Larry asked me if I wanted to go for a ride down Highway 9. He was setting up signs in the east end of Whatcom County for the 1993 Whatcom County Council Race. After breakfast at Arlis' Restaurant, we headed out. As we drove east towards Deming, I noticed campaign signs all over the place. They said, "Support Independence County, Our Hope for the Future." Funny, the signs weren't there the last time I drove by. And there is no Independence County.
I stop by Jeff Margolis' grocery to find out what is going on. It's located in Van Zandt which has about a half-dozen homes, most of them with yard signs welcoming you to Independence County. The weathered sign over Jeff's place reads: Everybody's - The Exotic Store. The tiny place is packed from floor to ceiling with sundries and groceries. "If we don't have it, you don't need it," Jeff likes to say. Jeff says the signs are part of a petition drive that calls for the eastern part of Whatcom county to secede and form a new county named Independence. A lot of residents, he says, are unhappy about the county's steep tax assessment increases and think too much of the money goes for services in Bellingham instead of the rural areas. Jeff isn't worried by the secession drive. He dismisses it as "just a gimmick by the Christian Coalition to get out the vote." I discover later that the secession petition is a gimmick alright, but not of the Christian Coalition's making.
The November election turns out to be a shocker. Property rights activists backed by developers' money win nine out of the ten city and county races. Foster Rose, a Bellingham City Council incumbent is so shaken by his defeat, that he lies down and beats his head on the floor, according to one of his aides who wanders into the Hizzoner's Cafe to attend the post-election wake.
Proprietarian groups conducted a similar stealth campaign in Snohomish where they gained a majority on the county council. They also gutted the Critical Areas ordinances for both counties. The ordinances are long term land-use plans which counties are required of counties under the Land Use Management act.
Property owners who work their own land have some very legitimate complaints. They are being badly hurt by the government policy of leasing public lands to large ranchers, timber companies and mining corporations at a fraction of market rates. This depresses commodity prices for small farmers, loggers and miners.
At the same time taxes on rural property close to urban areas like the I-5 corridor are rising astronomically as a result of urban sprawl. Every time a new development goes in the counties have to shell out money to pay for additional infrastructure like water, sewer, emergency services, police and roads. To pay for this, the counties often have to create a Local Improvement District which puts a crushing tax burden on people who own their own land; if they have a fixed income they may have to sell it because they can't make the new assessments.
The situation makes it easy for secessionist organizers to attract rural folks to their cause. They tell property owners that if they create a new county tax rates will be lower. In reality taxes would skyrocket because residents would have to bear the cost of building a whole new county infrastructure from scratch. Also, the property owners are blissfully unaware that the secessionist leaders are backed by the developers and land speculators who caused the tax spiral in the first place. They are hiring the fox to guard the chickens. And the chickens are them.
I spend a large part of November pouring over precinct returns with a pencil and calculator and in December I drop by Independence County Headquarters in Deming. It's in a mall belonging to Doug Howard, an Independence County organizer. The style is nouveau rustic with real logs holding up a porch roof. There are only a half-dozen small shops and some have posters in the window of Bill Clinton with a FREE ZONE sign stamped across his face. Nobody's in at Independence Headquarters so I go next door to Howard Financial Services. Howard comes out from behind a partition and greets me affably. He's a recent and somewhat controversial arrival in the area. He's a preacher at a fundamentalist church in the Nooksack Valley and he packs a pistol. The Independence office looks like an American Opinion Bookstore that collided with a campaign headquarters. A poster on the wall proclaims the ten planks of the Communist Manifesto, the first of which calls for, "Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purpose." There are yard signs and big piles of literature all over the place. I take a sample from every pile; it's the beginning of a file that eventually will be a yard long.
While I harvest the handouts, Howard is talking away about how Independence County will lower everybody's taxes and improve services. Finally I have everything I want except a copy of the secession petition. I ask him for one and he says we'll have to go next door. In his office he brings out a leather attache case stuffed with filled-out petitions. He shows them to me and says blandly that he doesn't have any blank ones. I don't have a poker face and Howard is no fool. He's figured out that I don't like what I've seen. He leans forward and without a smile says flatly, "We're taking over." I mull the phrase over on the drive home: "The hell you are," I say.
