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Winter rec booms as people escape their homes

NCW — State and federal agencies are warning that Sno-Parks are filling up and crowds are creating safety issues.

Agencies in October thought that recreation this winter might be high after summer visits showed about a 150% increase in traffic as people headed outside during the COVID-19 pandemic, said Robin DeMario, Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest Service spokesperson.

It appears those predictions came true. The Forest Service posted on Facebook on Dec. 30 that parking areas at Sno-Parks were full and drivers were parking on the side of highways and blocking other vehicles.

Vehicles that are parked illegally can be ticketed and towing, according to the Forest Service news release.

State Parks also issued a notice saying that parking lots are filling up early and cars are getting stuck.

“As COVID-19 restrictions continue to limit indoor entertainment and gatherings, people are flocking to the outdoors, despite dropping temperatures,” the news release stated.

The agency also said Sno-Parks may be closed when they reach capacity and during bad weather.

Congestion is also causing confusion over trail etiquette, according to State Parks.

Here are the trail guidelines:

  • Snowshoers should stick to the side and stay off of cross-country ski tracks
  • Skate-skiers should keep off of groomed ski tracks
  • Dogsleds and skijoring teams should stay off of groomed tracks
  • Skiers and snowshoers should yield to snowmobilers and dog teams
  • Snowmobilers should slow down when passing skiers, snowshoers and dog teams

Visitors to recreation areas should be prepared for winter travel. The Forest Service recommends:

  • Checking Forest Service roads for closures
  • Be wary of deep snow on roads and prepare to turn around
  • Carry a snow shovel, extra clothes, blanket or sleeping bag, extra food and water in vehicles
  • Tell someone where you’re going
  • Do not go around barriers on closed roads
  • Call the local ranger station for road and trail conditions
  • Check for avalanche danger at
  • nwac.us

Analysis: Republicans splinter as they balance Trump’s loyalty test and the party’s future

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A slow-simmering conflict among Republicans has burst into open hostilities at a perilous time for the party, as it seeks unity heading into today’s crucial Senate election in Georgia and prepares to confront a new Democratic president.

As President Donald Trump has refused to admit defeat in the November presidential election, his resistance to moving offstage has driven a wedge between his staunchest loyalists and many Republican party leaders.

The tensions are growing in the aftermath of legislative battles that pitted much of the GOP against Trump on key policies, last week producing the first veto override of his presidency, on a defense bill, and a blunt rejection of his 11th-hour demand for increased COVID-19 relief payments.

The through-line on those battles leads to the question of how the Trump-dominated Republican Party will remain after he leaves the White House. Two momentous political events this week — Georgia’s special election for its two Senate seats and Wednesday’s debate in Congress over ratifying President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory — will be early tests of the strengths of the opposing GOP factions and will help define the party’s future path.

If the Democrats win the Senate seats, which started out as Republicans’ to lose, Trump will surely get much of the blame for sowing division within the party, in part with his extraordinary call over the weekend pressuring Georgia’s secretary of state, a Republican, to overthrow Biden’s win in the state. Democratic victories in Tuesday’s election would produce a 50-50 Senate, making Vice President-elect Kamala Harris the tiebreaker and giving Democrats control of both houses of Congress and the White House.

“If Republicans narrowly lose the GA Senate runoff elections to give Democrats unified control of the federal government, it will be the greatest self-own in politics in modern history,” Michael McDonald, a nonpartisan election expert at the University of Florida, said on Twitter.

Conversely, if Georgia’s incumbent Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler win, after going to extraordinary lengths to stay in the president’s good graces, it will likely strengthen Trump’s hand as a continuing force to be reckoned with in the party.

The battle between Trump and the party establishment raged intensely during his first campaign, went mostly underground during his presidency and has once again burst to the surface.

The president’s allies believe the establishment is clinging to an outdated view of a Republican electorate that has been transformed by Trump to include more blue-collar workers.

“Are there tensions? Yeah. But Trump has realigned the Republican Party,” said Ken Blackwell, a conservative activist and Trump supporter in Ohio. “If the party wants to remain the majority party, they have to accept that the party is realigned. These are growing pains.”

