Press "Enter" to skip to content

Posts published in January 2007

A regional player?

The Northwest has been out of the picture for so long as a national player in the primaries that we've almost forgotten what it's like to have a say in the winnowing process - before our major choices are limited to two. Washington thought in 2004 it might be a significant factor in the Democratic primaries (there was no contest on the Republican side then), but it didn't really turn out that way.

Oregon and Idaho haven't been players for quite a few cycles now, largely because their primary elections are set in May. (Washington's main primaries have been in September, which required a breakoff of the presidential activities for early in the year.)

Was not always this way.

Through much of the 20th century, Oregon was a significant stop on Primary Way, periodically a turning point. In 1912 the Oregon primary gave then-insurgent candidate Theodore Roosevelt an important boost with a landslide vote over incumbent President (and Roosevelt protege) William Howard Taft. Oregon was a substantial stomping ground for John Kennedy in 1960 and Richard Nixon in 1968 - the state got an extensive look at both those years, pre-nomination. (The semi-legendary Democratic politician Monroe Sweetland wrote a piece for the Oregon Historical Quarterly in 2000 on "The Underestimated Oregon Presidential Primary of 1960.") It gave Senator Frank Church an important head of steam (albeit temporary) in 1976. All of which seems fitting, in the state where the primary got its big start.

Maybe some of that history will help the new push to break off the presidential primary in Oregon, and set it for February 5 - the fifth election date in primary season, and early enough that it may matter.

The idea got a blogosphere push last week when two founders of Blue Oregon, Kari Chisholm and Jesse Cornett, floated the idea. It's now moved to another level, with the chairs of both major parties backing the idea.

"People tend to forget about Oregon in the primaries, and that's wrong," says Oregon GOP Chairman Vance Day.

Oregon Democratic Chairman Jim Edmunson concurs, saying that Oregon's late primary "is largely meaningless."

The major objection, presumably, would be cost. So the question is: How much is participation in selection of the next president worth? Considering the stakes, it should be worth quite a bit.

An alternative to the space crunch

Idaho statehouse interiorThe space crunch at the Idaho Statehouse that state legislators talk about, as they discuss the need for two underground floors of legislative space, is real. The public encounters it most specifically in the small committee meeting rooms, which designed for another era and often jam packed with legislators, staff, lobbyists, reporters and others. Arrive on time for an Idaho legislative committee meeting and, even on uncontroversial days, your chances of finding even standing room are not good.

Other forms of legislative space need not be in such precious demand. Go back 20 years and you would see an Idaho Legislature which in large measure did its work on the floor; leadership and committee chairs had offices, but most other members worked at their desks in the chambers, where they had phones and filing cabinets. Most especially, they were accessible to the public that way. Now, once floor sessions are over, most scurry off to out-of-the-way offices, out of view. (More than a few long-time legislature watchers think the push for individual offices and personal assistants will be coming next.) Washington and Oregon may have passed the point in population, interest groups and overall traffic where floor work is practical, but we don't think Idaho has. More space probably is needed for legislative staff, but not necessarily an inordinate amount.

The overwhelming, bipartisan legislative answer to this is to add two floors to the Statehouse, underground, adding $40 million onto the building renovation price tag of $80.

The issue here seems to have been framed as "to dig or not to dig" - or, whether to expand legislative space or not. Some expansion is clearly needed; that's not an issue. The question is whether to go underground and create the new $40 million space, or to use two buildings - the old Ada County courthouse and the Borah Post Office building - each located directly across the street from the Statehouse and each almost all empty, both of which the state already owns. One of which will be used for state executive and legislative offices for the next three years, as plans currently stand.



The lines, they do get blurry. A weekend news anchor for KTVB Channel 7 in Boise, Andrea Dearden, also has a second job during the work week, that of a spokesman for the Ada County Sheriff's Office. The relationship is not distant: As anyone who watches local TV news knows, local law enforcement agencies routinely get a lot of air time.

KTVB Manager Doug Armstrong told the Idaho Statesman he has no problem with the mix of jobs.

