Writings and observations

Wreaths on church

If the traffic and consumption madness of the days before Christmas has a positive side, it would be the time of rest and reflection many do take in the day or two that follows. This year, perhaps more than most, we seem to have come to a light pause, in the Northwest and beyond, and this seems a good time for reflection.

Most everyone around the Puget Sound can, at last, turn on working electric lights and ensure their houses will be heated again. The storm of the 14th whacked the region hard, the Seattle area harder than any, and to greater and lesser degrees people suffered from it. The path back was longer than most anyone expected, and the discussion of how to shorten that path in future has now to begin. But for the moment we have, most of us, recovery.

The last few weeks have been helpful to others as well.

The Oregonian‘s David Reinhard posted a fine column today on the apparent settlement of the Portland Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic church with plaintiffs suing it over sexual abuse cases. Without diminishing the seriousness of those charges, Reinhard also got on the ground about the effects the suits have had:

“St. Michael’s bears the literal and figurative marks of the archdiocese’s time in bankruptcy. It’s a beautiful brick building, with the Italianate flourishes of the immigrant community that built it. But it’s old and in need of restoration and a major seismic upgrade. It’s one good earthquake away from being a pile of rubble and a danger to all within. Restoration plans were afoot in 2002. They crashed to a halt amid the uncertainties of the bankruptcy. The upshot can be seen along the north and south interior walls, where in spots the plaster has been scraped down to reveal the exterior bricks. Yes, the restoration would benefit worshippers, but the project also includes updating the basement kitchen, which provides daily meals for downtown poor and homeless people.

“Although you may see no tangible evidence of the bankruptcy’s impact at every parish in the archdiocese, there’s been an impact nonetheless – for parishioners and nonparishioners alike: Projects not undertaken. Funds not raised. Plans put on hold.”

angel on a Christmas treeFor every sign of development positive, of course, you can find a marker of things yet undone, corrections yet to be made. We see it locally, even more dramatically nationally – war, economic distress, social and environmental troubles and conflict. But we should be reminded that in some areas and in some ways, at least, we progress. And after taking a deep breath in the spirit of the season, perhaps we will progress again in the year to come.

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In Oregon, Washington County, in Washington, to a great dergee, Pierce County – electorally a crucial pivot when things get tight, a county tilting either way, and sometimes providing enough votes to make the difference. (Ask Dave Reichert.)

Pierce CountyPierce is also one of those counties electing a county executive, a partisan position which can generate enough sway to affect the county’s tilt. The Moderate Washingtonian has a useful post on this, along with some of the early contours of the race to replace current Executive John Ladenburg (Democrat), who in 2008 will be term-limited.

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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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