Not sure what it was exactly that prompted Idaoh Senator Larry Craig to push with such determination on revision of the Patroit Act, but he now has gotten as solid on this issue as on any he has undertaken.

The difference here being, he is charging – hard – against an administration of his own party, which he has loyally supported.

The initial push-back in this region against the sweeping PATROIT Act was by fellow Idaho delegation Representative “Butch” Otter. But with Otter headed out of Congress, Craig seems to have picked up the standard. he is now one of six senators (two other Republicans, Sununu and Murkowski, and three Democrats, Durbin, Feingold and Salazar – a well-balanced group) pushing for scaleback instead of simple renewal. In alternative, they have backed something called the SAFE Act, which keeps some of the PATRIOT’s provisions but eliminates some of the most controversial impingements on civil liberties. The House hasn’t been of like mind, and the measure seemingly emerging from a conference committee is more House-like (and Bush-like) than SAFE-like.

The response of the six: “”The conference report, in its current form, is unacceptable. There is still time for the conference committee to step back and agree to the Senate’s bipartisan approach. If the conference committee doesn’t do that, we will fight to stop this bill from becoming law.”

This could get interesting.

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Effective today, a new procedure in federal dam relicensing. From the Federal Register:

As required by the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct), the
Departments of Agriculture, the Interior, and Commerce are jointly
establishing procedures for a new category of expedited trial-type
hearings. The hearings will resolve disputed issues of material fact
with respect to conditions or prescriptions that one or more of the
Departments develop for inclusion in a hydropower license issued by the
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) under the Federal Power
Act. The three Departments are also establishing procedures for the
consideration of alternative conditions and prescriptions submitted by
any party to a license proceeding, as provided in EPAct.

A little faster, to keep people on their toes.

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The official stats out today show a positive picture for jobs – on the official unemployment front – regionwide.

Still, the improvement was spotty, and it still doesn’t seem to do much for wage rates, which are at least as critical a factor.

In Washington, the rate was essentually unchanged at 5.6%. The state’s report said that “Discounting the effects of the [recent Boeing] strike, Washington employers added 11,700 jobs over the two-month period, for an average gain of 5,850 jobs each month. ”

Not spectacular, but improvement.

Oregon, which a year ago had the highest unemployment rate in the country, has been marking steady improvement, down now to 6.0% (compared to 6.2% a month ago). Here’s the overall picture:

In October, seasonally adjusted nonfarm payroll employment grew by 1,200. This gain followed average monthly increases of 5,100 over the prior four months. Even though October’s gain was below the average of the prior four months, it kept Oregon’s economy expanding. The change in October employment was elevated by 900 due to the end of a one-month strike in the aerospace industry.

Over the past 12 months, payroll employment added 49,400, or 3.0 percent. This indicates Oregon’s economy has been expanding at an annual rate of close to 3 percent for much of the past two years.

In October, most of the major industry sectors performed slightly better than their normal seasonal trend. Trade, transportation and utilities was an exception, as it added 3,000 more than its typical trend. Pulling down the numbers for the month was leisure and hospitality, which rebounded from a one-month spike in employment and declined by 6,000 in October.

So, something of a mized bag.

In Idaho, the official unemployment rate was even better, at 3.6%, with a record high number of people employed – though the unemployment rate actually rose in October. Most of that, according to the state, had to do with normal seasonal changes. They expected the rate to remain about the same for the rest of the year.

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From the day it was pitched, Initiative 912 – the one seeking to roll back the road funding package passed earlier this year by the Washington Legislature and brokered by Governor Christine Gregoire – was billed as a referendum on Gregoire and unified Democratic control of the legislative and executive branches.

Given the closeness of the last election, and the deep anger among Republicans and many independents over the way it was resolved, there was some feeling that the initiative would be a slam dunk on that basis alone – not to mention the sterling track record of anti-tax intiatives statewide in Washington.

The counting in last week’s election is nearly over now, and I-912 wound up failing 54.5% to 45.5% – a decisive nine percent. Now that the counting is nearly done, what conclusions can we draw from this intiative?

