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Posts published in May 2007

Mechanics of replacement

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 . . .

The Micron watch

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.

A solid rock, washed away

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.

Stupid, no; poorly informed, yes

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?


The Novick evolution

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.


Smith’s middling status

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.

Last of the Andrus justices

Linda Copple Trout

Linda Copple Trout

There was a point in the 90s when all the members of the Idaho Supreme Court were appointees of Democratic Governor Cecil Andrus. Of the other four, three were appointed by Republican governors and the other elected, unopposed, to the seat.

Now the last of them will be leaving the court. The Spokane Spokesman-Review's Betsy Russell reports today that Linda Copple Trout, who also is the only woman on the high court, will resign from the court effective in August, partly so that she won't go through election to the seat, which would occur next year.

You can understand that. There were fierce elections in 2000 and 2002 over the judicial seats, in which Andrus appointees were targeted; Trout prevailed but another justice (Cathy Silak) did not. A quote from Trout: "The fear really is from soft money. It's from third parties, which is something I never considered until it happened to her and then it happened in a big way to me. I truly thought I would run on my record and my merits and my opponent would as well, and people would judge as best they could on that basis. I never dreamed that I would see 'Liberal Linda Trout' on TV."

The Idaho Supreme Court, back in the 90s and since, never has seemed especially liberal, or strikingly conservative for that matter. Through the years, there have been (as she noted) a lot of unanimous or near-unanimous votes, even on hot issues. Still, a certain kind of perspective may go missing when Trout leaves the bench this summer.

AHEAD Look for the prospect of a second supreme court justice being in effect picked from the group applying now for the Schroeder vacancy.

Duplicate checks?

Dino Rossi, the 2004 gubernatorial candidate who may do it again next year, is in the news again - after a long drought, he seems to be appearing regularly now - with announcement of the Washington Idea Bank. Which is a project of the Forward Washington Foundation, which is, basically, Rossi and backers.

From the bank's web site:

When there is a lack of leadership in Olympia we see the business climate worsen, out of control spending and a return to huge deficits. The same people with the same failed policies operated this state. Therefore, ideas must come from regular Washingtonians who live outside of the Olympia "beltway."

The elected representatives in Olympia seem to have forgotten that ours is a government of the people and that our ideas must be part of the public debate. Whether Republican, Democrat or Independent, we all need to come together and make Washington the home of innovation once again.

The Forward Washington Foundation, a non-partisan, non-political educational foundation, is taking the first step by asking Washingtonians to submit their ideas of how government should work and where to focus its priorities.

In coordination with local civic organizations, Forward Washington will be hosting Idea Forums across the state, a schedule of which is available here. These forums will give all Washingtonians the unique opportunity to share new and dynamic ideas in a public setting.

So, the leadership in Olympia - which is to say, Rossi's former (and again?) opponent Chris Gregoire - has lost its way, has been spending out of control and needs to be reminded that this is a government of the people. But the "non-partisan, non-political educational foundation" will work to set things right.

Why the game? Why not Rossi touring the state at town halls, saying he's interested in running for governor and soliciting ideas for governing Washington if he does?

Secondarily, Adam Wilson at the Olympian points out, "et’s be fair here. The idea bank isn’t the first idea in getting citizen input. Rossi’s former and likely future rival, Gov. Chris Gregoire, made a point of signing a bill in April that creates the 'state government efficiency hotline.' You can call in and give suggestions, report abuse or even give kudos."

A crime study: high, getting lower

Longview crime

Police calls at Longview

Significant changes without an obvious matching significant cause are always worth note, and you can see a good case in the odd spikings of crime statistics at Longview.

The Daily News story on the recent police statistical report on recent shifts in reported crime. In 2003, it spiked - way up - and now has dropped fast, by 24%.

That's speaking generally. The department's presentation on the crime stats also notes what look like some anomalies:

–- Since 2003, overall Part 1 crimes ["such as homicide, forcible rape,aggravated assault, robbery, burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft, and arson"] have been reduced by a significant 24%.
–– Since 2003 Arrests for drug offenses are up by 16%. Since 2003 drug arrests have increased by 106%.
–– DUI arrests are up to 158 in 2006 from a previous 105 in 2005.
–– Arrests for vandalism are up 65% compared to 2005.
–– Arrests for liquor law violations are up 69% compared to 2005.
–– Traffic citations are up 95%.

Not sure how all these pieces fit.