Nancy Pelosi

Nancy Pelosi

She’s not from Oregon, sure, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was stunningly tone-deaf when she visited Portland this week. What she wanted to talk about was health care and health records, and her visit to the Oregon Health & Science University was intended to underscore that. And that part of it went off well enough.

But did neither she nor anyone on her staff pay the slightest attention to what the people on the ground – in Oregon – wanted to discuss? That was a rather different topic, federal timber payments, which have been cut off by congressional action and the absence of which have created genuine crises in a bunch of counties, especially in the southwest corner of the state.

Her only substantive comment about that was, “Where we go from here is to see how to phase this system out.”

Not good enough, not nearly – these are communities in the midst of crisis. Republicans, including Senator Gordon Smith and Representative Greg Walden, promptly (and rightly) pounced on her comments. The Democrats, who ordinarily would have been happy with a visit from a House speaker, weren’t thrilled either, though they tried to spread around blame for the cuts. (You had House members like Peter DeFazio pointing fingers at the Senate.)

The more pungent and pointed response comes from down Medford way, where the loss of timber money has bitten something fierce, at Rogue Pundit. That post is worth reading; it concludes, “Pelosi wasn’t being candid about the phasing out of timber payments. The payments have ended, and the legislation to create a phase-out is languishing. This year, that can’t be blamed on the Republicans.”

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Here’s some of what Washington initiative king Tim Eyman had to say about yesterday’s special legislative session, in which lawmakers passed two bills aimed at reducing or deferring taxes:

Your phone calls and letters and emails to legislators brought about this special session. And your phone calls and letters and emails reminded legislators the people were watching. They knew any shenanigans and chicanery would be exposed.

And it worked out beautifully. Even if for only a day, the people pushed and Olympia responded.

Is it what the voters want? No, the voters want a real 1% cap on property tax increases. Gregoire’s bill promises a 1% cap but it doesn’t fulfill that promise. But hey, we’re dealing with Gregoire and the Democrats – they’re amateurs when it comes to tax relief – it is not in their nature – so we’ll take what we can get, even a bill with a huge loophole in it. We’re glass-is-half-full kind of guys. We can’t help but be ecstatic by the results of this special session and you should be too.

There’s something especially delicious about this: I-747 received 58% voter support. But in the special session, it received 91% support from politicians in the state house. It received 81% support from politicians in the state senate. So on this day, politicians supported it by a much higher rate than the voters did. And it was signed into law by a tax-hiking Democrat Governor. What’s not to love about that?

Destined for much republication . . .

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intertior, Washington statehouse Yeah, it’s problematic, trying to do a whole lot of complex stuff in the space of one day, which is what the Washington Legislature is trying to do today. The good news is that it tips their hands – we get to see what’s coming next, in the regular session starting January 14, when they can stretch out and roll.

Today’s one-day (that’s the theory; we’ll know in a few hours if they make it) special session was called for an unusual purpose, to reverse a decision by the state supreme court. In reviewing Initiative 747, passed in 2002 and imposing 1% property tax limitations, the court essentially held that the voters didn’t know what they were doing, and the measure was therefore void. It was one of the least well thought-out rulings by that court in recent times (we can’t think offhand of one in years more poorly reasoned), and it sent the state’s property tax crowd into a spin. And got local governments, some of them considering immediate tax increases, interested too.

Since this is the stuff tax revolts are made of, Governor Chris Gregoire called a special session to install the content of I-747 into state code by legislative action, and also pass a bill intended to help hardship cases in property tax payments. You should recall here that neither Gregoire nor most other Democrats were in favor of I-747 in the first place.

This morning, public radio reporter Austin Jenkins asked the Democratic leadership a sound question, one implicitly referenced in a number of columns and editorials: “Do you see the 1 percent cap as good and sensible public policy, or do you see that you’re here today to enact the will of the voter?”

This square could have been circled, and the day’s task simplified: “We’re here to say that the initiative is a valid legal instrument, and shouldn’t be short-circuited because someone does mind-reads the voters and thereby decides they were confused. Most initiatives would be subject to such attacks, and they shouldn’t be. That’s why we’re here.”