But many other Republicans, including some who have largely supported the president, say he risks tarnishing his legacy with extreme measures to overturn an election result that has been certified by a bipartisan array of state and local officials, after courts all the way to the conservative-dominated Supreme Court rejected dozens of Trump’s lawsuits alleging fraud and other irregularities.

The recording of Trump demanding that Georgia’s secretary of state “find” additional votes to overturn Biden’s victory was the most blunt measure to become public.

“The tape was a real threshold, and Trump crossed it,” said Scott Reed, a GOP strategist. “It moved a lot of people into the ‘Enough!’ category. They just had enough.”

Key members of the political establishment rallied against the electoral challenge Monday. The Business Roundtable, which represents major U.S. corporations, issued a statement saying that “the peaceful transition of power is a hallmark of our democracy and should proceed unimpeded” and that efforts to impede the transition “threaten the economic recovery.” The Republican-friendly U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers issued similar pronouncements.

While the current fight focuses on loyalty to Trump, it has deeper roots, going back at least to the populist anti-establishment forces of the tea party movement, which formed in opposition to the Obama presidency, then turned its energy to making the GOP into a more conservative, confrontational party.

“The divisions we’re seeing now reflect those in the period of 2010 to 2016 between tea party conservatives and governing conservatives,” said Republican pollster Whit Ayres. “Donald Trump tapped into the populist elements of the tea party movement and expanded and exacerbated the division.”

It’s a split that has been hard for any Republican leader to straddle, Ayres said, because the populist wing doesn’t necessarily want a specific policy agenda so much as it wants a party that visibly fights perceived enemies.

That’s what they got with the pugnacious Trump, who has commanded more loyalty than the party: An October Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that among Republican voters, 54% considered themselves to be more a supporter of Trump than of the GOP; just 38% said they were supporters of the party more than of Trump.

“The Republican electorate is not what the establishment thought it was,” said John J. Pitney, a former Republican Party official who is a professor of politics at Claremont McKenna College in California.

Trump in some ways is an unlikely heir to the tea party, because he did not embrace the fiscal conservatism that was the movement’s original animating issue. But he built on its belief that the GOP establishment was complacent.

“We don’t love all his policies, but he’s been willing to go to war for what he believes in,” said Mark Meckler, a co-founder of Tea Party Patriots. “Candidates who are starting to jockey for 2024 — it’s going to take someone who has some serious fight in them to win in 2024.”

That’s why many observers read 2024 politics into the spectacle of Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, a potential presidential candidate, last week becoming the first Republican senator to announce that he would challenge the certification of the Electoral College vote. Hawley openly defied a plea from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to refrain from a challenge, which would delay but not prevent certification of Biden’s victory.

McConnell, who spent much of the last decade trying to tame the tea party, wanted to avoid the roll-call vote on Trump’s electoral fate that Hawley’s challenge would require. The vote — or multiple ones, if Republicans challenge more than one state’s slate of electors — will force Republicans to vote up or down on Trump’s false claims of election fraud.

That will be especially difficult for Republican senators facing tough reelection fights in 2022, forcing them to anger significant numbers of voters whichever way they go. It will amount to a referendum on one of the most controversial tenets of Trumpism: his willingness to break democratic norms and disrespect national political institutions in order to maintain power.

The prospect has split leading conservatives. Hawley got support from Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a conservative with tea party roots who is also considering a 2024 bid. But another possible presidential contender, Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, criticized the effort.

Other opponents include a veritable reunion of Reagan Republicans, including former Vice President Dick Cheney and his daughter Liz, a member of Congress from Wyoming and of the House GOP leadership; former House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin; and former Sen. John Danforth of Missouri, a longtime home-state booster of Hawley.

The challenges are “directly at odds with the Constitution’s clear text and our core beliefs as Republicans,” Liz Cheney wrote in a lengthy memo to fellow Republicans in the House, arguing that for Congress to second-guess state decisions on electors would be a power grab at states’ expense.

“Democrats have long attempted, unconstitutionally, to federalize every element of our nation — including elections,” she wrote. “Republicans should not embrace Democrats’ unconstitutional position on these issues.”

On Monday, in the aftermath of Trump’s call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, the list of Republican senators refusing to join the challenge to the Electoral College grew, joined by Sens. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Kevin Cramer of North Dakota. Capito, fresh off a reelection victory in a state where Trump is wildly popular, said in a statement, “The 2020 presidential election is over. Our country should unite.”

