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Posts published in February 2007

Death blows

The old description of editorial writers as the people who ride onto a battlefield after the fighting is done, to shoot the wounded, may fit neatly today's Seattle Times editorial on the proposed expansion of NASCAR into Kitsap County.

The NASCAR proposal, which would set a region-scale track operation in a location with inadequate transportation capacity (meaning, the crowds of track-goers would swamp local highways and ferries) and incur massive public subsidies for the privilege, certainly has seen some skepticism in this spot for some months. (We see no problem with a NASCAR facility located in a more logical place, and which pays its own way.)

Over the last third or so of last year, public opposition to it, especially locally in Kitsap, seems to have solidified. By the time the legislature - which was being asked for legislation to allow it local and for money for its private backers - convened in January, it seemed to have been politically adjudged DOA. Nothing that's happened since seems to have changed that, as a string of newspaper headlines has made clear.

So the editorial about the current NASCAR legislation might have been great six months ago (before legislative introduction, true, but when its contours were known) rather than very good now. It still has some real muscle. The bill, it said, is "is a slick piece of work that is tougher to stomach with every turn of its 57 pages. . . . The outrageous number of exceptions and tax breaks should also give legislators pause. . . ." And it makes sound points about the hash it would make of important provisions of local planning law.

Sometimes the wounded do merit shooting.

Alone on the mountain

Mount HoodWe don't maintain to have perfect insight into the minds of extreme sport enthusiasts. Part of the thought process does seem clear enough, though: Society has become so safe, so boring, so un-challenging, that somewhere there ought to be a place where you can still test yourself against the elements, against the wild.

Mountain climbers have sought such a place on Mount Hood, where the peaks rise higher than 10,000 feet (it rises to 11,237 feet) and the risks can be real. In the last few months, people have died on that trek. But just last week, three climbers were rescued, efficiently, because they carried and activated electronic location devices. The timing was remarkable: Just then, a bill in the Oregon Legislature, proposed by Representative John Lim, to require that climbers moving above 10,000 feet carry such locators, was moving through the legislature.

The mountain-climbing community was outraged. “Self-reliance and knowledge are what’s going to keep you alive on the mountain,” said one at a hearing. Such locators may give climbers a false sense of security give them an easy out instead of exerting themselves to get themselves out of risk. Underlying seemed to be this: You're civilizing one of the few ways we have to get away from societys safety nets, to be truly self-reliant.

Part of the problem with leaving it at that, though, is that when people on the mountain go missing, searches are ordinarily launched. Such searches can be highly expensive, meaning that - apart from whatever responsibility other people in society feel toward the climbers - these searches can cost a great deal, and can put the searchers themselves at some risk.

So how about this as a compromise . . .

Amend the bill to say that if climbers don't want to carry locators, they have two other choices. They can agree, in writing, to pay all costs of any search for them, and maybe a liability fee beyond that. Or, they can state in writing that no search for them should be launched, and emergency organizations won't be required or encouraged to.

That would certainly take care of the societal safety net.

Travelin’ through the home district

Frank Chopp
Frank Chopp

Washington House Speaker Frank Chopp is not a man who, let's say, seems to exhibit great self-doubt. But even he might have been given pause by this.

In the big, ongoing debate over what to do about Seattle's Alaskan Way viaduct, Chopp's position for some time has been clear: Flat opposition to the tunnel replacement proposal backed by Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, and evident support for rebuilding the existing elevated downtown expressway. Chopp's home district is in Seattle, in District 43, just north of the Alaskan Way, so his homies have a substantial stake in the outcome.

Last night the 43rd district Democrats (and the 43rd is overwhelmingly Democratic) met, and delivered their thoughts. According to the Stranger's Slog:

"Seattle’s 43rd District Democrats voted last night 74% to say NO to the elevated rebuild. The overwhelming NO vote came despite (or, perhaps, because of?) a 5-minute Vote YES rebuild speech by pro-rebuild 43rd district Rep. Frank Chopp. The 43rd (Capitol Hill, U-District, Wallingford) also favored voting NO on Nickels’s tunnel."

No chat tonight

Our regular Wednesday night chat is off for tonight; travel and schedule conflicts are likely to keep the hosts from available keyboards at the appropriate house, so we figure we'll hold off until next week.

Plans are afoot to bring a special guest aboard then. Stay tuned.

In the mix

Ted Kulongoski
Ted Kulongoski

Does it seem that, after two years of stories and headlines about how disengaged Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski has been from the legislative process, that he's getting plenty involved this year?

It's a bit of an external observation, to be sure. But the incidents do seem to be lining up.

He testified today at the Senate Education Committee, in what the Salem Statesman-Journal called "a rare personal pitch to legislators" about the cost to students of pursuing a higher education. That was a day after speaking at a large rally on the same subject.

Rare by standards of last term, probably, but maybe less rare now. He has been engaged in Measure 37, to the point of proposing specific legislation and apparently working with legislators on it.

With quite a while to go till the end of the session, Kulongoski could be tracking to reverse his earlier rep.

Idaho Legislature: Approaching backend?

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.


Nampa Urban Blues?

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.


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.

The Retirees of the Tri-Cities

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.

After the Alaskan vote

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.