We Learn from our Mistakes

The Washington State Legislature is back in session and that means one thing: time once again for government to ignore the things they should be doing, like making sure they’re not releasing rapists and murders before their prison terms have been fully served; and butting in to things they shouldn’t, like raising the legal age for smoking to 21.
I’m not a smoker, Scotch and a good Tuscan Red are my poisons, so I don’t have a dog in this fight other than the dog I like best; the dog named freedom. Yeah, yeah, that’s trite, but it’s true. And it is so because our society has slowly but surely, like that proverbial frog in boiling water, given away many of our freedoms already, however small they may be. Is smoking as important as voting, criticizing government, or owning a gun? I’d hope not, although for some I’m sure it is. The most important thing is that it’s not for me to decide. Am I okay with limited restrictions on certain behaviors where those behaviors may impose restrictions on the rights of others? Sure. (And banning smoking in a private bar, where people can choose to go or not, is not one of those restrictions. It’s a violation of private property rights.) But beyond those very limited instances where the risk to others’ safety is beyond dispute, say in the case of drinking and driving, government needs to leave the citizenry alone. (And, no, I’m sorry, but if you think walking past a smoker 20 feet away is going to induce vomiting, an asthma attack, or early onset emphysema, you have a serious health issue, and your respiratory system is not it. Or, if it is, you need to be living inside an actual bubble.)
So why is government pushing to raise the legal age for smoking to 21? They think 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds don’t have enough sense to make an informed decision on whether to smoke. Okay, that makes sense on some level. I do agree that a lot 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds are pretty foolish. Heck, I sure did a lot of dumb things at that age. But here’s the thing; I’m wiser now than I was then not so much because I’ve aged but because I’ve made mistakes. It’s absolutely true that we learn more from our mistakes than we do from our successes. And if we continue to raise the age to do this and that, relying on government to, quite literally become our parents’ nannies, then the age of wisdom will just continue to increase along with it. Lawmakers championing this bill point out that 90% of daily smokers started before turning 19. (I’ll go one further and bet that the large majority of those started before they were 16, which is partly why this proposed law is rather pointless.) So, okay, raise it to 21. You may detract a fair amount of kids from smoking. But then you might as well raise the age to 25, or 30, or 99, as one person commented on the article. And I actually agree with this sentiment more than I agree with those just wanting to raise it to 21. If tobacco is really as dangerous as Chicken Little is saying it is, then, yes, ban it completely. But then we might as well ban a whole host of other things and all go live in those bubbles, where nothing can hurt us. To throw out another cliché, what doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger. So I, for one, want a little risk in my life; or at least the opportunity to legally choose which risks I’m going to take and which ones I’m not.
Of course the other logical argument that many pose around issues of the age of legality is that anyone who can die for this country should be able to smoke, drink and do anything else that is legal in the general sense, so set a limit and make that a limit for everything. I fully support that, but instead of making it 21 (or 30, as a few folks opined on the article) because “kids don’t know enough to make sound decisions”, let’s keep it at 18, or maybe even lower it to 16 or 14, or 12.
This is what scares me far more than cigarette smoke; the age or reason continues to march upward. We have become a nation of infants. College kids now need “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces”; they fear “micro-agressions” and “hate speech”. And way too many people are bringing “emotional support turkeys” on board airplanes. I wonder how our youth would do today if they had to walk to school uphill, both ways, in the snow. No one can know because if you so much as let your child walk more than a few blocks away from your house unaccompanied you’re visited by CPS.
Now don’t get me wrong, some lessons are too painfully learned to be taught by the school of hard knocks. I don’t advocate giving an eight-year-old a shotgun, at least not unsupervised. I don’t think twelve-year-olds should be hitting up nightclubs and “cruising for chicks” (an activity, regardless of how it turns out, that is far more dangerous than smoking, by the way). But here’s what else I don’t advocate; government raising my children. I have two small boys, three and one. When they are old enough to understand basic logic I will sit them down and explain the benefits and downfalls of life’s various risks, drawing on, guess what, my own mistakes made in youth to guide them. And you might as well call CPS now, because I also plan on letting them sample a glass of Sangiovese before their 21st birthday (and maybe even a glass of Glen Livet if they’re good). Why? Mostly because I don’t want them turning 21 and buying a six-pack of Budweiser. (An uncultured palate is the real crime of under aged drinking.)
Jews mark the gateway to adulthood with the mitzvah at the age of 12 or 13. At this point the young man or woman becomes responsible for his or her actions. Back in the Revolutionary War, kids this young were even marching off to war with a drum or bugle in their hands and during World War II it was relatively common for young men to lie about their age just to have the chance to kill some Nazis. How far we’ve come. Now a kid that age who brings a GI Joe to class gets suspended. Our children are too old and our adults too young. It’s time to reclaim the mantle of responsibility. It’s time for us all to grow up. It’s time for us to take risks, for when we do, we fail; and when we fail, we learn. And only through learning do we mature. (Of course, the other argument for keeping the legal age for smoking at 18 is perhaps even more valid and was offered to me by an 18-year-old girl I knew my first year of college: “Live fast. Die young. Leave a good looking corpse.”)

