One of the ponderables – toward the beginning – of the short Idaho governorship of Jim Risch was, to what extent was he simply doing his own thing and to what extent was he coordinating with probable future governor and fellow Republican C.L. “Butch” Otter?

Jim RischRisch made a number of major appointments early on, for example; were these run past Otter, so that they would not be short-timers? Risch and his staff put considerable work into developing a governor’s budget proposal; to what extent was he doing something Otter would be willing to submit?

We now have at least partial answers, and the upshot seems to be: Risch was mostly out there on his own. Otter’s few comments about the Risch budget seemed a little dismissive – no particular optimism about his support for it. And early on, he dismissed several Risch appointees (Vaughn Killeen at Corrections, Carolyn Terteling-Payne at human resources, for two) and a large batch of Risch re-appointees he could have unseated months ago.

That’s not to suggest the Risch and Otter people did not communicate, but it does suggest Risch was very much doing what he wanted to do, irrespective of what Otter would do later on.

That seems of a piece with the Risch governorship generally, which has been in many ways the strongest governorship since Cecil Andrus left the job 12 years ago. The two governors in between, Republicans Phil Batt and Dirk Kempthorne, each had their moments; both got stronger in the job as time went on. But neither seemed to have the sense of joy in pulling what former Governor Robert Smylie liked to call “the levers of power” the way Risch (or Andrus, or Smylie) did. You got from Risch the sense (compare it too, to Teddy Roosevelt) that he was riding a tiger and loving every minute of it. He seemed to love that job – not the title, the doing of it. You get the sense that if his title reverted to lieutenant governor but he could keep the authority, he’s been perfectly happy.

None of this is a bad thing; the image of the weary, reluctant Cincinnatus has been badly overused. Risch, who didn’t hide his pleasure in the office, may have sensed that people like seeing a person who enjoys the work, doing it; and he;s probably right. People who enjoy a job, really throw themselves into it, probably do it better.

All of which may have led to some of his most intriguing appointments becoming short-timers. But then, for someone like Risch, there may have been no other way but to do it his way.

bullet Not a lot of thoughts yet on the roster in the new Otter Administration.

There is this, strikingly: The number of non-appointments of office holders who date back to the Batt days – a decade or more atop a department. Pam Ahrens at administration, Karl Dreher at water resources, Pat Takasugi at agriculture – all in place for close to a dozen years now, an unusually long stretch for such a job. (As at federal agencies, a run of two terms – eight years – usually is considered longer than the norm.) Not everyone of such long tenure will be gone; Roger Madsen at labor-commerce, for example, was an early Batt appointment, and will work for the new administration. But generally, Otter seemed to want to some shake-up from previous years.

Not that this means bringing in a lot of entirely new names, so far: Bill Deal at insurance, Celia Gould at agriculture, to name two, are familiar names at the Statehouse for a couple of decades, and not many others are out-of-the-blue appointments either.

A number of changes in names – about the norm, under the circumstances – but not necessarily, so far, a big change in direction.

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One of the things our politics badly, desperately, needs is a new way of describing our philosophical differences. The ye olde left-right formulation was creaky even when it made some relative sense a half-century ago; it has become simply moronic in the years since.

Put under intense political pressure in the last decade, the “left” seems to be making some moves toward coming up with redefinitions – which would fill what has been a vacuum that has allowed the “right” to do the job for it these many years. The need for redefinition of the “right” may be even more imperative; the leaders of that movement daily violate what are commonly described as its core values as a matter of basic principle.

The case may be made clearest when we move away from the two major political parties.

The Constitution Party of Oregon generally gets defined as – and probably they would not argue – a party of the right, “very conservative.” You could plausibly imagine that means it is a lot like the “conservative” Republican Party, only more so.

But then you would have to explain the CPO’s intense opposition – as strong as if not stronger than that of any wing of the Democratic Party – to American military action in Iraq. The party’s vice chair recnetly had a confrontation with state police over one anti-war protest, and the party will be holding an anti-war rally tomorrow. (Nor is any of this a new development.)

You’d also have to explain away something perhaps even more startling: Its picketing of the new Wal-Mart at Grants Pass.

