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November 18, 2013 at 6:00 AM
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.
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. (more…)
November 11, 2013 at 6:00 AM
I don’t share the media cynicism about the five tax-advisory questions the people of Washington voted on last week. Media folks are parroting politicians, and politicians have motives that are different from those of ordinary people.
It’s true that the advisory votes don’t determine anything. The tax is in effect already. If the people vote “Repeal,” the tax is not repealed.
Why have a vote, then? To tell the voter, who hasn’t been paying attention to this stuff, that there have been tax increases. How many people knew that there had been five such increases, or tax breaks erased, in the 2013 legislative session? Not one in 100 knew this. Three of the five changes were tiny taxes and four applied only to a few people. Still, they were increases that added up to hundreds of millions of dollars over 10 years, and the Voters Pamphlet told citizens about them.
“They made people think. How can that not be good?” says Tim Eyman. The advisory votes were last defined and put into law in Eyman’s Initiative 1185, which voters supported in 2012. The other part of 1185 was the rule that the Legislature required two-thirds of both houses to raise taxes, or a simple majority plus a vote of the people. The Washington Supreme Court nullified that part. The advisory votes are all that’s left of this measure to slow down tax increases.
Initiative 1185 includes a part of the Voter’s Pamphlet that lists the legislators and how they voted on tax increases. For example, in the 26th district, you could see that Sen. Nathan Schlicher, D-Gig Harbor, and his challenger, Rep. Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard, had voted “Yes” on the three little increases. They had voted “No” on the increase in the telephone tax, a fairly substantial increase that affected a lot of people. On the retroactive enactment of an estate tax, a big increase to a small group of people, Schlicher had voted “Yes” and Angel had voted “No.”
Was that worth knowing? Maybe it was, if you were in the 26th district. (more…)
October 11, 2013 at 6:00 AM
I greet with some consternation the Washington Supreme Court ruling that police officers’ license to search people extends to their purse, even if the purse is not on their person but nearby.
Long story short. Police arrested a woman in 2009 who was a passenger in a car with stolen license plates. The officer handcuffed her and placed her in the back of the cruiser and then returned to the car and searched her purse, finding methamphetamine.
A Yakima County Superior Court judge ruled the meth couldn’t be used at trial because the officer didn’t have a warrant to search her purse. A state appeals court agreed. But the state’s highest court Thursday reversed the lower courts, saying that because the purse was in the woman’s lap when she was arrested, it was an article of her person under the long standing “time of arrest” rule.
The upshot: In the eyes of law enforcement, I am my purse. Search one, search the other. I was afraid this would happen one day.
First, I admire anyone who would not give up seconds after trying to search through my over-sized purse. I’m leery about sticking my own hand in there. I have found old lunches in my purse. I once cut my finger on a knife stored next to a dehydrated grapefruit I forgot to eat. I routinely lose small objects, keys, etc., in the inner folds of my purse. On a positive note, when I recently forgot a canvas bag at the grocery store, my purse worked just as well. So now police can search me and it.
Justice Debra Stephens, writing for the majority, said that in the Yakima case, the purse was initially on the woman’s lap and thus should be considered part of her person. Justice Mary Fairhurst disagreed, arguing that these kinds of searches are meant to protect officers from any hidden weapons or prevent someone from destroying evidence.
But once the woman was handcuffed and sitting in the police cruiser, there were no security concerns that would justify searching her belongings without a warrant.
This case was not a slamdunk. At a hearing on a motion to suppress the meth as evidence, it was argued that it was obtained in violation of the woman’s Fourth Amendment protections against “unreasonable” searches and seizures. Indeed, the trial court conceded that “[t]he facts here fall slightly outside of being completely on point with” two past precedent setting cases, the U.S. Supreme Court’s Arizona v. Gant ruling and the high court’s own ruling in State v. Valdez.
A 5-4 decison means the court was clearly conflicted. What’s your take on the court’s ruling?
October 9, 2013 at 6:00 AM
A European perspective on the shutdown
On Tuesday, our editorial board met with Joao Vale de Almeida, the first European Union Ambassador to the United States. On tour to promote U.S.-European relations, he expressed surprise House Republican leaders are holding a vote on a federal budget hostage unless Obamacare is repealed.
“People in Europe sometimes have trouble understanding your health care debate particularly after legislation was passed,” de Almeida says. “(President Barack Obama) was reelected and the Supreme Court ruled. In Europe, healthcare is much less controversial and ideological, so it’s unlikely to risk the functioning of the government.”
He acknowledges the recession has forced European countries to adjust their welfare programs, but “I still realize America spends more on health care than we do with less results.” (Sad, but true. Check out The Huffington Post’s visual charts based on 2013 OECD health data.)
As this map by The Atlantic shows, those nations that offer universal coverage accept a basic notion: the health care gap can only be narrowed when more people are covered.
Washingtonians embrace Obamacare
The Associated Press reports more than 9,400 people signed up for health coverage following the Washington Health Plan Finder‘s launch on Oct. 1. The Washington Post added to the news story by praising the site’s usability:
There are an additional 10,497 people who have submitted applications for health coverage through the marketplace but are not actually enrolled, meaning they have yet to pay their first month’s premium. All told, that’s about 20,000 people who have taken a step toward signing up for coverage in Washington. That’s a drop in the bucket compared to the 960,000 people there without insurance — but we are only seven days into a six-month open enrollment period.
