Friday, June 30, 2006

Squandering The Taxpayer's Money in Downtown Port Orchard

The marque in downtown Port Orchard has been among the city's most contentious issues for about as long as I can remember — and I've been here since 1975. Some people want to tear it down, while others just want it fixed and updated. If it's torn down, the owners would have the opportunity to spruce up their buildings and add some charm and individuality to the downtown area — ala Poulsbo or Gig Harbor. Repairing and updating it will leave downtown pretty much the same as it is, only with a different color scheme.

No matter what your preference, there's no question that Mayor Kim Abel's lack of leadership has let this situation deteriorate to the point the structure itself has become unsafe and is a lawsuit waiting to happen. In the three years she's been in office, all that's been done is to "study" the issue. It sounds like Abel is getting advice on governmental management from her friend, former SK commissioner Charlotte Garrido.

The city spent nearly $25,000 on a Bellevue-based consultant for plans contractors could use to bid on the repairs. That money also included an estimate of how much those bids should be. That’s in addition to $17,000 it spent with the same firm for a previous marquee evaluation.

So here's a couple of questions...

• Isn’t there a local, Kitsap County firm the city could have spent that $42,000 with?
• Why not use the plan offered to the city for free by an award-winning builder who is also a downtown merchant?

Maher Abed, the city public works director, was quoted as saying the money will be, “…well-spent because, if nothing else, it will really clarify the scope of work.”

However, once a contract was awarded to perform the work, the contractor discovered lead paint had been used in a prevous marque makeover. Removing that paint will add a significant, unanticipated cost to the repair. This begs the question; If the consultant was being paid to "clarify the scope of work," shouldn't the consultant have discovered the lead paint as part of that $42,000 evaluation, and if not, why not?

In my opinion, Abed is one of Abel’s less than stellar appointments, along with Planning Director JoAnne Long-Woods. This dynamic duo has brought economic progress in the city to a virtual halt.

After years, and numerous "studies" — including some before Abel was elected — it’s no national security secret what needs to done downtown. Abel should have taken the lead making it happen — long before spending an unnecessary $42,000.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Are We About To Codify a Legal Double Standard?

The Washington State Supreme Court is about to decide the issue of whether or not radio talk show hosts John Carlson and Kirby Wilber violated campaign finance laws by advocating for I-912, the failed measure to repeal the 9¢ a gallon gas tax. This decision will have a far-reaching impact on First Amendment freedom of speech rights — and especially political speech, if the court rules against Carlson and Wilber.

I have wondered why the defense didn't question and equate this situation to KIRO talk show host Dave Ross staying on the air after it was clear he was going to be a candidate for the 8th District congressional seat. Personally, I believe he should have been paying KIRO for the airtime instead of the other way around. From the time he was first mentioned as a possible candidate, until he declared for the position at the very last possible minute, all Ross did was parrot the Democratic Party platform and basically campaign for office on his show.

I'm certainly not a lawyer, but the fact that the defense didn't tie these two together, seems like a major legal blunder to me, because there sure isn't any difference I can see between what Dave Ross did and the actions of John Carlson and Kirby Wilber. All were actively advocating for political causes and using the public airwaves to do so.

The last thing our ultra-liberal state Supreme Court wants is force liberals to live by the same laws they demand of conservatives. Equating Dave Ross with Carlson and Wilber was a premium opportunity to not legalize the double standard that is sure to result — as well as put the hypocrisy of the court on display as two of the most liberal justices are about to face the voters — if the Supreme Court finds against the two talk show hosts

Just as in the Rossi case, I believe the Republican Party is guilty of some very bad lawyering, coupled with a flawed legal strategy. I have said numerous times before that there isn't a way for the Republicans to shoot themselvs in the foot they haven't thought of, but I have great faith in their ability to invent new ones. They haven't let me down — again.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

How Vulnerable is Maria Cantwell — Really?

Republican Mike McGavick has just released some new, independent poll numbers showing he is within striking distance of overtaking incumbent Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell. With the November election approximately 135 days away as of this posting, for him to be this close to an incumbent senator in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2 to 1, shows that Cantwell is in serious trouble. Or does it?

McGavick already has the Republicans galvanized. All he needs from them is their money. It goes without saying Republicans aren't going to cross over and vote for Cantwell. That gives McGavick lots of time to work on subverting unhappy conservative and moderate Democrats — some of who WILL crossover and vote for him.

