Sunday, October 23, 2016

Why lying is legal in politics here (or isn't, but the courts will probably make it legal again)

One quote from the robo-call dustup made me think:

You could read this (as did I) as a simple statement of "I'm telling the truth" or at least "I think I'm telling the truth," but in Washington State that isn't necessarily true.

In Washington State, Glen Morgan and Karen Rogers could well be lying, and know their lying, and still not run afowl of state law.

Twice now the state legislature has tried to outlaw lying in political speech, and twice the state Supreme Court has sent them back.

In the 1990s, there was a state law that barred candidates and campaigns from sponsoring "with actual malice" lies.

The first case that struck down these rules involved an assisted suicide initative, specifically one flier that the proponents of the intiative said were innaccurate about suicide safeguards.  The second had to do with one of Tim Sheldon's state senate races in which his opponent tried to make hay over his weak defense of Mission Creek.

Between the two cases the state legislature tried to clean up the law, making it possibly better able to survive court challenge.

The bottom line of these cases is that the Public Disclosure Commission, which usually regulates political and campaign speech in Washington, can't get into the lie vs. truth business.

The deeper reading of these cases shows a divided court weakly coming to this conclusion. Both cases show a small majority coming to a very thin legal conclusion that the state has no part in the lie vs. truth business.

Justice Talmadge in 1998, writing (sort of) with the majority:
I agree with the majority that RCW 42.17.530 is facially unconstitutional because it sweeps protected First Amendment activity within its provisions by penalizing political speech, even if knowingly false, regarding an initiative measure.   I write separately to emphasize that I am not convinced that the same is true where a statement contains deliberate falsehoods about a candidate for public office.   In my view, there is merit to the contention that the Legislature may constitutionally penalize sponsorship of political advertising of such a nature by enacting a narrower statute than RCW 42.17.530.
And Alexander in 2007:
Chief Justice Gerry Alexander joined the majority as well, but in a separate concurrence. He wrote that "the majority goes too far in concluding that any government censorship of political speech would run afoul of the United States and Washington constitutions," but he agreed that the law was unconstitutional because it was overbroad.
But, then, two years later, the legislature again tried to clean up the law to make it illegal to maliciously defame a politician running for office. From the final bill report of SHB 1286:

It is a violation of the campaign laws for a person to sponsor, with actual malice, a statement constituting libel or defamation per se under certain circumstances: the false statement is about a candidate and is in political advertising or electioneering communications; a person falsely represents that a candidate is an incumbent for the office sought in political advertising or an electioneering communication; or a person directly or indirectly implies the support or endorsement of any person or organization in political advertising or an electioneering communication when in fact the candidate does not have such support or endorsement.  
A candidate is also prohibited from submitting a defamatory or libelous statement to the Secretary of State for inclusion in the voters' pamphlet about his or her opponent. For the purposes of this act, "libel or defamation per se" is defined as statements that tend: to expose a living person to hatred, contempt, ridicule, or obloquy, or to deprive him or her of the benefit of public confidence or social intercourse; or to injure any person, corporation, or association in his, her, or its business or occupation. 
 If a person makes a false statement, with actual malice, about himself or herself or falsely represents himself or herself as an incumbent, it is not libel or defamation and is not a violation of the campaign laws. It is also not a violation of the campaign laws for a person or organization to falsely represent that the person or organization supports or endorses a candidate as persons and organizations cannot defame themselves. If a violation is proven, damages are presumed and need not be proven. 
So, there. Clear as mud. Each time the legislature tries to make it unlawful to lie, then the courts kick it back and the legislature tries again. If we were to take a broader view in our historical circle, we're at the point where we wait for a case attempting to enforce this law makes it back to the Supreme Court.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

John Hutchings (yet everyone knows him as Hutch) preaches ignorantly about how Home Rule and county government works

During a recent debate with Jim Cooper, John Hutchings told a tale about why he isn't necessarily in love with the idea of county government becoming more representative.

But, he get's most of it really really wrong. A little disclosure, I am a member of Better Thurston, which advocates for Home Rule and a charter form of government. So is Jim Cooper.

1. Hutchings says we would need to amend the comprehensive plan if we decided to have home rule.

Just quickly, the comprehensive plan is a document required by the Growth Management Act, basically where certain buildings will be built and where people will eventually live.

A charter is how county government is organized.

They have nothing to do with each other.

2. He says we'd have an unelected super bureaucrat vetoing decisions by elected officials. Hutchings:

The charter would also have a component of an executive manager for the county. And no matter what the people want and what the commissioners vote on, the executive manager, who is not an elected position would have veto power. And, I don’t think I like that because that takes what the peoples’ wishes are away from the people. 

Oh man, where to start.

