Embattled Cannabis Board member leaves early
Trading tolls for votes; more on that Bellingham ballot fight; Sawant recall money
A weird coincidence happened as the most prominent weed lobbyist in Washington was laying out the cannabis industry’s agenda for the coming legislative session, including an overhaul of the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board: The board announced that the industry’s least favorite member was leaving two years before the end of his turn.
The announcement of Russ Hauge’s departure hit our inbox at 12:19 p.m. on Tuesday, midway through Vicki Christophersen’s1 news conference on the Washington CannaBusiness Association wish list for the 2022 Legislature.
The timing was so weird that your correspondent at first assumed it was an unorthodox media-relations play by LCB Chair David Postman. (Postman, formerly Gov. Jay Inslee’s chief of staff and communications director, and before that the chief political reporter for The Seattle Times, has a deft hand with his former sisters and brothers in the news media.) But he assures the Observer it was a coincidence.
Hauge’s departure is an early holiday gift for many in the legal weed industry, which has an ambitious plan for the 2022 Legislature, including “modernizing” the LCB, which has been criticized on a variety of fronts, especially for heavy-handed enforcement. That issue prompted lawmakers to rein the agency in two years ago with Senate Bill 5318.
Now the industry association wants to expand the board from three members to five and add four ex-officio members from the Legislature. They argue the changes would increase the board’s capacity and bandwidth, and “instill greater confidence by those it regulates.”
Hauge, who spent 20 years as Kitsap County Prosecutor, was a chief gripe for the industry and its allies in Olympia for an approach they found, well, too prosecutorial toward the now-legal weed business. His appointment was never confirmed by the state Senate, and lawmakers have twice sent sharply worded letters to Inslee demanding his nomination be withdrawn, most recently in August of this year.
“It is Russ Hauge’s inability to stop prosecuting that is a disservice to your office, the regulated cannabis industry in Washington, and to the public,” wrote Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines, chair of the Labor, Commerce, and Tribal Affairs Committee. The letter was also signed by Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, the ranking member of the committee, as well as Sens. Derek Stanford, D-Bothel, and Ann Rivers, R-La Center.
Postman defended Hauge as a strong supporter of the regulated cannabis industry and struck a skeptical note on changing the board, saying he hadn’t heard from the association on the issue.
“That lack of communication makes it impossible to comment with any specificity,” Postman wrote in an email. “But I’m not surprised that this slice of the industry wants to redesign our regulatory system to something more to its liking.”
The weed industry’s wish list also includes eliminating the ban on out-of-state investment in and ownership of cannabis businesses, arguing that access to outside capital is essential for the sector’s growth. Opponents of that idea argue that it will inevitably lead to the rise of Big Weed.
A big-ticket plan to eliminate tolls — and maybe win votes
First-term Democratic state Sen. Emily Randall got a lot of airtime for her proposal to spend more than $770 million to get rid of the tolls on the eastbound Tacoma Narrows bridge by paying off the construction debt early.
The move would effectively shift the remaining cost of the bridge from its users to the taxpayers of the United States because the money would largely come from the enormous pool of federal COVID relief money we like to refer to as Uncle Joe’s Pile of Cash (UJPOC). The tolls are currently scheduled to last until 2030.
Randall, D-Bremerton, is looking at a tough reelection fight next year against Rep. Jesse Young, R-Gig Harbor, whose base of power is at the southern end of Kitsap County’s 26th District, where many folks pay the tolls daily en route to jobs in Tacoma or at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
The toll is $5.50 if you have the Good To Go2 doohickey hiding behind the rear-view mirror. If you figure 200 trips a year, that’s $1,100, which is make-yourself-popular money.3 First-term Rep. Dan Bronoske, D-Lakewood, has a companion measure in the House.
If this idea gets any traction, expect some “What-about-ours?” yelling from Seattle and the Eastside about the tolls to get through the 99 Tunnel or over the 520 Bridge.
