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December 27, 2006

Even lighter blogging ahead

Posted by David Postman at 4:34 PM

To make official what is obvious to any regular reader: I'm posting lightly through the holidays. That'll continue until after the new year, when things will quickly get busy again.

I'm going to D.C. next week to watch the first days of the new Congress. I'm looking for story ideas for when I'm there so send me any suggestions.

I'll return in time to see the 2007 Legislature convene on the 8th.

Thank you all for making 2006 -- at least the last half of it -- a challenging and often rewarding year for me. I've written nearly 500 posts since May and you have left close to 8,000 comments. Not a bad start.

Happy New Year.

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Remembering President Ford

Posted by David Postman at 11:44 AM

Much has been written and said since last night about Gerald Ford's pardon of Richard Nixon. It was clearly the defining moment of the Ford presidency.

But there was another piece to Ford's efforts to "bind up the Nation's wounds" that gets far less attention. He established a limited clemency for Vietnam draft resisters and military deserters.

Ford's proposal was attacked by the left and the right and the program met only with limited success. But Ford's commitment to the "rebuilding of peace among ourselves" and how he went about trying to convince the American people it was the right thing to do, says a lot about the high aspirations of Ford's brief presidency.

Ford brought up clemency for draft evaders before he pardoned Nixon. And he did it in front of a crowd that he knew would find it objectionable. It was just 10 days into his presidency, on Aug. 19, 1974, when Ford spoke to the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Chicago.

He said that young men who were hiding or on the run because of military-related crimes were, in a sense, casualties of war, "still abroad or absent without leave from the real America."

One of the last of my official duties as Vice President, perhaps the hardest of all, was to present posthumously 14 Congressional Medals of Honor to the parents, widows, and children of fallen Vietnam heroes.

As I studied their records of supreme sacrifice, I kept thinking how young they were.

The few citizens of our country who, in my judgment, committed the supreme folly of shirking their duty at the expense of others, were also very young.
All of us who served in one war or another know very well that all wars are the glory and the agony of the young. In my judgment, these young Americans should have a second chance to contribute their fair share to the rebuilding of peace among ourselves and with all nations.

So, I am throwing the weight of my Presidency into the scales of justice on the side of leniency. I foresee their earned re-entry — earned re-entry — into a new atmosphere of hope, hard work, and mutual trust.

TIME Magazine reported that the VFW crowd cheered when the President said "unconditional, blanket amnesty for anyone who illegally evaded or fled military service is wrong."

But the veterans sat in shocked silence as Ford went on to say that he wanted the deserters and draft dodgers who fled abroad during the Viet Nam War "to come home if they want to work their way back." Pledging to throw "the weight of my presidency into the scales of justice on the side of leniency," he added: "I reject amnesty, and I reject revenge."

The VFW reacted quickly and the next day passed a resolution opposing any sort of amnesty. TIME reported:

On the way back to Washington, Ford, in shirtsleeves and with his tie loosened, strolled aft to Air Force One's press section to explain his change of policy and why he had picked such a hostile audience for his announcement. He said that his thinking had been shaped in part by the views of his children and those of former Defense Secretary and close friend Melvin Laird, who had unsuccessfully tried to get Nixon to modify his hard-line stance. More over, Ford had concluded that his pledge to bind up the nation's wounds required a new approach. He explained: "You can't talk about healing unless you're going to use it in the broadest context."

His choice of audience was equally deliberate. Said Ford: "I thought that the right audience would be an audience that might be difficult. It would have been a little cowardice, I think, if I'd picked an audience that was ecstatic."

When was the last time you saw a major political figure do something like that? This was much more real — hitting raw nerves of a frayed country — than anything Bill Clinton did with his vaunted "Sister Souljah moment."

When Ford formally announced the clemency program at the White House Sept. 16 he said:

The primary purpose of this program is the reconciliation of all our people and the restoration of the essential unity of Americans within which honest differences of opinion do not descend to angry discord and mutual problems are not polarized by excessive passion.

My sincere hope is that this is a constructive step toward a calmer and cooler appreciation of our individual rights and responsibilities and our common purpose as a nation whose future is always more important than its past.

The program was administered by the Presidential Clemency Board. In some cases it required an offender to complete some alternative service to the military in order to get a clean record. It does not appear to have worked very well. According to a document guide at the Gerald R. Ford Library at the University of Michigan, the board, known as the PCB, completed 14,514 cases.

While the PCB claimed to have succeeded in its assigned task, many people disputed this statement. Only about 19 percent of the eligible people even applied for the program. Many draft evaders and deserters attacked the program for not going far enough and demanded an unconditional amnesty. At the same time many people in the military and in veterans organizations were unhappy with any form of amnesty or clemency.

The American Friends Service Committee, which counsels young people on terms for conscientious objector status and worked with draft resisters, says the program was a failure in part because it required all deserters to get a less than honorable discharge from the military and to lose all benefits.

Most exile groups based in Canada, Sweden, Britain and France endorsed a boycott of the Ford program because of its punitive nature. The "oath of allegiance" requirement was considered especially offensive given the generous treatment of Nixon. Nixon received a pardon, pension, and was not required to swear allegiance to the U.S. despite his role in undermining democracy.

Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said the clemency program was one of two great contributions Ford made to healing Vietnam divisions. The other was to recognize "Congress and the American people had had enough" and he "let Vietnam fall."

Jimmy Carter would later grant a blanket pardon for draft evaders that was welcomed much more by anti-war factions in the country than what Ford did.
Sabato said this morning:

"But it was the right thing at the right time — a parable of Ford's Presidency. He was a moderate Republican — in today's terms, a liberal Republican, the last one to serve in the White House. Ford did the right things for the right reasons, for the most part, and paid with the elected term he otherwise would probably have won in 1976. Not a bad legacy at all."

A side note: I met Ford once, long after his presidency was over. He was on a rough, little golf course in Juneau in 1989 or 1990. He was there vacationing with James Callaghan, the former British foreign minister.

He was staying on a massive luxury yacht docked in the harbor. The yacht was said to be owned by Texas developer Trammell Crow.

Ford was as pleasant and unassuming as I imagine any former president could be. He talked with a couple of reporters about his golf game, about his long friendship with Callaghan, and about his aging body. He said he had a recent artificial hip (or maybe it was a knee) that he said could set off metal detectors at the airport.

And then he said something like, "You should see this," and reached toward his waist. For a moment I thought he was going to drop his pants right there on that scrub of a golf course to show off his doctor's handiwork.

But no, he was a man of dignity, if not of pretension. He pulled out his wallet and showed us a card that verified his artificial part that he said was to prove to he wasn't trying to smuggle anything through security.

Ford showed us his swing, and he was off for a rough round of golf.

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December 26, 2006

Liberals push for public financing of all campaigns

Posted by David Postman at 9:05 AM

Gov. Christine Gregoire's proposal for public financing of judicial races has some people asking,

"Why stop there?"

Lynn Allen at Evergreen Politics writes:

The timing is good to jump on public financing for the judicial races given the insane amounts of money that was spent on the three Supreme Court races between the primary and the general elections. I understand that. Plus, Gregoire is cautious by disposition. But what an opportunity to go all the way and ask for public financing of all statewide and legislative races.

There's a group that's been pushing for that in the state for three years. Washington Public Campaigns has run a low-profile effort to get public financing here. But Gregoire's effort could bring attention to the group's more ambitious goals.

Early next month Washington Public Campaigns has four town hall meetings scheduled to talk about publicly funded campaigns. The main event is at Seattle's Town Hall Jan. 5, and is headlined by David Sirota, author of Hostile Takeover: How Big Money and Corruption Have Conquered Our Government — and How We Can Take It Back.

The panel will also include Democratic legislators from Arizona and Maine, where public financing is already in place, as well as Washington Democratic lawmakers Sen. Jim Kastama and Rep. Mark Miloscia. Miloscia has said he will introduce legislation next year for public financing of all campaigns, not just the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals that would be covered by Gregoire's plan. Kastama is also a supporter of the Arizona and Maine models.

The moderator will be Ken Alhadeff, a Seattle businessman and philanthropist who has long been among the top Democratic donors in the state.

The panel, minus Sirota, will also be at events in Everett, Tacoma and Olympia.

There's nothing radical about Miloscia, Kastama or Alhadeff. But public financing has also caught the attention of the more aggressive left-wing of the Democratic Party.

The Sirota event is being publicized on the liberal washblog in a post by dinazina. The headline is, "MAD AS HELL and not going to take it anymore!" There's a graphic of protesters with pitchforks, torches and a guillotine that says:

The People's Revolt

We demand

Clean elections

Universal healthcare

Real science

End to warmongering

End to spying

End to stupidity

Impeach 'em all

dinazina then adds:

The time for polite dialog is DONE!

You want Christmas, America?

THERE'S your Christmas!

YOU CAN START RIGHT HERE

Gregoire may have hoped to avoid that sort of ideological rabble rousing by focusing on a pilot program for public financing of judicial races. But nonetheless, her efforts are likely to be a boost for groups like Washington Public Campaigns and others that are looking for wholesale changes.

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December 22, 2006

Gregoire has no plans to end tax cuts

Posted by David Postman at 3:07 PM

The left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities released a report today showing that the states that cut taxes the most in the 1990s failed to see the promised economic benefits of the cuts.

