Offering daily news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Monthly Archives: July 2013

Kirby Wilbur resigns as Washington State Republican Party Chair, effective immediately

Well known conservative Kirby Wilbur is resigning as the chairman of the Washington State Republicans, the party has announced.

“I am resigning as the chairman of the Washington State Republican Party, effective today at 5:00 PM,” Wilbur said in a news release distributed to reporters only a few minutes ago. “”I have been offered a five-year contract with the Young America’s Foundation that I would be foolish not to accept. I will be moving to the “other” Washington within the next couple of months to write this next chapter of my life.”

“It has been an honor to serve as chairman of the WSRP since January 2011. We have had many successes and I have had some failures. The Party has a good crop of up-and-coming leaders, and a strong staff, and it will continue to move forward no matter whose hand is on the helm,” he added.

Wilbur has served as chairman of the Washington State Republicans since he ousted former state senator Luke Esser from that position in 2011. Esser, ironically, became party chair after losing his state Senate seat to Rodney Tom in 2006.

Tom’s defection back to the Republican Party has allowed Wilbur to boast for the last few months that Washington Republicans control the Senate in Olympia. That boast was repeated in Wilbur’s resignation announcement:

Chairman Wilbur was elected to his first term in January 2011. Under his leadership, Washington elected the only statewide Republican official on the west coast in Secretary of State Kim Wyman, and picked up 1 seat in both the State Senate and the State House in 2012.

In late 2012, early 2013, two Democrats joined with our Republican Senators to create the Majority Coalition Caucus, thus giving Republicans a majority in at least one chamber of the Legislature for the first time since 2004. Chairman Wilbur was reelected to a second term in January 2013.

That’s some pretty nice spin there. So, according to the WSRP, Kirby had a hand in Kim Wyman’s narrow victory over Kathleen Drew. By that logic, he also had a hand in the defeats of Rob McKenna, Reagan Dunn, Michael Baumgartner, Bill Finkbeiner, James Watkins, Clint Didier, Sharon Hanek, and John R. Adams, who all ran for statewide office last year but lost to their Democratic opponents.

Under Wilbur, Republicans performed worse in statewide races than they have in any other cycle in recent memory. The party also failed to take open seats in Washington’s 1st, 6th, and 10th Congressional Districts, although freshman U.S. Representative Jaime Herrera-Beutler won reelection in the 3rd District.

And considering that Wilbur and the Republicans had a goal of electing Republican majorities in both the House and Senate in 2012, the pickup of one seat in each house doesn’t seem like much of an accomplishment.

The voters of Washington State elected Democratic majorities to the Legislature in 2012; but as Wilbur’s press release happily points out, power-hungry wannabe Republicans Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon decided to leave the Democratic caucus in the wake of the election in return for a pair of titles, nice offices, and what they thought would be influence within the Republican caucus.

From Wilbur’s perspective that was a positive development. He didn’t bring it about, but evidently something had to go into that oh, and for the record, here’s what I accomplished while I was the chair paragraph.

Vice Chair Luanne VanWerven will run the party as acting chair until a permanent successor to Wilbur is chosen. The party’s central committee must meet within the next three months to decide who the next chair will be.

American-ness and the Promise of Global Democracy

As governments transition and Egypt is figuring out what to do in the aftermath of a military coup, it is important to recognize this is not an event devoid of context, but is a product of a long history, one in which we have had no small part.

“Wait a second”, it might be said,”what’s with calling this a ‘coup’? The people wanted Morsi out, and that’s what happened!”

In the lead-up to the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi, we saw some of the largest protests in history, with millions of people out on the streets. People were angry, either because of being too conservative or not conservative enough, and he shut key allies out of decisions while working to limit the rights of communities inside Egypt. In terms of values, he’s someone who should be vehemently opposed with, and as evidenced by the protests before he was deposed, millions of Egyptians agreed. (The Huffington Post has a useful timeline of the events leading up to Morsi’s ouster)

But a democratically-elected head of state being removed by military force is an action which should give pause to observers of the situation.

What’s happening in Egypt is a situation that must bring out the shades of gray, because as parliamentary elections and constitutional referendum were plagued by low-turnout, and the former President governed with a constant neglect of women’s rights and religious minorities, there is little evidence that the aftermath is much better, as supporters of Morsi are being subject to violent crackdowns and mass killings. This crackdown on dissent does not lead to the rule of law and a healthy democracy just as much as the disrespecting a vote of the people.

