"I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors." - Thomas Jefferson (appears in the Jefferson Memorial)
Humanitarian Bowl

Humanitarian Bowl

Considering all the name changes it’s gone through already, the new name addition of Roady’s Truck Stops to the Boise State Humanitarian Bowl may not be a very big deal.

After all, consider the names the game already has had: Humanitarian Bowl (1997-98), Crucial.com Humanitarian Bowl (1999-2002), [plain old] Humanitarian Bowl (January 2004) and MPC Computers Bowl (Dec. 2004-2006 – no “Humanitarian” at all).

In the context, the new Roady’s Humanitarian Bowl doesn’t really sound like a big stretch. And the naming rights were duly paid for.

(Never heard of Roady’s Truck Stops? That may be because, though it’s currently a large outfit in the industry, it was created only this year by the merger of two differently-named companies. The company list says the only Roady’s in Idaho at present is the Mayfield stop east of Boise on I-84; there is one in Oregon, at Baker, and two in Washington, at Spokane and Toledo. Roady’s corporate offices are located in New Plymouth, however.)

Not everyone’s happy about it. Remarked one commenter on an Idaho Statesman comment board (the whole long thing, well over 100 comments so far, really is worth scanning) offered: “I never thought I could ever stop laughing at the Taco Bell Arena… Today I finally got over it. Can’t wait to find out who will have naming rights for Bronco Stadium so that I can stop laughing at the Roady’s Humanitarian Bowl.”

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NW carpenters

NW carpenters

Haven’t seen much about this, but could it be that a labor-union settlement in one part of the Northwest might prompt a massive strike in other parts of the region?

Carpenters unions around the Northwest have been pushing in recent months for pay increases. In western Washington (mainly the Puget Sound area) this week, they reached a deal with the Wall and Ceiling Contractors Association involving an increase of about $7.20 an hour at the journeyman level.

No such deal yet, though, for Oregon or others in Washington. An e-mail from the carpenters notes that “The last and final offer from the Wall and Ceiling Contractors Association was only about 70% of the increase that the Association agreed to in Seattle.” A spokesman was quoted: “In Western Washington, the same worker will be receiving a 30% larger raise than he or she would in Oregon or in Southwest Washington. [He said] In Oregon alone, construction accounts for at least $9.9 Billion to the economy annually. It’s not just 1,300 families negotiating here; if they fail, Oregon and Southwest Washington lose economically when the contractors disrupt the operations of their own jobsites.”

So, the mail said: “With only hours before the contracts expire at midnight on May 31st, members of the Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters (PNWRCC) in Washington and Oregon may be forced to walk off dozens of active construction sites; the strike is imminent since the contractors continually failed to offer an acceptable increase to workers’ wages and benefits. Already, 97.5% of the affected carpenters have voted in favor of striking as a last resort.”

Pickets tomorrow, all over the region?

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Oregon Washington

Has to be said that, over the years, the Northwest congressional delegation has been ace at protecting the Bonneville Power Administration, the federal agency probably most responsible for the low electric power rates in the region.

How will it do now in a case where an action of the BPA may shoot up power rates across much of the region by about a tenth?

The region’s six senators, three from each party, today shipped a joint letter to BPA Administrator Steven Wright on the situation and (a little more vaguely) their suggestion.

On May 3rd, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on a case regarding how utilities and their customers in our three states share in the economic benefits of the Federal Columbia River Power System (FCRPS) under the Northwest Power Act (NWPA). The court’s decision appears to cast a legal shadow on BPA’s authority to adopt the “Regional Dialogue” proposal and to enter into power supply contracts with its public agency customers next year as hoped. This week, seven Northwest investor-owned utilities announced residential ratepayers could see rate increases as much as 25 percent at a time when other energy costs, notably gasoline, are sky high.