Washington is included as the 13th highest on a list of cumulative tax cuts from 1994 to 2001. CBBP says:

Contrary to the promises of tax-cut proponents, the tax cuts failed to improve those states' fiscal and economic health, particularly after the U.S. economy ran into trouble in 2001. In fact, the big tax-cutting states generally faced larger fiscal problems, and have had worse economic performance, than other states that were more cautious about tax cuts.

Washington's experience may be somewhat of an exception. The center's figures show that among the top 16 tax-cutting states, Washington had the second highest percent job growth and the biggest drop in the unemployment rate.

And that's probably one reason why Gov. Christine Gregoire has largely stopped talking about repealing tax breaks and exemptions. During her campaign Gregoire said, as one of position paper put it, that there "are many exemptions that have outlived their usefulness."

This was a stark difference between her and Republican gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi. During the campaign Gregoire said she would take a "hard-nosed and long-overdue" look at tax breaks and said she'd only keep those that serve a social purpose or create or retain jobs.

"The rest go," Gregoire said.

Her budget plan doesn't call for any changes in the billions of dollars in tax breaks approved in the past decade. At her press conference this week, when asked if there were any tax breaks she wanted to end, Gregoire first answered by touting the success of recent tax cuts. Asked a second time, she was far less enthusiastic about ending any breaks than she was during the campaign.

"We talk about it. I have yet to see a consensus built on what we can do. ... There's frustration around the state about, well, are they really producing the employment that they suggested. We have to keep being diligent about looking at that. If business wants a tax break and they're making a promise that it'll bring jobs and opportunities to workers then we need to be diligent and make sure that's true."

There is a committee created by this year's Legislature looking at tax breaks. They are supposed to set a schedule for review of every break on the books. Every break except:

The commission shall omit from the schedule tax preferences that are required by constitutional law, sales and use tax exemptions for machinery and equipment for manufacturing,research and development, or testing, the small business credit for the business and occupation tax, sales and use tax exemptions for food and prescription drugs, property tax relief for retired persons, and property tax valuations based on current use, and may omit any tax preference that the commission determines is a critical part of the structure of the tax system.

The first report is due by Dec. 30.

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Big bucks behind "grassroots" property rights group

Posted by David Postman at 7:29 AM

The self-proclaimed grassroots organization that helped fund property rights campaigns in four states including Washington this year has relied on a few big donors for its money.

Americans for Limited Government, the tax-exempt organization that bankrolled a series of controversial ballot initiatives this year, raised 99 percent of its $5.4 million in total contributions in 2005 from just three donors, the Center for Public Integrity has learned.

The number of ALG's major donors in 2005, but not their identities, was disclosed in financial statements obtained by the Center.

The Center for Public Integrity has been following the property rights movement closely with its Taking Initiatives Accountability Project.

Americans for Limited Government, a tax-exempt non-profit headed by businessman Howard Rich, gave $360,000 to the campaign for Washington's Initiative 933. The initiative was defeated at the polls in November.

Americans for Limited Government has not disclosed its donors, nor has other groups controlled by Rich. But there have been repeated claims that the money comes from a vast movement around the country. As the group's website says, "Grassroots volunteers and donors make up the heart and soul of our organization."

The Center for Public Integrity reports:

And in an October 24 e-mail to the Center, John Tillman, ALG's president, said that the organization's "funding comes from thousands of Americans all over the country." Tillman went on to say that "we are also proud of the fact that our support is broad and deep."

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December 21, 2006

Low brow campaigning in Kitsap County?

Posted by David Postman at 10:20 AM

Right before November's election, voters in the 35th Legislative District, covering chunks of Kitsap and Mason counties and small pieces of Thurston and Grays Harbor, got a mailer opposing Republican House challenger Randy Neatherlin.

Neatherlin supporters suspected the photo of their candidate was altered by Democrats. It was a small change, and subtle. But it was enough to prompt them to file a complaint with the Public Disclosure Commission. At the Kitsap Sun, Steven Gardner has written about the controversy in the paper and on the paper's Bremerton Beat blog. But this video he produced tells the story best.


UPDATE: Some have suggested that the headline is misleading since Mason has more voters in the district than Kitsap. The story came out of Kitsap, though, so that's where it got placed. (Boy, I hate that facts got in the way of my clever pun. in the headline)

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Supreme Court says voters can't repeal critical areas ordinance

Posted by David Postman at 9:34 AM

The state Supreme Court ruled this morning that King County's controversial critical areas ordinance cannot be repealed by voters. In a 7-2 decision, the court said the ordinance was designed to implement the Growth Management Law, which is mandated by the state, and cannot be subject to a voter referendum.

Writing for the majority, Justice Tom Chambers said:

The people of this state, through their legislators, recognized that each local area is unique and placed considerable power and responsibility onto counties to develop comprehensive land use plans according to procedures that required an enormous amount of deliberative public participation. Local exercises of power are often subject to rejection by local referenda. But while the GMA places considerable power and responsibility in local hands, it is still a state power that is being exercised to further state mandates.

The legislature certainly could decide that local ordinances implementing the GMA should be subject to local referendum. But it is for the legislature, not the courts, to amend GMA procedures. Until such an amendment is enacted, we hew to our holding that ordinances such as these are not subject to local referenda.

Joining Chambers were Chief Justice Gerry Alexander and justices Susan Owens and Bobbe Bridge.

Justice Charles Johnson wrote a concurring opinion, signed also by justices Barbara Madsen and Mary Fairhurst. Johnson did in little more than two pages what it took Chambers 30 pages to do:

The majority reaches the correct result which is compelled by our prior case authority. The majority opinion, when stripped of its unnecessary rhetoric and hyperbole, can be summarized simply: where the state law requires local government to perform specific acts, those local actions are not subject to local referendum.

Madsen also filed a separate concurrence.

The critical-areas package of land-use laws was passed by the Metropolitan King County Council in 2004.

The most controversial provision requires rural landowners to keep 50 percent to 65 percent of their land in native vegetation, depending on the size of the parcel.

Other parts of the package widen no-development buffers around streams, adopt a new buffer formula for wetlands and tighten regulations on storm-water runoff. The laws apply throughout the unincorporated areas of King County, but the most significant changes are in areas designated as "rural residential" under zoning laws.

The ordinance quickly was targeted for repeal byreferendum. But in 2005 a King County Superior Court judge said the ordinance could not be repealed by voters.

A suit stopping the referendum was filed by King County and two environmental groups,1000 Friends of Washington, a group now known as Futurewise, and the Center for Environmental Law and Policy.

Fighting for the referendum was the Citizens' Alliance for Property Rights and its president, Rod McFarland. The case is titled "1000 Friends of Wash. v. McFarland."

In her concurrence, Madsen notes the growing tension between concerns of eroding property rights and the need for land use planning. But she says the Legislature has had "many opportunities to amend the Growth Management Act ... to allow greater participation by voters on local land use measures" but has declined to do so.

Justice Jim Johnson wrote a dissent, which was joined by Justice Richard Sanders.

Recognition of the people's inherent political authority requires courts to construe law in favor of the people's reserved legislative powers. Referenda allow the people to directly check legislative power. "The people, too, have directly charged us with a duty to be mindful of their sovereign rights." State ex rel. Mullen v. Howell, 107 Wash. 167, 171, 181 P. 920 (1919).

...

In upholding the superior court's judgment preventing an election on these proposed referenda, the majority of this court has used a strained reading of the GMA and the King County Charter to deny these rights. The majority undermines our constitutional presumption favoring the people's right of referendum.

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December 20, 2006

Gregoire budget buys her plenty of good PR

Posted by David Postman at 12:47 PM

Headlines from the morning papers:

Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

Education wins in Gregoire budget

$30 billion plan also boosts health care, environment

The Longview Daily News, on an AP story:

Gregoire's $30 billion budget focuses on education

The News Tribune:

Budget plan gives, takes education

Gov. Chris Gregoire gets the first shot at setting the state's agenda for the next two years, planning to spend nearly $64 billion in an overall budget that adds millions for education, health care, economic development and criminal justice.

The Bellingham Herald

14.5M slated for Bellingham Bay in Gregoire's budget

Several papers ran more than one story to focus on local "wins" in the budget.

The Yakima Herald-Republic:

Educators applaud spending priorities

And this about Yakima's minor league baseball team's stadium:

Bears get a win in Olympia

The Olympian:

Education, children dominate governor's budget plan

And,

South Sound scores in Gregoire plan

The Herald put a little context in its headline.

Gregoire proposes tapping surplus

The governor's $30 billion spending plan invests heavily in education and creates an emergency fund.

Along with the sidebar:

$114 million proposed for local projects

The Spokesman Review had the only headline I saw that reflected any criticism of the budget.

Budget has millions for Spokane


Critics call Gregoire plan a 'spending splurge'

And a sidebar:

Budget proposal targets Spokane-area projects

I'm not sure what The Columbian meant to say with this headline:

Gregoire: It's time to invest in future budget quick browng

And The Seattle Times? I'm not one to spend a lot of time using this space to brag on my paper, and have criticized Times headlines here before. But I was glad to see the headline on our story this morning:

Gregoire proposes $4 billion increase in spending

It is clear that a proposal to spend more money on something is seen as a "win," without much sense yet of the details of how the money would be spent. It's also worth remembering that this is just a proposal, sure to be modified by the Legislature, and nobody or no thing has won anything yet.

