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Posts published in November 2007

The secret vote?

You'd think that after all the complaints about King County elections over the last four years, they'd go out of their way to open things up to the max. But no.

http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/338468_noresultsxx.html: "the King County elections office has refused to release precinct-by-precinct vote totals until the vote is certified -- even though election results are an open record under state law and these specific records can be easily generated by county election software. Critics called it unwise and possibly illegal."

Oh, there'll be a lawsuit on this. (Certainly should be.) Unless they wise up, quick.

The Hythiam disclosures

Likely we haven't seen the end of this: A series of apparent ethics rules violations by Washington political figures, with the commonality of involvement with a company called Hythiam Inc. Odds are, we also haven't seen the last of things like it.

Hythiam sells "comprehensive behavioral health management services to health plans, employers, criminal justice, and government agencies," and there's something highly useful about this. One of the videos on its corporate front page suggests "there's a movement from incarceration to treatment," and eventually probably there will be - prisons are becoming so unwieldy and immensely expensive that smarter solutions (for not all but a significant chunk of inmates) are going to be needed.

Thus, providers like Hythiam. Among its key products is this: "Hythiam currently offers initial disease management offerings for substance dependence built around its proprietary PROMETA Treatment Program for alcoholism and dependence to stimulants. The PROMETA Treatment Program, which integrates behavioral, nutritional, and medical components, are available through licensed treatment providers."

It sounds good enough you might want to just leap, maybe before you look. One of the results is incorrect reporting on ethics documents by two Pierce County political figures, County Executive John Ladenburg (who had disclosed an investment interest in Hythiam but less than it really was) and state Representative Dennis Flannigan of Tacoma (who owns 4,000 shares in Hythia but didn't disclose it), both Democrats. (Washington law, much like Oregon's, requires annual disclosure to the state of asset interests by a large number of public officials.)

Kicker A is that, as the Tacoma News Tribune reports, "Flannigan, Ladenburg and other Pierce County lawmakers helped secure a total of $900,000 in state and local funding for Prometa."

Kicker B is that, the paper also reports, "The [county] council and executive agreed in April to spend $400,000 to try the program on offenders in the county’s drug court. But the council suspended funding Oct. 23 after a preliminary report by the county audit staff found little evidence that Prometa is effective."

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Kennemer for Scott?

Bill Kennemer

Bill Kennemer

The upcoming retirement of Representative Wayne Scott, R-Canby - till recently leader of the Oregon House Republicans - left an opening both parties should be jumping to fill. If word over at NW Republican pans out, the Republicans may be jumping first, with a choice that could give them an edge.

That would be Bill Kennemer, who for the last decade has been a Clackamas County commissioner - a good jumping point for other elective office, as U.S. Representative Darlene Hooley can attest - and before that elected four times (starting in 1986) to the Oregon Senate. Kennemer won his commission seat with 55% in 2004 and 57.4% in 2000; not powerhouse numbers, but his record of wins in this area is very long, reaching more than two decades.

NW Republican's take is that "He has run and won there several times and if the next cycle brings any nervousness in the voters then they will almost certainly vote for the name that is tried and true. However the downside is that in being safe he will bring no real passion to the party or the caucus." We wouldn't argue that, and certainly he would enter as a known quantity, which is a strong advantage. But his entry might generate stronger interest than just this suggests.

The Clackamas commission overall has gotten some bun headlines from time to time, and in 2006 and early this year the partisan shifts on the panel, and an '06 battle over the chairmanship (which Kennemer won, for a time) has resulted in some exposed nerves, on both sides. (One of those elbowed was Democratic Commissioner Martha Schrader, ousted last year as chair in favor of Kennemer, but returned this year as chair when a Democrat won the third commission seat. Oh, and her husband is prominent state Senator Kurt Schrader. The Schraders are not obscure folk at Salem.)

A Kennemer candidacy could bring immediate natural advantages, but also Democratic talking points and some emotional incentive to go after him in a serious way. In all, it could launch a hot contest that could be a whole lot of fun to watch.

Recalling recall

We got our ballots in the mail today, again, and voted, again. No, this wasn't "vote early and often" - these new ballots arriving in our mailbox were not the better known statewide ballots (which we submitted some days ago) but instead had one local city issue on them: The recall of our mayor, in the city of Carlton, Oregon.

We'll not spend much space in this post about the specifics of the recall (the "grounds" make little sense) or whether the mayor should be retained (we strongly think she should). But it does seem like fair occasion, at this mid-point between two even-year elections, to revisit the whole subject of recall elections.

