Log in
updated 2:54 PM CDT, Jul 28, 2018

FlynnsHarp logo 042016

Durkan faces decision on tax-ruling appeal that may help define her as mayor

SeattleTax_banner

It's quite likely that Jenny Durkan won't get through her first day of business after she is sworn in tomorrow as Seattle's first woman mayor in more than 90 years before she has to make a decision that could help define how she will be perceived as Seattle's chief executive.

The issue is the ill-framed and now court-rejected Seattle city income tax and whether or not the city will appeal the decision made by King County Superior Court Judge John Ruhl late afternoon of the day before Thanksgiving, giving those involved a long weekend to think about what now with the case.  

And those thinking about "what now" undoubtedly includes Durkan, who has said she favors the income tax but is also on record, the day she announced her candidacy last May, that while she views the state's tax system as too regressive, she doubts that a city income tax is the right solution.  

But that was before the city council that she will have to work with approved the income tax measure in July, enacting a resolution supporters called a "wealth tax," amid cheers from those in attendance of "tax the rich!"  

It was actually referred to as a tax on high incomes, 2 percent of the amount above $200,000 for an individual or $500,000 for those filing jointly. Perhaps spurred by the cheers from the gallery, the amount was boosted to 2.25 percent, a move criticized by opponents as an action driven by little more than a whim.

Judge Ruhl found that the city had no authority under state law to impose the tax, in fact, was in violation of two state statutes, and rejected the city contention that what was called an income tax was actually an excise tax for the privilege of earning a living in Seattle. A cynic might suggest that if you are trying to sell a pig, and call it a stallion, it might bring a better price.

As Ruhl wrote: the City's tax, which is labeled 'Income Tax,' is exactly that. It cannot be restyled as an 'excise tax' on the ... 'privileges' of receiving revenue in Seattle or choosing to live in Seattle."

Within minutes after Judge Ruhl issued his 27-page decision, one viewed as thorough and comprehensive, and well beyond the detail that at least appellant attorneys expected, the office of Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes said they will be appealing the decision to the state Supreme Court.  

Since there was no instant need for the city attorney's office (there was no indication that the statement came from Holmes rather than from someone in the office late day who was asked by the media, "are you going to appeal?"), it surprised many that there was no indication of intent to consult the soon-to-be mayor.

It may come as a surprise, and irritant, to members of the city council that they have no say in the decision of whether or not to appeal. That decision rests on the mayor and the city attorney, but it's impossible to envision the decision would be made without consultation between the two, and approval from the mayor.

From the time the measure was passed, there was acknowledgement that the goal was to get the issue of an income tax before a state supreme court that, proponents hope, will ignore court rules as well as its own precedents that a net income tax is unconstitutional and quickly seize this case as an opportunity to open the door for a state income tax.

So despite the fact that constitutionality of the city's income tax was not part of Judge Ruhl's deliberations and decision, the forces viewing the income tax as vital to correcting a regressive state tax system are hoping the court will decide the case offers an opportunity too good to pass up, regardless of its rules.

Durkan is universally regarded as a smart and courageous attorney. Deciding what to do about an appeal of Ruhl's decision will give her opportunity to call on both qualities.
The reality is that continuing to needlessly stoke the fuels of anger over economic distinctions that the "tax the rich" mantra has brought is of little long-term value to the city.  

Any law school graduate knows that in Washington State, among many states, a losing party can ask the supreme court to review the lower court decision, but unless some glaring error leaps out, the high court procedure is to tell an appellant "take your issue to the court of appeals."  

So since Durkan is well aware that there is little likelihood the state high court would agree to bypass the state appellate court and grant direct review, she would have to be pandering to the city council's loudest voices to seek supreme court review, at the expense of smoothing over the Seattle political divide. And perhaps enlist a broad coalition in a goal of working to change the state's tax structure, a goal that will require support across the political spectrum.

There is no doubt that Durkan will clash with the council's loudest voices, or more accurately loudest mouth, since Kshama Sawant prides herself on not having any Republican friends and Durkan has friends across the political spectrum, including a brother who is a Republican lobbyist.

Intriguingly, as it relates to any mayoral concern about smooth relations, members of the city council didn't wait for Durkan to shed her "Mayor-Elect" title before they thoughtlessly planned to cut her budget by $1 million, or 17 percent, in their search for dollars after the idea of a business head tax failed.

Fortunately, Mayor Tim Burgess, whose 71 days as interim mayor end when Durkan is sworn in, convinced the council it was unfair to the incoming mayor to cut such a chunk out of her budget, so they decided trim by about $500,000 the amount they were diverting. It's difficult not to be amused by the attack on a part of the mayor's budget given the fact the legislative branch budget is about twice the size of the mayor's but no one suggested that a portion come from both the mayor's and the council's budgets.

Oh, and it's amusing also that the amount being cut from the mayor' budget is about what the city has agreed to spend for legal expenses defending Sawant in suits for defamation over unfortunate outbursts in two separate cases.

But as to the point about Durkan helping define herself in how she decides on seeking a direct appeal, or any appeal on behalf of an obviously illegal Seattle statute.

She is likely to find broad support, including many in the business community who opposed the city tax because it was enacted despite it being obviously illegal, who would join in a legitimate campaign to change what most agree is a regressive state tax system.

But to begin such a broad-support effort she first has to move the City Council away from its goal of punishing the wealthy and instead focus on enlisting all segments of the population in creating a fair state tax structure.

Continue reading

Autonomous vehicles will drive WA state's future

acars_banner

There is a growing conviction among influential leaders in Washington state, ranging from the governor through local elected officials and business executives, that autonomous vehicles will play a key role in this state's transportation future.

If 2016 was the year of the train in the Puget Sound area with discussion and debate over the nation's most expensive transit ballot measure ever, the $54 billion ST-3 to build a regional rail infrastructure over the next 25 years, then 2017 could be the year of the first meaningful steps toward a future of reinvented highway vehicles.  

But the first actual, autonomous "wheels on the road" project in this state could get underway in early 2018 in the City of SeaTac, the municipality that includes Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.  

But as meaningful steps toward what I'll call - aCars, or even what's being referred to as semi-autonomous vehicles that will have a driver at the ready, begin emerging, proponents will need to develop a plan to deal with the inevitable pushback from the disruptive idea of vehicles without drivers.

Gov. Jay Inslee, whose support will be essential to overcome the objections that emerge, set the stage for a strong focus on autonomous vehicles when he issued an executive order in June to put the state behind autonomous vehicle development efforts, including allowing companies to test drive them on state roads.

A month later his office welcomed the robot vehicle from a Virginia company that was spun out from Virginia Tech after it was safely driven, as a semi-autonomous vehicle, across the country, and through Washington state without incident.

Nothing is as far along in this state as the Virginia company, called Torc Robotics, but a couple of noteworthy efforts are underway that could attract increasing attention, and not just in this state. One is in Bellevue, where a focus on autonomous vans (we can refer to them as A-vans,), paid for without public subsidy, is occurring. The other is in the City of SeaTac, which would be a project logical by the proximity of airport-related businesses and the amount of traffic they and the airport itself generate.

The focus on autonomous multi-passenger vans is the brainchild of Steve Marshall, manager of the City of Bellevue's Transportation Technology Partnership, and Charles Collins, who has been active in exploring transportation and commute issues since his days as the second director of King County Metro in the late 1970s. Collins created the King County vanpool system that has become the most successful in the country.

The transportation experience and expertise of Marshall and Collins have probably put them at the peak of the pyramid from which to envision what lies ahead for autonomous vehicles. And from that perspective, both see a van-focused future of autonomous vehicles

Before taking the Bellevue post on May 1, Marshall was executive director of the Center for Advanced Transportation and Energy Solutions (CATES). He has more than 30 years of experience working on energy and transportation issues, including serving as chief outside legal counsel to Puget Sound Power & Light as a partner at the law firm of Perkins Coie.  

It is CATES, now under the executive leadership of John Niles who replaced Marshall, that is helping guide the City of SeaTac through evaluation of a program employing driverless shuttle mini-buses or vans on City of SeaTac roads, providing supplementary service between Sea-Tac Airport and hotel locations.

Another example of what could emerge City of SeaTac activities would be small, quiet, electric shuttles connecting light rail stations and transit centers with residential neighborhoods.

Niles told me he is putting together recommendations that he calls an Action Plan that, once accepted by the staff of the SeaTac City Council, likely by the end of the year, would be available for review by citizens to make it ready for action by the council, probably in January.  

The effort by the City of SeaTac, which has charted for itself the goal of becoming a Center for Municipal Excellence, has gotten advance approval by both South Transit and Metro.

Approval by the SeaTac council would, as Niles explains it, be "steps on how to proceed on automated first-last mile small vehicle, driver-less automated transit for citizens to use to reach light rail stations, employment sites within City of SeaTac, and community centers and services."

"There will probably be a phase one pilot serving only part of the City," he added. "I am aiming for deployment of proven technology already tested elsewhere and proved to be safe."

In a comment directed at those concerned about driverless vehicles, Niles offered that the way his robotic micro-transit vehicles would work in SeaTac is with a control center keeping an eye out for trouble and dispatching help when needed."

Niles' comment addressed one of the key roadblocks to be overcome by the forces arrayed on behalf of an autonomous future, the concern of many drivers about the pervasive presence of vehicles without a driver. But other hurdles are already emerging in other states, concerns that will play out here, from forces restless about lost jobs like cab or truck drivers, auto repair and service businesses who won't have cars to repair and even insurance companies fearful of providing a product eventually not needed.

Part of the pushback could come from Sound Transit's board which is bound to see the early hints of buyers' remorse on the part of voters who approved ST-3 in King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties last November grow as new unexpected costs emerge while development of the autonomous van fleet takes hold.

By 2022, almost two decades before ST-3's rail network is completed, clues to its obsolescence will be offered as that's the year the first van test for 100 autonomous vehicles is scheduled, likely opening the way for thousands of such vehicles on area highways, without public cost.

And the betting is that those who can summon a van to take them where they want to go for a small fee will likely not opt to queue up for a train, thus further diminishing the modest passenger-use expectations of Sound Transit.

Those whose reaction to ST-3 was a "how can they vote for this? Do they really think it's required of those who care about the environment to vote to create a network of trains?" may well react with amusement to the cost of ST-3 beyond just dollars becomes clear.

The fact that was never shared with voters but will be shared as the reality sets in is that the greenhouse gas generated over the years of construction will never be paid back by people riding a train rather than driving or being conveyed in a vehicle.

An intriguing development for emerging use of autonomous vehicles is the fact that Kemper Freeman's Kemper Development Co. and its Bellevue Square expects to begin next year offering customers, many assumedly loaded with purchases, an autonomous-vehicle ride back to their cars parked on site.

Marshall offers a whimsical view of past as prologue to public acceptance of autonomous travel. One is the case of his grandfather who, after working his Palouse fields on horseback all day, tied the reins to the saddle horn and slumped over to sleep on the way home, confident his horse could "drive" itself back to the barn.

Plus he offers the example of elevators. When the years of people greeting the operator as they entered for the ride up began to give way to elevators without operators, there were some passengers who fought off discomfort. Then automatic elevators became universal, to the point when, if a person is operating it, some people may wonder "is something wrong with this elevator?"

Continue reading

Possible Seattle bid for Amazon 2nd HQ stirs some thoughts

amazonHQ_banner

UPDATE: (Bellevue is planning to submit a bid to earn the role of Amazon’s HQ2, setting the stage for the possibility that the separate but equal headquarters that Amazon said lies ahead could find executives merely going back and forth across Lake Washington rather than flying cross country. Bellevue councilmember Kevin Wallace requested that the city work on a formal proposal to attract Amazon. Other councilmembers agreed that Bellevue’s business environment, ongoing infrastructure improvements and skilled workforce, make it a viable contender. Staff will return with an update on the process in the coming weeks. Responses to Amazon’s RFP are due by Oct. 19.)

Amazon's announcement that it is planning a separate but equal second headquarters has drawn enough comment, and criticism from some expected sources, that it's difficult to find an aspect that hasn't been explored or discussed. But the decision that Seattle should go after that second-city prize provides a new opportunity for thought, and perhaps some amusement.

It's interesting, and maybe amusing, to take a close look at the idea from Bruce Harrell, Seattle City Council member and five-day mayor, that Seattle should seek to persuade Amazon to put the projected 50,000 employees that the electronic commerce and cloud computing giant says will work at HQ2 here in Seattle, along with HQ1.

"Quite candidly, if there are to be an additional 50,000 jobs, they should be for our residents," said Harrell, who briefly replaced Ed Murray after his resignation in the face of multiple child sex abuse claims. Harrell said he was directing staff to "examine the city's business retention strategy and make sure employees are considered."

