Press "Enter" to skip to content

Posts published in March 2006

Another M37 delimiter

We know that Measure 37 is live and on the Oregon books, but in so many ways we still don't know what that means. We don't yet know, for example, how the legal argument over transferring property will play out.

Courtesy of Rogue Pundit, another delimiter on Measure 37 is emerging: property taxes.

It cites an article in the Medford Mail-Tribune about Wayne Ralph, who owns five acres of farm land outside White City. Ralph, in common with a bunch of other Oregon landowners, filed a Measure 37 claim on his property, which he sought to turn into a subdivision. His claim was approved about a year ago, and not long after filed a subdivision plat.

Now the other shoe, in the Mail-Tribune's words: "The Jackson County Assessor’s Office sent him a bill recently for $6,000 in taxes for the past 10 years because the property now has a higher value."

Howls of outrage have followed, of course, but county officials have said the law is clear: As soon as someone does what Ralph did, he becomes liable for back taxes.

Just might give some claimants a moment's pause.

If it’s a close call

The Oregon governor's race won't necessarily be close. The default assumption here is that Democratic incumbent Ted Kulongoski will win it by a significant margin still far short of a landslide; and that much of the chatter against him generates more from activists on the left and right than from the large voting populace.

But the situation is fluid enough that it could easily turn out otherwise. A reminder of that came with the opening of the gubernatorial campaign of Joe Keating - of the Pacific Green Party.

Republicans have been touting this one. They point that, after all, four years ago the Greens declined to run a candidate (former Democratic U.S. Representative Jim Weaver had been mentioned) because they didn't want to risk a Republican winning the office. And they point out that the Libertarians, who had no such compunction about the election of a Democrat, ran and may have siphoned off enough Republican votes to elect Kulongoski. (Doubtful, in our opinion, but possible.) and the Libertarian candidate of 2002 has become a support this year of Republican candidate Kevin Mannix.

For Keating's part, news reports have quoted him as being unconcerned about whether his entry hurts Kulongoski's chances: He's among the disaffected.

However, as an AP story out today soundly notes, there's more to the picture.

The Libertarians won't have the same nominee but say they will be back in the race. And the right will also have the presence of the Constitution Party. That group absented itself from the governor's race in 2002 at the request of some Republicans, just as the Greens did at the request of Democrats.

The big new factor this year is likely to be the entry of Independent Ben Westlund of Tumalo. But it's anyone's guess - and there are good arguments both ways - whether he will draw more from the Democratic or Republican side of the fence. Maybe he'll draw more or less evenly.

Score so far on the fringe party wars: No discerniable change.

A liquor comparative

Liquor legislation - that is, the law setting out who can consume, buy, sell and transport liquor, and to and from where and when, and probably more besides - is always a tricky matter in the Idaho Legislature.

liquor imageOne reason for that may be religious. Many members of the Idaho Legislature, at least a third and probably more, belong to religious groups that ban or discourage any drinking of alcohol. There's also that constitutional provision encouraging temperance, though the implementation of it is open to multiple interpretations.

None of this has stopped House Bill 673, which has cleared both House and Senate. Since it was amended in the Senate (though not, evidently, in fundamental ways), another House vote is needed, but the odds strongly favor passage (and signature by the governor). This measure explicitly expands the number of places in the state where liquor can be sold, which often is a hard sell at the statehouse.

But this wasn't just anyone calling. This was the new Tamarack Resort, a place with plenty of political pull, and the person bringing the bill was its lobbyist, Scott Turlington, who previously was a staffer for Governor Dirk Kempthorne. Introduced on February 13, it has marched steadily through the process. There were significant numbers of nay votes, 17 in the House and 12 in the Senate, but not enough to put it at risk.

To be clear: We see nothing at all wrong with a major resort like the Tamarack serving liquor. It's a normal part of that business, and no significant downside to it is apparent. And the terms of the current bill seem, in the context of Idaho liquor law, reasonable.

But contrast the legislature's response in this case to that of another - a bill that would not expand use of alcohol but simply ensure an existing business can continue to operate in the same trouble-free way it has for a generation. (more…)

The other meth crisis

The Willamette Week, like most alternative weeklies, usually takes only potshots at the community's dominant medium - the long, in-depth pieces usually take off in their own independent directions. As perhaps they should.

This week, they did something different, pointing an extremely barbed arrow at the editorial heart of the Portland Oregonian. For no single story has been closer to the heart of that paper than the abuse of methamphetamine. And much of the paper's reportage on that story, the Week says, has been badly flawed.

To back up for a moment: The O's coverage of this subject, led by reporter Steve Suo, has in many ways been remarkable. It has included some superb research - large portions of it reached a peak of journalism any newspaper would aspire to. And it has had substantial legislative effect, not only in Salem but also in Washington. For just one example, people won't be getting their cold medicines the same way, because of these stories.

But we have for some months pointed to flaws in this coverage as well: Its conception of the meth story, as insular and central to a much broader social pathology, has been distortive. Its sense of causes is weak, and its direct argument for solutions fails under slight pressure.

