Writings and observations

As Washington voters wrap up their primary voting today (almost wrote, “head to the polls,” that now be nearly an anachronism), we’ll be paying most attention to the city elections in Spokane and the port election in Seattle. (Seattle council looks to be an incumbent-heavy snoozer.)

And we may note the discernment of voters in a couple of Spokane instances.

The Spokesman-Review’s Hard 7 blog has a pointed post about the paper’s local endorsements. From the original editorials:

Council District 1

Donna McKereghan: This council seat, which represents northeast Spokane, calls for a change from incumbent Councilman Bob Apple, who too often finds himself isolated from other council members. Going against the tide has its place, but public interests would be better served by a council member with the energy and savvy to dig into issues and help craft collaborative solutions. Challenger Donna McKereghan has shown herself eager and able to take on that role. …

Council District 3

John Waite: Legislative bodies need at least one voice that can be counted on for an unorthodox contribution to the conversation. John Waite, seeking the northwest Spokane seat being vacated by Rob Crow, represents that and more. …

Meaning the criteria for endorsement are . . . what exactly? Hard 7 suggests, “Um, maybe in the next election, the board can endorse Apple as a challenger in his district and call for Waite’s removal in his.”

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Afew quick thoughts on the just-posted Riley Research Associates statewide Oregon poll on presidential, Senate and ballot matters around the state. (Happily for analysts, crosstabs are included.)

bullet The size of the undecideds in the presidential and Senate contests. After all these months of intensive headlines, we’re struck by the large number of people who have yet to make of their minds, maybe most notably in the presidential contest – on both sides. (Maybe the Republicans especially: Nine polled-for candidates and 35% – among women, 46% – can’t express support for any of them? Not that the Democrats are so very much stronger.) That suggests some serious fluidity in the two contests; a lot is up for grabs and can happen. We’re not quite sure what to make of the seeming runup in former Senator John Edwards’ numbers.

bullet The low Smith numbers. Out of context, the matchup of Republican Senator Gordon Smith and Democrat Jeff Merkley (no Steve Novick numbers, unfortunately) at 38% to 19% looks not bad for Smith. But add the context. Merkley has just entered the race, and remains hardly known outside his Portland-area state House district. (His best numbers are in the Portland metro.) The polling does include Independent John Frohnmayer (7%, which sounds high), who may or may not enter. The undecideds are at 35%, which ought to be a huge red flag for Smith – undecideds usually break for challengers. Smith’s 38% isn’t good. And don’t get us started on his 44% in central and eastern Oregon, which usually runs 65%-75% for upper-ticket Republicans. This has the look of a highly competitive race.

bullet Backers of the ballot measures, 49 (land use) and 50 (tobacco tax), have work to do. We’ve suggested from the start that these measures are passable if a solid campaign for them is staged. But they are not done deals, and the current 58% for the first and 53% for the second, with substantial undecideds, isn’t strong enough to allow their supporters to coast.

UPDATE Should have noted here some of the difficulties with this poll and for that matter with any poll so early – none of them would be suitable for taking to the bank. We find the numbers interesting, but no more than that – very far from conclusive. There’s a useful detailed critique of this one specifically on the MyDD blog by Oregon blogger torridjoe.

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Pat Takasugi

Pat Takasugi

When you have a primary challenge to an incumbent higher-level elected official – U.S. representative, say – from someone who has yet to be elected to anything and isn’t really a public figure, there’s a usual tendency to shuffle it aside as a matter of attention. And, usually, for good reason: Such races only rarely go anywhere.

Matt Salisbury of Nampa, who has said he will run in the Republican primary against Idaho 1st District Representative Bill Sali, has fit the criterion; after a small flurry of attention in early July when he announced, we’ve not heard much more (nor been able to locate a campaign web site, we should add).