“Their concern is that purchasing those goods is detrimental to the security and prosperity of the United States, as well as exploiting Chinese workers,” party officials said in an e-mail. “Those who participate will be holding bright yellow signs reading: ‘Boycott Wal-Mart made-in-China products’ and ‘Chinese slave so you can save’ In a play on Wal-Mart’s price roll back smiley faces, the signs feature a sad, slant-eyed face, reminding us of the misery we are causing to exploited labor in China.”

Both actions fit the party’s program, which is loosely held to be “of the right.” Perhaps Karl Rove can explain it all for us.

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Oregon

In his Bremerton Beat blog, Steven Gardner equably suggests: Look and decide for yourself.

The context: Democratic state Representative William “Ike” Eickmeyer was challenged this year by Republican Randy Neatherlin. Eickmeyer wound up winning in the Kitsap-Mason County based district with 60.9%. Near the end of the campaign, Washington State Democrats mailed a flyer with a picture of Neatherlin that looked a lot like the Republican’s official portrait photo. But not exactly alike.

Watch Gardner’s video and gauge your reaction.

Our reaction: The brows were shifted down, giving Neatherlin an almost demonic look.

The upcoming photoshopping of candidates? Don’t be surprised.

And look for something else we’ve not seen before: Analysis by way of YouTube, which Gardner did here quite effectively.

(And a hat tip here to the pointer, from David Postman’s Seattle Times blog. Which pre-empted the logical headline: “Low brow campaigning in Kitsap County?”)

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Just because it sounds simple – like common sense – doesn’t mean it stands clear as law. Lawmakers in the three Northwest states (elsewhere too, for that matter) would well spend a day, as they prepare for their January sessions fast approaching, reviewing recent Supreme Court cases in their states, to consider how the law gets interpreted, or must sometimes be expanded upon to make sense.

It would be a humbling experience.

Here’s one good example from the just-released Washington v. Sheldon Dwight Easterlin, that efficiently lays out a case involving a conviction on a drug conviction “enhanced” because the arrestee was armed. But it was not a simple equation: When, exactly, did he become armed?

Here’s the Court on the question:

“Armed criminals pose an increasing and major threat to public safety and can turn any crime into serious injury or death.” “Hard Time for Armed Crime Act.” Laws of 1995, ch. 129, § 1(1)(a) (Initiative 159 (I-159)). Reducing armed crime is a laudable goal.

But neither the initiative nor the legislature has defined “armed,” and this seemingly simple question of whether a defendant was in fact armed, and more importantly how to determine whether a defendant was armed, has come before us time and time again. It presents a particularly difficult question when the defendant had only constructive possession over a weapon.

After much consideration we have developed a two pronged approach for determining whether a defendant was armed. The weapon must have been readily accessible and easily available, and there must have been some connection between the defendant, the weapon, and the crime. State v. Barnes, 153 Wn.2d 378, 383, 103 P.3d 1219 (2005); State v. Valdobinos, 122 Wn.2d 270, 282, 858 P.2d 199 (1993).

That has not been the end of the debate. Until recently, it has not been clear whether the connection itself is an essential element that the State must prove, or merely definitional. See generally Barnes, 153 Wn.2d at 383; State v. Schelin, 147 Wn.2d 562, 55 P.3d 632 (2002).

We have concluded that the connection between the weapon, the defendant, and the crime is definitional, not an essential element of the crime. E.g., Barnes, 153 Wn.2d at 383; State v. Gurske, 155 Wn.2d 134, 138-39, 118 P.3d 333 (2005). Instead, the connection is merely a component of what the State must prove to establish that a particular defendant was armed while committing a particular crime.

So far, we have been presented with these questions mostly inconstructive possession cases. In this case, Sheldon Dwight Easterlin had a gun on his lap and cocaine in his sock when he was approached by the police. He subsequently pleaded guilty to unlawful possession of a controlled substance with a firearms enhancement, among other things.

He now challenges the imposition of the firearms enhancement on the ground he did not know that the State had to prove a connection between his weapon and his crime, and thus he contends his plea was not valid. Alternatively, he argues that the State provided insufficient evidence of such a connection to sustain his plea. The Court of Appeals rejected his challenges. State v. Easterlin, 126 Wn. App. 170, 107 P.3d 773 (2005). We accepted review, State v. Easterlin, 155 Wn.2d 1021, 126 P.3d 1279 (2005),
and affirm.