In announcing her budget yesterday, Gregoire said someone once told her she needed to love her budget, and she expressed those feelings for the document with great enthusiasm. That someone was the late Ed Penhale, who led the budget PR effort for Gregoire and her predecessor, Gov. Gary Locke. Penhale died earlier this year after battling cancer. If he can see the headlines today, you can be sure he loves it, too.

UPDATE: At the Association of Washington Business blog Richard Davis rounds up responses to the budget from editorial boards.

This was the first time I had a look at the AWB's Olympia Business Watch and it looks like Davis, who recently left the Washington Research Council, where he had been the long-time president, is taking the blogging side of his new job pretty seriously. Good to see.

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I'm just asking, but is this news?

Posted by David Postman at 10:01 AM

Sometimes the question mark is a journalist's best friend. Here's what the graphic said Tuesday for a piece on CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight:

"Do-Nothing Dems?"

Says the liberal Media Matters:

In the report, CNN correspondent Lisa Sylvester asserted that, despite Democratic campaign pledges to "implement all of the 9-11 Commission recommendations," Democrats are "now conceding that's harder than they thought." But rather than showing a clip of a Democrat presumably affirming Sylvester's lead-in, CNN cut to Rep. Tom Price (R-GA).

But see, the Lou Dobbs show is not saying the Dems are do-nothing, they're simply asking the question. Of course the question came weeks before Democrats will have a chance to do anything since Congress has yet to start its new session. But maybe CNN just trying to be the first to suggest that congressional Democrats have failed as part of the sometimes less than noble journalistic pursuit of "staying ahead of the story?"

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8th District's "split" attracts national party interest

Posted by David Postman at 8:38 AM

It doesn't take any kind of expert to know that the 8th Congressional District is likely to provide a high profile race again in 2008. Rep. Dave Reichert's final tally — 7,341 votes ahead of rookie candidate Darcy Burner, but thousands of dollars in fundraising behind her — guarantees that.

But the district is already getting attention. An analysis done by Congressional Quarterly senior writer Greg Giroux shows the 8th to be a rare bird:

The House campaign strategists for both major parties undoubtedly are already dissecting the results of this year's elections to determine their top districts to target for the 2008 campaign. And as they do, they surely will look closely at districts that favored their party's nominee for president in 2004 but this year favored the other party for the House.

...

The 2006 results intensified an already existing partisan skew. Of the 68 split districts, 60 voted for a House Democrat last month and also voted for Bush in 2004. That is up from 40 "Bush-Democratic" districts going into the Nov. 7 elections.

On the other side of the ledger, there are now just eight "Kerry-Republican" districts — those that voted for a House Republican in 2006 but backed Kerry for president in 2004. That is down from 18 going into Election Day 2006.

The 8th is one of those Kerry-Republican districts. Kerry only did a little better than Bush there in 2004. But Gore beat Bush in 2000 and Democrats have picked up legislative seats in the area, too. A Republican congressman is becoming more of an anomaly, which is certain to attract national attention and money to the race.

Here's CQ's full spreadsheet on the split districts around the country.

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December 19, 2006

Gregoire budget would put state in hole more than she thought

Posted by David Postman at 1:09 PM

In explaining her budget for 2007-2009 to reporters this morning, Gov. Christine Gregoire said that because of an expected slow down in the state economy, her budget office was forecasting a $300 million shortfall in the subsequent budget for 2009-2001.

But that didn't worry her:

"We're investing in our economic future. We're putting savings aside. So I think we have done the exact, fiscally responsible thing.

"As we project out over the budget, if that's your fundamental question, it looks like in 09-11 we could have a $300 million shortfall. In a $30 billion budget, I don't think that in any way says that we're not moving toward getting off the roller coaster, getting rid of the booms and busts and being responsible in respect to the state budget."

What about twice that?

Soon after Gregoire finished the press conference, her Office of Financial Management e-mailed legislative fiscal committee staffers to say there was an error in the long-term outlook. The budget staff seriously underestimated pension costs in the six-year outlook, and wrote:

This means we're in the hole another $332 million more in FY 2011.

That means the $300 million shortfall Gregoire talked about is actually forecast at $632 million.

The balance sheet posted on the OFM Web site was removed and replaced with this message:

The six-year outlook is currently being updated and will be posted shortly.

UPDATE: The actual number on the updated outlook, which was just posted, shows a $653 million shortfall. And that's the shortfall if the entire $553 million, brand-new, rainy day fund is spent, too.

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Gregoire wants public financing of judicial campaigns

Posted by David Postman at 12:19 PM

Gov. Christine Gregoire proposed today a pilot program for public financing of judicial campaigns.

She wants to use $4.4 million so "judges can be free from money influence — real or perceived," according to material released by her office this morning. What the governor calls the "Judicial Independence Act," or JIA, is not yet in final form. But a memo from her policy office outlines how it would work:

To qualify for the JIA, candidates must raise a specific amount in qualifying contributions. Qualifying contributions must be between $10 and $50, and must come from individuals (not PACs, unions, or corporations). Contributors must designate the contribution as a qualifying contribution, and must submit name and address along with the contribution. Only campaign volunteers can collect qualifying contributions.

• Court of Appeals: Must raise at least $2,000 (and no more than $5,000) from at least 100 contributors.

• Supreme Court: Must raise at least $10,000 (and no more than $25,000) from at least 500 contributors.

There would also be public money available for exploratory campaigns.

Candidates would have to agree to a clean campaign code to get the money, though. That would include a prohibition on "disparaging or disrespectful communications." Candidates could respond to attacks from opponents.

The program would provide a minimum amount of public financing and then additional matching funds if an opponent who is not participating raises more than the minimum. The matching funds could also increase for a candidate if independent expenditures are used to favor another candidate.

The proposal is based on public financing programs similar to what is in place in Arizona, Maine and North Carolina, which has a specific public financing plan for judicial candidates.

Here's the explanation from the Arizona commissions FAQ page:

Question: How exactly does the Clean Elections Act work?

Answer: Candidates who choose to participate in Clean Elections (commonly called, participating candidates) collect a set number of $5 qualifying contributions (donations) that can qualify them for Clean Elections funding: Two-thirds of Clean Elections funding comes from surcharges on civil and criminal fees; the remainder comes from a voluntary $5 state income tax check-off, a dollar-for-dollar income tax credit for up to $500, civil penalties imposed on candidates for violation of the Commission rules & policies and the $5 qualifying contributions. To qualify for funding, participating candidates must adhere to strict spending and contribution limits and gather $5 qualifying contributions from registered voters in their districts.

During this year's campaign, Gregoire complained about what she said was special interest money pouring into campaigns for Supreme Court challengers. To counter that, she decided to raise money for incumbent justices. She solicited donations from political heavyweights and gave at least $25,000 from a PAC she controls.

In Arizona, there is a separate citizens group that monitors the Clean Election program. The group tracks which candidates participate in public financing and says that nine of 11 statewide offices, including governor, are held by Clean Election participants. There are also citizen groups in Maine and North Carolina.

In November, California voters defeated a ballot measure that would have created a similar system. In a story before the election, the San Francisco Chronicle looked at Arizona's experience and reported:

Six years into its brave new world of publicly financed campaigns, Arizona's "clean money" elections system already is creaking with signs of age.

UPDATE: For a story for tomorrow's paper I've gotten some reaction to Gregoire's plan.

Tom McCabe, executive vice president of the Building Industry Association of Washington, said BIAW will oppose it.

"Her plan is an incumbent protection plan. That's what irritates the BIAW about it and certainly should irritate the voters about it. If you can't tell the voters why you should replace somebody, then they'll never be replaced."

Alex Hays, who ran the Constitutional Law PAC, said he generally supports campaign finance reform, but he bristled at the idea that candidates would have to agree to a code of behavior in order to receive public funds.

"It is the intent of the Constitution to protect political speech. Unfortunately the governor's proposal has at the heart of it a hostility to free speech."

Charlie Wiggins, who heads the state chapter of the American Judicature Society and worried publicly about the influx of conservative money in the court races, said he thinks public financing is a great idea that needs to happen.

But he said more thinking has to be done on the details. He has studied North Carolina's program and says that state requires a higher threshold of fundraising to qualify for public funds, and then gives more money to run a campaign.

Under Gregoire's plan a Supreme Court candidate could qualify for public funds by raising only $10,000. In North Carolina it is $35,000, which serves to filter out candidates without popular support. Wiggins said:

"I think everybody has to think very carefully where the qualifying limits are set. If you set them too low, it seems to me, it's too easy for people to qualify and then you're giving away a lot of money to people who may not have very deep support."

Wiggins is also unsure if the public funds would be enough to run a competitive campaign, particularly for a Court of Appeals race which is capped at about $64,000.

"Frankly, you do need some money for these campaigns. I just worry that this is too low."

The court elections have already prompted the Public Disclosure Commission to propose limits on independent expenditures.

I asked McCabe if there was any restrictions on the BIAW's political activity that he would support.

"I think the only method that would be acceptable is if groups were unable to do independent expenditures then newspapers should be unable to endorse candidates. It's the same thing. Freedom of speech means more than just newspapers. It applies to trade groups, it applies to labor unions, it applies to individuals."

Also, let's not forget that Danny Westneat called for public financing back in September.

This year it's the builders trying to buy a seat. Next time it'll be the unions. Or the pro-lifers, or the gays, or the asphalt lobby.

