Attorney General (and likely 2012 GOP gubernatorial candidate ) Rob McKenna speaks at UW student political mixer last night

1. Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna, the likely Republican candidate for governor next year, spoke at the weekly meeting of the College Republicans at the UW last night in a lecture hall on the basement level of the business school at Paccar Hall. McKenna spoke about the "unsustainable footing" of the state budget, claiming that state government has grown too fast (he cited the standard GOP soundbite that it's grown "30 percent in four years" under Gov. Chris Gregoire's watch, failing to note, however, that inflation and population have also grown). And noting a nine percent increase in state employee benefits every year between 1998 and 2008, a five percent salary increase every year, and a 13 percent increase in the number of workers, he said the solution was to put a "hard limit on the number of state employees," make state employees  "contribute more" to their health care plans, and "pay workers based on productivity, not seniority."

"The governor could do that tomorrow," he said, explaining that he's already instituted "performance management" in the AG's office where his crew "is doing more work with less" by focusing on worker productivity. Mindful of Scott Walker syndrome, he said all of this would have to be "collectively bargained" which he said was "appropriate." He added, "we will continue to have" collective bargaining, explaining that collective bargaining was mandated by statue (not a first amendment right, though, as one student proposed) and that both unions and the state should be expected to bargain hard, and in good faith. "The role of the union is to get the best deal for their members. That's what they're there to do," he said.

[pullquote]By limiting the size of the government workforce and their benefits, McKenna argued, the state could fund social services for the poor and (dude knows his audience), fund higher ed.[/pullquote]

The Young Democrats were invited to the meeting. During the Q&A, lefty students repeatedly pressed McKenna about: the regressive tax system (he agreed that Washington State's sales tax was regressive); whether he supported increasing taxes on businesses or the rich (the income tax, he said has been rejected by voters and would take away our competitive advantage, and businesses, he added, already pay more than their fair share); and corporate tax breaks ("tax incentives can be good and create a lot of jobs"—he gave a shoutout to breaks for renewable energy—"but government has to be careful about choosing winners and  giving large subsidies to one big industry that has lots of lobbyists, and leaving it in place forever.")

Coming back to his theme of efficiency—one student politely asked McKenna if efficiency "could really make up a $5 billion difference?"—he said shrinking government costs on the workforce side would allow the state to "create equity and social justice in other ways [than tax reform]." By limiting the size of the government workforce and their benefits, McKenna argued, the state could fund the Basic Health Plan, the Disability Lifeline, and (dude knows his audience) fund higher ed. Saying it was "ridiculous" that students had to pay more and stay in school longer to get their degrees, McKenna said he would not extend his employee freeze to professors; that he would put "a floor on funding for schools" pushing it back toward 16 percent of costs as opposed to today's eight percent; and that the state "oughta commit to 50 percent of tuition costs at a minimum."

Thanks to the students' well-informed questions (I must say, kids seem a lot smarter than when I was in college), here are a couple of other things McKenna revealed: 1) As AG, the bill he's most frustrated he hasn't been able to get through the legislature—"despite having bipartisan support and more cosponsors than any other bill I've proposed"— is his bill to prevent the government from simply declaring "blight" to take over private property. And 2) He doesn't drink soda ("I think it's bad for you"). And 3) Accordingly, he didn't vote to repeal the soda tax last year. (We have a call in to his office to check if our notes are right on that non-party-line claim).

McKenna ended the evening by exhorting the room of bipartisan students to "call Harry Reid, call John Boehner, call Barack Obama and tell them 'You're ruining my future'" with the trillions in looming government debt.

The GOP student hosts ended the evening by announcing that the campus Democrats were bringing U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee to speak next week. (Inslee is the likely Democratic candidate for governor next year).  "And," the Republicans concluded: "we'll be there."

2. Yesterday afternoon at city hall, city council member Nick Licata negotiated a deal in which glass artists other than Dale Chihuly will be allowed to sell their artwork at Seattle Center.

As everyone knows, the city has agreed to convert the soon-to-be-defunct Fun Forest amusement park in the shadow of the Space Needle to a permanent exhibit of Chihuly's work, combined with a new headquarters for the KEXP radio station. Under a contract that was set to be voted on by the council's parks committee this afternoon, only Chihuly would have been allowed to sell his art. The new contract allows other glass artists to sell their wares at the Center House in Seattle Center. Had the language not been changed, city council member Nick Licata says, he would have voted against the agreement in today's committee meeting.

3. After passing the house with heavy bipartisan support last month, State Rep. Reuven Carlyle's alternative certification bill for school principals got killed by "the ferocious educational industrial complex," according to the caustic post Carlyle wrote on his  blog earlier this week.  (Rep. Carlyle had wanted to allow people such as former Microsoft and Boeing engineers and execs into the system without having to go through the traditional process.)

Carlyle's candid cynicism is worth quoting at length:
A united front of the Association of Washington School Principals, Washington State Professional Educator Standards Board, Washington State School Directors Association, Washington Association of School Administrators, Washington Education Association and others were actually good natured in their powerful slap down of the bill.

I am not, of course, personally or professionally unappreciative of their view that opening the door to those from outside of education is an unacceptable intrusion upon the grip of the institutional infrastructure of education. I happen to believe that the light of new ideas, new energy, new approaches and new methodologies is a positive and not a negative, but during these tough budget times I do actually understand their argument.

My view that principals from outside of the current status quo add value is not a religious conviction, it’s just a policy position. And perhaps I’m wrong about the policy itself.

Upon reflection, the part of the journey that genuinely disappointed me about this political defeat was that last year during the interim I actively and aggressively reached out to the stakeholders and asked them to work with me to craft legislation for the 2011 session to strengthen the role of principals. They politely declined the invitation. And then when the session began and I introduced the legislation, they kicked into high gear to kill it without reservation.

I certainly did discover what the opponents found objectionable about the bill’s core idea. They were very clear about that. Unfortunately, I just never was able to discover what they actually support in striving to improve the role and value of principals. They never actually got around to answering that question.

The bill’s life was a glorious, unmitigated, unrestrained failure.

4. Talk about challenging the "educational industrial complex": Definitely check out what Seattle City Council member Sally Bagshaw had to say in this week's installment of ThinkTank. We kinda think she comes out for uniforms and charter schools.

5. The city could soon consider new rules governing homeless people who camp in their cars in Ballard, city council member Mike O'Brien says. Currently, car camping is technically illegal, but relatively common, especially in the northwest part of the city. However, one complaint from a neighbor can lead to a crackdown by the city's police department or the Seattle Department of Transportation, which has the authority to post "No Parking between 2 and  5 am" signs, aimed at forcing car campers to vacate an area.

One solution, O'Brien suggests, might be encouraging churches (which aren't subject to the same land-use rules that apply on public rights-of-way) to provide parking lots and sanitary facilities to people who live in their cars.

6. Although the city has been sued by several phone-book companies over regulations that allow residents to opt out of receiving phone books automatically (the companies say the law infringes on their right to free speech), so far, the lawsuit hasn't gone anywhere, and city officials are moving forward with efforts to create a database of people who don't want to get phone books on their doorsteps.

Within the next couple of weeks, the city will have a web site up and running where Seattle residents can register to opt out of phone book delivery---just in time for Qwest's summer onslaught, which typically starts in June.
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