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Posts published in August 2006

A methodical Big Look

Their task is large, and they've been given substantial time - about three years - to undertake it. Not such a bad idea, then, that the Big Lookers take their time and move cautiously, even if there's some short-term downside to be had.

Big Look meetingThe immediate concern would have to do results - not many yet, and not a lot to talk about either - and bogging down. A state committee to look at the land use picture in Oregon over the next three years; you can understand where some skepticism might arise since, half a year into its existence, it is still working out the question of how to go about its work. Matters of substance have barely entered the room yet.

For the moment, though, we'll place our bets on some actual results emerging from the Oregon Task Force on Land Use Planning - "Big Look." The group met in Salem Friday, and a review of their minutes to date and their actions at the meeting suggest, rather than a bogging down, a steady pace toward clarification and working out a path to an answer.

These committee members aren't for the most part political people, and the conversations they're having - to judge from the Friday meeting - sound informal, thoughtful and searching toward ideas, for all that they're being recorded and closely watched by an audience. These people aren't staking out positions, as legislators might. Their process seems an evolution.

As such, it's not roaring ahead, but it's not glacial, either. In the course of a couple of meetings they've worked out six areas of intersecting concern with land use: the economy; the role of state and local governments; citizen involvement; infrastructure and finance; growth management; and benefits and burdens. You could split the subject in other ways too, presumably, but these seem a reasonable start. Most of the concerns most people have about the subject of land use regulation in Oregon could fit in those areas. And there's early recongition that they will overlap, repeatedly.

At this stage, they're working in considerable part on information gathering and figuring out how to handle the flood of information they are sure to get. While they're holding their meetings this year around the state - the last was in Lincoln City, and upcoming in Pendleton, Medford and Gresham - they're not seeking lots of opinions, yet. They will later. But first they're trying to develop a base of knowledge and a framework to hang it on, and their moves toward developing it to date seem almost stately.

Given enough time, and the 2009 delivery date may be enough, these guys could produce something interesting.

SUSA: Riding above and below the wave

Latest polling numbers on approval of President George W. Bush show no great change or surprise from the last few months. But it's been a while since we've posted the Survey USA numbers, so here's a recap.

In Oregon, Bush is at 33% approval and 64% disapproval. That's not quite as negative for Bush as the 31%-67% numbers from May, but it is more negative than in June or July, when the negatives had softened slightly. Only 10 other states currently view Bush more negatively.

In Washington (Bush's 13th-worst state), the picture is closely similar, at 34% favorable, 64% unfavorable. As in Oregon, a slight move toward a more favorable view of Bush in mid-summer snapped back in August.

Finally, Idaho remains positively disposed toward Bush, the president's second-best state (after Utah), where he gets 56% approval and 41% disapproval - one of four states where he tops the 50% favorable mark. In contrast to most states, Bush gained in approval in August over the previous couple of months.

Nationally, Bush is at 38% favorable, 60% unfavorable.

Out too soon

In the category of good intentions gone awry, place an Oregon corrections program aimed at providing alcohol and drug treatment for inmates. A perfectly sound idea, it has created some awful problems because it has allowed a number of inmates, including some violent offenders, to get out of incarceration much earlier than expected - to the surprise of judges, prosecutors, victims and others.

The biggest problem here (alongside some bad calls on releases) seems to be transparency. The program got almost no attention when it was approved in the Oregon Legislature, and the man in whose department it is operated, Max Williams, is the former legislator who championed it. That may have led to an internal cultural problem: This is our program, we started it, we know how to operate it. That shut-down attitude - reporters have had to deal with persistent blocks in their requests for state information and documents on this program - apparently has led to denials, maybe including self-denial, that problems with the program are significant.

We're not talking about an epidemic of bad early releases, but we are talking about considerably more than the odd fluke or two, and some of those people reoffend as soon as they're able. This could have a bearing on the governor's race, since Governor Ted Kulongoski (a lawyer, a former attorney general and a former Supreme Court justice) is involved in this, in a mixed way - partly defending the program and partly acknowledging some need for fixes.

All of which is mentioned here in part because it isn't (yet) visible many other places. This story was broken by the McMinnville News-Register, not one of the larger papers in the state; nevertheless, it threw in the resources to do a thorough job in its Thursday edition and will continue with another by Saturday.

By that time, it may not be publishing on this subject alone. Look for more on this in coming days.

The Weekly is a stranger

So there really has been a purge, one way or another, at the Seattle Weekly. What exactly caused it, and what its long-range results will be, are less than clear. But the departures should clarify things amply before long.

Seattle WeeklyNot having pounded the floors of its offices we make no assessment of who left at the request of management or of their own volition. But a whole lot of the most key people at the publication have departed following a change of ownership in January. Those include such familiar names as Editor-in-Chief Skip Berger, Managing Editor Chuck Taylor, Political Editor George Howland and - the most recent, on Tuesday- writer Geov Parrish. That's the core of the news/politics side of the publication. And besides them, there's the paper's publisher, production director, advertising director, design director and a bunch of others.

