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Posts published in June 2006

Defining Vancouver

Over the last few weeks we've had to spend a good deal of time in Vancouver (Washington, not B.C.), affording time and inclination to consider that old question: Is it a true free-standing city on its own, or just another suburb of Portland?

The closeness of the call is what's mind-working. The ties to Portland are as substantial as those of Beaverton or Gresham, as anyone crossing the Columbia River bridges well knows. (A tip for travellers with adjustable schedules: The worst weekday transit times we have found are not rush hours but rather the noon hour and about 3 p.m.) Technically, according to the feds, Clark County is part of the Portland metro area. And yet there's a distinctiveness; land on a Vancouver street after a stay in Oregon and you can just tell, even if the signs hadn't told you, that you were in another state - another place.

With that in mind, the May 21 column on the subject by Columbian Editorial Page editor John Laird rewards reading. His landing point on the matter of definition, naturally, is in favor of a free-standing city. But he gives the suburban argument its due, and what intrigues is that side of the argument seems the stronger.

Open Mike

Credit due on a campaign tactics that - imagine this, if you will - brings a major candidate for a major office face to face with a wide range of people in a state, over a period of weeks.

McGavick at WestlakeIf that sounds more like the way campaigning used to be than the way it is now, well, too often it is. But give Mike McGavick, the Republican running for U.S. Senate in Washington, some credit for human interaction at his "open Mike" events.

A Thursday item on his blog said, "For about an hour this afternoon, I took questions from a great crowd at Westlake Center in Downtown Seattle. The crowd of people taking a break from work and passersby were great. I truly believe that this informal, question and answer session is one of the most real and genuine ways to conduct a campaign and there should be more of it in politics. As candidates, we can’t be afraid to just show up in a crowded place and spend some time answering questions. We shouldn’t shy away from events where you are going to encounter people who disagree with you. And if we truly believe that we are in politics to make a difference, we can’t shelter ourselves in what we know will be only friendly and sympathetic audiences."

Starting July 3, he's planning to take this approach on the road at around 40 communities around Washington, many of them smaller population points.

McGavick isn't the only candidate to take it on this road this season, of course. But U.S. Senate candidates who have enough money to run much of their campaign on television often shield themselves from the risk of human interaction. We'll be interested to see what develops from this effort.

An expanding mainline

One of the key social trends in recent years has been the growth, among religious organizations, of more conservative megachurches and the relative decline of moderate (and usually less political) mainline churches.

The trend has been noted for a decade and more in books and endless articles. The evenhanded and dispassionate Transformation of American Religion: How We Actually Live Our Faith, by Alan Wolfe (a highly recommended title), suggests that one part of this transition has to do with the way some of the new, conservative and large churches operate and they way they interact with their congregations. They give people a sense of individual recognition by undertaking much of their activity in small groups. They offer convenience (burger stops and coffee bars at church are not unknown). They offer entertaining multi-media presentations. They offer help with watching the kids.

None of this is anything a more mainstream church couldn't do, though many have felt some of these things remove a critical sense of solemnity from the proceedings. But what if a mainstream church, without changing its message, used some of these "marketing" tools - might they, too, grow? (Obviously, the implications here are not religious only - they have significant in the political and social sphere too.)

One partial answer comes in a Seattle Times piece today on the University Presbyterian Church at Seattle, located near the University of Washington. Far from diminishing in recent years, the church's congregation has grown to about 4,400 today, adding about 500 in just the last seven years.

From the article: "'It is unusual. It bucks a trend,' said James Wellman, assistant professor of religion at the UW. The church's success can be attributed to a combination of factors: its longtime emphasis on outreach to university students; its focus on developing one-on-one relationships; the numerous small groups, missions and ministries that members can become involved in; sizable staff and resources; strong preaching; and a tradition of not too much politicking at the pulpit. 'It just hits on so many of the right buttons that the synthesis of the total is greater than the parts,' Wellman said."

It's a case study that's bound to be watched, which at some point may make it ever less an anomaly.

Gamblin’ fever

Anyone in Oregon who thinks they will weight down a politician by hanging the "pro-gambling" label on him is likely to find the effort a waste of time. Consider this scenario making its way around the northern Willamette Valley.

Highway 18 bypassOne of the worst traffic jams in the Portland region is in the wine country about 30 miles southwest of town, in and around the small city of Dundee. For a variety of reasons the heavy traffic up and down Highway 99 tends to slow down around there, and the jams can be worse than anything on the Portland freeways. Locals sometimes call it the Dundee parking lot.

A plan has been circulating for some years to build a highway bypass from near the city of Newberg (on the Portland side of Dundee) to the existing Highwya 18 bypass (which years ago helped ease a similar problem at the city of McMinnville, further southwest on Higghway 99). The effort has had its share of analysis paralysis, but seems to be moving ahead. The main question now on the table is, who will pay for the expensive bypass? How will it be funded? One leading option is to create a toll road; there's also a lot of local opposition to that idea.

