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September 28, 2007

McDermott appeals leak case to Supreme Court

Posted by David Postman at 4:01 PM

Rep. Jim McDermott wants the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a lower court ruling that said the Seattle congressman violated federal law when he leaked a tape-recorded telephone call to reporters. McDermott's lawyers filed papers with the court asking it to review the ruling by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boehner v. McDermott.

The Writ of Certiorari focuses on two main arguments: McDermott says the Circuit Court erred in applying the federal wiretapping statute to punish a "disclosure of truthful information on a matter of public concern," and whether the court violated the separation of powers by punishing a member of Congress for violation of a House rule. The petition says:

"In particular, by concluding that Rep. McDermott violated a nondisclosure duty under the House Ethics Committee Rules, and attaching adverse collateral consequences to that conclusion, the D.C. Circuit violated the fundamental separation of powers that underlies our entire constitutional structure. It has long been established that Congress' power to make and enforce its own rules is 'absolute and beyond the challenge of any other body or tribunal.'

...

"These are precisely the dangers that led the Framers to include the Rulemaking Clause in the Constitution. It is hard to overstate the D.C. Circuit majority's affront to the separation of powers."

The case has stretched over 10 years. It began when McDermott gave reporters copy of a tape of an intercepted cell phone conversation among House Republican leaders, including Rep. John Boehner who subsequently sued McDermott.

McDermott is relying, in part, on what he hopes is uncertainty in the Circuit Court's ruling due to its split decision. When that decision came down May 1, law professor and blogger Jonathan Adler wrote:

The line-up of today's decision is quite interesting. The court effectively split 4-1-4. Judge Randolph wrote the majority opinion, holding that McDermott's disclosure of the tape was not protected by the First Amendment and violated House Ethics rules. He was joined by Chief Judge Ginsburg and Judges Henderson and Brown. Judge Sentelle wrote the dissent, arguing that McDermott's disclosure of the tape was fully protected by the First Amendment. His dissent was joined in full by Judges Garland, Rogers, and Tatel. Judge Griffith split the difference, joining the first part of Sentelle's dissent, but ultimately joining the majority.

Adler wrote at the time that he doubted the Supreme Court would take the case on appeal.

Wes Clark on backing Clinton, opposing Limbaugh

Posted by David Postman at 1:20 PM

I spoke on the telephone this morning with retired Gen. Wesley Clark. We were set to talk about his new book, A Time to Lead: For Duty, Honor and Country, an upcoming Seattle appearance, the presidential campaign and his pending endorsement of Darcy Burner for Congress.

But first we talked about Rush Limbaugh. Shortly before the general called form Europe his political action committee, WesPac, sent an e-mail to supporters criticizing Limbaugh for comments he made labeling Iraq veterans against the war "phony soldiers." Supporters are urged to e-mail Limbaugh and urge him to invite a veteran against the war on to his show. Clark told me:

"I think it's an outrage that he would call soldiers who had served in Iraq, who had served honorably, phony. ... I think he certainly shows the partisan character of his definition of patriotism."

(I think some Democrats and liberal groups are hoping Limbaugh's comments will be the GOP version of the MoveOn "Betray Us" ad.)

Clark is perhaps the best-known of retired generals in the Democratic camp. He ran for president in 2004. And he thought about it again this time. He said he decided against it because "my pre-conditions weren't met." What were those? "I haven't said. That's private," he said.

Clark writes in new book about how he felt pulled to run for president by what he saw as the Bush administration's lack of reasoning behind the invasion of Iraq. Publisher's Weekly calls it part "memoir, patriotic tract and broadside about contemporary American politics."

"I think the United States can weather difficulties with its relations with other nations imposed by the Bush administration," he said. The rest of the world is "waiting for the next election" in the hope that there will be a "larger view of foreign policy in America than simply hunting down individual terrorists."

The 2008 election, he said will determine if that change will come.

"This isolation we feel right now as a nation, it is reversible with the right leadership and the right policies. But not every candidate will have the right policies."

And that brought us to Hillary Clinton. Clark endorsed Clinton for president recently. Clark served as NATO commander during Bill Clinton's administration. The endorsement may have been a bit of a surprise to some given that, as The New York Times wrote, "General Clark ran as a credible critic of the war in 2004, and he remains a popular figure in the anti-Iraq war movement, serving on the board of advisers of the VoteVets group."

Clark knows that "some Democrats are looking for a different kind of response" to Iraq than what Clinton has offered so far. But he said those people need to "think about not just the past, but the future." By that he means that voters shouldn't get hung up on Clinton's earlier support for the war or her slow moves calling for withdrawal. Clark is confident that Clinton will not only get the United States out of the war, but do it in the right way.

"She's the most experienced of the candidates. She's traveled widely. She's seen the United States in peace and war. She has been inside the White House during tough decision-making."

Clark will be at Third Place Books in Bothell Tuesday at 7 p.m.

He will also endorse Burner while in the area. He said he's doesn't know her, but "she has a great record."

Burner has a non-answer on MoveOn ad

Posted by David Postman at 9:03 AM

I've been largely uninterested in the "debate" over MoveOn.org's ad attacking Gen. David Petraeus. But, though I'm late to the game, I was surprised to see that congressional candidate Darcy Burner isn't answering when asked how she would have voted if asked to condemn the ad.

At the Stranger, Josh Feit tried to get an answer from Burner spokesman Sandeep Kaushik. After a response that Feit found lacking,

I asked again: How would Burner have voted?

Kaushik said: "Darcy has a lot of respect for General Petraeus and the difficult job he's trying to do. And she's not a fan of name-calling on either side."

Not an answer. So I asked if I could ask Burner directly. Kaushik said Burner is out of town and "I think we'll just leave it at that."

I don't see the value in asking every member of Congress or every candidate what they think about the newspaper ad. But Burner is clearly a netroots favorite and her most vocal supporters are the very people who have been the most strident in defending the ad. But if those folks don't feel the need for an answer — and I haven't heard that they do — Burner has little to lose in dodging the question.

FEC chair says money connects people to politics

Posted by David Postman at 8:07 AM

The chairman of the Federal Election Commission says a recent Supreme Court decision, a competitive presidential race and Internet fundraising means 2008 will "be without a doubt the most expensive election in our history."

Robert Lenhard was in Seattle this week for an FEC regional conference. In an interview earlier this week I asked him what he thought was going to be the big issue for the FEC in 2008.

"It's probably the volume of money raised and spent in this cycle."

Some of the increased spending is by design. The McCain-Feingold campaign finance law indexed donation limits for inflation. Then in June of this year, the Supreme Court ruled that the FEC has improperly interpreted the law to enforce blackout periods before primary and general elections in which unions and corporations are prohibited from spending money to target specific candidates. Lenhard said:

"That is going to open the door to even more spending."

He said that is particularly true given the crowded, early presidential primary season next year. There are so many primaries bunched together that candidates will not have the money to saturate time slots available for TV commercials.

"The opportunity for outside groups to come in and spend in that time period is going to be very real."

Lenhard, a Democratic appointee, has a union background. Prior to his appointment to the FEC he was an associate general counsel with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. He had earlier worked for the United Mine Workers of America and the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union. He was appointed to the commission in January 2006. But it was a recess appointment and he has yet to be confirmed. The confirmation is now hung up because of a controversial Republican appointment.

The general political climate of the country is also likely to push campaign spending up next year. As Lenhard said, "power is pretty evenly divided."

"I think there are a number of issues right now that make people think it really matters who wins or loses next fall."

While the FEC regulates spending, and argued for that stricter reading of McCain-Feingold, Lenhard says money flowing into campaigns is not just a sign of the increasing cost of politics.

"It's a reflection that people think politics matters. ... And contributions are a proxy for how engaged citizens are and how important they think politics are."

Lenhard is also heartened by the burgeoning use of the Internet for fundraising. It is an inexpensive way for a candidate to raise money, and allows people to feel involved with politics by making even small donations.

"There's no doubt that one of the great problems that we have in politics today is the distance or disconnectedness people feel about politics — that politics is something not that they participate in, but that happens to them. I think everything that helps erode or breaks down that sense is positive. Money is one way they can show that."
September 26, 2007

Rossi decides against severance package

Posted by David Postman at 4:23 PM

Forward Washington is about to put out a statement from executive director Ted Dahlstrom saying that Dino Rossi asked today to change his severance agreement with the non-profit. Dahlstrom told me that the original plan to pay Rossi a lump sum equal to what he would have earned through the end of next month was being misrepresented in the media as Rossi's attempt to stay on the payroll, though say he had resigned.

Dahlstrom said that Rossi told him this morning he wants to avoid even the appearance of that, so has asked that he only be paid what he would have earned through the end of this month.

Here's what Dahlstrom's statement says:

The purpose for Dino Rossi resigning as president of the Forward Washington Foundation was to protect the Foundation. The Foundation's fundraising has suffered since the baseless PDC complaint was filed by the Governor's political agents. I had asked Dino to help the Foundation with its transition to a new president. It was only fair that since he would continue to help us that we pay him a severance package. Now I have seen media reports that equate the severance package to him still being an employee of the Foundation through October. That is not our intent. Dino told me this morning that he wants to avoid even the appearance that he is still employed by the Foundation in order to prevent us from being the target of even more political attacks. With that, I have reluctantly agreed that his severance package will reflect the amount of compensation as if he worked through the end of September only.

The statement talks about "media reports" that could be used to fuel political attacks, but stops short of saying that was the media's intention. Rossi, though, has been pointed in his criticism of the media in other forums. In a speech earlier this month, he said in Pierce County:

"The media is a nay-sayer when it comes to Republicans. And they try to pound you into the ground and pound you into the ground. And they're, you know, they're willing accomplices of the Democrats. That's true. And they pound you into the ground with, you know, with what the future can be."

My skepticism on the slippery slope to cynicism

Posted by David Postman at 1:50 PM

Incumbent Gov. Christine Gregoire has nearly $3 million in her re-election account but says she's not a candidate. She won't announce, she says, because that would politicize her work with the 2008 Legislature.

Doesn't the $3 million politicize it? What about the recent fundraising pitch that says "The Republican party's opposition to children's health care is shameful and represents the fundamental difference in values that our next election will be fought over"? Is there a Republican member of the Legislature who will be more willing to work with Gregoire next year because she has not spoken the words, "I am a candidate for re-election"? (Never mind of course that her fundraising letter talks about "my campaign for re-election." Those letters don't go to Republicans, so they'll never know.)

Meanwhile, Republican Dino Rossi has resigned as president of his non-profit but is taking a lump sum payment as severance that will give him what he would earn through the end of October. That's just about the time he says he'll decide whether or not to run.

Why resign, announce it two weeks later, then take a payment that will fund his efforts almost until the day he's expected to make a decision about the governor's race? Rossi's speeches on behalf of Forward Washington sound a lot like his campaign speeches of 2004. But Rossi says he never asks people to vote for him or donate to his campaign, so he's not a candidate. I'm not convinced Rossi will run. But I don't see how his relationship with Forward Washington has changed in a meaningful way.

These are word games. You can debate about whether these examples are equal, and I know you will. But the fact is, both putative candidates would be better served by acknowledging reality.

How come I didn't get my socialist talking points?

Posted by David Postman at 11:43 AM

Dino Rossi says he didn't accuse Gov. Christine Gregoire of socialist leanings as reported on the Web site of a Pierce County Republican club. He says he only called her health-care plan socialized medicine. But socialism is apparently a bigger threat than I realized.

Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, sent a fundraising solicitation this month warning people about the power amassed by the "socialist Democrats" that control the Senate. He worries that Democrats could soon have dictatorial power. If they pick up one more seat next year it would give them a two-thirds majority. Benton writes:

Why is this such a big problem?

Because

  • It takes a two-thirds majority vote to cut off debate in the Senate.
  • It takes a two-thirds vote to change the state Constitution.
  • It takes a two-thirds vote to impeach fellow members of the Senate.
  • It takes a two-thirds vote to suspend the rules of the Senate.

It is not true that the Constitution can be changed by the Legislature. A two-thirds vote is required of the Legislature to place any proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot, where only the voters can decide to change the Constitution. But such detail does not calm Benton's fears:

We are approaching a dangerous situation in the Senate where the Democrats can silence our conservative voices, change the Constitution and actually expel our members!

He says, "I am the Democrats number one target next year" because he says he is a "huge threat to the Democrat leadership." Why? Because he's the most vocal tax opponent in the Legislature, one "of the most articulate members of the Republican Senate in press relations," and the only Republican in the Senate "that knows how use the Senate Rules and Parliamentary Procedure to slow things down and amend bad pieces of legislation."

He is, he says, "the biggest problem standing in the way of the socialist agenda in Washington state."

Note: If you get any fundraising solicitations of interest, send them my way.

September 25, 2007

Rossi testing the water, but says he's no candidate

Posted by David Postman at 8:07 PM

Dino Rossi insisted again tonight that his work with the Forward Washington Foundation was unconnected to any potential gubernatorial campaign he may launch later this year. But Rossi said that he has been assessing how much support there is for a second run for governor.

"I am assessing whether it makes sense for the family, but also assessing the depth of the support out there. I'm not going to dive off the diving board unless there is water in the pool. Who would? But I'm not a candidate now."

(Rossi had a clarification of something I wrote in an earlier post. The executive director of Forward Washington told me that Rossi would continue to draw a salary from the non-profit through the end of next month. But Rossi said that he will be receiving a severance package that will pay him a lump sum equal to what he would have earned through the end of next month, but he will not be drawing a salary.)

Rossi says that there should never have been an investigation of Forward Washington because he has followed the Public Disclosure Commission rules that say the non-profit can operate as long as it does not support or oppose a candidate or a ballot measure. I asked him, though, if traveling the state to assess the depth of support for a campaign could raise legitimate questions about whether Forward Washington was in fact boosting his potential candidacy. It seems testing the waters is what a potential candidate does with an exploratory committee, not a non-profit foundation.

But he says there is a vast difference between what he's been doing and what would constitute campaigning. He may ask people how much support there is for a Rossi campaign. But, he said, "That's not even close to being a candidate."

"You haven't accepted a dollar. You haven't told people you're running. You're just seeing if it makes sense."

Is that a campaign function?

"No, it's actually a rationale process to see if it makes sense to do. A campaign function is when you stand up and say, 'I am a candidate. I'd like you to vote for me, and by the way, we need funds for me to run.' And anything other than is not a candidate."

Rossi resigned as president of Forward Washington, he said, the afternoon of Sept. 11. That night, he gave a speech to a group of Pierce County Republicans. A report of the event on the Web site of the 28th District Republican Club says that Rossi delved into a strong criticism of Gov. Christine Gregoire and her administration. (If you read the report, Rossi said most of it seemed accurate, except the part where it is reported that he said the press wasn't reporting on the governor "because they are aligned with Gregoire's socialist, government control style of governance." He said he called her health-care plan a "back door to socialized medicine," but did not call her programs socialist.)

But those strong words do not a candidate make, he said.

"I had resigned that day and I was there that night as a private citizen. ... I can say what I want as a private citizen. You've been critical of her. Are you a candidate? Are you going to file with the PDC? Someone doesn't lose their First Amendment right just because they ran for office. You guys aren't the only ones who have First Amendment rights."