How many, and why they've lost faith, are the critical questions Democrats refuse to acknowledge as an issue. That would mean addressing their concerns, and as long as the liberals run the party, that isn't going to happen. They continue to take the political middle for granted while they try and smooth the disaffected feathers of their various combative liberal factions.

They ignore the middle at their own peril. The liberal wing of the party fails to understand or believe that's how Dino Rossi was elected governor — twice. The same situation could repeat itself here — with a much different outcome.

Meanwhile, McGavick hasn't really taken any positions on anything controversial or of any real substance. His strategy is extremely smart. It's been to divide and conquer — appeal to those conservative and moderate Democrats disillusioned and disgusted with their own party at the local and state level as well as with the rabid and confrontational partisanship of ultra-liberals like Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton.

Except for an occasional barb, he's not running all that hard against Cantwell directly, but more against Washington DC and its highly polarized partisanship. He alludes that Cantwell is part of the problem without saying it directly, and comes across as a voice of reason willing to reach out across that great divide.

The strategy has bolstered his poll numbers which he's spinning in a positive manner against Cantwell. This also strengthens the public perception of her vulnerability — and because perception equals reality — encourages supporters of Mark Wilson and the third-party fringe candidates, to work even harder against her.

McGavick's appealing to Democrats by finding common ground on things they and Republicans can easily agree on — such as the partisanship issue. He openly blames Republicans as well as Democrats for the problems, which has given him credibility with that particular group of Democrats.

He already has them interested and agreeing on small points. Next, he'll start to close them on slightly larger, but still basically non-controversial issues — like health care costs. He openly asks, who knows more about this particular topic than the CEO of a major insurance company? Once he has them agreeing again, the issues will get incrementally larger until he has either turned them off — and they go back to Cantwell — or subverted (closed) them. It's Salesmanship 101 — and McGavick is a Master Salesman.

Either way, he's successfully eating into Cantwell's base to some extent with this strategy. Cantwell will win her primary, but deplete reserves and burn political capital doing it. Positions and statements from Cantwell against her primary opposition, will also give McGavick additional ammunition for the general election if he needs it. With only about 75 days until the primary, running against Washington DC has worked very well so far, kept McGavick from having to stake out any controversial positions he can be attacked on, and kept Cantwell on the defensive. He'll keep that up just as long as it continues to work.

The election could easily come down to turnout. Consider the small margin by which Cantwell originally beat Slade Gorton. Opposition from minor party candidates, which will only siphon off votes from Cantwell in the general election, could become crucial. Couple these with the "spin" of Cantwell's primary positions, as well as her votes on the war and other issues. McGavick's successful campaign against Washington DC has kept him out of the direct line of fire, so he won't need to subvert an insurmountable number of disillusioned Democrats to win. And he doesn't even necessarily need them to vote for him, just anyone but Cantwell!

Every day McGavick foments discontent among the Democrats is another day closer to the election; another day he isn't taking a stand on anything on which he can be attacked; another day Cantwell is on the defensive; another day he has available to work on successfully subverting discontented moderate Democrats; and finally, another day he has to continue encouraging those third party fringe candidates and their supporters to pull votes away from Cantwell in the general.

You have to admire the simple beauty of McGavick's strategy — and it's clearly working.

Another issue to look for to be "spun" against her as Election Day looms, is Cantwell's ties to Hillary. While a fair number of liberal Democrats will argue that Hillary isn't a liability, she is undoubtedly the single most divisive politician in America today. She offers Republican strategists a huge target to shoot at, and an early opportunity to begin discrediting her for 2008. No matter how you personally feel, positive or negative towards her, there is almost no one in America who doesn't have an opinion about Hillary Clinton.

I don't know how much you actually know about McGavick, but being an active member of the political media I've had occasion to meet him several times. Just as Dino Rossi did, he took the time to call me personally and make an appointment to stop by my office for a couple of hours to talk. While there, like Rossi, he asked to meet my employees. He took the time to listen to each one of them personally, at some length, about their concerns. This far into it, we've still not even heard from Cantwell or her campaign.

