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

FlynnsHarp logo 042016

An appropriate time for 'We The People' student focus on U.S. Constitution

wethepeople_banner

At a time when the U.S. Constitution has become the focal point of conversation and discussion across the nation, with an alarming amount of the discussion heatedly political, it's heartening to learn about the little-known competition among high school students across the country to create a deeper knowledge of the nation's founding document.

The program is called "We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution" with programs in all 50 states involving thousands of students in a national competition that culminates in the spring with national finals sponsored by the Center for Civic Education and conducted at the national conference center in Leesburg, VA.

The finals are designed to simulate a congressional hearing, presumably without the rancor that characterized the convention that adopted the constitution and that has been passed down through legislative bodies since then to the Congress of today.

I learned about the program from my granddaughter, Emma, then a senior at Portland's Franklin High School, a year before her mother, Oregon Supreme Court Justice Meagan Flynn, became part of an unusual lineup of coaches at Franklin. 

That team of coaches this year includes, in addition to Meagan, fellow Supreme Court Justice Rives Kistler, as well as a retired Oregon appellate court judge.

Grant and Lincoln high schools in Portland have carved out roles as perennially among the top three high schools in the nation with Grant finishing first in the national competition last year and Lincoln third.

There's little likelihood that when Grant or Lincoln teams return with their national recognition there are celebrations to congratulate the winners, or that the parents at those schools even know much about the event. Anyone aware of the importance of informed citizens in creating forms of governance would find that disappointing.

But apparently among the students at Grant and Lincoln, the old story of "success breeds success" is at work.

"They are very selective in who they pick and they have developed a strong draw to students,' Meagan said.

Washington State high schools lag far behind the performance of their Oregon counterparts. Six Washington high schools are involved in the constitution competition.

They are: Eastlake Evergreen, Heritage, Orting, Overlake, Tahoma (Tahoma frequently winds high on the list of national honorable mentions)

Students from the six Washington State High Schools participate in the We the People State Competition on the Capitol Campus in Olympia each spring.

About 40 Franklin students gather each Monday evening with 15 to 20 coaches and the high school's advanced placement teacher to go over questions and discuss aspects of the constitution.

The questions they deal with would make interesting fodder at adult gatherings if the idea of discussing the constitution in other than the occasional irrelevant conversations about getting a new one occurred to them.

As Meagan explained to me when I asked her how the evenings go, "We usually split into six individual units during the evening and help the kids work on their answers to the prepared questions or have them practice answering random questions about their topics.  In the competition rounds, they give their prepared answer and then spend six minutes fielding any questions about the topic that the judging panel wants to ask. The questions are mostly along the lines of taking a position and defend your answer with specific examples, rather than closed-ended questions."

The questions the students deal with are compelling and hopefully could prompt some of their parents to gather and say "hey, let's have a discussion about this."

Three questions gleaned from a multi-page list that the students deal with attracted my attention:

  - "How does the Constitution limit government power to protect individual rights while promoting the common good?"

  - "what arguments can you make for and against giving each state the right to send the same number of members to the Senate?

  - "If a law has been properly passed by the law-making branches of a democratic government, why should judges have the power to declare it unconstitutional? Do you agree or disagree with the position implied by this question? Why or why not?"

During the national finals, more than 1,200 students testify before a total of 72 judges, in panels of three. The judges are history, political science, law, and education professors, members of the legal community, and others with knowledge of the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

According to the Center for Civic Education, "Since the inception of the We the People program in 1987, more than 28 million students and 90,000 educators have participated in the program and more than 30,000 students have participated in the national finals."

I asked Meagan what she views as the value of the program.

"It makes good citizens," she said. "Students learn about the Constitution and how it relates to current events and they learn to take information and form an opinion, based on facts."

I think we should form an adult version of "We the people."

Continue reading

Tracy Wood recalls witnessing McCain's release from North Vietnam

TracyWood_Banner

When Tracy Wood heard that John McCain had died, the woman who was the only reporter on hand when McCain and 102 other POWs were released from the Hanoi Hilton in March of 1973, she was "really sad. That guy went through so damned much and the remarkable thing is he seemed to learn from each setback and become better for it."

Tracy Wood 1Tracy Wood on arriving for first POW release
(From the private collection of Tracy Wood)
Wood was a 25-year-old reporter for United Press International who had been in Viet Nam for only a year when word came that McCain, who had been imprisoned under constant torture for five years, and the others would be released two months after the agreement between the U.S. and North Vietnamese to end the war.

  
Wood made up her mind that she would be in Hanoi for the release of the POWs at a time when every reporter was trying to find a way to get to Hanoi. She first tried to set up a press pool (meaning a group of reporters sharing resources) flying into Hanoi from the Philippines.  

But, she recalled in a phone interviewSunday, "Nixon himself vetoed any press pool plan, apparently because he didn't want any of the   prisoners photographed and have the photos sent back to this country."

"So that meant that I had to try a different way," she said.

Thus with a mix of pluck and luck, Wood decided to just ask the North Vietnamese directly for permission to be in Hanoi for the release. And they gave her permission.

Then how to get there, since there was no way for her to merely hop a flight from Saigon? She decided to take commercial flights from Saigon to Bangkok, Thailand, then to Vientiane, Laos, where she caught the Aeroflot flight that was the only commercial connection to Hanoi.
 
There she learned that AP photographer Horst Faas and an NBC cameraman named Chris Callery were on the same flight, but she proudly notes she was not only the lone reporter but also the only American journalist since Faas was German and Callery from England.
 
She explained with a laugh that the photo she sent me of her arrival in Hanoi dressed in a miniskirt was because she had dressed for commercial travel rather than for the usual military lift into battle zones in jungle fatigues.
 
She said the three journalists "got to stand very close" as the POWs were walked through the iron gates at Ly Nam Prison to the plane for their flight to Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines, but they weren't able to talk to McCain or any of the others. She noticed that McCain, 36, his hair graying, limped noticeably as he and the other prisoners walked along a wall from the prison to their waiting flight.
 
Wood's arrival in Vietnam a year earlier was also a mix of pluck and luck since it was as a reporter in UPI's Sacramento Bureau, at the same time I was a reporter in UPI's Olympia bureau, that she decided she wanted to go to Vietnam. We didn't know each other then, except for bylines we'd occasionally see on UPI's wires.
 
"Of the more than 2,200 journalists who were accredited by the U.S. military to cover Vietnam between 1965 and 1975, only 70 of them were women and most of those went in only for a short time to cover specific stories, such as someone from their town," she once told me to explain how hard the challenge of getting there would be.
 
Wood didn't get to Vietnam until 1972 when she was 24 and it took careful planning to get to the New York bureau where her lobbying would be closer to the decisionmakers.

Tracy Wood with Walter CronkiteTracy Wood arriving for final POW release (Cronkite in the background) Her immediate boss on the UPI cables desk didn't think a woman should cover wars. But Wood had the good fortune to work for UPI, whose top editors Roger Tatarian and  H. L. Stevenson believed in the ability of women to report just as well as men, and dispatched several high-visibility female correspondents to the war zone. Then it was Wood's turn.
 
Wood made two other trips to Hanoi after the one in which McCain was freed, as the POW's were released in stages in 1973.
 
"On the final trip, we had to rent a plane," she recalled. "CBS was so sure the North Vietnamese would give Walter Cronkite a visa that they tied up every available plane from Hong Kong south, but in the end, Cronkite and the CBS crew had to go on my visa, along with the others in the pool and we all used Cronkite's plane.
 
