Archive for May, 2007

May 31 2007

Roady’s and Taco Bell

Published by under Idaho

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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May 31 2007

Strike?

Published by under Oregon,Washington

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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May 30 2007

Money back, no guarantees

Published by under Idaho,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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May 29 2007

Will a Sonics-less Seattle be different?

Published by under 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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May 29 2007

A purchase in Boise

Published by under Idaho

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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May 29 2007

Release ‘em all

Published by under Washington

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.

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May 28 2007

Losing the lines

Published by under Idaho,Washington

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.)

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May 28 2007

A Memorial Day count

Published by under Idaho,Oregon,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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May 27 2007

A vote

Published by under Oregon

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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May 26 2007

Mechanics of replacement

Published by under Washington

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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May 26 2007

The Micron watch

Published by under Uncategorized

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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May 25 2007

A solid rock, washed away

Published by under Washington

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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May 25 2007

Stupid, no; poorly informed, yes

Published by under Idaho

If Idaho Supreme Court Justice Linda Copple Trout was looking for confirmation that she would have been targeted with another attack campaign, she need wait no longer: It showed up clearly on the Idaho Values Alliance blog in a post by its executive director, Bryan Fischer.

Trout, who has served 15 years on the bench, is opting out this summer in part because, she said, she doesn’t want to go through another ugly campaign for re-election; her court seat is up for election next year. In discussing that, she said that elections probably are not the best way to choose judges. She reasoned: “I think the public feels frustrated because they don’t know how to judge a judge. All of the standard things that people usually use as a measure when they go to the ballot box are not there for judges, because judges don’t take stands and aren’t for something unless it’s something like justice, or timely justice, or something like that. That’s really hard for the public, to judge whether or not somebody really would do a good job.”

Our view is (and has been) that judges should be elected, at least on a retention basis, because they are officials whose job centers around making independent judgments, and that’s the criterion we ordinarily use in considering whether a job ought to be elective or appointive. That said, we agree with Trout’s point: Few voters have a good, clear basis for deciding whether a judge is doing their job well, or whether a non-incumbent would do it well. The major actions of a governor or of a major, or even of many legislators, county commissioners, members of Congress or city council members tend to be more visible and easily grasped than are the actions – collectively – of judges. Too often, one or two actions or decisions becomes the basis for assessing a whole career. A good many thoughtful voters we’ve talked with over the years (and by no means just in Idaho) see the problem. What’s needed, we would argue, is an improved system for tracking the work and decisions judges produce: Better oversight. Idahoans should be encouraged, too, to read Supreme Court decisions for themselves – they’re not written in Latin, and most are actually quite easily understood. With that can come the education voters need to make informed choices.

Probably we shouldn’t be surprised at the headline on Fischer’s commentary today: “Justice Trout: Idahoans are too stupid to pick their own judges.”

She said, of course, nothing of the kind.

But how much does Fischer think Idaho voters actually know about the work of their judges and justices – beyond the smattering of bumper-sticker slogans and two or three high-profile issues? How well-informed does he think the electorate really is?

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May 24 2007

The Novick evolution

Published by under Oregon

Steve Novick

Steve Novick

The nascent Steve Novick campaign for the Senate picked up some useful support this week. During an interview on the Thom Hartmann talk show on KPOJ, the host disclosed he had donated to Novick’s campaign and urged listeners to do likewise, as some evidently did. Not a bad early hit.

Today, he picked up backing from a clutch of Oregon attorneys, a substantial group – a useful starting point. Not everyone in the Democratic sector, apparently, is holding back and waiting for a better-known figure to enter the Democratic contest against Republican Gordon Smith next year.

Count these among indications that Novick is developing his campaign methodically, alongside demonstration of his trademark communications chops. On the attorney endorsement: “And yes, I know what the Republicans will say. ‘Novick’s in bed with the trial lawyers,’ they’ll say. And I say to them: ‘I’m proud of my friends. They help real people. They protect consumers. They fight for justice. Who are you in bed with? The cigarette companies, the drug companies, the insurance companies, the criminally careless manufacturers.'” No Democratic defensiveness here (that being a lesson some other Democrats might learn from).

The Senate announcement by Novick, who has deep history as a Democratic issues and communications operative (his resume apart from that is worth a review, too), came with the feel of something akin to a demonstration project – it was preceded by a provocative cover story in Willamette Week (“If I Ran”), which in the main consisted of the case against Smith – or maybe like a prompt to others to run. Whatever Novick’s original thinking (his seriousness about taking out Smith never has been in doubt), it is now a perfectly serious campaign, and Novick could well be the Democratic nominee next year.

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May 24 2007

Smith’s middling status

Published by under Oregon

Oregon Senator Gordon Smith shouldn’t be understimated as a political force; he’s no pushover. But the recent spate of passes on a Senate race against him by so many of the state’s leading Democrats shouldn’t turn him into a tougher target than he is.

With that in mind, consider the just-out Survey USA numbers on Smith (and other senators): Now at 48% approve, 39% disapprove. That’s down from late 2006 numbers giving him approval in the upper 50s.

Democrat Ron Wyden stands at 60% approve, 28% disapprove.

Just a matter of perspective.

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