"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)

Though already posted elsewhere (see the Oregonian and NW Republican), we can’t let this go here either.

A longish video at more than 16 minutes, but not a moment too long. And you never thought the legislature was entertaining . . .

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Micron Technology

Micron technology

Possibly nowhere else in the Northwest would a quarterly stock report for a single corporation carry such significance, or be (legitimate) cause for so many major news stories. Even when the corporation isn’t talking to the main news outlet in the area.

So it is with Micron Technology and Boise; the firm is headquartered at Boise and employs somewhere around 10,000 people in the area (with the employment of many more connected to those thousands). A drop in prices for computer memory left Micron with a $225 million loss in the last quarter, a loss evidently considered serious enough to require a substantive response to Wall Street. CEO Steve Appleton responded, in a lesser way by stepping down from the corporate presidency (a lesser position, and ultimately probably an unimportant move) and in a bigger way by promising serious employment cutbacks.

The Associated Press reported that “Micron did not say how many of its 22,000 workers will be laid off, but reductions will likely affect Idaho employees as the company moves production closer to customers in Asia, where it does more than 70 percent of its business. Spokesman Dan Francisco said some of the job cuts will affect Micron facilities near Boise . . .”

Pay attention to the phrase “moves production closer to constomers in Asia”; it seems likely to become a phrase familiar to Boiseans in the months and years ahead. Another instance, from a stock analyst report after the quarterly announcement: “Recent checks indicate that Micron Technology has achieved a significant rebound in Asia with its new DRAM 78nm process.”

Through all of this, Micron is telling Boise relatively little. The Idaho Statesman reports that it is getting reports from Micron workers about layoffs, with estimates running from 500 on the low side to 2,000 on the higher, but not a word from the corporation. And Micron has officially refused to speak to the Statesman for most of a year. The paper said Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter was informed that layoffs were coming, but without any indication of how large they would be.

An editorial in the Statesman today argued, “We still don’t know how many people will lose their jobs. We need answers to calculate the immediate and long-term impact to our state, our economy and our people. Micron, it’s time to talk.”

Prepare for a rocky ride.

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Did you know that Skipper’s seafood restaurants are northwest-based – in SeaTac (previously Edmonds)? (Admittedly, we didn’t.) Or that it filed for bankruptcy protection last December?

Apparently, a number of the people who work there didn’t know, and consequently have been taking by surprise with the news: Many of the chain’s outlets will be closed and others sold, in many cases within a day or two, as a result of bankruptcy action.

Skipper’s has (according to its web site) 70 outlets, including 30 in Washington, 13 in Oregon and eight in Idaho; the site also reports operations in Alaska, Montana and Utah. Wikipedia says that the action number is 58, and bankruptcy filings in December indicated 59.

Always liked their chowder . . .

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Mike Crapo

Mike Crapo

We will say up top that singling out Idaho Senator Mike Crapo on the question of earmark information release, as the Anderson Cooper show did last night on CNN, isn’t fair, on two grounds. One is that the bulk of U.S. senators of both parties take the same position – or at least hold the same bottom line – as Crapo does. The other reason is that Crapo picked up the notoriety because his press secretary was trying to helpful and explanatory, which shouldn’t have earned a ding.

The larger point the program was making, though, is another matter, largely undiminished after we went through it this morning with Susan Wheeler, the press secretary. Let’s run through this, and see whether most of the Senate (not Crapo alone) are right or wrong.

“Earmarks” are budget items specified for a particular purpose. A county, for example, might seek an earmark for federal funding for a park, or maybe a state seeks one for a health building. Or whatever. Certainly, private parties are interested in earmarks too.

For our purposes here, you can fit the earmarking process into three parts. There’s the request from someone in-state to a member of Congress that their request be included for federal funding. The second stage comes as members of Congress and their staffs sift through these requests, and propose some of them to an appropriations committee or subcommittee for action. The third stage is the formal, public action by the committee to approve some of those requests (extending, of course, into further floor and committee action on the way to ultimate bill signing).

The third part of the earmarking process, at the committee level and beyond, is public, and there’s no dispute about it. The first part of the process, which involves constituent communications (a category that also includes such things as constituent negotiations over Social Security payments), is commonly taken as a confidential communication, and there’s not much dispute about that either (though we’ll partially asterisk that and return to it below). The dispute concerns the second area – the work that the member of Congress and staff do before the committee acts on the proposal: Most senators, including Crapo, say information about what earmarks they propose to the committees should not be released to the public.

