Posted by: sweeneyblog | September 15, 2014

Supreme Court Barely Avoids Arresting State Legislature

WA Supreme Court

WA Supreme Court

Our state Supreme Court, for the first time in history, held our legislature in contempt for failing to fully fund education. Frequent readers of this blog knew this was coming after the state Senate Republicans blocked the Democratic education bills that closed tax giveaways to fund our schools.

Because our legislature has failed in its paramount duty (as outlined in our state constitution) the Supreme Court is holding them in contempt.

So what does that mean? Conceivably, it means the legislators themselves could be arrested, sanctioned or forced to work an extra session to resolve the issue. In practice, it sets up a constitutional crisis – what happens when one branch of our government levies sanctions on another? The results could be ugly but the court is willing to forestall any draconian measures until after this next session (2015). In essence, the court said, “You have one more chance to do this right.”

Rep. Vincent Buys

Rep. Vincent Buys

Some legislators believe the Supreme Court should have no authority over them. When the court first issued the warning that legislators were not doing their job to fund education, Rep. Vincent Buys shot back with a fiery letter, warning them, “not continue to perpetuate a constitutional crisis by insisting on violating the very constitution every member of the court has sworn, by oath, to uphold. It is a crisis in which you will not prevail.” Buys continued that this was an “unwarranted extension of judicial authority.”

What the court is asking is not unreasonable. Our schools have been chronically underfunded from the state which has shifted the tax burden to local communities, forcing small town school districts to raise property taxes to cover basic operating costs. While this may work in, say, Bellevue or Mercer Island, where there is plenty of property tax money to be raised, it hits our rural communities much harder, leaving them with dilapidated schools and swelling class sizes.

The court demanding that we fund our schools may be “violating the very constitution” according to Buys, but from where I’m standing, it sounds like a good idea. Perhaps, rather than thumping their chests, our legislators should try passing legislation to fund our schools. Or they may end up with a much scarier result at the end of 2015.

Posted by: sweeneyblog | September 12, 2014

Friday Odds and Ends: Stumbles, Steals and Salaries

First of all, two whole weeks without an Odds and Ends? RIOTS IN THE STREETS! Don’t worry, this lovely feature was just put on hold while I sorted out the busy season of my day job. With work back to a manageable level, we are back at full power and ready to tackle all the news that’s fit to print.

County Executive Jack Louws announced his appointments for the Salary Commission. You may remember the Salary commission was an attempt to examine how much we are paying our elected county officials and to make recommendations in time for the Charter Review commission. Naturally, I scoured the list of nominees to the Salary commission for any evidence of nefarious appointments.

And was sadly disappointed. Just a standard bunch of community advocates, HR professionals and even a labor representative (Hi, Al Jensen!). Nothing to report.

On the other end of the scandal meter, Republican candidate Pedro Celis is in some hot water for plagiarizing the tea party candidate who bumped off Eric Cantor. Celis, after struggling to even make it through the primary, hired a new consultant to shake up his website. The result, the new consultant copied and pasted who paragraphs from his previous work and slapped them up on Celis’ site.

It is no secret that political consultants reuse old campaign themes, for instance local strategist Lisa McShane often urges her candidates to focus on clean drinking water since it is, you know, rather important to most people here. However, usually the candidate puts their own voice into the issue rather than lifting whole reams of text. Disappointing move from a campaign already on life-support.

Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R)

Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R)

Speaking of Republican woes (side note: “Speaking of Republican Woes” would make a great alternate title for this blog), Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, Republican Congresswoman from Eastern Washington, is fighting some significant ethics investigations. This story started to develop when a disgruntled staffer left her office and revealed that her congressional office had been using public resources for campaign activities, a big violation of the Hatch Act.

McMorris-Rodgers, who received national attention this year when she was chosen to offer the blandest response to a state of the union address since Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid tried to do a duet in 2005. She is a senior member of the house leadership and these allegations could prove a stumbling block for future political aspirations.

Lastly, I would like to offer a brand new award for “Best. Comment. Ever.” to Wendy Harris who managed to make me spew my coffee all over my laptop. In my recent post about filling the remainder of Cathy Lehman’s term, Harris offered her own satirical platform for office:

I intend to use my elected status Vegas style. What is the point of filling wetlands, destroying habitat, killing wildlife, cutting down trees, and increasing impervious surface unless you are getting rich? Destroying our future to allow developers to get rich is dumb. I am running on a corruption and greed platform, because finally, city policies will make sense. I suggest that developers start getting their checkbook out.

Oh, yeah, one more point for my platform… F_ _k the Lake.

Thank you, Wendy, for making my day. As the great philosophers of our generation stated in the sacred volumes of our age,

Posted by: sweeneyblog | September 9, 2014

Who Will Be Appointed to Lehman’s City Council Seat?

