Archive for July, 2006

Jul 24 2006

Session’s on

Published by under Idaho

The Idaho special session on property taxes is apparently on: Governor James Risch plans to make the announcement tomorrow.

He’s hoping for a one-day session – and for good reason. If they don’t do it in one day, they’re apt to have a political mess on their hands. Is the outcome of the session a locked-down, done deal – as it would have to be to get it done in a day? Good, relevant question.

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Jul 24 2006

Victoria’s secret (lowercase)

Published by under Washington

One of the great and spectacular trips in the Northwest is the ferry ride from Washington over to Victoria, British Columbia. It’s not, however, quite as super, natural as British Columbia might like, for this reason: For years, Victoria has been dump raw, untreated sewage into the water, in the Straight of Juan de Fuca.

This seems a surprisingly third-worldish thing to do, for a country so self-consciously green in many ways. But there is, and might have continued for a long time. But it appears to be headed toward a welcome conclusion in another year or two, due largely to an external influence: The coming arrival, in 2010, of the Olympics games at Vancouver, activities of which will be spread around southwest British Columbia.

Joel Connelly’s column today in the Seattle P-I lays out some of this. “Bluntly put, green games could not coexist with the brown reality of “Victoria’s Secret” — the daily discharge of 31 million gallons of untreated sewage into a waterway shared by the U.S., Canada, salmon runs and endangered marine mammals,” he wrote. “The province’s touristy capital dumps a volume of effluent into the strait that would fill 40,000 Olympic-size swimming pools each year.”

This may be the single most valuable thing the games do for the Northwest.

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Jul 23 2006

Accomplishment

Published by under Washington

As Jim west did not leave his post as mayor of Spokane without having accomplished some worthy things, so with Dave Skramstad.

No scandal hit him; he was far less well known around the region. But he was an impactful figure in Olympia, where among other things he played a central role in changing the city’s form of government.

But there was also much more. As the Olympian noted in its editorial, “When you attend a symphony presentation at the Washington Center for the Performing Arts, you have Dave Skramstad to thank for the marvelous venue. When you walk along the Percival Landing boardwalk on a summer evening, you can thank Dave Skramstad for the spectacular facility. When you spend an afternoon enjoying the Olympia Farmers Market, thank Dave Skramstad.”

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Jul 23 2006

James West

Published by under Washington

James WestWe can none of us choose what our last scene will be – what will be the last thing we do that people remember us for, before we go. Those of us, at least, who keep pushing for that next scene to come.

That comes to mind with the death this weekend of James West, 55, veteran Washington legislator and recent mayor of Spokane.

He had a long record of public service, and he won a good deal of praise for much of it. In his last public office, the mayoralty, he seemed for his first year and more to be raising his reputation to higher levels, running the city effectively and solving problems that had eluded solution for years.

Then came the scandal, as reported in the Spokane Spokesman-Review, the hidden life, the use of the office for personal ends, and more. He was recalled from office, and then dropped from sight.

Before all that, before he became mayor, he was physically ill, and this weekend it caught up with him. But suppose that it hadn’t, at least not yet – not for a while. You can imagine, without too much strain, a James West writing another act to his life’s story, picking up pieces and doing something else useful in whatever time was left to him.

His time ran too short. And his obituaries will read more sadly than, with a little more time, we suspect they might have.

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Jul 22 2006

Along the third rail

Published by under Washington

One of the unheralded pillars of Republican Senate nominee Mike McGavick’s campaign is his take on Social Security, a subject until not so long ago traditionally avoided by campaigning Republicans.

Mike McGavickIt became less avoidable (and we don’t mean to imply that McGavick would have wanted to skirt it) in this race with a confluence of two elements: President Bush’s highly unpopular Social Security proposal from last year, which put the issue squarely on the table, coupled with McGavick’s background as CEO of a large insurance company (SafeCo). After all, as McGavick routinely points out, Social Security is a sort of insurance, and it makes sense he’d have something to say about it.

That doesn’t mean what he has to say gets said without risk – or countering. Continue Reading »

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Jul 22 2006

Sali’s Wiki

Published by under Idaho

Whoever wrote the Wikipedia entry on Idaho Republican congressional candidate Bill Sali did a notably straight-up job of it. If you want a relatively dispassionate take on the guy, it’s not a bad place to check out.

