Transit murder

A hot spring day, a standing-room-only bus, one grouchy newshound (me), and one sad sack from California paid to collect signatures for this year's most frightening initiative, I-745, Tim Eyman's latest transit-killer. Now I'd already spent time reading up on Initiative 745. I knew it would direct 90 percent of transportation funds, including transit taxes, to road building. It's a wicked recipe for more sprawl, more traffic, worse pollution, and even more wretched public transit than we already have. So when the initiative gatherer tried to get a woman to sign, telling her that I-745 would provide more funding for everything—roads and buses—I piped right up. I pointed out that I-745 would actually take funding away from buses, even money that the voters had specifically authorized for transit projects like Sound Transit. Nobody on the bus signed.

Despite my best efforts, I-745 qualified for the ballot. Opponents claim that spreading misleading information was standard procedure for the signature campaign.

Now pollster Stuart Elway is out with the first nonpartisan look at I-745. At the starting gate, the initiative has a 56-37 percent lead. That doesn't sound so bad to opponent Ed Zuckerman of Washington Conservation Voters, who had heard the initiative was up by as much as 40 points in the polls. Zuckerman says a unique coalition of environmentalists, labor, and business has come together to oppose I-745. "We don't agree on practically anything, but we all know you can't solve traffic problems by building more roads." Zuckerman argues that my experience on the bus was not atypical. In fact, it's what Zuckerman is counting on: Once people understand what is really in the initiative, he predicts support will drop radically. He even says he got one signature-gatherer to quit the campaign by explaining to him what the initiative was really all about.

Judicial roulette

Electing judges has been a subject of fierce debate in recent years, but no one has ever mustered the will to change the process. (Political appointment of judges has its own set of problems.)

The last big judicial year, 1998, was refreshing because the candidates, led by incumbent Justice Richard Sanders—a controversial, libertarian Republican—and challenger Greg Canova—an attack-dog, prosecutor Democrat—actually debated important cases that had already been decided by the Supreme Court.

Did the Legislature follow the constitution when it declared that public funding of the Mariner's stadium was an emergency, thus negating the public's right to question the decision by referendum? A majority of the Supreme Court said yes. Sanders said hell no.

Did a black motorist in Spokane have the right to self-defense against an unlawful arrest? The Supreme Court said no. Sanders said, Are you kidding me?

The candor was infectious. Not only did Sanders and Canova debate these and other issues in a meaningful way, judicial candidates in other races did also.

Unfortunately, all indications are that this year it's back to dodgeball as the favorite sport of would-be justices.

In the open-seat race for position 9 of the Supreme Court, successful personal-injury lawyer Tommy "Gun" Chambers faces off against appeals court Judge C. Kenneth Grosse, former counsel to Governor John Spellman, and Pacific county populist James Patrick "Jim" Foley.

Chambers and Grosse did their damnedest not to say anything of substance about important constitutional issues to Seattle Weekly. While Chambers was actually quite successful, Grosse couldn't resist giving us a little info. He agreed with the Supreme Court's decision that the Mariner's emergency passed constitutional muster. And he said it just wasn't practical anymore for people to resist unlawful arrests as "everybody is armed" nowadays, especially in Eastern Washington.

When we asked Chambers to talk about an important case he had argued, he described how he managed to uphold the right of an underage girl who paralyzed herself by diving into the shallow end of a pool after a rousing game of quarters to sue the hell out of the mini-mart where her pals had bought 98 bottles of beer. Now that's justice!

Meanwhile, riding out of the wilds of Pacific County, Jimbo Foley has even tamed his candor. Foley, you may remember, is the attorney who most successfully played the name game last time around. (Wasn't he former Speaker of the House and now an ambassador?) Despite being almost completely unknown in 1998, he advanced through the primary to the general election against Faith Ireland, beating out the better-funded and establishment-endorsed Hugh Spitzer. Two years ago, Foley shared a great deal about his hostility to decisions like the Mariner's emergency. This time around, he is stressing his lack of campaign fundraising and unwillingness to pander to special interests. Sounds constitutional to me.

Miracle ticket

It will be a miracle if this ticket is successful.

Let's see if I've got this straight: Al Gore's choice of Joe Lieberman as his vice-president is supposed to appeal to independents because the senator from Connecticut likes to moralize, along with his buddy William Bennett, about people's sex lives and entertainment choices. And then there's Lieberman's glorious political innovations: getting the Democrats to adopt more Republican policies through the Democratic Leadership Council and helping Democrats learn that it's OK to raise more money from big corporations through the New Democratic Network.

As the Greens like to say: Lieberman makes me want to Ralph.

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