We have not been given a lot of rationale for Salisbury’s race, mostly what can be implied from some early comments to the Associated Press, that he “described himself as a ‘Lincoln Republican’ who believes politicians should stay ‘out of your bedroom and out of your social mores.’ ‘Idahoans deserve a candidate who doesn’t represent social engineering, who doesn’t represent anything other than carrying out the public trust.'” (Which seemed to set him up as running to the left of Sali, at least as assessed by Bryan Fischer of the Idaho Values Alliance: “These phrases, of course, are right out of the playbook of secular fundamentalists, who do not want to give religious convictions any place at all in public policy debates.”)

We do now, however, have a more visible public figure associated with the race: Former state Agriculture Director Pat Takasugi, who also is a former chair of the Canyon County Republicans, who has signed on as campaign chairman. Interviewed by the Spokane Spokesman-Review, Takasugi (like Salisbury) didn’t much get into specifics about why Sali ought to be ousted.

What we’ll have to watch at this point is whether he is able to pull other prominent Republicans into Salisbury’s race. That’s not a given; but we’d have to put the Salisbury campaign into a new category at this point.

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Last week Oregon Senator Ron Wyden held town hall meetings in-state about Iraq. Wyden was among the minority of senators opposed to war in Iraq from the beginning, among those most consistently critical. He seemed to barely escape with his skin intact from the Portland event (more than 300 during a noon hour), and Eugene wasn’t a lot kinder: Wyden wasn’t nearly critical enough of the Bush administration to suit these Oregon crowds.

Said one: “Do you have any idea how angry we are at the Democrats?” – for not being sufficiently fierce in opposition. He went on to ask: “How do you sleep at night?” Oregonian columnist David Sarasohn suggested that “the audience members demanding impeachment were the moderates.”

We’re not suggesting here that those 300 were typical of all Oregon voters. But we do think there’s a change in the political center of gravity, that some ideas and concepts not quite mainstream even a few months ago may be becoming so.

Call that preface to today’s announcement from the new Jeff Merkley Democratic campaign for the Senate (against Republican incumbent Gordon Smith) calling for the impeachment of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. (Specifically, he’s supporting the resolution introduced a few weeks back by Washington Representative Jay Inslee.)

“Only through impeachment proceedings will we be able to hold the Attorney General accountable for his actions. I applaud Oregon’s four Democratic Congressional Members for their early leadership in co-sponsoring the Inslee resolution in the House,” he wrote.

Three or four months ago, you might have called that daring. Today, it’s a signal that Merkley’s aiming for the Oregon Democratic mainstream.

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Check out by all means the fine appreciation piece Joel Connelly of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer runs today on Karen Marchioro, a former state Democratic chair and probably as active in party politics recently as then (in the 80s).

When Washington Democrats were wounded and bleeding after the 1980 election, Marchioro led the party through a decade-long recovery, into strong majority status again by the time she retired as chair in 1992. Then came the 1994 crash and Republican triumph. Signal for Marchioro (and her husband, Jeff Smith) to get to work again. And after another decade, Democrats are back.

Connelly: “The lady is tenacious, but lately has slowly given ground to the most relentless of adversaries: She has cancer. It’s time for an appreciation – of Marchioro, to be sure, but, by implication, of those across the spectrum who keep a democracy renewing itself and never crawl into a corner after losing.”

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Don Gillispie

Don Gillispie

We’ve made, on occasion or two, skeptical comments about the proposal to build a private nuclear power plant at Bruneau. Leaving aside the wisdom of the idea (which we haven’t much gotten into), we’ve simply been doubtful that it’s an idea likely to see fruition, possibly ever and almost certainly not in the next decade.

And Alternate Energy Holdings, which is aiming toward such a project, says it intends to build a good deal sooner than that. (Our take is that any private nuclear project that can get federal approvals is less than a decade from inception will have worked a miracle in modern times.)

That said, we found interesting this commentary, enclosed in an email (through a public relations firm) from Don Gillispie, the CEO of Alternate Energy. Consider it an alternative view for your Sunday reading.

