|Former Gov. Dan Evans|
|Former Gov. Dan Evans|
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.
Brian Baird spent half of his 12 years in Congress in a frustrated, and futile, effort to gather support for his legislation to make it illegal for lawmakers to engage in the kind of financial transactions that those in the real world know as Insider Trading and for which they can be sent to jail. He and one or two supporters offered it each session but couldn’t even get a committee hearing.
But Baird was able to look on with satisfaction when, a year after he decided to focus on family and not run for re-election, a late-2011 program on CBS' "60 Minutes" brought national attention to his idea and coined the phrase "Honest graft," meaning it was graft but it wasn't illegal. The program exposed how members of Congress and their staff traded stocks based on nonpublic information to which they had exclusive access.
Lawmakers by the dozens scurried like frightened rats to get aboard as supporters amid the public outcry the news program sparked and so in April of 2012, the measure titled the STOCK Act (Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge) was passed to finally bar members of Congress from doing stock transactions in areas they regulate.
Now Baird is watching with some amusement because, since Republican congressional leaders went out of their way in 2012 to quickly pass legislation extending the law to the president and vice president and those who worked for them, President-elect Donald Trump would be covered by the law. So he and his minions are seeking to exempt him from the law.
Newt Gingrich, explaining why ethics laws shouldn’t apply to Trump, even offered the view: "We've never seen this kind of wealth in the White House, and so traditional rules don't work…We're going to have to think up a whole new approach." He suggested that Congress change ethics laws so Trump can avoid any conflicts of interest that his global business empire may pose.
And Trump himself has said he is not subject to laws relating to conflict of interest.
Maybe so. But maybe not, since the Republicans who now control both houses of Congress may not wish to take early action on something that would allow critics the opportunity to point to the GOP lawmakers as being the lap dogs of the President. In other words, if they rolled over on command on the issue of ethics, what commands could they object to?
And Walter Shaub, director of the federal Office of Government Ethics (OGE), has issued a memo providing official guidance to Congress on the issue. His letter explained: “The Stock Act bars the President, the Vice President, and all executive branch employees from: using nonpublic information for private profit; engaging in insider trading; or intentionally influencing an employment decision or practice of a private entity solely on the basis of partisan political affiliation.”
But the President names the OGE director so once Trump moves into the Oval Office, it might be a good bet that Shaub will be replaced and that his successor will offer a quite different view.
Baird served six terms from Washington’s Third Congressional District before deciding in 2010 that his young family (he and his wife, Rachel Nugent’s, twin boys were 4 years old at the time), was more important than his battles in Congress. There was talk of his being targeted by the GOP if he had sought re-election, even though in his last four re-elections, none of his opponents could muster even 40 percent of the vote.
He says that while his family was the key reason he decided not to run again in 2010, other reasons included frustration over “the growing extremism and intransigence of many in the Republican party” and the “Democratic leadership showing little if any understanding of the concerns for centrist members from swing districts.”
Baird, who gained a doctorate in clinical psychology at the University of Wyoming after graduating from the University of Utah, says of the emerging focus on the STOCK Act and its relevance to Trump: “I'm just glad people are standing up for the bill now and trying to make sure it has the desired impact.”
But he finds it humorous that the growing attention to the law has brought a number of representatives and Senators who are being quoted about the brewing controversy as Trump’s inauguration nears and describing themselves as author of the law.
“As they say, success has many parents, even if they were nowhere near the conception,” Baird mused in an email to me.
The interviews by CBS reporter Steve Croft with then-House Speaker John Boehner and former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, his unexpected questions making Boehner look like someone hiding from the truth and Pelosi like someone too incompetent to even come across as thinking, should be part of every high school government class. The topic of the lecture in which the You Tube interviews were featured could be titled: “Who elects these people?”
The interviews are now difficult to find on You Tube because you have to subscribe to “60 Minutes.” Too bad.
The controversy over the STOCK Act and the soon-to-be Trump Administration isn’t currently getting a major focus from the media.
But a budding controversy could become a political brouhaha once a new president takes an action that would be illegal under the act.
There was surprisingly little fanfare or discussion over the fact that Gov. Jay Inslee’s re-election extended his party’s record hold on the governor’s mansion so that when his term ends in 2020, it will have been four decades since a Republican was elected governor in Washington.
But both John Spellman, elected to what turned out to be a single term in 1980 as the state’s last Republican chief executive, and Dan Evans, who left office in 1976 after a record three terms, are convinced it’s more than running in an increasingly blue state that has denied the GOP the statehouse for a longer period than any other state.
Inslee defeated Republican challenger Bill Bryant, 55 per cent to 45 percent, with the GOP lamenting that there wasn’t much bad that could be said about a governor who hadn’t done a lot.
And as Evans quipped, when I asked him about what it would take for Republicans to win the governorship again, ”what we need is someone with Inslee’s looks and Bryant’s brains.”
In fact, although Washington is far more blue now than it was in either Evans’ or Spellman’s time, both had as much appeal to Democrats as to Republicans and that could help indicate the challenge for a rightward drifting state GOP.
Both Evans and Spellman were strong protectors of the environment. The State Department of Ecology was created during Evans’ term, as well as legislation to protect shorelines. And Spellman became the darling of environmentalists while raising the ire of everyone in his party, from the president’s energy secretary to members of Congress and legislators, over his decision to prevent construction of the Northern Tier Pipeline project.
And neither shied away from taxes. Spellman told me, during an interview in 2011 on the 30th anniversary of his inauguration, “we passed more taxes in my four years than they have before or since. One of the challenges in seeking to get re-elected was that I said I would raise taxes only as a last resort and some people took that to mean I wouldn’t raise taxes.”
Spellman paid the price for raising taxes and defying special interests in a tumultuous term marked by a serious recession and a hard-right Republican Party, losing in 1984 to moderate Democratic businessman Booth Gardner.
