Midday Scan: Kitzhaber says 'no'; Occupy vs. Black Friday; Gregoire draws line

Refusing to execute another prisoner, Kitzhaber takes a stand against a Far West mindset. Black Friday? Oh, yes, Occupy Seattle will be downtown, then at Wal-Marts. Gov. Gregoire promises she will campaign for a temporary sales tax if legislators will put the issue before voters.

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John Kitzhaber: back in the governor game

Refusing to execute another prisoner, Kitzhaber takes a stand against a Far West mindset. Black Friday? Oh, yes, Occupy Seattle will be downtown, then at Wal-Marts. Gov. Gregoire promises she will campaign for a temporary sales tax if legislators will put the issue before voters.

This morning Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber is more of a hero in Prague than in Portland. That's because no issue in the American West — with the possible exception of immigration — is as politically charged as the death penalty (Maybe political courage is, literally, another country.) As the Oregonian's Helen Jung writes, the governor's surprise moratorium on all executions was, like a religious conversion, the culmination of a long, introspective process. "Twice, Gov. John Kitzhaber has found himself torn between his physician's oath to do no harm and his governor's oath to uphold the state constitution," Jung writes. "Twice, he chose to swallow his well-known revulsion to the death penalty and enact what he believed to be the will of the people, allowing the 1996 execution of Douglas F. Wright and the 1997 execution of Harry C. Moore to take place. But 14 years later, as a third inmate volunteered for death, Kitzhaber's personal convictions and frustration with the state's capital punishment system won out."

On Tuesday, Kitzhaber sounded like a Christian novitiate. He had witnessed the injustice, felt the existential tug on his sleeve. "In my mind, it is a perversion of justice. I refuse to be a part of this compromised and inequitable system any longer and I will not allow further executions while I am governor," he said. The Pacific Northwest is sadly unchurched, so Kitzhaber's rhetoric of moral indignation may not resonate. (Likewise, spared convict Gary Haugen actually wanted to be executed.) For politicians, it's a non-starter. That's why Kitzhaber's death-penalty moratorium has a tonic effect. On the heels of the supercommittee's implosion, a neck-extending lawmaker like Kitzhaber is an antidote to the malaise.   

Black Friday could put Westlake merchants in the red. As Publicola's Jonah Spangenthal-Lee writes, the city has issued Occupy Seattle a permit to use Westlake Park on the most hectic shopping day of the year. Spangenthal-Lee writes, "Occupy Seattle’s permit — issued by the Seattle parks department — says the group  will have an 'arts and crafts booth,' speakers, choral groups, and square dancing between 12 pm and 5 pm. Occupy Seattle’s website also says the group plans to 'demonstrate against all that is wrong with corporate America and participate in a day of protest,' before the group heads off to occupy a bunch of Wal-Marts around the region." Occupy square dancers? Although it's too early to determine, the city's decision will likely not trigger the launch of a "Westlake Merchants for McGinn." There's no reason, however, that Occupy and Santa (with his non-class-conscious giving) can't play well together.  

Talking to students yesterday, Gov. Chris Gregoire was specific regarding state cuts to education. She would prefer a tax increase to offset the pain. As KOMO's Bryan Johnson reports, "It was just yesterday [Monday, Nov. 21] the governor announced budget cuts. Today [Tuesday, Nov. 22], she told students it can't happen; a sales tax increase is the better way." It's a political Catch-22. Without the sales-tax increase, the budget cleaver will fall, the governor said. The message to voters: Stop us before we kill again. "It's now that we ought to be investing in education, but it is a huge part of the budget. So, to say it is off-limits, as many people tell me, is not realistic," Gregoire said. The systemic issue of voter-approved tax increases recasts the political narrative. Voters, not lawmakers, shoulder the blame (or, by extension, the credit). It is one outcome of direct democracy and a state govenment freighted by a super-majority requirement to raise revenue. So why even elect legislators if their work is reduced to a form of mass-audience pantomime? As Johnson reports, "If the governor can convince the Legislature to put a tax increase on the ballot, voters will decide next spring." Let the voters lead, it seems.   

Who defines the political message will determine if the sales-tax vote ultimately gets the nod. The operative word? "Half," the Tacoma News Tribune's Peter Callaghan writes. "Call it the Battle of the Halfs," Callaghan notes. "Backers, led by a governor who promises to 'hit the road' and talk to voters, will say it is only a half-cent sales tax increase. That’s such a small price to pay, they will argue, for a three-year tax hike that will backfill additional cuts to public schools, higher education, prisons and services that help senior citizens and the disabled stay in their homes. Opponents, led by Republicans itching to regain full control of state government for the first time since 1982, will say it is a half-billion dollars in higher taxes. That’s such a huge price, they will argue, for a tax hike that would partially defray the necessity for state government finally to live within its means."  

It's not rocket science, and messaging is fate. " 'Half-cent' sounds so small; 'half-billion' sounds so large," Callaghan writes.  

Lastly, it took a while before local media observed the recent death of former Seattle Mayor Gordon Clinton. Could it be because he was too nice? "Former Seattle Mayor Gordon Clinton was the nice-guy politician, a fresh-faced charmer who presided over the city during the 1962 World's Fair, the construction of the Monorail and the Space Needle, and helped jump-start the metro council that eventually oversaw cleanup of Lake Washington," the Seattle Times Craig Welch writes. "Even before he ran for office in the mid-1950s, his résumé fairly screamed Mr. Clean. He'd already been an FBI agent, an officer in the U.S. Navy who served in the Pacific during World War II, a municipal-court judge and a deputy prosecutor in King County. When he brought his brand of Eisenhower-era professionalism to City Hall, Mayor Clinton was still just in his late 30s." If only he could have been cloned. 

Link Summary

Oregonian, "Gov. John Kitzhaber: Oregon death penalty fails 'basic standards of justice'"

Publicola, "City Issues Occupy Permit for Black Friday"

Seattlepi.com, "Gregoire: Tax hike, not ed cuts, is the answer"

Tacoma News Tribune, "Sales tax vote: A battle of halfs (and half nots)"

Seattle Times, "Former Seattle Mayor Gordon Clinton dies"


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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