Archive for February, 2007

Feb 20 2007

Idaho Legislature: Approaching backend?

Published by under Idaho

Idaho legislators are approaching the point at which they’ll be starting to consider how many more days are left before sine die – going home. A few observations after a little prowling, observing and conversations . . .

There is external pressure for an adjournment in another month or so: Renovation of the Idaho Statehouse is supposed to get seriously underway in April, and the plan calls for the Idaho Legislature to be gone by then, and its staff and offices – some of which are year-round – to evacuate by then.

There’s nothing about this session that requires a push of that envelope. Finances are not tricky this year (though lawmakers may want to be a little cautious, since an economic slowdown on the horizon is barely reflected in budget numbers so far). Nor are there any other hot topics that constitute likely speed bumps. There’s some aura of speed to the legislature this year, to the point of raising some wondering of whether speed in some places (the budget-setting Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, for one) is moving to the point of shortchanging careful consideration.

However, two uneasy passes do exist.

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Feb 19 2007

Nampa Urban Blues?

Published by under Idaho

One piece of the regional theory of political development we’ve been developing over the last several years suggests that an urban state of mind is a usual precursor to Blue/Democratic voting patterns. We’ll get into what that state of mind entails elsewhere; for now, we’d suggest that simply a population that has clustered isn’t sufficient. More is required.

The city of Meridian, Idaho, for example, has somewhere upwards of 50,000 people, enough to develop an urban core, but there’s little to no ballot evidence that any transition from its traditional Republican core to Democratic has occurred. (If anything, it has become darker red.) A drive around Meridian, which in essence is a large suburb, helps make clear why.

Old Nampa Neighborhood
Old Nampa Neighborhood map/Old Nampa Neighborhood Association

Nampa may be another matter. It is only recently, in the last decade, a large city (probably approaching 80,000 now). At present, there’s little voting evidence of any transition. In central Nampa, there’s long been a small – consistently outvoted – core of Democrats among railroad workers, Hispanic voters and some others; a few precincts there have gone Democratic. But it rarely has amounted to enough to seriously influence, say, a legislative race – and never at all in the last two decades.

But the logic of urban mentality, given the historic core of Nampa which is undergoing a renaissance, suggests that could be changing. (We noted last fall in a post-election post that central Nampa could be a political place to watch in the years ahead.)

We mention this by way of pointing to a provocative post in the Mountain Goat Report, which is emerging as one of the better Idaho political blogs. In its current post, it focuses on the Old Nampa Neighborhood Association, which is trying to spruce up its corner of Nampa in a way similar to that of the Boise North End Neighborhood Association a generation ago. Many factors went into the development of the Boise North End in its transformation from Republican to Democratic bastion, but one clearly was the development of a local urbn mentality, and its association was one of the keys to that.

The Mountain Goat post gets into the Nampa developments with some detail, of changes that could be in their embryonic stage but are notable regardless. It’s worth a good read.

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Feb 19 2007

24/7

Published by under Oregon

Aquick pointer toward the most recent deadline-every-minute approach seeping into the region’s newspapers, at least the metros: The Oregonian‘s breaking news page, which apparently we’ll have to start checking with regularity.

Initial offerings on the page didn’t look especially exciting – the paper’s long suit is perspective and analysis, more than breaking reports – but substantial nonetheless. It may merit a spot among your bookmarks too.

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Feb 19 2007

The Retirees of the Tri-Cities

Published by under Washington

We tend to get some false impressions about what constitutes a “retirement community,” and what may in the future. We think of warm places, in the south or southwest – Phoenix, Las Vegas, San Diego, Miami. But those impressions aren’t always accurate and, as time goes on, we may be leaving out some other places of note.

Thus, today’s story in the Tri-City Herald about the growing retirement community in the Tri-Cities (or, more properly, the Quad-Cities, but that’s for another day).

Gary Ballew, Richland business and economic development manager, is quoted as saying, “The community in Richland is aging. Who will be living and working here 20 years from now?”

The story actually focuses on a different but related angle:

“That demographic is to economic development what broadband is to the Internet,” said Angelos Angelou, chief executive officer of Angelou Economics of Austin, Texas. “Communities that are trailing the national average on these statistics … are at risk of losing existing industry as the current work force comes to retirement. . . . Competition for economic development (in the future) is going to be determined not so much in companies recruited to a region, but in how successful communities are in attracting and retaining those young professionals . . .”

Attracting those much-desired young professionals – that select demographic – has been on the radar of television executives for years. It may become so as well, increasingly, at the level of city and regional management.