My next stop is the library to check the Bellingham Herald index for articles on county secession. There are only two, a measure of the success of the stealth campaign and the ineptitude of the Herald. The stories say that there is a second petition effort to carve yet another county (called Pioneer) out of Whatcom. They also mention, almost in passing, that secessionists are circulating petitions to create seven new counties along the I-5 corridor: Whatcom, Snohomish, King, Pierce and Thurston counties would all be dismembered. I'm stunned. Is there a conspiracy to seize political power in the Puget Sound Basin; if so doesn't anybody know? Or care?
I start making random calls to watchdog groups about county separatist and property rights groups. It pays off in a contact with Kathy Kilmer at the Wilderness Society in Denver who tells me of something called the Wise Use Movement. Looking up articles indexed on the InfoTrak CD-ROM guide to periodicals, I find a burst of national news that started in late 1991 and petered out in early 1993. The Wise Use Movement (it usually appears in capital letters) is some sort of loose coalition of industry lobbying groups, conservative advocates, and grass-roots activists whose goal is to repeal or drastically modify all environmental regulation. The most frequently mentioned Wise Use leaders are Ron Arnold, Chuck Cushman, and Alan Gottlieb. All of them live in Washington. Arnold appears to be the principle ideologue, Cushman is a field activist and Gottlieb is a less visible fund-raiser.
There are some scary things in the articles. Wise Use opponents are frequently assaulted and harassed. Articles also cite Wise Use's links to Rev. Sun Myong Moon's Unification Church; Rev Moon's stated goal is to turn the U.S., and indeed the world, into a theocracy.
Based on my the sketchy information, I start drawing charts with Gottlieb and Arnold's Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise in Bellevue at the top, and all the various property rights and secession organizations at the bottom. It is confusing and ultimately futile, because of the complexity of the links between the various groups. Wise Use looks a lot more like an intelligence operation than a grass-roots political movement.
I get hold of an Independence County secession petition and study it closely. There is something in it that bothers me and I finally figure out what it is: A boldly displayed notice; "Return this petition by November 1." This infers that the petition is going to be on the ballot in the November 1993 elections. But you don't vote on a petition, which is merely a request to the legislature for a specific action. The legislature can act on the petition, ignore it or reject it, as it chooses. It was an astonishingly daring ploy but it worked; most of the petition signers that I query say they thought that they were putting the secession issue on the ballot. Today - seven months after the November elections - the Independence County Committee is still gathering signatures on forms which still bear the injunction to, "Return this petition by November 1."
I show the petition to Tip Johnson, my closest friend for twenty years. He agrees that something is very wrong. The next day we drive off to Olympia for answers. On impulse we drop by the Everett Herald and ask for information about secession groups in Snohomish County. Reporter Bob Wodnik tells us to talk to Darrell Harting of the Snohomish Property Rights Association. "The property rights and the secession groups are cross breeding." he says. Harting's office is another small storefront in another rural strip mall and Harting is in. He's sitting at a table behind a poster of a panhandler holding a sign that says, "WILL WORK FOR SEX." Harting looks like a Santa Claus who has shaved his beard but kept the mustache. His shirt sports a protector with a five-year supply of ball points and a badge that urges you to "SAVE THE SPOTTED COW." He seems glad to see us, an attitude that will not last through the interview.
Tip is the politician and folksier than I am, so we've agreed that he'll do the talking. While he's telling Harting we're from Whatcom County and interested in the secession movements, I notice two brochures pinned to bulletin board that look vaguely familiar. Then I stop breathing and, "almost lose it," as Tip grumbles afterwards. The brochures call for creating two new counties named Freedom and Skykomish from parts of Snohomish County. What strikes me breathless is that the format and text are boilerplate copies of the Independence County brochures. The only difference is the color of the paper and the names of the counties. This is our first clue that the secession movements may be directed by a single entity. I ask Harting if we can have copies of some of his literature and he affably tells me to help myself. I gather up everything in sight, including the Freedom and Skykomish County petitions which not unexpectedly are also boilerplate copies of their Independence County counterpart.
