Seattle Times Opinion

How the wind became woke
Author: Paul Krugman

Renewables have been caught up in the culture wars.

The Chronicle - Centralia

Police Shoot and Kill Armed-Robbery Suspect in Dramatic Gun Battle in Southwest Washington

Police in Vancouver shot and killed an armed-robbery suspect Tuesday evening, the Vancouver police department said.

A police detective spotted a car at about 5:30 p.m. headed west on East Mill Plain Boulevard. The detective recognized the driver “as a suspect who was wanted for multiple, recent armed robberies,” and he followed the car to a nearby Safeway grocery store at Mill Plain and Andresen Road, officials said.

The detective and other officers waited outside and witnessed the suspect leave the store. “When (the suspect) saw police, he dropped a bag of items, displayed a firearm, ran westbound through the parking lot and during the attempt to apprehend him the suspect fired at officers, and they returned fire,” Vancouver police said in a statement.

Video of officers running and shooting in the shopping-center parking lot was captured by bystanders and posted online. Police said three Vancouver police officers and one Clark County sheriff’s deputy fired their weapons.

The suspect died at the scene. No other injuries have been reported.

Police have not yet publicly identified the suspect. Officials said the names of the officers involved in the shooting would be released “at a later time.”

The officers who discharged their weapons have been placed on leave pending an investigation, which is the usual procedure. The Lower Columbia Major Crimes Team, led by the Cowlitz County Sheriff’s Office, is investigating the shooting.

Signs in Thurston County Tagged With Hate Speech, Hate Symbol Over the Weekend

Visitors to the Woodard Bay conservation area in northeast Thurston County near Henderson Inlet over the holiday weekend received a rude welcome, confronted by two signs that had been tagged with a hate symbol and hate speech.

The state Department of Natural Resources, which manages the nature preserve, has since cleaned up the offensive graffiti, spokesman Kenny Ocker said Tuesday.

"There's no place for this on public lands and it's incredibly disheartening that someone would do this in an area that everybody is supposed to share," he said.

An informational sign that welcomes visitors to the area was tagged with a Nazi swastika and the racial slur, and a second sign in the area was tagged in a similar vein, Ocker said.

DNR staff painted over the offensive symbols and words on Sunday, then staff cleaned it up on Monday, he said.

The Olympian first learned of the tagging Sunday from Olympia resident Michelle Gonzalez, who said her son visited the conservation area on Saturday with a friend and discovered the sign.

She called the image "disturbing" and "very offensive" and hoped that it would soon be removed. She also was disappointed that her son's friend, visiting from out of state, should visit a beautiful and scenic area and be confronted with that image.

Gonzalez took a picture of the sign and shared it with The Olympian.

Although DNR's managed lands are occasionally vandalized, this is the most prominent piece of graffiti that Ocker could recall in his nearly five years with the agency.

DNR, which has its own police force, is investigating the incident, but no one is in custody, Ocker said.

Anyone with information about the tagging is asked to call DNR at 360-902-1625.

Insurers Seek Rate Increases in Individual Health Plans for 2024

OLYMPIA — The Washington Office of the Insurance Commissioner announced on Tuesday that health insurers who offer individual plans in Washington are asking for a roughly 9% across-the-board increase in insurance premiums for 2024, according to an OIC press release.

The proposed increases — as low as 2.5% for the Community Health Plan of Washington and as high as 17.9% for the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Washington — would also affect plans subsidized by the federal government and sold through the state's health insurance exchange, Washington Healthplanfinder, the release said.

"This year's proposed average rate increase of more than 9% across the individual market means that our average customer would pay almost $50 more a month in premiums in 2024," said Washington Health Benefit Exchange CEO Ingrid Ulrey in the press release.

Ulrey said the proposed increases reflect increases health care costs, and said everyone in the system — patients and providers — need to focus on reducing the cost of healthcare.

"These proposed rates indicate that some, but not most, carriers are finding ways to contain health care cost growth," Ulrey said in the press release. "Keeping the cost of individual health plans accessible is particularly important as regular eligibility checks for people on Washington Apple Health (Medicaid) resume and as people who are no longer eligible shop for a plan they can afford."

