"I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors." - Thomas Jefferson (appears in the Jefferson Memorial)

Not much attention to this elsewhere yet, so be it noted: The Oregon Supreme Court decision on Measure 37 is expected to be released on Tuesday morning.

That is courtesy of the McMinnville News Register, which quietly broke the story Saturday.

No word yet, of course, what that decision will be. We’ll be watching.

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Our political discourse could use a lot more fact checking. On the national level, a number of well regarded sites (FactCheck.org for one) have made it their business to check the accuracy and reasonableness of statements, allegations and articles. The Northwest has nothing like that.

This site has tried to do such work occasionally, and will continue to. More emphatically, it will try to link to fact checks on other sites, and do what it can to encourage the practice.

With that in mind, first up: A piece on Washblog, “WA Farm Bureau misrepresents facts to support ballot Initiative.” Writer Noemie Maxwell parsed the remarks of Steve Appell, president of the Washington Farm Bureau, as he pitched the case for an initiative (tagged the Property Fairness Initiative) intended generally to match Oregon’s Measure 37 in its intent of allowing certain property owners to bypass land use regulations.

Maxwell turned to committee minutes, official filings, recorded statements and other original material to conclude that important parts of the Appell speech were misleading at best. It is worth a read.

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Steve Ahrens has been a fixture at the Idaho Statehouse for 31 years, and we’ve known him nearly that long. That makes the idea of his retirement, which he has announced will happen this fall, the more startling: Hardly anyone now around the Statehouse knew it pre-Ahrens.

Steve AhrensIn just about all of his time there as a (first) reporter and (later) lobbyist and (for 16 years) president of the Idaho Association of Commerce & Industry, he has also been more than a fixture: He’s been a major presence. That’s accounted for in some part by his employers, the Idaho Statesman newspaper, Boise Cascade and IACI, which represents most of Idaho big business along with a chunk of medium-to-smaller business. But that’s not all. Ahrens is courteous and has a sense of humor and a sometimes surprising informality, and an interest in helping out the newbies who regularly show up, and all that helps over the long haul. (In our Ridenbaugh Press lists of influential Idahoans, Ahrens has almost always ranked high, and a lot of people would have been shocked if he hadn’t.) But that’s not all either.

There is another thing about Ahrens that non-professionals might not get: He’s a hardcore legislature addict. The minutiae of the legislature, the personalities, the political campaigns, the vote counts, the structure of the committees, the rules and the process – Ahrens has immersed himself into it all deeply, for a very long time, and he can talk about it with the kind of attention to intricate detail that a really good mechanic could use in describing how his favorite make of car works. He is evidence that, apart from all else, information is power.

No small thing, as 31 years will attest.

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Homeland Security is a lousy name purely for its connotations: It echoes too near the old German “fatherland” and Russian “motherland” (or “fatherland”). The eeriness factor multiplies when it generates cases like that of Dwight Scarbrough in Boise.

That story, told inthe current Boise Weekly (and highlighted well in the current Boise Guardian), is enough to make anyone wonder whose security is being protected. The dividing line, apparently, has to do with who you vote for.

The full story (including tape conversation transcripts), well worth reading, is in the Weekly. (A number of comments have been posted to it; none indicate any sort of rebuttal of the facts presented.) Briefly: Scarbrough, who is a veteran and also anti-war and critical of the Bush Administration, is also a federal employee at the west Boise federal center near Overland Road and Interstate 84. His vehicle is splattered with stickers reflecting his views. As a federal employee, he is not allowed to campaign on work time or in the office, and hasn’t been accused of that. Like everyone else, he isn’t allowed “Posting or affixing signs, pamphlets, handbills or flyers on federal property”, but then most people wouldn’t consider driving a car into a parking lot to constitute “posting or affixing.” Homeland Security apparently isn’t like most people, and (provoked by who or what, we do not know) sent a couple of agents around to Scarbrough. His free exercise of speech on his personal motor vehicle, he was told, would have to go.

