Writings and observations

This really isn’t a shock or surprise. It seems the logical end conclusion: The shutdown of water used by junior water users when senior users weren’t getting their flow. That’s the way the western appropriation system of water rights works.

You can pick up the undercurrent of dread, from the attorneys (even those seeking the shutdowns) and from the 5th District judge, John Melanson, who issued the order. Nobody wanted the result. But the water isn’t there, and the law is the law. A temporary restraining order blocking the shutdowns – lasting only until the judge was able to review the case – was removed on Wednesday. Next step is a meeting with Dave Tuthill, the director of the Idaho Department of Water Resources, who ordered the curtailment. (There too, he had scant choice.)

The Twin Falls Times News has posted video of the arguments in court yesterday on the water curtailment case, alongside an unusually blunt story about the impacts: “even if a hearing is scheduled, it could take between two and seven weeks to complete. That’s a long time for farmers, most of whom have already planted their fields. Those irrigators will now have to wait even longer to find out if their crops will be harvested come fall or die without water in the Idaho sun. . . . In their arguments, pumpers said they’ll lose tens of millions of dollars if the state shuts down their wells. But trout farmers say they’re losing money every day without access to water owed to them by pumpers.”

No easy answers. Looks like a long summer.

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Northern Spotted Owl

Northern Spotted Owl/U.S. Fish & Wildlife

There’s been only a little attention paid – in scattered articles here and there – so we thought we’d throw in another mention of the new U.S. Fish & Wildlife proposal on that ever-contentious bird, the Northern Spotted Owl.

The 2007 Draft Recovery Plan has potential to become as contentious as the bird, and certainly has attracted heat form the owl’s defenders. And there’s some pressure on. While a number of species have increased in numbers since designation as endangered, the spotted owl isn’t one of them – it’s numbers have gone down since its 1990 designation.

Under the latest review, the Roseburg News-Review reports, “U.S. Fish and Wildlife identifies barred owls as the spotted owl’s greatest threat to habitat. Falling in line on the list of threats are timber harvests — more markedly of the past — and wildfire. But some aren’t convinced the spotted owls’ avian cousin is the real culprit.”

And the American Bird Conservancy (in a widely distributed email) argues that “The new alternative, imposed by administration political appointees with no expertise in Spotted Owl management including Julie MacDonald requires no fixed habitat protection. The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management would have discretion to determine if any habitat protection is necessary. This alternative would likely lead to the elimination of the old growth reserves created under the Northwest Forest Plan because they would no longer be deemed necessary for owl recovery.”

May be time for another round of discussion; the comment period ends June 25. The report is available online.

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Oregon

An invitation

An invitation

Early word about the emerging Fred Thompson presidential campaign includes mentions that the candidate hopes to limit his personal appearances around the country, not spent a lot of overnight time away from home, and do a lot of the work on line or otherwise remotely. Flesh pressing, evidently, would be de minimus.

Veteran politics watchers such as Charlie Cook figure this approach won’t work – “What a truly ridiculous notion,” in Cook’s phrase – because that personal contact still is critical. And we tend to agree.

So we’ll be curious to see what happens on June 15, when another presidential aspirant, Arizona Senator John McCain, holds a $250 a plate fundraiser at Boise, at the newly renamed Hotel 43 (till recently the Statehouse Inn); the host committee has committed to a $10,000 donation.

The lunch will have a notable guest, in Utah Governor Jon Huntsman (he must be one of the few notable Republicans in his state not supporting Mitt Romney). And the candidate’s wife, Cindy McCain, will be there.

Missing from the invitation list? Any prominent Republicans from, you know, Idaho. (You have to figure they tried; so far, we haven’t heard of an Idaho McCain organization.) And, uh, the candidate himself.

So how well does the fundraiser do under these circumstances? Might e worth watching. Might be worth the Thompson campaign’s watch, too.

(Hat tip to the correspondent who forwarded the invitation.)

