Midday Scan: Gun fire and ice; defining budget cuts; get ready for 2012 voting

Mount Rainier shooting leaves shock. How will lawmakers look at budget cuts? And how will we all vote on marijuana and other ballot questions this year?

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Emmett Watson with Tiger (Josef Scaylea/HistoryLink)

Mount Rainier shooting leaves shock. How will lawmakers look at budget cuts? And how will we all vote on marijuana and other ballot questions this year?

"Words, they die on our lips," Elie Wiesel wrote. Sunday's senseless murder at Mount Rainier National Park of 34-year-old Park Ranger Margaret Anderson marked the first in-the-line-of-duty shooting death since the park's inception in 1899. True, gun violence is a hallmark of the American West. It's as if bloodletting by firearm is hard-wired, as natural as breathing. Nevertheless, Mount Rainier is a national park. Americans employ a kind of spiritual vocabulary when discussing the country's best idea, with words like "cathedral," "transcendence," and "sanctuary." That's what made Sunday's murder the civic cognate of a sacrilege, like a church shooting. 

Anderson's murderer didn't survive long. "Driven relentlessly through chest-deep snow by his pursuers and unprepared for bitter, freezing temperatures, the suspect in the Sunday slaying of a Mount Rainier National Park ranger died cold and wet overnight — lying half-submerged in Paradise Creek and wearing one tennis shoe, a T-shirt and jeans, barely one mile from where he had fled into the woods," the Seattle Times reports. "Indications are that Benjamin Colton Barnes, 24, died from exposure. His body showed no sign of injuries, and he was carrying a handgun, a magazine of ammunition and a knife, said Sgt. Ed Troyer of the Pierce County Sheriff's Department."

Two memes emerged from Sunday's tragedy, both premature and inchoate. The first revolves around guns in national parks, which have been permitted since 2010. Guns are nonessential because hunting is prohibited, however, the broader question quickly evolved into a visceral Second Amendment issue and Congress (surprise!) caved a couple of years ago. Arguably, a guns-in-parks' law would have had zero impact on the actions of a madman. The second and equally troubling meme concerns post-traumatic stress. Was Barnes a casualty of the Iraq war and a possibly unresponsive Veterans Administration? It's too early to say and, more to the point, can't mitigate the carnage he left behind.

The Los Angeles serial arsonist revived Northwest memories of the horror caused by one lone-wolf scofflaw. Most recently, there was the arsonist who caused major damage to the Taproot Theatre and other Greenwood properties. Even more chilling was the saga of Paul Keller who killed three people and set more than 75 fires in the early 1990s (locals will recall that it was his dad who notified police.) LA was lucky to nab the bad guy so quickly. "Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said the key break in the L.A. serial arson investigation came Saturday night when federal officials recognized a 'person of interest' in the fires," the Los Angeles Times reports. "That night, officials had distributed a video of a man walking near a car fire at the Hollywood & Highland Center parking structure. Beck said unnamed federal officials recognized the man and gave police information about him. Booking records identified the man as Harry Burkhart, 24, a Hollywood area resident. He is being held in lieu of $250,000 bail at the Inmate Reception Center in downtown L.A."  

AP's Rachel LaCorte delves into the Orwellian policy language of what constitutes a budget cut. Too wonky? It actually may hold the key to solving the budget impasse, presupposing forces can agree on a proper definition. "For some, a cut is a removal of something that currently exists: A prison that is shuttered. A state employee who is laid off. A person who received subsidized health care from the state who now doesn't," LaCorte writes. "But for those who deal in budgets for the state, a cut also counts as a decrease in projected spending. So that state worker who was expecting a cost-of-living increase in his or her pension and didn't get it — that's a cut. So is the decision not to pay for voter-approved initiatives, like one to reduce class sizes."  

The stakes are huge. "If all of Gregoire's proposed budget cuts — including a suggestion to shorten the school year — are approved by the Legislature, Washington is scheduled to spend about $30 billion in its current general fund budget. That's more than the last budget cycle and about $2.5 billion less than the peak in the 2007-2009 budget, back when federal stimulus dollars helped lawmakers fill in the fiscal gaps," LaCorte writes. "So when lawmakers talk about a $10.5 billion cut, what they are referring to is cumulative cuts to current and projected spending to pay for programs that — if revenues had continued as expected — would be paid for out of a budget of about $38 billion, according to projections by the state's Office of Financial Management."  

The Herald's Jerry Cornfield presents some core political questions for the new year. How are you going to vote on the expected marijuana initiative ballot measure? Should healthcare be resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court? What about the sales tax? (Cornfield's only sin of omission is not floating other tax brainstorms such as a capital-gains' tax, perhaps because no one has considered it seriously.) Here are some examples of Cornfield's astute q-and-a:

"Would you rather shorten the school year by four days or reduce subsidies to rural school districts as a means of trimming public school funding?"

"Both options are on the table to help the state plug a $1.5 billion hole in the budget. Lawmakers have heard from the governor, school superintendents and teachers. What parents and the rest of the public say may determine if either is pursued," Cornfield writes.  

In addition, "Would you rather have U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee resign from Congress or remain in office while campaigning for governor?"

"In the minds of pundits and the tallies of pollsters, Inslee trails Republican Rob McKenna at this juncture. Inslee realizes each hour he sits in Congress is one less hour he spends on the campaign. There is a cost of leaving too soon and for staying too long and he's looking for the spot where it's a wash," Cornfield writes.  

Lastly, San Diego is at last catching up to Seattle, as its scribes are now required to adhere to a dress code. As the San Diego City Beat reports, "John T. Lynch, the new boss at the San Diego Union-Tribune, has sent yet another memo to employees announcing changes in 2012. This time, the moves include new hours, a dress code and new features in the U-T lobby."  

Seasoned Seattle journalists from the late Emmett Watson to Crosscut's Knute Berger have always embraced a "dress for success" mantra. Sort of.   

Link Summary

The Seattle Times, "Suspect in ranger's slaying found dead in creek" 

Los Angeles Times, "Federal official's tip leads to arson suspect"

Seattlepi.com,"Definition of a state budget cut hard to pin down"  

The Herald, "Political questions to ponder as we ring in the new year"

San Diego City Beat, "U-T staffers to work longer hours and dress snazzier under new management" 


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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