Certainly – by the standards of many of the initiative’s proponents – you’d have to conclude that Gregoire’s stock is rising among Washington voters. Her predecessor, Gary Locke, won election twice with much better numbers yet failed again and again to hold back initiatives he opposed. Gregoire, whose legitimacy as governor was questioned by significant chunks of the population, did in her first time out what he had been unable to. And the connection of the 912 vote to Gregiore is absolutely legitimate: She campaigned against it from beginning to end, tying her fate to it as much as her critics did. She would have had a hard time doing anything close to that if she hadn’t started well down the road of winning over Washington voters.

I-912 election map

Looking at the maps and county vote breakdowns (see our spreadsheet) we can get a little more specific.

First, the rough tie between the vote for Gregoire and against 912 is fairly obvious when you look at the counties most pulled each way. The same four counties topped the list in their voters for Gregoire and against 912 (San Juan, King, Jefferson and Thurston). And, loosely, the counties least enamored of Gregoire also tended to vote best for 912.

But that’s only a tendency, and the variations may be significant.

Last year, for example, Snoh0mish County, which has a small Democratic tilt, voted substantially for Republican Dino Rossi for governor – it was one of Gregoire’s surprise losses. In the 912 voting, however, Snohomish voted even more strongly against the initiative – something of a return to form. Gregoire took some personal heat last year for letting Snohomish slip away; evidently she has begun the process of winning it back.

Also highly interesting are the collection of marginal or Republican counties whose votes on 912 varied from their votes for governor last year. Walla Walla in the southeast jumps out among these: It voted 35.2% for Gregoire last year, but 52.1% against 912 – a remarkable change of heart. (We will be exploring what’s happening in Walla Walla.) To a lesser degree Island County is of interest, too: 44.8% for Gregoire, 52.5% against 912. And there are others.

There is a flip side, too: Counties that, at least in relative terms, like 912 better than they did Gregoire. Whatcom County, which Gregoire won last year (one of only eight she won), narrowly went for 912 this time – due to the especially strong tax antipathy there, or some other reason? The counties liking 912 significantly more than they liked Gregoire – throw Cowlitz, Pacific, Grays Harbor and Sakmania, all in the rural southwest, onto that list – may share a rural unease with taxes and government, even if they hang in with their Democratic heritage. Democratic and Republican strategists both should be taking a close look at those counties.

For the moment, though, 912 suggests Gregoire is well ensconced, and a long way from the easy target some Republicans once had envisioned.

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It seems a symbolic moment, this declaration (or proposal at least) that Yellowstone Park grizzly bears are no longer at risk of extinction, no longer officially “threatened,” no longer on the endangered species list.

Call it a win – tripling the grizzly population in the last 23 yers – for the Endangered Species Act.

grizzlyAs to how much you can call it a win for the grizzlies: That will take a while to work out. The change in status has been on the horizon for a while, what with 600 of the bests around the not-massive perimeter of Yellowstone. That’s not a lot of animals when it comes to some species, but bears cast a larger footprint than some. Bear numbers don’t work the same as, say, deer numbers.

And while one phase of the grizzly saga is over, but other developments in our relations with the animal are just arriving. Grizzly bear hunting may be coming in the Idaho-Wyoming-Montana area around Yellowstone, but likely not for two or three years, if then. The more immediate issue is how to ensure that grizzlies don’t slip back into “threatened” status as the rules concerning them become loosened.

That gray area is what many Idahoans (especially) encountered after the reintroduction and spread of gray wolves in Idaho and nearby areas. The reintroduction led to loud local complaints, and for good reason: The wolves did what wolves naturally do, and as a consequence people did what they do when wolves do what they do. The end results, among other things, have included shot and poisoned wolves.

If the announcement today was the first symbolic moment in the renewal of the grizzly, there will likely be a second. Will that come when the first bear is shot?

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The opening piece of analysis from this site about the 2004 U.S. House races in the Northwest is a default to status quo. Even the one House seat we know will be open (the Idaho 1st) probably will stay with its current party. For every other House seat in the Northwest, barring unexpected retirements or something else out of the blue, the larger probability is that the incumbent will be returned in 2006 for another term.

