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Posts published in May 2006

In the middle

We don't get enough explanations of the way things really work in the world, including the government world, and so we often get an understanding of things no more sophisticated than you can put on a bumper sticker.

Hanging around politics and you'll often hear the call to save our tax dollars by cutting back on the number of bureaucrats in government. Okay - that sounds appealing. What happens if we try to translate that into reality?

In Washington state government, there's a logical place to look for them. Tht state has something called the Washington Management Service, into which management-level people are grouped; the idea was to train a large group of state workers in management skills. The WMS has about 5,400 people in it. So when Governor Chris Gregoire called for cutting back 1,000 "middle managers" - her version of cutting back on the bureaucrats - the WMS is where she headed.

In an excellent column today, Peter Callaghan points out that this seems simpler than it is. The MWS has come to include a lot more people than just middle managers; many are people doing important work whom the state would like to keep, but expects to lose owing to low salaries; many of these people are bumped into the WMS, not to become middle managers but to increase their pay. And so we have - and this was a focus for Callaghan - "all eight of the senior [prison] chaplains have been told their jobs will be eliminated to help the department meet its quota for mid-management reductions. That leaves just one chaplain for every 1,000 inmates. "

That's how to cut bloated bureaucracy? Well, no . . . and this should constitute a lesson for any political figure who thinks the job of cutting - which certainly often has merit - is either simple or easy.

Stickin’ or splittin’

For quite a few Republicans, the situation has turned agonizing. But that doesn't necessarily mean the situation will turn them.

The locus of agony is Bill Sali, who with 25.8% of the vote yesterday won the Republican nomination for the Idaho 1st district U.S. House seat. (Incumbent C.L. "Butch" Otter is running instead for governor, or so the paperwork says; Otter himself was on the far side of the country on election day and unavailable for conversation with Idahoans.)

Sali is typically described as a very conservative Republican, but that has nothing to do with the concern afoot. Nor does it have to do with his stands on issues or with his voting record, neither of which is very different from scores of other very conservative Republicans who have served with him in the Idaho House over the last 16 years.

It has more to do with something apparent to people who have worked around the Statehouse, apparent to Republicans and Democrats and liberal and conservatives alike. We have no interest in piling on or slinging mud, but there's a broadly-held reality here that experienced Idaho political people know and that most Idahoans do not, and now it has become of importance. (We should add here: We have no personal animus against Sali; our dealings with him, mainly from some years back, have been cordial enough.) There is no gentle way to put this: (more…)

Investigation as opposed to fishing

The distinction between two types of information gathering has to be made up at the top, because a failure to understand it will result in a failure to grasp the import of the incident.

Investigation is specific, and it what we want and sometimes don't get enough of. A law has been broken, and an officer has to probe the circumstances; or maybe information has been received that a law may be broken, and officers are trying to head off an event violent or dangerous. The point here is specificity: The officers are working on a specific incident by a specific person or group of people.

The alternative is fishing: Throwing the nets out there to see what might be pulled in. As anyone who fishes knows, this may be an interesting line of endeavor but it is hardly efficient. In a law enforcement context, it means trolling for masses of information. Since few of us manage to go for long in our modern, law-strewn, society, without breaking one, the ultimate idea is to have something on everyone, so those in charge can pick and choose who to harass or put away, and the concept of a "law abiding citizen" who has nothing to fear from the government becomes a thing of the past. Or at least, that's the logical end conclusion when law enforcement goes fishing instead of investigating.

With that in mind, consider this from a letter posted on the city of Portland web site, by Mayor Tom Potter.

On Thursday, May 11, 2006, a Special Agent of the Portland Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation stopped a City employee and showed her a badge and ID. He asked if she knew any City Council members. He asked if she would be willing to pass information to him relating to people who work for the City of Portland . He said that while he had duties in other areas, the agency was always interested in information relating to white collar crime and other things.

One important and legitimate role of the FBI is to investigate public corruption within government entities. For example, recently the FBI arrested a member of Congress for public corruption. But federal officials have told me they know of no public corruption in our city. Federal officials say they are conducting no investigation of the City of Portland.

The only conclusion I can draw is that the agent in question was trying to place an informant inside the offices of Portland ’s elected officials and employees, in order to inform on City Council and others.

The actions of the FBI – even if they are the actions of one agent acting on his own - come at an uneasy time for many Americans. In the past few weeks, we have learned that our phone records are not private, and conversations are monitored without warrants. Journalists exposing these actions have been threatened with prosecution.

Even if this incident is nothing more than the work of one overzealous agent, it represents an unacceptable mindset within the agency. When there is no information to indicate ANY public corruption on the part of City Council members or employees, the FBI has no legitimate role in surreptitiously monitoring elected officials and city employees. As a city, we will continue to cooperate with the FBI on investigating criminal activities and terrorism, to ensure our community is as safe as possible.

But in the absence of any reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing, I believe the FBI’s recent actions smack of "Big Brother." Spying on local government without justification or cause is not acceptable to me. I hope it is not acceptable to you, either.

Republicans, mostly to the right

Soon enough we'll get to the general election implications of Bill Sali's win of the Republican primary for the 1st U.S. House district. Those, and what it says about the first district itself.

For the moment, though, let's reflect on the primary results as such, and for both Republicans and Democrats some prevailing trends suggest themselves.