Cross posted at AmericanThinker.com.

Is it time for state funding of media to go?

The Washington News Council ruled on a disagreement between the Vitae Foundation and KUOW regarding a story that KUOW ran last April. It should be well noted that this is only the fifth time in its 14 year history that the WNC has had to make a ruling, the vast majority of the disagreements brought before it being mediated.

In five out of six complaints brought before the council it ruled in favor of Vitae, deciding that KUOW did have the responsibility to get a response from Vitae before running the story and that, having made some factual errors in the original story, KUOW should have corrected those errors on-air, not just online. The only complaint that went in KUOW’s favor was that of wanting them to run a full, on-air story on Vitae. In regards to this, Joel Kaplan of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting puts it best “A credible and responsible news organization promptly corrects its mistakes,” Mr. Kaplan said. “It does not trade its most valuable commodity — its airtime — as a way to apologize by promoting a story on an organization that does not pass the newsworthy test.” () And I think Vitae’s request for a full story had more to do with the fact that KUOW chose not to get a response or make timely and appropriate corrections to the original story, not that they wanted a full on story just because.

One thing that is absent in all of this though (and not without reason, since WNC should remain apolitical and like any good judiciary, rule only on the cases before it, not the greater themes those cases depict), is the fact that both KUOW and Planned Parenthood receive government funding. Does this make them more likely to air biased stories portraying other organizations that receive government funding in a kinder light? There are certainly critiques of private news sources airing preferential stories about organizations from which they may benefit and regardless of the legitimacy of those critiques, these organizations always quick to point out a potential conflict of interest (i.e. in a story about GE, NBC will point out that they are owned by them). Should KUOW at least point these facts out as well? Maybe not. The connection, after all, isn’t quite as close; Planned Parenthood doesn’t own KUOW. But the whole arrangement of government funded media is just a bit too Pravda-esque. And why continue with it anyway?

Norm Arkans, the Associate VP of Media Relations and Communications for the University of Washington told me his office is the one that lobbies for funding from the University for KUOW and said that the only funding KUOW receives from the University goes to cover most of the station manager’s salary. All the other operating expenses of the station come from listener support and underwriting. Of course, not included in the station manager’s salary or in the operating budget as a whole are all the benefits an employee of KUOW receives: pension, health care, etc.

News Director Guy Nelson says differently, stating that “KUOW gets no state funding (not even from the UW, though we are considered UW staff) and only a small amount of CPB funding.”

According to their website, KUOW receives 89% of its funding from individuals and business support. The important question is, how much of the remaining 11% comes from the tooth fairy?

In regards to government funding in general he adds, “while decreasing federal funding wouldn’t change much for KUOW, it could really hurt small stations around the country who are much more dependent, leaving their listeners with no alternative to commercially owned radio and news. So for that reason, independent public radio is very important and government funding is a necessary part of that.”

For what it’s worth, Arkans said KUOW is “a good news organization” with “a strong commitment to fairness.” Okay. Is that “strong commitment” sort of like the “serious consideration” that KUOW said during mediation it would give to running an on-air story about Vitae? Words are nice but they ring hollow when confronted with actions such as these.

Nelson states that “every news organization makes occasional errors. Neither the WNC or CPB said or implied that KUOW is biased in its coverage or lacking in professionalism. Anyone who alleges a conflict needs to come up with evidence to support their claims.” Hmm, does not owning up to your mistakes immediately following their happening and having to go before the Washington News Council where you’re ruled against not constitute evidence? Well, certainly not the level of evidence required to convict beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law but not reaching that level of evidence has never seemed to stop the media (and I refer to all media, not just KUOW or NPR). Maybe NPR’s firing of Juan Williams because he dared to answer a question truthfully instead of politically-correct constitutes evidence.

For the record, Planned Parenthood and the reporter of the original story, Meghan Walker, declined to comment on this story.

And while we’re exploring government funding of the media let’s take a gander at Voice of America. Since the passage of the Smith-Mundt Act in 1948 VOA has been prohibited from broadcasting within the US (although, thanks to the interwebs you can listen to streaming audio online). Why? Evil, scary propaganda, like, you know, a recent story about Algae as Fuel. Wait. What? You mean like this story on NPR: “Could Algae Be Milked Like A Cow?” Maybe not like a cow but certainly like a grant from the CPB! So if VOA is not allowed to broadcast stories about algae because they receive government funding how is it that NPR, who also receives government funding can?

The unintended unintended consequences of Seattle’s Big Dig

I waited for literally forty minutes yesterday at the intersection of the BNSF rail line and  Alaskan Way S/S Atlantic St.

Now I appreciate that freight needs to move and after having already had to wait two other times for 30 minutes plus for Casey Jones to park his choo-choo in the train yard I suppose I should have learned that, even though that route takes five minutes less on a no-train day, I should just take the “long” way home and avoid that intersection altogether. I certainly have now. (Rather ironically, I took the alternate route home today and a single engine decided it needed to stop on the road (couldn’t have stopped 20 feet earlier or later?) and wait for one of the yard employees to run over and climb on.)