Rossi quits non-profit to avoid being a distraction

Posted by David Postman at 5:32 PM

Ted Dahlstrom, executive director of Forward Washington, says founder, president and likely gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi resigned as the group's president two weeks ago because he was attracting negative attention to the group. Forward Washington is under investigation by the Public Disclosure Commission to see if it is — as Democrats alleged in a complaint — a front for a Rossi gubernatorial campaign.

I can't reach Rossi this evening. But Dahlstrom told me:

"He felt that this was becoming burdensome on the foundation — that we were not able to do what we wanted to do because we were being investigated. There was a lot of stuff that came with him being president. He wanted to step aside for the future success of the foundation, so it could live beyond him, which was always his intention.

...

"We're a non-partisan foundation here and he thought this attention he was attracting wouldn't be good for the future of the foundation so he wanted to step away."

But Rossi is still collecting a paycheck from the group. He has been earning $75,000 a year as president. Dahlstrom said Rossi will continue to be paid through the end of October as he completes speaking engagements he agreed to while president of Forward Washington.

That will allow him to continue to travel the state while financed by unknown sources. That's the basis of the Democrats' complaint.

The continuing salary from Forward Washington may support Rossi almost until he makes a decision about the governor's race. That announcement is expected before the year is out. (In fact, Rossi just told Ralph Thomas that he will spend about the next six weeks considering his options before making a decision about the race, or a bit past his Forward Washington salary ends.)

At his blog, Rich Roesler, who broke this news this afternoon, quotes an e-mail from Dahlstrom to Forward Washington supporters that blames the Democrats' complaint for putting a crimp on fundraising.

The "baseless" complaint by "the governor's political agents," he wrote, had hurt the foundation's fundraising

Dahlstrom just forwarded a copy of the e-mail. It says, in part:

"The Governor's political agents filed a baseless complaint with the Public Disclosure Foundation (PDC) against our non-partisan Foundation. It is baseless because we were informed, in writing, by the PDC that as long as the Foundation did not expend funds to lobby or influence elections we would not be subject to PDC regulation — and we have never engaged in those activities," said Dahlstrom. "But the complaint has hurt our fundraising and would have made it impossible for the Foundation to focus on its mission successfully if Dino had remained as President. They may have achieved their goal of hurting the Foundation — but they will not stop us."

Dahlstrom told me that the PDC has been conducting interviews about Forward Washignton but he does not know when the investigation will be complete. I wondered if Rossi's resignation was at all an attempt to end the investigation and remove the question of his candidacy. Dahlstrom said absolutely not, that the two things are not connected.

State Democratic Party spokesman Kelly Steele said that Rossi "has spent months illegally campaigning with his sleazy front group, and now he's blaming others because he got caught."


Rossi resigns post with his non-profit

Posted by David Postman at 5:14 PM

At his Spokesman-Review blog, Rich Roesler is reporting that Dino Rossi stepped down two weeks ago and has been replaced by former Sen. Dan McDonald, who had served on the board of Forward Washington. He has this statement from Rossi:

"I understand that people are going to read whatever they so choose into this announcement, but the fact remains that I have not decided nor declared that I will be a candidate for governor in 2008. My wife and I will assess if my running for governor is right for us and our four children, and for the next month or so I will also be assessing the depth of support among people throughout the state. When both those factors are resolved, I will make a decision and an announcement, one way or the other."

Rep. Larsen sees no progress in Iraq during visit

Posted by David Postman at 2:39 PM

Congressman Rick Larsen, D-Lake Stevens, said on returning from a trip to Iraq and Afghanistan that he saw nothing to change his support for an "unconditional partial withdrawal" of U.S. troops from Iraq. He told reporters today what he said earlier in the month after hearing testimony from Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker:

"The key to ending sectarian violence in Iraq is political reconciliation. Nothing I saw on my trip changes my assessment of that fundamental fact."

Larsen does want to increase funding for a new rocket defense system being used on U.S. bases in Iraq. He was briefed on the system during a visit to a major U.S. base north of Iraq.

It's been nine months since Larsen, a member of the Armed Services Committee, called for most U.S. troops to leave Iraq. He said the U.S. should train Iraqi forces, leave some trainers and special operations forces behind, provide border security, and immediately withdraw other troops. Again, he said today, he saw nothing on his trip to the war zone to change his mind.

Larsen today renewed his call for the U.S. to loosen visa policies to allow some Iraqi refugees into the United States. He said that "a lot of people talk about a moral obligation to Iraq" — and that includes fellow Washington Democrat Brian Baird — that means the United State needs to stay and fight. But Larsen said the moral obligation is to help nearly 1.5 million Iraqi refugees return to their country, help another 2 million now displaced from their homes but still in Iraq and welcome others into the United States.

Larsen was asked about Baird's reversal on Iraq when the Southwest Washington congressman came back to say "a precipitous or premature withdrawal of our forces now has the potential to turn the initial errors into an even greater problem." Larsen said Baird created a false proposition "because nobody I know has argued for what I'd call a precipitous withdrawal."

While Larsen is focused on the need for political reconciliation within Iraq's warring factions, he wasn't interested in meeting with political leaders on the trip.

"I was not all that interested in meeting with presidents or prime ministers or parliamentarians. I frankly don't need to hear them tell me how much progress they are making because I've heard it all before. And I've seen no evidence of it and I really don't need to hear It again."

He said the congressional delegation was not allowed into the streets of Baghdad and he had no interest in visiting the city's marketplace, a stop on many trips by U.S. officials. (CLARIFICATION: Larsen said they were able to drive through the streets in an armored vehicle while wearing armored vests. They were not able to travel on foot.)

"I'm not interested in shopping in Baghdad, so I don't need to got to a market," he said. He also did not want to tie up the number of security forces that would have been needed to protect the delegation in the market.

Larsen was part of a six-member, bipartisan, delegation on the trip. His first stop was the massive airbase at Balad, 50 miles north of Baghdad. He had several briefings, including from special operations, an F-16 squadron and personnel involved in the military's new Counter-Rocket Artillery, Mortar, or C-RAM.

The Army wants to expand the use of C-RAM and Larsen said Congress will have to soon to decide whether to approve money for that. He said from what he saw, it seems like a worthy program. The Air Force Times reported in January:

The U.S. Army has seen rocket and mortar casualty rates drop "to nearly zero" where its Counter-Rocket, Artillery, Mortar Program system has been deployed, said the manufacturer, and now the service plans to buy more.

Northrop Grumman's Tactical Systems Division received a $78 million follow-on contract Jan. 16 to continue systems engineering, integration and installation for the C-RAM program. Deployed last year in Iraq and elsewhere, the system uses sensors and radar to spot and track incoming mortar rounds and rockets. It warns U.S. and coalition troops about the incoming rounds and provides data to defensive weapons that can take shots at the enemy fire. The announcement was made at a press conference sponsored by the Los Angeles-based defense contractor.

In March, Lt. Gen. Kevin Campbell, commander of the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command, told a House committee that a significant danger "is posed by insurgents employing indirect-fire tactics of quick-attack, low-trajectory, urban-terrain-masked rocket, artillery, and mortar strikes against U.S. forward operating bases in Iraq."

He said that so far, the weapons have been paid for through supplemental appropriations, but that the Army was eager to have more:

This capability provides timely warning of mortar attacks, intercept and defeat of incoming rounds, and accurate location of insurgent mortar crews, enabling a rapid, lethal response.

Giuliani headed here this week

Posted by David Postman at 2:11 PM

Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani is tentatively scheduled to appear in the Seattle area Saturday. His schedule shows a western campaign swing with yet-to-be announced details of visits in Portland and Seattle.

Pollster Zogby's laughs off Fred Thompson's chances

Posted by David Postman at 10:03 AM

Pollster John Zogby went through his quick take on the leading presidential candidates during his talk last week at the Association of Washington Business conference. I wasn't able to post on it at the time, but I was particularly struck by his dismissal of Fred Thompson as a serious contender for the GOP nomination. As he made his way though the pros and cons of each candidate, Zogby said:

Fred Thompson. This will not take long. I don't see it. I don't see it, I've never seen it. He's finally announced. He's received a bounce in the polls.

Pros: He has an impressive resume. He comes from a good state. He's very tall. You'll recall that John Kerry was very tall as well. He also has some leading Bush consultants working for him.

Cons: You know, I love it when these guys go out there and compare themselves to Ronald Reagan. ... Don't even bother comparing yourself. Ronald Reagan alive was not even Ronald Reagan today. ... You lose in comparison. Don't go down that road unless you can really match the real thing. And Fred Thompson is not the real thing.

I'm sorry if there any Thompson buttons out there. It is a very dull campaign speech. He has given little reason for running. He wants a small government. Yeah. Who's the big government candidate in the primaries? You know? He's fallen short on fundraising. Watch for the Freddie Fizzle.

Let me just tell you on a very personal note. If he should go places in this campaign, I want his job on Law and Order because for 12 seconds a week I get to open a door and say: 'I think you're going to have to find more evidence Jack. That's how the system works.'



It was not a bad imitation of Thompson as Arthur Branch.

Now, if Fred Thompson is elected president, this was only for entertainment purposes.

Fitzsimmons says he was ready to leave

Posted by David Postman at 9:15 AM

When Tom Fitzsimmons announced to the governor's cabinet that he was resigning as chief of staff, he said it was "not my first choice." But that doesn't mean he was pushed out. Rather, Fitzsimmons says, he was torn about whether to stay longer or step down now and allow an "opportunity for some reshuffling" as Gov. Christine Gregoire gets ready to run for re-election. Fitzsimmons and I spoke this morning. He told me:

"I've struggled with this issue of loyalty to this group, loyalty to the governor, loyalty to the cabinet. I said, 'It's not my first choice' because in my heart I'd really like to stay. But practically speaking, it's just time for me to go. These things aren't easy to go through. They can be messy. The governor is as torn as I am."

Fitzsimmons said he and the governor had a series of conversations through the summer about his role in the office.

"We had this back and forth conversation and essentially I think I tipped the scale by saying I really need to do something different. Of course it gives her an opportunity to adjust and bring in some renewed energy. But I think I'm the one who tipped the scale."

Fitzsimmons said his departure will allow the governor to do some "reshuffling, prioritization of her time and focus and gathering a different kind of skill set around her. That's all part of it."

Fitzsimmons will be replaced by Cindy Zehnder, president of TVW. Monday, he was meeting with Zehnder during the governor's press conference where reporters were asking about Fitzsimmons' departure. Fitzsimmons said he and his successor watched the press conference live on TVW.

Fitzsimmons stayed in the job far longer than expected. He served two years as chief of staff under former Gov. Gary Locke. Gregoire kept him on for what was supposed to be a six-month transition — a transition that was among the most unusual in state history as Gregoire's election was challenged in court.

"I was only here supposedly for a short-term, to help her figure out the office a little bit. And it wasn't too long before time went by and she said, 'Would you stay. I really like what you're doing.' And I told her at that point I didn't think I could stay the whole four years."

He describes himself as a behind-the-scenes type who stayed away from the limelight. That, he said, led some people "to oppose me." But he leaves with one of the longest tenures of any chief of staff. And he's likely the only one to serve with two governors. He leaves satisfied with his accomplishments.

"I've done a lot. I am the cornerstone of a lot of her achievements and I am very proud of that."
September 24, 2007

Gregoire and Reichert on same side in insurance fight?

Posted by David Postman at 3:42 PM

Gov. Christine Gregoire said she's getting ready to sue the federal government "if federal authorities insist on new limits that could prevent Washington's planned expansion" of a children's health care program.

She also said she is lobbying the state's congressional delegation to back a renewal and expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program that is set to expire at midnight Sunday. Democrats in Congress want to boost the program by $35 billion over five years. President Bush, who supports a $5 billion increase, has said he'll veto the greater expansion.

Gregoire wants to see the Senate's version become law, saying it's better for Washington state than what the House passed last month. At issue is the state's program that pays for children's health insurance, even if their families are not as poor as required under the federal program. The Senate version would do more for relieving some of those costs now paid by state taxpayers.

The Senate version also is relies on tobacco taxes more than the House Democrats' plan, which would have also cut funding for Medicare Advantage to pay for expanding the children's program. Medicare Advantage, a GOP favorite, provides senior citizens with private health insurance.

"We are working hard with our delegation to move the Senate version forward," Gregoire said.

That means the Democratic governor backs the plan that Congressman Dave Reichert does, though when he said it, he was accused of siding with tobacco lobbyists. When the House voted on expanding children's health care last month, Democrats in the delegation voted yes and Republicans voted no. Reichert said he supported the expansion, but not if it meant cuts to Medicare. He wanted to see tobacco taxes raised more, and preferred the Senate's proposed "fix" for Washington state's particular funding problems. He backed an amendment -- never considered in the House -- that would have adopted the Senate version.

Reichert's vote was immediately attacked by the state Democratic party and its supporters. The SEIU's health-care union produced a recorded telephone call from a health-care worker that went out to voters in the 8th Congressional District. The call said:

I'm a care-giver at a local nursing home in Enumclaw caring for the elderly. I am calling because last week our congressman, Dave Reichert, voted against legislation to strengthen Medicare for seniors and improve access to health care for children in our community. He sided with the tobacco companies and special interests and lobbyists against our children and seniors.

I asked the union's spokesman, Adam Glickman, how Reichert's statement that he wanted to raise tobacco taxes even higher could be seen as siding with the tobacco industry. Glickman told me by e-mail:

As you know as well as I do, politicians play lots of games with procedural votes, amendments, and "versions" to make it seem like they support something. But when push came to shove, and a bill came the floor with a vote that mattered, on one side was nurses and doctors and AARP and children's advocates saying vote YES, and President Bush and the tobacco industry saying vote NO. Congressman Reichert sided with President Bush and the tobacco industry and voted NO.

It is true that in Congress, as in the Legislature, lawmakers don't always get to vote on a perfect version of a bill. But it was also clear to anyone watching this issue closely that the debate was far from over. Reichert is now lined up with Gregoire and senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray. If the Senate version -- or more likely something similar to that -- is what the House votes on later this week there are two big questions: Will Reichert support the major expansion, and if he does, will SEIU and other critics drop what will seem like a weak attack that he was doing the bidding of Bush and the tobacco lobbyists?

Gov talks, a bit, about staff changes, re- election plan

Posted by David Postman at 11:42 AM

Gov. Christine Gregoire sparred with reporters at her weekly media availability this morning over questions about recent top-level staff changes and her plans for a re-election campaign.

She also announced that she was having a lawsuit drafted to sue the federal government if President Bush follows through with his plans for cuts in a children's health care program. (More on that later.)

This was the first chance to ask Gregoire directly about last week's news that Chief of Staff Tom Fitzsimmons and Communications Director Holly Armstrong left on their own accord, or were asked to resign as part of a planned shake up.

PoP: Are these changes due to your decision to make changes at the top?

Gregoire: You know, I've seen all this speculation which I think is very interesting. But the fact of the matter is, in the case of Tom, for example, I think Tom may be one of longest, if not the longest-serving chief of staff. I think he's probably the only one who served two governors.

Fact of the matter is, it is a difficult job. It's not a job that is 8 to 5 five days a week. It's a job that is 24/7, 7 days a week. And he and his family deserve the opportunity to look at something else.

PoP: But did you give them that opportunity, or did he decide to take that opportunity? Was it your decision that it was time to make a change, or was it Tom's decision?