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As ubiquitous as wi-fi access is becoming – we’re almost getting to the point of expecting it everywhere – we were still jut a bit awed by the extent of its reach as noted in today’s Seattle Times.

We’ve thought for some time that wi-fi could be one of the best marketing devices around for mass transit systems, and the article noted, “Even Metro Transit offers free Wi-Fi on 48 buses and has plans to expand it to some van pools.”

And, “One of the most ambitious projects is just beginning in Pierce County, where 14 cities have teamed up with CenturyTel to build and operate a countywide network.”

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Somewhere in the latter chapters of the textbook on Politics 101, in big, bold letters, you’ll find a statement much like one we’ve repeated to any number of challenger candidates seeking to oust an incumbent, and one cleanly put in a comments section today by blogger Kari Chisholm:

“Personally, I think you gotta convince voters to fire the incumbent before you get a chance to convince to hire you to replace ’em.”

That is nearly always (with the rare, fluky exception of an incumbent’s complete upfront self-destruction) true. Voters continue to do what they’ve done before unless given a strong reason not to; even then, changing course is tough. (Quick: When was an Oregon U.S. senator last defeated for re-election? Right: Four decades ago, in 1968, Democrat Wayne Morse, by Republican Robert Packwood, who was not known as a gentle player.)

It is why there’s some heartburn among some Democrats over the new quote from Cathy Shaw, a former mayor of Ashland and a campaign associate of state Senator Alan Bates, D-Ashland, who is considering a run for the U.S. Senate against Republican Gordon Smith. Shaw said, in an interview for the Ashland Daily Tidings, that Bates has never gone negative against an opponent, and wouldn’t this time either: “As for running an aggressive race, Shaw said Bates ‘never has, and never will’ run a negative campaign. ‘He just doesn’t do that,’ Shaw said. ‘People say it wins elections, but it doesn’t.'”

Still – people will have to be given a good reason to fire Smith from his job in the Senate, or they won’t, and a challenger will simply be an afterthought. So our core thought here is the same as Chisholm’s: “I’d love to hear what Cathy Shaw, or better yet, Alan Bates means by ‘going negative’.”

If it means vicious personal assaults and an unrelenting violent tone, then Shaw (and Bates) would be absolutely correct, especially in this race. Gordon Smith is personally a likable guy (something even the main Democrat now in the race, Steve Novick, acknowledges about him), and a heavy personal assault would likely backfire.

But, for example, Chisholm asks, “Is it ‘going negative’ to say: ‘Gordon Smith has voted to support the Bush/Cheney position with 90% of his votes'” ?

One guesses that in the Shaw/Bates definition, probably not. Bates has been quoted (also in the Tidings, for that matter) as saying this about Smith: “I know he’s apparently changed his position on the war, but many of us from the very beginning were opposed to the war. When you’re at that level you have a responsibility to know what you’re doing; be very careful of your votes.”

To wit, an example of making the case for firing an incumbent without being mean about it.

There are many ways to convey the case for firing an incumbent, some heavy-handed but it need not be, it can even be done in ways you could call subtle. (We think of a legislative campaign in Yamhill County last year, in a contest few had thought even remotely possible, in which a challenger made the case with a kind of clear subtlety that did the job precisely, and came very close to a win.)

The meaning of “negative” has some significance here.

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Larry LaRocco

Larry LaRocco

The Net is becoming such a powerfully useful political tool you’d think more candidates would be finding more ways to take advantage of it. At virtually no cost, a candidate can communicate in loads of ways with loads of people – a wonderful tool.

The first Northwest candidate to blog live this cycle – as a few did last – is Idaho’s Larry LaRocco, a Democrat running for the Senate seat now held by Republican Larry Craig. To little surprise, he’s in an uphill situation. There again, uphill situations tend to make you more creative.

LaRocco was live blogging – writing a post and exchanging comments with writers – today on the national Daily Kos blog. (Last week he live blogged as well as IdaBlue and new West.) He launched it under a slogan, “Do right – risk consequences.”

