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.
March 2, 2008
Are you as confused as me by discussions about the state budget? This year’s budget seems to be the lightning rod in the gubernatorial race. The Seattle Times checked in saying the budget was too fat, pointing to the legislature’s lunatic desire to bring teachers’ salaries closer to the national average. The Tacoma News Tribune called the house budget a “doozy” and portrayed state representatives as irresponsibly disregarding economic forecasts. Bill Hinkle, a Republican from Cle Ellum, encapsulated the views of these dailies when he found biblical precedent and foresaw seven years of fiscal pestulence.
I find it difficult to assess these dire warnings and calls of alarm. First how on earth can I evaluate economic forecasts? I know that the Seattle Times called Gregoire’s previous budgets crazy and irresponsible because of economic forecasts but these budgets worked out wonderfully by all accounts. The Times — obviously inspired by a sense of dignity and humility — called the success of Gregoire’s budgets blind luck, so the Times is right even when its wrong.
I’ve never been able to make heads or tails of of the state budget. It’s numbingly long, loaded with indecipherable jargon and altogether daunting. This has made me reticent about entering into discussions about the budget; I do not have any sort of picture of what it is.
Perhaps tiring of being pilloried by platitudes, the legislature is (I think) about to pass a bill which should make the budget more accessible to everyone. SB 6816 passed the senate without a dissenting vote and on Thursday was unanimously approved by the House Appropriations Committee. This bill would create an accessible, searchable website containing the budget. Eight states already have such a thing and several others are moving toward it. The Washington Policy Center has a great article about this.
February 26, 2008
Here’s one that is sailing through the state legislature without discussion and under everyone’s radar. Today the senate had a public hear to amend the deed of trust act so as to make it easier for trustees to conduct foreclosure sales when they are disputed. Substitute Senate Bill 5378 removes a deed of trust trustee’s (the one who does the foreclosure) fiduciary duty to the owner and frees the trustee from having to field phone calls by saying requests for payoffs must be in writing. Not only that but by law the trustee would not have to respond to a written request sooner than 10 days from receipt. Not only that but the new law would make it clear that the trustee is under no obligation to discontinue a sale for any reason whatsoever. Finally the owner, or anyone else, trying to stop the sale is required to put up security for damages, attorneys fees and costs. This of course is a crippling requirement for someone going through a foreclosure.
That’s one way to stop a scandal: Deny access to the courts by prohibitive procedural and substantive legal requirements for getting a hearing. This approach is reminiscent of the legislature’s answer to the condominium scandal, where developers were using materials that after a few years became defective and required replacement. The legislatures answer was to pass a law that said as to condominiums only if the problem does not show up within 4 years of the completion of the building, the owners have no recourse against anyone.
Substitute senate bill 5378 is skipping through the legislature without any debate. In the area of real estate scandals the Washington legislature has developed a very clear pattern of resolving these things by curbing the rights of the victims.
This bill is sponsored by senators Weinstein, Kline and Rockefeller. What exactly is their connection with the banking industry?
January 22, 2008
Apparently there are others who are appalled at the special interest money pouring into judicial elections, elections for judges who are supposed to be impartial. The primary purpose of the money that is lavished on judicial campaigns is to install judges who will not restrain the effects of the laws that lobbyists push through the state legislature. Special interests, by their attack campaigns on sitting judges and financing the campaigns of their acolytes seek to implant favoritism in the courts. The special interests that lobby their bills through the state legislature seek to have those same bills, when they become laws, reviewed by judges who are their delegates. Thus, these special interests are able to have laws passed by the legislature, then reviewed and interpreted by a court that is predisposed to support the interests behind the laws and which depends on the support of those special interests at the next judicial election.
This is a grievous distortion of the system the our forefathers envisioned. Such influence by special interests was abhorrent to Alexander Hamilton who viewed an independent judicial branch as essential to the protection of the rights of individuals from the “ill humors of designing men” and the minority party from the oppression of easily influenced popular sentiment. Lack of an independent judiciary would threaten the constitution and imperil our form of government Hamilton wrote in Federalist Paper No. 77.
Judges are supposed to different than congressional representatives in that our system of government depends on an independent judicial branch, free — to the extent possible — from the influence of lobbyists, special interests and generally the sway of money. That was the founding father’s purpose in making federal judges appointees for life. In Washington a State Supreme Court judge serves a 6 year term, a tenure short enough for the judge’s decisions to be influenced by concern for re-election.
Apparently I am not the only person who sees this as a threat to the notion that our government, through its check and balances between the three branches, was intended to be fundamentally fair. Washington State representatives Rodne, Sullivan, Sommers and Appleton have sponsored a bill to address this corruption of our system of government: HB 2150.