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Sunday Spin: Will WA remain among most ‘politically engaged’?

Oct. 25, 2014 6:30 p.m.

Barely a week goes by without some study by some expert or organization announcing how well or poorly it thinks Washington does in some area of politics.

Last week it was SmartAsset, a financial services group, lauding Washington for being one of the 10 most “politically engaged” states in the nation, according to its metrics. This comes at a time when the hard data suggests that Washington voters may be thinking about breaking off that engagement, or, since the study is based on comparisons with all states, we might remain in the top 10 if the curve is lowered and most of the other 49 do even worse.

A frightening prospect indeed. . .

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Pakootas, McMorris Rodgers clash on Obamacare, casino

Oct. 23, 2014 4:54 p.m. - Updated: 4:54 p.m.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and her Democratic challenger Joe Pakootas clashed over Obamacare, minimum wage, the best ways to bring jobs to the region and a new West Plains casino in their second debate of the campaign.

In a taped debate broadcast Thursday evening on KSPS-TV, Eastern Washington’s 5th Congressional District found a few areas of agreement. Both were wary of sending American ground troops to fight ISIS, although McMorris Rodgers said it was up to President Obama to make the case for any such strategy and Pakootas said part of the strategy needs to come from Congress which should stop “fingerpointing.” Both said they think the Veterans Administration needs a “change of culture” to do a better job of serving veterans.

But on most points, the five-term congresswoman and the chief executive officer of the Colville Tribal Federal Corp., disagreed sharply. . . 

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Baumgartner will refund unintentional MAC contribution

Oct. 23, 2014 1:41 p.m. - Updated: 2:06 p.m.

Republican state Sen. Michael Baumgartner's campaign will refund $63.48 to the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture Foundation after the nonprofit organization learned that a check it thought was simply to cover the cost of breakfast for two employees had been recorded as a political contribution.

“We'll certainly take care of that,” Baumgartner said today after questions about the contribution from a tax-exempt 501c3 organization were raised by Democratic challenger Rich Cowan's campaign. “We're big supporters of the MAC.”

The foundation, as well as the museum, enjoy federal tax exempt status from the IRS but because of that are prohibited from contributing to political campaigns. Museum officials are asking the Baumgartner campaign to refund the money and clarify with state elections officials that it wasn't intended to be a contribution.

The museum's executive director, Forrest Rodgers, said he and Development Director Betsy Godlewski attended an April 3 breakfast event, dubbed the “Keep Working Kick Off,” after receiving an invitation as museum representatives from Baumgartner. Rodgers said he knew that the event was a re-election kickoff announcement but thought the $30 per person charge was to cover breakfast — not a contribution.

“We attend events and support all of our elected officials,” Rodgers said, explaining that museum staff has worked closely with Baumgartner and other legislators to secure state funding to help keep the MAC open. “We go to many of their events on behalf of the museum.”

Meanwhile, state campaign finance records show numerous 501c3 organizations as contributors to various political candidates across Washington. Lori Anderson, spokeswoman for the state Public Disclosure Commission, said the state has few limitations on who can contribute to political campaigns but leave it up to organizations to determine whether it might run afoul of obligations or restrictions imposed by others, such as the IRS in the case of nonprofits.

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McMorris Rodgers, Pakootas debate on Thursday

Oct. 22, 2014 6:01 p.m. - Updated: 6:01 p.m.

The second debate between Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Democratic challenger Joe Pakootas will air Thursday night on KSPS-TV and KXLY 920 AM radio.

Pakootas, the chief executive officer of the Colville Tribe Federal Corp., is running against McMorris Rodgers, a Republican seeking her sixth term in the House.

The debate was taped Wednesday evening for later broadcast on Channel 7, which will also feature it on its website.

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Spokane mayor not taking sides in WSU, UW battle over medical education

Oct. 22, 2014 12:51 p.m. - Updated: 2:20 p.m.

Spokane City Hall may be on the verge of having two separate and potentially competing legislative agendas for the first time in memory.

The priorities unveiled last week, which included backing for Washington State University's bid for its own medical school, represent only the City Council's agenda, said mayoral spokesman Brian Coddington.

Mayor David Condon hasn't taken sides in the battle between WSU and the University of Washington, which wants to expand a five-state physician training program in Spokane. Coddington said the mayor simply is backing state support for expanded medical education here regardless of which university takes the lead.

The distinction could put Spokane's lobbying corps in a bind when the 2015 session opens in January since the city may end up with two competing sets of priorities. Condon is expected to issue the official city legislative agenda later this year.

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Roundtable: Road projects have big payoff

Oct. 21, 2014 4:40 p.m. - Updated: 4:56 p.m.