According to Shawna Crume-Bruce, a spokesperson for the Washington Health Benefit Exchange, final rates for 2024 must be approved by September.

Washington Attorney General Sues PFAS Manufacturers, Seeks Money for Cleanup of Drinking Water

The state attorney general's office has filed a lawsuit against nearly two dozen manufacturers of so-called "forever chemicals," asserting the companies knew about their risks to the environment and humans for decades but lied and kept that knowledge hidden from the government and public to protect their businesses.

The chemicals, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, have been found in fish tissue, human breast milk and about 200 of the state's water sources so far as new statewide drinking-water testing requirements roll out. PFAS have been linked to several health problems, including cancer, and are emerging as one of the most pervasive sources of pollution on the planet.

The lawsuit, filed in King County Superior Court, relates to the PFAS in a type of firefighting foam often used around airports and military sites. It alleges companies including 3M, DuPont and 18 others violated state laws, including Washington's law against public nuisances, the Products Liability Act and Consumer Protection Act. The complaint asks the court to order the companies to pay the cost to clean up PFAS contamination.

The highest levels of PFAS in state drinking water have largely been found near places where those foams were used for decades in firefighting training exercises. Estimates cited in the complaint suggest cleanup costs could range between $5.3 million and $62.8 million for a single site contaminated with PFAS from firefighting foam.

Massive filtration systems can remove the contamination, but for many water system managers, the cost is out of reach. In Lakewood, Pierce County, where PFAS entered drinking water via the firefighting foam used at nearby Joint Base Lewis-McChord, city officials spent more than $5 million on filtration systems.

In the suit, Attorney General Bob Ferguson submitted internal company documents that he says prove the manufacturers knew for decades about "the serious risks these chemicals posed to humans and the environment. The companies likely made many millions in profit while actively deceiving the public."

"Their corporate greed caused significant damage, and they need to be held accountable," said Ferguson in a statement.

Washington  is now among thousands of plaintiffs — individuals, cities, counties and states — that have filed lawsuits against PFAS manufacturers. Last year, because of their similarities, this avalanche of lawsuits was consolidated into a multidistrict litigation in the U.S. District Court of South Carolina. Brionna Aho, communications director of the attorney general's office, said they expect this lawsuit will also be transferred to the multidistrict litigation.

The chemicals were first developed in the '50s and '60s by Minnesota-based 3M,  at the request of the U.S. Navy, which was looking for a more effective substance than water to fight fires.

In January, the state Department of Health began requiring that some drinking water systems be monitored for PFAS, including 4,000 wells across the state. Just over a quarter of those wells have been tested and about 2% have come back with PFAS above a level that would require further action. The lack of a finding doesn't guarantee the chemicals' absence, but may only mean the concentration was below what present technology is able to detect.

For communities that rely on the wells where PFAS has been confirmed, the health and financial repercussions have been serious.

In drinking water sources near the Army's Yakima Training Center, tests have revealed PFAS contamination more than 1,300 times new limits proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. And in Moses Lake, the site of a former Air Force base and landfill, city officials recently chose to shut off its drinking water source after testing revealed PFAS contamination in some of its 16 wells.

One well on Whidbey Island near the Naval Air Station registered 4,720 parts per trillion for one type of PFAS, more than 300 times the state action level for that chemical. On San Juan Island, where the source of the contamination remains elusive, recent tests revealed PFAS concentration up to 164 times the level considered safe by the state.

The chemicals have also been detected in at least 15 of the state's bodies of water, fish tissue, soil and sediment samples.

In the human body, some of the chemicals may disrupt the immune system; interfere with hormones; increase the risk of prostate, kidney and testicular cancers as well as high blood pressure in pregnant women; and harm the reproductive system, according to studies cited by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Federal Judge Dismisses Inslee, Chun From Former WSU Football Coach Nick Rolovich's Lawsuit

A federal judge Tuesday dismissed Gov. Jay Inslee and Washington State University athletic director Patrick Chun from a lawsuit brought by ex-WSU football coach Nick Rolovich against his former employer for firing him after his refusal to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas O. Rice left open three claims against WSU.

