot, but as we illustrated, turnout has been getting worse across the board, and she has yet to offer a plan for arresting and reversing the trend.

Under Kim Wyman, Washington's voter turnout is declining

The much-hyped 2016 presidential election, which Wyman anticipated would be a bonanza, did not deviate from the trend. Turnout statewide was only 78.76% — down from 81.25% in 2012, 84.61% in 2008, and 82.19% in 2004.

There are many possible explanations for the declining voter turnout: the timing of elections (Top Two elections held in August have historically had lousy participation), increasing indifference and apathy among the electorate, and barriers to voting (like lack of drop boxes), to name a few.

King County Elections twice experimented with prepaid postage on ballot return envelopes earlier this year, seeking to remove one barrier to voting, and saw an increase in turnout. Unfortunately, prepaid postage was not provided on return envelopes for this election. We wish that it had been.

If you’re a reader of this blog, chances are you’ve already voted and discharged your civic duty. But have you checked in on your friends and family and made sure that they have returned *their* ballots? If not, please do so tonight!

Rodney Tom is wrong: Split government isn’t serving Washington State well at all

Yesterday, management at The Seattle Times tacitly admitted they couldn’t bring themselves to endorse the campaign of Republican Jinyoung Lee Englund, who is running to take over from appointee Dino Rossi in the 45th Legislative District. In the apparent place of an endorsement of Jinyoung, the Times today published an op-ed by ex-Senator Rodney Tom extolling the concept of split government.

While Tom’s piece carefully avoids mentioning Jinyoung Lee Englund or her Democratic opponent Manka Dhingra, it’s clear that Tom wants to see an Englund victory — not because he thinks Englund would be a great legislator, but because he wants the Senate Republicans to remain in power in Olympia.

Tom, you’ll recall, delivered the Senate into Republican hands in late 2012 by engineering a power coup with Tim Sheldon of Potlatch. Tom and Sheldon defected from the Democratic caucus to the Republican caucus, allowing the Republicans to become the majority party despite not having won a majority in the 2012 elections.

Tom left the Senate at the end of 2014, having chosen not seek another term. But he remains invested in maintaining the status quo that he created in Olympia.

“It might be easier to have a house with only dogs or only cats — or with only Democrats,” Tom writes. “But I prefer we figure out how to all get along together. That is better for us. It is better for our communities. It is better for our state.”

Huh? If Republicans lose to Manka Dhingra and the Democrats in the 45th, they would be out of power, but not out of the Senate. Regardless of what happens in the election, there is still going to be a Senate Republican caucus with over twenty members. To put it another way: Senate Republicans will still be in the house no matter what. They just won’t get to run the place next year if Manka wins.

Speaking of Manka, she happens to be the most accomplished of the three candidates seeking to become the next senator from the 45th Legislative District. She has an impressive resume and compelling experience for a first time candidate. Jinyoung Englund, meanwhile, is running a campaign devoid of substance.

But Tom clearly cares more about the party banner Manka is running under than her best-in-field qualifications or her ideas for improving Washington State…. which is funny, because I can recall hearing Tom opine that the person is more important than the party while holding forth at Eastside legislative town halls.

What Tom is saying in his op-ed today is the opposite: The party is more important than the person. The unsaid implication of Tom’s argument is that if you’re a voter in the 45th, you should vote for Jinyoung merely so that we can continue to have split government in Washington, which Tom thinks is simply wonderful.

The reality is quite different. Here’s an overview of the evidence that split government has been bad for Washington State.

Split government has resulted in bad budgeting practices

Split government has made Washington State a poster child for fiscal irresponsibility. Since the Senate Republicans assumed power, they have thrice brought state government to the brink of a shutdown (in 2013, 2015 and again this year) in order to gain leverage in budget negotiations.

A damaging side effect of that harmful, self-serving strategy has been a lack of transparency. Because deals to keep state government open have been hammered out at the last minute, with only hours to spare, there’s been little or no time for public input or outside scrutiny on the Legislature’s final work product.