Comparisons show Idaho Energy Complex a big economic boost for Idaho

The recent layoffs at Micron are troubling, but offshoring is part of today’
s global economy. To survive in this new business environment, Idaho needs
to attract businesses that can never be outsourced.

By its very nature, energy production cannot be moved. Any region that
invests in energy production will enjoy steady, well-paying jobs as long as
there’s demand. Nationally, energy use is expected to increase 30 percent by
2030, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

We are proposing a 1,600-megawatt nuclear plant in Owyhee County, the Idaho
Energy Complex (www.idahoenergycomplex.com), with 500 full-time employees
when built sometime in the next 10 years. Only nuclear provides the
reliable, low-cost, emissions-free energy needed to grow and maintain our
quality of life. The IEC could supply two-thirds of Idaho’s total energy
needs.

The economic benefits of America’s 104 nuclear plants are significant. Each
relies on skilled employees with average annual salary of $80,000. Spin-off
economic activity provides a steady flow of tax revenues.

To understand the economic impact of the IEC, we can look at studies by the
Nuclear Energy Institute (www.nei.org). Some of these plants are bigger than
the IEC and some smaller, but the figures are informative:

· Susquehanna Power Plant (Pennsylvania, 2,275 megawatts). The plant’s 2005
statewide economic impact exceeded $1.16 billion and direct and indirect
labor income was $332.8 million. This station created state and local tax
payments of $50.1 million and made $56 million in statewide purchases.
· Grand Gulf Nuclear Station (Mississippi, 1,207 megawatts). The plant’s
2005 statewide total economic impact was $537 million in 2004 and direct and
indirect labor income was $78.7 million. This station created state and
local tax payments of nearly $30 million and made $1.8 million in statewide
purchases.
· The Wolf Creek Generating Station (Kansas, 1,200 megawatts). The plant’s
total impact on the state economy was $680 million in 2003 and direct and
indirect labor income was $129.3 million. This plant created state and local
tax payments of $30 million and made $5.6 million in statewide purchases.
· Indian Point Energy Center (New York, 1,978 megawatts). The plant’s 2002
total statewide economic impact exceeded $811.7 million and the direct and
indirect labor income was $211 million. This station created state and local
tax payments of nearly $49.7 million and made $71.7 million in statewide
purchases.

While we are commissioning a professional economic study, we conservatively
estimate the IEC will provide labor income of $75 million, tax payments of
$40 million and $10 million in purchases. We also anticipate a total
statewide economic impact of $750 million, which could grow to $1 billion in
2015 dollars. We are working with Idaho State University to set up a
training program, as we want to give first chance at jobs to residents of
Owyhee County and the Duck Valley Shoshone-Paiute Tribes.

The IEC will have other benefits. We plan the nation’s first cogeneration
facility, using excess reactor heat to produce biofuels from local crops and
ag waste. We calculate we could produce ethanol for a dollar a gallon,
lowering the price of motor fuel in Idaho by around 13 cents a gallon.

The IEC will also provide some $50 million in credits for carbon trading.
Federal regulations are increasingly restricting how much carbon industry
can emit. Businesses that cut back on carbon, or create goods and services
without emitting carbon, are entitled to a credit, which they can sell to a
business that cannot meet carbon restrictions. As time passes, there will be
many Idaho industries that will need to purchase these credits to stay in
business.

While there will be much discussion about the environmental advantages of
nuclear, we believe it’s important to keep the economic dimension in mind –
especially in these times of uncertainty.

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About time some journalist documented this: Whether immigrants here illegally are, as alleged, filling up the nation’s jails. What they are actually doing is about what you’d expect: Keeping pace, in terms of jail space and type of offenses, with our native population.

Today’s Oregonian story on the subject focuses, naturally, on Oregon and secondarily Washington, but the results implicitly ought to apply similarly elsewhere. From the story: “In Oregon state prisons and Portland metro-area jails, presumed illegal immigrants make up a small percentage of those behind bars, and their crime rates are on par with the general population, statistics show. The types of crimes that send them to prison also compares with the general inmate population, according to a review of state records.”