The conversation featured some back and forth with Idahoans, and included a surprisingly broad range of topics. They ranged from broadband in rural areas, to alternative energy production, health care, wilderness and even (from one Idaho blogger) “Sen. Craig’s support of federal subsidies to increase production of fuel from coal as was recently reported in the LA Times.”

But the discussion drew other around the country as well. And some of them indicated the usefulness of the web as a connection tool. One resident of Seattle wrote, “We don’t have a Senate race in 2008, which means that we can follow what’s going on with our neighbors to the east (and to the south, I hasten to add). We’ll be here to help.”

To which Kos’ McJoan (who is from Idaho) added, “You all are going to be so sick of Idaho….”

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Check out a very readable piece about national farm policy – a “Food and Farm Bill of Rights” – from Oregon Representative Earl Blumenauer.

What’s that, you’re saying Blumenauer represents one of the most urban districts in the Northwest? Yup. But farm policy reaches well beyond rural areas alone. And if you happen to notice that the urbanites in Blumenauer’s district are uncommonly attuned to the concepts of “locally produced” and to buying at farmer’s markets, the pieces start to fall into place.

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Fairhaven

Fairhaven district at Bellingham

The record may be broken in the days of candidate filing that remain, but right now, the website at the Washington Public Disclosure Commission says that the city with the most candidates for mayor is, with six contenders – no, not Seattle or Spokane – Bellingham.

That being a little unexpected, we decided to inquire about the race at Bellingham, which evidently has been underway for some time now, and seems t be a relatively amiable contest so far. A full month ago all six of them were at a community forum, addressing sundry matters.

The Bellingham Herald reported that “City Councilman Bob Ryan insisted that, if he were elected, the first thing he’d do was demand a recount. [Dan] Pike, Skagit Council of Governments transportation director, said the thing that the city has gotten right and should keep doing is its geography. And Whatcom County Councilman Seth Fleetwood didn’t seem sure how to beat the horn [time keeper Jack] Weiss blew when a candidate’s time was up.” Not much seemed to develop about why the interest ranged so high. (Incumbent Tim Douglas, who took over the post last November when the previous mayor resigned to take another job, isn’t running.)

Four of them also spoke to the Whatcom County Democrats (which tells you something about Bellingham’s political leaning – some of these nonpartisan candidates were quite partisan in their language) later in the month; there, a little more emerged. The candidates there offered support for economic growth but seemed to compete most on growth issues, from transit, waterfront development, drinking water quality (an issue there, following on drinking water problems at Blaine and Ferndale) and proposed “down-zoning” (to allow less use) at Lake Whatcom.

More clues: A comment in an introduction for candidates at a forum which said, “Many in our neighborhoods feel that the choice of Mayor this year will be between vision/leadership and administrative experience.”

Neighborhoods are political keys in Bellingham. By one local estimate, the most likely front-runner is long-time resident Don Keenan, who highlights that he has been “an active member of the Sehome neighborhood since 1978.”

The neighborhoods may be in fact be key.

The NWCitizen Blog at Bellingham pointed this out:

In Fairhaven, property owners in the commercial district have formed a new neighborhood organization and petitioned the City for recognition as a planning district, like other neighborhoods. Fairhaven Neighbors, the existing neighborhood organization, have traditionally represented the area in City planning processes.

However, Fairhaven has changed radically in recent years. In particular, the commercial core may now, or will soon, house more residents than the residential neighborhood. And their priorities may reasonably differ.

Such differences are common to matters political. It’s all about having a process to parse them. In this case, the City dealt with the traditional Fairhaven Neighbors, relying upon them to involve other interested parties within the Fairhaven Neighborhood planning district. That includes the commercial core. Somewhere along the line, that process broke down, resulting in squabbling, fingerpointing and various bad feelings, like property owners feeling excluded as the Neighbors moved to limit building heights without seeking commercial input.