What gets left out of the process is any information about earmarks proposed but rejected by the committee, and about which senators proposed any of the earmarks at all.

The CNN program Anderson Cooper 360 (thanks to a correspondent for the tip) got into this last night, directing interns to call the offices of the senators for information about what earmarks the senators had proposed. From a transcript:

GRIFFIN: Here are the results. Just these six senators said yes and gave us their earmark requests. Just six. These five senators actually didn’t ask for any earmarks. Nineteen U.S. senators flat-out told us no. Here they are, the 19 senators who told us their earmark requests were none of our business. But just like in the House, the majority in the Senate didn’t even bother to answer our question by our deadline. Seventy Senate offices did not provide us any answer, after four days of calling.

(on camera) One senator’s office had a most creative response to our request. Republican Senator Mike Crapo’s press secretary told us that to release the senator’s earmark requests to us would violate federal privacy laws.

According to Senator Crapo, telling the American people how he wants to spend your money is against the law. Of course, we did immediately ask for an interview. And his press secretary declined, saying they saw no benefit in explaining that.

TIM PHILLIPS, AMERICANS FOR PROSPERITY: For a senator, a sitting U.S. senator to say, “Well, I’m not going to tell you how I’m going to spend taxpayer dollars, because somehow it might violate the Privacy Act,” it’s ludicrous. I mean, it’s — it would be laughable, were it not so serious.

Wheeler, Crapo’s press secretary, told us the depiction was unfair, and in some ways it was; and she was singled out largely because she provided a fuller explanation of her senator’s views than did some of her counterparts. Crapo (and other senators) are perfectly happy to talk about committee-approved earmarks – in fact, references to them often show up in press releases. The AC program leaves you with the impression of a cloak of secrecy, which isn’t there, over actual spending.

That doesn’t resolve this, though. Why shouldn’t senators (and representatives), and their staffs, working under the public authority on the public dime using public resources, account for their actions – their decisions about what to propose, and what not to propose, to committees for earmarking?

Wheeler’s (and Crapo’s) explanation tied it back to constituent service, which traditionally has some confidentiality involved: “Those remain in the senator’s view privileged communications.”

Our take is that once a senator and staff moves beyond communicating with the constituent, and into the realm of legislating – actively proposing how money should be spent – that privilege goes (or should go) away.

We’re not in the business of reading minds, and we won’t try to read Crapo’s (or any other senator’s). But we can easily understand why a senator might not want to release the early-stage information. If constituents knew which proposals a senator decided to endorse, and which (by process of elimination) he rejected, a number of constituents (in addition to learning a lot about his thinking processes) might become upset with the senator. And if the voters knew which proposals by the senator succeed and which fail at the committee level, which can relate to how hard the senator pushes for them, they would have a useful additional metric for assessing the senator’s work – another measure most senators probably would rather they not have.

Constituents – that is, the boss – who would like to have this information, might be well advised to so inform their employees in the Congress.

THE ASTERISK During our conversation, Wheeler asked if we thought in-state public agencies – such as local governments, universities and others seeking earmarks – should have to disclose their requests. Our answer: Yes. The presumption on public activity should always be in favor of disclosure and transparency unless there’s a compelling reason to the contrary. And barring the odd occasional exception, we see none here.

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The Oregon Legislature’s main web page says that regular sessions usually last about six months. The last few years, that’s been a little embarassingly optimistic for sessions running from January into August. This year, remarkably, it was an over-long estimate – this session, adjourned shortly after noon today, ran not a lot more than five months. As widely noted, this was the shortest regular session in a dozen years.

We should note here as well the other departures mentioned at the Statehouse this week. In addition to Senate Majority Leader Kate Brown, about whom we’ve blogged earlier, Blue Oregon cited three more indicated from today’s floor sessions: Senator Avel Gordly (currently an independent from Portland) and Representatives Karen Minnis (R-Wood Village, a former House speaker) and Donna Nelson (R-McMinnville, one of the chamber’s most colorful characters) also indicated they were opting out.

(Politically? Gordly’s seat likely will revert to a Democrat; Minnis’ may well go Democratic; Nelson’s probably but not definitely will stay Republican.)

And Senator Vicki Walker, D-Eugene, is apparently the first in the race for secretary of state in 2008. (Running in mid-term, she would retain her Senate seat if unsuccessful.)

A side note: Don’t be surprised if the next couple of weeks doesn’t unplug a bunch of announcements on hold while the session lasted.

