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Posts published in February 2006

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.

Neutral elections

Bearing in mind that the subject may - strike that, almost certainly will - come up elsewhere, we found this interesting:

Oregon's secretary of state, Bill Bradbury (a Democrat) and California's, Bruce McPherson (Republican), have released a "neutrality pledge." They didn't seem to overtly suggest their counterparts elsewhere (and both Washington and Idaho have secretaries of state, and all these states' SoSes have mostly similar responsibilities) adopt it too, but the subtext seemed to be there. The idea for the pledge evidently grew out of meetings of the National Association of Secretaries of State.

Here are its five points:

I will not serve in any ongoing capacity on a campaign supporting any candidates.

I will remain neutral, will not raise or contribute funds, and will not serve in any ongoing official capacity on a campaign supporting any referendums, measures, propositions, recalls or initiatives, unless they relate directly to the official duties and responsiblities of the Secretary of State.

I will not take any action in my official capacity as Secretary of State for the purpose of directly benefitting or disadvantaging any candidates, referendums, measures, propositions, or initiatives.

I will pledge to follow the current campaign finance and disclosure laws that apply to candidates for statewide office.

If I am a candidate for any office, this pledge will not restrict me from any otherwise legal campaign activity on my own behalf.

May prove interesting if the subject arises . . .

Library fallout

How to read the political fallout from the Boise library bond vote, which failed at 57% approval (needed two-thirds)?

It was a defeat for Boise Mayor David Bieter; a win would have set him up with some momentum headed toward next year's election.

But it was a mediated loss - but a big and outright one, and probably not overly damaging. There are two reasons for saying so. One is the positive vote, 57%, which while not enough to prevail in a bond election, does indicate some overall community support for the bond and, presumably and to a degree, for Bieter. It was not a weak showing.

The second reason is that the property taxes that would have supported the bond are, just at this moment, a big topic of discussion, and the dominant word seems to be that the Idaho Legislature will do little or nothing to address the subject. If people are little touchy about the subject of property taxes right now, that may be understandable, and not entirely the doing of the city of Boise.

A gesture

Toward the end of the movie "Animal House," the leader of the titular college fraternity, beaten, lost and shut down, made a rousing speech: It was time, he said, to reply in the form of a hopeless but explicit gesture of defiance.

Jim HillSo, we might reasonably assume, is former Oregon Treasurer Jim Hill entering the race for governor.

That was of course not the story four years ago when Hill ran for governor. He was then a recent two-term state treasurer, a current major figure in Oregon politics on a par with Ted Kulongoski, and with a better win-loss record. And he ran competitively for governor in 2002.

But he lost that primary to Kulongoski, and hasn't been visible in statewide politics since. That puts him at a huge disadvantage. His late start now - true, after raising the prospect for months, but not really starting up until now - puts him at an enormous financial, organizational and message deficit to the incumbent. It doesn't even position him well against Pete Sorenson, the Lane County commissioner who has been actively running for months, and with whom Hill will split the vote to the left wing of the party.

Hill's entry was a shot at Kulongoski, who he accused of breaking a number of promises from the last campaign (certainly in the case of casino growth at least, there's truth in that). But by splitting the opposition vote, he actually solidifies Kulongoski's lead. (Longstanding rule in politics: When an incumbent is running, it's investment v. everyone else, and an increase in the number of challengers improves the incumbent's chances.)

So why do it? Only one explanation really serves: That a number of people to Kulongoski's left (presumably including Hill) are genuinely ticked off that he has tacked toward the middle during his term, and want to call him on it. Once described as a liberal, Kulongoski has acted more as a centrist as governor, and Hill fired the shot that he couldn't tell the difference between the incumbent and a Republican.

Well, the Republicans can ... and so, likely, can many of the voters in the big middle. If Hill and Sorenson on the left, and the Republicans on the right, push Kulongoski into the position of representing that big group in the middle, well, that's not so uncomfortable a place to be, especially come November.

OR CD2: A candidate?

Oregon usually doesn't fall prey to the delibitating disease of let-the-incumbent-have-a-totally-free-ride, but you could understand it this year. Last time around, all five House seats were challenged, and all cruised to easy wins (and that doesn't mention the Senate race). But odds are growing that the requisite major party challeges will emerge in all five, even if the races wind up lopsided.

The latest indicator comes courtesy the new Oregon political blog Loaded Orygun, and touts the prospective candidacy of Scott Silver, a Bend-area environmental activist. It doesn't say Silver is in the race, but implies he is not far from entry. He sounds to be thoughtful activist with a range of ideas, as opposed to a narrow partisan. Which could at least make him interesting, and expose the district to some new perspectives.

If he does enter, he will not find it easy. Incumbent Republican Greg Walden was last time with 71.7% of the vote, and it was no fluke: The guy is popular, and he's been doing a capable job.

Of course, as they say in the lottery, you can't win if you don't play. And you never know.

ID CD1: Johnson, revisited

Are we misunderestimating Keith Johnson? After our latest runthrough of the odds for the Republican candidates for the Idaho 1st congressional district nomination, in which we placed Johnson in the lower of two tiers of probability to win, we heard from the Johnson campaign. They said they thought they were being sold short, and offered to send more information to make their case that they're more strongly positioned than we indicated. Fair enough.

