Friday, November 18, 2011

State Rep. Barbara Bailey's Coffee Talk for Stanwood Residents

Friday afternoon I and about a dozen other Stanwood Residents went to the Scandia Cafe on Rt. 532.   There we listened to 10th District State Representative Barbara Bailey (pictured far right) announce the need for the State Legislature to be called back into session this November to balance the budget.  The focus was on the trends in State revenue and spending since the beginning of the last decade.   Revenue and spending both increased but were balanced until  2008 when spending far outpaced revenue.  Rep. Bailey saw the revenue bubble in home construction coming but could not convince her colleagues on the House Ways and Means committee that the bubble would burst and that the State would not be able to  sustain all the new programs that had been introduced into the budget.   Sounds like she had a "Cassandra" predicament.  She was right.

Like Republicans nationwide,  Rep. Bailey proposed limiting taxes, cutting back on spending and streamlining regulation.    Generally,  I like to know how new programs are going to be funded and who will be adversely affected by budget cuts.  I have found regulations can be a good or bad idea.  So I can't respond to general statements about them.

  Rep. Bailey believes there could be changes in how some programs are structured that would save money without cutting services.  I asked for examples.  She mentioned early childhood education and health care.  She also felt that cuts should be more weighted towards service administrations rather than service staff  as cuts have been in the past.   We did not have time to go into more detail but I hope to read more about these ideas.  So I signed up on her email list.

After her presentation, much of the discussion was about how Democrats and Republican are working together.   While there are basic differences between the parties,  she observed that individual votes do not follow strict party lines.  As examples she points to her own appointments to important subcommittees such as Pensions and Veterans' Affairs - even though as a Republican she is in the minority.

Another  interest among residents was the interface between our education system and employment in the State.   Just as Boeing is now being awarded major contracts to build new planes,  many of their top engineers will be retiring.  The company worries about there being the educated work force they need here.  One gentleman wanted to know how much will taxpayers be required to help Boeing.   I expect that local economists can figure out how much it would cost to expand the engineering departments of our Universities and the effect that would have on the State budget if graduates were hired by Boeing.   I wonder whether we will have  enough high school grads ready for the challenges of Science education.  When I looked at State math scores they were not impressive.  I warned the others at the coffee talk that there were only two of us from WA State when I was taking graduate Statistics at the Univ. of WA.  About half the class was from China.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

How we finance the Stanwood Camano School District

 On this cold rainy Saturday,  members and guests attended the monthly meeting of our local Democratic Party at the Viking to hear representatives of the Stanwood Camano School District - Ellen Hiatt, a parent on the school’s levy committee, Superintendent Jean Shumate and finance director Gary Platt   - outline the school district's financial needs and current funding

The State provides 65% of the funding and the Federal Government 10%.  In addition to local fees a local Levy pays 23%. This levy will expire in December 2011.  Voters are being asked to renew the levy by ballot in late January to be returned by Feb. 14th.  Voting in favor of the levy will provide our schools with student bus transportation, extra help for struggling students.  advanced placement classes , breakfast and lunch programs, utilities and building maintenance.   To determine how much the levy would cost your household,   you would multiply the assessed value of your house by .00217.  Seniors with an income less than $35k can apply for an exemption.

Members of the audience were concerned about what steps the district had taken to save money.  As with the City of Stanwood,  staff have been laid off .  All employees, including teachers have accepted a pay cut and/or furlough days while assuming additional duties resulting from staff reductions.  Where it was safe students have been required to walk farther to a bus stop to reduce diesel fuel consumption.   I asked questions about the school's ability to maintain scholastic performance under these cuts.  I was impressed by how the district was able to maintain standards with the help of local citizen volunteers.  The Washington State Report Card provides a detailed report on Student performance

Everyone interested in local Democratic politics is welcome to attend our meetings at the Viking Restaurant on the second Saturday of each month.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Anacortes - Reception for Rep. Kristine Lytton