"I was afraid he would be furious, but he was incredibly nice and told me I was just doing my job," she added. "Remember, he was a war correspondent for United Press in World War II. Really classy guy."
 
Wood, who spent years as an investigative reporter for the Los Angeles times after leaving UPI in 1975, is now the editor for the Voice of OC, which bills itself as "Orange County's non-profit, non-partisan newsroom."
Continue reading

Could insider trading issue stir conflict of interest in congressional races?

BrianBaird_banner

The insider-trading quagmire in which New York Congressman Chris Collins finds himself may be occurring at the perfect time, in the midst of an election season, to inject an issue of substance rather than merely another political issue into congressional races around the country. The question is the need for closer scrutiny of personal financial involvements of members of Congress.

BrianBairdBrian BairdCollins' troubles stem from charges by Federal prosecutors that he used his seat on the board of a small Australian drug company to tip off his son and others that the company had failed a critical human trial and that the thousands of dollars of stock they all held would be taking a disastrous hit.

That was the first time I knew, the naïve soul that I must be, that members of Congress could sit on boards of publicly traded companies, thinking it beyond question that someone assumedly serving the best interest of constituents who elected them couldn't also fulfill the fiduciary duties to shareholders that a board member has.

Brian Baird, the former Democratic Congressman from Washington's third district whose major impact was his leadership in achieving legislation that now requires members or Congress to abide by the same investor rules that govern the rest of us, thinks it doesn't even deserve to be elevated to the legitimacy of a question.

"Being a member of Congress is a full-time job," said Baird. "I put in 70 hours a week during my time in Congress and the idea that I could also fulfill a fiduciary obligation to shareholders is preposterous."

Thus the issue that Collins' apparent insider-trading transgressions opens up for injection into congressional races is a close scrutiny of all financial activity by incumbents, not just involvement on boards.

One problem is that while members of the Senate are prohibited from serving on corporate boards, members of the House are not, though they can't be compensated for serving in such roles. But while a member of Congress files a financial disclosure report each year, there's no central database where that information is available.

But Baird thinks there should be, and that it would be well if some government-watchdog organization could digest and disseminate it and thus provide the opportunity to evaluate the financial conflicts of those running for re-election. That could be a welcome factual issue to inject into those campaigns rather than merely political rhetoric. And perhaps it would impact some election outcomes, thus frightening others in Congress to shed inappropriate financial dealings.

It might be uncomfortable for some incumbent Republicans to come down too hard on questionable financial activity, given the track record of many members of the cabinet of President Trump who may have made it appear that unseemly financial activity was a requirement for selection.

But lest that come across as a political comment rather than a journalistic observation, I'll add that Democrats could also have a bit of discomfort if they are too critical of the current environment given that the "Queen of the Questionable" may be House Democratic leader and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.  

No one who saw her mishandling a question in the now famous 60 Minutes segment relating to questionable investment activities by members of Congress would possibly argue with that characterization of her relating to at least past financial involvements.

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 ordinary people can be sent to jail. Baird and one or two supporters offered it each session but couldn't even get a committee hearing.

Then came the 60 Minutes piece by CBS reporter Steve Croft, which amounted to merely highlighting the replies of then-House Speaker John Boehner and former Speaker Pelosi to his unexpected questions about their stock transactions. Boehner merely like someone hiding from the truth but Pelosi looked, like someone simply incompetent, stuttering ..."I don't understand your question. Um, You aren't suggesting I'd ever do anything that wasn't in the best interest of my constituents...?"

Croft's reporting exposed how members of Congress and their staff traded stocks based on nonpublic information to which they had exclusive access, the very issue Baird's ignored legislation was designed to address.

The news program sparked a public outcry and lawmakers by the dozens scurried like frightened rats to get aboard as supporters of the bill amid the public outcry, and so in April of 2012, the measure titled the STOCK Act (Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge) was passed.

Despite the passage of the legislation he pushed, Baird said in an interview last weekend: "The whole issue of conflict of interest in Congress is something they have never addressed."

"I'd love to see a study about how often members or Congress excuse themselves from voting on something because of conflict of interest," he added.

And wouldn't it be heartening if the media focus on Collins' legal challenges over his financial activities led to the kind of public outcry, particularly during an election campaign, that could stir a congressional rush to get on board a reform effort as happened with the rush to pass the STOCK Act.

Continue reading

The 4th brings thoughts on the American Dream - and who dreams it

GuadalupeChavez_Banner

As we celebrate the nation's birthday, honoring the date in 1776 when the Declaration of Independence was signed, it seems like the appropriate time to celebrate the American dream framed by that declaration, as well as give thought to who gets to dream it.

Two things made me think of that. The first was a feature today on Geekwire, the Seattle-based technology news site, focusing on the American Dream that guided immigrant entrepreneurs and tech leaders to this country and success. The second was a poem written by an immigrant fifth grader in San Diego about a conversation between "The Wall and Lady Liberty."

The Geekwire interviews had the tech execs explaining why they chose the U.S. as a place to build their lives, families, and dreams and thus were able to fulfill their American dream and became highly successful. It's worth going to the Geekwire site to take a look.

Guadalupe ChavezGuadalupe ChavezI had a chance to read the poem by Guadalupe Chavez after a prominent immigration-attorney friend of mine in San Diego who is a judge in an essay event for immigrant fifth graders from around the nation told me about the contest and the San Diego youngster who took second in the nation.

Kimberley Robidoux, a San Diego partner in the Washington, D.C.-based law firm, Maggio-Kattar, is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association's San Diego Chapter and a judge in the Celebrate America Creative Writing Contest. The contest challenges fifth graders across the country to reflect on and write about the theme "Why I Am Glad America Is a Nation of Immigrants."

"We use an honor system that the parents did not write the essays or participate," Robidoux told me. "But also most of the 5th-grade teachers have the students write the entries at school so we are very confident that a parent did not write the entry."

So here is Guadalupe's Essay:

"Lady Liberty: Come in! Come in! Welcome to the United States of America! Pleasure to meet you! The Wall: Wait... No! No! Stop! Leave! You're trespassing! Lady Liberty: What's wrong with you? Why are you so close-minded? We've always welcomed people here. People have traveled from all sorts of places like China, Mexico, Philippines, Japan, Canada, Australia, and so many more. The Wall: No. No. No! I'll block their path. They're different, maybe dangerous. They shouldn't come in, they are not welcome. Lady Liberty: What's wrong with you? Many of the people that live here in America are immigrants. So if we push them away, that will mean fewer workers, less money earned, no variety of food, and no more diversity. Basically, there would barely be anything for the citizens. The Wall: No, no, we don't need them. We have our American citizens. We get nothing from them. Lady Liberty: Unless you are a Native American... Wait, no, not even them! Even they migrated here from Asia through the land bridge that existed in the Bering Strait. Every person that lives here nowadays has ancestors who brought something to America. The Wall: Yeah, right! They only bring problems. Lady Liberty: That's not true! They bring so many different things we enjoy day-to-day. Just think. Look around you. What do you eat? The Wall: Well, my favorite food is tacos with spicy sauce and soft tortillas.Lady Liberty: Guess what? That's not from America! What do you do in your free time? The Wall: I text, and use Twitter most of the time.Lady Liberty: Well, guess what? The iPhone you are texting with was invented by Steve Jobs whose father was a Syrian immigrant. What's your favorite song? The Wall: Oh I love Bob Marley songs! (begins singing) "One love, let's get together and feel alright." Lady Liberty: Yeah, definitely Bob Marley, who came from Jamaica, getting us all together and making us feel alright. Well, singer-songwriter Bob Marley grew up in Jamaica. I'm surprised that even when you're just sitting there without moving you don't notice the beauty that immigrants bring to the country. Just look around! The Wall: I only see fields and factories from here. Lady Liberty: Well, most of these fields that grow beautiful crops of oranges and avocados are worked by people from Mexico.The Wall: I guess you have a point. I'll try to be more open to new ideas. I guess you are right, we've always been a country of immigrants and whether I like it or not, they've had a huge impact on the country we are today. Lady Liberty: Thank goodness, you were making me so angry I was turning green."