I asked Spellman, who turns 90 next month, what kind of governor he had been and with a twinkle in his Irish eyes, he replied “I was a darn good governor.” And beyond the tumult of his times, including what he’d suggest may have been the worst economic period the state has experienced, there’s much to suggest in retrospect that may be an accurate assessment.
For his part, Evans, who just had his 91st birthday last month, was and remains a fan of a state income tax, as long as it’s part of “tax reform,” saying in an interview “I killed the income tax for two generation by getting a vote on it. After that, the no-tax pledge became required in campaigns.”
“If we had prevailed with tax reform and the income tax component, we would be $4.5 billion better off in this state,” Evans added.
The governing philosophies of those two may indicate how close to ideologically blue a GOP gubernatorial candidate might have to be to break the Democratic hold on the state’s chief executive job.
Of course the Republican candidates have been competitive in some recent elections, with Dino Rossi losing to Christine Gregoire in 2004 only after a recount confirmed her victory, and Rob McKenna seen as losing to Inslee four years ago primarily because of some campaign missteps.
Spellman, handsome and personable with a winning smile, was an attorney, graduate of Seattle University then Georgetown Law School, whose ever-present pipe would be lit and relit during lengthy discussion sessions.
Because one of his legal clients was the United Steelworkers Union local, he had support from a lot of labor-union members as he successfully campaigned to become the first King County Executive. In fact, my first meeting with Spellman in 1967 was when my steelworker uncle introduced me to him at a cocktail party in downtown Seattle after explaining to me what a fair and fine man this was who I was about to meet.
The passage of years has dimmed the remarkable courage Spellman evidenced in holding firm to his decision not to permit a pipeline to be constructed under Puget Sound despite pressure from a Republican administration, his own congressional delegation and the legislature.
That conviction brought him national attention in the form of a People magazine April 1982 profile of the little-known elected official who was “bucking president and party to turn an oil pipeline into a pipe dream.”
The profile went on to discuss how “one of the nation’s mightiest public-works projects, the $2.7 billion, 1,490-mile Northern Tier Pipeline designed to carry Alaskan crude oil from Puget Sound to Midwestern refineries, is being blocked by a single man, Governor John Spellman of Washington.”
And given the current political controversy about what attitude should guide this country’s view of international trade, Spellman’s thoughts on its importance would put him in the thick of any discussion on the topic today.
Spellman was an early believer in the importance of establishing relations with foreign nations and is proud of initiating relationships with Schewan Province in China and furthering relations with Japan during his term.
“Both world trade and world peace were in play then, as now, and relationships are very important in international affairs,” said Spellman in our interview. “The relationships we have are extremely important to the world in terms of peace and tranquility and trade, but trade is third among those in importance.”
I asked Spellman during our telephone interview for that 2011 column how it felt to lose his re-election bid. “It wasn’t devastating. Maybe to some of my kids it was, but not to me,” Spellman replied. “I knew I had done a lot of things that weren’t calculated to make getting re-elected easy.”
The might-have-been lament is being played again this year in the Puget Sound area, among other arguments put forth by proponents of $54 billion ST-3, a proposal that would provide a 25-year basically blank check to Sound Transit to create a system that will connect an array of communities across three counties.
As legislators and their paid consultants struggle with how to answer the State Supreme Court’s latest education-funding question about determining “competitive market rates” for educators, a couple of thoughts press themselves to the fore as the drama moves toward a final act.
First, there’s an unfortunate sense that, in the press by the justices to make it clear to legislators which branch of government is ultimately in charge, what’s emerged is an effort to ensure that financial support of educators becomes the answer to education quality woes. No consideration is given to support for education in a broader sense.
Second, the well-worn phrase “You can’t just throw money at a problem” is one that seems to have eluded the state high court in its on-going education-funding struggle with the legislature over how much is enough.
At issue is the court’s January 2012 ruling, in what is now known as the McCleary case, that the legislature violated the state constitution by failing to amply fund basic education. Since then the court has found the lawmakers in contempt for not providing sufficient funding and has even threatened to take over the budgeting process (presenting what would seem to an amazing cartoonists’ opportunity).
Now the court has told the lawmakers to determine “competitive market rates” in terms of teacher salaries across the state and a final report on that point is due from a legislative consultant in November.
After that, lawmakers will try to find common ground on the sum of money required for salaries and where it is going to come from. The Legislature is supposed to take votes in 2017, or in the view of lawmakers in 2018, to put those final pieces in place in what has come to be known as the McCleary case.
Comes now the observation of Donald Nielsen, whom I best describe as an education “change agent,” whose views are dramatically suspect and irritating to those who disagree with him because he has no hidden agenda. He’s merely a business executive who made his fortune and decided nearly a quarter century ago to spend his time and money in the next phase of life seeking to make basic education better.
Nielsen is not an educator. But he is someone who is passionate about public education and has focused much of his attention on it since the early ‘90s, first traveling the country in search of education ideas that are working, then serving eight years on the Seattle School Board and a final year as president. His book, “Every School,” has brought his thoughts on education reform to the fore over the past couple of years in radio talk shows and newspaper interviews around the country.
“Schools do not have a funding problem, they have a regulatory problem,” Nielsen suggests. “If school administrators could spend their existing money as they believe is needed, they would spend it quite differently, and we would get better results.”
His most in-your-face message is that “teachers are not underpaid, they are underemployed. This is not a compensation issue, it’s an employment issues.”
“The average teacher in Seattle, in 2013, was making $70,000 a year, employed for 1320 hours,” he said. “All normal jobs employ people for 2080 hours a year so If that same teacher were employed for a normal year, his or her compensation would $110,300 a year on that 2080 basis.”