Many people praise the new Egypt, rationalizing that it will lead to an Egypt that is more pro-American, one that we can work with more and will like us better. Not only do these thoughts uphold a double standard, but it removes from discussion the role that the United States has had in upholding repressive regimes in the area, and our own path through history.

The United States had a strong role in propping up Hosni Mubarak’s repressive 30-year regime, through military equipment and other tools to advance our interests. While we gave him the tools to further his rule, Mubarak restricted press freedom, strangled political parties, and let police brutality continue with impunity. Repression does not remove beliefs, but rather intensifies them, and when Mubarak was removed, it should not have been surprising that many deeply-seated religious views, and anti-American sentiment from both our handling of Mubarak’s exit and our previous actions came to dominate the political sphere of the country.

We must not forget how messy democracy is, our own included, and we cannot judge the health of a democracy by how much the participants like the United States. We must not think that a military not under the control of elected officials is a good thing, because it’s ability to independently use force is unable to be checked by a vote of a people, but rather its own satisfaction and good grace. Finally, we must believe in the power of any people to self-govern, lest we continue new concepts of imperialism (such as that advanced by David Brooks) which suppose that somehow in the United States we became equipped to govern ourselves by the wave of a magic wand, rather than a long and tedious process which still disenfranchises people of color, queer folks, indigenous people, and the poor.

Right now people are dying in the Egypt for opposing the current government, a government brought in by force (a change which many in the United States have applauded), and unless people are able to use democracy and the rule of law to help shape the direction of their country, it will be harder for them to move past the radical views engendered by decades-long repression and stifling of political thought. We can look on at the decisions made by Egyptian democracy and disagree with them, but if we interfere with those choices we are allowing for ourselves what we would not give for them; if we do that, then we’re saying we really don’t believe in the idea of democracy itself.

Initiative filed to officially name I-5 Skagit River span the “Tim Eyman Memorial Bridge”

Yesterday, the Tim Eyman Memorial Bridge meme – which we had some fun promoting back in May – got a new lease on life when Nicolas Santos of Bothell filed an initiative to the Legislature to officially rename the now-repaired Interstate 5 Skagit River span after the relentless Mukilteo initiative profiteer.

The filing has already been covered by The Olympian, Tacoma News Tribune, and KING5. Hilariously, it also drew this response from a clearly not amused Tim Eyman:

—–Original Message—–
From: Tim Eyman
Sent: Thursday, July 25, 2013 1:38 PM
Subject: Eyman’s response to the bridge initiative

It’s always so silly when opponents of our initiatives attack me personally, as if I have tremendous power.

I don’t. I have a great team who works super hard each year to give voters a greater voice in their government.

Regarding our initiatives, some pass, some don’t, but all of them give the average taxpayer an equal voice in the process and that’s something I’m very proud of.

Regards, Tim Eyman

I had a good laugh when I read this email. It’s always entertaining to watch Tim Eyman (a gutter dweller if there ever was one) try to claim the moral high ground. Tim knows all about attacking people personally… he does it every week, or nearly every week. There’s almost nothing he won’t do to get attention, as he proved back in the spring when he called Govenor Jay Inslee “a lying whore”.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist Joel Connelly likes to say that the most dangerous place in Washington State is between Tim Eyman and a television camera – and given Eyman’s propensity for crashing others’ press conferences, that joke actually has some literal truth to it in addition to being figuratively true.

If Tim wants credit for the schemes that come of out of his initiative factory to go to others, then perhaps he ought to name names more often. His four sentence email contains six first person references, but doesn’t mention anyone else. That invites the question: Just who does he consider his team to be?

Tim is correct that he himself doesn’t have tremendous power. He’s no deity or superman. But through his wealthy benefactors, he has power that other Washingtonians don’t have, because their cash allows him to force public votes on schemes purposely intended to wreck government and drain our common wealth.

The consequences of these schemes often do not manifest themselves right away, and that’s the point we’ve been making (in a lighthearted way) with the “Tim Eyman Memorial Bridge” meme. As I explained back in May:

Fourteen years later have gone by since the 1999 campaign [when Eyman ran I-695]. In that time Tim Eyman has sponsored over a dozen initiatives that have worsened our infrastructure deficit. Voters have rejected some of them, but not all of them.

The ones they haven’t rejected have negatively impacted our quality of life and worsened our infrastructure deficit. That’s the link. Passage of Tim Eyman initiatives hurts Washington’s common wealth, which in turn results in a burgeoning infrastructure deficit (because there aren’t enough funds to fix or replace aging bridges, water mains, or power lines). The unaddressed infrastructure deficit results in preventable disasters and tragedies like we saw last week.