First thought: does Seattle really want to solidify its growing image as "the biggest company town in America" with up to another 50,000 Amazon employees?
Second: does anyone in political leadership in Seattle recall that the city's role is as a "super-regional city" with the good of the region for which it is center meant to be a part of political considerations, not merely the good of the 600,000-plus who live within its boundaries?  

And for amusement, if Seattle actually produces a plan to be headquarters city 2, might anti-business council member Kshama Sawant be willing to be part of the group of elected officials that would present the plan personally to Bezos and his executive team, letting them know the city care about their needs? 

But her presence might remind the Amazon execs of what some have suggested as one of the reasons for the company's decision to look for a second headquarters city, just in case -- the anti-business attitude of Sawant and he followers in city government. 

If the city has a business-retention strategy, to which Harrell alluded, that would likely come as a surprise to some members of the city council as well as to Murray and his predecessor, Mike McGinn, who was heard to remark to an aide at a business breakfast early in his only term "these are not my people."

It's not known what fate awaits Harrell's executive order directing Seattle's economic development officials to respond to Amazon's request for proposals to be the site for what the company says will be a headquarters that cost $5 billion to build and operate and is expected to generate as many as 50,000 jobs.  

Soon after issuing that order, Harrell stepped aside and turned the job of mayor over to Councilman Tim Burgess, who will serve until Jenny Durkan or Cary Moon is elected in November.

Amazon's stated goal of uncovering a place for a second headquarters, and as many as 100 cities and regions around the country have indicated they will be submitting bids, is expected to inject a surge of money and population into whatever region is ultimately selected.  

The company said it has added $38 billion to Seattle's economy between 2010 and 2016 and boasts approximately 40,000 staffers in more than 8 million square feet of office space.  

With respect to the "one-company town" idea, that's a designation offered recently by one real estate expert who noted that Amazon's footprint in Seattle is estimated at 19 percent of Seattle's downtown prime office space, more than twice as large as any other company in any other big U.S. city.

Of course, Seattle has long been viewed as a one-company town, first with Boeing, whose actual physical presence was dispersed across the Puget Sound area and beyond, then Microsoft, which was actually located in Redmond.

Wouldn't it be an interesting idea if officials of the city that is supposed to understand that it is a "regional city" decided not to try to win the second-headquarters for itself but rather sell Amazon on the concept of keeping that second headquarters within the region, outside of Seattle? 

Thinking only of its residents seems to have become the sole consideration of a city elected leadership whose predecessors seemed to understand that as a super-regional city, the basis of Seattle's economy and political considerations isn't just its 650,000 residents, but the 8 million to 10 million people of the region.

Tacoma hopes to be among the cities that seek to attract Amazon to consider them, and indeed Pierce County has a lot going on that doesn't get much attention from the Seattle area. So far in 2017, the Economic Development Board of Tacoma-Pierce County has conducted 21 site searches for companies looking to relocate to or expand in Tacoma or Pierce County.  

And with respect to Bellevue, which hasn't indicated an intent to bid on any second headquarters, Amazon is already slated to occupy all 345,000 square feet of the new downtown Bellevue Center 425 Schnitzer West office tower when it is completed.    

I asked Bellevue Developer Kemper Freeman Jr. if he'd be interested in attracting Amazon.  

"Love to," he replied, "but we don't have any space right now," referring to the fact his new 400 Lincoln Square Office Tower and its 700,000 square feet of space is now basically all leased.

Continue reading

Fate dealing losing hand to Seattle income tax advocates

tax_banner

Fate seems to be dealing a losing hand to proponents of a state income tax, given events that have unfolded behind the scenes with the lawsuits filed since the Seattle City Council enacted a tax on higher-income residents as a strategy to reach the State Supreme Court with the issue.

Their best hope now to achieve their goal is to be dealt a joker wild card by those on the other side who have sued to overturn the tax on the statutory grounds that the city violated the 1984 state law that specifically prohibits cities and counties from imposing a net income tax. 

The wild card could be handed to tax advocates because some of those suing the city seem tempted to turn it into a political issue that could be the key to unintentionally attracting the state's highest court.

From the outset of a campaign flatly touted by council members and their cheering supporters as an effort to "tax the rich," the goal of tax advocates has been to get the State Supreme Court to review the 84-year-old decision that a net income tax violates the state constitution.

Whether that campaign can move ahead may well be decided on November 27, the date set yesterday by King County Superior Court Judge John R. Ruhl for him to hear the motions by attorneys representing plaintiffs in three lawsuits filed against the city.

Matched by those whose rhetoric is "we need to tax the greedy rich" is the equally heated commentary of those who oppose any tax and particularly taxes on the wealthy, who feel they are already overtaxed. The anger of the latter was evident in the comment made in private by one of the attorneys that their purpose is to "kill the income tax and drive a stake through its heart so it never comes back alive."

As Matt Davis, attorney for Seattle investment advisor Michael Kunath observed: "What was supposed to be a purely legal exercise has devolved into the latest battlefield in the fight between two groups who have no hesitation about forcing their viewpoints on everyone else."

Kunath's suit was the first of the three and thus was the one assigned Judge Ruhl by lottery and it will be Davis' motion for a summary judgement against the city tax that will be heard on November 17 with the motions by attorneys for The Freedom Foundation and the Opportunity for All Coalition to also be heard then.

The first indication of the unanticipated challenges facing the city came when Kunath's suit, filed minutes after Mayor Ed Murray signed the tax into law following City Council passage, noted that the council fouled up in its maneuver to pass a tax that wouldn't be viewed as violating state law.

The council members passed what they intended to be a tax on gross income rather than net income, but they chose the amount on Line 22 on the federal tax form as the basis for each filer's taxable income and that line is described in various IRS documents as a "net" income tax line, which Davis highlighted in his suit.

The other suits included that point in their briefs against the Seattle City Council for its passage of a tax on individuals with income over $250,000 and joint-filing income of more than $500,000, They all indicate they want Judge Ruhl to merely rule that the city violated state law.

But the attorneys, including two retired State Supreme Court justices, have been told by Judge Ruhl that they must be prepared to argue the constitutionality as well as the statutory issue, although he said at the Wednesday meeting with attorneys that he intends to rule first on the statutory question. 

What that would mean is the issue of whether the income tax violates what's known as the "Uniformity Clause," a constitutional requirement that all property be taxed equally, wouldn't come up if he rules against the city.


Thus the only way the issue of the Uniformity Clause would become part of the case is if he were to find the city income tax was legal. 

Then attorneys for the three suits could use the Uniformity Clause as a backup issue and raise it for a discussion that would reach the high court.

The sense of those who want a state income tax is that a dramatically more liberal high court than the 1933 court that ruled that income was property and thus required to be taxed equally would throw out its own rules and reverse that decision, opting to throw out its own rules and eight decades of decisions by the high court supporting the 1933 decision.

The random selection of Ruhl to preside over the superior court deliberations on the case also has to be viewed as less than ideal for the city since he is considered by attorneys in this case as the best judge for them because his qualifications make it less likely he would be influenced by the political rhetoric surrounding this case. He is rated as "exceptionally well qualified" by various organizations, including the King County Bar Association.

Finally, Ruhl's decision to separate the statutory question of whether the city broke state law from the constitutional issue will make it more difficult for Seattle to get before the Supreme Court with the constitutional question.

 "Uniformity" in this case means the city's imposition of no tax on income under $250,000 and 2.25 percent for income above that.

The concern of those who fear that it's risky to turn this into a political issue rather than a statutory one are concerned about statements like that from Matt McIlwain of Madrona Venture Partners that "In defeating the city income tax, we can help maintain a system of opportunity and job creation for innovators and workers."

In addition, the complaint from the Opportunity for All Coalition of which McIlwain is a spokesman goes to great length in its suit to provide anecdotes of people being taxed on selling their homes or their businesses who are not wealthy but merely average Seattle citizens who will be injured by the tax.

Those are all political considerations.

Davis' motion makes clear at the outset that he and Kunath don't view this as a political issue but a simple statutory question. The other suits appear tempted to want to make political statements with their suits.

A long line of decisions in the decades since that 1933 decision that income is property and thus a tax on it must thus meet the constitutional requirement that property has to be taxed equally have cited that decision to reverse ideas like calling an income tax an excise tax or imposing an income tax on real estate transactions. 

And confronting those who hope the court will merely overturn that decision is the rule known as Constitutional avoidance, which says the court must make every effort to avoid interpreting the Constitution if it can deal with the statutes. But in the end, the high court can do whatever it wants.

The concern of those who don't want to tempt a Supreme Court likely to be sensitive to the views of those who want to repair an admittedly regressive tax structure with an income tax know the court will be searching for any argument that opens the door to consider the merits and wisdom of the tax.

Anyone who argues that the tax is unfair, unneeded or unreasonable is handing the Supreme Court exactly what it needs. And should the Supreme Court take up the issue and decide in favor of income-tax advocates, it's a good bet that soon thereafter, a legislature that now needs only a simple majority and no voter support because of Supreme Court action to throw out a decades-old precedent, will enact such a tax.

And history will honor or revile, depending on which segment of the population we are looking at, the organization or individual who made that come about.
Continue reading

Independence Day reminder that families of those in military also served and sacrificed

garrett_4thMarineBanner
It seems appropriate to celebrate Independence Day 2017 by focusing on a couple of events designed to help remind us that our freedom was secured at the outset and ensured for decades since then not just by the men and women in the military, but by their families, who also served.

One is the 55-year-old Marine Corps Scholarship Fund, whose purpose is to fund college scholarships for children of U.S. Marines. The event has gained growing recognition in the Seattle area since the first local fund-raising dinner three years ago. The other is a new scholarship named to honor widely celebrated Seattle-area Medal of Honor recipient Bruce Crandall and his late wife, Arlene.
 
Major General Tracy Garrett (Ret.)Major General
Tracy Garrett (Ret.)
Although the Marine Corps Scholarship Fund was been an annual event nationally since 1962, providing more than 37,000 scholarships and $110 million in scholarship support, the first Northwest event was held in Seattle in 2014, raising $200,000.

Even before that first Seattle event,  the Scholarship Foundation helped scores of Marine children in Washington and the Northwest. But now it has grown dramatically
in visibility and support, with the 2016 event raising $900,000.

And that awareness is still growing since, as a Marine whose active reserve duty was in 1962, I first learned about it a few weeks ago when I met Tracy Garrett, the retired Marine major general who serves as campaign chair for the Northwest banquet, which will be held October 25 at the Westin in Seattle.

I decided to do my bit for broader visibility when I learned that two longtime associates, Kirby Cramer, who as CEO guided Hazleton Labs into global leadership in its industry, and Karl Ege, Vietnam veteran, and prominent Seattle attorney and civic leader, were honorees at the 2016 banquet. Cramer was the Globe & Anchor Award recipient with Ege receiving special recognition.

When I called Cramer last week to get a quote for this column, we talked a bit about our past service with the Marine Corps and he appropriately scolded me with "how can we know each other for years and I never knew of your Marine background?"

Then he offered "This MCSF dinner introduces several hundred people to the wonderful work being done to provide higher education to the children of Marines, but the enthusiasm of their word of mouth exposes this event to thousands of their friends."

At this year's Northwest event, the husband and wife team of Fred Radke and Gina Funes will be honored. As bandleader and soloist they have been prominent entertainers in Seattle at first Westin then Four Season hotels and as faculty members, at University of Washington School of Music, they have educated many who became musicians.

"It's worth sharing the impact the scholarships have on the children of Marines," retired Gen. Garrett offered. "Young men and women raise their hands to support and defend our nation and pull their families into the commitment with them. Moms and dads, husbands and wives and certainly the children support their Marines with quiet courage and self-sacrifice."

Garrett, a UW grad, struck me as an excellent reminder that neither the Marines nor any other military branch, whether among the enlisted or officer ranks, are male bastions any longer.

She retired three years ago after 36 years of active and reserve service with career highlights that included combat deployment in Iraq in 2004-2005, being the first woman to serve as Inspector General of the Marine Corps in 2006 and serving as Commander of Marine Forces in Europe and Africa in 2007 and 2008.

The Bruce and Arlene Crandall Social Courage Award, created by their son, Steve, will be presented by Antioch University Seattle and is named for a military hero rather than being presented to a veteran or his or her offspring.

But as Steve Crandall told me: "I always viewed dad's service as not just a sacrifice he made but in which my mother was a partner."
 
"We often recognize those in the service but this is to recognize her sacrifice, a woman left with three young boys, including a year old infant, while her husband was off on the first of two tours in Vietnam," Crandall added. "She was an example of the truth we now recognize - that you don't have to go off to war to serve your country."

Bruce Crandall was an Army helicopter pilot whose prominence was tied to his heroism at the Battle of Ia Drang. The role in the battle taken by Crandall and his wingman, Ed "Too Tall" Freeman flying their 'copters nearly two dozen times into what amounted to an under-constant-fire Death Zone to drop supplies and evacuate wounded was featured in the book We Were Soldiers Once...and Young, and the movie, We Were Soldiers.