Gregoire: These folks want a change in their lives and I respect that. For Holly, as she expressed to me — and she's in the room so you can ask her yourself — she came here, really didn't know anybody, and has worked very hard and wants the opportunity to join family and friends. ...

I think we ought to, one, thank, and two, respect these people for having given so much of their lives to public service with, candidly, insufficient financial remuneration. But you know, they did it because they love to serve. And so I'm most appreciative and I thank them for their willingness to do so.

Dave Ammons, AP: So neither departure was your idea?

Gregoire: These folks want a change and I respect that, totally.

Ammons: OK I gave you a third opportunity.

PoP: It still doesn't sound like you're answering that question directly.

Gregoire: I've answered, and asked it. They want to leave. I respect that. They're free to go.

...

Jerry Cornfield, The Herald: Are you going to run? Are you going to ask the voters for a second term?

Gregoire: I'm not announcing.

Cornfield: Is there a reason, personal, political, professional, that you can't say publicly today you're running, despite having raised nearly $3 million for a campaign?

Gregoire: Because I'm focused on being governor and I think it's important that I stay focused on being governor. And I want to get through the next legislative session working across the aisle. For three sessions, we've had the tremendous success that we have by working across the aisle, and I want to maintain that ability. This weekend alone I wrote two letters to two members of the House Republican Caucus in which I said, 'I really want to work with you on what, if anything, more we should do to lead this country in regard to community safety in the area of sex predators.'

I don't want to turn it into politics. I don't want to demean the important public policy issues by politics. I want to maintain my relationship with them. They can take off their hats, take off the gloves, once sine die is over. But in the meantime, I want to stay focused on being governor and delivering to the people.

PoP: But does the announcement itself change that? Because, as pointed out, you have raised a lot of money at campaign events. There's no question those are for your campaign.

Gregoire: Right.

PoP: So, do you think that Republican members of the Legislature treat you differently because the formal announcement hasn't been made, even though the money is there? You believe that?

Gregoire: I do. I do, because then everybody will say it's all about politics. ...They've come to know me. Most of them, frankly, didn't know me as well as they do now and I think they've come to know that I am a person who will absolutely work across the aisle. There is clear indication of that. And I want them to know I am fully committed to make that happen in the next legislative session. And I'm not going to do stuff because it's a campaign or politics are involved. I want to maintain that this is about public policy and serving the people. And I'll ask them, just like I have three times before, 'Take your partisan hats off, let's work for the people, let's solve the problems, when sine die is over, put your partisan hat back on and go on out.'

PoP: Do you think Dino Rossi is running for governor?

Gregoire: Absolutely.

PoP: Why is he, and not you? He hasn't announced.

Gregoire: You'll have to ask him.

PoP: No, but he has not announced.

Gregoire: No, you asked if I thought if he was running and I answered, 'Yes I do.'

PoP: Do you think you're running? Are you on equal ground?

Gregoire: Very cute.

PoP: Are you on equal ground?

Gregoire: No, he's not governor. I am.

Chris McGann, the P-I: Do you sincerely think that by not announcing you can prevent this feeling that in the 2008 Legislative session there'll be partisan politics involved and that some of the decisions have a political . ..

Gregoire: There's been partisan politics involved in all three sessions.

McGann: So whether you announce or not ...

Gregoire: But guys, the turnip truck is not leaving the front. I didn't just get off the turnip truck.

PoP: Neither did we.

Gregoire: I understand how the system works. But you know what, I'm determined to do my dead-level best to keep campaign politics out of the next legislative session. And I'm sure not going to feed it by making some announcement today. I'm not going to feed into it. I really want these people to know from the bottom of my heart, I genuinely want to keep working on solving the public's problems and moving this state forward and I'm not going to let the campaign politics get in the way of that.

The governor told us all something we didn't know today. She said that she's gone on inactive status with the bar association. That's because the bar requires her, while governor and signing bills into law, to keep up with continuing legal education requirements. That's not the case for legislators. Attorneys in the Legislature are exempted from those CLE requirements because presumably passing law suffices.

"I'm not paying dues," Gregoire said. But she can still answer questions like an attorney. And that fact collided with the stars today. My horoscope said:

Your job seems to be to make people uncomfortable — that's not an easy task, true, but it's an important one to be sure.


September 21, 2007

Alaska governor is more than just new face of GOP

Posted by David Postman at 10:45 AM

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin today gave up on the state's infamous "Bridge to Nowhere." That's the $398 million bridge that would have connected the Ketchikan Airport to the rest of the island city. She told her transportation department to find a "fiscally responsible" alternative.

"Much of the public's attitude toward Alaska bridges is based on inaccurate portrayals of the projects here. But we need to focus on what we can do, rather than fight over what has happened," she said.

Palin is a former mayor of a medium-size Alaska town outside of Anchorage. A Republican, she defeated incumbent Republican Gov. Frank Murkowski in a primary and went on to win the governorship in November.

I didn't know her when I lived in Alaska. But Palin intrigues me. She seems on her way to establishing not just a new face for the Alaska GOP, but a badly needed new soul, too. Today, the Anchorage Daily News mentions in its coverage of the bribery trial of former House Speaker Pete Kott:

Gov. Sarah Palin quietly popped into the trial for about 10 minutes in the morning. Few seemed to spot her as she slipped into the back row during a little of Kott's testimony on oil taxes. Palin said she took the opportunity to check in during a fire drill in the governor's Anchorage office in the nearby Atwood building.

"This is one of the most important series of trials in Alaska history," Palin said after her courtroom visit.

That's what I'd do. And I bet that's what most of you'd do if you found yourself with time on your hands anywhere near that courthouse. But I wonder how many governors would stop in a corruption trial just to watch, particularly if the defendant was of your political party. Palin was acting like a regular person, or as a regular political junkie. Governors are just too closely handled to allow much of that these days.



AP PHOTO


Palin

Palin ran for governor as a reformer. She pushed ethics complaints against two high-level Murkowksi appointments who ended up getting forced out. But most importantly — even before the state's current political scandals exploded — she ran openly against the oil industry. Republicans don't do that in Alaska, and either do many Democrats with statewide ambition.

And she didn't shy away when news began to break about ethical questions about Republican lawmakers. That was true even in the case of Ben Stevens, then the Senate president and son of the most powerful politician in Alaska, U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens. She openly questioned Ben Stevens' conflicts of interest. He responded by telephoning her, calling her a "Pollyanna" and warning her that she wasn't just running against Republican party leaders — "You're running against me."

(She's kept up her criticism of the younger Stevens. She said this week that he should not be the state's Republican national committeeman.)

When Ben Stevens made his threat, I imagine that what he meant was, "and my dad, too." That's the beauty of Palin's rise. She did it while taking on the state's and the party's power structure. Her stature rises as her party's scandal grows.

Palin has also given up one of the oldest canards of Alaska politics: Blame it on Outside. Here's what she told Ralph Thomas as the scandal burgeoned this summer:

"Our state needs to grow up and clean up. ... We need to prove to the rest of the nation that our government is as clean as our environment and ... that we can do it right."

I assure you that most other Alaska governors would have instead blamed Outside media and Outside political forces and those in the Lower 48 that want to keep Alaska under the oppressive foot of the federal government.

MORE: AP has moved a story with another great example. Palin says Ted Stevens owes Alaskans some answers.

As details of the investigation and Stevens' relationship with Allen continue to emerge, Palin said she wants Stevens to shed some light for the public.

``I can't guess what that information it would be, but I think I join others in wanting to know of the senator's innocence,'' Palin said.

``Right now, we are not hearing anything,'' she said. ``We are going to give him the benefit of the doubt because that's appropriate, and that's deserved.''

Governor's chief spokeswoman to resign

Posted by David Postman at 6:52 AM

Holly Armstrong, Gov. Christine Gregoire's communications director, will leave the job in November to move to Denver. Armstrong gave plenty of notice, she said, to help ensure a smooth transition for her replacement, who has not yet been named.

Armstrong is the second high-ranking Gregoire staffer this week to announce their departure. Chief of Staff Tom Fitzsimmons is also leaving and Thursday Gregoire said he will be replaced by TVW President Cindy Zehnder.

MORE: Here's some of what Armstrong wrote this morning in an e-mail to "friends and colleagues."

My last day working in Governor Gregoire's office will be in early November. I have made a very personal decision to move to Denver, Colorado to be closer to friends and family. It was a very difficult (if not gut-wrenching) decision but, ultimately, the best one for me. I have very much enjoyed the last two years working with Governor Gregoire and with you. Governor Gregoire is an outstanding governor, as you all know — but also a great friend, mentor and teacher. I have been consistently proud to work with the Gregoire Administration and will very much still consider myself to be part of Team Gregoire. I also appreciate the part that each of you has played in making my time here such an incredible learning (and growing) experience. When I arrived, I knew no one and knew relatively little about the state of Washington. I always felt very welcome and comfortable to ask (several) questions as they came up and could not have been nearly as successful here without that help and guidance. Many of you have heard me say, "the smartest people are those who know what they don't know" — I felt VERY smart on many occasions!
September 20, 2007

The press couldn't get close to John Edwards ...

Posted by David Postman at 1:23 PM

But Eli Sanders has collected some reviews of the candidate's Wednesday visit here.

Gregoire: War dead wreaking havoc in rural Washington

Posted by David Postman at 12:53 PM

Gov Christine Gregoire is speaking to the AWB lunch. She's actually being interviewed on stage by Denny Heck, a Gregoire confidante, founder of TVW and longtime Olympia fixture.

Heck started off by asking Gregoire if there is something about being governor that surprised her. "What isn't quite what you thought it might be?" he asked.

"Never did I appreciate then, like I do today, the significance of the global marketplace to this state."

She said she's come away from trade missions thinking "we're more like a small nation than a state." She said that people may laugh at that. (I'll admit I have had some fun with the idea.). But she said she doesn't care and now realizes the state's place in the world market.

Heck then wanted to know about what part of the job she wishes she didn't have to do. Gregoire did not hesitate in saying that it has been following through with the pledge by her and her husband, Mike, to attend the funerals of every Washington state soldier killed in action.

"We're overwhelmed by the number and it's heart wrenching," she said. Most of the dead come from the rural parts of the state and the deaths are "wreaking havoc" in those communities. She didn't know how many funerals she's attended. But she said there was one day with three funerals and she and her husband had to split up to attend them.

MORE: What issue has Gregoire learned the most from?

"Viaduct," she said. She said that she learned she needs to be more selective in deciding when it is time for her to weigh in on an issue and try to push a settlement. "The timing wasn't right," she said.

She said she remains committed to tearing down the existing elevated roadway along Seattle's waterfront. "That thing is coming down," she said.

Briefly:

The business climate: Gregoire touted rankings in Forbes and Fortune magazines, but said she wants the state to be No. 1, and if we are a small nation, the state should be able to do that.

Sonics: She said she doesn't know if the team owners are interested in moving to the Muckleshoot property, and doesn't know if the NBA would allow a team to be located nearby the horse racing track and perhaps a casino.

Ref. 67: Gregoire says she will vote for it, to keep the state's new insurance law on the books. But she said she wishes she could have negotiated fixes to it between trial lawyers and the insurance industry. If the measure passes in November, Gregoire said she would push for "clarifying" changes in the next legislative session.

WASL: Gregoire said she would veto any legislation that would go further than she agreed to this year in postponing portions of the test as graduation requirements. That was one of the few big applause lines for the business crowd.

The presidential race: Because fellow governor Bill Richardson is in the race for the Democratic nomination, Greogire said she is remaining neutral out of respect for him. If he drops out, Gregoire would only say she's looking, as she said most people are, at the top three candidates, Edwards, Obama and Clinton. But asked who she thinks will win that nomination, Gregoire didn't hesitate to say it would be Clinton.

Her re-election race: She said she doubts she would announce her re-election campaign before the end of the 2008 legislative session. (Of course she is already raising a lot of campaign cash so any announcement would be a formality.)

Gregoire's new chief of staff

Posted by David Postman at 9:33 AM

Cindy Zehnder, the president of TVW, will be Gov. Chris Gregoire's new chief of staff. Zehnder has been chief clerk of the House, a deputy commissioner at the state Employment Security Department and a longtime Teamster official.

She has also been a UW regent. She is my boss of sorts for my TVW freelance work. A release from Greogire's office said:

"There is only one person who could have convinced me to leave TVW and that is the Governor," said Zehnder. "

Zehnder will replace Tom Fitzsimmons, who announced his "intention to resign" earlier this week.

Pollster Zogby: America in a dark and ugly mood

Posted by David Postman at 8:29 AM

Pollster John Zogby is speaking now at the opening session of the Association of Washington Business Policy Summit. http://www.awb.org/events/policysummit/index.asp
He's outlining what he says is the mood of America. And it's not pretty.

"There is a foul and ugly mood in the country today and one of those reasons is that people are anti-institutional right now. All that burst of goodwill after 9/11 has dissipated and after Katrina has hardened. And what we are living in the midst of today is that many Americans do not believe that anyone has a solution."

Zogby says Katrina will turn out to be as much a defining moment in American history as 9/11. "What happened with Katrina," he said, "is that all of the endemic problems within our federal system were laid bare."

MORE: Zogby says that by next year, Republicans could be seen as the "peace party." President Bush has announced the first round of troops will come home next spring, with maybe the second coming soon before the Republican National Convention.

"And guess what? Voters get the message that the Republicans can do something that the Democrats can't ..."

He says that Democrats are in a tough spot because their base is pushing for a quick withdrawal. But, he said, "there is no clarity coming from the leadership. There are multiple plans."

"And meanwhile, believe it or not, almost in an Alice in Wonderland situation, the president who has led us into a war that is intractable, where there are no good solutions, at least is coming out with a plan. At least is coming out with some clarity. ... And Democrats are saying to the base, 'We can't give you what you want.'"

MORE: Zogby is going through his thoughts on the presidential candidates. But I think what is more important is what he sees as the major change in America since 2004. In 2004 voters were quick to make up their minds. In March of that year Zogby said it was stunning to him to find that the undecideds were only at about five percent when history would show that number is usually between 15 and 20 percent.

"The center was gone. Americans had found themselves in two warring camps, mainly over cultural issues, mainly over the war in Iraq. ...The polarization in the country was gripping and the center was missing."

And now, he said:

"The center is indeed reborn in American politics today, at least it is among the general public."

The "hyper-polarization" is gone, he said, except for inside the Beltway. There, arch partisanship still goes strong. That will create "two parallel universes between now and election day."

September 19, 2007

RNC chair touts Dem Baird's Iraq turnaround

Posted by David Postman at 6:10 PM

Republican National Committee Chairman Mike Duncan is in Seattle today. He has been meeting with GOP elected officials and party officers, and tonight will be at a fundraiser at a Mercer Island home. (The party wouldn't say whose home it'll be at.)

I talked to Duncan on the phone this afternoon. One of the more interesting notes was how quickly he brought up Rep. Brian Baird, D-Vancouver, when I asked what he was hearing about the war. Baird was Exhibit A for Duncan when he talked about growing support for President Bush's strategy in Iraq.

He said it was notable that a Democratic member said "the surge was working."

"I think General Petraeus' report last week convinced him and other people in Congress that we don't need a timetable. ... We need to continue funding our troops."

I wondered if support from a Democrat in a strong Democratic state was important in trying to build support for the surge. Duncan said:

"Certainly I appreciate the fact that he went to Iraq at different times and he listened to the generals and he made his decision accordingly. We're seeing more members of Congress doing that."

