Sunday, February 22, 2015

Port Citizen Advisory Committee Discusses 2015 Work Plan

Above: Members of the Port of Olympia citizen advisory committee met with port commissioners on February 17 to discuss their 2015 work plan.
By Janine Unsoeld

Port of Olympia commissioners George Barner and Bill McGregor met with the port’s 14 member citizen advisory committee on Tuesday, February 17 to discuss committee’s 2015 work plan.
The committee has five new members who are starting three year terms. Out of seven who applied, five new members were chosen by port executive director Ed Galligan, Commissioner McGregor, and committee chair John Hurley, based on a number of criteria.
At a November 24, 2014 commissioner meeting, the last meeting port commissioner Sue Gunn attended due to health issues, Gunn stated that she would like to change how the members are selected so that it is in open session with all three commissioners.
Committee members were asked to take on four tasks for the year: research transparency issues, refine a protocol for the naming of port facilities, help develop the port’s vision statement, and conduct a self-evaluation of their work as a committee.
Tasks for the committee are created and assigned to the Port's citizen advisory committee by the commissioners. It was made clear that the group had to accept the tasks, although many clearly had no enthusiasm to revisit protocols for naming port facilities, since they did a thorough review of the subject last year. McGregor wanted the group to essentially say to the commissioners, “do it or don’t it.”

The commissioners said it would be of value to the port to have the committee investigate and report back on the issue of transparency.
Questions the commissioners asked the committee to explore are: What is an acceptable definition of transparency in government and, in particular, the Port of Olympia? What has the Port done to improve transparency over the past few years and what additional measures can the port do to improve transparency? What is it that citizens want to see improved as it relates to Port transparency? What is the overall feeling of citizens as it relates to transparency?
Regarding this last question, commissioners stated that a public hearing may be required by the committee as part of their information gathering effort.
Among other requests, the commissioners asked the committee to comment on the commission’s meetings and work sessions in terms of meeting frequency, time of day, length of meeting and content.
A detailed scope of work asks that the group look at commission meeting materials, compare the Port of Olympia to at least three other regional ports and at least two other local jurisdictions.
The group has a deadline for this task of September 2015.
Naming Protocols

Members were not keen on revisiting a task to examine how the port would go about naming facilities after individuals if so desired. The committee reported back to the commission and gave several recommendations in a detailed 2014 report, and committee member Clydia Cuykendall said that it was not a good use of the group’s time to revisit the issue. She noted that the port has received only one naming request in the past 10 years. The deadline for this task is June 2015.
Vision Statement

The commissioners and port staff will be working on the development of a vision statement as part of a two day strategic planning retreat currently scheduled for the end of March.
The committee was asked to choose from one of the sample vision statements that will be provided to them by the commissioners. If none of the sample vision statements are preferred, they are to suggest language changes. A deadline for this is to be determined.

Committee Self-Evaluation
The group is tasked with conducting a self-evaluation on the use of a citizen advisory committee. The group must compare and contrast its formation and work with at least four regional ports and at least three local jurisdictions and quasi-governmental entities. The deadline for this task is September 2015.

Committee members divided themselves up between committees. New members asked questions from whether or not the airport or the port really makes any money, to the status of the Mazama pocket gophers at the airport property.
Cuykendall wondered why the committee wasn’t included to comment on the Tumwater Real Estate Master Plan, and what the difference was between their past work, and the work of the new port advisory committee for the port’s properties in New Market.

Port of Olympia New Market Industrial Campus and Tumwater Town Center Real Estate Development Master Plan  
This latest study is a master plan being coordinated by the Thurston Regional Planning Commission. The Port of Olympia owns over 500 acres of real estate in Tumwater, excluding the Olympia Regional Airport. The property may be developed for commercial, industrial or other uses. In response to questions from committee members, port executive director Ed Galligan admitted that the gophers, now listed as a threatened species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, present a serious impediment to growth on the property.

