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Join the informed writers of The Times' editorial board in lively discussions at our blog, Opinion Northwest.

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August 12, 2014 at 6:04 AM

Looks like SEIU organizing strategy may backfire — on Washington taxpayers

U.S. Supreme Court. (photo/ Associated Press)

U.S. Supreme Court. (photo/ Associated Press)

More than a month ago, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a ruling likely to shake the left side of Washington politics. But this state hasn’t heard in any official way what effect Harris vs. Quinn will have – and now it looks like we’ll have to wait for a legal decision sometime in the months or even years ahead.

But what a punchline this one will likely carry. The June 30 federal ruling concerns a clever strategy to beef up membership in the Service Employees International Union in Illinois, similar in every way to an SEIU organizing effort in Washington. Read between the lines and it is possible to see that Washington taxpayers may be on the hook for tens of millions of dollars.

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Comments | Topics: Harris v. Quinn, SEIU

August 11, 2014 at 6:13 AM

Why Gov. Jay Inslee goes against the grain industry

Wheat harvest along the Washington-Idaho border, 2013 (photo by Jeff Horner/ Walla Walla Union-Bulletin)

Wheat harvest along the Washington-Idaho border, 2013. (photo by Jeff Horner/ Walla Walla Union-Bulletin)

A letter from Washington Gov. Jay Inslee explains a curious decision that has bollixed up the wheat harvest throughout the western United States this year. Good bet it will infuriate more people than it will soothe.

In it the Democratic governor appears to say the issue is purely a labor dispute involving 44 union positions at the Port of Vancouver. The only acknowledgement of the enormous disruption he has caused for thousands of farmers and for the rural economy from the Washington coast to the Midwest is a throwaway line: “I remain committed to a healthy, thriving agricultural industry.”

The letter is the fullest explanation Inslee has offered – read it below. But first it might be useful to check in with agriculture, which has been doing all it can to reopen the United Grain Corp. terminal, a facility responsible for nearly 20 percent of the exports from the West Coast.

On July 6, in the 17th month of a lockout involving the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Inslee withdrew State Patrol protection for Washington grain inspectors who had been crossing what they called a dangerous picket line.

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Comments | Topics: agriculture, economy, Jay Inslee

August 7, 2014 at 12:33 PM

Will a red result in Washington Senate primaries keep Tom Steyer from spending?

San Francisco billionaire Tom Steyer, founder of NextGen Climate Action.

San Francisco billionaire Tom Steyer, founder of NextGen Climate Action.

There’s been plenty of talk about the role free-spending California billionaire Tom Steyer might play in Washington’s upcoming legislative races — the man whose wallet might make all the difference. But if the results of the Aug. 5 primary tell us anything, it is that his money might go further somewhere else.

The largely-Republican Senate Majority Coalition Caucus seems to be in firm-enough control of the upper chamber that it will not be easy to dislodge. If results hold firm through late ballot counts and the November election, its numbers will remain steady next session at 26-23.

Democratic partisans will disagree that there is anything good about it, but the coalition certainly is a big deal. The Washington Senate is the only legislative body in the blue West Coast states where Republicans have a toehold, and its effect has been to steer Washington’s environmental policy down the middle while Oregon and California veer left. Steyer, a retired former hedge-fund manager with money to burn and a passion for climate-change legislation, offered plenty of hints before the primary that he might spend big in this state to change the chamber’s color.

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August 4, 2014 at 5:22 PM

How to investigate yourself and satisfy no one

Attorney Phil Talmadge and client Patricia Petersen testify at a June 16 hearing of the Senate Law and Justice Committee.

Attorney Phil Talmadge and client Patricia Petersen testify at a June 16 hearing of the Senate Law and Justice Committee. (Photo by Erik Smith/ Seattle Times)

Remember the Patricia Petersen case? The hearings officer who says her bosses at the state Office of Insurance Commissioner tried to pressure her into ruling in their favor? The office has finally released its report on the matter, and it looks like it ought to be filed with the Department of Told-You-So.

