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Posts published in “Year: 2006”

The barking of sea lions

The whales were supposed to be running. We had ocean-front rooms reserved for the New Year's weekend, and while the main idea of a weekend on the coast was peace and relaxation, we were thinking we'd be seeing some whales.

Less than sure a week out; but by the weekend, when Saturday and Sunday turned into only partly cloudy and occasionally even sunny days - a flukish rarity on the Oregon coast any time in the winter - we figured some whales would be out there.

And maybe they were, but we didn't spot them. We saw boats, a couple of which we first mistook fr the big animals as the little spots of white bobbed in the distance. (Plenty of crabbing boats out, to take advantage of the fine weather.) We weren't the only ones not to spot them. Driving by one of the lighthouses at Newport, we chatted with a couple who were among the official whale watchers, and they said they'd been skunked - nothing all day. The only consolation was that these whales of New Year's swim far out from the coast, and fast, on the north-south whale freeway. There are often fewer of them but easier to see in August, when they slow down, sniff the plankton and feed.

So we saw no whales. But we saw sea lions.

sea lions

At Newport, you often hear sea lions, and you often see them from a distance. Up close is less common, and on one of the docks at the old Newport bay area, about a block from Mo's Annex, about a dozen of the fat creatures had beached themselves on sine planks floating in the water, directly below, only about six feet below, one of the piers where people checked the scenery. And there were a couple dozen more a hundred yards or so away, on a pile of rocks.

They made noise. Their barks were fiercer than a canine kennel, and they seemed to have an agenda. One of the lions was swimming around the pier area, in a near circle, periodically barking at the lounging lions and demanding a place with them on the boards. When he tried to jump up, the others would reach over, snap at him and bark fiercely. And then waddle back, stretch bckwards and look up to the sun. They seemed to be sunning themselves. And with the swimming exception, they seemed to be having a fine time,

So did the people. Who may not have got their whale fix, but certainly saw plenty of sea lion.

A thought for the new year, then. It will bring many things, not necessarily everything we expect or want. But if we look, we should find something of value.

What changed

We're living in a different region and country now than we were a year ago - more different than was true of the year prior, a year ago at this time. Some trends of significance spun around in whole new directions; some others picked up fresh speed.

We can't know for a while, of course, which will be sustained or overhauled in the next year or two. But let's take a moment and relfect on some of what made 2006 consequential for the Northwest . . .

bullet Initiative-by-rich-ideologue turned back. It's worth remembering that when the batch of initiatives funded by wealthy out of state interests reached ballot status in Washington, Oregon and Idaho (and elsewhere) in mid-year, the common assumption was that most of them at least would pass easily. Instead, they got slammed, decisively: Property measures in Washington and Idaho, budget measures in Oregon, and more.

Part of it may come to this: At the beginning of the year, few people knew the name "Howard Rich," and by late fall, it was a household word. That astounding development was in effect a lifting of a curtain to show the guys operating the machinery - and once voters understood how they were being manipulated, they reacted. This is a development new in recent years, and it could fundamentally change politics in the region and beyond for years to come.

bullet Unified government in Oregon. Oregon has not had a governor and unified legislature of the same party in 16 years. Or consider this: 2007 will mark the first time in half a century that all three Northwest states have had unified governments - governor and both legislative houses controlled by the same party. Is that of interest to anyone but a political scientist? That depends on what those unified parties do with their pwer, what affirmative uses they put it (and poor ideas they refrain from).

bullet Republicans in Oregon: No obvious direction. To restate a point often made in the afterwash of the November 7 election, Oregon Republicans have come to a crisis point. For years, they have operated under the theory that if they could only nominate a candidate for governor who wasn't tagged as "far right" and weighed down with social conservative baggage, they could - no, would - win. In 2006 they did what Democrats did in the 2004 presidential race, nominated a candidate (Ron Saxton) who didn't thrill but was thought to be the guy who could win. When he didn't, and in fact lost decisively to a Democrat who had no unworldly charisma or massive popularity going for him, the longstanding theory smash to earth. So the question: What should Republicans do now? If a Saxton couldn't win, then who will?

