Posted by: sweeneyblog | April 3, 2014

The Capital Beat Delivers

Capital Beat

Weekly Legislative Coverage

Back in December, I asked you, my loyal readers, if you were willing to fund an expansion of the coverage I offer here at the Political Junkie. I asked for support for weekly legislative coverage and you stepped up to the plate and donated over $500 to cover the expenses. As a result, I drastically increased the output from this blog.

Jan-March # of Posts Posts Per Week Daily Avg Readers
2013 31 2.5 153
2014 48 4 294

Counting just the posts in my Capital Beat, there were 21 new articles provided by your investment, not a bad return on what you put in, eh?

Thank you again for giving me the support necessary to take this blog to the next level. The question remains, what to do next?

There is definite interest for investigative reporting since our cash-strapped traditional media has little time or resources to work on those issues. Alternately, I could expand my “Keep It Simple, Sweeney” series, where I explain complicated political issues in simple, easy to understand terms. Or, I could just add a new beat, such as “Environment” or “Labor” to my rotation. However, I’m not sure if any of those are what you, the readers, are interested in.

Please click this pollAs always, your input is anonymous. This will give me a feel for whether people are interested in continuing to expand this blog or if I should focus my efforts around the core topic, local elections.


Posted by: sweeneyblog | April 3, 2014

Session Results: Buys, Overstreet, Lytton and Morris

Capital Beat

Weekly Legislative Coverage

Last week, I covered the legislative accomplishments (or lack there of) from Sen. Doug Ericksen and Sen. Kevin Ranker. Now it is time to dive into the accomplishments of the other four representatives from Whatcom County. Scroll on down to find all the details on what was proposed and what was passed by Reps. Vincent Buys and Jason Overstreet from the 42nd and Reps. Kris Lytton and Jeff Morris from the 40th. As always, you can support this sort of citizen journalism with a donation by clicking here.

Rep. Vincent Buys (R-Lynden)

This year, Buys proposed a whole slate of legislation tackling agricultural issues. You can find my earlier write-up here but the bills were almost universally small legislative tweaks (including a reclassification of sheep’s blood!).

Out of the nine bills he proposed, only one made it out of the House. His bill (HB2405) would have allowed hemp seeds to be included in commercial animal feed, but it died in the Senate.

Bills Introduced: 9
Bill Passed Out of House: 1
Bills Delivered to the Governor: 0

Rep. Jason Overstreet (R-Lynden)

Rep. Jason Overstreet

Rep. Jason Overstreet

While his legislative efforts may have drawn some sign painting critics, no one can fault Overstreet for a lack of ideas. He proposed a full spread of legislation this year, covering topics as diverse as drones, culminating projects for high school seniors and what light bulbs we are able to purchase.

When the dust settled, not a single bill of his made it out of the House. This is the third year in a row that Overstreet has managed to not pass a single bill out of the House.

Bills Introduced: 21
Bills Passed Out of the House: 0
Bills Delivered to the Governor: 0

Rep. Kris Lytton (D-Anacortes)

Rep. Kris Lytton

Rep. Kris Lytton

The education advocate and rising star among Democratic leaders, Rep. Lytton brought a full plate of legislative offerings this year. You can find my earlier write-up here, but highlights include shaking up the credit requirements for high school graduates to allow more flexibility for high achievers, legislation directing schools to track the progress of military families and a reclassification of hazardous substances.

However, out of the sixteen bills Lytton proposed, she was able to move five on to the Senate, where all but one died. The one that passed was HB2167 which simply changed the date by which the superintendent needs to identify schools that are falling behind.

Bills Introduced: 14
Bills Passed Out of the House: 5
Bills Delivered to the Governor: 1

Rep. Jeff Morris (D-Mount Vernon)

Rep. Morris

Rep. Morris

In many ways, Rep. Morris and Sen. Ericksen are running parallel legislative lives. Both are finally in positions of seniority, able to do the deep work of legislating. However, while Ericksen struggles to move bills out of the Senate, Morris has been churning out large pieces of legislation that pass both bodies. Out of the twenty-five bills proposed by Morris, covering everything from renewable energy credits to spying by corporations, eight were passed on to the Senate and four signed into law.

