The Mysteries Of Governor Gregoire, Part III
By Norman E. Kjono, September 10, 2006
I read with interest and enjoyed your September 1, 2006 article, "Free the Press Releases," concerning the July 1 blackout of legislator's press releases prior to elections. Of particular interest to me was your statement:
"If the material is partisan, political puffery, it shouldn't be done on my dime, even before June 30. If the press releases are of public value - and many of them are - they should be left up and legislators should be able to defend them."
I strongly agree with your position on both counts, and I thank you for raising this important issue to public awareness. If an elected public official's press releases are partisan puffery taxpayers should not be supporting them at any time. On the other hand, elected official's news releases are of public value the information must, by definition, be accurate and therefore defendable. Absent credible defense of claims made an elected official's press releases become by default "partisan, political puffery."
A case in point is Governor Gregoire's August 30, 2006 press release "Governor Gregoire Announces Washington Smoking Rate Drops to 5th Lowest in Nation" (see attached .PDF.) The subtitle for that press release reads as follows:
"205,000 fewer adult smokers since state began Tobacco Control and Prevention Program"
Governor Gregoire's press release was the focus of two news reports on August 31, 2006:
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 31, 2006, article "State cuts sharply number of adults who smoke," by Susan Phinney.
The Seattle Time's August 31, 2006, "State's smoking rate way down even before new ban took effect" by Warren King.
What is interesting about the August 30, 2006 press release is that Governor Gregoire is not up for reelection in November. The blackout on press releases presumably does not apply to her or her office in 2006. She apparently can, therefore, issue press releases at will that support partisan advocacy during an election year - all "perfectly legal." As briefly discussed below, I am quite pleased that she did.
Tobacco control advocacy in Washington is uniquely Democrat. In 2005 the Democrat-controlled House and Senate passed by a margin of 52-48 60 cents per pack in new cigarette taxes. Engrossed Substitute House Bill 2314, which included the cigarette tax in Part XI (as I recall), was sponsored by Democrat Rep. McIntire and aggressively supported by House Majority Leader Kessler. Majority Democrats strongly supported that new cigarette tax. Minority Republicans, virtually to the person, opposed it. The TV Washington video tape of floor debate for ESHB 2314 bears out the preceding statements. The Washington Democratic Party also provided an in-kind donation to statewide smoking ban I-901, which was valued at $10,562 in Washington Public Disclosure Commission reports. And, when serving as state attorney general, Governor Gregoire supported in writing the smoking ban in Pierce County. That unilateral mandate by the Tacoma-Pierce County Board of Health was overturned by our state superior, appeals and supreme courts.
Suffice it to say that nontribal hospitality small business owners who now watch their former customer base patronize tax-exempt and smoking-ban-exempt tribal venues, as well as "Target Group" citizens who now pay more in taxes than nonsmokers in their economic demographic group, have much to "thank" Washington Democrats for, come election day. And nonsmoker tax payers have much to "thank" Democrats for as well: as paying customers take their dollars to tax-exempt tribal venues the tax base also shifts from taxpaying nontribal to tax-exempt tribal business establishments. KIRO 7's Chris Halsne recently provided an insightful report about the revenue losses to nontribal casinos under I-901, as well as related tax revenue losses to the state.
Considering the above, Governor Gregoire's August 30, press release was beyond-the-pale partisan, a transparent attempt to support Washington Democrats in an election year when they must now face the music for punitive and fiscally irresponsible tobacco control bills that they sponsored and passed in 2005.
Problem is, Governor Gregoire's press release contains statements of "
fact" about Current Smoker declines that are demonstrably incorrect and false. Problem is, Governor Gregoire's transparently-partisan press release was necessarily researched and prepared for state employees and on the tax payer's nickel. Should you care to examine the incorrect "facts" as stated in Governor Gregoire's August 30, 2006 press release please see the following two commentaries:
September 2, 2006, "The Mysteries of Governor Gregoire:"
September 4, 2006 "The Mysteries of Governor Gregoire, Part II:"
For your convenience I attach the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) January 2006 document "Solutions for Survey Discrepancies in Washington State Smoking Prevalence" and Table 1. referenced in my September 2, 2006 commentary.
Governor Gregoire quotes adult smoking prevalence for 1999 and 2005 of 22.4 percent and 17.8 percent respectively. The U.S. Census Bureau publishes 18+ adult population estimates for Washington in 1999 and 2005. Current Smoker populations are determined by simple mathematics: multiply the census bureau state adult population by the prevalence percent. I provide those calculations in Table 1. attached. Using that simple formula the best case possibility is that there has been a decline in Washington current Smokers of less than one-half the 205,000 reduction that Governor Gregoire alleges in her August 30, 2006 press release. And that best case possibility assumes zero survey bias. But a document published by the CDC plainly documents previous "discrepancies" as high as 25.1 percent, where Washington has previously underestimated adult smoker populations in 2000, 2001, and 2002. That statistical reality prompted me to write in the September 2, 2006 commentary:
"We therefore observe apparent election year puffing on "statistics" about tobacco of 100 percent-plus. . . . We the people do understand that this is an election year and that the primaries draw nigh. Under such conditions campaign rhetoric often tends to exceed the bounds of statistical certainty and historical reality. But the fact remains that consumers, taxpayers and legislators -- as well as state agencies that rely on Department of Health statistics to make policy decisions -- can find themselves contending with the real world consequences of agenda-driven Social Marketing rhetoric long after campaign ardor has run its course. Preserving the credibility of our governing institutions and state fiscal responsibility mandate a careful look at election-eve rhetoric about tobacco control versus documented fact. Preserving the credibility of our governing institutions and state fiscal responsibility also require critical and earnest review by media of politician's electioneering claims."
Well, Mr. Postman, there you have it: Governor Gregoire's August 30, 2006 press release is most certainly "partisan, political puffery."
But I believe that even such self-serving, taxpayer-funded campaign blather also provides a valuable public service, in that it reveals for public scrutiny the level to which some will sink to continue pulling the Majority levers of power in an election year.
I believe that Rep. Toby Nixon, about whom you published a quote in you article, was correct:
"It could be argued that depriving voters and opponents of this valuable resource for evaluating the positions and actions of legislators is an inappropriate concealment of public records."
Amen, and pass the absentee ballots!
We citizens and voters look forward to continued dialog with Governor Gregoire on important fiscal responsibility issues like tobacco control, albeit somewhat indirectly through her press releases and media reports based on them.
Norman E. Kjono