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Posts published in September 2007

Uneasy predictors

Never, never is it safe to predict conclusively who will get the nod when there's an appointment, by a governor or president or some other official, in the works. Such as today's appointment to the Idaho Supreme Court.

The Idaho Supreme Court, with its most recent departure - Justice Linda Copple Trout - lost the last justice who is a woman, and who has strong legal and personal experience in the northern part of the state - anywhere north of Boise. Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter had before him four candidates, two of whom were women (both, Darla Williamson and Juneal Kerrick, experienced district judges) and a veteran a well-connected attorney from the Panhandle (Kenneth Howard of Coeur d'Alene). We'd have guessed one of those three for the slot.

Otter's choice: The fourth, an Ada County district judge, Joel Horton.

Not that we have a problem with that: Horton is a well-regarded judge, and we're of the opinion that such qualities as geography and gender should take back seat to professional considerations.

A message to all those angling to figure who Otter will (likely) pick as the new U.S. senator from Idaho: Good luck.

The South Lake Union Trolley . . .

streetcar Yeah, that's the acronym, because that's what the new trolley in Seattle is called - it being a trolley and it running south of Lake Union down to downtown at Westlake Center . . . and Lake Union being, after all, a much more useful designator of location than downtown (or Cascade, which the private developer - Vulcan, Paul Allen's company, which being local ought to know better - insists on calling the area even though no one else does) . . . even though officialdom tried calling it not the Trolley but the Streetcar. (Contractors said that any effort to specifically avoid the acronym was just urban legend, but who knows?)

So the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports today, "in the old Cascade neighborhood in South Lake Union, they're waiting for the SLUT. At the Kapow! Coffee house on Harrison Street, they're selling T-shirts that read 'Ride the SLUT.'"

Starts running in December.

At Merkley’s kickoff

Jeff Merkley at Portland

Jeff Merkley at Portland

Ten minutes or so before Senate candidate Jeff Merkley arrived to speak tonight at his campaign kickoff, Portland City Councilor Sam Adams delivered his endorsement and introduction. He was sharp, quick, funny, energetic and articulate; even absent any other evidence, you could see right off why his political skills are so highly regarded; he was very easy to envision as a big-city mayor.

He was followed by Barbara Roberts; her energetic and happy delivery made it easy to see, right there, why she had done well enough in politics to get elected governor.

Merkley himself - after rolling in a little late but also a little dramatically in his blue-green campaign bus (all properly painted and ready to roll) - seemed a little less fully-formed than those two. There is in his voice a halting quality, a little catch, that for a second or two (no more) periodically makes you wonder if he forgot what he was about to say - except that he then continues and rolls on, and builds. He lacked a certain smoothness those others have (and Gordon Smith does, and Steve Novick). Something about his delivery seems subtly to undercut some of the emotion he builds; something in his style suggests a modesty calling into question whether he should be doing all this.

Such matters of surface style, though, are quibbles - the kind of thing that can be smoothed out in the months that will follow campaign Day 1, and may be. The larger requisites for a senator were there for Merkley, as he launched his first campaign swing. (It will continue south and around toward Medford, out to the coast, and elsewhere this week; a few weeks from now, it will be continued east of the Cascades.)

He had rationale, to one thing: A reason for his campaign, one that didn't simply rely on opposition to the incumbent (though he didn't shrink from blasts in that direction either). He focused in his talk on opportunity, talked at some length about his father and the difference between a society of opportunism as opposed to one of opportunity; it created a sound frame for much of what he wanted to say, and he seemed to bring considerable passion to it. Merkley has often seemed a little diffident, not notably passionate, but he easily breaks through that. Passion, rationale and coherence are there.

Energy and connection seemed to be there, too. Candidates for major office need vast supplies of energy, and Merkley did not appear lacking. The crowd (of 200 or so, gathered by sunset in the parking lot of the labor building behind Madison's Grill on 11th Street) was obviously sympathetic, of course, but some of them wanted to be wooed - one woman held a sign saying simply "impeach." (Impeachment was not a subject Merkley raised or alluded to, though he doubtless knows that his fellow Democrat in the race, Novick, plans to do so tomorrow - and it would have been a crowd pleaser, in this central Portland location, if he had.) Still, he showed some ability to reach out into the crowd and work it effectively. Campaigning skills are evidently there.