It is hard to imagine a vindication for a state agency as complete as this one. Not only does the report find the agency blameless, it also finds much to fault in Petersen’s behavior. So much fault, in fact, that the Office of Insurance Commissioner is using the findings as the basis for formal disciplinary proceedings, and termination seems one likely outcome. Not to mention a lawsuit from Petersen, and recriminations before the Legislature.

Commissioner Mike Kreidler and his crew should have known better. An investigation like this was bound to satisfy no one.

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August 4, 2014 at 8:08 AM

State’s papers: Inslee tactic at Vancouver boosts union at expense of ag industry

United Grain Corp. terminal at Port of Vancouver.

United Grain Corp. terminal at Port of Vancouver.

Newspapers across the state are chiming in against Gov. Jay Inslee’s decision to choke off exports from the biggest grain terminal in the West, right on the eve of the wheat harvest. As described in a July 28 Seattle Times editorial, the governor’s unfortunate decision boosts the International Longshore and Warehouse Union at the expense of the grain-growing industry – which is worth $1 billion to Washington state alone, and more than that to other states.

Inslee has withdrawn State Patrol protection for state grain inspectors at the United Grain Corp. terminal, the biggest export facility in the west, where locked-out longshore workers are maintaining a picket line. Without protection, the state Department of Agriculture won’t send the inspectors — it says the union pickets have threatened and harassed its crews. Without the inspectors, the wheat exports can’t leave the port, except in rare cases. The terminal is essentially shut down.

Good news for the union in its contract talks, but rotten timing for agriculture. Harvest is about to begin. The grain needs to get through.

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Comments | Topics: grain terminal, Jay Inslee, labor council

July 30, 2014 at 6:23 AM

Photos: Picturing the devastation of fire country

Scorched earth lines Highway 97 between Okanogan and Brewster.

Scorched earth lines Highway 97 between Okanogan and Brewster. (Photo by Erik Smith / Seattle Times)

Southern Okanogan County, devastated by wildfire over the last two weeks, has the look of a war zone right after the combat has finished. The front has moved on, leaving ruined homes, blackened earth and the smell of smoke.

A ruined chimney is all that remains of a Pateros home.

Ruined chimney is all that remains of a Pateros home. (Photo by Erik Smith / Seattle Times)

I took a drive through the area last weekend and found plenty of evidence of the pitched battle that raged after lightning July 14 touched off the Carlton Complex fire. Worst-hit is the town of Pateros, at the confluence of the Methow and Columbia rivers. Approximately 25 percent of the homes within the city limits and the area immediately surrounding the city were destroyed. Devastation was near-complete at the Alta Lake Golf Course just outside the city, where Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers counts 52 homes burned. He counts another 30 within the city limits, and a county-wide total of 300, from the Methow Valley to Brewster. He cautions that his numbers are neither precise nor complete: The complete picture of devastation is only beginning to emerge. “It’s so hard,” he says.

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July 28, 2014 at 6:09 AM

B.C. premier vows sewage treatment for Victoria — someday

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark.

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark.

It took more than a month, but the premier of British Columbia in Canada has finally answered a letter from Washington’s congressional delegation about the million gallons of raw sewage the city of Victoria flushes every hour into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

And somehow that seems fitting, since it has been more than 20 years since Washington started beating the drum about Victoria’s plumbing problems. No one north of the border seems to be in any particular hurry.

The Democratic members of Washington’s congressional delegation wrote B.C. Premier Christy Clark June 13 to urge that the province find a sewage solution “as soon as possible.” Clark’s rather tardy response promises to hold the southern end of Vancouver Island to a requirement that it develop a new sewage treatment plant. But she fails to address the key question. When, exactly? Will she even be in office? Which century?

