Time to finish what I start
Happy new year, and welcome to 2015! In the spirit of new beginnings, making resolutions and so forth, I thought I would share some of the blog posts from the last two years that didn’t quite make it to the publish stage. So let it be known that, from this day forward, I will finish every blog post I start – no matter the time or research involved, and no matter how much I procrastinate. That’s my 2015 resolution….so here goes:
Witness to history: Nine nail-biting hours in the Washington State Senate (March 26, 2012)
As staff, we had been told to prepare for something big to happen for the past week or so. When it finally took place, we were as ready as we ever could be for something that big. It was our opportunity to seize control of the Washington State Senate – if only for a few hours – for the first time in over two decades. It turned out later that “a few hours” really lasted months, as the actions taken by our caucus that night continued to have ripple effects on the Legislature through the end of the 2012 regular legislative session and all throughout the following special session.
I wanted to ensure that there was an accurate and concise retelling of the story from an insider’s perspective. Although the entire thing can be viewed on TVW’s website (and for all its “gavel-to-gavel” coverage, it continually fails to appropriately convey anything more than votes and motions…static, uninspiring, boring government), I felt it was in the tradition of Washington State to provide an eyewitness account of the event unfiltered by the bias and limited space of the media, the spin machines of the political parties and the simple, unavoidable passage of time.
Let me set the stage just a bit. The governor’s mansion in Olympia, Washington, has been occupied by a Democrat since 1985. Think about that for a second…a few months after the last Republican governor left office, Back to the Future (the first one) was number one at the box office. “We are the world” was the most requested song on the radio and Nintendo unveiled their very first entertainment system with Super Mario Brothers. I was 10 years old. Five years from then, I would serve as a page in the Washington State Legislature for then-Representative Dennis Dellwo, D-Spokane, and I would also meet (and end up having a private dinner at Shakey’s Pizza with) then-Governor Booth Gardner…but that’s a story for another time.
Republicans in Olympia are like an endangered species only there are no charitable organizations devoted to ensuring their survival. Quite the opposite, in fact. There are more concerted efforts on this side of the Cascades to wipe out conservatism in Washington than I ever would have expected. As the old cliche goes, it’s interesting how liberals who proselytize tolerance can sometimes be so intolerant of conservatives. I’ve only been working at the Senate for a little over six years and am already exhausted from constantly fighting an uphill battle. Some of my colleagues have been here ten, twenty and even thirty years fighting that same battle. They’ve seen their share of small victories over the years, but they’ve shared a greater number of defeats as well.
If I were a Democrat, I would probably cast aside the events of March 2, 2012, as nothing more than a blip in the otherwise long, proud and unspoiled timeline of my party’s control over state politics, believing that time would eventually erase from memory the significance of what happened that evening. However, my description of these events will be as accurate and unbiased as I can possibly summon from my two decades of journalism training and practice.
It was around 3:50 in the afternoon on the day known at the Legislature as “floor cutoff,” a constitutionally-mandated deadline after which bills lingering in committees were considered – for all intents and purposes – dead. The Senate was moving forward will bill passages at a steady pace, showing no real urgency to reach a budget agreement. After all, bills deemed “necessary to implement the budget” by the majority are not subject to the cutoff calendar. Of importance to note is that “the majority” is almost always followed by “party,” since Democrats have had majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives for a comfortable length of time. But “the majority” is really just a collection of votes one way or the other, regardless of political party. In the Senate, 25 votes constitutes the majority because there are 49 senators. In the House, it’s 50 votes since there are 98 representatives. That is a key piece of information to remember.
That’s as far as I got with that one. Finding my time suddenly monopolized by the Senate takeover of what would eventually come to be known as the Majority Coalition Caucus, I never got back to writing this post. However as long as I live, I will never forget this moment in the Washington State Senate:
Quick visit with a Mariners legend (January 9, 2013)
I know. I haven’t had a chance to blog in nearly four months. I accept full responsibility for that and willingly shoulder all the consequences.
Now, that being said, I wanted to share with you a nice visit I had recently with a few members of the Seattle Mariners. I was sitting in my office last Wednesday, cramming to get everything done before the opening of the Washington State legislative session, when a Facebook post came across my screen letting me know about the 2013 Seattle Mariners Bus Tour. Technically it was still interim and I could leave early if I needed to. I decided to take advantage of this spontaneous opportunity.
Kelly picked me up from work and
And I never finished that post either. But I did meet Dan Wilson and chat with him for a few minutes. I also met broadcaster Dave Simms, who wears mascara. Bet you didn’t know that!
Remembering Booth Gardner (March 22, 2013)
Booth Gardner passed away Friday at age 76 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. And if you don’t know him, then you haven’t lived in Washington long enough.
Gardner was Washington’s
I should have learned by now that trying to blog while the Legislature is in session was a lost cause. I wanted to convey the story of my time as a legislative page in 1990 and how I ended up sharing a pizza with Governor Gardner and his wife at Shakey’s in Olympia. I’ll have to save that for yet another day.