I asked Kimberley to keep an eye on the young fifth grader to watch what comes of Guadalupe Chavez.

Continue reading

Mayor Jenny Durkan's police-chief selection process stirs some controversy

seattlePolicBanner

With three key decisions she has faced since becoming Seattle mayor, Jenny Durkan has left some of those affected wondering "What was she thinking?" But in none of those decisions has she raised that chorus from so many groups, some in anger and some from among her own supporters who are dramatically disappointed about the decision not to include interim police chief Carmen Best in the group of finalists for the permanent chief 's job.

Mayor DurkanMayor DurkanAs a fan and friend of Jenny Durkan's late father, a liberal Democrat who was a political power in the legislature whom I got to know while I was a young political writer, I was pleased to see her elected mayor and had high expectations that she would show leadership and guide Seattle back toward normalcy.

It was a belief shared by many business leaders in Seattle and beyond who felt that if Durkan wasn't the best mayoral candidate they could hope for, she was for sure far ahead of the other candidates who aspired to succeed disgraced former mayor Ed Murray. And many felt she might actually come to be a throwback to when Seattle's mayors had a more broadly appealing definition of "liberal" than that on display with most of the current City Council members.

Then came the three key decisions she has had to make as the city's chief executive.

First was her decision to appeal the King County superior court ruling that the City Council had broken state law by enacting a city income tax. She had debunked the then-planned tax at the time she filed last spring as "probably not constitutional," and added it's "not the solution we need now." Then admitting, in dramatic understatement, that it was a "longshot," she filed an appeal to the State Supreme Court in December, leaving many legal minds aware of how the state's highest court follows its own rules to muse "what was she thinking?"

Second was the City Council plan to impose a head tax on the city's largest employers. She pushed back on the council's original plan to levy a $500 tax on each employee at those large companies to raise $75 million a year to address the city's homeless crisis and in the end negotiated a compromise that seemed to appease Amazon and others.

Now the head tax, which Durkan signed into law, faces the prospect of a November vote on an issue that has caused businesses and elected officials in other cities to jeer at Seattle's willingness to tax jobs. And the fact Amazon is among prominent firms raising money for the ballot test indicates the city's largest employer actually wasn't okay with the head tax idea.

But most compelling for Durkan's future is the decision not to include acting chief Carmen Best, an African-American woman, and a native of the Seattle area who came up through the ranks in a 26-year career whose involvements have brought her vocal support from community groups and within the police-force community she guides.

Members of the Police Guild, the police union, were "extremely disappointed and angered" by what's happening with Best, according to Guild President Kevin Stuckey.

The Seattle Police Foundation, the non-profit entity that helps the police department enhance relationships with the community, improve employee development, and assist in providing the latest in equipment and technology, avoids taking political positions because of its 501c3 status. But it's known that its leadership was surprised there was even a search for a permanent chief launched since there was a broad sense that Best was the chief they wanted.

The question "what was she thinking" implies a lack of transparency, not a good image for Durkan to allow to develop. And her decision to intentionally bypass Best totally lacks transparency.

Best, a native of Tacoma who grew up locally, whose husband works for Boeing and whose college-graduating daughter is getting married this fall, was one of five finalists forwarded by a review committee but the mayor's own staff trimmed two, including Best, from the list.

Durkan will be choosing a new chief from a trio of male hopefuls, including one African-American. And in fairness to the mayor, the selection committee and its chairs, including former King County Executive Ron Sims and a respected interim mayor and former City Council member Tim Burgess said there was a sense among them that the next chief should come from elsewhere.

That was a reference to the reforms in the Seattle police department that have taken place the past half dozen years after a federal civil rights investigation led Durkan, then U.S. Attorney for Western Washington, and the Justice Department to guide Seattle to an overhaul of all aspects of the department. The reforms were in the wake of findings of excessive use of force by the department.

Durkan launched the search for a new chief earlier this year after Kathleen O'Toole stepped down as chief at the end of last year. Best, an assistant chief, was named interim chief, although she announced she would seek the job of permanent chief.

Listening to Durkan seek to explain Best's exclusion keeps the "what was she thinking" sense in the forefront and is likely to echo down the coming months.

Carmen BestCarmen Best"I completely understand that people are disappointed, for various reasons; that perhaps their candidate didn't make it through," Durkan said at a news conference. "And I love Carmen Best. But I also love the fact that she is a team player and has said to me that her focus is moving forward. I am going to respect that."

Best obviously can't respond to whether or not she said that to Durkan. Nor could she explain to those who were on an interview committee that the reason police are sometimes bring criticized for not being responsive enough to calls from citizens is that the city council has removed the tools that allow police to respond.

Can you imagine Best giving an honest answer like: "well, the City Council has tied our hands with decisions like eliminating the ordinance against loitering?"

So "what was she thinking" in removing from the list of candidates for permanent Seattle police chief the acting chief whose choice would have been supported by community groups, women's groups, minority groups and, maybe most importantly, the police officers who will work under her?

That question will haunt Durkan, particularly whenever a police and community issue comes up in the future.

The greatest clue to leadership is the ability to respond positively to constituent push back. In this case that could mean figuring a way to reverse course and get Best back on track to being permanent police chief.

Continue reading

There are still some things left to be said about Seattle's planned head tax

seattleBanner

As reactions to the head tax the Seattle City Council imposed on the city's largest businesses reverberate across the community, there are some realities that both supporters and opponents of the tax either missed or avoided but that may still be considered, particularly with a likely public vote in November looming.

Despite the extensive media and community groups' comments and response to the tax, which is aimed at raising almost $240 million over five years toward dealing with the cost of housing and services for the city's homeless, there were some issues and ideas possibly overlooked amid the heated exchanges between the two sides.

So as friends and associates and readers of the Harp pressed, mostly good-naturedly, with "don't you have any thoughts to share on this issue?" I decided I did.  

One was the ongoing realization during the back-and-forth rhetoric and eventual compromise negotiated by Mayor Jenny Durkan that brought the per-employee tax down to a little over half the $500 per head the City Council wanted to impose, there was no mention of the city income tax now awaiting Supreme Court decision.

So Durkan, who in laughable understatement, said it was "a longshot" as she announced last December that she was going ahead with the appeal of Superior Court Judge John Rule's decision that the tax was illegal, committed the city to pay attorney fees when we now know there are more pressing needs for that money.

Under the tax passed by the City Council last year then ruled illegal by Judge Rule. Seattle residents would pay a 2 percent tax on annual income above $250,000, while married residents who file their taxes jointly would pay it on income above $500,000.

I expected as I listened to the debate, that some business leaders might suggest "we'll accept the head tax if you agree not to pursue the income tax idea." Obviously, many of those business leaders would pay in the tens of thousands of dollars if the income tax were actually imposed. That is if they didn't decide to move from Seattle.  

And as remote as the city's chances of a favorable Supreme Court ruling are in this case, the fact is that at some point a Democratic governor and a legislature that has a sufficient Democrat majority is likely to enact a state income tax. That would likely remove the current legal prohibition against a city imposing an income tax.  