Isn't it time we just bought the court ourselves?

And he wrote about a citizen effort to get public financing in Washington.

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Gregoire's budget proposal

Posted by David Postman at 10:02 AM

I haven't had a chance to study the budget Gregoire just unveiled, but if you want to take a look, here's the spin and the backup documents.

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Rossi ready to debate budget. Again

Posted by David Postman at 9:36 AM

UPDATE: Rossi's new website is on-line.

Dino Rossi looks to be about ready to step up his public profile. And just like two years ago when he ran against Christine Gregoire for governor, Rossi is talking about the state budget.

Rossi told me that by the end of the day he hopes to have something up on the Web site of his non-profit group, Forward Washington, critiquing the state budget. Gregoire is releasing her budget proposal right now at a press conference in Olympia.

Rich Roesler at The Spokesman-Review got a sneak preview when he found this PowerPoint presentation and more details on Rossi's budget proposal.

Rossi said that Roesler saw a mix of a PowerPoint that he has been using in speeches for months and new material that he was not ready to unveil. Much of that has now been put behind password-protected firewalls, he said. He didn't know that as of this morning the PowerPoint was still accessible. His friends at Sound Politics have also linked to it.

Rossi seemed a little ticked that he got scooped by Roesler. He thinks accessing under-construction sites is "not kosher in the Web world, but apparently in the reporting world it is just fine."

Roesler cites a list of Rossi proposals — including reassessing collective bargaining agreements, reducing what health insurers have to cover and cutting taxes — that are no longer available on the Web site.

Rossi made his name in Olympia as chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee and he successfully negotiated a tough budget with former Gov. Gary Locke. So I understand why he focuses on the budget. But the budget situation lacks drama this year. As Rossi's slide show says:

National boom has bailed out Olympia for now...

Rossi realizes that with projections of surplus revenue it will be hard to get people to focus on state spending. His argument will be that substantive changes have to be made in the good times, to avoid problems in the future.

Since Rossi is retooling his PowerPoint, I have one suggestion. I'm not sure that playing off the titles of old Tom Cruise movies — "If Hollywood wrote about Olympia's legislative sessions" — is a real grabber with the youth of today. To suggest that if lawmakers improve the business climate and budgeting process, "Hollywood's next movie about Olympia might be 'Top Gun'" is just a little too 1986. As Goose famously said, "Is this your idea of fun, Mav?"

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December 18, 2006

Court upholds campaign fine against teachers

Posted by David Postman at 5:57 PM

A state appeals court today upheld the state law prohibiting public employees from using public resources for political activity.

The case involves two Ballard High School teachers fined by the Public Disclosure Commission for using school e-mail to tell teachers to put completed petitions for two 2004 education ballot measures in a teacher's school mailbox.

The PDC said that violated RCW 42.17.130.

The three judge panel of the Division 1 Court of Appeals said the law was "reasonable and viewpoint-neutral." They upheld a decision by a King County Superior Court judge, writing:

The internal mail and computer systems exist to facilitate communication between teachers to ensure efficient sharing of information, and the restrictions on their use do not eliminate or obstruct that purpose — except to prohibit any use that would constitute political advocacy. The statute was enacted to ensure that public resources are not used to provide advantages to a particular candidate or ballot measure, and the restriction on the use of school systems furthers that purpose.

Teachers Ed Herbert and Dennis Nusbaum argued that any use of public facilities was incidental and part of "normal and regular" school business and not a violation of the law. Herbert's and Nusbaum's appeals were consolidated and they filed joint briefing. The court's opinion only refers to Herbert "for ease of reference."

The court wrote:

Herbert points to the fact that teachers could discuss a political campaign in the teacher lunchroom — which uses electricity and heating and building maintenance — but could not e-mail their colleagues about the issue to demonstrate that there is no rational distinction between what is permitted and what is prohibited by the PDC's interpretation of RCW 42.17.130. But the distinction is this: pure political speech is permitted, but using the facilities to deliver speech is prohibited. The use element provides the distinction between talking in the lunchroom and using school computers to e-mail staff members.

The teachers and the Seattle Education Association were trying to garner support for Referendum 55, which overturned charter schools, and unsuccessful Initiative 884, which would have raised taxes to help fund schools.

The PDC fined Herbert $500 and suspended $450 of it if he did not violate the statute for two years.

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Finding power elsewhere

Posted by David Postman at 10:59 AM

My house has been without power since Thursday night. I've been doing what I usually do to cope with adversity: Eating as much as possible. And I've compiled this short list to help me remember not to complain.

1. There are losses that cut much deeper than losing electricity.

2. There's nothing wrong with the house that a few days of heat won't fix.

3. What would these people think if they heard me complaining about four days without power?


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Congressman wants salary info kept confidential

Posted by David Postman at 9:05 AM

I hate when I'm behind the curve. I just found out about a Web site that allows you to find the salaries of Congressional aides. But it only came to my attention with the news that members of Congress want to shut it down.

On LegisStorm.com you can search by name, member, committee, state, leadership office or administrative office. And it's free. LegisStorm has taken salary information that has always been public, but difficult to find, and made it accessible to taxpayers.

It's too accessible for some members of Congress. As Roll Call reported (subscription required) last week:

Which staffer makes how much on Capitol Hill has long been a matter of public record, but if Rep. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) has his way, that data will become much more difficult to track down.

Wicker wants to prohibit release of individual salaries. Instead, he says it's enough to show the total salaries paid to employees of each member.

Joshua Levy wrote at the Personal Democracy Forum last week that would make it "impossible to view what individuals (including Members themselves) are making."

Imagine if the Yankees didn't disclose their players' individual salaries and only gave a grand total... and imagine if the taxpayers were the ones paying the salaries! Wicker's bill makes it clear that he'd prefer these public records back in the basement, hidden from public view and definitely not online.

Wicker, who has bipartisan support for his bill, told the AP:

"Having your salary bandied about the world is an intrusion that doesn't serve a public purpose."

I'm not sure about bandying, but I don't think the law has a category for information that is public, but only if it's difficult to get and not widely used.

I was tipped to Wicker's bill by Randy Stapilus at Ridenbaugh Press who says LegisStorm should be left alone.

We periodically see people who work for government who take more abuse than they should, but if public servants (and let's never forget that that's what they are) want trust from the people who pay your salaries, then they have to stay transparent. If not, the rest of us inevitably will be wondering why.

I'm sure some are worried about that abuse. There was a taste of that when the Wall Street Journal first wrote about LegisStorm on its Washington Wire blog and said,

This morning, it became easier than ever to see how much congressional aides are being (over?) paid.

But it's not just reporters who want to know who makes what on the Hill. That first day of operation in September ended with the LegisStorm servers crashing. The Journal quoted LegisStorm founder Jock Friedly, who said:

"Presumably the entire Hill tried to come to our site all at once. ... We got absolutely crushed."

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December 15, 2006

Sen. Benton passed over for county lobby job

Posted by David Postman at 11:39 AM

Clark County decided this week against hiring state Sen. Don Benton as its lobbyist in Olympia. Hiring him would have come with some surprise because Benton wouldn't say whether he'd resign from the Senate if he got the job.

Benton told Columbian reporter Jeffery Mize, "m not prepared to make a decision about that until I know what the county commissioners are going to do."

The county commissioners hired Mike Burgess of Bellingham for the job. In an editorial today, The Columbian knocked Benton around for not saying he would leave the Senate if he got the county job. They called that "astounding."

And finally, Benton says he doesn't allow "taxpayer-paid lobbyists" to make appointments to see him, but they meet with him on an impromptu basis. "Taxpayer-paid lobbyists cannot take time on my calendar when I barely have enough time on my calendar for constituents," he said.

We disagree. Taxpayer-paid lobbyists represent the public, and they should be given as much attention as corporate-paid lobbyists. Benton knows this about taxpayer-paid lobbyists. After all, he tried to become one.


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Gregoire wants quick Seattle vote on viaduct options

Posted by David Postman at 10:36 AM

Gov. Christine Gregoire says Seattle voters should choose whether the Alaskan Way Viaduct should be replaced by a tunnel or a new elevated roadway.

She wants that vote to happen before the 2007 Legislature adjourns.

Gregoire made the announcement at a press conference this morning. She said in a prepared statement:

"We are at a political stalemate and must find a path forward to replace the viaduct. I don't believe that, without a vote, either option will move forward. We need to hear directly from the people for whom this decision has the most impact."

Gregoire said that her review of the viaduct showed that the proposed financing for a new elevated roadway as laid out in a draft EIS is "feasible and sufficient." But that financing plan for the tunnel option is not.

On the 520 bridge, Gregoire said that the proposed financing plan is not feasible or sufficient to complete the project. Her statement said the four-lane option does not allow for HOV or transit lanes and that the eight-lane version "creates significant operational problems and is not consistent with the environmental priorities and would require additional land and property acquisition."

She wants a six-lane version, with two of them HOV lanes. But she said more work has to be done "on funding, design, mitigation and the environmental impact statement."

TVW will show the press conference at 12:35 p.m.

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Carter unworried about his image among Americans

Posted by David Postman at 8:01 AM

Jimmy Carter scholars are unlikely to be surprised by the argument in his new book, "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid."

