Writings and observations

Very big: The Beaverton City Council has rejected the Wal-Mart development proposed for the Cedar Mill area, and they did it unanimously. And took that action after a planning commission had approved the deal.

There are other Wal-Mart development projects prowling around the Northwest, including a big one in Medford and a hotly contested proposal on the other side of the Portland metro, at Gresham. But Beaverton seems the biggest of all. This store would have been the first in Oregon’s second-largest county. The most seemed to be at stake, and Wal-Mart’s business cases seemed clearest here. This store would served a population base more typically swarmed by several stores.

The citizen group Save Cedar Mill, opposing the big box, expressed its thoughts this way: “Words fall far short in describing how we all feel. No enormous building dominating the neighborhood. No need to experience thousands of additional cars coming and going each day, none of which are vested in our community. No monster-sized intersection that makes it unsafe to cross the street. It is our sincere hope that the landowner will hear the message sent by the Council and those who live here and work with the community to build a project that is proportionate to the land, consistent with the zoning, and which will be a centerpiece for the neighborhood.”

This feels like more than just another battle.

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Oregon

The advocates of what we here will call Measure 48 – no spin involved in that – aren’t wasting time after absorbing fire the last few days. The addition of the measure, which seeks to hold state spending to predefined limits, to the November ballot has yielded a spate of news stories (and blog items from locations including this one) as well as pressure on candidates to take sides, for or against. And Measure 48 took a blow when the Republican nominee for governor, Ron Saxton, said that he will not support it and will vote against it.

Too much has been invested to stop or slow down, however. A post on Oregon Catalyst together with associated comments usefully outlines two of the next lines of attack we’ll be seeing as the battle over definition and framing gets underway.

Measure 48 is a whole lot like something called the Taxpayer Bill of Rights – acronymed TABOR – which got an extended statewide workout in Colorado from its passage in 1992 until last fall. What happened during that period is that public finance in Colorado tanked, to the point that by last year many of TABOR’s leading 1992 advocates – including the Republican governor – were pleading with the voters to put it on the shelf, lest public finance be wrecked for a generation. The voters, opting not to accept hundred of millions of dollars which would have gone into their pockets, obliged. That’s the track record.

It is true that Measure 48 isn’t a photocopy of Colorado’s TABOR; it focuses more on state government and provides for some setaside funds. Some of the roughest edges are worn down. But the guiding principle is the same. The Oregonian‘s editorial page (edited by Robert Caldwell) seized on that today, and its linkage of Measure 48 to TABOR was quickly attacked in turn by a TABOR advocate.

With little similarities between Colorado’s TABOR and our M48 this November, Caldwell has shown once again an extraordinary ability to discard the truth and ethics in pursuit of manipulating a public vote. Nothing new about that, but today Bob truly wallows with election charlatans as he takes his early dishonest shots at M48. Wishing to taint the measure and complicate the otherwise simplistic framework of M48 Caldwell doesn’t want voters to know details such as:
TABOR limited ALL State and local government taxing appropriations (collections) in Colorado.
M48 will only limit State spending leaving excess collections for a rainy day fund.
TABOR disallowed any Rainy Day Fund.
M48 makes one automatic as collections will certainly exceed spending.

The argument over technical differences between 48 and TABOR may bog down, however, so the measure’s advocates also have another weapon handy: Framing the measure as the Rainy Day Amendment – a measure setting up a rainy day fund. (Who knows, the strategists probably figured: It might even draw in a few unwary liberals that way).

This will be hard-fought. And the winner will either have convinced the voters that Measure 48 is just a Rainy Day Amendment, or that it’s a whitewashed version of Colorado’s TABOR. The battle is joined.

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Oregon

One of the documents in the relicensure procedures in the Idaho Power Company Hells Canyon Dam case is now out.

Hells Canyon Dams DEISThe Draft Environmental Impact Statement in the case is available on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission web site. Comments are due by October 3. In its summary, FERC said of the relicensure,

Under the staff alternative, the project would be operated as proposed by Idaho Power, but with the following additional operational constraints:

Subject to reconfirmation in 2009, releases from the project to augment downstream flows for the purpose of enhancing juvenile fall Chinook salmon migration conditions.
Additional ramping restrictions during the fall Chinook rearing period.
Stricter reservoir refill targets after the flood control season.
Warmwater fish spawning protection levels in Brownlee reservoir.

The relicensure is one of the quietest big stories in Idaho – its made the news hardly at all. But that’s no excuse for not paying attention.

