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Posts published in January 2007

The hurdles

The difficulties faced these days by Republicans in Washington and Oregon, and Democrats in Idaho, are underscored by a study released today by the Gallup Poll.

The study as a whole concerned how people identify themselves in terms of political party - Democratic or Republican, leaning to one or the other, or independent. It has been conducting the polls for some years. Nationally, it found that 34% called themselves Democrats or leaned that way, 30% Republicans or leaned that way, and 34% independents.

How do the numbers stack in the Northwest?

In Washington, which the poll again suggests is the most Democratic of the three, the Democrats accounted for 54%, Republican 36% and independents 10%. If that's an accurate measure, Republicans in Washington have some serious work cut out, with an 18% gap to make up.

In Oregon, things are closer but not really close: Democrats 49%, Republicans 41%, independents 12%. (Oregon has one of the higher independent percentages in the country.)

In Idaho, as you might expect, things are reversed - very much so. Washington is the 12th most Democratic state (in this survey) among the 50, and Oregon ranks 24th - smack in the middle. But Idaho is the second most Republican state in the union, behind only Utah. In the Gem State, 54% call themselves Republicans, 35% Democrats and 11% independent - an almost perfect mirror image of Washington.

If Washington is becoming a mirror image of Idaho . . . well, we'll go there another time. But if true, then the current Democratic domination of the legislature, for one thing, may not be a short-term phenomenon.

(See also the analysis of the polling on the MyDD site.)

The adult population

Reflect for a moment on what you know about the patterns of growth in Oregon, and then consider these numbers, included in the annual report on school enrollment issued by the superintendent of public instruction. The numbers reflect 2006-07 enrollment figures for the 10 biggest school districts in Oregon, and how they changed from 2005-06.

1. Portland 46,348 (-1.4%)
2. Salem-Keizer 39,585 (+1.7%)
3. Beaverton 37,719 (+2.9%)
4. Hillsboro 20,077 (+1.8%)
5. Eugene 18,312 (-0.7%)
6. Bend-LaPine 17,436 (+2.6%)
7. North Clackamas 16,987 (+2.7%)
8. Tigard-Tualatin 12,544 (+1.6%)
9. Medford 12,465 (-0.6%)
10. Gresham-Barlow 12,053 (+0.2%)

In the main, not far off from what you might expect. We know (have known for some time; it's been the topic of headlines) that Portland's under-18 population is diminishing, at least as a percentage of the total. The parallels in Eugene and Medford are intriguing, though.

It's the Bend number that really catches our attention. By all accounts Deschutes County is the wild-growth part of the state. Portland's suburbs may be adding people, and maybe more people in raw numbers, but Bend's overall percentage growth has been much higher.

Not among kids. Note that Beaverton and North Clackamas both register higher increases in student population. Children are coming to Bend, of course; but is this an indicator of Bend more generally as an adult - maybe senior - hangout?

Chat tonight

One more reminder about something new here: Chats, tentatively dubbed "Wednesday Wanderings," with your scribe and a co-host, Idaho pollster Greg Smith. All are welcome to join in. The time is 6 p.m. Pacific, 7 p.m. Mountain time. Topics Northwestern will be fair game.

To send, come to this page and then look down the right-hand column to a box asking you to fill in a nickname. You can use your real name (preferred) or something else (allowed). Click on "enter chat," and you're on. Type your comments in the box at the bottom of the page.

The evolution of a burn

An Idaho burn
Smoke plume near Worley/photo Jessica Caplan/SAFE

In its decision effectively tossing out the state of Idaho's ability to allow grass field burning in Northern Idaho, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals remarks, "The current treatment of field burning in the Idaho SIP [state implementation plan, a revised version of which allows the burns] came about as the result of a thirty-five-year regulatory evolution." An evolution from one set of intents (and one kind of politics) to another it certainly was; but it was the fact of the evolution, as much as anything else, that led the court to its conclusion.

Field burning has been used for many years as part of grass seed production, not just in Idaho (it is used in parts of the souther Willamette Valley as well), and is thought to improve the quality of the crop. There are arguments that it has beneficial environmental effects. There's no question, though, that it also produces air pollution - very visibly, and easily smelled. It is obvious enough that one of the farmers' biggest adversaries long has been Duane Hagadone and his news organizations; Hagadone well understands what tourists think of smoked-up lakefronts, such as where his resort and gold course are located. But the most powerful arguments come from people with respiratory impairments; some of them are literally put at risk of their lives from the smoke. There is a care active organization battling the burns, called Safe Air For Everyone, which has picked up a number of larger allies.

