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Election Notebook 

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NUDITY | Political Exposure

The race between State Rep. Matt Shea and Amy Biviano in the 4th Legislative District has already had accusations of lawbreaking, socialism and intimidation.

And now it has Playboy pictures.

The Western Center for Journalism, a national conservative blog, went all the way back to 1995 to find that Amy Biviano, while a college student at Yale, had posed for the “Women of the Ivy League” issue.

Even then, Biviano knew it could be an issue: In a 1995 Yale Herald article she wrote that posing had encouraged her to become more of a risk-taker and less inhibited, but worried that a future employer could hold it against her. “You posed for Playboy, and now your job market will be forever limited,” Biviano wrote.

“While I would not do the same thing now, this is not something that I made any attempt to hide,” Biviano writes in a press release issued last Friday. “I haven’t brought it up in the context of this race because it has no bearing on issues in the 4th legislative district nor the person I am today.”

On his blog, Shea said he had long known about Biviano’s Playboy pictures, but condemned the fact they’d been publicized.

“This type of negative campaigning is exactly what is wrong with politics today,” Shea writes. “While these revelations are indeed alarming, my heart goes out to Amy and her family. My wife Viktoriya and I will continue to pray for her.”

Floyd Brown, the conservative blogger out of Arizona who broke the story, says he did the work that local journalists should have been doing.

His blog quickly turned the article into a YouTube video, slamming Biviano for showing herself as a family woman on her website, yet supporting gay marriage and posing for Playboy.

— DANIEL WALTERS


COURTS | Riding the Bench

Boasting distinct legal opinions and experiences, longtime trial attorney Sheryl Gordon McCloud and former state Supreme Court Justice Richard Sanders both aspire to capture an open seat on the state’s highest court.

Sanders, who served on the Supreme Court for 15 years before a few unpopular remarks on race upended his re-election in 2010, hopes to return to the bench where he championed privacy and property rights.

McCloud says her service as a public defender and arguments before appellate courts have proved her ability to advocate for the public and bring together opposing opinions. She has argued a number of high-profile cases before the state Supreme Court as well as the regional Ninth District Court of Appeals.

Both seek to replace retiring Justice Tom Chambers, who is leaving after 12 years on the Supreme Court. McCloud and Sanders can both list several current or former justices among their endorsements.

The state Republican Party has also endorsed Sanders, while the state Democratic leadership has endorsed McCloud.

Sanders narrowly lost his position on the court in 2010 after he stated minorities make up a larger percentage of the prison population because “they have a crime problem.” He has defended himself by pointing to his history of combating racial inequality in the courtroom.

In a recent campaign debate hosted by the Yakima Herald-Republic, Sanders said he has “bent over backwards” to ensure racial fairness throughout the state’s court system.

“I think our judiciary does everything it can to make sure race is not a factor,” he said.

McCloud contended a Supreme Court justice has to provide more proactive leadership on the issue of racial disparity in the justice system.

Sanders also highlights his record of writing dissenting opinions on divisive rulings, arguing it is better to have opposing voices stand by their beliefs. McCloud argues she would work to unite other judges around a single, just decision.

— JACOB JONES


RESOLUTIONS | Constitutional Editing

When it comes to changing the Washington State Constitution, the Legislature has to jump through two hoops: first, it needs to get two-thirds votes; next, it needs to get voter approval.

The first requirement means that both Senate Joint Resolutions 8221 and 8223 have bipartisan support. “They’re both innocuous, non-controversial measures,” says David Ammons, communication director for the Secretary of State’s Office.

Senate Joint Resolution 8221 tightens up the limit of debt used to pay for construction and tweaks the way that limit is calculated to prevent big swings across times of economic recession and prosperity. Thirty-eight senators, including Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, and Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, voted for the bill; only seven voted against it.

From a practical perspective, that prevents the state from borrowing as much money for construction, hopefully saving it more money in the long run. But critics worry that would cut down on the state building important infrastructure, shifting the burden to local schools and governments.

Senate Joint Resolution 8223 gives the University of Washington and Washington State University more leeway to invest money in the stock market and in private companies. Supporters hope higher rates of return on those investments could help shore up pensions in those institutions. Opponents call it “gambling,” highlighting how just a few years ago the stock market crash gutted college endowments.