The port’s master plan group will have a public workshop about the development of this plan on Thursday, March 5, 6:00 p.m. – 8 p.m. at the Comfort Inn Conference Center, 1620 74th Avenue SW, Tumwater.
For more information about the New Market Master Plan, go to

For more information about the Port of Olympia, go to

Port of Olympia Business Carries On Without Commissioner Gunn

Above: Port of Olympia executive director Ed Galligan, left, Commissioner George Barner, center, in striped shirt, and Commissioner Bill McGregor, to his left, conduct business at a special joint commission and port citizen's advisory committee meeting on February 17, 2015.

By Janine Unsoeld

Among other business, Port of Olympia commissioners George Barner and Bill McGregor heard a presentation at their work session on February 19 about a proposal to create a new berth.
Commissioner Sue Gunn, absent from port meetings since November 24, had open heart surgery in December. Commissioner McGregor said he thinks Gunn may be absent through March and that he doesn’t know if she is going to be back.

Port commissioners divide responsibilities and assignments. Gunn is responsible for attending meetings of the Tumwater Chamber, Grand Mound Rochester Chamber, South Thurston Economic Development Initiative, Legislative Thurston County Shared Partnership Group, and the Transportation Policy Board. McGregor and Barner attended Transportation Policy Board meetings for Gunn in January and February.
At the work session meeting, new draft language regarding administrative procedures for the excusal and prolonged absence of a port commissioner was discussed. In light of Commissioner Gunn’s absence, clarifying language is needed, as this occurrence has not happened before in port history. No action was taken.

Harbor Patrol Discussion
Staff and commissioners had a lengthy conversation about the Harbor Patrol program. McGregor asked staff for more information about the loss of City of Olympia funding for the Harbor Patrol and keenly wanted to try and find a way to save it. He asked staff to see if there was a way the port could take over a portion of the costs, and to find out how much the repairs to their boat is going to cost.

“We get drawn in by association…in my cursory look, it’s a benefit. I’d hate to see it go away without discussion. Let’s begin the process from the Port’s perspective. The boat needs work. Let’s find out what is the true cost of keeping the program alive and what we can take on under our jurisdiction,” said McGregor.
Galligan said he would produce a report to the commissioners about the program by March 2.

Above: An aerial of the Port of Olympia taken in December 2014. A proposal for a Berth 4 is being discussed in the area of the missing "notch" of the current port peninsula.

Berth 4 Proposal
Alex Smith, the port’s director of environmental programs, gave a brief report on a proposal to create a fourth berth in the area of the missing “notch” of the current port peninsula.  The port says a fourth berth would provide greater flexibility, creating between four to six acres of work area for cargo loading or unloading.

The port also sees this as an opportunity to continue its cleanup of Budd Inlet and to have a place to deposit dredge spoils.
An old pier made of creosote pilings in that location is still visible. Commissioner Barner commented that he used to be employed there as a young teenager as a “casual” – a temporary laborer, using pike poles to separate floating logs. They were then pulled out of the water and either loaded on ships or stored them on land.  

“It was dangerous business, and a couple of my buddies were killed, crushed by moving logs,” he said.
Creating the new berth, technically a confined disposal facility, would require the dredging of the federal channel. Due to the contaminated sediment caused by legacy dioxins from mills along the shoreline, the proposed project has years of decisions ahead of it.

The port proposes to use a berm and/or a sheet pile wall to surround the area for the deposit. The contaminated sediment would be capped, fill would go on top of that, then asphalt. Collectively, that creates a new upland area. 
The Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for doing the dredging and pays for the lowest cost disposal alternative. Smith estimated that an estimated 400,000 to 575,000 cubic yards of material would be dredged.

The cost for the berth would be about $20 million. To pay for the berth, the port would pursue a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant that would pay for about a third of the total cost.
Smith said that the state Department of Ecology would be unlikely to pay for the project because it doesn’t meet their criteria for cleanup. Dredged material from berths 2 and 3 was recently taken away to landfills in Castle Rock, Washington and Oregon.