This year, Senate Republicans foolishly decided to make the capital budget a hostage too, and demanded a ransom that Democrats wouldn’t pay. They wanted House Democrats to capitulate on unrelated policy matters before they would vote out a capital budget. Historically, capital budgets have passed out of the Legislature with broad bipartisan support. But not this year.

As a result, the state has no capital budget at all, a sad fact that Tom conveniently didn’t mention in his op-ed (it would have undermined his argument).

Timely, transparent budgeting is the hallmark of a well-run state. Everyone benefits from the certainty of knowing what’s in the budget prior to June 30th, the end of the state’s fiscal year. Local governments and agency leaders in particular have been hamstrung by the Legislature’s failure to agree on an operating budget before the eleventh hour. They’re even more hamstrung by the lack of a capital budget.

“For our businesses to thrive, they need predictability and moderation, not wild swings from left to right and vice versa,” Tom argues.

Split government has produced precisely the opposite of predictability and moderation. Anyone who values those things and believes the dynamics of our Legislature affect our business climate should not be endorsing the status quo.

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. That’s an overused cliche, often attributed to Albert Einstein, but it seems applicable here. Senate Republicans have now held power for four and a half years, and we’ve gone to the brink of a state government shutdown three times.

Why should anyone expect that 2019 would be any different with them in charge?

If voters want to get back to sound budgeting practices, they’ll have to put an end to split government by taking away the Senate Republicans’ power.

Split government is killing needed public policy changes

Public opinion research suggests Washingtonians are anxious to see their elected representatives take action on a host of pressing issues, like:

  • fulfilling our state’s paramount duty to amply provide for the education of all young people residing within our borders
  • reforming our upside down tax code
  • reducing the pollution that’s damaging our climate
  • expanding healthcare coverage
  • confronting systemic racism in our criminal justice system

… and so much more.

Sadly, progress has been elusive because the Senate Republicans have turned the chamber they control into a policy graveyard. The House keeps passing good bills, some even with support from the House Republicans, that the Senate Republicans keep on killing, often without so much as a hearing.

Here’s a few examples:

Follow the links, and you’ll see these are bills that received a vote in the House, but died in the Senate. If Senate Republicans were not in power, these bills likely would have received a vote on the Senate floor instead of being blocked in committee.

Split government is stifling discussions on key issues

Split government is also hurting worthy causes that don’t yet have a majority of votes to pass in each chamber, but need discussion and debate.

A great example is abolition.

A growing number of Republicans — including former Attorney General Rob McKenna, State Representative Terry Nealey, and State Senator Maureen Walsh — have concluded it’s time to get rid of the death penalty.

So has The Seattle Times editorial board.

But even though there is growing bipartisan support for such a move, the Legislature is not seriously discussing the idea, because the extremist core of the Senate Republican caucus is so rigid and closed-minded.

Current Senate Law and Justice Chair Mike Padden is a vociferous supporter of state sponsored executions and has used his perch to choke off discussion. He is backed in that stance by top Senate Republican Mark Schoesler.

Seeing that Senate Republicans will absolutely not budge from their immoral hardline position, House Judiciary Chair Laurie Jinkins has concluded it would be pointless for the House to try to advance an abolition bill for the time being.

But if voters give Democrats a Senate majority this autumn, Padden and Schoesler will be ousted from power, and the cause of abolition will at least be given consideration in the Senate as well as the House starting in 2018.

Split government is draining resources and morale

Theatrical, drawn out legislative sessions in which not much gets accomplished have become the norm in Washington State thanks to split government.

As mentioned, Senate Republicans have repeatedly brought the state to the brink of a government shutdown three times in the span of four years. Because of their selfishness, the Legislature has become less effective and credible as an institution. Lawmakers are spending more time in Olympia while getting less done.

This has had unhealthy ramifications for everyone in Washington, but it’s been especially tough on the lawmakers themselves and the staff who support them.

Increasingly, when I ask lawmakers “How’s it going down there?”, the answer I get back is: “Brutal”. The incessant sparring and lack of progress on matters of concern to the seven million plus inhabitants of the region’s largest state is taking a big toll on the morale and emotional health of the people who work in our statehouse.

It’s also been wasteful with respect to resources. Washingtonians could understand if special sessions were being called to give legislators more time to devise solutions to stubbornly persistent problems like our regressive tax code.

