Writings and observations

Tonight once again, our regular Wednesday chat is on for 6 pm Pacific, 7 pm Mountain, accessible off this page. (Scroll down to the right to the “nickname” box, enter your name, click the button, and you’re in.) It lasts about an hour; feel free to jump in or out any time.

So far we’ve had enjoyable discussions with an eclectic group of people. Greg Smith, a co-founder, should be back on board this evening. Along with, well, who knows who.

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Discussion over race and schools, and the Seattle School District’s formal declaration that racism is institutionalized there, continues on – probably a good thing, since accusations that racism sprouts in every corner (like most broad accusations of the sort) flourish too easily when out of sight.

At Crosscut, Knute Berger’s Crosscut column sided with the Seattle Times’ Danny Westneat on the point (see our post below on Westneat’s take): “The school district does have problems with racism, just like the rest of American society. But it also has a problem with a kind of institutional political correctness that sees racism at the bottom of everything — and this feeds a culture of aggrievement. It’s at the point where everything in the schools is seen as racist. Two-tiered learning is racist. The Washington Assessment of Student Learning is racist. Closing schools is racist. Recess is racist. Summer vacation is racist. Even white charity to raise money and help fund enhanced programs is racist. No teacher, parent, or staff member, it seems, is ever accused of having good intentions, such as a simple desire to do the best for children in a flawed world.”

Elsewhere, Berger follows up on a news item initially observed by Sound Politics, that the Seattle School District this year is sending high school students to a Colorado conference on “white privilege.” The district cites this from the description of the conference: “The annual White Privilege Conference (WPC) serves as a yearly opportunity to examine and explore difficult issues related to white privilege, white supremacy and oppression.” Along with the “negative historical implications of ‘Whiteness.'”

(Do they have any idea how close in tenor this sounds like a reverse-image come-on to an Aryan Nations get-together?)

Just getting along together – you know, as in citizenship – is sure going to be easier after the kids return from that one.

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The Idaho Supreme Court’s annual report on court activity over the last year (actually, with a year-end that stopped in 2006) is mostly unremarkable, except for a few numbers we’re at some loss to reconcile.

From the report:

A total of 20,992 cases were filed in the district courts of Idaho, an increase of 1.5% from 2005. The total number of district court cases in 2006 indicates a 26% increase in filings from ten years ago. A total of 471,478 cases were filed before magistrate judges in 2006, a 4.1% increase from 2005.

Felony DUI cases increased by 26% over the number filed in 2005. Misdemeanor DUI filings were up 14.7% from the last year. Overall, the number of juvenile cases rose to 13,669, a 5.2% increase from the previous year. Showing a steady decline for the fourth-consecutive year, the number of domestic violence petitions filed in 2006 dropped 8.6% from those filed in 2005.

From 2005 to 2006, district court cases overall increased 1.5% – which seems about right for a single year – but felony DUIs (which would be heard in district court) were up 26%. That’s an enormous jump for a single year. But at the same time domestic violence petitions, which so often show up somewhere in the neighborhood of alcohol abuse, were down.

Thoughts on this will be welcome.

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Does it matter whether Washington or Oregon pass laws allowing, for gay couples, to enter into “marriage” as opposed to “civil unions” as opposed to “domestic partnerships”?

We’ll leave the question debatable but note the issue. The Oregon House Rules Committee seemed to think it significant enough to change the original name of the proposed legal took – “civil union” – to “domestic partnership.” This to create an institution, whichever it is called, with many of the characteristics of marriage, but which cannot be called that either, since the state’s voters amended the constitution in 2004 to bar same-sex marriage.

The issue may be moot in Idaho, where voters banned not only same-sex marriage but also anything resembling it. Washington and Oregon are different stories, as is California, where a more sweeping measure is being debated today. The Washington House may vote on its domestic partnership bill, Senate Bill 5336, today (likely passing it; it passed the Senate 28-19). California’s, like Washington’s, is called a “domestic partnership” provision.

Both of those states use that phrase as a descriptor. Oregon’s bill, House Bill 2007 (odd we’ve seen no big references to the bill number), started out with “civil union.” But the House Committee on Elections, Ethics and Rules changed the terminology to “domestic partnership” before agreeing 5-2 to kick it out to the House floor. The change had the support of one of its key backers, Representative Tina Kotek, D-Portland.

Does the name change matter? Kotek suggested that “People are familiar with the term . . . They know what it means.”

Or maybe it has a different ring to it. “Civil union” sounds official and permanent; “domestic partnership” has the sound of a temporary matter of convenience.