“The most we can put into berth 4 would be about 180,000 cubic yards. It’s not going to solve all our problems and it’s still a pretty expensive thing to do….” said Smith after the meeting.
Asked how desperate the port is to do this project, Smith said that will be looked at in the port’s marine terminal master plan. Smith says the port will continue to move towards design and permitting. Getting on the Army Corps of Engineers radar for the dredging is a long process.

Harry Branch, Olympia, has a Master’s Degree in Environmental Studies with a focus on marine reserves as a tool in fishery management. He has also served as a captain operating research vessels.
Branch wrote a letter to the port commissioners saying that studies seem to indicate that confined disposal is being viewed less favorably because it impedes natural remediation by plants.

“Dredging and filling nearshore areas reduces potential ecological function by reducing the intertidal and shallow littoral area. Alterations to physical parameters impact chemical and biological parameters.
There is always some degree of mess created during construction. Any time we dig in the benthos, we release contamination into the water column.

Confined disposal facility (CDF) sites are expected to leak but at an acceptable rate. I suggest that in a confined, degraded bay like Budd Inlet, there is no acceptable rate. We need to ultimately get to a point where these things are for all intents and purposes, gone.
How long will this CDF actually survive? They haven't been around long enough to know for sure. The nearshore of Puget Sound is an artesian discharge zone. An interesting case study is the old coal gasification site near the head of the Thea Foss Waterway where a big blob of coal tar was buried about a hundred feet from the water's edge. That’s a big cap. Over the past eighty years this blob has been observed to move, underground, being pushed along by groundwater under artesian pressure. Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) ultimately emerged through seeps in the bank.

The half life of dioxin in bright sunlight can be a matter of hours. In a dark, anaerobic environment it can be a matter of centuries. The link below leads to an example of forward thinking on this topic. Placing all toxic material in one pile creates an environment that impedes remediation by natural processes including remediation by plants, fungi and aerobic bacteria. Rather than making persistent toxins biologically unavailable we should think in terms of making them biological available in a controlled setting. Here's what I'd like to see at berth 4:
The land from what's labeled on the port's map as the "cargo yard", across to the Cascade Pole containment cell is clearly the location of a canal in historic photos. This canal appears to have been used to float logs and other material across to the west side of the peninsula. It's a safe bet that those are the most seriously contaminated soils. This material should be excavated, hauled away and spread out in bright sunlight. Then the historic canal should be restored to intertidal habitat. The current dock pictured at berth 4 would be rebuilt and used by ships or become the location of a fuel dock. There'd be usable dock with good habitat behind, the point being to demonstrate how we can have human use along with restoration.
Here's the study mentioned that indicates how confined disposal is being viewed less favorably because in impedes natural remediation by plants.”

For more information about the Port of Olympia, go to


Thursday, February 12, 2015

Washingtonian of the Day: Fred Beckey

Above: Washington State Governor Jay Inslee waits to speak as an enthusiastic crowd gives legendary climber Fred Beckey,92, a standing ovation on Wednesday night at The Evergreen State College. Beckey gave a detailed, lively narration of his 100 Favorite North American Climbs, met with admirers and signed books until 10:00 p.m.

By Janine Unsoeld

Legendary Northwest climber Fred Beckey, 92, commanded the attention of an appreciative crowd who gave him a standing ovation on Wednesday night at The Evergreen State College in Olympia.
Governor Jay Inslee took time to not only award Beckey a certificate declaring Beckey “Washingtonian of the Day,” but stayed to listen to Beckey’s lively narration of a multi-media presentation based on his book, 100 Favorite North American Climbs. Inslee said he could not stay away when he heard Beckey would be speaking in Olympia.
“Washington State is a pretty special place – we’ve got Mt. Rainier, we’ve got Mt. Baker, the Space Needle, Boeing, and Fred Beckey…. He opens people’s ambitions and vision about the heights of our State,” said Inslee.
For his part, Beckey said that his program was more than just about his favorite climbs, “…but to show the pageantry of Western America and that these mountains are not just for recreation, but for wild resources and all our environmental needs….We need to protect them….”
Beckey recently returned from the American Alpine Club’s (AAC) annual meeting in New York City, where he received the AAC’s President’s Gold Medal, in recognition of his outstanding achievements in conservation, climbing, and service to the climbing community. Beckey is only the fourth person in 113 years to receive this honor.
“Fred Beckey is being recognized this year for a lifelong devotion to climbing and first ascents that is unmatched over generations. Fred has put climbing in front of virtually everything else in his life. We honor both his dedication to the craft and the thousands of routes he has left for us all to enjoy,” said AAC President Mark Kroese.
Ever active, Beckey also attended a Seattle event with Reinhold Messner in Seattle last week.
In Olympia, Steve Jones, a friend of Beckey’s, introduced Beckey by telling stories, and received laughs by saying Beckey invented the climber’s lifestyle before there was a climbing lifestyle.

