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Posts published in February 2007

Mini(cassia)-boom

Taking note of a non-urban area that's lately adding a bunch of jobs - the Burley area, in the eastern Magic Valley in Idaho.

Almost abruptly, about 500 jobs have been added there, not from high-flying employers but from basic manufacturers like Renova Energy and Pacific Ethanol.

They must be doing something right; a lot of community areas that size, and that far away from a substantial urban area, are having some difficulty consistently attracting new businesses these days.

Fiscal impact

Downtown Coos Bay
Downtown Coos Bay

When the sun set on the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act of 2000 in September 2006, people in urban areas generally took little note. In rural areas, in some rural areas anyway, it has meant, in the months since, a screaming emergency.

Some members of Congress, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden perhaps the lead among them (though he is not alone), have been trying to get those funds restored. One of his lines on the subject goes, “Without county payments funding, there is a real question as to whether or not these communities can survive.”

If that sounds hyperbolic, visit Coos County, as the state Senate Health and Human Services Committee committee did this week, and find out what the cut of $7 million has done to services there.

The tale of woe the senators heard at North Bend could have been a comedy routine if it weren't so serious.

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A faith shield

churchWe haven't seen much media attention yet to Oregon House Joint Resolution 16 and counterpart HJR 17, but we can't imagine that will last long. It has the potential to set off a small explosion.

Quite some time ago, when the child sex abuse cases against Roman Catholic archdioceses in Portland and Spokane were being filed, we suggested that the impact of these cases eventually could lead to something larger than themselves: They could lead to some redefinition and rethinking about the roles churches play in society. HJR 16, which results from those cases (and the prospect of similar instances in the future), is good example of how some of the debate around this rethinking is apt to play out.

HJR 16, which seeks to limit awards of non-economic damages in lawsuits against religious organizations, is a simple measure, and its direct impact seems reasonably clear.

SECTION 12. (1) Noneconomic damages may not be recovered against a religious organization in an amount that exceeds $1 million. The limitation of this section applies to all subjective, nonmonetary losses, including but not limited to pain, mental suffering, emotional distress, humiliation, injury to reputation, loss of care, comfort, companionship and society, loss of consortium, inconvenience and interference with normal and usual activities apart from compensated employment.
(2) For the purposes of this section, a religious organization is an organized church or group that is organized for the purpose of worship or religious teaching, and that is exempt from federal income taxation by reason of those activities.

It has a long list of sponsors, Representatives Fred Girod (the lead sponsor), Vicki Berger, Brian Boquist, Scott Bruun, Tom Butler, Kevin Cameron, John Dallum, Linda Flores, Bill Garrard, Vic Gilliam, George Gilman, Bruce Hanna, Wayne Krieger, John Lim, Ron Maurer, Karen Minnis, Andy Olson, Wayne Scott, Greg Smith, Gene Whisnant, and six senators, Roger Beyer, Gary and Larry George, Jeff Kruse, Frank Morse and Bruce Starr. All are Republicans; more than two-thirds of the House Republican caucus are included and more than half of the Senate Republicans. (Where were Dennis Richardson and Donna Nelson?) This appears poised to be hashed out as a partisan matter.

This stands to be a powerfully emotional battle. There is, after all, a point here. Lawsuits which extract so much money from churches (as the recent lawsuits appear to be doing) do conflict with an element of freedom, of people being able to worship as they choose.

At the same time, churches do not exist outside of society: Why should they have legal shields other non-profit, and other charitable, organizations do not? (Of course, it is true they're not substantially taxed, either.) But we should note here that just such a shield - for nonprofits generally - is the subject of HJR 17, proposed by the same sponsors and reading similarly except for extending the limit to non-church nonprofits as well.

What then about the plaintiffs who were damaged, and the ability of society to exact a punishment for wrongdoing that will at least be painfully felt?

No definitive answers here. And the Oregon Legislature may not find anything definitive either, but the issue now has certainly been placed on the table.

Buyer’s remorse

Wallowa LakeFollowing up a string of other polls indicating similar attitudes, a new Portland-based poll of Oregonians suggests that the land use Measure 37 is exactly as unpopular today as it was when it was passed in 2004.

A Moore Information poll of 500 registered voters statewide says 61% want the effect of Measure 37 to be lessened. That's the same percentage by which the initiative passed.

Oregon legislators are at work on amendments to it, but the outcome isn't yet clear.

COUNTERPOINT For an alternative view, you might also want to check out Ted Piccolo's counterpoint on the recent Measure 37 polling. However, the BrainstormNW editorial he cites in a nearby post generally does not persuade; it argues that the pre-passage predictions of trouble ahead were overblown, while we suspect a majority of Oregonians at this point would agree the problems today are substantial indeed.

Romney pulling Idaho’s GOP

With the latest news that Idaho Republican Senator Larry Craig is becoming one of the two Senate "liaisons" (Utah Senator Bob Bennett is the other) for former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, you get the sense that most of Idaho's top-tier Republicans are headed into the Romney camp.