But that’s beside the point. The hundreds of drivers that use that crossing everyday should not have to be inconvenienced to that extent on a regular basis. That route now amounts to a major arterial thanks to Washington State’s brilliant idea to rip down the viaduct and replace it with a tunnel and since, for better or worse, Washington State has decided that transportation is a core function of government, it needs to start acting like it. (I’m not holding my breath.) Seriously, your job is to ensure a fair and efficient movement of traffic. I know there are going to be times when I’m inconvenienced. Things happen. But the fact that in the course of 11 round trips on that route in the past three weeks I’ve already spent more than 90 minutes waiting for Casey to play with his trains shows a major lack of planning on the part of WashDOT and BNSF. This is not rocket science. We can co-exist and all get where we’re going in a reasonable amount of time. But since all your MBAs and engineering degrees seemingly haven’t resulted in enough education to figure something this simple out I’ll provide a public service to my fellow motorists, including, possibly, a few aid or police units who really can’t afford to waste several minutes for trains to finish their repositioning or take a longer way around

The best solution is already in place on our draw bridges. With rare exception, ships are not allowed to raise bridges during rush hour. Is it that necessary that BNSF needs to reposition its trains during peak traffic times?

If that’s too difficult perhaps you could warn motorists that you’re going to be taking a ridiculously long time moving your train back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and back and forth. (I’m no engineer and I’m sure it’s hard work but really? Maybe someone out there who is an engineer can explain to me why the train has to go back and forth at least a dozen times. Maybe it’s uncoupling sections on to different sidings but even then, the train today wasn’t that long and there aren’t that many sidings!) You could place an LED display at the intersection with the expected wait time so motorists could weigh whether to wait, if it’s only going to be a few minutes, or make a u-turn and take the long way around.

To be clear, I’m not referring to trains that are on their way from point A to point B. Even the longest of those rarely take more than a few minutes to pass. I’ve got no problem waiting a few minutes, even ten isn’t too bad. But forty minutes! Seriously! That jogger I saw jump on the moving train and off the other side (not too dangerous considering it was going, maybe, 3 mph) had the right idea after all.

Calls and emails sent yesterday to BNSF, WashDOT, the Seattle City Council and the legislature have not been returned.

State GOP Chair Kirby Wilbur: Passionate and Pragmatic

This past January, Kirby Wilbur was swept into the office of Washington State Republican Party Chairman on a wave of Tea Party support. But unlike many tea-partiers, Kirby has been a fixture in Washington State Republican politics for decades.

Maybe that’s because it’s in his blood. He was born in Washington, D.C., moving to the other side of the country when he was only eight. He first took notice of politics, however, during the 1964 election. His parents weren’t especially political. They voted for Kennedy in 1960 but felt Johnson was the wrong choice in 1964. Wilbur, like most kids that age, threw his support behind the same candidate as his parents, Barry Goldwater. Unlike many, though, he was very passionate about that choice and was one of only six in his class to wear a Goldwater button. The majority of the others supported Johnson.

His first real involvement, and the first time he got his name in the Seattle Times, came a few years later in High School when he and a friend decided to rip down a “Che Guevara” flag that a group of SDS students had put up in place of the US flag in one of the classrooms. After grabbing it and running out of the room, he and his friend planned to hold a public burning of the flag.

“If they were going to go around burning my flag I was going to burn theirs,” Wilbur says.

When the leader of his school’s SDS movement confronted him, demanding that he give him his flag back, Wilbur questioned the student’s communist philosophy. “You’re flag? I thought you believed in collectivism. This flag belongs as much to me and as it does to you.”

The following day he was able to gather his fellow conservatives, the media and a couple hundred other students, most of whom, while not as passionate about politics as Wilbur, weren’t big fans of the SDS. When his rival showed up and threatened to call the police Wilbur again questioned his philosophy. “You mean the same police who you were calling ‘pigs’ just the other day? Now that you need something you’re going to call them?” In the end, Wilbur, showing some of the pragmatism and diplomacy he carries with him today, chose not to burn the flag. Instead he returned it but only under the condition that it wouldn’t be displayed again unless a majority of the Queen Anne High School student body voted for it. There was never an election.

Today he’s not as confrontational as he was in those days. In fact, he finds the personal nature of politics to be its ugliest side. He has many liberal friends who he enjoys discussing politics with but believes the personal and sometimes violent nature of things, like name calling and the keying of cars because someone has a bumper sticker you disagree with, have no place in politics.

He doesn’t expect the negativity of politics will ever go away, though, and points to the fact that we’ve come a long way as a nation in becoming more civil despite what some may claim from the podium or the press. He blames much of the misconception on our 24/7 news cycle.

He also believes negative politics are here to stay because, despite what people may say to pollsters about how much they hate the negativity, negative politicking works. And of course, he adds, one person’s truth may be another one’s negativity. “At least we’re not holding duels in Lafayette Park anymore!”

An avid historian, Wilbur also shares a story about the 1800 presidential campaign, during which Jefferson was accused of being an atheist and opponents spread rumors that he’d seize everyone’s Bible’s if elected. (Ed. – Something those who through out claims about Perry and Bachmann wanting to take away their religious freedoms might take note of.)

He does feel that the Republican Party could spend more time on promoting its issues though.

