Merit System in Washington Chopped Off

July 16, 2008

As you know, if you’ve been reading this a while, there was a bill last session of Washington’s legislature to adopt the merit system for the selection of judges to the Court of Appeals and the State Supreme Court. This is the system advocated diligently by Sandra Day O’Connor to eliminate the influence of deep pockets on judges’ decisions and to assure that the most qualified people are appointed to the bench.

The bill was sponsored by Jay Rodue, a Republican from the 5th District, Sherry Appleton, a Democrat from the 23rd District, Helen Sommers, from the 36th District. Here is a copy of the final form of the bill. The house report explained generally how it would work.

The bill made it to Frank Chopp’s Rules Committee, a death chamber for bills that do not advance the interests of the most powerful lobbies. He predictably killed the bill.

The people who sponsored the bill deserve accolades for wanting to improve our judicial system for the sake of the people here and not any special interest. The members of the House Rules Committee are listed here.

Our legislators need to know that we care about having the best court system that we can muster. I’ll write more when the legislature is in session.


Frank Chopp

March 2, 2008

With a super majority (62-36 in the state house)  Frank Chopp, the Democratic Speaker of the House, seems to be more interested in unifying with Republicans than unifying his party.  While the Democratic Party is criticized for in fighting at the expense of making progress, Mr. Chopp is committed to bringing the eastern half of the state into his embrace.   With Obama-like phrases, Chapp proposes to find common ground with the perspective of the residents of the eastern part of the state.  This means embracing Republican agenda, which seems like an odd orientation for a party that had claimed to be prevented by the Republican Party from accomplishing things and sold this to the electorate sufficiently to win a super majority.  Chopp’s genuflection to the East seems the like the functional equivalent of a deadlocked legislature.

Last year Chopp turned his back on his constituency ( a 73% majority of which favored a waterfront tunnel) and environmentalists  when he adamantly  championed rebuilding and expanding the Alaska Way viaduct.  He proposed doubling it in breadth and capping it, a vision that that revolted architects such as Peter Steinbrueck, who saw a wasteland created at street level.

Chopp’s epiphany about unification of the state is a fairly recent occurrence, as he had a well-deserved reputation as a progressive leader.  I truly hate to sound skeptical but I can’t help but wonder whether Chopp’s swivel to the right is not so much a hope-infused rapture as it is a product of catering to special interests.  It certainly accomplishes the same thing.  He has thwarted no-cost progressive bills that were against the interest of his campaign donors.  He killed a bill to put a cap on the interest rates of payday loans and the MoneyTree founders were contributors to his campaign.  Last year he killed (and so far has delayed) a homebuyer’s protection bill that was actively opposed by the Building Industry Association of Washington.  He killed a bill that would have put corporate tax breaks in the budget as expenditures to highlight the cost to the government of these corporate welfare items.  He opposed requiring the disclosure of pharmaceutical-industry lobbyists.  He claims to be keeping focus on healthcare but prevented full funding for health-care workers in nursing homes.  This year among other things he killed a bill to reduce the influence of special interests in the selection of judges.

The strategic explanation for this veer to the right is that he wants to avoid a Republican sweep into office, such as occurred in 1994, and to nurture Democrat’s supermajority.  He apparently attributes the 1994 collapse at the polls to an overly progressive agenda by the Democrats in the sessions that preceded the election coup.  His apologists say that he is intent on keeping the progressive wing of the party in check while keeping legislation “mainstream”  to promote the interests of the Democratic Party in the 2008 election.

This pragmatic and high sounding purpose, however, does not explain what is actually going on.  He opposes transparency in government, and actively opposes bills which are disfavored by special interests.  He demonstrates a belief that the Democratic Party prospers when special interests profit, even when they profit at the expense of consumers.  This is not a “mainstream” precept; it is merely protecting the status quo.

Frank Chopp revisited

January 31, 2008

Frank Chopp apparently told KUOW earlier this month that he wanted to add a couple of Republicans to the Appropriations Committee. This could be an Obama-istic gesture toward conciliation and unification or Speaker Chopp does not feel that he sufficiently represents special interests in the legislature (although I’m unclear about which ones might feel slighted by him).

HB 2150 Shelved in Frank Chopp’s Committee

January 28, 2008

HB 2150, the bill that would bring Washington its first meaningful judicial reform in 100 years, has been tabled by the House Rules Committee and is not scheduled for any action this session. Every attempt to reduce the influence of special interests in the selection of judges since the herculean efforts of the Walsh Commission in 1996 has been smothered by the special interests that would see their power reduced.

It is the task of the Rules Committee to schedule the bills that have made it out of committee for consideration on the floor of the house. Frank Chopp, the Chairman of the Rules Committee and the Speaker of the House, hails from the Fremont area of Seattle, which calls itself “the center of the universe.” It turns out that Fremont is also the nurturer of special interests and enemy of reform.