Scarbough has been battling this, and the American Civil Liberties Union has gotten involved. Again, read the Weekly for the whole tale. But circle back around for four other points:

First. Is there any record of Homeland Security demanding similar removal of pro-Bush or pro-war signage? Any at all? Even once? A Boise federal building parking lot surely has a few Bush bumper stickers in evidence; were the owners of those vehicles similarly confronted? (We’d give them a bye – for consistency if nothing else – if the agents similarly confronted the owners of all other vehicles in the lot containing any sort of sticker. Why should stickers for rock bands or TV shows be exempt?)

Second. Scarbrough was confronted not per se as a federal employee, but rather someone who – presumably – had “posted or affixed” signage on federal property by virtue of driving onto it and parking there. This had nothing to do with his employment, only with the vehicle he drove. Does that mean anyone who has similar kinds of signage on their vehicle – or even a worn-out Kerry/Edwards sticker on their bumper – and parks on federal property (how about, say, within a national forest or on BLM land) can expect a similar visit from Homeland Security? And if not, why, exactly, not?

Third. Under which of the DHS six agenda points does shutting down Scarbrough’s free speech fit? The closest fit might be “increase overall preparedness” – if that is, you take a really dark view of what the agency is preparing for.

Fourth. The spookiest part of the Weekly story came at the end, when the reporter was trying to track down the mysterious Boise Homeland Security office (the federal flavor, not the state). Here is what he wrote about that:

I was only able to confirm the location of the office after asking the security officer at the Natural Resource Complex, whose job (ostensibly, at least) it is to enforce the rules concerning pamphlets, dogs and other controlled substances on federal property. He would not comment about the incident, saying, “If this is about what I think it’s about, I’m not allowed to say nothing.” He referred me to “FPS, Federal Courthouse, Department of Homeland Security,” to find someone who would be able to comment. When I asked who I should say referred me, he covered his nameplate with his hand.

The “office,” once I found it, wasn’t much of an office at all, from a service perspective. The door was locked and there was neither a receptionist nor a desk at the front window. When I rang the doorbell, a woman emerged from a nearby cubicle and spoke to me through a tennis-ball-sized hole in the window. She would not confirm the name or identity of the officers, nor their badge numbers (Scarbrough, of course, had written them all down). I slipped a business card through the hole, and by press time, no one had called me back.

However, when I tried the number provided by the U.S. Marshals, Terry Martin at the Federal Protection Service was able to confirm that the officers identified by Scarbrough did, in fact, work for Homeland Security. He then referred me to the Department of Homeland Security’s media spokesman in Texas, who had not responded by press time to my request for information about the incident, or about any change in federal law concerning stickers on vehicles in federal parking lots.

The former Senator Steve Symms used to sign off his letters with, “Yours for a free society.” Welcome, Steve, to the society of Homeland Security, where government is becoming too elusive for anyone to take a bite out of it.

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Who would have thought? Check the turnout at Clark County’s Prairie High School on the subject of a casino proposed for near La Center by the Cowlitz Tribe.

About 1,000 people were estimated to have shown up at a formal federal event that, as the official in charge noted, was still early in the process. Nonetheless, the Vancouver Columbian described the event as “full-fledged political theater with information booths, signs, buttons, stickers and banners. Casino supporters rallied their troops with 300 caps, 500 T-shirts and upwards of 150 pizzas, the uneaten last dozen or so turned over to the high school’s busy maintenance staff. More than 700 people filled the auditorium, another 100 milled around outside, grumbling at their inability to get in, and 200 more stood in a hallway and watched the meeting on a video monitor. Judging by who cheered and when, supporters outnumbered opponents by perhaps four or five to one.” Union support apparently accounts for much of the organization.

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We’ve suspected for a decade or so that the rise of the web was likely to change, eventually, the requirements by governments for providing proper notification to the public of its actions. In sum: Is the public adequately notified of an important action if the agency puts notice of it on its web site, as opposed to – for example – notifying or taking out ads in newspapers?

Washington courtsMedia executives should take notice of Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority v. Kenneth & Barbara Miller (Docket 76284-8), just filed. The subject of the case concerns property condemnation for public use, in this case a tract at Tacoma owned by the Millers (as owners of a construction company) intended for use as a park-and-ride station. (Sound Transit is trying to run its line further south, toward Lakewood.) The case has several prongs; the one at hand here concerns notice to the public. The court summarizes:

Sound Transit held a public hearing to determine which proposed site to use for the rail station. By law, potential condemnees are not entitled to actual individualized notice. Instead, Washington law requires that agencies develop procedures to give reasonable notice of these meetings to the public which may include informing the local media. Sound Transit has elected to implement this statutory discretion by posting meeting times and agendas on its website. It does not directly notify the media.

