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Posts published in January 2007

Compromise

There's something likable in this as a matter of procedure, stance and politics, whether or not as policy: Announcement of a compromise over $43 million (to date) of Statehouse construction, in the dispute between Governor Butch Otter and leaders of the legislature.

The legislature was firmly committed to construction of two new floors of office and meeting space underneath the current basement floor. Otter, as he had said bluntly in his campaign last fall, was opposed.

Apparently, the deal struck involves one floor instead of two, and there may be other elements as well.

However that eventually looks, there is this: A governor and legislature in Idaho that had a disagreement and then - instead of getting huffy about it, as so typically has happened - they compromise.

What a concept. Here's an idea that, whether either side realizes it at the moment, can make them both look good.

Vista mania

Next week will be the peak of ballyhoo for the new Windows Vista operating system from Microsoft, as founder Bill Gates does time on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart and a wave of commercials hit the air, and stores open early on Tuesday to accommodate the crush of buyers of the new OS.

Windows Vista logoWell, maybe. Or maybe the days of big excitement over new big OS developments is over; the air doesn't feel like it did when Windows 95 (which was a good deal more revolutionary for the Windows users of its time than Vista is now) made its deservedly big splash.

Here's a contrary point of view from Jeremy Allison, an open source advocate, at ZDNet:

There's simply no excitement about it. Most quotes from businesses are about how much of a chore it will be to upgrade, with warnings about how much old software will be incompatible and how people will have to buy new machines just to run it. No one actually wants this new system, except Microsoft and some of the hardware vendors who are desperately hoping Vista will revitalize moribund computer sales.

I think the day of the big-bang operating system release will die with Vista. This kind of upgrade has become obsolete. It might have made sense in the age of disconnected computers, where an upgrade involved a PC technician going to each desktop with a CD-ROM, but with the advent of Internet-connected PCs it's crazy. People want to simply keep patching their existing systems remotely and securely until eventually all of the original code has been replaced and you're running a new operating system.

He sees Vista, in other words, as overreach, as a kind of tipping point (he uses the phrase) where the Microsoft business model of the 90s - new operating system, all new applications, loads of money on the table - no longer works so well, and progressively less well, partly because there's too little practical benefit in exchange for too much money spent.

We'll see. The next year or so should mark interesting times at Redmond.

DISCLOSURE Ridenbaugh Press uses Windows, Apple and Linux OS computers. We started moving harder into the Apple and Linux worlds last year in part to avoid being caught up in the eventual Vista-related expenses. A year ago, the bulk of our work was done on Windows machines; now, a majority is on Macs, with more transition toward Linux in the works.

Airless

The current number of bills introduced in the Idaho House so far this session is 50; we can remember when more than that were introduced before the session even commenced. The number in the Senate is 45. These seem like unusually small numbers.

When we inquired of the legislature's bill-writing staff, we were told the numbers aren't radically smaller: "There are six fewer bills introduced this year than last at this time. Typically the first session has a lower bill volume than the second. The only thing I can think that might be a bit of a curb at this point is the Capitol Restoration."

That's one way to look at it. There's also this, from the bottom of an Associated Press piece on the Statehouse project: "Lawmakers say the focus on the wing standoff has sucked the oxygen out of the 2007 Legislature. Amid the distraction, the total number of bills drafted this year is at a five year low."

Spreading it around

Aquick stat: This from a David Postman blog post on Washington House Speaker Frank Chopp's press conference today. Can hardly imagine the ingenuity it took to accomplish what Postman notes:

"Of 62 Democrats, 58 are either committee chairs, vice chairs or hold a leadership position. I don't know who the four are that aren't leaders, but I'm sure they get plenty of direction from the 58 that are."

Earmarked

Aizona U.S. Representative Jeff Flake, a Republican, evidently is going to war (now) on congressional earmarks - those specified pieces of federal spending which members place to benefit their home turf. He has, for one thing, introduced legislation (HR 631) to combat them: "A bill to prohibit Federal agencies from obligating funds for earmarks included only in congressional reports, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform." His co-sponsors include one member of th Northwest delegation, new Idaho Representative Bill Sali, whose district includes northern Idaho.

Maybe of more moment (and somewhat like long-ago Senator William Proxmire), Flake is taking to highlighting an earmark of the week: Such declarations can sometimes pick up considerable national attention. His most recent such, as it turns out, is aimed at Idaho, specifically northern Idaho:

"This week’s egregious earmark: $150,000 to Lewiston, Idaho for completion of the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Project. 'Any more earmarks like this and not even Sacagawea will be able to lead us out of this fiscal wilderness,' said Flake."

[And a hat tip to the correspondent who alerted us.]

Next, forgiveness?

You may recall our December piece about the Wal-Mart conflict in Chelan, about the store built in contravention of city ordinances and rules, where the construction of the store and hiring of employees continued unabated while the lawsuit challenging the building continued. And continued unabated even after a judge had issued rulings against Wal-Mart.

It may be the first time a Wal-Mart store has actually been built, only to be stopped from opening. There is even a chance it will be torn down (which is more than a lot of empty Wal-Marts have been) - its critics say they will be seeking as much.