“Even beginning teachers who start at $40,000 a year are being paid the equivalent of $63,000 year,” he added. “In both cases, the teacher gets a benefit package that no private employer could afford to replicate.”
Neither of these compensations is low,” Nielsen added. “They are very competitive, and in rural areas, teachers are already among the best paid people in the community.”
Discussion by the justices has never touched on suggesting the lawmakers focus on how the money is being spent, only how much is being spent, which makes another suggestion from Nielsen the kind of thing that at least might be in the discussion hopper.
“We need are variable contracts for teachers: A nine month contract, a ten month contract and an eleven month contract, meaning the latter would make the $110,000 and the former would make the $70,000,” he said. “Let the teachers decide what contract they want and let the district decide who gets each type of contract,” suggesting that approach could allow for some education options for different students.
Unfortunately, it’s still uncertain whether the final act in this drama will be played out on the judicial or legislative stages since the nine justices of the state’s highest court have pressed the lawmakers, including with a contempt funding, to spend more dollars on education. At issue is the state’s constitutional mandate for adequate funding of basic education.
The justices, as far as I can tell, have never mentioned that lawmakers should also consider how the education dollars are being spent and could better education result from more insightful use of the dollars the lawmakers appropriate.
Maybe there’s still time, as the lines for the final act are just now being written in Olympia, for the idea of quality of expenditure rather than just quantity of expenditure to be raised.
In a case replete with issues relating to powerful education forces focused only on dollars, it might be worth combatants who finally seem hopeful of averting a real constitutional crisis to be aware of an unsettling statistic that Nielsen has included in his book.
In summing up the details of the chart in his book, Nielsen notes: “We now spend three times as much per child in inflation-adjusted dollars as we did in 1970 and we also have four times as many adults in our schools with only eight percent more children. And we’ve had no measurable improvement in academic achievement.”
It was well over a year ago that my brother, a retired Spokane small-business owner, began telling me, in support of the Donald Trump phenomenon, “Mike, you don’t understand, the silent majority is roaring.” My response was always, “I hear the roar, but it’s a minority made up of those unsettled by the murky mix of terrorism and immigration policies and angered by their lack of influence, or even contact, with the establishment.”
Then came last week’s Brexit vote, where the English version of folks I described turned out to be the majority, leaving establishment leaders of both major parties in this country to ponder whether what’s at stake is a desire to throw out the system rather than merely overturn particular politicians or policies. And what that means come November.
Or for the future. Thus perhaps an appropriate time to ponder questions as Independence Day approaches
Now a week following the blow to the U.K. comes a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court almost certain to fuel anger at the established order, the court making it harder to prosecute public officials for corruption by basically saying it’s ok for “the system” to include paying elected officials to influence their decisions.
At issue was the case of former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell, who was convicted by a lower court of using his office to help a businessman who had provided McDonnell and his wife with luxury products, loans and vacations worth more than $175,000 when Mr. McDonnell was governor.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., writing for the court, narrowed the definition of what sort of conduct can serve as the basis of a corruption prosecution. He wrote that “routine political courtesies like arranging meetings or urging underlings to consider a matter generally, even when the people seeking those favors give the public officials gifts or money,” do not represent corruption.
The alternative to the new limits, Roberts wrote, would be to criminalize routine political behavior. “Conscientious public officials arrange meetings for constituents, contact other officials on their behalf and include them in events all the time,” he wrote. All the time! Isn’t that the problem?
By now readers of this column have likely concluded that the usual focus on people, companies and issues that relate the Northwest is being upstaged to Harp about some personal thoughts on an issue that impacts us in this region, but that transcends us.
Fodder for thought following Brexit, for those who care to think, is offered by The Los Angeles Times‘ Vincent Bevins: “Since the 1980s the elites in rich countries have overplayed their hand, taking all the gains for themselves and just covering their ears when anyone else talks, and now they are watching in horror as voters revolt.”
It has to be hoped that the revolt is aimed at reconstructing rather than destructing the Democratic process. But that may not be certain.
A quote from author and MSNBC commentator Chris Hayes is getting attention on social media in the wake of the Brexit vote.
“The mechanism that western citizens are expected to use to express and rectify dissatisfaction – elections – has largely ceased to serve any correction function. When Democracy is preserved only in form, structured to change little to nothing about power distribution, people naturally seek alternatives for the redress of their grievances, particularly when they suffer.”
Coincident with the post-Brexit analysis have come a couple of group emails in which I was included, both suggesting that the idea of change by the ballot isn’t being totally abandoned. Both related to a focus on the 28th amendment to the U.S. constitution and both widely popular but not yet widely promoted.
The first relates to ongoing discussion about an amendment to overturn Citizens United, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that held political expenditures by corporations could not be limited.
Polls show the efforts for a 28th Amendment to overturn Citizens United is supported by more than 75 percent of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents and sixteen states have enacted 28th Amendment resolutions.
The other idea gathering support as a proposed 28th amendment: "Congress shall make no law that applies to the citizens of the United States that does not apply equally to the Senators and/or Representatives; and, Congress shall make no law that applies to the Senators and/or Representatives that does not apply equally to the citizens of the United States."
It strikes me that this idea could generate some positive action from voters by, between now and the November General Election, insisting every member of Congress on the ballot, as well as every state legislator, commit to voting in favor of the constitutional change next year. Or bite the bullet as voters and vote for the opponent, regardless of ideological compatability.
There are examples of the manner in which a fed-up public can bring a positive focus to their anger and bring about beneficial change within the system.
One such example was actually the result of an idea of someone from inside “the system,” then-Washington congressman Brian Baird, who during the last three of his six terms as the representative from the state’s third district sought to gather support in Congress for what he called the “Stock Act.”
Baird sought to prevent members of Congress from doing stock transactions in areas they regulate, in essence, prohibiting their investing in a manner that those in the real world call Insider Trading.
