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Posts published in “Day: April 4, 2006”

Tending to state budgets/tending to gun shows

Constituents expect, or they ought to, that if a person asks for the responsibility of representing them as well as they can, that they will - and means at least showing up for work whenever possible.

That ethic may be weakening at the Idaho Legislature, where lawmakers long have had the fallback position of bringing in appointed substitute legislators to vote for them. But once upon a time, the reasons a lawmaker was absent tended toward the reasonable - illness or family emergency, for example.

During the 2002 session, a state senator named Ric Branch, who had become chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, missed a bunch of days at Boise, and his committee went without meeting at times. It became something of a embarassment, and Branch eventually lost the chairmanship, and decided against running for re-election. It was as well: A cattleman, he said his business was suffering without his presence there. The common reaction at the time was: If his personal or business life isn't free enough to allow for the legislative service, then he shouldn't serve. At least until it does.

Gerry SweetAll of which is preface to the story outr today from the Boise Associated Press Bureau (via Betsy Russell's excellent Spokesman-Review blog). The legislator missing votes this time isn't a chairman. But state Senator Gerry Sweet, R-Meridian, occupies a position some people give up chairs for: He's a member of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, where almost all of the state's budget is written. It's a very important spot. The AP account:

The absences of Sen. Gerry Sweet, R-Meridian, drew criticism from some lawmakers who say he hasn't paid enough attention to one of the Legislature's most important panels. Sweet didn't vote on 63 of 200 budget bills for fiscal year 2007, based on figures provided by the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee to The Associated Press.

Sweet missed votes during at least 15 meetings, including March 29 and March 30, when the 20-member committee put together a $35.4 million final budget package that contained Gov. Dirk Kempthorne's "Experience Idaho" parks program. The Meridian lawmaker says his business - he's a gun dealer who sells weapons over the Internet and at gun shows, including one last weekend in Boise - has grown this year, keeping him away from the Statehouse.

Guns shows are more important than the budget of the state of Idaho, in other words.

The glitch in all this is that candidate filing is done in Idaho, wrapped up last month. Sweet has no Republican opponent, which means - since his exceedingly Republican district is exceedingly unlikely to come even close to electing any Democrat, such as the one he faces at the general election, under almost any conditions - he is as good as unopposed.

The AP says Sweet hopes to be back on JFAC next year. He might. What of the prospect of a Branch-like internal reaction? The AP: "Others Republicans on the budget panel said it's up to constituents to decide whether their lawmakers are attending enough meetings to properly represent them."

Welcome to accountability at the Idaho Legislature.

Living, too, in downtown

downtown Seattle-city of Seattle imageMost planners of urban areas nationally have concluded that downtowns, as a precondition of thriving, must be places where substantial numbers of people reside, as well as work and shop and entertain. The pieces tend not to hold together well otherwise. And cities around the Northwest have recognized that in recent years and acted on it, from Portland to Boise to Spokane.

Peter SteinbrueckSeattle, though, may be leading the pack with its latest move, undertaken Monday afternoon. That is when its city council passed the "downtown livability plan" proposed, and worked on for more than a year, by Council Member Peter Steinbrueck, who has chaired the council's committee on urban development. It coordinates with a building height and density proposal Greg Nickels had been developing; that effort is a response to state requirements aiming to limit most growth to urban areas and away from rural.

The changes are varied and complex, and the details have undergone alternation all through the process. Generally, the changes will allow skyscrapers in some parts (not all) of the downtown area to be almost a third higher than they are now. Fees and benefits are attached to the new development, encouraging residential addons, some at the higher levels of these buildings, some elsewhere. There are provisions for lower-income (that is, non-wealthy) residential development as well, and provisions too for amenities, from green spaces to awnings.

The talk about the council and mayor about the vote as a dramatic turning point for Seattle may be a big exaggerated, just because - odds are - the tweaking of the plan probably will continue. (It went on right through the Monday council meeting.) But it surely is important, and it could be a big boost to continuing the reinvigorating of downtown Seattle that has taken such strong hold in the last few years.

All in fun . . .

They say it's all in fun. But whatever the disclaimers - and naturally they would give them - there's an unmistakable barb.

A story in the Idaho Statesman today notes that several dozen legislators - that's a lot out of a total 105 - have started wearing buttons promoting their wives for appointment to lieutenant governor.

Here's the background: That office is likely to come open in another month or two after Governor Dirk Kempthorne is confirmed (which is strongly probable) as Interior secretary and Lieutenant Governor Jim Risch steps up to replace him, leaving his current job vacant. Risch then gets to name his replacement. A number of names have surfaced, but the only person who we know has specifically asked Risch for the appointment is Kempthorne's wife, Patricia.

Hence, the buttons promoting my wife. The trend apparently started after friends of Representative Max Black, R-Boise, presented him with a joke "campaign button" for his wife. But the joke has spread, widely.

And it's not a commentary on the Kempthorne situation. Of course not.