When the Clean Air Act was passed in 1970 and Idaho, like other states, submitted an implementation plan - which, once adopted and approved by the EPA, has the effect of federal law - it mentioned the burns. The burns were allowed, with limitations, such as that "When such burning creates air pollution or a public nuisance, additional restrictions may be imposed to minimize the effect upon the environment." In 1993, Idaho proposed and the EPA accepted a revision of the implementation rules that deleted field burns from the list of acceptable burns in the state. There were more minor, technical, changes in 2003.

In 2005, the state of Idaho Idaho made another revision, to add this: "“The open burning of crop residue on fields where the crops were grown is an allowable form of open burning if conducted in accordance with the Smoke Management and Crop Residue Disposal Act and the rules promulgated pursuant thereto.” There were protests to the EPA, but the agency approved the change.

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Water, not so much

running waterAfter the ferocious storms of November and December - especially on the western side of the Northwest but to some extent through much of the east as well - you're probably thinking that the Northwest's water picture for the year is secure, if not cause for concern about flooding.

Not so fast. January has been dry, almost region-wide. It turns out that the accumulated precipitation percentage - basically, the amount of water buildup in places like the snowpack that would be normal for this time of year - has fallen substantially from a month ago. That doesn't mean drought is imminent, but it does mean the Northwest actually could see shortages in some places.

In Washington state, where the accumulation percentages all are still well over norma, there were drops from late December. The Chelan-Entiat-Wentchee system fell from 146% to 126%; Lewis-Cowlitz from 139% to 120%; the Columbia River above Methow from 126% to 114%.

In Oregon the declines were a shade more modest, but they were universal. On the Coast Range, for example, the drop was 126% to 107%; in the Willamette 123% to 112%; in the Lake County area 91% to 75%; in the Malheir River basin 102% to 87%.

In Idaho, where the snowpack was running almost exactly at normal in December, the numbers have fallen a little below: form 126% to 114% in the Clearwater basin (the second-best, after the Pndhandle basins at 117%); 102% to 86% in the Weiser; 112% to 94% in the Payette; 109% to 89% in the Boise River basin; 99% to 82% in the Big Lost; 100% to 86% in the Willow-Blackfoot; 100% to 83% in the Owyhee.

No time to panic, but it is time to keep a little closer watch on the water.

Chats

Starting Wednesday, we're starting something new here: Chats, with a co-host, Idaho pollster Greg Smith. All are welcome to join in. The time is 6 p.m. Pacific, 7 p.m. Mountain time. We're dubbing it "Wednesday Wanderings" . . . for now, at least.

Our planned topic of the week will be legislative, but it's not limited to that - anything related to the Northwest will be fair game.

To send, come to this page and then look down the right-hand column to a box asking you to fill in a nickname. You can use your real name (preferred) or something else (allowed). Click on "enter chat," and you're on. Type your comments in the box at the bottom of the page.

We plan to make this a weekly event - same time, same url - and look for ways to improve on it as we go. Suggestions are welcome.

Assessing the problem

Luke Esser
Luke Esser

After the vote which removed Diane Tebelius as chair of the Washington state Republicans and replaced her with former state Senator Luke Esser, the new chair issued a statement in which he remarked, "The first step towards recovering from our defeat in 2006 is recognizing that we have a problem, and today we did that."

There are layers of meeting involved in that simple statement. The collected Republicans may indeed have recognized that they have a problem; but did they understand what it was? If they think the problem was Tebelius, then they have some more thinking to do.

That's neither particular endorsement of Tebelius nor criticism of Esser, just recognition that party chairs - while a visible person on whom to take out frustrations - has only a limited amount to do with a political party's larger fortunes. Several of the key arguments against Tebelius (the suggestion that she withheld state party money from candidates) seem to fall apart on examination. The party organization doesn't seem mismanaged, which would be the logical argument against her if it were the case.

The Seattle Times' David Postman quotes Esser after the meeting saying that 2006 "It was a terrible year and people are looking for a way to make sure that never happens again." What way would that be? One significant reason for the Democratic push was the national scene, not in control of the state party. Another was a continuation of the trend of Seattle suburbs edging Democratic; that had been a development underway for a decade. The Republican candidates were, in many cases, just the sort of strong candidates the party wanted to run; recruitment was not a big problem. (It could be tougher in some places in 2008.) Nor was 2006 fundraising all that bad, under the circumstances.

We're not suggesting Esser doesn't recognize all this; he well may. As one of the Republican state legislators who lost his seat to a Democrat last fall, Esser's understanding of the party's problems may be both painful and personal and well as detailed. Esser likely will be an aggressive chair, maybe more so than Tebelius was, so he may be the right choice for the time. But the problems facing the organization run a good deal deeper than simply whoever is running it.