After all, when Yasser Arafat was still alive, Carter carried on a friendship with the Palestine Liberation Organization leader that bordered at times on a "love fest," according to historian Douglas Brinkley's 1998 book, "The Unfinished Presidency -- Jimmy Carter's Journey Beyond The White House." There were clandestine meetings in Paris and Yemen, and a speech Carter secretly wrote for Arafat.

That's what my column is about today. I interviewed Brinkley yesterday. He knows as much about Carter's post-presidency years as anyone. He says Carter sees himself in international terms and doesn't worry about the domestic reaction to his book.

There are a few things I didn't have room for in the column. Brinkley said Carter's new book will boost the former president's image in the Arab world, where many already see him as a hero. "You can imagine they are going to start naming streets" after Carter, he said.

"This does not hurt Jimmy Carter internationally as a mediator or diplomat. It hurts him in the United States and Israel."

When I interviewed Carter the other day he told me he wasn't surprised by all the negative reaction to his book. Brinkley wonders, though, if Carter really could have been prepared for the blowback. A former Middle East diplomat accused Carter of improperly including maps in the book that he didn't have permission to use, and a former Carter aide resigned from the Carter Center and said the book was biased and full of errors.

He must be stinging somewhat from it. He's getting beat up pretty badly. .. It has put him on a defensive crouch. He's not playing offfense on this book.

UPDATE: People seem to think I'm biased about Carter and the Israeli/Palestinian situation. They just can't agree on which way I'm biased.

This came today:

I'm glad to see that you covered President Carter's book controversy in your op-ed, however your bias was woefully apparent. Despite the fact that you and the rest of the mainstream media are trying to convince the public that Carter's views on Palestine are extremist left wing nonsense, there are thousands if not tens of thousands of people lining up to get his signature.

And this came yesterday:

I read your interview with Jimmy Carter and found it to be unbelievably one-sided. In fact, I thought it was garbage. You threw nothing but softball questions at him so he could promote his book and his complete rewrite of history. I'm usually the last person to ever complain about biased journalism because I think in most cases people are just looking for something wrong in a story, but this was journalism at its absolute worst — almost bordering on anti-semitism. Will you promote David Duke's book next so we can have an open dialogue about race in this country?

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December 13, 2006

Study hard, do your homework, or you could get stuck on the school board

Posted by David Postman at 3:40 PM

Forget calls for Seattle School Board members to resign. Seattlest wants them to repeat 9th grade English.

They just released their evaluation of Superintendent Raj Manhas, and it's polluted with flaccid language, poorly-defined words, and nonsensical cliches. Any writing teacher would exhaust her red pen with frowny faces trying to edit it.

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Jimmy Carter says Christians, pro-Israel lobby, stifle Middle East debate here

Posted by David Postman at 3:28 PM

Former President Jimmy Carter said today that support for Israel from conservative Christians in America is one of two main reasons why he says there can't be open debate here about Israel and the occupied territories. He says Christian support comes, in part, from what he said was an extreme and ridiculous reading of Scripture that says the Holy Land must be prepared for the Second Coming — when all non-believers, including certainly the Jews in Israel, would convert or perish.

In an interview this morning, Carter also told me it would be "political suicide" for any member of Congress to endorse the views in his new book, "Palestine: Peace not Apartheid." He said that's because of the power of the American Israel Political Action Committee. (CLARIFICATION: That's what he called AIPAC, which is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. I should have used the correct name here.)

"I'm not criticizing any member of Congress because I see the pressures on them. But if anyone wants to be elected or re-elected to Congress it would be inconceivable that they would say, 'If I'm elected I'm going to take a balanced position between Israel and the Palestinians,' or that they would say 'I'm going to hope that Israel would withdraw from occupied territories and comply with international law,' or to say 'I'm going to make sure that the Palestinian human rights are protected.' "

You can read the full interview here.

I had just shy of 20 minutes to talk to Carter on the phone about the book and the reaction it has stirred. Just yesterday Alan Dershowitz called the book a screed and an "unrelenting attack against Israel" and the Anti-Defamation League launched a counter-PR campaign against it, including advertisements in major U.S. newspapers today that say:

MR. CARTER DOESN'T ADVANCE PUBLIC DEBATE, HE DIMINISHES IT.

Last night Carter met and prayed with rabbis in Phoenix who were, and apparently remain, unhappy with him and the book.

Carter said that none of the reaction has surprised him. He said he wrote the book believing that it is nearly impossible to have free discussion here about the Israeli-Palestinian situation.

"When I go to Jerusalem or to Tel Aviv or Nazareth or anywhere in Israel, the discussions and debates are intense and constant about Israeli policies in the West Bank and whether they are advisable or not. The same thing exists obviously in the Arab world and in Europe. But in this country, zero.

"Rarely is any sort of comment made in the public news media that can be interpreted as critical of Israel, and so I deliberately wanted to stimulate a discussion."

Of course, he's done that.

In a book review in the Washington Post Tuesday, Jeffrey Goldberg said Carter is trying to weaken support for Israel among evangelical Christians. He points to this passage in the book about Carter's discussions with Prime Minister Golda Meir during his first visit to Israel:

With some hesitation, I said that I had long taught lessons from the Hebrew Scriptures and that a common historical pattern was that Israel was punished whenever the leaders turned away from devout worship of God. I asked if she was concerned about the secular nature of her Labor government. She seemed surprised at my temerity and dismissed my comments with a shrug and a laugh.

Wrote Goldberg:

Carter seems to mean for this book to convince American evangelicals to reconsider their support for Israel. Evangelical Christians have become bedrock supporters of Israel lately, and Carter marshals many arguments, most of them specious, to scare them out of their position. Hence the Golda Meir story, seemingly meant to show that Israel is not the God-fearing nation that religious Christians believe it to be. And then there are the accusations, unsupported by actual evidence, that Israel persecutes its Christian citizens.

Carter clearly believes support among American Christians helps stifle debate about Israel. In talking about AIPAC, he was quick to say that he did not want discussion about the oft-criticized lobbying group to diminish concerns he has about the role fundamentalist Christians play.

"I happen to be a Christian. Since I was three years old I've learned about the Hebrews, I've learned about the Israelites, I've learned about God's chosen people, from whom Jesus Christ came, whom I worship. I teach about this every Sunday in my local church and I've been doing it since I was 18 years old, as a mater of fact.

"So we naturally are trying to want Israel to be secure and to survive — commitment I maintain. But that is a permeating concept in this nation.

...

"I noticed that when Ariel Sharon was stricken — he's still unconscious — Pat Robertson announced that this is a punishment of God because Sharon had advocated withdrawing from Gaza, which only comprises 1 percent of the Holy Land. But that at least demonstrates their attitude toward the Israeli situation.

"Q: But a lot of their position is premised on 'we want to save Israel,' but not necessarily save the Jews in the Second Coming. Isn't that right?

"Carter: That's right. Their purpose is to wipe out all non-Jews out of the Holy Land so Christ can return and then in the ultimate commitment, is that all Jews would either be burned in fire or converted to Christianity. That's the ultimate. It's an extreme, and I think, ridiculous interpretation of the scriptures."

Carter was in the Los Angeles area Monday where he was met with protesters and supporters. The L.A. Times reports that Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, objected to Carter's claim that the media here does not engage in an open debate about Israel.

"This is an anti-Semitic canard, that Jews control media, that they control universities, Congress, etc. For a former president to engage in such a canard is shameful, shameless and irresponsible," said Foxman, who also accused Carter of making "outrageous misrepresentations of Israel."

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Veteran Supreme Court clerk retires

Posted by David Postman at 9:46 AM

If you're one of the people who look Wednesday to see what Supreme Court opinions will be issued the next morning, read them on line Thursdays, or are an attorney who has filed briefs electronically, take a moment to thank C.J. "Jerry" Merritt.

Merritt is retiring Dec. 31 after almost 18 years as clerk of the Supreme Court. He has done a lot to demystify the court and make it accessible to the people. Before Merritt helped bring the court into the electronic age I used to line up at his office Thursday mornings to get paper copies of the day's decisions. Now I can find out the night before what opinions are slated to be released and they're on the web as soon as they're available in the Temple of Justice. I have no doubt that through the court's website as well as links on newspaper sites and blogs, the decisions are read today by far more people than ever before. You can also watch the court on TVW.

In my 13 years following the court, Merritt has been accessible, helpful and truthful. He's been available for quick lessons on the law. My only complaint is that he has never leaked anything or even given an off-the-record hint about the court's confidential operations. I long ago gave up trying with Jerry.

He'll be replaced by his deputy of 17 years, Ronald Carpenter. Carpenter will be just the ninth clerk since statehood.

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December 12, 2006

Maybe school chief needs more PR people

Posted by David Postman at 12:58 PM

Rich Roesler at The Spokesman-Review did a small item on his blog the other day about former P-I editorialist Thomas Shapley taking a job as a spokesman for Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson.

Roesler wanted to know how much the taxpayers would pay Shapley. He asked someone in Bergeson's office and, Roesler wrote, he was told "to submit my request in writing, via U.S. mail, and that they'd get back to me."

E-mail is good enough when the superintendent's office wants to send us news. If they wanted a written request, why wouldn't e-mail suffice, particularly when it is something that is most definitely public information?

WEDNESDAY NIGHT UPDATE: Shapley just left me a phone message saying he'll make $75,000 a year.

