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Posts published in April 2007

Justice Davis?

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:

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Open door progress

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.

Cutting the knot

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.

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Sooners

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?

Another Pulitzer

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.

Two papers, for maybe another decade

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.

Early numbers

Today wasn't Income Tax day (that would be tomorrow), but it does mark release day for round 1 of the 2008 campaign finance cycle, covering the first three months of this year.

You've been hearing about the fundraising on the presidential level; but what about the Northwest's House seats?

A run though the Federal Election Commission's database this morning suggests a few observations.

bullet Should note, first, that we weren't able to locate Oregon Representative Peter DeFazio's filing: it didn't pull up under standard searches. That doesn't necessarily mean it wasn't filed; if anyone has spotted it, drop us a line. FOLLOW DeFazio raised, in the last quarter, $24,065 - less than anyone else in the Oregon House delegation (or Washington or Idaho, for that matter). The Oregonian politics blog notes the significance: If he were to run against Republican Senator Gordon Smith next year, he would have to get hevily into fundraising mode; to date, clearly, he hasn't been.

bullet The ace Northwest House fundraiser of the quarter was Washington Republican Dave Reichert, who not coincidentally had one of the toughest races of the last cycle (and might have the toughest regionally in this next). He raised $184,722, more than anyone else (and we might note here that less than a third of it came from PACs); but because he spent down in the last campaign and was still paying it off this year, he didn't wind up with a lot on hand - $47,584.

bullet A bit in contrast, then: Reichert's 2006 challenger, Darcy Burner, who has said she's running again, raised less than a tenth as much ($17,368) in the last quarter, but has comparable money on hand ($38,088).

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A symbol of urbanity

Baker Tower

Baker Tower

Some towns - some small towns or midsized towns - give you the impression that community leaders of the past had the idea, and acted on it, that this place was going to become a major urban center in time to come. And though it never did, the landmarks remain, testimony to that long-ago ambition.

You notice it, for example, in Wenatchee, Washington. And in Baker, Oregon. As you bypass Baker on Interstate 84 you can pick out the downtown a couple of miles away, and even from that distance you get the sense that this was a place of ambition. From a distance, and even more close up, you can see in the Geiser Grand Hotel, restored now to much of its former glory (and a place worth staying for an out of town jaunt, by the way).

And, of course, a few blocks from there, and most of all as a marker of Baker urbanity, the Baker Tower (which also was once a hotel).

That's its name, and it's what you'd call it if you didn't know the name. It is 10 stories high, the tallest building in Oregon between the Cascade Mountains and Boise, Idaho. By itself, it connotes that Baker was and is something more than just a highway stop of a burg.

We note this today because the tower, rehabbed in 2001 into usefulness as retail and office space, is up for sale at auction. The reserve price ($1.8 million) is less than the cost of the rehab work, suggesting an emergency sale; but no immediate explanation for the sale has been released. In any event, the eyes of Baker will be upon the results. History and pride ride on it.

Empty ballots

This is an off-year for elections - did you know there are elections this year? Loads of local government offices, especially but not limited to school districts, are up for election this year all over the northwest.

The Medford Mail-Tribune ran a piece today on the smallish number of candidates for the five seats to be filled on the Medford school board. Bob Hunter, the paper's editor, later blogged about it, noting the usual explanations - Everyone's happy with what the current board is doing; the unpaid positions are too much work for all but a handful of people. Then he adds:

At the risk of sounding self-centered, I think there’s a better explanation: We (the Mail Tribune) never ran a story saying the positions would be open for election — not one story, paragraph or sentence that I could find in our archive. Now, if you’re very plugged into politics, you would know that school board positions come up for a vote in May of odd-numbered years. But most people aren’t that plugged in and have no idea. In the Medford School District, we have five candidates for five positions. Three are incumbents and one is Penland’s son. You can be pretty sure the district administration knew the vote was coming.

But this is not the school district’s issue — it’s ours. We blew it. Without overvaluing our importance, I think it’s safe to say that had we told people there were open seats to be filled, more candidates would have signed up. It happened last year, when the race for a Medford City Council position had no candidates until we ran a story. Within days, four candidates appeared.

Sounds like a factor.

WEB META Hunter's blog also notes that the Mail Tribune's web site will be thorough made over come Wednesday. We'll check it out.

Bieter’s test

Jade Riley

Jade Riley

Boise Mayor David Bieter has had a generally blessed run in office so far: No huge blowups or bitterly intractable issues, which is one reason we've figured (and still do) he's in the favored position for re-election this year. Not much at City Hall has tested him hard.

Here's something, though, that might. Jade Riley, one of Bieter's key assistants - not exactly but nearly chief of staff - was charged late Friday night with driving under the influence. Bieter took action promptly, suspending Riley without pay for two weeks. The arresting agency was the Boise City Police; its officers may win some plaudits for not letting one of the mayor's top aides off the hook.

Riley, a former executive director of the state Democrats, has been a key figure in Bieter's office from the start of his mayoralty, a valuable player. What exactly, though, should Bieter do now?

No obvious answers from this quarter; but quite a few people probably will be watching.

No tomatoes for you

Have you seen the late-night TV ads promoting indoor tomato growing, so you can have year-round fresh tomatoes? Sounds like not a bad idea, except that you then read about cases like the eager drug-busters of Pullman, and you wonder if it would be worth the effort. [Hat tip: The Slog.]

Pullman is where three college roommates were growing indoor tomatoes - perfectly legal tomatoes - when, the Daily Evergreen reports, "eight to 10 police officers, guns drawn, came into the apartment and served the unsuspecting men a search warrant." On suspicion of growing marijuana, of course; the ensuing search turned up none. Only tomatoes.

The grow light aimed at the tomatoes was apparently the one piece of evidence which led to a search warrant alleging that “a crime has been committed or reasonably appears about to be committed, to-wit: controlled narcotic substances, in particular growing marijuana and burnt marijuana . . .”

What passes for reason these days . . .

DeFazio says, updated

For those tracking prospects of a Senate candidacy by Representative Peter DeFazio, a relatively detailed report today in the Roseburg News-Review.

Short version: Speaking to that city's Rotary Club and elsewhere, DeFazio sounds thoroughly uninterested in a Senate run and indicates that he's kept the door open a crack only because so many people (in Congress and in Oregon) have asked him to run.

Pertinent slice: "DeFazio said he has already told the party leadership twice he doesn’t plan to run for Smith’s position, but he said they wouldn’t take 'no' for an answer. 'I told them I would wait a while until I told them ‘no’ again,' he said."