Duncan said he thinks Democratic members of Congress are getting less pressure from leadership and colleagues, but more from outside groups like MoveOn.org, which ran a controversial ad criticizing Petreaus.

"It's the extreme left, the MoveOn.org group that are pressuring these guys. I think the outside Democratic groups are over-reaching and over-playing their hands right now,"

Duncan is a veteran political strategist from Kentucky. He had been general counsel to the RNC and was named chairman in January. He has worked on the campaigns of the past five Republican presidents.

He said that Republicans he meets on the road are optimistic about 2008. I know that's what you'd expect the party chairman to say. But he's confident that as we move into the election year — remember, it is only 2007 — that George Bush and the Iraq war will not continue to dominate the news.

"Next year is going to be an entirely different scenario. We have 400 some days until the election. I think people are starting to think about things. Hillary Clinton has put Hillary Care II on the table. I think the political spotlight will shift significantly in the next year."

Some short takes: He is not planning on talking with Dino Rossi on this trip but hears an announcement will come this fall. He is confident that Sen. Larry Craig will resign and not try to fight for his seat.

On the road

Posted by David Postman at 1:31 PM

I'm leaving for the Association of Washington Business conference at Semiahmoo Resort. I'm on a panel tomorrow and hope to pick up some news from the gathering of lobbyists and legislators.

And, as always, I'll be searching for the truth. That, as veteran journalist Saul Friedman writes, is something people in my business should strive for.

Why can't reporters who cover their beats well and who become as expert as possible in that field — the law, courts, medicine, consumerism, politics, the Congress, even the presidency — write for their newspapers as if they're writing a book or a magazine piece? If they are truly expert, as many reporters are, they need not depend on someone else for a meaningless quote. They should be freed from the constraints of "he said, she said" and provide narrative journalism, which is much more interesting than "on the other handism." And it may come closer to the truth.
September 18, 2007

Reservoir would leak water toward nuke waste site

Posted by David Postman at 1:32 PM

The federal Bureau of Reclamation issued a report today saying that a proposed Eastern Washington reservoir would leak enough water to raise water tables in the area. And that is a problem:

The analysis released today indicates that a majority of seepage from the proposed Black Rock reservoir site would move in the direction of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation

As the AP reports, that is the nation's most contaminated nuclear site and water flowing that way would increase "the risk of those contaminants reaching the Columbia River."

The new analysis is a setback for plans to improve irrigation in central Washington's drought-susceptible Yakima Valley, which is home to acres of hops, wine grapes, tree fruit and other crops.

There have been worries about leakage for several years. A report released in early 2005 said further studies on that question could lead to rethinking about whether the Black Rock site was best for the reservoir.

Studies to date have identified several areas of uncertainty and concern that must be examined further. Of concern is the question of potential reservoir leakage. The results of further examinations could have negative implications as to the Black Rock alternative viability or costs.

Today's report shows the results of further studies. But its executive summary says that yet more study is needed before any conclusions can be drawn.

We believe that the seepage rates produced by this model are accurate based on the data we have available. However given the geologic complexity of the area at the dam site and the Dry Creek drainage, gathering new hydrologic data in the Dry Creek drainage could change the seepage rates that are presented in this report.

The report also says that the estimates based on what would happen with no attempt at mitigation. And that, says Congressman Doc Hastings, R-Pasco, means critics should not jump to conclusions about Black Rock. He issued a statement that says:

"I'd caution everyone against jumping to conclusions with just half the facts. This analysis only forecasts what seepage could occur if nothing was done to stop or contain it. Possible ways to prevent and capture seepage will be coming in the months ahead. The Yakima Basin needs more water storage and we need a full, accurate study to make informed decisions on how to best achieve it."

The costs of Black Rock have also climbed dramatically. The AP says today the estimates are as high as $6.3 billion. A story in 2005 said it would cost between $3.5 billion and $4 billion. An earlier estimate said it would cost $1.8 billion.


Norm Dicks subpoened by defense in bribery case

Posted by David Postman at 11:26 AM

The Politico reported this first Monday.

Thirteen senior House members — nine Republicans and four Democrats — have been served with subpoenas from defense attorneys representing Brent Wilkes, the former defense contractor charged with bribing imprisoned ex-Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.).

None of the lawmakers will comply with the subpoena, according to an official notification read on the House floor Monday evening.

Dicks is chairman of the Defense subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee.

There's more here from the AP.

Don't assume cupidity where stupidity will suffice

Posted by David Postman at 10:32 AM

That was a good thing for me to keep in mind as a young reporter in Alaska. It was wise counsel from a friend to remember that evil-doing is not behind every bit of suspicious looking political activity.

But sometimes there's room for plenty of cupidity and stupidity. Today's Anchorage Daily News has some plum examples from the corruption trial of former House Speaker Pete Kott. There are some important lessons from Monday's testimony.

1. If you're a big oil field service company like VECO, don't call your check-cashing arrangement with the Buckaroo Club the "Phony Account." In fact, don't have a check-cashing arrangement with a bar called the Buckaroo Club.

2. Illegal activity is your business. The Daily News reports:

The day also provided an inside look into how VECO apparently broke state law by hiring Anchorage pollster David Dittman to conduct a poll for Kott in 2006. Dittman ... said he suspected the VECO-paid poll amounted to an illegal campaign contribution from the company to Kott, but decided it wasn't his business to worry about it.

3. If you are looking to buy a politician, find one that will do some work for the money.

(Rick) Smith acknowledged he was the VECO employee who supervised the payments of $30,000 to Tom Anderson when Anderson served in the state House — a "sham contract," in Wendt's words.

"We never got any work out of it," Smith said. "I asked him to work. It didn't happen."

If you've been following the Alaska corruption tale you know smarts have been in short supply. Former VECO Chairman Bill Allen didn't only bribe lawmakers, give them phony jobs and help remodel Sen. Ted Stevens' house. He was an amateur pharmacist, too.

Kott couldn't keep straight which Allen-supplied pills were for sleep and which were to enhance his sexual performance. The Daily News wrote about an FBI transcript of a call between the two men:

"Man, I've been having a hard time sleeping," Kott complained to Allen.

"So that worked pretty good," Allen said, laughing.

"Which ones are which?" said Kott.

"I told you now, just use the white ones ... to sleep," Allen reminded him. "And the ... ah, brown or whatever they are, that's for (explicit language for sex), and the other one is for sleeping."

"Yeah, I thought I was taking the sleeping pill. Took the wrong one. Still got the white one," Kott said.

"You're something else," Allen said, laughing. "You're something else, Pete."

What a shock coming from a guy who proclaimed himself a member of the "Corrupt Bastards Club."

Zappini strikes: How one person makes a difference

Posted by David Postman at 8:57 AM

The King County Council was set to spend $345,000 Monday on ballot tracking technology until Jason Osgood told members the contractor "appears to be out of business."

Election officials said they believed the company was in business but had sold the right to market the VoteHere ballot tracker to another Bellevue company, Election Trust
.

Osgood is known to readers of Washblog as zappini. He has quietly established himself as the No. 1 opponent of the county's plan for all-mail elections. He's done it from the left, in contrast to the opposition we have come to expect from the right and done much to make the movement a bipartisan success.

September 17, 2007

Gregoire chief of staff leaving

Posted by David Postman at 2:48 PM

The governor's office will put out a release later today saying that Chief of Staff Tom Fitzsimmons is resigning from Gov. Christine Gregoire's administration. Communications Director Holly Armstrong just confirmed that for me, but said there's no word yet on where Fitzsimmons is going, who will get his job or exactly when he will leave. She said:

"I think he and the governor are trying to work it out so there is a smooth transition."

Fitzsimmons has had remarkable staying power in the job. He had been former Gov. Gary Locke's chief of staff and Greogire appointed him as her interim chief of staff in January 2005. He was supposed to be in the job just six months. I'm willing to bet that counting his service under two governors, Fitzsimmons has one of the longest tenures ever in the job.

The press release says that Fitzsimmons "has shared his intention to resign."

"Tom has been a friend for many years and has been instrumental in advising and guiding me through the last two and a half years. He is a tireless advocate on behalf of Washingtonians and has turned his passion for public service into his career," said Governor Gregoire. "I wish Tom and his family the best as he moves on to this next chapter in his life. He will be missed greatly by everyone in my administration."

"It has been my honor to serve Governor Gregoire," said Fitzsimmons. "I am most proud of helping Governor Gregoire appoint and lead the most diverse cabinet in state history and helping implement a nationally recognized accountability program. I leave knowing that this governor has and will continue to make a positive difference in the lives of Washington families."

UPDATE: The longest-serving COS ever had to be James Dolliver who had the job through most of Gov. Dan Evans' three terms in office. So say people with more history here than me.

When is it OK to talk about race in a campaign?

Posted by David Postman at 2:29 PM

Seattle City Council candidate Bruce Harrell e-mailed supporters this morning a short clip of his opponent, Venus Velazquez, speaking at a candidates' forum on immigrant and refugee issues.


This was the June Hate Free Zone event where Velazquez
told the audience — in the only portion quoted by Harrell:

"You need to look at this leadership up here and decide: Are we the people who look like you, who come from you? And if we're not, don't vote for us. But if we are, vote us in."

Harrell said in his e-mail:

Our opponent is resorting to mud-slinging as a smoke-screen to distract from community outrage (all across the political spectrum) after release of an offensive, racially-charged speech she recently gave at an immigrant rights forum. At the forum, our opponent asked audience members to vote based on race and looks.

A bit more context is necessary: The quote came from Velazquez's closing statement, which she began by saying how proud she was to walk with her children last year in an immigrant's right march in Seattle. She said:

"We need to bring people on our City Council who are from our communities, who've worked with us in the trenches, who know our issues and have track records. I've been there with you. You've been there with me.

You need to look at this leadership up here and decide: Are we the people who look like you, who come from you? And if we're not, don't vote for us. But if we are, vote us in."

You can watch the entire forum at the Seattle Channel site.

I've not seen the outrage that Harrell refers to, other than from Stefan Sharkansky. But the focus on 12 seconds plucked out of a City Council campaign shows the perils of talking about race in a political context. An e-mail from the Velazquez
campaign tried to put her comments in a less controversial light:

Venus strongly believes that our council should reflect the diversity of the city. Bill Clinton said when he was putting his first cabinet together that it should reflect America. In that same spirit, Venus believes that our City Council should reflect our city.

Clinton of course did not say that racial minorities should only vote for people who look like they do. But racial identity plays a part in campaigns of white candidates. At the June forum, City Councilwoman Jean Godden said:

"I am someone who hires people that look like all of us. People who have been in my office in the last three years include people of Begali, Japanese, Asian Pacific Islander, South Korean, Chinese, Japanese and Iranian ancestry."

At times it clearly is OK to talk about what people look like. Pramila Jayapal, executive director of Hate Free Zone, talked in her opening statement at June's forum about the growing political power of immigrants.

"Look around this room because this is what democracy looks like."

A decade ago a lot of this would have fallen into the great debate about political correctness. We don't have such a handy name for it now, but the pitfalls still remain. And so do the measures of what is acceptable within a political context. And in Seattle, charges of delivering "racially charged" comments is met with the counter-charge of being too cozy with Republicans. The Velazquez campaign e-mail said that since Sharkansky criticized Velazquez, that means

The biggest Republican blogger in the state has weighed in on our race for Seattle City Council.

The e-mail goes on to list Harrell's other fans in the GOP and says:

Venus is proud to be endorsed by many prominent Democrats, including Seattle City Councilmembers Peter Steinbrueck and Richard Conlin, Senators Margarita Prentice, Ruth Kagi and Claudia Kauffman, labor unions, and the 34th, 36th, 46th and King County Democrats.

This is not a great line of attack for Velazquez. Harrell has a long list of Democratic endorsers more prominent than his opponent's — including backing from Frank Chopp, Larry Gossett, Gary Locke and Ron Sims — which I think will make it tough for people to believe that he is really a Republican.

But that's what passes for mud slinging in the final run for the Seattle City Council.

Ron Paul says rich should fund species protection

Posted by David Postman at 9:50 AM

Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul has attracted some liberal support for his strong anti-war position and other pieces of his libertarian platform. But his views on environmental regulation — while consistent with his argument for a limited federal government — are not likely to win much applause from the left.

At Seattle University Friday, Paul was asked how to "get control" of the Endangered Species Act. He said:

"I've been reading the Constitution now and then. I can't find endangered species written in the Constitution and I don't think that's a federal function. But that doesn't mean that if we're not for the Endangered Species Act we shouldn't be interested in protecting species. We should be doing it in a private sort of way. Sometimes ... if there's an endangered species you say 'Well, I'm going to raise a few of those endangered species.' I think you go to jail for some of that. So it literally hinders what the goals are.

"It's the bureaucratic approach versus the free market approach. There is so much wealth in this country, there are a few billionaires around and many of them are interested in these subjects and there's no reason why with the land they own and buy and control, that they wouldn't be interested in these things."

Paul said he does not buy "this idea that that if we don't support the government's approach — the bureaucratic, authoritarian, thuggish, approach — then we don't care."

"I'm actually a believer that if it were left to he marketplace ... that private property owners could do a better job than what we do through federal regulations."

Eli Sanders wrote about Paul's liberal appeal last month in The Stranger. Sanders reported on Paul's environmental platform, writing:

Paul's solution to all environmental problems is essentially to do nothing and hope the market works everything out.

On global warming, Paul remains a skeptic. Friday, after his speech he was approached by Lexi Fish, a 22-year-old organizer from the New Voters Project, an effort affiliated with the Washington Public Interest Group. The project is pushing a "What's Your Plan?" campaign to ask presidential candidates what they'd do about climate change.

Fish asked Paul for his plan. The candidate told her that the issue needed more study. Fish told me:

"I sort of think he didn't directly answer the question."

Also, in the crowd for Friday's speech was state Supreme Court Justice Richard Sanders, who said he supports Paul's presidential campaign, and state Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn. Roach is part of Mitt Romney's state campaign, but said she finds Paul very interesting.

September 14, 2007

Ron Paul says constitutional crisis coming

Posted by David Postman at 4:11 PM

I covered Ron Paul's speech at Seattle U this afternoon. Here's a version of what I wrote for tomorrow's paper:

Texas Congressman Ron Paul said in Seattle Friday that America is approaching an economic and constitutional crisis due to growing debt, bad trade deals and assaults on personal liberty.

And even if he beat all the odds and became president next year, he said, the problem would be beyond what he alone could fix.

"The time is coming. I believe that the great debate is coming," Paul told more than 400 mostly young people who attended his constitutional lecture at Seattle University.

"We have become soft on the issue of liberty and we have become more concerned about our personal safety and our personal economic well being and an illusionary trust that government can make us perfectly safe and protect us perfectly in an economic way," he said.

Paul said young people will have to decide whether to go along with the "cliches" that say the Constitution is a living, flexible document.

"It is a philosophical struggle," he said. "If you are for a strict interpretation of the Constitution, if you are truly for liberty and for limited government then the law will come along."

For Paul, who ran for president as a Libertarian in 1988, a strict interpretation of the Constitution would mean a lot of changes. Talking to 710 KIRO host Dori Monson earlier in the day, Paul said he thought the government could be cut by 80 percent. That'd be enough that there'd be no need for the income tax or a replacement tax, he said.