The basis for the stoppage sounds more picky than it is. The project started not a a Wal-Mart development (apparently at least) but as something called the Apple Blossom Center, for which the city signed off on a “planned development district” with specific terms. Those terms included a variety of commercial developments, with a maximum size limit of 50,000 square feet on any one. That limit, as the judge notes, was never changed by the city, which last fall stood by and watched Wal-Mart and its developer, Pacland, build a stand-issue 162,000-square-foot Wal-Mart store.

“Here,” Judge Lesley Allan concluded, “this court is left with the definite and firm conviction that the city erred in granting the two permits at issue.” That meant the court voided the city’s building and grading permits.

The store was supposed to open yesterday, at 7 a.m. And so it did - notwithstanding that Wal-Mart had and has no valid building permit for the store, notwithstanding a judge's order issued only last week. Anyone else - even someone building their own home - would not be allowed to use or occupy the building under such conditions.

Wal-Mart, apparently, is beyond all that. Its stance seems effectively to be: Try and stop us. Permission? We need no permission; nor, for that matter, do we really need forgiveness . . .

Business savvy

Always helps to have someone looking over the should of anyone who has discretion over money. Might have kept Farhad "Fred" Monem, once one of the smart guys who kept costs down (was he one of the "smartest guys in the room"?) at the Oregon Department of Corrections.

Instead, court documents say he he was caught with $450,000 in kickback money and other goodies from businesses he'd been dealing with.

The spotlight in the Portland news coverage on this has been on Monem (who, we should remind, has been accused, not convicted). But an equally bright light ought to shine on the food wholesalers who were the other part of the equation. It might even give a moment's reflection to the backers of extensive privatizing; Monem's role as a state executive may have made the situation easier to catch.

Right to Life, negatively reviewed, by . . .

On Saturday, a mass of Boiseans, maybe 20,000 or so, marched in the streets of downtown Boise to demonstrate their peak priority - celebrating the Boise State University football team. (The Idaho Statesman says "We've got video of all the excitement.") A few hours earlier, there was another march, attracting about 500 people, organized by Right to Life of Idaho.

It got little attention. But it generated a ferocious negative review, and not from the left, either: This comes from Dennis Mansfield, whose anti-abortion record in Idaho is quite clear. His post on the rally is a must-read on current Idaho politics.

DeFazio’s F-bomb

Along with the majority comes more attention, more visibility, more chances to drop the "F-bomb." As Oregon Democratic Representative Peter DeFazio just did on the Lars Larson show at Portland.

The discussion at the time concerned DeFazio's legislation to require congressional approval for major military action against Iran. During it, he discussed how the Bush Administration messed up - well, that was the way he put it the second time. The less elegant first time was dropped out.

Larson said at least one other elected official had let loose the forbidden word on his program (former legislator Jeff Kropf), but DeFazio was the first Democrat.

A blunt instrument, maybe effective

Diane Tebelius
Diane Tebelius

The Washington Republican Party hasn't had a really good state issue for a while to go after the state's ruling Democrats - an issue, that is, that a wide range of people (not jut conservatives) can seize on to and join with. They may have one now, and state Chair Diane Tebelius - internally embattled though she may be - is laying solid groundwork on it.

There is no hotter issue in Seattle right now than the Alaskan Way viaduct limited highway along downtown - whether to destroy it and go to street level (no one seems to like that idea much), rebuilt it as an elevated highway, or dig a tunnel and route the traffic there. There is no happy answer, because the price tag for any option (save the first) is enormous - estimated now (sure to rise later) at about $4.3 billion for a six-lane tunnel or $3.4 billion for a four-lane, or $2.8 billion for a rebuild. The project most essentially is a city of Seattle deal, but since the state would be a massive contributor to it - maybe more than half of the total - the responsibility and leverage associated with it is spread around. As a matter of politics, just about everyone involved in the decision-making in this is a Democrat.

Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and a majority of the city council favor the tunnel approach; they were staunch six-laners until reaction over the huge tab led to a more recent retrenchment to four. On Friday they decided to place the issue on a March 13 ballot, including also the idea of replacing the elevated road: A voter can vote up or down on one of them, on both, or on neither. (What happens if voters approve or reject both is anyone's guess.)

An hour south in Olympia (well, two or three during rush), Governor Chris Gregoire and House Speaker Frank Chopp (whose district is in the heart of northern Seattle) have been weighing in. They dislike the tunnel idea - big time - and favor the elevated. Chopp went so far as to call the tunnel plan "dead." And Gregoire, after saying in December that she favored letting Seattle voters make the decision, in January sounded a note similar to Chopp's - no tunnel, the state money would go to either a rebuilt of the relevated, or to work on the Highway 520 bridge east of Seattle (which also badly needs repair). At least up to today, when she issued another statement saying that, of course, she'd respect the will of the voters of Seattle.

Voters in Seattle and western Washington generally have some good reason to think that matters viaduct are coming a little unglued. The great good will all these parties, and others, developed a couple of years ago in pulling together a big state transportation funding package (part of which was supposed to deal with the Alaskan Way) appears to be frittering away as voters get the sense that everyone's fighting and no one is getting things done.

Enter Tebelius.

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