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.

A state rainy day find was set up. Key Puget Sound cleanup measures, in development for some time, were passed. (It was a big session for environmental interests.) Tens of thousands of children are slated for health insurance they don’t now have, and a paid family leave program created. Mental health was given parity for insurance purposes. Domestic partnership and anti-discrimination laws for gays were passed. Several identity-theft bills (increasingly important these days) passed.

They’ll be back again next year, of course, before the next round of elections. But as in Idaho, the operating majority in Washington probably did not endanger its majority status by what it passed and turned down this time.

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Washington

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.

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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.

We’d have been highly interested to see all the details a trial might have unearthed, but we’ll settle for the moment for the reports in the plea agreement papers. (The Spokesman-Review has posted three of them on its web site.)

The conspiracy was pegged on two points of cigarette tax law: Buyers of cigarettes sold on Indian reservations aren’t assessed state taxes; and, Washington has some of the the highest cigarette taxes in the country. If you’re sitting on the Coeur d’Alene Indian Reservation at Plummer, Idaho, a few miles from the border, opportunity could seem to be yodeling at you.

The plea deal said that “the enterprise engaged in, and its activities affected, interstate commerce. The defendant Louie Mahoney was a central conduit of virtually every aspect of the enterprise’s unlawful activities. Louie Mahoney ran a multi-million dollar a year contraband cigarette trafficking organization headquartered in Plummer, Idaho.” The arrangement was that his partners would load trucks with cartons of cigarettes and haul them to Indian reservations around Washington state, not reporting them (of course) to Washington state officials, and bypassing the tax.

It seems to have been a criminal organization on the old model – fixed places of business, a specific hierarchy and leadership, an established pattern of operations. That probably is part of what allow federal Internal Revenue Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives agents to effectively nail it.

The temptation to make illegal profit off the variances in tax rates, however, isn’t going away. If Oregon increases its cigarette taxes to roughly match Washington’s, as it may, the incentives for the regional illicit trade may grow. Which means the federal agents are likely to be busy again, in due course, tracking down Mahoney’s successors. The catch is that, if Naim’s analysis of the global illicit trade is right and if the patterns descend to localities, the next cigarette enterprise may be more diffuse, more ad hoc, less structured.

Tougher to catch.

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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.

In Estrada’s case, he was convicted of the crime – through a plea deal – before the issue of psychosexual testing came up. His guilt or innocence was not at issue; the testing was used to help the judge determine whether he would continue to threaten violence to society. The testing indicated that he did, and the judge sentenced accordingly. A lawyer for Estrada said that the attorney previously handling the case should have fought the testing, on grounds that the convict was effectively testifying against himself, if not for purposes of guilt then for purposes of sentencing, which also matters.

In other words: Can your insistence on your rights be held against you?

There are other cases where we do allow something of the sort. If you’re stopped while driving and suspected of driving under the influence, and refuse to take certain tests, your license can be taken away. It’s not an exact analogy, since driving is a licensed and limited activity, not a general right, but something of the point remains similar.

There’s also the position of a judge who has to decide what level of danger a convicted person may pose to society. Should we say that a judge shouldn’t consider all relevant factors in trying to make the best decision – but only some of them?

The whole area is an unclear piece of the law. As the AG’s appeal notes, “The Lower Courts Are Divided Between Those Jurisdictions That Allow No Adverse Inferences At Sentencing, Those That Allow Adverse Inferences At Sentencing Except To Show The Facts Of The Underlying Crime, And Those That Pro-
hibit Adverse Inferences That Increase A Sentence But Allow Adverse Inferences In Denying A Decrease Of The Sentence.”

There’s no perfect answer. This is one of those cases where various rights and responsibilities do seem to come into collision. It ought to be a useful piece of work for the high court to undertake.

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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.

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Peter DeFazio
Peter DeFazio

We can’t say we were surprised with word this morning that Representative Peter DeFazio shut the door – for the last time, apparently – on calls for him to run next year against Republican Senator Gordon Smith.

The Oregonian did quote him as saying, “This was not an easy decision. You don’t get a poll that shows you’re ahead of an incumbent senator and generous offers of support from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and just blow it off. It was a long and serious deliberation on my part.”

So – next?

Democratic activist Steve Novick, the wonkish and sharp-tongued and witty (“hard left hook” is a neat line) political activist from Portland, has already announced; but as a first-time candidate (albeit plenty of experience in political circles) a number of Democrats are still looking for their nominee.