Negotiating an agreement in which the city would agree never to impose both an income tax and a head tax might be a protection against an even more business-challenging future.

But at this point, it's pretty obvious that business and other opponents of the head tax intend to put an initiative on the November ballot to have the electorate decide on the head tax.  

Dozens of businesses, including Amazon, Vulcan, and Starbucks, have already pledged more than $350,000 to a No Tax On Jobs campaign. Intriguingly, those putting up money include prominent Bellevue business leader Robert Wallace, although he has always played a leadership role in the Seattle business community as well.

Meanwhile, Pierce County elected officials have stepped up to announce a sort of reverse head tax. The group, representing a number of cities in the county, said the will be devising a plan to give businesses a $275 tax credit for each family wage job created in the county.

Since the City Council and others are making it clear that the city's ability to find the money to cope with the homeless crisis is a growing challenge, that realization should be accompanied by a commitment not to waste money on other things.

What immediately comes to mind in that money-wasting category is the $250,000-plus the city is paying in legal fees to defend City Council member Kshama Sawant in lawsuits resulting from her intemperate and insulting comments towards those she happens to disagree with.

It's "only" a quarter million dollars. But statistics on costs of providing homeless services would suggest that those attorney fees for Sawant would provide for maybe 25 or 30 homeless peoples' needs, including housing.

How about another initiative that would prohibit the city, which already pays for its own legal department, from hiring outside attorneys when a member of the City Council is sued, particularly when it's within the council members' power to avoid a suit by merely being careful about what comes out of their mouths?  

And when the city wastes millions of dollars on bike-lane overruns and transportation-cost foul-ups, the reaction to the City Council needs to become: "Your ineptitude just left dozens (hundreds) of people on the streets for another year."

When I called a friend of mine this week, he told me as he answered his cell phone that he had been listening to a CD on American history that at that moment was discussing the Stamp Act, which was the final straw for Colonists in their increasingly contentious relations with the King and Great Britain. It led to the revolution.

"Wouldn't it be interesting if the head tax somehow became the today equivalent of the Stamp Act tax in stirring some game-changing response to the city as the equivalent of "the king," he chuckled.

Continue reading

Arizona fatality pushes discussion on autonomous vehicles

Autonomous_Vehicles_banner

The unfortunate accident in Tempe, AZ, March 18 when an Uber autonomous Volvo SUV struck and killed a woman who was walking a bicycle across a darkened street has stirred a strong reaction, in this state and elsewhere, from both sides in the discussion about the national push toward a likely autonomous-vehicle future.

One the one hand, supporters who have fed the vision of that possible autonomous future point to what some see as Uber's effort to produce an autonomous fleet "on the cheap," employing too few lasers and radar sensors. They argue that the careful use of sensor-device clusters to detect objects in front of and around the autonomous vehicle is a key to the safety of the driverless cars.

On the other side are those who, for a variety of reasons, would love to slow the pace of progress of the autonomous-vehicle movement. Some are obviously concerned about safety, a group more likely to be from the older generation. But others don't want the disruption of existing transportation plans, i.e. progress on rail commute.

More than a few in the Puget Sound area, for example, are fearful that the move to autonomous vehicles could have a negative effect on their "train," the network of commuter rail lines that are part of the $54 billion ST3 transit package approved by the voters in November of 2016 as an environment-protecting alternative to increasing traffic congestion. To many of its apostles, the ST3 project is like the "Holy Rail," not merely a device to slow traffic congestion.

And thus one of the concerns among autonomous vehicle (AV) advocates is that ST3 and the Sound Transit board that oversees it will come to view autonomous vehicles as a threat to completion of the rail-based plan for the region and use its power and influence to delay or stall progress. After all, most predictions about AV's are that they could come to dominate commute-hours traffic even before ST3's projected 2041 completion date.

And in fact, national transportation officials have made it clear that if autonomous vehicles move as rapidly as anticipated toward a ubiquitous presence on streets and highways, there will be an impact on planned and existing rail-transit programs.

But at this point, Gov. Jay Inslee has put the full weight of his office behind an AV future. Inslee not only moved forcefully last summer to seek to put Washington State at the forefront of states welcoming an autonomous future and issued an executive order to allow and support testing of autonomous vehicles but reiterated that commitment last week.

Inslee told leaders of technology and business at the 20th anniversary of the Alliance of Angels investment group that "The future of transportation will be in Seattle," and he elaborated by saying the region is going to be "the autonomous vehicle center of the U.S."

Inslee seemed to be pushing back not only on those seeing the challenge for the future of autonomous travel in the Tempe fatal accident but also on an op-ed piece in that morning's Seattle Times by a think-tank "fellow" named Daniel Malarkey for an organization called Sightline Institute.


In the article, Malarkey referred to the governor's support as "ill-advised" and added, "the state gains little by allowing tech companies to test on public roads and put motorists and pedestrians at risk." He said: "The governor and state legislators should focus on developing policies to enable the rapid scaling of autonomous electric fleets as soon as we know they work."
It's frankly head-scratching to figure how Malarkey's thought process led him to his conclusions about "ill-advised."

And while I'm not a fan of putting down people you disagree with, I think the Times, in providing op-ed space for an individual to share thoughts over multiple newspaper inches, should share the background of the writer to provide reader perspective.

The Times either avoided sharing or lacked the institutional memory, to include that Malarkey's initial claim to fame in Seattle was as finance director of the ill-fated Seattle Monorail Project, from which he resigned in December of 2003 after revenues fell dramatically short of his projections and costs were underestimated. He resigned and the voters in November of 2005 said by a margin of 65 percent to 35 percent that they didn't want the project to continue.

It's from among the investment community that some of the most thoughtful support for an autonomous future for this state comes.

Madrona Venture Group, Seattle's best-recognized venture firm, issued a report last September sharing the prediction that autonomous vehicles won't merely play a major role in the region's transportation future but that AVs would come to dominate travel on I-5 between Seattle and Vancouver.

The report, issued by Madrona's founder and managing director Tom Alberg and Daniel Li, predicts that AV's will first share an HOV lane, then progress to having dedicated lanes and eventually be the sole mode of transportation on I-5 during major commute hours.

It's likely that the first formal program in the state will be in the City of SeaTac, the municipality that includes Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, where the city council will be asked next month to approve a plan that would launch autonomous mini-vans on city streets.
 
The man who conceived the SeaTac program, John Niles is executive director of an organization called Center for Advanced Transportation and Energy Solutions (CATES). He is well known in the region as an opponent of Sound Transit, which he views as spending "vast sums of taxpayer money to make mobility worse," but now he wants to help SeaTac residents gain easy access to nearby light rail stations after 8 AM when the park-and-ride lots have no more spaces.
 
Niles, who helped produce the plan that he hopes the Sea-Tac City Council will endorse, as well as seek federal funding for, may be the most believable autonomous-vehicle proponent when he insists on safety first.
 
As a seven-year-old, he was run down in a crosswalk and almost killed. Thus when he says "slow speed is the way to go right now" with autonomous vehicle projects, he is totally credible.
 
"I'm not interested in testing but in deploying something," says Niles of the Sea-Tac project, which will involve vehicles already tested elsewhere and whose travels around the city will be at relatively slow speeds and constantly monitored in what he says will be "the most cautious first step possible."
 
In fact, Niles shared the conviction that Waymo, the Google autonomous-car development company, also has remote workers watching the on-street operation of its cars.
 
