NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Saturday, September 10th, 2011

Seattle Times, Eyman donors launch P.R. campaign to urge that universities be funded

As if we need­ed more proof that the Seat­tle Times Com­pa­ny is run by a guy with a Jekyll-and-Hyde esque per­son­al­i­ty, pub­lish­er Frank Blethen announced yes­ter­day that the com­pa­ny his fam­i­ly con­trols will be orches­trat­ing a year­long pub­lic rela­tions blitz called the Greater good Cam­paign.

The pur­pose of this pub­lic rela­tions blitz — and no, I’m not mak­ing this up — is to “high­light the impact of Wash­ing­ton state’s high­er-edu­ca­tion sys­tem on job cre­ation and qual­i­ty of life”. Pre­sum­ably, the cam­paign will con­sist of paid ads and edi­to­ri­als com­mis­sioned by Blethen (or columns by his edi­to­r­i­al writ­ers), though no details to this effect were includ­ed in the announcement.

“State dis­in­vest­ment in our uni­ver­si­ties is erod­ing job cre­ation and dam­ag­ing our econ­o­my,” Blethen quot­ed him­self as saying.

“At the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton alone, every dol­lar invest­ed cre­ates $22 in eco­nom­ic activ­i­ty and $1.48 in tax revenue.”

This has to be one of the most disin­gen­u­ous attempts to strength­en pop­u­lar sup­port for a vital pub­lic ser­vice that we’ve ever heard of. If you’re a long­time read­er of The Advo­cate, then you know exact­ly what I mean by this.

When elec­tion time has rolled around, The Seat­tle Times has repeat­ed­ly tak­en a stand against our pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties by endors­ing uncon­sti­tu­tion­al, unde­mo­c­ra­t­ic Tim Eyman ini­tia­tives delib­er­ate­ly designed to stran­gle pub­lic ser­vices by starv­ing them of fund­ing. The Times sup­port­ed both I‑960 in 2007 and I‑1053 in 2010.

Eyman’s I‑1053, like I‑960 before it, ille­git­i­mate­ly requires a two-thirds vote of both hous­es of the Leg­is­la­ture to raise rev­enue — in vio­la­tion of Arti­cle II, Sec­tion 22 of our state Con­sti­tu­tion, which says that bills shall pass by major­i­ty vote.

The pur­pose of I‑1053/I‑960 is to give Eyman’s sym­pa­thiz­ers in the Leg­is­la­ture veto pow­er over state bud­gets. I‑1053 allows just sev­en­teen con­ser­v­a­tive sen­a­tors to block any rev­enue bill they don’t like.

By with­hold­ing their votes, they can kill any attempt to strength­en our state’s com­mon wealth, there­by leav­ing the state with no alter­nate except to dis­man­tle and dis­in­vest in vital pub­lic ser­vices.

What’s more, Frank Blethen has used The Seat­tle Times to fierce­ly oppose pro­gres­sive bal­lot mea­sures that could have mit­i­gat­ed the dam­age of Eyman’s schemes. Last year, Blethen urged vot­ers to reject both Ini­tia­tive 1098 (which would have raised bil­lions of dol­lars for schools and uni­ver­si­ties by cre­at­ing an income tax on high earn­ers) and Ref­er­en­dum 52 (which would have cre­at­ed a fund for weath­er­iz­ing and mod­ern­iz­ing build­ings on school and uni­ver­si­ty campuses).

Each of these mea­sures would have ben­e­fit­ed our state’s uni­ver­si­ties and K‑12 schools. Each had a fund­ing mech­a­nism… these were not unfund­ed man­dates. The Times strong­ly urged vot­ers to reject both, and unfor­tu­nate­ly, both were reject­ed. Our schools and uni­ver­si­ties are suf­fer­ing as a result.

And now, almost a year lat­er, Blethen is dis­joint­ed­ly talk­ing about how impor­tant our pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties are to our economy.

If he believed his own talk, he would have fol­lowed in the foot­steps of his fore­bears, who enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly sup­port­ed pro­gres­sive tax reform to strength­en our schools and uni­ver­si­ties dur­ing the gov­er­nor­ship of Dan Evans.

But instead he did every­thing he could to make a bad sit­u­a­tion worse.

Inci­den­tal­ly, so did many of the cor­po­rate “co-spon­sors” Blethen has lined up for this cam­paign… like Kem­per Free­man Jr.‘s Belle­vue Col­lec­tion. (Free­man is actu­al­ly Tim Eyman’s sec­ond most pro­lif­ic donor, hav­ing giv­en the Muk­il­teo prof­i­teer more than $1.2 mil­lion over the last ten years, much of it for this year’s I‑1125).

Oth­er cospon­sors of Blethen’s “Greater good Cam­paign” include Row­ley Prop­er­ties and Safe­co Insur­ance (a unit of Lib­er­ty Mutu­al). George Row­ley, the chief exec­u­tive offi­cer of Row­ley Prop­er­ties, donat­ed $10,000 to Tim Eyman’s I‑1053 last year. And Lib­er­ty Mutu­al Group ponied up $5,000 for I‑1053.

