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Rick Larsen; Hospital District Election

August 28th, 2013 at Wed, 28th, 2013 at 2:26 pm by stevewehrly

4. Congressman Rick Larsen and Senator Maria Cantwell didn’t really do anything spectacular to convince then-Secretary of the Interior Salazar to get President Obama to sign the paperwork designating the thousand acres of islets, reefs and lighthouses as the San Juan Islands National Monument.

They just did their jobs – and proved once again that there is more than one way to get things done in government.

When Republicans took control of the U.S. House in 2011, Larsen must have known the legislative route for a National Conservation Area bill (the legislative equivalent of a national monument designation) would be a dead end. Even the good working relationship he has with Alaska’s Congressman-for-Life Don Young (R-Fort Yukon) wasn’t going to be of much help when Doc Hastings (R-Pasco) outmaneuvered Young to be named Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.

In another time, before the current less-government thinking took control of Congress, Larsen probably could have gotten a hearing, if not a vote, from Hastings, but the kind of comity that once prevailed between the two parties (especially between members of the same state delegation) has dissolved into a “don’t even bother asking” attitude.
Because Cantwell is a subcommittee chair on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, she was a natural for Larsen to partner with on the Conservation Area bill; she successfully got then-ENR Chair Bingaman to hold a hearing, but enactment was still a long shot.
From the beginning, Larsen and Cantwell must have pursued Presidential-designation of the National Monument under the Teddy Roosevelt-era Antiquities Act. Because many National Monument designations have been controversial (some have even resulted in bills being introduced to limit the size of Monuments to 5,000 acres or less), the full support of the Interior Department was necessary – and that was achieved at least in part because Cantwell’s committee is the budget authorization committee for Interior. (“Authorization” authority is held by the relevant standing committee; actual “appropriation” is handled by the Appropriations Committee.)

When Cantwell successfully prevailed upon Salazar to visit NW Washington in early 2012, that was a signal to everyone that the monument designation was on track. Even though Doc Hastings went public with objections to the designation, Larsen and Cantwell persevered: Obama signed the Executive Order on March 25, 2013.

(Hastings’ principled stance against the National Monument may end up costing him politically. His bill to create road access to the top of Rattlesnake Mountain in the Hanford Reach National Monument was passed earlier this year by the House. Its fate in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is uncertain.)

The National Monument episode not only shows that there are multiple paths to getting things done in Congress, it also illustrates one reason why Republicans are so intent on winning the presidency in 2016.

5. Ironically, the off-year election year for Hospital District Commissioner in San Juan County, which is usually about as exciting as the election of Cemetery Commissioner, will probably get statewide media attention, and may get national attention.

The issue which may put the election in the national news is Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s opinion that public hospital districts must comply with Washington law on reproductive rights, specifically RCW 9.02.100 and related sections, approved by the people as Initiative 120 in 1991. Also, acccording to RCW 9.02.150, “No person or private medical facility may be required by law or contract in any circumstances to participate in the performance of an abortion if such person or private medical facility objects to so doing.”

Whether the right to an abortion (or any reproductive service) trumps RCW 9.02.150 may be a question to be decided in court. Any legal wrangling that ensues will certainly also involve Article 11 of the state Constitution, which states, in part: “No public money or property shall be appropriated for or applied to any religious worship, exercise or instruction, or the support of any religious establishment.”

The AG opinion was written in response to a written request by Sen. Kevin Ranker that referred to the contract between the Hospital District 1 and PeaceHealth, the owner and operator of Peace Island Hospital and Medical Clinic. The contract, which provides about $1 million per year to Peace Island, is silent on provision of reproductive services, which under Initiative 120 includes abortion and birth control.

Up until now, the hospital district has deflected the issue, but the commissioners may be forced into a more definitive position if Monica Harrington and her cadre of reproductive activists continue to apply pressure.

The election will be contested by former County Councilman Howie Rosenfeld and longtime San Juan Islander Mark Schwinge. Both have been asked by The Journal to address the issue.

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