Seems reasonable. But not altogether obvious up front.

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Have you seen any reference to this anywhere: The Oregonian, which for ages could be had at home delivery virtually all over Oregon, no longer be available on the morning doorstep outside the home area?

OregonianWe can’t recall a news story on this, or even anything on the blogs. But the Oregonian web circulation section now notes: “Home delivery area includes the following counties: Multnomah, Washington, Clackamas, Yamhill, North Marion (Aurora, Woodburn and Donald), Columbia (Scappoose and St. Helens), and Clark County, WA.”

Our correspondent who advised us of this (a hat tip here), notes, “I’ve been predicting this, only it’s more sweeping that I was expecting. I was figuring the O would just cut off Southern Oregon and Eastern Oregon, continuing to serve the northern and central coast, Central Oregon and the Willamette Valley down as far as Eugene.”

This really is a change, basic to the paper’s historic role in the state. The Oregonian has been one of the few truly statewide newspapers left in the West, one of the few with genuine statewide reach. But no longer.

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About the transition of the Oregon House seat in district 18, from newly re-elected Mac Sumner to someone else, three quick observations.

Mac Sumnerbullet As we know now, his departure is for ongoing treatment for lung cancer, a condition he clearly has known about for quite a few months and didn’t disclose to the voters. [UPDATE/AMENDMENT]: On reflecting and after considering a comment – see comment 1 below – this is too harsh and too pointed at the candidate; Sumner didn’t hide his condition. But word of it was not widely spread, and several people and news organizations should have better informed the voters.]

bullet The Salem Statesman Journal reports that the nominees offered by local Republicans to take Sumner’s place are Mike Shrock of Aurora, Ken Iverson of Woodburn, Vic Gilliam of Silverton, Victor Hoffer of Mount Angel and Jeff Faville of Salem. We have no particular take on what the Marion and Clackamas County commissioners may do in picking among them, as they are supposed to do by December 27. (A curiosity: Tootie Smith, who once held this House seat, was earlier said to be interested but not listed in among the nominated five.)

We will suggest the most interesting of these prospects may be Hoffer, who has had some visbility as a candidate before. In the Blue Oregon review of the prospects, state labor director Dan Gardner weighs in with a recollection: “Victor Hoffer ran against me in 2000 for Labor Commissioner He is the nicest opponent I ever had. I used to call him Mr full service He is a lawyer and an ambulance driver.”

bullet Finally: Isn’t this system for replacing legislators – by way of county commissioners – just a little clunky? Doesn’t it give odd imbalances in cases of districts where one or more counties have only a precinct or two of participation, but commissioners get a heavy say in the decision?

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Part of what made the Oregon House district 24 race this year so close was the absence, until near the end, of campaign fundraising or spending by Republican Representative Donna Nelson, while her Democratic opponent, Sal Peralta, quietly raised his modest but useful campaign bank account.

Donna NelsonBut was that absence of Nelson fundraising and spending quite what we thought it was?

The McMinnville News Register is reporting today that Nelson’s campaign is being reviewed – “a possible criminal investigation,” the office said – for failure to report substantial financial activity months in advance of the election – months before it actually was reported. Lobbyist campaign records show thousands of dollars of contributions to Nelson in July, which she had not yet reported for her early October reports. They were shown in the late-October reports. (The inquiry was prompted by Democratic activist Debbie Runciman.)

Nelson suggested that the checks might not have been sent out until long after dated, and that she in any event might not have opened the envelopes until long after receiving them.

Expect much more on this in the weeks ahead.

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The campaign cycle for Washington governor has gone live, notably with Governor Chris Gregoire’ opening initiatives for 2007 – release of her budget proposal for the next biennium.

It bears more than passing resemblance to the proposals Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski released a couple of weeks ago, and her take on it is similar to – the time to do the “investment” – spending – which was long deferred, is at hand. In Kulongoski’s case, the budget is linked to what he sees as his legacy; but in Gregoire’s, it is tied more directly to her political future. Her proposals cover the budget year that will be in effect when Washington voters select their next governor.