Tip asks Harting how many members he has. Harting waves at a computer and says: "The membership is in there but we keep it secret so the county government can't harass them."
The membership may be publicity-shy but it's obviously active because Harting is often interrupted by telephone calls, at least a half-dozen during our short visit. He cautions every caller that SNOCO PRA can't engage in political activities. That, he tells them, would be a violation of the group's tax-exempt status. Between calls he tells us he's skittish about electioneering because he once got in trouble with the IRS for violating the tax status of a trade organization he was working with.
In spite of his alleged determination not to get involved in politicking, he tells us that he is studying the Catron County strategy. "We've got all the Catron documents," he says, waving at a file cabinet. Neither Tip nor I have the foggiest where Catron County is or what its plans are but we nod as knowingly as we had been born there.
"You get the feeling that there's a group even higher up directing things," Tip remarks. This stops the conversation dead and Harting's attitude cools perceptibly. He asks us to write down our names and addresses, "so we can stay in touch." We chat a while longer but it's obvious the interview is over. I distract Harting with a $5 donation while Tip filches back the paper with our names and addresses. We thank Harting and we really mean it. We are almost to the door when Harting calls out to us: "Didn't you fellows give me your addresses?"
"Yes," says Tip, truthfully.
Harting is searching frenetically through the scattered papers on his desk as we scuttle into the street. Tip dodges into a health food store. I follow him and we crouch behind a stand piled with books on how to live forever by eating right. By now we've attracted the attention of everyone in the store. My ears are burning. A young woman comes over to ask, "Can I help you?" Tip explains that we are fleeing from the property rights zealots next door. This seems to satisfy her, which makes me wonder if this is a common occurrence around here.
We drive on towards Olympia wondering what the Catron Count strategy is. It will be weeks before I find out that Catron county is a monumental story that the national media and even the marginal press have overlooked almost completely. In fact, the sole source I can find is an article in the April 4, 1994 Los Angeles Times.
Catron County is in Western New Mexico. It's nearly as big as Massachusetts but with a population the size of Clyde Hill's - about 3,000 people. Many of the residents run small herds of cattle or mine silver deposits - often on public lands. When the government started setting aside sanctuaries for the Mexican spotted owl and other endangered species livelihoods were curtailed and a sawmill employing 75 people had to shut down. Catronians got mad and three years ago their county commissioners did something to placate them. They passed an ordinance calling for the arrest of any federal agent who violated residents' civil rights. They claimed they had a historic " civil right" based on "custom and culture" to work the land pretty much as it had always been worked; and they produced treaties and land grants dating back to the 16th century to prove it. In essence Catronians claimed the right to overgraze, overcut and pollute just as they had before the feds started passing environmental protection laws in the 1970's.
If the ordinance was a bluff, it was a risky one because the county had only six law officers to pit against the most powerful entity on earth - the U.S. government. In any case, it worked. County officials cowed the U.S. Forest service into promising to consult with them on all land-use decisions. Carl Pence, acting supervisor of the Gila National Forest, admitted to the Los Angeles Times that: "Some of our people did feel intimidated. They thought they might be in some danger."
To insure that the consultations came to naught, the Catronians set up a bewildering obstacle course of committees and panels designed to exhaust the resources of the federal agencies. This also worked, meaning that Catron County has, so far, successfully usurped federal authority over public lands. Inspired by Catron's brass and encouraged by and the federal government's poltroonery some 300 western counties are now claiming sovereignty over the federal lands within their boundaries. In Washington, there are at least 16 counties that are delving into Catron strategies. So far the only legal test of Catron-like claims has been in Idaho where a federal judge ruled that they violated the supremacy clause of the constitution, which holds the federal government as sovereign.
I eventually obtain two documents on Catron County. One is a nine page booklet published by the Catron County commissioners. Titled "A Brief Description of the County Government Movement," it has five sections on the role of county governments, protection of custom and culture, joint land use planning--county governments and federal agencies and how citizens initiate a comprehensive land use plan.