The idea has even more bipartisan support, with 45 senators voting for it, and only four voting against it.

— DANIEL WALTERS


TAXES | How Many Legislators Does It Take?

Another election, another Tim Eyman initiative. For the fifth time in 20 years, voters will decide whether a two-thirds supermajority should be required for the Legislature to impose new taxes.

Initiative 1185 would continue the current law requiring either a two-thirds majority vote in both the House and the Senate or a popular vote to raise new taxes or remove tax exemptions, and a simple majority for new or increased fees.

Supporters say the requirement forces bipartisan cooperation in Olympia and gets tax measures to the people when lawmakers can’t muster overwhelming support.

“This initiative is necessary to restrain lawmakers from raising taxes as the first resort,” the group Yes on 1185 writes on its website. So far, supporters under the banner “Voters Want More Choices — Save the 2/3rds” have raised about $1.4 million, with big checks from the beer, oil and restaurant industries. (That’s compared to about $79,000 raised by opponents.)

Opponents frame the measure in terms of the few legislators who would make the difference between a traditional 51 percent majority and a two-thirds majority. Sen. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, told viewers of a League of Women Voters forum on the issue that the law tied the hands of government, calling it “unfair and undemocratic.”

“The accountability in our system is majority rules,” Brown said. “We wouldn’t elect a legislator with a two-thirds vote, and we shouldn’t have our public policy be tied to minority rule.”

Regardless of November’s outcome, the supermajority law will be vulnerable. Earlier this year, a King County Superior Court judge ruled that the 2010 version of the law, initiative 1053, is unconstitutional. After appeal, the state Supreme Court heard arguments over the issue in September and is now considering its constitutionality. A ruling isn’t expected until after the election.

— HEIDI GROOVER


ELECTIONS | Voters’ Guardian

Former Gov. Chris Gregoire staffer and one-term state Sen. Kathleen Drew is looking to turn a 50-year trend on its head. The Democrat is pitching a few specific ideas she hopes can make her the first non-Republican secretary of state since the 1960s.

The office oversees state elections, corporations and state archives, and is third in line of succession for the governor’s seat. Drew supports allowing voters to register on Election Day and hopes to implement pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds when they get drivers licenses. (Practices like this are already in place in a handful of other states, including pre-registration for 17-year-olds in Oregon.)

Her opponent, Thurston County Auditor Kim Wyman, a Republican, says those ideas would further drain already stretched election resources and slow down the state’s ballot counting process. Wyman says experience overseeing elections makes her more qualified for the spot than a former lawmaker, and she has the endorsements of three previous secretaries of state, including the current officeholder, Sam Reed. Wyman argues she understands election law better than a former politician could.

Drew has out-fundraised Wyman, but not by much. She has about $338,500 to Wyman’s almost $256,300. The largest donations to each campaign have been from the candidates’ state parties. The Democrats have given Drew $30,000 and the Republicans have chipped in $40,000 to Wyman’s race.

— HEIDI GROOVER


SCHOOLS | Charter Fight

Charter schools aren’t private schools — not exactly. They’re still funded directly by state dollars, but they’re run by separate organizations, free from direct district and state control and from teacher union requirements.

That gives them flexibility: Some charters have extended days, mandatory summer school or a different focus on extracurricular activities.

If Washington voters pass Initiative 1240, the charter schools would have to be run by a nonprofit and be approved by either the school district or a state charter school commission. And even then, only eight new charter schools could be approved a year, up to a maximum of 40. And if they aren’t successful — they could lose their charter and be shut down.

“Obviously, charters have been popular throughout the country,” said Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Bellevue, while pushing for a bill allowing charter schools during the last legislative session. “Forty-one other states allow them.”

Coeur d’Alene Charter, in Idaho, is so popular that there’s a waiting list where a lottery determines whether students can attend.

But charters haven’t been popular in Washington. Voters have rejected them three times already.

“We right now in our state are facing a huge budget crisis — why on Earth would we take money away from our existing schools?” Washington Education Association spokesman Rich Wood said earlier this year. “We already have innovative schools across the system.”

