Our Voice: Thumbs up to Sen. Patty Murray -- veterans' advocate

April 20, 2014 

Veterans' friend

To U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., for her continued support of veterans.

Murray visited the Walla Walla VA Medical Center last week, a facility that went from being scheduled for closure to opening a $71.4 million outpatient clinic in less than a decade.

The VA plans to open a 20,000-square-foot building next year to house dental, optometry and other services. Another 40 homes for homeless veterans and their families are also planned, with one-, two- and three-bedroom units.

Murray credited veterans and Mid-Columbia officials for starting a task force and packing meetings to keep the facility open after the Department of Veterans Affairs announced its closure in 2004.

But Murray deserves a large share of the credit. She's been a consistent advocate in Congress for veterans and has delivered results, not just in Walla Walla but also nationwide.

Backdoor opposition

To federal Bureau of Reclamation officials for pursuing a policy that would ban federal project water from use on legal marijuana crops.

The Bureau of Reclamation has yet to make a formal announcement on whether water provided to irrigation districts through contracts with the bureau can be used to grow pot.

But irrigation districts in the Mid-Columbia said federal Bureau of Reclamation officials are telling them that federal project water can't be used for marijuana.

Irrigation districts that contract with the bureau to deliver water to farmers across the region include the Kennewick, Roza, Sunnyside Valley, East Columbia Basin, South Columbia Basin and Quincy Columbia Basin irrigation districts and the Kittitas Reclamation District.

Because so much of the Mid-Columbia depends on water from the Bureau of Reclamation, a no-pot policy would prevent much of the Columbia Basin and Yakima Valley from producing this newly legal and potentially lucrative crop.

The Obama administration has said it won't challenge laws legalizing marijuana in Colorado and Washington as long as those states maintain strict rules involving the sale and distribution of the drug.

But it's a hollow victory for states' rights if parts of the federal government create policies that take indirect swipes at legal marijuana.

Timber!

To state Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark for breaking his pledge not to accept campaign contributions from the timber industry.

The Seattle Times recently reported Goldmark has collected about $100,000 from those companies during the past three years, and environmental supporters are concerned he is growing too close to the logging industry.

The Oso landslide has added some gravity to the issue.

During his 2008 campaign to become Washington's top logging regulator, Goldmark attacked his opponent for a "reprehensible" conflict of interest -- accepting money from timber harvesters while allowing them to conduct clear-cuts in landslide-prone areas, the Times reported.

Goldmark told the Times he didn't keep the pledge because he's not influenced by the money. "It wasn't something that I felt was really pivotal to my ability to represent the public and act always in the public interest," he said.

But here is something that's pivotal to any elected official's ability to govern effectively: credibility.

Shortly after the Oso mudslide, Goldmark downplayed the role of a clear-cut at the site, which occurred about four years before he took office. He noted that the timber harvest was relatively small in size and accused anti-logging advocates of trying to seize on people's emotions after the tragedy.

He has softened that message, later telling the Times that he will not speculate on what might have caused the mudslide until scientists complete a review.

But his failure to live up to his campaign promise will weaken any findings that absolve the timber industry.

Key environmental leaders say they're frustrated that Goldmark has grown too close to timber companies. They are particularly concerned that the Department of Natural Resources hasn't done more to restrict logging in landslide-prone areas, the Times reported.

It's an important issue for Goldmark's agency. It's too bad that $100,000 in campaign contributions threaten to add controversy to the discussion.

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