The other document is, "The Power and Authority of County Government, distributed by the National Federal Lands Conference in Bountiful, Utah. Ron Arnold, the Bellevue Guru who conceived and helped found Wiser Use, sits on the advisory council. There are at least 25 copies of the document circulating in Washington. Copies have been ordered by Chelan, Grant, Lincoln, Okanogan, Pend Orille, and Walla Walla counties, as well as by the county secessionists. If the secessionists have a hidden agenda, the Catron County "custom and culture" ordinances are a major part of it.
In Olympia, we cold-call at the Public Disclosure Commission and after a short wait meet with a staffer named Joe Beck. We start filling him in on what we've learned about property rights groups. "We know that the Pioneer County organization made a $300 political contribution," I say, and I show Beck a copy of a Public Disclosure form wherein the Keystone PAC in Bellingham reports receiving the money. "That looks like it's worth investigating," says Beck. [Donations of $200 in one month or $500 in three months trigger a requirement for full financial reporting.
We also give Beck a copy of the financial feasibility of creating Independence County prepared by Prof. Richard O. Zerbe of the University of Washington. The document is on the letterhead of Zerbe and Associates but lists the telephone and fax numbers of the U of W's Graduate School of Public Affairs as belonging to Zerbe's business. In a telephone interview Zerbe told Tip that he had prepared three such reports at a cost of, "between $1,000 and $3,000 each," for the Freedom, Cedar and Independence County Committees.
The study attempts to prove that rural areas are supporting urban areas with their tax money but according to Whatcom Count Assessor Keith Wilnauer, the opposite is true. Zerbe's estimate of income is based solely on property taxes which produce only about one-third of the county's tax revenues. The other two-thirds comes from sales, excise and business taxes which by an overwhelming percentage are generated in urban areas.
The county secession movement is also political folly, according to a highly-placed state source who insists on anonymity: "These people don't understand their own interest. If the eastern half of the counties break away it will give control of where most of the money and the people are to the democrats, probably forever. If I were a liberal in Seattle, I'd be giving these people money."
We also show Beck that the petitions and brochures from the Independence, Pioneer and Freedom groups are boiler plate, indicating that their activities and those of other county secession groups around the state might be directed by a covert political group.
"That sounds like Alan Gottlieb," says Beck, more to himself than to us. Tip asks if Gottlieb is involved with the new county movement. Beck avoids answering the question directly but says Gottlieb is concerned with property rights issues. He promises to pass our information on and says we'll be notified of whatever action they take.
Tip and I are kids again, cavorting down Capitol Way, nyuk-nyuking like the Three Stooges. We've got our big breakthrough: If the PDC finds that the secession committees are lobbying, they will have to open their financial records for public inspection and we will then know who is financing them. We have yet to discover that the PDC operates with a Kafakesque inscrutability that soon will drive us to despair.
The Public Disclosure Commission was created by initiative in the mid-70's because voters thought lobbyists were controlling legislators with under-the-table payoffs. RCW 42.17 states the commission's raison d'etre succinctly in the first paragraph. "The public's right to know of the financing of political campaigns and lobbying and the financial affairs of elected officials and candidates far outweighs any right that these matters remain secret and private." This same quotation is prominently displayed on PDC stationary and the wall of its office.
The PDC has had a hard time living up to it's mission. Legislators see the agency as a threat and insure that it's always underfunded and understaffed. This has produced a curious standoff; the PDC investigates only petty violations law and the legislators refrain from strangling it completely. In 1992, it came to light that public funds, staff and facilities had long been used by the party caucuses and certain legislators for campaign purposes. The PDC decided that there wasn't any problem that required action. Unfortunately for the PDC, there is a little known clause in RCW 42.17.400 (4) called a "citizen's action." It says that any citizen can send a letter to the Attorney General and the county prosecutor where a violation occurs and tell them to get busy. If they don't, the citizen may then bring suit in the name of the state. Attorneys call this the "the bounty hunter clause."