OLYMPIA – Washington would get a major economic boost by finishing the North Spokane Corridor and some other major road projects worth $7 billion, a state business group said Tuesday. It faces significant costs and problems if the Legislature continues to deadlock over some type of tax-funded roads package. . . 

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Spokane mayor, city attorney seek ethics upgrade

Oct. 21, 2014 12:25 p.m.

This week, the city of Spokane is holding two public meetings about its proposed update to the city's ethics code. 

“This update formalizes our commitment to deliver outstanding service through greater transparency,” said Spokane Mayor David Condon in a statement. “The proposed updates establish a clearer process that protects the city, its citizens and the employees.”

The changes are being put forth by City Attorney Nancy Isserlis, who was involved in the origianl creation of the ethics board a decade ago.

According to the city, the new ethics code will refine private employment prohibitions after someone leaves a city job, better define gifts and gratuities people at the city can accept, provide a review and appeal process to the City Council and Superior Court, expand the power of the citizen ethics committee and increase possible penalties for violating the rules, among other things.

The ethics code will cover employees, elected officials and members of boards and commissions, whether paid or unpaid.

This week's public meetings will be held in the City Council Briefing Center in the lower level of City Hall. The first meeting on Wednesday is scheduled from noon to one p.m. Thursday’s meeting will be held from six to seven p.m.

Read more about the ethics code changes here.

Watch the mayor talk about it at this week's news conference below.

 

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Commissioner candidates trade well-worn barbs at Valley debate

Oct. 21, 2014 10:51 a.m. - Updated: noon

Al French and Mary Lou Johnson used the “Rally in the Valley” debate at Central Valley High School on Monday night to continue policy position and leadership style attacks that have defined the race since the two emerged victorious from the August primary.

Here's a look at some of those claims, and the facts that support or dispute them.

Claim 1: Johnson attacks French's public records request of Spokane city government as evidence of blustery style.

In April, French submitted a public records request to the Spokane City Council requesting documents and legal basis for discussions about the expansion of the urban growth boundary. You can read that document here.

Johnson drew the crowd's attention Monday night to a headline from Spokesman-Review columnist Shawn Vestal, who called French's records request “an attempt to annoy, chasten and insult those who disagree with him.”

“Good leaders lead by example … another thing good leaders don't do is lash out or alienate other elected officials,” Johnson said, before referencing the opinion column.

French defended his request Monday, saying he filed the request because city council members were deceiving citizens in comments at a public meeting.

“As an 8-year City Councilman for the city of Spokane, I knew the information that they were telling the public was factually inaccurate,” French said. “And the only way to prove that to the public was to do a public records request and have them back up their statements with facts. Which, to this day, they have yet to do.”

The Spokane City Council provided records later Tuesday, after publication of this blog, that the records request has been suspended at the request of French and county attorney, Jim Emacio. The records request was suspended in April 2014.

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GOP incumbents want Ebola travel restrictions, challengers say no

Oct. 20, 2014 4:25 p.m. - Updated: 4:58 p.m.

Republican House members from the Inland Northwest say the United States should consider travel restrictions for West African countries to guard against the spread of Ebola, but their Democratic challengers say that’s the wrong course of action. . . 

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Board clears Sen. Roach on foreign travel

Oct. 20, 2014 2:54 p.m. - Updated: 3:29 p.m.

OLYMPIA — A complaint against an Auburn legislator for taking an improper trip to Turkey and Azerbaijan last year was dismissed by the Legislative Ethics Board.

Some of the allegations were outside its authority, the board said, and the trip involved enough official and educational meetings that it wasn't an improper gift.

Republican Sen. Pam Roach was criticized by Reps. Chris Hurst and Cathy Dahlquist for joining legislators from other states on a trip to the two countries last spring while the Legislature was struggling through special sessions with its budget. They said she “abandonned her duties” to take the trip, which they contended was sponsored by groups with political views opposed to the United States, which “may have endangered citizens of her legislative district, Washington State and the United States by giving aid and comfort to the enemies of the United States.

But the Legislative Ethics Act does not say that travel during the session is an abandonment of legislative duties, nor does it allow for claims that accepting travel should be “conditioned on the political beliefs of the donor,” the board said.  

The law does set rules for accepting “reasonable expenses” for travel as a gift from another entity, the board said. But Roach's travel seemed to be made in her official capacity, it added, with discussions of energy policy and security, meetings with elected officials, and meetings on Turkish politics and the political system.

The Ethics Board had previously dismissed several complaints that Roach and her allies had filed against Hurst and Dahlquist, which included allegations they had made derogatory remarks against the sponsors of her trip.

Roach is running for re-election against Dahlquist, a fellow Republican, who is being supported by Hurst, a Democrat.

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