Waymo was spun out of Google's parent company, Alphabet Inc., and claims to have tested its autonomous vehicles in Kirkland, but more prominently in California and most recently in metro Phoenix, Arizona where more than 600 Chrysler Pacifica vans are planned to be operating by year-end in commercial robo-cab service.

One group that might be expected to be in push-back mode over the emergence of AV technology is the insurance industry as possibly expecting to lose business, but PEMCO Insurance President Stan McNaughton says he's hopeful accidents will be reduced by the AV technology.

Meanwhile, McNaughton said the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, on whose board he sits, "is putting a pile of money into the various systems, with the insurance industry building its own test centers, since at some point we will be rating these systems and we have to have a good understanding of them."

Autonomous-vehicle development has some powerful support in addition to the auto industry and tech companies who would benefit. One is Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, which points to another Arizona accident, this one involving a Google autonomous vehicle, as particularly relevant.

It was an accident in Chandler, AZ, in which a 25-year-old driver was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence after he ran into the rear of the Google car, whose driver was treated for a concussion.

The national advocacy group said the Chandler accident shows why the group supports the development of autonomous vehicles.
Continue reading

'Shock and Awe' shows Bush admin prep for Iraq War as 'fake news'

shockNaweBanner

There is an increasing sense that this country's population has come to be divided between those who think the term "fake news" describes the offerings of conventional media and those who are convinced the phrase best describes certain well-publicized tweets and texts.

So it's perhaps appropriate that a gradually increasing attention is being focused on a movie about four professional journalists who were certain, in the face of all the forces arrayed against them, that the then-president and his administration had concocted a "fake news" tale to justify a war in Iraq.

Joe GallowayJoe GallowayThe movie is Shock and Awe, the title drawn from the campaign of that name created by the leaders of the administration of George W. Bush in preparation for the invasion of Iraq in 2003, a preparation built on the premise that Saddam Hussein had stockpiled weapons of mass destruction. Of course, the term "fake news" wasn't part our culture then, especially being applied to a president.

The movie, conceived and directed by Rob Reiner, has been described as "the politically charged story" about the four reporters from the Washington, D.C., bureau of the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain who first looked into the Bush Administration's attempts to tie Saddam Hussein to the 9-11 terror attack. Thereafter their stories followed a theme that the allegations of WMD's were intentionally inaccurate.

One of the four was iconic Vietnam correspondent Joseph L. Galloway, then more than 35 years into his career covering wars and those who fight them and thus the voice of experience that the two youngest reporters turned to for help in finding their way through the fabrications formed to keep the nation focused on the need for war with Iraq.

It is because of my friendship with Galloway, both of us alums of the news service UPI, and because many in the Seattle area came to know him during his two visits to do Vietnam veterans interviews and several interviews he and I did, including the Seattle Rotary, that I decided to do a Harp about the movie. 

Regular readers of the Harp will recall that Joe Galloway has been the subject of a half-dozen Harps in recent years (Google Flynn's Harp: Joe Galloway).

Eventually, the four including Knight-Ridder bureau chief John Walcott, played by Reiner himself, came to be described as "the only ones who got it right," but before that, they had to weather immense pressure and scorn, not only from the White House but also from some editors of their own newspapers.

For example, there is the story of the editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer saying bluntly that the tone of their stories doesn't "fit in." And Galloway recalled "There is a scene in the movie where Walcott confronts the Philadelphia editor for choosing to run New York Times b.s. over our story. He tells the editor 'will you be running the Times correction and apology when that comes out?'"

There is a perhaps ironic juxtaposition of the timing of the release of the critically acclaimed The Post, whose storyline about the Washington Post's publisher, Kathrine Graham deciding to confront the Nixon White House by publishing the Pentagon Papers, and Shock and Awe detailing a confrontation with a different president and more recent time.

In fact, Reiner, who says he wanted to make this film for a long time, suggests that the struggle he had to secure U.S. distribution for the movie might relate to his belief that "American audiences might not be ready to confront the subject."

I didn't think anybody in America could stomach it," Reiner said. "I don't think they can stomach it now, to be honest with you."


The start of the Iraq War in March of 2003, and how its continuation has unfolded in the years since then, may be viewed as too near to current political realities for a close scrutiny of the legitimacy the Bush Administration's campaign to go to war. In fact, the allegation that the WMD case built by key members of the Bush team was fabricated still draws outrage from some conservatives.

It's obviously much easier to take a critical look at Richard Nixon, or with Reiner's LBJ, released last year bringing a critical look at another former president, Lyndon Baines Johnson.

In fact, Reiner's LBJ screenwriter, Joey Hartstone, also wrote Shock and Awe, and actor Woody Harrelson, who played LBJ. Plays one of the reporters in Shock and Awe.

The fact Reiner was greeted with two separate standing ovations last September at the Zurich International Film Festival for the world premiere of Shock and Awe may have contributed to the firming up of presentation in this country.

It will premiere June 14 in Los Angeles, followed by an exclusive 30-day DIRECT TV deal, then on July 17, it will begin showing in theaters nationwide for two or three weeks.

It will be the second time that Galloway will have the opportunity to watch an actor on the screen playing him, Tommy Lee Jones in this case.

The movie We Were Soldiers, which was released ironically in the year prior to the Iraq invasion, was the film version of Galloway's We Were Soldiers Once...and Young, which detailed the battle of Ia Drang, in which Galloway swapped his camera for a machine gun and was immersed in the first battle between U.S. forces and North Vietnam regulars. He also was decorated for heroism for rescuing two wounded soldiers while under intense enemy fire.

Galloway was played by Barry Pepper in the movie in which Mel Gibson played Lt. Col. Hal Moore, who commanded the U. S. units at the battle and became Galloway's co-author of two books on that fateful battle and closest friend.
Continue reading

Kitty Kelley rode '68-campaign role to a controversy-stirring literary career

kitty_kelley_banner

(Editor's Note: This is the last of four articles on Washington residents for whom roles in the 1968 presidential campaign brought national prominence. The original articles, written on the 40th anniversary of that memorable campaign, were also the launch for this column and are reprised here on the 10thanniversary of Flynn's Harp and 50thanniversary of the '68 campaign.)
                     --------------  

Kitty Kelley was a spunky young woman from Spokane for whom the 1968 presidential campaign was the launch pad for a highly successful but controversy-punctuated career as a biographer of the rich and famous.
 
In a very real sense, the then-26-year-old who had, by accident, become a highly visible figure in Sen. Eugene McCarthy's quixotic quest for the presidency, may have been one of the biggest winners of that campaign.
 
Kitty KelleyKitty KelleyOne of my favorite memories of covering parts of that campaign of 50 years ago as a young political writer for United Press International was a chance encounter with her at the 1968 Democratic state convention in Tacoma, a decade on since we had become friends as high school students in Spokane.
 
I glanced across the crowded hall and, seeing her for the first time in 10 years, I made my way through the crowd, said hello and asked her what she was doing there.
 
"I'm Gene McCarthy's press secretary," she said with a laugh. McCarthy, of course, was the out-of-nowhere senator whose run for the presidency had energized the anti-war forces, particularly the young, who became a change-the-world political force that year.
 
"What the heck do you know about being a press secretary?" I asked.
 
"I decided I wanted to be one and did some research and found that two of the senators didn't have one," she responded. "So I picked McCarthy, made an appointment with him and told him I wanted to be his press secretary. He asked me 'what does a press secretary do?' and I told him we'd figure that out together. So I got the job."
 
That was more than a year before McCarthy's growing outrage at the Vietnam war caused him to emerge from anonymity as the political leader of the anti-war movement
 
Thus that campaign brought Kitty contact with political leaders as the campaign moved across the country and the contacts she made that spring and summer of '68 helped provide the exposure and experience that would allow her to launch her literary career.
 