Over on Blue Oregon, Kristin Flickinger wrote about the changes (abbreviated here): “First we debated about whether GLBT people wanted marriage. Then we got marriage. Then we fought really hard to keep marriage.
Then the Oregon Family Council said that they didn’t care if we had Civil Unions, but that we couldn’t have marriage. Then we lost marriage. Then we debated about whether we wanted Civil Unions if we couldn’t have marriage. Then we fought for Civil Unions. Then the Oregon Family Council said that they didn’t really mean that thing about not caring if we had Civil Unions and offered the totally inadequate Reciprocal Benefits instead. . . . Now we’re fighting for Civil Unions again. And the Oregon Family Council is threatening to refer Civil Unions to the people. So, the Democrats are going to change the name to Domestic Partnerships.”

Call it, probably, a metric of how sensitive the whole thing is, that the name of a thing seems to matter so much.

Oregon House floor vote may occur sometime next week.

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Among the arguments posed for why Oregon Republican Senator Gordon Smith might be vulnerable is the changing political climate in Oregon. If he’s genuinely vulnerable – as we think he is, albeit no pushover – then something would have to be different this time around. Some thing major, especially since he doesn’t even have a major-party opponent yet.

A number of things are different; here we’ll get into one angle of one of them, that being the changing political climate in Oregon.

That change is a large topic we’ll return to periodically. For now, let’s re-examine one of the markers of change since 2002, when Smith last was elected. And by itself, it suggests not a Smith death-knell but certainly cause for concern. That is the election results in the gubernatorial races in 2002 and 2006.

There are more markers available too, of course. Legislative races are useful that way: the vote in 2002 resulted in an Oregon Senate at 15-15 and the House with a 32-28 Republican majority; the vote in 2006 left the Oregon Senate at 18-11-1 Democratic, and the House 31-29 Democratic. That tells you something.

But the gubernatorial race has some particular advantages. The Democratic contender – Ted Kulongoski – was the same each time; he narrowly won in 2002, more decisively in 2006. The Republican nominee changed from Kevin Mannix to Ron Saxton, but although Saxton was presented as the nominee more likely to appeal to independents and some Democrats, and although he substantially outspent an incumbent governor who had just come off a sometimes bruising primary, his percentage of the vote was lower. You have to suspect that something in the state apart from the nature of the four campaigns contributed to this.

(Our spreadsheet outlining what follows is posted online.)

Oregon’s population rose between 2002 and 2006, so you would expect that to lift the raw totals both parties received between those years. It did, but disproportionately. Kulongoski increased his vote total in those years by 13.2%. The Republican vote increased by 1.4%.

At the county level, the distinction is even more striking as that suggests. In only three counties – Crook, Deschutes and (somewhat oddly) Lincoln – did the Republican increase in raw vote do much better than the Democratic increase. In many more counties – Josephine, Klamath, Lane, Linn, Marion, Multnomah, Polk, Union, Washington, Wallowa, Yamhill – some of them unexpected, the Democratic increase far outpaced the Republican. And while Democrats lost total gubernatorial votes between cycles in three counties (very rural Gilliam, Harney, and Lake, which have had population maintenance issues), Republicans lost votes for their gubernatorial nominee in 17 counties – almost half.

If there’s one pivot county in Oregon now, that probably is Washington County (Beaverton, Hillsboro, et al), the second-largest county in the state. In 2002, Kulongoski narrowly lost it; in 2006, he decisively won it. Between the two elections, he increased his raw vote there by 24.6%; the Republicans increased theirs by 2.9%.

The probability is not that Republicans were changing flags, but that independents were less willing to vote for a Republican – even one whose candidacy was billed as designed to appeal to independents – in 2006 than they had been in 2002.

Yes, we did run out the last logical step of this: If you shifted the vote percentage in the Senate races (2002 and 2008) by the same percentage as the governor’s races did, you reduce Republican Smith’s two-way percentage of 58.7% in 2002 to 56% more recently.

This is a very limited exercise, certainly nothing resembling prediction, and a quick look at one factor among many. The 2008 Senate race is yet to be run, and the political climate in Oregon could shift again – one way or the other – between here and there.

Does suggest, though, that the change in tenor of Oregon politics (leaving aside other factors) may already have cost Smith somewhere around a third of his 2002 winning margin. If so, that leaves him less margin for error than he once had.