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Cue the Vince Guaraldi

Posted by David Postman at 8:34 AM

So the Christmas trees have gone back up at the airport and the day dawns like a Hallmark TV special. In The Times today, under a big headline announcing, "Trees are back" and a giant photo, the paper's lead story says:

The holiday trees that went away in the middle of the night are back.

And in the PI:

The Christmas spirit has returned to Sea-Tac Airport.

I don't want to spoil the mood — I imagine all the surly TSA agents holding hands and gazing up at the trees in childlike wonderment — but there is a political debate that of course has broken out over the tree fight.

Eric Earling says at Sound Politics:

I really don't blame the Port in this case. Taxpayers shouldn't have to pay for costly litigation over temporary displays, no matter how valid. And those that find miraculous need to insist on quota-filled holiday displays should be a little less quick in dialing a lawyer.

The papers today only hint at some of the less than cheerful reaction to a rabbi's complaint about the trees.

The Times: "A nationwide furor erupted over the weekend as news of the trees' removal spread, with a flood of calls to Port officials and harshly worded e-mails to Jewish organizations."

The PI: "The flap reverberated on simmering Internet forums, where irate observers labeled Bogomilsky a 'grinch' and called the Port Commission 'spineless,' among other colorful adjectives."

But David Goldstein points out the uglier side of the war on Christmas, and in this instance he blames airport administrators:

Thanks to Port officials' ham-fisted, insensitive and idiotic handling of the incident, millions of Americans are now enraged over the way us Jews are trying to destroy Christmas, and no retelling of the story will ever set the facts straight.

Goldstein has written before about fights over Christmas decorations, and he's convinced that anti-Semitism is at the root of much of it. And the unfiltered responses to the Sea-Tac story gives him some compelling evidence.

"Don't believe me?" he writes, before offering up some of the "many, many angry comments left on KING-5 TV's comment thread on the Sea-Tac incident." (The Times reader comments on the Christmas tree story are held for review with only approved comments being published, and I haven't seen the unfiltered responses.)

Here are a few examples Goldstein included from KING:

Great, a group that makes up about 5% of the American population (if that), does it again. Disgusting. Posted by: Tom at December 11, 2006 12:01 PM

He is gone too far. If he is so religious why don't he go to his "promise land" and selebrate his holidays there.
Posted by: rita at December 11, 2006 12:10 PM

Not to worry, the Non Jesus Believing Jew will get his when he faces god. God does not take a fancy to those who conspire with other heathens to kill his only begotten son.
Makes you want to root for the Palestinians.
Posted by: Khan at December 11, 2006 12:26 PM

Maybe this won't make such a great holiday TV show after all.

UPDATE: At the Cascadia Report Bradley Meacham says it's time to focus on more substantive questions about Sea-Tac operations.

It's tempting to see this as an example of the larger inefficiencies at the airport, which could have used the last few days' management time and attention to boost its efficiency. The airport spokeswoman said they decided to remove the trees because they were too busy with the crush of December travelers to handle the vexing decision of what to do about the menorah. But the rabbi first brought up the idea in October and was rebuffed until he threated a lawsuit. Meanwhile Sea-Tac continues to lose business.

The trees issue may get even more attention at the Port Commission's Tuesday afternoon meeting, where the agenda includes mundane tasks such as vetting about $18 million in contracts.

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Tony Snow was right

Posted by David Postman at 7:01 AM

At the White House press briefing Thursday — thanks, Romensko — Tony Snow was talking about what the administration would consider success in Iraq when a reporter thought he heard something new:

Q: And one question on phraseology. For months and months, you have defined, the White House has defined success in Iraq as Iraq sustaining, governing and defending itself.

MR. SNOW: And being an ally in the war on terror.

Q: Well, that's what you and the President have purposefully, it seems, added —

MR. SNOW: Actually, you go back to the —

Q: — in the last two weeks, really, on a regular basis.

MR. SNOW: No, go back and look at the speeches that he delivered during the summer, you'll find it in there.

Q: It's not a purposeful addition in just the last few weeks?

MR. SNOW: No, it's been in the lexicon for some time.

Q: How far back should we look?

MR. SNOW: I'm not going to do your homework. We've got fancy ways of finding it out.

Q: Oh, I'm going to do my homework, but I want to hear what you have to say.

MR. SNOW: I don't know.

I just spent some time looking. Snow's right. On June 15 he told reporters at a briefing that it was understandable that seeing "horrific images" from Iraq would make people say, ''please, make it stop."

And the President wants it to stop, but he wants it to end with a free, democratic Iraq that can govern itself, sustain itself, protect itself, and serve as an ally in the war on terror.

That's the earliest version I could find. And that shows the phrase was, in Snow's words today, "in the lexicon" during the summer. President Bush seems to have added the phrase to the definition of success in Iraq a little bit later, though still in the summer.

It looks like Bush adopted the phrase sometime in August. In a July 29 radio address the President outlined hopes for Iraq without mentioning the country as an ally in the war on terror:

In Iraq, we will help Prime Minister Maliki's unity government defeat the terrorists, insurgents, and illegal militias and establish a democracy in the heart of the Middle East.

But by Aug. 31, when Bush spoke the American Legion Convention in Salt Lake City, he said:

Victory in Iraq will result in a democracy that is a friend of America and an ally in the war on terror.

So, point to Snow. It didn't just pop up in recent weeks. I guess the follow-up would be, "Why is the administration adding to the lexicon of success in Iraq three years after the war began?"

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December 11, 2006

Ethics Committee says McDermott leak a violation

Posted by David Postman at 2:32 PM

The AP is reporting that the House ethics committee issued a report today that says Congressman Jim McDermott violated ethics committee rules when he leaked an illegally taped telephone conference call among Republican leaders.

Representative McDermott's secretive disclosures to the news media ... risked undermining the ethics process regarding'' former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the report said.

McDermott's actions ``were not consistent with the spirit of the committee's rules,'' the panel added in a 25-page report.

McDermott was the ranking Democrat on the ethics committee in 1997 when he gave a copy of the tape recording to newspaper reporters.

Along with the slow-moving ethics investigation, there is also pending litigation over McDermott's role.

McDermott told the AP he was glad there was not a finding that he violated House rules, only ethics committee rules. And he said:

``I am also pleased with the committee's acknowledgment that pending litigation in the federal court will decide the question of law over the First Amendment issues involved.''


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A fight over what?

Posted by David Postman at 11:57 AM

You can tell that Democrats have big majorities in the state House and Senate because they're finding so many things to fight about among themselves.

In the Senate, it looks like there'll be a tussle over the position of vice president pro tempore. This is the person who is the backup to the person who is the backup to the Senate president, Lt. Gov. Brad Owen. Owen presides over the Senate, and in his absence the pro-tem takes the gavel. It comes with virtually no power, but with a bit of ceremony. (Well, the president pro-tem comes with virtually no power and the vice president pro-tem has a little less than that.)

The current vice president pro-tem is Sen. Paull Shin, D-Edmonds. But Sen. Brian Hatfield, a former House member appointed recently to the coastal 19th District Senate seat, wants to mount a challenge to Shin's post. Hatfield wrote an e-mail to Democratic senators last week making the pitch:

As Majority Floor Leader, I presided over the House when the Speaker and Speaker Pro Tempore were unable, so I do have some experience. Additionally, I worked with President Owen during the past two Legislative Sessions, viewing the Senate process from the rostrum.

Because of my experience, and because of a desire by many to "spread leadership positions around," I have been encouraged by several of our fellow Democratic Caucus members to seek this position.

Early this month Senate Democrats voted to keep Sen. Rosa Franklin, D-Tacoma, as president pro-tem. But there has been no announcement about the vaunted No. 2 position.

MORE: I just spoke with Shin. He said that Senate Democratic leaders had promised him he'd be able to keep his post. He was surprised to learn last week that Hatfield was running against him.
"I didn't know there was an election involved," Shin said. He will campaign for the job and plans to send out an e-mail soon to fellow Democrats.

NEVER MIND: He was campaigning through the weekend, but Hatfield has decided against challening Shin, according to a statement I just got from Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane.

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Gun control advocates push Democrats to act

Posted by David Postman at 6:54 AM

Washington CeaseFire issued a statement this morning decrying weekend gun deaths in Seattle and saying the tragedies are yet more evidence that lawmakers need to tighten state gun laws.

This same weekend that many were victimized by firearm violence in Seattle, firearms merchants at a gun shows in Washington offered for sale hundreds of weapons including 50-caliber sniper rifles, capable of penetrating an airliner from half a mile away, without performing background checks. These gun shows are toy stores for dangerous individuals providing them with a place to purchase weapons and ammunition with no questions asked.

Now is the time for our lawmakers to take action and close the gun-show loophole and require background checks of all purchasers. Before any more blood is shed, lawmakers should take steps to eliminate criminal and mentally unstable individuals' easy access to guns.

The group concedes no one yet knows where the guns came from that were used in Sunday's shootings. But requiring background checks for gun show purchases is CeaseFire's top legislative priority and something the group has been pushing for years.

But the chances may not be any better in the 2007 Legislature, despite Democrat's solid control of Olympia. House Speaker Frank Chopp seems unsure if he's willing to fight an intra-party battle over gun control, according to an interview he did last week with The Stranger's Josh Feit. Asked about Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske's statement that he will push lawmakers to change the gun-show law and to renew the assault-weapons ban, Chopp said:

When you get to gun control you have to keep perspective. We've got plans moving forward on all these issues [Chopp talked about health-care coverage, fully funding education, and energy independence] and there's a few issues on the margin that we're still trying to sort out. I think the gun issue will divide our caucus. And that's a problem. There are some people [in our caucus] who think you oughta have a right to a gun.

