The House of Boeing

Truths about power are revealed in Olympia's black humor.

WHAT IS ACCEPTED in Olympia often becomes a scandal when someone points out that the emperor is in violation of the indecent-exposure ordinance. For decades, a kind of open corruption prevailed at the Capitol, with legislators and lobbyists drinking, whoring, and gambling openly during sessions. When I was a student at the Evergreen State College in the early 1970s, a classmate of mine had a job that included driving a state car to deliver trunkloads of liquor to partying lawmakers. Booze and corruption were part of the political landscape, at least until the infamous Gamscam sting of the 1980s, a scandal that served as a wake-up call that things were out of hand.

Up into the early 1990s, House and Senate caucus staffers routinely did partisan political work, running political campaigns on state time and the state dime. This was such an accepted practice that the Olympia press corps, for the most part, turned a blind eye, at least until one reporter who saw things differently "outed" the illegal activity. It was slow to become a major news story in part because business as usual is the antithesis of "news." Once reported, however, the story grew and resulted in a major investigation into Olympia sausage making.

BOEING HAS ALWAYS been influential in Olympia. Yet longtime statehouse political reporter Dave Ammons of The Associated Press describes something like the perfect political stormwith Boeing as the storm. In his June 13 wrap-up of the recent legislative session, he writes that Boeing has been "a powerful, yet subtle presence at the Capitol." This time, however, "Boeing was a force of nature. . . . Whatever Boeing wanted, Boeing got."

As Ammons and others have pointed out, the company's local headquarters is now a bungalow near the Capitol called the Boeing House that serves as the aerospace giant's political command center. It's a small house in which big deals are made.

Further detailing the Boeing House phenomenon is The Tacoma News Tribune's political columnist, Peter Callahan. He reports in a June 12 story about the house that while Boeing has occupied the bungalow since 1988, it has essentially remained hidden from public view behind a raised parking lot. But with the renovation of the Legislative Building, that parking lot is now a frequent meeting place for lobbyists and legislators, and the Boeing House, once hidden, has emerged as prominently and strategically positioned. Reports Callahan: "It's as visible as any place on the temporary campusfrom the blacktop where watchers and hangers-on congregate, from the small porch on the House building where legislators chat with guests and lobbyists, and from the actual House chambers on the second floor. . . . Filled with those same lobbyists in chairs and a porch swing, the front stoop is likened to a luxury suite at a stadium."

As Callahan and Ammons report, lawmakers jokingly refer to it as the "owner's box."

THERE'S NO REAL SHOCK in knowing that the Lazy B's got a sugar shack, nor that it flexes its muscle. But in the wake of the amazing mobilization to give away the state's store to the company in the past couple of weeks, the depth of Boeing's clout, and the degree to which our politicians are willing to surrender all values to serve the one god that is Boeing, is forever laid bare. These are apparently desperate times: no time for subtlety or nuance or backroom deals. Who needs a backroom when the governor is nakedly willing to negotiate for hostages and pay ransom on the front porch? Callahan writes that the latest session wisecrack was the observation that the "E" in 7E7 stands for "extortion."

In that political graveyard humor, a truth is told. For years, we've joked about having a "senator from Boeing." But now it takes a plantation to carry Boeing's wateran entire congressional delegation, both houses of the Legislature, and a governor eager to shred the safety net; screw the teachers; shaft seasonal farm workers, timber cutters, and fishermen by slashing their unemployment benefits; and give literally billions of dollars in tax breaks to a wealthy corporation that has only one demand: Feed me.

And like so many abuse victims, we are left with the impression that it is all our fault. We've brought this on ourselves because we just haven't done enough already. Boeing likes to complain about our business climate, but the fact is many of Boeing's troubles are because it's getting its tail section kicked in the international marketplace. Just this weekend, it was announced that for the first time ever Airbus is projected to overtake Boeing in annual aircraft deliveries. In the money-driven "democracy" free-market capitalists like to blather on about, people are "voting" with their dollarsfor the competition.

Damn those farm workers for holding us back!

BOEING MIGHT HAVE won the battle for concessions and tax breaks in Olympia, but it has also shown itself to be belligerent, willing to pursue a scorched-earth policy in the state it scorns.

On the upside, at least the politics of Boeing are blatantly out in the open. The rest of us finally see what goes on in that little house in Olympia: They pull all the strings on the puppets in the big house next door.

kberger@seattleweekly.com

 
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