Probable but not a lock, of couse – these things never are a lock until election day, and sometimes even then. Still, you have to look hard for many chinks in the armor. Probably only two members of the House delegation are representing districts whose partisan leanings are just a bit at odds with the incumbent’s situation. And neither of those – Republican Dave Reichert in the Washington 8th, and Peter DeFazio in Oregon’s 4th – look weak. Both won decisively in 2004.

Analysts over at the Democratic Daily Kos site, however, do list a few Northwest seats – three altogether, those two and one more – on their roster to watch, of potentially vulnerable Republican and Democratic seats.

The only vulnerable Republican in the region on the list is Reichert; the comment there is this:

Reichert is a freshman who narrowly won this swing district when it was open last time. The Dem challengers, former Microsoft executive Darcy Burner and attorney Randy Gordon are unknowns who must build name recognition. Neither has had great fundraising (not bad, but not great). Still, you gotta figure that this one will be tight when all is said and done.

On the Democratic side, Representative Brian Baird is listed as 25th most vulnerable (against businessman Tom Crowson (whom Baird beat in 2004 with 61.9%), and DeFazio 24th in a rematch with Jim Feldkamp (who is, to be sure, hustling hard early in the season).

The 17th most vulnerable Democrat, the analysis says, is a little bit of a surprise:

Washington 02 (33) (Rep. Rick Larsen (D) vs. Businessman and Fmr. Navy Officer Doug Roulstone (R)) Roulstone is a touted GOP recruits in a district that was among the closest in every election from 1994-2002. Larsen was first elected in 2000 when GOPer Jack Metcalf honored his three-term pledge. Larsen’s original election and his first reelection were close, hard-fought affairs, but he cruised in 2004. Larsen has raised $443,000 with $484,000 on hand; Roulstone has raised $156,000 with $136,000 on hand.

Larsen has been prepared and organized for a challenge for some time, as his fundraising indicates. Historically, though, the 2nd has been a marginal district. 2006 could be an indicator of whether it really is trending Democratic, or whether the last few elections (including last week’s) just happened to make it look that way.

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The sale announced Sunday of timber-producing Georgia-Pacific Corporation to Koch Indistries may not jolt the region as much as it should, since G-P moved its headquarters from Portland to Atlanta 23 years ago.

But it should draw attention, for two reasons, one economic and one political.

Koch logoOn its face, the deal seems to change little; the official Koch statements say, “Koch has confirmed that Georgia-Pacific will be operated as a privately held, wholly owned subsidiary of Koch Industries. Georgia-Pacific will continue to do business worldwide under the Georgia-Pacific name and continue to operate its businesses from its Atlanta headquarters as an independently managed company.” The impression is one of status quo.

But such deals seldom result in status quo: Where, ultimately, would be the big advantage to anyone in that? This could mean a positive. Koch, being privately rather than publicly held, doesn’t have to worry about quarterly stock price reports, and can reinvest much more heavily than a public-traded company can. That could be very good news for G-P. Alternatively, it could do the dismemberment-by-sale thing so popular on Wall Street these days. Also alternatively, it could keep G-P and even heavily reinvest, but change its practices in some dramatic way.

All of that is of some significance because George–Pacific still has substantial operations in the Northwest, including plants at Camas, Washington, and Toledo, Oregon. It is still a major regional timber player.

The political side to this is semi-related, since Koch has not been a big figure in the Northwest but now will be.

The transition statement describes Koch Industries this way: “Koch Industries, Inc., based in Wichita, Kan., owns a diverse group of companies engaged in trading, operations and investments worldwide, including a presence in 50 countries in such core industries as trading, petroleum, chemicals, energy, fibers, fertilizers, pulp and paper, ranching, securities and finance.”

That description doesn’t mention the extent to which Koch’s leaders, brothers David and Charles, is heavily involved in financing conservative Republican causes around the country.

The Center for Public Integrity describes them this way:

Koch Industries (pronounced “coke”) is a huge oil conglomerate controlled by brothers Charles and David Koch, two of the country’s richest men and among the biggest backers of conservative and libertarian causes. With estimated revenue of about $40 billion last year, Koch is bigger than Microsoft, Merrill Lynch and AT&T.