Rep Lyttons constituents gather at the McCool Gallegy in Anacortes

Loved the Fall colors and pumpkin piles as I drove through the Skagit Valley to the  Ann Martin McCool Studio and Gallery in Anacortes - a beautiful place for a serious discussion about WA State economic challenges.   The Ann Martin McCool Studio provided artistic inspiration as we waited for Representative Kristine Lytton’s timely arrival.  Among the cheeses on the table we found the delicious fresh salmon and berry cobbler provided by Lona Wilbur

There was agreement among Kristine Lytton's supporters that some of the billions of dollars in cuts from the State budget did eliminate waste.   Rep. Lytton warned that future budget cuts would reduce support for senior's prescription drugs, kindergarden and higher education.  In order to fund K-12 education Rep. Lytton suggests that  the bank exemptions for the B & O tax be limited.  This would affect mostly out of state big banks.  Although  the limit has wide support,  a 2/3 vote of the legislature is needed to pass, because eliminating loop holes is considered a tax increase.  So Rep. Lytton is attempting to garner support from the public for the limit.   
Representative Kristine Lytton listens to a question from a constituent while Democratic National Committee Representative Lona Wilbur looks on.
Business Executive Lonny Heiner said the B & O tax as it is now structured was a hardship for his company.  The company had to move out of State.  He proposed that the B & O tax be replaced by a corporate tax.   There followed an animated question and answer session which Rep. Lytton fielded with aplomb.  She has found esprit de corps among the the freshman class of 10 elected Democratic State Representatives.  They had attended the Wellstone Training for progressive leaders together and found it effective.  

Monday, October 24, 2011

Stanwood 2011 Candidates Forum

Last Thursday the AAUW and the Stanwood Camano News held a forum in the Stanwood Middle School to present the candidates and issues for the election now taking place.   About 75 mostly older citizens showed up.  I was disappointed in the event because the format and presentations by most of the candidates did not help me decide for whom to vote.  Because so much was crammed into the two hour event, each candidate had only a few highly structured minutes to speak, much of which was taken up with describing how long they had lived in Stanwood, how many children and grandchildren they had, how much they all loved the proposal for a new YMCA and that Stanwood needed to attract new businesses (duh!).   As for the latter nothing more specific was mentioned by most of the candidates than working with the Chamber of Commerce and vague references to signage.   The most debated issue at the City Council level concerned the Salary Commission.  Candidate Larry Sather was for it. Candidate Roger Haskin argued that it was an unnecessary expense.  Being relatively new to Stanwood,  I could not tell from this forum who was right.   Sather and Haskins are running for different positions so that would not determine my vote.  Sather’s opponent Elizabeth Callagham did not address the issue.  Haskin’s opponent Steven A. Venema was not able to attend.

Perennial Flooding in Stanwood was another issue brought up by two of the candidates -  Larry Sather and Jenna Friebel.  Friebel, a hydrologist with an engineering degree from the Univ. of WA, warned that the flood planes in Stanwood were an impediment to downtown development.  To improve the quality of life and make Stanwood more of a tourist (a.k.a. shoppers)  destination,  Friebel also endorsed a shoreline Master Plan.  

Candidates for City Council Position 5 - William Carlton and Jenna Friebel - at the Stanwood Middle School evening forum

All the candidates have solid roots in Stanwood  with relevant and impressive experience.  So just based on what I gleaned from the forum,  in some cases I would have to pick the candidates based on looks and charm.  Not happy with that practice, I am looking for other sources of information.  As always the Snohomish County Local Voters Pamphlet was some help. 

In addition to the City Council races much time was spent presenting the opposing arguments on various initiatives,  debates between Candidates in the Snohomish County Races and presentations by unopposed School board candidates.  The best point made about any of the initiatives was the emphasis on the difficulty of selling bonds to finance highway construction if I-1125 passes. I-1125 makes the unusual requirement that the legislature instead of an independent agency set highway tolls. Investors in toll revenue bonds see the independence of toll-setting bodies as an essential credit requirement.   On other initiatives my time would have been better spent studying the detailed State of Washington’s Voters’ Pamphlet on these issues.  There was more insight into the County Candidates Mike Hope and incumbent Aaron Reardon on Up Front with Robert Mak on King 5 News.  (now available online) Unfortunately there were some ad hominem attacks on Mak's show. 