At Seattle University, he said Congress has willingly given away far too much power to the executive branch, particularly when it comes to foreign policy. He said the president is commander in chief of the military, but "he's not commander in chief of the people of the country."

Congress should reassert itself with trade policy as well, he said, and not leave the administration to set tariffs or make deals with "WTO or NAFTA or CAFTA," trade agreements he pronounced with such disdain they sounded like diseases.
States, Paul said, should rely on a principle in the Constitution that allows them to ignore decisions by federal courts on issues that could be described as dealing with states' rights.

"I see the Constitution as being written precisely for one purpose ...quot; to restrain the power of government; never to restrain the people," he said to great applause.
Paul had a full day of events in Seattle, including fundraisers and rallies. Speeches have become rarer in presidential politics. Some candidates come to town with no public appearances, or only for base-building rallies.

The lecture was organized by Seattle University law students. What's the appeal of Paul to the young supporters?

"Everything," said Malisa Gurule, a third-year law student who headed the drive to get Paul on campus.

Gurule, 25, said she had never donated to a presidential candidate until she saw Paul in the Republican debates. She's also never voted in a presidential primary or been involved in a caucus, though she says she will do whatever is needed to help Paul get the GOP nomination.

"He's the only person saying something different," she said. "He's not afraid to attack the status quo."

Paul was asked by someone in the audience if he believed the IRS was illegal and whether he would scrap the Federal Reserve System. He said that while there are a lot of arguments about the legal standing of the Internal Revenue Service, he is more interested in challenging the constitutionality of the income tax.

"But ultimately the challenge has to be on why do they need our money so much, which is the nature of our government," Paul said.

He doesn't like the Federal Reserve System and talked about returning to using gold and silver, not paper money. But he said he would not immediately scrap the Federal Reserve because of the economic disruption that would cause.

Harrell decides against UW game appearance

Posted by David Postman at 3:29 PM

Times city hall reporter Bob Young says that city council candidate Bruce Harrell has pulled out of tomorrow's game day Husky Legends ceremony. The UW's
Richard Kilwien told him that Harrell "graciously pulled out."

Kilwien said:

"He felt if there was are any potential for impropriety or any appearance of such it was better off waiting for another day when it fits in both of our schedules.

"We still maintain there is nothing wrong with this. It was his decision."

Harrell just told Young that there are some disappointed family members. But, he said"

"My most important worry about all this is, are we going to win the darn game tomorrow."

Harrell said he didn't want his ceremony to create any possible problems for the UW. "I really don't think it's violative. But why take the chance? One thing that's served me well all my life is taking the high road so that's what I'm going to do."

Reichert still supports Iraq war plan

Posted by David Postman at 11:08 AM

Congressman Dave Reichert's weekend trip to Iraq backed up his long-held belief that the troop escalation is working and that U.S. soldiers oppose any quick withdrawal. Reichert said that in his first battle zone visit since 2005 he saw signs of military progress and some stability returning to Baghdad neighborhoods.

He remains committed to Gen. David Petraeus' strategy. In his first interview since returning from Iraq Monday morning, Reichert did say there were two things he'd now push to change in Iraq.

He says the "rules of engagement" that require, for example, U.S. troops to fire warning shots at oncoming vehicles could be endangering American soldiers. He said he wants to "pressure the administration to loosen these rules."

Reichert is also unhappy with reconstruction efforts. He is concerned about fraud by U.S. contractors and wants Iraqis to start paying for more of the costs of rebuilding the country.

Here's how Reichert's trip unfolded:

He and other members of Congress on the trip flew Thursday by commercial airline to Kuwait. From there, they boarded a C-130 bound for Baghdad and loaded with Army and Air Force personnel heading to battle. But what was supposed to be a 90-minute flight to the capital, instead took 3 ½ hours and ended up about 50 miles north of Baghdad, at the massive Balad air base.

A sand storm and word of gunfire around the Baghdad airport required the diversion. Balad is home to a large military medical complex. It has a fully equipped trauma center. Seriously injured soldiers are treated there before being flown to Germany, and then back to the U.S.


Rep. Dave Reichert's office

Rep. Dave Reichert, center, and other members of Congress get briefed at a clinic in Iraq.


Reichert was given a tour and talked to soldiers and was allowed to wander on his own some. He stopped in a waiting room where injured soldiers wait to be flown out of the country. He said:

Soldiers have started to write their thoughts about the war on the walls. Every wall is covered with a thought, a poem — patriotism just oozing from these walls.

To me it was like walking into a church. I had to pause there. I just reflected on partners that I lost in my first career and some of the thoughts that I had about my friends were the same as what was on those walls. One said: "Proud father," and then it lists his rank, his name, his son's name and his rank and his daughter's name and her rank, and it says, "All serving together at the same time in Iraq."

Reichert said he told a sergeant at the medical base that the walls needed to be saved and at war's end "cut these walls out and ship them back to the states and reconstruct this room."

A second attempt to fly into Baghdad was successful, though again a sandstorm turned what was supposed to be a 20-minute flight into hours in the air as the pilot circled and made repeated attempts to see the airport to land.

In Baghdad the congressional delegation met with generals who serve under Petraeus and with Ambassador Ryan Crocker. There were briefings and dinner with the ambassador in the former Saddam palace that now serves as the U.S. Embassy.

Reichert talked with soldiers at the complex.

I did not hear one complaint. We talked to these ladies and gentlemen and they never complained. I didn't hear one solider say, "Get us out of here now." It was everyone, to the person, saying, "Let us finish the job and with dignity. Don't let my friends die in vain, my fellow troops."

At a briefing the congressmen were told that a siren would sound with a 10-second warning of incoming mortar or missile fire. Reichert said he joked with a nearby solider and said, "I guess what they're saying is if you hear that you can just kiss your ass goodbye."

At the embassy he talked with U.S. troops who had been stationed along the Iraq/Iran border. He and Congressman Steve Pearce of New Mexico sat down with soldiers who had piled their machine guns on the table. They talked for hours in the 100-plus degree nighttime heat.

We heard them the say things you heard Petraeus say: "We're making progress. We want to finish the job."

One solider, nicknamed, Big Bear, told the congressmen about chasing down an Iraqi who had videotaped a Humvee being hit by an IED. They did that after an Iraqi soldier had told them the person they had spotted in a nearby shack was only a witness, not someone worth capturing.

The rules of engagement were one of their complaints and that's one of things I plan to look at. I think we are hamstringing our guys and gals way too much. They are required to fire warning shots at cars that are barreling down on them with who knows what in there.

Some of the rules of engagement are really causing some of the unnecessary deaths and injuries, at least from the soldiers' opinions. And I would tend to agree with that.

I asked Reichert if Congress has any say about the rules of engagement for soldiers in battle. He concedes Congress can't mandate such things.

We're going to look into that. But we certainly can have oversight. We can certainly apply some pressure on behalf of the soldiers. That's our responsibility. We represent those guys and gals over there. I think if we speak loud enough we can pass ... a sense of Congress resolution. We can go down and pressure the administration to loosen these rules.

Reichert also left the Green Zone. He rode in a Humvee to a police station in the Red Zone. He said he saw people in the marketplace and saw a woman walking with a child and carrying a Snoopy shopping bag.

People are starting to come out of their homes. People are sick and tired of al-Qaeda and the insurgents and others.

...

It's not all rosy. But you can feel it just turning to more of a positive. At least people are beginning to see that.

Is it where we wanted it to be? No. Are we happy with the progress we've made? We're happy we made progress but there is still a lot of hard work ahead.

Reichert said that he was told of a model neighborhood of sorts the U.S. is building along the Tigris River.

There'll be a shopping center, parks, schools and we're rebuilding the entire area as a showcase to say, "Here is your city. Your entire city can look like this if we all work together and get rid of these terrorists."

Reichert is unhappy, though, with the pace of development of the Iraqi government. And, he said,

This surge should have been suggested much sooner.

He came back to the states more sure than ever that the surge, though, is now working, and needs to continue as long as the military says that's what needs to be done.

He said every member of Congress is "going through the same mental gymnastics" he is about Iraq and the surge.

This isn't a rock solid decision as you see and learn with the finite mind you are blessed with to evaluate these things. Should we be there? Should we leave there? How long should we stay? How much should we commit? What are our responsibilities? What about all their responsibilities?

If we don't do the job right over there and you look at the possibility of what could happen to the safety and security of the Middle East and then extrapolate out to the rest of Europe and across the ocean to America, we really need to be strong in this.

On the same trip, though, was Congressman Jim Walsh, R-N.Y. He came back saying he had changed his mind and no longer supported the surge.

Reichert told me that he didn't think he and Walsh were far apart in what they believe today. Walsh does agree there is short-term success from the surge. And he doesn't specify what he means by calling for an orderly withdrawal of troops. But his language is certainly more critical. Walsh says on his Web site:

Iraq's stalled political progress will continue unless it is forced to take charge of its own destiny. The Iraqi military will not stand up until the U.S. military physically begins to step down.

The American people have given much to the people of Iraq — its best and brightest, its wealth, its prayers, and its patience. We now need to see some improving evidence that this sacrifice is not without promise. The clock is running out on American military support.

At a forum earlier this week, Reichert said he was asked by someone when in history has so much faith been put in the hands of one general. Reichert said that Abraham Lincoln put that faith in General Grant and before that, the country had that faith in General Washington.

Reichert said that the American people today won't put that faith in President Bush.

They don't trust his words anymore. That's just obvious from the low ratings. And they don't trust Congress either, by the way. You know who they trust? They trust the military to make the right decision. General Petraeus is the guy we can put our trust in right now.

Game day for council candidate Harrell

Posted by David Postman at 8:11 AM

Seattle City Council candidate Bruce Harrell, a former University of Washington football star, will be honored as a Husky Legend at this Saturday's game against Ohio State. Husky games are already a favorite place for campaigning politicians. But it's hard to beat a starring role.

That has the head of the state Executive Ethics Board asking some questions. Executive Director Susan Harris told Times reporter Bob Young Thursday the matter is "not currently under investigation." But she is asking questions about the event. She wouldn't say who, though, is being asked those questions. Under state law, state resources, such as the stadium, can't be used to assist a political campaign.

Harrell, an all-conference linebacker in 1979, will be honored before the game's third quarter with a brief ceremony. His council candidacy won't be mentioned and Harrell won't speak, according to Richard Kilwien, UW associate athletic director for communications. Kilwien told Young the ceremony's timing just happens to coincide with the homestretch of Harrell's campaign against Venus Velázquez for an open seat on the council.

The UW honors a player at every home game. "We've tried to get Bruce back for a couple years and this is the first game that fit in his schedule," Kilwien said. "No consideration was made in the selection process of his political ambitions. At this point I don't think anyone in this department feels there's any conflict of interest."

Harrell said he'll have volunteers leafleting outside the stadium Saturday, just like they did at last week's game at Husky Stadium.

"I did absolutely nothing to orchestrate this honor. ... I'm glad and happy. But I'd never try to win through anything underhanded. That's bad karma, bad ethics and it's just not me."
September 13, 2007

Sen. Clinton here next month

Posted by David Postman at 4:50 PM

State Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz says that Hillary Clinton will be the big attraction at the party's fall fundraiser, the Maggie Awards Dinner, Oct. 22. The event this year is at Benaroya Hall.

Oil chief says he bribed Ted Stevens' son

Posted by David Postman at 3:04 PM

The AP has just moved a story saying that Bill Allen, who ran Alaska's largest oil field service company, said in an Anchorage courtroom today that he bribed Ben Stevens, the former state Senate president and son of U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens.

Former VECO Corp. CEO Bill Allen, 70, testified Thursday in the federal corruption trial of another former lawmaker, Pete Kott. Allen and a former company vice president, Rick Smith, have pleaded guilty to bribing lawmakers, and await sentencing.

On the stand Thursday, Allen said he bribed Ben Stevens, Kott and Vic Kohring, but did not elaborate during 15 minutes of testimony.

Ben Stevens is under federal investigation, but has not been charged.

``Mr. Stevens has consistently said he's not engaged in any of the illegal activity that is alleged by Mr. Allen. He denies it,'' John Wolfe, Stevens' attorney, told The Associated Press.

Attorneys say campaign ads slander them

Posted by David Postman at 10:09 AM

The trial attorneys funding the Referendum 67 campaign say that the insurance industry's ads making fun of lawyers are "slanderous, uncivil and reckless." Karen Koehler, president of the Washington State Trial Lawyers Association, wrote a letter last week to the Washington State Bar Association, with copies sent to members of the state Supreme Court, complaining about TV spots featuring the made up law firm of "Sooem Settle & Kashin." The Reject 67 campaign, which wants to repeal a new state law that allows judges to award triple damages in insurance cases, has used the parody in two different TV spots. You can watch them here and here.

Koehler wrote:

These ads are an affront to all lawyers. They are causing irreparable damage to the efforts of the WSBA to instill public confidence in the bar. They are slanderous, uncivil, and reckless.

When the trial attorneys say "slanderous," it's a threat of litigation, says Dana Childers, the spokeswoman for the Reject 67 campaign.

It is amazing that the trial lawyers don't see the irony of threatening to sue someone who criticizes them for filing too many frivolous lawsuits.

But, that's in fact what their letter says.

The letter asks the bar association to take action against the ads:

1. Issuance of a public statement condemning the ads

2. Adoption of a resolution condemning the practice of generalized, slanderous attacks on the legal profession for the purpose of political gain

3. Enactment of remedial action to counter the negative effects of the ads upon the public

4. Submission of a letter to the offending entity requesting that they cease and desist utilizing generalized, slanderous lawyer attack ads

It is of critical importance that the WSBA not stand by silently while the public is whipped into a frenzy by special interest groups bent on destroying credibility of our profession.

The bar association has so far taken no action on the letter, said association spokeswoman Judy Berrett.

The insurance industry has donated an astounding $7.7 million to the Reject 67 campaign. The Approve 67 campaign has raised $752,706, most from trial attorneys.

ALSO: The Approve 67 campaign has dropped one of its endorsers, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN. The group was among endorsers in a July 11 press release from the campaign and added to the campaign's list of backers.

About two weeks later, ACORN workers were charged in what is said to be the largest voter fraud case in state history. Approve 67 spokeswoman Sue Evans said:

We did remove them from the list after we learned about the investigation.

It is also important to note that we have more than 35-plus organizations (not including individuals and local Democratic leg districts, and others etc.) that are on board with the Approve 67 campaign.

Court upholds state PAC law

Posted by David Postman at 9:37 AM

The state Supreme Court ruled this morning that Washington's law regulating political committees is not vague and that the Public Disclosure Commission didn't infringe freedom of speech rights by demanding a business group disclose its donors.

The case, Voters Education Committee v. Washington State Public Disclosure Commission, stems from ads run in the 2004 race for attorney general. The Voters Education Committee, a group affiliated with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, ran ads attacking Democrat Deborah Senn, but did not register as a PAC and refused to report its contributors. The VEC argued that it was not a political group and was engaging in "issue advocacy," not "express advocacy." In 2005, a King County Superior Court judge agreed with the Public Disclosure Commission that the ads were designed to defeat Senn, and not meant merely to educate voters about an important issue.