It’s about what you might expect from a population that, on one hand, wants to keep its collective head low and avoid encounters with the authorities, but that also has little money, sometimes desperate living conditions and may have limited understanding of the place they’ve reached.

Which is not to say there isn’t a problem here. But it does give some useful parameters within which to rationally, rather than emotionally, come to grips with it. A highly recommended read.

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We suggested some weeks ago, when House Speaker Jeff Merkley entered the race the the U.S. Senate next year, that over time, odds were that he and earlier entrant Steve Novick likely would have the Democratic field mostly to themselves.

And since then, other prospects indeed have been dropping off, including state Senator Alan Bates of Ashland and now Jeff Golden, who had gone so far as to leave a job behind to consider the run.

Golden was a host on Jefferson Public Radio at Medford, and quit that job to consider the race. He may go back to it (it’s not yet been filled) in coming weeks.

Could be that someone else in additional to Merkley and Novick wind up on the Democratic primary ballot. But theirs are likely to be the only candidacies of substance.

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We haven’t much gotten into the Gordon Smith/Dick Cheney/Klamath fish killoff story since it first broke, in part because the details have been covered thoroughly elsewhere. But a story this morning in the Bend Bulletin does suggest a thought about the way Oregon Senator Smith is handling the matter, a pattern to look for in the year-plus to come.

To oversimplify, the issue concerns the low water flows in the Klamath River in southwestern Oregon and northern California, not enough water for both the farmers in the area and the fish in the river. Federal action – directed, we now know, by Vice President Cheney, partly on behalf of Smith (and with his approval) while Smith was up for re-election in 2002 – led to water delivery to the farmers. Some months later, an estimated 77,000 salmon in the Klamath died – the largest single die-off of fish ever recorded in the western United States. Cheney’s role in this has become the subject of a U.S. House committee inquiry.

Smith has defended the federal action, which was generally popular around the Klamath area but less so in urban areas – many found the fish die-off troubling at least. The Eugene Register Guard reported that “Smith, who pushed the Bush administration to help get water for farmers’ potato crops and alfalfa fields, said he recalled that the salmon ‘died of some gill disease, which is not uncommon and happens periodically.'” That (and his statement that the fish died a year and a half after the water shutdown, as opposed to the correct six months) has led to at least a limited firestorm. Blogs on the left have taken after Smith on these points, but so did the Register Guard, which editorialized: “The problem with Sen. Gordon Smith’s defense of the Bush administration’s 2002 decision to divert Klamath Lake water for irrigation isn’t that the Oregon Republican is wobbly on the facts. It’s that he’s willing to bend and selectively omit the facts to justify ideologically driven political positions.”

And: “In a subsequent interview with The Oregonian, Smith also said he doubts there was a connection between the salmon die-off and last year’s near-shutdown of commercial fishing off the Oregon Coast. While there were certainly other factors involved, fishery officials have cited the 2002 fish kill as one of the problems that contributed to the depletion of Klamath River runs. Smith has shown a willingness to overlook inconvenient facts before. Last year, he and Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, promoted a bill that would have accelerated salvage logging and reforestation after fires, dismissing a study by Oregon State University researchers that raised serious questions about the practice.”

Bringing us to today’s piece by the Washington correspondent of the Bend Bulletin. After noting that “Smith in recent days has denied a connection between the water diversion and fish deaths,” he quotes Smith this way: “I’ve never said there wasn’t a connection . . . I’m just saying you can’t blame it entirely on the diversion as being the exclusive cause of the salmon die-off.”

A backing off and a search for middle ground, in other words – a move away from a hard position toward something definable as centrist ground.

Check for patterns.

