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Opinion Northwest

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

Topic: politics

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February 18, 2014 at 6:25 AM

How the death penalty can bankrupt a county

At a meeting of Washington state county administrators last year, Jim Jones said one budget-busting scenario provoked the biggest wave of anxiety among the budget officers: a death penalty murder prosecution.

Jones, the Clallam County administrator and then-president of the Washington County Administrative Association, told me that five counties said the same thing: “If we had a death penalty case, and had to pay $1 million (in legal costs), we’d go bankrupt.”county death penalty

In an editorial calling for the repeal of the death penalty, The Seattle Times editorial board cited the enormous cost of capital punishment. Counties, with the duty of paying for courts, front much of the cost. The most comprehensive study comparing the cost of death and non-death sentence murder cases estimated the difference at $1 million – including the costs of lifetime incarceration. Counties have to pay for multiple top-end, death-penalty-qualified lawyers, experts, investigations and trials that stretch weeks, if not months.

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Comments | Topics: criminal justice, death penalty, politics

December 4, 2013 at 5:38 AM

Bruce Ramsey’s favorite columns, 2000-2012

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On the eve of my retirement, Times Editorial Page Editor Kate Riley suggested I pick my favorites from the 342 columns I’ve written for The Times since 2000. Here are 10, with my own headlines:

1. “Games With Words,” April 12, 2000. This was my takedown of the World Trade Organization protesters, who used loopy logic to justify their disruption of an international conference.

2. “A Republican War,” April 9, 2003. I hated the Iraq war and wrote three columns against it before President Bush started it. This one was written while U.S. soldiers were on the way to Baghdad. In it, I predict that the conquest of Iraq would result in an electoral disaster for the Republicans in 2004. I was wrong; the disasters came in 2006 and 2008.

3. “Eight Parking Places at a Strip Club,” August 27, 2003

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Comments | Topics: 2013 elections, democrats, iraq war

December 2, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Poll: How should King County fund Metro public transit?

King County officials are weaving their way through some gnarly political traffic.

Should they cut Metro transit routes despite growing ridership? Or convince voters to raise taxes and car tab fees? If the Legislature doesn’t pass a transportation package that lets them do this, will they have to resort to an old law that allows them to go it alone, but raise less revenue?

Photo by Mark Harrison/The Seattle Times

Photo by Mark Harrison/The Seattle Times

Seattle Times transportation reporter Mike Lindblom outlines the region’s pending bus funding crisis in this news side story. Here’s one of the big reasons folks are so wary of inching toward 10 percent sales tax per $100 spent by consumers:

According to the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), the poorest fifth of Washington state households pay 17 percent of their income in state and local taxes, while the richest fifth pay less than 7 percent. Those are statewide averages, so the disparity grows in urban Puget Sound, where transit sales taxes are higher.

“(In) a state that is already clearly the most regressive in the nation, amazingly you’d have localities where it is more regressive,” said Matt Gardner, ITEP executive director.

“In fairness, there aren’t a lot of other choices available to lawmakers in Washington,” said Gardner.

Lawmakers appear no closer to a transportation deal, so it’s understandable why officials are antsy to get something before voters in 2014. Cuts are slated to begin next summer. By the time the next legislative session begins in January, the political waters may be too charged for lawmakers to vote on increasing taxes and fees. And even if the state legislature does pass a transportation package that includes local options for counties, a possible referendum may delay implementation of the law till after the November 2014 elections — a less-than-ideal scenario for transit planners.

So let’s get a sense of what readers think about the county’s Plan A and Plan B. Click below the jump to vote in our poll. As first reported in Lindblom’s story, here is The Seattle Times’ description of those two options:

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Comments | Topics: king county, legislature, metro

November 22, 2013 at 1:41 PM

Can Kshama Sawant move past rhetoric, work with City Council?

Kshama Sawant is a natural campaigner.

Clearly, she’s a passionate voice for those who agree with her. But does she listen to those who don’t? Because if she wants to create substantive changes in Seattle, she’ll have to learn the art of the political deal.