Ferry commuters rejoice, HB1129 passed, putting money into a fund for a new ferry. Morris also secured more stable funding for the state tourism marketing board (HB2229), eliminated a few unneeded boards and commissions (HB2029) and gave cities the ability to streamline permitting and disputes over who has access to cell towers (HB2175).

Bills Introduced: 25
Bills Passed Out of the House: 8
Bills Delivered to the Governor: 4

What’s Next?

The legislators have returned to their districts, some of them have set up regional offices (Lytton, Morris), while some have not (Buys, Overstreet, Ericksen), others made other arrangements (Ranker). With the end of session, the campaign season begins, but that is another blog post. I still have video of the interviews I conducted with legislators this session and hope to have those finished soon.

Posted by: sweeneyblog | April 2, 2014

Anti-Overstreet Signs on the Guide-Meridian

An early morning commuter tipped me off about a series of signs that had been put up on the Guide-Meridian. So I went out there and snapped a few pictures.







Political messages aside, it is good to see the old Burma Shave-style ads coming back into vogue. The question remains, who put up these signs? Is this the work of the local libertarian Nick Kunkel who is taking a run against Rep. Jason Overstreet or perhaps someone who was tired of Overstreet’s grandstanding on the House floor? Either way, campaign season has begun.

Posted by: sweeneyblog | March 29, 2014

Follow-up on Rep. Vincent Buys PDC Troubles

Rep. Vincent Buys

Rep. Vincent Buys

The Public Disclosure Commission investigated Rep. Vincent Buys alleged violations of campaign fundraising laws and responded. I first identified them in my article here, and as a result, the Whatcom Democrats filed a PDC complaint.

The central issue is that Buys sent out invitations to a campaign kickoff, through mail and facebook, during the legislative freeze. State law reads that during the legislative session, “no state official or person employed by or acting on behalf of a state official or state legislator may solicit or accept contributions to a public office fund, to a candidate or authorized committee, or to a retire a campaign debt.”

The PDC complaint filed alleges that an invitation to a campaign kickoff qualifies as a “solicit” for contributions. Andrea McNamara Doyle, Executive Director of the Public Disclosure Commission wrote a response that reinforces that point.

In a letter to Mike Estes, chair of the Whatcom Democrats, she states that, “Commission staff has previously advised legislators that contributions may not be solicited or accepted at campaign events that are advertised during the freeze but held after the session. This advice holds true regardless of whether the event was advertised as a fundraiser.” You can read the letter here.

However, they did state that, “No further action on this complaint is planned unless evidence of impermissible fund raising is provided. The Respondent is being informed of staff’s application of the session freeze requirements, including that in-kind contributions to assist with staging a campaign event are also contributions subject to the freeze and therefore cannot be solicited or accepted for an event that is advertised during the freeze period.”

In other words, he can have his event without problem, he just cannot ask for or receive any donations at that event because he advertised it during the legislative freeze. The event was held on March 22nd, the Whatcom Republicans shared photos of the event on their facebook here.

The next deadline for declaring any donations is April 10th, it will be curious to see if any money comes in to the Vincent Buys campaign in light of this recent slap on the wrist.

Hello Loyal Readers,

I hope everyone is dealing with the weather in the appropriate mannerMcShane shorts for everyone! I still have a couple of big articles in the queue: a follow-up about Gary Goldfogel, a follow-up on Vincent Buys PDC complaint and the last legislative update post. But for now, let’s cover some odds and ends.

Bellingham Public Market

Bellingham Public Market

The Bellingham Public Market is expanding! Having recovered from the financial challenges of 2012, Terra Organica, Trapeze, Juice It! and the rest of the scrappy businesses that make up the Bellingham Public Market are raising funds to rent the other half of their building, knock down the wall and expand the space.

If you are interested in helping or investing, get all the details here, or call Stephen Trinkaus at 360.715.8020.  Full disclosure: They’ve brought me on to help raise the funds and my lovely wife is a manager at Terra Organica.

The 8th Annual Cesar Chavez dinner, a fundraiser for Community to Community, is tonight at 5:30 p.m. and features Seattle City Councilwoman Kshama Sawant, noted socialist and $15 minimum wage advocate. The event is held at St. Luke’s Community Health Education Center, 3333 Squalicum Pkwy, and costs $5-$10. Definitely worth checking out.

