Feelings Are More Important Than Facts

I came to a bit of a revelation last night during my PR class. Actually, to be fair, I was brought to it. We had a guest speaker in to discuss branding and she began by showing a Ted Talk clip from Simon Sinek about the difference between the marketing or branding strategies of a great company (or leader) like Apple and most others.

To sum up the talk, it all has to do with where the message begins; with the why or with the what. Interestingly, this is a theory based on the biology of our brains. Our neo-cortex, the newest part of our brain, processes facts, figures, language and the like. It is our truly “thinking” brain. When most companies develop a marketing plan, Sinek says, they start by addressing this part of the brain with the what. They tell us about the car’s gas mileage and its handling or how its paper towels are the cheapest. This is all good stuff and necessary on some level. It may even lead a lot of folks to buy the product. But more important than the what is the why, the feelings behind the purchase, which are controlled by our limbic brains. When you present someone with all the best facts and they agree with them completely but still may not take action because “it doesn’t feel right” or their “heart just isn’t in it” this is the part of the brain that is working. Apple gets this. It’s why there is a whole culture behind its products. It’s why people will buy anything with an Apple logo on it. A lot of car companies, especially luxury brands, get it too. Volvo and BMW don’t sell cars. Volvo sells safety. BMW sells the ultimate driving experience.

What’s even more extraordinary about this is, once a company gets you to buy into its culture, its why, it has turned you not just into a customer but into an advocate. You’ll probably also excuse some less than satisfactory performance or service from time to time because, after all, the company is almost like family now.

Part of the reason I signed up for the PR certificate program was to be able to better communicate the message of limited government. This message is currently carried, as it has been for the last century or so, by the Republican Party. And despite all its faults, and there are many, the GOP is still the best vehicle to continue doing so. But it doesn’t appear to be doing very well, nationally or, especially, in Washington state.

There are several things I’ve pointed to in the past but these are all relatively small and, for the most part, the inability for the GOP to connect with voters has always perplexed me somewhat. Conservatives outnumber liberals 2 to 1 (40 percent to 21 percent with the remainder classifying themselves as moderate) yet Democrats and Republicans are tied in the electorate. I could never put my finger on why until last night (although, once I did, I knew that I’d known it on some level all along but probably just didn’t want to admit it).

I guess this would be the appropriate time to pause for the old saw about Republicans not having hearts. Ironically, it turns out, it’s true, at least in the above sense. Those of us on the Right tend to focus on the bottom line, the brass tacks, just the facts, ma’am; while those on the Left tend to focus on feelings. I wish this weren’t the case. I wish more people would listen to reason. But it’s not and Republicans better get with the program if we’re going to win any more elections.

We see this dichotomy perfectly evidenced in the current gun control debate. We are supposed to live in a nation of laws, not of man. What that means is legislation shouldn’t be the result of individual incidents like Newtown but the result of overarching need and based on fact. And when one looks at the facts it’s apparent that the proposed gun control measures, most gun control measures for that matter, wouldn’t prevent the overwhelming majority of incidents like Newtown. But that doesn’t matter to most people, probably even a lot of people who are Second Amendment advocates. Case in point, Wayne LaPierre, the Executive VP of the NRA, has advocated for armed guards in schools. And while this strategy would certainly be more effective than banning “assault rifles”, it’s still, largely, a solution in search of a problem.

What happened in Newtown was tragic and should never have happened but, sadly, people die everyday in this country as the result of evil or stupidity. In 2011, 211 children were killed as the result of drunk driving accidents but celebrities aren’t making videos “demanding a plan”, Obama isn’t signing executive orders seeking to limit the sale of beer and or cars to law-abiding citizens, and Andrew Cuomo isn’t shrieking about only needing 12 ounces of beer to kill a deer. As tragic as Newton is, the chances of it happening to any one person are about as likely as being struck by lighting and are, in fact, considerably less than they were in the 90s. None of this matters though because “guns are scary.”

Obama rode to victory on the mantle of “Hope” and “Change”, words that have nothing to do with facts and everything to do with feeling. He did it again in 2012 because Romney chose to focus on his record at Bain Capital and as governor of Massachusetts and Obama’s record as president. On paper, the choice was clear. Even a large majority of the electorate believed so with Romney favored 2 to 1 on the all-important question of who would turn around the economy. But when it came to the why, when it came to who voters thought identified with them more, Obama was the clear leader.

