"I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors." - Thomas Jefferson (appears in the Jefferson Memorial)

Politics in Washington state will be rocked, and in Oregon affected somewhat, by a document scheduled to be on file tomorrow morning: The Washington Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage.

We don’t know what the court will say. We can tell you right now that it will have much more political impact if it falls in the pro-gay marriage side: That will energize the social conservatives, possibly not quite as much as in 2004 but enough to keep the issue fron-burner for some time. A decision against same-sex marriage would have less impact, since no immediate policy change would be contemplated and the impact would be moderated by the gay rights law recently passed by the state legislature.

Expect also that the decision could become central to the re-election odds of two Supreme Court justices, including the chief.

Back tomorrow with more on this.

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As Idaho legislators and citizens generally consider their options while Governor Jim Risch issues his call for a legislative session on property taxes, they may want to consider other pieces of the equation as well.

One of them is support for public schools. You can measure this in a wide variety of ways, but one of the more useful is this:

school support as measured by gemeral fund revenue

It shows what the state’s level of support for public schools, measured against actual income in the state, has done in the last few years.

You can, of course, check other measures too, including the number of raw dollars put into schools, and such a chart would show annual increases. But that doesn’t account for inflation, other costs, growth of population and communities, and so on. Measurement against the state’s general fund income may be a fairer measure, on the other hand, of what we are willing to invest.

The chart comes from a report released on Monday by the Idaho Center on Budget and Tax Policy at Moscow. Its director, Judith Brown, remarked that “It’s clear from this report that the state’s commitment to public education spending has declined in recent years. With all the talk about shifting school maintenance and operations from local control to the state General Fund, it’s important for Idahoans to know that the trend from the legislature is to dedicate less and less of the General Fund toward our children’s education.”

The report itself also has this intriguing bit:

“The previous charts and indicators identify FY2001 as a turning point in education funding in Idaho. 2001 of course was the beginning of the worst state fiscal crisis in 50 years, brought on by both a recession and by tax cuts enacted in many states during the last years of the economic boom. Fortunately, the fiscal crisis was much less severe in Idaho than in many states. 2001 as a turning point, however, does raise questions about how different states protected their commitments to public education through this difficult time. As shown in the chart below, many but not all states reduced real per pupil state aid for public education during and immediately following the state fiscal crisis. The average decline in real per pupil state aid was -4.0%. The decline in real per pupil state aid in Idaho was -5.8%. Although the recession and fiscal crisis in Idaho were milder than in the nation as a whole, Idaho cut back on funding for public education more than did most states. It is especially noteworthy that Idaho neighbors Oregon and Washington were both hit particularly hard by the recession and fiscal crisis, and yet both protected funding for their public schools better than did Idaho.”

Food for thought, as options get narrowed.

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You can keep track of exactly who is filing this week for office in Washington state through a comprehensive list maintained by the secretary of state’s office.

It’s on this page on the office’s web site.

So far, among the early-earlies, we have a couple of candidates for the U.S. Senate, though neither is named Cantwell or McGavick. (They should show up soon.) The first U.S. House district to draw multiple candidates is District 7, one of the most lopsidedly uncompetitive in the state.

Much more, soon.

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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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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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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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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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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.

Here’s how it went at his Open Mike event in Colville.

He distances himself, first, from Bush’s plan, saying he doesn’t support it. And McGavick’s does look different – to a point. His first point is to suggest “voluntary means testing” for Social Security – in other words, encouraging those who don’t need the money to give some or all of it back. If they want to. “I think those who have the means will be very generous if called upon,” he remarked; but you get the sense not many people are taking this one to the bank with high expectations.

He said that workers nearing retirement should get what they’ve been promised. For younger workers, he said, Social Security should not be privatized and should remain government-run, but “the money should go into a specific account in that person’s name, so the government can’t monkey with it.” That, he said, would give younger workers a sense of confidence the money would be there for them. (How instilling the confidence in a system declared to be broken would solve the problem, is pretty much left unsaid.)

At this point, McGavick generally has asked younger people in the audience how many have confidence Social Security will be available for them down the line, and the results usually suggest pessimism. Of course, a population which hasn’t taken an economist’s eye view to the matter but was exposed last year to months of headlines suggesting the system was in crisis and at imminent risk of collapse – which hasn’t yet happened and isn’t imminent – is apt to be uneasy.

At this point in Colville, however, one woman remarked, “There’s many ways you can fix social security.” What about, she asked, the views of a number of economists that Social Security is essentially sound, for at least a couple of decades, if the rest of the federal government would quit raiding it?

“I’ll make it real clear – I appreciate your view,” McGavick said in reply. “You are the person – the one – in the whole state so far that’s agreed. Now, that’s doesn’t mean you’re wrong. But I will say that is not the common view of those 30 or younger.”

“Because you’ve scared them all so much,” she countered – drawing a mix of response in the crowd.

“No, I don’t think so,” McGavick said. “It’s okay we disagree – I don’t know why you accuse me of scaring people. … I believe it is going to go broke. I happen to be in the insurance business. I understand this business. I understand acturial projections. This system is in real trouble. It is a serious issue. And how to fix it is one of the most pressing problems facing America.”

It wouldn’t be remotely accurate or fair to call McGavick’s proposal a warmed-over version of the Bush privatization plan. But come this fall he may be leaving himself open for that: If the accusation arrives (say, via a TV buy), he may have a hard time arguing against it without leaving the impression his proposal – voluntary givebacks, personal accounts run much as they already are – is at best a vaporous jab at a serious problem. Candidates have known for a long time that Social Security is tough politics. McGavick may demonstration it’s as tough today as it ever was.

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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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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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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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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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