Finally, I’m wrapping up my weekly coverage of the state legislature and am wondering if there is interest and support for a replacement weekly feature. I will continue to provide my coverage of local elections and investigative reports, but what else would you like to see? Leave your answer in the comments below and if I get enough interest, I’ll see what we can do.

Posted by: sweeneyblog | March 27, 2014

Robert Gates Visits Bellingham, Rails Against Congress

Robert Gates

Robert Gates

It was a packed house at the Bellingham City Club to see former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates speak. He spoke at length about the differences between the two presidents he served as secretary (Bush and Obama) and his deep frustration with Congress.

He opened, like a good public speaker, with a few jokes at his own expense, noting that the neck brace was a result of telling his wife he was thinking of going back into government service.

He described his tenure as being “at war with Congress” and spared no adjective in his condemnation. “Incompetent, thin-skinned, parochial, self-interested” and “violating every norm of social behavior.” After the crowd had settled a moment, he followed up with, “And that is a totally bipartisan statement.” He noted that while he was secretary, not a single budget was approved before the start of that fiscal year.

He spoke of Obama and Bush. Gates is a Republican, and I expected some criticisms of the current president, but he was mild at best. He acknowledged he had few arguments with either man and they both were respectful, never cruel or nasty. He said he crossed swords with some of Obama’s inner circle, but he credits that to the phase of his presidency. “By the time I arrived at the Bush administration, virtually all national security issues were settled. Most of Bush’s sharp-elbowed political gurus had departed, leaving Cheney the lone hawkish outlier.”

Chuck and Dee Robinson of Village Books

Chuck and Dee Robinson of Village Books

By comparison, Gates said domestic policy concerns did “meddle” in his work in the Obama administration, but he acknowledged that Obama’s “team of rivals idea worked well.” Both men disagreed with military leaders, and in most cases, he said they were right to do so. Later on, in response to a question, he said his biggest criticism of Bush and Obama was their claim that the president can unilaterally decide to kill an American citizen on foreign soil with a drone. He believed neither man would ever abuse that power, but down the road, who knows.

He had harsh words for anyone who sits in that seat. “Presidents are too quick to fire weapons and the result is the world views us as a militaristic country . . . War is inevitably tragic and presidents can use tools other than a hammer to solve problems.” He did support increased funding for personnel and equipment within the military. “The U.S. has a global role and global responsibilities.”

Overall, my impressions were of a man who had seen too much, had been asked to do an impossible task and was fed up with the entire DC life. His book, sold by Chuck and Dee Robinson at the door, contains few bombshells and a bit of retroactive history but is a unique perspective: a realist Republican who looks beyond partisanship toward practicality. I hope we have not seen the last of men like Gates.

One more note: When I arrived at the Bellingham City Club, John Stark was the only other reporter there and he admitted he had just heard about the event fifteen minutes before it began. I would think a speaker of this caliber would draw more media attention but there was no sign of any other press. I’m glad I attended and if you want to support this sort of freelance journalism, feel free to toss me a few bucks here.

Posted by: sweeneyblog | March 26, 2014

Kevin Ranker Labors on Democratic Budget

Capital Beat

Weekly Legislative Coverage

With the session done for the year, I spoke with Sen. Kevin Ranker about his perspective on the last three months. “There were parts of it that were extremely difficult and there were parts that were extremely rewarding.” A politician’s answer if ever there was one, but peeling back the layers, I got an inside look at the budget writing process.

“It was scary for me, going from being a policy lead to a budget lead,” Ranker confessed, “but I made the right choice.” It is a grueling path. While committee chairs like Sen. Doug Ericksen, put in long hours, being on the budget team of four senators, two Democrats and two Republicans, is an intense grind. “We were in there from 7:30 a.m. till 9 p.m. at the earliest. Some days, it would be 4 p.m. and Kendel would ask me if I had eaten anything yet. ‘Somebody get me a wrap!’”

Ranker described the process for building the budget. “First, I would interview each caucus member for their priorities, then I would meet with leadership and then with Sen. Nelson to hammer out our core priorities.” He wrote them on a piece of paper that he kept in his shirt pocket throughout the entire process and was able rattle them off by memory. “Restoring funding to mental health services, funding education, and no cuts to family planning.”