I wrote about it in a November, 2011, column after a program on CBS’ “60 Minutes” brought national attention to Baird’s idea with a program titled “Honest graft.”
For ordinary citizens, reaction to Baird's proposal would be a laughable "well, of course." But in a place whose mantra is "the rules we make for you don't apply to us," seeking to force action by the lawmakers on one small, self-imposed ethical constraint could become a rallying point for a fed-up public.
The thrust of the CBS segment was that lawmakers often made stock purchases and trades in the very fields they regulate. While ordinary citizens could be jailed for engaging in the kind of investment shenanigans that those in Congress involve themselves in, there's wasn’t even an ethical concern among lawmakers.
Reporter Steve Croft questioned then-House Speaker John Boehner and former Speaker Nancy Pelosi at their respective news conferences. And the ineptitude with which both Boehner and Pelosi tried to answer Croft's questions about whether their investment practices were at least conflicts of interest, the thought that had to occur was "Who elects these people?" The answer, unfortunately, is people like us elect them. And both have continued to be elected. Shame on us. And so maybe a revolt wouldn’t be that bad.
As a result of the outcry following the program and You Tube pieces on the congressional leaders’ confused responses, the Stock Act was passed overwhelmingly in the spring of 2012 with what observers described as “vulnerable congressmen” at the forefront of supporters. So now Members of Congress and employees of Congress are prohibited from using private information derived from their official positions for personal benefit, and for other purposes.
Baird had already retired by then, having decided not to seek a seventh term, thus exemplifying one of the concerns about the future of the Democracy as currently operating: The Nancy Pelosis remain in office and the Brian Bairds decide to leave.
Just as the races for state and national offices in the November General Election may demonstrate that anger can trump reason, voters in Oregon will be faced with deciding a ballot measure that will test whether anger at big business over things like soaring executive compensation exceeds logic.
At issue is IP28 (Initiative Petition), which targets Oregon's biggest corporations — roughly 1,000 by the state's estimates, or about 4 percent of businesses. Those with $25 million in Oregon sales would pay a minimum $30,000 tax, plus 2.5 percent on anything above that threshold.
In essence, it would be a tax on gross receipts, like Washington’s business & occupation tax, generating an estimated $6 billion in new revenue. Except in Oregon it would be in addition to the tax on personal and corporate income and would boost corporate tax collections more than five-fold.
As my friend Don Brunell put it in his latest column, which alerted me to the fact the measure had been cleared for the November ballot by collecting the required 130,000 signatures, “Washington’s next economic development plan may be written by Oregon voters next November.”
His point was that “Oregon voters need to remember that Washington and California have heavy concentrations of large businesses and stand to benefit from passage of IP28 and that while all parts of Washington would gain, the corridor between Vancouver and Longview could be the biggest winner.”
Brunell, retired president of Association of Washington Business, in his more than a quarter century at the helm of the state’s largest business association saw all the off-the-wall ideas for taxing business. But it’s as a longtime observer that he shakes his head at this proposal, noting the tax scheme “would transform Oregon from one of the nation’s lowest business-tax-burden states to one of the nation’s highest.”
Organizations that purchase products and services from those major businesses would undoubtedly see their costs increase and thus would need to increase their price for items resold to Oregon consumers. In response to this, businesses purchasing goods in Oregon may opt to leave the state or relocate some or all of their facilities to avoid the increased cost of doing business in that state.
IP28 is sponsored by Better Oregon, a labor union coalition led by the Oregon Education Association, and targets “big business”. Proponents claim it would tap a tiny portion of Oregon businesses while bringing a huge revenue boost to cash-strapped public education, health care and senior services.
The non-partisan Legislative Revenue Office, in evaluating similar proposals to IP28, has forecast job losses should a gross receipt tax pass.
Former Washington Gov. Mike Lowry, who despite being perhaps Washington’s most liberal governor carried an understanding of the importance of nurturing big businesses as the creators of better-paying jobs, offered his classic belly laugh when I called him for his thoughts on the initiative.
“We always looked to Oregon for progressive ideas but this would represent the total opposite,” Lowry said. “The gross-receipts tax is about the worst tax there is.”
Amusingly, Lowry understood how to use the tax as a whip. In his first year in office he sought to have the Democrat-controlled legislature extend Washington’s sales tax to service businesses like law and accounting firms, which used their lobbying clout to beat back the effort.
But they paid a price by having the lawmakers impose the highest b&o tax rate on services, a payback in the form of a 2.5 percent rate, which though now reduced to 1.5 percent remains the state’s highest rate, reserved for service businesses and professional gambling.
Most gross receipts tax rates around the country are relatively low when compared with the Oregon proposal’s 2.5 percent rate. In Washington, it ranges from 0.138 percent to the aforementioned 1.5 percent. Thus if the measure were to pass, the tax burden of operating in Oregon would increase dramatically when compared with other states.
Proponents argue that “IP28 would modestly raise the effective tax rate of large corporations and use the added revenue to fund Oregon's crippled public school system, provide services to seniors, and extend health care coverage to 18,000-plus children.”
Problem is if it comes to be marketed to voters as “the big-business tax,” the result could be that anger overrides common sense for voters, among whom would be many that would face loss of their jobs if the analysis of business reaction proves true.
The ballot proposal comes as raising taxes on wealthy individuals and large corporations is at the forefront of a national debate — especially among Democratic progressives, including much of Oregon's electorate— about how to close the gap of economic disparities between rich and poor in the post-Great Recession era.
And if there is a doubt that anger at big business underlies the measure, and leaves concern about the logic voters will bring when they mark their ballots, supporters point to the current difference between growth in corporate profits vs. growth in family income in Oregon. They say it’s time big business takes on its fair share of the tax burden to help pay for education and social services.