The primary issue for review is whether Sound Transit’s method of notifying the public of its meetings is adequate. Alternately, Miller challenges the substantive decision that public necessity for the condemnation exists. We hold that Sound Transit complied with statutory requirements in notifying the public of its meetings and that Sound Transit’s determination of necessity is not the product of actual or constructive fraud.

The theory behind newspaper ad (or news) notification of government actions is that the public has one central place to go if it wants to keep up on substantive government actions. The court is taking a different view here, saying at base that members of the public has to monitor all the governmental web sites if it expects to stay informed about government actions that may affect them.

The court notes that case law is thin-to-nonexistent on the use of web posts as legally sufficient notification, and has been rejected as a notification tool for class action lawsuits. In this case, however, it said “Just as it is impossible to assure that anyone will look at a particular web site, it is equally impossible to assure that anyone will purchase, much less read, a newspaper. In addition, there is no way to assure that a newspaper will even publish a notice furnished by an agency because agencies are not required to buy advertising space. More important, however, is the fact that RCW 35.22.288 does not require an agency to use one of the listed methods, much less prohibit the use of the internet.”

The decision doesn’t, of course, directly affect the legal ads already required to appear in newspapers, and it isn’t license for government agencies to clam up about their actions.

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In 1982, Idaho’s voters repealed an old – original – section of the state constitution which had gone unobserved for decades but remained there as a testiment to bigotry of another age: The provision which, in essence, sought to deny Idaho Mormons their rights as citizens, including the right to vote.

The repealer passed easily. But more than a third of the votes were cast against the repeal; that was, simply, the anti-Mormon vote, the people who thought so little of Mormons that they would just as soon they all moved away. We’ve wondered, over the years, how Idaho’s Mormons felt seeing those 100,113 votes, representing people who just didn’t want them around here. That was, after all, their real meaning.

The same kind of thing will happen this year, as Idaho voters act on another constitutional amendment, one approved this morning by the Idaho Senate, to ban marriage in Idaho by same-sex couples.

The measure, House Joint Resolution 2, is simple; its one-sentence operative text is, “A marriage between a man and a woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state.” The language is sweeping, not narrow. That makes it different from gay marriage measures adopted in a number of other states, such as Oregon, which leave open the possibility of civil unions or other devices which would all9ow gay couples to receive some of the marriage-related legal rights heterosexual couples can obtain.

There is another difference. In Oregon, the state’s law and its constitution both had been interpreted as allowing for marriage by gay couples, to the point that marriage licenses were actually issued. (In some other states, the question had been raised though not strongly advanced.) In Oregon, in other words, whatever one’s view on the matter, gay marriage was firmly placed on the political table, a subject fully ripe for address by the voters at the constitutional level. In Idaho, none of that is true. Nothing in the Idaho Constitution credibly opens the door to same-sex marriage, and state law expressly forbids it. Unless one wants to change the law by permitting same-sex marriage (imagine that happening in Idaho anytime soon! but no one has), the subject is settled law.

And yet, session after session, it has returned to the Idaho Legislature, each time with growing force. The first time, in 2004, it passed the House but was stopped by a single senator who happened to chair a key committee, Sheila Sorensen. (She will now be hearing a lot more about that as her congressional campaign progresses this spring.) In the 2005 session it got to the Senate floor but was stopped there by a group of Republicans – John Andreason, Charles Coiner, Dick Compton, Tom Gannon, John Goedde, Brad Little, Gary Schroeder, Joe Stegner – joining all but one of the chamber’s few Democrats.

This year, after House passage, it returned again, but this time Andreason, Goedde, Compton, Gannon and Little changed their votes, and put the measure on the ballot. [NOTE: Edited here to correct a statement that the measure hadn’t yet cleared the House; it did so on February 6, on a 53-17 vote.]