Given all that, the budget offers targets, logical targets, for whoerver runs against her. We’ll presume for the moment no serious primary opposition. The name of her Republican opponent is as yet unclear, but a sort of right of first refusal would have to go the man who so nearly beat her in 2004, former state Senator Dino Rossi.

With that in mind, cruise to this post by Richard Roesler, Olympia reporter for the Spokane Spokesman-Review. He has made a provocative discovery: “After months of near-dormancy, the web site of a foundation run by former gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi has perked back to life in a new spot on the Internet. The most substantial thing on it so far is a Powerpoint presentation detailing growth in the state budget in recent years (but not adjusted for inflation, as far as I can tell) and discussion of budget reforms Rossi is calling for . . .”

When Roesler called the Forward Washington Foundation, a “startled” staffer said it wasn’t supposed to be released yet. And it promptly disappeared from the main site location. Roesler did a little more url prowling and found the presentation again. And then, hours later, that one disappeared.

A Rossi Republican response to the Gregoire budget? Or are we seeing something else here? And does this indicate a higher level of interest in running by Rossi than he seems to have suggested recently?

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There’s been some chatter in Idaho political circles about the idea that Democratic legislative sucesses, few as they are, have made the Republican caucuses ever more conservative – and so, the operative control of Idaho’s legislature ever more conservative.

To which the essential reply is: Well, yes, they have.

Some Democrats seem to have been made uneasy by comments like those of Betsy Russell of the Spokesman-Review, who asked in her blog, “Could it be that by electing more Democrats, Idaho voters actually bought themselves a more conservative Republican Legislature?” And proceeded to answer yes.

We agree with Russell’s analysis, and we’ll take it a few directions further.

The concept of winning Democratic legislative seats at the expense of knocking off “pretty good for a Republican” Republicans is one that some Idaho Democrats are having a hard time with. Nationally, Democrats in places like New England and the Great Lakes for years had a hard time with it. They got over it, with results the nation saw last month.

So, they might recall, did Republicans over the last three decades, as they went after historically conservative Democrats. The national Democratic Party was for decades split between its liberal, moderate and conservative portions, but Republicans solved that problem for them starting in the 80s and more sweepingly in the 90s, as the GOP became the dominant political party in the south, turning that region into its strongest big base. This was partly a process of philosophical sifting out: Conservatives migrated from the Democrats to the Republicans, and the Republican Party – which for decades also had wings across the spectrum – came to be much more conservative. That made them much harder to beat in the south, and a number of other places.

But that dynamic has two sides, and we saw it most strikingly this year. Vast areas of the Northeast and the Great Lakes last month – following more subtle tendencies in the last couple of elections – swept Republicans from office. Those regions rapidly are becoming a Democratic base, in part as Republican voters who are liberal or moderates – and in those parts of the country, there were still plenty of them – moved over to the Democratic column. Nationally, we seem to be moving toward a completion of the philosophical party switch that began in earnest in the 60s, as the Democrats move toward something called liberal and the Republicans called something called conservative.

An earnest caveat right here: Those two terms about political philosophy are so badly abused and misinterpreted that we use them only under extreme protest. For purposes of this article, we’ll use the terms as they are most commonly used, but that is so imprecise that the reader is hereby given grave warning about them.

To recap quickly: Where have the Republican gains from Democrats taken place? In places where relatively conservative Democrats – those most like most Republicans – once held sway. And where have Democrats picked up? In places where Republicans acted less like stereotypical “conservative Republicans” and closer to the ways of Democrats.

You can see this all over. In Washington state, Democrats picked up a big batch of Republican seats in the state legislature last month. Did they get them in the conservative reaches of rural Washington? No, not a one. Not a single one. They got almost all of them in the Seattle suburbs – in the areas where Republicans, by and large, have had to compromise the kind of conservatism that their rural bretheren had stuck to. (The only exceptions east of the Cascades were in two Spokane-based district – also heavily suburban.)

Two years ago, the Idaho Democrats gained two Senate seats, both in the Boise area. The two Republicans who had held them – Sheila Sorensen and Cecil Ingram – were solid members of the Republican caucus (read: they were not liberals by any reasonable definition) but among the most moderate members of the caucus, among the easiest for Democrats to deal with. In replacing them with Democrats, the Idaho Democrats removed from the Senate caucus two of the members who were most inclined to work with and compromise with them.

