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Posts published in July 2006

Wine amd definition

Yet another mini-area now has formal designation as a specific wine-growing area: The Eola-Amity Hills viticultural area in the northern Willamette Valley in Oregon. The designation is published today by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.

Also out today, a proposed designation of a Snake River Valley' viticultural area in southwestern Idaho and southeastern Oregon.

These designations - a string of them for small sub-regions now, in Washington and in Oregon, may go some distance toward raising the visbility and cachet of wines from that area. And if recent reports about climate warming in California's Napa Valley are anywhere near accurate, and recent loosening of wine sales rules continue around the country, that could become a valuable thing indeed.

Toward a Westmoreland resolution

Some months back, University of Oregon President Dave Frohnmayer seemed to be headed for a crash in a battle with a group of students and others over a shift in student housing.

Dave FrohnmayerWe noted in January that as Frohnmayer was searching for ways to physically expand the campus, and searching for money to buy additional property, he seized on the idea of selling a 400-unit student housing development named Westmoreland, which among other things provided about half of the married student housing on campus. The result was major-league uproar on campus.

An update: The deal is going forward, following a Friday approval by the state Board of Higher Education, and will raise $18.5 million for the university. (The student member of the board was the lone "no" vote.) But the uproar seems to be settling, in large part because Frohnmayer appears to have listened and borne in mind the issues asosciated with the sale. As a result, the circumstances surrounding the sale lo9ok different now.

The Eugene Register-Guard reported it this way:

The vote came after UO President Dave Frohnmayer told the board the university will increase the compensation it will pay to current and former Westmoreland residents. Students who left after the plan to sell the 404-unit complex was announced in October or who leave before the deal closes will receive $300 to help cover moving expenses, up from the $150 previously offered.

That's on top of the two-year rent freeze for students who stay at Westmoreland under the new owner, waiver of application fees to move back into the complex and assistance with child care costs for former Westmoreland residents. Frohnmayer said he decided to boost the compensation after hearing students speak of the difficulties they face moving to different housing. He pledged additional help if necessary.

Evidently, Frohnmayer showed down a bit from his speed of last fall, when he seemed intent on simply ramming through the sale, and worked out ways to help the students while still getting the deal done. It sounds like a case study in getting some things dnoe while not at the same time undoing others.

On clarity

At his appearance Thursday at Cathlamet, and evidently eslewhere too, Washington Republican Senate candidate Mike McGavick sent notice to area Democrats: no, I do not now support and never have supported privatization of Washington's universities. That statement was clear.

Less so, however, his statement from four years ago that led to the accusation.

Washington Democrats have been smacking McGavick upside the head with comments from his speech to the Seattle Chamber of Commerce in 2002, which were reported in the Seattle Times as backing a reorganization of governance and financing of higher education, and in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer of supporting privatization.

Okay: Take this test and see what you think. The Times' David Postman performed the excellent service of reviewing - since the speech was captured on tape, and has been archived at TVW - the speech and pulling out the relevant quotes. There are two. Here they area, separated by elipses:

And here's the suggestion. It is time to explore seriously whether over the next decade we should either string the string or cut the cord and let the University of Washington and Washington State University operate more privately. Get them out of the budget fight and let them move on. . . . We need to explore independence for those institutions.

Reading those quotes, our first thought was: Huh? "String the string or cut the cord?" "More privately?" "Explore independence"? What the hell does all that mean? It sounds like CEO-speak freed from the constraints of possible inquiry by shareholders. It doesn't match well with the realities of university governance; you can't imagine a regent using such verbiage, whatever his views on restructuring. The truth is, no one but McGavick really knows what he was talking about.

McGavick said within a year of that 2002 speech that he wasn't calling for privatization. Our guess is that he wasn't, or at least wasn't intending to. But his words were so open-ended that you (and he) really can't blame the Democrats for trying to pin him to the wall with them.

A case study for clarity in political speak.

