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Posts published in March 2007

The Edwards beachhead

John Edwards
John Edwards

Republicans John McCain and Mitt Romney were the first major presidential candidates to pick up top-line state support in the Northwest; now former North Carolina Senator John Edwards is becoming the first to do it among Democrats.

Edwards' regional beachhead is in Oregon, and his collection of backers in-state is impressive - more impressive than a short thumbnail sketch may suggest. There are, after all, no statewide elected officials or members of Congress among them. But then, most of those titled people tend to hang back, not to commit until they see the lay of the land beyond the horizon, which hasn't been periscoped well as yet.

(Our presidential support page listings are updated to reflect the Oregon changes.)

The people Edwards has brought in have some sweeping implications, and no few numbers of Oregon Democrats will recognize that. Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama will have a hard time matching this crew, at least until or if one or both puts Edwards away.


Age and perception

We've long thought that much of what makes legislatures potentially powerfully useful - we're talking potential here, not always reality - is the number of varied viewpoints that can be brought to bear in the process of legislating. Not simply the fact that we have a hundred or so people rather than two or three: If that crowd thinks alike, then they may as well be two or three, or one.

(We explored that a bit recently on a personal level. Your scribe was asked to join the board of a local arts organization, and agreed, partly on grounds that his background would be distinctive from most other members, and therefore possibly useful in bringing fresh perspective to the table. One hopes.)

That point cuts a variety of ways, but today's post has to do with age: Of these hundred or so people in a state legislature (10 less in Oregon, five more in Idaho, 47 more in Washington), how varied is the experience these people bring to the game? Thanks to an analysis by the Scripps Howard newspapers, we have statistics to examine. (The take of that effort focused on the arrival of the baby-boomers; our look here is more cross-generational.) Based on those numbers, here's a chart of the birth-years of the legislators in several states, with percentages of membership noted.

State 1906-24 1925-45 1946-64 1965-83
Idaho 5 55 39 2
Oregon 0 30 62 9
Washington 1 38 52 10
Montana 1 32 57 10
Utah 3 27 63 7
California 3 33 58 6
Nevada 3 27 58 12
Texas 1 28 60 11
Florida 0 24 59 17
New York 3 30 60 7
Ohio 1 19 62 18

The first thing we should note is that, when all ages are factored in, Idaho's legislature is on average the oldest in the country, while Oregon's and Washington's are relatively unremarkable middlings.


The Latvian family values envoy, or not

When you get a few moments free and feel like reading something really weird, try this post from this Seattle Stranger's Slog.

It has to do with Ken Hutcherson, pastor at the Antioch Bible Church and active in the culture wars on the anti-gay side. He says that he holds the White House-provided title of Special Envoy for Adoptions, Family Values, Religious Freedom, and Medical Relief, and that he recently visited the nation of Latvia, where he bestowed his views on proper family values. The White House says it has given him no title and hasn't coordinated or talked with him about Latvia.

And then it gets a lot more complex.

Protecting and diminishing speech

This latest outrage should be, and may well be, struck down by a court. For now, it stands as the latest example of how far trademark and copyright issues are being pushed, and the risk to all our freedom that they entail.

Moonray logoMoonstruck logoConsider the two logos you see here - one for the Moonray Espresso shop in the small, and somewhat remote, town of Duvall, Washington; the other for Moonstruck Chocolates, a chocolate company based in Portland which has developed "chocolate cafes" there and in California and Illinois, none yet in Washington state. Its shops sell coffee, too, as a sideline.

That geographic distance and industry distinction hasn't stopped Moonstruck from taking legal action against Moonray, the allegation being an infringement on its trademark. Moonstruck is much the larger business, and Moonray's owners express concern they could be driven out of business by legal costs. It's not an idle concern.

The Seattle Times reports that "residents are circulating petitions, gathering donations and spreading the word through blogs. Bellevue alternative band AltSpeak performed at Moonray on Friday and will donate proceeds to the legal expenses. Guitarist and singer Iggy Faus said the band did it 'as a matter of principle' to support a small-business owner."

It's a matter of principle, all right. The small, remote coffee shop, which uses a name and logo only distantly remnant of the much bigger chocolate shop's, poses no realistic threat to the Portland business. The Duvall community, on the other hand, may soon see one of its key meeting places crushed out, likely because an attorney somewhere in a Portland high-rise thought a client needed to aggressively "protect its interests." It seems, from here, to be an over-aggressive protection.