Whatever happens in Georgia and in Congress, Trump is on track to keep one important part of the Republican Party machinery in his corner. The Republican National Committee is slated later this week to reelect his ally, Ronna McDaniel, as party chair — defying the longstanding tradition of a party shaking up its leadership after a presidential loss.

Still, Trump’s post-election campaign against members of his own party could undercut his efforts to continue to lead it.

“If he had played this right and talked about his legacy and the good of the country, he could have been in a stronger position to lead the party post-White House or run again and win,” said a Republican official who asked not to be identified. “But his exaggerated tales of election fraud are a bridge too far for many Republicans.”

Jobs report: Add schools to hard-hit list in November

WENATCHEE — Schools joined leisure and hospitality on the list of hardest hit industries for job losses in Chelan and Douglas counties in November, according to the state’s most recent jobs report.

The combined loss of 2,200 jobs — 1,300 from hotels, eating establishments and recreation businesses and 900 from local public schools — is more than one-third of the 3,000 total job losses recorded for the Wenatchee Metropolitan Statistical Area, which covers the two counties. The local schools jobs are included in the local government category.

Other hard-hit sectors in year-over-year statistics include construction, with a loss of 100 jobs, and manufacturing, which was down 300 jobs, according to the Labor Summary Area report provided by Don Meseck, regional economist with the state Employment Security Department. The report showed health services and retail trade held steady. No employment sector in November showed an increase in jobs.

The two-county area’s unemployment rate for November climbed to 6.6%, up from October’s 5.3%. It was 4.9% in November 2019. That’s still down from the record high of 15.8% in April and 14.2% in May that occurred after the state’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order called to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

Meseck noted that the region’s civilian labor force — people working or actively looking for work — also dropped by 2,439 residents, going from 65,148 in November 2019 to 62,709 in November 2020.

The job trends followed similar patterns in neighboring counties, though both Okanogan and Grant counties had sectors that added jobs.

In Okanogan County, November’s unemployment rate climbed to 7.4%, up from 6.5% in November 2019 and 5.7% in October 2020.

The county lost a total of 700 nonfarm jobs, year-over-year, in November 2020. Public education had 290 fewer jobs than the year before and leisure and hospitality was down 160 jobs. Okanogan County, though, saw an increase in jobs in other sectors, including construction (up 40 jobs), manufacturing (50 jobs) and wholesale trade (up 30 jobs).

Grant County registered a 7.2% unemployment rate in November, compared to 6.5% in 2019 and 5.5% in October 2020. The county was down 1,350 jobs in November 2020 from November 2019, down 680 in public education, 300 in leisure and hospitality and 200 in retail trade.

Grant County’s professional and business service businesses added 1,100 jobs in November, year-over-year, with a 70-job increase in that sector from October. The county statistics also show an increase of 470 jobs in the manufacturing sector.

Changes ahead for state’s political landscape; redistricting may bring drama

SEATTLE — Washington will neither gain nor lose clout in Congress as the once-a-decade reapportionment of the 435 seats in the United States House of Representatives plays out this year.

Due to population booms, seven states, led by Texas and Florida, are expected to gain House seats, while 10 stand to lose seats, including California for the first time, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Brookings Institution.

But Washington is projected to stand pat, with 10 House seats.

That could take some of the drama out of the state’s 2021 redistricting process, set to begin this month. Unlike a decade ago, when the state was awarded an additional House seat, there will be no need to drastically redraw political boundaries to squeeze in a new district.

Still, political flashpoints loom as Republicans and Democrats prepare to hash out new maps for the state’s 10 congressional and 49 legislative districts, a process controlled by a bipartisan redistricting commission.

A multiracial coalition is demanding the next round of maps stop dividing the Yakama and Colville Indian nations and provide more electoral power to communities of color. Some reformers say the political parties should be removed from the redistricting process entirely.

Above all, some civic activists want to boost public involvement in the decennial map-drawing that follows the U.S. census — a yearlong slog that is typically monitored mostly by self-interested lawmakers, partisan operatives, journalists and other political geeks.