Earl Blumenauer
Earl Blumenauer

Attention turns next to Representative Earl Blumenauer, who represents the central Portland district and may be the most liberal member of the Oregon delegation. Blumenauer has made some moves in recent years toward statewide visibility (buying TV time in places like Bend, for example), and he’s a solid and experienced campaigner – his years in electoral politics probably extend deeper than anyone now active as a candidate on the state or federal level. He would be a strong contender, and unlike DeFazio, he does not seem to have turned down the idea of a Senate (though he has apparently deferred to a DeFazio candidacy should it happen).

So, on the Senate front, watch Blumenauer closely in the next couple of weeks. He seems to be next at bat, and his self-imposed bar to deciding on the race is now removed.

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Caldwell’s Curtis Bowers will be the newest Idaho legislator, replacing Representative Robert Ring, who resigned for health reasons.

In choosing Bowers, Governor Butch Otter chose the third-ranked choice of the western Canyon County legislative committee which nominated him along with former state Agriculture Director Pat Takasugi and Caldwell attorney Jim Rice. But both of the others had issues. Takasugi was ousted by Otter on his arrival in the governor’s office; whatever all his reasons were, a Representative Takasugi probably would have been an uncomfortable fit. And Rice had lost a county commission primary.

Bowers has his own back involvement, albeit tangential. In 2006 he announced he was running against Ring, often described as one of the more moderate House members, from the right. Bowers, who owned but by 2005 sold the Boise and Nampa Mona Lisa Fondue restaurants, withdrew from the Ring race early on. Still, indications are that the Ring-Bowers transition is another step n the rightward tilt of the Idaho House.

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From the sports arena construction watchdog blog Field of Schemes by Joanna Cagan and Neil deMause, posted a few days ago:

According to The Oklahoman newspaper, Seattle Sonics owner and Oklahoma City native Clay Bennett declared recently that OKC’s Ford Center “is fine for the immediate future, but the city eventually will need a new building.” The Ford Center will turn five years old this June.

A few years back – while the Ford Center was still under construction, in fact – economist Rod Fort told me, “I don’t see anything wrong, from an owner’s perspective, with the idea of a new stadium every year.” At the time, I thought he was joking, but now…

Quoth a commenter: “Maybe they’re thinking in dog years?”

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John Edwards
John Edwards

Everything in a presidential campaign has a strategic component, most certainly including where you do things. which gives some interest to the chocie by the John Edwards campaign of Seattle for its union hall presentation. [Hat tip: The Postman blog.]

The May 1 Edwards appearance, the King County Labor Council said, “is one of several candidate forums organized for an intensive six-month effort to engage union members and their families in the AFL-CIO’s presidential endorsement decision-making process. The AFL-CIO Executive Council voted to ask each of its 54 national unions to make no endorsement until the AFL-CIO General Board decides, following the six-month period of member consultation, whether or not to endorse a candidate prior to the primaries.”

Candidates (and we are talking Democrats here) were allowed to choose among locations. Illinois Senator Barack Obama chose Trenton, New Jersey (May 14), New York Senator Hillary Clinton chose Detroit (May 19), New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson opted for Phoenix (June 4), and so on. The choices apparently were not random.

So what might be the thinking? Is there a reason a Seattle labor venue might be more attractive to Edwards? One comes to mind. Washington so far (in contrast to Oregon) seems to have had more Clinton and Obama than Edwards activity. Might this be an attempt at lunching a catchup in the Evergreen State?

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Only the foolish make flat predictions, on application release day, about the name of the next appointed justice on the Idaho Supreme Court. The Idaho Judicial Council, which screens for two-to-four applicants (usually four), and the governor, who makes the final selection, have historically proven adept at upending expectations.

Bart Davis
Bart Davis

That said, the early money seems likely to go to the state Senate Majority Leader, Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, and for substantial reason.

The opening will result from the retirement of the court’s chief justice, Gerald Schroeder, at the end of July. (He has, as an aside, a remarkable record on the bench. He has been a judge since 1969 and on the Supreme Court for a dozen years, and throughout has been held in broad high regard. In spite of which, neither stiff nor stuffy; he’s low-key, humble and has a sense of humor. One of the region’s lesser-known long-running class acts.)

