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Posts published in January 2007

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.

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Visibility

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.

Unobvious

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."

Less contentious

Having set himself up for battles in other areas, Idaho Governor Butch Otter took the smoother path in his latest legislative appointment (which now brings the legislature up to full membership).

He has named Steve Kren, a Nampa electrical contractor and son of a like-named Nampa City Council member, to the House seat vacated by just-departed Bill Deal. You can see more on the implications of the choice at this earlier post.

The U.S. attorney ousters

John McKay
John McKay

We didn't take more than ordinary notice last month when John McKay, the U.S. attorney for the Western Washington federal justice district, announced his resignation from that job (not with the plan of landing anywhere else in particular).

It was a little unusual in that McKay resigned effective the end of this month. And it coincided with a turndown on his application to become a federal judge. And the Seattle Times article on the departure only hinted that McKay's resignation wasn't his own idea, and left extremely vague what was: Nowhere in the story does McKay actually say why he's leaving. There's no new job on the horizon (though he's doubtless plenty employable), and he doesn't even cite the usual "family reasons." The implication is that he is leaving because he was told to.

With that in mind, consider what is coinciding with McKay's departure: The abrupt departure as probable ousters, within the last month, of seven or eight U.S. attorneys (at a minimum) around the nation.

California Senator Dianne Feinstein pulled some of this together in a speech today on the Senate floor. (She cited a U.S. attorney in Washington state, though not by name.) Her web site notes that in her comments there she "expressed concern about the fact that a number of U.S. Attorneys have been asked by the Department of Justice to resign their positions prior to the end of their terms and without cause. In a little noticed provision included in the Patriot Act reauthorization last year, the Administration's authority to appoint interim U.S. Attorneys was greatly expanded. The law was changed so that if a vacancy arises the Attorney General may appoint a replacement for an indefinite period of time – thus completely avoiding the Senate confirmation process."

During his tenure, McKay picked up positive marks for doing a professional job as U.S. attorney. One wonders what is considered, by the Department of Justice in the other Washington, preferable. But we may soon learn.

Sudden snow

snow in the valley

Was a quick snow, predicted only on the fringes and seemingly catching a lot of people west of the Cascades by surprise. Certainly it snagged the roads pretty well.

Snoqualmie Pass this morning
Snoqualmie Pass this morning

The Cascade Mountain passes seem solidly blocked; the judge from the roadcams, Snoqualmie is rough, and Stevens is much worse. Considering the cold of the last few days, the Gorge area has to be lousy with ice. Even the flat roads in the valleys, though, are slick because of the recent cold that hasn't allowed for a quick melt. It's not the kind of storm, happily, that will shut off a lot of power (the region has had quite enough of that). But it may keep a lot of people home.

For those east of the Cascades: It's coming your way. Possibly in diluted form, but still.

Fine print

Most governors highlight their initiatives and approaches to governing in their state of the state or sometimes inaugural speeches. Idaho's Butch Otter appears not to be one of those governors; his changes are showing up later, in the fine print of the budget books. Not that these moves are necessarily bad or wrong; just that Otter has seemed determined not to shine a light on them. They poked out of the ground on their own - in the first instance, literally so - and in the process seem to show off Otter's more libertarian roots, and maybe his approach to governance.

Three major examples have emerged just in the last few days. They will, almost certainly, not be the last.

The first was Otter's action on the Statehouse construction. He made clear enough in his campaign last year that while he supported Statehouse renovation, he did not support digging two new underground levels under the building, at substantial cost. (We have expressed concern about that, too.) After his election, though, he went silent on the issue, a major and highly visible subject where he works. It went unmentioned in his inaugural speech, and was so strikingly absent from his state of the state that reporters asked him about it afterward.

Then last week, Otter issued a stop-work order - construction work on the Statehouse would stop, including work preparatory to the big dig. That, his people explained, was partly to buy time to negotiate with legislators on the subject. Apparently it also had to do with his budget proposal, which explicitly did not include money for underground office construction. This head-to-head with the legislature is just beginning to play out.

The second item was the dropping of a second shoe.

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Name change

Cathy McMorris Rodgers
Cathy McMorris Rodgers

Let note be taken: Washington's 5th district officially now is represented by Cathy McMorris Rodgers.

The recently-married representative, now expecting a baby in May (around the time of the Memorial Day recess she notes, perhaps hopefully), had the usual uncomfortable choices to make as regards name. She was originally elected as Cathy McMorris in 2004 and again 2006 (after her marriage). The name change now may be timed to give everyone more time to let it sink in.

(Rodgers does not yet appear, however, on her congressional web site, though it does in official House documents.)

Next, as the Spokesman-Review's Jim Camden notes, comes dealing with an infant in the U.S. Capitol.

An Otter-Vasquez connection?

The MountainGoat Report blog is on to something intriguing in the contest over replacing departed state Representative Bill Deal, R-Nampa, in the Idaho House. It has to do with the way some of the contenders are connected in Republican politics.

Deal, you'll recall, is a long-time House member who was a candidate last month for House speaker; after losing that bid, he was appointed by new Governor Butch Otter as director of the state Department of Insurance. Deal has been a Republican caucus mainstay but leaning a bit toward the left side of it. His replacement will almost certainly be further to the right (as we usually reckon these things).

The first top choice of the local Republican committee was Ray McKenzie, the father of Senator Curt McKenzie. But his nomination fell through because he had been living in Idaho Falls for a short time, and technically didn't qualify for the appointment, which will be made by Otter.

The committee re-chose three nominees: Steve Kren, son of a Nampa city council member; Ronalee Linsenmann, a Canyon County Republican activist; and Scott McDonald, a former state administrator, a former leader of the Idaho Association of Cities and is currently executive director of the Nampa Family Shelter Coalition. McDonald seems an unlikely choice.

Kren could credibly get the nod, but MountainGoat has another thought: "My thinking is that he'll make that choice due to his support for the bill being proposed by Sen. John McGee (R-Caldwell) denying government services to illegal residents. Ex-Canyon County Commissioner Robert Vasquez is well known for his stance on illegal immigration and as his campaign manager, Ronalee Linsemann would surely fit into Gov. Otter's efforts to quell illegal immigration statewide."

Hmm. Otter wouldn't, of course, have to appoint Linsemann in order to support the legislation. And we should recall just how acerbic Vasquez (and presumably those closely associated with him) have been. Here's Vasquez on naming Linsemann as campaign manager: "Ronaee agrees with me that the Republican Party Leadership is misdirected in its staunch support for illegal aliens. We believe Idaho's rank-and-file Republicans want their 1st District Congressman to protect Idaho jobs for Idahoans." Vasquez, recall, is an announced candidate for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Republican Larry Craig.

Choosing Kren, in this case, would be the less-contentious thing to do.

We'll not necessarily argue MountainGoat is wrong, though. We'll simply be watching closely to see which fork in the road Otter decides to tread.

CORRECTION: To reflect, Kren's father is a member of the Nampa City Council.