Press "Enter" to skip to content

Posts published in December 2005

Back to school

Back in 2001 one of the most striking legal decisions of the year came from 4th District Judge Deborah Bail when she bluntly - even fiercly - blasted the Idaho Legislature for what she said was its failure to properly fund the state's public schools.

schoolThe case was old even then, rolling back and forth through the court system for more than a decade already; and more than four more years has passed since then, before a state supreme court ruling. The question of whether the state has properly funded public schools has been the state's high court five times now - a stunning unwillingness, up to now, to make a clear decision.

Today, though, it made that decision, and it was the same one Bail made years ago. (She was explicitly upheld.) It was a clear decision: Four of the five voting members were in full agreement, and the one partial dissenter - Justice Jim Jones - disagreed with only a few parts of the majority finding.

That decision will set the Idaho Legislature, arriving for the 2006 session in less than three weeks, on its ear - and likely evolving into a corps of angry wasps.

The decision was awfully long in coming, but it is abundantly clear now. (more…)

A careful contestant

Oregon Senator Gordon Smith has an easy, relaxed manner, but if you watch his actions and especially his voting record, you get the sense of a careful careful man who picks his battles with pinpoint precision.

Gordon SmithHe has a difficult path to walk. At home, he has to remain acceptable to his Oregon audience, which in recent years has elected only him among Republican candidates to a statewide position. That is in large part because he presents the image of a moderate guy, definitely not a Democrat but - apparently at least - to the left of most of the Republican majority in the Senate. (Obviously his close ties to Democrat Ron Wyden, whose role is less complex, helps.) In Washington, there is that conservative majority to deal with: He could could lose all clout in the Senate if he veers too far from it. It's a complex task, and Smith appears to have honed his calculus well.

So sometimes he splits the difference, but not randomly.

He disappointed a number of environmentalist Oregonians, for example, when he finally announced this week he would vote for a defense appropriation bill that included a provision allowing oil drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, after years of opposing the oil drilling. When the vote came, however, the oil drilling proposal failed in the Senate by four votes. Did Smith wait to announce his position until after he knew how the vote would come out, knowing his own would not be needed - and then be counted as standing with his caucus leaders?

He might deny it. But it wouldn't be surprising. The man knows how to pick his battles.

You guv wishes you a

Just how phony and how minor is this invented controversy over the lack of recoginition of Christmas (as opposed to "Season's Greetings", "Happy Holidays" or "Xmas"?)

This phony: The top elected officials of our states, the governors, aren't playing into it. Given an an easy, no-lose opportunity to play into the popular side of a controversy (if there really were one), they have punted in the easiest place possible: Their official Christmas cards.

We know this because the news organization stateline.org collected all 50 of the messages on those cards, minus the few guvs who don't do cards. Only a few even used to C-word; none reallyplayed it up. From the Northwest:

Idaho: Governor Dirk Kempthorne: "May the spirit of this holiday season fill your heart with love, peace and serenity. Wishing you many blessings for the New Year."

Oregon: Governor Ted Kulongoski: "PEACE - Paz, Paix, Pace, Frieden, Mir, Shalom, Heiwa, Salam, Heping"

Washington: Governor Christine Gregoire: "Happy Holidays from the Gregoires - Mike, Chris, Courtney and Michelle"

Almost there, and gone

I was discussing earlier today with a Boise journalist the nature of the upcoming Idaho legislative session. Along the topics hashed was that the idea that, in some contrast to last session, this session might be a little less business-oriented - business dominated.

AlbertsonsThe prompt for that thought was the pressure for change in the property tax, a push coming mainly from residential property owners who have argued (accurately) that they have been paying an ever-larger chunk of the property tax bill - an ever-larger chunk of the tax bill, period. (Last week, this subject came up over coffee with a business advocate, who said he hoped this wouldn't lead to a shift of property taxes on to businesses. To my inquiry about the steady shift, over the last generation, of property taxes away from business and on to residential taxpayers, and whether that might be redressed or corrected, he had no answer.)

Another piece of news, however, might underscore some of this session too: The impending news of the sale of Albertsons. (more…)

Its a gas, gas, gas

What would you think of building a couple of big new gas-fired power plants on the east side of your town?