In a 7-2 decision, the majority opinion was written by Justice Mary Fairhurst.
she wrote:

The people have declared that it is the policy of the state of Washington that
groups who sponsor political advertising must disclose their identities, contributions, and expenditures. Contrary to VEC's assertions, these disclosure requirements do not restrict political speech — they merely ensure that the public receives accurate information about who is doing the speaking. As Justice Brandeis famously observed, "[p]ublicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman."

Justice Jim Johnson wrote a dissent that was also signed by Justice Richard Sanders. He wrote that any "government regulation of political speech too readily becomes censorship, which violates constitutional rights."

If a government entity like the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) has the power to regulate political speech through context analysis, the State can stifle attempts to speak truth to power. I cannot endorse government speech sentinels claiming power to divine a speaker's intent. Such regulation vitiates core protections of political speech under the United States and Washington Constitutions.
September 12, 2007

Gingrich in Spokane tomorrow

Posted by David Postman at 5:48 PM

Former House Speaker and maybe presidential candidate Newt Gingrich will be the star at a fundraiser tomorrow morning for Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers. Gingrich will be at a $250-a-head breakfast at the Davenport Hotel, said Lonny Leitner, McMorris Rodger's campaign manager. He said the fundraiser is part of the congresswoman's Victory Club, events that feature high profile Republicans.

Gingrich will be in Spokane to speak at the Northwest Medical Information Symposium, which is being put on by Inland Northwest Health Services. He is there in his role as founder of the Center for Health Transformation. The center was an outgrowth of Gingrich's post-Speaker consulting business.

The history of LBJ's Daisy Ad

Posted by David Postman at 2:34 PM

At CONELRAD (thanks for the tip boingboing) Bill Geerhart has published a fascinating, thorough and footnoted history of the Daisy Ad, one of the most controversial political ads ever. There's even an interview with the Daisy Girl herself.

The spot was and still is a masterpiece of manipulation, juxtaposing the playful innocence of childhood with the protocol and horror of war. The simplicity of the message was made all the more effective because the 1964 campaign took place less than two years after the Cuban Missile Crisis and within three years of the Berlin crisis in which President John F. Kennedy rattled the nation with his remarks on the importance of civil defense. In other words, the "end of the world" was not an abstract concept for most Americans during this period of the Cold War. It was a very real possibility.

...

The "Daisy" story is a tale of how a group of dedicated men from various backgrounds in government and advertising came together to sell a "product" — the President of the United States. These professionals succeeded spectacularly in their primary objective (no matter that Lyndon Johnson turned out to be defective merchandise), but they also created an indelible icon of the Cold War in the process.

To see how it happened, click here and read the whole thing.

More on tele-town halls

Posted by David Postman at 11:08 AM

The Hill reports on the growing popularity of congressional tele-town halls. (Last month I wrote about Congressman Dave Reichert's use of the technology.) The Hill says:

Telephone town halls are much more pleasant, efficient and effective," said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. "They [lawmakers] love them ... they can get thousands of people potentially participating ... it's a great way to make a personal connection."

However, Sabato said, this useful tool also further removes the member from his or her constituency.

"It is one more step back from the people ... real emotions, from real people," said Sabato. "They already have 18 to 20 staff members as a cordon around them and everyone knows that mail is rarely seen by [a member of Congress]."


This is what corruption sounds like

Posted by David Postman at 10:08 AM

That's what the government says about the phone message former Alaska state Rep. Pete Kott left for oil field services executive Bill Allen:

Uncle Bill. Pete Kott here. Just calling to wish you happy new year. Haven't talked to you in a while, you been traveling. Things start tomorrow. Just want to get what our instructions are. So give me a call or I'll talk to you tomorrow. Have a good night. Bye.
The Anchorage Daily News reports today on Kott's trial for bribery, conspiracy, extortion and wire fraud.
Grainy videos captured through an FBI-planted bug in the Veco suite show the men chummy, drinking and boastful at times of seeming victory, then full of despair when legislation didn't go their way. Numerous calls intercepted on Allen and Smith's cell phones also were played for jurors.

The Daily News has audio of the phone message and another call on its Web site this morning. Someone who knows Kott well wonders where he came up with that faux good old boy accent he uses when talking to Uncle Bill. The pledge that "We'll git er done" just isn't the way Kott usually talks.

County GOP chair pays fine out of own pocket

Posted by David Postman at 9:05 AM

King County Republican Party Chairman Michael Young lent the party $15,000 last week so it could pay a fine levied by the Public Disclosure Commission. The party paid the $22,500 fine the next day, according to PDC records.

I was tipped to the loan by Richard Pope, the Republican turned Democrat (at least for this fall) who filed the PDC complaint alleging that the King County GOP had failed to accurately report donations and expenditures. A PDC investigation backed up Pope's claims, and in May the party agreed to a $40,000 fine. Of that, $17,500 was suspended in exchange for agreeing to outside audits, no further violations and other stipulations.

Young told me this morning he loaned the money because of a "cash-flow situation." He says the party is in the midst of a fundraising effort and that money on hand is committed to other functions and "I didn't want to interrupt party operations."

Young said he thinks he'll be repaid, but he's not too worried about it.

"Maybe I'll decide to become a major donor to the party."
September 11, 2007

Szwaja asks students if U.S. planned 9-11 attacks

Posted by David Postman at 6:57 PM

Seattle City Council candidate Joe Szwaja is teaching a high school class that asks if the United States helped plan the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centers and the Pentagon. Szwaja teaches history at Seattle's Nova High School, an alternative public school. The senior class he's offering is called: "September 11/Iraq War: What happened, why did it happen, and where do we go from here?"

According to the course description, the class will ask provocative questions:

"Did the attacks take place in the manner reported by the major US news media? Were Osama Bin Laden and his followers indeed responsible for these brutal murders? Did the US government do all they reasonably could to avert the attacks, or did the US bungle its sincere attempts to stop this incidence of terrorism? On the other hand, was the US government itself part of planning the attacks or at least involved in them in some way, perhaps in making sure nothing was done to avert them?"

The course was brought to reporters' attention by Cathy Allen, a political consultant working for Szwaja's opponent, incumbent Jean Godden. That looks to me as an endorsement of sorts that Godden takes Szwaja's candidacy seriously.

Szwaja told Times City Hall reporter Bob Young today that he does not believe the U.S. government was involved in planning the attacks or making sure they weren't stopped. Szwaja said:

"I want to teach students to think about important questions and I go out of my way to provide different perspectives."

Is it irresponsible, though, to suggest to students that the U.S. was part of the attacks?

"The main thing I try to do is teach classes that engage students from a variety of perspectives. I pride myself on that. A big part of the class is fact-checking. My goal is not to tell students what happened. My goal is to teach them to think carefully, systematically and pursue answers for themselves."

The course will also look at broader questions:

"How has September 11 affected US civil liberties, Muslim Americans and the way we see politics? How and why are the events around September 11 viewed differently in various countries and regions around the world? What are some of the roots of the disagreements between the US and the Muslim world which helped lead to the many conflicts in which our government is currently engaged?"

UPDATE: There are those who not only want to ask those questions, but are convinced there has been a coverup.

AND MORE: At The Stranger, Paul Constant has a story about the 9/11 Truth Movement:

It's false to refer to Truthers as conspiracy theorists because, as they're quick to point out, they don't have a theory. All they have are questions. Some of them believe that the government is guilty of knowing about the attacks and simply allowing them to happen, others believe that the planes were remote controlled and that no passengers died in the attacks, and still others believe that the Pentagon was hit by a cruise missile and that no plane was involved at all. Many Truthers believe that Flight 93 couldn't have crashed in Pennsylvania since the crash site is only 6 feet wide by 20 feet long. A radical few even claim that no planes struck the Twin Towers, despite what billions of eyes saw that day. The debate within the movement is intense and not always polite -- for instance, not all Truthers believe that doubting the planes' involvement is a good idea, and that to deny the deaths of hundreds of air passengers on September 11th is disrespectful and stupid.

It's well worth a read.

A Republican reverses on war after Iraq trip

Posted by David Postman at 4:51 PM

A Republican congressman from New York who was in Iraq last week with Congressman Dave Reichert says the trip convinced him U.S. troops should withdraw. Rep. Jim Walsh, a moderate, has struggled with support for the war, according to the Democrat and Chronicle. But no longer:

"Before I went, I was not prepared to say it's time to start bringing our troops home," Walsh said. "I am prepared to say that now. It's time."

Reichert has not yet been available for an interview about his trip.

Reichert and Walsh were on a list of 12 Republicans targeted in new radio ads from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, according to The Politico. The ads target Republicans supporting The Bush administration's Iraq strategy.

"This August we're going district by district to urge Republicans to stop obstructing progress and work with us to end the war in Iraq," said DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.). "Republicans who continue to vote in lock step with the President Bush's failed Iraq policy will be held accountable."

Watching for politics on 9/11

Posted by David Postman at 9:33 AM

Since the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks I've spent some time thinking about how this day will be commemorated. I wonder if in 50 years it'll become more like Pearl Harbor Day -- a moment of brief reflection, at best, for what was supposed to live in infamy -- or maybe something even less meaningful, like many of our national holidays have become.

When I wrote about this in 2002, the story included a quote from Stanley Friedman, who that day was out in the hills hiking. He had a pretty good summation of what 9/11 had already become:

"This is going to be a day of speeches and photo opportunities and so on and so forth," said Friedman, a 75-year-old cartographer from Mercer Island. "It's primarily a politician's day."

Today in The News Tribune, Pete Callaghan says we are supposed to call today "Patriot Day." But he sees it like Friedman did. He says "it may as well be Politics Day."

The primary form of commemoration -- in Washington, D.C., at least -- will be to take political shots disguised as lessons learned.

Under the cover of honoring the dead, too many will exploit them for partisan gain. They will reference one of the most potent symbols in American history to paint their own beliefs as noble and their enemies' beliefs as crass.
Here's Callaghan's plea:

To honor those who died on 9/11, how about we agree not to exploit them for political gain for a full 24 hours? It's hardly a sacrifice, given that there are 364 other days -- 365 in presidential election years. Make Patriot Day about patriots, not partisans.

Sounds like a good idea. I looked this morning at the websites of the national political parties and their campaign committees. It seems to me that only Howard Dean at the Democratic National Committee is making an overt partisan point on this day. His statement says:

"On the sixth anniversary of September 11, we honor those who were killed in those tragic attacks, the family and friends who still grieve their loss, and the survivors who continue to suffer. On that day, our country and our world changed forever. Today, Democrats also renew our commitment to fighting the real war on terror. Six years after the attacks, we are not as safe as we should be. We remain committed to fighting al Qaeda where they are and implementing policies that make our country safer and more secure."

Republican National Committee Chairman Mike Duncan doesn't mention party in his statement:

"Six years ago, terrorists attacked the United States of America. The searing memories will never fade for most Americans, and for the families and friends of those we lost, neither will the sorrow. We should never forget the tremendous bravery we saw that day, or the outpouring of kindness and generosity from every state, every county, and every city in the days and weeks that followed.

"Today, thousands of our brave young men and women are still fighting to keep our enemies from striking us again. Our thanks go out to them, and to everyone who is working to make sure we never see another 9/11."

Are there politicians exploiting this day? Help me keep track and use the comments to post examples you find today. With the Senate hearing the Iraq surge report today I am sure there will be numerous references to this day.

There's nothing wrong with remembering and commemorating 9/11. I wouldn't want the day ignored. But is it acceptable today to try to make partisan points off the anniversary of the tragedy?

Is justice itself at stake in prosecutor's race?

Posted by David Postman at 8:14 AM

Acting King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, a Republican, sent out a press release Monday touting endorsements from prominent Democrats in his race against Democrat Bill Sherman.

The Democrats are endorsing Satterberg because of his 17 years of experience as Norm Maleng's chief of staff and his commitment to continue to run the office in a nonpolitical, professional manner.

Satterberg has relied heavily on the Maleng legacy of non-partisan management of the prosecutor's office. He told me:

"There should be one office where partisanship doesn't rule the day and it ought to be this one."

But the Republican Party sees the race differently. A fundraising letter from King County GOP Chairman Michael Young calls the late Maleng a "committed Republican" who had helped keep the office in GOP hands for 60 years. And he says much more than just party control is at stake in the race:

Now is not the time to surrender this office to an extreme fringe liberal who is incapable of administering justice for all King County residents.

The letter also talks about the need to re-elect King County Councilwoman Jane Hague. But defending Satterberg's seat, the last Republican in a county-wide office, is paramount. Young says in the letter he has "never felt more passionate about defending a seat in county government as I do this one."

It is crucial that we maintain control of the Prosecutor's office. If we do not, justice will not be served to the citizens of our county. Folks, there is a reason Republicans have been elected to pursue justice in this county for six decades running, and it is up to us to remind voters why.

So what does Satterberg think of Young's attack on Sherman? In many ways Young's letter seems to be precisely the sort of partisanship that Satterberg says has no place in the prosecutor's office. I asked him about it this morning.

"I'm happy to have help of anyone that wants to help me. But I don't agree that justice would come to a grinding halt in King County. I just think I'd do a better job."

Satterberg said he didn't see the letter until it arrived in the mail. But he has no objections. He says Young is doing what he needs to do to raise money for the county party. It's clearly a different approach than Satterberg takes in his public campaigning, where he focuses on his years of experience in the office and continuing Maleng's non-partisan ways.

"Those other labels and stuff, that's what party chairmen do. ... You have to raise money for your party in the way you think gets some sense of urgency in the troops."
September 10, 2007

Edwards, Paul, coming to Seattle

Posted by David Postman at 2:05 PM

Eli Sanders is on the fundraiser beat at The Slog. He says Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul will be here Friday for a rally and fundraisers. Democrat John Edwards is due Sept. 19.

Chief House aide moves to Senate

Posted by David Postman at 10:59 AM

State House Chief Clerk Rich Nafziger will move across the dome to be chief of staff for the Senate Democratic Caucus. He replaces Carolyn Busch who is leaving for a job with the University of Washington.

As clerk, Nafziger works for Speaker Frank Chopp and is the House's chief administrative officer. When he takes the Senate job Oct. 1, Nafziger will be a key aide and strategist for Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane. Nafziger has worked for former governors Gary Locke and Booth Gardner, the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges and for the Service Employees International Union.

Is this David Petreaus' war?

Posted by David Postman at 9:12 AM

A pop quiz: Who was the general in charge of Iraq before David Petreaus?

I couldn't come up with the name without help from Google. It was George W. Casey. It's no accident that, if you're like me, you couldn't dredge Casey's name from your brain while Petreaus' is stuck there like the chorus to a bad pop song.

As the Washington Post reported in July, "the president has sought, at least rhetorically, to transfer some of the burden of an unpopular war to his top general in Baghdad, wielding Petraeus as a shield against a growing number of congressional doubters."

Bush has mentioned Petraeus at least 150 times this year in his speeches, interviews and news conferences, often setting him up in opposition to members of Congress

For the most part, Democrats have tried to avoid that. They mostly praise Petreaus while questioning his Iraq surge. In fact, I think Democrats have played along with Bush's strategy and in recent months talked more of Petreaus than Bush, helping the president transfer some of that burden the Post wrote about. (Harry Reid has been one of the exceptions, saying in June that the general "isn't in touch with what's going on in Baghdad.")

This has created a bit of a dilemma for Democrats. The Politico reported Friday:

... Democrats face a touchy political problem — how do you attack what Petraeus and Crocker are saying without attacking them personally?

...