About eight months will pass till the primary election, and (if Merkley is the nominee) close to six more till the general against Smith. Merkley has a lot of what he needs; he has plenty of time to develop the rest.

Will Craig thank the ACLU?

The attempt by Idaho Senator Larry Craig to withdraw his guilty plea in Minneapolis has picked up a major ally. But will he thank the American Civil Liberties Union?

The ACLU's amicus brief (a copy is posted on the Spokesman-Review web site, and probably elsewhere too) actually has a strong case to make against the Minnesota law under which Craig was convicted. It starts this way.

The Minnesota law under which the defendant in this case was charged, and to which he pled guilty, applies both to speech protected by the United States Constitution, and to speech which is unprotected. That is true of the very words of the law, and it is true of its application in the context of this case.
The First Amendment and the Due Process Clause of the Constitution require that a law which covers both protected and unprotected speech:
1. not be so overbroad as to pose a real and substantial threat of ensnaring
protected as well as unprotected speech;
2. provide clear standards, to law enforcement and to the public, about where it
may be legitimately applied and where it may not;
3. be well crafted to serve the legitimate regulation of speech and not to ensnare
protected speech.
It is very doubtful that, on the record as it appears so far, the prosecution in this case can meet any of those requirements. Given that, there is a very real possibility that this defendant pled guilty under circumstances in which the Constitution would not have permitted a conviction. That strongly suggests that in the interests of justice, the defendant should be able to withdraw his plea.
But there is an even more powerful reason to relieve the defendant of his plea
here. Almost 30 years ago, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that the law involved here was unconstitutionally overbroad and vague. It preserved the law by restricting its application to “fighting words,” a restriction which would almost certainly make any conviction in this case a near impossibility.

Changes nothing politically. Could be very interesting legally.

TV in regional season

We won't guess at what may come of this, or why it happened to launch in Walla Walla, but the new project called Blue Washington TV, up and running on line, does seem worthy of note.

The "blue" in the name gives you the hint as to political angle. The programming it offers comes from such sources from public broadcasting (Bill Moyers, Charlie Rose, NOW) to Comedy Central (shows from the Daily Show). Not a lot of regional content, so far, but we wouldn't be surprised if some eventually appears.

Maybe the need in Walla Walla was a little greater . . .

Seven or eight

Susan Morgan

Susan Morgan

There's some ambiguity about whether Representative Donna Nelson should be counted as an opt-out for another term in the Oregon House. Depending on how you count her, the current number of dropouts from the House Republican caucus of 29, so far, is either seven or eight - about a quarter.

The latest to announce, this last week, was Susan Morgan of Myrtle Creek, who has five terms in the House.

That seat probably is not in partisan jeopardy: Her Roseburg-based district (many of the people in it live near I-5 around Roseburg south to Canyonville and beyond) votes strongly Republican. And a replacement, Roseburg City Councilor Tim Freeman, is already lining up to replace her.

But open seats even like this one are more effort to deal with than are safe incumbent seats. So you can understand what lies behind the comment when a House Republican spokesman was asked by the Oregonian about the prospect of further retirements, and responded, "God, I hope not."


Great line today in a social perspective piece in the Twin Falls Times News, about the arrival and impact of people moving from California to Idaho (with some special note about the Magic Valley).

This comment jumped out: "Walk into any rural coffee shop in southern Idaho and you're likely to find a table or two of seed-capped farmers complaining about Californians liberalizing Idaho politics."

A nice insight, there, in terms of the run of conversation in the area: No doubt that notion, that all these California newcomers showing up in Idaho, are bringing liberal ideas and politics to the area, does crop up in many coffee shop discussions.

The writer is wise enough not to let the matter go at that, accurately pointing out that the evidence of political change in Idaho in the last couple of decades is toward conservative Republican. (The only place anywhere near the Magic Valley to the contrary is in the Ketchum-Hailey area.) And concludes, "In short, conservative Californians are moving to Idaho to be near like-minded people."

Our take as well, matched up in reverse in the Seattle and Portland metro areas, which seem to have been drawing more liberal California expatriates - partly on the basis of the reputations of those places.

But the rural coffee shop attitudes may have their impacts: They discourage any sense of complacency, and ramp up concern about the outside world - and make the state, even apart from the effect of the newcomers, more conservative purely among those who were there to begin with.

That coffee shop comment, which sounds at least spot on, is worth some thought.

