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Posts published in June 2007

ESA disclosure

Pushes for disclosure - and disclosure of what - can vary depending on where you are. Provided fair standards and reasoned accuracy, this one - from Washington Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers - sounds like a useful part of the mix.

Her proposal (observed via NW Republican) is the Endangered Species Transparency Act of 2007, "The bill requires Power Marketing Administrations, including the Bonneville Power Administration, to estimate and report the direct and indirect costs associated with the Endangered Species Act to each wholesale power customer on a monthly billing basis."

There are costs, of course; how much gets into dispute, and becomes political. This sounds as if it could - properly managed - put some fact into the situation.

Opening the doors to success

Washington Corrections employment

Washington corrections employment

The point isn't quite as clear in this graphic from the employment page at the Washington State Department of Corrections as it is on the image in the Slog - that one, using mostly the same graphic elements, showing an ad on the side of a bus in Seattle. The slogan on the bus ad reads: "Department of Corrections - Opening the Doors to Success - 900+ jobs open."

The bit about "opening the doors" is, of course, too good pass up. But there's something else to say here too.

And not diminished by the fact that, when you get to the Corrections job site, you see the offering of "300+ jobs."

The job categories you see are more varied than you might expect. Plenty of correctional officer slots, sure. But also: Human Relations Consultant; Senior Contracts Attorney; Dentist; Recreation Therapist; Waste Water Treatment Plant Operator; Religious Program Specialist; and - coming soon - a batch of positions in information technology.

All in one of the most expansive growth industries around. A look at the list gives you fresh appreciation for just how much growth and how big - not to mention how influential - all this is becoming.

Those from without, those from within

So - what has the sound of a pivotal moment in Boise mayoral race, and it appears not courtesy of a candidate or reporter but in the comment section of a website. My how things change . . .

The candidates are incumbent David Bieter and his challenger, Council Member Jim Tibbs. It has been a quiet race so far, in part because Tibbs hasn't been saying much about the current direction the city has taken, other than to be supportive. (Beiter has pointed out that Tibbs hasusually supported the council's direction, and his, on most issues.) Which raises the question: Why kick out the incumbent? Tibbs hasn't yet answered that question.

In an indirect way, though, he hinted at an answer in an interview last week in the Boise Weekly. In talking about his intent to improve relations with nearby local governments, Tibbs remarked, "We're the capital city, does that make us more important? What makes Boise so great is its surrounding communities."

We'd be hesitant to over-estimate the importance of that line - it can easily be explained, in part at least, as an olive branch. But . . .

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Buyout mania

Today's must-read about how the Northwest's economy has been remade in recent years, and continues to be, in an essential overview in the Seattle Times.

We've been watching in recent months the long list of publicly held Northwest companies being swept up in asset management buyouts. This piece puts some of that into perspective: "All told, about one of every eight publicly traded companies in the Northwest has been sucked up by the wave of deals since the beginning of 2006. Ten were bought or merged in 2006, six more have been bought out so far this year, and four more deals are pending."

Where it doesn't go, which a future article should: What happens then to all these companies, and to the communities that rely on them?

The Grant races, I and II

Larry Grant

Larry Grant

Noteworthy material in today's Dan Popkey piece in the Idaho Statesman about the Larry Grant congressional campaign from last year, in which he lost to Republican Bill Sali, and prospectively about the next one as well. Those following politics in Idaho's 1st House district will find some useful background here.

The core point was that Grant hurt his on campaign in several significant ways. Popkey reported that "Democrats are grieving and resentful. Folks close to Grant don't want their names attached to criticism, but they want this story told in hopes he'll reform. They told me he's 'a hard guy to help,' and 'a pain' who 'knew everything'." That would be a recipe for trouble, all right.

A couple of specific instances certainly sound damning. In one, Grant was on the verge of winning support from the Associated General Contractors, ordinarily a very Republican group, but he "lectured the contractors on unions, the minimum wage and a gas-tax hike, and said his aim would be to clean up Congress. 'You may hate unions, but that's the way it is, guys,' Grant recalled telling AGC. 'I'm not afraid of being on the side of the working guy.'" In a second, he didn't even reply to an offer of no-cost media work from Bryant Reinhard, formerly of WRC Advertising, whose experience in working for successful Idaho Republican congressional and statewide campaigns goes back a couple of decades at least.

Popkey also quotes Grant as saying, "I really do believe that we did almost everything right in the campaign." There's a fair implication in this of trouble ahead for 2008, when Grant is planning a rerun against Sali.

We do disagree on a couple of other points.

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Giuliani’s entre

Dave Reichert

Dave Reichert

The 2008 presidential campaign has been going on for a long time now, and from a Northwest perspective one of the most notable things about it has been the thinness of many of the presidential campaigns in the region.