Crandall and Freeman were both awarded the Medal of Honor, the only time that two helicopter pilots were so honored for the same battle.

The younger Crandall, a member of Antioch's Board of Governors and CEO of ProMotion Holdings in Seattle. said $55,000 has been raised with the goal of awarding the first $5,000 scholarship this fall. He said the plan is to award scholarships quarterly to an undergraduate and one to a student pursuing a masters degree.

The award, for which applications are now being reviewed, is meant to empower Antioch Seattle students "with a desire and vision for engaging our community in addressing critical social issues," Crandall said, noting that "those who are veterans already can attend courses free at Antioch."

Going back to the Marine Corps conversation with Cramer, I shared that my post-retirement business travels on a somewhat regular basis to Orange County and San Diego have provided me considerable reminder time of Boot Camp in San Diego and advanced training at Camp Pendleton those 55 years ago.

Whenever my Alaska flight lands in San Diego, I focus on and recall the huts of boot camp visible not far beyond the airport. And on the occasions when I drive from Orange County to San Diego, the path crosses Camp Pendleton where sometimes training exercises are going on not far from the beach that is the west side of the mostly arid hills of the base.
Anyone who has been through Marine Boot Camp isn't likely to forget the not just physical by also psychological training that prepared Marines for whatever was to come. 
Continue reading

Seattle City Council proponents of income tax need to 'come clean'

incometax
Members of the Seattle City Council who are proposing a tax on the gross income of Seattle residents they view as "the wealthy" need to come clean with those constituents who are actually hoping for additional revenue to deal with what they perceive as pressing city problems. "Come clean" means admitting up front that this won't provide additional revenue for the city to deal with any of those issues, including the homeless problem.
 
The reason is that if the city council actually approves an income tax, suggested as 2 percent tax on the portion of gross exceeding $250,000 for an individual or $500,000 for a couple, it will be challenged in court, without question. The court case would then have to run its course, and the outcome be in Seattle's favor, before any tax could be imposed or revenue collected, several years at least.
 
In fact, "come clean" would also mean admitting that a court challenge is really why proponents and the City Council are seeking to pass an income tax because those in favor of such a tax have become convinced that the ruling of the state Supreme Court in 1933 that an income tax is unconstitutional might well be reversed.
 
The Seattle income tax proposal got its airing before a hearing of the City Council Finance Committee, derided by one business leader as "a pep rally for a tax on the rich," and in fact supporters attended the meeting waving "Tax the Rich" signs.
 
One friend suggested, with a chuckle, that he was surprised Kshama Sawant, one of two city council sponsors of the income tax plan, didn't have a rag doll tagged "rich guy" that she could have used to bring cheers by turning it upside down, holding the heels and shaking as if to dislodge anything in the pockets.
 
Former Gov. Dan Evans
Former governor and U.S. Senator Dan Evans, who is probably this state's most visible long-term proponent of a state income tax, told me in an email "I think the Seattle income tax attempt is wrong on so many counts that it is hard to try to analyze. This is just soak-the-rich taxation by the left wing."
Evans noted that his plan, which actually made the ballot but was rejected by state voters, "was tax reform with an income tax as part of it," repeating his oft emphasized belief that a net income tax only is legitimate if it is part of a full reform of the state's tax structure.
"Trying to institute a city tax without a vote of the people is even dumber than thinking of imposing a tax on gross income," he said. "People always get a vote on issues like his. Ultimately the people of the state will decide this issue through their vote and attempts to circumvent that are recognition that they can't win a statewide vote."
Indeed The pursuit of a way to get the Supreme Court to review the eight decades old precedent is based on the realization that the voters of the state don't seem likely to approve an income tax. And those who don't want the voters to continue to have the final say on the issue are hoping to find a way around that continued outcome.
 
But the reality may be that a Seattle test of the existing constitutional ban on an income tax may leave proponents simply disappointed, rather than finding a backdoor way to undo the longtime prohibition.
 
When the Olympia City Council sought to imposed a tax on incomes above $200,000 for individuals and $400,000 for couples, lawmakers in the Capital City took the approach of asking the voters, rather than telling them. Voters turned it down.
 
But legal scholar Hugh Spitzer, who is generally seen as the legal expert approached for comment on the issue in this state, offered the comment before the Olympia vote that proponents of using a locally enacted income tax as the key to a court reversal of the 84 year old decision would likely be disappointed.

Spitzer, who understood the Olympia proposal was meant as a "test case" seeking to address the constitutionality of the state's ban, predicted that a court will rule that code cities such as Olympia (or Seattle) can't tax individual income, avoiding the constitutional issue.

In fact, some Republicans in the Legislature sought to remove any Supreme Court action with a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would specifically prohibit an income tax.
 
Rep. Matt Manweller, the Ellensburg Republican who was a key proponent of the proposed amendment that never even got to a vote this session, noted that while voters "have been saying 'no' to an income tax for about 80 years, the shift seems to be from ballot measures to finding a sympathetic court."
 
Voters in 2010 had an opportunity to pass Initiative 1098 that would have imposed a statewide tax on the net of high-income earners and reduced property taxes and business and occupation taxes. The measure passed in Seattle, but failed across the rest of the state.
 
The perhaps intriguing thing about the history of losses at the ballot is that the one time voters approved an income tax, and did so by a pretty healthy margin, was in 1932 with an initiative okaying a personal and corporate income tax. That was the measure that was overturned by the State Supreme Court in 1933.
 
Continue reading

Seattle mayor race may offer business hope for future

Seattle mayor race may offer business hope for future
Soon after Mike McGinn took office as Seattle's new mayor in 2009, he was speaker at a business breakfast and was overheard telling an aide as he was sitting at the head table waiting to be introduced, "these are not my people."

Those in the business community soon came to understand McGinn wasn't their "people" either and sought to help support the election of Ed Murray, the longtime legislative leader who ran against and ousted McGinn in 2013.

But Murray turned out to be only marginally better for business and his only bow to the needs of the business community was a frequent refrain as his term progressed that he'd be open to help business "but business can't tell me what they need." And he spent little time reaching out to business leaders to find out.

Now Murray, driven to end his re-election bid amidst the growing furor over law suits contending he had sexually preyed on troubled young men years ago, leaves Seattle entering a time of uncertainty as the contest for a new mayor begins.

No one takes pleasure in Murray's travails. But the fact remains that as Seattle prepares to find a new mayor and business people began discussing how to seek to take advantage of the opportunity to find a business friend, a candidate that most feel at least understands both business and the political process has filed to seek the office.

That's former U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan, a woman of power and influence in Democratic party ranks but viewed by most business people as a throwback to a time when "liberal" included being a Democrat who understood the importance of the business community to a vibrant city.

Among those happy to see Durkan in the race is Bob Wallace, CEO of Bellevue-based Wallace Properties. When I called to talk to him about the Seattle political scene leading up to Durkan's announcement of her candidacy, he quipped: "I told Kemper (Freeman) that he should send a big bouquet to the Seattle City Council for all they are doing to make Bellevue look good to business."

Of Durkan, Wallace said "I'm pleased to see her decide to run. She is liberal, smart and pragmatic and she'd be an infinitely better mayor than any of the others in the race."

Wallace, although a conservative Bellevue business leader, has made a point over the years to also immerse himself in Seattle's business leadership, serving in key roles in both the Seattle and the Bellevue chambers of commerce.

Wallace says that although what he views as the "drift to the far left" by Seattle's elected leaders is "potentially jeopardizing our economic future," he suggests that "Seattle's major companies could care less" because Seattle represents only a small part of their business empires.

But smaller businesses do care and the growing contrast between the apparent attitudes of Seattle and Bellevue elected officials toward business needs is being increasingly noted. A friend of mine is launching a new business with offices in Seattle and Bellevue and told me that "many of the Eastside people we are hiring wouldn't be coming to work for us if we didn't have a Bellevue office because they simply don't want to have to get into Seattle each day."

It's important for Seattle business leaders enthused about Durkan's candidacy not to talk of her as pro business because that's not only possibly inaccurate but for sure potentially damaging to her candidacy in a community where that's obviously a negative for many Seattle voters.

The key is that she certainly brings an understanding of business, how it operates and its legitimate role in the success and future of Seattle.

Durkan wouldn't be the first Seattle woman mayor. That role belonged to Bertha Knight Landis, elected to a two-year term in 1927, having been the first woman elected to the Seattle City Council five years earlier and becoming president of the council when re-elected two years later.

Business became her fan, incidentally, before she won elective office when she orchestrated a weeklong Women's Educational Exhibit for Washington Manufacturers. Staffed by more than 1,000 women, that bolstered the spirits of the business community during a period of severe recession.

Landis defeated incumbent Edwin J, "Doc" Brown in 1927 in a campaign in which her theme was "municipal housecleaning" was needed in the Seattle government, an approach that could appeal to moderates on the left this year.

One issue that's already certain to be a mayoral campaign issue on which all these seeking the office will be pressed to explain their positions is the proposed city income tax on higher-income individuals. Most announced mayoral candidates at the first mayoral forum, prior to Durkan's announcement, expressed support for an income tax. In fact the idea was proposed by McGinn, who is seeking to regain the mayor's office.

Candidate positions on the effort to impose an income tax of unspecified amount on high-income individuals, with no clear indication of the definition of "high income," will be interesting to watch take shape during the campaign leading up to the August primary when the top two vote-getters will move on to the November general election.

Seattle is the second stop by the supporters of a state income tax who have embarked on a process observers have described as "city shopping," looking for a local electorate or elected body willing to impose an income tax to get the issue before the state supreme court. Olympia voters rejected the idea in November.

Only the uninformed could fail to realize no income tax is going to be imposed in Seattle for the foreseeable future so it can't provide revenue for the city that proponents say is needed now.

Rather the hope for a court test is that the 5-4 majority decision by the State's highest court in 1932 that an income tax was unconstitutional would be reversed by a far more liberal court 85 years later.

But the fact that the 1984 legislature outlawed a local income tax imposed by cities or counties means a first court test would be about state law rather than the constitutionality of an income tax.

As for Durkan's view on the issue, she quickly debunked the idea at her announcement news conference, saying a city income tax is "probably not constitutional," and in addition she thinks it's "not be the solution we need now."


Continue reading

McWilliams, key to Irish peace pact, now touts women's role in ending warfare

McWilliams, key to Irish peace pact, now
touts women's role in ending warfare

15.00

Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE

Monica McWilliams, who played a key role in negotiating the Belfast Good Friday Agreement and was the only woman to sign the pact that ended decades of violence in Northern Ireland, never brought the idea of compromise to any negotiations.

    Monica McWilliams
"Compromise is a weak word," she told me in an interview recently in Seattle, where she was visiting for the first time to appear at a fundraising event for the Northern Ireland Human Rights Fund.

"The word to use with those in conflict that you are trying to bring to the table to talk with each other isn't compromise, it's 'accommodation,'" McWilliams said. "When you say to those who refuse to compromise with their enemy 'but you understand we need to reach some accommodation with these people if we are going to end the fighting,' there is always at least a grudging agreement to accommodate each other's views somehow to settle the conflict."

RoseMarie FitzSimons 
The Seattle visit was arranged by Microsoft alum RoseMarie FitzSimons, now an Irish filmmaker who still retains a home in Seattle, which she visits from Ireland several times a year. But she has mostly been on the road for months, following McWilliams on her travels to countries in turmoil around the world.

Thus this column is to focus attention on the efforts of
two Irish women who have sought to create a political future that includes the voice of women in peace negotiations that inevitably emerge in war-torn regions.   
One is McWilliams, raised in Northern Ireland, who was a leader among women who saw an opportunity to break what they viewed as the closed circle of male power that had dominated Northern Ireland politics for years and to create a new political future that included the voices of women. She hopes to create a process to end bloody contests not just in her native nation but in disputes around the globe.

The other, FitzSimons, a woman who grew up in the Irish Republic 70 miles from the border but saw "the violence happen every day in my backyard." She is directing her film-making talents to bring McWilliams' story and the changes she has brought about to a broad audience.

FitzSimons said part of the impetus for documenting the role McWilliams has played is "the archaic mindset of those in politics, the arrogance and attitudes that prevailed in patriarchal Northern Ireland at the time, that saw neither the value nor importance of women participating in the peace talks."
"Some of the men gathered for the talks made comments like "the only table women should be at is the one they're going to polish," FitzSimons told me. "Sectarian and sexist insults were common. Comments like the women 'should stay at home and breed for Ulster,' or that their place was to 'stand behind the loyal men of Ulster', at which point McWilliams and her colleagues stood up and started to sing 'Stand By Your Man.'"   
It was the women of Northern Ireland who pressed the men to the negotiating table when they said, basically, "we don't want to be a country that is made up of widows so this has to stop."