I watched with interest and amusement in the years since then as her ability to uncover long-hidden secrets and get the "ungettable" story on those about whom she produced a string of unauthorized biographies stirred the ire and criticism of the rich and famous and their friends.
 
She described her reporting style as "moving an icon out of the moonlight and into the sunlight." But those she wrote about often didn't care for the sunlight on their privacy.
 
And because she was an attractive blond woman with the nickname "Kitty," those stung by her tell-all biographies of Jackie Onassis Kennedy, Frank Sinatra, Nancy Reagan, the British Royal Family and Oprah Winfrey, as well as other journalists, found it easy to dismiss the quality of her work.
 
What may have been the high point of her controversial career came just prior to the 2004 presidential election when her look at the personal and business lives of a sitting president and his family was published.
 
"The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty," was the target of a full-court press from the Republican Party, including a GOP memorandum to radio talk show hosts that denounced the book as "New Kelley Book, Same Old Slime." The fact that she was a Liberal made the denunciation from the talk-show hosts even easier. The book was ranked Number 1 on Amazon.com as it was released.
 
Over the years, when controversy swirled around her work, I've smiled to myself to think back on that encounter in Tacoma with a young woman I'd known as a Spokane teenager who had used brains and guts as substitutes for experience and privilege to carve out a high-visibility career for herself.
 
She thus exemplified a fast-growing group of young women who did likewise in the late '60s and early '70s, creating important roles for themselves in what had been, prior to that, a "man's world," and opening the way for others of their gender to do the same.
Continue reading

Egil Krogh's lessons from the fall of a President have echoed down the years

nixonNewspaper

(Editor's note: In this third of four Flynn'sHarp articles reprising stories written a decade ago on the four Washington residents who gained national prominence during the 1968 presidential campaign, Watergate figure Egil (Bud) Krogh discussed the fall of a president and the lessons learned that he sought to convey for subsequent administrations. The validity of his message has echoed down the years, even into today's political scene. The original articles from a decade ago are offered now because it's the 10th anniversary of this weekly column, but also the 50th anniversary of that fateful '68 campaign.)
-------
The disgraced presidency of Richard Nixon is the stuff of history books. But for Egil (Bud) Krogh, the memories that remain vivid are of condemnation and redemption for the role he played and the belief that the events that led to the fall of the president need be kept ever in mind by both presidents and those who work for them.

Krogh, who had just passed the bar in 1968 after graduating from law school at the University of Washington, actually didn't have a part in Nixon's campaign, instead of being left to run the Seattle law practice of John Ehrlichman, the prominent Seattle attorney who helped engineer Nixon's eventual general-election victory in 1968.

egilKroghEgil (Bud) KroghBut after the election, Krogh was asked to join the White House team as personal attorney to the president and staff assistant to Ehrlichman, one of the handful of men who basically ran the White House and thus the country until Watergate brought them all down.

The many books on Nixon and Watergate detail how Krogh was caught up in the scandal, named by Ehrlichman to guide the "Special Investigations Unit" that came to be known as "the plumbers," whose charge was to stop the leaks to the media after the New York Times published the Pentagon Papers.

What followed was the break-in at the office of the psychiatrist of Daniel Ellsberg, whose release of the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times had helped create a siege mentality in the Nixon White House. Krogh's role eventually led to a prison sentence after he pled guilty to criminal conspiracy for engineering the break-in.

Krogh had been an unlikely choice to head such a unit. He had a reputation as someone who scrupulously obeyed the law, with Theodore White writing later that "to put Egil Krogh in charge of a secret police operation was equivalent to making Frank Merriwellchief executive of a KGB squad."

But what the history books don't detail is "the why", which Krogh subsequently sought to explain in articles, interviews, and in his 2007 book, "Integrity. Good People, Bad Choices, and Life Lessons from the White House." The book detailed the lessons of Krogh's lifelong effort to make amends for what he describes as a "meltdown of personal integrity" in the face of issues of loyalty to the president and to the power of the office.

The dedication is a telling reflection of that lifelong campaign: "To those who deserved better, this book is offered as an apology, an explanation, and a way to keep integrity in the forefront of decision-making."

In fact, the quality of the man is evidenced by his belief that, ultimately, it was the break-in at Fielding's office that set the stage for the eventual Watergate break-in because it created the sense that people could break the law in the name of the president, and that thus he was personally responsible for all that followed.

After he served his prison sentence, Krogh returned to Seattle and, with the help of a prominent attorney and eventual federal judge William Dwyer, regained his right to practice law.

It was in 2007 that we got to know each other and I did several interviews with him before various audiences and wrote the 2008 column.

Krogh recalled in our conversations and interviews how after Nixon's resignation, his personal path of reconciliation involved a visit with Fielding to apologize to him for Krogh's unacceptable violation of the rights of "a genuinely decent human being."

And Krogh and Ellsberg became friends, with Ellsburg writing the forward comments for Krogh's book.

Then followed a visit with Nixon in California in which Krogh recalls basically saying: "Mr. President. I apologize to you because everything that's happened was really my fault."

I asked Krogh over lunch in 2008 if he and Ehrlichman, who also went to prison for his part in the events, had ever had the opportunity to talk through what had gone wrong. "John and I had several opportunities to visit after we were in prison, about what happened and why" he said. "We concluded that so many of the mistakes were due to our not really grasping how off-base Nixon was in his demand for results that used illegal means.

Loyalty to 'the man' was the over-arching requirement for service on that staff." And it is the flaw of misguided loyalty that Krogh has remained ever convinced that presidents and their staff members must be vigilant to avoid, including his caution about "reliance on hazy, loose notions about 'national security' and 'commander in chief' and what such notions can be tortured into meaning."

Krogh left Seattle and his law practice in 2011 to join the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress as a Senior Fellow on Leadership, Ethics, and Integrity.

We last talked In 2012 as I caught up with him by phone as he was en route to a Pennsylvania speaking engagement. The time was near the anniversary of Watergate and I asked him if the book was still successful. "It's selling better now than at the beginning," he replied. "The issue of government integrity seems more relevant to people today."

By then his personal focus had become zeroing in on the School for Ethics and Global Leadership, which attracts high school students, and it was in that environment of sharing his philosophy with young people that he honed his Integrity Zone concept.

The concept of the Integrity Zone was based on a couple of fundamental considerations. The first challenges the process of thinking that precedes decisions, basically: "have I thought through all the implications?" while the second part is ethical considerations: "Is it right? Is this decision in alignment with basic values like fairness and respect?"

"We never asked any of those questions in the Nixon White House," Krogh told me. "And most of what we see in Congress today fails those tests. Instead, we see a focus on loyalty and fealty to party. You simply can't check your personal integrity at the door."

Continue reading

For Jim Whittaker, memories of '68 campaign are of the 'might have been'

WhitakerandKennedy_2

(Editor's note: This is the second of four profile article that I first published a decade ago on the 40th anniversary of the chaotic, impactful and tragic 1968 presidential campaign, relating the stories of four Washingtonians who were launched into national prominence with roles borne of that campaign. The articles are reprised now in Flynn's Harp both because it's the 10thanniversary of this column and the 50th of that fateful '68 campaign.)
                 ---------------------- 

For Jim Whittaker, memories of '68 campaign are of "might have been"

For Everest-conqueror Jim Whittaker, memories of the 1968 campaign are caught up in the might-have-been of Sen. Robert Kennedy's bright but brief campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.

