Keep your eye on U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan of Seattle, who has the clout and the steeliness to become an important local force on some key issues.
The latest example is her letter to her longtime political pal, Gov. Gregoire, on Thursday (co-signed by U.S. Attorney Michael Ormsby of Spokane) threatening federal prosecutions if the state were to enact a medical-marijuana bill already passed by both chambers of the state legislature. Gregoire had asked Durkan for "clear guidance" on the matter, which she promptly got, and now the bill is being reworked.
"In the light of the Department of Justice's guidance," Gregoire said, "it is clear that I cannot sign a bill that authorizes our state employees to license marijuana dispensaries when the department would prosecute those involved." Advocates for the new law brushed off the Durkan letter as "theoretical" and pro-forma. But Gregoire's long political alliance and friendship with Durkan produced a dramatic salute.
Another area where Durkan will be a key player is the investigation by the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division into the Seattle Police Department. Such probes are normally expensive, long, and of low impact in the end. Also, the feds usually brush aside the local office and take over the investigation.
A former U.S. Attorney who knows Durkan well tells me that the situation in Seattle will be very different. Durkan will not be pushed around, and she is deeply knowledgeable about Seattle Police Department matters, from sitting on several citizen committees concerned with police misbehavior and citizen oversight. This source also predicted that Durkan won't allow the recommendations to be flashy, imported ideas from other cities (which the Police Guild would quickly discredit), too draconian for the mayor to adopt, or so much whitewash.
Durkan, a forceful and highly respected attorney, comes from a notable political clan with plenty of street smarts and confidence. Her father, Martin Durkan, was a baron of the state Senate who aspired to be governor. Jenny has often been urged to seek local office, such as mayor, which she declined. With the federal Department of Justice once again free to call its legal plays without political directives from the White House, Durkan is well positioned to have considerable influence and growing respect for her positions. As we just saw: When Durkan speaks, governors listen.