That's not true of all the campaigns. But while our presidential support page, in which we've been citing all the public-figure backers of presidential candidates we can locate around the region, has plenty of names in a few places, many others are empty.

Two candidates, one on each side, has amassed some strong support in the Northwest, though even then limited. Democrat John Edwards has an impressive collection in Oregon, though not so much in Washington or Idaho. And Republican Mitt Romney seems to have all but sewn up Idaho, and has a strong endorsement list in Oregon too; we've not seen anything comparable in Washington.

This is recounted by way of this week's announcement that Dave Reichert, the U.S. House member from Washington's 8th district (Bellevue area), will be the lead local figure in Washington state for the current (still?) Republican frontrunner, Rudy Giuliani. Not a bad catch, but it drew out the thought that Reichert is the first public figure - so far as we've heard - so far in the Northwest to endorse the frontrunning Republican.

Among the other candidates: Democrat Barack Obama has a small contingent in Washington and Idaho (plenty of individual Oregon supporters, but no public figures we're aware of). Republican John McCain has backing from Oregon Senator Gordon Smith and former Washington Senator Slade Gorton, but that seems to be it in the region. Democrat Bill Richardson has one Idaho name. We've seen no reports of a regional endorsee for Democrat Hillary Clinton.

We could, of course, always have missed some announcements; if you know of endorsers beyond those on our page, please let us know. But for the moment, with a couple of exceptions, the regional efforts look a little thin.

A matter of membership

Stepping back from the current Idaho debate over party declaration, maybe we should reconsider the whole question of political parties and what they are. Ordinarily, most of us are happy with the concept that private organizations can have broad control over who to admit to its membership. But what about an organization that in effect holds the keys to elective office? From the standpoint of the unaffiliated (as we are), political parties can look like private organizations that have hijacked our election system. Certainly such constitutional framers as George Washington, who was appalled at the rise of "faction," would likely see it that way.

Should we simply declare that political parties are not private at all - insinuated as they are in our governmental and political process - and declare them quasi-public organizations operating on special rules? In some ways, they already are. For all the discussion (periodically in Washington state and currently, hotly, in Idaho) about party members maintaining control of the nomination process, there is no control at - and none is proposed - for controlling who is allowed to be a Republican or a Democrat. (Will the courts address that next?) Anyone can join either party, for any reason. And if you doubt that leads to some loose election results in places where party registration is part of the system, look to Oregon, a party registration state, and compare the party registration numbers with the often at-odds results on general election days.

The current row in Idaho stems from an 88-58 vote at a state Republican Party meeting a Burley in favor of "closing" the Republican primary - that is, allowing only voters who are registered as Republicans to vote in Republican primary elections. (That is how it works, for both major parties, in Oregon and a number of other states.) Doing that would require a change in state law, which despite Republican legislative control doesn't seem likely; it also presumably would mean that Idahoans would register by party when they register to vote.

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Sue the reviewer

Courtesy a couple of attorneys who feel offended on and essentially on that basis have launched a lawsuit, we have introduction to a web site that reviews the work of them and their colleagues - Avvo, which is based in Seattle.

Avvo is an online database providing background information on attorneys - including in Seattle and some other metro areas - and ratings, which the firm says is "based on a proprietary mathematical model applied equally to each lawyer to analyze information Avvo has about them, including their experience, disciplinary sanctions and professional achievements."

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Seattle attorneys John Henry Browne and Alan Wenokur, who think the system underrated them (and, in the process, misrepresented them).

We're not keen to get into the validity of the mathematical formula involved, or the data fed into it. Inevitably, it is based on a series of assumptions and selected information; most such efforts (and we've worked on a few in other arenas, notably that of public affairs influence) wind up being subjective in one way or another - that is, opinion.

If Browne, Wenokur or other attorneys can isolate libelous assertions of fact, that would be one thing: The law of libel could apply. Short of that, they're arguing in essence that no one should be able to express an opinion about professional performance. The leap from there is almost absent: Why then should expressions of opinion about consumer matters of any sort (consumer reports and testing) or even opinion about people in the public sphere - whether public officials or not - be immune from lawsuit? (God help the Willamette Week at Portland and its recent ratings of legislators.) Will movie reviewers be targeted next? If not, why not - movies which critics "disparage" can, after all, suffer loss in ticket sales. (Or at least an attorney could argue that they have.)

Avvo's blog has drawn a number of comments on the suit. We found this one of the most pertinent, from a business owner who has hired a number of attorneys over the years: "There seems to be an attitude of entitlement and arrogance…yes your private little ‘clubby’ world is coming to an end…the Internet is going to change the way lawyers do business just like it has changed many other industries (insurance, real estate, etc.). The notion that information about sanctions and disciplinary actions should hidden from consumers is outrageous. The notion that clients can’t provide feedback on the service they receive because lawyers will claim disparagement is nothing but a thinly veiled attempt to silence them."

