Cue the bagpipes and page the town crier: It's the first day of the legislative session. Like a second marriage, the 2012 session represents the triumph of hope over experience. Baroque policy questions will untangle, the public good will vanquish self-interest, and peace will live and reign in Olympia. And so it will be for the first five or six or even seven minutes.
For many lawmakers public policy is regarded through the lens of the spring and fall elections. Spring? If the legislature kicks a revenue package to voters, it could be decided in just a few months. "The Washington Legislature kicks off a chaotic 60-day session battle Monday with a sense of urgency about fixing a $1.5 billion budget gap. But in many ways the 2012 legislative session is looking like a giant run-up to spring and fall elections," The Olympian's Brad Shannon and Jordan Schrader write. "In fact, Democratic leaders hope voters will undo much of their work." The easiest way to unscramble the egg is to identify dinero to "buy back" elided services (or so Democrats hope).
Republicans also have a game plan. "Republicans aim to be first out of the gate with a more comprehensive solution once lawmakers reconvene. Thurston County Rep. Gary Alexander, House Republicans’ lead budget negotiator, said he has been working since Christmas on a proposal for cutting spending that he hopes to present to negotiators on Monday," Shannon and Schrader write. "Alexander’s plan would leave fewer people covered by the state’s safety net. But unlike Gregoire’s plan, he said, his proposal won’t release any inmates early, reduce supervision for those already out of prison, or cut school district funding that helps reduce the disparity created by differences in local levies. The Democratic governor calls for making those cuts but letting voters reinstate them with nearly $500 million in sales tax revenue."
Same-sex marriage is one non-budget question that will needle animated debate. And one way to make a decision is not to make a decision. As the Seattlepi.com's Joel Connelly writes, a key veteran lawmaker is hoping to throw the issue of marriage equality back to voters. Connelly quotes Democratic state Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen at a Saturday Whidbey Island town hall.
"I must represent the entire 10th District and we have a lot of evangelicals," Haugen said. Haugen's statement merits a ten on the courage (or nerve) meter, given her pro-gay-marriage audience. Haugen also imparted a dose of political reality. "I will tell you they will not have the votes in the state Senate without a vote of the people," she said.
Mary Margaret Haugen is an old-school progressive, who is also the composite of a non-urban, working-class Democrat. She will need to experience an evolution in thinking analogous to Gov. Gregoire's to avoid winding up as a highly effective intra-party obstacle to marriage equality. Haugen is tough, and brickbats and hissing won't influence her. The Herald's editorial embrace is one cudgel.
Haugen likely recognizes that a referendum only elevates public cynicism about the unwillingness of the political class to reach accord. Simply vote yes or no when the bill comes to the floor. Do we really need to vote on every public question, when we have elected representatives to do just that?
Bruce Barcott has written the most crystalline and resonant analysis of the Mt. Rainier tragedy. His themes echo John Muir, Wallace Stegner, and Belden Lane's Landscapes of the Sacred, along with an insightful takeaway that Ranger Margaret Anderson likely prevented a much greater tragedy.
"For many of us in the Pacific Northwest, Mount Rainier isn't just a national park. It's sacred public space. We go there to play and we go there to pray. Young mountaineers test their mettle on the Emmons Glacier. Elderly women stand and lay their hands on Rainier's old-growth cedars near Kautz Creek. Young couples hike into the backcountry at Indian Bar. Mothers take daughters snow camping at Reflection Lakes," Barcott writes. "Memory is Rainier's most powerful attribute. We live in a place where family history is often thin on the ground. Here in the West there aren't many ancestral estates. Our family migration stories aren't traced to the Mayflower, they're traced to last week. Amid all that transience, the mountain offers a place to connect with permanence, to create the personal back stories that bind us to the land."
By positioning her car between Benjamin Barnes and the visitors center, Anderson did something extraordinary. "Once Barnes reached the parking lot at the Jackson Visitors Center, there would be nowhere for him to go. But there would be an estimated 200 innocent visitors and park employees around him," Barcott writes.
For the late Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, Mount Adams was a place inhabited by memory and the numinous. It was the compass-like monument that he looked to to regain his bearings after his father died. It was one of the natural wonders he celebrated in Of Men and Mountains. So what would Douglas make of Mount Adams' incredible shrinking glaciers?
As the Yakima Herald-Republic's David Lester reports, "In the first comprehensive study of its kind, a Portland State University study has found Mount Adams' 12 glaciers have shrunk by nearly half since 1904 and are receding faster than those of nearby sister volcanoes Mount Hood and Mount Rainier. It's another sign of gradually warming temperatures that — if continued as expected by researchers — will mean significant problems for the water-dependent Yakima Valley."
The water crisis is especially serious: By the 2070s the Cascade Mountain snowpack will be down by 50 percent. Are there proactive options for the Yakima Valley? "One response could be to encourage additional water conservation to make the more limited supply meet the needs. Another more controversial potential is adding more storage," Lester writes.
Lastly, the Tyee offers a terrific read on the philosophical roots of the Occupy phenomenon. "I've recently learned that Occupy's basic critique of society is at least 70 years old," Crawford Kilian writes. "It is essentially that of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation, which transformed itself into the New Democratic Party half a century ago." This really is your grampa's Occupy movement.
Seattlepi.com, "No same-sex marriage without a public vote, senator says"
Seattle Times, "The ranger who protected Mt. Rainier from greater danger"
Yakima Herald-Republic "Shrinking glaciers on Mount Adams signal growing water problems"