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Posts published in April 2007

Changing the water rules, maybe?

Norm Semanko
Norm Semanko

Toward the middle of today's guest opinion in the Idaho Statesman by Norm Semanko, who leads the Idaho Water Users Association, was this bit of deliberate non-provocation:

Idaho's Prior Appropriation Doctrine, embraced in its constitution and statutes, has worked well for Idaho for over 100 years. Augmented by additional water supplies including storage reservoirs, it has provided certainty and stability during times of shortage for farmers, cities and businesses alike.

The governor's water summit was not a referendum on whether to change Idaho's longstanding set of water laws. There will be no constitutional convention or other revamping of Idaho's water laws.

The guest opinion was a statement of support for Governor Butch Otter's recent water summit at Burley, which did not result in any immediate resolutions but did, as Semanko notes, have the virtue of bringing many of the players face to face. The fact that such a meeting might have real usefulness (and why followup meetings probably would be a good idea) is testament to Idaho's gradually growing difficulties with effectively managing its water supply.

The summit wasn't, as Semanko says, "a referendum on whether to change Idaho's longstanding set of water laws." But left unsaid was this question: Should that be considered? Should, for example, the prior appropriation doctrine (first in time, first in right) be tossed in favor of some other principle?

That would mean thinking outside of long-standing tradition. But some of the emerging water issues are non-traditional, too. Some large-scale careful consideration might be in order.

Considering Gordon

Those in the waiting period between the Defazio and Novick announcements and whatever comes next, might check out the thoughtful long take in today's Eugene Register Guard on Oregon Republican Senator Gordon Smith - his political stances and his political prospects. Much time has been devoted to the issue of who will run against Smith; probably less has been to Smith himself. This piece is a good overview, with useful ideas and commentary strewn throughout.

Said not because (disclosure here) your scribe was among the people quoted therein.

Wal-Mart watch: Crossing the Perrine

Rebuffed for a decade or so by residents determinedly opposed, Wal-Mart has finally made its way into Twin Falls, winning a key city council vote on Monday. It will be Idaho store 22.

About a couple of dozen residents, mainly from the North Pointe Ranch and Los Lagos subdivisions, still were there in opposition. Said one: "You have about worn me down. We hope your conscience will let you vote for what Wal-Mart wants because after all you need to respect the integrity of neighbors and the lovely homes that are there."

Opinion bloggers, and paid for it

The Northwest's newsrooms, taken wholly, are fitfully represented in the blogosphere, but the editorial pages do seem to be moving a bit ahead.

The latest to run this route is Spokane Spokesman Review, which this month started the Matter of Opinion blog fed by members of the editorial page staff (which can include the paper's editor and publisher). Two of them additionally have blogs of their own (D.F. Oliveria's Huckleberries Online being a very regular stop for us).

Neither the Seattle Times nor Post Intelligencer, both of which run a number of blogs (including a good political blog by each), seems to have an editorial page blog, although the Tacoma News Tribune has one. And there's an editor's blog at the Yakima Herald-Republic.

The Portland Oregonian has had one too for some time now. The Salem Statesman Journal has an editor's blog, as does the Medford Mail Tribune, but the Eugene Register Guard doesn't.

We found interesting that the first blog (that we know of) emanating from the Boise Idaho Statesman was by the paper's editorial page editor, Kevin Richert. (It too is a frequent stop.) Not many others so far in Idaho, though. Opinion pieces often do show up on the Idaho State Journal politics blog. There are some preliminary blogging efforts at the revamped Lewiston Tribune web site. The only public blog at the Idaho Falls Post Register has to do with its new press.

Our guess is that a couple of years from now, there will be more.

Oregon’s 150

Oregon 150This has been going on for some time, but we'd not seen the web site before today: Oregon 150, the planning group for the 150's anniversary (the sesquicentennial) of statehood. The group is already highly active; its board next meets on May 9 in Portland.

That anniversary is not for a couple of years yet, in 2009. But these large year-long activities take a while to plan, as the centennial planners in Idaho (1990) or Washington (1989) could tell you. And this one looks as if it has a broad range of activities in store.

It's in early stages, as yet. (A blog, for example, is promised but not yet developed.) But the early postings are promising.

Over, and some things done

Washington statehouseThose critics of the legislature in Idaho, which adjourned late last month, who blasted it as do-nothing, missed a point: A legislature is there to make decisions, not necessarily to pass scads of bills. Its decisions on passing or rejecting proposals may be variously right or wrong, but turndowns aren't necessarily bad. It depends on what they are, and where you sit.

A legislature can be judged by its overall approach, and in the cases of Idaho and Washington, that was not hard to read. The Idaho Legislature was what you might reasonably expect when dominated by Republicans; the Washington Legislature this year, similarly, was generally what you'd expect of chambers dominated by Democrats.

Among the major outcomes of the Washington Legislature this year, which sine die'd Sunday evening, were at least two major rejections, of financing for sports facilities, the NASCAR raceway in Kitsap County and a proposed new arena (sought by the Seattle Sonics basketball management) at Renton. And there were scale-backs or hold-offs (notably some of the WASL testing, which has become so contentious). Stronger regulation of payday lenders, and stronger legal protection for homeowners, both failed.