Why the five changed their votes is a worthy question, since neither the measure nor the circumstances around it have changed significantly from a year ago. (The language in the measure did change a bit, but not so as to affect its meaning.) A year ago, the Republican critics of the measure were clear why they opposed it. Andreason was quoted as saying, “Here we are on the 24th day of the legislative session, and what is the longest debate we’ve had in this session so far? Is it about education? Is it about public transportation? No. It’s SJR 101. And I think that’s a small example of what we’re going to see in the next election if this is on the ballot.” Little suggested, “It’s the old rule of unintended consequences. Are we going to be back here next year creating a whole new bureaucracy to address a problem that doesn’t exist today?” And 2004 election results suggest that opposition to the amendment is unlikely to cost a senator his or her seat.

The switching senators were less clear on why they reversed course, and as is our practice, we won’t try to read minds here. That said, the only apparent reason why putting it on the ballot now would make more sense than it would have a year ago is that 2006 is shaping up as a relatively Democratic year, and a gay-marriage amendment would press the hot button which sending religious conservatives across the state to the polls. In a heavily Republican legislature, that would be reason enough.

But as Little noted a year ago, there are always other consequences. One of them is the message sent by – probably – hundreds of thousands of Idaho voters, likely a strong majority, to the state’s gay population. That message, echoing the 1982 message which only a minority sent to Mormons, will be: “We’d really just as soon that your kind weren’t here.” The social atmospheric change in Idaho over the next year and beyond may be no more subtle than that.

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Announcements of new university presidents usually suggest little interest outside the institution’s community. Today’s announcement that the State Board of Education has named Arthur Vailas as the new president of Idaho State University at Pocatello ought, probably, to suggest a little more.

Arthur VailasThere has been some talk, generated partly by the interim ISU president but also running around elsewhere, that the university ought to aim its long-range future toward medical schooling. And maybe it should. But the path getting there would not be easy or cheap, and the navigation would have to be strong, careful and well-informed.

So view Vailas’ hiring in that light. Here’s the ISU short summary of his background:

Dr. Arthur Vailas is vice chancellor and vice president for research and intellectual property management for the University of Houston System and the University of Houston (UH). He joined UH in 1995 as vice president for research and vice provost for graduate studies, and professor and distinguished chair in biology and biochemistry.

Prior to joining UH, Vailas was associate dean for research and development at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a university he served in numerous capacities including professor of surgery, division of orthopedic surgery in the College of Medicine; professor of kinesiology, school of education; professor, department of poultry science in the College of Agriculture; and professor and director of the Biodynamics Laboratory.

And there is plenty more besides; he is, apart from other considerations, a fully-qualified academic. But the interest comes in this: He’s just about what you’d want if your idea is to move ISU in a more developed medical-research direction.

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News reports now have it that Ben Westlund, just recently declared as an independent, is joining the race for governor.

Assuming he meets the statutory requirements for doing so – and that looks likely – he will make the general election a good deal more interesting.

Primary effects? Probably little to none on the Democratic side, since incumbent Ted Kulongoski is almost certainly to easily win that. On the Republican side, he could prospectively strengthen the hands of Kevin Mannix and Jason Atkinson against Ron Saxton. The latter has the reputation of being the “moderate” in the race; the argument could run that with Westlund in, a Republican would have to run stronger to the right in the general to wind up winning. But this sort of thing can and will be spun in all directions.

And Westlund’s chances? For one thing, he’s late in, and has to organize everything, and raise money, from scratch – a horribly tough proposition. For another, as matters sit, the numbers for neither Kulongoski nor any of the probable Republican nominees are so bad as to open a logical large chunk of the vote. Put another way: From where is Westlund going to collect the 35%-plus of the vote he would need to prevail? Until a satisfactory answer to that question emerges, he looks to be more an interesting factor in the race than a probable winner.

But keep watch. The dynamic hasn’t finished settling yet.

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Oregon had an independent – politically independent, unaffiliated with party – governor once. His name was Julius Meier, and he was a businessman from Portland.

The year was 1930, and the issues at hand concerned responses to the Great Depression and calls for creation of public power projects and utilities. Public power was growing fast in popularity, but it faced obstacles, including major political figures both among the Democrats and Republicans. After heated battles, both parties nominated candidates for governor who were opposed to public power. (This is, of course, oversimplifying a complex struggle.) Meier was among the liberal Republicans who favored public power, and he entered the race as an independent. He wound up sweeping the general election, taking more votes than the major-party candidates together.