Of course, they didn’t do that. The issue of property tax limitations and burdens came directly to the fore. Led by initiative master Tim Eyman, who wanted not only restitution of I-747 but also additions to enhance it (mainly related to “banking” of funds). Followed up by Democrats who had their own ideas about what to do with property tax limits.

A good deal of this played out in the Senate Ways & Means Committee, where amendments were delivered like gunshots. There were four: two from Democrats, two from Republicans.

Senator Eric Oemig, D-Kirkland, offered a plan to sunset I-747 subject to a vote of the people. Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, proposed revising – increasing – allowable property tax changes. On the other side, an amendment from Senator Joseph Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, had a banking-related proposal aimed at enhancing I-747. And Senator Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, had another, albeit relatively modest measure, aimed at studying “banked” and other financial capacity. All four were rejected.

But Oemig’s was rejected only narrowly. And in amendments on the property tax deferral bill, one substantive amendment to strike the whole bill and just study the subject instead initially passed, and with some Republican support.

Part of the reason a number of these measures failed was that legislative leadership wanted to confine the topics under discussion very narrowly, as would befit a one-day session. But their arrival also shows how fertile this topic is likely to be when the regular session come around.

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This blog gets quoted elsewhere with some regularity, but we’ve not seen much specific analysis of who gets quoted where. (Other than more general tools like BlogNetNews, where we happen to rank Number 1 on this week’s Idaho influence survey.)

What follows is partly a bit of horn-blowing but also commentary on the regional blogosphere.

The Idaho Statesman at Boise runs a feature called Other Voices, edited by Editorial Page Editor Kevin Richert, which sometimes includes comments from emails sent to the paper but usually comments from the area’s blogosphere. Boise conservative blogger Adam Graham decided to count the numbers of recent quotes in Other Voices, and came up with this list:

1) Randy Stapilus-15 [Ridenbaugh Press]
2) Adam Graham-9
3) Betsy Russell-8 [Spokesman-Review]
3) Bryan Fischer-8
5) Red State Rebels-7
5) Mountain Goat Report-7
7) Idablue-5
[8] Huckleberries Online 4
[8] Fort Boise-4
[8] Dennis Mansfield-4
11) Joel Kennedy-2
11) Clayton Cramer-2

His speculation on why the numbers ran as they did: “My theory is that it comes down to a basic lack of conservative voices. To have an interesting round up of other opinion, conservative voices are needed, or otherwise it’s just one side and no real debate. Thus, while I’ve been quoted more often, Richert has keep things pretty much even by quoting quite a few liberal bloggers.”

Richert’s view is similar: “He has it pretty much right. My goal with Other Voices is to serve up a diverse discussion on the issues, in real time. I’m trying to present a good mix. Especially since both Graham and Fischer frequently criticize Statesman editorials or my ID Quicktakes posts; my top priority is to give our critics prominent play, in print and online. And there’s another reason you see a lot of Graham and Fischer in the Other Voices feature. Frankly, there aren’t many conservative bloggers around these parts. I can pick and choose from a larger pool of liberal/Democrat bloggers, so I do.”

Our sense is that the situation is similar in Washington and Oregon: Liberal blogs simply outnumber conservative blogs, and we find ourselves revisiting the conservative blogs probably a little more often in consequence.

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Idaho website

Gerald Schroeder

Gerald Schroeder

The end result of this thing is likely to be not much different than where we are now. But it’s a nearly-last chance for a bunch of water users in southern Idaho to stave off . . . shutdowns, in a lot of cases.

The issue is that there isn’t enough water in the southern Snake River system to satisfy all the demands, and so what’s spelled out in Idaho law – in the constitution – playing out: The owners of the oldest water rights are demanding priority delivery of their water. That’s the way the system works in Idaho, and in most western states. But it’s an unforgiving system, and a bunch of water users, mainly ground water users, are scrambling to find alternatives. They barely did a patch-n-scratch this year to fend off shutdowns; but what about next year, when reserves are down?

The hearing to try to find an answer started today, before Gerald Schroeder, formerly a state Supreme Court justice. It began with testimony from some of the senior right holders, including fish farmers, who asserted their rights. (The juniors will be pleading for mercy.) The next few steps in this drama (Schroeder will make a recommendation to the Idaho Department of Water Resources) will say a lot about what happens in rural southern Idaho for years to come.