Enter this notion, appearing in the publisher's column in the McMinnville News-Register: (more…)

Papering Bend

Twas only a matter of time before someone decided to expand on the Bend newspaper scene, and now someone has, with the just-launched Bend Weekly. (Hat tip to Jack Bog's Blog for the pointer.) Its launch was June 1.

The tone is ambitious (the first editorial was headed, "Bend Weekly Gets to the Heart of Bend’s Local News"), and the paper's website is loaded with material. The web site at least seems to have a healthy pile of advertisers.

And the mission sounds logical. The editorial signed by Richard Burton II says, "This is precisely the vision of Bend Weekly - keeping journalism local. Who better to report on the topics that concern Bend Residents than the people who live within its neighborhoods?"

So who's behind it? And how local are they? (more…)

Dixie Chicks, Boise response

Hot topic on the Boise radio, music and concert scene: The Dixie Chicks. Or, how hot? And why the relative temperature?

Back a step: The Dixie Chicks country music has gone through hots spells and cold, but the current situation almost defies description.

The Idaho Radio News blog notes, "The Dixie Chicks new album “Taking the Long Way” is number one on both the country and Billboard 200 charts this week. 526,000 copies of the album flew off the shelves." And they're on tour.

But - the post goes on - "In Boise - none of the three major country stations are playing the album’s lead single, according to Yes.com data. It might have something to do with that lead single’s theme. 'Not Ready to Make Nice,' which addresses the pre-Iraq war controversy that surrounded the trio (”Just so you know, we’re ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas” - said by singer Natalie Manes during a performance in the UK). But it’s not just KIZN, KQFC & KTMY. Counter-intuitively, the single isn’t well-rotated anywhere really."

That post drew a fat pile of reponses on the blog. One reader commented, "“KUDOS to the local country stations for standing by their priciples! You know who your audience is!”

Another responded, "what 'principles' are referring to? I thought the 'principle' of music radio was TO PLAY HITS in their format. Are they now supposed to support the Bush administration by NOT playing HITS recorded by artists who have been critical of it? Imagine for a moment that such a thing as a 'liberal country station' existed somewhere. Imagine further that the station refused to play music by an artist who supported George Bush. Look me in the eye with a straight face and tell me you wouldn’t be howling about that. Let me guess, you watch a LOT of the Fox News Channel, don’t you?"

Which in turn drew this: ". . . any Programmer with an ounce of brains ALSO knows that you play the HITS your AUDIENCE WANTS TO HEAR. Unfortunately for the SMALL number of NON conservatives who live in Idaho, this means a somewhat unspoken boycott of bands such as The Chicks. Do I agree with this? Well, somewhat. It’s important to keep your audience happy, whether they be liberal, conservative or, well, whatever else is left . . ."

Remember when radio stations - most of them, anyway - weren't really considered Republican, Democratic, liberal or conservative? Those days seem to be passing rapidly by.

Blogger to MSM

The ever-thinning line between the blogosphere and the "mainstream media" has thinned another bit: David Goldstein of Horse's Ass, probably the lead blogger on the left in the Seattle area, has landed a radio talk show.

The show is on Seattle's KIRO (710 AM) on Sundays from 7 to 10 p.m. For Goldstein, it's just the gig he's wanted for quite some time. Based on his past experiences (as a frequent guest on Seattle talk radio, often on conservative talk shows like those hosted by John Carlson and Kirby Wilbur), his show should be lively.

Starrett and the rest of the party

We knew that Mary Starrett, candidate for governor of Oregon and nominee of the state Constitution Party, had extensive experience in Oregon television and radio (17 years on air at KATU-TV). We didn't know, that notwithstanding, how skillful a public speaker she is - as good as any candidate for major office in the Northwest this year.

Mary StarrettYou can see the evidence in her annoucement speech, posted on line - her presentation is crisp, poised, briskly on track yet just loose enough to come across as human. The outlines of her message are still coming together, but already cohering well.

Initial estimates in the punditry have suggested her receiving a likely vote in the 1-2% range. We think such estimates should be revised upward, considerably; and if so, that would put her to the point that she could certainly constitute a big obstacle for Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron Saxton.

We don't yet know how she'll do at meet and greet, at campaign strategy, at fundraising (though she could be a great one), at organization or at other important candidate skills. But she starts out as a political consultant's ideal.

Or would be, under other circumstances. (more…)

Whole lotta Powerpoint

Can't remember the book in which it appeared, but an author writing about the officers of the modern U.S. military, noting their love of crisp presentations, once remarked that it's hard now to imagine the American military functioning if there were no Powerpoint.

It's much the same in many other places. Go to a budget meeting, or a planning and zoning meeting, or almost any kind of meeting of a jurisdiction of medium or larger size, and you'll probably be sitting through a Powerpoint presentation before long. (In case you just crawled out of a cave: Powerpoint is a Microsoft Corporation software that makes easy the production of a slide show presentation with text, graphs and images.)

There's a curious subtlety involved. These Powerpoint presentations to commissioners, councils, legislative panels and others are almost always staff presentations. In many of these cases, staff is making a recommendation, which may not be unanimous and might be opposed from one or more angles in the public. But those public angles usually come across as more amateur and less thought-through, because they usually lack the slick multimedia presentation.