Business people in Southwest Washington are not only looking to gain business if the measure is approved, they are having some amusement thinking about it.
When I talked with longtime Vancouver businessman Michael Worthy about it, he chuckled and offered that the two-state effort to agree on financing a new I-5 bridge across the Columbia could be solved by letting firms that would want to move operations out of Oregon might want to pay for improved transportation they’d need.
And when I asked Brunell why he thinks intelligent voters would go for a tax that would likely impact them, and perhaps their jobs, he replied: “I suspect, knowing Oregon a little better by living down here in Vancouver, there is a reason for the bumper sticker: ‘Keep Portland Weird.’”
For political junkies, old political writers being foremost among those, one of the recurring exercises is finding similarities between years-apart election campaigns. Thus this year's race for the Democratic nomination for president is offering such a comparison, particularly for those fond of fostering, or for some it's fearful of, the thought that history repeats itself.
With Donald Trump suddenly the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, there will be reach backs to campaigns and candidates of the past to which Trump's campaign this year will draw comparisons.
But the similarity I'm referring to in this case is between Sen. Bernie Sanders' intriguing quest of his party's nomination against an established party figure, Hillary Clinton, and Eugene McCarthy's quixotic campaign for the Democratic nomination in 1968.
McCarthy's campaign slogan of "Get clean for Gene" has become Sanders' "feel the Bern."
That '68 campaign in which McCarthy, a virtually unknown senator from Minnesota, forced Lyndon Johnson to withdraw from any re-election effort then sought to be his successor, will always be a vivid memory for me because it was the first presidential campaign I covered, as a young reporter for UPI.
A quick background for those to whom that 1968 campaign is merely a foggy recollection from a history class. The growing anger, particularly among the young, over the failing effort of the Vietnam War allowed a fed-up McCarthy to decide to run, almost match Johnson's total in the nation's first primary in New Hampshire, and thus caused Johnson to announce in a national television address that he would not seek another term.
Those angry against the war, largely young people who thought it was not only time to end what they viewed as an immoral campaign by their nation's leaders but also seeking broad change in the "Great Society" Johnson had created for their parents' generation, flocked to support McCarthy.
Sen. Robert Kennedy, brother of the slain president and viewed by many as heir apparent to John Kennedy's "Camelot," entered the campaign. For a handful of memorable months until Kennedy's assassination as he left the stage at Los Angeles' Ambassador Hotel following his victory in the California Primary, his campaign brought forth the unrest among minority groups and added those demanding social change to those seeking to end the war.
Kennedy' campaign actually was attracting some Democratic leaders and cementing delegates in each state, including in Washington State where Everest conqueror and Kennedy confidant Jim Whittaker was pinning down Kennedy delegates.
One of my favorite memories of covering parts of that campaign of nearly 50 years ago as a young political writer was a chance encounter at the 1968 Democratic state convention in Tacoma with a to-become-famous high school friend from Spokane.
Kitty Kelley was a spunky young woman for whom that presidential campaign would be the launch pad for a highly successful but controversy-punctuated career as a biographer of the rich and famous.
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.
"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."
So when McCarthy decided to emerge from relative anonymity and run for president, the campaign brought Kitty contact with political leaders and the prominent in society. Those 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've 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.
Because she was an attractive blond woman with the name "Kitty," those stung by her tell-all biographies of Jackie Onassis Kennedy, Frank Sinatra, Nancy Reagan, the British Royal Family and perhaps most famously, the Bush family, found it easy to dismiss the quality of her work.
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 an army of young women who did likewise in that decade of the '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.
But back to the '68 campaign.
Kennedy's death ensured that Democratic party leaders would gather in force behind Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who didn't run in the primaries but merely gathered the necessary state-by-state support from delegates and local party leaders. Thereafter the outcome of who would get the nomination was really never in doubt, except in the ranks of those young and minorities who had come to believe McCarthy's election was vital to the changes they had come to demand.
The battles in the streets of Chicago between McCarthy supporters and Mayor Richard Daley's police force as the Democratic Convention gave the nomination to Humphrey ensured that McCarthy's supporters would largely abandon the system and stay away from the November election.
In the end Nixon's razor-thin margin of victory made it clear to political analysts that those who decided not to vote ensured that the Democratic nominee would lose.
Fast forward 48 years to the Sanders campaign, which has attracted large numbers of those, particularly the young and new voters, who want out with the current social and political structure and flock to him as the instrument of change.
It's obvious to the Democratic party insiders and most elected leaders in the states that Sanders isn't going to win the party's nomination at this summer's convention. Thus Clinton, as much a part of Democratic establishment and tradition as was Humphrey, will head into the general election season hoping that history does not repeat itself, as in disaffected prospective voters giving the election to the Republican nominee by staying away from the polls on election day.
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The grand old men of Washington State's Grand Old Party, who brought about the closest thing to a Republican Golden Era in their state back in the '60s, are seeking to help attract and energize a new generation of young people to what they tout as the GOP "mainstream."
Their vehicle for renewal is Action for Washington, created in 1968 by Sam Reed and Chris Bayley, then a couple of young newcomers to the Republican political scene, and recreated several years ago by Reed, who retired this year after three terms as Secretary of State.
The organization had its first fund-raising breakfast last week in Bellevue and a group of those young people who have been attracted as "mainstream" (meaning politically moderate) messengers for the future was in evidence, along with Reed, Action for Washington President Alex Hays and Republican party icons Dan Evans and Slade Gorton.
All are aware that the image being created by Republicans nationally on a number of social issues is making it a more daunting task to create a Republican revival in states like Washington, which has grown increasingly "blue" in the past couple of decades.
That's particularly felt by Republican moderates coming off a gubernatorial election in which the positions of the party nationally may have been the biggest contributor to the defeat of GOP gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna.