We know BPA is trying to implement the court’s decision, and that it is difficult to navigate through these complex issues. However, everyone in the region has an interest in reaching a legally sustainable compromise that fulfills the public policy goals of the NWPA and allows BPA to enter into new power supply contracts with public agencies before the current contracts expire. This requires that all stakeholders – public and private utilities, BPA and consumers, states and public utility commissions – join together in good faith in an effort to negotiate a mutually agreeable and legally sustainable compromise. We believe that such a compromise is best forged in the region, and are pleased that BPA is committed to a regionally developed solution.

The point is reasonable; the specifics are less visible, at least in this letter. The evidence of success, or not, should be forthcoming soon.

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Idaho Oregon Washington

Okay, sometimes we wonder if we’re being a little blase about the possibility of the Seattle Sonics blowing town for (as so many now expect) either Oklahoma City or at least some place well to the south and east of Puget Sound. Might the loss, in fact, be a real blow to Seattle?

Our core thought has been that, while the Sonics are an asset to Seattle, their departure would not likely hurt much. So we were more than a little hooked by the headline in today’s Seattle Post-Intelligencer: “A city with no Sonics: How life will change if NBA leaves Seattle,” by reporter Mike Lewis.

How life will change . . . okay, let’s discuss that. How would life change?

Conclusion: Not much, except that there wouldn’t be the Sonics to talk about around the water cooler. Maybe some marginal loss of civic pride, though even that point is uncertain, Seattle having, shall we say, a variety of other components of civic pride as well. But read the piece for yourself. (And check out the wonderful graphic with the deflated basketball and the keeled-over Space Needle, even though it doesn’t quite match the article’s conclusions.)

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Washington Group InternationalAnother headquarters move making Boise the location of another division of a corporation: The purchase of Washington Group International (formerly, roughly, Morrison-Knudsen) by URS Corporation of San Francisco, for $2.6 billion.

URS describes itself as “the largest global engineering design firm and a leading U.S. federal government contractor”. It has said there’s little overlap between itself and Washington Group (URS is apparently much more heavily invested in Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security projects), but presumably there’s not a lot of distance either between their operations. One statement said “there may be some duplication in corporate operations such as in the two companies information technology departments, but he said they company hasn’t yet identified where any additional duplication may be occurring.” Boiseans may want to watch that territory closely.

Washington Group’s CEO, Steve Hanks, was quoted as saying that “the sale isn’t expected to have much of an impact on the company’s Boise headquarters.” Maybe. Headquarters for what has been WGI are slated to remain in Boise, at least for now.

But so, Boiseans might bear in mind, are some of the central offices for what remains of Albertsons.

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Pierce annex

Pierce elections

Those involved deeply in politics, professionally and otherwise, will pay attention next year to Pierce County’s county races, not so much because of their inherent interest – which may be substantial anyway, Pierce being an important swing county – as because of the way the votes are counted.

For its county offices – only those offices – Pierce will be using the “instant runoff” or candidate ranking method of vote-counting. If you think there’s only one way to count votes in political races, welcome to the new world: There are in fact many possible ways to vote and to count. Pierce (and are there any other jurisdictions in the Northwest doing this? We’ve not seen reports of any, though San Francisco has some experience with it) will be trying out one of the more heavily touted in recent years.

Roughly, here’s how it works (in this variation on the theme).

All candidates who file for the county offices up for election – executive, council (four seats), assessor/treasurer and sheriff – will be on the November general election ballot; there will be no primary for them. So might someone win the office with a plurality of 15%? No: This system requires a simple majority to win. Here’s how you get to 50% + 1 in a field of, say, eight candidates:

Voters can vote for more than one candidate – a first choice, a second and a third. (Or, if they want, just one or two.) You start by looking at the first-place votes. If you have eight candidates and the leader gets 30% of the first-place votes, then the last-place candidate drops out. Election officials then look at the ballots on which he was picked for first place, and extract the choices for second-place and add them to the totals for those candidates. If this still yields no candidate with 50% +1 of the vote, the new lowest-total candidate is booted, his voters’ second-place choices distributed, and so on.