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The eventual sale by Ottaway Newspapers of their holdings in Oregon – the Mail Tribune at Medford and the Daily Tidings at Ashland – has been in the wind for a while. Now it’s more definitive.

Ottaway is owned by Dow Jones Company (most famously the publisher of the Wall Street Journal), which is about to be swallowed by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. Murdoch apparently wanted to shed the “community newspapers” anyway; today comes a report that the current Dow Jones managers are looking at a quicker selloff of their remaining Ottaway papers (down to eight nationally after a partial selloff last year).

Ottaway seems to have been a relatively hands-off owner, and the Medford and Ashland papers have had significant leeway in their operations. To watch for: Who turns out to be the new owner, and what kind of profit margins that owner will be expecting.

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John Nelsen

John Nelsen

The short list of Oregon House seats sought after for ’08 by Democrats includes almost as a matter of course the seat in District 49, which sits on the northeast edge of the Portland metro area – Fairview, Gresham, Wood Village.

There are good reasons. It’s part of the Portland metro area, after all. While more Republican than most of the Portland area, it votes for some Democrats, including its current state senator. It has been the home district to Representative Karen Minnis, R-Wood Village, but in 2006, while she was House speaker, she had a close call even while spending and organizing very hard; and a somewhat close call two years before that. And Minnis has had some reservoirs of personal popularity. This has the look of a district that could switch sides next year.

Responsibility for making sure it doesn’t apparently will fall to John Nelsen, chair of the school board in the Reynolds School District (at Fairview), and a program director at Mount Hood Community College. (Running for re-election this May, Nelsen was unopposed in the district.) His announcement press release was home-based, focusing on schools and crime in east Multnomah; not a bad approach.

First impression is that he’s a strong candidate. Two Democrats – Troutdale City Councilor Barbara Kyle first, then law student and former county commission staffer Nick Kahl – already have gotten in, an indication of the high interest Democrats have here. District 49 featured as among the hottest races of each of the last two cycles in Oregon, and the announcements so far suggest it could make it three in a row.

COMMENTARY We were really struck with the mindset of two commenters on the Oregon Catalyst post launching Nelsen. (This is not, of course, something Nelsen is in any way responsible for.) The first commenter said, “East county, especially Rockwood needs to start rounding up the illegals and sending them home. I think everyone would be amazed at the drop in crime that would occur!” The second said in reply, “I am shocked that a hispanic man is not running for this posistion in little mexico, I mean hillsburito, I mean rockwierd, I mean gresham.”

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There’s never – really, going all the way back – been the sense that Idahoans have been a politically contended electorate, that they’re happy with government the way it is . . . or has been, at most any point.

Which makes fascinating the question Democratic Senate candidate Larry LaRocco highlights in this recent speech to partisans, a question he said his wife urges him to lead with: “The question is, Do you want change, or not?”

In his speech, LaRocco says he expects to have day-worked about 30-40 jobs around the state during this campaign; he’s already clocked many of them. He notes that his two terms in the House would give him some automatic seniority on entering the Senate, and that unlike the opposition (presumably Republican Lieutenant Governor Jim Risch), he’s a veteran.

But this thing comes down to that matter of whether Idahoans are simply dissatisfied and let it go at that, or whether they choose to act to change their political environment.

In most places, when voters are dissatisfied and want change, they vote for the party not in power, to shake things up. In Idaho, that would seem to mean a shift from time to time at least from the Republicans who have been in near-total power in the state for the last 13 years, to Democrats. Such shifts have happened in recent years in Montana and Colorado, among other places. But not in Utah, and not in Idaho. While the city of Boise (up to the city limits) has shifted blue, there’s been to this point remarkably little evidence of significant shifts elsewhere. (A little, at McCall-Cascade, at downtown Idaho Falls and Coeur d’Alene, debatably at Lewiston, but still scant.)

Up to now, the evidence has been that the operative voting majority would rather complain passively – would rather, in the old phrase, point a middle finger at government rather than try to use it to change anything wrong or to accomplish anything useful. (The usual, and very frequent, rebuttal to that idea is that government is never useful – you hear that a lot in Idaho, and it’s an important part of what’s going on.)

LaRocco’s gamble this campaign has to be that a significant group of Idaho voters moves this time from passive to active. If they are, he has a real shot. But that will mean breaking with the patterns that have been ever more firmly locked into place.

