Inside Opinion

What's on the minds of Tacoma News Tribune editorial writers

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Tag: Washington state


Democracy has suffered under top two primary

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

The Democratic and Libertarian parties are taking another hard legal swing – maybe their last – at the state’s top two primary. We hope it connects.

The primary, which has nuked Washington’s smaller parties, has been upheld in principle by the U.S. Supreme Court. The remaining quarrel is over whether it violates the First Amendment right of association as it is being applied in Washington state.

Top two is popular largely because it successfully counterfeits the state’s cherished blanket primary, which was killed by federal courts a decade ago. The old primary allowed voters to pick any candidate from any party up in any contest.

Party leaders couldn’t leave well enough alone. They argued – correctly – that the system allowed Democrats to choose Republican candidates and vice versa, forcing them to accept nominees their political opponents may have helped select.

It was a slam-dunk Bill of Rights argument. But their victory in the Supreme Court led voters to adopt the top two system, a supposed replica of the blanket primary. Under top two, citizens can still vote for anyone in the state primary regardless of party. The top two candidates – only the top two – move on to the general election in November.

The high court says this passes muster, and who are we to argue? But the fact that a law is constitutional – or popular – doesn’t make it a good law.
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Initiative reform: First, show us the problem

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Any talk of regulating signature-gathering in the Legislature has to start with the First Amendment.

It guarantees the right “to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Petitioning is one of the fundamentals of American liberty – right up there with freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

The discussion should then move to the Washington Constitution, which guarantees the right of this state’s citizens to enact laws by initiative.

Once everyone’s clear that we’re talking about fundamental rights, under both the federal and state constitutions, then we can talk about the details.

Bills aimed at burdening the signature-gathering process have become a perennial crop in the Legislature. Time after time, Democrats frustrated by the success of conservative initiatives have attempted to make it harder for all initiatives to reach the ballot.

The usual point of attack is the individual signature-gatherer, the weakest link in the chain connecting a newly filed initiative to a place on the ballot.

Signature-gatherers must work in public places and are exposed to physical obstruction and intimidation. This is not a hypothetical threat; it happens.

A bill proposed by state Rep. Chris Reykdal, D-Tumwater, would require paid signature gatherers to register their addresses, photographs and full names with the secretary of state. Potentially, this would allow opponents of an initiative to take their quarrel right to the gatherer’s front door or place of employment. Whatever the intent, it would have a chilling effect on constitutionally protected activity.
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The state budget crisis has become a budget emergency

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Lawmakers have often promised to bring a hard-nosed, results-oriented, “everything on the table” approach to writing the state budget.

Occasionally they’ve partially delivered. Mostly they’ve claimed they were delivering while leaving sacred cows untouched.

This time is different. As of last week’s revenue forecast, state government was short $900 million of what it needs to continue the state’s existing programs and services at existing levels. It is short a staggering $5.7 billion over the biennium that begins in July. And that’s after the 2010 Legislature made tough cuts in some programs.

The immediate challenge is to carve the $900 million out of the current biennial budget – close to a billion dollars worth of pain crammed into seven short months. Gov. Chris Gregoire has already covered $520 million of that, crudely, by imposing 6.3 percent across-the-board cuts.

That’s the worst possible way to cut a budget, but she was forced to do it because lawmakers refused to meet in special session to make adjustments last summer. Their foot-dragging made the problem considerably worse.
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Race to the top in education? Who, us?

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

The Obama administration’s Race to the Top initiative has done Washington a painful favor. It has exposed just how hostile the state’s K-12 establishment has been to genuine education reform.

Race to the Top, administered by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, is designed to recognize and reward states that have demonstrated they are serious about improving their schools. The Obama administration wants school reform measures that that been proven to work, and the Department of Education has offered a very big pot of money – $4.35 billion – to states that are pursuing them.

Last week, Duncan spelled out exactly what it will take to qualify for a share of that money. To no one’s surprise, it turns out that Washington not only isn’t pursuing some of the identified best practices, it is deliberately running away from them. Race to the Top demands:

• Procedures for expedited removal of those teachers and principals who’ve proven they just aren’t up to the job. In this state, mediocre educators can hang on for a very long time; in fact, some retire on the job.

• A way for a state to step in and fix failing schools and school districts – whether the districts like it or not. In Washington, that’s against the law.
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Get those ballots in, slackers!

The governor’s right. We ought to have a rule requiring that mail-in ballots be in by election day, like other states require.

With the exception of military serving overseas, there’s no good reason Washingtonians shouldn’t be able to get their ballots to their local auditors by then. If we insist on voting on election day itself, we can stick our ballots into the provided drop-off boxes (of which there probably should be more).

This isn’t only about annoying delays in finding out who won or lost. When the counting drags on – and on, and on – some people

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