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Issue #148

King County

Peter Steinbrueck’s mom convinces him to endorse Ed Murray

Former Seattle City Council member Peter Steinbrueck

Peter Steinbrueck is done playing Hamlet. Thursday morning, at a packed coffee house in Maple Leaf, he exclaimed, “Today, I will wear Ed Murray’s pin for mayor.” The former Seattle City Council member said he’s been doing his due diligence over the past two months, attending campaign forums and debates, studying policy positions of his former rivals, and meeting with each of them at various coffee shops around town. Mayor Mike McGinn and Murray both worked hard to get Steinbrueck in their corner. In the end, Steinbrueck said, it was a conversation he had last week with his 82-year-old mom that put him over the top. “And I asked her, ‘What do I do know now?’ And she said,” Steinbrueck recounted, displaying his best old-mom dialect, ‘That’s easy, support Ed! What are you waiting for!’” Seattle Weekly, 10-17-13.

Bellevue elections: A city at a turning point

Bellevue at night
Bellevue at night

Bellevue is maturing from a suburb to a global center, mixing old with new, neighborhoods with urban development, and Eastside natives with almost one in three foreign-born. Its city council will undergo its own evolution of sorts, in this fall’s election contests for three seats. The six-candidate ballot features three immigrants and a cast of political newcomers frustrated with the uneven growth of Bellevue, which has produced a thriving downtown core but left neighborhoods feeling overshadowed by the rising skyline. Among the items facing the next council will be implementing light rail, promoting growth in corridors like Bel-Red, negotiating a comprehensive plan update, and assessing what capital projects are feasible, given Bellevue’s budget and development goals. Crosscut, 10-17-13.

The State

Corporate secrets: How the anti-522 campaign was planned

Attorney General Bob Ferguson

The Grocery Manufacturers Association began last December to plot how to defeat Initiative 522, the food labeling measure on Washington’s November ballot, with emphasis a “shielding individual companies from attack for providing funding,” according to a fascinating complaint filed Wednesday by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson. The AG is claiming that the Washington, D.C.-based lobby violated state disclosure laws by concealing the true source of at least $7.2 million (so far) that the Grocery Manufacturers Association has put into the No-on-522 campaign. The state’s legal brief provides a look into how a big corporate lobby planned a $17.1 million campaign that has blanketed TV screens with ordinary Washington citizens denouncing I-522. Seattle P-I, 10-17-13.

Grocers group fighting I-522 reveals donors

The Grocery Manufacturing Association Thursday established a political committee to oppose the food labeling initiative and provided the state with a list of its donors. Its actions came one day after Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson accused the national group of violating state elections laws by not disclosing the source of $7.2 million it t has given to the group conducting the campaign against Initiative 522. Everett Herald, 10-17-13 (with full list of companies).

State Supreme Court approves governor secrecy

Washington State Supreme Court Justice Mary Fairhurst

Washington state’s governor is allowed to claim “executive privilege” as a reason to withhold documents from the public even though that exemption isn’t among the hundreds listed in state law, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday. In an 8-1 decision, justices said the governor’s office has an inherent privilege as a result of the constitutional separation of powers. “The executive communications privilege plays a critical part in preserving the integrity of the executive branch,” wrote Justice Mary Fairhurst in the majority opinion. “Courts have widely recognized that the chief executive must have access to candid advice in order to explore policy alternatives and reach appropriate decisions.” Justices did provide some qualifications in their decision, saying the privilege only applies to communications made to inform policy choices, although it is largely left up to the governor’s office to privately interpret what documents would fall into that category. The court also said a person requesting public records can argue that the need for the material outweighs the public interests served by protecting the communication. Associated Press (Seattle Times), 10-17-13.

State Appeals Court allows restitution to defendant for successful self-defense claim in ‘stand your ground’ case

A state appeals court in Washington, in a major ruling on the “stand your ground” debate over personal safety, said Thursday that a defendant who successfully uses a self-defense claim is entitled to reimbursement for lost wages and other costs, and to legal fees. “The cost of a criminal defense often starts at arrest,” the court wrote in its decision, affirming a lower court’s award of nearly $49,000, including $10,000 in lost wages, to Tommy J. Villanueva. Villanueva, 53, was fired from his job as an assembler in a manufacturing plant in Spokane after being arrested in 2010 and charged with assault, accused of stabbing two people in the neck at a party. He was acquitted in 2012 by a jury that agreed with his claim that he had acted in self-defense. In a separate decision, the jury also agreed that under the law, Villanueva was entitled to reimbursement for the cost of bringing that defense. Prosecutors asserted that the law allowed reimbursement only for legal expenses. New York Times, 10-17-13.

Employee files complaint against Clark County, GOP Commissioners over hiring of Benton; suit to follow

Clark County Commissioners David Madore, left, Tom Mielke
Madore, left, and Mielke

A Clark County employee intends to file a lawsuit against the county, and Clark County Commissioners Tom Mielke and David Madore, over the two Republicans’ decision to bypass county protocol when hiring state Sen. Don Benton (R-17) as environmental services director. Anita Largent, who served as the interim director of environmental services before Benton’s appointment, alleges in a tort claim filed with the county Thursday that the hiring of Benton “violated nearly every written county policy promising equal employment opportunity, non-discrimination, and fairness in hiring.” She is seeking damages of at least $300,000. Largent, who is still a manager within the environmental services department, also states in the claim that the appointment of Benton not only violated county policy, but also state law against discrimination and portions of the U.S. Civil Rights Acts of 1964. Specifically, the claim alleges gender discrimination in the hiring because no qualified female candidates were considered. Vancouver Columbian, 10-17-13.