“If you look at the last few elections in Washington State you’ll notice that even heavily Democratic areas like Grays Harbor County voted overwhelmingly for anti-tax initiatives. In fact, during the 2010 election, there was a double-digit spread in 30 out of 39 counties between Democratic victories and anti-tax initiative victories. Sure, there are some Patty Murray Democrats who are anti-tax, but not that many. I think that shows there’s a disconnect between what the Republican Party actually stands for and what many voters feel the Republican Party might stand for.”

On the issue of political parties he’s clear. While Washington warned his successors against forming parties, he believes Washington was a strict constitutionalist and therefore didn’t see the need for parties.

“If we were to follow the letter of the constitution, which gives government a very defined role, there would be no need for parties.” But Wilbur also realizes that the debate between strict constitutionalism and a broader view of government’s role has been going on since the time of Jefferson and Hamilton and, as long as it does, there will always be a need for political parties. Furthermore, he believes in the two-party system.

“The only perfect candidate for me is me and the only perfect candidate for you is you. Having multiple parties brings chaos,” he says, referencing the nature of multi-party, parliamentary systems like the United Kingdom.

And because he believes in the efficacy of a two-party system, he also believes in the idea of the “big tent.”

“The Republican Party’s core values are basically economic.” He welcomes libertarian minded people into the fold because they basically believe in a limited roll of government.

“Our differences on issues like abortion basically come down to where we believe life begins.” He adds that, although he welcomes pro-choice libertarians into the party, he will continue to fight for the pro-life stance in the Republican Party’s platform.

What three things would he like to see done to reform election and campaign law?

1. He’d like to see registration by party; Republican, Democrat, Independent. “It’s about the primary. Parties are like a club and only members of the club should be allowed to select their own representatives. Having an open primary is like having the Elk’s Club President being elected by Rotarians.” He thinks one way around this would be to return to the days when we had party conventions but he’d also be okay with a traditional closed primary.

2. He’d like to see us return to poll-only voting with no absentee ballots unless there’s a legitimate reason. “I may have a Norman Rockwell view but I just like the idea of everyone going to the polls; people being able to interact with their neighbors.”

3. He’d like to see campaign donation limits lifted but have immediate reporting. “Donations are a form of speech and should not be restricted be they from individuals, corporations or unions. If I want to give a candidate a million dollars I should be able to do that. He will then, of course, have to weigh the impact of taking that donation.” He doesn’t believe that money is as big an influence on politics as some think. “Politicians don’t sell their votes. When people give to a candidate they’re doing so because of that person’s ideology.”

When it comes to the issue of term limits he believes politicians should limit themselves but ultimately let the voters decide. “Term limits lead to lazy voters. If they know the guy in office is going to be out at the end of that term they don’t worry as much about what he’s doing.”

He does like the idea of limiting the terms of congressional staffers or at least rotating them around since they often have much more knowledge and, therefore power, than the senators and representatives they serve.

Ultimately though, he believes the only way to limit the corruption that comes along with things like big money donations, lobbyists and lifetime congressmen is to limit the size and scope of government. “Lobbyists are just doing their job. If politicians had no ability to hand out all those favors there’d be no reason for there to be as many lobbyists.”

As for Wilbur’s “best” moment of his political career, “meeting Reagan at the White House in 1983. We were looking at a collection of plates on a shelf inside the Oval Office when he walked in. Before we even heard or saw him we felt his presence.”

Primary Education

So we (I’m hoping everyone who reads SoundPolitics.com, at least) voted in our primary election a couple of weeks ago and most of us probably didn’t give a whole lot of thought to the process. After all, we settled all that a couple of years ago after a protracted battle involving state legislation, initiatives and court cases. Done deal, right? Well, sort of. At least it is for those of us who live in a little place I like to call the real world. Regardless of whether you like your primary served up “Cajun” style (the current “Top Two” system) or with that wide-open taste of the “Montana” frontier (“Pick a Party”), you’ve moved on, accepted the verdict, right? Of course you have! You’re not a political hack.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve used that label to describe myself on a number of occasions and parties certainly have their place (especially when piñatas are involved), but when parties lose sight of their goals the ugly side of partisanship we all love to hate bares its ugly and wasteful grin. And so it is with the primary battle.

A bit of history. From 1890 to 1907 parties nominated their candidates through conventions or petition (a brilliant idea, if you ask me). But then the state legislature, in its populist “wisdom” decided to enact a “semi-open” primary wherein voters didn’t have to declare party affiliation but did have to select either a Republican ballot or a Democrat ballot on Election Day. In 1934 the Grange and the AFL-CIO teamed up and proposed an initiative to the legislature which further opened the primary, allowing people to vote for whomever they liked, regardless of party (the “Blanket Primary”); i.e. they could vote for a Republican primary candidate for governor and a Democratic primary candidate for state legislator. The initiative passed the legislature, the state parties challenged it, and the State Supreme Court upheld the new law. Fast forward to 1978 and the state parties challenged it once again and once again failed to have it thrown out. Fast forward again to 2003 and the parties finally got their way, sort of. Based on a similar ruling of California’s primary, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals threw out the “Blanket Primary” and Washington State was forced to come up with a new system. After much debate in the legislature, debate which caused a rare split within parties, it narrowly voted for the “Montana” system. Being forced to pick a party ballot, people were up in arms; writing all sorts of obscenities on their primary ballots that September and quickly gathering enough signatures to put an initiative to the people to institute the “Top Two” system. Unsurprisingly, in November of 2004 it passed by a 60% margin statewide and actually passed with a two-to-one margin in most traditionally Republican counties. And the parties, once again, sued. In 2005, a U.S. District Court sided with the parties, forcing the state to return to the “Pick a Party” system, but then had its decision overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008, finally granting the people of Washington the system that they wanted. Phew!