Candidates for Snohomish County Executive - Aaron Reardon and Mike Hope -
 at the Stanwood Middle School evening forum

In general I think the Forum would have been more helpful if it had cut out the time given to the initiatives and unopposed candidates, allowed more time for the city council races, and been more flexible in asking questions.  For instance the organizers  asked the same two questions of each candidate and got basically the same answer.  They could have saved a significant amount of time without any loss of information by just asking all the Candidates that favored the  construction of a new YMCA facility to raise their hands.  The same for the question as to whether the City should maintain its current City Hall.  Every candidate basically said the we should retain the current building until the city could afford to build a new one.   This type of question response would probably require that all candidates be seated at the stage at once, but the stage was certainly wide enough.  It would also have provided for more interaction among the candidates that was sorely lacking. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Snohomish County Democrats Annual Gala

Saturday I attended the Snohomish County Democrats “Phantom of the Opera Gala”.  In the spirit of the opera many of the Ladies wore beautiful black gowns or sequined dresses except me.  Not knowing the opera I wore Fall colors.  Oops.
 I was thrilled to meet so many of our elected officials that were in attendance.   Our State Senator Mary Margaret Haugen encouraged me to visit the next session of the State legislature in Olympia this winter.  

WA State Attorney General Candidate Bob Ferguson addressed the crowd. As usual Ferguson was applauded when he said his first priority as Attorney General would be to withdraw WA from participation in a lawsuit initiated by Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna.  If successful the lawsuit would block the new federal health care legislation.  ....Candidate Ferguson's  family has deep roots in Everett.  His grandfather owned a meat market in the location where we were now dining at the Comcast Center.

US Congressman Rick Larsen  gave the keynote address.  He believes in the will of the people over the will of the Tea Party e.g. “We must keep the light on at the end of the tunnel” to get through hard times.  Congressman  Larsen thus voted against H.R. 2587  that curbs the National Labor Relations Board's legal authority.   Congressman Larsen argues that  “Congress should not be attempting to influence the NLRB process for political gains.”

Congressman Larsen is worried about  Republicans from other States targeting the State of Washington for the 2012 elections.  Democratic WA State Candidate Jay Inslee’s campaign for governor will be the most targeted race in the country.  Larsen's own reelection  opponent  has received $600,000 from mysterious out of State sources.  Our Democrat State Senator - Mary Margaret Haugen - however, has won elections against great spending odds because she is a great speaker and has a good ear for the “will of the people”.  Congressman Larsen also has demonstrated these same talents at various events I have attended.  So I still hope the mysterious donors are wasting their money. 
Given the serious challenges and outcome of the elections in 2012,  it is no wonder that our elected officials - US Congressman Rick Larsen (left) and State Senator Mary Magaret Haugen  - look concerned even at the Gala. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Stanwood City Council Elections

Candidate for Stanwood  City Council - Larry Sather,

A concerned group of residents began to work in earnest this week on Larry Sather’s campaign for position one on the City Council.   Knowing Larry,  we believe he can provide the leadership Stanwood needs.  In addition to his proposals outlined on my July 13th coverage of the candidates Larry recommends the re-establishment of the salary commission so that city council members do not set their own salaries.  Clarifying another point, he proposes that Stanwood firefighters become  members of the Rural Fire District 14 Regional Fire Authority to provide firefighting and EMT service for Stanwood residents.  Larry and the other candidates for North Snohomish County and Camano Island elected position will be discussing these and other issues at the Candidates Forum sponsored by the local chapter of AAUW and The Stanwood Camano News.
WED., OCTOBER 19, 2010 at 6:30 PM
9405  271st ST., STANWOOD, WA

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Democrats at the Evergreen State Fair

While manning the Democrat's booth at the Evergreen State Fair in Monroe WA the Party's Legislative District Chairs Ray Miller (left) of the 10th LD and  Rick Bligh of the 39th LD review the Democrats Celebrity Cook Book . My favorite recipe was the 1779 election cake which called for 1 quart of yeast.  People back then had to travel several days to the city to vote and needed a big cake to keep fed.  Our forebears were robust about voting.