First, in the charter process it is up to an elected group (a disappearing committee) to write a county charter, essentially a county constitution of how political power is divided up through the county. How many seats on the county commissioner? Is the clerk elected? That kind of thing. So, that anything at all (like a veto wielding bureaucrat) would be required is false.

If you look at charter counties throughout Washington, you see a significant diversity of how they manage their own affairs. Whatcom has a non-partisan county commission with seven members and an elected executive. Both San Juan and Clallam stuck at three commissioners.  King County has a nine-member non-partisan council.

That said, Hutchings says that an executive manager could veto decisions by an elected body. So, more than a few of these charter counties did decided to go with a council or commission appointed administrator. This is, in fact, very similar to the forms of governments of Lacey, Tumwater and Olympia. The elected officials approve a budget and policy and the manager executes it.

While this gives the administrator day-to-day control of the county government, they can not veto a damn thing. In American government terms, a veto is literally turning back a decision by the elected board and saying "nope, we're not going to do this."

Veto power does not exist with any single unelected administrator with any local  anywhere in Washington State.  Seriously.

Also, while the Washington State constitution envisioned noncharter commissioners as a cross between executive and legislative actors, Thurston County has in fact had one of these unelected administrators for decades. So, if elected, Hutchings would step into a power structure very much like the one he fumbled through describing.

3. I understand that the county charter process is complicated. So it makes sense that people oftentimes don't get the nuances. But, there's a reason why it's complicated. Its serious business changing our form of government.  And, people running for office should be serious enough to understand it.

This late in the game, you'd hope that a county commission candidate would have ironed out any confusion they had with the process.

But, you know. I don't think Hutchings thinks he's wrong. I think he's pretty confident about his understanding of how the charter process would work.

Listen to the confident way he explains his understanding of the relationship between a county manager and elected officials. He's trying to walk the listener through a complicated arrangement that he is just not getting himself. These aren't shades of gray either here, or things that honest people can disagree about. This is literally a question of elements of government existing or not.

By this point in time, Hutchings or any candidate for county commission, should have their facts straight. Especially about such a hot topic (of which, there are many).

Monday, October 10, 2016

Gary Edwards literally does not believe in land use regulation

Here's Gary Edwards, candidate for Thurston County Commission, talking about his vision for land use management:
I am certainly not in favor of taking through regulatory action. So, if we need to take, we need to compensate.

On the other hand:
You want to be able to do what you want with your land. But at the same time, landowners should not be able to destroy things for the people around them. It shouldn't be a free ticket to do whatever you want.
The point of view that Edwards articulates here is an aggressive and far-right approach to land use management that would not only throw growth management into chaos, but was soundly rejected by Thurston County voters ten years ago.

What he's talking about is called "regulatory takings," which is a strictly legal term that has been hijacked by the right. They've started using the term to describe any sort of local land use rule that prevents a landowner from realizing an economic gain from their land.

County is stopping you from building 100 homes on your 10 acres? That's a taking.

City stops you from opening a convenience store? That's a taking.

Basically, and restriction that keeps the landowner from making any money from their property would be described as a taking.

You can see how cities and governments would just give up on trying to preserve natural resources and the livability of our communities than try to enforce now expensive rules against landowners.

Back in 2006 a coalition of right-leaning organizations came to Washington with Initiative 933. This initiative would have forced local governments to pay landowners anytime a local zoning or land use law conflicted with their interests. If the government couldn't pay, the landowner was free to do what they wanted.

What happened that year was that  64 percent of Thurston County voters rejected the initiative that was based on Gary Edward's bad idea of land use management. That was higher than the 58 percent who voted it down statewide.

Even in Oregon (where the idea to give developers a free ride started with a similar initiative a few years earlier) the idea was turned back in 2007. The people there saw how bad the idea really was, allowing development where it wasn't appropriate and where the natural resources simply couldn't support it.

So, what Edwards is describing is really an extreme, and already rejected, idea for how Thurston County should protect communities and natural resources. Giving landowners free reign by holding the county hostage anytime they disagree is a terrible idea.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

It matters that Gary Edwards cost Thurston County $500,000 in lawsuits

After his last run for sheriff 14 years ago, Gary Edwards faced a couple of lawsuits from his former opponents. Both now former sheriff deputies, they claimed that Edwards used the power of his office to discredit them during the campaign.

Edwards ended up beating both of them, in the primary and then eventually in the general election. But one of those lawsuits was settled for half a million dollars, and in the other, a jury sided against Edwards.

The lawsuits include an assortment of allegations, including harassment and retaliation against Ed Thompson and Glen Quantz. In the case filed by Quantz (in which the jury decided against Edwards), the former deputy claimed that Edwards delayed an internal investigation to make sure it was still open until after the election. The internal investigation ended up clearing Quantz.

I pulled together most of the news coverage of Edwards' time as sheriff in this file.

