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

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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!

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

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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.

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Fate dealing losing hand to Seattle income tax advocates

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

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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.
 
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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."


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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."
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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. 

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Baird enjoying growing fuss over his STOCK Act

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Washington GOP's record gubernatorial drought

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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.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Munro offers Rotarians path to political healing

As a deeply divided nation ponders the painful post-election path to healing, former secretary of state Ralph Munro, one of the state's most respected elected officials for two decades, offered the thought that the past outreach to other nations needs to become an outreach within our nation.

 
Ralph Munro
"Here in Seattle, a thriving world-trade community, we have rightly developed sister-cities, sister ports and friendly relations with places like Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai," offered Munro, who in five terms as secretary of state espoused close ties to those places, as well as Russia and even North Korea.

But in comments the day after election to Seattle Rotary, Munro noted. "Those are all well and good, but perhaps it's time we reached out to places like Gary, Indiana, flint , Michigan and Youngstown, Ohio, places where people haven't had decent jobs in the last decade."

"Those are places that have been totally left behind in our quest for cheaper manufacturing and world trade," he added. "What can we do to help them find their place in this new economy."

"There is no question that if our country is going to prosper and grow, we must build friendships and relationships across the aisle, across the bridge, across the lake, across the mountains and across the county," Munro offered. "Isolating ourselves in a cacoon of similar beliefs will only make matters worse."

As an aside, I have to interject that Munro obviously agrees with my belief that communities that are entirely red or entirely blue do indeed represent ideological cacoons where "true believers" despise discourse.

Munro, a moderate Republican who said he "did not vote for either of the leading candidates,"
told the Rotarians: "As the old saying goes, to the victor go the spoils. But I am not sure what spoils will be left when we still have a deeply divided country and two major political parties that are each split down the middle in philosophy and belief."

But he added: "in 72 days we will inaugurate the ultimate unconventional candidate. We pray for his success."

Munro, in closing his comments to the Rotarians, posed the question: "So what can we do as Rotarians as we move into the next era of American politics? We need to serve as the forum for civil discourse in every community across the land...we must remain totally nonpartisan but our microphones should be open to public debate on the issues se face as a nation."

A commitment to the same future step needs to be made by every organization that hopes healing replaces discord in the political process.

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Why preclude future voter revisit for ST-3?

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

To echo the most compelling of Collins' comments: "Really?"
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Key questions to ponder in education-funding battle

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sound Transit ballot plan faces emerging challenge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Freeman and other ST-3 opponents haven't yet been seeking slogans for the final months of their campaign, but given the new realities facing the $54 billion plan, it could be referred at this time as "not a sound plan."
 
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Reflections: Brexit, out-of-touch High Court ruling, talk of 28th Amendment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 



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Oregon ballot measure would dramatically boost business taxes

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.’” 

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Sanders' campaign reminds of 'Clean Gene's' presidential run in '68

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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Reflections on presidential primary elections past from New Hampshire to Oregon

Watching the New Hampshire presidential primary results stirred memories that remain strong for Spencer Kunath, although it's been almost exactly a dozen years since he was "on the ground" there doing advance work for 2004 Democratic hopeful retired Gen. Wesley Clark.

Kunath's recollections included his experience on election day's earliest hours in Dixville Notch, the best-known of a cluster of villages in the Granite State's far north where national media attention out of all proportion to the actual import is focused each presidential election year, as it was this year.

Dixville exists as a town only for voting purposes. It's a precinct that sits almost entirely on the property of The Balsams Grand Resort Hotel, a renowned old summer retreat for the wealthy. And its nine registered voters this year (in 2004 there were 24, with Clark on hand for the midnight voting and winning the most Democratic votes) were almost all employees of the hotel, which is now being overhauled.

My conversations in recent days with Kunath, who a year after his New Hampshire experience as he was preparing to spend his junior year at Oxford served the summer of 2005 as my intern at Puget Sound Business Journal, prompted me to recall some of my own primary-election experiences in the days before PSBJ.