That’s systemic causation.

The “Tim Eyman Memorial Bridge” meme made sense when the bridge was unusable, for Eyman’s initiatives helped create and promulgate the infrastructure deficit that has prevented old bridges from being retrofitted and replaced.

Given that the bridge is now operational and due to be permanently repaired and strengthened by the end of the year, it deserves a proper namesake, and we think it should be named in memory of Washington State Trooper Sean O’Connell.

Readers may remember that Sean was tragically killed while trying to help motorists detour around the closed portion of I-5 in the hours immediately following the bridge collapse. His death was a great loss to the State of Washington; he was known as an exemplary police officer and a devoted public servant.

If we are going to name I-5’s Skagit River span after someone, it should be Sean, because he died while trying to do his job in the wake of the bridge collapse. The “Tim Eyman Memorial Bridge” meme was fun, but if the bridge is to have a permanent name, it ought to be the Sean O’Connell Memorial Bridge.

(Oh, and Tim… if you get around to reading this post, keep in mind: He who lives in a glass house shouldn’t throw stones at others!)

Senate *finally* confirms Richard Cordray as Consumer Financial Protection Bureau chief

After months of senseless delay, the United States Senate has finally confirmed former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray to serve as the Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) originally conceived by Elizabeth Warren and created by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act of 2010.

By a vote of seventy-one to twenty-nine, the Senate agreed to end debate on Cordray’s nomination and proceed to a final vote.

Cordray was then confirmed by a bipartisan vote of sixty-six to thirty-four.

The votes occurred after Senate Republicans agreed to stop filibustering Cordray, EPA Administrator nominee Gina McCarthy, and Labor Secretary nominee Thomas Perez. In exchange, Democrats did not attempt to alter the Senate’s rules to limit the use of the filibuster, and the White House withdrew the nominations of Sharon Block and Richard F. Griffin, Jr. to the National Labor Relations Board. (Kent Yoshiho Hirozawa and Nancy Jean Schiffer have been nominated in their stead).

Every member of the Democratic caucus voted in favor of Cordray’s confirmation; so did a number of Republicans. Mitch McConnell, setting a bad example for his caucus, voted against ending debate and also against Corday’s confirmation.

The roll call from the Pacific Northwest was as follows:

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

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

The roll call on the cloture motion for our region was identical to the vote on final confirmation. Jeers go to Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch for refusing to even support giving Cordray an up-or-down vote. Were there a Republican president in office and a Republican majority in the U.S. Senate, Crapo and Risch would no doubt be loudly clamoring for majority rule to prevail.

Now that Cordray has been confirmed, the CFPB finally has a permanent leader (at least permanent in the sense that Cordray now has full authority to run the Bureau and enforce the law under the provisions of Dodd-Frank). And that means the agency doesn’t have to worry about its enforcement actions being challenged in court due to it having operated without a confirmed director.

Ed Mierzwinski, U.S. PIRG’s Consumer Program Director, hailed Cordray’s confirmation as a victory for American families.

“The CFPB was created to rein in the reckless Wall Street practices that blew up our economy almost five years ago. Big banks that rely on consumer tricks and schemes to make money have wanted to kill the CFPB ever since, and for good reason: The CFPB has been enforcing critical consumer protection laws, and already forced Capital One to return $140 million in unfair credit card fees to consumers,” he said.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, fresh from her smackdown of the hosts of CNBC’s Squawk Box, had the honor of presiding over the Senate for the confirmation vote and announcing the result (which was captured on CSPAN-2). Warren’s office also issued a statement reflecting on the long-overdue vote.

After more than 700 days of waiting, Rich Cordray will finally get the confirmation vote he deserves from the U.S. Senate. Director Cordray has won praise from consumer and industry groups, and from Republicans and Democrats, for his fair and effective approach. With Director Cordray’s confirmation, we will be able to say loudly, clearly, and with confidence: the consumer agency is the law of the land and is here to stay. We fought hard for the agency, and we proved that big change is still possible in Washington. Now we have the watchdog that the American people deserve – a watchdog looking out for middle class families, getting rid of tricks, traps, and fine print, and holding financial institutions accountable when they break the law.

