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Posts published in December 2006

Lessening open source?

Taken as a whole, open-source computer software activities (many though not all centered around the Linux operating system) are much too large worldwide to be easily jolted. The Oregon component of it, though, may be jolted a bit by news that the Open Source Development Labs at Beaverton will slice away a third of its staff and will go CEO-less for "the foreseeable future."

penguinThat's not a particularly good sign at least locally, since the labs have been a center of development activity in the area.

It shouldn't be overstated. Open source is important in Oregon in a whole bunch of organizations, from a major repository and development center at Oregon State University at Corvallis to the Free Geek shop in the Portland industrial district. And symbolically, Linux founder Linus Torvalds, who has made his home i nthe Lake Oswego area, shows no sign of moving.

But some fresh signals of expansion would probably be an encouraging thing for open source fans, at a time when Microsoft is releasing a new operating system and Apple is seeing fresh resurgence with iPODs and computers alike.

The Driscoll watch, and beyond

The protest didn't amount to much, but that hardly mattered. The point, in the case of Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church, was made and it won't be let go.

Driscoll's church (he founded it a decade ago) is one of the largest in Seattle, with a congregation of about 5,000 at three campuses at Ballard, Shoreline and West Seattle - a megachurch. He is a speaker of national influence, and locally has been highly visible as a religion columnist in the Seattle Times. Combine that with the increasingly direct role religious organizations and leaders play in our culture and politics, and you have a figure highly influential in public affairs. What he says has effect beyond the religious instruction of a congregation; it ripples through the larger society.

That Driscoll would comment after the recent scandal involving fellow pastor Ted Haggard - who has ackowledged buying illegal drugs from a male prostitute - would be expected. His exact comments, posted in a blog but not delivered, apparently, in a sermon, set teeth on edge: "It is not uncommon to meet pastors' wives who really let themselves go . . . A wife who lets herself go and is not sexually available to her husband ... is not responsible for her husband's sin, but she may not be helping him either." (You wonder what Driscoll's wife thought of that. )

(The roles of the sexes seem to bring out the controversial in Driscoll; in another blog, he remarked (after Episcopal church leaders chose a woman as bishop), "If Christian males do not man up soon, the Episcopalians may vote a fluffy baby bunny rabbit as their next bishop to lead God's men.")

In response, a protest was brought on Sunday by the group People Against Fundamentalism, which blasted him. Driscoll's quick response was an apology, a smart move letting air out of the balloon: “But I also learned that as my platform has grown, so has my responsibility to speak about my convictions in a way that invites other people to experience charity from me, which means inflammatory language and such need to be scaled back.” Also by then, the Times had decided to end Driscoll's religion column (the recent controversy not being the reason why, editors said).

All of which suggests a lower profile for Driscoll in the months ahead.

Maybe. The basic principles and ideas under dispute and debate here are the kind of kindling that need only a small match.

OR: The budget ahead

Government budget planners have a tough job this season. Across the Northwest, and for the most part nationally, they're coming off a couple of years of good revenues that exceeded their earlier expectations. There'll be a temptation to run with that, to say that the good times will continue to roll in the next couple of years and that such questions as "where will the money come from?" won't be especially relevant in the near term.

Oregon governor's budget booksWe're more pessimistic: Read the bond market (often a good indicator of long-term trends) and the housing market (the undergirding for the current money flow) and you get a clear sense that 2007 will be a tough patch, and maybe 2008 as well. Which gives us some basis for an early assessment of the state budget proposals from the governors of the northwest, one today from Oregon, one later this month from Washington and the last early in January from Idaho.

Early on in his press conference today about his budget proposal (technically released on Friday to meet state code requirements, but delivered in practice today), Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski was asked about and acknowledged the concerns about a slowdown. His answer suggested that the concerns have been factored in. Maybe; but some associated details paint a more ambiguous picture.


Vacant bench

No doubt you can find similar cases elsewhere, but here's something striking about politics in Idaho's counties these days: That is, the absence of it.

unopposed county offices
Dark green - all partisan offices unopposed; light green - just one partisan office contest

By which we mean: So many seats to be held by partisan elected officials, and so many unopposed candidates for them.