But if this was a less spectacular session than 2005, there were important items passed.

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John O’Brien, and WA Legislature, adjourn

John L. O'Brien
John L. O'Brien

The Washington Legislature is adjourning today, on schedule. That will be a subject of discussion, but for many in Washington politics, it will be secondary: John L. O'Brien, who entered that body in 1939 and left it in 1993, died today in Seattle.

We never met O'Brien, but sometimes felt as if we had. We've spent a fair amount of time in the O'Brien Building, across the way from the Statehouse, where House legislative offices and meeting rooms are located. And one of the first books we read on Washington government was the useful Speaker of the House: The Political Career and Times of John L. O'Brien, by Daniel Jack Chasan.

O'Brien's fingerprints are all over Washington government and policy. Inevitably: He was House speaker for four terms, and served in the legislature longer than anyone else in Washington history (and, for a time, held that record nationally, too).

More commentary available at the David Postman blog.

Illicit and contraband . . . cigarettes

cigarettesThe excellent recent book Illicit by Moises Naim offers a startling overview of a big piece of the global economy little noticed (because it deliberately keeps its head down) - the trade in illegal, contraband or counterfeit goods and services. The longtime editor of Foreign Policy magazine at one point offers this description:

"Since the early 1990s, global illicit trade has embarked on a great mutation. It is the same mutation as that of international terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda or Islamic Jihad - or for that matter, of activists for the global good like the environmental movement or the World Social Forum. All have moved away from fixed hierarchies and toward decentralized networks; away from controlling leaders and toward multiple, losely-linked, dispersed agents and cells; away from rigid lines of control and toward constantly shifting transactions as opportunities dictate."

A point to bear in mind, reviewing the announcement last week of a settlement in the great Northwest cigarette smuggling case, now, evidently, mostly settled in advance of trial.

It was a large case, brought in 2003 and worked steadily since in the old-fashioned way, getting participants to roll over on others. If you think cigarettes are a minor deal as crime goes, ask yourself how many crimes would cost taxpayers (in this case in Washington state) as much as $56 million in tax revenue, which federal officials estimate was the case here.

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Incrimination by examination

courtroomWe know that the constitution says we all have a right to not be required to incriminate ourselves: "No person . . . shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself." In some cases, the meaning of that right, and the line-in-sand it draws, are evident enough. In other cases, not so much.

Consider the appeal (formally, a request for writ of certiorari) of the Idaho Attorney General's office, filed Friday, to the U.S. Supreme Court, from a decision by the Idaho Supreme Court. Here's the executive summary:

After his conviction and sentence for rape, Krispen Estrada filed a petition for post-conviction relief in the Idaho district court, claiming ineffective assistance of counsel in sentencing. The district court determined that Estrada’s counsel in the criminal case had provided deficient performance by failing to advise Estrada about his privilege against self-incrimination in regard to a court-ordered psychosexual evaluation. The court denied the claim, however, reasoning that Estrada was not prejudiced because he would have received the same sentence because the sentencing court could have properly drawn adverse inferences at sentencing, such as lack of remorse, non-amenability to treatment, and risk to the community, if Estrada had refused to participate in the evaluation. The Supreme Court of Idaho reversed the district court’s finding of lack of prejudice, implicitly rejecting the district court’s determination that the sentencing court may properly draw adverse inferences from silence at sentencing, and holding prejudice was shown because the evaluation “played a role” in sentencing. The question presented is:

Other than in finding the facts and circumstances of the offense, may a sentencing court draw adverse inferences from a defendant’s refusal to cooperate in a pre- sentencing evaluation?

Estrada's offense is certainly heinous, "beating, choking and raping his estranged wife in front of their children," then holding off police in a seven-hour armed confrontation. But the question of self-incrimination - in this case, allowing an effective inference of guilt from a decision not to speak - is a lot broader than one case.

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Elsewhere

Micron TechnologyAthink piece in the current Business Week magazine points out that corporate spending is continuing to grow, but that "just increasingly outside the U.S. A BusinessWeek analysis of financial reports from more than 1,000 large and midsize U.S.-based companies shows that global capital expenditures in the fourth quarter of 2006 were actually up 18.1% over the previous year, a number that includes nonresidential construction as well as info-tech equipment and machinery. The comparable growth for domestic business investment, which is all the government reports each quarter: only 8.9%, without adjusting for inflation."

Which would be notable but not Northwest-oriented except that one of the handful of corporations the article highlights is Boise-based Micron Technology, on which a large chunk of the Boise-area economy is reliant. And whose CEO, Steve Appleton, is quoted as saying, "I don't have to hire one more person in the U.S. I don't have to invest one more dollar here - and we'll be just fine."

Back at Boise, where two years ago talk of the town was of a prospective new billion-dollar Micron production operation (not yet materialized), the Idaho Statesman has asked Micron for some further explanation of its growth plans. No response as yet, the paper reports.