The title of the blog caught our attention some months ago: A Seattleite in Idaho. That figured to be interesting, and a number of the posts since then have been. Culture shock is usually readable.

The blogger, Jessica, has moved on. She moved from Seattle to Pocatello to attention Idaho State University, and has graduated. Now she’s in Las Vegas, and writing about the political atmosphere there. As another observer of interstate comparison, we’d suggest a look at what she’s found, and in some cases leaving behind.

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Jeff Merkley

Jeff Merkley

We hadn’t especially pegged Oregon House Speaker Jeff Merkley – fresh from his first session in that role – as a big dice roller. There again, if you have ambitions, you move when the time is right, and you can’t always pick your time.

Both the Associated Press (according to “two sources close to the campaign”) and Willamette Week (“Three highly-placed Democratic sources”) today are reporting that Merkley will file paperwork early in August to run for the U.S. Senate, for the seat now held by Republican Gordon Smith. Merkley has made no formal acknowledgment, saying only that a final decision still is forthcoming.

The one substantial Democrat so far in that race is Steve Novick, a consultant who has deep background in Oregon politics but who has not run before. Odds in the primary seem to go to Merkley, who has national encouragement and an instant large fundraising network. (Although, if Novick were to beat him, he would emerge in the general to face Smith as a proven giant-killer.)

Offers one comment writer on WW: “Dave Hunt will make an excellent Oregon House Speaker, and either Diane Rosenbaum or Arnie Roblan will make a very good House Majority Leader.”

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The recent spate of heavy fire seasons has begun to result in a fire politics too, in rural areas. Some of this played out today in a piece in the Twin Falls Times News.

South-central Idaho is a logical place for it, since this is on the southern end of the hottest fire territory in the country. Three adjacent counties stretching across much of southern Idaho – Owyhee, Twin Falls and Cassia – have been declared fire disaster areas by Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter.

Last night, about 120 ranchers and others from these rural areas gathered in the small city of Castleton and fired questions at Tom Dyer, director of the Bureau of Land Management in Idaho. Many of them had to do with the Murphy Complex fire, which reportedly ran to nearly 900 square miles. They asked if the agency could have kept it from becoming so massive if they’d hit harder, earlier? (Current reports are that it is now smaller in size but still only 20% contained.)

Some of them argued that grazing regulations left too much vegetation in place, serving as fuel when the fires took off.

Could go in a variety of directions, but fire looks like a front-burner (sorry – would you rather we called it incendiary?) issue for a while, especially if the fires continue getting worse.

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Here’s a sequel we’ll be itching to read – the followup to today’s piece in Crosscut by Chris Vance, the former Washington state Republican chair and now a political consultant.

His first piece, dated today, is a compelling and useful rundown of the road from the days (pre-Depression) when Washington was a Republican-dominated state, to today, when the party is just short of marginalized. He writes: “I’m not working on a campaign, but I still seem to spend a lot of time thinking about and talking about Washington state politics, and one reality constantly looms: the Republican collapse of 2006. What happened? What does it mean? Can Republicans recover, and if so, how long will it take? This is obviously a subject of some personal interest to me but should also concern anyone who values a competitive two-party system.”

Causes cited in article 1 include Washington’s relative secularism (though he points out that major Republican campaigns in recent years have not been based around social conservatism), Democratic financing and superior Democratic candidate recruitment. We agree with parts of his analysis so far, quibble with others, and think he omits some crucial factors, but overall it is worth a careful read.

We’re eager to see his promised prescription.

(Note to Idaho Democrats: You guys might want to read this two-parter too.)

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Washington

Current major fires

Showing location of all the current “large incident” fires in the United States/NIFC

Driving around the Northwest week before last, we were struck by the amount of smoke in the air. And got to see one substantial-size burn, south of I-84 in the Irrigon-Hermiston area. A hot summer, and dry around the region until the last few days, the fires have had little to tamp them down.

The latest run of showers around the western part of the Northwest seems to have helped. But not everywhere. The National Interagency Fire Center says fires now have become concentrated heavily around Idaho – this map certainly confirms as much. As does the Idaho governor’s office, which has declared fire emergencies in five counties. Such emergency declarations aren’t commonplace in Idaho.

As does the Spokesman-Review‘s Betsy Russell, on Boise’s air quality at the moment.

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Idaho

The Joel Connelly column today on the political significance of advisors – name-checking the Bush Administration, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, Washington Governor Chris Gregoire and her prospective challenger Dino Rossi – prompts a somewhat related train of thought.

The column focused on advisors to Gregoire and Rossi as they move toward open combat, and mentioned Lisa Grove, a pollster at Portland working for Gregoire, and who worked for Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski in his race last year.