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To speak of blogs as doing just one thing is to fail to understand the blogosphere; blogs do many kinds of things, some more useful than others. Some of the narrowest niches provide some of the greatest utility.

Case in point, Idaho Radio News, a blog from Boise that addresses exactly what its title indicates: News and developments in the world of radio in the state of Idaho. That’s a subject not central to Ridenbaugh Press but certainly within our scope, and we peruse IRN regularly to keep up. Idaho Radio’s niche may not be enormous but it is (so far as we know) the sole practitioner within it. No one else, on line or otherwise, tracks this particular field.

About a week and a half ago, the proprietor said he was assessing whether to continue on: “After almost three years doing this thing, I’m starting to run out of gas. I’m not finding as much to post… I don’t feel very “plugged in”… and frankly, I seem to get more negative e-mails than positive. Plus, the day job and outside life consume me – much more so than they used to.”

Fair enough. But to his (stated) surprise, the announcement drew a pile of responses, most asking him to stick with it. (The idea of splitting the load by adding contributors was also broached.) Afterward, he said he will think it over and try to reach a decision on direction in late September or so.

Whatever he decides, we hope Idaho Radio News continues on. It provides a real service to people who need it – more than you can say of any number of mass market publications at the supermarket checkout counter . . .

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courtsThe Washington Supreme Court released a decision last week that, while getting not a glimmer of the explosive attention of the same-sex marriage decision that preceded it by several days, is at least as striking and maybe more so. It says that because a certain thing is legal across the border in Oregon even though not in Washington, the fruits of that action can be used in a Washington court.

Put that way, you might get the impression the court was reaching. Our impression is that it wasn’t, that it made good sense. But the implications are provocative.

From the decision in Washington v. Alexander Leonard Fowler, here’s the court’s quick summary of the circumstances.

Petitioner Alexander L. Fowler was convicted by a jury of two counts of incest in the first degree, two counts of incest in the second degree, and one count of rape in the second degree, all stemming from sexual misconduct with his stepdaughter. Fowler asserts that the trial court erred by admitting into evidence recordings of two telephone conversations he had with the victim. The conversations were recorded in Oregon with the consent of and by the victim acting at the request of the Oregon police when they investigated Fowler’s possible sexual misconduct. Fowler was in Washington when he spoke on the phone to the victim, and he did not consent to the recordings; the victim was in Oregon at her family home.
Under Oregon law it is permissible for one party to consent to a recording of a telephone conversation. In Washington, unless an exception applies, it is generally unlawful to tape record a telephone conversation with only one party’s consent under the privacy act, chapter 9.73 RCW. Generally, all parties must consent to a recording in Washington. Based on Washington’s privacy act, Petitioner claims that the recordings of the conversations in Oregon were unlawful under RCW 9.73.030 and were therefore inadmissible in court under RCW 9.73.050. We hold that the recording of conversations in Oregon did not violate RCW 9.73.030 and were thus not
barred from admission. Accordingly, we affirm petitioner’s conviction.

State lines matter.

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Washington

There’s the line of thought that in states like Oregon, where ballot issues pop up by the bushel, you’re better off voting against all of them. (There’s a good argument about just that on Blue Oregon.) Evidently, a lot of people do; something like two-thirds of them tend to fail. It’s a reasonable default situation.

That said, not all do, and not all should. And blanket voting is simply another way of saying one is unwilling to do the work of separating the crystalline from the crud.

Herewith, an early and quick rundown of the measures that make the Oregon ballot this year, our take on what lies ahead. Expect the biggest debate on Measure 48; hope for spirited debate on all, especially the most obscure (and sometimes treacherous) financial measures.

Measure Will it pass? Should it pass?
39 – No eminent domain for private sales yes yes
40 – Constitution: Elect Supreme Court, Appeals by district yes close call
41 – Allow state tax deduction equal to federal exemption unclear no
42 – Ban insurance company use of credit scores for rates yes yes
43 – Parental notification on abortion of minor children yes leaning yes
44 – Expand Oregon prescription drug program yes yes
45 – Constitution: State legislators term limits close call no
46 – Constitution: Procedure on campaign finance law probably no
47 – Campaign finance rules, adds requirements probably no
48 – Constitution: TABOR state spending limits leaning no no

.

Comments not only welcome, but encouraged. Consider the above a first take likedly to be extended and revised a couple of months from now.

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reviewHistory usually does not repeat itself, exactly, but it does send waves of recollection off into the future. We have a hard time learning from history, it seems, until after it smacks us more than once.

