"No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions." --Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1804.

The cautionary note from Republican blogger I Am Coyote – that something significant appears about to break on the subject of state Representative Wayne Scott, R-Canby – appears to be breaking as predicted.

The aura of scandal is attaching to an unusual business operation: 4th of July fireworks.

Scott is president of Western Fireworks Inc., a firm based in Aurora (which is near Canby); apart from a person serving as registered agent, he’s the only named officer. His ownership interest isn’t clear. The firm’s website describes it as “Oregon’s oldest and largest fireworks company,” established in 1948.

Willamette Week describes it: “Whether you stock up on sparklers this Fourth of July or snag a seat at bigger-boom displays, the company supplying the fireworks will probably be Scott’s, which claims to be Oregon’s largest.”

So far, so good – but then WW comes up with this: “In the 2003 Legislature, lawmakers passed Senate Bill 667-A, a seemingly innocuous bill dealing with nonagricultural operations on land zoned for exclusive farm use. The bill included an amendment from Scott that lets his aerial fireworks company, which puts on Fourth of July shows at venues such as the Blues Festival on the Willamette and Oaks Park, operate regularly on farmland instead of needing to get temporary-use permits each year from local authorities. Typical fireworks operations on farmland that require permits include storing fireworks as well as testing, shipping or directly selling them. But the bill applied only to aerial fireworks companies in continuous operation on land zoned for exclusive farm use since Dec. 31, 1986. And Western was the only business that met that standard, according to at least two legislators who voted for SB667-A, Sen. Gary George (R-McMinnville) and Rep. Gary Hansen (D-Portland).”

Where the story goes from here is unclear. But it dosn’t sound done yet.

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Mike McGavick may take some hits as he runs his campaign for the Senate based on the nature of his last job: CEO of an insurance company, SafeCo. Some of it may come from the nature of the beast, since his recent life experience is generally a whole lot different than that of most of us. His world view and perspective is necessarily a lot different.

Still, a pertinent question in the Washington Senate race: What exactly was the record of Mike McGavick as CEO at SafeCo? What sort of a job did he do there?

McGavick’s web site is getting out on top of this, putting a good deal of the record out there. There’s a good review of this just out at the Seattle Times, in a place political watchers might not ordinarily look: the column of business writer Bill Virgin. He takes a different perspective on McGavick – neither especially praising or critical, just something that resembles a reasonable review.

There should be more of this, and we’ll revisit the subject here. But Virgin’s column is a useful opening shot.

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One wouldn’t have thought that there would have been any question at this point that organizations which engaged in contracts with Enron Corporation – contracts for purchases executed at times when Enron’s activities were outright unethical at best – would be held to payments to the corrupt company.

But just that has been hanging over the head of the Snohomish County Public Utility District, which has been on the hook for more than $120 million to Enron.

No longer. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ruled, in one of a long string of Enron-related cases this week (one of them covered some of the fallout from the Portland General Electric spinoff) that Enron could not collect.

What lessons exactly we may draw from this, however, are less clear.

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The oldest town in Idaho has apparently just become the hottest – in percentages, anyway.

Franklin, so close to the border with Utah that its first settlers – the creators of the first town in the state – thought they still were in Utah, is getting a new subdivision. Its population currently is a little above 600 (and actually growing a bit in recent years, unusual for small rural towns away from metro centers). Now, with a big new subdivision in the works, it looks likely to roughly double in size. (Credit to the namers of the development: Legacy Ranch.)

Think of another small town outside a metro or resort area doing that.

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On his website Butch Otter, the Republican nominee for governor of Idaho, has an intriguing internal link which raises at least one question, maybe two, for this notably philosophical candidate.

The link is to an essay on “The Proper Role of Government,” which as it turns out is not written by Otter – which would be worth his writing and our reading – but by Ezra Taft Benson, former leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The web site notes that it was reposted “In response to popular demand,” though it may have been intended as well to build bridges to Mormon eastern Idaho. Its positioning in the site suggests that Otter endorses its views, though the site doesn’t specifically say so. (Note that we don’t ordinarily get into matters of church doctrine – the subject comes up here because Otter’s campaign has injected it so prominently.)

In re-reading the piece (it has circulated widely since 1968), we were struck by one passage especially, in which Benson quotes a church document, the Doctrine and Covenants:

“(I) believe that all men are bound to sustain and uphold the respective governments in which they reside, which protected in their inherent and inalienable rights by the laws of such governments; and that sedition and rebellion are unbecoming every citizen thus protected, and should be punished accordingly; and that all governments have a right to enact such laws as in their own judgments are best calculated to secure the public interest; at the same time, however, holding sacred the freedom of conscience.” (D&C 134: 1-2,5)

So, a question of the candidate: A couple, actually. Was the American Revolution – a revolt against the established government of English – wrong? And were Iraqis who cooperated with Americans in the overthrow and defeat of Saddam Hussein wrong to do so?