"Clearly what is happening nationally is hurting us," Reed conceded. "But the Northwest, both Washington and Oregon, has traditionally been a place where a different breed of Republicans has operated. And we need to renew that image, and begin to find a way to have an impact nationally."
The graduates of the Action for Washington program are seen as a starting point. The young men and women, many recruited from college campuses, are enrolled in a leadership conference that provides weekly exposure for three to four months of discussion in areas like public policy, public relations and other issues that Hays sees leading them, once they're "alumni," to "vitalize the center-right" with their future involvements.
In a sense, the past-and-present leaders envisioning renewal may hope there's a flip side to George Santayana's oft quoted (usually inaccurately) admonition about "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." The reverse would be that those who remember the past may be able to help repeat it.
In fact, the events that unfolded in the decade of the '60s that Reed, Evans and Gorton helped bring about may offer lessons for today, and tomorrow. Those include pushback by Republican moderates against the party's more high-visibility conservative wing, legislative coalitions that both Reed and Hays refer to as the ultimate example of political bipartisanship, and possible looming rifts among Democrats, potentially reminiscent of the divisions of the late '60s and early '70s.
All of those were part of the historical background for what happened in Washington in the '60s that believers in a renewed GOP mainstream would like to recreate.
It was in 1963, when an over-reach by Seattle-area Democrats on the issue of public vs. private power drove angry conservative Spokane Democrats who were believers in protecting Spokane-based and investor-owned Washington Water Power Co. into a coalition with Republicans.
The result was Spokane Democratic Rep. Bill (Big Daddy) Day became speaker and Republican Dan Evans became majority leader, setting the stage for his victory a year later in the gubernatorial race in which he ousted Al Rosellini. Young Seattle city councilman A. Ludlow Kramer, a Republican, rode along to victory in the race for Secretary of State, both bucking a Democratic landslide nationally.
It was their victory, and the emergence of young newcomers like Reed, then fresh out of graduate school at WSU where he was president of the campus young republicans, and Bayley, just back from Harvard and destined to be King County prosecutor, that helped push back the growing role of conservatives in Washington State. In those days, the conservative wing of the party, which helped propel Sen. Barry Goldwater to the GOP presidential nomination, was under the banner of the John Birch Society.
Meanwhile, Democrats were being torn by internal struggle over the Vietnam War, with the party's liberal wing in this state so angered that they actively sought to defeat Henry M. Jackson, one of the nation's most powerful and respected Democrats and an avowed Hawk, in the 1970 election.
Part of what helped moderate Republicans to electoral success in the '60s and early '70s, and would be their hope for the future, was what Hays chuckles in referring to as "Washington's rich tradition of ticket splitting," the key to Evans' and Kramer's victories despite the Democratic sweep nationally. That was also true in '68 when Gorton was elected state attorney general and in a series of elections in which Republicans claimed the majority in the state House of Representatives, without the need for a coalition.
Hays, 43, notes that in his "younger years," before he became active in the state Republican organization and with Mainstream Republicans of Washington and president of Action for Washington, he "helped a few of my conservative Democrat friends in their campaigns."
Reed laments that Mainstream Republicans get far less visibility for their stands on issues, such as in favor of Gay rights, pro-choice and pro- immigration reform, than the views of party conservatives, including the Tea Party types.
Reed is particularly proud of recalling that it was while helping guide the original Action for Washington as executive director of the governor's Urban Affairs Council, that he recruited Art Fletcher, a black self-help advocate and member of the Pasco City Council, to be the GOP candidate for lieutenant governor.
Although Fletcher lost to incumbent John Cherberg, he was the first and so far only African-American to be the nominee of either party for a major statewide office.
Both Hays and Reed view the coalition that came about in the State Senate this year when two Democrats, including one-timeRepublican Rodney Toms, driven from the party by battles with conservatives, joined with Republicans to create a majority as "the ultimate example of bipartisan cooperation."
Reed notes that "it's interesting that in both 1963 and this year that a lot of people were skeptical that the coalitions would hold together, but they proved they could work together when the pressure was on."
As to seeing another divisive battle among factions in the Democratic party, Reed and Hays think the growing budgetary impact of public pensions and retirement practices will eventually be seen as a challenge to key liberal causes such as environmental inititives and programs for children and the poor.
"There's no way to maintain support for all the Democratic interest groups with current budget realities, and that will begin to create real divisions in the ranks," said Reed.
How well the old guard's experience with the past helps them recreate something similar for the future will be evidenced as 2014 political campaigns in this state take shape.
Occasionally we run across something from yesterday that causes a sense that change isn't necessarily always for the better. And perhaps nowhere is that more true than in the political realm.
That thought occurred to me a few days ago when I had the opportunity to read a speech by former Governor and U.S. Senator Dan Evans to the January 1995 Economic Forecast conference in Seattle.
It was the day after Republicans, as a result of the transformational election of 1994, assumed control of both houses of Congress for the first time in 40 years and, with three dozen new GOP legislators, the state House in Olympia.
Evans, who himself had bucked a Democratic landslide in 1964 to win the first of his three terms as governor, referred, at the opening of that speech, to "day two of a new era," then joked, "Or is it the Newt era?" That was a reference, of course, to the new House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who had orchestrated the overwhelming takeover of the House of Representatives by Republicans.
I got a copy of the speech from Neil McReynolds, then a top executive at the old Puget Sound Power & Light Co., and chair of the board of the Economic Development Council of Seattle and King County, which put on the event at which Evans was keynoter.
McReynolds, who had been Evans' press secretary in Olympia when he and I met in the late '60s, is constantly running across decades-old documents in his files and, finding this one while we were visiting, he thought I might find the speech interesting.
Politics has provided several swings since that Evans' speech when Republicans were coming to power halfway through Bill Clinton's first term. But maybe the swings, either to the left or right, haven't always made things better.