However, a station website profile of Dearden which (the Statesman reported) listed her as a crime reporter as well as anchor, is now (as of this writing at least) gone from the website.

There are a variety of ethical questions involved here, though we should note that the issue isn't of long standing, since her hiring at the Sheriff's Office is recent and she said she will work only a few more weeks for KTVB.

We bring it up mostly for this reason, an explanatory quote from Armstrong to the Statesman: "You can't confuse reading the news with being a reporter."

That is a provocative statement. Stop and think for a moment about all the promotion, on both the local and national level, of news anchors. We're not suggesting Armstrong is wrong. But the question is obvious: If news anchors aren't reporters, what are they?

Port problems

As a range of Washington and Oregon communities take a look at their port districts - there's some nibbling around in Seattle about that - they may want to cast a glance to Astoria, where the local daily is running a strong series of articles about problems at the port district there.

Much of the Astorian is behind a subscriber wall but this piece, the leadoff in the series, was not. It points out, "The Port has been accused of taking unusual risks with public dollars, its executive director, Peter Gearin, is under legal scrutiny for his role in violating a federal dredge permit, Port commissioners have been fingered for profiting from their positions, and several Port employees have left their posts without much explanation."

Instructions from out of town

Micron Technology
Micron Technology

If Micron Technology is on your radar screen you have a couple of pieces of information to absorb from this week, both with significant potential reach for Idaho's largest business and private employer.

One was fairly public (though unreported so far on its own web site): The decision by stockholders to adopt language banning discrimination on basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. This was an initiative prompted by the managers of the pension funds of New York City, which are major Micron stockholders, and the proposal was approved by more than 55% of the shares.

Public corporations are not controlled exclusively at their headquarters, and this is certainly an instance of that: Corporate executives had maintained, firmly, that such an explicit policy wasn't needed because existing corporate policy already covered that ground. Our speculation is that the opposition came from some concern about running afoul of the larger cultural environment in Southwest Idaho where a plurality - but no longer a majority - of the firm's employees live and work.

The second item makes the matter of external influences even more explicit.



The Boise Idaho Statesman has just done a thorough redesign of its web site, and it marks a considerable improvement in ease of navigation, visibility and loading time (which in recent months has been, in our experience, the worst among Northwest daily newspapers).

It also marks the most visible link to its new owner, the McClatchy newspaper group. Compare the design approach of the Statesman's front page to that of the (also McClatchy-owned) Tacoma News Tribune.

A missing link?

Pocatello Regional Airport
Pocatello Regional Airport

Bad news for southeast Idahoans needing to head to Boise: The only air connection from Pocatello to Boise seems about to depart. Big Sky Airlines, which is based in Montana, said it has been losing money on the twice-daily Pocatello-Boise flights and wants to end them, in another month. Pocatello officials are trying to get the company to hold on longer, or maybe try once-daily flights.

Aside from a charter service, Pocatello's airport now is served by two air providers, Skywest Airlines, which has regular service to the Salt Lake City International airport, and Big Sky, with regular daily connector flights linking Pocatello and Boise Regional Airport. That would leave one of Idaho's main secondary airports with scheduled flights only to . . . Utah.

What's a little odd in this is that Pocatello has not been tanking economically. It's actually been expanding, bringing in a batch new new businesses. Just today came an announcement from the Hawaiian firm Hoku Scientific: "Hoku Materials, a division of Hoku Scientific, Inc. (NASDAQ:HOKU), today announced it plans to build a $220 million polysilicon production plant in Pocatello with a payroll of 200 when the plant initiates operations. The City of Pocatello has reserved 450 acres of vacant land for Hoku's facilities and future expansion. Subject to financing and other conditions, engineering and construction is planned to begin in the coming months and Hoku expects that the plant will be operational in late 2008. The Hawaii-based company focuses on clean energy technology and plans to produce a highly pure form of silicon, the key material used in most solar power systems."