To Olympia's horror, Common Cause invoked the clause. The ensuing investigation revealed the PDC as toothless and lethargic; the legislators looked like looters run amok. The dust still hasn't settled. The PDC director resigned and the assistant director retired. There are new appointments, a vacant seat on the commission and another commissioner's retirement.
Melissa Warheit, the new executive director, has not arrived from Ohio when Tip and I show up with a new and equally unwelcome call to arms. Our request to the PDC is clear and straightforward. Pioneer County Committee made a $300 contribution to a PAC and we want them to file the required disclosure statement. We don't hear back from the PDC, so I start calling. I get replies like, "I know you're not going to be happy with this...I hope you're prepared to be disappointed... "
Finally on February 10, the PDC sends sent letters to all seven secession groups requesting that they register as grassroots lobbying organizations. Replies are expected by February 24. They never come. My repeated calls to the PDC for information earn me only evasive answers and an astronomical phone bill. It isn't until early March that I receive any news and it's bad. David Clark, PDC deputy director, says The Cedar County Committee [which wants to secede from King County] has petitioned the PDC for a declaratory order. This is a formal statement asking the PDC to justify it's opinion that the county secession groups are lobbying organizations.
A hearing is scheduled on March 24 on the declaratory order but canceled because the PDC had failed to send a copy of the order to Cedar County Committee's attorney. He has my sympathy. In April, another continuance was granted because the PDC had withheld all information from Cedar County Committee's attorney, wrongly claiming that it was exempt from disclosure. The PDC's bungling makes me more determined than ever to keep digging on my own.
I again telephone Kathy Kilmer at the Wilderness Society in Denver for advice on where to look and she suggests I contact the Western States Center in Portland where the Montana AFL-CIO, alarmed by Wise Use anti-labor activities, has funded the Wise Use Exposure Project. I telephone Tarso Ramos, the project's chief researcher and he suggests we exchange information Sunday in the Bijou Restaurant in Portland.
Ramos is in his early 30's, slender,fine-featured and the handsomest man in the Bijou. He hasn't brought his files with him, though he had promised I could look at them. Apparently, the exchange of hard information is going to be one way. I sigh and hand over a report I had written up for him. Tarso scans it and says, "It's not as monolithic as this."
Tarso does give me a connection to the county's foremost expert on Rev. Sun Myong Moon, a guy named Dan Junas who lives in Seattle. It turns out that all of the articles which mention Arnold and Gottlieb's ties to the Unification Church all trace back to a 1991 Seattle Times series of investigative stories on the Moon organization. The stories were written by Walter Hatch, one of the best investigative reporters in the state. Dan Junas was a major source.
Junas' office is near Pioneer Square in a converted warehouse teaming with artists, craftsmen and technological peasants. Dan welcomes me into the ranks of a small and very select group; researchers who are exploring the shadowy corners of the Far Right in America. According to Dan, there are only about two dozen people actively pursuing this type of research. He seems quite pleased that I have blundered into the situation. I am, he says, the only person investigating Wise Use operations at the grassroots level. I'm both relieved to finally come out of the cold and disturbed by some of the things he tells me. The vague warnings of danger that I have been picking up, he says, are real. Offices have been broken into, files stolen, threats made.
Junas gives me the telephone number of David Helvarg, a San Francisco journalist who writes on violence against environmentalists. On the phone Helvarg tells me that there are, "hundreds of cases and over 120 serious crimes [against environmentalists] in the last two years." Much of the violence, he says is in areas where property rights activists with Wise Use ties are struggling to overturn environmental regulations.
In Whatcom and Snohomish Counties, threats and harassment against environmentalists, candidates and elected officials are also all too familiar. Those I query are almost as reluctant as some rape victims to talk about their attackers. Tip, who is receiving an increasing number of anonymous death threats over the phone, is one of the few local victims who'll discuss his harassment. Two candidates in the county election are among the prey. One had her headlights smashed while she was in a public meeting. Another was followed home from a meeting by a car that tail-gated her all the way to her driveway. A third woman had a car try to run her down while she was jogging.