Koch is the leading campaign contributor among oil and gas companies for the 2004 election cycle, giving $587,000 so far. Next came Valero Energy at $568,000.

Since 1998, Koch is the fourth biggest campaign oil and gas industry giver, behind ChevronTexaco, El Paso Corp. and Enron Corp.

Despite its size and political largesse, Koch is able to dodge the limelight because it is privately-held, meaning that nearly all of its business dealings are known primarily only by the company and the Internal Revenue Service. In fact, it is the second largest private company in the country, trailing only food processing giant Cargill.”

More specfically, the Center notes,

Although it is both a top campaign contributor and spends millions on direct lobbying, Koch’s chief political influence tool is a web of interconnected, right-wing think tanks and advocacy groups funded by foundations controlled and supported by the two Koch brothers.

Among those groups are some of the country’s most prominent conservative and libertarian voices including the Cato Institute, the Reason Foundation, Citizens for a Sound Economy and the Federalist Society. All regularly beat the drum in official Washington for the causes the Koch’s hold dear—minimal government, deregulation, and free market economics.

For the Kochs, conservative and libertarian views are a family tradition. Fred Koch, who founded the company’s predecessor in 1940, helped establish the ultra right-wing John Birch Society.

Are we about to see heightened interest on their part in the Northwest? The next two or three years will tell.

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Presumption here is that Washington Democratic incumbent Senator Maria Cantwell starts with an edge – not overwhelming, but there – in her run for re-election next year against Republican SafeCo executive Mike McGavick.

Some confirmation comes from the new Rasmussen poll, wich outa her at 52% and him at 37%. His numbers are likely to improve as his name ID does in the months ahead, but an incumbent over 50% makes a challenger’s job tough.

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Washington and Idaho just finished a major newspaper ownership transfer, one of the biggest in a generation. Is it about to see a new one?

Knight RidderThe national backdrop is the decline in newspaper circulation, following a quarter-century of ever-tighter squeezing of profits out of newspapers. That is something the recent newspaper swap between Gannett Corporation and Knight-Ridder, which left the latter with the Boise Idaho Statesman, the Olympia Olympian and the Bellingham Herald, in addition to the 49% of the Seattle Times it already owned, did not address. But now Knight-Ridder’s largest single shareholder is hitting it head on.

He – as head honch at Private Capital Management – is Floridian Bruce Sherman, a major figure in Wall Street circles, and expert in the game of buying low and selling high. Knight-Ridder’s stock prices, in which Sherman is heavily invested, have been on a general decline for some years. Sherman has been bullish on newspapers in large part because they maintain a heavy cash flow as well as (generally speaking) excellent profits; but what will the future bring? His solution (hello, Albertsons!): Put up the pieces or the whole at auction, sell it off. From the perspective of stock prices, at least, Sherman appears to have a point: K-R’s numbers took an uptick after he pitched his point.

Consider this from the Seattle Times piece on Sherman:

The contrarian Sherman likes newspapers: He has trebled his newspaper holdings since early 2003 to total some $4.5 billion worth of stock across nine companies, according to Deutsche Bank.

When he targets a company, he meets management and employees and gives the place the once-over. “The company visit is half of it,” he said.

Once Sherman decides to invest, he goes in big. He aims to be one of the three largest shareholders in order to have some say-so over management.

Say hello to one of the influential people in Northwest media. From his home base in Florida.

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These two cases of Oregon state representatives, Democrat Kelly Wirth and Republican Dan Doyle, are more than instances of private failure: Both dragged over into the public sphere. That does not make them less sad. But it mens the rest of us have an understandable stake.

Dan DoyleDoyle was the legislator who started the year at a political high – as the top House budget writer, one of the most influential people in the state – and will end it in prison, serving a 10-month term. He resigned from the Oregon House on January 31.

His offense was lying on his campaign finance reports, hiding the way he shifted money from campaign coffers to cover his personal expenses. His may have been the first case ever of an Oregon legislator serving time for a campaign offense.

