University of Washington, The Legislature


On Nov. 25, a brief Associated Press dispatch published in both Seattle dailies said that John Rensberger was vacating his post as professor and curator of paleontology, after admitting to collecting fossils illegally in the Hanford Reach of the Columbia River last May. Barely mentioned in the article was the questionable status of another nearly 50,000 items in UW possession, collected by Rensberger in his 37 years as curator of vertebrate paleontology at the on-campus state Burke Museum. As reported in Seattle Weekly ("Another UW Skeleton," April 2), a UW disciplinary panel has been looking into allegations that Rensberger habitually "coded" discovery-location data about tens of thousands of fossils he collected, not just on the Columbia but in the sediments of Oregon's John Day Country and of Montana's dinosaur country around Hell Creek. Without accurate location information to correlate dates of deposition and neighboring discoveries, fossils are virtually worthless to science. As recently as July, Rensberger's Burke colleague, Elizabeth Nesbitt, warned the Burke's administration to deal cautiously with its investigation of Rensberger's collection, noting that "he has the ability to recode everything if he feels threatened. . . . " In his announcement of Rensberger's retirement on Nov. 13, Steven Olswang, the UW vice provost in charge of discipline, made no mention of any fossils but a few collected "by mistake" in May 2002. The credibility of the Burke fossil collection as a whole, however, remains up in the air. ROGER DOWNEY


The Republicans in the state Senate dominated last year's Legislature. The one-two punch of Senate Majority Leader Jim West of Spokane and Ways and Means Chair Dino Rossi of Issaquah knocked down any talk of new taxes to close the state's $2.6 billion budget deficit. They accomplished their goal by being fiscally very conservative, which satisfied their base, and by building bipartisan coalitions with moderate Senate Democrats to bolster their slim 25-24 majority. Now West has been elected mayor of Spokane, so he will be departing from the Senate, and Rossi, who is running for governor, is widely expected to step down from the Legislature next week. Who will be the next leaders, and can they repeat last year's success? The two main contenders are Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, who has a reputation as a conservative partisan, and Sen. Bill Finkbeiner, R-Kirkland, a moderate who once was agasp!Democrat. Both senators repeat the current caucus line: We have learned the lessons of Rossi's and West's successbuild a philosophical majority to create a more competitive business climate. Honeyford, however, sounds confident, while Finkbeiner sounds worried. State Sen. Darlene Fairley, D-Lake Forest Park, predicts Finkbeiner is too centrist to lead his caucus. She thinks that Honeyford will have a hard time replicating the bipartisan coalitions of last year. "Honeyford does not play nice with others," she notes. But that's what the Dems said about West before last year's session. GEORGE HOWLAND JR.

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