Take note, though, that the article is a stub, meaning that an expansion of the entry is sought. Keep watch on whether it gets expanded – and how.

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Jul 21 2006

Community service

Published by under Oregon

We of the blogosphere often take delight in the shortcomings of the mainstream print press (yes, true even of your scribe, who toiled among the printing presses for a decade and a half), bemoaning the too-frequent absence of really useful community journalism.

But it does happen, and it should be celebrated when it does. With that in mind, check out the recent story in our local paper, the McMinnville News Register, about the group called Thugz Off Drugz and the trouble it has had finding a place to operate in McMinnville.

We have a second agenda as well in pointing out this story.

In a time when so many people, so much money, such stringent enforcement and so many jail cells are devoted to dealing with the War on Drugs, how do our communities deal with efforts to actually solve the problem by ending addictions? Read this story, and then explain how serious about drug abuse we really are.

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Jul 21 2006

Bloggy O

Published by under Oregon

Read the print edition of the Oregonian and you’ll usually find references to blogs attached to a negative descriptor of some kind. (This is still commonplace around the print newspaper world.) At the same time, the electronic side of the O is getting increasingly bloggy.

Oregon Media Insiders comments: “This is obviously a beta site or I’d make snarky remarks about the date/time and weather functions. Interesting to watch the print publications scramble to catch up on the blog front. We’ve got the Trib and the Merc hyperblogging, now here comes the O. Will WWeek enter the daily blog race?”

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Jul 21 2006

CIEDRA’s bubble

Published by under Oregon

Guess here is that U.S. Representative Mike Simpson’s Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act is on the bubble – on the cutting edge between passage or not, right now.

So we’re right on the edge between Idaho getting its first new wilderness area in nearly a generation, or not. The point is this: If it waits until next year, the odds may easily turn against.

CIEDRA sets designation for parts of the Boulders and White Clouds area. Itis not universally loved, but then it’s a compromise – getting signoff on a wilderness proposal these days isn’t easy, from Simpson has got it on his complex package of goodies. The Wilderness Society has okayed it, generally; so have a lot of local people. Simpson’s opponent this election, Democrat Jim Hansen, opposes it. But in the 1st district, where the seat is open, something unusual is happening: Republican Bill Sali is opposed, while Democrat Larry Grant is in favor.

This Congress and this president are not much of a mood to approve many new wilderness areas, and there’s another in the Northwest on an even faster track: the Mount Hood wilderness plan, backed by Oregon Representatives Greg Walden (Republican) and Earl Blumenauer (Democrat). Walden has some sneiority and is perfectly positioned in the House to push his proposal through, and it’s making progress.

The point, then: If Congress remains Republican next year, and Sali is elected, then the Idaho delegation will be split on CIEDRA – and that could be enough to stop it cold. Could be that it’s either right now, or not for a while.

CIEDRA has made progress through the House, and looks well positioned to pass that chamber next week. And the measure has picked up some good support in the other chamber, with Senator Mike Crapo volunteering to push it through the Senate.

The future of CIEDRA may soon be in his hands.

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Jul 20 2006

Rallying round

Published by under Oregon

In case you were wondering what conservative Oregon spokesman like Lars Larson have to say about conservative gubernatorial candidate Mary Starrett, wonder no more. Just click over to Larson’s web site and hear for youself – in his interview with Starrett.

The gubernatorial race presents a tug for Oregon conservatives. They could vote for the most conservative candidate of the group, Constitution Party nominee Starrett. Or, they could vote for a (presumably) more centrust Ron Saxton, the Republican Party nominee, who stands a far better chance of actually winning.

Most Republicans seem to be breaking Saxton’s way (as, post-primary, most Oregonians left of center broke for Democratic nominee incumbent Ted Kulongoski). But where would someone like Larson, with his big radio audience, go?

Larson appears clearly in the Saxton camp. You can tell from the audio clips on Saxton’s site, which center on the Oregon National Guard and its deployment or prospective deployment to Iraq and on immigration issues. On these subjects, Starrett’s view is distinctly anti-Bush Administration: She would rather the guard not leave Oregon at all, an unconventional view across most of the spectrum. Larson’s lead-in line on the site: “Hear what Mary Starrett says about Iraq and the Oregon National Guard. You might not believe your ears.”