My most compelling memory is of the 1968 Oregon primary, my first primary as a 28-year-old political writer, where Robert Kennedy's driven effort to win the Democratic nomination for president hit a snag. Oregonians gave anti-war candidate Sen. Eugene McCarthy that state's nomination nod, the first-ever loss for a Kennedy.

I had the opportunity election night to be immersed in the sea of young supporters waiting in front of Portland's Benson Hotel for the defeated candidate's limo to arrive so they could demonstrate their continued affection for him and his campaign.

Then the limo arrived and Kennedy emerged behind the imposing frame of Jim Whittaker, the Seattleite and Everest conqueror who had become a close friend and constant companion of Kennedy's on the campaign trail.

I had been standing next to an ABC reporter named Bob Clark who quickly and literally disappeared beneath the mass of surging, shouting Kennedy supporters and I avoided Clark's fate by grabbing Whittaker's belt as he pushed past and held on until we had arrived inside the hotel.

As we wrote the stories that night, back at the Portland UPI bureau, to bring newspapers and broadcast outlets news of the outcome, I recall the headline the senior reporter put on his story: "Kennedy bushwhacked on the Oregon trail."

I recalled vividly that headline a week later when in fact Kennedy was "bushwhacked," assassinated by a gunman as he moved through the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel following his remarks after his victory in the California primary.

Reflections on Kennedy in "The Last Campaign," as the book that detailed his 82-day campaign was titled, struck me as particularly thought-provoking for this 2016 campaign.

Because, although he feared, as he told one confidant, that there were "guns between me and the White House," he risked his life to ask Americans to help him reclaim "the generous impulses that are the soul of this nation."

That's the kind of exhortation to healing and hope not likely to grace the lips of any presidential candidate of either party during this campaign 48 years on from RFK's tragic quest to reclaim his brother's legacy and create one of his own.

But back to Kunath and his New Hampshire primary recollections of 2004 and that election climax at Dixville Notch (a word that means pass, incidentally, in White Mountains parlance).

There are a couple of possibly thought-provoking ways to view Dixvlle in the context of its primary election role.

First it could be that as merely a marketing creation to attract attention to Dixville and its grand hotel during primary season it's an appropriate reflection of the marketing that has created the campaigns of some of the presidential hopefuls seeking support from the voters in New Hampshire and in other states. Not quite entirely real but close.

Or the voters in Dixville may represent what Democracy was supposed to be about: Everyone who has the franchise votes (they all gather before midnight and cast their votes since the polls can close only after all registered voters have cast ballots) , and those seeking their support are likely to shake hands with each voter.

Let's see. Out of all proportion to reality. A marketing creation to attract otherwise unlikely attention. Perhaps the ultimate exercise in Democracy. I guess that would be a trio of descriptions that could apply to the nation's primary election season and its presidential hopefuls.

Kunath was 19 and a sophomore at DePauw University when he was dispatched by the Washington State Democratic Committee away from the Washington State gubernatorial race to help in the New Hampshire campaign.

"The voters there (referring to Dixville and the nearby villages) are really accustomed to direct one-on-one interaction with the candidates and expect that they'll come and sit for a visit," Kunath said. "It's a totally different world."

Kunath and I talked about the challenge facing reporters covering any campaign (now as in 2004 and 1968) from aboard the bus of a particular candidate, and the thought occurred to me that it might be a reason the media is often accused of bias.

"Reporters on a campaign bus need access to the candidate so they avoid saying anything negative about the guy whose bus they are on," said Kunath with the insight of one who has had a chance to be there.

"If they get kicked off the bus, they will lose their job because their employer is unlikely to pay for a rental car rather than to just assign a different reporter to the candidate," he added.
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How new state cancer-research fund came about in the 2015 Legislature

 

The tale of how Sen. Andy Hill, a near-miraculous survivor of lung cancer and the powerful Republican overseer of writing the Senate's budget, helped guide funding to create a new state cancer-research fund might have been the story of a legislator's personal cause and vision brought to reality.