Kelly WirthWirth’s case, still in process, is more complex, but suggests no less moral culpablity. During a police inquiry of an assault against her – the background of which is still murky – a small amount of methamphetimine was found in her vehicle; she then resigned effective October 15. One could consider the matter serious legally but semi-private in nature up to that point. But then came reports about Wirth drastically increasing pay for some of her aides – most notably her mother, a woman now receiving about $6,000 a month, who according to news reports seldom was seem in Wirth’s statehouse office.

The question: What effect do these cases have on public affairs and politics in Oregon?

The short answer seems to be, not a lot.

Taking a very broad view, these cases of course diminish the already-weak status of the legislature in the eyes of the state. One case would be easier to explain away as a personal quirk; two personal quirks (which these seem to be) begins to feel more like a pattern.

Doyle’s case taken along might have given Democrats some thin ammunition in the upcoming campaigns, but the matched set on either side deprives both parties of much immediate partisan advantage.

What then about the home districts of these two?

Again, the probability is that neither party will gain much advantage.

Doyle was replaced by Kevin Cameron, a restaurant executive who had a largely quiet session this year – nothing wrong with that for a freshman under the circumstances – and seems at first glance a reasonable match for the district. His chances for election to the seat in this generally Republican district look good.

Wirth’s successor hasn’t been chosen, but the likely bet would be Sara Gelser, who ran against Wirth in the 2004 Democratic primary and has already organized to follow up in 2006 – followed up, in fact, by the time the legislature ended this summer, long before Wirth’s visible problems hit. She ran a solid campaign in 2004 and nearly won then, and has developed a strong endorsement roster and organization since. Had Wirth’s problems not gone public, she probably would have defeated her next year in any event. And this Corvallis-based district is about as Republican as Doyle’s/Cameron’s is Republican.

So no particularized advantage here. Just an unfortunate set of events all around.

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There’s no huge shock, but some food for thought, in the latest Survey USA state-by-state poll on abortion.

The question asked was whether the respondent considered himself or herself “pro-life” or “pro-choice.” There are loads of objections to this approach, not least that attitudes on abortion in this country tend to be far more nuanced than that. But the effort to deliver a clean dividing line as a tool for political analysis.

Natonwide, SUSA said, 38% call themselves “pro-life,” and 56% “pro-choice.” In ranking the states, in just 13 states did the “pro-life” percentage outnumber “pro-choice.” Utah came in first, which is no surprise.

Idaho was fourth, decisively so, 55% pro-life, 41% pro-choice. So decisive a pro-life lead is a little surprising, since the issue has not been a decisive winner at the polls. The last time it was a truly driving issue was in 1990, when the Idaho Legislature passed what would have been the strongest anti-abortion legislation in the country, only to see itself rebuked first by Governor Cecil Andrus’ veto and then by Idaho voters, who gave the state’s Democrats a sohrt moment of sunshine before the Republican lock set in two years later.

But – on the other hand – that was 15 years ago, and Idaho has changed a lot since. Has it become so much more socially conservative that the legislature’s action, rejected in 1990, would be decisively upheld today? Maybe so.

Oregon and Washington scored almost identically in the SUSA survey, with 33% and 32% respectively calling themselves “pro-life,” and 62% and 63% respectively self-described “pro-choice.” Makes clear why the issue doesn’t often come up in these states as a wedge; it wouldn’t work very well.

In Tuesday’s balloting, California voters rejected a proposal to require parental notification for abortion for a minor. (California’s numbers: 28% pro-life, 65% pro-choice.) There has been talk about putting such an issue on the Oregon ballot in 2006. One suspects that after a review of the California results, and of polling information, that idea may go by the boards.

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Newspaper alert: The editor of the Missoula Missoulian newspaper has been transferred, within Lee Enterprises, to the chain’s daily in Corvallis, the Gazette-Times, as its publisher.

Corvallis Gazette-Times logoThis constitutes a promotion, but it must be tough for the transferee, Mike McInally, who has spent decades in Montana and has been deeply invested in that state. The change may be of use to Corvallis, though; the Missoulian has (and has had for quite a few years) a good reputation, better in general than the daily in Corvallis.

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