Midday Scan: Friday's top stories around the region

The political education of former U.S. Attorney John McKay; a tax break for Safeco Field; Patty Murray's partisan email to supporters; Amazon magoozling in California; and Seattle's burgeoning population of bikers.     

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Straight-shooter John McKay.

The political education of former U.S. Attorney John McKay; a tax break for Safeco Field; Patty Murray's partisan email to supporters; Amazon magoozling in California; and Seattle's burgeoning population of bikers.     

Former U.S. Attorney John McKay is an iconoclast for all the right reasons: He's saddled with a moral sense and an aversion to ephemeral political considerations. The ancient virtue of a questioning mind is so uncommon in public life today that he's pegged as an enigma, with echoes of the maverick Supreme Court justice William O. Douglas. As Nina Shapiro documents in a Seattle Weekly cover profile, McKay is the opposite of a political weathervane: His instincts track with a gut-check approach to right and wrong.

"McKay, 55, is known for his gregarious charm. Despite his high-profile career and roots in Northwest Republican aristocracy, he likes to call himself 'an Irish country lawyer,'" Shapiro writes. She offers hints of McKay's formative experiences, from the anchor of his family to his work helping the poor with the Legal Services Corporation, then recounts his service as U.S. attorney. To recall them is to revisit a rogue's gallery of Bush Administration officials, notably the disastrous attorney general Alberto Gonzales, who angled to politicize the Justice Department. By contrast, from marijuana laws to immigration reform, McKay bends toward justice, not politics.

The scoop of the week comes from Publicola's Erica Barnett, who flags a new Safeco Field tax loophole that could cost the city of Seattle up to $300,000 a year: "In the final days of this year's special legislative session, state senators Scott White and Ed Murray quietly added an amendment to legislation that would have extended the hotel/motel taxes to pay off debt on the Kingdome and Qwest Field (the bill that was ultimately adopted dedicates the taxes to pay for arts and housing but not until 2021)."

The move has caught city finance director Beth Goldberg flat-footed and spurred city council president Richard Conlin to tell Publicola, "They're stealing $200,000 from us." The story is instructive on a number of levels. For one, it illustrates the disconnect in city-legislative communications. In a follow-up report to gauge the reaction of White and Murray, Barnett quotes Murray: "I’m very disappointed at what Richard Conlin said. That language was in the bill that the House passed, supported by the city of Seattle. The question is, why are they only now finding out about something [in a bill] they supported?" Will anyone come out of this a hero, or is it just a profile in public-policy dysfunction?    

Can politicians hold conflicting ideas simultaneously? Seattlepi.com's Joel Connelly throws light on one example of political cognitive dissonance: Sen. Patty Murray's partisan slam of Republican colleagues at the same time she's shepherding the bipartisan supercommittee on the federal debt.

In a campaign email, Murray asks political supporters to tell Republicans to stop misbehaving: "From threatening to shut down government over critically needed disaster relief and ridiculously calling the President’s common-sense jobs proposal 'class warfare' to sheltering millionaires and Big Oil at the expense of middle class families, senior citizens and college students — the Republicans refuse to get serious."

Sen. Murray likely handed the wordsmithing reins to an overzealous staffer. That doesn't make it any more excusable, however. As Connelly notes, "it is difficult to see the tone in Washington, D.C., changing if lawmakers charged with working out compromises are sending out such charged words." 

Has bike commuting in Seattle really risen by 22 percent in one year? The Seattle Bike Blog charts the increase, citing the annual American Communities Survey conducted by the U.S. Census. "Of the 70 largest US cities," Tom Focoloro writes, "only Portland was higher on the list. One silly but fun way to cherry pick the data is to say things like, 'Of the 25 largest US cities, Seattle has the largest share of people commuting by bicycle.' (Portland is the 29th largest city)."

It's fascinating to watch the corresponding growth in the political clout of organizations such as the Cascade Bicycle Club. They've become policy players with influence, most conspicuously in Mike McGinn's 2009 election as mayor. How quickly political landscapes change: It's hard to imagine a bygone mayor like Wes Uhlman or even Norm Rice bragging, "I've got the support of the reformers, the unions, and, most importantly, the bike riders."  

Finally, Stateline.org has a good piece on the Amazon-California deal and what it portends for future online-sales tax battles. Josh Goodman notes that, "something surprising happened. Amazon backed down. The company struck a deal that will require it and other online retailers to begin collecting sales taxes in California starting in fiscal 2013, after a one-year grace period." The big question: Is this really a precedent or did Amazon yield because California is such a colossus of a state?       

Link summary

Seattle Weekly, "The evolution of John McKay"

Publicola "New Safeco Field tax loophole to cost city up to $300,000 a year"

Seattlepi.com, "Murray: bipartisan panel, pastisan blast"

Seattle Bike Blog, "Census:Seattle bike commuting rises 22 percent in 1 year; city claims #2 spot in US"

Stateline.org, "Amazon deal with California may set precedent for online tax collection"


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About the Authors & Contributors

Peter Jackson

Peter Jackson

Peter Jackson is the former editorial-page editor of the Everett Herald. Follow him on Twitter @phardinjackson