Instead, what has begun to emerge is a tale of more typical legislative ineptitude, because most observers aren't really sure what the Hill-guided budget inclusion of a Cancer Research Endowment Fund brought about or why it was carried out with the intrigue and confrontational politics that occurred.

One certainty is that Hill was a key architect of a Republican conviction that funding needed to end for the decade-old Life Science Discovery Fund, which provided grants to an array of emerging life science and biopharma companies and some viewed as a logical administrator of a new cancer-research fund.

So in the end the Legislature's 2015 final budget compromise killed funding for LSDF but did not put the organization itself out of business.

Meanwhile, the legislation creating the new cancer fund, referred to as CARE, was approved with a $5 million matching grant this year and a $10 million matching grant next fiscal year and thereafter to fund cancer research in this state. Maybe.

But before any of the grants can be made, there must first be "proof of non-state match," meaning there is no certainty that any of those state dollars will actually be spent without the emergence of entities seeking to match the grants.

For reasons many outside of the political arena couldn't quite understand, Republicans, with Hill as a leader of the viewpoint, didn't like the concept of funding startups while Democrats were strong supporters of LSDF and the potential jobs grant-recipient companies might create.

But Hill apparently, on more than one occasion, suggested that the administrative structure and staff of LSDF, including its well-regarded Executive Director John DesRosier, could become the overseeing entity for the new cancer-research fund. So perhaps Hill will explore that possibility.

Someone might have explained to Hill, a former Microsoft manager, that cancer research is a life science discovery activity and that rather than forcing the elimination of LSDF's funding in a bitter and controversial battle with Democrats who supported LSDF, he could have forced cancer research to be its new focus.

In fact, a proposed initiative, backed by organizations like the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, that failed to gain enough signatures to make the ballot last year would have created a large pool of dollars, funded by tobacco-tax increases, a fund that would have been administrated by LSDF as an added responsibility.

And Rep. Ross Hunter, the Democrat who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee and also a cancer survivor, had led an effort in the 2015 session on behalf of a bill with a similar goal of establishing a cancer-research fund with dollars from an increase in the tobacco tax, but the bill never got through the committee challenges.

Hill's 2009 conquest of stage 3 lung cancer, including a pronouncement at one point that it was terminal before his treatment with a new targeted therapy left him cancer free in a matter of weeks, is a remarkable story that would have made his support for a meaningful step to fund cancer research laudable and a cause for broad support.

Hill made it clear that one of the reasons he ran for office in the fall of 2010 was to "advocate for continued scientific research and development of life saving and life altering therapies."

In the end the relatively small amount that the CARE fund provides isn't in the same ball game that commitments like the $200 million lawmakers in neighboring Oregon approved to support a $1 billion public-private effort to bring the nation's top cancer researchers to Oregon.

And Oregon is only one of the states that have made such major commitments to cancer research.

One of my friends long involved in watching legislative machinations offered an analysis of what occurred: "You kill LSDF which uses OPM (other people's money, i.e., the tobacco settlement), and then appropriate precious few taxpayer dollars and create a new entity to do close to the same thing LSDF does, or did. 

"Why not have kept LSDF and directed that $5 million or $10 million of its existing funds be focused on cancer research specifically?" 

The kind of money the Legislature approved is a relative pin prick being thrown at cancer research at random, to be run by an entity that doesn't even exist yet, but will require some overhead to become operational.

What the Legislature created may have been the only potential state expenditure that could have gotten through a group of lawmakers whose Republican members were adamant about not spending anything that would mean new taxes, and that would presumably include funding cancer research.

Thus what Hill was able to get support for winds up as a pale shadow of the potential $1 billion that Initiative 1356, which failed to gain the signatures needed to make the 2014 ballot, would have raised for cancer research through a dramatic increase in the tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products, as well as marijuana.

If what really is only a gesture toward cancer research by the state at this point proves successful by any measure, it's possible that future legislative sessions may find the courage to step up to greater commitment in legislative support for the world-class cancer research and care that has developed in this state.
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GOP "mainstream" leaders seek to energize new generation to recreate past successes

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.