The primary point is that there are altogether too many of them, and they are the bane of many communities, especially small communities.

Recall was one of the direct democracy reforms Oregon helped pioneer a century ago, and we do not suggest getting rid of it: It has a useful purpose. On occasion a public office holder becomes destructive, seriously damaging the community, to the point that the community would face important loss if that person continues in place; or else, the office holder becomes corrupt, or criminal, and can't be allowed to stay on the job. Such cases exist, but they are rare. In the last 25 or 30 years of recall cases in Northwest communities, we can think of just one where these standards generally were met, in the larger city of Spokane, where Mayor Jim West was recalled in December 2005. And even that had some gray area to it.

Small cities almost never have the kind of crisis situations that require a recall, yet that is where almost all recall elections are held, maybe in part because the threshold for forcing an election is so low. In Oregon, Ashland, Oakland, Willamina, Aurora, Sheridan, Newport, Turner, Lafayette (notoriously), Florence - and those are all recent, in the last year or two - have been torn up by recall elections. A number of Idaho communities (over the years, Homedale, Wendell, St. Anthony, Spirit Lake) are notorious for them as well. (Not so much in Washington, as we'll explain.)

For a couple of decades, the city of Garden City, adjacent to the northwest side of Boise, was wracked by endless recall elections featuring the same revolving cast of unappealing characters. During that whole time the city stagnated, depressed and shabby-looking, while its better-run neighbor Boise advanced smartly. Then a new regime came in, led by a well-regarded local banker, and the recalls stopped. The city took off, and - clean and sober now for almost two decades - Garden City has prospered.

Too many recall cities take many years to break out of that cycle, with the result that city governments never become stable enough to do the jobs they're supposed to do - police and fire and sewer and water and streets and so on - with the result that the city fails to grow, discourages new businesses, misses opportunities, and heads into tailspin. Garden City, Idaho, was like that for many years while a few dozen people squabbled in their endless feuds; Lafayette, Oregon, fast-growing and terribly unprepared for it, is a lot like that now.

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Downward

New newspaper circulation figures are out, and they aren't painting a cheerful face. Could be that some bloggers smirk at the news; we're not mong them. Newspapers still are the bet single source of information about what's going on in the world, and we should all be chilled by the idea that declines in newspaper circulation too often means increasing numbers of people are learning about the world around them (and casting votes based on that knowledge) from television. Which, speaking in general, is appalling.

Closest thing to good news here: The rates of decline seem a little smaller than in the last couple of years.

The Sunday Oregonian now has a circulation of 371,386, down 1.2% from a year ago. Weekday circulation is at 309,467, which is .4% down.

The Sunday Seattle Times/Post-Intelligencer combo sits at 420,587, or down .6% from a year ago.

At the Spokane Spokesman-Review, the paper's blog reports that "daily circulation dropped about 2% and Sunday circulation dropped about 3%."

ADDITIONALLY Just saw this line, from a Dave Oliveria post at the Spokesman-Review's Huckleberries blog: "With our decision to cut staff in the North Idaho news operation, the [Coeur d'Alene] Press becomes the dominant print media in the region. How does that make you feel?"

The concession from the Spokesman side is stunning. And comments from Oliveria's readers weren't happy. It's all worth a read.

Corruptible content?

Oregon Wine Board

Oregon Wine Board site

Okay, we get the idea behind the age restriction on drinking (even if we might quibble about where exactly it should be). But this statement on the splash page of the Oregon Wine Board's web site leaves us a little flummoxed:

"This web site is intended for those of legal drinking age. By entering the Oregon Wine Board web site, you affirm that you are of legal drinking age where you reside."

So . . . a class of voters who can choose the people who select the Oregon Wine Board, which controls what's on the Oregon Wine Board web site, but aren't allowed to see for themselves what's on it. (Sorry, the tech to make wine available over the net doesn't seem to have been invented yet.)

What's on it is the usual run of press releases, promotional material and so on. Which must be more hazardous than we'd realized . . .

Down in the roots

In their so far struggling efforts to become a competitive force in Idaho politics, the Idaho Democrats lack a number of things. But foremost among them, perhaps central, is one that doesn't get near th other attention some other deficiencies do: A lack of local, precinct-level and neighborhood-level, organization.

Republicans for years - decades - have had this advantage over Democrats, and it has mattered. (Former Republican Governor Phil Batt long has told Democrats that the best single thing they could do for themselves is to organize better at the local level, and there's a lot of truth to that.) You can do semi-official comparisons: The number of Democratic versus Republican precinct committee leaders. (Who has more, by a long shot, in Idaho? You get one guess.) When Republicans have visible people around the neighborhood, and set about defining who and what Democrats are, and Democrats have no local counterbalance - well, what you think is going to happen?