Past one mark

The Weslund campaign seems to be returning to form. The independent campaign for Oregon governor said today it has reached 18,390 signatures - just past the number they need to win a spot on the November election ballot.

That, of course, would assume all of the signatures are valid, as almost certainly they are not. But it also gives the campaign six more weeks to gather more, which means you have say now that Westlund probably will be on the ballot.

It's quite a turnaround: The pace the campaign had held until only a month ago, when little more than 5,000 signatures had been gathered, was so spotty as to put ballot status in doubt. Now that it seems much more likely (assuming, again, they don't slack off between here and August 29), we can go back to the older question: just what impact will Weslund have in the increasingly complex governor's race?

On the Open Mike! tour

McGavick tourThe bus is unmissable: The McGavick tour machine is a bright red, just like the t-shirts some of the staff and volunteers wear, and like the buttons and frisbees. It's of a piece with the exclamation point, the effort to juice up energy.

It did some of that, partly because it was open and unscripted.

The extended statewide bus tour is a perennial in politics, for good reason. It does generate some energy, and it brings statewide candidates to places that ordinarily don't see a lot of statewide candidates. Places like southwest Washington's Cathlamet, where McGavick, the Republican nominee for the Senate in Washington, spent a couple of midday hours Thursday.

The day was longish to start with, out on the coast, and was scheduled to work through Longview and then another "open Mike" session at Vancouver, and then on the road again to Yakima (the candidate had an early Friday morning appearance there). The Cathlamet location was set up at the marina on the Columbia River, a spot pleasant when it began under cloudy skies and drizzle, and better when it turned sunny and warmer.

Hamburgers, chips and drinks were available and local volunteers had the structure of the event well in hand. But it should be noted, in this time of bubble candidates, that the event was as billed open. The people who showed up, just showed up: About a dozen students working on a civics project, about as many area supporters, and a few Democrats. A Democratic worker dutifully videotaped it all; McGavick pointedly noted that he'd become a fixture on the stops. (Give McGavick a point for not trying to kick him out; give the Democrats a point for being on the ball.) And Democrats, not just supporters or students, got to ask questions. (more…)

Persistent leads

You'll be seeing some numbers hitting in the next day or two on the congressional races, but those are only rough estimates. The official filings are due for a few more days.

The bottom line still gives incumbent Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell a big money advantage. She apparently still has $6 million on hand after paying a lot of expenses and her first big media buy. Republican challenge Mike McGavick has about $1 million.

More to come.

Spokane’s big box test

In Washington state - would be interesting to know where else this is the case - cities can impose their own minimum wage ordinances, as long as they at least meet state requirements. That much apparently is settled in state law. What's unsettled is to what extent cities can impose the requirements on just some employers.

Wal-MartSpokane seems about to turn into the test case. There, the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane is pushing a local initiative to raise by about a third the minimum wages paid to employees in the city's big box retail stores - Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Fred Meyer and others. The group describes the ordinance's purpose as:

This ordinance would require all “big box” retailers in the City of Spokane whose business premises are at 95,000 square feet or more, to pay their employees who have been employed for three or more months 135% of Washington State minimum wage if they do not provide health benefits ($10.30 per hour) and 165% of Washington State minimum wage if they do not provide health benefits ($12.58). This ordinance does not negate collective bargaining agreements established by unions or their respective members.

You see where this is headed: To force the Wal-Marts to pay livable, sustaining wages rather than push a whole range of costs off on the rest of us. Understandable; but is that kind of size distinction between the big boxes and, say, the local hardware store the kind of distinction that can stand up in court? We don't yet know.

The big boxes will challenge it, of course, and obviously will fight in the upcoming campaign. Some have started threatening leaving the city - which seems unlikely unless they want to argue that the only way they want the city's business is on the cheap. (They will not have an easy PR case to make.)

Our offhand guess is that the initiative stands a pretty good chance of passage. If it does, it could touch off a wild political scramble that could reshape some important economic dynamics in the Northwest and beyond.

