Our Voice: Thumbs up to independent voters, down to lobbyist lunches for lawmakers

January 26, 2014 

Encouraging trend

To U.S. voters for abandoning partisan ties to swell the ranks of independents.

A McClatchy-Marist poll last month found 41 percent of registered voters called themselves independent, a much higher percentage than either political party can claim.

It's encouraging to see voters react to the partisan gridlock gripping Washington, D.C. Because both parties share the blame, rejecting both parties is a logical response.

It's also a trend that could force candidates to appeal to the center rather than the extreme ends of the political spectrum. The long-term political health of the nation could benefit as a result.

Excellent choice

To President Obama for nominating Sal Mendoza Jr. for a federal judgeship.

Mendoza is the newest judge on the Benton-Franklin Superior Court, appointed by Gov. Jay Inslee to fill a Superior Court seat left empty by Judge Craig Matheson's retirement.

Sen. Patty Murray, as the senior of the two Democratic U.S. senators from Washington, forwarded Mendoza's name for consideration to Washington, D.C.

Sen. Maria Cantwell and Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., also were in on the recommendation process.

The bipartisan support doesn't surpass us. Mendoza has a strong reputation in the state and deep ties to the Mid-Columbia. He grew up working on Yakima Valley farms and graduated from Prosser High School in 1990. If his nomination is confirmed, Mendoza would be the first Latino federal jurist in Eastern Washington.

Murray applauded the president's historic nomination, saying the judge is widely respected within the state's legal community and has dedicated much of his personal and professional life to working on behalf of children and families throughout the eastern half of Washington.

No free lunch

To nearly a dozen state senators for worrying too much about getting a free lunch. The lawmakers have signed onto a proposal that would direct legislative and executive ethics panels to clarify the rules for lobbyist-paid meals.

Washington law allows state lawmakers to accept free meals from lobbyists on an "infrequent" basis. But that's never been defined.

Last year, ambiguity in the Legislature's ethics rules resulted in an investigation into whether five state senators accepted too many free meals from lobbyists.

The investigation was prompted by a complaint filed after The Associated Press and a consortium of public radio stations found that the state's 50 most active lobbyists pampered legislators with $65,000 in free meals in the first four months of 2013.

The lawmakers were cleared of wrongdoing, but not before lawyers spent hours gathering records on lobbyist-paid meals to present to the Legislative Ethics Board.

The annual legislative salary is $46,106, and during the session, lawmakers get $90 a day per diem for travel to and from Olympia from their home districts, for an apartment while they're in Olympia and for food.

We already pay them enough to buy their own lunch.

For legislators to spend part of the session trying to figure out how many free meals they can accept is irksome. Here's a simple way to add clarity and give lawmakers certainty about when they've crossed an ethical line -- set the bar at zero. Nada. No free lunch.

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