Rolovich did not oppose the dismissal of Inslee and several other claims asserted against Chun and WSU.

Rice dismissed an additional religious discrimination claim against Chun, ruling that he is entitled to qualified immunity in his official role as athletic director, and that there are no facts to support Rolovich's claim he was terminated because of his religious views.

"This Court and many others around the country have consistently found COVID-19 vaccine mandates for state employees are facially neutral and generally applicable, and terminating an employee for failing to comply with a vaccine mandate is a permissible employment action," Rice wrote in his decision.

Rolovich contends that WSU and Chun fired him without just cause. Rolovich says he should have been provided a religious exemption to a law requiring state employees to get the vaccine. The requirement has since been rescinded.

The university contends that Rolovich did not raise religious concerns about the vaccine's development until a deadline approached for him to get the shots, and that WSU's denial of his exemption was based on its inability to accommodate his coaching under pandemic-related guidelines and skepticism about the sincerity of his beliefs.

WSU argued that Rolovich's accommodation request would have resulted in increased travel costs, harm to recruitment and fundraising efforts, damage to WSU's reputation and donor commitments, in addition to an increased risk of exposure to COVID-19 to student-athletes and other coaching staff.

In Tuesday's court order, Rice wrote that WSU needs more evidence to support  its claim that accommodating Rolovich was an undue hardship.

Rice will consider allegations of state wage law violations, breach of contract and religious discrimination against WSU in summary judgment.

Investigation Sheds Light on Tenure of Fired Director of Washington Equity Office

OLYMPIA — A monthslong investigation into Karen A. Johnson, the former state Office of Equity director, found several issues with how she treated workers, including that at times her conduct suggested bias or insensitivity.

The investigation, provided to The Seattle Times on Tuesday through a records request, sheds more light on Johnson's two-year tenure as the first director of the Office of Equity, which was created by law in 2020.

Johnson was fired May 17, and last week the governor's office said the Office of Equity was spending a fraction of its allocated budget and faced high vacancy rates and turnover. Inslee spokesperson Mike Faulk said Tuesday that Johnson was not fired because of the investigation.

The investigation began in November but wasn't completed until Friday, nine days after Johnson was fired. Investigators found Johnson micromanaged and made unreasonable requests to employees, "was disorganized and lacked adequate structure and process," "made inappropriate or insensitive comments to some staff members," and publicly criticized some workers.

The investigation, spurred by claims of Johnson's inappropriate workplace behavior by "multiple individuals" working in the Office of Financial Management and the Office of Equity, was conducted by MFR Law Group, of Mill Creek.

In an email, Johnson said she was saddened by the investigation.

"Two things sadden me about this investigation," Johnson said. "First, I was never given the opportunity to seek reconciliation with the people who obviously feel I harmed them and, second, my right to learn about and respond to those allegations was taken away from me without my consent. To the people I harmed, please forgive me. To the people who violated my due process, I forgive you."

In a statement, Faulk said "the governor expects agency leaders to promote a workplace culture of inclusion and belonging."

"Every state employee should feel safe and welcome at work," Faulk said. "This report's findings confirm that wasn't the case at the Office of Equity. As we seek new leadership for this agency, restoring that culture will be a top priority."

Investigators conducted a wide-ranging review of Johnson's workplace conduct. They interviewed witnesses, including 11 former and current employees of the Office of Equity, and reviewed about 2,600 pages of documents including complaints, organizational charts and personnel files.

The governor's office has been billed and has paid about $62,000 for the investigation, Faulk said. Faulk did not have confirmation that the office had received the last invoice from investigators, he said.

Since the office was set up in 2021, 17 employees, including Johnson, were hired. Three people resigned in 2022 and two resigned in 2023.

"Each of the individuals who resigned attributed their decision to leave, at least in part, to a chaotic, overburdened, and disrespectful workplace culture created by Dr. Johnson," investigators wrote.

Employees raised several concerns, including a lack of organizational process and procedures, micromanagement, and a lack of work-life balance, as well as "inappropriate or insensitive comments."

One employee was "publicly chastised" for attending a meeting they had been invited to at the governor's office without getting permission or notifying Johnson, and another reported being "shamed" by Johnson in a private meeting and in public.