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What with the lines between politics, culture and other societal elements blurring in recent years, we were immediately intrigued by the name of a blog we just spotted: A Seattleite in Idaho.

It is run, it turns out, by a graduate student now at Idaho State University, and who happens to be Mormon. The perspective is sometimes striking. Worth a look.

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integrationDealing usefully, productively, with matters of school and race seem to be areas where thoughtfulness, gentility and an assumption that everyone involved is of good will – even if, in fact, not everyone necessarily is – are near absolute requirements. There’s almost not such a thing as a single objective reality, since the view changes significantly if your stance alters just a little.

But scaling back emotion does seem to be generally useful, which may help in finding the sometimes obscure line between problem-solving and obsession, and in finding out what the problem is. Removing that last from the realm of the subjective to reasonably objective is tough work.

There are problems to be solved. The Oregonian pointed to one last week in the Portland schools: “One in four African American middle school students was suspended or expelled from Portland Public Schools last year. One in 14 white middle schoolers was suspended or expelled during the same period, records show.”

This statistic – the story goes on to develop it in some detail – more than indicates the existence of a problem. But what is that problem? Is it teachers and administrators more inclined to discipline black students than others? Is it not such an inclination, but a greater difficulty in communication? Could it have to do with the social or economic conditions in parts of the city where many of the black students live? (The story does note, “Rates of discipline are disproportionate no matter whether a student attends a low-income Portland school or a wealthy one.”) Is there a cultural consideration? Or something else?

No immediate answers here, just a suggestion that the school district start looking into – as it apparently has begun to do – why the disparity exists, and why it’s so great. Defining the problem isn’t easy.

Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat discovered that too, when his column a week ago declared that the Seattle School District is obsessed with the subject of race.

There’s a difference, his column suggested, between acknowledging racial issues and trying to define and solve them, and finding “race” as central to almost everything because you expect to find it everywhere. His opening instance was a fair case study: An argument from the district’s Equity and Race Relations director that summer school break is racist and “results in less access to services and opportunities of a society based on race.” As Westneat suggests: How could that possibly affect non-minority students any differently? (We might note here that as a matter of general public policy, we’ve long been in favor of getting rid of summer breaks and instead setting shorter breaks through the year. But that’s another issue.)

That’s only one of many items he cited. His conclusion: “This obsessive focus on race in Seattle schools has gone too far. It’s killing us.”

As you might expect, there’s been reaction, and his column today sifted through the hundreds of emails and other communications he’s received in the last week.

bullet A school district employee: “I’m a big believer in what Martin Luther King said about judging people not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. This district pigeonholes everyone by skin color. You have no idea what a destructive force that has been in the schools.”

bullet A maintenance employee describing the 35 race/cultural-awareness training sessions he’s had: “Some of the classes were good and made you think. But after about five of them I had kind of gotten the point.”

bullet A former South Seattle student: “The more they talk about race, the more segregated it becomes. I went to Madrona and it had blacks and Jews and Italians and Asians. Now instead of educating all the kids, they’re worrying about what color people are.”

Westneat suggested that the larger share of responses were along these lines, but noted the critics as well, who – to judge from the column – seem focused on “unexamined white privilege.” Some of that was a response to Westneat’s story about his family’s experience at the Madrona K-8 school.

You may have seen a story in this newspaper last week titled, “Race, class splinter a school.” It was about how white people started enrolling their kids in a black school, but then left in a case of white flight.

I am one of those white people. After four years of fundraising and volunteering at our local school, Madrona K-8, we transferred our kid to a school a mile away, McGilvra Elementary. We did it because there were 31 kids crammed into our first-grade class. They got little to no recess. And the administration seemed to be resistant to the arts, music and foreign-language study. And was ambivalent, sometimes hostile, to our efforts.

We were sad to leave. There are many great things at that school, such as dedicated teachers and outstanding families. But the degree to which race has come to dominate the story is eye-opening. Especially since much of the race-baiting comes from school-district employees.

First, there was an e-mail, sent from the vice principal’s computer to a departing white parent. It said the school wanted to get rid of her. . . .

The response to that was, essentially: What did you expect? You want your kids to soak up diverse cultures, but you’re not willing to put up with the poor conditions, the absence of arts and music and foreign language classes, and recess – well, welcome to life in the minority community.

He quoted an elementary school principal (who also used the “unexamined white privilege” frame) this way: “We’re not going to be able to change things until we give up on that self-protection of ourselves and our kids. It means setting aside our own agendas, and understanding that education is about a lot more than advanced academics and enrichment activities.”