Being reminded of that point prompted McWilliams to tell me: "women are always involved in working the community silently so they merely get a footnote in the history of conflicts. Less than 4 percent of peace agreements have women signators."

McWilliams already had a tie to Seattle, in addition to working closely with FitzSimons, because it was she who brought Boston police commissioner, now Seattle police chief, Kathleen O'Toole to Ireland.

That came about as McWilliams was visiting Boston and met O'Toole, who was serving as the first female police commissioner, and decided "it might be really good to have women on the commission to reform Ireland's police so I recommended her."

Thus O'Toole became a member of the commission and eventually
chief inspector of the oversight body responsible for bringing reforms to the 17,000 member Irish national police service.

A champion for human rights, women's rights and equality, McWilliams' focus is also international, sharing Northern Ireland's lessons of peace-building with other countries seeking to emerge from conflict, ranging from Colombia, Syria and Myanmar to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. She likes to say they are places where "violence of the tongue has led to violence of the guns."

FitzSimons sought out McWilliams four years ago, soon after ending a 19-year career at Microsoft to concentrate on filmmaking, specifically to do a film about the lessons of the peace process but it soon became a film to focus on the role of women in peace negotiations in all countries.

"With my film, I'm connecting the role of women and civil society in peacemaking and bringing the Northern Ireland women's story into a contemporary context," FitzSimons said.

"I just got back from Gaziantep, Turkey," Fitzsimons emailed me recently. "I was there to film Monica as she worked with the Syrians. With my film I'm connecting the role of women and civil society in peacemaking and bringing the Northern Ireland women's story into a contemporary context."   
She hopes to complete the film late this year or early next, FitzSimons said, noting that "because of the human rights violations and violence women suffer, when they negotiate it's not about land but rather a focus on the future for their children and for society."

When I asked FitzSimons where her film's working title, "Wave Goodbye to Dinosaurs," came, from she explained: "A group of women holding a planning meeting in Belfast came up with that phrase for a poster to market what they were doing."

"One man said 'why are you calling us dinosaurs?' FitzSimons explained, to which she said McWilliams replied 'Do you see your name on that poster? Stop identifying yourself with the dinosaurs.'"
 
Continue reading

Personal reflections on Mike Lowry, passionate believer in people

Personal reflections on Mike Lowry, passionate believer in people
It would be laughable, in this era of unbridgeable political divides, to envision an elected official who nurtured his image as "liberal Democrat" while priding himself on being "the congressman from Boeing." But that was Mike Lowry, the former governor who died early Monday after suffering a stroke.

Because of our 50-year friendship, beginning when he headed the staff of the State Senate Ways & Means Committee and I was the Capital reporter for UPI, this Harp will be more of a personal reflection on Lowry than a catalogue of who he was and what he did.

He was this state's epitome of the progressive politician for 40 years. He believed in the environment and cared deeply about the needs of farm workers, causes he was still involved with at the time of his death at the age of 78.

Lowry was an urban politician proud of his rural roots, growing up in the Palouse community of St. John, and his education at Washington State University.

It was in his desire to get things done for job-creating big business that he was unusual for a Democrat. He brought his political power to work on behalf of Boeing and other large companies because he felt it was the state's role to help companies that provided high-paying jobs.

Thus while being viewed by small business as the enemy, he was generally held in high regard by big business, including Boeing, which quietly supported him in his successful bid for governor in 1992.

It was soon after the election that Lowry called me to meet for breakfast to talk about possible candidates to head the state department of trade and economic development . I thought it would be cool to meet with the governor-elect at the WAC, maybe Rainier Club or even the Four Seasons.
 
Then I learned that his favorite breakfast spot was the Denny's on I-405 north of Renton. Nothing too fancy for Lowry and thus it became the place we met regularly over the years.

Lowry wanted to know what I thought of Mike Fitzgerald as a potential director of the agency. Because Fitzgerald was a friend and a fellow Montanan who got his economic development start working personally, right out of college, for the governor, I said "he'd be great."

Fitzgerald, now president and CEO of the Denver South Economic Development Partnership, worked directly for or with nine governors during his years in economic development and told me in a telephone conversation this week: "I have never worked for anyone who loved their state more than he loved Washington state and its citizens."

"He understood and could articulate the role of the triple bottom line of successfully balancing the economy, the social agenda and environmental considerations," Fitzgerald said, noting that Lowry "was personally involved in Washington landing two of the biggest tech-industry coups in the country at that time."

He was referring to Lowry ensuring the state took the steps necessary, including things like new freeway interchanges and face to face meetings, to land Taiwan Semiconductor in Clark County and an Intel plant in southern Pierce County.

The antipathy of small business, particularly small-business organizations, was cemented from the outset of Lowry's single term as the state's chief executive (he didn't seek a second term partly because of the publicity that surrounded a sexual harassment action by a former press aide, which was settled).

That antipathy was particularly true after he guided legislative enactment of a statewide system of health insurance with premiums based on ability to pay, a law that put a lot of cost pressure on small businesses.

It was the anger of small business toward Lowry over the healthcare law, in addition to is his guiding the 1993 Legislature to double the business & occupation tax for service businesses, that led to my most amusing memory of him. I had sought his partnership with The Puget Sound Business Journal to put on a Governor's Conference on Small Business.

He agreed but as small business antagonism toward Lowry intensified, I grew concerned about the kind of animosity he might face when he appeared at the conference. So I met with him the afternoon before to express my concern and urge him, when he opened the conference the following morning, to just thank the business people for being on hand and wait until the end of the day to make positive comments about things he was doing for business.

"Good advice," he said as we sat in his office going over the agenda. So I was stunned when he opened the conference doing exactly what I had advised him against.

As a result he was pummeled throughout the day by negative comments about him, directly or by innuendo, from the array of speakers from the various sessions.

I was worried when he left quickly without attending the closing-session cocktail party. And more so the next day when I received an anxious call from the person in his office assigned to work with me on the conference.

"I am very worried because he called his entire staff together this morning, expressed his anger and said 'I am going to find out who was responsible for the embarrassment I suffered,'" the staff member told me.

I contacted Lowry and asked if we could meet in his Seattle office to review the conference.

As we sat down facing each other, I said: "Governor, I get the impression you are unhappy about the conference. If there was a problem, there are only two people who could be responsible. You are looking at one, and you see the other one in the mirror."

He flipped his arm up as one of those ear-to-ear smiles spread across his face and he said: "I don't have time to worry about yesterday's irritations, so don't sweat it."

Don Brunell, retired president of Association of Washington Business who often crossed swords with Lowry and other Democratic governors on business issues, told me not holding a grudge was a Lowry trademark.

Brunell offered the comment: "Lowry never personalized anything. He could blow his stack at you one day and be genuinely smiling the next."

Lowry served 10 years as the state's 7th district congressman and twice ran for the U.S. Senate, losing to Dan Evans in a special election in 1983, and to Slade Gorton in 1988. before returning to the political wars to run for governor in 1992. He won, defeating state Attorney General Ken Eikenberry to win his lone term.

After his '88 loss to Gorton, he returned to Washington state along with Dan Evans, who had decided not to seek re-election, and the two joined together to initiate the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition (WWRC).

"Since we came from very different political backgrounds we were soon dubbed the 'Odd Couple,' Evans recalled in an email to me. "I think we both enjoyed the title and both have seen a huge result from that small beginning."

"We were competitors, but far more importantly were colleagues, partners and good friends," Evans added.

Brunell praised Lowry as an elected official with integrity. "While most of them promised not to raise taxes and sometimes wound up doing so, Lowry said he would only raise taxes as a last resort." He did raise the B&O tax dramatically in 1993 but cut back on half the increase two years later.

Said Evans: There was never any question what Mike believed and he worked tirelessly on issues, always with peace, people and progress in mind. We lost a first rate political leader, a passionate believer in people, and I lost a good friend."

Fitzgerald said Lowry's favorite personal saying, repeated half a dozen times in private meetings with him, was from Thomas Jefferson, who talked of a goal of seeking to create "an aristocracy of achievement arising out of a democracy of opportunity."
Continue reading

Joe Galloway Returning To Seattle For More Interviews With Vietnam Veterans

Joe Galloway Returning To Seattle For More Interviews With Vietnam Veterans

It's been five years this coming Memorial Day since the formal launch of the 50th Anniversary Vietnam War Commemoration to honor those who fought in that war but were never thanked when they returned to a divided nation. And for four of those years, Joseph L. (Joe) Galloway, one of the best-known correspondents of that war, has been on the road doing interviews with veterans of that conflict to preserve their memories.

Galloway's travels to do the interviews, mostly about two hours in length and which he told me last week now number about 350, embody his commitment to produce the "the body of material for future generations who want to know what this war was all about."

Galloway, a UPI reporter decorated for battlefield heroism at the battle of Ia Drang 50 years ago last November, spent a week doing interviews in Seattle two years ago. Now he is returning to the Seattle area next month to do another round of interviews with Vietnam veterans.

I've written several columns on Galloway and his role in the 50th Anniversary Commemoration, partly because we were UPI colleagues (he in war zones and I as a political writer and later a Pacific Coast executive for the company). But more important in a broader sense because of a fascination with his perspectives on the war in articles and speeches, and the import of the battle in the Ia Drang Valley that Galloway and the late Gen. Hal Moore, then a lieutenant colonel in command of the U.S. army forces in that battle, made famous in their book and a subsequent movie.

Ia Drang was the first clash of American troops with North Vietnamese regular army and involved heavy fighting in two main engagements that claimed casualties in the hundreds on the U.S. side and several thousand on the North Vietnam side.

Galloway later described it as "The battle that convinced North Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minhhe could win," a conclusion that it turns out was shared by then-Defense Secretary Robert McNamara after he assessed details and the import of the Ia Drang battle. But McNamara's conclusion, shared with President Lyndon Johnson, never saw the light of day until years later.

The battle became the subject of Galloway's and Moore's book, "We Were Soldiers Once...and Young," and the resulting movie, "We Were Soldiers," as well as a second book, "We are Still Soldiers... A Journey Back to the Battlefields of Vietnam" when the two returned to the battlefield years later.

Galloway continued his correspondent role on into war in Iraq and Afghanistan and those who admired his work included the late General Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, who referred to him as "the finest combat correspondent of our generation -- a Soldier's reporter and a Soldier's friend." 

And of his time on the battlefield, particularly at Ia Drang, Galloway said: "The men I met and the time we spent together fighting for one another was a life-changing experience that transcends the bonds of friendship and brotherhood."

One of my first columns on Galloway dealt with my urging him to come to Seattle after I first learned, in October of 2014, about the commemoration and his role in it.

He told me he'd need a place to do the interviews so KCPQ-13 offered its studios for the week and Galloway became briefly a high-visibility figure in the area, including an interview at Seattle Rotary, as he helped the group of veterans who each spent an hour or more with him have the opportunity to share their memories. And also to accept the belated thank you that the attention represented.

Galloway's comments during his stay here and with the interviews themselves have also been Galloway's revisiting of his own memories of Vietnam.

During one of our interviews, Galloway said of the veterans: "They are not bitter but I am bitter in their behalf. It make me angry that those who came to hate the war came to hate the warriors who were their sons and daughters."

He's also shared his own emotions that accompanied other activities related to this trail through the commemoration events.

He told me of one occasion a couple of years ago where he and the governor of Kentucky shared the podium at an event for Vietnam veterans that was at the state capital at the Kentucky Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which he described as "one of the most spectacular in our country."

"It is in the form of a giant sundial," he said. "Incredible work was done so that when the tip of the shadow from the sundial pointer hits the memorial floor it points to that day's list of Kentucky soldiers who were killed in action on that date in Vietnam."

"It brought tears to my eyes to see the pointer land on those KIA in the Ia Drang Valley in November 1965," he said.

The recent retirement of Lt. Gen. Stephen Lanza as commanding officer of Joint Base Lewis McChord was a reminder of Galloway's last visit, and the coming one, since a commemoration Lanza put on as only the second such event at one of the nation's military bases preceded the Galloway visit by four months.

That high-visibility JBLM event in early October of 2014 was a Commemoration tribute that attracted more than 2,500 Vietnam veterans from around the Northwest onto the parade field for a salute ceremony, massing of the colors and Keynote speech by retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey.

Lanza had said he noticed that Vietnam Era veterans were among those enthusiastically welcoming soldiers home from deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan. He said he realized of the Vietnam veterans: "they had never had that" welcome-home reception so he helped create a thank you opportunity.

Galloway's visit May 22-25 for interviews with the veterans will include a Vietnam War panel discussion at Shoreline College with Bruce Crandall, the helicopter pilot and Medal of Honor recipient from the Ia Drang battle whose exploits were detailed in the book and the movie, and former POW Joe Crecca, along with Galloway himself.