Keith JohnsonWere they sold short? After a re-look, and a look at some facts available now but not last Wednesday (when the last analysis was done), our thought is that Johnson's standing is a little better than we originally suggested. But not enough, for now, to call for a wholescale rethink of the dynamics of the race.

The biggest single change marker is in campaign finance. As of February 1, Johnson's campaign finance report hadn't been filed. Later in the week it was, and showed him raising a respectable $72,104, most of it from individuals but about $18,327 from PACs, which suggests that some of the money people, at least, think he has a shot. Among the six candidates, only Sheila Sorensen has comparable PAC backing. (In many respects, individual contributions are better than PAC funds, but the PAC money is a market for how races are assessed.) But the funds raised overall put him in a clear fourth place among the six.

There is also this: With $40,243 cash on hand at the end of 2005 (the end of the reporting period), Johnson had more funds available than any other candidate except Bill Sali (who had $133,904). That isn't a perfect indicator of much, because some of the other campaigns may have been buying things Johnson had yet to buy; exact comparisons are dicey. It also doesn't account for revenue dumps pledged or planned but not yet occurred. But it's worth noting, and a small plus for Johnson. (more…)

Mourning in Seattle

And wailing, rending of garments, etc. A lot of loyal Northwesterners were betting this Seahawks thing would go all the way. A 21-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers was not what they had in mind.

Seahawks logoLook at it this way: Hardly anyone expected it to go this far. And with the base now set, who's to say they can't return to the SB next year? (Well, not Sports Illustrated, to judge by their analysis; but who were they predicting would be in the ring a year ago?)

Immigrating issue

Illegal immigrants - f0r that is the issue emerging in Northwest politics, not that of immigration as such - may be reaching the front burner. Whether it stays there depends, presumably, on what sort of response it gets over the next two to three weeks.

The subject of illegal immigrants - and again to be plain about it, we're talking mainly about persons who have crossed the border from Mexico and points south without legal permit - degenerates easily into a nast racist matter, ugly finger pointing at "them." It doesn't mean there aren't legitimate issues related to illegals, including the batch of matters in which we treat illegal aliens as if they were here legitimately. (No, the idea of someone who is here illegally being officially licensed by our government to do things, such as drive, seems simply wrong. We would not expect to illegal cross over into Mexico - or Canada, Japan, Germany or Russia for that matter - and expect such licenses; at best, we would hope to con our way into them.)

That ethnic aspect is fuzzed at bit in Idaho where a congressional candidate of Hispanic descent (but United States birth), Robert Vasquez, has been waving it as his personal bloody shirt for years.

But did Ron Saxton, the Anglo Republican Oregon gubernatorial candidate, give it much thought when he took the lead on the issue in Oregon - "I will support a zero tolerance policy for illegal immigrants."

In this Dorchester weekend, that has prompted his two Republican competitors, Kevin Mannix and Jason Atkinson, to jump all over the issue alongside him. How did it become so hot an issue so abruptly? Maybe because the candidates all were looking for a hot button to ride - there has been none very decisive so far - they felt they had to ride this pony quickly. Certainly no major new development has made illegal aliens that much more critical a matter today than it was, say, four or eight months ago, when it wasn't getting the attention.

A note of caution is warranted, though. As a matter of policy, there really isn't a massive difference either between these candidates or between then and the man one of them likely will face in November. A statement solicited from Democratic Governor Ted Kulongoski said that "The governor has a strong record of fighting to enforce immigration laws in Oregon."

The difference here could be in one of tone. And if Republican candidates, or any of them, start sounding bigoted, they could be doing themselves a world a damage. There are good reasons this issue hasn't emerged in many political campaigns in the last few years, and been decisive in . . . any?

Steady up

The Portland State University Population Research Center reports just out figure Oregon has added about 50,000 people between the summer of 2004 and the summer of 2005, and about 200,000 people since the 2000 census.

Sounds about right, as do the estimates of where in the state, exactly, these people have been going. The standout really is Washington County, which is estimated to have added more than 9,000 people just in that recent year, and nearly 45,000 since the 2000 census (meaning, practically, at least 50,000 from then to now - about a quarter of all growth in the state). That's a big boost in size, even if - proportionately - Deschutes County (Bend ) did about as well or better. The other Portland-area suburban county, Clackamas, also grew but more slowly.

Portland continues to grow, adding about 5,000 people in just the recent year to reach 555,560. Salem pushes a little further ahead of Eugene; the cities are still close in population but no longer virtually tied. And Gresham is edging close to the 100,000 mark.

Safer with sunshine

Will Oregon officials follow up with some incentives under the law to encourage reporting of medical mistakes?

It would seem a logical step. The Oregon Patient Safety Commission has taken the useful step of requiring reporting, and then analyzing the reporting, of mistakes made in the course of medical care. It is now working on administrative rules on the subject.

Still, how good - how useful - the numbers are will depend a great deal on to what extent medical professionals 'fess up instead of cover up. The incentives, most especially liability concerns, all run in the coverup direction to date. That will constitute a major challenge.

If the commission gets past it, it may be on the verge of a breakthrough.