When I'm trying to get a political agenda done, which is very progressive, I need to have a unified caucus. I'm willing to sit down with Kerlikowske, but the first time he's ever asked me for a meetig is like two days ago. So, I'll think about it. I'll check with our caucus members. I don't know.

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December 8, 2006

Gregoire piles up campaign money, including from payday lenders

Posted by David Postman at 3:21 PM

Gov. Christine Gregoire has raised more campaign money than any other governor at mid-term, but she's putting on one more hard push before having to put her fundraising on hold until April.

Records at the Public Disclosure Commission show Gregoire has raised a bit more than $1.5 million for her 2008 re-election campaign. At this point in former Gov. Gary Locke's first term, he had raised about $319,000. In 2002, before he decided not to run for a third term in '04, he had raised about $412,000. And he was considered a prodigious fundraiser.

Gregoire clearly wants to scare away serious competition in 2008.

"Dear Friend," Gregoire wrote in an e-mail to supporters Thursday, "I need your help one more time this year."

State campaign finance rules say that the governor and legislators have to stop raising money from 30 days prior to a legislative session to 30 days after the session adjourns. That freeze goes into effect at midnight tonight. And Gregoire is using the pending deadline to push donors:

While I will be focused on the legislative session and doing the state's business my opponents can continue to raise money for their campaign to unseat me during these five-plus months. I need your help again today.

There are no opponents yet. The most likely Republican opponent, former state Sen. Dino Rossi, has not yet announced whether he'll try again after he came within a handful of votes of beating Gregoire in 2004. He is trying to keep a public profile, but Rossi has not raised any money.

Ralph Thomas looked at Gregoire's fundraising in more detail in August. He found that, "Much of Gregoire's money has come from groups that stand to gain from legislation that passed since she took office."

A look at more recent donations show business interests continue to donate heavily. What really stood out was money from payday lending companies. Four check-cashing companies each donated $2,400 to Gregoire on Nov. 2. The companies are Check 'N Go, Check Into Cash, Dollar Financial Group and QC Holdings Inc. There's also $1,000 from Checkmate on Oct. 11, and $1,000 each that day from three members of the Bassford family, who own Washington-based MoneyTree Inc.

Payday loan companies made $1.4 billion in loans in the state last year, according to a recent report by the state Department of Financial Institutions.

There is already a fight brewing in the Legislature over payday lending. At the News Tribune's editorial blog, David Seago has a good summary of what to expect come January.


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First arrest in Alaska corruption probe

Posted by David Postman at 10:09 AM

Alaska Republican state Rep. Tom Anderson was arrested Thursday on public corruption charges. According to AP and the Anchorage Daily News, details are due later today, when the Department of Justice releases charging documents and Anderson is arraigned in federal court.

Anderson's arrest is the first since August, when the FBI and other federal agents served search warrants on six legislative offices. Anderson's office, though, was not searched at the time. The investigation focused on lawmakers' ties to Veco, a politically powerful oil field services company.

Anderson did not run for re-election in November. His wife, Lesil McGuire, is a state representative who was elected to the state Senate last month. Anderson's father, Tom, is former director of the Alaska State Troopers.

UPDATE: Anderson has been indicted. The Daily News has the paperwork and the Justice Department press release.

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Nearly 5 million served at Sound Politics

Posted by David Postman at 9:22 AM

Congratulations to Stefan Sharkansky, whose Sound Politics could get its 5 millionth reader today. Last I checked he was at 4,999,970.

That's pretty impressive. Sharkansky has a team of bloggers now. But he has been the heart and driving force behind the area's leading conservative blog, and one of the most popular local blogs of any sort.

I've been a daily reader since the earliest days. The work of Sharkansky and his liberal counterpart David Goldstein at horsesass.org helped inspire me to start this blog. They showed there is a thirst for political news in the state.

Some times what I read at Sound Politics can make me spitting mad or roll my eyes, like when folks there look for a corrupt or blundering liberal behind every corner.

But I've also learned things, gotten some fair criticism and found plenty of things to share with readers here.

Good work, Stefan.

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December 7, 2006

State GOP chairwoman may face challenge

Posted by David Postman at 3:46 PM

Sen. Luke Esser, R-Bellevue, who lost his re-election race in November, seems preparing a run to head the state Republican Party. The P-I had a story on this today. Esser would face current Chairwoman Diane Tebelius, who is up for election to a full two-year term in January.

I asked King County GOP Chairman Michael Young what he had heard about Esser's plans:

"I think he is doing the things one would do if they were interested in running for state chair."

Esser himself is more evasive. He wouldn't answer direct questions about whether he wants to replace Tebelius. He said that a lot of Republicans are talking about "where do we go from here."

"I am certainly one of the people having those conversations and want to be helpful in that process."

Tebelius, elected last January to fill the rest of former Chairman Chris Vance's term, said she hasn't heard anything firm about Esser's plans. She said she has heard from state committee members "who are saying they've heard he's interested in running. But no one has confirmed that he has made any calls."

Esser and Tebelius were both in the 2004 Republican primary for the 8th Congressional District. The primary, and the general election, were won by Dave Reichert.

She said that previous GOP chairs always faced challengers so she won't be surprised if she does, too. But she does not think that Republicans' poor showing in last month's election reflects on her leadership. (In King County, where the GOP took deep losses in legislative races, Young was recently re-elected as party chairman.) Said Tebelius:

"I think everybody across the state believes that Republicans did a great job in this election. They worked hard, they went out there and did what they needed to do to win."

They didn't win, she said, because the race was nationalized and local Republicans were caught in the wave. She points out, though, that the state's three Republican members of Congress were all re-elected.

The Republican state committee will elect a chair at its meeting Jan. 27 at Southcenter.

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Baker doesn't want anyone cherry-picking his report

Posted by David Postman at 2:03 PM

James Baker said — in what I think may be an unfortunate metaphor — that there is no "magic bullet" to solving the Iraq crisis. But he does think that every one of his Iraq Study Group's 79 recommendations needs to be implemented to make the plan work.

That's what he said this morning in testimony before the Senate Armed Forces Committee:

Bipartisanship is critical. This is an extraordinarily difficult problem. And unless the country comes together behind a unified approach, we're going to have a tough time dealing with it.

Secondly, I hope we don't treat this like a fruit salad and say, "I like this, but I don't like that" — "I like this, but I don't like that."

This is a comprehensive strategy designed to deal with this problem we're facing in Iraq, but also designed to deal with other problems that we face in the region and to restore America's standing and credibility in that part of the world.

So that's why we say in here it's important, these are interdependent recommendations we make. And we hope that, when people look at them and start thinking about implementing them, they'll think about implementing all of them and, certainly, at least as many as they can.

The package deal will come as a surprise to the congressman who first pushed for an independent commission for "fresh eyes on Iraq." Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., first called for a commission in September 2005 after a trip to Iraq.

On Washington Post radio this morning, Wolf said he thought the Baker group did "a very good job in a very realistic way." But in the interview done about an hour before Baker and Hamilton appeared in the Senate, he clearly did not expect to hear that the recommendations needed to be adopted in whole.

"They have not said, 'It's my way or the highway.' These are recommendations."

Wolf said he looks at the Baker commission as getting a second medical opinion.

"You would want to get the best opinions from everybody and then you meld them together and do what's in the best interest of you, and so we would hope that would be done by the administration in the best interest of the country."

In looking back at Wolf's original idea for the group, it seems the final report goes a step or two further than he envisioned. In a Washington Post op-ed in 2005, Wolf made it sound almost like he hoped the report would be used to bolster the Bush Iraq strategy.

The Bush administration needs to face the reality that a growing number of Americans are becoming skeptical of our efforts, partly because they do not have the benefit of seeing the entire picture. No one I talked to during my recent trip believes we will lose the war on the ground in Iraq; it's here at home that they are concerned about. One general told me point-blank that the "center of gravity" for our success in Iraq is the American public.


For the United States to stay the course in Iraq the public needs to fully appreciate the progress that has been made, be able to trust that those directing the war have made an honest assessment of what has gone right and what has gone wrong, and understand the potentially cataclysmic consequences of walking away from Iraq before the job is done.

Wolf spokesman Dan Scandling told me this afternoon that his boss is pleased with the work done by Baker. But he said Wolf sees it as part of a "continuing dialogue" and "a piece of a number of reviews being done."

This morning though, Baker and his co-chairman Lee Hamilton seemed almost touchy on the subject of anyone putting their own stamp on the recommendations.

Committee Chairman John Warner said Bush will have to look at the report as well as consider National Security Council input and an upcoming report from the Joint Chiefs of Staff:

Warner: And then he's got to synthesize this, make these decisions.

...

Hamilton: I do have some question about your word "synthesize." I think it's terribly important that we understand that you cannot solve the Iraqi problem in pieces. And so you have to approach it comprehensively.

If you think you can solve the problem of Iraq by manipulating the troop levels, I think you got it dead wrong. If you think you can solve the problem by economic reconstruction or political action, I think that's wrong, too.

What has to be done is that all of the tools of American power have to be integrated carefully here — political, economic, military, for sure — and to use those effectively.