Bill SaliGenerally speaking, this primary was good for hard-line social conservatives. Sali was Exhibit A: He posited the race explicitly as himself - defined as a sort of purist conservative - against Sheila Sorensen, loosely defined as a moderate or liberal or something equally unsavory. His final appeal is that the winner will be him or her, and true conservatives would know what to do. The religious conservative front certainly did, from the appeals on the anti-abortion front to the Alan Keys event in Kootenai County last weekend. Sali's win was part of an organized effort, and it should be no surprise that the effort bore fruit elsewhere too. Our suspicion (voiced in this space) was that just such support would allow Sali to outrun the indicators of polls.

There were other exhibits of this too, on Tuesday night. Phil Hart, hardcorne on the tax and social front in the Panhandle was challenged by the veteran legislator, Wayne Meyer, he beat two years ago; the win then seemed almost a fluke, attendant in part to Meyer's not paying enough attention. Hart's smackdown of Meyer this time shows that nothing fluky was involved. In Gem County, Kathy Skippen's loss to Steven Thayne was another takedown of a relative centrist in the House Republican caucus by a candidate far to the right. (more…)

Has Sali got it?

At the Huckleberries blog out of the Spokesman Review, Dave Oliveria has written - twice - that if state Representative Bill Sali hits the north with something close to a majority, he will probably win, because the population base in that area will head his direction.

He's likely right, and now just that appears to be happening. With just over half of the 1st congressional district precincts counted, Sali is ahead at 26.7% of the vote (by seven percentage points and about a 2,500 raw vote lead) over Sheila Sorensen, who is barely ahead of third-place Keith Johnson.

The problem Sorensen and Johnson both have right now is: What should be their best pools of votes are largely tapped. Where do they go from here to catch up? If Sali hasn't got it wrapped up yet, he's very close.

Stay tuned.

An iteration, not yet definition

The Associated Press vote tallies as run through the Idaho Statesman web site are coming in much faster than the numbers from the Secretary of State's office; unfortunate, since the SoS numbers have more county detail. Still, there's some grist here, finally.

Among the 1st District Republicans, state Representative Bill Sali has maintained a steady lead all evening - not a big lead, but to this point a definitive one. Former Senator Sheila Sorensen and Controller Keith Johnson have been swapping second place, about five points back. The other three are trailing - the race pretty clearly now seems to be between those three. (Your scribe was quoted accurarely earlier today in the Congressional Quarterly web site as saying, "All I can point out are winners that would surprise me more versus winners who would surprise me less. … Sali and Sorenson would be the least surprising, with maybe Johnson as a dark horse.” Well, here we are . . . so far . . .

Highly interesting in the so-far returns: The very close Republican superintendent of public instruction contest between state Representative Steve Smylie and former nominee Tom Luna; the weight of opinion (including ours) had been that Luna would be a clear winner. It's not so clear at the moment.

Back shortly.

Early early

Well this is taking its time. At two hours past polls closed, just 117 of 917 precincts are in, and most of those are from eastern Idaho. Not a lot to work with yet in the premier race, the Republican nomination for the 1st congressional district.

Based on early results, the big gubernatorial primary win by C.L. "Butch" Otter looks about on track, at 69% (wouldn't be surprised to see it bump a little higher as the night goes on). On the Democratic side for lieutenant governor, former congressman Larry La Rocco appears to be piling up a substantial win over Dan Romero - there had been some question about that. The early numbers also seem to suggest a win by Tom Luna for a second Republican nomination for superintendent of public instruction, and - a surprise if it holds, which it may not - a lead by Jana Jones over state Senator Bert Marley on the Democratic side.

And in the 1st? Bill Sali, Keith Johnson and Sheila Sorensen bunched together at the top, with Sali in a narrow lead. Will it hold? The next couple of hours ought to tell the story . . . if the pace picks up . . .

Redden on salmon, and beyond

Toward the beginning of U.S. District Judge William Redden's decision Tuesday in American Rivers v. NOAA Fisheries, there was a sentence with a striking word in it.

The sentence was, "This opinion addresses the latest in a series of biological opinions issued by the federal government that have ostensibly attempted to stem the decline of threatened and endangered Columbia and Snake River Basin salmon while preserving tribal fishing rights, and protecting the region's economic and political interest in cheap hydropower, agricultural irrigation, and commercial/recreational fishing."

Did you catch the "ostensibly"?

Redden's decisions over the last few years have built a portrait of the judge as a persistent and accelerating critic of federal environmental policies, and an ally of environmental groups (even if, in this decision, he technically gave American Rivers only a partial win). He can't force congressional policy, and so he remains simply at loggerheads with his critics . . .

Unless, that is, this latest decision upends a key section of the federal-state-Nez Perce Tribe agreement, so carefully worked out over a period of years, in the Snake River Basin Adjudication. (more…)

Election night

And so much of it comes down to this. We'll be right here, of course, well through the evening and tracking the results. We'll pass on what we have, and analysis of it . . . but we don't guarantee how far we'll hang in there into the early ones Wednesday morning. (It could be that kind of election.)

Additional places to check for results info start with the Idaho Secretary of State's office, which had a good and often-updated report in the November 2004 election night. Election night posting at the Idaho Statesman has varied in quality over the years, but you'll likely want to check it out this time. The freshest TV election returns usually are those of KTVB-TV (Channel 7).

A growing number of counties are doing real-time on-line returns. Ada County has been running them reliably for a couple of cycles. Canyon County, Kootenai County, Bonneville County, Bannock County, Twin Falls County, Nez Perce County, Bingham County, Bonner County (note that it has a pop-up screen), Madison County (note that it's on a PDF linked to the main page) and Idaho County.

Have fun. And send in your ideas, analysis, thoughts, facts, plaints, whatever, as the night progresses.