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Washington courts In most sports, a team can lose by default – by failing to show up to play when appearance was expected. Same thing can happen in court cases. But wouldn’t you know there’s a gray area involved?

Consider this – three decisions on the matter today from the Washington Supreme Court.

One day in November 1998, a car owned by Bonnie Burris but driven by her son Jeffrey Barth rear-ended the car driven by Sherri Morin, who later reported medical costs as a result. Insurers were contacted and some money exchanged, but after a year with no settlement Morin hired an attorney to case the case to court, where it was filed in June 2001.

When that happened, Burris, the car owner, was personally served notice, and Barth, who couldn’t be found, was given notice “by publication,” an ad in the newspaper. Neither of them responded formally to the court, however, and in December 2002 a trial court gave Morin a default judgement against the other two. Many months later, in February 2004, Barth and Burris filed papers asking that default decision be set aside, since they had “informally appeared” at various points. As the Supreme Court wrote, “The trial court agreed and vacated the default judgment. Morin appealed. The Court of Appeals, Division One, concluded that in light of the prelitigation contact between Farmers and Morin, including the payment for property damage, the trial court had not abused its discretion in setting aside default judgment on the ground of an informal appearance.”

The Supreme Court disagreed.

From a key part of the decision:

This court has long favored resolution of cases on their merits over default judgments. Thus, we will liberally set aside default judgments pursuant to CR 55(c) and CR 60 and for equitable reasons in the interests of fairness and justice. Similarly, if default judgment is rendered against a party who was entitled to, but did not receive, notice, the judgment will be set aside. We have also held that the doctrine of substantial compliance applies to the notice requirement of CR 4 when enforcing or setting aside judgments under CR 55 and CR 60. Substantial compliance with the appearance requirement may be satisfied informally.

However, whether or not a party has substantially complied with the rules must be decided against the fact that litigation is a formal process.
Those who are served with a summons must do more than show intent to
defend; they must in some way appear and acknowledge the jurisdiction of the court after they are served and litigation commences. We disagree with
our learned colleagues below that prelitigation communication alone is
sufficient to satisfy a party’s duty to appear and defend against a court case.
Although substantial compliance with the appearance requirement can be
accomplished informally, we do not adopt the doctrine of informal
appearance as it has been formulated below.

We hold that merely showing intent to defend before a case is filed is
not enough to qualify as an appearance in court. Accordingly, we remand
Morin v. Burris . . . to the trial court for reentry of default judgment.

The court also, however, took a somewhat different view of two other cases involving informal appearances, and its conclusions – noted in the same decision – were rather different in those.

If you want to deal with a legal case informally, you can try – but you run a risk.

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An indicator of the times, via the Spokesman-Review‘s Huckleberries blog: “Coeur d’Alene faced another loss this month. Its only full-service gas station closed. Many people with a wide assortment of impairments cannot perform those seemingly simple duties offered by a full-service gas station attendant. Each withdrawal of such a service takes a new toll on people who are already challenged by daily living.”

It’s a useful point. (Dave Oliveria adds, “It would be nice if a gas station offered curb service at certain times of the week. And mebbe profitable.”)

And maybe useful too as a comeback from Oregonians who put up with snickering from their neighbors about the illegality of self-serve gas: At least service, oftimes mechanical as well as for fuel, is still available.

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Oregon statehouse

Oregon statehouse

What you think of the actions of the soon-to-be history 2007 Oregon Legislature will vary according to perspective. What’s becoming clearer, almost indisputable, is that it was highly productive – the most productive session in Oregon in many years, somewhere in the ballpark of the unusually strong 2005 Washington session.

In both cases that was allowed for by the arrival of unified (one-party) government, both chambers and the governor’s office. Unified control doesn’t always equate to productivity, but it did in both of these cases. And in Oregon’s case, this really ought to be noted, since the top criticism of legislators in Oregon for this decade and more has been that they’re the gang that could get nothing done. (Probably an over-stated complaint, but one with some validity.)

The Oregonian has up, online, a summary of the session’s doings. Among the items noted there: A rainy day fund, massive increases in public school funding, major increases for higher education and a string of new capital (building) expenses, an increase (by 100) in the number of state troopers on the roads, a batch of consumer bills, a slash at junk food in schools, major cutbacks on indoor smoking, domestic partnerships for gays and seniors and a cigarette tax/child health ballot issue. They didn’t even get to the item we think could be the most significant of all, a first step toward universal health coverage, or to the batch of environmental legislation passed (the failure of the Metolius River bill notwithstanding). And you could easily add more items of significance to the list.

