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Opinion Northwest

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

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 11, 2014 at 5:45 AM

With the end of psychiatric boarding, a new mental health crisis decades in the making

The state Supreme Court’s opinion on Thursday invalidating psychiatric “boarding” has thrown Washington’s already-messy mental-health system into chaos.

An estimated 350 very ill people across the state are currently being warehoused in emergency rooms, usually without treatment, because the state hasn’t funded enough psychiatric beds. State and county mental-health managers are scrambling to suddenly find beds for them. If they don’t, the patients could be cut loose, with potentially dire consequences, particularly to themselves.

King County mental health director Jim Vollendroff told me Friday morning eight people were in limbo. “We’re scrambling for those,” he said.

What’s disturbing is that Thursday’s ruling, In The Matter of The Detention of D.W., seemed to catch the state by surprise, with no advance planning.

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Comments | Topics: dshs, mental health

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 6, 2014 at 6:02 AM

As border children seek safety, some leaders show cowardice

Children considered refugees of Central America will not be sent to military bases for temporary housing, including Joint Base Lewis-McChordU.S. Rep. Denny Heck, D-Wash, issued a statement Tuesday that appropriately summed up the need for Congress to fund efforts to address the border crisis and to fix the nation’s broken immigration system.

In this Wednesday, June 18, 2014, file photo, two young girls watch a World Cup soccer match on a television from their holding area where hundreds of mostly Central American immigrant children are being processed and held at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Nogales Placement Center in Nogales, Ariz. As of Thursday, July 17, 2014, immigrant children caught crossing the Mexican border into Texas illegally and alone are no longer being sent to a massive Nogales facility. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool, File)

A June 18, 2014 file photo at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Nogales Placement Center in Nogales, Ariz. As of Thursday, July 17, 2014, immigrant children caught crossing the Mexican border into Texas illegally and alone are no longer being sent to a massive Nogales facility. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

“I received word today that the Department of Health and Human Services is no longer seeking facilities for temporary shelters for refugee children from Central America at this time, including Joint Base Lewis-McChord in the 10th Congressional District.

“I trust HHS to make the right decisions about what facilities are best for the refugee children, but this situation will not simply go away because the children are not staying in our district. As we continue to experience this humanitarian crisis, I support providing emergency funding to provide adequate assistance to care for the children, as well as resources for proper immigration proceedings.

“We are a proud nation of immigrants, and I will continue to push for common-sense, comprehensive immigration reform.”

I was curious how this state would react if those kids did arrive. Would people protest their entry as they have in other cities? Or would they remember Washington’s proud history of welcoming people who flee danger in their native countries?

As Sunday’s guest column by former Washington Gov. Dan Evans made so clear, the U.S. has experienced its fair share of  immigration crises. He reminded readers that local churches and community groups responded in droves when the first wave of Vietnamese refugees arrived in the state after the fall of Saigon in 1975. Evans, a Republican, expressed his dismay with politicians of both parties who’ve failed to step up to what he views as their moral responsibility. He tells the story of one refugee couple in particular who rebuilt their lives from nothing, named one of their children Evans, and sent all six of their children on to college and successful careers:

The Nguyens are a stellar example of the success of our Vietnamese immigration program. Washington state has the third-largest Vietnamese population in the U.S., behind California and Texas. I’m exceedingly proud of the volunteer sponsors, support organizations and legislators who welcomed these productive new citizens to our state.

But that was 40 years ago. What should we do today about immigration?

First, receive the children fleeing from repression in Central America the same way we welcomed refugees from Vietnam 40 years ago.

Second, the U.S. House of Representatives should debate and pass its version of an immigration bill, which the U.S. Senate has already done. It is unconscionable to delay just because the issue is politically uncomfortable.

Then the House and Senate should meet promptly in conference to attempt to reach agreement on a comprehensive reform proposal.

Third, Congress should adopt rules that would allow highly educated foreign students to remain in the United States after graduating from U.S. colleges and universities, instead of requiring them to return home. These bright young graduates could help fill increasing worker shortages for high-tech jobs.

Fourth, our foreign-aid program should add a mini-Marshall Plan for Mexico and Central America. After World War II, the Marshall Plan reinvigorated a devastated Europe and helped immensely to create a peaceful and prosperous continent.

If the U.S. helped Central American nations build strong, free economies and working democracies, and treated Mexico as a true economic partner, the surge northward of desperate refugees would slow to a trickle. It would be an investment far more productive than a barbed wire-encrusted barrier that screams “STAY OUT.”

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Comments | Topics: border crisis, butch otter, dan evans

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

August 1, 2014 at 6:01 AM

Carrying on Lance Dickie’s legacy with school supply drive

Seattle Times editorial writer Lance Dickie retired Thursday. We will miss him. Not only was Lance a prolific and persuasive writer throughout his 26 years at the paper, his volunteerism and sense of compassion was the inspiration for the newspaper’s annual school-supply drive. Since 1999, this community effort has spared thousands of children the embarrassment of going…

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Comments | Topics: Lance Dickie, school supply drive

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 30, 2014 at 6:20 AM

Marijuana, parenting and toking in public

When voters ended marijuana prohibition in Washington, we didn’t end the civic duty not to be a public jerk.

Not the place to light up. (Greg Gilbert/Seattle Times)

Golden Gardens in Ballard: not the place to light up. (Photo by Greg Gilbert/Seattle Times)

That message hasn’t gotten through. Nearly every parent I know — myself included — has a story similar to one posted on Facebook by my friend Natalie Singer-Velush.

She took three kids — two 8-year-olds and a 7-year-old — for a quick mid-afternoon trip to Golden Gardens on Sunday. Pails, shovels and ice cream in hand, they set up camp… and were enveloped in a cloud of marijuana smoke from three adults sitting upwind just a few feet away.

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Comments | Topics: marijuana

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