Investigators said several people raised concerns of "biased and insensitive conduct," including stereotyping and bias based on gender, bias against Mexicans, and tokenism related to military veteran status.

Two people "were told to wear makeup, specifically lipstick," according to the report, a claim Johnson denied. Johnson also made comments about people's hair, commented on someone's weight and suggested that person "needed to take care of herself," according to the report, and "regularly" spoke of one person as a "military hire."

According to the report, one person described Johnson as having made a statement biased against Mexican people.

"During a group discussion, Dr. Johnson said of a staff member who self-identified as Mexican, 'This may take some time for me because I generally distrust Mexican people. Mexican people have the option of being white when it is convenient for them,' " the report says. That person confirmed the statement but did not have concerns about being treated unfairly, according to the report.

Another person, who is Hispanic, said in an exit interview that Johnson was "a brilliant, charismatic person, but she still has her flaws."

"I understand what this office is about and what it's supposed to be doing," the person said. "But I feel like at times there is very much an 'Us vs. Them' mentality. Meaning, People of Color vs. people who don't look like us. A lot of that rhetoric continues to be stated in meetings, get togethers, etc."

Some also reported concerns about Johnson's references to God and religion in the workplace. One person reported they were concerned after Johnson asked staff at two welcome breakfasts in 2022 to "join hands and discuss things for which they were thankful" and "ended the discussion with a Christian prayer," according to the investigation.

Each person investigators interviewed said they were not claiming they had been discriminated against or harassed, according to the report. But five of 11 current and former equity office employees raised concerns about Johnson's workplace conduct, "articulating" what could be violations of policies around equal employment opportunities and prevention of workplace harassment, the report said.

According to the report, investigators interviewed Johnson in mid-February. Johnson described "challenges" she encountered as director, the report says. According to a summary of Johnson's interview in the report, Johnson had to document "poor performance" of staff who "operated like they needed a boss to tell them what to do."

"Externally, Johnson felt unheard, left out of the loop, and set up to fail," investigators wrote in their summary, saying that Johnson "felt like key information was being withheld from her." Johnson also described in an interview that she and her staff were a "team of Avengers," according to the investigators' summary.

"Do Captain America or T'Challa have time to micromanage?" the summary of the interview states. "Johnson and her staff are the 'McKinsey' of equity, meaning they are innovators."

Investigators did not conduct a follow-up interview. It had been rescheduled because Johnson was on leave.

On March 22, investigators contacted Johnson to confirm a follow-up interview two days later, but did not hear back by noon the next day, assumed Johnson was still on leave and canceled it.

After that, on March 30, in a statement to investigators attached to an email, Johnson said she was choosing to waive her "right to reschedule" the meeting set for March 24.

"If this decision means that, by default, what has been said about me without me stands as fact, so be it," Johnson said, saying she did not want to participate "in this triangulating behavior."

"My truth is that I am more than willing to make myself available to meet with you and the person(s) bringing the allegation(s)/concern(s), as is my custom," she said. "Seeking reconciliation is more important to me than seeking to prove who is right."

"Finally, it goes against my nature to engage in a public diatribe, especially with people whom I respect, value, and appreciate for simply being vibranium (a gift)," Johnson wrote. "My destiny depends on this decision and destiny demands that I move forward."

Governor appoints acting director

Last week, Inslee appointed Megan Matthews, the office's director of shared power design, as acting director.

In a message to the governor's cabinet and staff on Thursday, Chief of Staff Jamila Thomas and Deputy Chief of Staff Kelly Wicker said Matthews' appointment "brings some welcome stability to the agency."

"Launching a new office like this requires boldness and audacity, and we are grateful Dr. Johnson could bring that spirit to this work," Thomas and Wicker wrote. "Sustaining that work, however, also requires that Equity's leader is able to utilize the agency's full team and empower and support them to do their best work. We have a responsibility to ensure that this agency is established upon the strong foundation needed to meet its mandate and advance equity and justice for all."

In a joint statement Tuesday, the members of color caucuses and Black legislative caucus in the Washington Legislature said the governor's appointment of an interim director signaled "the importance and immediacy that the work of the Office of Equity continues."