So you’d think once the Supreme’s made a decision, things would settle down, at least for a few decades. But no! Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, except, maybe, a political party scorned. In the Republican Party’s defense, SCOTUS overturned the lower courts decision because they felt the argument constituted only a facial challenge, i.e. it was based on a hypothetical argument that voters would have a problem differentiating an officially nominated candidate from one who listed his preference as Republican or Democrat. The problem, the Republican Party (along with the Democratic Party) argued, was that candidates being able to list themselves as “prefers Republican Party” on the ballot without going through some form of closed primary violated the party’s First Amendment right of association by allowing members not of the party to choose the candidate; the same argument that initiated this whole mess back in 2003. The new challenge, filed in June, now argues based on actual facts based on the 2008-2010 elections. It seems like a reasonable argument and some argue that the 1996 nomination of Ellen Craswell for Republican gubernatorial candidate was the result of Democrats crossing over during the primary to vote for what they perceived as the weaker candidate. I think that’s a bit of a stretch but there’s really no way of knowing.

But all of this aside, the continued and costly battle to overturn the Top Two primary is a waste of time. First, from a common perspective, how many Democrats are really voting for the “weaker” Republican candidate? And even if there are a few, I’d dare say that there are an equal number of Republicans doing the same thing in Democratic primaries. Turnabout is fair play after all.

Furthermore, it’s just bad politics to continue this challenge. It was actually bad politics to challenge it in the first place. As I repeatedly tell many purists, would you rather be right or would you rather win? You can’t always have both. Say the GOP was to succeed in this challenge. The legislature would have to go back to the drawing board, wasting more time (as if they already don’t waste enough) crafting yet another law to run our elections instead of focusing on, here’s a wild thought, jobs, education, crime, just about anything other than primary elections.

(In fact, they likely will be wasting some time on this issue because one casualty of this legal battle has already been PCOs on both sides of the aisle. PCOs would be up for reelection next year but the judge did rule that office could no longer appear on the primary ballot so, come January 2013, unless the parties figure something out, there will be no PCOs. This actually came as music to the ears of County Auditors statewide as they’ve always been irritated by the amount of money spent on a race that rarely garners more than one or two votes, if any. It should also come as music to the ears of every small-government conservative too, since PCO elections are basically taxpayer-funded party politics.)

And even if the wasting of lawmaker time wasn’t an issue, most people are change adverse. We’d have 2004 all over again with voters by the droves writing expletives across their primary ballots and burning both elephants and donkeys in effigy. Who knows? They might get mad enough at the parties that they finally decide to elect someone like Goodspaceguy or Mike the Mover! Either that or the media will report, somewhat correctly, that this new round of election fiddling is “all the Republicans fault” and the GOP will be relegated to minority status for yet another decade. And to restate an earlier point, even if the media didn’t decide to pin most of the blame on the Republicans it wouldn’t matter. The results of the 2004 initiative show that more Republicans than Democrats prefer the top two system. By continuing this lawsuit the Republican Party is firing on its own people.

And, finally, the chances of a legal victory over the Top Two primary just diminished even more this past week when a U.S. District Court in California ruled in favor of the defendants (including, ironically, our old friend Dean Logan) to uphold that state’s Top Two primary.

The Washington State Republican Party’s State Committee will be meeting in January. By that time this issue may have been decided by the courts, which would mean, should the GOP lose, that the State Party would have to pay out another $55,000 in fines. Not something that donors really want to hear. My advice: kill this ridiculous challenge, post-haste. Save the party money, save the court’s and the legislature’s time, and don’t anger the voters of Washington.

The Case for $20 Increase to Car Tabs

Republicans are up in arms over the recent actions of the King County Council (so what else is new?), but this time it’s different. Many feel betrayed because the recent legislation, which raise car tabs by $20, only passed because of the key votes from two of the “Republicans”* on the council, Kathy Lambert and Jane Hague. It was especially wounding to some because Lambert and Hague (and “Democrat” Julia Patterson) had assured them that they would not vote for a tax increase; instead they’d put it on the ballot for the people to decide. And perhaps that’s what they should have done, but calling them liars, as Tim Eyman did last week, is the lazy way out and doesn’t take into account the often difficult choices our elected officials must face; especially when those elected officials have been in the ideological minority since who knows when.

