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Posts published in January 2006

Otter’s recantation

Dare we call it a flip-flop? That might be a cheap shot - and beside the point. The question at the heart of it is this: What is the reason Representative C.L. "Butch" Otter abruptly has this to say today about his till-now firm support for the bill calling for mass sellout of federal lands to pay Hurricane Katrina costs:

“I was wrong. It wasn’t the first time, and it won’t be the last.” And his sponsorship is withdrawn ... "for now."

Part of what Otter is best known for in Idaho is his philosophical stance - clarity, rigidity, thinness, relative purity, define it as you will. He long has been a small-l libertarian, a "limited government" guy, which makes sense of his stand on the Patriot Act and also his stand on the lands legislation; ask him - go ahead - if he thinks there should be more or fewer public lands in Idaho. He has had personal clashes with the feds over land use and environmental laws.

So his backing of the Katrina legislation should come as no shock; it's of a piece.

The criticism of it is no shock, either. Most Idahoans like to grumble about the Forest Service or the BLM, but many of them also enjoy being able to use the public lands - in alternative to being fenced out. That point may be getting ever more pertinent as parts of Idaho are getting ever more crowded.

There are no newly-apparent facts on the table about all this. So when Otter says "I was wrong," what exactly does that mean? What was it precisely that he was wrong about? The legislation specifically? (If so, what did he suddenly come to realize about its flaws?) The way he has thought about public lands, and how they should be treated? Has he had a philosophical reawakening? Did he get scared about a loss of votes and decide to pander? What changed?

That's an important question, because without knowing the answer, we have no way of knowing whether his pullback of sponsorship - "for now" - means, "until the uproar in Idaho dies down," or or whether it is predicated on something else. And without knowing the answer, we have a chasm in our evolving understanding of who Butch Otter is.

Politically, Otter's mea culpa clearly was meant to put the cork in the conversation. What it should do now is uncork that conversation.

Immigration ahead

The direction of the immigration issue is one of the puzzlements of politics 2006 - potentially important, but hard to chart a path to the front burner.

We were discussing the '06 race for the 1st district Idaho House seat, and reflecting on that. One of the sorps of candidates in that race, Robert Vasquez (see the list of 25 influential Idahoans) has made immigration his issue cornerstone. If it flares into a truly big deal, in the minds of voters, around primary election day, then his chances expand; if not, his chances look smaller. Other candidates too, looking for a rocket toride, could seize on this one.

So the new Washington Post-ABC News poll on the subject may be of interest.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll taken in mid-December found Americans alarmed by the federal government's failure to do more to block the flow of illegal immigration and critical of the impact of illegal immigration on the country. But it also found them receptive to the aspirations of illegal immigrants living and working in the United States. ...

Immigration still ranks below the war in Iraq, terrorism, health care and the economy on the public's list of priorities. But in many parts of the country — not just those areas near the U.S.-Mexico border — it has become an issue of pressing significance because of its economic, social and, more recently, national-security implications.

Keep watching.

The 2005 NW Influencers

Ridenbaugh Press has been publishing lists of influential people for close to a decade now, and our latest list - three lsts of 25 influencers of change in their states - are now available here.

Be sure to note, though, how we use the term "influence" for purposes of these lists. That may help save you some puzzlement as you come across the names of people whose impact may be a little subtle.

And be sure to make your way back here, and leave all the comments you like. (Trust me - if you're interested in the Northwest at all, you'll have comments.)

And then there were

Years ago, more than a decade and far from where I am now, I had a chat about the future of local television news with a guy in the business. He spun out a long-term scenario I'd not heard before and seldom have since:

Over time, he said, television stations will do what newspapers have done. They will conclude, for purposes of news at least, that the market cannot reasonably support a multiple of stations. So in markets where three or four stations with full news departments have been the norm, that will scale back. To three, two. Maybe eventually to one. It happened with newspapers. And as the many WB and UPN stations have shown, in this age of deregulation, nothing more than pride requires a television station to develop and air local news, or other programming, for that matter.

That speculation came to mind just now, in reading a comment on the Portland Media Insider site. The comment concerns a rumor (specifically noted as such, and if you're interested you can read about it there) that one of the Portland televison stations will outsorce its news operaton.

The comment: "As sad as it sounds, I think the idea makes some sense. Each ratings book comes back with lower overall local news numbers than the year prior, and there aren't any signs of that trend reversing. Eventually, four local news operations will be too many for the market's demand... and that day is coming sooner than later."

For whatever it's worth, the comments on the site suggest that the "rumor" is at least being taken seriously, even without visible sourcing. Says something in itself.

Irony in action

File this under the category of "highly unlikely to happen," but it seemed worthy of regonial note.

From a San Francisco Chronicle piece on a press for renaming the national FBI center after someone other than J. Edgar Hoover, in part because of his role in surveilling Martin Luther King ...

Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D-Ga., who is working for release of King's intelligence files, has introduced legislation to name the FBI building for Frank Church, the late Idaho senator whose Senate Select Committee on Intelligence held scorching hearings on U.S. intelligence gathering and FBI abuses under Hoover.