Tip and I worry a lot about the violence because we're attending property rights and separatist meetings. Our first Pioneer County secessionist meeting is held on a Tuesday night at a place called the Custer Sportsmen's Club. It's ten miles northeast of Ferndale, which is to say nowhere, so we get lost. We're late and nervous and it doesn't help when we see that the club has a shooting range. But, hey, we step through the door right into the middle of a Norman Rockwell painting, circa 1936.
There are two dozen men and women in the room eating at half a dozen tables. By the door there's a big spread of homemade casseroles, jello salads, cakes and cookies. An elderly lady tells us to help ourselves. We take coffee and cookies, sit down at a table and starting chatting with the folks there. The continuous pop pop pop of small arms fire punctuates the conversation.
The meeting is utterly informal; people who feel like talking just stand up and do it. One speaker says he thinks there shouldn't be any zoning laws at all. He's careful to say he is only speaking for himself, but nobody takes the other side. A woman says she's concerned that, "All those people in the city think they have the same rights as us and they don't even own a stick of property."
After a while, Harold Andreason, the leader of the Pioneer County Committee, says he has good news: The Freedom County Committee [in Snohomish] has acquired enough signatures on their secession petition to send it to the legislature. Andreason says he spent the previous night in Snohomish County working with John Stokes [Freedom County spokesman] on its press releases.
Next morning I call Stokes at Freedom County headquarters, which is in his home at Lake Goodwin. It's pretty early but John is tickled to talk to somebody. He sounds kind of manic, as though he hasn't slept for several days, which may account for the squirrely plan he outlines to me: He's decided not to submit the signatures to the secretary of state because he's sure the secretary has, "orders to sit on them."
"Then how are you going to get them validated, John?"
"I've already validated them myself."
Stokes proudly explains that his committee has copies of all the voter registration records and that they have carefully checked every single signature and verified that they are all registered voters. He plans to hold on to the self-validated petitions because there is going to be, "a complete turnover in the legislature after the next elections," and that the 1995 session will be controlled by people supportive of property rights.
"How do you know that new candidates are going to be put forward?"
"I just know but I'm not going to tell you who is involved."
"Okay, then who's involved with organizing Freedom County?"
"We've decided I'm the only spokesman. The others don't want their identity known."
"Because that's just the way it is."
"That's a hard position to argue with. Anyway, I want to thank you for a good interview."
"Yeah, the press always likes talking to me."
"I'm sure they do, John."
Some weeks later, Stokes gives a talk to the Arlington Chamber of Commerce. in the back of Weller's Chalet Restaurant. His subject is, Should Arlington Be the County Seat of the Soon-to-Be Freedom County? John begins by leading the Pledge of Allegiance so ostentatiously that even Republican teeth start grinding. After a few remarks, he says that the secession is off until 1995..."when we'll have a whole new legislature. Between these new county movements you have 300,000 voters...who will be demanding that the legislature obey the constitution and implement the new counties."
The audience chills when Stokes turns xenophobic and racist: He states flatly that the Growth Management Act will place "job allocations limits" on areas where no new employment will be allowed: "They've allowed cities in the southern counties to buy out of this with mitigation fees"... ...They don't have to take their fair share of low income housing. They can buy their way out of it, so it's going to be dumped up here in the north. We're talking about not only low income...but we're talking about special- needs housing, Haitian immigrants, Chinese immigrants, Russian immigrants, uneducated people, people with HIV, criminally insane, sexual predators..."
This is too much for one woman who stands up and says, "I personally have a problem about that, about Freedom County...When I hear these things: that Freedom County is biased and bigoted, and maybe they should have sheets over their heads with two eyeholes."
At the end of the meeting Stokes tells Mayor Kraski that if Arlington doesn't campaign to become the site of the future county seat that it will end up in [nearby] Smokey Point. "I'm going to pass that on," says Kraski, "to Smokey Point."
