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Posts published in August 2006

Westlund reshapes gub politics, again

Almost exactly six months ago, state Senator Ben Westlund, newly-minted independent, promised to shake up Oregon politics by running for governor. He did. He also said he would run only to win, not as a spoiler. This afternoon, he held true to the spirit of that, too.

Ben WestlundHis dropping out of the race nonetheless comes as a surprise. Six weeks ago, he looked like an uncertain quantity to make the ballot; as of yesterday, he looked like a slam dunk to make it.

And he has had some useful things to say, like this in his announcement today: "We must end once and for all extreme partisanship’s bitter grip on Oregon’s future, because if I have learned one thing in this campaign so far… it is this: Until we as Oregonians are allowed to vote our hope… as opposed to being forced to vote our fear … Oregon will continue to spiral into mediocrity and below at an increasingly faster pace." The catchphrase on his website, "Vote your Hope, not your Fear," is one fht best political bumper stcker phrases of the year. (And we should note that his website, put together in-house, is one of the best of any Northwest campaign this year.)

We visited Westlund's Bend headquarters on Tuesday. It looked a little quiet, but with signs of recent activity - nothing amiss. There were a few impressive indicators, and the one striking hardest was the four-foot-wide shelft of white notebooks which contained copies of all the petition signatures the campaign had gathered around the state - about 50,000 of them. We remarked that those tens of thousands of names could be a hell of a resource in a general election campaign where turnout may be king. Westlund's staff indicated that the point had not escaped them.

Beyond that, Westlund simply presented himself well - impressively, drawing good reviews all over better reviews more consistently than any of the other candidates. He seemed poised to launch ahead into the finals.

All of that said, his political instincts were right. Recent polling has shown him somewhere around the 5% to 10% mark, far back of the major party nominees, Democratic Governor Ted Kulongoski and Republican Ron Saxton. It might have been enough to reshape the race, in some way, but far short of winning. Hence, Westlund's dropout.

Does this, now, reshape the race?

Probably, but only at the margins. Evidence of whether Kulongoski or Saxton was losing votes to Westlund has been mixed for months. The prevailing view seems to be that the governor benefits the most, but the exact difference will be hard to gauge.

It certainly does simplify the race. More on that shortly - and also more thoughts on what may become of the Great Middle.

Republican endorses Democrat . . . ah . . .

Only a few weeks ago Republicans all over the country were scoffing at the idea of Democrats in Connecticut ousting their three-term U.S. senator, Joe Lieberman, because he was too close to Republicans. Ridiculous, they said. And so did many Democrats; leading Democrats from Bill Clinton on down came to campaign for him. And when Liberman lost his primary on Tuesday, and said he would continue on as a sorta-kinda independent in the general election, it would be as an independent Democrat.

Perhaps they would like, then, to explain this statement issued today from Washington's Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, Mike McGavick: "In support of Sen. Lieberman’s campaign for civility, I wish him the best, and Gaelynn and I plan on contributing to his campaign.”

Lieberman seems about to become the real Republican nominee for the Senate in Connecticut, whether he wants to be or not.

Note: Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell, McGavick's opponent, endorsed the Connecticut primary winner, Ned Lamont, just prior to McGavick's statement.

Pencil it out

Before we forget, a quick reality check on the property tax-sales tax proposal offered by Governor Jim Risch, scheduled for passage by the Idaho Legislature later this month.

The snap view for many people is that any proposal which reduces their property tax will be beneficial, and Risch's plan will - there's no dispute on this - reduce property taxes, in many cases by around a fifth The catch is that he plans to raise the sales tax by a penny, to six cents, to do it.

There's an emotional component to this. Many Idahoans have gotten so accustomed to the daily chore of complying with sales tax rules that they simply accept it and think little about it, and think little about wht the sales tax takes out of their pockets - they oull together only rarely how much those pennies and nickels and dimes add up. Property taxes, on the other hand, are paid in lump sum and can easily constitute a major hassle, even a crisis. So the roaw numbers may not be the whole story.

Still, how would you feel bout Risch's plan if you learned that as a result of it, you'll actually be paying more in taxes - less property tax, perhaps, but more in sales tax?

That is likely to be the end result, to one extent or other, for most Idahoans. To find out if you're one of them, check out the Spokesman-Review Risch tax calculator. It isn't statewide-perfected - some of the calculations relay on property tax rates for certain northern Idaho school districts - but it should be close enough to give you a general idea of what the plan will save or cost you.

Take the survey, and then watch the action on in a couple of weeks.

Who are they?

Laird Maxwell, who's coordinating the Proposition 2 effort in Idaho - the swipe at land use planning and exemptions therefrom - usually comes across as an amiable sort. That's a point worth noting and bearing in mind as you consider a couple of quotes that appear to offer a useful insight into how he, and a lot of other people whose ally he is, look at the world.

The quotes appear in an interview in this week's Boise Weekly, in which reporter Shea Anderson wrote a bit about the background of the initiative, which appears likely to turn up on the November ballot.

First, the obvious question: How did it come to be?

Shea said that Maxwell, who is well-connected in conservative anti-tax circles, approached Libertarian activist Howard Rich and others with this: "You got the money, I got the time. We'll make this happen."

Remember those innocent days when initiatives were supposed to be eruptions of local activism? This may be the most explicit statement we've seen yet - and wonderfully concise - demonstrating how ballot issues have been turned into cynical marketing ploys designed with the sub-goal in mind of filling the bank accounts of people who work on them.

The second quote was a little more specific to the topic at hand, which has to do with upending substantial work local governments have done on planning and zoning (not nearly as impactful, to be sure, in Idaho as in Oregon, the source of this measure's core ideas).

Maxwell: "These planners and all that, they just get in the way. Most of that planning is futile anyway ... It's really kind of arrogant. Who do they think they are?"

Good question, if the presumption underlying his question were true: That a group of self-appointed bureaucrats just walked into government offices one days and started dictating what property owners can do with their property. To accept that, you have to ignore a whole lot: A Republican legislature that passed the land use planning act in 1975, the locally-elected county commissions and city councils which have been doing the P&Z work all these years, all the people active in all sorts of ways in trying to shape their communities.

Who do they think they are? Maybe, citizens and people elected by citizens, and people paid - by the taxpayers, on approval of elected officials - to do the technical work.

But then, too, there's this: "These planners and all that, threy just get in the way. " There's a very big question underlying that: What exactly is Idaho's modest planning and zoning getting in the way of?

Ponder that a bit, as you consider where best to assign the relevant instances of arrogance.

Shot down

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.

The Battle of Rainy Day vs TABOR

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.

Review time

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.

Blog utility and Idaho radio

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 . . .

Legal across the Columbia

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.