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Posts published in February 2006


In 1982, Idaho's voters repealed an old - original - section of the state constitution which had gone unobserved for decades but remained there as a testiment to bigotry of another age: The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. (more…)

ISU president, and direction

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.

Independent’s in

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.

Going indy

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. (more…)

Politics 1

Aquick bit of horn-tooting here: The web site named 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.

OR CD2: Mixing Democrats

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.

A marketplace choice

Those who disapprove of the term "corporate welfare" - mainly those whose interests are allied to large businesses which rely on governments for much of their support - might consider an alternative term: "making choices in the marketplace."

Free-enterprisers usually are quick to suggest that this is something governments ought not to do. Often, they are right about that, but their eagerness to push the argument often depends on which marketplace, and which players, are involved.

Enter the recent talk in Washington state about a new sports facility for the Seattle Supersonics, whose owners say that their team is unprofitable and cannot be made profitable without a new facility. Were the Supersonics owners planning to invest their own money in their own business and build the thing, the only issue under debate would be the precise location and maybe the traffic flow. There would be, in other words, no substantial debate.

There is debate, though, because this business wants its costs and losses to be made up by the taxpayers.

Tacoma News Tribune columnist Peter Callaghan outines the issue cleanly in today's column, noting first, "The Mariners in 1995. The Sea-hawks in 1997. The SuperSonics in 2005. The names change but the rhetoric and the politics stay the same."

The idea is getting a round of "no" from elected officials, so far. Callaghan suspects - probably rightly - that the will to resist will fade as the threat of a move is pressed.

Finally, in a tone that suggests defeat, he asks plaintively, "If the Sonics want to claim the team is losing money, they should be required to prove it. And when they get the $200 million to $250 million in public money, there should be an easily enforceable mechanism to make sure they continue to tell their “partners” – the taxpayers – how the business is doing."

After the past experiences, why is resistance so hard? The rise of Tim Eyman suggests that Washington taxpayers don't like being smacked upside the head; but the recurrence of public sports facility funding suggests that maybe they do.

WA CD4: Internal challenge

Up to this point Washington Republican Representative Doc Hastings, who has chaired the largely inert House ethics committee, has fielded attacks basically from Democrats, which he can toss off as partisan.

Harder to do now, with entry into his contest this year of Benton County Commissioner Claude Oliver, who will take him on in the Republican primary.

This is highly intriguing, because Oliver has given evidence before of being not a maverick but a party loyalist. Last month, the Benton Commission had to appoint a new county clerk. Two of the three commissioners chose to reject the recommendation of the county Republican central committee in making their choice; the holdout for the party point of view was Oliver. Should be noted that he apparently has had periodic conflicts with the other commissioners on other matters as well, and both of those commissioners have signed on in support of Hastings.

Certainly he's no outsider to area politics, though. The Tri-City Herald describes his background this way: "The 58-year-old Republican has spent nine years as a county commissioner and was the county treasurer for 15 years before that. He also served a four-year stint in the state House of Representatives from 1977-81 and ran unsuccessfully for state treasurer in 1988 and 1992."

We'll hold off for a time to see how this develops. But this primary contest could be of substantial interest.

MS growth on Eastside

Even in Microsoft terms, this looks like a big deal, the expansion plan outlined by the software giant on Thursday. This could lock in a big growth spurt on the northeast side of central Puget - a significant expansion for Bellevue and Redmond.

First of planned Microsoft buildingsAnd that's saying something, because MS has more than 30,000 employees already in the area (along with a similar number elsewhere). It already has reshaped the eastside several times over; now it looks to be doing it again. Here's the Microsoft description of what's coming:

Microsoft Corp. today announced it will accelerate campus development plans and spend $1 billion over the next three years to expand its Redmond campus by one-third its current size. Roughly half of the development agreement, approved by the city of Redmond in May 2005 to expand Microsoft’s Redmond campus over the next 15–20 years, will now be fulfilled by 2009, making the company’s Redmond campus one of the largest corporate campuses in the world.

A total of 14 buildings will be added to the campus. Seven buildings will be new and seven have been purchased. Coupled with leased spaces, they will provide the capacity to house approximately 12,000 people based on the current conceptual layout. By June 2009, 3.1 million additional square feet will be available.

That's more than many cities have in their downtowns. It's an enormous chunk of activity to drop on these communities - not that there will be (or need be) any complaints.