As a Democrat, even knowing going in that if elected, McGavick is going to have to support President Bush and advocate for things you can't agree with, when you meet him, you like the guy. You realize immediately he's not anything like what you may have been led to believe. That's his ace in the hole — and where I believe Cantwell and the party have seriously underestimated him. He's very warm, immediately likable, and empathetic, yet smooth, polished, and extremely effective one-on-one, and in small group situations. Contrast this to Cantwell's cool, aloof, distant, and somewhat combative personality — and if you've ever met her personally, you understand exactly what I mean.

The last thing Cantwell should do is challenge McGavick to a debate. In his calm, reasonable manner, he will eat her alive — and you may still not know where he stands when it's over. All you'll know is that Cantwell lost.

The bottom line is this: Given the time until the election, McGavick's poll numbers, his ability to avoid being pinned down on the issues, his ability to raise serious money, and most of all, his reasonable, likable demeanor — especially when contrasted to Cantwell — if this guy can meet and talk to enough moderate and/or conservative Democrats, he can win.

I expect some highly partisan Democrats will vehemently disagree with this assessment, while the more pragmatic ones will understand that it is what it is — and their standard operating procedure of shooting the messenger isn't going to change that.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Is The Momentum Shifting In Favor Of NASCAR?

I attended the recent presentation to Lt. Governor Brad Owen and the legislative economic development committee about the NASCAR proposal. Frankly, I was surprised there were only a handful of opponents present, while the room overflowed with supporters who couldn’t find seats and had to listen from outside the meeting room. International Speedway Corporation (ISC) did an outstanding job of presenting a panel of recognized experts to explain the facts of the financing proposal to the legislators present, and answer their questions.

Representatives of the Governor’s office, most notably Dr. Irv Lefberg, PhD., Chief of Forecasting for the Office of Financial Management (OFM) told the legislators that the numbers contained in the Berk Report and presented by ISC appeared to be conservative, and that the value of the massive amounts of TV coverage as well as exposure to the corporate CEOs that sponsor NASCAR teams, is a positive intangible benefit for our state that is impossible to calculate in dollars.

Rep. Adam Smith, who stated he represented Congressman Norm Dicks as well as himself, stated that they both support the project and see it as a vehicle for the Puget Sound region to become less Seattle-centric economically, and pledged to work to secure funding for the needed infrastructure improvements. Meanwhile, Bremerton mayor Cary Bozeman gave an impassioned plea for support because he believes enough revenue will be generated to help fund the continually mounting social obligations cities face. Tacoma Mayor Bill Baarsma, who was ill and couldn’t attend, has also endorsed the project, as has Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg, who testified with Bozeman.

However, the event was most notable for the fact that C.H.E.C.K., the group opposing the project, didn’t present any compelling, or credible evidence of why legislators should not green-light the project, when given the opportunity to testify. Frankly, their presentation was so lame it did their cause more harm than good. It was long on accusations and innuendo, but short on reality — and C.H.E.C.K’s well-worn misdirection approach obviously backfired as the legislators saw right through it. One of the legislators, I believe it was Senator Joyce Mulliken (R-Ephrata), chastised C.H.E.C.K. spokesman Ray McGovern by saying point blank, "I have to make my decisions on issues based on the facts. Where are your facts? I don't see any being presented here."

C.H.E.C.K.’s presentation also contained obvious intentional misinformation (which some people might term blatant lies), such as when McGovern stated the project would devastate 950 acres of “virgin timber.” You could hear background snickers from the audience at that comment. Anyone that’s actually visited the proposed site knows it’s an overgrown clear-cut for the most part, that’s devoid of “virgin timber.”

Another C.H.E.C.K. spokesman, environmental activist Tom Donnelly, didn’t endear the group to legislators either (some who traveled from as far away as Walla Walla) by admonishing them about the location of the hearing, stating it should have been held in Kitsap County. But it was Port Orchard Independent columnist and Sierra Club representative Mary Colborn who took the undisputed prize for lack of credibility with her assertion that bird watchers would generate as much revenue as NASCAR if only given a chance.

I came away from the hearing believing the momentum has shifted significantly away from opponents who have been carping against the project by playing to the fears of the uninformed, in favor of project supporters. They shifted that momentum simply by dealing in reality and stating the facts — not by using the blatantly dishonest tactics of systematic disinformation, misdirection and outright lies employed by opponents up to this point.