This is a great start. Now, can we count on Washington’s Republican House delegates to accept reality (Obamacare is here to stay) and convince their caucus to pass a funding bill to reopen the federal government?
Lamentably, U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, continues to deliver old, tired talking points to the press. Here’s a short clip posted Tuesday on the House Republican Conference chairwoman’s Facebook page:
“We’re elected to govern. We’re elected to make the tough decisions, and yet the president and the Senate Democrats want to take the easy way out,” she said Tuesday. “That’s not acceptable to us. That’s not acceptable to the American people.”
Tell us, Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers, how is it acceptable to repeal or delay a law thousands of Washingtonians clearly want? Is placing their health and the nation’s financial credibility at risk really worth it?
July 5, 2013 at 6:00 AM
Our Independence Day editorial doesn’t mince words. Now is the time for the U.S. House to give full consideration to the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform package, S. 744.
Remember how Latinos overwhelmingly supported Democrats during the 2012 elections? Afterward, U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., called on the GOP to “modernize” and be more inclusive of minorities. Now is her party’s chance to do something substantive, and it’s stalling…
Some politicians might be too caught up in their own self-interests to take timely action. The Wall Street Journal reports only 38 of 234 House Republicans nationwide represent districts where Latinos represent 20 percent or more of the population. Those representatives have nothing to lose by stalling.
An overhaul of the system is long overdue and should include a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million people living and working in the shadows, including roughly 230,000 undocumented immigrants in Washington state.
Here’s a link to that Wall Street Journal report cited in the editorial. If you’re looking for an easy-to-read, concise breakdown of what’s in the Senate’s bill, I suggest reading this summary by the Migration Policy Institute.
Here’s an Associated Press interactive on U.S. immigration policy, including a searchable listing by state showing how senators voted. Washington senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell both voted for passage.
The bill isn’t perfect, but it’s a start. The process of becoming a full-fledged American will be anything but easy. (more…)
June 13, 2013 at 6:00 AM
Comprehensive immigration reform is easy to bash when you look at a bunch of policy reforms on paper.
Many Americans get it. Some don’t. This is really about people. Living, breathing human beings. There’s no better way to understand the need for changes to the way we treat the issue of citizenship in the United States than to hear the personal stories of individuals who are living in the shadows.
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray delivered a strong opening speech before Congress Wednesday as the chamber opened the floodgates to a national debate on reforming immigration laws. She outlined a pragmatic approach to the problem while standing beside a a giant poster-sized photo of two Washington state sisters, Mari and Adriana Barrera. The two were raised by a single mother and began working from a young age. When one sibling fell terribly ill, the other pledged to become a doctor. Unfortunately, she recently had to drop out of the University of Washington because she could not afford tuition and did not qualify for financial aid. That’s the price young people have to pay when they are raised in and thrive in the U.S., but lack a valid nine-digit code known as a social security number. It’s inhumane for us to limit their talent and brain power, which are often cultivated in American schools.
Watch Murray’s 15-minute speech below. As the debate continues, I hope other lawmakers bring forth similar stories of determination and survival. They should remember these stories before they vote.
Whatever happens in Washington, D. C. in the coming months will affect our state in profound ways, whether we’re talking about laying the groundwork for the high-tech sector to maintain jobs here or keeping up with the labor demands of our agricultural economy. As this February Slate map shows, there are approximately 230,000 undocumented immigrants within Washington. They make up about 3 percent of our statewide population and 5 percent of our total labor force (and very likely a much higher percentage of our farm workers).
May 9, 2013 at 6:15 AM
A challenge to the private ferry monopoly on Lake Chelan, James Courtney v. Jeffrey Goltz, was heard Monday, May 6, in federal appeals court in Seattle. Courtney, whose family owns the Stehekin Valley Ranch, has been trying to start a ferry service between Chelan and Stehekin since the late 1990s, and the state won’t let him.
Courtney is represented by the Institute for Justice,a public-interest law firm that promotes free markets. Its attorney, Michael Bindas, argued that the state has to show a public necessity in order to create a private monopoly, and that the state has shown no such necessity at Lake Chelan.
The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission was represented by Fronda Woods of the Attorney General’s office. She argued that the state has the clear power to limit service to one carrier.
And it has done so. The history is outlined in the WUTC’s report of November 2010. Originally, anyone could ferry customers on the lake. The state imposed rate and safety regulation in 1911. By 1914, there were four ferry companies, only one of them operating in winter. In the 1920s, the state advanced the argument that ferry service on Lake Chelan was a natural monopoly. In exchange for giving one company an exclusive franchise, that company would agree to offer safe and reliable service year-round. The state granted the exclusive franchise in 1927, with year-round service.
Competitors petitioned the state to be allowed into the market in 1953, 1972 and 1976. In each case the existing company protested, the state looked at the circumstances and denied the petitions. In 1997, Courtney petitioned and was denied, on the grounds that there was “lack of evidence of any unmet need for service.”
