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Midday Scan: Coveting tribes' gains; looking busy in Olympia; Everett probers

Now that some tribes are doing a little better, Republicans in Olympia can't stop thinking about how easy life would be if they could just get more of the gambling revenue.  While the legislative leadership spins its wheels on the budget, other lawmakers don't want everyone else to see how little else is being done. Questions about Kitzhaber's death penalty moratorium.

Slot machines at a casino (Atlantic City, N.J.)

Slot machines at a casino (Atlantic City, N.J.) Raul654/Wikimedia Commons

Republicans know what your mother never told you: Draw poker and one-armed bandits are more fun than a sales tax. As Andrew Garber and Lynda Mapes write in this morning's Seattle Times, gambling on gambling sates a range of Republican appetites. "Republican leaders want to let nontribal casinos offer the same slot machines as tribal casinos, with the state receiving a cut of the revenue. Advocates say it would bring in nearly $160 million next fiscal year and $380 million in the subsequent two years, although the Governor's Office questions those numbers," Garber and Mapes write.

The Republican trial balloon is a slap at the Democratic-leaning tribes, just as it attempts to call the bluff of the majority party. "Republicans say they want to help level the playing field for small, nontribal gambling halls that struggle to compete with glitzy tribal casinos," Garber and Mapes write. "Democrats, who have been saying 'everything is on the table' when it comes to balancing the state budget, seem inclined to leave this idea in the freezer. Democrats control the House, Senate and Governor's Office."  

Ironically, a large segment of tribal members once identified as Republicans because of President Nixon's farsighted leadership (!) advancing Indian self-determination, beginning with the president's July 8, 1970, special message to Congress. In addition, a gambling boost could marginalize social conservatives. As Democrats learned the hard way in 1980, state legislators and gambling can be a dangerous mix.     

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber may not have completely thought through his neck-extending moratorium on the death penalty. The challenge? A moratorium is not the same as commuting the sentences of death-row inmates. As the Oregonian's Helen Jung writes, it's a complicated, emotional question. "Kitzhaber and the legislature alone could not bring about a constitutional repeal of the death penalty. Oregonians had approved death as a punishment for aggravated murder in a 1984 ballot measure that amended the constitution and a majority of voters would have to approve any changes to that," Jung writes. "Whether the state — and the voters who approved capital punishment in a 1984 ballot measure — will do anything to repeal the death penalty before Kitzhaber's term ends remains to be seen. And even without a public vote, abolition has taken years in other states."   

Kitzhaber is fostering a debate at home, although abolishing the death penalty is a tough sell. Jung notes that Kitzhaber's spokesman "declined to say whether the governor would use his authority to commute any death sentences before leaving office if the state doesn't take action before then. His term ends in January 2015, although he hasn't said whether he would seek re-election." If the death penalty is a drain on state coffers, shouldn't Washington lawmakers put it on the table as well?  

Are idle hands really the devil's playground? What if you make an effort to pretend not to be idle, doesn't that (sort of) cast away the devil? "While their leaders contemplate how to fix the state’s $2 billion budget problem — or whether to fix the state’s $2 billion budget problem — the rank and file members of the state House and Senate are left to mill about trying to look busy, the The News Tribune's Peter Callaghan writes. "It’s not easy. The agenda isn’t exactly jam-packed. And a bunch of House members haven’t had private offices, because a renovation of the O’Brien Building is ongoing. So their lack of work is on public display."  

Callaghan gives expression to what should be every Olympia lawmaker's mantra: "I say it is better to look busy than to look indifferent" (a variation of Billy Crystal's Fernando who observed that "It is better to look good than to feel good."). Where to begin? "An act related to red-light cameras and speeding cameras: All cities cashing in on this technology must have a warning sign one half-block away so we at least have a chance to comb our hair," Callaghan writes.  


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