Friday, July 6, 2012

Discussion # 6, Closing Discussion, 2012 Panels

We enter the last discussion regarding the 2012 Munro Institute with regret. It has been an insightful two weeks. The Munro Institute would like to thank Western Washington University, the organizers, students, and participants for making the two week so successful. The closing highlight was having gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna as our guest speaker. We commend Mr. McKenna on his strong pro-higher education stand.

We are going to change directions, and ask respondents to take a moment to review and reflect on the panels themselves. If you participated or were present for only one panel, please comment on that panel. What did you like? What could have been different or better?

If you were fortunate enough to participate in multiple panels, we would like your impressions of them. What did you like? What would you have liked to hear more about and why? What other topics would you like to see covered?

Thanks to all for your engagement and insights over the past three weeks. 

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Discussion # 5, Political Reporting

The Munro Institute would like to thank Western Washington University president Bruce Shepard for delivering the keynote address. We agree with President Shepard that the revenue system in Washington state may have provided for our needs in a bygone era, but as the economic conditions change, revenue sources must adapt.

The increasing reliance on digital communications and the recent economic environment have to drastically affected the news media industry and the discussion by our panelists from yesterday (6/27/2012) clearly reflected that.

Digital communications have created the need to provide the news in multiple delivery formats. The audiences have changed as well, and the news industry is adapting to their changing consumption patterns. There are less political reporters in Olympia as declining advertising dollars and tight budgets prevents news organizations from maintaining full-time reporters there. The panelists clearly outlined the challenges they face as a result of these changes.

Austin Jenkins agreed that there are many challenges the industry faces. He felt that while there might be many new aspects to news delivery in the future forcing media outlets to adapt, the quality of news reporting was actually getting better as result, saying it is now more focused and less redundant.

Joel Connelly and Pat Callaghan then presented us with very different views of the current status of news reporting.

Connelly feels the contraction of the news industry had been detrimental to news reporting. There are fewer reporters covering the government in Olympia, and fewer people in general covering the news. With less coverage, the public has less access to information, and reporters are forced cover a wider variety of stories preventing them from covering any one story very deeply.

Pat Callaghan rejects the “death of the newspaper” tome, saying that while there may be less printed news, the News Tribune has more readers today than it ever had, albeit many reading online. He agreed with Austin Jenkins in that the quality of reporting is better, and there are less redundant stories.

The differing views of the panelist seems to give us a logical topic for discussion.

Do you feel that the “death of the newspaper” also reflects a decline in the news industry in general?  How do you obtain your news? Is this different from the way your parents obtained their news? Do we face an increase in the problem of self-censorship, with a seemingly enlightened public who in reality obtains news from a wide a variety sources, yet ones with very narrow viewpoints? Are you worried that we receive less actual news and this hinders us in making informed decisions, or do we simply need to be more savvy consumers of the news?

I look forward to reading your comments.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Discussion # 4, Political Influence

The Munro Institute would like to thank our panelists for an engaging discussion today. Suffice to say that getting an inside look into campaign strategy by the strategists themselves is a rare look into the inner workings of our state’s political process.

This was the only panel to not be recorded by TVW, however, the video crew from Western Washington University recorded the session and it is now available at

There were many highlights in the discussion. I generally try to feature at least one from each panelist, but I admit that I got behind in my notes today, and they are a bit sparse on specifics. Of note was the discussion regarding the actual percentage of voters that campaigns influence in order to win an election. Ron Dotzauer pointed out that campaigns need to convince the final 8-10% of voters in order to win most elections.

If there was a common underlying thread, it was the emphasis placed on the amount of money that is required for modern campaigns to function.

That being said, it was interesting to note that there seemed, to varying degrees, a general lack of support for the recent “Citizens United” decision which essentially gave corporations the same rights as private citizens regarding campaign donations. The panelists seemed to agree in theory that this and other various attempts at campaign finance reforms had weakened limitations to campaign spending rather than providing more restrictions.

If I understand their point of view, corporations now can donate more “soft money” to Political Action Committees, who are removed from any type of control by the various campaigns that they choose to support. When there were more direct donations to the campaigns themselves, there was a higher level of accountability, as the campaigns had to identify donors that gave over a specified amount of money.

In light of this discussion, what are your thoughts?

Should we allow campaign donations and spending to grow ever larger? Is this even a problem? Or do you feel that the increasing amounts of spending restrict access to government for the general public, and create a society where only those who can afford to spend lavishly on candidates get representation? If so, should we eliminate donations entirely and publicly fund campaigns with amounts of spending set by preset limits for local, regional, state, and national elections, taking all private, monetary influence out of campaigns? Is there some happy medium we as a nation or state could agree on?

If you feel campaign finance reform is necessary, please include ideas you may have on how to reform our current financing structure.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Discussion # 3, Initiatives and Referendums

Sorry to have gotten a bit behind in the blog post. On Thursday, June 24, 2012, the panel briefly discussed the history of the initiative process in Washington State, and we were presented with a description of the pros and cons of the process.