I’d like to pause and offer a metaphor here to illus­trate just how absurd this all is. Imag­ine if BP and Exxon announced a “Healthy Oceans” cam­paign tomor­row call­ing on Con­gress and the Amer­i­can peo­ple to strength­en the Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency and oceano­graph­ic insti­tu­tions like Woods Hole or Scripps. That would be pret­ty ludi­crous, would­n’t it? Well, this is no different.

What’s hap­pen­ing here is that a coterie of greedy devel­op­ers and wealthy cor­po­ra­tions are get­ting togeth­er with an anti-com­mon wealth news­pa­per pub­lish­er to com­plain about the con­se­quences of their own electioneering.

It appears that what they want is to be able to ben­e­fit from our state’s com­mon wealth with­out hav­ing to pay their dues. They claim to believe in a noble, pro­gres­sive ide­al: edu­ca­tion for all, man­i­fest­ed in the form of great pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties. But actions speak loud­er than words. Blethen and his cor­po­rate cohorts showed their true col­ors last year when they self­ish­ly fought to put uncon­sti­tu­tion­al hand­cuffs on law­mak­ers with I‑1053 and defeat a pro­posed infu­sion of rev­enue into our state’s schools and col­leges with I‑1098 and R‑52.

Dur­ing the cam­paign to pass Ini­tia­tive 1098, entre­pre­neur Nick Hanauer — who made a huge amount of mon­ey in the tech­nol­o­gy sec­tor many years ago (and is now a ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist at a Seat­tle-based firm) — rep­re­sent­ed the Yes on I‑1098 cam­paign at a debate over the mea­sure at the UW Taco­ma.

Dur­ing an exchange with anoth­er ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist, Matt McIl­wain of Madrona Ven­ture Group, Nick elo­quent­ly explained that tax­es are pub­lic invest­ments, and that one of the most impor­tant ser­vices our tax dol­lars go to is education.

NICK HANAUER: So, again, the idea that an income tax will chase inno­va­tion of the state is just not true. Again, if was true, Sil­i­con Val­ley would be in Casper, Wyoming. Here’s why Sil­i­con Val­ley is where it is: Stan­ford. Stan­ford is why Sil­i­con Val­ley is where it is. Now, in this state, we have the capac­i­ty to build a Stan­ford. If we had the courage of con­vic­tion — and the vision — to invest enough in the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton, the UW could be Stan­ford. And that’s what cre­ates an ecosys­tem of inno­va­tion in a state. Not a low income tax. There’s this… impli­ca­tion, in this idea, that rich peo­ple, busi­ness peo­ple, will leave the state if the income tax goes up, that offends me. Because it assumes that peo­ple like me are mon­ey-grub­bing sociopaths…

[Laugh­ter]

NICK HANAUER: … who don’t care about any­thing but what we get to keep in our check­books. That we don’t care about the pub­lic good. That we don’t care about invest­ing in our schools. That we don’t care about clean water, or clean air. That if you make it slight­ly more expen­sive for us, we will run… we will run. And it’s not true.

Empha­sis is mine.

I remem­ber when Nick spoke those words on stage in the William Philip Hall. He did an incred­i­ble job of refram­ing the debate dur­ing that forum. The tran­script real­ly does­n’t do his remarks jus­tice, either… his deliv­ery was spot-on.

If we had the courage of con­vic­tion — and the vision — to invest enough in the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton, the UW could be Stanford.

Exact­ly.

At present, we are weak­en­ing the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton, not strength­en­ing it, as a result of the fail­ure of I‑1098 and R‑52 and the regret­table pas­sage of I‑1053. We can and we must change course. The Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton is one of our state’s most impor­tant insti­tu­tions. We could give the UW the sup­port that it needs to become one of the great­est pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties in the world.

But that won’t hap­pen as long as we take advice on fis­cal mat­ters from the likes of Frank Blethen, Kem­per Free­man, Jr. and George Rowley.

This faux “Greater good Cam­paign” is noth­ing but a con­de­scend­ing insult to all of the peo­ple and orga­ni­za­tions that took a stand for broad pros­per­i­ty and against greed in last year’s midterms (includ­ing our­selves, Nick Hanauer, and Bill Gates, Sr.).

If Frank Blethen is tru­ly seri­ous about want­i­ng our pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties to be stronger, and if he real­ly wants to be tak­en seri­ous­ly when he talks about the val­ue of the UW, he should first apol­o­gize for the tremen­dous dam­age he has already caused to that insti­tu­tion and Wash­ing­ton’s oth­er pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties, and promise to join in the effort to get rid of I‑1053 and fix our bro­ken, regres­sive tax system.

I won’t be hold­ing my breath wait­ing for that to happen.

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One Ping

  1. […] Seat­tle Times, Eyman donors launch P.R. cam­paign to urge that uni­ver­si­ties be funded […]

    Ping from Morning Rundown for September 12th, 2011 :: September 12th, 2011 at 9:42 AM