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Posts published in August 2007

A hatch of termites

We've been uneasy about the state of the national economy for - well, pretty much the whole decade. In recent years some of the normal leading economic indicators look good, but underneath we note the persistence of termites chewing away at the foundations.

Recommended Sunday reading today has to do with one of those batches of termites: The steady transition from well-paid to low-paid work. A Seattle Times analysis says that "Observers suggest several reasons for the shift toward lower-paying new jobs: the long-term move away from manufacturing toward services; higher-wage jobs being outsourced overseas; and workers in a globalized economy having less leverage to negotiate raises. . . . In any case, working full time in an in-demand occupation no longer guarantees financial stability — particularly in a pricey area such as central Puget Sound."

Non-local KOPT

Would be worth knowing more of the background of what is going on at KOPT-AM in Eugene, a liberal talk radio station which this week dropped all of its local-based programming. A one-time news staff of nine had been cut back and this week the last three staffers' jobs were eliminated. Oregon Media Insiders noted that "Their news department had just come off winning best news for the 2nd year in a row, and nabbed all kinds of other awards as well."

KOPT will continue airing national Air America programs; Insiders said that the station is up for sale, and presumably might change format if sold.

The Eugene Register Guard's editorial on this had some useful background: "KOPT has a curious corporate lineage. It is owned by Churchill Media, the president of which is Suzanne Arlie. Arlie's husband, John Musumeci, first became widely known in Eugene as a principal of the Gang of Nine, an initially anonymous group that lampooned liberal members of the Eugene City Council in a series of sometimes funny, sometimes cruel cartoons published as paid advertisements in The Register-Guard. It seemed odd - to some, suspicious - that Churchill would launch a radio station aimed at the very audience whose toes were still sore from being trod upon by Musumeci."

All sorts of conclusions are being drawn out of all this. Some look on it as a local business conspiracy to drive out liberal talk. Insiders argued the transition is "proving that even in a liberal town like Eugene, you can't sell Air America." (There's an intense debate over this worth reading on the Insiders' post on KOPT.) Neither argument really sounds entirely right; in fact, they almost seem to cancel each other. (Should be noted that Air America has a fairly solid roster of 60 stations nationally carrying broadcasting, and its Portland outlet, KPOJ-AM, is one of its most successful.)

The Register-Guard pointed out that there's no locally-based conservative talk either, and concluded: "The core problem is not one of ideology, but of economics. That makes the problem worse. If KOPT's local format had failed because its political orientation was rejected by the market, another station could succeed with a different political mix. The sad fact is that stations with local broadcasters reporting local news and taking local calls have trouble selling enough ads to sustain themselves."

Odds are, given today's standard economic model for radio, they're right. Just maybe, we need a new economic model.

When interests conflict (or not)

Jim Tibbs

Jim Tibbs

This week's attempt at a Boise mayoral campaign attack - which didn't go over very well - was a case of failure to fully engage mind before opening mouth. It has set Council member Jim Tibbs back in his effort to unseat Mayor Dave Bieter, and not just in this instance: His effort this time went over so poorly it likely will undermine his next attempt too.

The Tibbs press release said this:

. . . Tibbs presented documents outlining Mayor Bieter’s proposal to pay the Gallatin Group over $65,000 in taxpayer money while failing to disclose his personal campaign business relationship with the company.

“This is a case of political payback and graft like I have never seen in Boise.” Said Tibbs “To have The Gallatin Group on Dave Bieter’s payroll and ask for $65,000 in a city contract on their behalf is outrageous- it doesn’t come close to passing the smell test.”

Jim Tibbs has asked the Ethics Commission report by August 15th.

“Mayor Biter [sic] has made a thinly veiled attempt at ethics that I don’t think the citizen of Boise will buy.” Tibbs added

This has already been effectively parsed in an Idaho Statesman editorial (which is worth the read) and elsewhere; here we'll try not to cover all that ground again, but aspects of it do call for a wider view and an exclamation point.


Krummel is out

Jerry Krummel

Jerry Krummel

As in other instances, not a shock, the announcement today that Oregon Representative Jerry Krummel, R-Wilsonville, will not run again in 2008. Not a shock, but maybe the sheer number of departing legislators is beginning to startle. (Merkley, Minnis, Brown, Gordly, Scott, Deckert - due to employment change - probably Nelson . . .) By comparison, few retirements have been announced in either Idaho or Washington. And bear in mind that retirements need not be announced for most of another year.

Krummel has served five terms and been elected five times. He won in 2006 with 58.8% over a desultory Democratic challenge, and the same percentage in 2004 - solid enough albeit not an indication of prohibitive partisan strength. If 2008 is another Democratic wave year, might this be an open seat Democrats could realistically target? Very possibly.

Over on the Republican Oregon Catalyst blog, comes the concerned comment: "Hmmm... are any Democrats retiring?" Answer is, yes, but evidently not as many, or in as many sensitive locations.

Measuring the Ada burbs

Put this in the realm of what-if more than prediction. But those of us looking for a clear metric of the political stance of western Ada and eastern Canyon counties in Idaho - these being a central pivot to the state's politics - might in 2008 possibly have one of the best such measures in years.

Disclaimers first: These places are Republican, solidly so, with scant evidence of more than tiny scraps of partisan opposition in recent years. A strong operating majority will self-describe as "conservative." But that's not near the end of the issue, because there are all sorts of conservatives in Idaho.