Beckey did not disappoint as he told many stories during a slide show sprinkled with brief movie clips of his climbs.

Beckey tirelessly stayed until 10:00 p.m. to sign books and speak with admirers, including the coordinators of Evergreen’s Outdoor Program, which sponsored the event. The Outdoor Program (TOP) educates students in climbing basics, kayaking, backpacking and other outdoor activities.
The Olympia Mountaineers, the Warehouse Rock Gym and Mountaineers Meetup groups were also instrumental in spreading word of the event as far as Seattle and Portland.
Above: Fred Beckey, in red, chats with Washington State Governor Jay Inslee before giving a presentation on Wednesday night at The Evergreen State College.

Monday, February 9, 2015

A Community Conversation with SPSCC President Timothy Stokes

Above: South Puget Sound Community College President Timothy Stokes

“It’s an exciting time to be a community college president,” laughed South Puget Sound Community College (SPSCC) President Timothy Stokes.
Meeting with a handful of community members at a Lacey area coffee shop two weeks ago, Stokes revealed several new announcements and how the innovation and inclusiveness of a community college can change individual lives and the face of a whole community.

In the candid, wide ranging conversation, former Lacey mayor Graeme Sackrison told Stokes that he was a mediocre student in high school and his father wasn’t sure if he was a good investment.
“So, he said, ‘If you can make it through the first two years of college, then we’ll help you with the remainder.’”
So, Sackrison went to Centralia Community College for two years, worked at Miller’s Department in downtown Olympia store fulltime, then transferred to Western Washington University and graduated in 1966.

“…But it was clear to me that, without the community college and low tuition, it wouldn’t have been possible, so I’m a big fan of the community college system,” said Sackrison.
“That’s our story, right there,” responded Stokes.

Stokes was versed in all aspects of the college’s history, and seems well prepared to be part of its future.
On the job for just two years and one full week, Stokes came to Thurston County after serving in the community college system in Tacoma for 10 years, and in several other states.
“It was harder in Pierce County where there are five community colleges – it’s easy here in Thurston County.…It’s a pretty good gig,” he laughed. The position pays $161,875, according to an Office of Financial Management 2013 Report.