By the time March arrives, I've had my fill of property rights propaganda and I'm worrying a lot about walking into an isolated meeting hall some night and hearing somebody say, "There he is, let's get him." The day before Tip and I are slated to present our evidence to the Public Disclosure Commission, I get an electrifying tip over the phone: "Chuck Cushman, of Wise Use's terrible trio, is in town. And he's holding a meeting at the Rome Grange." Holy Hell! I spend most of the day on the phone arranging for friends to video-tape Cushman in action.
At 4:30 p.m. I'm heading out the door to pick up Tip. Our plan is to attend the meeting then drive through the night to Olympia so we can be at the PDC hearing in the morning. The phone rings. It's Melissa Warheit, director of the PDC, telling me that a continuance has been granted on the Cedar County petition for a declaratory order. I insist on coming. Warheit says that if I do I won't be allowed to speak.
"It's going to be pretty difficult," I say acerbically, "to deny public comment at a hearing of the only body in the state charged with seeing that there is open and fair public process." In the end Warheit says Tip or I can speak but not about Cedar County, nor can we submit any documents that refer to it.
The Rome Grange parking lot is full by the time we arrive and there are cars jammed every which way along the highway. The first floor of the grange has nobody in it except two young guys with fertilizer hats and big belt buckles talking to Sharon Pietala, Independence County Treasurer. Everybody else, including Tip, is trying to get upstairs to hear Cushman. But I can't tear myself away when I see what's in the room: Six 6-foot long tables, practically collapsing under the weight of Wise Use literature...enormous piles of propaganda... a 30 foot-wall of the stuff. I am in primary document heaven. I start Hoovering up the literature as Sharon moves towards me. "Wow, oh boy, this is great," I tell her. I must have a fairly crazed look on my face because she moves to the other end of the room as far from me as she can get.
When I do get around to Cushman it's too late. I can barely squeeze into the overflow crowd on the stairwell. "Was the spotted owl about a saving the owl?" thunders Cushman rhetorically. Shouts of "No." "It's was about stopping logging, wasn't it?" "Yeaaah!"
The guy's a real pro. His timing is good, the punch lines hit home and the crowd loves him. But I'm not going to stand in the stairwell all night listening to bumpf. Anyway, we have the gig covered on video. It's starting to rain as we thread our way through the densely packed cars. We hit the road and drive through the night to Olympia.
At the PDC meeting, Chairman Irene Henniger gives Tip ten minutes to speak. He tells the commissioners that the documentation we are submitting indicates that there are many groups electioneering in violation of the public disclosure laws and that there appears to be a larger organization coordinating them.
"This organization is essentially like a political party with a few different central committees and lots of precincts organized by area and interest," says Tip. "They have the ability to communicate up and down and supply support services...The whole thing is really a direct assault on the Growth Management Act...
"Keep in mind," interrupts Henniger, "that we are concerned about the disclosure of what's going on, not the ins and outs, the legality of things...Your ten minutes is pretty much up."
Tip and I make the trip home in sullen silence. While the PDC dawdles, Wise Use groups are running political campaigns, gathering petition signatures and seducing ever-larger blocks of voters.
April Fools' Day marks the fourth month of our effort to tell the Olympian bureaucracy that somebody is stealing the state. We still have no indication that they have heard us. So we are not surprised when Warheit phones on the day before the April PDC hearing with the usual message: We need not attend the hearing because the Petition for a Declaratory Order has been continued again. As usual, I insist. As usual, she resists and finally agrees under the usual conditions: Tip can talk but must not utter the words, "Cedar County". Nor can any documents we submit refer to this nonexistent and unmentionable place.
At the meeting Tip tries to tell the commissioners that what concerns him is not the that a secession group may have violated a minor disclosure regulation but that there appears to be, "a network of organizations that are functioning as an unreported political party and creating a stealth campaign."
A little later Tip makes a serious slip and mentions Cedar County. Chairwoman Henninger reminds him that the matter has been removed from the agenda and continued to the next meeting. She is, of course, in the right. But now Tip is mad; he starts passing around two versions of a document submitted in the Cedar County petition: "This is the original form of the document...and you will notice that some very important things are missing," he says tightly..."We don't believe that you need a declaratory order, we believe you should initiate an investigation."
