On Wednesday, Dec. 21, Democratic King County Executive Ron Sims announced that the county would join 29 of Washington's 39 counties and conduct elections entirely by mail. But he didn't say when. The switch to all-mail balloting is another step in Sims' effort to reform the troubled King County Department of Records and Elections. As many of the task forces, committees, and advisory groups studying the Elections Department have noted, conducting two different but congruent kinds of elections—polling and mail-in—adds great complexity to the already difficult task of holding an election with 1.2 million registered voters. It makes a lot of sense to go to all-mail voting. It will save money, eliminate the need for poll workers, and should help increase accuracy. The switch is complicated, however, and that's why Sims hasn't set a date, although he did request that Elections Director Dean Logan come up with a plan outlining the transition process by Jan. 31. The all-mail plan won't satisfy Sims' Republican critics. They think that conducting elections by mail increases the opportunity for fraud. GEORGE HOWLAND JR.
The leadership of state Senate Republicans has moved across the mountains, but don't look for big changes in the GOP caucus. Earlier this month, State Sen. Bill Finkbeiner of Kirkland stepped down from his post as Senate minority leader to spend more time with family, business, and pursuit of a higher degree. On Monday, Dec. 12, the GOP's state senators elected Walla Walla's Mike Hewitt as their new leader. Hewitt describes himself as a moderate. "I'm not far right wing or left wing," says Hewitt. He reels off a list of recent votes—in favor of new transportation taxes, mental health parity, and green building standards—that burnish his centrist credentials. Since Hewitt ran a beverage distribution business in Walla Walla for 23 years that did hefty sales in wine and beer, he is not regarded as a staunch social conservative, either. When it comes to money, however, Hewitt changes his tone. "I'm very fiscally conservative," he says. He would like to eliminate the estate tax on the very wealthy and protect the state's current $1.4 billion budget surplus. While he likes all the talk from Democrats about fiscal discipline on the budget surplus, he is taking a wait-and-see attitude to such promises. "We'll find out how well they can restrain themselves," he says. GEORGE HOWLAND JR.
Julie Mock of Seattle, president of the National Gulf War Resource Center in Maryland, says her veterans group is seeking appointment of a special federal prosecutor to review what she calls a Department of Veteran Affairs attempt "to manipulate science." The VA's funding and research of Gulf War Illness causes is a chronic bureaucratic sickness itself, leaving some Persian Gulf War veterans without treatment, proper compensation, and recovery. A 1998 law directed the VA to study possible links between toxic exposures and the unusual syndromes afflicting many ill veterans from the 1991 war. But typically, Mock says, a recent Institute of Medicine study done for the VA fell short of that mandate, focusing on war-related stress and not multiple exposures to endemic diseases, vaccines, depleted uranium, and chemical warfare agents that uniquely marked Gulf I. (Mental and stress-related illnesses are much less common in Gulf War veterans than those of other wars, such as Vietnam, whose aging vets are still fighting for more studies.) Mock herself is a disabled vet. She notes that almost 700,000 troops served in Gulf War I and 25 percent are ill with chronic, multisymptom illnesses. That's more ill veterans from the "100 Day War" than are serving in Iraq today. RICK ANDERSON
"Even if I liked you, you're not dead." —Outgoing Port of Seattle Commissioner Lawrence Molloy, explaining to outgoing colleague Paige Miller at the last commission meeting why he wouldn't vote in favor of naming the Bell Street Pier fountain after her.