96 Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE

My most recent column on Galloway was in mid-February, the outgrowth of an email from him about the "hard duty" he had of delivering a eulogy for General Moore, the Ia Drang commander and his friend of 50 years, who had died that week two days before his 95th birthday.

Continue reading

Only 1 block - and 3 decades - to the Oregon Supreme Court

Only 1 block - and 3 decades - to the Oregon Supreme Court

From her window in the Oregon Supreme Court Building, the state’s newest Supreme Court justice can look across State Street in Salem to the Willamette University campus where her higher-education journey began 31 years ago.

Meagan Flynn, already Judge Flynn as an Oregon appellate court judge since October of 2014, was sworn in last week by Chief Justice Thomas Balmer after being named by Gov. Kate Brown to the state’s highest court. She’ll have a new office but the surroundings will be familiar since both the supreme and appellate courts share the same courtroom.

The governor said in a statement that “Flynn has earned a reputation as a smart and thoughtful judge while serving on the Oregon Court of Appeals and is regarded as fair-minded and compassionate.”

Indeed those who know her would echo that, particularly her parents who left her standing on the sidewalk in front of Willamette waving goodbye 31 years ago. And as Betsy and I drove away then and headed back to Seattle, past the Supreme Court building, Oregon’s oldest government building, we had no way of imagining it would be where she would eventually office.judgemeaganflynn

As readers of The Harp have guessed by now, this is a personal column, a reflection on our daughter, mother of two of our grandchildren, who wears the judge’s robe.

Meagan had a goal of being an attorney from early on because her role model was her cousin, Sheila McKinnon, who was then a successful Seattle attorney.

Some of the following is reflections about Meagan from an earlier column I did when she was appointed to the Court of Appeals judgeship.

I recalled that as she prepared to graduate from Holy Names Academy in Seattle, where she was salutatorian of her class, I urged her to apply to Stanford because her friend, who was valedictorian, was applying there.  

"It would be cool if you could say you were accepted to Stanford," I told her, even though I knew she had already decided she wanted to attend Willamette.

To my surprise, though likely not hers, she was accepted to Stanford and I feared she would decide she wanted to go there since it would have been a financial challenge for us at that time.

But the ducks on the stream at Willamette, which were the initial attraction the day she first visited the school (although its academic reputation and its law school had roles in the final decision), had already drawn her interest to Willamette.

Good thing, since that's where she met her husband to be, Dan Keppler, who was also intent on become an attorney, though eventually Gonzaga law school won out for both of them and after graduating they built partner-role practices at separate small firms in Portland. Along the way also came two daughters.

Meagan always had a competitive bent, which she usually did a good job of hiding, except as a seventh grader in Piedmont, CA, when she found that a male student was challenging her for top student. Her jaw always locked a bit when the male student’s name came up in conversations. The two of them ran for 8th grade class president (except the title was commissioner general) in a hotly contested race that she won, expressing smug pleasure at coming out on top.

The call from Governor Brown was the second from an Oregon governor for Meagan since then-Gov. John Kitzhauber was on the line one evening when she answered the phone. The story comes from her husband, Dan, since Meagan is not one to talk much about herself.

As Dan related of the telephone conversation: “’Hi, Meagan, this is John Kitzhauber.’ ‘Hi, Governor.’ ‘So do you want to be on the appellate court?’ ‘Yes, I do.’ ‘Congratulations, Judge.’”

Of course, due diligence had preceded the call, as it did with the appointment to the highest court late last month.

When she was sworn in to her Court of Appeals post in 2014, the judge administering the oath was the same judge whom she had gone to work for as a clerk 20 years earlier, soon after he had taken his oath as a then-new appeals court judge himself. He brought to her swearing-in session a picture of that first clerk-judge meeting in 1994.

Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE

Meagan is taking her place on the state’s highest court as its youngest, as well as newest, member.

Continue reading

An unaccountable Sound Transit has begun to attract important critics

An unaccountable Sound Transit has begun to attract important critics

Unaccountability on the part of a public entity, no matter how well cloaked in good intentions or alleged importance of mission, inevitably leads to arrogance when there is no requirement to answer directly to anyone for decisions.

That, not surprisingly, leads to the kind of decisions that create a demand for accountability. Thus hangs the tale of Sound Transit, in the view a growing chorus of critics.

The sense is that the transportation agency officially known as the Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority may suddenly be caught with its arrogance on display and feeling the pushback from a public and from lawmakers who are coming to sense a possible need to recast the organization.  

The goal of legislation that has now passed the Republican-controlled state Senate and is awaiting action in House would replace the 18 Sound Transit board members, now local elected officials from one of the three Sound Transit counties with 11 directors directly elected by voters in districts that would be created by the legislature.

The first broad perception of Sound Transit arrogance surfaced with the outcry from motor vehicle owners about the leap in the cost to renew their vehicle license after the excise tax this year had climbed dramatically, due in part to the vehicle valuation chart used by Sound Transit.

Geoff Patrick, who handles media relations and public information for Sound Transit, explained that part of the reason for the large jump in MVET fees was that, in approving ST-3, the $54 billion long-term transit package in November, voters said ok to a major increase in vehicle excise tax. 

The outcry would suggest that many voters weren't really aware of that.

Patrick was quoted earlier, as the MVET flap emerged, to the extent that Sound Transit could have used a vehicle depreciation schedule that would have meant a less expensive renewal fee but chose not to "for simplicity sake," to bring transportation relief quicker.

Then came the visibility surrounding Sound Transit's legal battle with Mercer Island over its effort to end the ability of solo drivers from the island to access I-90 high-occupancy-vehicle lanes when the existing HOV lanes are closed this summer for construction of light rail. That solo-driver access was part of an arrangement that amounted to a pledge from state transportation officials to Mercer Island residents in exchange for letting the state cut the trench for I90 across the island.

And finally, and perhaps defining for any battle to avoid accountability, came the flap over a political fundraiser for King County Executive Dow Constantine at the home of Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff for his boss and benefactor. As the flap unfolded, it became known that the planned event hosted at Rogoff's home for his boss might breach two clauses in the transit agency's own code of ethics, though it wouldn't violate any state fundraising laws, so it was moved elsewhere. But Rogoff made it clear he would still be one of the sponsors.

It might seem strange to many political observers that Constantine, who holds the most powerful position on the Sound Transit board and is seeking reelection, would stand silently in the wings, awaiting the outcome of a key fundraiser flap rather then step forward and say, "This is an inappropriate issue. I am cancelling this fundraiser."

Attendees for the party at its new location, it turns out, had to first RSVP online to learn the address. 

The disappointing thing about that is I was beginning to hope some newspaper photographer or television camera team would be on hand to document how many representatives of companies with multi-million-dollar contracts with Sound Transit would be on hand to pass some of the dollars back to the leader of the team.

A focus on those companies with multi-million contracts may soon provide more negative publicity for Sound Transit when all the details of documents detailing the breadth and depth of the value of contacts Sound Transit has signed with nearly 550 companies to provide a wide array of services begins getting close media scrutiny.

The documents were received by former King County Council member Maggie Fimia from Sound Transit in 2015 and detail all payments over $100,000 made to all entities, public and private, from 2007.

When I talked with Fimia to get copies of the array of contract documents and inquired of her thoughts upon digesting them, she said of the array of contracts: "The breadth of the take was unbelievable."

Touching on only one of the contract categories, Fimia offered "why do you need to spend $37 million on marketing and advertising if you have such a tremendous product?" And that didn't include any marketing costs for ST3.

Sound Transit's Patrick told me that a rigorous competitive-bidding process is in place for contracts with the agency, other than services like legal, accounting, marketing and others where expertise and reputation come into play, since you don't low-bid legal services, but may negotiate with the selected supplier for best price.

Fimia's 2001 defeat was allegedly aided by Sound Transit officials upset at her constant questioning of the agency's manner of operating and its dealing with the communities, questioning that clearly didn't end with her departure from the council.

Charles Collins, whose impeccable credentials as a critic of Sound Transit are even grudgingly acknowledged by the agency's board, told me Sound Transit went after Fimia because "she was a continuing thorn in their side."

"They are the 500-gorilla that no one wants to mess with and she kept messing with them, so they helped oust her," he said. She lost her reelection bid in 2001.

Collins has been a constant critic of Sound Transit's focus on high-cost rail service because all statistics, including the agency's own environmental impact statement, indicate trains won't come close to attracting enough riders to relieve congestion. More like attracting maybe 2 percent of riders.

Collins once told me that he and two former governors, Republican John Spellman and a Democrat, the late Booth Gardner, went to Sound Transit in the late '90s before the first vote embarking on rail as the key transportation underpinning with a novel new plan to provide a vehicles alternative that would carry far more passengers at far less cost.

"But they didn't even want to hear our idea because they were about building a train, not focusing on easing congestion," he said, except for Rob McKenna, then King County councilman and later the two-term Republican attorney general and unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate.

McKenna, incidentally, also lost his role on the Sound Transit board, bounced by then-King County Executive Ron Sims for his routine questioning of board decisions and priorities.

Collins, Fimia and McKenna are among those, a list which now obviously includes some legislators, who have urged that spending and policy decisions in the future should relate to relieving congestion rather than focusing only on building a rail network.

"Nothing has changed," said Collins, whose credentials include having been Spellman's Chief King County Adminstrator, Director of Metro Transit and chair of the Northwest Power Planning Council, the State Higher Education Coordinating Board and the State Commission on Student Learning. 

Indeed while Sound Transit operates some of the nation's most successful express bus services in addition to rail and light rail service to the region, there has been little doubt in the community that members of the board view themselves as creators of the region's light rail system. 

And the fact that the mode of transportation in the region's future has unfortunately become ideological, or maybe was from the start, is the reaction of a liberal commentator on Senate passage of SB5001 and that four Democrats joined the Republican majority in passing the measure to the House.

The columnist said the four Democrats" betrayed Sound Transit and the progressive movement," and urged that "every activist and every organization who was involved in helping to pass Sound Transit 3 last year needs to pitch in to ensure that this bill gets a burial in the House of Representatives."

Rogoff is an intriguing case, having been a strong supporter of bus rapid transit and critic of the "enormous expense to build and maintain rail" while head of the Federal Transit Administration. "Busways are cheap."

Almost amusingly, now that he heads an agency dedicated to rail, he said in a speech back in 2010 that riders often want rails, "but you can entice diehard rail riders onto a 'special' bus sometimes by just painting the bus a different color than the rest of the fleet."

He hasn't yet explained at what point between then and his joining Sound Transit that he changed his position of bus over rail, which he viewed as enormously expensive to build and maintain.

If the idea of an elected board to replace the current appointed board is approved by the legislature, a new board might find it could dramatically reduce current and future expenditures by focusing on bus rapid transit and a much more zealous process of contract oversight for other than actual infrastructure expenses.

Only contracts specifically relating to construction bond covenants have been held by the court as illegal to change. That doesn't likely apply to things like contracts with law and accounting firms and advertising and marketing agencies. or construction contracts that won't have been signed when an elected board might replace the current board. 

Continue reading

Baird enjoying growing fuss over his STOCK Act

Brian Baird spent half of his 12 years in Congress in a frustrated, and futile, effort to gather support for his legislation to make it illegal for lawmakers to engage in the kind of financial transactions that those in the real world know as Insider Trading and for which they can be sent to jail. He and one or two supporters offered it each session but couldn’t even get a committee hearing.

But Baird was able to look on with satisfaction when, a year after he decided to focus on family and not run for re-election, a late-2011 program on CBS' "60 Minutes" brought national attention to his idea and coined the phrase "Honest graft," meaning it was graft but it wasn't illegal. The program exposed how members of Congress and their staff traded stocks based on nonpublic information to which they had exclusive access.

Lawmakers by the dozens scurried like frightened rats to get aboard as supporters amid the public outcry the news program sparked and so in April of 2012, the measure titled the STOCK Act (Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge) was passed to finally bar members of Congress from doing stock transactions in areas they regulate.

Now Baird is watching with some amusement because, since Republican congressional leaders went out of their way in 2012 to quickly pass legislation extending the law to the president and vice president and those who worked for them, President-elect Donald Trump would be covered by the law. So he and his minions are seeking to exempt him from the law.

Newt Gingrich, explaining why ethics laws shouldn’t apply to Trump, even offered the view: "We've never seen this kind of wealth in the White House, and so traditional rules don't work…We're going to have to think up a whole new approach." He suggested that Congress change ethics laws so Trump can avoid any conflicts of interest that his global business empire may pose.

And Trump himself has said he is not subject to laws relating to conflict of interest.

Maybe so. But maybe not, since the Republicans who now control both houses of Congress may not wish to take early action on something that would allow critics the opportunity to point to the GOP lawmakers as being the lap dogs of the President. In other words, if they rolled over on command on the issue of ethics, what commands could they object to?