Hold that thought. The Idaho Statesman's online poll asks tht question of Boiseans. The results, as of our check this morning: By a 60%-40% margin, nearly 500 self-selected Boiseans favor the plants ...

Smith: Probable?

After Idaho Senator Larry Craig's trouble with his previous proposed nomination to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals - the failed proposal for attorney William Myers III, whose ties to industry and agriculture proved too strong for the comfort of some senators - there are some indicators that the new nominee, Randy Smith, will fare better. (The two have been proposed for different seats.)

But these are complex waters.

On the plus side is Smith himself. He has a political enough background, serving as state Republican party chair in the early 90s (he was a good one, and not especially more partisan than the position would dictate). But he has gotten good reviews from a wide spectrum of reviewers in his role as judge, including strong comments from current state Democratic Chair Richard Stallings. He does not have Myers' lobbying liabilities, has proven himself as a capable judge, and is likely to arouse no angry howl in Idaho, even from Democrats.

There is another issue, though: Is the seat "Idaho's" - and should Craig be the senator nominating for it? (more…)

Affordability

The minimum wage, in theory, was set up to provide a floor income allowing anyone who worked (again, in theory) to earn enough to survive on a 40-hour per week job. At a federal rate of $5.15 an hour that has, of course, been something of a lie for quite a while now.

But the report released this week from the National Low Income Housing Coalition puts concrete numbers to what most of us assume. Natonally it notes, "more than 80% of all renter households live in jurisdictions where the minimum wage is less than half of the Housing Wage. In other words, the vast majority of renter households find themselves in localities in which decent housing is unaffordable unless their combined income exceeds that of two wage earners working full-time, with no vacation or sick days, at the minimum wage." In other words, out of reach of even a couple both of whom work full time, at minimum wage.

And in the Northwest? (more…)

Brown-Cowan redux

The closest 2004 state House contest in Oregon was in District 10, which takes in much of the north-central coast (centering on Lincoln County). The Republican incumbent was Alan Brown, who just barely beat back a strong challenge from locally active Democrat Jean Cowan.

Alan BrownCowan announced a few months back she would try again. And now Brown, who acknowledges his district is tougher for him than it used to be, says he will run again as well, seeking a 4th term.

These are two good and impressive candidates, who ran a highly civil campaign last round. Given the history of the candidates, it probably will be highly civil again. But it stands to become one of the three or four most-watched races statewide in this cycle.

The chasm

The pieces on this site and in our various Ridenbaugh Press publications are written with an audience in mind: What we used to think of as a mainstream American audience, generally reachable through the kind of voice you find in most American daily newspapers.

The notion that words and concepts mean somwhat the same to us all, though, is becoming increasingly questionable. A great case in point: Today's column by Danny Westneat of the Seattle Times. (more…)

Sorenson’s in

If the logic that Oregon voters elect their top officials from the political middle holds true, then Pete Sorenson may be doing his rival for the Democratic nomination for governor, incumbent Ted Kulongoski, a favor.

Kulongoski historically has worn the liberal label without much modification, but a good many liberal Democrats in Oregon are upset that he hasn't more acted the part in his three years so far as governor.

Pete SorensonAnd, entering the race for governor, that is Sorenson's point specifically: "People across Oregon ask me who I am and why I'm running for governor. My answer is straightforward: I am a child of Oregon. Our great state is suffering. Our people are battling deepening economic adversity without any help. Oregon’s defining quality over the past half-century - the hope for a better tomorrow – is rapidly evaporating."

The Lane County commissioner starts the race little known (though his name has been out there as a prospective candidate for months) and facing long odds - polling puts him in single digits against the incumbent governor. Assuming for the moment that indicators are correct and Kulongoski emerges as the Democratic nominee, how doesa this contest position him for the fall?

Primaries can cut two ways. Some are bitter battles damaging everyone involved. Others, however, serve to redefine and even strengthen the winner. In this case, that could mean Kulongoski positioned in the public mind, as he heads into the general election, as a (primary) winner and as the moderate in the race. Not a bad place to be.

But all of that is far ahead. Next question: Will Kitzhaber defy expectations (including ours) and jump in? If he does, the preceding logic undergoes an alteration.