"As the process moves forward, we remain committed to ensuring that the Office of Equity is successful," they said. "We know that dismantling systems is hard work and more than just bold statements or fancy reports."

They asked that the governor include the state's ethnic commissions and agencies, "as well as new voices and representation," in choosing the office's next permanent director.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of Jamila Thomas, the governor's chief of staff.

Washington's Population Is Aging; The Trend Is Most Striking in These Counties

Washington is an aging state.

This is part of a broader trend happening across the nation: The median age in the U.S. jumped from 37.2 in 2010 to 38.8 in 2020, census data showed.

And new data shows that in Washington, the median age has gone up in all 39 of the state's counties since 2010. At the same time, the number of people 65 and older has increased sharply, while the number of children under 5 has declined.

Statewide, the median age increased by more than one year over the past decade, rising from 37.3 in 2010 to 38.6 in 2022, according to data from the Washington Office of Financial Management. The median represents the midway point — in other words, half the population is older and half is younger.

In some of Washington's counties, this demographic trend is particularly striking.

In Jefferson County, which is easily the oldest county in the state, the median age increased by nearly 7 years, hitting 60.7. Port Townsend, the county's only incorporated city, has become a popular destination for retirees, which has surely contributed to the rising median age.

In fact, Jefferson is among the oldest counties in the U.S. The nation's oldest county, according to census data, is Sumter County, Florida, which had a median age of 68.4 in 2021. Jefferson County ranked sixth oldest.

Three other Western Washington counties have also seen significant jumps in the median age since 2010: Pacific increased by six years, and San Juan and Clallam were both up by nearly five.

Jefferson, San Juan and Clallam are among the nine counties in Washington with a median age higher than 50.

But if this demographic trend has escaped your notice, it could be because you live in King County. The median age here has had the smallest increase in the state, up from 37.1 in 2010 to 37.3 in 2022 — the eighth lowest among the state's 39 counties. This is likely due to the constant influx of young adults in the Seattle area over the 2010s.

Unlike King County, most parts of the state haven't had an infusion of young people to help offset the aging of the massive baby boom generation.

As more boomers — people born between 1946 and 1964 — celebrated their 65th birthday each year, the share of Washington's population 65 and over has grown much faster than the overall growth rate.

Washington's 65-and-older population increased by a whopping 63%, from about 828,000 in 2010 to 1.35 million in 2022. The overall population saw a 17% growth rate during this period.

In Clark County, where Vancouver is located, the 65-and-older population increased by nearly 85%. It was also up more than 80% in San Juan and Thurston Counties. In King County, the 65-and-older population increased by 53%, from 211,000 to 322,000.

While the number of older Washingtonians increased sharply, the number of very young people declined slightly. There were about 438,000 kids under age 5 in 2022, down by nearly 2,000 from 2010.

This is due, at least in part, to the larger demographic trend of young adults putting off marriage and having fewer kids. We see this reflected in declining fertility rates in much of the country. In Washington, there were 54.2 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44 in 2021, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. That's down from 63 births per 1,000 in 2005.

Thirteen Washington counties saw double-digit declines in the number of children under 5. In Yakima County, for example, the under-5 population fell by 14.5%, or about 3,100 kids.

There were, however, 10 counties where the population under 5 years increased modestly, including King, Pierce and Snohomish. Of the three, Snohomish had the largest increase, at 5.5%, or around 2,600 kids.

Whitman County, home to Washington State University, is the state's youngest county, mainly due to the large number of college students. The median age there is just 25.1 years.

There are four other counties with a median age lower than 35: Adams, Franklin, Yakima and Grant. In all four, Hispanic people make up a large share of the total population. Hispanic people are the youngest major racial or ethnic group in the U.S., while white people are the oldest, according to census data.

Alleged Drunken Driver Who Struck Motorcyclist in November Accused of Vehicular Homicide

A man has been charged in connection with a three-vehicle collision that left a man motorcyclist dead in November.

Prosecutors have charged Jeff Braetan Downing, 53, with vehicular homicide.

Court documents allege Downing drove a vehicle under the influence of liquor and/or drugs and caused injuries to Robert Davies, who died the same day, prosecutors state in court documents.