There are a great deal of rumors flying around about who will be appointed to fill out the remainder of Cathy Lehman’s term on the city council. The basics are this: the person is chosen by the city council in Dec/Jan, they will serve from January till the end of 2015. During this time, they will almost immediately have to start running for reelection, since that seat is up in November of 2015. The council must come to an agreement within 30 days or the mayor will get to make the appointment.

City Hall

City Hall

When I asked the council members what they are looking for in a candidate, most said variations on the same themes. “Independent thinker”, “ready from day one” and “willing to ask questions”. The council has grappled with how to best provide oversight for the strong mayor’s office – a fact of which the council members are very aware. However, most of the people I spoke with said that appointing a “caretaker” to the position, someone who would merely fill out the last year and not run for reelection, is very unlikely.

Gender is also brought up as a key factor. With the total number of women on the council dwindling down to two, many political movers and shakers I spoke with expressed an interest in appointing a qualified and capable woman to maintain some semblance of balance.

When it comes to naming names, the councilmembers themselves have been rather tight-lipped about who is interested, although most agreed that they would rather come to an agreement rather than have the decision default to Mayor Linville.

Working with my friend and fellow blogger John Servais of NWCitizen, I have compiled a list of some of the rumored candidates. I generally try to avoid rumors and speculation on this blog but because of the nature of this appointment, I believe this these smoky room discussion should be dragged into the light.

Without further ado, here are some of the people who we have heard mentioned as potential candidates for Lehman’s seat:

Bill Geyer
Larry Farr
Doug Starcher
Dan McShane
Alexandra Wiley
Rebecca Johnson
Arlene Feld
Jim Bjerke
Kate Blystone
Wendy Harris
Cerise Noah
Clayton Petree

Roxanne Murphy, currently the At Large Rep

Roxanne Murphy, currently the At Large Rep

Now some of you may be going, “Waitaminute Riley, those people don’t all live in the 3rd Ward!”. That’s because the most likely person to be appointed to Lehman’s seat in the 3rd Ward is . . . Roxanne Murphy, currently serving as the “At-Large” representative. Murphy actually lives in the 3rd ward and would be eager not to run for reelection every two years. This would allow the council to draw from a larger pool of potential applicants for the appointment.

If you feel comfortable adding to the list or crossing your own name off the list, feel free to comment below or send me an email here.

Servais here.  The above was written by Riley and he covered it well.  Over the past few weeks we have both reached out to political players to learn who is in the running.  The nature of political reporting is the sources are strictly the politicians and operatives who purposely give out false info in hopes of advancing their cause, as well as giving out true information but only to those who might futher the cause.  Political watching is not a verifiable process and we all need to take this information with a touch of skepticism.

We share a desire to inform the public so more citizens can participate in the process.  With this information. you can ask specific questions of your council reps and express your approval or concern about specific possible appointees.  More citizens can participate – and that is something the powerful local political operatives do not want as it weakens their power.  We run our websites to inform citizens and voters.

There may be other persons being considered.  If you hear of one, let one of us know and we will check it out.  This appointment is very important to city council decisions in 2015.  Over the next two years we will probably see at least 3 and probably 4 council seats change.  Our council is in a time of more quick changes than perhaps in the past several decades.  All six remaining council members have an obligation to listen to the hopes and concerns of any citizen on this issue of appointing a 7th council member.   This is a city wide issue, not just a 3rd Ward issue.  This is not just for the six council members to quietly form up a secret concensus and drop it on us on January 5.  And so Riley and I bring you this information.

Let us not be surprised on January 5.  This appointment will be someone who is supposed to represent all of us.  Share what you may know with us.

As promised in my examination of Sen. Doug Ericksen’s fundraising yesterday, it is only fair that I take a look at Seth Fleetwood’s donations. As a whole, Fleetwood has raised $154,000 compared to Ericksen’s $230,000 but the differences run deeper than that.

Examining Fleetwood’s public disclosure records is more labor-intensive, mainly because he has far more small donors (over 1,000 donors so far, with over 800 at the $200 or less level) and the big donors happen to be people, rather than organizations. However, there are definitely some trends – here are all the details:

  • $1,900 from the WA Trial Lawyers association
  • $3,350 from local Tribes
  • $5,000 from education groups (students and teachers)
  • $7,600 from statewide progressive groups (i.e. FUSE, Washington Conservation Voters, etc)
  • $17,675 raised from unions across the state (some local, some state-wide)
  • $119,170 from individual donors
fleetwood donations copy

Seth Fleetwood Donations

That’s a pretty lopsided chart. Removing the organizations and just looking at individual donations, 82.1% come from Whatcom County with the remaining 16.9% coming mainly from Seattle. Large donors include local other elected officials such as Rud Browne, Rep. Kris Lytton and of course, Sen. Kevin Ranker.

