With the Olympia press corps dropping like murder victims in a manor house crime novel (think Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians, electeds and policy makers are reaching out in new directions. State Attorney General Rob McKenna invited a group of bloggers to come down to his Seattle office last week for a sit-down session, and a chance to meet some on-line folks face-to-face in what was once called "meat space." We learned that the AG is also well acquainted with Twitter and Facebook.
The bloggers who showed up included conservative commentator Jim Miller, TechFlash's Todd Bishop, The Slog's Dominic Holden, Jim Walker of Orbusmax, and Crosscut's Mossback. We were also joined for a few seconds by another reporter on the speaker phone, but he seemed too busy to talk to the AG and vanished off the line like the other Olympians. One less "Indian" perhaps.
One of McKenna's many skills is his ability to seem comfortable with almost any company. While he looks like a typical mainstream Republican suit, he's long had a knack for getting along with the press and being both sharp and at ease with questioners. He ran through his top-of-the-list issues, which included the state of the death penalty (it lives), the state's gang problems (they live too), the abuse of prescription drugs, and consumer scams that are on the rise during the downturn.
A few bits from the session:
On the death penalty: The lethal injection procedures used in Washington were just upheld in court late last week, and McKenna plans to continue to fight for the death penalty. However, he recognizes that there will undoubtedly be be more legal hurdles that make could make it problematic. Future challenges could focus increasingly on lethal injection's protocols. and opponents make progress by dragging out appeals, increasing the cost of conducting executions (with legals bills, they run into the millions of dollars), and delaying closure for the families of victims. While it becomes more difficult to put someone to death in Washington, the Legislature seems to have little appetite for eliminating the death penalty.
On drug abuse: McKenna seems immensely knowledgeable about the many ways young people can abuse prescription drugs and rattled off the slang names of various drugs and drug combinations as if he were a recent high school grad. He even made some predictions about the kind of cocktail that would be found in Michael Jackson's blood samples, his point being that while the state (and nation) has made solid advances in getting meth under control, they do not yet know how to contain mom and dad's medicine cabinet. Prescription drugs, he says, kill one third more people annually than traffic accidents. Part of the problem can be addressed by cracking down on off-label prescriptions that make powerful drugs more widely available.
On gang violence: McKenna says gangs are resurgent and a huge statewide problem, from Seattle to Yakima, the Tri-Cities to Tukwila. Part of it is connected to the robust cross-border drug trade (Mexico and Canada); another is high school drop-out rates. He says they also see gangbangers getting younger and younger, literally recruited off the playgrounds of middle schools. The youngest are often assigned to carry out hits.
As to the flow of guns back and forth across the border, that's mostly a federal issue, McKenna says, but his response to whether we need tougher gun laws in the state is to emphasize enforcing existing laws. He says teens caught carrying guns are often get off too lightly. In addition, Republican McKenna sounds like a liberal when he says fighting gangs is a battle to win "the hearts and minds" of youth, particularly in the Latino, African American, and Southeast Asian communities. More midnight basketball, he proposes. Get stakeholders together — law enforcement, educators, social service providers &mdash and develop an integrated anti-gang strategy. The gang problem, he acknowledges, has to be addressed culturally.