This year, much the same happened on a larger scale when Idaho Democrats won five Boise House seats. Like Sorensen and Ingram, these mostly were Republicans who – partly because of where they lived, which is to say places which were less hard-edged conservative and includes more Democrats in the population – who, while certainly partisan loyalists, sometimes were found toward the moderate side of the conservative Republican caucus. Their departure leaves a larger percentage of that caucus in the hands of more conservative members.

Where Democrats go at this point toward picking up more legislative seats is unclear. But the single most logical piece of turf that seems to stick out is Latah County, whose legislative district currently elects one Democrat and two of the most moderate Republicans in the Idaho Legislature, Gary Schroeder and Tom Trail – moderate enough that they have often infuriated other Republicans (because of philosophy) and are almost partisan outliers.

Many Idaho Democrats have resisted seriously going after them, in part because they admire their stands on education, the environment, worker rights and other subjects. But if they want to pick up votes, places like Latah – moderate Republicans and all – are where they will be found. Both Schroeder and Trail have substantial local popularity, and we’re certainly not predicting they’ll be beaten (and surely not easily) anytime soon. But when one day they do leave the legislature, there’s a good chance Democrats will take those seats – will, at least, if they exert themselves.

And if that happens, the Republican legislative caucuses will become a little more conservative.

Democrats in turn may find that if Republicans – becoming increasingly conservative, including in their ranks ever-fewer Schroeders and Trails and Ingrams and Sorensens – occupy a narrower philosophical tent, that tendency will over time open more ground for Democrats to exploit. That is the strategic eventuality Democrats will face, that the Republicans they like best and appreciate most are those most directly standing in their way. (That is what the Republicans learned nationally a long time ago.)

These are trends, of course, and trends do not mean destiny. Both parties, or either, could upset all of this by embracing, rather than expelling, their moderates. Or by redefining themselves.

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power poleWhat was it people always used to say, about adversity bringing us together? Okay, sometimes it does. But not always.

David Goldstein of the Horses Ass blog is one of the many Seattleites left in the dark by Thursday’s massive windstorm – still in the dark. And he has some issues about it:

“Down here in South Seattle, we tend to have a little chip on our shoulders about what we perceive to be a less than equal share of city services, so it didn’t escape my attention this morning when I called Seattle City Light for an update, and they proudly announced that they had restored all the downed feeders in the more affluent North end of the city, leaving us in the South end to freeze our asses off in the dark. The recording said that of the 55 feeders originally down, the 30 remaining are all in the South. Yippee.”

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The great forest lands of the Northwest are in largest part public – a whole lot are national forest lands, or state-owned lands. But big, significant portions of those forest lands are privately held, many by timber companies and others – a growing number – by companies simply managing them, with no particular tie to timber.

forest in NC IdahoWe’ve been accustomed to the idea that these lands are almost a supplement to the public lands – logged to a greater degree, yes, and privately held, yes, but seeming not so different. But they are different, always have been and most certainly will be, and a new report from Potlatch underscores that. (A hat tip here to the correspondent who pointed this out.)

Idahoans are accustomed to thinking of Potlatch as a timber production company, what with its big plants at Lewiston and elsewhere, and it still is to a point. But it has been formally reorganized as a REIT – a real estate investment trust – and while it did that for tax and other business reasons, the reorg also highlighted the way the company is changing and its ongoing direction. Potlatch is the owner of 1.5 million acres of land, about 100,000 to 120,000 acres in Idaho alone. Think about the value real estate has taken in recent years, and the development growth Idaho has seen, and the shape of things to come begins to emerge.

Here’s the key part of Potlatch’s statement from Monday:

“After reorganizing as a REIT earlier this year, we began a process of taking a very deep look at all of the values associated with our land holdings,” said President and Chief Executive Officer Michael J. Covey. “Through this intensive land value stratification process, we have identified those lands that are non-strategic to our core forestland operations. These higher valued forestlands are available to be sold over time and the proceeds may be used to fuel the growth of the company through acquisitions, or to pay down debt or execute a share repurchase program.”

Potlatch’s entire ownership of 1.5 million acres is located in desirable rural and mountain regions across the country. A significant portion of Potlatch lands have key attributes that make it superior recreational property. Additionally, in keeping with Potlatch’s long tradition of managing forestland using the highest levels of stewardship, our forestlands are third-party certified.