The thought was that the recent Oregon experience of gubernatorial races might be instructive for Washingtonians.

In 2002, the governor’s office was open on the ballot and Kulongoski was opposed by Republican Kevin Mannix. Quite a few independent observers, and quite a few Republicans, thought that year the strongest Republican to run statewide (strongest seeking the governorship anyway) was attorney Ron Saxton. Saxton was running as a relative moderate, and the sense was that he could win the centrist vote better than Mannix, who was running as a conservative, period. Mannix won the Republican primary. In November he lost, narrowly, to Kulongoski, though he did do better than many had expected.

Roll up to 2006. Kulongoski is up for re-election, and both Saxton and Mannix are running again too. This time the Republican primary voters choose Saxton, taking the argument that he is more electable. Saxton runs, however, as (at least seemingly and perceptually) more conservative, which helps in the primary but apparently hurts in the general. Kulongoski wins this time by a bigger margin.

At this point, Oregon Republicans are having a rough time trying to figure out where to go next.

If you’re a Washington Republican, prepping for governor’s race next year, what conclusion do you draw from all that?

In 2006, the governor’s race between Gregoire and Rossi ended in a photo-finish. Rossi’s vote was better than many had expected beforehand, exceeding expectations. His mission, should he decide to accept it, is to better that performance in 2008. So how does he do that?

Does he tack more strongly to the middle? There’s little evidence that, in this new decade, that is working for Northwest Republicans.

Does he try to keep the base together by sticking with it philosophically? That doesn’t seem to accomplish much either, beyond the primary. But early indications, as Connelly’s column suggests, indicate that may be the route he’s taking.

Well, he has to do something (assuming he runs). And there’s not a lot of evidence right now to indicate what the winning strategy is.

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Lane County population
Five times between here and mid-September, the Lane County Commission will hold meetings around the county to discuss what should become of Lane County government.

It’s a more practical question than you might think. With funding (especially federal) diminished, the county is in a budget squeeze, and the commissioners are divided over how to deal with it – even over such basic matters as whether employment or compensation should be trimmed first. So each commissioner will be hosting, starting on Wednesday and evening September 12, a public meeting on what priorities ought to be. All of that will precede the commission’s first round of talks (earlier than usual, in October) on next year’s budget.

Voters here have recently, and a couple of times, rejected income tax increases – so that option appears to be out. But what’s in?

The Eugene Register-Guard has a useful overview out today on the commission’s split viewpoints (though two commissioners weren’t talking) and the options before it. It’s a good look at the kind of discussions many of the federally-reliant counties will be having in the months ahead.

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99 and Federal Way Somewhere there exists – we’ve seen it but can’t find the name – a book on the part of Highway 99 that runs through the Northwest. You can find on Amazon.com two books covering the road’s mileage in California; writing on the northern stretch remains elusive. More is merited: There’s a lot of history here, and a lot of connection with the present.

Wikipedia says the road was built roughly out of the ages-old Siskiyou Trail, connecting Native Americans from the Puget Sound south into central and southern California. Settlers from the east dug the path more thoroughly, and in the car age it became the Pacific Highway, linking the borders at Mexico and Canada with everything between. It expanded, grew, was designated U.S. 99, and eventually in the mid-60s was superseded by Interstate 5. U.S. 99 was turned into state highways, California 99 and Oregon 99 and Washington 99 (and a bunch of county and city roads, in many places), and split in some areas (most of the route in Oregon’s Willamette Valley is divided between 99W and 99E).

When practical (often when time is not tight), we prefer taking 99 over the freeway alternative. You can see a lot more of what’s really there from 99. In many places, the beauty of the Northwest is much more evidence from 99 than from the interstate. (Some of the controversy too: Alaskan Way in Seattle is on 99.) The highway runs smack through the center of many communities, not skirting them. 99 is educational.

And more, as writer John Moe explains today in the Seattle Times.

Moe, now a Seattle writer, originally is from Federal Way, a fact he admits to fudging at times – “‘Seattle,’ I tell them, before adding very quietly, ‘area.'”

Federal Way today is a large city, estimated at 86,530 people, the 11th largest city in the Northwest and one of the fastest-growing, but still little known – probably few people outside Washington or with little personal connection to it know much of anything about it. It is a new city, incorporated only 17 years ago out of southwestern King County sprawl; development of a genuine civic identity remains an ongoing project.

Moe addresses this, noting first that Federal Way is a city named for a road that runs through it – the local section of Highway 99 – and asks, “Where is Federal Way’s soul?”

Replies one person he knows: “Isn’t SeaTac Mall really the soul?” Another: “Well, there’s always Federal Shopping Way or whatever they call it now.”