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This is a little old, but we just ran across it, and it should not pass without note: The proud assertion that a newspaper will run stories about malfeasance in government if and only if the “proper authorities” declare that, yes, they’d malfeased.

Coeur d’Alene has had more than its share of unfounded loose talk of late (you can track some of that in the excellent Huckleberries blog). But this paragraph in a November 7 Coeur d’Alene Press editorial jumps out at you:

If critics of the Coeur d’Alene City Council, Lake City Development Corp., Kroc Community Center, Mickey Mouse Retirement Village or any other publicly financed entities have proof of unethical or illegal activities by officials, produce it and let the proper authorities do their jobs. The Press will publish the outcomes of any such investigations upon their completion. In the meantime, our reporters will not be writing stories on allegations or speculation. Doing so would be an effective way to ruin an individual’s or organization’s credibility without due process, and we’re positive even the critics don’t want that.

Our job, the paper is saying, is to be stenographers of the officially-sanctioned story: Far be it from us to do any independent investigation, to try to determine any truths on our own. We’ll happily stick with press releases.

A hat tip on that to the Whitecaps blog, which commented: “Read that again carefully. The Coeur d’Alene Press said editorially it will not publish stories demonstrating unethical or illegal activities by officials unless the ‘proper authorities’ conduct an investigation and make the results public. Who would the ‘proper authorities’ be? The Mayor? The City Council? The LCDC Board? The Board of Directors of Mountain West Bank? The prosecuting attorney? Advertisers? Who? I wonder if it occurred to the editor and publisher of the Coeur d’Alene Press they have just said they will take reportorial direction from the ‘proper authorities?’ How can readers not reasonably conclude that if the ‘proper authorities’ want a story killed, it’s killed.”

In what’s becoming a one-newspaper town, it evidently will be.

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One of the more intriguing pieces of ’08 politics is the source of Northwest support for Republican Ron Paul. It is substantial, and fervent, but a little hard to identify: Who are the Republicans who are anti-war and pro-libertarian (small if not large L) and who otherwise are very enthusiastic about their guy?

We’ll keep on loking for clues, but we get one piece of the answer from the political blog at the Coeur d’Alene Press, which seems to have been largely taken over by Paul supporters.

A local meetup group post mentions two speakers: “Phil Hart, Idaho State Representative and Author of “Constitutional Income: Do You Have Any?” will address the Group on why he supports Ron Paul. Dan Gookin, CDA City Council Candidate to speak at Monday’s 7pm Meetup on his support for Ron Paul.”

That will say something to locals who know Hart and Gookin. For those who don’t, the comments – you’ll find some wild stuff – attached to the meetup post should do the job. (You say you want a sample? Here: “It would appear that Ron Paul is the best, last hope to stave America from a monarchy under the North American Union. My search reveals only on other alternative, Mike Juckabee, but some claim he is a card-carrying Mason of the Southern Baptist Convention. This would make him as dangerous as Billy Graham who some alledge is a 33* Mason of the Scottish Rite.”)

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Brad Avakian

Brad Avakian

Kate Brown

Kate Brown

Rick Metsger

Rick Metsger

Vicki Walker

Vicki Walker

The rapid accumulation of Democratic candidates for Oregon secretary of state has left even some Democrats a little scattered . . . The PDX Perspectives blog has been running a list of comments about telling the four apart, and how to to pick out preferences.

It grew out of a kind of cry for help: “what is that, four mostly indistinguishable liberal Democrats? . . . I promise I am going to spend some time trying to figure this out myself, based on looking at their web sites and at their news coverage, but in the meanwhile, can somebody out there please help me with a clue as to what the substantive differences are between Brad Avakian, Kate Brown, Rick Metsger, and Vicki Walker? And how would those differences translate into the way they would do this job?”

The latter question is the tougher one; the four are distinctively different personalities with sharply different approaches, and are likely to develop very different appeals. What any of that would mean for running the office isn’t clear at all. (The eventual arrival of a Republican candidate for the office – Senator Bruce Starr has been mentioned as a possible – may help bring some clarity.)

The four Democratic senators – Brad Avakian of Beaverton, Kate Brown of Portland, Rick Metsger of Welches and Vicki Walker of Eugene – all come from the northwest part of the state, but slapping much more common definition to them is a little iffy.