For these purposes, we might call them "anti-fund" and "limited invest" conservatives, as measured by their stands on such things as the new College of Western Idaho, mass transit and other urban projects. For some of these conservative Republicans, these projects and others make sound business and planning sense; for others, they're tax and spend and simply anathema.

Representative Mike Moyle, R-Star, the House majority leader (and influential in the caucus beyond the title), is a clear-cut member of the "anti-fund" group. Now, we're hearing, there's a move afoot among Ada Republicans to primary him next year - with Eagle Mayor Nancy Merrill. The insurgent case would be that Moyle represents a rural perspective that's increasingly out of line with his ever-more urbanized suburban district. If she ran (and we have no information that she plans to, though she's evidently getting encouragement) that would be a contest between two locally strong figures offering a clear distinction, and answer to a question: What is the nature of west-Ada conservatism?

ADDED THOUGHT We're pondering also the effect that a change in Idaho's Republican primaries - that is, prospectively closing them - would have on the race. Would it have the effect you might initially expect, or something quite different?

CORRECTION To refer to the College of Western Idaho (somehow, we errantly wrote "Treasure Valley Community College," which is a different and currently existing institution at Ontario). Thanks to a reader for noting the error.

Every year a bad fire year

Maybe it feels more extreme in Idaho, since Idaho is so overwhelmingly the center of big, serious wildfires (so far) this year. But we suspect the point Idaho Statesman writer Rocky Barker is making on his blog does have broader application.

After an interview with a manager at the National Interagency Fire Center (at Boise), Barker was prompted to write this: "With six out of the eight years among the worst 10 fire seasons since 1960, firefighters are living, he said in a new world. It’s a world where every year is what we call a bad fire season. The indefinitely bad season, he called it. I am hearing fire experts tell me they are seeing fire behavior they’ve never seen before. That’s scary. The last time I heard that was in late August, 1988 when fire bosses told me the same thing."

Wayne Scott out

Wayne Scott

Wayne Scott

What a sea change in Oregon legislative leadership - Kate Brown, Jeff Merkley, now Wayne Scott, leader of the House Republicans. The legislature is going to be a different place.

Scott is a major figure - was more so in the last term (when he was not only House majority leader, but also co-chair of the budget committee) than this (when his tight caucus discipline still shaped a good deal of what the House did, and didn't do). But still one of the key figures at the Statehouse.

Announcement of his departure - next month from leadership, but not till term's end from the House - brings to immediate question the matter of who replaces him as caucus leader. We're more intrigued, though, about what happens to his house seat. Scott is a formidable enough figure to remain strong for re-election, but the district has become marginal enough to allow for a closely-contested fight in 2008. (Democrats last year offered a young but energetic scrapper, Mike Caudle, against Scott; will he be back?) With control of the chamber hanging on a single seat (and this district is more marginal than either Brown's or Merkley's), this is another place to pay attention.

Merkley’s entry

Jeff Merkley

Jeff Merkley

One of the political assets attributed the Oregon House Speaker Jeff Merkley, the just-in candidate for U.S. Senate, has to do with his ascension to the office he has now - in other words, Democratic control of the Oregon House. When he became House minority - Democratic - leader in September 2003, there were 25 Democrats in the 60-seat chamber. Now, there are 31, just enough to take control. As leader of the House Democrats, Merkley can reasonably take some credit for that. The question arises: How much credit?

It's a subject that may be revisited and recalibrated over the next year - just how strong are those political skills? - as Merkley rolls the dice on a big move. He looks ahead, as this begins, toward favorable odds toward winning the nomination (we'd not call it a done deal, as some may) and some great unknowns in the general. He has substantial assets to call upon, and incumbent Republican Gordon Smith has serious liabilities. But the path is long and twisting.

We can say with greater confidence that the Senate contest is taking on a definable shape, after seeming for months something like an amorphous blob. It starts to look, on the Democratic side, like a probable two-man contest probably - from what we've seen of both Merkley and already-in candidate Steve Novick - energetic but not bloody. (The Novick-offered and Merkley-accepted proffer of a series of debates suggests as much.) These two could emerge from a primary unsullied by each other, and (one of them) stronger in the general for the effort.

(A comment on Blue Oregon reflects an inquiry we've heard elsewhere already: "Would it be fair at this point to identify Merkley with the "centrist" branch of the Dems, and to identify Novick with the 'liberal' branch of the Dems?" Our basic take: Pending fuller descriptions of viewpoints once of the two of them get started, we think such distinctions would be splitting hairs, and that the two overall probably aren't very far apart.)

On the Republican side, we continue to watch for a primary challenge to Smith: We think it more likely than not to emerge at some point.

That sounds like a lethal prescription for Smith, but it may not be. The limits of his residual strength in Oregon may be uncharted. And a number of independent Oregonians may be hit by a stark element of the choice in this Senate race - the election of a Democrat to this seat will eliminate Republicans completely from the ranks of statewide office holders and move the state hard toward one-party dominance; and some significant number of independents may wind up blanching at that.

Or not. A lot will depend on attitude in 2008, and we aren't there yet. And if this sounds like a waffly post, that's because we figure waffly predictions are the right kind, in this case, for now.

A MERKLEY CATCH We'll not waffle on this, however: Merkley's campaign picked up strong help today for its web activities in bringing aboard Carla of Loaded Orygun, one of the strongest political blogs in the Northwest. Call it an early indication that somebody over there knows what they're doing.