It was in an interview in 2008, as I prepared to do a series of articles 40 years on from that tumultuous 1968 campaign, that Whittaker recalled how he first met the man whose presidential aspirations would involve Whittaker dramatically in a memorable political campaign.

"After President Kennedy was assassinated, Canada named its highest unclimbed mountain Mt. Kennedy," recalled Whittaker, who in 1963 was the first American to reach the top of Mount Everest. "So inevitably, I was asked if I'd climb it and I contacted National Geographic about supporting the climb and we began planning it."

"Then I get a call asking if I'd be willing to take Senator Kennedy up," Whittaker said. "I called him and asked if he'd ever climbed, and he said he hadn't. I told him 'this is going to be tough. When I called him again a few weeks later, he said he was practicing by running up and down the stairs at his house crying 'help.'

"I thought, 'my god, what have I gotten into," he added.

"But it turned out he was in excellent condition and on the way down, he ran a couple of the climbers on our team into the ground," Whittaker remembered. "That was the beginning of a strong friendship."

"I was at his home when he decided to run for president," Whittaker recalled. "He irritated a lot of people by announcing."

In fact, what happened is that Sen. Eugene McCarthy, a quixotic lawmaker who decided to run against a sitting president from his party because of his opposition to the Vietnam war, had attracted a mass of young people energized at the prospect of a candidate of change.

McCarthy's campaign basically drove President Lyndon Johnson to announce he would not seek re-election, and that announcement opened the door for Kennedy, who never viewed McCarthy as an electable candidate.

As Washington State political editor in Olympia for United Press International, I was assigned to help cover the 1968 Oregon primary, which was the first real face-to-face battle between McCarthy and Kennedy, I had the opportunity to meet Whittaker in a way he wouldn't remember.

Whitaker and KennedyWhitaker and KennedyHere's that story: It turned out Kennedy lost the Oregon primary, the first ever loss by a Kennedy. I waited with Bob Clark of ABC news at the curb in front of the Benson Hotel in Portland for Kennedy's limousine to arrive. Behind us was a press of young Kennedy fans jockeying and shoving for the opportunity to see him, touch him, be near him when he arrived.

The limousine pulled up, the doors opened and Whittaker led Kennedy from the car. The young Kennedyites shoved forward. The last I saw of Bob Clark, he basically disappeared under the feet of an out-of-control mob of Kennedy fans.

I saw Whittaker and, as he passed, I grabbed hold of his belt and knew, since he was leading Kennedy into the hotel and was too big and athletic to go down, I was secure with his belt firmly in my hand.

The lead on the UPI story that night was headlined: "Kennedy bushwhacked on the Oregon Trail." It turned out to be a prophetic headline.

A week later, Kennedy won the California primary. Whittaker had a suite in the Olympic Hotel in downtown Seattle, to which he had invited Washington state's delegation to a wine and hors-d'oeuvres political romancing on Kennedy's behalf to watch the results of the California primary.

Whittaker recalled that he had four speakers set up in the suite and that Kennedy's wife, Ethyl, called to say Kennedy wanted to talk to the Washington delegates.

"He thanked them for their participation and pitched for their votes, then he went down to give his acceptance speech," Whittaker recalled. "A little while later, as I was driving home and listening to the radio, I heard he had been shot. I turned around and went to the airport and when I got to the hospital, Ethyl and Teddy Kennedy asked me to go into the room with them and we said our goodbyes. Then he died.

"We flew back to Washington on Air Force One, which president Johnson extended to us," Whittaker remembered. "The funeral at St. Patrick's in New York was followed by the train ride back to Washington. The crowds along the tracks were incredible. Ethyl asked me to be one of the pallbearers, along with John Glenn, Robert McNamara and others I don't recall right now.

"I can't believe how long ago it's been," he said in that 2008 interview. "But it's as difficult to think about as if it were yesterday," Whittaker said.

I asked Whittaker in that 2008 interview if he and Kennedy had every discussed a role Whittaker might play in a Kennedy administration and he said they hadn't.

"But in thinking about it later, there were times I thought I'd have made a hell of an interior secretary," he said with a chuckle.

Whittaker's memories of that campaign, and of an incredible life of challenge and adventure, are chronicled in his book, "A Life on the Edge: Memoirs of Everest and Beyond."

It was 22 years after Kennedy's assassination that Whittaker, in what he characterizes as one of his proudest moments, guided the 1990 International Peace Climb in which he helped put a Russian, a Chinese and an American together on the summit of the Everest.

Whittaker, who turned 89 this month, lives in Port Townsend with his wife, Dianne Roberts, who is described with him in their website as "partners in marriage, life, business and adventure for more than 40 years."

I asked Whittaker for this reprise column if he had any current reflections on that campaign and he emailed me: "If the President and Bobby had lived, this Planet would be more safe and clean for all living things."

Continue reading

Evans' selection as GOP keynoter thrust him into the national limelight

o-1968-REPUBLICAN-CONVENTION-facebook

EDITORS NOTE: The presidential campaign of 1968 remains the most chaotic and tragic, but impactful, in memory with the events in Vietnam 50 years ago this month changing the perception of that war and echoing through the following months of America's election season. It was a political campaign that would catapult four citizens from Washington State into national prominence.

On January 31, 1968, thousands of North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces launched what became known as the Tet Offensive with a surprising ferocity that blew away the smoke of self-delusion that veiled the Johnson Administration's ability to realize we could not win the Vietnam War.

DanielEvansDaniel EvansThe political fallout came quickly from Tet, a battle memorialized by a phrase from UPI reporter Kate Webb's description of the American embassy, after a Viet Cong attack there was repulsed, with bloodied bodies strewn across the green lawns and among the white fountains, as "like a butcher shop in Eden."

Within a month, President Johnson decided not to run again. Four months later, candidate Robert Kennedy was assassinated and in November a president was elected who was destined to resign in disgrace.

The four Washington residents who had roles amid the political tumult were then-Gov. DanEvans, who was 1968 GOP convention keynoter, mountaineer Jim Whittaker, who became like a brother to Sen. Robert Kennedy, Egil (Bud) Krogh, a young Seattle attorney who became a Watergate figure, and author Kitty Kelly, a Spokane high school friend.

Articles on each were the opening offerings of this Flynn's Harp column a decade ago and, as promised, I plan to reprise those recollections from a presidential campaign now half a century removed, but still hauntingly memorable, more perhaps for the four Washingtonians in particular, all of whom remain active today.
--------

Selection as GOP convention keynoter thrust Dan Evans into national limelight

Dan Evans was nearing the end of his first term as governor of Washington State when he was thrust into the national political limelight with his selection as the keynote speaker for the Republican National Convention in Miami Beach.

The decision six months earlier by President Lynden Johnson not to seek re-election to a full second term, which he had been expected to win despite the unrest over Vietnam, had suddenly put the importance of the Republican presidential nomination in bold relief.

I asked Evans last week, in preparing for this replay of the 1968 column, what his recollections were of the events in early 1968 that set the stage for what followed.

Evans told me "Each year, from 1965 through 1968, the governors were invited to the White House for a private briefing on the war in Vietnam. Pres. Johnson played a leading role in the briefings, each year proposing more troops until February of 1968 when the administration headlined 36 ways they were attempting to end the war in Vietnam."

"As we left the briefing," Evans recalled, "I said to one of my colleagues: 'I don't think they know what to do next.' He agreed, and 30 days later President Johnson announced that he would not run for president."