Opponents point to a Stanford study showing that only 17 percent of charter schools performed significantly better than public schools, while 37 did significantly worse.

But supporters dive into the same study, arguing that the study shows charters in states with accountability requirements like those proposed for Washington are much more successful.

— DANIEL WALTERS


IDAHO | Right to (Take) Life

Not that hunting, fishing and trapping are endangered in Idaho, but voters will consider an amendment to the state’s Constitution spelling out their importance.

First-term state Sen. Lee Heider, R-Twin Falls, authored the amendment to pre-emptively protect the state’s heritage of outdoor sportsmanship and ensure future Idahoans can enjoy hunting, fishing and trapping.

The proposed amendment, House Joint Resolution 2, received overwhelming support in the state Legislature with just a handful of lawmakers in opposition. The amendment protects the right to hunt, fish and trap as well as declaring private hunting and fishing to be the “preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife” populations.

Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, cast one of the few opposing votes, saying he does not dispute the importance of hunting, but believes the proposed amendment will lead to legal problems down the road.

Werk says the Idaho Attorney General’s office raised concerns about aspects of the amendment. Can the state charge money for something that is a constitutional right? Will the amendment undermine the state’s ability to manage wildlife populations?

“I don’t have a problem with the overall issue,” he says, adding, “[But] I wasn’t willing to go along with language that I knew was going to cause problems.”

The Idaho Fish and Game Commission issued an open letter earlier this month supporting the amendment, emphasizing state officials would still have authority to regulate wildlife management and licensing. The amendment also states it would not change private property or water rights.

— JACOB JONES


IDAHO | Big School Reforms

In Idaho, where Republican candidates reliably win nearly every year, the biggest battle of the election is over tweaks to the education system. Last year, Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna pushed major overhauls of the education system through the state Legislature, horrifying Idaho teachers unions.

“I think that we’ve put our education system on the path to continuous improvement,” Luna says. “I’d be naïve to think it was a perfect law.”

While an attempt to recall Luna fizzled, Luna’s critics have managed to put three referenda on the ballot, giving voters a chance to keep the changes or reverse them.

Voting to keep Proposition 1 weakens the power of the Idaho teacher unions and makes it much easier to fire teachers. Unions can now bargain only over pay and benefits — not, say, class schedules or disciplinary policies. Instead of lifetime tenure, teachers in Idaho are now given contracts for only one or two years.

Proposition 2 pays teachers extra money for mentoring teachers or stepping into hard-to-fill positions, and pays schools extra money for improvement on standardized tests. Lately, Luna has come under fire for saying that if voters reject Proposition 2, the district might not have the legal right to distribute the bonuses.

But Proposition 3 might be the most visible: districts receive one laptop for every student.

“We’re certainly going to emphasize that we don’t believe that replacing teachers with online courses and laptops are the best way to educate kids,” says Mike Lanza, chair of the Vote No on 1, 2, 3 campaign.

But to Luna, it’s about bringing the state into the 21st century, not replacing teachers. This year teachers received about a 2 percent pay cut to pay for the laptops — though Luna has requested that the state restore teachers’ salaries next year.

— DANIEL WALTERS


ADVISORY | A Little Advice

While Tim Eyman’s 2007 Initiative 960 — requiring a supermajority to pass tax increases — has been mostly suspended by the Legislature, a little-known provision remains on the books: Any tax increase, even the closing of a loophole or a longer extension of a current tax, has to go to voters as a non-binding advisory vote.

The advisory votes don’t actually change anything, the Legislature is perfectly free to ignore them.

“It simply gives voters a chance to sound off either in favor of or opposed to what the Legislature did,” says David Ammons, communication director for the Secretary of State’s Office.

Advisory Vote 1 deals with a wide-ranging Senate bill dealing with taxes, including a provision eliminating a loophole that gave large banks special tax treatment. More than two-thirds of legislators supported the bill; of Spokane area legislators, only Sen. Mike Padden (R-Spokane Valley) opposed it.

The bill asked about in Advisory Vote 2 actually lowered the tax on petroleum products, but since it extended the tax by seven years, it still technically requires an advisory vote. That notion received practically unanimous support from the Legislature: only one representative, and not a single senator, voted against it.

— DANIEL WALTERS

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