All of the departure statements we've seen have been vague enough to leave open multiple possible interpretations. Parrish's departure note, for example (this via Horse's Ass), says only, "it became clear that my journalistic priorities were not compatible with VVM’s current and future plans for Seattle Weekly. For this and other reasons, I feel it most appropriate to move on immediately."

What does all this translate to?

New Times Media of Phoenix, now Village Voice Media, which bought the Seattle Weekly in January and now owns a large string of "alternative" weeklies (New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, Houston, Dallas, Phoenix, Cleveland, among others) is reputedly strongly hierarchial. It also maintains that it is committed to alternative journalism and to investigative reporting.

With the new era about to begin, we'll all find out soon enough.

OR H17: Still out there

Speculating last month on Oregon State Representative Jeff Kropf's dropout from his race (to pursue his activities in talk radio), we suggested the late opening on the Republican side might offer some opening for a Democrat in this generally Republican district.

Now that the race is joined with a replacement Republican, our view is pretty much unchanged. The contest may lean Republican, but only just, and a Democratic win there is distinctly possible.

The big roadblock to that is the district itself. House District 17 runs through the eastern parts of Marion and Linn counties, up into the Cascades, and includes mainly farming and old-line timber communities, though there is some change in a number of the towns. Party registration in the district is 43% Republican to 34% Democratic, and though party registration figures aren't always a good guide to election results, this area has been voting more Republican than the state overall. It has not been doing so as overwhelmingly as, say, most areas east of the Cascades.

Meeting in Scio, the local Republicans have just replaced Kropf with Fred Girod of Lyons, a dentist who served in the House in the early 90s. Girod has campaigned before and served in the House before, and that's a plus.

There are also minuses. He has had some conflicts locally, notably earlier this month with the Stayton City Council, which denied an application of his to build a commercial center there; it said he was effectively asking the city to rezone a key area. He's been out of office for quite a while, and his name ID may not be especially high. He is starting a race from scratch; there is, for example, no web site up yet.

The Democrat, Dan Thackaberry, had run a quiet campaign up until Kropf's departure - maybe reflecting the consensus that Kropf was highly likely to win. he appears to have ramped up rapidly since, and he has something of a base to work from . He's a farmer, which provides some business base and connections, and also a member of the city council at Lebanon, the largest city in the district - a decent homre base from which to start. Thackaberry's web site calls him "Farmer Dan," and he appears to come off as friendly and easy going. His head start on Girod is not large, but it is real.

Still a small Republican edge here, but not a district to write off.

Edging up

The 8th U.S. House district in Washington feels ever more closely competitive - you get the sense in writings and in speech and in tone.

Just-out revised national ranking from the National Journal's list of most-competitive races, there's the Dave Reichert (R)/Darcy Burner (D) matchup at number 19, up from 24 in the last ranking. the attached note says, "Reichert has had to switch votes on stem-cell research. Like the Philly suburbs, this is a district that's poised to switch if there's a Democratic wave."

That's really the key. If there is no Democratic wave on November 7, Reichert probably prevails. But if there is, as indicators now suggest, Burner is very well positioned.

This is the only Northwest House race on the Journal's top 50 most competive.

Commandment

The decision Monday by the Idaho Supreme Court on Monday, allowing the Boise ballot issue on the Ten Commandments monument to go to election, may not have been well understood. The take of the court's majority was uncommonly limited.

10 Commandments monumentIt was enough to give the Keep the Comandments Coalition a win, at this stage anyway. They wanted an initiative on the ballot and now they've got one.

But the decision in Boise City v. Keep the Commandments Coalition, was based on the idea that the Supreme Court, or any other court, really didn't have authority to act at all, at this stage.

Initiatives, including city initiatives, are designed to pass pieces of legislation - policy decisions. The city of Boise contended that the decision of where a 10 Commandments stone should be placed is an administrative action, not a policy decision. The Supreme Court gave a limited thumbs-up to that argument, saying, "If a subject is legislative in nature, it is appropriate for action by initiative. On the other hand, if the proposed initiative is administrative in nature, it falls outside the scope of action allowable by initiative. There is no bright line rule that clearly distinguishes what is legislative in nature, as opposed to administrative in nature."

But then it concluded: "In this case the initiative may not pass in which case the issue of whether it steps over the bounds of a proper initiative would be moot. The initiative may pass and be the proper subject of an adjudication, or the City council may exercise its authority to amend or reject it. The validity of the action sought by the petition may or may never be the proper subject for Court action. Just as the Court would not interrupt the legislature in the consideration of a bill prior to enactment, the Court will not interrupt the consideration of a properly qualified initiative. The petition qualifies for the ballot for consideration by the voters."

Courts have tended to be highly reluctant to block an initiative before voters have a chance to act on it. So that's not a surprise.

But they also may have signalled that, if the issue passes, its advocates shouldn't necessarily count on a favorable ruling later, if one occurs.

Puncturing a bubble, maybe

Tour NWProbably no place is more thoroughly emblematic of the boom-grwoth side of the Northwest than Bend, where people have long since run out of superlatives to describe the explosion of development in their midst.

