Thursday was Legislative Day in Olympia for newspaper publishers and editors in the state of Washington. The Washington Newspaper Publishers Association and Allied Newspapers jointly have sponsored this event for more than 20 years.
I have been to about a dozen of these events, listening to and getting to ask questions of legislators, elected department heads and those appointed to office by the governor.
Thursday started out like most of the others. As elected officials began their talks it was clear there were some anxious and rather abrupt talks. It was the last day a bill could be heard on the floor so there was certain urgency. Everyone seemed to have a bill they wanted heard and they wanted to be in session so they could hear all the bills. It was quite entertaining.
The main topic was the $8.4 billion deficit – depending upon who was speaking. Sen. Joe Zarelli from the 18th District sees the deficit as being $4.1 billion.
I thought, how could the two sides be off by more than $4 billion dollars? Most, however, addressed the need to balance the budget, the $8.4 billion one. Rep. Lynn Kessler of the 24th District and Ed Orcutt of the 18th probably spent the most time talking about the deficit but were whisked away as they were needed on the floor.
A second major event of the day – really, 12:01 a.m. Friday – was the pending execution of Cal Coburn Brown. The most emotional talk of the day was delivered by Secretary of Corrections Eldon Vail. He told of preparations his staff was making to prepare for the execution. Informative and emotional, Vail talked about the emotions his staff goes through, how each one of the people involved is affected by the act of putting someone to death.
Brown was sentenced to die for the 1991 murder of Holly Washa, 22, of Burien. He was found guilty and sentenced to die in January 1994. As Vail explained, some of his staff have spent 15 years attending to Brown and any time you know someone that long it is difficult to assist in their death.
I had not thought about this. It would be difficult to kill anyone that was not threatening my family or myself, no matter what he had done. I favor the death penalty, but 15 years after the fact does not serve as a deterrent to murder.
There was a rumor that Gov. Chris Gregoire would not be available for our dinner at the governor’s mansion. She was possibly the last option Cal Brown had at a stay and would be in constant contact with her advisers and staff. I thought to myself, “That would be a terrible way to have to end your day.”
At 4 p.m. we were to meet with the Supreme Court members; however, Chief Justice Gerry Alexander came into our room, apologizing for the fact that the court would not be available as they were consumed with a case.
About 30 minutes later, they emerged and I immediately received a breaking news brief: the justices had just granted a stay in the execution of Cal Brown.
Wow. Now we were able to talk with the Supreme Court members and ask questions – fascinating.
At 5:30 we headed for the dinner with the governor, now that she was available. Addressing the gathering, she admitted that she had not gotten much sleep the past few days contemplating the end of the day of March 12, 2009.
The decision weighed heavily on her mind and she was glad she did not have to make the decision.
Not that I ever want to be governor, but on that day, at midnight, I would not have wanted to make that life-or-death decision.
It was a great day, very informative, exciting and a thrill to watch our elected officials in action with their backs against the wall trying to figure out a way to right this ship called the state of Washington.