I spent more than two hours listening to and asking questions of both Jane Hague and Kathy Lambert last night. At the beginning of the evening I counted myself firmly with the likes of Toby Nixon, Todd Woosley and others who were quite upset over the vote. But having known Lambert and Hague for many years, I was more than happy to listen to their defense and hoped that there was some logical explanation. And I was not disappointed. While I’m not sure I would have ended up voting the way they did, after listening to their explanation I respect their decision and remain a strong supporter of both. As Kathy mentioned, we’re a family and families aren’t always going to agree, but as long as they’re honest and respectful of each other a good relationship can continue.

So what was their explanation? Well, as Kathy aptly pointed out, it was a bit of a Hobson’s Choice; a “take it or leave it non-choice”. Again, that’s what comes from being in the perpetual minority in this county. You can either work with the liberal majority and gain some concessions or you can take your ball and go home, except that you can’t take your ball because it belongs to them.

Our story begins a year and a half ago. Dow Constantine had recently taken office and was beginning to realize what a mess Ron Sims had made of county government (near criminal, according to Lambert). To his credit, Constantine began to clean things up, even reaching across the aisle for advice from Lambert and other “Republicans”. One of the biggest messes, of course, was King County’s transit system. And so began the process of reform. The “Republican” members of the council, Kathy Lambert, Jane Hague, Reagan Dunn and Pete von Reichbauer, reached out to the State Auditor’s Office, which then came up with a list of 32 reforms. To date, 31 of those reforms are complete or in process. The key to achieving such a victory came at the expense of the $20 car tab fee hike. Again, it was a bit of a non-choice. Of course those of us who use common sense think that money-saving reforms should be implemented regardless of what sort of concessions one may get from the “other side” but unfortunately, as often happens, some politicians aren’t content in just doing the right thing for the right thing’s sake and get into horse trading. When that happens we can cut off our noses to spite our faces or we can swallow our lumps and live to fight another day, knowing that the war is ongoing, and achieve small victories in battles we may have otherwise lost.

And those victories are worth celebrating. Already, King County has raised fares so that recovery (the percentage of operation costs actually paid by the rider) is up from 18 percent to 30 percent. This might not seem like a lot, but compared to other transit systems in the nation it is above average. King County has now eliminated the ride free zone in Downtown Seattle, which was costing taxpayers $2.2 million in lost fares; $100,000 in cleaning costs (those of you who have ever ridden a downtown bus will know intimately what happens when you allow some folks to ride around on a bus for free all day); and an additional, unspecified amount, in lost fares due to fare evasion (the ride free zone created a system where a rider did not have to pay his fare until leaving the bus on an outbound route, making it very easy to skip out on paying). Additionally, 3 percent of routes, most serving the exurbs and often empty, have been contracted out to the private sector and will soon be using smaller coaches and “Dial-a-Ride” service. The county is working to improve route efficiency in other ways as well; sending buses to parts of the county that need them instead of continuing to focus on Seattle. The Transit Union, to their credit, has been surprisingly generous in giving up its cost of living raises, which has saved the county $23 million. These and other cost saving measures in the process of being implemented will help to close the $148 million dollar budget shortfall. The $20 car tab fee will bring in only a small portion of that; $25 million.

If Lambert and Hague hadn’t voted for this measure it would have gone to the vote of the people and it would have failed. The county would have cut service by 17%, most of it on the Eastside, and would have implemented very few of the cost saving reforms outlined in the auditor’s report. Even if you never ride the bus it’s clear that everyone will benefit at least somewhat from the maintenance of service, especially when tolling begins on 520 (which they now say will happen in October). Yes, it’s a liberal argument and one I’m not a fan of, but it does have some truth to it; more people on buses mean fewer people in cars causing traffic jams on 520.

A few other things to note: each household with one of more vehicles registered in King County will receive $24 in transit vouchers. Yeah, it’s not a lot, especially since it’s only per household and not per car, but I think most of us probably take the bus at least once or twice a year, be it to a Mariner’s game or someplace else where parking costs are prohibitive.

And for those of you who still feel you should have received the opportunity to vote on this, you’re in luck. Included in the bill is a mandate that it goes to a vote in two years. At least then, if it’s defeated (let’s hope), the cost saving reforms will have already been implemented. If you do want to work to put an initiative on next February’s ballot which will repeal this bill, keep in mind, if it passes, you’ll also be repealing the reforms currently in progress.

You may not agree with the votes that Lambert and Hague took. You may have voted to cut bus service by 17% and not bargain with the “Democrats” and there are certainly good arguments to be made for that position, meeting Democrats halfway more often than not resembles ¾ of the way, but I hope after hearing the arguments that Lambert and Hague gave for their votes you’ll at least understand them, realize they had good reasons, and refrain from calling them liars and ordering up their heads on a platter next time you go out to dinner. Politics is often compared to making sausage, it’s an imperfect process and a thankless job, so I want to thank Lambert and Hague. In general, they have voted to save the taxpayers money and to limit the reach of government. Have they gotten it wrong from time to time? No doubt. They’d probably even agree with me on that. After all, no one’s a soothsayer. But I believe they have always voted for not only what they thought was right but also what they thought was “Right”.

You can read Lambert’s op-ed explaining her decision here.

*King County elected officials are technically nonpartisan.