What I found most interesting in reading Evans' talk was the reminder of him as an elected official who was impossible to pigeonhole ideologically. As governor and later as U.S. senator, he avoided ideological rigidity and found good ideas might sometimes spring from the Democrat side of the political aisle. And that dumb ideas could sometimes be offered by his fellow Republicans.
Thus at a time when polarized political positions characterize decision-making, reflecting on Evans, and actually many who were like him, including Washington's late Democratic Sen. Henry M. Jackson, make it obvious that politics doesn't have to require ideological polarization.
Before outlining in that speech a series of ideas "to propel Seattle and King County into world-class economic status," Evans blasted "talk show hosts screeching about waste in government," proponents of term limits and a balanced-budget amendment, environmental extremists, and excessive regulations that stymie growth.
And he also took to task the nature of campaigning. So in what could be a comment about the unfolding 2012 election rather than a reflection on 1994, Evans noted "We have just concluded the nastiest election in my memory. Virtually all campaign advertising was enormously distorted and negative."
"By constantly trashing our political leaders, we also breed disrespect for our own system, of government," Evans said. "The result is a new political landscape dotted with constitutional amendments and initiatives designed to protect citizens from 'evil' politicians."
Of two ideas whose proponents have continued to seek traction since that "new era" that Evans referred to as dawning, he told that 1995 business audience: "The balanced budget amendment is a loony idea that is meaningless until we decide how to keep a national standard set of books so we can measure balance."
And of the idea of term limits, Evans offered: "As a voter I am outraged by those sanctimonious term limiters who would steal from me the freedom of my vote."
But in addition to hitting "those talk show hosts who cater to the base emotion of people," he took to task "the politicians who blithely promise what they know they cannot deliver," and "those rigid environmentalists who will see you in court if they don't get all they seek."
Thus he has always been a leader in what I and many feel is an unfortunately disappearing breed, those who view ideas on their merits rather than insisting that any new idea must be vetted based on where it fits ideologically.
Reflections on the 40th anniversary of Watergate will, for many, merely be a pause to recall a bungled break-in that began the most tragic chapter in the history of the presidency. But for Egil (Bud) Krogh, an up-and-coming young Seattle attorney who became a key part of Richard Nixon's White House team, the lessons from the fall of a president echo down the years less as a bitter memory than as a reminder of integrity lost.
To Krogh, it's important that the events of 1972 that led inexorably to the resignation of Richard Nixon two years later be kept ever in the minds of elected officials and those who work for them. Thus he maintains a busy speaking schedule sharing his thoughts on integrity and the perspective of power before corporate and legal groups, academic assemblies and gatherings of young people on the importance of integrity-based decision making.
His 2007 book, "Integrity: Good People, Bad Choices and Life Lessons from the White House," had a second run last month, Krogh told me as I caught up with him by phone as he was en route toward a Pennsylvania speaking engagement. "It's selling better now than at the beginning. The issue of government integrity seems more relevant to people today."
He's also developed and is sharing a decision-making model he calls The Integrity Zone, which is designed to help people make integrity-based choices in their professional and personal lives. He suggests that the lessons from Watergate and its aftermath have become more relevant to people because of recent political and business scandals.
Krogh recalls that even though he had moved from the White House to be Undersecretary of Transportation by then, when he picked up the Washington Post that June morning in 1972 to read of the arrest of those who had been caught breaking into Democratic headquarters at the Watergate, he recalls one thought: "My God, that's my fault."
The reason for that reaction was that as co-director of the White House special investigations unit called the "Plumbers," Krogh had a year earlier approved a covert operation as part of a national security investigation into the leak of the Top Secret Pentagon Papers to the New York Times.
The covert operation was a break-in at the office of Lewis Fielding, the psychiatrist for Daniel Ellsburg, who had released the Pentagon Papers. Krogh hired G. Gordon Liddy and H. Howard Hunt to do that break-in, the same men who were arrested at the Watergate break-in.
Krogh assumed the blame for it all because he was convinced that the break-in at Fielding's office had created the sense that breaking the law on behalf of the president was acceptable, thus setting the stage for Watergate.
It's that conviction about his personal responsibility for what became Watergate, even though he knew nothing about the break-in before reading about it that morning, that has guided his thinking and involvements through the four decades as a sort of personal quest for redemption.
The dedication in his book, written with the help of his son, 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."
.The book itself details 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.
Krogh eventually went to prison for almost five months after pleading guilty to criminal conspiracy for engineering the break-in at Fielding's office.
Krogh has recalled in several of our discussions over the years how, after Nixon's resignation, his personal path toward reconciliation involved a visit with Fielding to apologize to him for what Krogh told him was "an unacceptable violation of the rights of a genuinely decent human being."
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."
Krogh and Ellsburg subsequently became friends with Ellsburg writing the forward comments for Krogh's book.
In our recent telephone conversation, Krogh noted that even the famous meeting between Nixon and Elvis Presley, who wanted to help the President tackle the nation's drug problem, had an outcome that simply lacked integrity.
"Elvis asked if the president could get him a special badge from the bureau of narcotics and, even though he wasn't entitled to that kind of a badge, I told the president I'd get one," recalls Krogh, who had actually arranged the Elvis meeting. "Elvis not only got a badge, but he carried it for seven years and he simply shouldn't have had that badge."
A historical note is that of all the requests made each year to the National Archives for reproductions of photographs and documents, the one that is requested more than any other is the photograph of Elvis and Nixon shaking hands at that December, 1970, visit. More requests than for copies of the Constitution or the Bill of Rights.
Krogh left Seattle and his law practice three years ago to join the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress as a Senior Fellow on Leadership, Ethics, and Integrity.