As much as I hate the cliche, this looks like a people-powered campaign funded by small donors eager to see Ericksen’s ethically-challenged political career come to an end.


Posted by: sweeneyblog | August 31, 2014

Sen. Doug Ericksen Raises over $230,000 to fend off Fleetwood

Looking at the primary results, you may think that Sen. Doug Ericksen could comfortably walk to election day. His fundraising record, however, shows that he is in for the fight of his political life. Ericksen has already raised over$230,000 for his reelection campaign, with over $155,275 of that coming from out-of-town special interests.

Here is a sampling of the money coming in. I did my best to break them down by industry, although some companies (i.e. Boeing) are so broad I simply filed them as “business interests.” I also removed any locals (i.e. Brooks Manufacturing) from consideration to illustrate the amount of special interest money coming in.

  • $2,150 from the gun lobby
  • $5,900 from organizations associated with the Gateway Pacific Terminal project
  • $8,250 from the banking and financial industry
  • $9,850 from telecommunication companies
  • $10,850 from pharmaceutical companies
  • $14,950 from the farm, food and beverage industry
  • $18,650 from the energy companies
  • $21,700 from the building and construction industry
  • $23,850 from insurance companies
  • $38,125 from general business interests

Or to look at it another way, here is an simple pie chart that you can share on facebook showing his corporate donations.

Ericksen Donations

Ericksen Donations

Where is he spending all this special interest money? He bought a couple of computers for his campaign, and placed ads in the Lynden Tribune, KGMI, Praise 106.5 and the Lynden Fair. He is paying Ben O’Brine to manage his campaign and Melodie Kirk to doorbell for him. He covered some conference costs (hotels, travel expenses, plane tickets) but beyond that, it is the usual costs of yard signs, printed materials and food and rentals for fundraisers.


Posted by: sweeneyblog | August 30, 2014

PeaceHealth Slashes Services for Vulnerable Senior, Blames ACA

Earlier this month, hundreds of Whatcom County seniors received a letter in the mail from PeaceHealth informing them that the Adult Day Health Center (ADHC) will be closing by December 31st. The ADHC provides services to Whatcom seniors suffering from Dementia, Parkinson’s Disease and a whole host of other disabilities.

CAO Dale Zender from PeaceHealth

CAO Dale Zender from PeaceHealth

In the letter, Chief Administrative Officer Dale Zender blamed the Affordable Care Act for the cuts:

Lower volumes over the past three years (2% drops each year, totaling $10-million), the Affordable Care Act, reimbursement challenges with fewer privately insured patients, and the costs of implementing electronic medical records (required by the ACA/Obamacare), have created huge financial challenges.

The letter goes on to suggest that current patients will receive care from the Lynden’s Christian Health Care Center (CHCC).

One problem, the CHCC had no idea that this was happening. When concerned families contact CHCC, they said that they would not be able to handle new patients until May 2015 when their new facility opens and even then, they will not be able to help all the patients that used the ADHC. Furthermore, the journey to north county is difficult for seniors struggling with ongoing disabilities, leaving hundreds without services.

Concerned family members met with Zender on August 13th  to express their concerns and outrage. Zender placed the blame on budget woes from the Affordable Care Act – saying that less people are seeking expensive hospital treatment since they now have insurance to seek preventative and palliative care earlier in illness.

PeaceHealth St. Joseph made over $40 million last year

PeaceHealth St. Joseph made over $40 million last year

The ADHC program is funded through patient costs and subsidized by PeaceHealth for around $100-$150 thousand a year (according to Zender). As a reminder, PeaceHealth (which owns seven hospitals in the Pacific Northwest) reported an annual revenue of $1.64 billion and profit of $112.2 million in fiscal year 2011.

Their Whatcom branch generated over $39 million in profit in 2012 and their hospitals throughout the region show similar results.

In the meeting with family members, Zender refused to extend the program until May 2015 when the CHCC opens. Zender did say that he would ask the PeaceHealth foundation if they may be willing to provide some staff support for motivated patients who wished to start organizing for a new facility.

Mayor Linville recently praised PeaceHealth when she refused to sign an ordinance that would tax them at the standard non-profit rate (rather than not taxing them at all since they were classified as a religious organization). Linville refused to support the tax because, “of the amount of uncompensated care the hospital provides for our community.”

PeaceHealth has also struggled with coming to fair terms with their caregiversMore coverage of this struggle to come next week.


Posted by: sweeneyblog | August 23, 2014

The Stellar Junkie: Be Prepared to Be Eclipsed!

Local astronomer Jeff Hoffmeister has volunteered to send us a few pieces when there is something truly unique and remarkable to observe in the night sky. So bundle up and gaze into the stars with the Stellar Junkie.