Jury duty (October 24,2013)
About a week after I scheduled my long-overdue two-week vacation from work, I got a summons in the mail announcing that I had jury duty the first of the two weeks. In fact, my wife had gotten the mail and called to tell me about it while laughing (somewhat disturbingly). I’ve had jury duty before, but never actually had to appear in person. This time, however, was different.
I hear jokes all the time about getting out of jury duty. One quip I’m fond of is that if I’m ever on trial, they’ll never find a jury of my peers because smart people know how to get out of jury duty. After I posted about it on Facebook and Twitter, more than a few friends sent me this (which I found pretty funny):
Ways to get out of jury duty during questioning:
Respond to any questions by asking the lawyer which of the voices in your head should answer.
Tell them your goal as juror is to put the system on trial.
Ask if they do criminal background checks on jurors and then refuse to answer any other questions on the grounds that it might incriminate you.
Tell them you already know that it was Mr. White in the library with the candlestick.
Describe in detail every medical illness you might have until they make you stop and let you go.
Ask for popcorn and if they can dim the lights when the show starts.
Tell them you only speak Klingon and the county will have to provide a translator – please note this will not work in King County as they will have Klingon translators on staff.
But the truth is, as much as it stole a day from my vacation, I have always wanted to serve on a jury and participate in the civic process that is a trial by jury. Last time, I never got called. This time, I nearly got the chance to serve (and I live-tweeted it as best I could).
Reporting at 7:30 a.m. on my day off was not my favorite thing, and after arriving and standing in line for a good 20 minutes it felt a bit like basic training all over again. The Thurston County Courthouse is divided into three buildings and we reported to the first. After somewhere between 60 and 100 people crammed into the staging area, the bailiffs in charge got to sorting us all out and making sure our paperwork was in order. I have to say that the bailiffs look nothing like what I had envisioned. In fact, they were dressed in plain clothes and all very friendly and courteous throughout the entire process. Lord knows they had plenty of reasons not to be, doing what they do every day.
They had us watch a video about the court system, its origins in our country, how we were picked, what was expected of us, and the rules for behavior and etiquette. Though the video was done well, the fact that everyone had flip phones with antennas dated it a bit (I’m guessing early 2000’s).
There were three trials going on that day…two in Thurston County Superior Court and one in the City of Olympia court, which is the trial to which my jury pool was assigned. The bailiffs read each of our names aloud, handed us a numbered tag we affixed to our lapels and asked us to line up outside in numerical order. Funny thing…two of the people in my jury pool were named Michael Jackson and Jennifer Lopez. Neither, unfortunately, bore any resemblance to their namesakes.
We were led to an older courtroom to wait until the judge was ready for us. Apparently they hadn’t used that particular courtroom since the 70s, as the carpet was a burnt orange that matched the upholstery of the church-pew seating we occupied. After a few minutes there, our bailiff escorted us to the actual courtroom down the hall where we got our first glimpse of the accused.
Of course, we didn’t know at that point that he was the one on trial. The judge came in and the clerk announced the same thing we’ve all heard in dozens of movies and TV shows…”All rise. The honorable Judge Something Or Other presiding.” He asked us to sit, and explained the scene we were facing.
To our left was the jury box…little more than pneumatic office chairs on a riser, with a security guard posted at one end. To our right was the prosecuting attorney at his table, adorned with stacks of paper, folders and a pitcher of water. Directly in front of us was a white man in his 50’s wearing an Abe Lincoln-style beard. Seated next to him was a shorter, older woman we later learned was the defense attorney. I have to admit, my first impression was “not guilty.” Then I learned what he was accused of: third degree assault of a police officer
The judge proceeded to
Again, never finished. Wasn’t picked for the jury. In fact, I was in and out of the courthouse in about two hours.
Honoring a hometown American hero (February 18, 2014)
Today was a particularly proud day to be a Washington resident. Medal of Honor recipient, U.S. Army Capt. William Swenson, was honored by the Washington State Senate with a resolution (that I wrote!) and briefly addressed the legislative body after a long standing ovation. As an Army veteran myself, it was quite a moving experience…especially after you read his heartbreaking story of valor, courage and selflessness.
Below is the text of the comments Capt. Swenson delivered to members of the Senate:
“Lieutenant governor, Senator O’Ban and members of the Senate…
First, thank you very much for having me out here today. Washington State – as I continually have to remind some east-coasters – is Washington State. This is my home. This is where my heart is. This is what I fight for, and you take care of it.
And now I sit in a room with people who share a very similar trait as my own…I’m beginning to like to hear myself talk!
In all seriousness, my battle ended several years ago but my responsibilities carry on. My responsibilities are to carry on the memories of my fallen colleagues, to remind the American people that we still have service members downrange and that we have veterans whose battles continue even though they’re now home.
But here in the Legislature, you have a responsibility to those veterans and those service members that reside in Washington State, and I ask that you always remember that some of our members who have come home still need our help.
So I’ll continue to do my part to remind Washington State and the American people of what their responsibility is to our veterans and our service members, and I only ask that you continue doing the same.
Again, thank you for having me here today and for giving me the chance to talk. It really is a privilege.
No, Captain Swenson. You have our gratitude.