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Feb 18 2007

After the Alaskan vote

Published by under Washington

Alaskan Way
On the Alaskan Way Viaduct (headed south)/Linda Watkins

About a month ago, we suggested that the political street brawl over the Alaskan Way viaduct in Seattle had the potential to do some serious damage to the governing Democrats in Seattle and Washington state. Re-evaluating a month later, we’d suggest now that potential is not entirely gone, but the odds of many of the players getting out with their political hides more or less intact has improved.

The highest risk now may be applied to Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, but even there, must will depend on how he handles developments over this next month.

To step back a moment: One of the biggest public service needs in the Puget Sound area in recent years has been transportation; transport problems were even cited as one of the lead factors in the Boeing corporate move to the Chicago. In Seattle, one of the biggest problems has been one specific road, the elevated, limited-access portion of US 99 which runs by the downtown right at the Elliot Bay waterfront, called the Alaskan Way viaduct. Rumblings in the earth have shaken and damaged it, and some year it will – if unattended to – crumble and collapse. The question is what to do about that.

Three main options have been put forward: Rebuilt it, more sturdily; go underground, replacing it with a tunnel; or converting it to a surface road. The tunnel has aesthetic and other appeal, but is much the most expensive option. The surface option is thought to be much the least expensive, but may tangle traffic around downtown much worse than it is now. The surface idea has a few advocates, so far apparently not many though in recent days there’s been a boomlet in its favor. Whatever happens, money from various sources will be needed, both local and state. As it happens, this general issue is one of those voters agreed in 2005 to fund with increased gas taxes.

The problem has been: Which way should the traffic go: Above ground, below ground, or on the ground? The various advocates, and all the lead players here are Democrats, have scattered all over the map and have not shown a lot of inclination to work together.

But the issue seems to be heading toward a resolution anyway.

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Feb 18 2007

Blogging ID18

Published by under Idaho,Washington

The Northwest blogging world is starting to see entries from state legislators – something new in the region. There have, of course, been public officials who have blogged for some time now, notably Portland council member Randy Leonard, who’s been prominent on Blue Oregon since its inception. Now we’re seeing elected officials with their own independent blogs, and with some attitude.

It may be that legislators who find themselves on the losing side of things have much more interesting posts to blog.

Washington Representative Dave Upthegrove, D-Des Moines, may have the most remarkably detailed job-related blogging of any public official in the region. (You get a remarkably detailed insight into the daily routine of a legislator from reading it.) Some of the best reading there comes when Upthegrove is in the minority, which is not usually since Democrats overwhelmingly control the Washington House.

But it happens, as in this case: “There was one bill today where I was the only legislator to vote no…the vote was 97-1. I know there were other legislators who opposed the bill, but they just wussed out. It was a bill to ban the sale or use of devices that vaporize alcohol. Apparently, some people like to get drunk faster by putting their booze in a humidifier-like thing and inhaling it. It sounds like a stupid & awful thing to do, but there have been no incidents of problems with this in Washington. And, fundamentally, adults in a free society should be allowed to make stupid decisions about what they choose to put into their bodies. Crack down on drunk driving? Yes. Take steps to keep this kind of stuff away from kids? Absolutely. Make it illegal for adults to use a particular device to consume a legal product?…..two words for you: nanny state.”

Then there’s the new blog by one of the newly-elected Democrats in the Idaho House, Branden Durst, of Boise, which may be starting to include debate by other means . . . not a bad use of a blog.

He became a center of attention on the House floor last week when, trying to get reduced from two-thirds to 60% the voting percentage needed to fund a community college district, he tried to amend a bill touching on that subject by adding in provisions from a bill already shot down in the House Revenue & Taxation Committee. That earned him one hand-slapping (and a vote down on the House floor). Then all hell broke loose when, responding to a comment about upholding the committee system, he replied that the legislator “said we had a committee system that works. I would say that’s false.” Which, on a couple of grounds, probably was a violation of House rules on debate.

Blogging, Burst wrote: “I have found in my life those in control never like the idea of change. That doesn’t mean it is not worth seeking out, however. To that end, I honestly don’t believe I was voted in to office to maintain the status quo. The residents of District 18 that I met, regardless of party affiliation (or lack thereof), demanded a fresh start. I am giving them that.”

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Feb 18 2007

Redefinition

Published by under Washington

old printing pressOf all of the Northwest’s newspapers, the Spokane Spokesman-Review seems to be doing the most thorough rethink of who they are and what they’re about. Last year it developed a provocative “Newsroom of the Future” report.

In a post this month, one of the paper’s blogs contains this sentence: “The Spokesman-Review is no longer a newspaper, but an information company that publishes news and information whenever and however people want it.”

The specific prompt for it was a newsroom development called the “Breaking News initiative,” which seems to be a variation on wire service instant publishing (the old motto there has been, “a deadline every second”) with the variation of using a range of outlets for the material.