The theory behind this approach – and it has a lot of support in the academic community – is that you wind up with an eventual winner who has broad general support, someone who is at least (usually) most people’s second choice. Certainly, this approach could have an effect on political campaigns – there’d be more emphasis on John Doe’s part in becoming a second choice for Jane Smith’s voters – and maybe more collegiality. It might de-emphasize splinter voting and cool off angry factions. Maybe. Pierce County may be a good laboratory for figuring out what the effects really are.

In his column today on the new voting, Peter Callaghan of the Tacoma News Tribune also highlights another consideration with the new voting approach: How often should partial results be released, and when?

“As each new batch of ballots is processed, the results can change much more than they do with traditional voting,” he writes. “For example, the fourth candidate in a field of four could get knocked out in the election-night count. The computer would look for the second choice of that candidate’s voters and apply them to the three other candidates. But as more mail ballots arrive and are tossed into the mix, that last-place candidate could move up and another candidate could fall to fourth place. Then that candidate’s second-choice votes are distributed to the other candidates. Traditional vote counting is cumulative. That is, counters don’t recount the ballots they counted on the first day but instead add ballots as they come in. But with ranked choice, counters may have to relook at all of the ballots with each count.”

The seeming winner on Tuesday night might be well behind days later – a situation much different than candidates and voters are accustomed to.

He points this out by way of the uncertainty of how Pierce County’s election officials will deal with releasing the results.

A blog on Pierce County’s instant runoff voting has posted on just this issue. Gig Harbor activist Kelly Haughton, who has worked on the election issue extensively, is proposing releases on election night and once or twice later that week.

The three logical possible choices to me are at the end of Tuesday night (Election Night), the end of Wednesday night or the end of Friday night. This is a tough choice, but I recommend doing it at the end of Election Night with the end of Wednesday night as a close second.

In addition, once you have started releasing the ranked choice voting round results, you should do it again each time you release the first choice counts. Further, there should be appropriate labelling of the results as preliminary at all times until they become final.

The Pierce County Auditor Pat McCarthy is faced with a tough choice on this one. While I come down on the side of Tuesday night’s close, this is a tough choice.

Would the auditor’s office dare not release the numbers on election night? It’s a little hard to imagine – a break with precedent that could lead to instant uproar, even if endless press announcements were made in advance.

And you would think that full daily releases should be a feasible thing. Managing the complexly shifting numbers may be trouble for many of us non-math majors, but computer spreadsheets are good at this sort of thing: Plug in the new numbers and see the outcome right away.

Although. A commenter to Haughton’s post pointed this out: “No matter what, we must release results daily after the ballots are counted just as we do now.” He said that in San Francisco, “wild percent[age] swings in the winners’ circle candidates percentages driven by small changes” led to local controversy, “So in the next election using RCV he chose not to release any info except how many first place votes each candidate received. That is far to[o] little information. I suggest that our Auditor release all the raw numbers as they are accumulated daily, but not apply the mathematical formulas until all the votes are in (certification).”

That seems a reasonable approach – even compromise.

Not that the Pierce auditor won’t be due some sympathy that election week.

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The managing editor of the Spokane Spokesman-Review, Gary Graham, notes in his most recent blog post the issues and balancing act in deciding what to run, and how to play, news from two states when his newspaper circulates widely in both (Washington and Idaho).

The point struck a chord here, since we watch over a three-state area ourselves.

Graham: “For starters, we’ve been placing the coverage of the Moscow shootings on the front page each day in all of our Washington and Idaho editions. That’s been a no-brainer. Although the news happened in an Idaho community, it’s the kind of event that is certainly of interest and concern to people in Washington. Underscoring that point is the fact that the New York Times published staff-written coverage on the first two days, while CNN and the major broadcast news programs all carried brief coverage on Sunday.”

True; the Moscow shooting story was played substantially in many places, including southern Idaho and western Washington. (Less so, as it happens, in Oregon.)

Graham goes on: “However, there’s another story on the front page of all editions today that required a little more consideration in terms of its play. Our Idaho reporters have been covering a number of developments related to a big marina expansion in Bayview on Lake Pend Oreille. The developer’s actions have been very controversial and have raised a number of concerns by public officials, residents and environmentalists. At first blush, editors might wonder why our Washington readers would care about a development dispute in Idaho. But then all we have to do is remind ourselves that because the North Idaho is such a favorite home for recreation, it would be natural for folks in Washington to be interested in a development at a major lake.”