"No one wants to call [Petraeus] a liar on national TV," noted one Democratic senator, who spoke on the condition on anonymity. "The expectation is that the outside groups will do this for us."

(This is a great D.C. Profile in Courage moment: An anonymous senator, quoted about a supposedly "independent" outside group that will have to deliver tough shots that Democrats won't take publicly about an increasingly unpopular war.)

And the most prominent of those outside groups did just that in today's New York Times. MoveOn.org has a full-page ad accusing Petreaus of "Cooking the Books for the White House." They headline the piece with a bit of schoolyard name calling:

General Petraeus or General Betray Us?

They don't directly call him liar, but say:

General Petraeus is a military man constantly at war with the facts.

Republicans are giving the ad wide play this morning. I just got a copy of it from Congressman Doc Hastings along with his e-mailed statement that it is "clear MoveOn.org has no interest in a non-partisan evaluation by military leaders and would rather play politics with our troops and our homeland security." The top item on the Republican National Committee's Web site this morning is a press release headlined:

RNC Chairman: Will Hillary and Barack Denounce MoveOn Ad?

Without the MoveOn ad to be outraged about, I'm not sure what pro-surge Republicans would say today when Democrats are certain to be unconvinced by Petreaus and Crocker. I am sure the ad will be a favorite topic on talk radio and the conservative blogs are already all over it. The line seems to be that MoveOn, and therefore Democrats, think Petreaus is a traitor. From the Weekly Standard:

Let's be clear: MoveOn.org is suggesting that General Petraeus has 'betrayed' his country. This is disgusting. To attack as a traitor an American general commanding forces in war because his 'on the ground' experience does not align with MoveOn.org's political objectives is utterly shameful. It shows contempt for America's military leadership, as well as for the troops who have confidence in him, as our fellow soldiers in Iraq certainly do.
September 9, 2007

Reichert sees Iraq up close

Posted by David Postman at 9:33 PM

Congressman Dave Reichert is on his way back from Iraq tonight. There are few details available about the trip at this point. Reichert spent two days in Iraq and is scheduled to return to D.C. Monday morning. That will put him in the Capital within hours of when Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassader Ryan Crocker are due to to appear before House Committees to give a progress report on the military surge.

Reichert is already on the record as a strong supporter of letting Petraeus continue with the current strategy. He told me in July:

"When you try to dismantle a plan that has been put in place before it has the opportunity to come to fruition you are politicizing the effort and you make it difficult."

So I wouldn't expect any major, Baird-like change in Reichert's position. But he will have the freshest on-the-scene report for the surge's big day in Congress. Reichert left for Iraq Thursday night and flew overnight. He spent two days in the country. This was his first Iraq visit since 2005.

September 7, 2007

McDermott knighted

Posted by David Postman at 11:05 AM

The King of Lesotho — "His Majesty Letsie III, by the Grace of God, Sovereign of the Kingdom of Lesotho" — knighted Congressman Jim McDermott last month as a Knight Commander of The Most Dignified Order of Moshoeshoe. McDermott was honored for his work on African free trade, specifically the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act of 2000 and "influencing the extension of quota free treatment on apparel articles made in Sub-Saharan Africa to 2015," according to the royal proclamation.

Bill Clinton coming to Seattle

Posted by David Postman at 10:47 AM

Former President Bill Clinton will be in Seattle in November for a U.S. Conference of Mayors summit on climate change, Mayor Greg Nickels announced this morning.

Court rejects intiative challenge

Posted by David Postman at 9:14 AM

The state Supreme Court this morning unanimously rejected a challenge to Tim Eyman's latest anti-tax initiative. In an opinion written by Chief Justice Gerry Alexander, the court ruled against an environmental group and a labor union that wanted Secretary of State Sam Reed to keep Initiative 960 off the November ballot.

The court, in upholding a ruling by King County Superior Court Judge Catherine Shaffer, said it would not "review the validity of the challenged
provisions of I-960 prior to the November 2007 general election."

Preelection review of initiative measures is highly disfavored. The fundamental reason is that "the right of initiative is nearly as old as our constitution itself, deeply ingrained in our state's history, and widely revered as a powerful check and balance on the other branches of government." Given the preeminence of the initiative right, pre-election challenges to the substantive validity of initiatives are particularly disallowed. Such review, if engaged in, would involve the court in rendering advisory opinions, would violate ripeness requirements, would undermine the policy of avoiding unnecessary constitutional questions, and would constitute unwarranted judicial meddling with the legislative process.

Futurewise and the Service Employees International Union filed suit to challenge the initiative's referendum provisions and the requirement for a supermajority vote of the Legislature for tax increases, which they claimed would be in effect change the state Constitution. The court wrote:

Neither of appellants' challenges is subject to preelection review. I-960 does not purport to amend the constitution, whatever its practical "effect" may be.

ADD: Here's the initiative.

September 6, 2007

How does the Ninth Circuit fare at the Supreme Court?

Posted by David Postman at 11:44 AM

Ninth Circuit Court Judge Sidney Thomas is trying to quash the perception that his circuit is the most reversed in the country. Thomas, who is moderating a panel reviewing the Supreme Court term, came prepared with years of statistics that showed other circuits, with a fewer number of cases, having very high — even 100 percent — reversal rates at the Supreme Court.

"We're not the most reversed. Period," he said. He said reversal rates are unimportant, except that they are used in the argument for breaking up the court.

U.C. Davis law professor Vik Amar said it's not just the high number of reversals that are meaningful, but the number of cases the high court hears from the West. "The Ninth Circuit is over represented on the Supreme Court docket year after year," he said. The other issue, which Amar said is a "better metric" of Ninth Circuit performance, is how many of those reversals are by unanimous or overwhelming vote of the Supreme Court. And it turns out that the Ninth Circuit is overturned often by 9-0 or 8-1 votes, he said. That "helps shape the perception" that the Ninth is the most reversed court in the country.

Ninth Circuit Judge Jay Bybee said that a high reversal rate has no effect on his work "in terms of disciplining my opinions." But he does believe "we have a bit of a target on our back." He said the Ninth Circuit was always a favorite topic for jokes and satirical skits at annual reunions former Chief Justice William Rehnquist held for his clerks.

Amar suggested that part of the problem may be with the impression of the Ninth Cricuit among students in Ivy League law schools. Those are the people who become Supreme Court clerks and, Amar said, their preconceived notions about the Ninth can bubble up to influence which cases the Supreme Court decides to hear.

Maybe the Ninth Circuit needs a PR offensive aimed at Harvard and Yale law students. Spring break in Hawaii?


Is the Ninth Circuit too large?

Posted by David Postman at 10:27 AM

For years, critics of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals have said that the court has grown too large and unwieldy. Some have argued that as the largest circuit, it should be broken up. (There are 28 active judges on the court and more than 20 senior judges.) In the late 1990s there were moves in Congress to break up the court. That seems unlikely with Democrats in charge in D.C. But critics remain. As recently as July, Vanderbilt law professor Brian Fitzpatrick said the Ninth Circuit's high record of being overturned by the Supreme Court is evidence that the court is working poorly.

The 9th Circuit also has a long-running streak as the most overturned, which went unbroken this year. The Supreme Court reviewed 22 cases from the 9th Circuit last term, and it reversed or vacated 19 times.

These numbers suggest that the 9th Circuit is not doing a very good job. ... Proponents of splitting the 9th Circuit largely have been unable, however, to connect the colossal court's size to its high rate of reversal. But there is a connection. Indeed, it can be shown mathematically that, as a court grows larger, it is increasingly likely to issue extreme decisions.

Veteran judges on the circuit are on a panel now at the Ninth Circuit Media Conference talking about criticism of the size of the court.

Former Chief Judge Procter Hug, Jr., said the problem is not the size of the court but making sure that judges have the "judge time" to work on cases.

"A large circuit can work and work very well. We have a difficulty explaining that to some of the eastern circuits because they think the only way it can operate is if it's small. Matter of fact, we have some difficulty explaining that to the Supreme Court. But it does work. So many things that are innovations in other circuits have really been copied form the Ninth Circuit."

Ninth Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski said there are many advantages to a large court over what claim are smaller and more collegial courts.

"You know, it's collegial if you like and get along with all the people equally well. Imagine yourself locked into a small room with eight other people, some of whom you hate. ... I can say with no sense of irony that I love all of my colleagues. But I also think I'd possibly love them a bit less if I saw more of them."

Chief Judge Mary Schroeder said that is backed up by psychologists who say a large group works better "because you don't have to spend all the time with each other."

"It's really true that we get along extremely well. People don't believe it."

A depressing but romantic notion about newspapers

Posted by David Postman at 10:00 AM

During this morning's panel at the Ninth Circuit Media Conference, "Bloggers: The New Journalism," UCLA law professor and blogger Eugene Volokh said newspapers are going the way of "candles and horses."

September 5, 2007

A debate about cameras in courtrooms

Posted by David Postman at 10:51 PM

Colorado federal District Court Judge Wiley Daniel was asked this afternoon by Seattle federal District Court Judge Robert Lasnik why people around the country shouldn't be able to watch Daniel in action on TV. Responded Daniel:

"They can see me. They just need to show up in person. ... It's an open trial. They can show up and watch me in action."

That was the kickoff to a panel on cameras in the courtroom at the Ninth Circuit Media Conference in Pasadena. Lasnik, an advocate for allowing TV cameras in the courtroom, moderated the discussion that brought some frank talk from judges clearly split on the question.

Lasnik told Daniel that having people show up in person might have been fine when "when we had a tiny little country and trials where everyone knew each other." But today, he suggested, couldn't people around the country learn a lot by watching an important or interesting trial? Daniel said broadcasters would "probably only show a snippet on the evening news" that wouldn't necessarily represent what he was doing. In fact, he said:

"It may distort what I'm actually doing in court."

Joining Daniel in his opposition to cameras was Ninth Circuit Judge Carlos Bea. He said the question has to be how cameras in the courtroom will help the cause of justice. He had an answer:

"I don't see anyway that that a camera is going to help us run our courtroom or make our decisions."

The only exception he could think of is if there was an irascible judge up for election who might be more restrained under the watchful eye of a camera. He wondered what the civic value would be of broadcasting federal court proceedings.

"I don't doubt there is some entertainment value. It's wonderful for television. You have unpaid actors. You don't have to write a script. There are no production costs."

After many Americans watched a televised court proceeding involving Anna Nicole Smith, he wondered, "What does anyone remember about Texas probate law as a result?"

Arguing for cameras, was Ninth Circuit Judge Sidney Thomas. He said that many people "assume that trials are being conducted in the Judge Judy fashion."

"I think we have a good story to tell."

In Thomas' home state of Montana, state courts allow cameras by rule and it's a violation of the code of judicial conduct to exclude them without a good reason. And he said there have been no problems. He said broadcasting court proceedings is particularly important with criminal cases.

"We are seriously eroding the notion of a public criminal trial in the United States and I hate to see it happen."

Thomas did concede that cameras can affect a judge's behavior. One of his colleagues, who he did not name, won't ask any questions if the hearing is being televised, he said.

The split about cameras in the courtroom highlights a more serious disagreement among Ninth Circuit judges. Tonight, Chief Judge Mary Schroeder talked about the court's decision to broadcast its hearing on California's gubernatorial recall case. She said it was one of the best things the court had done to further understanding of the judiciary. She said it is essential that the "public understand the critical role played by the courts."

Said Daniel:

"I don't believe that one of the fundamental purposes of a trial, either civil or criminal, is to educate the public."

And Bea:

"Our job is not to educate. Our job is to try the cases fairly and justly, period."


He'd feel different, he said, "If the person viewing is sufficiently prepared to understand what is going on."

Thomas:

"I think we do underestimate the public and the audience when we say they won't understand. I think most people, they are not going to get all the nuances, they may come to the wrong conclusion about the central issue, but they'll get to the guts of what is important."

Court TV anchor Fred Graham, who has covered courts for the New York Times and CBS, said that the U.S. Supreme Court sets the worst example by banning cameras in its courtroom.

"I think it's selfish. I think the justices don't want to be recognized in public. They don't want to have more security than they have. I don't know what got into Justice Souter. He was up before the Senate Judiciary Committee, he made some noises that were favorable to cameras in the courts and as soon as he got confirmed, it was going to happen over his dead body. Other than that selfish reason that you can hypothesize about, none of the reasons that have been given really wash and I think it is not to the credit of the Supreme court that it takes this position."

Graham said Court TV has aired 900 trials and no one has shown that "anyone's rights were violated by the presence of these cameras." He also pooh-poohed worries that TV would go just for the soundbite.

"Believe me we did soundbites at the New York Times. And some of them were lurid, if we were lucky."

Lasnik said he thinks some judges don't want cameras in their courtroom because they want to preserve some of the "mystique" about the federal judiciary.

"I worry about that factor, too. We are different. It's OK for us to be different and maybe one of the reasons we are different is people don't see us day in and day out."

Lasnik poked at The Seattle Times during the panel. He talked about the paper's private arbitration with the P-I over the joint operating agreement. He said the Times "didn't like the glare" that would have come from an open court proceeding.

He said federal trial judges worry that airing court hearings could lead to more parties taking their cases to private arbitration.

"We don't want to end up with a situation where we have rich people's justice and everybody else's justice."

Strange and sad coincidence

Posted by David Postman at 3:37 PM

In the past week, two women died who were among the most influential players in their respective political parties. I cannot imagine there were many places in the country in the 1980s or early 1990s, or even more recently, where the state Democratic and Republican parties were headed by two women. Today came news of the death of former Republican Chairman Jennifer Dunn. Former Democratic Party Chairwoman Karen Marchioro died last week from breast cancer.

Public records aren't all equally public

Posted by David Postman at 3:18 PM

If you read The Seattle Times you know that court cases are routinely sealed with little or no compelling reason. The Times series "Your Courts, Their Secrets" came up several times in the opening panel of the Ninth District Media Conference in Pasadena. But the same thing is happening all around the country. Cases disappear from dockets with no notice. In one current case, even the media's brief arguing against keeping a case secret has been ruled secret itself.

"Something is wrong with this picture," said panelist Kelli Sager, an attorney in the L.A. office of Davis Wright Tremaine. (The firm's Seattle office represents The Seattle Times.) She's filed an amicus brief in a San Diego case where all mention of a sealed case and arguments about it have been kept confidential.

She referred to the case as "the case we are not allowed to talk about." The case involves a guilty plea of a co-conspirator in the Duke Cunningham bribery scandal. The San Diego Union-Tribune wrote last month that, "Government lawyers have blanketed the proceedings in a thick shroud of secrecy ..." The issue is before the Ninth Circuit. While Sager didn't address judges about that case, she did make a plea for them to be more skeptical of the government's national security claims. She said judges should "simply not take at face value that, 'This is national security.' The government always argues, 'Just trust us. We say it's national security. Just trust us.' ... We're being told as advocates for the press and the public we should simply accept what the government says and if they say 'national security' we all should just go away and you should not do that as judges."

Ninth Circuit Judge Kim Wardlaw, the moderator, opened the panel by talking of the "long tradition of open judicial proceedings. We've always enjoyed a presumption that the First Amendment protects the public's right to the courts, subject to a few and narrowly construed exemptions."

In criminal cases, there is a First Amendment protection that keeps cases open — for the benefit of the defendant as well as for the public. But that doesn't exist for civil cases. Sager said the Supreme Court has "hinted at" a similar constitutional protection for civil cases, but has yet to rule definitively.