Continue reading

Spellman was a governor willing to deny even the president for the sake of integrity

spellman_banner

The death of former Gov. John Spellman from pneumonia early Tuesday at the age of 91while hospitalized for a broken hip stirs recollections for many of an elected official applauded for his integrity and courage. Spellman's passing reminded me of a column I did to mark the 30thanniversary of his 1981 swearing-in as what would be the state's last Republican governor, an anniversary I thought noteworthy enough to call him for an interview and do the following Flynn's Harp on him in January of 2011.
----------

I once asked John Spellman 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 that may be an accurate assessment.

But it would have been difficult for many who were there at the time to accept that assessment, since during his 1980-84 single term as governor, Washington's last Republican governor, he managed to make decisions that irritated almost every segment on the political spectrum. But Spellman understood more than most elected officials that being good was different than being popular.

spel001Spellman, John D. (1926-2018)One such decision came about because of his strong commitment to environmental protection. Thus, despite enormous pressure from business groups, many legislators and, most notably, his own Republican president, he used his authority to prevent permitting for what he felt was an environmentally-risky development project in a sensitive shoreline area of Whatcom County.

Another was that "we passed more taxes in my four years than they have before or since" Spellman recalled in a telephone interview this week. "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.

"We had a crisis, as evidenced by the fact we had a 13.6 percent unemployment rate at one point, and in crises, you have to act," he added. "People didn't elect me to do nothing."

He spent two years fighting with a Democrat-controlled legislature and two with one controlled by Republicans.

The recession that began in 1981 "was much worse than anyone thought it would be and we had to do some things to get the economy moving and some money coming in," Spellman recalled. "So I announced an economic revitalization plan that included, among other things, an industrial development bonds program that had long been a tool of other states, but hadn't been available here."

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. "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."

Spellman, who at 84 still puts in four days a week at Seattle law firm Carney Badley Spellman, practiced politics in a long-gone era when Republican elected officials could be moderate enough to sometimes find Democrats to the right of them.

So it was when Spellman ran for Seattle mayor in the mid-60s in his first attempt at elective office, an unsuccessful race in which he favored open-housing legislation and opposed the county's gambling tolerance policy. Both were positions with which a majority of voters in then-conservative Seattle and King County disagreed.

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. 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 whom I was about to meet.

Spellman remembers of the mayoral race, a quest for a non-partisan office, that he was "very young and I didn't have much of a campaign. But I enjoyed the process and people noticed me because my views were the correct ones."

But he put on the Republican label when he ran for and won a seat on the King County Board of Commissioners and, after the county changed its charter to provide for a county executive, Spellman ran for and won that office.

Since Washington State now has the longest period of any state since having a GOP chief executive, I asked Spellman why he thought it was that the four governors who followed him, including Booth Gardner who unseated him, were all Democrats. His response was typically candid: "The Republicans' problem was the quality of the candidates," Spellman said. "They were all good people but unelectable."

I asked Spellman during our telephone interview 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."

Would that the integrity connoted by that comment were a legacy imparted to current elected officials.

Continue reading

The Harp Turns 10! Reflections on a decade of notes on people, politics, and life

BirthdayBanner_10

A decade of harping, actually producing a weekly email column under the title "Flynn's Harp" most every week for the past 10 years, is cause for pause and reflection.

For nearly a quarter-century guiding the fortunes of Puget Sound Business Journal, my creative outlet from the business challenges was the weekly column that permitted me to share thoughts on people and issues with PSBJ's readers.

It was the spring of 2008, two years after my retirement from PSBJ, that my friend Pat Scanlon, whom I now refer to as my digital guru because of his background in digital media with national media companies, said to me: "You should have an online column." To that, I replied: "Why?" So he said: "Let me show you what I've put together" and lo, the layout, and format of both email and web versions, missing only a column title, was there on my computer, causing me to muse: "So what would I write about?"

Because it was a general-election year, I had already written a piece reflecting on the 1968 presidential campaign in which I had been fortunate enough, as a young political writer for UPI, to be immersed. The 1968 campaign was one that had high-visibility roles for four people from Washington State and I had put all of that into a piece without knowing where I would try to place the article.

When I began thinking of the "what would I write?" I realized that I could divide that 1968-campaign article into four parts, one for each of the four people I had included as key players in that long-ago campaign. Then, presto, I'd have a month's worth of columns! Then I'd be four weeks on the way to have time to think of a fifth and a sixth column, etc.

Thus then-Gov. Dan Evans, who was 1968 GOP convention keynoter, mountaineer Jim Whittaker, who became like a brother to Sen. Robert Kennedy, Egil (Bud) Krogh, a young Seattle attorney who became a Watergate figure, and author Kitty Kelly, a high school friend, became the first four profiles of the
Harp.

Since we are coming up on what, now that 2018 has dawned, the 50th anniversary of that campaign, detailed 40 years on in a reflective piece in a national magazine in 2008 on Robert Kennedy's quest for the presidency as "the last good campaign," I decided to revisit those four columns in this 10th year of The Harp.

So over the coming weeks, I will be inserting those columns into the flow of
Harps, repeating the recollections from a presidential campaign now half a century removed but one in which all four of those personalities I wrote about remain active today. But I will also during the coming months be reprising other columns that had particular and special meaning to me.

I figured the best way to get the column going as an e-mail offering back in 2008 was to send the first one to about 600 of my closest friends and contacts (some I hadn't touched base with for several years), hoping they would either read it or ignore it but not tag me as SPAM.

Over time, as I've met new people in my "retirement" activities and consulting, I've added another 1,000 names.

So it now goes weekly to about 1,600 recipients whom I describe as business leaders, mostly Washington State but 100 or so in California, Hawaii and a few other states, as well as current and former state and local elected officials, and four college presidents.

Doing the column regularly, with the personal requirement that it be original material, in other words, facts and information not yet brought to the public's awareness has provided a satisfaction.

But even more so have been the responses from many to the emails, some moving, some laudatory, some critical. I have specifically always acknowledged the latter.

I like to tell people the column has resulted in more friendships than I had as PSBJ publisher because then, business people who read my columns and editorials were merely part of a mostly faceless audience of readers. Now the "readers" are those who are kind enough to let me into their email box weekly and most proceed to open long enough to see if that particular one is interesting.

So over the course of 500 columns, I have come to know people and their successes and challenges, and issues that impact them, in ways that would never have been the case except for the column.

I have now become an evangelist for doing email columns, urging my friends and business associates to create columns, advising "not weekly!" and admonishing "if you do it, it needs to be not about yourself or your business but about the knowledge you can impart from your experience."

A couple of friends have taken me up on it, the first being Don Brunell, retired president of the Association of Washington Business, who recalled in an email to me this week the occasion for the launch of his column that now appears in a number of weekly newspapers.

"We were at the Coeur d' Alene Hotel for AWB's Executive Committee retreat and we were having a beer in the lobby bar in 1995, bemoaning how we got our butts kicked by Mike Lowry in 1993. The D's controlled Olympia and Lowry would chastise business:  'you mean to tell me you guys can't afford a latte a day to pay for health care for your workers.'"  

 "We were talking about getting our message out and you said:  'why don't you write a weekly column?'  So I gave it a try. That's now almost 23 years ago."

The other is Al Davis, a friend and former longtime client, who is a founder of Revitalization Partners, a noted Seattle-based business management and advisory firm. Early last year he packaged the columns he and business partner Bill Lawrence have written bi-weekly over the last three years into a book.

When Al and I met for me to get a copy of the book, he told me to open the cover and read what was printed on the facing page. There was a thank you to several people, and to me for convincing him he could write a column!

Continue reading

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

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

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

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

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

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