Just wondering.

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Single-line quotes are so apt to be taken out of context that you have to be careful with them. But this one by Washington Governor Chris Gregoire was startling: “Washington is more like a small nation than a state.”

Governor Chris GregoireThe context was the recent spate of visits to the state by foreign leaders: Hu of China, Fox of Mexico and (she was announcing) Rasmussen of Denmark, and the comment was a reference to the latter’s visit.

Also, allowing Stefan Sharkansky’s easy snark, “Yes, but which small nation?
Cuba? Turkmenistan? Honduras?”

But, more substantively, it provides backdrop for the governor’s more recent statements on national security.

She said (to be sure, much as California’s Arnold Schwartznegger has done) that should not send Washington national guard troops to the Mexican border – that Washingtonians need the security help at home.

Then there was the concern expressed over the reports about North Korean rockets, powerful enough to reach the American west coast. That triggered an unusual call for getting out of Iraq.

And then, the Seattle Times David Postman quotes her as saying this:

“I’m disturbed by what we’re hearing. It is not the news that I think any of us should have to hear from North Korea and I want Washingtonians to understand the security risks to the nation and to us, but to understand that we’ve got to remain ever diligent and I ask every Washingtonian to be smart about their own personal security, and again any time they see something that raises a concern they get to law enforcement right away.”

Has all this been just an odd confluence of statements, or are we seeing some new direction in the Gregoire Administration?

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The Independent caucus in the Oregon Senate has just doubled in size. And maintained the partisan balance in the process. But all that may be the least of it.

Last winter, Senator Ben Westlund, a Republican from the Bend area, said he switched his party registration to independent. He’s now running for governor under that label.

Senator Avel GordlyFriday, another senator joined his bolt from the parties: Senator Avel Gordly, a Portland Democrat.

In some ways her departure is even more striking than Westlund’s. If in a number of respects Westlund seems to have been diverging from the Republican Party in recent years, it’s a lot less surface-obvious in Gordly’s case. Her background could hardly fit a Portland Democratic legislator more tightly: Coordinator of Albina Head Start, member of the Albina Community Bancorp Board, director of the American Friends Service Committee, Youth Director for Urban League of Portland (although she also was a parole and probation officer). Her key areas of interest include social services and education, and she has gotten a 100% rating from the Oregon League of Conservation Voters. Her northeast Portland district (23) is solidly Democratic. She’s now in her third Senate term.

There’s no overt evidence of a philosophical break with her party, with which she’s served in the Legislature for 16 years. So why the change?

A short report on the Oregonian‘s political blog said that “Gordly has made no secret that she believes extreme partisanship gets in the way of doing what’s best for the people of Oregon. She’s talked for months about switching from Democrat to independent. She stopped going to her party caucus meetings months ago, when Democrats voted to close them to the press.”

In other words, the reason seems to have less to do with differences with her own party (apart, maybe, from the closed caucuses) than it does with the whole idea of partisanship. That may make her a more powerful advocate for the idea even than Westlund.

Might she be the precursor, then, to yet another breaker of the ranks?

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Pretty much all daily newspapers across the United States, and some sub-dailies – some twice- or thrice-weekly or larger weekly papers – along with most news-providing broadcasters are members of the Associated Press, which supplies all those stories with the (AP) tag 0n them. The AP has has its own large newsgathering staff, but most of those stories come from the member newspapers. That creates an enormous reservoir of potential news items, but there’s still a large gap: What about all those stories in weekly or other newspapers, stories coming from the smaller communities which aren’t picked up?

Small Town Papers News Service, founded (ironically?) in Seattle, aims to remediate that, spreading news from smaller communities.

It’s a national service, but Washington seems to be one of its strong points. Its list of participating titles there includes the Edmonds Beacon, the Mattawa Area News, the Mukilteo Beacon, the Bonney Lake & Lake Tapps Courier-Herald at Enumclaw, the Boomerang at Palouse, the Enumclaw Courier Herald and the South County Sun at Royal City.

Oregon papers are the McKenzie River Reflections at McKenzie Bridge, the Clatskanie Chief and the Elgin Times. In Idaho there’s the Latah Eagle at Moscow, the Aberdeen Times and the Power County Press at American Falls.