Above: SPSCC’s newest building on campus is Gold LEED certified. The 90,000 square foot, $43 million center for student services is a far cry from the surplus portables provided to SPSCC from Joint Base Lewis McChord. “We’re down to two portables and we hope they will be gone next month - it’s time for them to go!” says SPSCC President Timothy Stokes.
SPSCC Beginnings
The college on Mottman Road has come a long way since its humble beginnings.
In September 1962, the Olympia School District founded the current college as Olympia Vocational Technical Institute (OVTI) in the Montgomery Ward Building in downtown Olympia. OVTI was the formalization of the adult education offerings the school district began offering in 1957 out of Olympia High School. Anticipating growth, the school district had the foresight to move OVTI out to the sticks in 1971.
The college now offers several associate degrees and certificates. Enrollment statistics as of Fall quarter lists 5,842 students total (4,129 full time); 758 Running Start students, and 151 international students.
The campus sits on 102 acres, has 19 buildings, three of which are Gold LEED certified. The Hawks Prairie Center, opened in 1995, will be closed and students will be relocated to the new Lacey campus in the Woodland District. Occupancy in the new digs is scheduled for the Fall of 2015.
Stokes ticked off the college’s successes and looks forward to its role in creating a smarter workforce to compete in today’s job market. The community college is now a hub of innovation and entrepreneurship, serving as a point of entry for a diverse population and a catalyst for business development needs.
And they were doing all this before President Obama announced his new initiative, “America’s College Promise” in early January to provide "free" community college tuition for eligible students, up to $3,800 per year.
SPSCC's in-state tuition is $4,470 and $9,861 for out-of-state students. Estimated book expenses, supplies and other needs total about $4,000.
“A lot of people ask, ‘Are community college presidents for free tuition?’ And the answer is yes, we are, absolutely we are. We’re all in…we think that it will be a great investment in the future and keeping us competitive in the global marketplace. It’s a struggle for our students to pay for tuition. Our tuition has gone up…so, (according to Obama’s plan) after the first $3,800 is paid, there’s $600 left to pay for a year, so that’s $200 a quarter.”
Diverse Student Population
SPSCC caters to a diverse population, mostly transfer and workforce students. Military and those who need basic skills make up the rest. Former service members and transition enrollment has doubled due to Joint Base Lewis McChord in the last two years. Previously, they went north to Pierce College.

SPSCC’s ethnic make-up also adds to the college’s diversity: 23.18 percent are International, African American, Asian or Pacific Islander, Hispanic, Multi-racial, Native American or Alaskan Native.  The Caucasian population is 61.5 percent, and the rest is unknown.
“Our placement rate and transfers to a four year college or a job is at 96 percent, the rest are just coming to enhance their skills – 65 percent graduate with a credential – very high for a two year college. On average it’s 46 percent.” The time it takes is about 2.2 to 3 years.
As for meeting the basic literacy needs of some students, Stokes says the fastest growing population we have is low literacy adults, “because there is no employment for adults with low literacy….Having worked in Tacoma for 10 years, I’d say our students are coming out of high school in Thurston County well qualified and college ready.”
“Half of our students are planning to transfer to a four year institution…40 percent are workforce students – those are students getting a two year degree with an Associate in Arts for a marketable, high wage job.”
Stokes listed several educational degree and credential options include nursing, medical assisting, automotive service engineering, welding, computer aided design, dentistry and much more.
Legislative Issues and Budgetary Concerns
Asked what role he is playing during the state Legislative session, Stokes said he has 117 bills on his watch list. He’s introduced several new legislators to the community college system.

Stokes says his message is: "Even though you have a big issue in front of you, (the McCleary decision) those students have to go somewhere when they graduate. You can’t continue to cut higher ed, increase tuition, and expect to continue to have the graduation rates that we have."
There are several reasons for tuition increases, said Stokes.  SPSCC’s budget has been cut over 29 percent in the last three years and 46 percent in the last five years. The state used to fund 85 percent of their budget and tuition made up the rest.  Now the state provides 50 percent of the budget. The cost of health care benefits and retirement system costs are also factors.

“We try to be fair and equitable and our adjunct faculty receive health care benefits - one of the only states in the nation that pays health care for adjunct faculty. They also invest in our retirement system costs,” says Stokes.

Regarding the budget, Stokes said, “We like the governor’s (Jay Inslee's) budget in that it doesn’t propose cuts to the community college system, but there’s a little piece we’re having conversations about. His budget proposes a three percent salary increase to all our employees, which we certainly support - we haven’t had one for six years – but it directs that it would come out of tuition and the tuition has already increased to backfill from the cuts they’ve already made.”

Stokes’ goal is to not raise tuition for the next five years.
Asked what his immediate challenges are, Stokes said the college needs to unload their 53 acre property in Hawks Prairie before it can complete the Lacey campus in five years. The property was bought in anticipation of  becoming an SPSCC satellite branch. They had intentions to share intercollegiate athletic facilities John Paul II High School.