His current focus, however, is zeroing in on the School for Ethics and Global Leadership, which attracts high school students, and it's in that environment of sharing his philosophy with young people that he is honing his Integrity Zone concept.
And he is increasingly seeking to promote the concept of the Integrity Zone, which is 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 said. "And most of what we see in Congress today fails those tests. Instead we see a focus on loyalty and feilty to party. You simply can't check your personal integrity at the door."
The Washington Legislature ensured that the controversy over charter schools will become a focus in the state's gubernatorial campaign by specifically rejecting charters as part of any education-reform efforts in a bill that creates a handful of what will be called "collaborative schools."
The manner in which the legislation was conceived and approved, at the request of Gov. Christine Gregoire after she specifically warned that she would veto any bill authorizing charter schools, has "controversy" written all over it.
Passed in the midst of an extended session aimed at resolving the state's budget crisis, the bill is titled "collaborative schools for innovation and success pilot program." It calls for a five-year program involving six elementary schools, each of which will be operated by pairing to-be-determined school districts with colleges of education in the state.
The bill basically does two things that, for sure, won't make proponents of dramatic change in the state's education system very happy. It requires, basically, that all parts of the current schools infrastructure -- administrators, teachers unions and what's called "the professional education standards board" - must sign off on any innovative programs conceived for the handful of schools permitted to participate. And it ensures that no wholesale changes would be possible until the five years of testing for those few schools provided for in the bill have been fulfilled and evaluated.
One of those left unhappy is Rep. Eric Pettigrew, the respected African-American Democrat whose House district includes some of Seattle's at-risk neighborhoods and who had co-sponsored a bill to permit charter schools in Washington State.
"This bill isn't even close," Pettigrew told me in a telephone interview. "We have been doing things the same way for too long and accepting a certain failure rate and I don't think that's acceptable."
"Charter schools provide the flexibility to be nimble in seeking education changes," he added. "Probably the most frustrating thing about the entire experience is that discussion of what's best for the kids never seems to really conclude before it trails off into organizations that will need to be involved."
The comment frames the reason for controversy over charter schools in this state, one of the last nine in which charters are prohibited. Whether what's best for the kids is the unquestioned number one issue inevitably collides with many teachers and teacher advocates who will insist that even if kids' needs are the priority, what's good for teachers is also an issue. The stronger the teachers union in a state, the more that conflict comes into play.
The Seattle Times, in a January editorial on the bill proposed by Pettigrew and Sen. Steve Litzow, a Republican from Mercer Island, said: "Political courage is often lacking in Olympia, making Pettigrew's willingness to buck the Democratic Party's usual fidelity to the Washington Education Association all the more striking."
"Expect contentious debate," The Times editorial continued. "In particular, the teachers union sees charter schools as a threat. Yes, Washington state voters rejected charter-school proposals three times. But we know a lot more about these innovative public schools since the last failed measure in 2004."
Indicating that his "courage" isn't likely to wane in the coming months as likely Democratic gubernatorial standard-bearer Jay Inslee picks up the education ball his party has crafted for him and runs with it, Pettigrew said "if the unions or even my fellow Democrats want to come after me, fine."
Atty. Gen. Rob McKenna, the presumptive Republican gubernatorial nominee who has promised to make education reform and funding a focal point of his campaign, says of the collaborative-schools idea "There is no evidence that they will actually work. Moreover, it will take years before we know if they do."
"I support trying new approaches to improve education for our children right now," he added. "And a smarter approach would be to adopt models that have a proven track record of success, like high-performing public charter schools that are working in 41 other states."
McKenna says both collaborative schools and charter schools should be "tools in the toolkit" for those seeking a new education model.
Inslee, in a wide-ranging blueprint for education reform to create "An innovative, accountable education system: building a better future for every child and a stronger economy for Washington," called for change in most aspects of the economy that might impact education funding.
Thus his plan for educational reform and adequate funding calls for "reinvigorating the economy..." "Reverse the trend of healthcare inflation eating into education spending..." "Sunset corporate tax loopholes that have outlived their purpose..." and "Expand a system of quality improvement to all government agencies..."
Inslee says his "vision for an education system by 2020" includes that "achievement and opportunity gaps among students are eliminated."
An ongoing challenge for Inslee and Democrats in rejecting the idea of even having charter schools on the education-reform table is that some prominent, long-time Democrat supporters appear reluctant to get aboard.
Perhaps most challenging for them is Nick Hanauer, the venture capitalist and avowed "lifelong Democrat and committed progressive," who views Republican positions on social issues and taxation as "misguided," but says "McKenna is on the right track and we are not" on school reform.
"We may be headed in the right direction, but we aren't in the right lane," Hanauer told the head of the state teachers' union in a February e-mail exchange. "It is not classroom teachers who are afraid of change and innovation, it is their union."
While charter schools are anathema to teachers' unions, they have gathered supporters from among some of those who toil in the classrooms, including Erin Gustafson, who grew up on Mercer Island but began her teaching career in one of California's poverty pockets.
"My path to supporting charters began 16 years ago when I taught fifth grade at a high-poverty school in Vallejo," Gustason told me. "I became disillusioned with the poor teaching, union rules that protected that, and the restrictions of operating in a large system."
Gustafson, now married and the mother of children 9 and 7 and a substitute teacher, became involved in a new teacher-created education-reform non-profit called Teachers United, born a year ago with the goal of "giving teachers a voice in policy debates."
She is now policy director for the group, which advocated last session for charter schools as one of the choices that need to be available in Washington State. She was among teachers from the organization who testified before the legislature's education committees on behalf of charter schools.
"After doing a lot of research and visiting several public charter schools in California, I have come to believe that successful public charters are an effective way of closing the achievement gap," she said. "We took teachers who were interested to visit high-performance charters across the country and, for those teachers, seeing was believing so they decided to advocate for charters."