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Posts published in December 2006

OR H24 – a campaign inquiry

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.

Fluttering images: Rossi redux

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?

Reshaping Republicans

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.


Together in adversity . . . an alternate view

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."

Sale en masse

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.

First stop

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.


Luna’s double-header

Two headlines today - in various places, but for one the Idaho State Journal regional news roundup - about Idaho's newly elected and incoming superintendent of public instruction, Tom Luna.

They say: "Idaho schools chief embellished federal resume," and "Luna fires 20 at Idaho Department of Education." Depending on one's point of view, the two really do, or really don't, belong together.

The embellishment (broken by the Associated Press) concerned Luna campaign literature saying he was "Appointed Senior Adviser to Secretary of Education Rod Paige by President George W- Bush," when he was appointed instead by Paige as a "Special Assistant" - a substantial difference. (We'd offer for review as well our take from this spring on Luna's federal years.)

The second is self-explanatory, other than that the names of the employees were not released.

Toward an Alaskan way

Up in Alaska, state and a lot of local governments have a great deal of oil-based money to play with. Seattle, which has about as many residents as the state of Alaska, does not: For big projects, it needs state and even federal bucks.

Alaskan WayTherein lies the catch with the otherwise clearcut Alaskan Way project. Akaskan Way is a limited access roadway rising above downtown hugging the shoreline of the Puget Sound, allowing traffic from north or south of downtown a direct route to the other side (along with exits and entry to downtown), at - surprisingly often - good speed and efficiency. There are two significant issues. One is that quite a few people think it damages the view along the downtown Seattle shoreline (which to a degree it probably does). But much the larger is this: The old road, built back in the 50s, is unsound, is cracking and could collapse when another earthquake hits.

There are three solutions: One is to route the Way along ground level, but that gets little support, since although inexpensive it would mean subjecting the through traffic to the downtown grid, defeating the purpose. Another, supported by Mayor Greg Nickels and a majority on the city council, is to build a tunnel, route the traffic underground, a fine approach from the driver's standpoint but also extremely expensive (about $4.6 billion, and rising). The middle path, supported - we now know - by Governor Chris Gregoire, would rebuild the current elevated road, more or less, at a somewhat matter price tag (about $2.8 billion, and rising).

That latter position went public on Friday, along with indications from the governor that she and the city were in gridlock over the difference. She also suggested a way to broak the gridlock: An advsory vote by the voters of Seattle.


Sweet to Sali

Not a lot of Idaho legislators were close to former state representative, now U.S. Representative-elect Bill Sali, but state Senator Gerry Sweet, R-Meridian, certainly was.

Gerry SweetThe past tense refers not to the relationship, which continues tightly, but to Sweet's role in the legislature - he has resigned his seat in the Idaho Senate to become Sali's in-state district manager. He's a logical choice in that regard.

There are other regards. Sweet was hashed last session for missing a lot of votes so that he could attend to his pribvate business, which often meant attending gun shows and similar events. The Associated Press reported then, "he absences of Sen. Gerry Sweet, R-Meridian, drew criticism from some lawmakers who say he hasn’t paid enough attention to one of the Legislature’s most important panels. Sweet didn’t vote on 63 of 200 budget bills for fiscal year 2007, based on figures provided by the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee to The Associated Press."

But then, while the job of state senator is part time, that of district manager of a congressional office is full time. Usually.

FOLLOWING: With his letter of resignation lodged, the district's Republican central committee has about two weeks to nominate replacements (usually three are nominated). The governor then picks one - which leads to the question of which governor will make the choice, Jim Risch or Butch Otter? The time frame would allow for either to do so . . .