Early heats

So early to be doing this, but worthy as a taking of current temperature and maybe from a lookback perspective later: SurveyUSA's early polling on presidential matchups in several states, among them Washington and Oregon. (Idaho wasn't among them.)

Specifically, these are early matchups of Democratic Illinois Senator Barack Obama, who is forming an exploratory committee (which ordiarily means, he's running) with three top Republican candidates: Arizona Senator John McCain, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.

Of the six results (three matchups in two states), Obama wins three.

The Republican who beat Obama both in Washington 49%-45% and in Oregon 51%-41% was - surprise!, at least to us - Giuliani.

Obama-McCain was a split decision, with Obama barely taking Washington 47%-46%, and McCain prevailing in Oregon 51%-40%.

Obama scored blowouts against Romney, however: in Washington 56%-33%, and in Oregon 51%-35%.

None of the major candidates seem to have picked up a lot of public backing so far from major Northwest political figures. There's been some recent Oregon activity, though, between Senator Gordon Smith's backing of McCain and this week's announcement from the Romney campaign that three of the 16 members of his exploratory committee come from Oregon, and one of those is the state Republican chair, Vance Day.

ALSO The polls also included some approval numbers. From one of them:

bullet OREGON President George Bush 38%, Governor Ted Kulongoski 49%, Senator Ron Wyden 64%, Senator Gordon Smith 60% (an increase from earlier figures; could it reflect his Iraq speech?)

bullet WASHINGTON President George Bush 35%, Governor Chris Gregoire 51%, Senator Patty Murray 56%, Senator Maria Cantwell 61%.

Kinds of homeless

Homelesseness reportThe new report on homelessness from the National Alliance to End Homelessness has, as a number of regional news stories have indicated, state breakdowns on estimates of the homeless population.

All three Northwest states are reported to have high rates of homelessness. This has resulted in such stories as "Idaho ranks 6th in homelessness," but you get a better picture when you get into matters of definition.

State Sheltered Unsheltd Total % pop
Idaho 5,092 332 5,424 0.38%
Oregon 7,775 8,446 16,221 0.45%
Washington 14,450 9,520 23,970 0.38%

The homeless are not a monolith, certainly no more than any other group in our society, likely less than most. The report segments them in a variety of ways, among those "sheltered" as opposed to "unsheltered" - those living essentially or actually out in the open, sleeping on sidewalks or by river banks. Nationally, the report says that 56% are sheltered, 44% unsheltered.

Idaho's population is somewhat less than half Oregon's, which is barely over half of Washington's. All three states are estimated to have comparable numbers of homeless people. But in Idaho, very few - 6.1% - are living unsheltered, while in Oregon a majority are, and in Washington around 40%.

What accounts for that disparity? Climate differences could be part of it; survival would be easier outdoors in rough seasons west of the Cascades than elsewhere. Or are there other factors? Is there something about Portland, for example, architectural maybe, that makes it easier to live outside (plenty of bridges for some overhead shelter, lots of bus stops to sit down, and so on.) The study and recent news articles suggest the numbers of unsheltered homeless are not simply a factor of lack of available emergency shelter (though that may partially be the case). So what else might be done to reduce the numbers?

If you exclude the unsheltered and consider the sheltered homeless, Idaho's percentage ranked among the states shoots to near the top. Why would that be?

A notable report, for all the new questions it raises, here as elsewhere.


In these days of cold, those of us who can bundle up by the fireplace in cozy homes, and those who can't . . . Well, we hope for the best.

But in thinking about the homeless and about the panhandlers out there, consider this stunning anecdote - it's just that, but it does seem telling - from Danny Westneat's Seattle Times column today.

The number of panhandlers in central Seattle is estimated to have tripled this year, and several attorneys (the one quoted was Peter Friedman), rather than choose between passing out money or simply passing the handlers by, came up with a third option. They set up a fund at a deli called Bakeman's, and instead of money gave to the panhandlers cards which could be redeemed for a sandwich at the place.

Westneat writes: "Of about 60 cards passed out, not a single one was redeemed for a sandwich."