And Fairhaven is not alone. Next door, in Happy Valley, there is strife over re-opening the Neighborhood plan for a Low Impact Development Overlay.

Sounds as if, in Bellingham, politics this year may grow very directly out of the city’s options and decisions for development – not a bad subject for city politics these days.

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Betsy Johnson

Betsy Johnson at St. Helens

Oregon State Senator Betsy Johnson, Democrat of Scappoose, has had a lousy week, starting with articles in the Oregonian and Willamette Week suggesting she was involved in corrupt activity, and going on from there. NW Republican put her picture under the headline “Salem’s culture of corruption,” but Democrats chimed in, at Loaded Orygun (“Betsy Johnson F’s Up“) and at Blue Oregon (“Betsy Johnson’s self-dealing legislation“).

The core of the Oregonian piece (“Sen. Johnson makes a fast $119,000“) – what it suggested, at least – is that Johnson and her husband bought a piece of land near the airport at Scappoose northwest of Portland, and three months after flipped it to a developer for a profit of $119,000 (their sale price minus their purchase price). She then proposed legislation which, the article suggested, would benefit the business operation of the new owner. In all, it sounds like using public office to make private money.

And something else – she failed to report the $119,000, as she was clearly required to tell the Oregon Government Standards and Practices Commission. She made that filing only after the Oregonian brought it to her attention, and on that she admits “I am culpable”. (The deal closed early in 2005, so it should have shown up on forms in 2006.)

But of what else is she guilty – of self-dealing or worse?

There, after watching Johnson interact Sunday with a crowd at St. Helens, we’re more hesitant to convict. Not that what follows is intended to be entirely exculpatory, but it’s enough to give us pause before settling on a conclusion.

Saturday and today, Johnson spoke at six town hall meetings around the district. (Yes, implications to the contrary, they were scheduled well in advance of the Oregonian piece – notice appeared in weekly newspapers in the area, the St. Helens Chronicle for one, the week before last.) We wanted to see what happened at the session at St. Helens, since that is close by where the Scappoose airport developments were occurring.

There was another reason: Those developments were of long standing. Johnson and her husband, John Helm, have been in business at the Scappoose area and nearby for a long time, for a quarter-century and more, much of it involved with the airport. Johnson was a member of the governing board of the Port of St. Helens, which runs the airport. There’s a lot of history there, some of it acrimonious; over the years she has had battles with some of the people involved there (though she said she and the current management get along better). The point is that this is a long, involved story. The people gathered at the Columbia Center auditorium this afternoon, including local city officials and others steeped in the community (and a camera from KATU), were well aware of the history.

And not all of them were fans. Some were, but others were taking lots of notes as Johnson spoke, and some of them had sharp and pointed questions for her. They would not be easily spun.

Johnson sat alone at a table in the middle of the room, only rarely glancing at a notepad as, for 20 minutes or so, she ran through the history of the property and her family’s involvement with it. Toward the end, she said that though the property sales price was $119,000 more than the purchase price, that didn’t include a string of expenses her family made in the process of getting the deal to go through. Her family’s actual profit, she indicated, was somewhere south of $50,000, less than half what the headlines indicate. More to the point, the action on the airport land was so involved and complex over such a long stretch – a decade or so, not three months – that measuring profit becomes a complex proposition.

Said one local man who had been sharply questioning her: “Still dicey, but I’ll accept that.”

The more serious issue has to do with Senate Bill 680, which Johnson proposed (she was the only named sponsor) and which had to do with rural airports. It concerned “through the fence” business – that is, allowing businesses to move planes through the security fences so as to use them more easily for commerce. The bill said “The Oregon Department of Aviation shall establish a pilot program at up to three rural airports to encourage development of through the fence operations designed to promote economic development by creating family wage jobs, by increasing local tax bases and by increasing financial support for rural airports.” Scappoose was later chosen for one of those projects, which would seem to enhance the value of the land around the airport, such as the land Johnson and her husband were selling. And Johnson did formally declare a conflict of interest when voting on the bill.