Delays in the U.S. census could put pressure on the redistricting commission. The Census Bureau missed its Dec. 31 deadline for delivering state population estimates, citing potential problems with COVID-19 restrictions and with the accuracy of its data. The bureau issued a statement last week saying it hoped to complete its count “as close to the statutory deadline as possible,” probably in early 2021.

“It affects every other issue you care about,” said Alison McCaffree, who is leading redistricting efforts for the League of Women Voters of Washington, which has had a long history of involvement on the subject.

The organization is launching a series of “Speak Up Schools” to train people of all political views on how to offer effective testimony into the redistricting process.

Washington’s redistricting system has been praised for avoiding the extreme gerrymandering seen in the majority of states where the party in control of the legislature simply draws maps.

In 1983, after decades of rancorous redistricting fights, the Washington state Legislature and voters amended the state constitution to place political mapping in the hands of a bipartisan commission.

The Washington State Redistricting Commission consists of four voting members — two Democrats and two Republicans — picked by the leaders of the Democratic and Republican caucuses in the state House and Senate. A fifth, nonvoting chairperson is then picked by the voting members.

For 2021, Democrats have picked April Sims, secretary treasurer of the Washington State Labor Council, and Brady Piñero Walkinshaw, a former state representative and CEO of Grist, the environmentalist media nonprofit. Republicans have yet to name their appointees ahead of a Jan. 15 deadline.

The commission will have until Nov. 15 to draw up new political boundaries for the congressional and legislative districts. At least three of four members must agree to the maps. The Legislature can make only minor changes to the commission maps and the governor has no role.

Under state law, districts must be made as equal in population as possible and aren’t supposed to be gerrymandered for partisan advantage or discriminate against any group. They’re also supposed to avoid splitting up cities and other political subdivisions.

That still leaves a lot of leeway for political horse trading. The redistricting process inevitably produces intrigue, with politicians chiming in publicly or secretly to request shifts in their districts to fend off electoral challenges.

Such maneuvers are a reminder that the commission remains under the control of Republican and Democratic party legislative leaders.

“It prioritizes the partisan interests of both parties, often leaving behind communities, and particularly communities of color,” said Kamau Chege, managing director at the Washington Census Alliance, a coalition of 92 groups pushing for greater representation for historically marginalized communities.

Chege said the group’s 2021 goals include redrawing Central and Eastern Washington legislative districts that split the lands of the Colville and Yakama Indian tribes. In addition, he pointed to districts in the Yakima area that divide Latino vote strength.

“That doesn’t seem to be something we can tolerate moving forward,” said Chege, calling the current maps “a real failure of having an all-white redistricting commission [in 2011].”

Some states, including Colorado, Michigan and California, have shifted toward more independently appointed citizen panels that include representation for voters unaffiliated with either major party.

Hugh Spitzer, a law professor at the University of Washington, said the state’s redistricting commission was a step in the right direction. “You can’t have one party running roughshod over the other party — that’s good,” he said.

But, Spitzer said a superior model would follow the lead of other countries, such as Canada and Australia, which have independent panels staffed by nonpartisan experts. He also suggested simply appointing a professional demographer to draw maps based on data.

That would, he argued, yield “fairly drawn maps that yield results that are closest to a democratic result — one person one vote.”

Any such changes would require a state constitutional amendment — a big hurdle that would require broad bipartisan support in the Legislature. So far, lawmakers have turned down even relatively modest tweaks.

A proposal before the Legislature last year, House Bill 2575, would have required more public hearings, public-records training for redistricting commissioners and better translation services and accommodations for limited-English speaking persons at commission meetings.

It also would have paid commissioners an $80,000 salary, instead of the $100-a-day stipend they receive now. It would require hiring of additional staff.

The bill passed the state House but died in a Senate committee.

McCaffree and other supporters of the proposal were disappointed, saying such changes could have bolstered the redistricting commission’s public outreach.

Despite the failure, McCaffree said the League of Women Voters will work to increase public involvement.

Ten years ago, she estimated about 840 people testified to the redistricting commission. Leaving aside lobbyists and others paid to attend the commission meetings, about 600 people chimed in.

McCaffree’s goal is to more than double that to 2,000 participants, while also improving the quality of the public testimony.

”We know that we’re stuck with this system until we change it, so we have got to make the most of it, and the way we make the most of it is get more people involved,” she said.