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Comments | Topics: bc, congressional, poo

July 22, 2014 at 6:02 AM

State’s editorial boards: Some praise, some snort at Inslee’s fish-consumption proposal

Salmon steaks in a market. (Source: Wikipedia creative commons.)

Salmon steaks in a market. (Source: Wikipedia creative commons.)

Washington’s editorial writers seemed pretty much of one mind before Gov. Jay Inslee announced his “fish consumption” proposal two weeks ago. Now that the state’s chief executive has spoken they’re all over the map.

The issue has provoked one of the biggest policy debates in recent years, as federal regulators, Native American tribes and environmental groups pressured the state to adopt a higher estimate of individual fish consumption. Worried business interests and local governments have been in a state of high alarm because the estimate drives the state’s water quality standards. Every editorial page that opined on the subject prior to the announcement urged the governor to show moderation, with the exception of The Herald of Everett. But now that Inslee has come up with a plan, there seems to be a bit of disagreement.

An editorial in The Olympian calls it a “reasonable middle ground,” while the Tri-City Herald snorts, “flat-out ridiculous.”

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July 14, 2014 at 8:36 AM

Filets aren’t the issue in Inslee’s remarkable fish-consumption decision

Gov. Jay Inslee.

Gov. Jay Inslee.

How much fish do you eat? Twelve pounds a month? If you’re like most people, the answer isn’t anywhere close – one of the reasons Gov. Jay Inslee’s judgment call on a momentous water-quality issue last week struck so many people as absurd.

The governor decreed Wednesday that the state shall use a figure of 12 pounds a month as it calculates new water-quality standards – a big increase from the current half-pound a month. He will soon propose a rule to this effect. Of course the average Washington resident doesn’t eat 12 pounds a month. State officials have never bothered to determine an exact number, but the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tells us the national average is 14.4 pounds a year.

And the governor says people eat how much?

Believe it or not, Inslee’s decision is the most sensible pronouncement that has emerged to date from any government official during Washington’s long-running battle over fish consumption and water-quality standards. Count it among the top-ten most important state-government decisions of the last decade. Billions of dollars are riding on it, the possibility of costly pollution-control mandates that might sap the vitality of Washington industry, and sewage bills that might cost every homeowner $200 a month or more. Inslee found a clever way out, and while there are a thousand details that still might bollix things up, Washington ought to be grateful that the greenest governor turned out not to be so green as to bend to dictates that make no sense whatever.

What really ought to puzzle people is the fact that the state faces pressure from federal regulators and special-interest groups to adopt a “science-based” policy involving virtually no science at all.

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June 26, 2014 at 6:50 AM

Why Washington state — and Cathy McMorris Rodgers — play a pivotal role in Ex-Im debate

U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash.

U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash.

Few Spokane firms have been around longer than Commercial Creamery, in business since 1908, a manufacturer of food ingredients with worldwide sales. It lost business in the Middle East after the invasion of Iraq but found a new market for its powdered cheese in the Philippines and Indonesia. The company covered the invoices with insurance from the federal Export-Import Bank.

All in all, not really the most exciting of transactions. Which is why company President Michael Gilmartin marvels at the current firestorm in Congress over the bank’s reauthorization, fast becoming the debate of the season. Unless a bill passes the obscure 80-year-old institution will die Oct. 1. Gilmartin says there’s something entertaining about an argument in which Democrats are lining up for an enterprise that supports business and Republicans are lining up against it. “But I’d rather see them work on something that everyone agrees is a problem, like the Internal Revenue Service.”

Unlike most issues that consume Congress this one seems to have a clear Washington state focus: Boeing is the biggest customer for the bank’s export loans, credit insurance and loan guarantees. Washington Democrat Denny Heck is sponsoring the bill for the bank’s reauthorization, and 11 out of 12 members of the state’s congressional delegation have declared their support. Yet the one member who hasn’t made up her mind could play the most pivotal role of all. That’s Gilmartin’s congresswoman, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, and that makes Spokane and the 5th Congressional District ground zero for the debate.

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