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…
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.
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.