In this photo taken Nov. 4, 2013, Socialist candidate for Seattle City Council Kshama Sawant, right, speaks outside City Council chambers in Seattle about her support for raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour for all workers in the city. Sawant beat four-term Councilman Richard Conlin. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

In this photo taken Nov. 4, 2013, Socialist candidate for Seattle City Council Kshama Sawant, right, speaks outside City Council chambers in Seattle about her support for raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour for all workers in the city. Sawant beat four-term Councilman Richard Conlin. (Photo by Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)

Each time she says something that resonates with voters, like this:

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Comments | Topics: kshama sawant, politics, Seattle City Council

November 19, 2013 at 12:56 PM

Chris Matthews urges GOP, Democrats to channel ‘Tip and the Gipper’

I’m not always in lockstep with MSNBC ‘Hardball’ Host Chris Matthews’ on-air commentaries, but I do think he’s that rare pundit-journalist with so much experience behind the political scene in Washington, D.C., that you can’t ignore what he has to say.

Matthews witnessed the democratic machine function time and again throughout a decades-long career that included stints as a Capitol Hill aide, presidential speechwriter and chief of staff to the late House Speaker Tip O’Neill.

On Tuesday, he spoke at a Town Hall Seattle event to promote his new book, “Tip and the Gipper.” I was struck by Matthews’ assessment of how the two-party political system used to be. Yes, there was a time when elected officials set aside their differences long enough to craft bipartisan budgets. None of this government shutdown stuff.

His basic argument is he wants our politicians to work together again. And I’m definitely on board with that view, whether we’re talking about Congress or Washington state’s Legislature. We can agree to disagree on a few issues— and still get the job done.

Though he was brought on to help O’Neill fight President Ronald Reagan’s small-government agenda, Matthews admits he admired Reagan’s unique ability to project his power to Congress.

“Reagan really respected Congress, and he spent a lot of time with them,” he said. “We’ve lost the ability to listen to each other and to keep the channels of communication open.”

(If you weren’t at the Tuesday talk, watch his “Charlie Rose” interview in the video below.)

During the Town Hall talk, Matthews recalled how President Ronald Reagan and O’Neill regularly “would go in the back and shout at each other,” but they never lost respect for their elected positions. Together, the political rivals managed to forge alliances to protect Social Security and a handful of other signature issues throughout the 1980s.

“They really were grown-ups,” he said, adding politicians are elected to reach deals, not to find compromise on everything.

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Comments | Topics: chris matthews, politics, ronald reagan

November 18, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Updated: Lamenting Washington’s lower voter turnout

Really, Washington? I know ballots are still being counted, but the latest results as of Saturday evening indicate a 46 percent voter turnout in this year’s elections — statewide and in King County. As Seattle Times news reporter Jim Brunner pointed out in this Friday news story (when state turnout was reported at 44.5 percent and King County turnout was 47 percent), we’re seeing the lowest voter participation numbers in a decade.

The author's ballot tracker results via King County's website. (Thanh Tan)

The author’s ballot tracker results via King County’s website. (Thanh Tan)

Washington voters are not exactly living up to their reputation as the 13th most active electorate in the nation in 2012 with a 65 percent voter turnout rate, according to this March 2013 report in The Washington Post’s ‘The Fix’ blog.

Clearly, there’s a disconnect between voters and the issues, and that’s too bad. People either don’t care or don’t believe they have a voice in the democratic process.

Or maybe they agree with British comedian Russell Brand, who delivered a stinging criticism of voting (seen in the video below) in an October interview with BBC’s “Newsnight.”  It went viral on the Internet. I suspect that’s because many subscribe to his view that he never votes “out of absolute indifference and weariness and exhaustion from the lies, treachery and deceit from the political class that’s been going on for generations now.”

Brand is always charming, but there’s just no excuse to not vote. Citizens are still responsible for putting good — and, yes, sometimes very bad — people in public office. Indifference allows those bad apples to stay in power.