We've thought that likely for a while. Locally, Romney has been talked up more than any of the other contenders. And there's the Utah connection (through Romney's work on the Olympics several years back) and as a member of the LDS church, to which something like a third of Idahoans also belong. His personal style is probable more appealing, too, than that of his two leading competitors, John McCain (whose sometimes a "maverick," sometimes not manner may not sit well) and Rudy Giuliani (who among other things may simply be too New York for Idaho tastes).

Not that all Idaho Republicans will necessarily fall into line. We'd not be surprised if Representative Bill Sali signed on with the longshot campaign of Tom Tancredo; that association runs deep into the early part of Sali's campaign last year, if not earlier. But in the main, for now, Romney seems to have the main Idaho track.

Wasn’t just Crow

Alot of attention focused in the last few years, among those tracking the Idaho Legislature, on (now former) Representative Dolores Crow, R-Nampa, who for years chaired the House Revenue & Taxation Committee, from which tax bills originate. She, it was said or implied, was the bottleneck that kept a lot of wide-desired legislation from making its way through the process.

She was without doubt an impactful legislator, but the story was never that simple. The evidence has come in the record of the committee this year, as it has rejected various tax proposals, some of them backed by the libertarian-conservative governor, Butch Otter. On Wednesday, the committee rejected a proposal to reduce form 66.6% to 60% the vote needed to establish a community college district, something loads of advocates in the Ada-Canyon area have been pushing for. Rev-Tax has, in other words, behaved this year, under its new Chair Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, not very differently than it did under Crow. (Albeit that Lake is a much smoother, less abrasive and more numbers-comfortable chair)

Idaho Statesman editorial page editor Kevin Richert has delivered two highly pertinent posts, both worth reading, about this on his new blog, after watching the committee in action for a while.

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Dismissal confirmed

John McKay
John McKay

Confirmation today that suppositions from early last month [on this site among other places], that former U.S. Attorney (for Western Washington) John McKay was forced to resign - was fired - were on target.

McKay at first had little to say about his abrupt departure, other than in what he didn't say - that he he was leaving for another job, for health reasons, for family reason, and so on. (He has since taken a job as a law professor at Seattle University.) Now he's on record:

"I was ordered to resign as U.S. attorney on Dec. 7 by the Justice Department. ... I was given no explanation. I certainly was told of no performance issues."

Nor were any evident externally. Robert Lasnik, the chief federal judge in McKay's district, offered: "This is unanimous among the judges: John McKay was a superb U.S. attorney. For the Justice Department to suggest otherwise is just not fair." The last performance review of McKay by the Justice Department's evaluation board (which the Seattle Times obtained and released] said "McKay is an effective, well-regarded and capable leader of the [U.S. attorney's office] and the District's law enforcement community."

It may be that what finally brought McKay to speak out was a Wednesday remark by Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, speaking before the Senate Judiciary Committee, that "performance-related" matters were what led to the simultaneous dismissal of a string of western state attorneys.

Light is continuing to crack open on this.

Out on the edge

The Red State Rebels blog (proprietor, Julie Fanselow) has nominated state Representative Steven Thayn as the best choice, for the moment, as "the most extreme legislator" in Idaho. The farthest out to the edge, that is, on his side of the philosophical divide, which probably would mean the farthest out (on his side of the face) among the northwest's 347 state legislators.

She has good evidence. Her assessment seems the sounder when you add to the material she already provides.

Which starts with a snippet of committee debate quoted in today's Idaho Statesman, suggesting taxpayer money could be saved if school hours were cut to four hours a day.

She goes on to a nice find, a website apparently set up for Thayn (nicely designed by a Nampa web company, Impact Design Studios). The Committees of Correspondence site (with the quite different url http://www.reclaimidaho.com/) suggests a larger organization, but Thayn is the only person mentioned. If there's more to it than the web site, that's not made clear; and most parts of the web site are empty, apart from several pages of philosophizing and a plea for $25 contributions. A newsletter is on offer, but samples are not. Red State Rebels has links to a number of quotes from it.

To that, we have some additions.

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NIMBY on NASCAR

Kitsap Map/WSDOTFor a time there seemed to be some doubt about where the people of Kitsap County stood on the prospect of a NASCAR track and associated facilities located on their peninsula. Their - it has to be said - transportation-strapped peninsula, where major bridge access is about to get costly, where ferry services seems to be a matter of increasingly intense negotiations.

So maybe the report today in the Tacoma News Tribune about the unveiling of 20 legislative backers of state funding which would be key to development of the track, a group led by Representative Geoff Simpson, D-Covington, shouldn't come as a surprise.

The key point wasn't that 20 signed on. (Remember, in Washington that's 20 of 147 - 13%.) It's that no one from Kitsap County, or anywhere especially close to the proposed track location, is among them.

The paper notes: "Nearly all of the Kitsap County legislators are actively opposed. State representatives from Pierce County have been cautious at best about the idea. Tacoma Rep. Steve Kirby said a lobbyist for the track tried to get his support. He told the lobbyist the proposed site near Bremerton is a bad location because of access problems. Track opponents have said traffic getting to the peninsula racetrack would choke the Tacoma Narrows bridges and Puget Sound ferries." And, he said, the track doesn't seem to be locally popular.

Take that as a sign.