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dark cell On matters financial, basics are basics, and we get into trouble – as in our current housing market – when we talk ourselves into the idea that fiscal wizardry can solve our problems. Consider this a cautionary note as state leaders in Idaho, one of the nation’s top lock-em-up prison states, confronts the question of cost.

Prison costs are rising in Idaho (as they are most everywhere, to some extent) and the fiscal conservatives in Idaho government aren’t pleased at the idea of spending the money. A Spokane Spokesman-Review article on the subject, noting that hundreds of Idaho prisoners already are locked up out of state and possibly 5,500 more beds will be needed in the next decade, outlines the strategy being developed by Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter: Outsource it. It quotes Corrections Director Bent Reinke as saying, “There’s a desire by both the board of correction and the governor’s office to have Idaho’s next prison be privatized.” (The idea would be that, as in Texas, it would hold out of state as well as in-state prisoners.)

Otter: “It’s really a question of capital . . . We just simply, without absolutely busting the budget, we can’t make that kind of capital available as we need it.” Private enterprise, he said, “can go out in the marketplace and kind of work their magic.”

The red flag should be the phrase “work their magic,” because in the end there’s no magic to be worked.

Stop and think for a moment about this sentence from the chair of the corrections board: “The fact is, it saves the taxpayers between $250 million and $350 million in capital outlay, because whether we build the prison or we lease the prison, we’re still paying X-number of dollars a day to feed the prisoners and house the prisoners.” Let’s parse that. Of course she is right that the state will have to pay to feed and house the prisoners. But if the state – ultimately – isn’t paying for construction of a new prison, then who would? Would a business, or its investors, simply eat that capital cost? Of course not: As with any overhead any business (retailer or manufacturer or any other) incurs, it will have to be passed on to the customer. And that’s the state. And there’s an additional cost any private provider would have that the state doesn’t: It would be obliged to make profit for its investors.

So how, exactly, is it that state would save money?

In the case of at least some Texas prisons, we know the answer: At least some private providers cut their expenses to the point that prisoners sicken and die, and any efforts at rehabilitation of prisoners – most of whom will eventually be back on Idaho’s streets – are completely ignored. These places are factories for production of hard-core cases, making an already bad situation much worse. And so we can expect that either the state will pay more for its private prison contracts (similar to public costs plus profit) or else will continue to see gruesome stories about the results of underfunding (as we already have begun to see).

We’ve argued for some years that private prisons, a 19th century idea, should have stayed in that century. An overview a few years back from a report in Mother Jones magazine:

Not since slavery has an entire American industry derived its profits exclusively from depriving human beings of their freedom — not, at least, until a handful of corporations and Wall Street investors realized they could make millions from what some critics call “dungeons for dollars.” Since the 1980s, when privatization became the rage for many government services, companies like CCA and its rival, Wackenhut Corporation, have been luring elected officials with a worry-free solution to prison overcrowding. Claiming they can lock people up cheaper than government can, the companies build cells on speculation, then peddle the beds to whatever local or state government needs a quick fix for its growing criminal population. . . .

Over the past decade, private prisons have boomed. Corporations now control 122,900 beds for U.S. inmates, up at least eightfold since 1990. The reason is simple: With anti-drug laws and stiffer mandatory sentences pushing the prison population above two million, and governments strapped for capital to build new cells, for-profit prisons seem to offer plenty of cells at below- market prices. “If it could not be done cheaper than the government does it, then we wouldn’t be in business now,” says Brian Gardner, warden of the CCA prison in Youngstown. “We believe in giving the taxpayer the best deal.”

In fact, research indicates that governments save little or no money by contracting out their prison business. In 1996, the U.S. General Accounting Office reviewed five studies of private prisons and found no “substantial evidence” that for-profit institutions save taxpayer dollars. A more recent report commissioned by the U.S. attorney general notes that private prisons attempt to save money by cutting back on staffing, security, and medical care.

Magic? There’s no magic here. In the end, Harry Potter isn’t going to create any money, or new prisons.

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