Not many people think, yet, about trademark law reform. But as these cases proliferate, and they have, they should start thinking about it, else our ability to use half the words in the English language and half of our visual symbology is lost to legal clients who have the financial clout to seize the right to use it exclusively, and forever.

Costs across the border

The high cost of growth isn't always local and immediate. Sometimes it gets shifted over to the neighbor.

Take the case of three new resort developments - called Remington Ranch, Brasada Ranch and Hidden Canyon - planned for central Oregon's Crook County. (Two are on the drawing boards, while construction is underway on the third.) Between them, they'd account for 4,550 houses and upwards of 1,000 "over-night units," all in relatively remote desert high country.

This raises a number of issues, one of which is addressed in today's Bend Bulletin, which looks at transportation concerns - not in Crook County, but in Deschutes County (Bend and Redmond), to the west:

"With all of those people potentially flying in and out of Redmond Airport and coming to Redmond for some of their shopping, city officials are worried that their roads won't be able to handle the traffic and that they'll have no way to pay for improvements."

This year’s protest

War protesters in downtown Portland
War protesters in downtown Portland

The Sunday war protest march in downtown Portland, one of many around the country, was energetic - it took its time getting started, but once it did the marchers moved briskly - though, seemingly, not especially massive.

Willamette Week reported a few days back that organizers "expect a turnout of up to 30,000 people at a downtown march planned for this Sunday, March 18, compared to an estimated 10,000 people who turned out for last year's third-anniversary rally." Seemed less than that, in our observation, though because of its location, stretched to odd shapes in the downtown blocks, we may not have seen them all, either. (Later estimates put the number at 10,000, which seemed closer.)

The organization was solid enough, though, and the highly visible police presence seemed to help keep things in order. They had some prominent speakers, including U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer. And the attitude, as you might expect, was all there.

Reports from Seattle, Tacoma (about 400 marchers there) and elsewhere suggest this type of scene was not unusual. The emotion may still be there, but the war has gone on long enough that the protests of it seem to be becoming institutionalized.

Protection of some interests

It has been a few years, but we have in the past signed non-compete agreements, one employment-based preliminary to a short stint in television news, one of the places where such contracts are commmonplace. So we were a bit confused at first by the sudden emergence and somewhat surprising Senate floor defeat (narrowly, 16-18) of Senate Bill 1203, which on its face provides a specific state policy supporting the use of such contracts.

The catch is that non-competes are and have been enforceable as contracts; the headlines about the bill providing for their enforceability seemed a little off-kilter. What exactly did this bill do that caused such concern?

File this under one of those cases where a little research into the law helps with clarity.

As a core matter, non-competes are clearly a reasonable device in some business environments. In television news, for example, a station may spent a great deal of money and other effort promoting some of its on-air personnel, a real investment in that employee. If the employee walked out from station A one day and turned up that evening on station B, there's no question station A would have been damaged; you could almost consider that its investment was stolen. (We wouldn't go quite that far but we would understand the principle.) And in a variety of other businesses, comparable cases could be fairly developed.

But there are limits. To say that a person leaving an employer cannot practice his profession for an unduly long time, for example, is simply punitive - it turns the employee into a reasonably-paid indentured servant.

Like most other states, Idaho long has allowed legally for non-competes; also like many other states, the courts have been moving toward balancing the interests of employers and employees in deciding the validity of non-competes. The core purpose of 1203, which was proposed by the Idaho Association of Commerce & Industry, is to end that balance and swing the weight down solidly on the employers' side.

To read SB 1203 reasonably, you need to look back at a 2001 Idaho Supreme Court case.


The cow that is a cow

We expressed somewhat similar thoughts 9though less fully developed) a while back about the mega-luxury box development at Bronco Stadium, but Quane Kenyon's take on the subject, a guest opinion in today's Idaho Statesman, should not be missed.

Kenyon is retired from a career at the Associated Press in Boise, so he knows something of how state government works. This is one of the most pungent and incisive pieces on what talks and what walks in Boise these days, that we've seen in a while.

Not Hooley either (or is it either?)

Darlene Hooley
Darlene Hooley

Tis a little striking how steadily the leading Oregon Democrats keep taking themselves specifically out of contention for the U.S. Senate next year, to challenge Republican Senator Gordon Smith. But as well, we're starting to notice the trap doors alongside the hitherto flat demurrals.