Another challenge is that despite the increased need for health care programs, mental health, and chemical dependency counseling/training, Stokes says they were graduating students in those low paying fields with substantial debt. It was this ethical dilemma on how much debt can you burden a student with that led to the closure of SPSCC’s horticultural program.
“Looking at higher wages, we can do some partnership programs where there will be an extension program in health care in the next few years, and in occupational therapy and physical therapy assistance.”
The New and Improved Nursing Program
Asked about the loss of accreditation for the nursing program, which occurred just as Stokes took over the college presidency, Stokes said there hasn’t been a big impact. He said that out of 23 community college nursing programs in the state, nine are no longer accredited.
“It was a very dated nursing education program… and the program had been on probation for six years,” says Stokes.
“National accreditation is not required to be a licensed nursing program in Washington but we felt it was important to stop the program and re-design it. We will be applying for the new accreditation - we have to have two years of graduates – and we did increase our student’s pass rate for the state certification test from a 76 percent pass rate to 100 percent. We hired a new director from Oregon – a top notch educator – and we’re rebuilding the program.”
Stokes knows that the prerequisites to get into SPSCC’s nursing program are higher than at other community colleges and was pleased to announce yet another recent success:
“We will be the first college to implement the “three plus one” program to get a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. We just signed a state agreement and got approval and of all 34 colleges eligible to participate, we’re the first to produce the program. So even though it was hard, it was necessary to increase the quality of our graduates and it was the right time because we’ll be the first to produce this three plus one program. It will put more Bachelor of Science Nurses out there (in the job market) and that’s becoming the standard for entry into the practice. They will leave SPSCC with three years education and finish up with one year at St. Martin’s University.”
SPSCC’s New Lacey Woodland District Campus
Stokes is perhaps most excited about a new partnership between SPSCC and the Thurston Economic Development Council and the creation of a new 125,000 square foot campus in what is becoming downtown Lacey in the Woodland District near College and Sixth Avenue.

The area across the street from the Lacey Intercity Transit station, Fred Meyer, Dancing Goats Coffee and many other businesses near South Center Mall is set to be a hub of student activity.
“The city is very happy about us being their first $20 million investor in their revitalization plan…the project is going really well. We’re rehabbing a former state office building of the state Department of Information Systems. We had an option of tearing everything down and building new but we decided to rehab the buildings because we just think it’s better for the environment.
“A developer has bought three vacant state office buildings in Woodland – his plan is to put retail on the first floor and create student housing for St. Martin’s College. The area will be a place to live, learn, work, and play - 750 students and 10,000 state employees will be coming through that facility for training - very exciting.”
A new advanced manufacturing program started in January on the new Lacey campus.
“As we look at the Boeing expansion – Fredrickson is going to make the winglet – the turn up on the wings and they are going to have to produce thousands of those -  we’re concerned because it will pull the skilled workforce out of Thurston County so we opened that program to help replace some of that advanced manufacturing labor in the community. They are great jobs – on average if you have a three dimensional certificate, you can earn $75,000 – $80,000 a year,” says Stokes.

Also new is the adding of an entrepreneurship program to all occupational courses. The college is also forging partnerships with manufacturing companies such as H20 Jet and Diamond Technologies, and received a one million dollar National Science Foundation grant to buy equipment for a lab in the lower level of building three.
“It’s a stunningly beautiful lab,” gushed Stokes.
Community Collaboration
Also in the Woodland District, the Thurston County Economic Development Center’s South Thurston Economic Development Initiative and SPSCC will collaborate to create a small development center. To help small businesses grow, senior executives will go out to the community and help people start businesses or more importantly, counsel them to “gazelle” their businesses.
“….So if a business is making $75,000 - $125,000, they will help them “gazelle” their business to $500,000 and develop a business plan to get them there. Our training center will have 18 conference rooms where you can start your business and be there for nine to 12 months,” says Stokes.
The most exciting part of the center will be the angel investment network and micro-lending program.
“We want to train people how to put together their business plans and develop a micro-lending angel investment network. There is none in Thurston County. We have a lot of people starting their businesses in their garages, a lot of software and app development, craft brewing and distilling. We want to help people grow those businesses. We’ll rival the one in Pierce/King County.” Stokes admitted there are a lot of cannabis businesses starting in their garages too, but didn’t want to go there.
“I rent a place on the west side of Olympia, but I can’t decide if I want to live in Woodland or downtown Olympia! I’m an urban kind of guy - I want to be in the heart of it. I want to be where it is,” laughed Stokes.
No doubt, Stokes is, well, stoked about the success and impact the college is having in Thurston County.
For more information about South Puget Sound Community College, go to or call (360) 754-7711 or go to 2011 Mottman Road SW, Olympia.
The community meeting with Dr. Timothy Stokes was coordinated by Thurston County Commissioner Sandra Romero, who hosts monthly chats on topical issues with various speakers. For more information, contact Commissioner Romero at or (360) 786-5440.