Two of them have been central in the Senate Democratic caucus – Brown was Democratic leader (majority and minority both) for about a decade, and Avakian has been assistant majority leader. Metsger, representing a more rural area (far eastern Multnomah and Clackamas, and newly-Democratic Hood River County) has been a but more independent in tone. And Walker may be Salem’s premier boat-rocker, to the point that she came close a year ago to challenging Governor Ted Kulongoski in the Democratic primary (they appear to have since reconciled), not to mention her pivotal role in the Neil Goldschmidt exposure. Watch the Senate and its committees in action for a while, and all four stand out as highly distinctive personalities in the chamber.

To what extent do you want a “team player” or an “independent boat rocker”? You can make a case for either; each type is represented, in different ways.

The may be shaped a bit too by the districts they’re from. Brown is from one of the most liberal Democratic districts around Portland (you don’t get “too liberal” for re-election there), but what you see most in Brown is a kind of happy enthusiasm. Avakian comes from an area in Washington County that is now clearly Democratic, but newly so; he is an attorney, and you pick up a professional deliberation in his approach. Walker’s Eugene district is basically Democratic, but stronger that way in reputation than in voting patterns – not close to Brown’s and probably softer than Avakian’s. (A strong opponent last year, former Eugene Mayor Jim Torry, held her to a close win.) And Metsger’s district, while trending Democratic, may be the softest of the four. Walker and Metsger both convey the sense of populism more than Brown or Avakian seem to.

These points have implications. Some commenters at PDX Perspectives point to Metsger’s three-win record in a once-problematic district as evidence of statewide political strength. Another argues: “He does it by taking some Republican positions, like making the DMV into the INS. Since Oregon is not a legislative district, I see no need to elect someone to bring the state rightward. How about stronger Democrats, instead?” There’s going to be some room for debate here.

A few early thoughts, anyway, about sorting the contenders. More will no doubt sprout as the campaigns grow.

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Perry Swisher of Boise – this is a mere blog entry, so we won’t recap here his almost endless activities in Idaho politics, society and government for more than a half-century – is among the relative handful of people who have been around and observed broadly enough to watch the change in the state’s environment over a course of not just years but decades, and even quarter-centuries.

His columns, posted periodically for public access at the Idaho State Journal‘s political blog, are always worth a look. But we were struck by this recollection, as this year’s winter climate starts to set in.

So much water was coursing through Hells Canyon of the Snake in the summer of 1986, that a great wave struck the steering paddle on one float vessel and knocked my cousin, a whitewater expert, into the river and drowned him. The torrent through the canyon was so inviting to rafters that a recent import into the staff of specialists at the Idaho Public Utilities Commission couldn’t stay out of it.
The result: He lost his wife because she couldn’t stand the risks he put her through and divorced him.
One serious proposal during that surplus of wet was to cut a channel west of Soda Springs and divert some of the surplus Bear River flow past Chesterfield. It would go toward Lava Hot Springs into the Portneuf River, and thence into the always thirsty Snake River at American Falls west of Pocatello.
There are geologists who say that geologically recent lava dikes formed in Eastern Idaho and rechanneled flood waters from Henry’s Fork back into the main Snake River’s flow, and thus ended a long inflow which had made what they call the Great Aquifer an underground resource to the Snake River Plain.
Had it not been for the delay in the formation of those lava dikes, this aquifer would never have become so enormous. It is still ranked as if it were the equal of one of the Great Lakes that lie above the Midwest and the New York-Ohio country.
When the big rains and snows invaded the Great Basin in the 1980s, there were those including Dr. Evan Kackley of Wayan who believed Idaho should blast a channel south of Hamer or Roberts into the lavas of the Arco desert so the prehistoric flooding could resume.
Weather and the human race are never long in agreement; maybe the Hamer-Roberts idea was all it took to dissuade the weather gods because 22 years have passed since we last saw “too much water.”
It’s true we would be tempting the fates, but we do that every time we reconvene the Idaho Legislature. I suggest the dreams we dream when in surplus be built into our plans in this time of genuine thirst.

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There’s nothing especially startling in the Seattle Times piece today on fundraising in the governor’s race. Snark at Sound Politics on this is duly noted on “the stunning story that persons and organizations with issues before state government are donating to an incumbent Governor after spreading their money around when the seat was open four years ago. Campaign hands across the state are floored.”