The Hypocritic Oath

The left loves to pine away about the sorry state of health care in this country and to some extent they are correct. There is much room for improvement. But the way they always want to go about “making it better” is the exact opposite of what needs to be done. As is the case with most, if not all, problems currently facing our society the answer is less government involvement, not more. A perfect example of this is happening right in our own back yard and that is quite sickening.

I’m sure I could go back much further but I’ll just start five years ago. Back in April of 2006, in a bid to acquire more taxpayers to feed its insatiable lust for more money, King County Hospital District #1 (Valley Medical Center) sought to annex much of Maple Valley. Only problem is, they weren’t exactly honest and, at first, didn’t let voters know how much extra they’d be paying to be part of the district. Fortunately the voters fought back, got that information included in the ballot measure and then soundly defeated it, remaining independent.

About a year later, the PDC handed out a record fine to CEO Rich Roodman for the hospital’s nefarious dealings in trying to sway the outcome of the election: $120,000 plus repayment of $155,000 in misspent public funds.

You’d think after a gaff like that the hospital would fire Roodman but, no, this isn’t the private sector so accountability doesn’t matter. Instead, the elected hospital commissioners who set the CEO’s salary continued to pay him obscene amounts of YOUR money. Last year, Roodman collected a cool $1,134,837 in salary and bonuses and “retention payments”. Making him, far and away, the highest paid public “servant” in the state. To put it in perspective, he makes 40% more than his counterpart at the UW Medical Center. And Roodman isn’t the only one pulling in top dollar. The Executive VP, the Senior VP of Medical Affairs and VMC’s attorney all make in the mid-six figures, well above their counterparts in other state agencies. Not bad for a dinky little hospital most people have never heard of. As state senator Cheryl Pflug quipped, “Seriously, is this the Mayo Clinic?” (Their CEO makes $3.8M, also somewhat obscene if you ask me, but at least he’s not making it on the backs of the working class. Only a scant 3% of the Mayo Clinic’s income comes from government.)

But wait, there’s more! In 2009, while the rest of us were muddling our way through “The Great Recession”, Roodman was racking in a $1.7M golden parachute. I guess he’s who Barack Obama was referring to when he spoke of the “Recover Summer”. So since Roodman didn’t retire to his mega-yacht he promptly gave that money back to pay for all those operations for needy children, right? Ha! No.

I could go on. I could talk about how the Hospital District collects $0.56 per $1000 in property tax, half what the City of Bellevue collects and, last time I checked, running a city took a lot more than running a hospital. I could talk about how many of the residents in the hospital district, like the ones in Newport Hills, never use Valley Medical Center. I could go on about the $90,000 Neil Sedaka and Tony Orlando concerts that taxpayers paid for so that VMC employee’s could have a holly-jolly Christmas. But, instead, I’ll leave you with a little bit of hope and change.

Voters elected two sound minds in 2009 to stem the bleeding and now you have the chance to vote in a third: Dr. Jim Grossnickle. He’d like to put an end to the wasteful spending on fat-cat salaries and direct more of that money to the people who need it most, the patients. He’d also like to eventually dissolve the hospital district and let VMC stand on its own like so many of the other hospitals in the region, both public and private, do.

If you live in Hospital District #1 he’s on your primary ballot. Be sure to vote by August 16th.

Crooks or Books?

The City of Renton is in the midst of an epic battle. The cause? Where to site its new libraries.

This tale begins two years ago when the city put to the voters the question of whether or not to continue as an “independent” library entity (the city’s library system had two buildings, both aging and largely inadequate; and, in addition, paid $275,000 per year to King County so that Renton residents could check books out of their system) or become annexed by KCLS. The annexation measure passed by a mere 53 votes. One might think that the end to the story, but for some vague wording of the measure, specifically parts having to do with when replacement libraries would be built (“at a future date”) and where they’d be built, it was not.

Anyone with a modicum of common sense would conjecture that the two replacement libraries would just be upgrades to the existing facilities. After all, even if the existing libraries had to be completely demolished and rebuilt from the ground up at least the city wouldn’t have to buy new land and go through the hassle of an EIS.

But no. In its infinite wisdom, KCLS threw a tempter tantrum and, not only did they insist on getting shiny new buildings paid for by the good citizens of Renton (this part of the deal was, thankfully, included in the ballot measure), they decided that the building spanning the Cedar River, which has served the people of Renton for 43 years, was so inadequate, not only in seismic compliance and its apparent inability to support the weight of bookshelves (which might be a fair statement, although one has to wonder if it’s already survived two earthquakes without damage) but also in location, that they want ed to move it from a nice, scenic, park-like setting with ample parking to the war zone that is 3rd and Logan. The business community supports the move because they believe it will increase foot traffic (good for business) and make the area safer. (Good luck with that, everybody’s gotta have a dream.)

And one has to wonder why, if part of the reason for demanding new buildings is to better meet the needs of the growing Renton population (fair enough), that the proposed new space is only going to be 1000 square feet larger than the existing space. And all for the bargain price of $18 million over ten years.