Wardlaw said that in preparing for today's panel she learned, "to my surprise, we do have much secrecy in our courts."

"The presumption of openness seems to be eroding."

Former U.S. Attorney Debra Wong Yang conceded that there may have been a time post 9-11 when prosecutors may have been too willing to accept the government's arguments about secrecy.

"Nobody wanted to be the person who said, 'That's not a terrorism case' and then have it turn into something else.'"

There was an interesting exchange about electronic records. San Jose Mercury reporter Howard Mintz said that advances in technology have made it much easier to get online access to a wide array of court records. But, he said, he still comes across records that court personnel say are available only at the courthouse, not online.

"I find that argument kind of ludicrous," he said. "If it's a public document it ought to be available." And available online. "What we see is the presumption of openness isn't really there."

Sager said she knows that not all judges agree. She said that in discussions about access to court records, one judge said, "You shouldn't be able to sit at home in your pajamas and read my divorce records." In a suit in the courthouse would be fine. But not from the comfort of PJs and a living room couch.
The problem with the PJ rule — despite the obvious lack of a compelling reason for making some documents public but less public than others — is that it makes records public only for a price. Big law firms and corporations will always be able to afford to send someone to a courthouse to look through records. Attorneys working as sole practitioners, or I'd say a small newspaper or lone blogger, may not be able to afford that kind of research.

Here is the Times series on court secrecy. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press summarizes other cases here.

Gingrich on Dunn's role in D.C.

Posted by David Postman at 12:55 PM

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said in an e-mailed comment that Jennifer Dunn played a major role in his House leadership and on the Ways and Means Committee when the GOP ruled Washington:

She had an instinct for bringing people together and in a number of cases where we might have broken down and failed to pass legislation she convinced people to listen to each other and find a compromise that worked. She was relentless in seeking out women to run across the country and then in mentoring them once they got to Congress. She represented a sound common sense approach to serving her constituents, which made it almost impossible to not listen to her."

Earlier Gingrich had released a statement calling Dunn "a remarkable friend and a real leader." He pointed out that Dunn had been working on the State Department Transformational Advisory Group and "her advice and counsel will make an important contribution in developing a better State Department for America's future."

Gingirch reportedly helped put Dunn on the Ways and Means Committee and she remained a trusted ally. Her connections to GOP House leadership, and her willingness to challenge some of the old guard, is well detailed in this 1998 Washington Post story.

Rodney Tom drops out of 8th District race

Posted by David Postman at 11:21 AM

State Sen. Rodney Tom announced this morning he's giving up his run in the Democratic primary for the 8th Congressional District. The fast start of Darcy Burner in her second run, and her continued success in fundraising, pushed Tom out of the race just months after he questioned whether she had what it takes to win the district.

His press release says he will refund all contributions made to his campaign. He will pay for all campaign costs out of his own pocket. He said:

"Our fundraising was going great, but Darcy Burner's campaign has been phenomenal."

Burner apparently had to show again what she showed in the run up to the 2006 campaign -- she knows how to campaign and how to raise money.

I won't be doing much on this given that I am out of town. But check tomorrow at Real Clear Politics where Reid Wilson promises an indepth look at the 8th.

Remembering Jennifer Dunn

Posted by David Postman at 10:54 AM

Jennifer Dunn's legacy is the lasting power of the state Republican Party. Yes, the party is at a low point in terms of the numbers of seats held in the Legislature and the GOP looks out of favor. But it strikes me that the presence of Rob McKenna in the attorney general's office, Luke Esser as state chair, Dino Rossi waiting in the wings to run for governor and her own son, Reagan, at the King County Council, shows that Dunn's form of Republicanism is alive today. Dave Reichert's hold on Dunn's old congressional seat shows the same.

Dunn believed in a pragmatic GOP. She was a moderate. And though some of those I mentioned above are not, they emulate her style and her approach to campaigning. Dunn held the 8th Congressional District from its inception until she decided to move on. I believe she could have been a congresswoman for as long as she wanted. McKenna called her today an important mentor. Political consultant Bret Bader is quoted in The Times story saying:

"It's like a whole generation of Republicans have lost their mom. She was that giant of a figure."

I think he's exactly right. At one time many thought, and she hoped, that she would be the face and voice of a different sort of Republican Party, one who believed in George Bush's compassionate conservatism. She was acting that way before Bush was talking that way. Her party featured her at times, but after the Republican landslide of 1994 she was out of style. She fought for a top leadership post but had to settle for less.

Dunn was a rare politician in a couple of ways that come to mind. First off, she liked raising money and she said so. She was good at it, as party chairwoman, as a member of congress and as a top fundraiser for Bush. I'm not sure I've ever heard an elected official say they liked that part of the job as much as Dunn did. It was a large part of her success. From her time as party chairwoman she built a network of contacts around the country. I remember walking across the floor of the 1996 GOP convention in San Diego with her. In that world she was a star.

And I spent time with her again in 2000 when there were rampant rumors that she was likely to get an important post in the White House if Bush was successful that fall. She connected me with Karl Rove for a story I did on Dunn's role. But she never made that step up to the White House with Bush.

I exchanged e-mails with Dunn last month, as we did on occasion. She was named to the board that was to protect the editorial independence of the Wall Street Journal under new owner Rupert Murdoch. I was surprised to see her name there among well-known journalist types.

Dunn was on vacation in Scotland on fishing and sightseeing in what she said was perfect weather and beautiful scenery. How did she get on that panel? Dunn told me:

Apparently negotiators were looking for someone who was an independent person, not a journalist but who had common sense and the ability to evaluate the independence of the publications. My name came up, was submitted to all the parties to the agreement, and was agreed to.

Dunn has also been busy as a board member of the Commission on Presidential Debates. She won't get to see if she has been successful in bringing a debate to Washington state next year. If it happens, it'll be another important legacy of her leadership for the state.

My condolences to her friends and family.

September 4, 2007

On the road

Posted by David Postman at 8:21 PM

Wednesday and Thursday I will be in Pasadena at the Ninth Circuit Media Conference. I am on a panel Thursday morning titled: Bloggers: The New Journalism. It'll be a humbling experience for me as I appear with some of the country's smartest writers about law. The panel includes Dahlia Lithwick, a Slate senior editor, Eugene Volokh, a UCLA law professor who blogs at The Volokh Conspiracy and Pam MacLean, a writer for the National Law Journal. Our moderator is Circuit Judge Richard Clifton of Hawaii, named to the court in 2002.

I plan to blog from the conference as well, and particularly look forward to sessions about secrecy and the courts and judicial ethics and misconduct procedures.

Sims' path to the Clinton camp

Posted by David Postman at 3:40 PM

King County Executive Ron Sims endorsed Hillary Clinton for president today only after talks with her, John Edwards and Barack Obama, who Sims is convinced will be America's first African-American president. "I wanted to feel comfortable with people on domestic policy issues," he said. But he says there aren't many differences between the three leading Democratic candidates on domestic issues. Sims called that "an embarrassment of riches."

Clinton won him over on foreign policy, the very issue that makes it hard for many liberal Democrats to support the New York senator. Sims says Clinton has a "foreign policy toughness, a foreign policy experience that gives her an advantage."

"I opposed the Iraq war before it was declared and I want us to get out. We need an orderly process to get out. Of all the presidential candidates, Democrats and Republicans, I thought she would get us out of Iraq in the most orderly fashion, but at the same time in a fashion that would keep the region as stable as we can make it. ... She's going to get us out of that place."

Sims supported Edwards in the 2004 presidential campaign. And he remains a fan. He said he also hit it off very well with Obama.

"I walked away going, 'He's going to be president one day.' He had all the energy and charisma and he's a policy wonk, which I like. We had a wonderful time talking about health care and global warming and how you end poverty."

Sims also felt the tug of having the chance to elect the first African-American president. But in the end he didn't think Obama had "seasoning" yet for the job.

"I don't mean seasoning in a denigrating way. He and I talked about having everybody say, 'You're not ready, you're not ready.' I believe that when you're competing against another candidate who is bringing that skill set to the presidency, then I think it is legitimate to say, 'When you acquire that same skill set you will be the president.' I think Senator Clinton has it now."

The Clinton campaign also put on the hard sell. Sims was asked to invite former President Bill Clinton when he made a June appearance in Seattle at a fundraiser for his wife. He did that, but still refrained from making an endorsement. He had a long talk with Bill Clinton that day. And the former president asked him "to give my wife some consideration."

Sims also got a call from former Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater. Sims had always been close to the Clinton administration but he said Slater was the one cabinet member he was closest to. Slater invited Sims to come see him in D.C. at his office with the powerful lobbying firm of Patton Boggs. Said Sims:

"He put his arm around me and said, 'Well, what would it take.' I said, 'Probably a phone call.'"

It turned out that Hillary Clinton had been trying to call him for some time. The phone call happened recently. He and Clinton talked about global warming, a big topic for Sims, and health care. He was impressed that Clinton knew about the Puget Sound Health Care Alliance, the group he put together of representatives of government, industry and labor. Clinton knew details of his work on global warming and was able to cite awards Sims has gotten for those efforts.

She invited him to serve on her Environment and Energy Task Force, and then surprised him by asking him to also serve as state co-chairman with Rep. Jay Inslee.

Rep. McIntire to run for state treasurer

Posted by David Postman at 3:17 PM

Rep. Jim McIntire, D-Seattle, says he'll run for state treasurer next year instead of a sixth-term in the Legislature. McIntire teaches economics at the University of Washington and has focused on those issues in the Legislature. But his support for considering a state income tax cost him his chairmanship of the House Finance Committee last year when Democrats decided they didn't like such talk.

State Treasurer Mike Murphy, a Democrat, has announced he's retiring next year. Murphy is backing his deputy, Republican Allan Martin, for the job.

Erik Poulsen to resign Senate seat for new PUD job

Posted by David Postman at 12:35 PM

Sen. Erik Poulsen, a Democrat who has represented West Seattle in the Legislature for nearly 11 years, is resigning his seat to take a job with the Washington Public Utilities Districts Association. Poulsen will be government relations director for the PUD group.

Poulsen had been considering a run for state lands commissioner. But an offer from the PUD association convinced him to leave the world of electoral politics. Poulsen told me:

"It will allow me to keep working on environmental and public power issues that are near and dear to my heart, and enable me to get my two sons through college. I always wanted to go out on top and I feel like I've set the environmental agenda in Olympia for the past several years and put a lot of things in motion."

He said he has grown tired of the "nuts and bolts of campaigning."

Poulsen's pending resignation means an appointment will be made to fill his seat until November 2008. The two Democrats representing the 34th District in the House are Eileen Cody and Joe McDermott. Cody has more seniority. (ADD: The appointment is made by the King County Council from a list of three candidates submitted by the district party organization.)

Poulsen established himself as a voice in utility debates early in his legislative career. His first year in office he worked to stop an effort to deregulate the state's electric utilities. He worked with Republicans in 1997 to prevent what he says now would have been an Enron-style deregulation of Washington's power market. He said:

"That gave me great insight into the value of public power and it something I've been passionate about ever since."

SENATE DEMOCRATIC CAUCUS

I'd say Poulsen's biggest accomplishment, though, was the Legislature's bipartisan deal in 2006 to rework how water disputes are handled on the Columbia and lower Snake rivers. The Legislature had been unable to deal with water legislation for more than a decade — with Democrats and Republicans lining up behind environmentalists and farmers in a long-standing stalemate. As Craig Welch reported last year:

In the face of that stalemate, Sen. Erik Poulsen, D-West Seattle, who chairs the Senate committee that deals with water, went to Eastern Washington to fish last summer with Sen. Bob Morton, R-Orient, Ferry County, and work out a solution.

"We were trying to change the culture of how we work on water in Olympia," Poulsen said.

After months of miscues, Poulsen and Morton this year told environmentalists and farmers to lock themselves away and reach a compromise both sides could live with.

Poulsen is widely credited with guiding that compromise through the Legislature. He said he leaves with one major disappointment. This year he was unable to pass legislation to stop an expansion of gravel mining on Maury Island.

Poulsen has been among the more quotable members of the Legislature. He's also irreverent at times, even using that trait as a political tool. In 2003 he and then-Sen. Aaron Reardon slipped off in Poulsen's SUV to slow down Senate action on a bill so that House Speaker Frank Chopp would have time to work a compromise more to their liking.

Poulsen hopes to raise the profile of the PUDs in Olympia. His hiring does some of that off the bat. He will also hire two contract lobbyists and he said, "I hope to make a big statement with the lobbyists I hire as well."

One of the big issues facing the PUDs is their involvement with high speed Internet service in rural parts of the state. Poulsen says that commercial carriers are not interested in serving small communities, but that the PUDs need legislation to allow them into that business.

Ron Sims joins Clinton campaign

Posted by David Postman at 11:08 AM

Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign just announced that King County Executive Ron Sims will co-chair her Washington campaign with Congressman Jay Inslee, D-Bainbridge Island. Sims will also serve on Clinton's Environment and Energy Task Force.

Sims said in a release from the campaign:

"At this critical time in our history, Hillary Clinton is the experienced leader this country needs to deliver the change it demands. ... She will provide the national leadership essential to meeting the challenges of climate change that threaten our economy, environment and public health."

Tracking Oregon supporters of gay rights repeal

Posted by David Postman at 7:47 AM

At Crosscut, Kimberly Marlowe Hartnett says:

If you're bored with snooping through Match.com for photos of your coworkers and fully caught up on the neighbors' property values thanks to Zillow.com, just be patient. A new source of cyber-dishing is on the way in Oregon, and other states might not be far behind.

The new search tool is a database of people who sign petitions in Oregon to repeal the state's gay rights and domestic partnership laws. It's called KnowThyNeighborOregon.com and it is the latest branch of a national effort to track people who oppose gay rights. The group says:

KnowThyNeighborOregon.com strongly believes that if you sign one or both of these petitions to take away the basic rights of Oregon families and individuals, then again, these people should have the courage of their convictions, and take responsibility for what they've done. Being that it is public information, your name and address will appear on this Web site after the petitions have been turned in.

The group says it "discourages with its fullest conviction the actions by anyone to harm a person or their property in retribution for exercising their democratic right to sign the petition."

Marlowe Hartnett says the database will go live only if there are enough signatures to qualify the measures for the ballot. She hopes that doesn't happen.

But what if there's a mistake and the wrong people are outed? Suppose one of those buck-for-a-name petition scams happens again, or simple human error means your name and address are mistakenly put up on KnowThyNeighborOregon's site? You're supposed to then report it to KnowThyNeighbor's volunteers, who will remove it and contact the Secretary of State about the error. No one knows how many errors are likely or if the correction mechanism will work. Even if the fixes do work and contribute to a more accurate record, that may be small comfort once your name and address are hung out there erroneously in cyberspace, where info has a shelf-life roughly equivalent to canned vegetables.

Marlowe Hartnett may not need to worry. The Oregonian reports groups behind the petition drives "are disconnected, frustrated and uncertain whether they can muster enough voter names to qualify for the statewide ballot."

They have less than seven weeks to collect the 55,179 valid signatures needed to refer each of two laws passed by the Legislature to the November 2008 ballot. Chief petitioner Janice Bentson estimates that only 5,000 to 10,000 signatures have arrived at her Salem home.

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