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Midday Scan: Thursday's top stories around the region

Gregoire wades into more budget cuts; finger pointing at Monroe Penitentiary; rising count for homeless students in Seattle Schools; an unadmiring portrait of the powerful Kemper Freeman and family; and a Viadoom report.

Gov. Chris Gregoire at a Langley rally during the 2008 campaign, when political winds were blowing in favor of Democrats.

Gov. Chris Gregoire at a Langley rally during the 2008 campaign, when political winds were blowing in favor of Democrats. Hotshot977/Wikimedia Commons

Austin Jenkins was one of the first journalists to reveal Gov. Chris Gregoire's latest manuever to curtail public spending: reduce the current of state money flowing to health-care premiums for state employees. The strategy requires the state employees' union to reopen its labor contracts and that is, well, not particularly popular as workers get thwacked by the Great Recession. "State workers previously agreed to increase their share of insurance premiums from 12 percent to 15 percent," Jenkins reports.  "The Washington Federation of State Employees responds Gregoire should ask corporations — not state workers — to sacrifice."

Wednesday was the teaser. Today the governor unveils her list of recommended cuts and after that, Jenkins notes, "she will turn her attention to possible new revenues. But she says that doesn't necessarily mean taxes. Fees are an option too." With Occupy Seattle as a backdrop, the question of stanching the bleeding by bleeding the corporations becomes even more resonant. Jenkins quotes Gregoire on the fallout of an attenuated budget: "I have the vestiges of a Department of Corrections left both institutionally and at the community level. It's concerning to me because public safety has to be one of our most important responsibilities. But nothing could be exempted from this process."  

Department of Corrections' funding may have had little to do with the horrific murder of Monroe Corrections Officer Jayme Biendl back in January. As Rikki King and Eric Stevick of the Everett Herald report, officer misconduct is the latest twist in a dreadful story. "Three corrections officers have been fired for their conduct at the Monroe Correctional Complex the night officer Jayme Biendl was killed and for inconsistent or false statements made to investigators afterward," King and Stevick write. Could the alleged misconduct have been a factor or somehow facilitated the opportunity for murder? Probably not. "A previous state Department of Corrections internal investigation stopped short of saying that missteps by staff contributed to Biendl's death." 

Here's where it gets teeth-gnashingly awful: Management versus workers concerning accountability. The article quotes Tracey Thompson, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local Union 117: "Frankly, I'm appalled. It seems to me what management has done is shift 100 percent of the blame to the boots on the ground, the line staff."  

Had your fill of depressing news? But, wait, there's more. As Erik Wilkinson of King 5 News (and reposted on MSNBC) reportsthe Great Recession does not discriminate, even when it comes to area school children. "The Seattle School District is seeing a staggering number of homeless students. More than 1,500 are anticipated by the end of this school year. That's nearly double the number just three years ago," Wilkinson notes. A profile of the Matos family, who are currently living in a transitional housing shelter in Renton, illustrates the crisis. "There's time for a quick breakfast and it's off to school, a 40 minute trek to Seattle's Queen Anne Hill. It's a long, sleepy drive; Gabriel dozes off in ther back seat. The trip is paid for by the Seattle School District. The family is reimbursed 51 cents per mile - about $300 a month - to drive their kids to school in Seattle where they were enrolled before losing their home. Despite the hardship, they prefer it this way."  

The Stranger's Eli Sanders writes one of the most incisive political profiles in recent memory: A thoughtful, comprehensive look at the politico-plutocrat Kemper Freeman, Jr. Sanders notes, "Freeman, 70, whose family owns Bellevue Square mall and much of Bellevue's downtown retail core, has made himself into the premier local example of a wealthy individual who's able to manipulate the political system to his own benefit, everyone else be damned."

Sanders knits together the Freeman legacy, contextualizing the family's influence on Northwest history. "Kemper Freeman Sr.'s father, Miller Freeman, was in some ways an even larger figure in Washington state politics and business. Construction of the first floating bridge across Lake Washington, for example, can be traced to Miller Freeman's desire to break a cross-state transportation monopoly held by railroads in the early part of the last century. (The very same bridge route over Lake Washington that Miller championed to hurt heavy rail is now the one that his grandson, Kemper Freeman Jr., wants to defend against 'illegal' use by light rail)," Sanders writes. Miller Freeman also seemed to exhibit a Nixon-like fixation on perceived foreign and domestic enemies. Notes Sanders, "If that sounds like his grandson, well, they are related."  


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