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Idaho Oregon Washington

Now assuming the news reports on this are correct (and please do alert us if they’re not), here’s the situation in Boise:

Somehow, at some point in the past, an ordinance was put on the books in Boise banning businesses from allowing customers to use sidewalk cafes after dark. Why they did this, no one seems to know. The ordinance has been obscure enough that numerous businesses around town have allowed such cafes to operate extensively, and they’re often integral to those businesses. There have been, apparently, no complaints about the practice. The ordinance has not been enforced for years at least, if ever. The facts of the situation recently were brought to the attention of Boise Mayor David Bieter.

There are several ways this could have been handled. Two, primarily.

One is the slam dunk. Since there’s no civic controversy here – just about everyone interested is on one side of the matter – the solution seems simple: Draft and pass a new ordinance reflecting an existing reality which is apparently fully acceptable around town. If anyone has a problem with it, they can surface during the ordinance hearing process to say their piece. Most likely, the issue would have been over with already, and Bieter would have gotten points for decisiveness.

The other is what Bieter actually did. He appointed a task force to consider the matter. It plans to deliver a report to the city council on Tuesday. The council will then consider what to do. In the meantime, a lot of people will be on pins and needles over an issue that needn’t have been.

There’s a lesson in the subtleties of governance here.

UPDATE: As hoped for, a reader brings forth more information (a tip of the hat) which suggests the issue is a little different than the news report had it. (We’re not shocked by that.) At the same time, we’re not sure our conclusion is much changed – other than that the city’s, as it turns out, is closer to it than we thought. Regardless, anyone reading the previous also needs to know the following.

The ordinance and the city’s own explanatory document make clear, for example, that what’s under consideration is sidewalk cafes serving alcohol, as opposed to, say, coffee shops. The measure was passed in 1993 to allow for service in sidewalk areas; this being an expansion of alcohol sesrvice, some compromise evidently seemed called for, and so it was opposed until sunset. However, as the city notes, “The hours of operation section was not enforced as sidewalk cafes multiplied in the downtown area. The current trend is for sidewalk cafes attached to bars to serve until 2:00 a.m. and to allow consumption until 2:30 a.m., as set forth in Idaho Code for licensed

The letter goes on to note, “As calls for service to the downtown core have increased, officers have indicated a desire to enforce the current ordinance.” This is one peculiar sentence. Doubtless, as the number of night spots in downtown Boise has increased over the last decade and a half, the number of calls to the area has increased. But how much of that relates to the sidewalks? Have the sidewalk locations contributed to problems? Have people had problems walking down the sidewalks because of cafe activity there? The city letter recounts, “Several business owners expressed concern that sidewalk cafes were portrayed as a problem when other factors like vendors and over service at bars without sidewalk cafes were not taken into account.” Personally, we’d much rather walk down a city sidewalk at night which is bustling with outdoors activity, than one dark, quiet and relatively unopulated. We consider such activity an aid to safety. And we would hope that police would keep a watch on those minority of places where trouble does sometimes congregate.

We’ll back off our snark at the formation of a committee, because the city makes clear its point is an overall review of issues concerning the increasing numbers of bars in the downtown area – a not unreasonable subject for general discussion. At the same time, a city proposal called for temporarily extending the sidewalk alchol hours to 2 a.m., close to the state requirements, until the end of the year. Between here and there, the city said, something definitive should be done.

Okay, that’s fair enough – not too far from what we proposed. But it still raises the ugly question of passing ordinances which aren’t going to be enforced, as this one clearly wasn’t from the beginning. What other ordinances are on the Boise (or other) code books, unenforced but sitting there, waiting for someone to pull them out of a back pocket, surprising hell out of everyone? Unenforced ordinances and laws, which sit like little time bombs whose location is known to only few, are one of the things that drive people nuts about government.

The search for such, and their correction, would be an excellent topic for another committee.

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There’s such a thing as blurring the lines between government and private interests to the point that a government supported by all of us might operate to the benefit of some. It’s a reasonable ethical issue.

Oregon Legislature siteBut there’s also such a thing as shutting government off from from people and the world around it – of shutting down interaction and communication in the interest of ethical purity. And that’s hardly any better.

Credit the Legislative Administration Committee, meeting Friday at Salem, with seeing as much.

This began with a fair inquiry: What kindof material, and what kind of links, are proper to place on the web site of the Oregon Legislature (and probably, by extension, the state web system)?

The Salem Statesman Journal noted that “Earlier this year, Web sites of individual legislators were restricted temporarily after questions were raised about whether some linked to inappropriate sites. State law bars use of public resources to promote or oppose a candidate or ballot measure, and government-ethics law bars a public official from use of office for personal financial gain.” Legislative leaders, including Senate President Peter Courtney, noted that lawmakers had no clear policy on web site content.

The probably need one. But do they need a policy that allows legislators to link only to other governmental sites? Is a bar on linking – not posting, just linking – to news articles, chambers of commerce and studies by interest groups really that harmful to the broad public interest? Or is it more a limitation on legislators’ ability to communicate with the public?