And Walter Shaub, director of the federal Office of Government Ethics (OGE), has issued a memo providing official guidance to Congress on the issue. His letter explained: “The Stock Act bars the President, the Vice President, and all executive branch employees from: using nonpublic information for private profit; engaging in insider trading; or intentionally influencing an employment decision or practice of a private entity solely on the basis of partisan political affiliation.”

But the President names the OGE director so once Trump moves into the Oval Office, it might be a good bet that Shaub will be replaced and that his successor will offer a quite different view.

Baird served six terms from Washington’s Third Congressional District before deciding in 2010 that his young family (he and his wife, Rachel Nugent’s, twin boys were 4 years old at the time), was more important than his battles in Congress. There was talk of his being targeted by the GOP if he had sought re-election, even though in his last four re-elections, none of his opponents could muster even 40 percent of the vote.

He says that while his family was the key reason he decided not to run again in 2010, other reasons included frustration over “the growing extremism and intransigence of many in the Republican party” and the “Democratic leadership showing little if any understanding of the concerns for centrist members from swing districts.”

Baird, who gained a doctorate in clinical psychology at the University of Wyoming after graduating from the University of Utah, says of the emerging focus on the STOCK Act and its relevance to Trump:  “I'm just glad people are standing up for the bill now and trying to make sure it has the desired impact.”

But he finds it humorous that the growing attention to the law has brought a number of representatives and Senators who are being quoted about the brewing controversy as Trump’s inauguration nears and describing themselves as author of the law.

“As they say, success has many parents, even if they were nowhere near the conception,” Baird mused in an email to me.

The interviews by CBS reporter Steve Croft with then-House Speaker John Boehner and former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, his unexpected questions making Boehner look like someone hiding from the truth and Pelosi like someone too incompetent to even come across as thinking, should be part of every high school government class. The topic of the lecture in which the You Tube interviews were featured could be titled: “Who elects these people?”

The interviews are now difficult to find on You Tube because you have to subscribe to “60 Minutes.” Too bad.

The controversy over the STOCK Act and the soon-to-be Trump Administration isn’t currently getting a major focus from the media.

But a budding controversy could become a political brouhaha once a new president takes an action that would be illegal under the act.

Continue reading

Washington GOP's record gubernatorial drought

15.00

Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE

There was surprisingly little fanfare or discussion over the fact that Gov. Jay Inslee’s re-election extended his party’s record hold on the governor’s mansion so that when his term ends in 2020, it will have been four decades since a Republican was elected governor in Washington.

But both John Spellman, elected to what turned out to be a single term in 1980 as the state’s last Republican chief executive, and Dan Evans, who left office in 1976 after a record three terms, are convinced it’s more than running in an increasingly blue state that has denied the GOP the statehouse for a longer period than any other state.

Inslee defeated Republican challenger Bill Bryant, 55 per cent to 45 percent, with the GOP lamenting that there wasn’t much bad that could be said about a governor who hadn’t done a lot.

And as Evans quipped, when I asked him about what it would take for Republicans to win the governorship again, ”what we need is someone with Inslee’s looks and Bryant’s brains.”

In fact, although Washington is far more blue now than it was in either Evans’ or Spellman’s time, both had as much appeal to Democrats as to Republicans and that could help indicate the challenge for a rightward drifting state GOP.

Both Evans and Spellman were strong protectors of the environment. The State Department of Ecology was created during Evans’ term, as well as legislation to protect shorelines. And Spellman became the darling of environmentalists while raising the ire of everyone in his party, from the president’s energy secretary to members of Congress and legislators, over his decision to prevent construction of the Northern Tier Pipeline project.

And neither shied away from taxes. Spellman told me, during an interview in 2011 on the 30th anniversary of his inauguration, we passed more taxes in my four years than they have before or since. One of the challenges in seeking to get re-elected was that I said I would raise taxes only as a last resort and some people took that to mean I wouldn’t raise taxes.”

Spellman paid the price for raising taxes and defying special interests in a tumultuous term marked by a serious recession and a hard-right Republican Party, losing in 1984 to moderate Democratic businessman Booth Gardner.

I asked Spellman, who turns 90 next month, what kind of governor he had been and with a twinkle in his Irish eyes, he replied “I was a darn good governor.” And beyond the tumult of his times, including what he’d suggest may have been the worst economic period the state has experienced, there’s much to suggest in retrospect that may be an accurate assessment.

For his part, Evans, who just had his 91st birthday last month, was and remains a fan of a state income tax, as long as it’s part of “tax reform,” saying in an interview “I killed the income tax for two generation by getting a vote on it.  After that, the no-tax pledge became required in campaigns.”

“If we had prevailed with tax reform and the income tax component, we would be $4.5 billion better off in this state,” Evans added.

The governing philosophies of those two may indicate how close to ideologically blue a GOP gubernatorial candidate might have to be to break the Democratic hold on the state’s chief executive job.

Of course the Republican candidates have been competitive in some recent elections, with Dino Rossi losing to Christine Gregoire in 2004 only after a recount confirmed her victory, and Rob McKenna seen as losing to Inslee four years ago primarily because of some campaign missteps.

Spellman, handsome and personable with a winning smile, was an attorney, graduate of Seattle University then Georgetown Law School, whose ever-present pipe would be lit and relit during lengthy discussion sessions.

Because one of his legal clients was the United Steelworkers Union local, he had support from a lot of labor-union members as he successfully campaigned to become the first King County Executive. In fact,  my first meeting with Spellman in 1967 was when my steelworker uncle introduced me to him at a cocktail party in downtown Seattle after explaining to me what a fair and fine man this was who I was about to meet.

The passage of years has dimmed the remarkable courage Spellman evidenced in holding firm to his decision not to permit a pipeline to be constructed under Puget Sound despite pressure from a Republican administration, his own congressional delegation and the legislature.

That conviction brought him national attention in the form of a People magazine April 1982 profile of the little-known elected official who was “bucking president and party to turn an oil pipeline into a pipe dream.”

The profile went on to discuss how “one of the nation’s mightiest public-works projects, the $2.7 billion, 1,490-mile Northern Tier Pipeline designed to carry Alaskan crude oil from Puget Sound to Midwestern refineries, is being blocked by a single man, Governor John Spellman of Washington.”

And given the current political controversy about what attitude should guide this country’s view of international trade, Spellman’s thoughts on its importance would put him in the thick of any discussion on the topic today.

Spellman was an early believer in the importance of establishing relations with foreign nations and is proud of initiating relationships with Schewan Province in China and furthering relations with Japan during his term.

“Both world trade and world peace were in play then, as now, and relationships are very important in international affairs,” said Spellman in our interview. “The relationships we have are extremely important to the world in terms of peace and tranquility and trade, but trade is third among those in importance.”

I asked Spellman during our telephone interview for that 2011 column how it felt to lose his re-election bid.  “It wasn’t devastating. Maybe to some of my kids it was, but not to me,” Spellman replied. “I knew I had done a lot of things that weren’t calculated to make getting re-elected easy.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Continue reading

Scott Jarvis recalls Great Recession ups, downs

15.00

 Few people had a more important role than Scott Jarvis in overseeing how Washington’s financial institutions weathered the twists and turns of the disruptions the Great Recession brought to the economy and the financial industry.

As director of the state Department of Financial Institutions (DFI) from 2005 until his retirement this week, it was the role of Jarvis and his team to closely monitor the financial health of the state’s banks and thrifts during that economic crisis. And on 20 or more occasions, they had to pull the plug when critically inadequate capital or severe loan losses threatened continued solvency.

Jarvis, appointed by Gov. Christine Gregoire to the DFI director role in 2005 and reappointed in 2013 by Gov. Jay Inslee, reflected on that crisis during an interview that amounted to a revisiting of the bumpy ride on which the financial downturn took financial institutions in this state, and the role his agency had in each of the “bumps.”

But the most high-visibility failure, the seizure of Washington Mutual in September of 2008 by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the sale of the assets of what was by then one of the nation’s largest banks to J.P. Morgan Chase, was without consultation with the state regulators.

And the closure that was perhaps the most painful for Jarvis and his staff, that of Frontier Financial Corp. in April of 2010, was unavoidable after the feds turned down what both the bank board and state regulators viewed as a satisfactory buyout plan.

“If I had to name a ‘down’ moment, it was the circumstances associated with the closing of Frontier Bank,” Jarvis said. “Willing and adequate capital was available for infusion but the Fed was unwilling to sanction the transaction.”

A key bright spot for the regulators was the successful emergence of Sterling Savings Bank from under threat of closure. The once high-flying Spokane-based institution had been placed under a cease and desist order in early October of 2009 and its chairman-founder and the CEO ousted.

Agreements Sterling secured to raise $730 million in new capital under new CEO Greg Seibly and a reconstituted board allowed both DFI and the FDIC to terminate the order and allow Sterling to proceed back on the road to healthy operation and growth, and eventual acquisition by Umpqua Bank.

In fact, Jarvis said of Sterling’s re-emergence: “Sterling’s success is proof that a cease and desist order is not a death-knell for Washington’s banks, but rather a call to action. When a financial institution’s leaders take aggressive, well-planned, corrective action, success can be found at the end in safe and sound business practices – and in strong community and employee support.”

The financial crisis had actually paved the way for Oregon-based Umpqua to move into Washington since the Bank of Clark County, closed by DFI in January of 2009 as the first closure in this state, reopened under Umpqua ownership. And a year later, when DFI took action against Seattle-based Evergreen Bank and Rainier Pacific Savings Bank, they wound under the Umpqua banner.

And Jarvis may well have had Umpqua, among others, in mind when he said: No matter how dark the financial or investment environment might seem at any given moment, there are always individuals and organizations who see opportunities for success that benefit our economy and move us forward.”  

Of the circumstances that forced DFI to close the 18 banks and at least two thrifts that the department had to act on, Jarvis observed: “as a pituitary giant will tell you, sometimes there is a problem with too much growth.”

Jarvis, a New York native who graduated from Allegheny College and got his law degree from University of Puget Sound (now Seattle University), first joined DFI in 1997 after serving as an insurance regulator for the state Insurance Commissioner and General Counsel to the State Treasurer.  

In discussing the relations between state financial regulators and their big-brother counterparts at the federal level, Jarvis admitted that “overall, state regulators are concerned with the feds pre-empting powers of state regulators,” evidencing an unsaid sense that in some areas, the local regulators have a better sense of market needs.

A key area where that is important, he feels, is in failure of the feds to understand the need to right-size regulations for small institutions, where “the risk and exposure are dramatically different for small banks.”

“I think the number of small commercial banks will shrink further and small towns need these kinds of institutions,” Jarvis said.

Of the WAMU takeover by the Fed, Jarvis’ banking chief, Rick Riccobono, has been outspoken in his view that the Fed’s action and its sale of assets to J.P. Morgan Chase for what many viewed as a bargain-basement price didn’t need to have happened. Jarvis has routinely scolded Riccobono for making those statements to various groups, but intriguingly, hasn’t said he disagreed with the comments.

Under his leadership, DFI became a nationally-recognized leader in state financial regulation, which helped move the state from 17th in the nation to 10th on Washington's Corporation for Enterprise Development Scorecard Ranking in "Financial Assets & Income.” In 2012-13 he chaired the legislative committee for the Conference of State Bank Supervisors.

An area where Jarvis was obviously pleased to see the states step in when a void was being left at the federal level was in creation of local legislation to make it easier for start-up entrepreneurs to raise capital from local investors, basically a state version of the JOBS Act passed by Congress in April of 2012.

It was clear after Congress passed the legislation and told the Securities & Exchange Commission to enact rules to put the law into effect, that the SEC’s then chair, Mary Shapiro, didn’t think easing investor protections to enhance entrepreneurial opportunities was a good idea, so she foot dragged for several years.

Eventually a number of states, including Washington, decided they could do it better locally anyway, so they enacted JOBS Act-like crowd-funding legislation, strongly supported by Jarvis and his agency. He told me once that his role was to balance protection for investors with opportunity for entrepreneurial startups and that the balance wasn’t that difficult a challenge.

He was careful how the process of putting the crowd-funding into effect was carried out, with hearings, testimony and staff evalutions, though there have only been four companies that have filed to raise money under the state legislation.

In thanking Jarvis for his years of contribution, the governor named Gloria Papiez, who had served as Jarvis’ deputy for more than a decade, to replace him.

Continue reading

Why preclude future voter revisit for ST-3?

When American poet John Greenleaf Whittier penned his memorable couplet "For of all sad words of tongue or pen, The saddest are these: 'It might have been!'" it was an ode to the maiden in the field and the nobleman who rode by, noticed her, but decided not to stop. It was an ode to lost love but has become a reference point to remind individuals or groups about lost opportunity.
 
Thus ever since Puget Sound voters, almost a half century ago, briefly met at the ballot a light rail package from which they turned away, the "might have been" has been dangled like a badge of shame whenever a new rail-based transportation package is discussed.

After all, Atlanta got our federal funds and built a light-rail system.