The Nation

GOP frees the debt ceiling hostage—maybe for good

Congress’ after-dusk votes Wednesday to raise the debt ceiling and reopen the shuttered government were a watershed moment in the era of governance by hostage-taking. Republicans proved they were willing to spur a shutdown, which has been costly but not disastrous. But the debt ceiling is a different beast. Republicans folded one day before the deadline, proving that default is a bridge too far for them. That suggests it has all but lost its utility as a weapon for a party out of power to demand concessions from the president. The next debt limit hike will be required after Treasury exhausts the extraordinary measures available to borrow after the Feb. 7 deadline. And even the staunchest conservatives in the House see the writing on the wall after the GOP freed the hostage this time. Talking Points Memo, 10-17-13.

The debt deal’s gift to Teach For America

Unobtrusively slipped into the debt deal that Congress passed late Wednesday night to reopen the federal government after 16 days and allow the United States to keep borrowing money to pay its bills is a provision about school reform that will make Teach For America very happy. In language that does not give a hint about its real meaning, the deal extends by two years legislation that allows the phrase “highly qualified teachers” to include students still in teacher training programs — and Teach For America’s  recruits who get five weeks of summer training shortly after they have graduated from college, and are then placed in some of America’s neediest schools. Congress first approved legislation allowing student teachers and others with little training to be deemed “highly qualified” in late 2010, shortly after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the definition violated NCLB. In 2011 a coalition of  more than 50 organizations — including education, civil rights, disability, student, parent, and community groups – urged Obama not to keep the definition, but it did anyway. Washington Post, 10-17-13.

GOP picks anti-food stamp crusader to determine future of food stamps in conference committee

Rep. Steve Southerland (R-FL)

Shutting down the government and threatening a default in an attempt to block poor people from getting health insurance isn’t the only thing House Republicans did over the past two weeks. They also continued their push to defund food stamps. It went unnoticed amidst the debt ceiling fight, but last weekend, Democratic and Republican leaders in the House selected the lawmakers that will negotiate with the Senate to hammer out a final version of the farm bill, the massive bill that funds agriculture and nutrition programs. The main stumbling block for months has been how much money the bill should devote to food stamps; the House wants to strip $39 billion from the program, and the Senate wants to cut just $4 billion. The fact that Republicans in the House named Rep Steve Southerland (R-FL),one of the most anti-food stamp members of Congress, to the committee that will decide the future of food stamps does not bode well for the program. Mother Jones, 10-17-13.

Iraq war vet to challenge Kristi Noem in U.S. House race in South Dakota

Corinna Robinson (D) will run for the House seat in South Dakota held by Kristi Noem (R)

A retired Army officer who served in Iraq is preparing to launch a congressional bid against incumbent Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD). Corinna Robinson plans to make a formal announcement in the next few weeks about her intention to seek the Democratic nomination for U.S. House. Robinson served in the Army 25 years and recently resigned as director of the anti-terrorism and force protection directorate at the Pentagon Force Protection Agency so that she could run for Congress in her native South Dakota. Robinson said she was prompted to run in part because of a dysfunctional Congress that has resulted in furloughs, a partial government shutdown, fears that the nation would default on its debts, and threats to veteran benefits and services. She criticized Noem for voting with House Republicans to set up a showdown with the president and Senate Democrats that led to a partial shutdown of the government. Sioux Falls Argus Leader, 10-16-13.

Strike two: Breakdown in labor talks halts BART trains for second time this year

Grace Crunican (remember her, Seattle?), left, San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit General Manager, speaks during a news conference, as Antonette Bryant, right, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, listens on Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013, in Oakland.
Grace Crunican (remember her, Seattle?), left, San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit General Manager, speaks during a news conference, as Antonette Bryant, right, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, listens on Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013, in Oakland.

A rollercoaster week of strike threats, last-second extensions, progress, and a public’s patience pushed past its limit came crashing to a halt late Thursday: BART is on strike – again. The ongoing labor woes between the transit agency and its unions made the Bay Area’s worst transit nightmare a reality this morning. Hundreds of thousands of daily riders will have to seek other commute options as union workers for the nation’s fifth-largest transit system made their second strike of the year official shortly after midnight Thursday. Talks with management over pay, benefits, and work rules ended in the same place they have been for more than six months: nowhere. It’s not known how long workers will be out on strike, but observers fear it could be longer than the 4½ days BART trains were halted in July. San Francisco Examiner, 10-18-13.

To Think About

California company claims it can eliminate need for fracking by producing methane from poop in landfills

A methane digester facility in Israel
A methane digester facility in Israel

Hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, is a way of procuring gas and oil from underground that is both harmful to the planet, and toxic to human health. It irradiates rivers and can cause unexpected earthquakes, displacing people and causing millions in infrastructure damage. There is another sustainable way to use the waste of human consumption, though, and a California company has unleashed a biofuel—one that can even run your car—that is sourced from the methane that emanates from landfills. The energy has been named ‘Redeem’ and it burns 90 percent cleaner than diesel. Clean Energy Fuels is the first company to ever release a commercial form of transportation fuel that is made entirely from human waste. Thousands of taxis, shuttles, rental cars and buses are already using the clean form of energy throughout the state. It is 100% renewable – at least while we have landfills scattered throughout North America. The US currently has over 3000 active landfills, which means there is ample energy to be sourced. Nation of Change, 10-17-13.

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