Does that translate to: Give up all hope for quality education, so that . . . what? . . .

Our response to that would be much like Westneat’s: “. . . maybe it’s my white privilege showing again, but I still don’t get why anyone of any race or class should have to give up music or foreign language. Or recess.”

Sounds here as if what’s not being focused on at Seattle is the solving of practical problems, in the interest of ideological – racial – grandstanding. And Westneat’s columns, like the Portland study, leave little doubt that the problems are real. And in need of practical solutions.

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When you’re in an overwhelmed minority, “they” don’t have to listen to you. Idaho Democrats can swap a few stories with the Washington legislative Republicans – for the first time in quite a while in not just the minority, but a swamped minority – about what it’s like.

The Spokesman-Review‘s Richard Roesler has pulled together a batch of quotes and observations about the situation, mostly from a meeting with statehouse reporters; it’s well worth a read.

Best quote – from House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, adapted he said from an observation made by a Democrat: “It’s like the guards and the prisoners…The guards make the rules and sometimes the prisoners get frustrated. But it’s still the guards are in charge.”

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Ford and Carter
Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter at a 1976 debate

The applications are in: Sites in Portland/Vancouver and in Spokane have been proposed as locations for the 2008 presidential (and presumably vice presidential) debates. So what are the odds one of them will be selected?

There’s no knowing with any certainty, of course; and, of course, we’ve not done a thorough site-analysis to determine exactly how well the specific venues would fit the unusual and specific needs of a presidential debate. The two locals are Washington State University at Spokane (no, not at the mother ship at Pullman), and the Metropolitan Exposition Recreation Commission (at a Portland-area site, possibly Clark College at Vancouver).

The other 17 applicants: Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ; Belmont University, Nashville, TN; Centre College, Danville, KY; Economic Development Corporation of Wayne County, Indiana; Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY; Indiana University and the City of Bloomington’s Convention and Visitors Bureau; Ohio State University, National Public Radio, and Public Broadcasting Service, Columbus, OH; State of Illinois (Lakeside Center/McCormick Place, Chicago); University of Central Arkansas, Conway, AR; University of Cincinnati and the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, OH; University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL; University of Mississippi, Oxford, MS; VisitPittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA; Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC; Washington University in St. Louis, MO; Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT; Women of the Storm, New Orleans, LA.

Statistically, 19 organizations around the country applied to host what may be four (possibly three) presidential/vice presidential faceoffs. So on its face, the odds of a Northwest debate might be between one in two and one in three.

We would suggest that on a regional basis at least, it’s past time to give the Northwest a shot. The Northwest, after all, is the one region of the country that never has hosted a televised presidential debate.

Here’s the short history on general election presidential debate locations (this doesn’t consider the primaries, of course; the totals include vice-presidential debates, which were held each cycle but 1980 and 1960).

year number location
2004 4 Coral Gables FL; Cleveland OH; St. Louis MO; Tempe AZ
2000 4 Boston MA; Winston-Salem NC; St Louis MO; Danville KY
1996 3 Hartford CT; San Diego CA; St Petersburg FL
1992 4 St Louis MO; Richmond VA; East Lansing MI; Atlanta GA
1988 3 Winston-Salem NC; Los Angeles CA; Omaha NE
1984 3 Louisville KY; Kansas City KS; Philadelphia PA
1980 2 Baltimore MD; Cleveland OH
1976 4 Philadelphia PA; San Francisco CA; Williamsburg VA; Houston TX
1960 3 Chicago, Washington, New York/Los Angeles

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St. Louis and Winston-Salem have certainly been well-represented. So have New England, Florida, the Northeast-Great Lakes and California. The south shows up in hosts from Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Georgia and Texas. The Plains? St. Louis (three of the last four cycles), Kansas city, Omaha. The Intermountain West, southern division, did finally get a host at Tempe, Arizona, last cycle – and Tempe is this year the only applicant (apart from Spokane and Portland) from anywhere west of the Ozarks. There’s not even an application from California.

True, the matter of hosting presidential debates is a less significant matter than, say, the location of primary elections. But it might be nice to do some fair spread-around next year, nonetheless.

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There’ll be a lot more of these coming up for web use in the years ahead: A visualization from the Washington Department of Transportation of what may happen if something or other is or isn’t done. In this case: A visualization of what may happen on the high-use Highway 520 bridge (connecting Seattle with east King County) if it isn’t fixed.

Okay: It didn’t rattle us from our seats. But were we daily riders on the 520, maybe it would . . .

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