    When I arrived 10 a.m on Tuesday, August 29th at the Evergreen State Fair,  Chairman Rick Bligh had already set up the Democratic Party booth for the day.  Rich explained about a half dozen simple things for me to do.  As I stood in the booth that day, it was obvious that not everyone was interested in politics, but we did attract a variety of people.  A small group of men gathered around Chairman Ray Miller for an animated discussion about what Democrats were going to do to increase employment.  I was busy with other visitors so I only heard the end of the conversation.   Ray's organization has posted a strong platform on Economic Justice and Development.  Among the 22 items listed in that section of the platform are three directed specifically at job development:

  • Support for small businesses, including tax credits, low interest loans, and non-profit micro-lending.
  • Targeted economic development incentives to businesses that provide verifiable, immediate, and lasting benefits to our communities.
  • opposing tax advantages to companies that outsource American jobs.

Meanwhile I was busy registering voters.  I decided to take Tom Sawyer's approach to painting fences.   When people asked if they could register to vote,  I told them we don't allow just anyone to vote.  I required that they  count up the goats and roosters at the fair and report an accurate census to me.  About a dozen people pushed pass me and filled out the forms.  My request didn't stop anyone.  

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Democrats March in Stanwood Parade for Gubernatorial Candidate Jay Inslee

Before leaving for the Stanwood Parade yesterday,  I listened to Northwest Public Radio. They were reporting changes in the way WA State's 1.5 billion medicaid budget will be administered.   The changes worried me.

photo by Susan Ronken
I walked 1.5 mile to the staging area for the Stanwood Annual Parade where I and other local Democrats were gathering our signs and putting on our T-shirts in support of our Candidate for Governor - Jay Inslee.   As I was getting ready, Candidate Inslee came up and introduced himself.  I was still thinking about medicaid and asked him (and others) if they had heard about the changes.  With all the many things he and his campaign had to coordinate that day, I felt a little crazy bothering him but he graciously said he would look into it.  I am sure the issue will come on our future governor's agenda because medicaid  equals  about 3% of total State government expenditures.  You can check my calculations with the Governmental-wide Financial Statements.  I am taking note that total WA State government expenses for 2010 was 46 billion, so I can place all other discussions of spending and revenues in context.

The weather was perfect as we all joined the Parade.  Candidate Inslee showed boundless energy for greeting the spectators along the route who varied from polite to enthusiastic. There was a good turnout.  Everyone in town seemed to enjoy being outside together.  Just wish I could have seen more of the parade, but one cannot both march and watch.  I did see some polished rehearsals in the staging area.

Candidate Jay Inslee and local Stanwood Democrats Jennifer Kelly and Marsha Armstrong seem to have some serious thoughts about politics just before joining the parade. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Stanwood Democrats July Meeting

 Senator Mary Margaret Haugen Addresses Residents

As frequently the case, the Stanwood Democrats Monthly Meeting  included an array of Speakers to educate us on issues vital to our town.

The featured speaker - Senator Mary Margaret Haugen (picture standing) - addressed about 20 Stanwood resident after breakfast at the Viking Restaurant.

Senator Mary Margaret Haugen addresses the Stanwood Democrats
during their month meeting at the Viking Restaurant .
Senator Haugen summarized the just completed session of the Washington State legislature.  Like other State governments our Legislature was forced to make brutal cuts to education, social services and government services.   She was relieved that State Democrats and Republicans worked together to make these painful cuts to balance the budget.  Budget cuts reduced but did not eliminate essential services.   She credited Senator Ed Murray for leading the successful Senate negotiation with the House. She was happy to find the WA new young legislators were among our nations increasingly rare moderate Republicans that support Planned Parenthood and reproductive rights.