The court opening, one of the few appointive spots in recent years, drew a pile of applicants: 19 in all. The Idaho Judicial Council (which will interview the candidates) lists them on its site:

DAVIS, BART M. – Idaho State Senator and Lawyer in private practice – Idaho Falls, ID
GABBERT, MYRON DAN – Adams County Prosecutor and Lawyer in private practice – McCall, ID
GILMORE, MICHAEL S. – Deputy Attorney General – Boise, ID
GINES, RALPH J. – Lawyer in private practice – Boise, ID
HORTON, JOEL D. – District Judge of the Fourth Judicial District, Boise, ID
HUNTER, LARRY C. – Lawyer in private practice – Boise, ID
JONES, WARREN E. – Lawyer in private practice – Boise, ID
KRISTENSEN, DEBORA K. – Lawyer in private practice – Boise, ID
LUKER, LYNN M. – Lawyer in private practice – Boise, ID
PETERSON, Jr., CHARLES F. – Lawyer in private practice – Boise, ID
SATTERLEE, KEVIN D. – Assoc. Vice President and General Counsel for Boise State University, Boise, ID
SKINNER, Jr., GARDNER W. – Lawyer in private practice – Boise, ID
SMITH, MARVIN M. – Lawyer in private practice – Idaho Falls, ID
STICKLEN, KATHRYN A. – District Judge of the Fourth Judicial District, Boise, ID
STRONG, CLIVE J. – Division Chief of the Idaho Attorney General – Boise, ID
TORYANSKI, MITCHELL E. – Deputy Attorney General – Boise, ID
WHITE, TERRENCE R. – Lawyer in private practice – Nampa, ID
WOOD, BARRY – District Judge of the Fifth Judicial District, Gooding, ID
YOST III, WILLIAM “BUD” F. – Lawyer in private practice – Nampa, ID

There is on this list a larger-than-usual number of really prominent names. Clive Strong, for example, has been for many years the state’s main man on legal matters that relate to natural resources, especially water; he is so key in that area that many people may not want him to move.

A Supreme Court appointment has to be politically acceptable, and that factor may knock out some of the people on the list.

Former Governor Cecil Andrus generally preferred appointing non-district judges to the high court. Otter’s views on that idea aren’t clear, but after Schroeder (a former DJ himself) leaves, three of the four other justices (Linda Copple Trout, Daniel Eismann, Roger Burdick) still will be former district judges. That may weigh against appointing another one. And among the applicants, the judge with the broadest experience, 5th District Judge Barry Wood (who has gotten strong reviews for his work over the years, and acquitted himself well presiding in the tough Snake River Basin Adjudication), has background and regional experience that may too-closely match that of Burdick, the most recent appointee to the court.

Another frequent consideration is regional. The post-Schroeder high court will have justices with substantial southwest Idaho background (Eismann, Jim Jones), northern Idaho (Trout), and the Magic Valley (Burdick and Jones). The region left out, as it has been for a while, is eastern Idaho. Of the 19 applicants for the opening, 15 hail from the Boise-Nampa area. Of the other four, there’s one from McCall (Myron Dan Gabbert), one from Gooding (Wood), and two private practice attorneys from Idaho Falls – Marvin Smith and Bart Davis. And Davis, besides his various civic pushups, has been active in state Bar activities (mainly in the commercial law area); he’d be a credible appointee from that front, too.

Of course, you never know. Sometimes people interview poorly at the council (and those interviews are open to the public; if someone bombs there, which occasionally happens, everyone knows). Otter’s relationship with Davis would be in play, if Davis makes the short list, and factors there could include a reshuffling of Senate leadership.

At the moment, at least, Davis seems the name to watch.

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Acouple of things came out of the Burley water summit Idaho Governor Butch Otter called for this week. Neither was what he probably was hoping for.

One was a raft of bad headlines for holding the key parts of the conference behind closed doors; the critics included not only newspapers but also the chair of the Senate resource committee, Gary Schroeder, R-Moscow: “I don’t think that my constituents want me involved in any type of situation in which public policy is decided behind closed doors.” And, consequently, he declined to go to Burley.

