Midday Scan: Police dodging; Legislature pockets school funds; Newt and NW

Do the police understand? A question, perhaps. But no question that the Washington Legislature knew what it was doing when it rerouted federal money for teachers' jobs.

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Members of Congress are meeting at the capitol building in D.C. this week, to debate payroll taxes.

Do the police understand? A question, perhaps. But no question that the Washington Legislature knew what it was doing when it rerouted federal money for teachers' jobs.

The Seattle Police Department doth protest too much, methinks. After Friday's damning Department of Justice report, the SPD, a seemingly spotless operation, reacted with more bark, less wag. Chief Diaz's principal beef, that the Justice Department should reveal its methodolgy, is both legitimate and picayune. What, then, to do? Department pashas might start by kneading in humility with concern. It's a virtue that a sincere Diaz exhibited in the wake of Officer Ian Birk's shooting of woodcarver John T. Williams.

As the Seattle Times' Danny Westneat writes, "The reaction last week from many police and parts of City Hall was disbelief. We're shiny Seattle. How could this be true? The feds must be out to get police around the country." Is there any way that this denial will evolve into even qualified acceptance? Westneat notes, "the meaning of the blistering report last week was in no way hard to make out. Unfortunately, that didn't stop Seattle police and political brass from trying to rationalize it anyway." The SPD might consider contracting with the Jesuits. Acknowledge your sins and be willing to pay penance (then weave in the question of methodology.) Otherwise, as Westneat concludes, the department will need to see "big changes at, or at least near, the top."

They go by euphemisms like "budget gimmicks" or "creative accounting." For years, Congress has raided the U.S. Land and Water Conservation Fund to underwrite disparate programs that have zero connection to land or conservation. And then there is what former Sen. Fritz Hollings called, "the Social Security cookie jar." As the News Tribune's Peter Callaghan writes, one of our state's cookie jars is a 2010 federal program dubbed "EduJobs." The $10 billion initiative to stem the loss of teachers nationwide is a profile in nebulous language and unintended consequences. "The money was to be distributed based on a state’s share of the population. Washington’s share was $208 million," Callaghan writes. "There was one major disconnect, however, between the rationale and the reality. Despite U.S. Sen. Patty Murray’s claim that 3,000 state teachers faced layoffs, only a relative handful were at risk. Only 445 public school teachers had received a layoff warning, and by the time the school year began, most had been recalled to the job."

What followed was the consummate budget gimmick (or, more accurately, budget magoozle). Callaghan notes that, "the emergency appropriation was written so broadly that school districts could spend it for just about any education-related costs. They never got the chance. In the midst of its own budget shortfall last December, the Legislature siphoned off the $208 million to help close a budget hole. Washington’s budget whizzes found the loophole in the law and stayed out of trouble by first distributing the money to nearly 300 districts, then reducing the state’s regular apportionment by an identical amount. That stayed technically within the EduJobs law, even while it ran counter to historic practice."

Newt Gingrich has Northwest roots or at least a political legacy that still lingers. The Seattlepi.com's Joel Connelly revisits the not-so-distant past when Washington exchanged its Speaker of the House for a windbag Speaker from Georgia. "Newt Gingrich would describe Washington as 'Ground Zero' in the 1994 Republican revolution that ended 40 years of Democratic House control, putting Gingrich into the speaker's chair for four uneasy years," Connelly writes. "We saw a lot of 'Newtsie,' as his mother called him, as Gingrich raised dollars for six newly elected GOP House members."

The irony as Connelly observes, is that the victory was Pyrrhic, and the anti-establishment juggernaut quickly turned into more of the same. Eastside Congresswoman Jennifer "Dunn emerged as an attractive advocate in the midst of dour suits (e.g. John Boehner) at caucus press conferences. Rep. George Nethercutt sat on the Appropriations Committee and fetched home federal dollars. Rep. Doc Hastings proved a reliable rubber stamp for House leaders on the Rules and Ethics Committees." Connelly offers an entertaining capsule of Newt vignettes as the now-Republican frontrunner barnstormed the Northwest.

What would Alaska do without all that oil dinero? And is it okay to bite (or at least tax) the oil behemoths that feed you? As the Anchorage Daily News' Sean Cockerham writes, "The Alaska Senate is about to enter a bruising debate over whether to slash how much Alaska taxes oil companies, with Senate President Gary Stevens calling the governor's tax cut plan a giveaway that could cost the state billions with little in return."

The Alaska battle is instructive, illustrating that not all Republicans are tax averse. It also underlines how lucky Alaska is, conjuring creative ways to harness its fossil-fuel riches (read: no budget magoozles required.)

Lastly, what does the death of Vaclav Havel have to do with news of the Great Nearby? (News that was eclipsed by Sunday's death of the execrable Kim Jong il.) Well, at least Havel's death raises a question. As the Washington Post reports, Havel was the acme of public service. "Mr. Havel was a playwright by profession and a political activist by avocation. The two activities were complementary, and each served to gain him a leading place among the dissidents of Eastern Europe who helped bring down the communist empire. His words and deeds resonated far beyond the borders of the former Czechoslovakia, and he was widely recognized for his struggles in behalf of democracy and human dignity." Has the Northwest ever produced a Havel-esque leader, an artist who sets down the plow, Cincinnatus-like, to serve others in public life? (Sorry, Vic Meyers doesn't count.)

Link Summary

Seattle Times, "Seattle police fail to even see a problem"

The News Tribune, "Budget crisis? EduJobs to the rescue again"

Seattlepi.com, "Washington was Gingrich's 'Ground Zero' "

Anchorage Daily News, "Sides form for oil tax battle in Alaska Senate"

Washington Post, "Vaclav Havel, dissident playwright and former Czech president, 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