 

 

The might-have-been lament is being played again this year in the Puget Sound area, among other arguments put forth by proponents of $54 billion ST-3, a proposal that would provide a 25-year basically blank check to Sound Transit to create a system that will connect an array of communities across three counties.

 

As posed at the start of his op-ed piece in the Seattle Times, my friend Charles Collins, whose background as a civic leader and transportation expert provide impeccable credentials for the integrity of his comments: "$54 billion. Really? The sheer size of Sound Transit 3 staggers the imagination. A Google search yields nothing remotely comparable ever asked of local voters...anywhere."

 

Collins went on to point out that Sound Transit's own statistics show it won't reduce congestion, despite its election-season claims. "Buried in Sound Transit's original Environmental Impact Statement is a very different story: their own analysis indicated that there would be no difference in congestion whether the rail system were built or not built."

 

One story for an environmental impact statement and another for the voters might seem dishonest. But the fact is, I and most citizens have a respect for the integrity of individual members of the board, each a local elected official in one of three counties.

 

But I'm equally convinced that as a board, the members' candor tends to give way to the group reality that commitment of major public dollars means major income to an array of contractors, architects, professional firms, and so on. And each makes campaign contributions to those board members when they run for re-election to their local offices, which is obviously the main function of each of those elected officials, with Sound Transit board membership a secondary, or supportive, duty.

 

That's why there should be no surprise in the story this week in the Seattle Times that 62 percent of the money for the campaign on behalf of ST-3 has come from contractors, engineers, suppliers, unions and others for whom the $54 billion would be an income and jobs windfall.

 

There are many who have made the points Collins made but I quote him primarily because his views were so cogently stated in his Times' op-ed piece and because, while others may be assailed for having vested interested in opposing ST-3, even proponents of the plan would concede there's not much way to try to question his credentials.

 

Collins, incidentally, was being a little generous in saying nothing similar has been asked of local voters. The fact is that the amount local voters here are being asked to approve with ST-3 is 25 percent greater than voters in the entire state of California approved in 1968 so 800 miles of high-speed rail lines connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco could be built. So the three-county proposal is greater than even the pricetag on the most costly plan put forward in the nation's largest state.

 

The California plan, naturally described to voters in 2008 as "visionary," is to whoosh riders from Southern California to San Fran in an unheard-of two hours and 40 minutes. The trains would reduce air pollution and ease congestion on the state's famously clogged freeways and construction would create tens of thousands of new jobs. So the voters approved $9.95 billion in bonds of the $43 billion plan to usher in a new era of transit for the Golden State.

 

But times have changed, and the recent past has been a rough time for the project. The latest poll shows that 59 percent of Californians would vote against the bonds if they could do it again. Cost estimates have grown from $43 billion to at least $98 billion, and the completion date of the first phase has been pushed back 13 years.

 

If ST-3 is approved and in a few years it becomes obvious that $54 billion and 25 years are dramatic underestimates, which would parallel what is happening in California, the same inability of the voters in this region to rethink what would have become a very bad idea will amount to the same unfulfillable wish to do it over.

 

In fact, there's a double down on the logic of a voter review somewhere, ideally as stages of the project are completed, and that's what Collins and others point to as it being obvious "that we are at the threshold of the most fundamental transportation revolution since the combustion engine."

 

Autonomous, or self-driving, vehicles may provide a chuckle to some, but to companies ranging from Ford to Google, there's full speed ahead with the knowledge that autonomous vehicles will be here with a prominent if not dominant transportation role.

And, as Collins notes in his op-ed piece, "Opinions vary on when self-driving (autonomous) vehicles will arrive in large numbers on American streets, some say in as little as five years, some say as many as 15. No one says 2040, the year ST3 is complete."

 

"What public policies and investments will be required to take advantage of self-driving technology?" Collins questions. "New lanes? Publicly owned fleets? Contracted services with the Googles, Fords and Ubers? But whatever makes sense, it is clear that approval of ST3 rail system will commandeer all reasonably available local transportation funds for a generation and preclude any chance to advance new technology."

 

That's why I find it intriguing, in a most troubling way, to have people I basically respect being absolutely adamant in insisting there's no reason that voters should have an opportunity to review the progress of a $54 billion quarter-century plan at various intervals.

Never mind that it might be an outdated transportation mode in a quarter century.

 

To echo the most compelling of Collins' comments: "Really?"
Continue reading

Forman's quarter-century focus on rural development

 

 

Washington has been more attuned than most states to the reality that creating successful economies in rural communities results from helping them grow and nurture what they have rather than merely trying to attract businesses from elsewhere to relocate.

    Maury Forman
Now as Maury Forman, the man who built this state's image of focusing on rural economic development for nearly 26 years, passes the baton, a new program aimed at attracting successful urban entrepreneurs to mentor rural business people is seen by his successor as a "priority program" for the future.

Recruitment and retention, generally in that order, have been the key words that guided the programs of economic development organizations in smaller communities across the country for years, usually with marginal success. But retention has been a generally amorphous patchwork.

But for a quarter century as senior manager in the Washington State Department of Commerce and head of the Office of Economic Development and Competitiveness, Forman has kept his focus on enhancing the success of rural communities by emphasizing the words nurture and growth.
Forman, who has served under five governors, a similar number of department heads and in an agency that has occasionally changed names to connote sometimes different emphasis, is retiring from the role he stepped into in 1991 and soon thereafter began crafting a rural-support image for the state.

And his vision for rural enhancement has grown over the years, coming to emphasize the importance of entrepreneurs and more recently the importance of young people to their communities.
He once shared with me the view that if programs are to enhance local economic development they "must nurture the belief that young people who grow up in rural communities can be guided to start businesses in their own community rather than moving to urban centers."
"Just as young people are looking at new ways to enter the work force other than working for someone else, so too are communities looking for ways other than recruitment of businesses from elsewhere to grow their economies," Forman told me in an interview last year.
Anne Nelson      
Now Forman is turning over the role of guiding rural communities on successful economic development paths to Anne Nelson, who has started several businesses and worked as a community and economic developer before becoming an instructor at Walla Walla Community College in business, entrepreneurship and marketing.
In an example of Forman's typical sense of humor, he says "she will essentially be serving those rural areas as Executive Innovator and Enlightener of Ideas Officer (or EIEIO as we say on the farm)."
In fact, Nelson shared with me an incident in the Eastern Washington community of Dayton that she thinks may serve as a model for what she hopes will emerge as urban-rural mentoring.

Seems a much-loved bakery in Dayton was closing because the owner was retiring. Nelson heard discussion about it at a local restaurant, was aware of a young woman who was hoping to someday own a restaurant and created a contact with retired Seattle restaurant owner Paul MacKay. The founder of El Gaucho and a chain of other restaurants had retired with his wife a few years ago to Walla Walla to a 100-acre spread to grow wheat and grapes.

But once he learned of the Dayton bakery situation, MacKay soon got the young woman set up as owner manager of the bakery.
"I see the support for that young, aspiring bakery owner from Paul MacKay as a model we can see more and more of across this state," Nelson said. "The key is that rural entrepreneurs are clear about their sense that mentoring is even more important than capital."

The program, called Startup365, has been running for about a year under the management of Greater Spokane Inc., the region's chamber of commerce, aimed at connecting Spokane area business people as mentors for entrepreneurs and small businesses in Asotin and Whitman counties.

But Nelson says Startup 365, created by the legislature, is aimed at retaining the intellectual wealth and economic vitality of rural areas by focusing on entrepreneurship and small business growth. "That will help communities flourish organically and will be a priority program that I can spend more time on, functioning a large part of my time in Walla Walla."

"I do believe that urban-rural mentorship will be a key piece in building rural businesses, especially as I see the urban entrepreneurs being more in touch with the technologies and tools that help businesses be successful," said Nelson.

One of those technology tools, Skype, she hopes will be employed at least once a week in connecting rural entrepreneurs with their urban mentors. The Spokane program is being supported by Avista, the Spokane-based utility that has a long track record of supporting business development in the region.

But before Nelson gets to focus on developing the urban-rural mentorship idea, her first order of business will be overseeing in November the fifth annual Global Entrepreneurship Week activities in all 39 counties.

Although in Washington, the annual celebration of innovators and job creators involving 88 countries last year became Global Entrepreneurship Month. Nowhere is GEW, or GEM in this state, treated as a bigger deal than what Forman put in place in Washington, which is the only state with events in all counties.

Jack Schultz, whose focus on assisting rural economic growth helped him come to be known as the guru of rural economic development as keynoter at more than 400 conferences around the country and author of "Boomtown USA: The 7 ½ Keys to Big Success in Small Towns," credits entrepreneurial support as a key to rural success.

Schultz, of Effingham, IL., whose Agracel Inc. is the largest industrial development company focused on developing projects and creating jobs in rural towns, told me he had not heard of a mentorship program like Startup 365.

But Schultz, who said he has long been an admirer of Forman's, said "I think it makes a lot of sense and is something very innovative."

Referring to findings from his visits to hundreds of small towns to gather information for his book, Schultz said in an email: "Embracing entrepreneurism in communities was a key factor which differentiated great communities from also-rans.  Increasingly, we are seeing those great communities taking it a step up by tying their local entrepreneurs up with their young people, educating them on both entrepreneurship and also the great things happening in the private sector of their towns."
Continue reading

Key questions to ponder in education-funding battle

 

As legislators and their paid consultants struggle with how to answer the State Supreme Court’s latest education-funding question about determining “competitive market rates” for educators, a couple of thoughts press themselves to the fore as the drama moves toward a final act.

 

First, there’s an unfortunate sense that, in the press by the justices to make it clear to legislators which branch of government is ultimately in charge, what’s emerged is an effort to ensure that financial support of educators becomes the answer to education quality woes. No consideration is given to support for education in a broader sense.

 

Second, the well-worn phrase “You can’t just throw money at a problem” is one that seems to have eluded the state high court in its on-going education-funding struggle with the legislature over how much is enough.

 

At issue is the court’s January 2012 ruling, in what is now known as the McCleary case, that the legislature violated the state constitution by failing to amply fund basic education. Since then the court has found the lawmakers in contempt for not providing sufficient funding and has even threatened to take over the budgeting process (presenting what would seem to an amazing cartoonists’ opportunity).

 

Now the court has told the lawmakers to determine “competitive market rates” in terms of teacher salaries across the state and a final report on that point is due from a legislative consultant in November.

 

After that, lawmakers will try to find common ground on the sum of money required for salaries and where it is going to come from. The Legislature is supposed to take votes in 2017, or in the view of lawmakers in 2018, to put those final pieces in place in what has come to be known as the McCleary case.

 

Comes now the observation of Donald Nielsen, whom I best describe as an education “change agent,” whose views are dramatically suspect and irritating to those who disagree with him because he has no hidden agenda. He’s merely a business executive who made his fortune and decided nearly a quarter century ago to spend his time and money in the next phase of life seeking to make basic education better.

 

Nielsen is not an educator. But he is someone who is passionate about public education and has focused much of his attention on it since the early ‘90s, first traveling the country in search of education ideas that are working, then serving eight years on the Seattle School Board and a final year as president. His book, “Every School,” has brought his thoughts on education reform to the fore over the past couple of years in radio talk shows and newspaper interviews around the country.

 

“Schools do not have a funding problem, they have a regulatory problem,” Nielsen suggests. “If school administrators could spend their existing money as they believe is needed, they would spend it quite differently, and we would get better results.”   

 

His most in-your-face message is that “teachers are not underpaid, they are underemployed. This is not a compensation issue, it’s an employment issues.”

 

“The average teacher in Seattle, in 2013, was making $70,000 a year, employed  for 1320 hours,” he said. “All normal jobs employ people for 2080 hours a year so If that same teacher were employed for a normal year, his or her compensation would $110,300 a year on that 2080 basis.”

 

“Even beginning teachers who start at $40,000 a year are being paid the equivalent of $63,000 year,” he added. “In both cases, the teacher gets a benefit package that no private employer could afford to replicate.”  

 

Neither of these compensations is low,” Nielsen added.  “They are very competitive, and in rural areas, teachers are already among the best paid people in the community.”   

 

Discussion by the justices has never touched on suggesting the lawmakers focus on how the money is being spent, only how much is being spent, which makes another suggestion from Nielsen the kind of thing that at least might be in the discussion hopper.

 

“We need are variable contracts for teachers:  A nine month contract, a ten month contract and an eleven month contract, meaning the latter would make the $110,000 and the former would make the $70,000,” he said.  “Let the teachers decide what contract they want and let the district decide who gets each type of contract,” suggesting that approach could allow for some education options for different students.  

 

Unfortunately, it’s still uncertain whether the final act in this drama will be played out on the judicial or legislative stages since the nine justices of the state’s highest court have pressed the lawmakers, including with a contempt funding, to spend more dollars on education. At issue is the state’s constitutional mandate for adequate funding of basic education.