In spite of the severe reductions in State revenues, Senator Haugen did report some good news for her District.  With the passage of SB 5639 WSU will be establishing a  branch campus  at Everett Community College making higher education more accessible to students in North Puget Sound.   She was also excited that SB 5742 to reform and fund the State ferries passed the Senate by a 34-10 vote. After a tough battle, the  legislation to improve our ferries sponsored by Senator Haugen was signed into Law by Governor Gregoire June 7th. 

Senator Haugen then led a general discussion of the upcoming redistricting of the State legislative districts.  There was some consensus that the 10th legislative district should include Camano Island,  Stanwood and more of Skagit County instead of Whidbey Island.  This would make the district more geographically compact and manageable. 

Candidates for Stanwood City Council

Since Stanwood city council elections are non-partisan, our Chairman Carol Ronken invited all 10 candidates for the 5 open positions on the council to address out meetings.  Three of the candidates attended: Larry Sather and Elizabeth Callaghan are running for position one.  Incumbent William Carlton seeks reelection to position 3.  

From Left: Candidates Elizabeth Callaghan and  William Carlton with wife Eileen at the Viking for the Stanwood Democrats breakfast & monthly meeting.

Eileen and William Carlton moved to Stanwood in 1999.  William was appointed to Stanwood City council in 2007 and was elected in 2008.  He is now seeking re-election. He has served on all standing committees.  His major interest is the finance committee.  He strongly supports Stanwoods   Economic Development plan. Carlton advocates simplifying City Codes and the  review of  zoning issues in preparation for growth that will inevitably ensue when the North Sound area pulls out of recession. 
Candidate Larry Sather addresses Stanwood residents
 at the Viking Restaurant
Candidate  Larry Sather reminded us that Stanwood has spent much on community planning for the future.  To benefit from those plans Sather  vigorously opposes issuing variances from those plans.  Sather recommended that Stanwood align with regional fire authorities but retain Stanwood fire fighters. Since Stanwood is plagued with annual flooding, Sather proposes Stanwood work with regional governments to control flooding.  Having worked with Larry on other committees,   Stanwood Democratic Chairman Carol Ronken endorsed Larry as the voice of reason on contested issues. 

Monday, May 30, 2011

Cherry Point Coal Terminal

In a letter to the editor of the Action News, Richard Austin questions RE Sources for Sustainable Communities  sponsorship of Bill McKibben presentation Tuesday in Fairhaven. The presentation was announced in the  Skagit Democrats Action Newsletter last week.   According to Richard: 
"The announcement about Bill McKibben contains opinions trying to pass as fact.  People have been working on perfecting the Cherry Point project for years. They are taking great pains to insure there will be no environmental degradation.  In my opinion, RE Sources is pursuing a position that is not consistent with facts. The organization is resorting to emotional hooks rather than honoring proven actualities.  Thousands of jobs would be created constructing the facility (the area was approved for such an undertaking years ago).  Hundreds of new, permanent jobs would be produced.  The state and the county would receive millions of dollars of tax revenues.  Currently, the coal is being railed through Washington into British Columbia.  The coal is going to China. That will continue with or without the Cherry Point project.  Why should we forgo those good-paying jobs?  Let’s keep them in the U.S.
The Northwest Washington Central Labor Council, and Jobs with Justice, and other worker-centered organizations have endorsed the project.  Members of those organizations are environmentalists by nature. They also need jobs."