Courts traditionally have upheld expression of opinion as highly protected speech, and we suspect they will again here. If not . . . watch out.

Turning off the spigot

And so it begins: There may be any number of people out there who will be blaming Idaho Water Director Dave Tuthill and maybe Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter too, but no one person or any small group of people are to blame for the water turnoffs Tuthill ordered on Friday.

It was what had to happen, under Idaho law and given the water rights that various people have.

The curtailment ordered at the moment is less than had been expected; some later negotiations reduced the figure somewhat. What did happen is significant enough: "The curtailment orders affect ground water rights bearing priority dates junior to December 9, 1990 for the Blue Lakes call and junior to February 13, 1977 for the Clear Springs call. This includes approximately 591 ground water rights for approximately 16,638 acres of irrigation, and commercial, industrial, municipal, non-exempt domestic and stockwater and other consumptive uses."

Tuthill's comment carried a note of sadness: “Curtailment is a last resort, but we are obligated under Idaho law to follow through with enforcement when mitigation is not provided. We are more interested in water solutions than water confrontations. Unfortunately, the parties involved so far have not presented an acceptable solution to get through 2007, so I have no choice but to issue these curtailment orders.”

Maybe these curtailments will shock some negotiated settlements out of stakeholders. (Tuthill presumably hopes it will.) But we're suspecting that the shock treatment on Idaho's overallocation of Snake River water has just begun.

OR SB 329: Moving along

By way of update on our recent post on Oregon Senate Bill 329, which marks out a path for sweeping health care reform: This morning it has cleared the Joint Ways & Means Committee, a significant stop.

To be sure, both lead co-sponsors, Senators Alan Bates, D-Ashland, and Ben Westlund, D-Tumalo, are members and in the majority. But the overall tenor of the session boded well for floor results, which could come next week.

Just two members of the committee, both Republicans, voted against; all Democrats and most Republicans on the two-chamber panel voted in favor. The major expressed concern during the brief committee debate actually had to do with another bill: Senate Bill 27, the proposal by the Archimedes Movement and former Governor John Kitzhaber (signed on to by 13 senators and 12 representatives), which is still in the midst of intensive negotiations. (Thoese were underway this morning, Bates reported.) Senator Jackie Winters, R-Salem, said she was concerned that both pass - that 329, which sets up a statewide board and a string of general policies, would not be enough to do the job without passage of 27.

Bates and Westlund said that negotiations on 27 are moving apace. Bates pledged to push it as hard as he could; Westlund said the differences between 329 and 27 were only about an inch apart (as he demonstrated with his fingers). They evidently concern, primarily, whether waivers or a change in law should be sought from Congress to amend Oregon's uses of some federal medical pass-through money.

There were no other substantial stated criticisms in the committee. Sounds that, if the process continue as they did this morning, these two bills - together potentially of enormous impact - could be passed in the next 10 days or so.

Calculations of worth

If you haven't seen it yet, take a swing around the new feature at Open Secrets - the net worth report filings for members of Congress and a some candidates.

The site ranks the wealthiest filers as well, and one northwesterner made the list of top 25: Oregon Senator Gordon Smith at 24 (and 10th among the 100 U.S. senators), with an estimated worth between $13 million and $62.3 million. No one else in the region's congressional delegation came close.

Strike

If you've been around downtown Portland the last couple of weeks, you've seen something unusual - visual evidence of a labor strike (other than by teachers, which isn't so rare). In this case, the strikers are members of the carpenters union (in western Oregon and southwestern Washington), primarily dry wallers, and they're striking principally in seeking a pay raise.

They produced a video showing - for those who haven't seen - what some of the activity looks like.

We asked Zack Knowling, the consultant who sent along the link to the video, about the status of the strike, and his reply this afternoon suggests it might not be over soon:

"As far as I know, there have been no formal negotiations, nor have none been scheduled, between the carpenters and the contractors. However, if you check out www.nwcarpenters.org, you will see strike updates that show some contractors peeling off from their parent organization to sign interim agreements with the union. So headway is being made, but the carpenters are still waiting on the official word from the contractors association that they are ready to negotiate a fair contract."

Strikes are more or less the ultimate weapons labor has, and they have been but barely used in most industries in recent decades - a measure, in considerable part, of the decline in clout of organized labor. (Those who remember back to the middle part of the last century recall a time when strikes weren't rare at all.)

So we'll keep watch to see how this one goes. No doubt, plenty of other people will as well.