It’s still July. The intensity is yet to come.

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Jul 20 2006

Impending deadline

Published by under Washington

We’re only about a week off from the last candidate filing deadline in the Northwest, Washington’s, while will put some closure to the shape of races to come.

Some candidates already have had to find their way, or not, to the ballot: those would be the minor party candidates. Secretary of State Sam Reed lists them this way:

U.S. Senator:
Bruce Guthrie – Libertarian Party
Aaron Dixon – Green Party
Robin Adair – Independent Candidate

U.S. Representative, 7th District:
Linnea Noreen – Independent Candidate

U.S. Representative, 8th District:
Bruce White – Libertarian Party

Due to insufficient signatures the following two candidates did not qualify:
Jonathan Wright – Libertarian Party Candidate for Senator, 30th Legislative District
Douglas Revelle – Green Party Candidate for U.S. Representative, 2nd District

Might there be some signifiance in the filings for Senate and 8th district, the two major races where a close race seems a not-unreasonable prospect? Could be. Has been, sometimes, in the past. (We’ll return to this later.)

Too bad Reed, in his roster of candidates, didn’t note comparisons with years past. Our sense is that there are fewer from the minor parties in Washington than in most years.

The major parties have until the end of next week (meaning Friday) – in theory at least. For the most part, a candidate for a substantial office who hasn’t surfaced by now is probably just a placeholder, keeping the alternative in place in case the probable winner somehow blows up.

But people do surface, or drop out, at the end. Next week will nonetheless be a time of some drama for the parties, as everyone watches the score cards fill.

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Jul 19 2006

Solving property taxes

Published by under Idaho

In this season of campaigns and initiatives and increasing housing prices, property taxes make a convenient target. Nobody likes them – well, nobody likes taxes generally, but especially not property taxes – and of a sudden everyone seems to have their pet approach for solving the property tax problem.

Which is a problem. But in trying to throw money at it – with the idea of swapping out sales tax money for property tax money – the various advocates may have a case of bad aim.

The impetus isn’t hard to understand. It grows out of all those stories, dripping out one by one, about people whose houses, new or used, have gained a whole lot of value in the last few years, and who are seeing their property taxes shooting through the roof. Butch Otter, the Republican nominee for governor, is among them, having just lost an appeal of the increase that will cost him tens of thousands of dollars. Prop tax fury is rampaging, especially in the Panhandle and parts of southwest Idaho.

So what if I were to tell you that, over the past seven years, the total amount of money collected from property taxes has risen by about a third – averaged out, about 5% growth a year, or less – no spectacular growth at all? And that it would be considerably less if you took out all the new growth, especially around the Boise and Coeur d’Alene regions, that have added so heavily to the increase? Continue Reading »

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Jul 18 2006

Sonics to Sooners

Published by under Washington

You’ve gotta love the naivete of this comment on the Seattle Times sports forum, about the sale of the Seattle SuperSonics and the WNBA’s Seattle Storm basketball teams:

“I can’t believe anyone would take away the Sonics. How dare they!! How can someone do that to people. And how dare Schultz. The Key was built 10 years ago! You don’t become team owners to make a profit, you do it for the love of the game. I call for an immediate boycott of Starbucks.”

The love of the game. That’s why people play pickup basketball games, or maybe why they play in neighborhood leagues. Pro ball is money, a lot of it. Did you catch the sale price, in the announcement of the Basketball Club of Seattle (led by Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz, hence the coffee-house reference) transfer to the Professional Basketball Club LLC of Oklahoma? It was $350 million. This is big business. Love of the game may have lured (probably did) some of these business people into the arena, but it is hardly the key factor.

The sales terms apparently provide that the Sonics and Storm will stay at Seattle for a year under present conditions. During that time, negotiations will presumably be undertaken for financing of a new arena. If those efforts fall through, the new owners will be at liberty to move the team to Oklahoma. (The official site did, however, indicate an intention to maintain present agreements until 2010.)

All this will, of course, throw the heat back on state and local officials: How many hundreds of millions of public money will they be willing to throw the way of the new owners to keep the teams at Seattle?

On this point, an AP story in the Sporting News said: “Until then, Seattle, come support your teams!” Easy for them to say – it’s not their tax bucks on the line.

