"I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors." - Thomas Jefferson (appears in the Jefferson Memorial)
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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

One is a variance between the Senate and House, notably over tax legislation. (The Senate Local Government and Tax Committee, it is said, has decided to absolutely block anything that would constitute a sales tax exemption.) This hasn’t led to a major snag so far, and it could be that it doesn’t. But smooth continued operation would require more Senate-House coordination than appears to have been the case so far. (The new Republican leadership in the House, for example, seems to be feeling its oats.)

Probably more significant than that, and maybe harder to resolve, is the upcoming butting of heads between lawmakers – especially budget setters – and Governor Butch Otter. Otter has included a number of new ideas in his budget, but not all the details are necessarily there. The message from a number of legislators seems to be: Not to outright disagree with where you’re going, governor, but isn’t this more properly something that ought to be considered, reviewed and fleshed out over the next year or so, rather than rushed into now? (The realigning of the Department of Administration and Human Resources division fall into this category.)

There’s some indication – hints, really – that Otter may be open to easing the schedule in the interest of working it through, making some of his initiatives two-year projects, or maybe more. But Otter may also be reflecting that, in this early set of dealings with the legislature, tones are being set, and he isn’t going to want to be perceived as a pushover. He’s having to step carefully.

Given all this, the pressures for deliberating for a while longer may match or exceed the pressures for an early adjournment.

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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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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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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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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.

The Seattle City Council has placed the issue on the ballot, with an election day of March 13; mail-in ballots are already headed out. Up or down votes on the viaduct rebuild and the tunnel (recently scaled back by the city, now referred to as a “hybrid”) will be possible. (No action and street level are not on the table.) The voters could in theory support both options, or neither, or one or the other.

Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels may have hoped that ballot would show support for the tunnel idea, which he has been rigorously – you might almost say single-mindedly – pushing for some months. The city council seems to be mostly with him, with some exceptions.

Alaskan Way north of downtownHowever, an hour south in Olympia, reaction has been different. Governor Chris Gregoire, who as the holder of a veto stamp has a good deal to say about this, has been everywhere on the issue. Or, was: She now seems to have settled down to the proposition that the tunnel idea is a non-starter, which seems an endorsement for the rebuild – or nothing. (That’s a general read of her stance, and certain Nickel’s view of it, and Gregoire did explicitly say last week, “Today we need to move forward with the one option that meets safety standards and is fiscally responsible: the elevated structure.”)

Her stance on this may have been influenced by that of House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, whose district – just a couple of mile north of the north end of the viaduct – will be affected directly by whatever happens. He has planted himself firmly against the tunnel, and said any plan to build a tunnel is dead. Period. Given the clout he and his Democratic caucus have in the House, he probably can make that stick. And Chopp has been at least as visible as Gregoire on the issue in the last month; he may have helped force the issue to a resolution.

How they might react if the voters support a tunnel isn’t clear. (Gregoire, who only last week denied the state government is aligned against the tunnel, also said, “How does one really say that this is a credible ballot?”) But polling now seems to show voters will almost certainly reject the tunnel and probably will approve a rebuild. If they do, the issue may well be resolved; Nickels has said he would accept the voters’ decision.

If that happens – meaning, if a month from now the state, city and voter elements all are on the same page – then the issue may be resolved.

If it is, the chaos that seemed so rampant a month ago may well be resolved. If it is, the political risk may go away. Voters may forget about the pre-development skirmishes, if by election day they see development going forward.

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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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Idaho 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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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.

A group called the Citizens Equal Rights Alliance (which is, it should be noted, in opposition to a number of tribal and reservation claims of rights) points out that Washington state policy – not formally law but adhered to enough that it could not be lightly discarded – calls for treating all tribes in the state the same. CERA Chair Elaine Willman speculates on the possible implications:

With this compact, all 29 tribes in Washington State just hit the lifetime lottery wherein all basic needs and life-essentials are federally funded by taxpayers and Governor Gregoire has guaranteed many more millions every year just to play around with. The “Favored Nations” policy forecasts and assures a similar picture now for all other interested tribes in Washington State.

So how does this impact the State? It is important to understand the basics about the State of Washington in order to fully comprehend the horrific economic impact of a potential of 145 future Class III casinos that the Governor has just penned. There are 39 counties, only 11 of which have more than 100,000 citizens. Out of 280 cities, only five cities (Bellevue, Seattle, Spokane, Tacoma and Vancouver) have over 100,000 residents. Over 75% of the cities in our State, 209 cities, have less than 10,000 persons and equivalently small local economies.

Doing the math, 29 tribes times a permissible 5 Class III casinos is 145 potential new tax-exempt, Indian casinos coming to your counties and communities. That is a potential for one casino in every other town in the entire State, factoring in the Governor’s blessing for off-reservation casinos.

That probably sounds unrealistic and it probably is.

But it does prompt a question about casino growth. A little over a generation ago, most of the legal, substantial gambling in this country was confined to Las Vegas and Atlantic City. Supposedly, the move to state lottos would eat into their market and damage them economically. Never happened. Nor did it happen with riverfront gaming, with the tribal casinos and all the rest – the market just kept growing. Is there a limit to the size of the gambling market, or will it keep on growing as long as new venues for wagering open up?

Washington may start to figure out some of that.

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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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