Jeff Hoffmeister

Jeff Hoffmeister is The Stellar Junkie

Be prepared to be eclipsed!

About every 6 months a solar and lunar eclipse occurs. A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes directly between the Earth and Sun. You may ask, well doesn’t that happen at every new moon?

It is true that when a new moon phase is present, it is in the direction of the sun. However, the Moon’s orbit does not precisely follow the Sun’s path in the sky. This path is known as the solar plane or the ecliptic. The Moon’s orbit generally takes it above or below the ecliptic about 5 degrees so most of the time at new moon it is above or below the sun in the sky.

But when the Moon does happen to be crossing the ecliptic (known as a lunar ascending or descending node) at the time of new moon, a solar eclipse will happen. Due to the size of the Moon, the area on the Earth that receives the full or maximum eclipse is only about 150 miles wide. So not everyone on the Sun-Moon facing side of the Earth will get to witness even a small portion of the solar eclipse.

Lunar Eclipse

Lunar Eclipse

In the case of a lunar eclipse, where the Earth is between the Moon and Sun (Full Moon phase), everyone on the Moon facing side of the Earth will observe the event to one extent or another. A solar eclipse can last as long as 7 ½ minutes, whereas a lunar eclipse maximum can last up to 1 hour 45 minutes.

I am writing this particular article now because we will have a couple of eclipse events occurring in October. In the early morning hours of October 8th we will be graced with a total lunar eclipse.

The Moon will enter the Earth’s shadow, known as the Umbra, beginning at 2:14 a.m.. Totality will be from 3:24 a.m. to 4:24 a.m. with the Moon leaving the Earth’s umbral shadow completely at 5:34 a.m. During totality you may notice that the Moon is reddish in color.

Lunar Eclipse

Lunar Eclipse

This is due to the refraction of sunlight through the Earth’s atmosphere that reaches the Moon. If the Moon appears nearly black with little red, it is due to excessive dust in the Earth’s atmosphere that does not allow as much light through. The next lunar eclipse for our area will take place on April 4, 2015.

On October 23rd we will experience our first partial solar eclipse since May of 2012. This upcoming partial solar eclipse begins at 1:39 p.m. and lasts until 4:24 p.m. The next solar eclipse for our area will be on August 21st 2017 where nearly 99% of the Sun will be eclipsed by the Moon.

If you were to head south of Salem, Oregon you would experience a total solar eclipse.

**Remember, Never Look Directly At The Sun, even during a total solar eclipse except at full totality. It would permanently damage your eyes and you wouldn’t even feel any pain as it happens.

Only use proper eye protection like special solar glasses or a # 14 or better welders glasses. NO Sunglasses! Projection works too and you can find ways of creating a solar projection box on the internet… just don’t look at the Sun. Please play it safe.

So go out there in October and enjoy what the wonders of the universe have to offer.

Posted by: sweeneyblog | August 22, 2014

BREAKING NEWS: City Council President Cathy Lehman to Resign

Breaking news, City Council President Cathy Lehman to resign her elected office at the end of this year to take a position with the Washington Environmental Council (WEC) and Washington Conservation Voters (WCV). In this new role, she would, “help advance climate change policy regionally, educate and turn out voters for environmental priorities and candidates statewide, and hold elected officials accountable to their environmental values,” said Lehman in a statement to the press.

Of course I'm going to use this picture of Cathy Lehman

Of course I’m going to use this picture of Cathy Lehman

Lehman, who was elected in 2009 2011 to the Bellingham City Council was formerly part of a political consulting firm, Lehman-McShane Strategies, with local organizer Lisa McShane however the two parted ways earlier this year. This new job will be out of Seattle, so she will be moving down there after December.

She addressed the issue of leaving before the end of her term in her statement. “Nevertheless, this has been a very difficult decision. Many hours of sleep have eluded me because I have worked hard to serve the City of Bellingham, and I greatly respect the honor of the office of City Council. Since the beginning of my run for office, I’ve been humbled by the support I’ve felt from so many of you, and I take the trust you have placed in me very seriously. The responsibilities of my position are not something I take lightly, and I have not wanted to let you down.

But my life’s work is, and always has been, one of public service and advancing practical solutions for our environmental challenges. And making real advances to address climate change may be the single most important work of our lifetimes.”

In January, the City Council will have to appoint a citizen from the 3rd Ward (downtown, Sunnyland neighborhood and others) to fill the remainder of Lehman’s term (till the end of 2015). That seat is also up for reelection in 2015, further complicating the issue. If the council cannot agree on a candidate, after 30 days the decision is passed to the mayor.

On a personal note, I will miss her clear voice for moderation and functional policy. I’ve always found her approachable, lively and determined to do what is best. WEC and WCV are lucky to have her.

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