Medford sun

Maybe there's something here - at Medford - that some others might usefully check out: A massive solar power farm located at a sewage treatment plant which would take up a large chunk of the city's power requirements.

At the moment, this is an all-Oregon thing: The company putting this together for the city of Medford is the SunEnergy Power Corporation, which has been doing solar work internationally. Its' self-description on its web site: "SunEnergy Power Corporation develops investment portfolios of distributed commercial-scale solar electric power projects in the U.S. to directly fund and implement humanitarian renewable energy projects in remote, rural regions of the world."

And Medford?

From the news report: "The idea came about after Medford City Councilman Al Densmore approached SunEnergy Power Corp. and asked the company to submit a draft proposal. The solar panels would generate about 80 percent of the power the water reclamation plant purchases from Pacific Power. There would be no capital or maintenance costs to the city. The plan is projected to save the city about $33,000 annually in its first year, $46,000 annually in its sixth year, and around $154,000 annually in its 30th year."

Smith’s backers

The point hasn't much come up, hasn't really been in dispute, but it ought to be noted as another factor in the upcoming Oregon Senate race: Republican incumbent Gordon Smith does have his party's organization and leadership solidly behind him. We continue to suspect that a primary challenge may be in the offing, but if it does it will not develop with significant support from within the party structure or Republican elected officials.

We can be pretty of that because of the corps of backers the Smith campaign listed today: In his "2008 campaign leadership team," Smith lists most of the Oregon Republican upper crust, reaching back to former Senator Mark Hatfield, and including such people as legislative leaders and party leadership. The core appears solidly in his camp - a point to bear in mind as the race develops.

More attention

Is there some reason Oregon and Washington now, abruptly, seem to be getting a lot more attention from presidential candidates?

Word just out that Democrat John Edwards is coming to western Oregon (for two stops, once at Seaside and again possibly at Portland), following up on a Washington visit. That's close after a large-scale Barack Obama visit to Portland.

These states have been back-burnered so far this cycle. But maybe they're picking up.

Initiating a search

Washington courtsOn reading the Washington Supreme Court opinion in Pasco v. Shaw - released today - our first question was why someone in the property rights world hadn't tried something like this before. Or maybe that was because the issues involved had been thought through better, before . . .

Because the basic ideas seems right up the alley of those property rights groups: A constitutional challenge to all those state and local rules and regulations involving inspection of building quality and related matters. Since this involves government entities coming onto private property without a reasonable belief that something criminal was going on.

The problems being alleged were certainly significant enough.

For example, the landlords involved in this case owned rental units for which there was no working source of heat. Tenants were told they had to provide their own heat via portable electric space heaters. In addition, kitchens contained no vent, hood, fan, or window, despite the fact that natural gas was used to heat them. In one building, windows were not properly installed, allowing weather to enter the wall. Plumbing was in such disrepair that a bucket had to be used to catch water draining from a bathroom sink. One unit was infested with cockroaches. Some units had unsound wall finishes and warped or buckled walls.

One of the Shaws' tenants complained that they were refusing to make necessary repairs to her apartment. For some time, neither the heat nor the air conditioning worked. The doors did not open unless she resorted to using a knife or plastic card. Both the bathroom and kitchen sinks drained into buckets. The shower wall was collapsing and the kitchen and bathroom floors were rotting. When the tenant demanded either repairs, placement into a better rental unit, or refund of her deposit so she could move out, the apartment manager told her that if she continued to complain, he would have her deported.


Something local

And now and then, an encouraging reminder that not absolutely everything in the broadcast media has been swept up by the corporate megagiants:

This report in the Salem Statesman-Journal about Ken Cartwright, a small businessman at Stayton who's launching a new local radio station (KENC 1620 AM), very much the old-fashioned way.

For the past month, Cartwright has been setting up the low-powered AM station, which features country and bluegrass music and local news. The studio, set up next to Cartwright's Music and Repair Shop, is at 329 N Third Ave. in downtown Stayton. A large picture window gives passersby a glimpse into the world of radio, where in the mornings from 6:30 to 9:30, Cartwright entertains, informs and runs contests.

Since early August, Cartwright has been talking with city officials from Aumsville to Sublimity, searching for locations for small transmitters. The first transmitter, on the roof of his business, can cover from Highway 22 to about the south edge of town.