Problem with that analysis is that – Johnson said, and no one in the local crowd contradicted her – the Scappoose airport already had, for many years, an established “through the fence” policy – had reinstated it specifically twice this decade, and had it in place before that – so that the new state would would not affect business practices there. If so (this should be easily enough determinable through Port of St. Helens records) that would mean the bill didn’t affect the value of the property being sold.

At the St. Helens meeting, Johnson started the meeting with a discussion about the Oregonian story and kept at it until all questions (and there were quite a few) were answered. That’s not the standard approach of a duck-and-hide politician. And she countered a string of allegations with a string of credible responses that seemed to satisfy an audience of people who have been living with the saga of the Port of St. Helens and the Scappoose Airport.

As noted earlier, this isn’t intended to be exculpatory, particularly; we don’t think we have enough information to settle on many conclusions.

The Standards and Practices Commission meets on June 22, and consider what to do. It ordinarily does not say much about the reasons behind its decision; we should hope that whatever its decision, it makes an exception this time. There’s too much complexity in this case to reach a snap conclusion.

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from Day by Day

from Day by Day

The Boise Idaho Statesman has for some years run the comic strip Doonesbury at the bottom of the editorial page, alongside – in recognition of and response to conservative complaints – the strip Mallard Fillmore. (A number of other newspapers around the country do the same.)

Which always seemed here to be highly unfair to conservatives. Doonesbury, however you look at the points Garry Trudeau makes, is executed with extraordinary craft, and the non-political panels (as a good many, this week’s for instance, are) should as likely draw a laugh from conservatives as from liberals. By contrast, Mallard is a dud. It’s like a daily Rush Limbaugh sound bite, no more, no less; the simplistic art work seldom adds anything, and the words are so bluntly political that they’re likely to have little effect on anyone except to draw vigorous nods from the hard-core supportive. It’s a poor strip, and that it has gotten the support it has from conservatives has seemed here to reflect poorly on conservatives.

The Statesman‘s editorial page is now trying something different, a strip called Day by Day, by Chris Muir, replacing Mallard. We’ve taken a look at it. Like Mallard, its perspective is basically conservative, but it is well-drawn, well-thought out, and a lot closer to the professional company Doonesbury keeps.

Editorial Page Editor Kevin Richert reports that comments are running strongly in favor of Mallard.

There’s an excellent post on this by blogger Bubblehead, a retired submarine officer who had seen Day by Day before and liked it – the strip has some military background. “The ‘net comic strip Day By Day has been a huge favorite among mil-bloggers over the last several years (the writer, Chris Muir, did a strip for Project Valour-IT last November); while there’s no doubt that it’s a ‘conservative’ commentary, it’s smart — it doesn’t need to hit the reader over the head with the points it’s trying to make,” he wrote. (Our impression is similar.)

He goes on to blog:

Therefore, I was happily surprised today when I saw in my morning paper that Day By Day had replaced Mallard Fillmore on the “right” side of the editorial comic strips; the change was accompanied by an explanation that they were testing the new strip. I figured that everyone would immediately recognize the superiority of the new offering.

I guessed wrong. Kevin Richert, the Statesman’s editorial page editor, posted on his blog today that the initial response he had gotten was negative — the people who were writing in wanted the duck back . . .

Thinking about it more carefully, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Idaho has a lot of “Bill Sali Republicans” (represented in the Idaho blogosphere by Trish and Halli) who share the following characteristics: they generally lack military experience, have a pathological distrust of the U.S. government (to the point where they think that President Bush is trying to give away our sovereignty to a “North American Union” and that he ordered the 9/11 attacks), and lack a sense of humor. I figure these are the types of people who would oppose Day By Day and would want to keep the duck.

So another political marker for you, and a fairly clear one: Conservatives who like Day by Day, and those who prefer the duck.

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