But that’s not why special sessions have become so common. They’ve become common because Senate Republicans have deliberately conspired to keep Washington in a perpetually manufactured fiscal crisis.

If the Senate Republicans lose power later this year,, the dynamics of the Senate will dramatically change… for the better. Instead of having an adversarial relationship with the Governor and the House, the Senate would have a friendly relationship. There would be be a lot of opportunities for cooperation.

Cooperation trumps competition when it comes to governing. If that is what voters want to see, as opposed to more of the gridlock we’ve had over the past few years, then they will have to change the composition of the Senate to get it.

Such a change could be very liberating — even for the Republicans. As it stands now, the Senate Republicans are already behaving like an opposition caucus. If they lose their majority, that is what they would actually become. They would cease to become responsible for the management of the Senate, but they would still have the ability to influence policy bills and budgets, just like the House Republicans. They could grandstand to their heart’s content without paralyzing the Legislature.

Washington has struggled with split government for four and a half years now. Rodney Tom looks at the results of the power coup he engineered with the Senate Republicans, and he likes what he sees. But then, he sees what he wants to see. He’s become very disconnected from the Eastside voters he used to represent.

Since choosing not to run for reelection three years ago, he’s become a Republican operative, managing an attack PAC that unsuccessfully attempted to defeat incumbent Supreme Court Justices Barbara Madsen and Charlie Wiggins.

Meanwhile, voters in his district have sent increasingly progressive Democrats to represent them in Olympia. They, like their neighbors in the 45th and 41st, value pragmatism and progress, which we won’t see if Tom’s status quo persists.

On Tuesday evening, we’ll get an inclination of where at least some of the voters in the 45th stand — and consequently, where our state may be headed.

Judge denies Eyman associate’s motion to dismiss campaign finance enforcement suit

Tim Eyman’s associates William Agazarm and Citizen Solutions will remain defendants in a $2.1 million campaign finance enforcement lawsuit against Eyman’s initiative factory, Thurston County Superior Court Judge James Dixon ruled today.

Agazarm and Citizen Solutions had asked Dixon to dismiss the lawsuit against them and award their lawyer Mark Lamb (who also represents Eyman) attorney’s fees.

“The State’s complaint is replete with sound and fury directed at Mr. Eyman, but at its conclusion there is no basis in the cited statutes to hold Defendants Citizen [Solutions] and Agazarm liable for his alleged conduct. According[ly], we respectfully request the court dismiss the State’s prosecution for failure to state a claim and grant attorney’s fees and costs to Defendants Agazarm and Citizen [Solutions] pursuant to RCW 42.17A.765(5),” Lamb wrote in his pleading.

But Dixon refused the request, issuing an oral ruling denying their motion.

The State maintains that Agazarm and Citizen Solutions aided Eyman in his lawbreaking and therefore need to be held accountable.

“Mr. Eyman misled the public and contributors who thought they were donating to one initiative, but instead were supporting Mr. Eyman’s personal expenses and a completely different initiative,” Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a statement after the verdict. “That could not have happened without the participation of Mr. Agazarm and Citizen Solutions. Today’s decision is a victory for transparency, and allows the case to proceed toward trial with all responsible parties.”

It has been nearly five years since Sherry Bockwinkel filed the complaint with the Public Disclosure Commission that led to this lawsuit. The PDC took over six months to decide to investigate, and then more than two years to conduct the investigation. After finding multiple serious apparent violations, the PDC referred the case to Attorney General Bob Ferguson for investigation.

Ferguson’s office then spent more than a year conducting its own investigation before filing a lawsuit against Eyman, Agazarm, and Citizen Solutions back in March.

At every turn, the PDC and Ferguson’s office were hampered by stonewalling in the extreme. State attorneys were finally forced to go to court last summer in an effort to get their civil orders enforced. They were successful, and the investigation resumed — at significant cost to Eyman and his associates.

Eyman continues to deny wrongdoing and is trying to raise $600,000 for a legal defense fund to counter what he calls a “stunning witch hunt”. The Mukilteo based initiative profiteer says he’s borrowed against his house in order to seed the fund.

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