Legislative leaders were set to roll with the policy, but the administration committee voted against.

The line – a line most of us would agree on – between use and abuse of a legislative web site may be a little hard to nail down. But until someone comes up with it, the bias probably has to go to letting people speak, and point, their piece.

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Idaho Democrats peel off a really strong shot at Idaho Republicans so seldom it’s worth notice when they do. And notwithstanding that the speaker in this case, Boise attorney Grant Burgoyne, is a friend of long standing, it should be noted too because it could carry some resonance.

The target was a proposal adopted last weekend by the Idaho Republican Party, then as the Democrats are now meeting in convention at Idaho Falls. That party chose to adopt a voting system much that like used in Oregon and a number of other states, a party registration system: Voters declare which if any party they declare, and then vote only for those candidates for nomination. Idaho’s current system allows people to enter the voting booth and vote for the candidates of any (single) party they choose.

In years past, Republicans have been wary of such approaches, because Idaho has so many voters who consider themselves independent but ordinarily vote for Republican candidates. If you force them to define themselves more closely, the logic has gone, they might take that independent tag more seriously, and start splitting their votes instead of voting straight Republican. That’s the viewpoint that exudes confidence. The alternative, where the Idaho Republicans went last week, was to worry about Democrats and others crossing over to weaken the Republican position. In truth, there’s seldom been much evidence that’s been a significant factor in Republican primary results. But the Republicans opted for the party-registration approach.

Burgoyne’s riposte: “There are a lot of people in this state that refuse to identify with a specific party. … What the Republicans are really proposing is to take away the rights of people to vote.”

Try coming up with a positive-sounding response to that one.

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When a committee of experienced financiers this fall examines the financial options available for rebuilding or replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct in Seattle, it probalby will slow down a groan a bit when it gets the proposal offered today by Mayor Greg Nickles.

Not because it’s irrational or unfeasible. But there’s an uncomfortable amount of betting on the come involved in it, and for that reason we suspect the search for a winning formula probably will go on.

To back up: The Viaduct is a roadway roughly paralleling the shoreline of Elliot Bay in Puget Sound, between the water and the downtown hillside. the roadway is raised and limited-access. For some , it is a visual abomination; for us (and we fit mainly into this camp). It’s a great piece of transportation workmanship, because it actually allows drivers to swiftly (most of the time) cross from one side of downtown to the other. The problem is that it is unstable. A single serious geologic jolt could bring it crashing down.

Dealing with it somehow is going to be expensive, and there’s no way around that. Maybe the least expensive way would be eliminating it and throwing traffic onto the surface streets, but in this already traffic-clogged city, few have the stomach for that. The other options: Rebuild it more sturdily more or less where it is, or build a tunnel underneath. The former now has an estimated price tag of up to $2.4 billion, the latter about $3.6 billion. You can reasonably expect both numbers to rise with time.

Here’s the catch: As matters now sit, there’s maybe enough for the viaduct rebuild but definitely not enough for the tunnel. About $2 billion is available for either from the new gas tax money approved by the legislature and then by voters last year. Another $400 million or so has been earmarked. After that, you’ve got to scramble for bucks.

That might seem to give the rebuild a definite edge over the tunnel idea. But Nickles, a tunnel advocate, was determined to find the extra money. And he has located it, more or less – enough, he estimates, to bring the kitty to about $5 billion.

The problem is that some of it looks a little iffy.

Apart from the $2.4 billion already in the pot (most of that gas tax money), the rest is “Anticipated and potential revenue sources.” That should be a red flag. Here’s the list:

$280 million – Federal (transportation funding sources extending through two federal funding cycles)
$200 million- U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Seawall)
$60 million – Federal Emergency Relief funds for the earthquake damage and risk to the current viaduct
$800 million – RTID
$150 million – Tolls
$177 million – Sales tax rebate on RTID-funded projects.
$400 to $500 million – Utility relocation
$250 million – Downtown area Local Improvement District for areas near the project
$20 million – City of Seattle transportation funds
$200 million – Port of Seattle

Much the largest single chunk is $800 million from a proposed Regional Transportation Investment District; transportation officials hope to place a plan for funding it on the 2007 ballot. Note the caveats: They hope to put it on the ballot (it may not get there) and they hope it will pass (it may not).

There’s $400 million for utility relocation (always a big piece of such projects). The mayor’s office says that ratepayers won’t be stuck with proposed rate increases (which could be contested and rejected); but if not, where does the city find the $400 million?

And so on it goes. And drawing substantial criticism already.

It’s a hopeful plan, but it could easily ride for a fall. Expect some changes when the finance experts get through with it in a few months.

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