Richard Austin also asked why the discussion is being advertised in our Newsletter.  I published the McKibben event because the Skagit Democrats Sustainability and Environment Committee has been asked to look into the Cherry Point coal terminal issue and how it will affect our community.  Committee Chairman Steve Crider felt the event “will be our best opportunity to educate ourselves about the issue and who is engaged on various sides.”  However,  since the Skagit Democrats have not taken an official position on this issue McKibben’s presentation should have been and will be listed under Community Events rather the Democratic Events.  Thanks go to Richard Austin for pointing this out.   I began to edit the action news this winter - so I have just begun to publish the discussions about Cherry Point.  The Whatcom County Democrats have a summary of the approval process for the Cherry Point facility on their website.   Another description of the jobs vs the environment debate was published this year by Floyd McKay

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Congressman Rick Larsen visits Stanwood Democrats

Saturday morning, May 14th Representative Rick Larsen of WA 2nd Congressional District made a special appearance at the Stanwood Democrats monthly meeting at the Viking Restaurant.  Among others, Stanwood Democrats  listened to Representative Larsen’s visions for the future of our country and the Democratic Party.

Larsen reinforced WA 1st District Congressman’s Jay Inslee’s fervent claims last week at the Skagit Dems Gala.  Both WA Congressmen believe that clean energy along with modernized infrastructure and  manufacturing will again make our country competitive in the World market.  Larsen worked for over a decade to create jobs in Western WA by helping the Intalco Alcoa plant in Ferndale reopen with reduced energy rates. 

When asked by a Stanwood Democrat about the Apollo Alliance Project  award this week of $2.02 billion for high speed rail,  Congressman Larsen endorsed the Project as 
a source of Job creation and much needed public transportation

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Skagit Democrats Gala

Last Saturday 220 Skagit County Democrats packed the the Cotton Tree Convention Center  singing the Pete Seger classic "If I Had a Hammer" accompanied by a smooth Jazz trio - violin, guitar and keyboard.  About a dozen local chapters of various national and local labor unions were represented at the Gala as well as the Swinomish Tribal Community and our Latino Outreach Committee.

The dinner featured local produce which was exceptionally fresh and flavorful.  Never knew red potatoes could be so good.  A delicately dressed curly kale salad was unique and just the right accent for the beef noodle and chicken main courses. 

After the silent auction and dinner,  Chairman David Goehring introduced King County Councilman Bob Ferguson (pictured right) , who is actively campaigning to succeed Republican Rob McKenna as Attorney General of Washington State. 

To hearty cheers at the Gala, Ferguson promised that if elected he would withdraw WA from the Republican lawsuit A.G. McKenna joined against President Obama’s new health-care legislation. 

The Keynote Speaker was US Congressman Jay Inslee's (below left) , who represents WA 1st Congressional District.  Inslee now serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee because he believes a clean energy economy can create jobs.  As one example Jay cited the Stimulus money spent on lithium ion batteries.  These high tech batteries will be manufactured in Holland MI and employ laid off auto workers.  Jay has worked to get funding for this and other clean energy technology projects in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  According to Jay: “It is real clear that there is going to be a huge market for clean energy. We want to make sure that those jobs and those products are created in America. Now, if we do what Darrell [Issa]wants to do, which is to not act for another 10 or 20 years, China is going to eat our lunch. Good jobs are going to go to China.”  (Darrell Issa is a California Republican Congressman in control of the US House Oversight Committee.  As Chairman Darrell Issa has chosen to work closely with the oil industry).   Congressman Jay Inslee reports that the GOP members of congress have not passed one bill that will create jobs.  

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Proposals for Sustainability in Skagit County

Project Manager for Envision Skagit -Kirk Johnson - welcomed about 50 members of the general public to a presentation at the Lincoln Center on April 28th.  This was the latest in over a half dozen community meetings Envision Skagit 2060 Community Outreach has held since the beginning of 2011.
The best attended meeting was held this week in Mt Vernon. The discussions were held in Spanish.  Obviously our Latino neighbors care about the sustainable development of their adopted communities.