Above: Juan Carlos Ruiz Duran, 28, is currently a student at SPSCC and will transfer to The Evergreen State College next Fall. He is getting his Associate of Arts in education and teaching.
“This is the third college I’ve tried. SPSCC is different – it’s more inclusive. I have connections and relationships that have made my journey here easier.”
Born in Mexico, Ruiz Duran came to the United States in 1995 and to Washington State the following year. He went to Olympia High School and graduated from Avanti in 2008.
Ruiz Duran started SPSCC’s first Latino identity student group, Latino Student Union, and collaborates with St. Martin University’s Latino Student Alliance and Evergreen’s MeChA.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Big Money in Politics: WAmend Initiative Efforts Begin Again

Above: President Andrew Jackson says, "Not To Be Used For Buying Elections" - Amend the Constitution

By Janine Unsoeld

A new and improved initiative to get big money out of politics has Washington  Coalition to Amend the Constitution (WAmend) organizers in Olympia motivated, once again, to start the signature collection process. The group had its first public strategy meeting Thursday evening.

The Move to Amend organization seeks to overrule the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision which declared in Citizens United v Federal Election Commission that a corporation is a person and unlimited campaign money is free speech. If successful, it would make Washington State the 17th state to ask that Congress pass a 28th Amendment to overrule the decision.

Formerly called I-1329, the new initiative is easy to understand, say WAmend organizers. The new initiative language stills needs a number, and is expected to soon be approved by the state Attorney General and Secretary of State.

“The new language is better because it is far shorter – fewer words than the old 1329, by more than half. Our aim in penning this new version is to minimize, or avoid altogether, language which could be misinterpreted, polarizing or partisan. The new language takes into consideration language which has been successfully passed in over one dozen states,” says Michael Savoca, acting chair of the Olympia Chapter of WAmend.

“We endeavored to craft language that would unite people on both the left and the right,” says Savoca, who participated in the initiative’s rewrite, a process that took WAmend steering committee organizers about three months.

Savoca intends to hold monthly meetings and coordinate volunteers to collect the estimated 300,000 signatures needed for the initiative’s placement on a statewide ballot.The deadline to collect signatures is at the end of December.
New Initiative Strategy
In early January, Fix Democracy First! and Move On organizers showed the movie Pay to Play, a film about the corrupting influence of money in politics, which successfully galvanized a standing room only crowd at downtown Olympia’s Traditions Fair Trade to begin focused, local organizing efforts.

Activists took time to examine its efforts and discuss lessons learned from the last signature gathering process. The campaign fell short, generating about 175,000 signatures: there was little time for volunteers to gather enough signatures and little to no money to advertise or pay signature gatherers.

Unlike the last initiative, which went straight to the voters, this year’s strategy for success means that this initiative, when certified as having enough signatures, will be submitted to the Legislature at its regular session in January of 2016. 
Signature gathering will take place during all of 2015, from April until December.  Activists are ready to start gathering signatures as soon as possible, says Savoca.

An over-simplified explanation of the new strategy process means that the Legislature can pass it as written, bring it to a vote, or change it.