 

The justices, as far as I can tell, have never mentioned that lawmakers should also consider how the education dollars are being spent and could better education result from more insightful use of the dollars the lawmakers appropriate.

 

Maybe there’s still time, as the lines for the final act are just now being written in Olympia, for the idea of quality of expenditure rather than just quantity of expenditure to be raised.

 

In a case replete with issues relating to powerful education forces focused only on dollars, it might be worth combatants who finally seem hopeful of averting a real constitutional crisis to be aware of an unsettling statistic that Nielsen has included in his book.

In summing up the details of the chart in his book, Nielsen notes: “We now spend three times as much per child in inflation-adjusted dollars as we did in 1970 and we also have four times as many adults in our schools with only eight percent more children. And we’ve had no measurable improvement in academic achievement.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Continue reading

Sound Transit ballot plan faces emerging challenge

As Sound Transit marks its 20th birthday, it faces the biggest-ever threat to its future in the form of an emerging transportation alternative that may well cause voters in the three Central Puget Sound counties to reject the agency's $54 billion transportation package to allow the alternative time to develop.

Not even in their darkest nightmare would Sound Transit's board and the proponents of its megabillion-dollar ballot measure likely have envisioned the emergence of a growing fervor over a new transportation innovation just as the time for a November voter decision on dramatically extending the rail-based package nears.

The transportation innovation that's attracting increasing attention is autonomous vehicles, previously referred to as self-driving cars, with both automobile and truck manufacturers projecting emergence of fully autonomous vehicles within five years. And the Seattle area is being talked up as the nation's launch region for this development because companies like Google, Car2Go and ReachNow have committed to bring that about.

The challenge facing Sound Transit is that its proposal would put a lock on the region's transportation future for the next quarter century, tying it to a system for which rail is the keystone. By then autonomous vehicles and the congestion-easing result of their emergence might well render rail the transportation innovation of yesterday.

And the uncertainty surrounding the transportation future has created a growing sense, expressed not just by Sound Transit critics but also some longtime supporters, that rather than a full-blown package committing the region to a 25-year plan, a series of packages should be placed before the voters. The most recent example of growing concern over the measure called ST-3 was the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce board's decision Tuesday to oppose it.

Those pressing the idea of sending Sound Transit back to the drawing board would seek ballot proposals in staged packages, with a vote to provide funding for one segment, which would be followed by another vote when that project was completed, and so on. Then at any point, the voters could decide times have indeed changed and no more Sound Transit rail construction is desired.

As one of those longtime supporter put it when I called to get his candid thoughts: "If you are saying the voters should be offered segments of the total plan over a period of years as each prior segment is completed, of course that's logical."

But Sound Transit, officially the Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority, formed in 1996 by the county councils of King, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties, is looking to corral all 25 years' worth of funding from voters. There is a clear Sound Transit reluctance to even contemplate going back to the drawing board.

As longtime Sound Transit critic, Bellevue developer and business leader Kemper Freeman Jr., sees it, Sound Transit realizes that ST-3 is likely the last time voters might be willing to consider a mega transportation package with taxes that will hit every property owner in the three counties. Too many things, including transportation alternatives and other uses for that massive property tax amount, are certain to emerge in future years.

Intriguingly, this is the second time in its 20 years that an alternative to Sound Transit's rail focus has been offered. Despite the business and political credentials of the five people who teamed up, a year after Sound Transit began operation, to suggest a lower-cost and more efficient idea than the then-planned $1.6 billion Link Light Rail, the idea was basically brushed aside back in 2000.

The plan was called Ride Free Express, offered by two former governors John Spellman, a Republican, and Democrat Booth Gardner, along with John Runstad and Matt Griffin, two well-regarded business leaders, and Charles Collins, one of the region's long-respected transportation experts.

The plan would have eliminated fares for existing as well an expanded express bus fleet and created vanpools, reducing peak congestion by 5 percent at a price a sixth of the cost of new riders on Sound Transit's Link Light Rail, "even assuming they could build, LINK for the original $1.6 billion," Collins said. A recent Seattle Times analysis showed that in the end LINK wasn't built for that price, actually exceeding its budget by 87 percent.

"All of our projections, including that our plan would attract six times the number of new riders, flowed from well-established and independent market studies or actual transit experience," Collins notes. "Not a single board member except Rob McKenna thought that the issues we raised were even slightly interesting."

"They were committed to a project whereas we wanted to reduce congestion," Collins summarized pointly.

"Nothing has changed," said Collins, whose credentials include having been Spellman's Chief King County Adminstrator, Director of Metro Transit and chair of the Northwest Power Planning Council, the State Higher Education Coordinating Board and the State Commission on Student Learning.

Indeed while Sound Transit operates express bus services in addition to rail and light rail service to the region, there has been little doubt in the community that members of the board view themselves as creators of the region's light rail system.

Sound Transit and its proponents have routinely tried to picture the opposition as primarily Kemper Freeman., since a wealthy Eastside businessman makes an easy target for those Seattlites who view rail as something approaching Holy Grail. 

Collins, with impeccable credentials for public service, business success and transportation expertise, as well as being a decorated Vietnam veteran and retired Army Reserve Brigadier General, makes an opponent who many Sound Transit believers will find it uncomfortable to attack.

"If we are committed for 25 years and a good idea like autonomous van pools takes shape, good luck since the bond attorneys have made sure the money can't be diverted," Collins told me. "And autonomous van pools would be a good idea and could also be an energy answer."

Freeman sought this year to boost his years-long campaign for roads over rails with report he funded called Mobility 21 that outlined a fact-based alternative to the existing long-range plans. He has presented Mobility 21 at an array of speaking engagements around the region. 
Freeman told me the first presentation on the Mobility 21 study was made to officials of the Puget Sound Regional Council, which oversees dispensing federal dollars to the four counties.

"They admitted to us that the idea of autonomous cars had never been envisioned in their 25-year plan," freeman said.

Will autonomous vehicles become an ubiquitous presence on the region's roadways soon? Of course not. But technological advancements, including accident-avoidance devices, in vehicles before that happens will enhance congestion-reductions efforts. And some such technological advances could require commitment of dollars from the public, which would be more difficult to draw out if $54 billion in taxes is still being imposed.

And it's interesting that Daimler Trucks North America CEO Martin Daum talked recently about how he allowed a robotic truck to drive him nearly 25 miles, without his ever touching the steering wheel or brakes. He said his digital pilot used a combination of GPS, map data and sensors to drive the autonomous truck across highways and two-way streets.

And Freeman admitted to me, in one interview, that he has taken a half dozen trips, logging up to 125 miles, both freeway and city streets, with his autonomous Tesla. He said his hands were poised beneath the steering wheel in case his intervention was needed, bur that he never actually had his hands on the wheel.

Freeman and other ST-3 opponents haven't yet been seeking slogans for the final months of their campaign, but given the new realities facing the $54 billion plan, it could be referred at this time as "not a sound plan."
 
Continue reading

Reflections: Brexit, out-of-touch High Court ruling, talk of 28th Amendment

It was well over a year ago that my brother, a retired Spokane small-business owner, began telling me, in support of the Donald Trump phenomenon, “Mike, you don’t understand, the silent majority is roaring.” My response was always, “I hear the roar, but it’s a minority made up of those unsettled by the murky mix of terrorism and immigration policies and angered by their lack of influence, or even contact, with the establishment.”

Then came last week’s Brexit vote, where the English version of folks I described turned out to be the majority, leaving establishment leaders of both major parties in this country to ponder whether what’s at stake is a desire to throw out the system rather than merely overturn particular politicians or policies. And what that means come November.

Or for the future. Thus perhaps an appropriate time to ponder questions as Independence Day approaches

Now a week following the blow to the U.K. comes a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court almost certain to fuel anger at the established order, the court making it harder to prosecute public officials for corruption by basically saying it’s ok for “the system” to include paying elected officials to influence their decisions.

At issue was the case of former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell, who was convicted by a lower court of using his office to help a businessman who had provided McDonnell and his wife with luxury products, loans and vacations worth more than $175,000 when Mr. McDonnell was governor.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., writing for the court, narrowed the definition of what sort of conduct can serve as the basis of a corruption prosecution. He wrote that “routine political courtesies like arranging meetings or urging underlings to consider a matter generally, even when the people seeking those favors give the public officials gifts or money,” do not represent corruption.

The alternative to the new limits, Roberts wrote, would be to criminalize routine political behavior. “Conscientious public officials arrange meetings for constituents, contact other officials on their behalf and include them in events all the time,” he wrote. All the time! Isn’t that the problem?

By now readers of this column have likely concluded that the usual focus on people, companies and issues that relate the Northwest is being upstaged to Harp about some personal thoughts on an issue that impacts us in this region, but that transcends us.

Fodder for thought following Brexit, for those who care to think, is offered by The Los Angeles Times‘ Vincent Bevins: “Since the 1980s the elites in rich countries have overplayed their hand, taking all the gains for themselves and just covering their ears when anyone else talks, and now they are watching in horror as voters revolt.”

It has to be hoped that the revolt is aimed at reconstructing rather than destructing the Democratic process. But that may not be certain.

A quote from author and MSNBC commentator Chris Hayes is getting attention on social media in the wake of the Brexit vote.

“The mechanism that western citizens are expected to use to express and rectify dissatisfaction – elections – has largely ceased to serve any correction function. When Democracy is preserved only in form, structured to change little to nothing about power distribution, people naturally seek alternatives for the redress of their grievances, particularly when they suffer.”

Coincident with the post-Brexit analysis have come a couple of group emails in which I was included, both suggesting that the idea of change by the ballot isn’t being totally abandoned. Both related to a focus on the 28th amendment to the U.S. constitution and both widely popular but not yet widely promoted.

The first relates to ongoing discussion about an amendment to overturn Citizens United, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that held political expenditures by corporations could not be limited.

Polls show the efforts for a 28th Amendment to overturn Citizens United is supported by more than 75 percent of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents and sixteen states have enacted 28th Amendment resolutions.

The other idea gathering support as a proposed 28th amendment: "Congress shall make no law that applies to the citizens of the United States that does not apply equally to the Senators and/or Representatives; and, Congress shall make no law that applies to the Senators and/or Representatives that does not apply equally to the citizens of the United States."

It strikes me that this idea could generate some positive action from voters by, between now and the November General Election, insisting every member of Congress on the ballot, as well as every state legislator, commit to voting in favor of the constitutional change next year. Or bite the bullet as voters and vote for the opponent, regardless of ideological compatability.

There are examples of the manner in which a fed-up public can bring a positive focus to their anger and bring about beneficial change within the system.

 

One such example was actually the result of an idea of someone from inside “the system,” then-Washington congressman Brian Baird, who during the last three of his six terms as the representative from the state’s third district sought to gather support in Congress for what he called the “Stock Act.”

 

Baird sought to prevent members of Congress from doing stock transactions in areas they regulate, in essence, prohibiting their investing in a manner that those in the real world call Insider Trading.

 

I wrote about it in a November, 2011, column after a program on CBS’ “60 Minutes” brought national attention to Baird’s idea with a program titled “Honest graft.”

 

For ordinary citizens, reaction to Baird's proposal would be a laughable "well, of course." But in a place whose mantra is "the rules we make for you don't apply to us," seeking to force action by the lawmakers on one small, self-imposed ethical constraint could become a rallying point for a fed-up public.

 

The thrust of the CBS segment was that lawmakers often made stock purchases and trades in the very fields they regulate. While ordinary citizens could be jailed for engaging in the kind of investment shenanigans that those in Congress involve themselves in, there's wasn’t even an ethical concern among lawmakers.

 

Reporter Steve Croft questioned then-House Speaker John Boehner and former Speaker Nancy Pelosi at their respective news conferences. And the ineptitude with which both Boehner and Pelosi tried to answer Croft's questions about whether their investment practices were at least conflicts of interest, the thought that had to occur was "Who elects these people?" The answer, unfortunately, is people like us elect them. And both have continued to be elected. Shame on us. And so maybe a revolt wouldn’t be that bad.

 

As a result of the outcry following the program and You Tube pieces on the congressional leaders’ confused responses, the Stock Act was passed overwhelmingly in the spring of 2012 with what observers described as “vulnerable congressmen” at the forefront of supporters. So now Members of Congress and employees of Congress are prohibited from using private information derived from their official positions for personal benefit, and for other purposes.

 

Baird had already retired by then, having decided not to seek a seventh term, thus exemplifying one of the concerns about the future of the Democracy as currently operating: The Nancy Pelosis remain in office and the Brian Bairds decide to leave.

 

 



Continue reading

52°F

Seattle

Mostly Cloudy

Humidity: 63%

Wind: 14 mph

  • 24 Mar 2016 52°F 42°F
  • 25 Mar 2016 54°F 40°F
Banner 468 x 60 px