Representative Darlene Hooley (5th district) is the latest to say that nope, she won't do it. (The item shows up on the Oregonian's political blog.) And in her case, that seems to be that. She hadn't really been expected to run, or thought likely to, partly given her improved status in the House.

That point also evidently has been influencing decisions by the other three Oregon House members. One of those three, David Wu (1st district), similarly opted out, with no further discussion since. But the Oregonian piece intriguingly adds (from his spokesman), "if that opportunity were to present itself, he would definitely consider it." Which is more than he seemed to before.

Peter DeFazio (4th district), likewise has said in clear terms that he wouldn't run, but we're perceiving a slight crack in the door, based partly on some chatter in DC and partly on the qualification in his spokesman's statement that he "has not changed his position on running at this time" [emphasis added].

Finally, Earl Blumenauer (3rd district) has never committed himself one way or the other, beyond saying that he isn't ready to say anything yet, other than (in the Oregonian piece) saying the Democrats would likely have a candidacy rolling by Labor Day (more than five months off).

Okay: Odds are none of them run. But we do start to run if some serious discussions are quietly underway in the cloakrooms . . .

Clear Channel to Peak

It may be a ripple in the corporate context of Clear Channel, but it's a big deal in radio Idaho: Selloff of a half-dozen Boise radio channels, including some of the leading stations, to Peak Broadcasting of Fresno, California.

The most notable of the stations from a public point of view may be KIDO-AM, which has been home for much of the local talk radio in the Boise area (and beyond). Others include KCIX-FM (hot adult contemporary), KSAS-FM (contemporary hits), KFXD-AM and KTMY-FM (country) and KXLT-FM (adult contemporary).

Peak is a much smaller outfit, and new, and private (with prospective more flexibility in its options); the Boise stations are only its second substantial buy, the first being a smaller group of stations at Fresno. The deal becomes final in April.

The good folks at the Idaho Radio blog have been discussing this, and the prospect of it, for several days. A number of useful points emerge from the extensive comments you'll find there.

One is the reason for the selloff - "The sale is part of Clear Channel’s ongoing effort to take the company private. The company announced it would shed all radio clusters outside the top 100 markets - with Boise being the largest group up for sale." Clear enough.

There was much debate over the stations may change, if at all. Unresolved, for now.

The return of Strippergate

Abunch of Seattle political people, and not just the Colacurcios and their friends, must have been made unhappy this morning by the Washington Supreme Court decision in Washington v. John Phillip Conte et al. It seems, after all, destined to return "strippergate" to the area's political lexicon, long after it seemed to have faded away.

The legal issue involved may shale up a few political people, too. In Conte, the court is holding that the state Public Disclosure Commission's actions against campaign law violations don't overlap with, and don't preclude, the possibility of a local or state prosecutor filing criminal charges covering the same territory: You're not necessarily done with law enforcement when the PDC is done with you. It was on that basis, that PDC action precluded other legal action, that a trial court dismissed a clutch of charges of violations of the campaign finance law. The Washington Supreme Court said it was wrong to do that, and reinstated the charges.

As the court wrote, "the State's ability to charge under two statutes is not a reason to hold that one of the statutes must prevail over the other."

The decision includes a fine summation of this complicated case, which a couple of years back was all over the Seattle headlines but has died down since. A key part of it has to do (incredibly enough) with a parking lot, and the need to expand parking space, and the effort of the owners of the Rick's strip club to get city approval for the expansion of parking onto nearby property they own, parking they installed without city approval. At the city planning department and commission level, they ran into turndowns - all of this went on over the course of more than a dozen years - and then in 2003 appealed to the city council. (As a side note, we've never grasped the argument at that core level of the case, of why such an expansion should be objectionable.) The city council turned out to be more amenable, approving the rezone on a 5-4 vote. The problem was that, as a Seattle Ethics & Elections Commission investigator reported:


The cutoff, described visually

from Mulick cutoff videoToday was the Washington Legislature's cutoff day - any bill which hasn't passed out of the House or Senate to the other chamber, is dead for the session. That makes it a day of legislative intensity, frenzy almost, as interests scramble to make sure their bills aren't (or are) left for dead.

At least, it's a frenzy in some places. Tri-City Herald reporter Chris Mulick, recently equipped with a video camera, has figured out how to tell a useful part of the story visually, efficiently and memorably. He has the video posted on his blog.

Reviewing note: Gotta love the sound effects in the second half.