After the initiative is submitted to the Legislature, the Legislature can take one of three options:
• The Legislature can adopt the initiative as it has been proposed by the public and in this case it becomes law without it a vote by the people;
• The Legislature can reject the proposed initiative or refuse to act on it and in this case the initiative must be placed on the ballot for the state’s next general election;
• The Legislature can approve an amended version of the proposed initiative and this this case both the amended and the original versions of the bill will appear on the state’s next general election ballot.

Above: Jennifer Sprague, Olympia, collected thousands of signatures for last year's initiative to the people to overturn the Citizens United U.S. Supreme Court ruling. She's ready to do it again this year!

Efforts United

Olympia WAmend activist Jennifer Sprague collected thousands of signatures for last year’s initiative. She said she found it easy and fun.
“I collected 200 signatures in one afternoon before the Procession of the Species,” said Sprague.
Savoca and Sprague encourage activists to track several pieces of state legislation this session that affect campaign finance reform.
A rally held January 21 at the State Capitol marked the fifth year anniversary of the Citizens United decision. Several statewide organizations participated, including WashPIRG, Fix Democracy First! (formerly Washington Public Campaigns), WAmend, and the Backbone Campaign.
Representative Andy Billig (D-3) spoke to his proposed legislation, SB5153, that would serve to increase transparency in elections by requiring greater reporting of who gives to political campaigns.

Senate Joint Memorial 8002, sponsored by state Senator Bob Hasegawa (D-11), urges Congress to pass a U.S. Constitutional Amendment to overturn Citizens United. It has 12 co-sponsors.
Sprague says she asked Representative Sam Hunt (D-22) to co-sponsor the Senate’s companion bill, HJM 4004, and is pleased that he has done so. A first reading of the bill occurred February 2 and was referred, subject to approval, to the State Government Committee. Hunt is chair of the House State Government Committee. HJM 4004 has 34 co-sponsors, including Representative Chris Reykdal (D-22).
Koch Brothers Threaten Washington State Senator Murray
In an email sent yesterday to constituents, Washington State Senator Patty Murray said the Koch Brothers are planning to go after her Democratic seat and spend a billion dollars up front to buy her office.
“You and I now have an opponent in my re-election campaign: the Koch brothers. There wasn't a flashy press conference or anything, but a week ago, at a secretive meeting in California, the Koch brothers announced that they are going to spend nearly $900 million on the next election…and some of that money is going to be heading to Washington State.
“….David and Charles Kochs' names won't actually be on the ballot in Washington state, but their fingerprints are going to be ALL over this election. With close to $1 billion to spend, and only nine incumbent Democratic senators, they're sure to spend millions to try to repeat their 2014 success,” says the Murray email.
Olympia activist Bev Bassett received Murray’s email. Wearing several buttons, saying No Oil Trains, Bassett attended the WAmend meeting Thursday night. She said she worked “half-assed and half-hearted” on last year’s campaign. This time, she will work harder to collect signatures for the initiative.
Citing the interconnectedness of all local issues, Bassett said, “Big money clouds everything. It makes our politicians answerable to corporations, not us….Now, Patty Murray is not perfect, I'll be the first to say, but she is not as bad as, say, Mitch McConnell, who is completely owned by the wealthy interests.
“….So many times in my lifetime I have looked at our political situation and thought, ‘It could not be worse.’ And now, it’s worse. I believe that we no longer have the luxury of prioritizing any issue below the issue of big money in politics. It has already cost us most of our democracy, and what little we have left of it is circling the drain. So, while we still have a Constitutional framework to work with to make positive change, I am working with WAmend,” said Bassett.
Move to Amend organizers will meet monthly, and will host an upcoming event, “Challenging Corporate Rule and Creating Democracy,” with national spokesperson David Cobb on Thursday, February 12, 7:00 p.m., at Traditions Fair Trade, 300 5th Avenue, in downtown Olympia.
For more information about the Washington State Legislature, specific bills and members, go to
To read more about the difference between an initiative to the Legislature and an initiative to the people, go to:
For more information about the initiative or future Olympia area meetings, contact Michael Savoca at (360) 951-6518 or go to
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