You can take some of this in various ways. Critics (not all of them Republicans) took due note of the high level of spending in this session; warnings, for example, that ongoing state spending will almost inevitably crash into the next economic downturn are well founded. (The rainy day fund was a sound move but unlikely to fully plug the dike.) Depending on your perspective, you may see the actions as good or bad.

What you can’t, any longer, is diss the Oregon Legislature as inconsequential.

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Greeting Gonzales in Boise

Greeting Gonzales in Boise/Idaho Democratic Party

The thinking must have been something like this: Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, embattled on all quarters, needs a respite. Fine. Have him talk about something popular, like local anti-gang efforts. In some place deep red, like, say, Idaho. Safe.

The prep overlooked that Boise isn’t quite as red, anymore, as much of the rest of the state. As Gonzales headed to a news conference at the Boise Community Center, protesters – blasting him on his torture advocacy and related matters – made themselves plenty visible. What had been planned as an outdoor press conference, in sight of the general public, was moved indoors, out of general sight. And the press conference reportedly lasted maybe five minutes.

No place to hide.

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We don’t know a lot about Warren Jones, the appointee – as of today – to replace Gerald Schroeder on the Idaho Supreme Court. He is apt to bring some difference in viewpoint to the group of five: On swearing-in, he will be the only one of the five who had never served as a judge (three of the others previously had) or in other elective office (Jim Jones, the other Jones on the court, a two-term attorney general).

Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter remarked on the selection, “His colleagues in the Idaho Bar agree that he is balanced, fair and impartial, and that his temperament will fit well in a collegial setting with the other justices.” Certainly he isn’t a bounce-around kind of guy: He’s been with one Boise law firm, the old and cohesive firm Eberle Berlin, Kading, Turnbow, McKlveen and Jones since 1970 – for 37 years. You don’t see that kind of one-shop career run very often any more.

He has not been an especially publicly visible attorney (not the same thing, of course, as in-profession visibility), so we have a limited amount of background to go on. The Idaho Statesman has noted a couple of cases from his background: “He was counsel to a couple accused of slander in the 2004 state Supreme Court case that found charter schools cannot sue for slander. Jones also represented Quickburger Ltd. of England in a 1993 lawsuit against J.R. Simplot Co. about eight months after Otter resigned from his post there. Simplot was ordered to pay Quickburger $1 million for breaking a license agreement and misappropriating trade secrets.” You get the sense from that, maybe, of a successful attorney and also one not necessarily wedded to the most popular and powerful local interests; not a bad thing, if such conclusions could be drawn.

But, as all governors learn, we’ll all find out from scratch what we have after Warren Jones puts on the robes. Most justices turn out to be at least a bit of a surprise.

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Interesting ruling published in the Federal Register today on air quality in Washington and Idaho, essentially giving a checkoff from the Environmental Protection Agency on some new Northwest air rules.

The state agencies involved are the Department of Ecology in Washington and Department of Environmental Quality in Idaho. Here’s the summary:

These provisions require each state to submit a State Implementation Plan (SIP) revision that prohibits emissions that adversely affect another state’s air
quality through interstate transport. EPA is proposing to approve IDEQ’s and Ecology’s SIP revisions because they adequately address the four distinct elements related to the impact of interstate transport of air pollutants for their states. These include prohibiting emissions that contribute significantly to nonattainment of the NAAQS in another state, interfere with maintenance of the NAAQS by another state, interfere with plans in another state to prevent significant deterioration of air quality, or interfere with efforts of another state to protect visibility.

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Idaho Washington

To all things, there are limits, even in go-go places like the metros of the Oregon high desert. From the Bend Bulletin today:

Another Bend manufacturing company is leaving the city to expand elsewhere, saying Bend’s limited industrial land supply and the high prices that the land commands have priced it out of the market. . . . Light industrial space in Bend is nearly gone, economic developers say, as the city’s growth has quickly absorbed available land. While space dwindled, costs shot up, says Roger Lee, executive director of Economic Development for Central Oregon, or EDCO.

To be sure, we’re not talking about moving out of region: the story is about Ameritech Machine Manufacturing Inc., a six-year Bend firm which is planning to move to Redmond, about 20 miles away. But it is an indicator: How high can prices go before they turn around and bite?

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