But redefining the newsroom doubtless will go on for quite some time.

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Feb 17 2007

A big deal

Published by under Washington

The gaming deal Washington Governor Chris Gregoire signed with the Spokane Tribe of Indians on Friday got only so-so attention on the west side, but it may be one of the biggest events of recent years in regional gaming. Which makes it of interest regionally.

The tribe’s stand on it sounds almost nondescript: “This proposed Compact promises to benefit not only our Tribe but the entire region as well, creating needed jobs and boosting the local economy. The proposed Compact also ensures that Spokane Indian Gaming stays limited and well regulated.”

There are counter-views. State Senator Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, wrote in an op-ed that “If anyone thinks that this deal is a one-time expansion of gambling, think again. The compact secures the tribe’s right to expand gambling well into the future. Bottom line: The governor has a strong voice in this matter, and her voice should echo what the public has to say. In 2004, voters overwhelmingly rejected I-892, an initiative to expand gambling. A compact that would add more gambling machines, encourage gambling expansion by other tribes, reward illegal operations and pave the way for off-reservation gaming takes us in the wrong direction. It’s a sweet deal for the Spokane Tribe, but for families across the state, it’s simply an escalation in gambling.”

The deal allows the tribe to build five casinos and put in place 4,700 gaming machines (not all at once; there’s a phase-in). That’s larger than we’ve seen before, but hardly overwhelming.

But there is another factor to consider.

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Feb 17 2007

Wal-Mart limited at Cottage Grove

Published by under Oregon

Looks like the hotly debated proposed expansion of the Wal-Mart at Cottage Grove will be disallowed by the city. The final vote by the city’s planning commission comes Wednesday, but it already has acted to set up the vote for denial.

Wal-Mart wanted to change city zoning ordinances to allow it to grow its current store into a supercenter – essentially, adding a grocery store within. The rules passed when the store was originally built don’t allow for that.

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Feb 16 2007

Vote in the House, vote in the Senate

Published by under Oregon

Should be noted that while the overall House vote on Concurrent Resolution 63 – opposing an increase in troop deployment in Iraq showed a number of Republicans from around the country voting in favor, none of them were from the Northwest. The Northwest’s House delegation voted on strict party lines, Democrats in favor, Republicans against.

(An asterisk here: Washington Representative Brian Baird, Democrat from district 3, did not vote. But given his earlier statements, there’s no reason to imagine that he was torn; he likely would have voted in favor. So that means all nine other Democrats voted in favor, and all six Republicans voted against.)

The resolution itself, by the way, is short, and reads:

(1) Congress and the American people will continue to support and protect the members of the United States Armed Forces who are serving or who have served bravely and honorably in Iraq; and

(2) Congress disapproves of the decision of President George W. Bush announced on January 10, 2007, to deploy more than 20,000 additional United States combat troops to Iraq.

There’s the possibility that party split may be muddied over in the Senate. There, word has broken that Oregon Republican Senator Gordon Smith will vote for cloture, to block a possible filibuster of Senate consideration of the resolution.

A couple of weeks back, Smith took a lot of heat for opposing cloture on a Senate resolution on the same topic, developed in large part by fellow Republican John Warner.

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Feb 16 2007

On the border: We decide

Published by under Washington

Lewis Lukens
Lewis Lukens

Considering that Lewis Lukens is by occupation a diplomat – in his role as the U.S. consul-general now stationed at Vancouver, British Columbia – he used some words on Thursday that were remarkably guaranteed to outrage. They were provocative enough to almost seem intended to do so.

He was speaking on the United States side of the border at Bellingham, at the Western Washington University Border Policy Research Institute. The Institute’s mission is to develop “research that informs policy-makers on matters related to the Canada-U.S. border,” which is less than a half-hour away.

The subject of the moment is the “Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative” (WHTI), under which border crossings between the United States and neighboring countries will be tightened. In the case of U.S.-Canada crossings, that means among other things the impending requirement of a passport to cross. (At present, a valid driver’s license is sufficient.)

Of the policy that has been in force for several generations, that of a relatively open border, Lukens’ comment was that “We’ve been spoiled, there’s no doubt about it.” What exactly he means by suggesting that we’ve been “spoiled” by such good relations is unclear. How exactly should that change?

Not for him any further consideration of the matter: “Fighting WHTI is not going to help.”

Which sounds like this: Now, now, children. The decision’s been made by the people who know best. Just sit down, keep quiet, get in line and don’t question our wisdom. He may have some familiarity with the mindset; just prior to his posting at Vancouver, he was executive secretary at the U.S. embassy at Baghdad, where his job was “managing the office that served as the nexus between policy and management issues in Iraq.”) Does he perhaps need a refresher course in where decisions ultimately are supposed to come from in a constitutional democracy – which is to say, not from the top?