The sale may cut both ways. On one hand, the new owners probably have no particular incentive other than financial to keep the teams in the Northwest, so their presumptive threats of a move would hardly be empty. On the other hand – these guys have no native loyalty to Seattle anyway.

Business properties change hands regularly these days. Anyone who invests too much in a really long-term dependance on a business relationship is running a fool’s errand, and that is most likely the conclusion we’ll all reach a year from now. That and an answer to this question: Can a pro basketball team make money based out of Seattle? If the answer to that business question is yes – as we suspect it is – then Seattle probably will have a pro basketball team around, whether it’s called the SuperSonics and owned by a pack of Sooner dudes, or not.

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Jul 17 2006

Incumbent track

Published by under Oregon

Tje general take on the general election for all major offices in Oregon save governor – in other words, the U.S. House races – has been that the incumbents are likely to easily win re-election to all five.

The campaign finance reports just out, covering the period up through the end of June, do nothing to shake that view.

One set of numbers is respectably close, and it may signal the most interesting of the five races. In District 4, where Democrat Peter DeFazio has been entrenched for a couple of decades, the money ballot is just close enough that you can’t say – as it stands – that money will be reason the race unfolds as it does. To DeFazio’s $507,886 total raised so far and his $367,754 cash on hand, Republican James Feldkammp, running a rematch this cycle, has raised $322,787 and has $240,170 still available. That’s enough to run a respectable race. It’s probably not enough to unseat an incumbent who has accumulated no new big problems in his latest term and has been winning solidly election after election, including easily defeating Feldkamp last time.

From there, things get really boring. Portland Democrat Earl Blumenauer has no meaningful opposition at all. Democrat David Wu in the 1st district has outraised his Republican opponent, state Representative Derrick Kitts, by nearly 10-1 ($1,149,770 to $116,662); it’s a race with low buzz so far. In district 5, Darlene Hooley outpaces her Republican opponent, Mike Erickson, nearly 3-1 ($855,276 to $311,817).

The lone Republican in the delegation, the 2nd district’s Greg Walden, has raised $923,193 to Democrat Carol Voisin’s $8,923. She’s widely described as a quality candidate, but the financial fall ain’t there.

You don’t have to outraise your opponent to win. But it sure helps if his financial resources aren’t completely swamping yours.

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Jul 16 2006

A financial post mortem and look ahead

Published by under Idaho

Notable numbers in the FEC reports just filed by Idaho congressional candidates – those competing in the May primary and still still headed to November.

Here’s the number that most aggressively jumps out: $552,612. That’s the amount Bill Sali, winner of the Republican nomination for the 1st congressional district, raised so far in this cycle. That’s an almost astonishing amount for a primary contest, which almost all of it was raised for. And Sali didn’t just sit on it: He spent $464,124, leaving him with (as of the end of last month) a modest $91,790 on hand. Our guess: He was told, “Spend it on the primary, that’s likely your real battle” – with the promise that more will be coming for the general if needed.

The only one of his competitors to spend in that same ballpark was Sheila Sorensen, who raised and spent just shy of $400,000. But more than half of what she raised – $210,500 – was in the form of a loan from the candidate. She raised well less than half what Sali did, and less than Canyon C0unty Commissioner Robert Vasquez, who raised $302,975 (and apparently put in not a dime of his own).

On the Democratic side, nominee Larry Grant raised a respectable $216,515, had spent about two-thirds of it by the end of last month, and has $73,982 left over. In theory, that puts Grant and Sali on a similar playing field as they begin the general. In practice, Sali can return to some awfully deep pockets for another round, and he probably will. And Grant has more grueling fundraising ahead.

Over the second district, things are a little more modest, as Republican Representative Mike Simpson has spent only $229,569 (smallish for an incumbent), and his Democratic challenger Jim Hansen $50,658.

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The Field Guide is the reference for the year on Oregon politics - the people, the districts, the votes, the issues. Compiled by a long-time Northwest political writer and a Salem Statesman-Journal political reporter.
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Medimont Reflections Chris Carlson's Medimont Reflections is a followup on his biography of former Idaho Governor Cecil Andrus. This one expands the view, bringing in Carlson's take on Idaho politics, the Northwest energy planning council, environmental issues and much more. The Idaho Statesman: "a pull-back-the-curtain account of his 40 years as a player in public life in Idaho." Available here: $15.95 plus shipping.
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