A judge eventually threw out the jury decision against Edwards in the Quantz case. He didn't decide the allegations weren't true, he only said that as a sheriff, Edwards had the "qualified immunity" to do as he wished.

These incidents and costly lawsuits are only the most interesting aspects of Edwards' service as sheriff. Another is a episode where he joined a fast speed pursuit into Pierce County on Interstate 5. Without telling anyone else involved in the pursuit, Edwards performed a "rolling slow down" during which the suspect (who escaped) his his unmarked car.

What gives me the creeps is that the lawsuits, the questionable tactics, all happened relatively recently. Up until now, I don't think anyone has brought up these issues.  Edwards has brought up issues of county commission actions that predate the current commission and obviously don't involve his opponent or anyone else running for county commission. But, his time as sheriff shows at the very least a management style and decision making that everyone should be able to question.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

If you're a Republican in Thurston County, shouldn't all these Independents bother you?

If things go a certain way, it is possible that come January Thurston County will have three commissioners that are not Democrats for the first time in my memory.

But, none of them would be Republicans either.

Admittedly Bud Blake (elected two years ago), Gary Edwards (who was a Republican in the past and might be elected this year) and John Hutchings (also might be elected this year) could easily be Republicans. But, this year they're all Independents. And I don't think I've heard a good explanation as to why.

As much as I'd like to ask Edwards why he ditched the Republican Party, I think I know the cynical answer. Blake showed that a conservative could be elected countywide if they ran without the Republican name.

But, mostly I want to hear from Republicans. And, I know how hard it will be for me in particular to get answers from Republicans given my point of view, but I'm honestly interested. I've spent the last few weeks poking around various online forums and communities for local Republicans and have come up short.

Shouldn't conservative candidates run as Republicans? Even if they disagree with 20 percent of the Republican platform, there is enough "big tent" in the party to contain them right?

If you are a Republican, and feel so inclined, fill out this short survey (LINK).

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Where does Bill Bryant's 100,000 come from?

Not since 2004 when Dino Rossi got within a hair of non-incumbent Christine Gregoire has a Republican gotten close the governor's mansion.

This year Bill Bryant is making his run and he's staking his election on the turnout of 100,000 extra conservatives:
His path to victory, Bryant explained, hinges on turning out some 100,000 Washingtonians — mostly likely-Republicans or conservative-leaning independents — who failed to vote in the 2012 election but probably would have backed Rob McKenna, Washington’s last GOP candidate for governor.
This 100,000 is pretty core I suppose to Bryant's math, because seems to talk about them a lot.

“Who do you think elected Jay Inslee?” Bryant asked volunteers at the Clark County Republican Party headquarters Sunday evening. It wasn’t just Democrats, he said.
 There were more than 100,000 voters in the 2012 election who would have picked Inslee’s Republican opponent Rob McKenna but who didn’t vote, Bryant said. McKenna lost to Inslee, a Democrat, by about 94,000 votes.
So, as I understand his argument, his goal is the turn up turnout among conservatives (who identify as Republicans or not) while hoping Democratic turnout stays flat.

I tried to simulate a couple of ways he could do that. Here is my math. Feel free to check my work, I've been wrong before. 

First, among the counties that fell below the average turnout in the gubernatorial election in 2012, I turned the turnout among Republican voters up to the average of all the counties. The above average counties I let stay the same.

This results in Bryant just barely losing to Inslee 1,506,000 votes to 1,582,000 votes.

Second, I took Republican turnout and pumped it up to the highest turnout of 87 percent in the gubernatorial election. This is incredibly pie in the sky since a lot of counties have turnout much lower than that. But, in this case, the Republican wins with 1,652,166 votes. Way more than enough.

The third one was trying to find the Goldylocks solution, how far you'd need to pump average voter turnout to just the right level to get Bryant over the finish line. This turns out to be 84 percent across the board, assuming Democratic turnout stays the same. This still sounds like a lot of turnout.

But, none of these are the reasons why I think the 100,000 voters are bunk.

The chart below illustrates the second option, 87 percent turnout across the board. It shows you the actual votes (in blue) and the new votes (red).

King County is still very much king.

There are more new votes (via math) to be had in King County then there are in the most Republican of Republican counties. But, I don't think these votes actually exist. Churning up new voters in King County (and other large Puget Sound counties) would only churn up new Democratic voters.

So, I'm not sure I think the 100,000 voters Bryant and the Republicans are looking for exist.