Corporate money pays bills for Bellingham fight
If you read The Sunday Observer a few weeks back, you’ll remember that the Washington Hospitality Association and its allies spent around $250,000 to soundly defeat a local workers’ rights ballot measure in Bellingham.
That campaign finished some $23K in the hole. Some household names coughed up sizeable checks recently to retire the campaign’s debt. Uber chipped in $15K after the election, while Target added $5K, which is change in the couch compared to their increased labor costs had the measure passed.
The initiative in question, Measure 4, was one of four sponsored by People First Bellingham, a local group we first wrote about because of the $50,000 that the Group Health Foundation, a big new player on the left, poured into the campaign.
Measure 4 was an ambitious expansion of protections for hourly-wage and gig employees, including hazard pay during states of emergency and secure-scheduling protections such as time-and-a-half pay when one shift starts less than 10 hours after the previous shift.
The Group Health Foundation, meanwhile, didn’t send any more money, leaving People First Bellingham holding a dull knife to defend itself against heavy artillery from business interests disinterested in higher labor costs.
Interestingly, People First Bellingham didn’t actually spend much of the money they did have, finishing with more than $42K in the bank. So expect some more progressive ballot measure politicking up north. It only cost them about $16K to get those four measures on the ballot; two passed.
Some thoughts on the Sawant recall and the money
The outcome of the recall campaign against Socialist Seattle City Council Member Kshama Sawant is still in doubt with thousands of ballots still uncounted or in the mail. Yesterday’s count displayed the trademark leftward move we’ve come to expect in the city’s late-arriving vote.
We’re not going to get too down in the weeds about the big meaning of it all because many others are going there. As the recall’s critics on the left correctly point out, it’s an opportunistic attempt to oust Sawant without finding a candidate who could actually beat her. But complaining about that is like bitching about a soccer team running the offside trap. Sure it’s irritating and contrary to the spirit of playing real defense, but it’s right there in the Laws of the Game.
It’s more interesting to think about the money, which, despite the Sawant side hyperventilating about capitalist oppressors bankrolling a hit job, is pretty square. Kshama Solidarity will wind up spending about $1M to defend her, roughly the same as the combined spend of Recall Sawant and the recently formed A Better Seattle.
Except for A Better Seattle, which got itself ruled an independent expenditure campaign, contributions in the recall campaign were capped at $1,000 per donor. (A Better Seattle voluntarily limited its who’s-who list of Seattle rich folks to $5,000 apiece; so far 16 have given more than $1,000.)
Digging into Sawant’s donor base, we quickly see her national celebrity on the far left. Of about 360 donors who gave $500 or more, well over half sent the money in from outside Seattle, overwhelmingly from out of state. Anyone who spends that kind of money on distant local politics is one or more of three things: wealthy, a zealot, or someone who can’t really say no for some reason4. Let’s go with affluent zealots, with a smattering of Sawant’s personal network.
Top donors to Recall Sawant and A Better Seattle ran at about 90 percent Seattleites, and the outsiders were nearly all from close-in suburbs.
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Regular readers will recognize Christophersen’s name because her slate of clients is influence-reporter catnip. Weed, gambling, booze, garbage; she’s got all the fun stuff.
The state’s official branding for this device includes an exclamation point, but I avoid that particular piece of punctuation because it is so frequently used to feign enthusiasm. This is a particularly egregious instance of that phenomenon.
The amount is reminiscent of the annual Alaska Permanent Fund dividend sent to each resident of that state. As some who used to cover politics in the Last Frontier, I can tell you it has some weird effects.
Back in my former life as a strategic communications consultant and occasional political check-writer, my largest donation was to help get my oldest friend in the world elected to the Oregon House. Fun fact: Out-of-state contributions show up in Oregon’s system in red. That’s right, actual scarlet letters. I was saddened that some nosy Oregon political reporter didn’t ask about it; I had a picture of us with awesome 80s hair all lined up.