All of this is of issue in Washington too, where Senate candidate Mike McGavick was high on the list of the wise folks at the state GOP organization who figured he was positioned just about right - enough local background and social liberalism for the West Side, enough economic and other conservatism for the East Side - to pull off a win. His loss was the biggest for a Senate seat in the state in a generation. So now what?

bullet Shifting the urban suburbs. The Eastside of King County is now Democratic. Not Republican, as it was six years ago, or mostly Republican as it was four years ago, or marginal, as it was two years ago. The city of Boise has made almost a precisely comparable transition in these years - this is a city now (as it was not in the last mayoral election) where a candidate with Democratic background finds it of more benefit than handicap. In more subtle ways, pieces of Washington and Clackamas counties (in the Portland Tri-Met) did the same. How long-standing will these holds be? A question to ponder till the next election.

bullet Albertsons going away. The corporate grinder in 2006 took away one of Boise's, and Idaho's, landmarks with the sale of Albertson's, one of the largest supermarket chains in the country. Sure, there are still "Albertsons" stores around. For how long is another matter; by year's end the renaming was already underway in some parts of the country.

bullet Emergence of illegal immigration as a big but not sucessful political issue. Up to 2006 this seemed to be a perennial underground issue, one that touched a lot of nerves but that politicians seemed reluctant to grapple with. But beginning early in the year and continuing through most of it, the issue gained visibility. It failed, however, to elect: Its big proponent in Idaho, Robert Vasquez, lost his primary race (though he came in second out of six candidates), and in Oregon Ron Saxton seemed on balance to lose more than gain out of it.

bullet Housing market hits the brakes. This seemed to come as a shock to some; to us, the slowdown arrived about on schedule. And we'll predict further the trend will accelerate in 2007.

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King County Journal, RIP

King County JournalIt didn't come as a shock, that the King County Journal is shutting down, as of January 21. The signals had been out there for a while.

Sad news, nonetheless. The end of a bright new project started with a lot of hope back in the 80s. The end of another editorial voice, and the only daily specifically aimed at a population numbering somewhere close to a million. (Yes, the Seattle Times and Post-Intelligencer are local, but they're based and focused on the west side of the county, in The City.)

All the worse with the real prospect that what was three may slip down to one . . .

High stakes

Call this one the gambling issue of the year - next year. And not just in Washington, where it is situated, but in the whole of the Northwest.

The development today was an agreement between the state of Washington and the Spokane Tribe for construction of a big new casino - 4,700 gambling machines - at Airway Heights, near Spokane. In contrast to other tribal casinos in Washington (and the Northwest generally), the machines would use cash rather than paper slips, adding to the emotional pull. It easily could become the largest casino of any kind in the Northwest.

It would immediately overshadow the tribal casinos in Idaho closest to Spokane, the Coeur d'Alenes' at Worley and the Kutenais' at Bonners Ferry. It could impact casinos much further away - these kind of things sometimes become super-trendy gambler draws.

There's another thing. This casino would be located not on reservation land but on tribal trust land, and that raises a big issue in connection with other casino operations and proposals.

Not to get ahead of this: We noted this was an agreement, but that's only the earliest step in the process. The state gambling commission is not going to be predisposed in favor - one member has already been quoted as saying she didn't see how it could approve this proposal - and Governor Chris Gregoire seems unlikely to support it either. The Department of Interior would have to weigh in, and new Secretary Dirk Kempthorne seems unlikely to support such a plan, on various grounds (though he does have a history of working out tribal gaming agreements in the area - could this suggest a compromise idea down the line?).

But the debate is about to begin. And for various reasons, Washington, Idaho and Oregon all had best pay attention.

Inspirational

Yesterday the Idaho Statesman single out as the most visionary Idahoan of the year, a shopping center developer. Today, it names the Idaho person who has most deeply inspired its editors and, presumably, Idaho.

A Boise State University football player.

Not, we should add, because of a wildly dramatic life story or some astounding incident in his personal life. Rather, the editorial board declared, "[Ian] Johnson and his Broncos have captured the hearts of the people in this community, who are giddy over playing in a major bowl game. That's why we selected Johnson the most inspirational person of the year."

To recap. Visionary: Shopping center developer. Inspirational: Popular college football player.

We await with the highest of anticipation the paper's selections - coming in the next few days - for the most courageous, devoted and influential.

In the public interest, or someone’s

Most television station web sites carry rundowns of regional (as well as national) news, which regular include political and governmental news, as well as occasional reports the station itself has developed. But you won't see many of those political or governmental stories actually make the airwaves.

Turn on the evening news and you'll get a predictable blend of cop stories, traffic stories, fire stories, and occasional consumer scare stories. (Is it really news if it's all this predictable?) Scarce are stories that help viewers act as more informed citizens in their community, or that tell viewers something important about their city and state they didn't already know. It does happen, but not often on local television stations, in the Northwest or elsewhere. What you see in Portland, Seattle, Boise or Spokane is about the same in Albuquerque, Memphis or Minneapolis: Just change the locator names on the weather board.

The Portland Mercury snarkily suggests, "My own unofficial study of local news shows that the remaining 30 percent of the stories are drug scares, 30 percent are about meth users WHO COULD BE BREAKING INTO YOUR HOME RIGHT NOW!, 20 percent are about wayward mountain climbers, and 15 percent are about childcare workers WHO COULD BE MOLESTING YOUR CHILDREN RIGHT NOW!). By contrast, local stations raked in nearly $27 million in political advertising during 2004 . . ."