Lastly, I hope everyone appreciates the irony of Republicans talking about the benefits of higher voter turnout.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Lacey is less of a place than it would take to be useful to tourists

Lacey is taking a lot of umbridge with the position of some folks in Olympia that Lacey serves very little purpose to possible visitors (Ken Balsley):
The Olympia, Lacey, Tumwater Visitor and Convention Bureau (VCB) is about to embark on a major promotion campaign to promote Thurston County as a destination for visitors and tourists. It’s entitled “Experience Olympia.” 
A majority of the Lacey City Council – – as well as myself – – think this is the wrong way to promote the entire region, and that concentrating on “Olympia” demeans and denigrates the other two cities which kick in money for the VCB.
Just a quick note, please read to the bottom. This is not a Lacey sucks post.

Ken later makes a great point about the use of the Regional Athletic Center (funded by most of us, led by Lacey and located outside of Lacey), but I'll take on his position more directly that Lacey is owed any respect as a "place" that people would visit.

For starters, consider this piece in Strong Towns about the irony of taking engagement photos in a suburban development. Which is most of what Lacey is really.
Engagement photos are either urban or rural. They are either a former factory or a leafy meadow, the brick wall of a forgotten factory or an empty beach. Never the subdivision. Never the cul-de-sac.  
There is a reason no one takes engagement photos in the subdivision; they can be places not worth caring about. We wouldn't have been criticized if it was.
And, just to apply this premise to here, this is a map of geotagged photos with the term "engagement" in our area.

Most of the photos are in the most placey place in all of Thurston County, downtown Olympia, the Capitol campus and Budd Inlet. Lacey does have churches, is has St. Martins and the Worthington Center, so I know people getting married in Lacey. But, when people are looking for a place to take photos in preparation for their wedding, they go to a place.

Similarly, when people travel, they also need a place to be. A series of only drivable neighborhoods connected by parking lots and big box stores similar to either the ones they came from or the ones in Lakewood 20 minute away is not place enough for tourists. The Regional Athletic Center, notwithstanding of course.

But, for Lacey, this isn't some mistake of history. It didn't come upon this state by accident. It has planned not to be a place.

These two maps in particular makes me think of Lacey less of a place and more of a convenient municipal organization.

This is a map of where the people are east of Olympia:

And, this is a map of where Lacey is, almost straining to get out of the way of a lot of the people who live east of Olympia:

This is not a natural community or a natural border around a place. This is a city that bends itself to become successful, but not serve people.

I remember being in a forum for candidates for county sheriff and asking if it would be easier to be sheriff if Lacey annexed the urban neighborhoods like Tanglewild and the Meadows. I don't remember the candidates taking the question very seriously, but most assumed Lacey would never annex those older, dense almost urban areas.

Here is a short visual history of how Lacey grew north of those neighborhoods since the 1980s. It was more convenient for Lacey to annex places that didn't have people (at the time of annexation) and stretch itself around places where there were people.

And, I know full well why Lacey hop-skipped over these older, in decline neighborhoods along Martin Way. Back to the engagement photos post:
These places were not cherry-picked. They are everywhere. The drive-in snout house is more common than all the brownstones in America by a factor of 20. 
We know the story of these places. We know what is next: decline. And, to use a happy couple as the backdrop probably does feel like a slap in the face. While I never intended to make a moral statement (certainly not about individuals living here), the photos do make a judgement on our culture. We build places that cost us lots of money, don't work very well, and people ignore them when they're looking for nice place to take a photo.
By the 1980s and 90s, the older neighborhoods that didn't become part of Lacey when it first came to being in the late 60s were too far gone, too below standards, too expensive to maintain for Lacey to want to bring them in. In the pessimist's view, they were what the rest of Lacey was possibly going to become.

I'll acknowledge one more point from the pro-Lacey name folks. There are a lot of hotels not in Olympia that carry most of the freight for the visitor and convention bureau that want to go Olympia only. It would make sense to acknowledge their places and their contributions because. at least the hotels outside Olympia use their own cities as label right?

Not really. It's a mixed bag overall, but the Olympia name carries pretty far. In the Hawks Prairie section of Lacey:

This is a little bit misleading, some of these hotels are actually in Olympia, but the other ones in Lacey still use Olympia:

And, also the Tumwater hotels also use the Olympia name:

I hope everyone reading this gets down this far, because I'd like to say this as well: this is not a 1997-esque Lacey Sucks sort of post. Because I don't think Lacey sucks. I'm not a huge fan of unwalkable, unbikeable, retail sales tax centered city development. But if I wanted to spill word tilting against that wildmill I'd be pretty unoriginal. To that end, I think Lacey has been doing some good work to correct the sins of the past.

And, since I've lived in the most Lacey-like part of Olympia (SE side) for the past 14 years, it would be supremely ironic for me to take too hard a swipe at Lacey.

So, let me sum up this way. I can see why people live in Lacey. Tens of thousands of people live there. Lovely neighborhoods, convenient to drive to the store. Drive anywhere really. Other than youth sports tournaments, I don't see why anyone would visit there. I wouldn't suggest anyone visit my neighborhood as a tourist either.