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Posts published in June 2007

Water down

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.

Spotted Owl revision

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.

A McCain lunch, sans McCain

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.)

WA wifi

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."

How Bates would run

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'."



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...."

Farm bill (and rights)

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.

The crowd at Bellingham


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 Betsy Johnson story

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.


Strip divisions

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.)