Otter’s rationale for closure was that deals might be more likely struck if no one had to couch their language in careful, quotable terms; if they could speak freely. Sometimes it works that way; that’s how the massive (and useful) Nez Perce/Snake River deal was crafted. But that was a discussion of private interests and options in the context of a lawsuit; the water summit was intended to address more conventional policy-making about water distribution. In this case, everyone present was prospectively on the opposite side of possible lawsuits or regulatory actions – not the place to let your hair down. On top of that, anyone outside the room was likely to become immediately skeptical about whatever deals were struck inside, which is a bad place to start policy making. (There were also issues about who was and wasn’t in the inner ring of negotiators – for example, Pocatello Mayor Roger Chase, whose city has been an important factor in water law in recent years, was bumped off the central group, in favor of the new mayor of Idaho Falls.)

In the event, the second thing that came of it is that very little did:No sweeping agreements were reached. The governor’s spokesman, who would have the most incentive for spinning any results positively, said that “I think we’ve got a basis for moving forward, but I don’t think I’d call it an agreement.” A basis for moving forward might mean not much more than that no physical violence occurred in the closed room.

In the next round of efforts toward resolution (there never was any way this would get settled all at once), a more open approach – making clear to everyone the varied stakes involved, and that there really aren’t any villains here – could yield more general understanding, which ought to result in some solutions. At least, after Burley, it might be considered as an alternative that could result in no less progress, and certainly in fewer bum headlines.

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Steens MountainThe hearing room, for public testimony on what’s being called “the Framework” on Measure 37 renovation, was packed with people, so many that not even all those who came to testify were able to get a seat there. So a second room was open, complete with big-screen video and pretty good sound, and it filled. And so did a third. Your scribe watched the proceedings from a mostly-full fourth room.

Measure 37 excites a lot of interest.

Most of the people who testified, and even most of those who simply showed up, were easily distinguishable, because most of them wore one of two types of adhesive shirt tags. One said, in red lettering, “I [heart] M37.” The other, in various bright colors, said, “Fix 37.”

This suggests a part of the problem the committee co-chairs, Senator Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, and Representative Greg Macpherson, D-Lake Oswego, face. The issue lies between legislative inaction on M37, on one hand, and a range of possible actions – with various and scattered support – on the other. The one side is a lot more focused than the other.

It’s a solvable problem, but some core issues may have to be addressed if the legislature is to avoid its sad record of 2005, when it punted the issue altogether.

Measure 37, passed by a large majority of the voters in 2004, says mot basically that the planning and zoning rules in effect when you bought your property can be what applies today; so that, for example, if you (or your ancestors) bought your property in 1962 when there were no legal barriers to subdividing your 500-acre farm into tract houses, you can do it now. That’s the theory at least, more or less, but the details get murky, and the legal cases – to cover any of the many gaps in the law – are multiplying. Meantime, the deadline for counties to process cases brought under Measure 37 is approaching in a few weeks, and some counties (eight, by one estimate made in testimony today) will miss the deadline. The possible impacts of development under M 37 could be massive in some places; testimony from such counties as Hood River, Lincoln and Jefferson were specific about the effects.

There is some argument, and substantial polling to back it up, that voters today would reject 37 if they had another crack at it. That, and the enhanced Democratic control at the Oregon Statehouse, has given legislators more push in their efforts to amend the law. But 37 still has plenty of defenders too.

The Joint Special Committee on Land Use Fairness, which Prozanski and MacPherson co-chair, has been working on options for weeks, often through a working group. The effort has been dominated by the Democrats, though Republicans, maybe most notably Representative Bill Garrard, R-Klamath Falls, have been involved. A turning point in all that came last Thursday when a new draft proposal – the “framework” – appeared, and Garrard and other Republicans said they would no support it. Prozanski and Macpherson had apparently been concerned that whatever the committee released be considered a bipartisan effort.

There were indications today that may be a lesser consideration. And it may have to be.

That doesn’t mean the process should be closed, and this one looks a little more closed than it probably should be. Only one public hearing – where the public can testify – seems to be planned, and that was this evening’s. At that point, only a preliminary version of the proposal was available, and scads of amendments were floating around. As Dave Hunnicutt of Oregonians in Action (the lead backer of M 37) testified, “I can’t give you cogent testimony without seeing the language of the amendments,” where single, subtle changes could alter everything.

Senate Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, addressed the committee early in the hearing to caution that any attempt to shut out legislators or others could backfire, and warned that “more people are afraid of what this committee may do.” Several of the Republicans on the committee indicated they felt they were being shut out or left behind on the “framework” approach.