The perils of summer session

New Idaho Governor Jim Risch, a man of well-tuned political savvy, made a political mistake on the day of his public inauguration. The impression of his governorship he leaves with many Idahoans may ride on whether he's able, in the next few weeks, to overcome it.

Risch has had a superb run since his takeover of the office from Dirk Kempthorne - a string of rapid-fire decisions and appointments and high visibility all around the state, all of it executed with panache. His instincts have not let him down.

Except once.

Risch has accurately perceived widespread anger and disapproval over property taxes this year and, knowing as he does how Idaho government works, recognized that the legislature could improve the situation for many property taxpayers significantly before the real pain hits in the months ahead. Real pain as in, financial for the taxpayers and electoral for certain candidates for re-election. Decisive by character, Risch in his inaugural speech approached the whole thing head-on - he placed himself in a leadership position and concluded, "I will be happy to engage as is appropriate and necessary. My friends, we owe this to the people of Idaho – let’s get it done."

In doing all that, he was acting as governor logically should, with leadership and decision. He was accepting responsibility.

The catch: He had boxed himself in a corner. Until that moment, Idahoans were pointing fingers at legislators, demanding that they do something about property taxes, and legislators were feeling the heat. Now Risch took the PR weight off the shoulders of legislators who were disinclined to compromise a month ago, and may be less inclined now. Today, if a legislator faces an angry constituent, he can say: "Well sure, I would have been interested in doing something. The governor talked about calling a special session, but he never did. So what can I do?"

Problem goes away if Risch does call a special session (provided it succeeds), as he'd evidently like to. And it might happen - a lot of downtown Boise people certainly think it will. We're declining to predict either way.

The "won't" argument is this:

Risch has said that he won't call a session unless the votes to pass the needed legislation are lined up in advance, so the session will be a slam dunk. (Which is the completely appropriate standard; it worked well in Oregon earlier this year.) That means he presumably can't now just call one and hope for the best. But how much progress he's making with the legislators, getting them whipped into shape, is unclear. The special ssession talk has been going on for many weeks, well before Risch took over as governor. Since then, six weeks since Risch's bold inaugural statement, we've heard he's been pressing hard to get the deal done, but no visible indications of success have appeared. We're inclined to take his recent setting of August 25 as a prospective session date, in fact, as another attempt to pressure lawmakers to the table - an indication that they weren't rushing there on their own.

And if the legislators won't come to the table, who takes the fall?

Risch deserves credit for making the effort and taking the risk. How that plays out we should know before long (and, as noted, a session call is far from a dead letter). But Risch might have had more leverage had he kept the heat more squarely focused on the legislators.

Why it’s that way

Hot conversation underway over on Oregon Media Insiders about the content of local - not just Portland, but "local" all over the country - television news. The point raised by site runner Lynn is provocative:

Viewers want crime coverage and infotainment, presented as briefly and quickly as possible. No nuance, no in-depth, just the headlines, please, and as much meth news and missing pretty white girls as possible, thanks.

Conventional wisdom, no? Focus groups all say so. Fastest growing TV station in the market revels in it, notoriously so. Must be true.

And yet, what's the most popular-with-the-demo news outlet in the market, hands down, no debate?

OPB Radio, home of longform news and information.

Just a week ago we conversed with a Boise television reporter about this general subject. The problem is all over, and the solutions less than obvious. A suggestion: Read the rapidly-filling comments section for some useful insight into why things got this way, and how things could be better. There's all too little, sadly, on how to effect change; few people seem to have a handle on that ...

Scott watch, following up

Some weeks back we noted a story in Willamette Week about Oregon House Majority Leader Wayne Scott; the Portland weekly said that the legislator had been behind legislation which benefitted a business of which he was president, Western Fireworks.

There's been but limited explosions since, some of which seem aimed - to whatever extent properly so - at clearing Scott of questions about the incident.

We still have a few questions.

But the followups are certainly worthy of notice. (more…)