While elected officials in today’s panel were comparatively under-represented, Representative Reykdal and Joni Balter of the Seattle Times presented points of view that discussed the challenges legislators face and the effects on policy-making as a result of the initiative process.

Tim Eyman is a strong defender of the initiative process, even in the light of a growing initiative industry and out-of-state influence in the Washington state initiative process. He felt it was “condescending” to assume that Washington voters were unduly influenced by media campaigns and made informed decisions regardless
Allison Holcomb presented an interesting perspective as a representative of the ACLU, which is supporting the marijuana initiative, yet seems to take issue with the initiative process in general. She pointed out that when we elect people to public office, we are essentially “hiring” them to do a job that most of us don’t have time to do. The process of government should include hiring the right people, and then letting them do their job.

An interesting note was Friday’s headline story in the Bellingham Herald regarding the alleged fraudulent signatures found in signatures gathered for I-74. (see Apparent fraud discovered on some I-74 signature sheets

In light of this, we would like to hear your perspectives. Please consider the following when formulating your response:

-Having an understanding of the initial populist orientation of the initiative process, and its current evolution to the “Industrialized” of process that exists in many cases today, how do you feel about the role of the initiative process in the state of Washington? Is the process simply part-time public micromanagement of government and ties the hands of elected officials? Or do the benefits of direct democracy outweigh the costs? 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Discussion # 2 Value of Higher Education

The discussions of the past two days have reflected our current budgetary environment, and the challenges faced in funding higher education as result. On a national level, a budget deficit and a gargantuan national debt seems to have become business as usual. In Washington state, we are required to pass a balanced budget every two years. This model recently has included the need for special sessions to deal with higher than anticipated budget shortfalls after passing the original budget. One area that has been especially hard hit with cuts is state supported higher education.

From a historical and cultural perspective, there has been broad bipartisan support in the U. S. and and in Washington state for the idea that an educated public elevates the quality of life for all. Representative Carlyle spoke of this in today’s discussion. Senator Litzow spoke of the lack of qualified candidates to fill many high-tech positions. Sen. Frocke spoke of a “new paradigm” regarding the type of society we wanted in the future.This would require a change in direction, and providing more funding for higher education.

Others feel that as we evaluate and reduce public spending moving forward, there should be a higher reliance on personal funding and privatization of higher education.

In a nutshell, the question always boils down to core issues.

What value do we place on higher education as a benefit to society in general?  Do you agree with Rep. Seaquist, that we are “undereducated” and the future of “our economy and society” depends on reversing this trend? This would require drastically increasing access to education and potentially a corresponding increase in spending. To fund this, do we increase revenues or cut other services? Or do we allow the private sector to provide education and increase access to education through tax credits and other incentives? If we make cuts to other social services, which ones are cut? To what degree can we rely on emerging educational technologies to assist us in providing quality education? Is blended and online learning a  savior, or simply a useful tool?

What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Discussion # 1, Budgeting in Challenging Times

Thanks to our organizers, attendees, elected officials, policy makers, and advocates for making our first panel such a success.

For the first blog post, I would like to open the forum to a general comments of the first day's panels. If any topics or comments today made a significant impression on you and you would like to comment further, please take a moment and do so.

If you are a Western student enrolled in the class, please do not make an anonymous post as it will make it hard to give you credit. If you would prefer not to use your name, use an alias and let us know who you are.

I found the description of the differences between those living in a rural environments vs urban environments very thought provoking. We tend simplify differing points of views by speaking of them as if they fall onto some point on a line that runs between two polar opposites.

Rep. Wilcox pointed out that those living in both rural and urban areas, especially if by choice, do so out of a desire to enjoy aspects that are unique to that particular environment. It is not hard to understand that one living in an area where they can have a piece of land, would want to exercise control over that land. It also makes sense that they would  not want to be unduly affected by regulations that are designed out of a set of considerations needed regulate people living in closer proximity. From a budgetary standpoint, the person living in the rural environment may also resent being taxed to create and enforce regulations designed for their "city cousins."

This highlights one of the great challenges in policy making. Problems are rarely black and white, yet many solutions we propose treat them as if they are. There are ways to approach complex problems and one important strategy is promoting an open dialogue. The Munro panel discussion today provided a group of people who may not have otherwise interacted, with an opportunity to be involved in a dialogue together. I look forward to more opportunities to engage in an open dialogue as we progress through this year's seminar.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


We will use this blog to review and discuss the topics presented in the daily panel discussions. As the content of the panels is dynamic, one of the facilitators will create a post each evening based on that day's panel to provide a framework for the discussion. Participants are welcome to take the discussion in different directions but are asked to stay with framework of that or previous day's topics.  Please click on the individual topic headings to view full text and to leave comments.