Enter Frosty Hardison of Federal Way. Some time ago he started showing up at city hall, prepared to present to the council, and submitted Powerpoint files he wanted shown. And they were shown.

The Federal Way council considered the question of citizen Powerpointing at its Tuesday meeting, and decided with some limitations to allow it. (Reasonable: Scanning for viruses and relevance to the matter at hand.) Council member Jim Ferrell suggested, “We need to send a message to the community that we value their input. This is about freedom of speech.”

It may be, at least, about ensuring that the public's speech is absorbed the same way everyone else's is.

Framing the issue

Is there much doubt that had the Washington Legislature voted to allow same-sex marriage, and an initiative to overturn that law were attempted, that initiative would get on the ballot - easily?

Doesn't seem as if there's much doubt. Change the issue related to gays by a few degrees - make it a law that simply bans discrimination based on sexual orientation - and you've got a different matter. That created a political dynamic that Washington's premier initiative organizer, Tim Eyman, couldn't surmount. Late Tuesday afternoon he acknowledged that the effort to overturn by initiative a Washington Legislature bill establishing gay rights would not succeed.

These efforts seem to be reasonable markers of public sentiment, and of how the sentiment can change. Last year there was enough sentiment, at one point, to get the anti-gas tax initiative on the Washington ballot, but not enough to pass it. That suggests that, while there existed a serious base of criticism, that a significant majority in favor had come together. And some of that shift happened in between the petition stage and the voting stage. (A guess: The gay rights initiative would have made ballot status at least, 10 years ago.)

In the case of gay rights, the public sentiment seems to have coalesced earlier: If even a substantial base of critical sentiment had been there, Eyman should have been able to tap it. That suggests that had the measure got on the ballot, it would have gone down to huge defeat.

This initiative's advocates, in licking their wounds today, might count themselves lucky.

ADDENDUM: And there was this notable comment about Eyman from former state GOP Chair Chris Vance: "Now he's coming in and hijacking issues and shoving his way into an issue because it's become a business for him. It's how he gets paid. There will be no end to Tim Eyman as long as people are wiling to send him money ... I think it's hurting the legitimate perception of the initiative process. When you've got a clown out there in a Darth Vader suit lying to the press and things like that, it's not good for the initiative and referendum process."

To think that Eyman and the state Republicans were once so richly allied.

Duped again

It was one of the great lines of the year from a Northwest political figure, and on Monday morning it came from Tim Eyman:

"Feel like you've been duped this morning? Well, you have."

There were two levels to this.

One is the truly jokey side. Hisotircally prone to dressing up in costumes when delivering initiative petitions to the Secretary of State's office (is there some comment here on Eyman's psyche?), Eyman turned himself into Darth Vader as he walked up to the office. His organization had let out that he would be carrying petition signatures with him. He was - but he wasn't turning them in. The petitions he was carrying had to do with the $30 car tab issue, and the reporters who glommed on to him and gave him loads of air time and print space had been gulled into thinking (Eyman hadn't said so specifically) that he would be bringing petitions on an anti-gay rights initiative. No, they weren't (and evidently he doesn't yet know whether he'll be able to collect enough signatures for that effort).

No, it was all in the interest of getting himself and his cause another day's worth of free news media attention.

Fair enough, from his point of view.

So, on the second level: How many more times will the news media allow itself to be conned, and used, this way?

UPDATE: We wrote too soon on suggesting that Eyman's ploy was harmless. Consider this from David Postman's Seattle Times blog:

"The secretary of state's office had brought in two temporary workers in anticipation of processing petitions a day before the referendum deadline. Those workers were then sent home, though by state work rules, each were paid for two hours of work. A third worker was taken from other chores to stand by for the petitions that Eyman told the office he was bringing down." So much for the advocate of cutting government spending.

An important question

Of the three northwest states, concern about property taxes has hit hardest, though because sales prices on property are running so high in all three (and nationally), this is not a debate likely to remain there.

There's a deceptive element to this: Housing prices are not the only reason for the tax hikes. If local government spending levels increase only modestly at a time when housing prices are booming, then the actual tax amounts would not increase greatly because the tax rates assessed would drop. The taxes assessed are running hotter in parts of Idaho, though, not just because valuations are up, but also because of growth. In places like central and west Kootenai County, western Ada County and eastern Canyon County, growth has been so hyperbolic that costs - which as a matter of course, nationwide, tend to rise in times of fast growth - have been driven up along with housing prices.

This is painful, and you can understand the concern of the people who live in those areas (and it is those areas which have most been driving the property tax revolt in Idaho). Adjustment in that tax structure probably is needed, and may be gotten through a special legislative session. (Maybe.)

But as this course is pondered, public officials and taxpayers both would be well advised to bear in mind the consequences of an economy now held afloat largely on the basis of inflated, and likely unsustainable, housing prices. Which makes a question posed by state Senator Brad Little, R-Emmett, to his fellow senators, maybe the most pertinent question of the moment in Idaho and beyond:

"We must ask the question — what if the real-estate market slows or stops?"