Brooks bookUseful history books can at least soften the shock, and Karl Brooks’ new (and first) book on the Hells Canyon controversy may do that, since its timeliness has worked out well. One of the underreported developments in Idaho and Oregon now underway is the renewal of Idaho Power Company’s licenses for the Brownlee, Oxbow and Hells Canyon Dams on the Snake River; the almost certain ultimate approval of those renewals does not lessen their importance (or render insignificant the terms attached). The lack of current controversy would seem to tell many Idahoans and Oregonians that the dams on the Snake involve no dispute.

But they once did, ferocious dispute indeed, and not where you might think. The battle running from the late 40s to the late 50s centered not on the environmental question that might be a centerpiece today – whether to build a dam (or more than one) on such a fine stream of freeflowing river. The issue then was over whether the federal government or Idaho Power, both experienced dam builders, should do the job – and win control of a key piece of electric generation in the Northwest.

Our Paradox Politics touched on the subject briefly, from the standpoint of Idaho politics. But now Karl Brooks has given it the full book treatment, and this thorough review turns out to be unexpectedly timely.

Karl BrooksBrooks was a state senator from Boise, a Democrat, from 1986-92, and a lawyer by profession. He was capable enough at both (as a senator, he was one of those Democrats most highly regarded by Republicans without much compromising philosophically), but the role of hard-nosed advocate or sharp-elbowed partisan never much suited him. He later quit legal work and politics to take a job with the Idaho Conservation League and later still, and currently, a professorship at the University of Kansas.

Public Power, Private Dams (University of Washington Press, Seattle) is Brooks’ review of how history got wrenched around at a critical moment. He may draw issues from some historians for wandering near the counterfactual – the speculation of what might have happened if – but the question at the heart of the book is simply a good reporters’ question: Why didn’t the federal government build the big single dam at Hells Canyon that its planners had for some years intended?

As of the late 40s, the federal goverment – mainly the Bureau of Reclamation and Army Corps of Engineers – were the big guys on the western dam-building scene. They had just got through constructing the mass of enormous dams on the Columbia River (among others), and were ready to taken on what might have been the biggest dam of all – a single big dam in Hells Canyon.

On the other size was a small regional utility, Idaho Power Company. Idaho Power was busy dam builder too, mainly on the Snake River in southern Idaho, where it constructed a long list of dams – much smaller dams than the federal monsters. It wanted to build on Hells Canyon too, but a smaller structure (later expanded to three).

The most immediate and easiest answer to why Idaho Power eventually, in the mid-50s, prevailed, is politics and political philosophy. When the federal plan first gathered steam, in the late 40s, Democrats under Harry Truman were still in power in Washington. From that time Republicans gained strength, especially after the congressional elections of 1950 and the presidential of 1952, and brought with them much more sympathy to private enterprise and less toward big public projects (except, in Dwight Eisenhower’s case, highways). By the time final decisions happened in the late 50s, Idaho Power’s timing was very good.

That’s a reasonable short version, but it doesn’t satisfy entirely, and Public Power demonstrate why it shouldn’t.

Brooks’ narrative gives visibility to the full range of interests and issues playing a role in the dispute, from fish to power rates and distribution and much more – including fundamental changes in the way a lot of people looked at such things as government services, private interests and the role of electric power. (One of the obscure but notable points Books raises is how a growing awareness of environmental considerations and the needs of fish runs drastically undercut the New Deal goal of building big new public projects – one liberal impulse hacking the ground out from under another; the point has resonance today.) It’s a complex story, not a simple one. Brooks tells it cleanly and well.

And it may even send a few more people to the public files to look up those Idaho Power relicensure papers . . .

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Idaho Oregon review

Acuriousity – or is there a reason behind it? On surface at least, it seems one of the more counterintuitive health factoids around.

mosquitoHealth officials are saying that Idaho is the worst state in the nation for serious outbreaks of West Nile virus. That seems odd right on the surface. The virus is spread by mosquitos, and Idaho isn’t an especially big mosquito state – mostly, it’s dry, which tends to discourage the pests. On the other hand, this is a wetter year than most.

There is an excellent Ada County web site tracking West Nile developments in southwest Idaho, where it seems most prevalent. Statewide, as of yesterday, it shows 54 cases of West Nile determined among humans so far this year.

Not good news for the spread of this thing, for anyone in the west.

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Idaho

Though it was apparently in a specially-released state, it isn’t on Ron Saxton’s web site, much though we looked. But maybe there’s good reason for that . . .