The Money In Politics Research Action Project has taken this beyond simple observation into statistical analysis, and beyond that into a challenge of renewing the broadcasting licenses of Portland's commercial television stations. Some other Oregon parties, including Portland City Commissioner Erik Sten, have filed in support. That effort likely will die on arrival at the Federal Communications Commission, but that's secondary. The main point they want to spread is the grounds for the challenge: That local TV stations haven't been providing citizen-useful news coverage.

In a release, Janice Thompson of MiPRAP said, “Voters are not served by broadcast TV news programs that provide little or no coverage of political campaigns. This trend is in stark contrast to the dollars earned by TV stations on political advertising and is why we have filed a license renewal challenge with the FCC.”

Sten: “Voters rely on television to get a lot of their information and what they are getting is not adequate. Our community can do better.”

Political coverage was what they studied specifically (by taping all or nearly all news broadcasts), and the numbers jump out if you consider them closely.

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Six for 2020?

As we head toward the year 2007 a few days hence, political thought starts to turn toward the doings of the next decade, such as reapportionment. There's little thought, yet, toward 2020 - after all, while we can make some reasonable stab at population and other predictions three years out, predictions 13 years away are a little tough.

Still, the Rogue Pundit has a post worth notice for those taking the long view - suggesting that, in matters of congressional redistricting, Oregon will retain its current five seats after the 2010 census but should gain a sixth in 2020.

(For the moment, the only reapportionment change we expect in the Northwest in 2010, as matters sit, is a tenth House district for Washington state, which seems to be growing just fast enough to justify it.)

A vision thing

The Boise Idaho Statesman is in process on its editorial page of celebrating five people of local impact in 2006, today citing the "most visionary" area person of the year.

Their pick is Mark Rivers, who has been a key developer of the new BoDo retail and commercial development south of downtown.

Rivers is without doubt impactful (Ridenbaugh Press has listed him in the past among influential figures in Idaho), and BoDo is broadly regarded as a good development.

But does it say something about Boise, about Idaho and about its leading newspaper that its most visionary person in the state this year is thought to be the developer of a shopping center?

Collateral effects

New elective office holders as a normal matter want to bring in with them their new team, replacing some people - usually the top decision-makers and those who work most directly with the office-holder - at the start of a term.

That does not usually extend down to the people who actually turn the wheels, stoke the engines and do the work of the agency. That a new elected official and his immediate assistants have a learning curve is to be expected; extending that learning curve over much of an agency is trouble on the wing.

That is why the decision by Tom Luna, the incoming Idaho superintendent of public instruction, to fire broadly and deeply across the Department of Education was so striking. Changes in the superintendent's office and among the division heads were to be expected, but this went much further.

Some of the impacts were laid out concretely in a letter to the editor today in the Twin Falls Times News, by Sharon Lutkehus, who is a health education instructor at the Filer Middle School. She writes:

"Mr. Luna has eliminated nearly every experienced person in the Bureau of Educational Improvement, Title 1, Special Education, Certification-Professional Standards and Adult Services. In this first wave of firing were specialists in math, language arts, international and civics education, charter schools, testing, technology, health education, and safe and drug-free schools. Others are leaving because they foresee the destruction of all they believe in. This may not seem to be a problem to Mr. Luna because of his complete lack of educational experience. However, it directly and negatively affects schools and students.

During the past six years, I have been a member of the Idaho Comprehensive Health Education Cadre, which was formed by Barbara Eisenbarth, the HIV-AIDS-Health Education coordinator for the Idaho Department of Education. . . . By teacher request, additional workshops and conferences were scheduled for January and February of 2007. These workshops have now been canceled because the people who present at and organize them are gone (fired). Grants that are due in the next few weeks will have no one knowledgeable in the complexities and requirements of writing them. Federal monies could easily be lost due to lack of leadership."

Books from the year, or thereabouts

Abit off-topic for this Northwest site, but not by too much: Herewith, a quick review of 10 books we read over the last year (all of these published in 2006, or shortly before) which gave us useful insight in a number of areas . . . including the great Northwest.

Even though only one of these books was explicitly about the region.

To be clear, we're not suggesting this as any kind of "10 best" list (and we'll list them in alpabetical order by author). Some are national sellers, but most are lesser known, and one a relatively obscure regional academic books. Just two are specifically "Northwest" books. But all of them have, in their various ways, fresh and useful ideas and information useful to anyone trying to better understand politics and society. They are all highly useful. And between them, they suggest some of the many ways books can help us understand our neighbors as well as people who live somewhat further away.

The only descriptive word we can think of that all have in common is, "provocative" - they will make you think. At least, they made us think.

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