Well said. We would not have a CFPB were it not for Senator Warren, and we at NPI thank her for her leadership. Her tenacity and courage are inspiring. If more Democratic lawmakers followed the good example that she has set, our country would be much better off. We need more legislators like Elizabeth Warren.

Our congratulations also to Richard Cordray on his confirmation.

What a satisfying day in the U.S. Senate: Mitch McConnell’s obstructionist Republican caucus finally caved after Harry Reid showed some backbone, and Senator Warren presided over Richard Cordray’s nomination.

Let’s see, how many defeats for the big banks does this make?

  1. They didn’t want the CFPB to exist in the first place – they lost, as it was made a part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act of 2010.
  2. They thought they scored a victory by lobbying against a Warren nomination for CFPB director, but their meddling had the effect of facilitating Warren’s entry into the U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts against Scott Brown. (The PCCC also facilitated Warren’s entry by drafting her).
  3. They showered Scott Brown with money – enormous amounts of money, in fact – and tried to deflate Warren’s candidacy, but she won a convincing victory with a dynamic, people-powered campaign.
  4. After the election, they desperately lobbied to keep her off the Senate Banking Committee, but she was assigned to the Committee anyway.
  5. And now they have failed to keep the CFPB rudderless without a confirmed director after Democrats maneuvered to end Senate Republicans’ unprecedented abuse of the filibuster.

So that’s Senator Warren 5, the powerful Wall Street banks 0. Their armies of lobbyists are certainly effective in D.C., but against Elizabeth Warren, they’ve repeatedly struck out. Here’s to more victories like this in the years to come.

House Republicans achieve Pyrrhic victory with passage of unconscionable farm bill

Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives achieved a Pyrrhic victory earlier today with the passage of an unconscionable, cruel farm bill that they managed to pass with only a handful of votes to spare after hours of acrimonious debate.

The Republican-backed proposal, which passed without a single Democratic vote, provides around $195 billion in subsidies to agribusiness over the next ten years, similar to what legislation already approved by the Senate calls for. But it does not continue funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, which is the public service that provides food stamps to low income families.

SNAP simply isn’t in the bill. At all.

Years ago, we would probably have called this vote outrageous. But, sadly, it’s what we’ve come to expect from a House Republican caucus that is dominated by extreme, far-right, radical extremists who delight in taking a wrecking ball to vital public services. Twelve Republicans could not bring themselves to vote for the bill that Republican “leadership” put on the floor, and joined all of the House Democrats present in voting against it. The final vote was 216-208.

The roll call from the Pacific Northwest was strictly along party lines.

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

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

Not Voting: Democrat Adam Smith (WA)

It would be an understatement to say that the proceedings that led up to the vote on the bill were heated. They were downright bitter.

Democrats repeatedly denounced the exclusion of SNAP from the bill, noting that nutritional assistance for America’s impoverished families has always been part of what has become commonly known as the “farm bill”.

Democrats also repeatedly used parliamentary maneuvers and delaying tactics to slow consideration of the bill down, frustrating House Republicans.

In the end, the bill was approved, but its narrow passage is a Pyrrhic victory for John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy and House Republicans.

Conservative advocacy groups like the Club for Growth don’t like the Republicans’ Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act because it makes a number of subsidies permanent and sends even more money to agribusiness than the Senate’s farm bill. As one conservative group (Taxpayers for Common Sense) sees it:

With a $16.8 trillion national debt, our country simply cannot afford to continue sending checks to agribusinesses regardless of the state of the farm economy, crop prices, or whether or not producers even need or want government subsidies. H.R. 2642 would spend $1 billion more than comparable sections in the Senate-passed bill, increase FY14 spending by $1.34 billion above the current baseline, and only save $3.9 billion over the life of the actual bill (FY14-18) with the rest ($9 billion) occurring after this farm bill expires in FY18. In addition, it would spend drastically more than either the comparable portions of the President’s FY14 budget request or Rep. Paul Ryan’s FY14 budget (which called for $38 billion and $31 billion in savings, respectively). A Congressional Budget Office score hasn’t even been posted yet.

Progressive advocacy groups like NPI, meanwhile, strongly oppose H.R. 2642 because it would inflict a tremendous amount of harm and accomplish almost nothing positive for America’s families and farmers.

House Republicans may think they’ve pleased their base by passing a bill that does away with SNAP. But if the statements issued by the likes of the Club for Growth are any indication, they failed to even accomplish that. All they have succeeded in doing is passing a travesty of a bill that even they know will never get to President Obama’s desk or win a single Democratic vote in the U.S. Senate.