“Potlatch’s Idaho land holdings are located in the beautiful north-central part of the state, which has long been known for its spectacular wilderness, white water rivers, salmon, trout and steelhead fishing and big game hunting,” said Vice President Land Sales and Development William R. DeReu. “Potlatch properties in Minnesota are rural, forested and located within a few hours drive from Minneapolis and St. Paul. The Arkansas ownership, like Minnesota, offers exceptional opportunities for hunting and outdoor recreation in a beautiful mixed hardwood and conifer forest,” added DeReu.

This should be considered new-directional, since Covey took over as CEO only earlier this year – this has the mark of a direction with the new administration’s brand on it.

Imagine a large part of 110,000 acres up for sale in north-central Idaho: the region could be transformed.

Of course, we don’t yet know how many of those acres will actually be posted for sale or new use. And there are limitations. A correspondent notes that “Potlatch entered into an agreement a couple of years ago with Trust for Public Lands, The Nature Conservancy and the feds to place conservation easements (logging ok, no development) on up to 70,000 acres of their Idaho lands for which they were to receive $40M from the federal treasury” – and that may be a significantly limiting factor. Or, in the nature of these things, possibly not as limiting as we think.

But you can get some indication from recent developments in Oregon, where Plum Creek Timber has filed a huge Measure 37 land use claim which could open the door to development – residential, commercial, industrial? – of 37,000 acres of forest land in Lincoln and Coos counties. That claim could fail, for several reasons, and even if it passes legally it might never be (probably would not be) fully executed.

But it shows the direction publicly-held timber companies, with their huge asset base and limited ability to accelerate their quarterly profits the way some others do, may be looking. Some of those directions could change very face of the Northwest.

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As Vancouver Mayor Royce Pollard cautions, it’s only a step. But it is a step, this latest poll showing Clark County residents strongly in favor of expanding light rail to their side of the river.

We’ll admit to a biased view. My sister is an example of a would-be eager user of such a system. She lives in east Vancouver, near I-205, but takes regular classes and does other work at Portland State University, in downtown Portland. Getting from one to the other is quite a bit of work and a big pain. If she could catch the rail up on her side of the river, the commute would be easy (especially with the extension now underway that will run straight through PSU). Her kind of situation is far from unique; Portland and Vancouver are part of one big metro area.

There are additional specific arguments. They run from the extreme traffic jam-ups at the I-5 Columbia River area, a daily mess and slowdown (probably the worst jam spot in the Portland area) to the shape of Vancouver – the densest population core running east-west, in parallel to Mill Plain Boulevard, creating a logical route for light rail. (A lot of Vancouverites would doubtless use it to run between the big residential areas and the downtown area lying southwest of most of them.

The light rail concept has seemed DOA for lack of public support. In 1995 voters in Vancouver rejected the idea of light rail development, by about 2-1. Despite that, Pollard (who has some personal popularity to trade on) and some others have continued to push for it. And now the margins have flipped – a poll by the interstate Columbia River Crossing study group now shows 68% support.

On top of that, even more metro Oregonians – 76% – say they would like to see the rail lines run across the river.

Part of all this may be the continuing expansion of the rail system, MAX (part of the Tri-Met transit system) to cover increasing areas around Portland – from about a 50-mile run east of downtown Portland to Gresham and west to Hillsoboro, more recently north to the airport and the Expo center, and soon south to Clackamas. It is useful and heavily used.

Another part may be the worsening traffic, and growing reailization of the extremely high cost of coping with them in any event. One of the reasonable objections to light rail has long been the cost; but in some places, we’re approach points where the cost of expanding roadways is becoming no less. (Bear in mind the fracas in Oregon’s Yamhill County, where a a consulting company has argued that the only practical way to build a much-needed bypass highway is to poll not only the new road but an existing free-passage highway, 99W, as well – an idea that clearly is DOA politically.)

The toughest part of a Vancouver expansion – how to pay for it – wasn’t on the poll. That’s no minor consideration, of course. But prerequisite to getting the money (with the change in control of Congress, some avenues for funding may be opening) is getting the public support. And now, in marked change, that seems to be on the way.

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