We can report that it is ongoing. In the fall of 2004 we gassed our car at a fairly new Chevron tourist stop on the east fringe of Bend, beyond which lay the desert, and across Highway 20 from an under-construction shopping center. Last week we gassed up at the same Chevron station and noticed that across the street, the center was completed - and enormous, almost in itself the size of a small town, easily a match for the biggest new centers at Vancouver. Washington or Meridian, Idaho. Nor was that all. The whole area, back of the shopping center, back of the Chevron station, off into the distance, was brand new residential development.

This was maybe a bit extreme, but other parts of Bend were growing too, notably anywhere on the east or south sides. Visiting the Deschutes County election office, we inquired where, most specificially, were the big growth places around the city. The eventual answer was, almost everywhere.

The prices have been going up, too. We know an executive who took a job at Bend more than a decade ago but concluded he could not afford to live there, and bought a house instead in Redmond. Things have gotten much more extreme since. As late as 2000, the average sales price of houses at Bend still was under $200,000. In 2005, the average sales price was $334,570. If decently-paid professionals couldn't afford a decent house in Bend a decade ago, what can they afford now? Maybe more to the point, who's buying these houses?

We may get a clearer public answer before long. And yes, there are political implications afoot. (more…)

National views

Aquickie here to note that one of our posts below - on the potential of rural populism, in the context of the Washington 5th district congressional race - went national today. It was "front-paged" at the national Daily Kos political site, by one of the editors there (nom de web, mcjoan). Drawing there a variety of interesting comments.
Stop by and see what the take is there - distinctive from, but adding to, the take here.

OR 5th: Evidence of change?

Republican 5th District congressional nominee Mike Erikson is abruptly showing some signs of making a campaign.

Ted Piccolo at NWRepublican is arguing that this one is a sleeper, that five-termer Democrat Darlene Hooley may be vulnerable, to the point that "Polls are showing that if the Republican candidate can educate voters in that district as to who he is then he wins this race. The tension builds."

Mike EricksonErickson has a very slick website, one of the most technically capable we've seen in the region. Piccolo suggests that substantial Republican financial and other support may be coming his way, and that Erickson is now making media buys.

Hmm. We're going to need more evidence before heading over to that conclusion.

It is true that Republicans have a registration advantage in the 5th (for all that necessarily means), and that there is some history of the district flipping partisan control regularly, though that was pre-Hooley (pre-1996). It's also true that the district narrowly voted for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004.

Also true: None of that was any different in the last U.S. House election, which Hooley won 53%-44% over a polished and electorally experienced contender, Jim Zupancic. In 2002 she won with 55%, in 2002 57%. (Yes, those numbers have dropped, but that's partly due to additional minor party candidates; the R/D split has remained comparable.) As for that little matter of money, Hooley was way ahead as of the last campaign finance reports, $855,276 to Erickson's $311,817. Money isn't all, but on what basis can he argue he's better positioned now, when the Republican administration in Washington is far less popular in-district than two years ago, than Zupancic was in 2004?

Erickson seems to present himself agreeably, but he's new to political campaigning, not a great asset when you're running for Congress. (Yes, lightning strikes, but not often.) He's not well known around the district, and his best name ID comes from his days as a high school football player. (For some reason Republicans have less than a stellar electoral record in Oregon when they nominate high school jocks who by profession have become business consultants, which Erickson also is.) Until the last couple of weeks, his campaign has been quiet, and three months is hardly the amount of time needed to defeat an incumbent which isn't in any obvious trouble in the district.

The national estimators seem to see it about the same. Congressional Quarterly, which had listed the district as "Democrat favored" (owing to the Republican numbers there in other races), has just shofted it to "safe Democratic." The Cook Political Report has posted it as "Likely Democratic."

Conditions may change, and we'll watch the tracking points Piccolo suggests. But until some critical change occurs, our call of probable Democratic will remain the same, too.

A protest, like the old days?

Acentury and more ago, farmers and the other people of rural communities were in an almost riotous protest. They were being abused by powerful interests and social forces, these things could be addressed by p0litics, and they knew it, and they acted accordingly. They formed political parties, they did battle within political parties, they got leaders of major political parties (William Jennings Bryan, for one) to pay attention and take up their cause. They got radical and they got uppity. And partly as a result, their lot gradually improved in the early 20th century.

Much of rural America in a condition no less dire today, and a good many of the reasons are external and attributable to decisions made by politicians and leaders of various powerful interests. And where is the protest today in rural America?

You could argue that much of rural America is depopulating; compared to a century and more ago, there is simply a lot less electoral clout there. But that's not equally true everywhere; in some parts of the country, farm towns still have a lot of impact. One of the best places to consider this, and it the impact a rural revolt could prospectively have, is in Washington's 5th congressional district. (more…)

BoDo triplex

More BoDo? So the developer of Boise's south-of-downtown project appears to be saying.

As outlined, the thing would be huge, linking downtown to the Boise River greenbelt in a single comprehensive project. The new development area, which would sweep south of the city library, would be about twice the size of the existing BoDo area.

It looks and sounds, to a point, very Boise. It also should give pause: Boise has had some unfortunate experiences with really grad development plans, over the years . . .