This year, counties typically had six seats up for election: two for the commission, plus clerk, treasurer, assessor and coroner. (Local vacancies or appointments vary the number slightly in some places, but generally Idaho's 44 counties had about partisan 264 seats, all of them (at least on initial read-through) won by either of a Republican or a Democrat. But in 14 counties, only one person filed for each of those seats - about a third of all Idaho counties. (We're excluding last-minute write-ins.) And in another 12 counties, of the six or sometimes seven partisan races, only one was contested.

That means only a little over a third of Idaho counties had a genuinely contested set of elections for courthouse offices this year (in many cases, just two or three seats contested).

There are a lot of implications for this. Here's one: That's not a way for parties to build their "bench," their farm team of candidates who will one day run for higher offices. Here's another" No one has a real motivation to provide serious oversight at all those courthouses.

Kitz out, apparently

The Ben Westlund Senate scenario we just posted abruptly looks a little more plausible. Former Governor John Kitzhaber seems to have taken himself out of consideration for the Senate in 2008.

Kitzhaber is a guest on the KWBP interview program Outlook Portland with Nick Fish, to air Sunday morning at 6:30. A clip from it has been posted on the Willamette Week site. It shows what looks like the closing seconds of the program, when Fish asks Kitzhaber, "If the Archimedes Movement is successful and there's something to be done at the federal level, would you consider running for the Senate?"

A smiling Kitzhaber replied, "No."

You could parse the question and maybe find a trap door or two, but the speed and abruptness with which the former governor answered seemed to say it all.

On to other prospects.

Weighing Smith/Westlund ’08

Premature the speculation certainly is, premature in every way. Still, the idea intrigues too much to let go, and this closer from commentator Ben Sadler's latest column begs for a followon:

Gordon Smith
Gordon Smith
Ben Westlund
Ben Westlund

"Given the voters' rebuke of the Republican Party and Smith's orthodox partisan voting record, Smith can no longer hide in Mark Hatfield's maverick cloak. Smith is no maverick. Ben Westlund is. And Oregonians love their mavericks."

They do, and you saw it in the initially enthusiastic reaction of a lot of Oregonians when Westlund, a state senator who had just switched his affiliation from Republican to independent, announced for governor. Westlund would bring some important assets to such a race, along with some big questions.

Before going any further, some caveats we've visited here before. We don't even know, for example, that Smith is running again. The single best candidate against Smith would probably be former Governor John Kitzhaber, but his plans if any are so far an enigma and likely to stay so for a while. Next in line, we think, would be U.S. Representatives Earl Blumenauer and Peter de Fazio - either would likely get the nomination easily absent Kitzhaber and each other; but here too, intentions are obscure, the more so because these legislators are just moving into a majority. After that, there's likely no one whose entry would clear the field.

Except maybe.


Who the client is

The issue is clear - so that there is no issue - when private citizens like you or us, or a private business or other private entity hire an attorney, converse with the attorney and get advice from the attorney. Those kinds of communications are confidential. Only under the most extreme of cases, such that there are hardly any, can those communications be legally pried loose. (Or such has been the standard in this country.)

Now let's say you're a member of a city council, and you and the other council members agree to hire an attorney to look after the city's interests - not yours personally, but the city's.

Under the norms in open meetings and public records law, those communications are considered confidential between the city attorney and the city officials: The council and mayor, say, and whoever else they allow in. The people on whose authority the attorney was hired and on whose behalf the attorney is acting - that is, the residents of the city - typically are shut out. And if you suspect that from time to time, the advice the attorney is giving council members under such conditions may be aimed more at keeping the council members out of trouble, than at doing the same for the city - and those interests do not always perfectly coincide - you could be right.

Those are the kind of suspicions the Oregon Supreme Court will now leave to fester in the case of an attempt to more fully expose to public scrutiny the financial management of the Klamath County school district.