Well, that’s a lot of what you see from Highway 99, which runs very much through town. If you look quick you can make out the new city hall structure, and the attempts at creating a downtown center – worthy enough plans. But most of Federal Way looks like an endless retail highway, with houses bundled up behind; some of all of this old, some of it new.

Where is Federal Way’s soul? Look maybe to Highway 99, its older as well as newer incarnations. It’s a real road with history and life; we’re not kidding when we suggest that you might just find some actual soul there.

[Map/city of Federal Way]

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The Seattle Weekly has totaled the numbers on legislative campaign finance so far, and come up with this:

“. . . the House Democratic Campaign Committee (formerly the House Democratic Caucus Campaign Committee) already has more than $450,000 in the bank— 10 times more than the Republicans have saved up. The House Republican Organizing Committee reports just $40,621 for the period ending June 30, according to the state’s Public Disclosure Commission.”

Slipping into extreme minority position makes the work a lot harder – a sequence of negative expectations starts to kick in. As hole get deeper, they get ever-harder to climb out of.

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Part-way into this fine Vanity Fair piece on the development of torture as a foreign policy tool (you’ll find the start of it on the second page), you’ll run into something startling – the strong Spokane connection to the torture research & development industry.

Two of the main figures involved, “James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen played a key role in developing the Air Force’s sere program, which was administered in Spokane, Washington. Dr. Bryce Lefever, command psychologist on the U.S.S. Enterprise and a former sere trainer who worked with Mitchell and Jessen at the Fairchild Air Base, says he was waterboarded during his own training.” (Much of the article’s focus, by the way, is on how invalid most torture-obtained information is.)

Hat tip to Jack Bog’s Blog, which has been following this.

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Steve Novick

Steve Novick

From an e-mail Democratic Senate candidate Steve Novick shot around Oregon today, making the point that one’s friends can be as much a hazard as the other guys.

(You get some sense of Novick’s personality in the process . . .)

So today “Just Out,” the Portland newsweekly of the gay community, puts me on the cover, which is nice, but then quotes me as saying that we need to “ask people in this country to pay higher taxes” and that “our opponents will convince the public that we’re doing things that are way too dangerous.” Of course, what I actually said was that we need to ask SOME people (e.g., people who make all their money from capital gains) to pay higher taxes, and that if we try to really deal with the problems of the country – health care, global warming, the Federal fiscal mess — our opponents will TRY TO convince the public that we’re doing things that are way too dangerous. (If I were convinced our opponents would always win, I wouldn’t run!) I’m
sending you this note as a pre-response to the Smith ad next year highlighting the tax misquote … Still, it’s nice to be on the cover holding my copy of the Schlesinger book on Bobby Kennedy …

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City clubs with their luncheon speakers like to say, through their slogans, that nothing happens until people start talking. There’s truth in that. But also in this: When people abruptly quit talking, something almost certainly already is happening.

Eyes once again, then, to Micron Technology at Boise.

The Boise Idaho Statesman this morning ran a richly provocative interview by columnist Dan Popkey with Gordon Smith, a board director at Micron, and formerly an executive at the J.R. Simplot Company. A view into the company via the Statesman at all is rare these days, since it hasn’t been officially talking to the paper or most anyone in the Boise media except for KTVB-TV (Channel 7). But Smith, speaking for himself, did speak up, and he had some fascinating things to say. (The paper ran a story on the Smith interview, but the transcript is the thing to read.)

In a sense, there are no surprises here; but hearing it from the inside – of the board – did give confirmation to the already widely suspected.

Such as this: “This [layoff] is probably the first cut, and I’m not saying that there’ll be more, but certainly I would guess that what Steve (Appleton) has got in the back of his mind is there will be jobs that will be transferred — say they’ll either be outsourced or they’ll be transferred to other countries. Some of these jobs the people may have a chance to keep the jobs they have, if they’re willing to transfer. Very possibly to a foreign country, Southeast Asia. That’s kind of the hotbed for the tech industry. China. Singapore. Taipei. You know, all those places.”

And, “I’m gonna kind of step out of line here just a little bit, but this board that we have now in my estimation is very passive. They all come from big companies. They’ve all got their own problems. And for them to turn around and get right into the middle of the Micron problems I think it’s a little more than what they want to take on, OK? Now that’s my opinion.”

And talking about the long-time CEO, Steve Appleton, “moving on.”

And saying he was unaware that the company hadn’t been speaking with the media (excepting KTVB).

Micron officials were asked for comment, and declined.

The story prompted a rush on Gordon Smith by other news organizations, television and the Idaho Business Review, and he initially agreed to at least one interview. Then spokesmen for Micron and Smith called back: No interviews for Smith, none for Micron. The cone of silence had descended again.

And a city watches, and waits.

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Idaho