Ben WestlundHard to envision a truly comparable scenario now for Ben Westlund, a Republican state senator from the Bend area (more specifically, Tumalo, just north of Bend) who has split from that party and now describes himself as an independent, and who may or may not run for governor.

This has been coming for a long time, well before Westlund’s active support in Salem for gay rights, among other things. In an article on the switch in the Bend Bulletin, he said, “As I continued to examine my role in the party, it became clear to me that it just wasn’t a good fit and wasn’t intellectually honest. They’re unhappy with me half the time, I’m unhappy with them half the time.” But the Democratic Party wouldn’t be a comfortable fit either, he says, and he makes a good case for that too.

The more immediate question now is, what will this mean – for the governor’s race, for Westlund’s Senate seat, and for the voters of the Bend area.

None of these offer immediately easy answers.

Westlund isn’t saying whether he will run for governor, but the 1930 dynamic doesn’t look likely to repeat. The overwhelming majority of Oregon voters probably will vote for the Republican or Democratic nominee, and most of those unhappy with the choices are more likely to be at the edges of the spectrum, on either side, rather than in the middle.

But what of Westlund’s Senate seat? Is it defensible by an independent?

His persnoal history in-district is strong enough: elected four times in a row to the House, then appointed to the Senate in 2003. In his 2004 Senate race, he was opposed only by a Constitution Party candidate, and he swept about 80% of the vote. The last time he faced a Democrat, running for the House in 2002, he took about two-thirds of the vote.

Clearly he has some local popularity. Clearly too he was a Republican running in a Republican territory. District 27, which includes Bend, Redmond and Sisters and the high country around them (including a lot of the voters in unorganized La Pine) have been solidly Republican for a long time.

Senate District 27

Last election, there were some indicators that Bend itself might be softening in its Republican support. Back in November 2004, for example, we pointed to “a close House race [at Bend] – the Democrat in District 54 came within a percentage point or so of beating the Republican, a startlingly good showing, and possibly a focal point for 2006.”

Could Westlund, with his personal popularity (admittedly, not still in all quarters), pull off a plurality win against a Republican and a Democrat?

Maybe. If he did – and this would be in 2008, when the seat next is up – it would say something about trends in the Bend area.

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Aquick bit of horn-tooting here: The web site Politics1.com named ridenbaugh.com as their “political site of the day.” That throws us in with a nunch of other political web sites around the country for recognition of a special approach to politics. (What that approach is, varies from site to site.)

The list of named sites is worth a look. Quite a few are national in scope; not many are northwestern.

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Should be entertaining but on top of that, maybe even a little enlightening. Might even help Democrats start to work through some of their problems in rural areas in the northwest, and bridge come gaps.

Oregon's 2nd congressional district

The Oregon 2nd District race, where the dominant figure is Republican incumbent Greg Walden, now has two Democrats in the field (probably). One, Scott Silver, went public earlier this month. Now comes a filing and a news report (courtesy the Baker City Herald) of a second: construction contractor Chuck Butcher. (No web site indicated so far.)

Butcher is not entirely a unknown. He has been active in the state Democratic Party organization, and in policy has pressed to make sure references to protecting the 2nd Amendment are incorporated into state Democratic platforms. (Not such a small matter, either; Democrats lost a lot of voters in western states when they gained the reputation of being anti-gun.)

In loose terms, call Butcher the rural-based lunch-pail Democrat in the race, while the articulate and environmentally-motivated Silver comes from another wing of the party. There is opportunity here for internal combat, but in his newspaper interview Butcher seems to want to avoid that: “I am not about beating other Democrats. If somebody else has better ideas and a better campaign, then they should run against Greg Walden. But at some point, somebody will walk away with the Democratic nomination. It would be a good idea for the Democrats not to bloody each other up in the process.”

Walden will be exceedingly difficult to beat. But Democrats would move a few steps down that road, over the longer haul if not necessarily the shorter, if the district’s Butcher Democrats and Silver Democrats learned to get along and find common ground.

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