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Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Boeing lobbyists spread welcome mat

Seattle Times Olympia bureau

OLYMPIA — It's a very short walk these days — 50 yards tops — from the Washington Legislature to Boeing's front porch.

Literally.

For more than a decade, the Boeing Co. has occupied the little tan-and-green house at 311 16th Ave. "The Boeing House," as it is called, serves as the company's Olympia headquarters and has long been a popular gathering place for business lobbyists and legislators.

But the house has taken on new prominence this year and become a symbol of the close relationship between Washington politicians and the state's biggest business.

Tucked a block south of the Capitol, the Boeing House is directly across the street — not even shouting distance — from the state House of Representatives, which has taken up temporary quarters while the legislative building with its giant dome is closed for renovations.

And Boeing's bungalow has been particularly busy the past few days as lawmakers scrambled to pass whopping tax breaks and other bills aimed at persuading Boeing to pick Washington over other states as the production site for its proposed 7E7 jetliner.

Monday, for example, business lobbyists and Locke administration officials met past midnight in the Boeing house, trying to cut a deal on a bill to overhaul the state's unemployment-tax system.

All day long yesterday, there was a steady stream of lobbyists and lawmakers in and out of the house. And the day included lots of scenes like this: Rep. Jim Buck, R-Joyce, sitting on the rail, smoking a fat cigar, chatting with Boeing lobbyist Al Ralston as he glided back and forth on the porch swing.

A few days ago, Rep. Hans Dunshee, a Democrat, pointed across the street at the cluster of lobbyists on Boeing's front porch and likened it to the "owner's box" at a professional sports stadium.

Boeing has occupied the house since the late 1980s. Built in 1924, the single-story, 1,500-square-foot house has two bedrooms that are used primarily as office space. The house was recently assessed at $215,000.

Though it belongs to Boeing, the house is widely used by lobbyists for other companies. That's especially true this year, since lobbyists have been displaced from their lounge — known as "Ulcer Gulch" — in the Capitol.

"We really have no other good place to hang out," said small-business lobbyist Carolyn Logue.

Logue said the proximity of the Boeing house is ideal. She said lobbyists can easily watch the comings and goings at the Legislature. In the evenings, they can even see inside the House Democrats' caucus room.

"The convenience of it can't be beat," Logue said. "You can see everything that's going on."

Lobbyists chip in to keep the fridge and cupboards stocked with drinks and munchies, Logue said. In the final days of the session, the place starts to look more like the interior of a frat house, with piles of empty pizza boxes.

It's also a popular spot for adjournment parties. After this year's 105-day regular session ended six weeks ago, two House members — one Republican and one Democrat — were seen swing dancing to a jug-band rendition of "Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mothers."

Peggy Clifford, who lives a block and a half away, said the Boeing house is one of several in the neighborhood occupied by lobbyists. She said neighbors in recent years have complained that the business houses are spoiling the neighborhood's " 'Leave It To Beaver'-type atmosphere."

"It's been a difficult problem to solve," said Clifford, former president of the South Capitol Neighborhood Association. "We want our neighborhood to stay the same."

Clifford said she appreciates the fact that Boeing keeps its house and yard well-maintained. But she said the company still doesn't make for a model neighbor.

"You can't go over there and borrow a cup of sugar," she noted.

Ralph Thomas: 360-943-9882 or rthomas@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2003 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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