From one Sound Politics comment: “That just goes to show how business-owners look out for their bottom line. Business is not like a labor union that will blindly go with the Democrat…Businesses support those who support them.”

The point is still well worth noting, though, as a piece of the mosaic that goes into how relatively competitive the campaigns are. In 2004, running for an open seat, both campaigns spent in the neighborhood of $6.3 million. This time, as of the most recent reports, incumbent Democrat Chris Gregoire has raised nearly $3.6 million and Rossi somewhat under a half million; and the article notes that about $160,000 of the governor’s money has come from people who donated to Rossi last time.

This picture will adjust, of course. Rossi has not been formally in the race, and has not been fundraising, for very long, and his totals should rise quickly over the next few months. Both candidates likely will shoot well past their 2004 totals; this race is not likely to be decided on the basis of money. (The last one wasn’t.)

But it is a concrete indicator that the dynamic changes when you go from an open seat to an incumbent-challenger contest.

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Count on Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney for some pungent commentary, as in his look ahead to a session of the Senate in which a whole lot of the members are or are considering running for another office. One-sixth of the chamber is formally so planning now, but it’s likely to go much higher – maybe to about a third of the 30 total – over the next year.

Courtney: “I’m going to file the state Senate for any and all state offices, just to get this taken care of.”

As with many Courtney comments (we spotted this one on the Eugene Register-Guard‘s political blog), he was only half jesting.

Let’s see. There’s one running for state treasurer, Democrat Ben Westlund. There are four senators running for secretary of state (Kate Brown, Vicki Walker, and recently Rick Metsger and Brad Avakian), all Democrats; Republican Bruce Starr is said to be likely to join them before long. Then there are the potential governors in the group, including Republican Jason Atkinson (who has all but announced for the 2010 election) and (we’re told not to be surprised if we see it) Democrat Kurt Schrader. Remember too, that Alan Bates (D-Ashland) gave serious thought to a U.S. Senate run this year, and new Senator Larry George (R-Sherwood) also gets mentions as a higher office prospect.

Which in all may create some tensions come the February session. But they might bear in mind too that all will look better if they play nice.

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As of a year ago – and the number would be higher now – an estimated 2,245,189 people were held in state and federal prisons in the United States. A few of them will stay there until they die, but most (the estimate is 95%) will be released back into society. And because over the last couple of decades sentences generally have been getting longer, those numbers are going to run higher than they have been until now, and those in “re-entry” to society are going to be people who have spent more years in prison than the released used to. And – the point here – we’ve been doing not a lot about dealing with this.

recidivism chartThere is some thought on the subject, however, starting with research. The Council of State Governments has a Reentry Policy Council, which looks at just this issue, and a number of states have followed up with councils of their own. One of the first was in Oregon, established last May, and this fall starting to generate some news and reports.

A press release on early stages of the group’s work had some useful background: “Oregon prisons currently house nearly 13,500 inmates, a record number due to tougher sentencing laws and the state’s growing population. Each year about 4,000 offenders are released back into the community at the end of their sentences, becoming part of the 34,000 offenders under supervision across Oregon at any given time. Yet over the past decade, Oregon’s recidivism rate has remained relatively stable. One out of every three people released from prison is convicted of a new felony crime within three years of release. Policymakers, practitioners and researchers are increasingly identifying coordination of re-entry efforts as critical to successful outcomes and rehabilitation.”

This stuff is a great deal more complex than you might at first think – the implications of bringing these people into a productive place in society, rather than simply marking time till the re-arrest, bring into play a lot of causes and effects. Here’s one we just ran across, in a Re-Entry Policy Council brochure:

• People who do not find stable housing in the community are more likely to recidivate than those who do: the Georgia Department of Corrections determined that, with each move after release from prison, a person’s likelihood of re-arrest increased by 25 percent.
• Re-arrest and re-incarceration disrupts income and the ability of both the person arrested and his or her family to comply with a lease agreement.

The thought about “lease agreements” seems almost minor until you begin to spin out all the effects – personal, financial, social – broken deals can have all over the place.

Might be time for Idaho and Washington, which we gather do not have equivalent councils or similar activity, to take a look at this too.

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