Senior Resident Fellow for Sustainable Development and Environmental Policy Urban Land Institute in Washington D.C.    Mr. McMahon inspired the audience with slides of small towns around the country that had made dramatic changes in the visual appeal of their communities and subsequently their town revenues.  He had an impressive array of statistic to illustrate how aesthetic appeal is tied to the revenues of a region.    But lovely and lovable communities don’t just happen.  Town and County governments need a plan.  Without one more of Skagit county will look like Aurora Blvd in North Seattle (pictured )
and less like Fairhaven and La Conner.  Ed McMahon posed the rhetorical question with many slides of similar locals to compare: “Where are people more likely to hang out and spend money”.   He believes that with a development plan we will have the courage to say “no” to what we don’t want because we can simultaneous say “yes” to what we do want as our area expands and redevelops to accommodate a growing population.   McMahon encourages us to not to “let the multinational corporations bully us into letting them construct cheap boxes”.  His slides showed how towns across the country encouraged, cajoled and insisted that famous brands like McDonald, Loews & Target locate in restored historic structures or build smaller places with architectural designs that complimented the town plan.  We need to rethink our zoning and transportation so our lands are not totally paved over.

Ed McMahon spoke  quickly to put forth his many ideas about how to change our approach to zoning and land development.  Fortunately his slides were clear and easier to absorb than a thousand words.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Organic Trade Association Conference April 6-7.

Last Tuesday at HQ the Skagit Democrats Sustainability & Environment Committee Chairman Steve Crider reported back to members about his successful trip to the other Washington in early April. Steve attended the policy conference held by the Organic Trade Association (OTA). Although Wash DC was abuzz with tea baggers, lobbyist and those set on cutting spending and taxes, it attests to the importance of organic farmers to our health and economy that most of their requests were kept in the budget. Steve worked on the OTA’s agenda by visiting the Wash DC staffs of our Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and 2nd Congressional District Representative Rick Larsen. He also attended the meeting held by Deputy Administrator Suzanne Heinen of the Foreign Agricultural Services to promote trade in organic products.

While organic crops are a small percentage of the national food production, organic products have been a rapidly growing source of revenue and employment for almost every State in the Union including Western Washington. While revenues for conventional farm products have grown by 0.6% last year, organic farm products have grown by 16% to become a 29 billion dollar industry nationwide. Revenues for the Skagit Valley are about 12 million. The state of Washington has 1077 certified organic operations.

Two major concerns of the organic farm products industry being addressed by the trade association are regulation and enforcement of organic certification which is essential to the survival of the industry. The Organic industry also perceives a threat from organic seeds polluted by pollen from Monsanto’s GMO crops. Court challenges and changes in legislation will be needed to mitigate this threat.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Labor Union Rally in Stanwood Draws Support

Stanwood Democrats attended a  Rally for Labor Union Rights along Rt 532 across from Twin City Foods. Leonard Kelly of the Teamsters Union read a letter of support from Organized Labor in Egypt. The Egyptians told us not to give up.  We also enjoyed the signs of support from the cars and trucks driving by Saturday Mr. Kelly told me 12,000 people turned up in Olympia in support of Labor.

Friday, March 18, 2011

8th Annual Human Rights Fetival: “Countering Common Myths about our Latino Immigrants”

Last Thursday I and about 50 members of the public attended a presentation sponsored by diverse members of the Skagit Latino Community at the Skagit Valley Community College.

While naturally offended by untrue derogatory comments made about immigrants, the presenters were enthusiastic about the progress made by many Latinos in the Skagit Valley.  

The panelist pictured from left were Anita OrdoƱez, Director, Multicultural Student Services at SVC & LAC; Diana Morelli, EDASC & LAC; Janice Blackmore, Migrant Graduation Specialist with MVSD; Jesse Cavazos, Migrant Education & LAC; Rev. Josefina Beecher, Episcopal Hispanic ministry & LAC

 The panel addressed the issue that troubles immigrants and citizens: “Why are farm workers undocumented”.   Because Skagit county is a farming community we have a slightly larger percentage of Latino’s than the USA Average of 15% - ours being 16%.  Farmers desperately need farm workers but  in order to get a Visa one must have a job, own property and a bank account.  Farmers were hoping that with the increase in WA State non-farm unemployment they would be able to hire locally.  However, the few local people that applied could not tolerate the long hours bent over all day.   The USA does have a guest worker program.  It is small and complex. By the time an application goes through the bureaucratic process,  the harvest season would long be over.  ( My family lived in Germany illegally for several months because my husband’s employer would rather pay the fine than fill out the extensive paperwork to extend our stay).   So farmers cope with sub rosa recruitment our current system ( or lack thereof ) imposes.