Ron SaxtonThe topic is the state spending initiative, slated as Measure 48, and certain to be hotly debated between here and November. We have no hesitation in declaring this one a dog of the most mongrelly sort, for this reason: It’s been tried elsewhere and failed abysmally. (We’ve addressed this before.) Under the label TABOR (Taxpayers Bill of Rights), it was passed in Colorado in 1992 with strong support from the elected leadership of the Republican-led state. By 2005 those same officials, including Republican Governor Bill Owens, were supporting a ballot issue to table TABOR – put it on hold for five years – because the state’s finances had fallen to ruin because of it. One of the other political effects of TABOR was to help shift a state that seemed strongly Republican into one, in the last few years, moving fast into the blue column – anti-TABOR Democrats won a Senate seat there in 2004 and have swept the state legislature.

But in other states which haven’t yet experienced the wonders of TABOR, there’s still a strong Republican base in support of it. Now, in Oregon, it’s qualified for ballot status, and will be a top subject of discussion. So, if you’re Ron Saxton, Republican nominee for governor, what do you do? Agree with the Democratic incumbent, Ted Kulongoski, that it shouldn’t be passed, and thereby drive a wedge between your most enthusiastic party members and yourself (and united them with minor-party candidate Mary Starrett)? Or endorse it, risk losing the Great Middle, and support what you know isn’t supportable?

The catch is that Saxton is more than smart enough to see the problems inherent in TABOR; that’s why he hasn’t signed on with it. But, so soon after going to so much trouble to keep his party’s conservatives safely in the fold, he must be loathe to visibly tick them off.

So, a series of statements that keep raising more questions than they answer.

Today’s – this via the wire, since as noted it can’t be found on Saxton’s web site – says: “The best spending limit is a governor who himself acts as a spending limit.” He appeared to say he wouldn’t support Measure 48. Will he oppose it? Not so clear.

This kind of game has been going on for days.

It’s been tracked on the Saxton Watch blog. The post Saxton Executes the Extremely Challenging Political Quadruple Lutz, Taking Every Possible Position on TABOR runs through the variations. As it describes his statements on the subject:

March 14 AP Debate –Supports General Concept of Spending Limits.
April 2 Appearance on Outlook Portland – Not Ready to Endorse It, but Looks Reasonable.
April 30 Statesman Journal – Explicitly Says He Supports the Measure.
July 14 ONPA Debate – Won’t Be Campaigning For It or Against It.
July 14 (Later that Day) – Supports the Measure.
July 19 Oregonian – Backs off Supporting the Measure.
July 31 AP – Now Needs More Time to Study the Proposal.
August 3 Lars Larson – Praises it, While Declaring He Will Neither Support Nor Oppose It.
August 4 Declare He Will Not Support TABOR, Leaving Unsaid Whether He Opposes It.

Saxton Watch is of course an explicitly anti-Saxton site, and certainly it leans in the critical direction (you could interpret some of the statements they summarize in more favorable ways).

Still. The most obvious conclusion to draw about Saxton and TABOR is that he’s extremely uncomfortable in dealing, conclusively, with it.

UPDATE (8/5): Later on Friday, Saxton was quoted in the Eugene Register Guard as saying, “It’s a correct interpretation that I will not be voting for it . . . I don’t intend to engage in telling the voters one way or the other. I’m not going to be campaigning for or against this thing . . .”

A little clearer. But he still sound impaled on a barbed hook he’d like to escape from . . .

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It’s an indication of changing times, when politicians which sides. Tony Edmondson’s change and appointment today is among the more noteworthy.

Tony EdmondsonIt would be a small point if he were new to electoral politics and if he lived in a place where Democrats were not an exotic species. In this case: Edmundson has been a local government official, on city council and (as a Republican) on county commission, f0r quite a few years, and active on a range of civic activities. And this isn’t in a place where you say lightly that you’re a Democrat: This is Weiser in Washington County, where Democrats haven’t gotten elected to the legislature in decades, seldom get winning votes for major office and aren’t often seen at the courthouse either.

“Despite my nearly 40-year identification with the Republican party, I find that my centrist views have been pushed aside,” he said in explaining the switch. (Notice was sent by e-mail; no links available yet.)

The Idaho Democrats wasted no time with their new acquisition. He will replace Robert Barowsky, a former sheriff, as candidate for state Senate in District 9, opposing Republican incumbent Monty Pearce.

Pearce, naturally, gets the odds in this very Republican district. But Edmondson’s switch changes the district’s coloration one more little bit.

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Idaho