We’d agree with that news judgment. (And it draws our interest to the Bayview development, too.) But we’re more taken with the comment the post has drawn, one that sums up some of the rationale we have for our Northwest site:

“It’s unfortunate that for many years the S-R has been oblivious to the fact that the border between Idaho and Washington is strictly political. I always find it amusing that you publish stories that your editors believe are only of interest to Idaho readers in the Idaho edition and vice versa in Washington regional sections. Get a clue… This region is homogeneous. We recreate in North Idaho, Many of us work in Washington.. or Idaho. We all care about news in each area. Lose the devisive sections and you’ll save money on newsprint.”

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Idaho Washington

Today, as we pay special attention to those who died in our nation’s service, seems an appropriate time to note again the numbers from the Northwest of casualties in Iraq.

As of the end of last month (and yes, the actual numbers today are higher):

State wounded deaths
Idaho 230 26
Oregon 409 55
Washington 752 70

Fatalities in Afghanistan: none from Idaho, but nine from Oregon and nine from Washington.

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Idaho Oregon Washington

Someone really ought to be keeping track of these things. But we’ll note here an addition to the long list of cases where a single vote really did matter.

It’s located (for now) on the cover page of the Wallowa County Chieftain:

“Wallowa school levy defeated by only one vote: ‘Obviously we’re disappointed, but it was very close,’ said Wallowa school district superintendent Marc Thielman about the fate of the levy that the district put on last Tuesday’s ballot.”

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The Seattle Post-Intelligencer blog has a useful post up about the procedure for filling the job of King County prosecutor, which has been held for nearly three decades by Norm Maleng, who died Thursday.

Key points: The decision will be made by the King County Council, which is majority Democratic (barely). The appointee must, however, be a Republican. And the seat will be up for election this fall, meaning that candidacies (of the incumbent and others) will have to materialize almost immediately: “Because the primary election now is a month earlier than it has been in the past – on Aug. 21 this year – the five-day candidate filing period opens a week from Monday, nearly two months earlier than in past years.”

That humming sound you hear is the intense burning of phone lines and waves across King County . . .

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Five months ago we quoted a stock site called Seeking Alpha as suggesting this: “A company with Micron’s assets, potential, and joint ventures could definitely be a very attractive takeover target for private equity. A leveraged buyout may not be too far off in the distance.” And we indicated we thought the site was correct: Micron would be an attractive takeover target.

In today’s Idaho Statesman: “Speculation is again swirling that Micron Technology could be bought by a private equity firm. A surge in contracts to buy Micron call options late Thursday and Friday led some analysts to speculate that private equity firms were again looking at the Boise-based semiconductor company.”

Keep watch.

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Norm Maleng

Norm Maleng

There must be some obscure trick, beyond simply doing the job well, to what King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng did: Remaining highly regarded, highly enough to be often mentioned as a prospect for statewide office (and did thrice, though not successfully), as a Republican prosecutor in the Democratic cauldron of Seattle. But doing the job well probably did have a lot to do with it.

He died Thursday night at Seattle.

Maleng was elected prosecutor in 1978 and has been there ever since. The quote from King County Sheriff Sue Rahr probably expressed it for a lot of people: “Norm was the Rock of Gibraltar for King County. It’s like the Rock of Gibraltar washed into the sea.” Think about that time span: Hardly other major elected official in the region (only U.S. Representative Norm Dicks comes to mind) has held such an important job for so long, and been so well regarded for so long.

A description from David Postman: “There’s a lot of talk these days about restoring civility to politics. Maleng never lost it. He had a small-town way about him. That served him well in his years as King County prosecutor. It wasn’t much of a benefit the three times Maleng ran for statewide office. On that stage, one needs a little flash, a little strut even.”

The idea of a prosecutor without it . . . sounds reassuring, especially these days.

The King County Council, which will fill the position, has one tough job ahead of it.

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