In spite of our failed immigration system, the Latino community has bright spots in Washington State.   Latino families enroll enthusiastically in ESL courses and have improved their English language skills. There is always a waiting list for these courses.    Discovering that Latino students were too shy to fill out applications for scholarships, Skagit Valley College Director of Student Services Anita Ordonez (far left in picture above) proposed that promising student be nominated for Scholarships. That program has been successful and now many Latino Students are earning scholarships to WA State public colleges and universities.   Diana Morelli of the Latino Advisory Committee (LAC) reported on the many new business started and operated by their community e.g. groceries, restaurants, construction, newspapers and a community center.

Utterly charming were the immigrant children indigenous to Oaxaca, Mexico.  These children have needed to  learn three languages at a very young age:  Mixtec, Spanish and English.  Working hard to overcome their shyness several of them read a short essay in their native Mixtec language about themselves and their goals.  I understand about 80% of what people say in Spanish.  Mixtec is very, very different.  While they were reading, the English version of their presentation was shown on a large screen behind them.  

Tino Gallegos (above) , once a student of Mt. Vernon High School and now an Immigration attorney, expounded on the importance of Human Rights for Migrant workers.  Civil Rights are guaranteed to citizens by our constitution.   Those rights and others were extended to everyone by the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights signed by the United States government in 1948.  Human Rights were developed after World War II in response to the horrors that people witnessed and hoped to prevent in the future.   Human Rights apply to how a country can treat its immigrant population.  A government can not just throw someone in prison because they are not a citizen.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

10th District Town Hall meeting on March 12th

Like other State Senators throughout the State, 10th District Senator Mary Haugen held  Town Hall meetings Saturday March 12th.  I attended the one at the Camano Island Senior Center.  The audience consisted of about 60 local citizens of all ages.  Politeness prevailed even though feelings were aroused by the negative news Senator Haugen candidly delivered.  The state lost 200,000  jobs during the recession.  Although billions have been cut in State services and public employee’s compensation since 2009, the state still needs to cut 4.5 billion more. But How?  The Senator claims that even if we cut all spending on education, the prison system and environmental efforts, the State still would not balance its budget.  

More so than in many other States,  Senator Haugen  reported that Republicans and Democrats are cooperating on the budget and that the legislators have good relations with Labor.  She praised the WA State Ferries’ union workers for coming to an agreement that will provide savings and reduce ‘Waste in the Water’.  A 25 cent surcharge is being proposed that will go towards building a new boat.

Resentment was high among many in attendance.  They felt tax loopholes and special tax exemptions should be eliminated first before the public is asked to make more sacrifices.   A member of the citizens’ coalition called “Our Economic Future”  passed out a list of what they considered unfair tax exemptions.  I totaled them up to 313 million dollars.  That would equal about half of the amount already cut from the State education budget.  When asked why these loopholes were not being closed,  the Senator reminded the audience that Court Rulings had declared that closing the loopholes would be equivalent to raising taxes, which requires a super majority.  So unless the State elects a much larger percentage of Democratic legislators a super majority that would close loopholes is unlikely.

 Senator Haugen and many in the audience believed the US Supreme Court’s decision in 2010 - Citizen United vs Federal Election Commission - has already adversely impacted WA.  The American Beverage Association spent over 14 million to pass initiative 1107 last Fall that repealed the small taxes on soda pop, bottle water, candy and gum.  The money funded k-12 education and social services.  For more info click here.

Monday, February 21, 2011

40th District State Rep Kristine Lytton

Rep. Lytton addressed Democrats attending the reopening of Skagit Valley Democratic headquarters in Mt Vernon February 21st. As a newly elected Rep. she has recently been appointed to the Education, the Agriculture & Natural Resources and the Capital Budget committees. Local Democrats were keen to hear about her efforts on these committees.