Private power

roadcam on I5Toll roads generally are not a good idea; roadways are community assets that should be available to us all, and we should all pay. However did we manage to build the interstate road system without (for the most part, and exclusively in the West) tolls? We did it the old-fashioned way: We raised the money and paid for it. Granting that some of the new road projects being contemplated in the Northwest are likely to be highly expensive, that generally remains the best approach. The best cases we can see for tolls would be bridges - discrete projects - provided that the tolls come off when the project is paid for.

One of the glories of our country has been the easy transportation around it; we have a wonderful ability to come and go as we please, subject only to how much gas we can put in the tank. (That being, we suppose, a related but separate issue.)

Much worse that government toll roads, though, are private ones - which simply should be prohibited in this country. We had private toll rolls in many parts of this country early in our history (many early roads were hacked out that way). But we got rid of them when we could, and we mostly did. No private entity, non-accountable to us, should have power over our ability to get from Point A to Point B, which the private manager of a toll road would.

In Oregon, the big private player in the toll road arena has been an Australian firm, Macquarie Infrastructure - and it is perhaps the largest player in that arena nationally and internationally. With the recent boom in interest in tolling roads (Washington Governor Chris Gregoire has expressed interest in a couple of such projects) its services have been in demand. From Wikipedia: "MIG has a 100% stake in the M6 Toll road in the UK, which was constructed to relieve congestion on the M6 motorway—one of the UK's busiest motorways. Additionally, as part of a consortium MIG has taken over operations of the Indiana East-West Toll Road and the Chicago Skyway, both part of Interstate 90 in the United States; and by itself has a 100% interest in the Dulles Greenway and the greenfield South Bay Expressway, scheduled to open in mid-2007, also in the United States." Among others.

Lately, it has developed studies on the feasibility of tolling a road out to a fast-growing part of Clackamas County, and two roads (including Highway 99) in Yamhill County. It has recommended against proceeding with the first, and its stance on the second seems a little ambiguous in that what it has recommended probably is not politically feasible. That feasibility may be blocked for good if two Oregon legislators pass their legislation seeking to block a Highway 99 toll.

Oregon may consider it a bullet dodged. It is a basic tenet of this site that concentrated power should be viewed with suspicion; and in this case, maybe more than that.

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What’s news

televisionAs indicated earlier, we're taking a look at the content of two news reports, following up on the description on Blue Oregon of a KOIN broadcast. We're running through the stories as they appeared up to the first weather or sports segment. So here we go . . .

KPTV Fox 12, at 10. This is Portland's second-ranking station, and this is an hour-long program, which would afford plenty of time for news of substance amid, ah, the rest. With two minor exceptions, it didn't happen. The graphics, sound design, pacing, promotion of exclusivity and teasers for upcoming material closely resembled the tabloid shows ("Hard Copy" etc); the station has been said to be crime-heavy, and this evening's broadcast certainly did nothing to counter that. Consider the long string of crime stories in this list of all the stories they ran, in order.

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A KOIN in the bloody fountain

televisionYou can understandably argue, as some did in response to Kari Chisholm's Blue Oregon post on local TV news today, that focusing for criticism on Portland's KOIN (Channel 6) is, as one put it, "shooting fish in a barrel." The newsroom has been heavily destaffed and defunded since new ownership took over last year on what the local industry now knows as "Black Friday."

The problem is, the list of stories he cites for a recent KOIN newscast - an endless litany of crime, reported crime, maybe there might've been a crime, someone thought there might be a crime, there wasn't a crime here but here's video of one 2,000 miles away - seemed out of the norm only for the surprising absence of auto accidents and house fires (again, if not local, then somewhere else). The problem he cites is real enough on local television news almost everywhere in this country and certainly across the Northwest: There's very little news worth watching on local TV news. (The Chisholm post above and all the many comment attached are well worth the read.)

A sample comment (with which we have some sympathy): "How is it possible to have a well informed debate among the electorate when a huge percentage of eligible voters are being dumbed down by endless mindless drivel on local and national television? Granted it is everyone's constitutional right to watch as many hours of Dukes of Hazard reruns as they choose (God Bless Daisy Duke!), but how can I be expected to sleep at night knowing that the future of my children and grandchildren will be determined by the same people that made 'Dancing With the Stars 2' the most watched ABC non-sports show in 5 years?"

We'd like to continue this discussion. Here's what we'll do: We'll watch two other better-funded stations, second-place KPTV Fox 12, which airs local news at 10 p.m., and market leader KGW NBC 8, which airs at 11. (The earlier evening news is not scheduled to air on KGW owing to a Trail Blazers basketball game.) We'll see what stories each covers before their main weather or sports break, whichever comes first. And compare those stories to the local lead stories in today's and tomorrow's Oregonian.

Back after this . . .