There's a bit of news here, in an email from the Idaho Democratic Party: "State Democratic Party Chairman Richard Stallings today announced that Democratic activists across the state are gathering at more than 85 house parties today to launch the Democratic Party's new National Neighborhood Leader Program. With exactly one year before Election Day 2008, this unprecedented national grassroots organizing effort will provide our candidates the resources they need to win in 2008. Today, Idaho Democrats are recruiting hundreds of Neighborhood Leaders who will pledge to contact at least 25 voters in their communities three times between now and Ele'ction Day, and recruit at least two more Neighborhood Leaders who will do the same.

How well they do with this, will show in the results. But it does sound like a move in the right direction.

Governing, in review

Governing

Governing

Well, okay: Thing about it as a place to begin a debate, as in, "Resolved - that Washington Governor Chris Gregoire has engaged in "new initiatives, including a bold experiment in open management . . ."

The quote is not ours; it comes from Governing magazine, which has named Gregoire one of nine "Public Officials of the Year," and on top of that putting her on the cover. A nice kudo heading into an election year where her governing style will very much be a subject of debate.

We've given Gregoire some credit for aspects of her work in the job (such as her high energy level and tackling major issues, often successfully), but the description in Governing doesn't match closely with our observation. The unusually bold transparency the magazine describes . . . huh?

The Seattle Times' David Postman: "I was a little surprised to read that she was "allowing reporters and citizens into regular meetings where department heads frankly discuss the details of agency performance and how to improve it." I didn't know what I was missing at those Government Measurement, Accountability and Performance meetings. Seriously, I'll have to check one of those out."

And the Republican quotes of praise in the article? Those'll be fun for some time in the woodshed.

BUT, THE QUESTION EVOLVES A well-placed e-mailer, however, suggests that Postman and some other reporters who scoff at the open government label may be thinking about disagreements over open records requests rather than efforts to open policymaking. In another article, Governing has this:

For example, Adam Wilson, a reporter who covers Washington state government for The Olympian, says once he discovered the state’s regular “GMAP” sessions, he decided they were among the key “meetings to go to,” if he wanted to stay current on what’s really happening in the capitol.

GMAP, the state equivalent of Baltimore’s “CitiStat,” includes meetings at which various upper-level managers present information to Governor Christine Gregoire or her top executive staff related to performance in a variety of high-level policy areas, ranging from environmental health to social services. What makes GMAP — which stands for “Government Management, Accountability and Performance” — different than most other “stat” efforts is that the sessions are open to the public and the press.

”Those sessions have been fairly enlightening,” says Wilson. “Partly just because you have a format where the governor is listening to reports on progress from cabinet-level staff and so you can actually watch the governor direct government.”

So maybe we shouldn't scoff.

Where they come from, where they go

Just how tight with the larger businesses in Idaho is its state government? Well, consider today's bit of personnel news.

Jeff Malmen, who has been chief of staff for Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter, announced his resignation today. (Word was when he joined up with Otter at the Statehouse that he would help with set-up, but even then intended to be gone within a year.) He is going to work for the parent company of Idaho Power Company, transitioning into the role of its chief area lobbyist, a role Greg Panter has held for some years.

Who will be replacing Malmen? That will be Jason Kreizenbeck, who long ago (the Phil Batt era) worked in the governors office, but for some years has been handling government relations for Micron Technology.

OR M49: Cruising?

Almost never do you hear a primary backer of either candidate or ballot issue publicly acknowledge near-certain loss before election day; if it isn't a foregone conclusion, it's either idiotic or political malpractice.

Oregon State Senator Larry George, R-Sherwood, is neither an idiot nor untutored in political communications; he knows what he's saying. George is a top backer of the opposition to Measure 49, the land use issue that would majorly revise 2004's Measure 37. So when we take it as a near-certainty that the deal is done when we saw he told the Oregonian's Jeff Mapes, on the record, this:

"We're at a point where we absolutely can't win this thing," said George, who is running the advertising campaign against 49. He's also the former head of Oregonians in Action, the property-rights group leading the anti-49 effort. "We're going to get crushed."

He attributes the ballot title, which is the first and main thing voters see on the ballot when they vote, and which was crafted by its Democratic sponsors, as being crucial. It's no doubt a factor, but we suspect other considerations as well.