The Willamette Week, which decided to fact-check and critically consider the paper's meth coverage, covers some of those points and more besides. Consider its summary: (more…)

Late change

When a political campaign makes a change in staff late in the campaign, that's usually a sign of trouble. The locus of the trouble could be in several places, but it usually is somewhere in the area. And it doesn't bode well.

Rightly or wrongly, that's what popped into mind at sight of the Seattle Times headline, "Microsoft makes changes to Windows group." Only a few months ahead of the originally planned relerase of the new version of Windows, Vista, the corporate has held off on delivery of the consumer version (nothing terribly shocking in a delay) and, soon after, announced reorganization of the relevant sectors of the corporation.

Smells like trouble. In some way or another.

Billboard speech

The Oregon Supreme Court has taken some heat over the years for its strict intepretation of the state's constitutional ban on free speech. The new decision in Outdoor Media Dimensions v. Department of Transportation may win it some new critics from other angles. But those critics won't be able to argue that the court is being inconsistent in its rigorous take on free speech rights in Oregon.

Outdoor Media Dimensions owns billboards, many of them positioned along state highways, and it sells the advertising space on them. It has chafed under Oregon's restrictive rules on billboards, most of them included in a 1971 law, the Oregon Motorist Information Act, passed in part to meet the standards of federal highway beautification law. Some federal funds are tied to state adherence to that law.

The law includes a mass of provisions governing what is and isn't acceptable. The Supreme Court upheld most of them. But one aspect of the signage law was troubling: The law treated differently signs located on commercial property that related to the business at that location, from signs which are about anything other than the owner of the local property. That meant the law treated the signs differently based on what they said, rather than on some other consideration, such as safety or size or unsightliness. (more…)

But not mouth-washing with soap

For all the multitude of laws, rules and regulations under which we all live, there are still some things which, though considered wrong or improper, are things which most of us simply don't do. Call it courtesy, or even just socialization.

There's one few now in Tacoma, with the passage of Resolution 36796, necessitated by a council member who Went Too Far.

Tom StengerHe was Councilman Tom Stenger, who - speaking at a work session some weeks back - got angry and used the "f" word, directed at another council member. That led to a reaction, of course, as council members - apparently including Stenger, who has since apologized - concluded that something should be on the books to deal with such occurrances.

Thus the new resolution, passed Tuesday, which remarkably wasn't a real overreaction. It simply banned "contemptuous or disorderly behavior" at meetings. Maybe a little more remarkably, it also included sanctions against council members.

Go too far, and the rules will kick in.

But not mouth-washing with soap

For all the multitude of laws, rules and regulations under which we all live, there are still some things which, though considered wrong or improper, are things which most of us simply don't do. Call it courtesy, or even just socialization.

There's one few now in Tacoma, with the passage of Resolution 36796, necessitated by a council member who Went Too Far.

He was Councilman Tom Stenger, who - speaking at a work session some weeks back - got angry and used the "f" word, directed at another council member. That led to a reaction, of course, as council members - apparently including Stenger, who has since apologized - concluded that something should be on the books to deal with such occurrances.

Thus the new resolution, passed Tuesday, which remarkably wasn't a real overreaction. It simply banned "contemptuous or disorderly behavior" at meetings. Maybe a little more remarkably, it also included sanctions against council members.

Go too far, and the rules will kick in.

A big appointment

Will Gale Norton or Dirk Kempthorne make the next big appointment within the Department of Interior: Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation?

And what are the chances that this person might be Idaho's director of water resources, Karl Dreher?

John KeysQuestion arises because of word emerging today that John Keys, commissioner since 2001 (and a BuRec guy for four decades), will retire on April 15. Curious, the timing coming just at the time of change of interior secretaries. But it does raise the question of who gets to make the choice of a replacement. (The president could dictate if he chose; ordinarily, interior secs can make the call with approval of the president.)

The difficulty is that no one yet knows how long it may be before Kempthorne takes over the secretariat - six weeks? Three months? Maybe more?

Or might Norton and Kempthorne work out the appointment between them? If they did, one reasonable prospect emerges: Karl Dreher, director of the Idaho Department of Water Resources.

Karl DreherThere's precedent for a BuRec commissioner coming from exactly that position: Keith Higginson did it when Cecil Andrus went from governor to interior secretary. In this case, there's another factor. Norton is from Colorado, where she was attorney general. Dreher is from Colorado, too, a substantial figure in the water wars on the Fron Range, and with a creditable enough record there that his move to Idaho came with no serious controversy. Nor has Dreher been a very controversial figure in Idaho - at least considering what might have been, bearing in mind the sensitivity of water issues over the last decade or so.

No inside information here. But it is a credible possibility ...

UPDATE On the other hand, there's some talk among people knowledgable about the water bureaucracy that Dreher might not be the guy.

From 1975-82, Dreher " worked for the Bureau of Reclamation where he headed the Analytical Design Group in the Concrete Dams Section. During his tenure with the Bureau, Mr. Dreher performed or directed various levels of design, analysis, and evaluation for 7 major concrete dams and their foundations." Then he left for a private firm, and has worked with a range of public and private employers on impressive projects around the globe - but never seemed to head back to federal employment. Speculation is that Dreher may not be interested.