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Posts published in June 2006

Open to the world

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. (more…)

The voting shot

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.

Don’t take it to the bank

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. (more…)

Park ideas

Mostly when new state parks arrive, they arrive as a fait accompli - such as when a donor offers lands and, after some quiet negotiations, the state agrees to take it over and turn it into a park.

Something a little different will be happening when the East Idaho State Park Site Selection Committee convenes on July 18 - it will actually consider original suggestions from Idahoans about what they would like to see in a new park, to be considered further by the Department of Parks & Recreation. the department notes that "Traditionally, the parks we have developed fall into four categories" - recreation, natural, heritage and recreation trailway - which leads us to wonder: Can someone come up with a useful idea that busts the boundaries?

David Frazier's Boise Guardian web site has been collection and passing on the ideas. none so far look like boundary-busters, but a number seem like nifty ideas. (Frazier's favorite is "A living history park where agricultural and pioneer skills from an earlier time could be demonstrated.") He's posted quite a few so far, and they're worth a look.

Waiting for an epic outcry

What might happen, one wonders, if the Oregonian were to run a story about how Portland's conservative talk icon, Lars Larson, had been muzzled by management at his station - on request on the ad sales department?

Would it be that "should listeners get a whiff of censorship, you'll have an outcry of epic proportions"? Maybe. And just such a report might be not far off.

That quote just above came from Brian Maloney of Inside Radio, who reported that at a recent industry seminar, "KXL Program Director James Derby stunned many in the audience by admitting outright that Lars Larson was prohibited from further criticism of a local hospital's practices, after it complained to the station. ... Making matters far, far worse, Derby admitted that it was pressure from the sales department that led to Larson's muzzling. According to him, the hospital in question had finally signed an advertising contract after a long period of lobbying by the station. As a result, account executives weren't happy to hear it criticized on the air." (A hat tip to Oregon Media Insiders for the link.)

There was no immediate response from Larson, and no, there appears to be no reference to it on his web site.

Maybe, back in Portland, everyone still is trying to figure out their next move. But you can bet that someone will make one before long, and it could result in an entertaining counterpart to the Independence Day fireworks.

Fire time

Our first thought about this year's fire season was that it should be a little lighter than most of those in recent years. After all, there's more water up in the hills, more water moving around, even a little flooding in spots. And so far it hasn't been an especially hot or dry summer.

But all that water is generating a lot more plants. (Our garden is doing much better this year than last, thanks.) And those plants seem to be generating a lot more fires.

Here's the national fire picture, from the National Interagency Fire Center at Boise, year to date, comparing the last few years.

2006 (1/1/06 - 6/22/06) Fires: 53,563 Acres: 3,187,940
2005 (1/1/05 - 6/22/05) Fires: 27,906 Acres: 745,959
2004 (1/1/04 - 6/22/04) Fires: 35,889 Acres: 790,941
2003 (1/1/03 - 6/22/03) Fires: 25,338 Acres: 520,384
2002 (1/1/02 - 6/22/02) Fires: 42,846 Acres: 2,283,493
2001 (1/1/01 - 6/22/01) Fires: 38,742 Acres: 861,714

The average through that period is 38,914 to this point in the year; you'll notice we're considerably exceeding it this year. In fact, on the averages so far, this is shaping up as possibly the worst fire year for a long time.

What's helped - and the main reason you've not been hearing about it much yet - is that most of these fires so far in 2006 have been small and unspectacular, and some have been controlled burns. At the moment no fires are reported in Washington or Oregon, and just one (near Wendell, but good sized at 8,700 acres) in Idaho. But the way the year is progressing, things may not stay that way. Keep a watch.

Message: Turnout is the key

When Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski hired consultant Jim Ross to run his re-election campaign on Wednesday, he apparently gave little indication why Ross, whose campaigns have centered in the San Francisco area where he lives, was his choice. (His previous manager resigned after the primary election.)

We can only guess what Kulongoski's reasons were. But after checking into Ross, his background, his campaigns and his views on the subject, we can suggest at least one very good one: He may have concluded that turnout will be the key to winning the November election, and he wants on board one of his party's top experts in making it happen - and Ross is, and has.

His signature race also has some hallmarks similar to this one. In 2003 Willie Brown was retiring as mayor of San Francisco, and a range of people filed for the job. The general election resulted in a mid-sized win for Gavin Newsom, a businessman who had won elective office in San Francisco a few times. But there would be a runoff, and polling quickly showed a very close race with second-place Matt Gonzalez; both were Board of Supervisors members, but Gonzalez seemed to have energized more of the liberal activist core - a key to winning in The City. (Does the dynamic - a close race as the two-way runoff begins - sound a bit familiar?)

Enter Ross. In a short but influential (certainly much linked-to) article on line, Ross described what happened that gave Newsom a strong runoff win. (more…)

Where not to live

Aquick bit of amusement: Dave Oliveria asks his northern Idaho/eastern Washington readers which towns in either state they would not want to live in. Of course, "Besides Athol?"

The pile of responses are sometimes funny and sometimes surprisingly enlightening.

Popularity contest

Who's the most popular senator in the Northwest (and elsewhere)? SurveyUSA has the answers.

The polling company, which polls state by state in coordination with local organizations (TV stations, in the Northwest), has been doing regular popularity numbers on top elected officials. As of June, here are the numbers for the region's Senate delegation:

Senator State Favorable % Unfavorable % Margin
Mike Crapo/R Idaho 59% 31% 28%
Ron Wyden/D Oregon 56% 33% 23%
Larry Craig/R Idaho 58% 35% 23%
Patty Murray/D Washington 51% 40% 11%
Gordon Smith/R Oregon 47% 41% 6%
Maria Cantwell/D Washington 48% 43% 5%

None of them were super-high; Crapo, who ranked highest, was 27th among the 100 senators. Cantwell ranked at 80; poor luck for her that the lowest-ranking of the senators is also the only one in the region up for election this year.

In 2008, however, Idaho's Craig and Oregon's Smith return to the ballot (assuming they're running again - neither has announced). Neither have overwhelming numbers, according to SUSA, and Smith's in particular seem a little weak. If Democrats fare well in November in Oregon, the partisan knives will be out for Smith before long. An approval rating at 47% isn't where you want it to be if you're heading up to an election.