Here in Washington, counties send those ballots right to our mailbox. Each name printed on those sheets of paper has the power to change the way we live.

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Comments | Topics: elections, kshama sawant, politics

November 15, 2013 at 12:01 PM

Kshama Sawant lead shows no need for campaign finance reform

The apparent victory of Kshama Sawant over incumbent Seattle City Councilman Richard Conlin proves something other than that a socialist can win election in lefty Seattle. It also shows that Seattle Proposition 1, taxpayer financing of city council campaigns, was not necessary. It’s losing, narrowly, and that’s good. Taxpayers of Seattle, who are taxed heavily already,…

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Comments | Topics: campaigns, district elections, kshama sawant

November 12, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Media experts in Seattle to warn of big money’s influence on elections

Media experts John Nichols and Robert McChesney are truly worried about the strength of American democracy.

We should listen to what they have to say. Then we must do something about it.

Last Friday, Bill Moyers interviewed the pair about those issues for his show on PBS:

In Seattle this week to promote their new book, “Dollaracracy,” the pair argue that our elections are increasingly influenced by money from the country’s richest individuals and corporations. Nichols, Washington correspondent for The Nation, and McChesney, a communications professor at the University of Chicago at Urbana-Champaign, also warn that broadcast media companies are now more focused on amassing stations and profits from political advertising than serving the public interest through robust local journalism. (Read my previous Opinion NW blog post with a visual of what media consolidation looks like.)

On Monday evening, the two spoke at Town Hall. They’ll continue their tour of Seattle Tuesday evening at the University of Washington at 7 p.m. in Kane Hall (Room 130). Here’s a link to more information about the UW event.

If you don’t get a chance to hear them in person in Seattle, watch our editorial page’s Nov. 4 Google+ Hangout On-Air with Nichols, McChesney, Seattle Times editorial writer Lance Dickie and Free Press President/CEO Craig Aaron. They offered their fascinating insights into the state of the media, big money’s influence on elections, growing concerns over privacy in the digital age, and how political campaigns have started to mine voter data.

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Comments | Topics: elections, fcc, john nichols

October 24, 2013 at 7:30 AM

The origins of charter schools offer insight for Washington state

photo (7)UPDATED:

Call Embert Reichgott Junge the mother of all charter schools and you’re not far off the mark. The Democrat was in the Minnesota state Senate in the early 1990s and helped write and pass the nation’s first charter school law. That legislative feat led to the expansion of charters across the country.

Washington state was one of the last states to adopt a law allowing charters and with the news this week that 23 organizations have advised the state Charter School Commission of their interest opening a school here, it seemed useful to look at where charters have been to get a gauge on where this state is going. Junge was in Seattle this week speaking with pro-education reform groups and pushing  “Zero Chance of Passage,” her account of the bipartisan effort to pass the first charter school law.

Talking with Junge, one thing quickly becomes apparent. The political history of charter schools is sorely misunderstood. The non-traditional public schools have been cast by opponents as a tool used by the political right to privatize education. The truth is charter schools grew out of the political center. The victory in Minnesota was led by moderates. There was Junge but also the state’s Democratic governor, Rudy Perpich; Albert Shanker, then president of the American Federation of Teachers; and civic leaders looking to improve public schools. Everyone was drawn to charters for different reasons. Perpich wanted to expand school choice. Shanker and other union leaders were drawn to charter schools’ promise of autonomy which they interpreted as allowing teachers more control over school decisions. Now fast forward 20 years later.

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Comments | Topics: 3to23, charter schools, children

October 21, 2013 at 12:49 PM

Another school shooting shifts the conversation to gun control, but for how long?

UPDATE: One of the two people killed in the Nevada middle school shooting was a teacher who stepped in to protect his students. This Huffington Post story has the details. The teacher’s death may renew ridiculous suggestions by the National Rifle Association that teachers should be allowed to carry a gun or at least have one handy in…

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Comments | Topics: barack obama, children, democrats

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