So what must Republicans do to regain the edge they had during the Reagan years? The answer is quite simple, senator. So many politicians on both sides of the aisle, Obama included, like to channel Reagan for a reason. He is one of the most beloved and respected presidents of the last century and this is in large part because he was able to connect with Americans on that why level. To regain the edge Republicans must speak less about facts and figures and more about feelings. And while we’re at it we must convey positive feelings. Yes, the economy is in shambles and it’s largely the fault of overregulation and high taxes. But this is all boring to the vast majority of Americans who are too busy cooking dinner and watching their kids’ soccer games to connect the dots between the Community Reinvestment Act and the mortgage crisis. They just want to know that their leaders care. They just want to feel good. Then, if the facts back up those feelings, all the better.

Hurricane Obama

I’m sitting in my hotel room in Clearwater Beach looking out at the Gulf of Mexico. A week ago it seemed everyone in the media was chomping at the bit to declare that the worst storm since Katrina would make landfall right here and cancel everything. As late as 11 this morning I received an email alert from the National Journal, which serves as a sort of Convention newspaper, stating that the Convention, which has already been truncated by a day, could be truncated to mere hours; just time enough for a roll call vote and a brief acceptance speech from Romney in which he’d declare the emergency of Class 25 Hurricane Isaac too important and summarily call the convention to a close, suspend the campaign and tell everyone to vote for Obama or something.

The height of irony is that less than 20 minutes later I got another alert from National Journal saying that the Tropical Storm warning (wait, I thought this was supposed to be a hurricane) has been cancelled for everyone on Florida’s Gulf Coast and that it will make landfall in Louisiana barely strong enough to register as a Class 1 hurricane. From talking with several locals down here I’ve learned that a Class 1 hurricane is pretty much a non-event.

(As a frame of reference, Hurricane Katrina was a Class 5 that was downgraded to a Class 4 by the time it hit New Orleans. And New Orleans only got ravaged to such a horrible extent because the city founders thought it would be a good idea to build a city (“You didn’t build that!”) below sea level (forgive them; they were French) and the contemporary city government, led by Mayor Ray “Chocolate City” Nagin, thought it would be a good idea to spend federal emergency management funds on Mardi Gras instead of repairing the levees. (But it’s all Bush’s fault and he actually sent Dick “Darth Vader” Cheney down on a secret mission to blow up the levees right after Halliburton actually seeded Hurricane Katrina. True story.)

Yes, the media loves to create a story where there is none. It it bleeds it leads. And what could be better than a cancelled GOP Convention? So disappointing that it didn’t come to pass and now the adults have a chance to do some work.

And so it is on the political scale at large. The media enjoys whipping up a non-story on behalf of then Candidate, now President Obama. “Hope and Change!” “We’re gonna spread happiness. We’re gonna spread freedom. Obama’s gonna change it. Obama’s gonna lead.” (Sung to the tune of Mao, Mao, Our Dear Leader) “The oceans will begin to recede.” The world will love us and there’ll be a vegetable medley from the White House garden in every pot and dozens of Chevy Volts in every parking lot. And if we don’t elect him things will just get worse. We need to pass the bill to find out what’s in it. We need to re-elect Obama to find out what he’ll do in the second term.

Well, sorry to disappoint, but the Great Hope of 2008 didn’t seem to pan out. Instead we got Hurricane Obama, far more destructive than a score of Katrinas and, to anyone who’s studied even a bit of history, economics or the Chicago Way, far more predictable. In an effort to create a great story the media failed to properly vet their candidate. Four years ago it wasn’t “if it bleeds, it leads”. Instead, it quickly became “He leads and the nation’s bank account bleeds.”

This time, I hope enough people will realize that too many in the media care more about a good story than they do about what is likely to happen. Today’s scheduled events have been cancelled but the rest of the Convention will proceed. The past four years have been cancelled and, if enough of us choose who will lead us during the next four years based on facts and reason instead of hype and hope, this nation can proceed as well.

Rules: made to be broken?

In one week Republicans from across the land will meet in Tampa to officially nominate Mitt Romney as their standard-bearer in this year’s presidential election. It’s a forgone conclusion. Save some horrific accident or horrific scandal there is absolutely no way that he will not be nominated. Yet, there seems to be one faction within the Republican Party that hasn’t caught on to this fact. Despite repeatedly stating they would support the party’s nominee and that they understand Romney is that person, their other actions betray these statements. One such action is their obsession with rules.

Rules, you say? But rules are important! Without rules what are we left with? Yes, rules are important. As many within this faction have righty pointed out, it’s this lack of following the rules of this nation, the Constitution, that have gotten us into the trouble we are in. (Although this point could certainly be argued as several constitutional lawyers of the liberal vein will point out that every law that stands today, from the PATRIOT Act to ObamaCare, is constitutional. John Roberts even said so and who are we to argue with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States?)

