Midday Scan: Tuesday's top stories around the region

In the news: Randy Dorn sticks his neck out for public ed, King County wins the budgeting blue ribbon, Alaska exports park rangers to the Washington Monument, Kucinich gets lucky with redistricting and the vikings come to the UW.

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Washington Schools Superintendent Randy Dorn

In the news: Randy Dorn sticks his neck out for public ed, King County wins the budgeting blue ribbon, Alaska exports park rangers to the Washington Monument, Kucinich gets lucky with redistricting and the vikings come to the UW.

Who better than state schools' chief Randy Dorn to play an insouciant Bartleby? (Northwest fans of Herman Melville's Bartleby the Scrivner should delight). As Jerry Cornfield of the Herald of Everett writes, Dorn is responding to the governor's request for ways to slash spending in public schools with a decided, "I prefer not to." Cornfield notes, "He's preparing an answer to deliver this week, and his response to where he would cut will likely be along the lines of one word – nowhere."

Gov. Gregoire's request comes as her budget drafters prepare for a November special session to fill a $2 billion revenue shortfall. Agencies and departments, including the office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, have been asked to identify where they'd like the budget machete to fall as everyone girds for another season of austerity. Dorn's I-prefer-not-to pushback is bolstered by the state constitution which enshrines education as the state's paramount duty. Nonetheless, Dorn is a solitary figure. "Dorn is alone among statewide elected officeholders in not answering Gregoire's request for ways of cutting up to 10 percent of their allotment from the general fund," Cornfield reports. Kudos for Dorn's political courage, although the superintendent should be careful not to fade into irrelevance like a vanquished Bartleby.   

Budget nerds looking for best practices should look no further than King County. Seriously. "King County Executive Dow Constantine proposed a 2012 budget Monday that would preserve almost all services and add to reserves, but would reduce road crews and maintenance," Bob Young of the Seattle Times reports. How is this possible? Was it all belt-tightening efficiencies and program restructuring? "The single biggest savings came from reducing employee health-care costs from earlier projections by an estimated $61 million this year and next," Young writes.  

Road maintenance is still in trouble, particularly in less-traveled rural areas (unincorporated county residents might aim to pool their money now for snow plows come January). Most of the new approaches are common sense, such as curtailing the budget's annual growth rate. All the skilled maneuvering and farsighted projections should be credited to county budget chief Dwight Dively. Dively was imprudently shoved out by a new McGinn administration. The city's preventable loss was the county's windfall.    

The consummate Westerner-in-DC story appears in this morning's Anchorage Daily News. Alexa Vaughn and Rene Lynch report that a Denali National Park ranger is leading a handful of mountain climbers to rappel down the Washington Monument today to inspect structural damage caused by August's 5.8 magnitude earthquake. The Monument has been shuttered indefinitely until an up-close assessment is complete and a recommendation issued.

"The Washington Monument is both the world's tallest stone monument and the world's tallest obelisk, and is considered a must-see for visitors to the nation's capital. On a normal day, visitors can take a 70-second elevator ride to the observation deck 500 feet above the National Mall," they write. The subtext: When you require flinty mountain rangers, who are you going to call? The park-service personnel "working" at Gettysburg or Mount Vernon?  No way.  

The one value to the inscrutible and mostly partisan redistricting process: Ohio is welcoming back Cleveland egomaniac Dennis Kucinich. Kucinich, fearing a King Lear-like loss of power, shopped around for an alternative Congressional district in both Washington state and Maine. As Dan Hirschhorn of Politico writes, a number of lawmakers were ultimately shocked by their good fortune. "Sometimes the best political gift is one that unexpectedly falls out of the sky, gift-wrapped by the opposing party," Hirschhorn notes.  

In Kucinich's case, he will still face off with a fellow Democrat, Marcy Kaptur, but he's in a good position to get re-elected. Kuchinich told Politico after learning about the redistricting decision: "[That day] I woke up on third base. But I know for sure that I didn’t hit a triple." Most Washingtonians felt the same way.

Lastly, the Vikings are coming to the University of Washington tonight, specifically Former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland. As Katherine Long of the Seattle Times writes, Brundtland is the first speaker in the UW Graduate School's free series of public lectures. Advance warning to all ye climate-change deniers: Norwegians believe in science.     

Link summary 

Everett Herald, "Battle brewing between governor, school chief on more cuts to school budget"

Seattle Times"King County budget: a relative bright spot"

Anchorage Daily News, "Denali park ranger will lead 'expedition' to assess Washington Monument damage"

Politico, "A redistricting survival guide"

Seattle Times, "International leader in climate change to be leadoff for UW lecture series"  


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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