A probable cause affidavit states that sheriff's deputies responded to a report of a crash at 176th Street East and Canyon Road at 2:47 a.m. on Nov. 8, 2022. The document states that Downing was driving south in a black pickup and struck a motorcyclist riding east at the intersection. Another driver in a white Chrysler hit Downing's truck after the initial collision. The owner of the Chrysler told law enforcement that he and the motorcyclist had a green light.

The motorcyclist, later identified as Davies, was transported to Tacoma General Hospital where he died of his injuries.

Downing told officers on scene that he had consumed alcohol prior to driving, court records show. A deputy stated that Downing had bloodshot eyes and slurred speech.

A deputy received a warrant to test Downing's blood-alcohol level. At 6:14 a.m., Downing's blood-alcohol was 0.09, which is considered legally drunk in the state of Washington.

Downing is scheduled to be arraigned on Tuesday.

Man Accused of Killing Two Federal Way Bartenders Still at Large, Prosecutors Say

An arrest warrant has been issued for a 31-year-old man believed to have fled the state after fatally shooting two bartenders and injuring a patron last week outside Federal Way's Stars Bar & Grill.

Samuel Ramirez Jr.'s whereabouts are unknown, but cellphone records indicate he left Washington after killing Katie Duhnke, 37, and Jessyca Hohn, 36, in the bar's parking lot early May 21, say the charges. His last known address is in Compton, California.

Ramirez was charged Thursday with second-degree murder and premeditated first-degree murder, accused of shooting Duhnke, then turning his gun on Hohn, charging papers say. He was also charged with attempted first-degree murder for shooting a male patron in the arm as the man ran away, say the charges.

Though Ramirez does not appear to have a violent criminal history, he's considered a flight risk and faces a sentence of 60 to 80 years in prison if convicted, Deputy Prosecutor Raymond Lee wrote in charging papers.

Federal Way police responded at 3:30 a.m. to the shooting near South 312th Street and Pacific Highway South, where the male victim told officers someone had killed two of his friends, the charges say. Police found Duhnke and Hohn dead in the Stars Bar & Grill parking lot, just south of the intersection on Pacific Highway South.

The injured man later told police he had seen another bar regular — later identified as Ramirez — brandishing a gun about 45 minutes before the shooting, according to the charges. The man reported alerting Duhnke and Hohn, who confronted Ramirez about the gun, the charges say.

Police later obtained surveillance footage that corroborated the man's account, according to the charges.

Duhnke and Hohn were leaving the bar after closing up when Ramirez hit one of them, prompting the male patron to tackle and punch Ramirez, charging papers say. The man let Ramirez up after he said he was done fighting, the charges say, but Ramirez got to his feet, pulled a gun and shot the two women and fellow customer.

Hours later, a woman called 911 and asked to speak with police about the double homicide. She told detectives she had met a man she knew as "Sam" on a dating app and was supposed to meet up with him earlier in the day, according to charging papers. The man had unexpectedly canceled their date, the woman said, and later told her he was sorry, had messed up and needed to leave.

The woman also shared three photos "Sam" had texted her. The man in the photos was wearing the same clothing seen in the bar's surveillance footage, the charges say. Detectives also obtained a bar receipt from the night of the shooting with Ramirez's name on it.

An autopsy revealed Duhnke had been shot once in the head and Hohn had been shot once in the head and three times in the back, charging papers say.

Hohn, née Milles, was born in Alaska, grew up in the Spanaway-Graham area of Pierce County and graduated from Spanaway Lake High School, her family said in a statement Tuesday. She was a single mother to her son Lucas, 14, and "was always a ray of sunshine to all who knew her," the family said.

"We mourn a beloved daughter, sister, grand-daughter, mother, 'auntie' and friend," says the statement, which also thanks friends, family and strangers for their support.

But the statement is also tinged with anger over senseless gun violence:

"How is it so easy to end not only one life but two within seconds? ... [We] hope that [the shooter] knows that her son's whole world was shattered by this one senseless act. Not only is our system broken but so are our hearts."

Efforts to contact Duhnke's family were not successful.