"That is for our staff to determine...whether we should initiate an investigation," says Henninger, who is getting pretty upset herself.
"Unfortunately," says Tip icily, "when we send something to the staff of the Public Disclosure Commission, it disappears. When we request something from the Public Disclosure staff it doesn't appear. Since last month I've made three separate requests and I know of two other requests that have been made for copies of the draft declaratory order. They have not been sent...Now I have decided we are not interested in the declaratory order... Henninger (interrupting): Well, then lets...
Tip (interrupting): We're not interested in Cedar County...
Henninger (interrupting): But this is what we have to deal with....I mean, I'm sorry...
Tip (his voice rising): Well the time is very short and this commission is going to find itself in a very unusual and, difficult position. It's going to be impossible for this commission and this agency to inspire any confidence in the public because there is a political oversight that's occurring now of such huge proportions that...
Henninger (interrupting): We have received the information ....from you today...
Tip: (interrupting): How much more time have I got?"
Henninger: I'm sorry, but...
Afterwards, Tip and I drink coffee in nearby Woerner's. We're still feeling an adrenal pleasure from the confrontation but we fear we've alienated the only state body charged with investigating the complaints we've filed. We decide to keep in the PDC's face until, as Tip puts it, there are hockey games in hell."
With nothing to lose I call the commission every day on the week before the May PDC meeting to ask is they have granted another continuance. Tip describes this as, "cruel but fair." When the third Tuesday arrives, I'm at the PDC and so is the Cedar County contingent; David O. Fields, Warren Iverson and Attorney Rhys Sterling. Fields and Iverson are both middle aged, corpulent and the same height. In fact, they are so alike that if their last names weren't different I'd swear they were twins. They even have even styled their hair the same way and are wearing indistinguishable blue shirts.
Sterling has shiny black hair and is impeccably turned out as befits any attorney who needs all the edge he can get. He tells the commissioners (repeatedly) that the Cedar County Committee is not lobbying because if it collects the required number of signatures on the petition the legislature has no choice but to approve it.
After various commissioners knock various holes in this argument, Assistant Attorney General Chip Holcomb says bluntly that the issue of whether or not a petition is a ministerial act is not relevant. He points out that initiatives are ministerial acts: "The legislature can't change one comma or one period." Yet they are required to report as grass roots lobbying organizations when they circulate petitions.
Warren Iverson also stands up: What's troubling him is not Sterling's weak case but that the Communist Manifesto poster I picked up in Independence County headquarters so many months previously has for reasons known only to PDC file clerks found it's way into the Cedar County dossier. Iverson fears that the document will tar Cedarians with a communist label if it is not expunged. It could, he says, be especially damaging to committee members who work for the federal government and have "high security clearances."
The entire commission is staring at Iverson with the expression that Margaret Dumont used to adopt when Harpo Marx would take a live turkey from underneath his coat and present it to her.
Iverson, who is already unhappy, gets even more upset when a commissioner informs him that the committee does not tell its staff how to build it's files. Nor is Iverson reassured when another commissioner says dryly that the hearing records are enough to disassociate him from the ten planks of the Communist Manifesto.
The decision the commissioners are going to make couldn't be more obvious if they all took out white handkerchiefs and put them on their heads: They vote unanimously to require the secession committees to report their finances. Later Melissa Warheit tells me that Sterling contacted her within hours of the hearing; he is filing for a Stay of Judgement pending an appeal of the PDC decision in Superior Court. If the stay is granted, any disclosure will be blocked for at least four to six months.
Since this article was written at the end of June 1994, very little has changed. In exchange for Cedar County not filing for a Stay of Judgement, the Attorney General's office agreed not to request immediate disclosure. The Assistant Attorney General and Cedar County agreed to a court date in August. They then filed in the wrong court and the judge informed them on the day of the hearing that he does not handle these types of cases. The case has now been rescheduled to be heard by a different judge on November 10 at 1:00pm in Thurston County Superior Court. None of the secession organizations have volunteered to register or file any reports. The Independence County office in Deming closed about the time of the PDC hearing on the declaratory order.