H.R. 2642 “is not a real farm bill and is an insult to rural America,” Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow declared in the wake of the vote. Stabenow chairs the Senate’s Agriculture Committee and will likely lead Senate Democrats’ negotiating team when the House and Senate’s dueling farm bills go to conference.

The White House, for its part, made it abundantly clear last night that President Obama considers the bill unacceptable and would veto it if it reached him.

The Administration strongly opposes H.R. 2642, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013. Because the 608 page bill was made available only this evening, the Administration has had inadequate time to fully review the text of the bill. It is apparent, though, that the bill does not contain sufficient commodity and crop insurance reforms and does not invest in renewable energy, an important source of jobs and economic growth in rural communities across the country. Legislation as important as a Farm Bill should be constructed in a comprehensive approach that helps strengthen all aspects of the Nation. This bill also fails to reauthorize nutrition programs, which benefit millions of Americans — in rural, suburban and urban areas alike. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is a cornerstone of our Nation’s food assistance safety net, and should not be left behind as the rest of the Farm Bill advances.

If the President were presented with H.R. 2642, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.

U.S. Representative Suzan DelBene, who represents NPI’s home congressional district, spoke against H.R. 2642 on the floor of the House prior to its passage, decrying its provisions. Her brief remarks were as follows (watch them here).

Mr. Speaker, I rise with great disappointment today. It’s a shame that the House has allowed the Farm Bill to get to this point.

We should be voting on the bipartisan bill the Agriculture Committee passed and I supported. Not this bill, which has been hijacked by divisive politics and is simply not good enough.

It’s not good enough for our farmers, because reforms that would have protected Washington’s dairy farmers and consumers have been stripped out.

It’s certainly not good enough for the millions of working families, seniors and children who count on nutrition programs and have been excluded from this bill.

And it’s not good enough for the country.

Our constituents sent us here to work across the aisle to deliver results. This bill is certainly not what they had in mind. While I appreciate that funding for specialty crops, which I fought hard for, is in this bill, this is the wrong way to conduct agriculture policy for the future.

Our country’s farmers and families deserve a Farm Bill that works for everyone. Instead, they’ve been given this. I am incredibly disappointed today, and join my colleagues in voting against this bill.

Advocates for ending child hunger were also sharply critical of the bill. Last month, Share our Strength’s Billy Shore released a lengthy statement explaining why the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program is so important.

It’s crucial that families have the tools that help their SNAP benefits last longer and are used in a healthy way. SNAP Ed—which faces significant cuts in this legislation— provides families skills that help them to use their benefits wisely. And these important nutrition skills last a lifetime; although most people rely on SNAP benefits for less than 10 months, the skills learned through SNAP Ed help them to make educated decisions and stay healthy even after they no longer rely on SNAP benefits. We should be investing more in programs like SNAP Ed, not cutting funding for them.

SNAP works. At a time when our nation is focused on major issues like strengthening our education system, fixing health care and growing a more productive workforce, cuts to SNAP are short-sighted and wrong.

Emphasis is theirs.

Sadly, it’s evident that feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, and clothing the naked is not a priority for House Republicans. Most, if not all of them, probably consider themselves Christian. But we can’t think of anything more un-Christian than backing a bill that provides billions of dollars for Big Ag, but doesn’t help America’s impoverished families by continuing funding for SNAP.

In the Book of Matthew, Jesus talks to his disciples about the Day of Judgment, and describes how the people are to be judged. He explains:

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

Then the king will say to those on his right:

“Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.”

Then the righteous will answer him and say, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?” And the king will say to them in reply, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”

– Matthew 25:31-40

And significantly, the only miracle of Jesus that is recounted in all four Gospels (aside from the Resurrection) is the feeding of the crowd of five thousand with a few loaves of bread and some fish. It’s pretty evident from Scripture that feeding the hungry was a major part of Jesus’ ministry during his time on Earth.

If the United States of America is indeed a Christian nation, as we have heard conservative Republicans often claim, then shouldn’t our government’s policies reflect the teachings of Jesus? That is what it means to be a Christian: to accept the teachings of Jesus. Jesus’ message about feeding the hungry comes across pretty clearly to me and to other progressive Christians.

It’s very unfortunate, though sadly not surprising, that all of the conservatives in the U.S. House of Representatives who call themselves Christian felt that it was appropriate to support legislation that did away with SNAP altogether in the hopes of exacting more cuts from food aid in the final version of the farm bill.