 

sam reed
Sam Reed

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.

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A business organization focused on 'public policy that transcends partisan politics'

David Giuliani, the Seattle-area entrepreneur who launched two companies that became new-innovation success stories, has co-founded a statewide business organization named Washington Business Alliance that he hopes can help bring a new innovation to the way government makes decisions. It might be said that Giuliani, who launched and built Optiva and Clarisonic into hugely successful companies that revolutionized teeth cleaning and skin cleansing, has set his sights on building a business organization that would cleanse government of the need for ideology in its decision-making. Basically, his Washington Business Alliance is focused on bringing "a reasoned, collaborative approach to public policy that transcends partisan politics." Optiva, of course, was the maker of SoniCare, the first electronic toothbrush. After Giuliani guided Optiva into the hands of Philips Electronics, he created Pacific Bioscience Laboratories and produced the first electronic skin-cleansing device, Clarisonic, and sold it last fall to cosmetics giant L'Oréal USA. Giuliani stayed on as Clarisonic CEO, though he made clear in an interview that he will be stepping down from that role this fall to devote full-time attention to the task of chairing Washington Business Alliance, which he co-founded last year with Howard Behar. Behar's credentials are about as impressive as Giuliani's. He spent the last 21 years with Starbucks, which included serving as President of North America and as founding president of Starbucks International. Giuliani says the organization, which is seeking business members rather than individuals and has a dues structure ranging from $500 to $15,000 per year, is "committed to developing effective solutions that are not constrained by political expediency or ideology, with an emphasis on data-based solutions for long-term results." That phrase, "not constrained by political expediency or ideology," is a stop-and-reread phrase because what has struck me about the organization, and the leadership composed of successful entrepreneurs, is that it is truly seeking to look past the political to arrive at solutions in a process beyond the ideological spectrum. It seems to me that for business people who wish to depart from the process of having to first vet ideas by placing them on the ideological spectrum before we can discuss them, that focus alone merits a conversation and moves the organization's goal from the Quixotic to the possible. And Giuliani and Behar have attracted other business leaders to their leadership ranks, including Norm Levy, who has served as corporate strategy counsel for almost three decades to companies like Starbucks, Boeing and John Fluke Manufacturing, and long-time Boeing executive Debbie Gavin. With a background as financial vice president of several Boeing units, Gavin will be the association's treasurer. "The idea isn't for business to disengage from government, but to engage differently," says Roz Solomon, who was plucked from the legal consulting business with a background that includes having been an administrative law judge for Washington State, to be executive director of the organization. "Our goal is to ferret out those things that government is doing well and reinforce them," Solomon adds. "There are a lot of parts of government that are intractable, but there are also a lot that aren't." Giuliani, 66, who was Ernst & Young's manufacturing Entrepreneur of the Year nationally in 1997, explains "we're focusing on a non-political methodology, seeking to attract business people who realize that solutions to problems don't necessarily happen through political means." I asked Giuliani and Solomon during an interview whether seeking members for a non-political organization at a time of the political intensity of an election year was really a good decision. "It's important to use the political cycle as an opportunity," Giuliani replied. "There are a lot of people who are writing checks for candidates and asking themselves 'should I really be writing this check? Then why is it so dissatisfying?'" "The election process tends to intensify the frustration people feel about politics, causing many to wonder - what can I do to fix it?" Giuliani added. "There are likely to be a lot opportunities for post-election messaging for Washington Business Alliance that will resonate with the voters." And while the focus of the new organization is the state races for now, Giuliani notes that there's what he describes as "a national movement to create this type of organization in other states," which in the future could lead to initiatives relating to influence on decision making at the national level. Giuliani says his group has already had a lot of interaction with the Oregon Business Association, a group, similar in focus that has been in existence for several years. "There are a lot of people dissatisfied with what they view as a dysfunctional, polarized system," Solomon added. "It's people left with those sorts of questions about politics that we want to engage for the future."
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