Ranker debates the budget in committee

Ranker debates the budget in committee

The budget passed with one of the highest vote totals recorded, with all but one senator voting yes. “In the end, we ended up with a big ‘D’  democratic budget and I am very proud of that.” However, he acknowledges there are several areas where they were not able to finish the job. “We didn’t fund the Cost of Living Adjustment for teachers, the Republicans just said no way. I think this is horrible, we will not be able to recruit or keep our high quality teachers unless we offer them comparable wages. It is absolutely necessary and that did not get done this year.”

He also noted some collateral damage. One of his goals was no new tax breaks and this budget did not include a single new tax break, much to the exasperation of Rep. Jeff Morris, who sought to extend a tax break for solar companies this session.

In terms of what Ranker personally accomplished in terms of legislation: Not much. Ranker has not been seen making speeches on the floor of the Senate and all but one of his bills died. Ranker said he was lamenting his lack of legislation and Sen. Sharon Nelson said, “You’ve got one hella of a bill. It’s the budget!” That said, Ranker cited a few accomplishments that he is proud of.

Sen. Kevin Ranker

Sen. Kevin Ranker

He passed his farm internship bill (SSB5123) which was delivered to the governor. His other nine bills died in committee. “Most were killed by Ericksen or Randy Becker,” he said. UPDATE: Doug Ericksen contests that hereRanker doubled the funding for the One America program, which helps provide a path to citizenship for immigrants who need it. He inserted a budget provision so that two shelters for AIDS patients would be able to stay open, and added funding for the Department of Ecology to start collecting data on the shipment of toxic fuels through communities.

Now he is ready for the interim. Instead of opening a legislative office in Bellingham, Ranker is committing to doing coffees every other week in Fairhaven so his constituents can talk with him face-to-face about the issues that matter. As soon as I have the first date for one of these events, I will share it here on my blog.

Bills Introduced: 10

Bills Passed out of the Senate: 1

Bills Delivered to the Governor: 1

Posted by: sweeneyblog | March 25, 2014

Ericksen Struggles to Gain Support for Legislation

Capital Beat

Weekly Legislative Coverage

The year started out so strong for Sen. Doug Ericksen. He had avoided any ethical charges for his double-dipping on meal reimbursements and played a key role in pushing the Republican agenda on climate change over the interim. He was reappointed chair of the powerful Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee, and introduced a wide spread of legislation covering everything from capping incentives for renewable energy to bills allowing schools to take out more debt for capital expenditures.

Yet, he was unable to deliver the votes necessary to see most of these bills through. Out of the twenty-seven pieces of legislation he introduced, only five were passed out of the Senate. All of those bills cleared the House, despite being controlled by Democrats, and were returned to the Senate, where three of them died and two survived to be delivered to the governor.

Bills Introduced: 27
Bills Passed out of Senate: 5
Delivered to Governor: 2

What were these key pieces of legislation Ericksen got passed? License plates and oil recycling. SB5785 changes how we handle license plate replacement, removing the requirement to replace them every seven years and requiring it only when the car changes ownership.

Sen. Doug Ericksen

Sen. Doug Ericksen

The other legislation, ESB6501, is actually a significant piece of legislation. It directs municipalities to deal with used oil contaminants and submit requests for reimbursement to the Department of Ecology. You can find more details in the staff report here.  Both bills were delivered to the governor where they wait for his signature.

However, reports are trickling out that Ericksen is frustrated with his current role in Olympia. Despite holding a committee chair position in the majority, Ericksen has voiced displeasure to some of his Senate colleagues about spending so much time in Olympia. I usually avoid including unsourced comments, but having received these statements from multiple sources, I feel confident sharing them with you.

UPDATE: Sen. Ericksen himself contests this in the comment below and offers some clarification on the Oil-by-Rail bills. 

So what is next for Ericksen? Depending on Democratic recruitment efforts, he may face a strong challenge for his reelection bid. With so few Senate seats in play and the balance of the majority held together by two votes, the menacing eye of Olympia will be scouring the state for any potentially competitive races to invest in.

This week, I will continue to examine the legislative successes of our legislators as well as provide a follow-up on Rep. Vincent Buys PDC complaint, so stay tuned!

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