But, as the old saying goes, it pays to choose your battles carefully and, indeed, rules sometimes are made to be broken. The key in determining whether said rule should be broken is common sense and the “spirit of the law”. Surely most of us get upset when we learn of some “justice” carried out in the courts of man which is an injustice in the court of morality. All to often a hardened criminal gets off on a technicality; prosecutors missed filing a motion by a single day; the arresting officer forgot to cross a “t” or dot and “i”. Four police officers from Lakewood, Washington now lay dead, brutally murdered because a judge was “just following the rules” when he released a man accused of child rape who already had crimes on his rap sheet that would indicate this charge was anything but spurious.

And what was the real problem there? That some law makers decided at some point to set maximum bail in cases like that at a ridiculously low amount instead of giving the judge some leeway to make his own decision. Certainly we do need some laws lest we become a society ruled by man rather than law, one of the main causes on which this nation was founded. But, taken to the other end of the extreme, we could just have millions of laws for every conceived scenario and then we wouldn’t have a need for courts at all. We could just have a computer dole out sentences. And I don’t think anyone is calling for that. No, we realize that there exists room for not only interpretation but room for mercy and common sense. Case in point: say your child gets into a fight with his friend on the playground and punches him in the face. They roll around on the ground a bit until cooler heads prevail and after the dust settles they realize that their argument was silly and they make up. Folks with common sense would say, hey, fights where no real lasting harm was caused are just boys being boys. It probably did them a bit of good. No need to worry about it any further. Folks obsessed with rules, on the other hand, would say, hey, that’s assault! Throw ’em both in juvie and put this on their permanent record. Rules must be followed!

Considerably less tragic than the lives of four officers is the current congressional race in Washington’s 1st District. The man who recently held that seat decided to give it up too late for there to be a special election to fill the remainder of the term but too early so that no election was necessary meaning that residents of the 1st now must vote in two races for the same seat (further complicated by redistricting); the first of which will elect someone to serve just a few days, if any, at the cost to taxpayers of more than a million dollars. But, hey, we’re just following the rules and, after all, what are we without rules?

So what are these rules that this faction is so obsessed with? They have to do with the seating of delegates at the national convention (and at state and county conventions now passed). The latest transgression is about the delegation from Oklahoma. I don’t know every detail of the case but, apparently, short on time, the chair of that convention decided to elect national delegates by voice vote instead of roll call vote, which would have taken at least a few hours longer if the experience in Washington is any indication. (Keep in mind, many of the attendees to state conventions this year were there for the first time and, after a few days of sitting on hard metal folding chairs listening to all the minutiae that comes with Robert’s Rules of Order, it was probably all the convention chair could do to keep them there for another minute, let alone the time it would have taken to do things “by the rules”. And if the Republican Party wants these folks to stay involved past November, despite what some may say, they need to be less focused on every little rule which people new to the game see as pedantic and more focused on the overall mission and ideals. The same could be said for politics in general. I can’t tell you how many people have told me they hate politics because it’s seems so petty. and I’d have to say they are right to a large extent. I’d dare say anyone reading this paragraph and the one following would think it utterly ridiculous.)

One thing is fairly clear though, even to this faction challenging the Oklahoma delegation, if that convention had followed the rules the outcome would have been the same. So it begs the question, these folks have spent thousands of dollars and several days in their effort to go to Tampa so what’s more important, telling them, “too bad, so sad? Through no fault of your own you have to stay home next week because some folks are obsessed with rules to a point where they trump common sense.” Or telling them, “listen, we decided to suspend the rules in the interest of not keeping you in a hot Oklahoma Convention Hall several more hours because we knew it wouldn’t change the results. Maybe it wasn’t the right thing to do but since it didn’t change the results and sending you to Tampa, after you’ve devoted so much of your time to the process, is more important, we’re going to do that.”

Having sat on the credentials committee at the state level and made decisions just like this I can tell you that we, as a whole, regardless of whom we supported, always erred on the side of seating a delegate or a delegation. We could have thrown out dozens of folks, entire delegations, because they didn’t “follow the rules”, but we knew that the people running these conventions were all volunteers, not always fully experienced and not having an army of lawyers to look over every little clause and footnote. We also knew that, to disenfranchise someone over something that they would think was petty, wouldn’t lead to a growth in the Republican Party. Despite what some may way, people care more about common sense and doing what’s ultimately right; not in the nuances of rules based solely on operational concerns rather than morality. It’s like the annoying kid on the playground that’s so obsessed with the rules of an ad-hoc game of kickball or Monopoly that everyone leaves because it’s no longer fun.

So are rules important? Of course. Are they more important than common sense? Hardly. And the real lesson here is that litigiousness and things like a 73,608 page tax code lead to more problems. Keep it simple, Senator!

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.)