In an April letter to Congress outlining what it hoped to accomplish, the commission did not spell out that it would make specific recommendations, or suggest that the report would be offered as something that needed to be adopted in its entirety to achieve success in Iraq:

We will assess the current situation in Iraq, and seek to develop insights and advice that might be of interest to the administration and Congress, and thereby beneficial to the country.

It was delivered today as much more of a manifesto.

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State Supreme Court says I-776 unconstitutional

Posted by David Postman at 9:05 AM

In an 8-1 decision the Supreme Court this morning upheld a King Pierce County Superior Court judge who ruled that Tim Eyman's Initiative 776 "impairs the contract between the bondholders and Sound Transit."

Justice Barbara Madsen, writing for the majority, said:

The crux of the intervenors' argument appears to be that the people, through initiative, have the right to repeal taxes, pledged as security for capital intensive projects such as highways and bridges, when they no longer want to pay such taxes. However, the contract clause of our state constitution guarantees that "No . . . law impairing the obligations of contracts shall ever be passed."

Madsen said if the court accepted Eyman's argument that voters have the right to repeal taxes even if the money were obligated to pay off bonds:

we would imperil the ability of state and local governments to finance essential public works projects such as elementary schools, fire stations, highways, and bridges, by casting considerable doubt on the reliability of pledged funding sources. We decline to do so.

Justice Richard Sanders was the lone dissenter. And he relies on a compelling legal source in a footnote:

In principle, I admire the Lochnerian rigor with which the majority defends the sanctity of contractual obligation. Lochner v. New York, 198 U.S.45, 25 S. Ct. 539, 49 L. Ed. 937 (1905). Unfortunately, its proposed remedy finds no support in the law. In contracts, as in love, "you can't always get what you want," but the law of remedies ensures "you get what you need."8

...

8 The Rolling Stones, You Can't Always Get What You Want, on Let It Bleed
(ABKCO 1969).

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December 4, 2006

Taking a few days off.

Posted by David Postman at 2:45 PM

I'll be away from the blog until Thursday. In the meantime, I leave you with a column by Pete Callaghan in the TNT.

Callaghan says the WASL is dead; killed by politicians.

When Gov. Chris Gregoire and state school superintendent Terry Bergeson announced a "temporary change" in the math graduation requirement, they were really just killing it.

Gregoire anticipated that obvious conclusion when she protested that her decision to let the Class of 2008 graduate without passing the math portion of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning is "not blinking."
She's right. Corpses don't blink.

What do you think? Dead? Ailing?

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GOP looks for a path back to power

Posted by David Postman at 9:29 AM

At Sound Politics today Eric Earling follows up on Matt Rosenberg's prescription for GOP renewal. (I linked earlier to Rosenberg here.)

For Earling it is about education and transportation. Those issues, he says, are the two "in need of clearer attention from GOP candidates hoping to reclaim a swath of lost legislative seats in the suburbs."

It's not news to anyone that education and transportation are important. But Earling focuses in on some important elements that hit close to the GOP's heart. On education, he says give up the push for vouchers and charters. On transportation, he says -- as he has said before -- just saying no to taxes won't do it.

Republicans, like Democrats, remain divided internally on the WASL, testing, and accountability. As such, one doesn't often hear a consistent theme from either party on the issue, other than the fact Democrats seem much more willing to talk about education in general. That needs to change.

The real challenge, however, is what to talk about with education. The concept of vouchers (or "opportunity scholarships") and charter schools has a lot of intellectual appeal to many conservatives, and rightly so. Yet, vouchers are rarely implemented outside of truly failing urban school districts, and charters seem a lost cause given the state populace's repeated rejection of the notion.

...

Many a Sound Politics reader objects to new taxes, especially on transportation, in part thanks to controversial projects like light rail, the monorail, and the tunnel v. viaduct debate. Those objections, however, does little to address the transportation solutions citizens of the Puget Sound area are increasingly demanding, and gives legislative candidates little footing on which to stand on the campaign trail. Just ask Luke Esser how consistently voting "no" on transportation improvements treated him on the campaign trail, at the same time his opponent was attacking him on the issue, and in a district that voted against I-912.

The key is Democrats generally stand for something on transportation, including recent road-heavy, gas tax increases. What's the Republican plan for transportation?

The last time state Republicans were so marginalized was 1993 and '94. They came roaring back in the '94 election largely on a national wave and the record of an overreaching Democratic legislative majority.

But other than waiting for Democrats to blow it, what should Republicans in the Legislature do the next two years? Are there positive things they can do to provide an alternative voice to the Democratic machine? Can they do anything meaningful in the way of blocking the Demo agenda, or trying to curtail Gov. Chris Gregoire's plans as she ramps up her re-election?

I'd like to hear if anyone has any serious suggestion. Whether friend or foe, what would you tell the GOP to do?

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December 1, 2006

The return of Mark Wilson

Posted by David Postman at 4:44 PM

The elusive Mark Wilson has re-emerged. I haven't been able to talk to him since July 8, the day Maria Cantwell announced Wilson was giving up his run for U.S. Senate and to her campaign. The campaign consistently said Wilson was not available to talk to the press and he didn't return telephone calls. At least not mine.

"My laryngitis is better," he joked yesterday. Good thing, because tomorrow night at 7 he'll be doing a fill-in talk slot at 710 KIRO. He'll be filling in for Frank Shiers until 10 p.m.

Talk radio is one of the things he'd like to do now that the campaign is over, as well has his $8,000-a-month job with Cantwell. We didn't get a chance for an in-depth talk about his experience, but Wilson told me he learned a lot working inside Cantwell's campaign that he never would have been exposed to in his own shoestring operation.

"Backslaps and cheers just don't cut it. I didn't raise enough money to run for city council. I believe I raised some serious issues and ... she is certainly much more aware and engaged than I thought she was, frankly. I think she is wickedly smart."

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FCC hearing on media consolidation

Posted by David Postman at 9:50 AM

Two Democratic members of the FCC held an unofficial hearing in Seattle yesterday on federal media ownership rules. As Eric Pryne reports in this morning's paper:

While the agency has proposed no changes yet, many of the 400 people at Thursday night's forum at the Seattle Public Library feared the commission's Republican majority eventually will adopt something similar to revisions it approved in 2003.

A federal appeals-court panel later blocked those changes. Among other things, they would have relaxed limits on how many TV stations a company can own in one market, and repealed a 1975 rule that prohibits a company from owning broadcast outlets and a daily newspaper in the same city.

Pryne also had a backround piece in Thursday's paper.

The Times co-sponsored the event with Reclaim the Media , KBCS 91.3fm Community Radio, the Minority Executive Directors Coalition and the UW Department of Communication.

The involvement of the Times and the testimony of Times Publisher Frank Blethen bugged some of the liberals who attended the hearing and wrote about it today. David Goldstein reluctantly says he and Blethen agree on media consolidation. It's not a comfortable place for Goldstein or others to be, given that the publisher they love to bash is on their side this time and the owners of the P-I, as well as the owners of TV stations KING, KIRO and KCPQ, are pushing the FCC to relax limits on how many TV stations a company can own.

The most interesting take on the hearing comes from Geov Parrish, writing at horsesass.org. He watched the hearings and saw it as a "microcosm of a larger problem. Progressives have been out of power so routinely that when we do have power, far too often we have no idea how to use it."

Despite the turnout, and the overwhelming opposition to media deregulation by the crowd, progressives reading themselves into the public record did themselves few favors last night. The two most compelling speakers on the night, IMO, were John Carlson (KVI talk show host and the night's sole self-identified Republican), who made the conservative case for regulating media ownership, and UW President Mark Emmert, who made an educator's pitch for media diversity as necessary for fostering critical thinking skills in a democracy. In a sea of progressives, the standout critics were a conservative talk show host and (essentially) the CEO of one of the region's biggest employers.

Granted, Carlson and Emmert are both polished public speakers, and both are familiar with how to couch arguments that make sense to lawmakers and regulators. But that's just the point: with few exceptions, the several dozen mostly left-leaning public speakers that followed in testimony weren't. Many were lost in a sea of abstract theory; a number made the repetitive case that concentrated media ownership is bad — completely true, but also tangential and in important ways irrelevant to the proceeding, since that question was settled (for the FCC's purposes) by Congress with the abysmal Telecommunications Act of 1996.

Blogger Fernsehturm wrote from the hearing, and about trying to decide what he wanted to tell the FCC:

I think I'm going to talk about media ownership. In particular, I'm going to mention the fact that there is only one full-time broadcast journalist from the Seattle media market in Olympia. That journalist being KUOW's Austin Jenkins. That seems a bit wrong. Maybe I'm just a simple public affairs student who thinks that what happens at the state government level is worth more than just one full-time reporter. Where's my local government coverage? I love Austin but he can't do it himself.

Andrew at the Northwest Progressive Institute live-blogged the hearing. You can read all this posts here. He was more impressed with the progressives' showing than Parrish was.

It was a packed hearing and I don't remember hearing a citizen who did not speak out against media consolidation and concentration. It is clear that what corporate executives want is not what the public wants.

In his review, Andrew also says:

Commissioner Adelstein was just as fabulous. Among one of his best lines: "Today, if Elvis Presley was playing, he'd probably throw down his guitar in disgust because he couldn't get on the radio." He also noted that "local newscasts are dominated by sensationalism....if it bleeds, it leads."

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