Some folks (I’m guessing “Renton Dweller” in the comments section of my last post is one of them) are so incensed that they have begun circulating a petition, which, according to city council candidate Mark Martinez, has garnered 800-900 signatures. That’s all nice in a gingersnap and puppy feet sort of way but, sadly, barking into the wind is rarely effective, especially when you only have a measly 1% of dogs doing the barking. Martinez, who appears to have taken some heat in the below comments, isn’t opposed to keeping the library where it is. In fact he’d rather do that but he feels that battle might be more effectively won as a member of the council than as a scribble on a page. What’s more, more people like Martinez on the council will mean more fiscal discipline when future battles such as these come up. In fact, Martinez thinks it would be better to hold off on the whole library construction project for a couple of years when Renton is in a bit better place financially.

The other issue facing Renton is the annexation of Skyway. Martinez supports the annexation, saying that Skyway is already a de facto part of Renton, its residents coming down to Renton to do their shopping and calling on Renton police and fire when there’s an incident, but because of its limbo status (like most of the unincorporated urban areas of King County it’s neglected, rarely being patrolled by the sheriff’s department and receiving scant funds for infrastructure upgrades) it’s in a somewhat sorry state. To its own credit it has engaged in some “Do-It-Yourself Conservatism” and increased its neighborhood watch groups from 5 to 40 in the past few years but it certainly needs the resources that a city could provide. The hurdle? Annexation would cost about $2 million, the same $2 million, coincidentally enough, that’s being used to pay for the new libraries. Martinez believes it would be better to hold off on the libraries project (since the ballot measure didn’t mandate when those new buildings had to be built) and annex Skyway. But annexation is something that the voters will get to decide. It’s possible that a vote on the issue will take place as early as next February.

More Fun With Trains

The other boondoggle facing Bellevue is one we’ve become all too familiar with: Sound Transit. It’s inevitable, despite heroic efforts from Sound Politics’ own Tim Eyman and the aforementioned Kemper Freeman, that light-rail is going to make its way over the Lacy V. Murrow Bridge and into the heart of the Eastside. How it gets there is, fortunately, still up for debate. In one corner we have the Constantine funded machine of Claudia Balducci, who, coincidentally, serves on the Sound Transit Board of Directors; and John Chelminiak. They’d like to run the train down Bellevue Way. Couple this construction project with work on 520 and 405 and you might as well just build a wall around Bellevue because it will become near impossible to leave. Not to mention, no one wants a train running through their backyard.The more reasonable members of the council and the GOP backed trifecta of Aaron Laing, Patti Mann and Michelle Hilhorst like the less intrusive and less economically damaging option of running the train, get this for an idea, down the already existing BNSF rail corridor.

And if you’re still not sold we’re going to double your order! That’s right, if the good folks on the city council choose to vote to fund the Bel-Red Plan AND follow through on their commitment to Sound Transit (especially if they choose to run it down Bellevue Way), not only will they have to raise your property taxes by a significant amount to pay for these projects (Bellevue, to its credit, hasn’t raised property taxes in many years, thereby, in effect “banking” tax increases during that time; this means they are able to retroactively apply the 1% per year raise mandated by Initiative 747); even after doing so they might still not have enough, thereby being in danger of having an unbalanced budget.

So it seems like a pretty clear decision; the usual tax-and-spend and subsidize big business, business as usual advocated by the incumbents up for reelection or an exercise in fiscal discipline advocated by Laing, Hillhorst and Mann. If you live in Bellevue, you’ll get to decide very soon. Primary ballots go out tomorrow! (They need to be mailed by the 16th.)

Transportation Key Issue in Bellevue City Council Race

The biggest issue facing Bellevue right now, unsurprisingly, is infrastructure. As Bellevue has grown from a sleepy suburb to a bustling city in its own right road expansion has occurred but few would argue that more isn’t needed. Just wait in the backup on NE 8th and you’ll see. So roads certainly need to be built but, as is unfortunately the case with our current economic crisis and deteriorating government revenues, there’s not enough money to do everything. One of the biggest debates surrounding this issue is what is know as the Bel-Red Plan. On the surface, like a lot of legislation, it doesn’t seem too bad. It’s a plan to revitalize part of the Bel-Red corridor, which is currently home to a Safeway distribution center, a Coca-Cola bottling plant and a Cadman concrete plant, with a mixed use “urban village”; definitely a nicer use of the space than industrial business, but is it necessary? No. As Wallace pointed out, after more than half a century Bellevue’s downtown core is only about halfway developed. Why would the city want to encourage growth on the other side of 405 when there’s still much to be done in downtown? More importantly, downtown, including its infrastructure has been largely developed through the efforts and the pocketbook of private-sector businessman Kemper Freeman Jr. If throwing up some new buildings off Bel-Red Road is such a great idea why not let the private sector fund it, roads and all, or at least a more significant portion? And most ridiculous, since this whole plan is still several years from being started, money from the current budget doesn’t need to be spend acquiring real estate when it could be put to better uses, including alleviating some of the mess on NE 8th and complying with Sound Transit mandated rail corridor development. As an aside, one of the developers of the Bel-Red project, Wright-Runstad, has given generously to the two candidates supporting this plan. The other, San Francisco based Shorenstein Properties, has long been a major players in Democratic politics.

“But, wait, that’s not all!” as the Cutco knife salesman says. “If you order now you’ll also get… More Fun with Trains!