In an open market, “unmet need” is not a standard a new entrant has to meet. You get your boat, safety equipment, insurance, etc., hire employees and give it a shot. In a normal business situation you don’t have to prove to the government that the existing company isn’t meeting the demand. At Lake Chelan a newcomer is required to show that. The question is whether this is so unreasonable it violates the newcomer’s rights.
The Institute for Justice argues that it does. It picked up the case and brought it to federal court in Spokane in 2012, with an unusual argument: that under an 1872 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Slaughterhouse Cases, Americans have a general right to use navigable waters. The Spokane judge dismissed the case, as covered in this news story.
Monday’s case was the appeal. I listened to the oral argument, which is available on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals web page. Of the three judges, Michael Daly Hawkins, Sidney Thomas and Jacqueline Nguyen, Hawkins was the most sympathetic. He seemed offended by a system in which a company with a monopoly certificate could block an applicant, and in which the applicant “got danced around by the licensing authority.”
Nguyen was the least receptive to Bindas’s arguments. “Licensing does not preclude all uses of these waters,” she said, meaning that Courtney could use his boat on the lake for other things.
Thomas, at one point, seemed worried that a constitutional ruling in favor of applicant would set a precedent for other ferries.
The current service, owned by Lake Chelan Recreation Inc., is hardly a big one. In 2008, the company reported revenue of $1.6 million, fuel charges of $400,000 and a small profit. In several previous years there were small losses.
The case, however, did get the attention of Washington Post columnist George Will. From small cases, large precedents may grow.
April 5, 2013 at 6:30 AM
Within big-tent groups like unions, various agendas, factions and viewpoints successfully, or not so successfully sometimes, meld into a coherent single voice. The struggle is always to unite, and hold, all of the different groups in order to retain the clout big numbers offer. The Republican Party has been open about its struggle to represent its conservative wings while trying to reach out to more moderate voters.
That battle is also being waged by the powerful Washington Education Association, and as I wrote in my latest column cracks are beginning to appear in the facade of the 82,000-member union.
Dissent in the WEA is growing, a sign perhaps of how high the stakes are for teachers. On virtually every significant education issue, from merit pay to tenure to testing, the union weighs in strongly and unequivocally, meanwhile my email inbox fills with more nuanced, or even dissenting, views from teachers. Some, like a candidate to replace WEA president Mary Lindquist - Oak Harbor Education Association President Peter Szalai – believe the union concedes too much to pro-education reformers. Others, like teacher advoacy group, Teachers United , think the union should embrace reforms more. There are other examples of teachers operating on the margins of the union, offering a broader viewpoint. The challenge for the union is to embrace differing views while holding its sizeable center.
The WEA surveyed 600 of its members in February and found most were satisfied with the union. Members with six years or less reported the least amount of satisfaction. The most support was found among members who had been teaching between six and 10 years.
March 19, 2013 at 11:09 AM
Walla Walla Community College is a co-winner of the Aspen Institute Prize for Excellence. The school was chosen because of its success attracting, retaining and graduating students into jobs and four-year universities. The Times opinion page commended Walla Walla here and here for a nimble alignment of course offerings and workforce training programs that reflect regional industry needs, for example in viticulture.
Walla Walla’s ascension from finalist to winner was announced Tuesday at an awards ceremony in Washington, D.C. The top prize carries a cash award of $400,000. Congrats to Walla Walla! A list of the 2013 Aspen finalists is here.
March 15, 2013 at 11:58 AM
It is an odd juxtaposition, the stream of starving North Koreans trying to defect from the militaristic country and former Chicago Bulls star Dennis Rodman piping up to say he had such a good time in North Korea he plans to return this summer and vacation with his new BFF, Kim Jung Un.
This is Rodman trying to be au courant with an international version of the time he went on tour for “Bad As I Wanna Be,” in full makeup, blonde wig and a fabulous wedding gown. I suspect Rodman could have just as soon chosen Antartica or Mars.
But the problem with this geopolitical/celebrity conundrum is that there is nothing funny about North Korea. Not in the slightest. The White House chided Rodman for spending more time on North Korea’s despotic leader than on its citizens. Those who think Rodman’s visit could improve diplomatic relations with North Korea are fooling themselves. Yes, Kim Jung Un loves basketball, as did his father. But basketball is not on the North Korean leader’s mind when he’s threatening to rain down missiles on neighboring South Korea or Japan. Even China is growing worried about its bellicose protege.
It is easier to talk about North Korea in a trendy sense of being a place attracting the likes of Rodman than to talk about its human rights violations, work camps and other horrific realities, says Adrian Hong, a strategic consultant who co-founded a U.S.-based non-govermental organization that helps North Koreans escapees. Hong says:
”Everybody involved with North Korea knows what’s happening. There’s no illusion as to how bad the regime is. The illusion is in the sense that we can’t solve it, that we think that this is an inevitable crisis that cannot be fixed or that we have no right or ability to do anything about it. I think that North Korea is not just an issue for human rights. This place is almost this black hole for modern civilization.”