The problem is that much of their base doesn’t want Measure 37 tinkered with at all – the “I [heart] M37″ crowd, which matches up with the Republicans, would rather see no change in the law at all. (Their argument in part is that the people have already spoken in passing the measure.) Under those conditions, where’s the incentive for the Republican legislators to engage in compromise? And so, in the end, they may not. For all that some witnesses said that Measure 37 shouldn’t be a partisan issue, it certainly appears to be.

More public hearings, at least one more after all the amendments are in, would be a good idea. The testimony being taken was aimed at a moving and partly invisible legislative target.

After that, the Democrats may simply have to act – and they should have the votes to do it. What might work is this: Passing into law a meshing of their own best take on public policy and what they think Oregon voters would accept, and at the same time referring the measure to the 2008 general election ballot. If Oregonians really have changed their minds about 37, they could endorse the alterations. If not, they could repudiate the Democratic proposal.

In the end, it probably won’t matter whether a Measure 37 proposal is bipartisan or not, and it may be that such a critter can’t be conjured by legislative genetics. But a political resolution of the issue is possible, and that may be what the legislature has to aim for. That, or wind up with a 2005 rerun.

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Don’t anybody say they were surprised – or expected any other outcome. The Sonics are about to become Sooners, in residence if not in name . . . though, who knows, maybe name too . . .

Everyone went through the motions. The purchase contract through which Clay Bennett and his consortium bought the Seattle basketball team included requirements that they make a set of proposals under which the team would remain in the Puget Sound; those proposals were duly made. They went to state officials, who received them solemnly and gave them proper review.

Never, so far as we were able to tell, was there a prospect that the Bennett group would propose something that elected officials (and, really, the public) in the area would be willing to accept. Nor was there a prospect of acceptance of what the Bennett group would likely propose. The pullout has been as foreordained as you get.

Will pro basketball return to Seattle? Sure, if someone with money sees enough return on investment in it. The issue could come around, as it has this time, to: How much return on investment is enough?

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Agood day for Northwest newspapers: The Oregonian (in a staff award) won another Pulitzer Prize, for its coverage of the Kim case last winter.

The Washington Post‘s description said the stories concerned “the Kim family, whose disappearance in the Oregon mountains prompted a desperate search that riveted the nation. Kati Kim and her two young daughters were rescued, but her husband, James, was found dead after he had gone looking for help. The paper’s reporting continued after the search ended, with articles about missteps and confusion that bedeviled the agencies involved.”

The awards board said “for its skillful and tenacious coverage of a family missing in the Oregon mountains, telling the tragic story both in print and online.”

Not to be churlish, but we thought at the time that the coverage (generally, not just at the Oregonian) was over-coverage, exhaustive and sweeping past real need. (Did many readers actually read it all? Or was the story that compelling?) But . . . it was very done, skillful and detailed journalism without doubt. Congratulations on finely detailed work.

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On the face at least, this sounds like a good deal for the time being: A resolution of the long-running Seattle Times/Post-Intelligencer battle that seems to give the P-I another decade of life. What happens then remains unclear; but then, who knows what newspapering will look like in another decade anyway?

From the announcement:

Under terms of the agreement, both newspapers will continue to publish for the foreseeable future. Under the agreement, The Seattle Times Company is buying back the guaranteed revenue stream to Hearst if the P-I is ever closed and Hearst is paying the Times in exchange for an agreement that the Times will not issue further loss notices until at least 2016. . . .

Other elements of the agreement, aimed at fostering a renewed constructive business relationship between the two parties, include a provision to name a senior circulation executive dedicated to monitoring P-I circulation and efforts to try to slow or arrest the circulation decline of the P-I. The settlement also calls for all current litigation and claims to be dropped and specifies that any future issues will go to binding arbitration.

Our initial thought is that the Times executives were looking long-range here, aiming for eliminating the big penalty at the back end in return for giving up the prospective monopoly in the near term. (A counter-interpretation, visible in some of the comments sections, is that the Blethen family, which runs the Times, “blinked” – were concerned about some of the upcoming testimony.)

Essentially, the papers in 1983 entered into a deal to share almost all of their functions except news production and place the work under the aegis of the Times; if the deal is dissolved (which the Times has sought) that would mean the press-less, ad department-less and much smaller P-I might have to shut down. (The Times has posted a good short backgrounder on the Joint Operating Agreement dispute; the P-I news take is a little more extensive.)

Some quick, sometimes emotional, comments are available in the P-I comment section.

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