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Posts published in July 2006

James West

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.

Along the third rail

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. (more…)

Community service

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.

Bloggy O

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?"

CIEDRA’s bubble

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.

Rallying round

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.

Impending deadline

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.

Solving property taxes

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? (more…)