The point here is not particularly arguing the border policy (is it necessarily irrational to require passports at any border? not necessarily) as it is to suggest that this is a reasonable topic of discussion, and that public servants have no business trying to shut down discussion of it by the people who pay their salaries.

And there is a reasonable argument here against WHTI.

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Feb 15 2007

A judge, confirmed

Published by under Idaho

Randy Smith
Randy Smith

In a way, you wouldn’t think this would have to be so difficult: Nominate judges who carry no big controversial baggage, and reasonable senators will confirm them. It takes both sides; sometimes, too often, we seem to have had neither.

But both apparently have been on the job in the case of the nomination, and Senate confirmation today, of Randy Smith to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. He was the first circuit court nominee to make it through the system in the new Congress.

Smith, who is now an Idaho 6th district judge based at Pocatello, has drawn across the board praise. He is a former Idaho Republican Party chair who, as a judge, was described as fair and impartial by Democrats no less than Republicans.

If the eventual confirmation was something of an encouragement that the system can work, there is also this: He was first nominated to the court in December 2004. That nomination was held up because Californians wanted the circuit seat and maintained it was properly “theirs”; last month, he was re-nominated, this time for an undisputed “Idaho” seat.

Who eventually will fill the “other Idaho” seat is completely unknown, as is whether the needle can be threaded as well as in the case of Randy Smith.

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Feb 15 2007

Definition by the hire

Published by under Oregon

Pat Kilkenny
Pat Kilkenny

Oregonian sports columnist John Canzano has a highly quotable line today, following up on the hiring of insurance company founder and major Ducks booster Pat Kilkenny as the University of Oregon’s new athletic director:

“I suppose the upside here is that the university has finally abandoned any pretense about who is running the institution, and whether a public place of learning was for sale.”

Kilkenny, who replaces 12-year director Bill Moos, who is a major donor to the institution and doubtless well connected among the sports boosters, has no personal experience running an athletics department. Canzano: “you’re forgiven if your reaction was, ‘Wow, a big fan with a bunch of money just became the AD.’ Because that’s pretty much what happened.”

It does seem, though, the logical extension of what has gone before.

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Feb 14 2007

One distraction, or all of them

Published by under Oregon

cell phoneYou really do need to read the fine print. To casually browse the Oregonian this morning, where the above-fold front page was dominated by a story on cell phone regulation, the impression you’d get would be fairly black/white: Cell advocates on one side, and the people who’d like to ban them altogether from the ranks of drivers on the other.

The actual legislative debate turns out to be a good deal more nuanced. And, in our view, more realistic.

A bunch of proposed pieces of legislation have been drafted, but the Oregon Senate Judiciary Committee seems to have boiled down the live prospects to two. It held a hearing on them this afternoon.

The less interesting of the two is Senate Bill 293, which disallows drivers (while driving, of course) from using a hand-held cell phone, though “hands free” use (with a headset or the equivalent) would still be allowed. It’s similar to an effort now underway in Washington. This has the fell of a compromise position, and maybe it is, though the committee was told about several series of studies that show no better driving skills for users of hands-free compared to hand-held. (Did any of those studies compare concentration impairment from cell phone conversations against in-car passenger conversations? We’d be fascinated to see any such results, but we’ve heard of none; implicitly, we suspect one kind of conversation is about as distracting as the other. If so, do we see a proposal to ban car-pooling next?)

The other bill, which is the one backed by the Oregon State Police, seems more interesting, and also more subtle.

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Feb 14 2007

The mystery or the money

Published by under Washington

There’s a useful comparison in the Horse’s Ass blog today about how the Seattle Times and the Post-Intelligencer” each handle, in their news stories, the testimony of the owner of the Seattle Sonics before the Washington legislature, as he pitches the case for a new sports arena.

bullet The lead in the Times: “Sonics owner Clay Bennett ended a long-running mystery Tuesday when he told state lawmakers he prefers Renton over Bellevue for a new $500 million basketball arena.” Emphasis: the choice of Renton as a location.

bullet The lead in the P-I: “The Seattle Sonics want the public to pay for most of a new $500 million multipurpose arena in Renton, they want most of the proceeds from that facility and they want the money without a public vote, owner Clay Bennett told lawmakers Tuesday.” Emphasis: public payment for an arena.

Both stories did point out that actually getting the public money will not be easy.

But it does suggest, again, how one event can be seen differently through different eyes, even if accurately both times.

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JOURNEY WEST

by Stephen Hartgen
The personal story of the well-known editor, publisher and state legislator's travel west from Maine to Idaho. A well-written account for anyone interested in Idaho, journalism or politics.
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