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Posts published in November 2007

ID: Eagle Village Green Preservation Society

Preserve Eagle

Michael Huffaker, Saundra McDavid, Al Shoushtarian

The Idaho elections of note Tuesday were in Eagle, where the key local issue - or what should be - of rapid growth was squarely on the table. And the voters there did something remarkable, shifting direction and even attitude sharply; whether sharply enough to invoke major change in the short haul, we'll know soon.

Growth really is the only serious issue in Eagle, a city just northwest of Boise. As recently as 1990, its population was 3,327; now, it is somewhere north of 25,000. And about to grow dramatically again, since the city is involved in annexing some mass chunks of the foothills to the north, and if it succeeds eventually could add maybe another 10,000 people to its population base. (Some of those people from the foothills apparently showed up at Eagle City Hall intending to vote, not realizing they weren't city residents. Yet, at least.)

The city's policy generally, as you might expect, has been open doors to development, in dizzying amount. This year, Mayor Nancy Merrill is opting out, and after a good many years of a mostly-stable crowd in place, newcomers are scrambling for the mayoralty and council seats. The key point distinguishing them is their positioning on growth.

First takeaway from Tuesday's election is that the candidates favoring least growth came out ahead. But the point will be revisited when the city holds a runoff on December 4 between its top two mayoral contenders.


OR: Measure 50 in multi-context

cigarettes The decisive failure of Oregon Measure 50, which sought to raise cigarette taxes with most of the money to go to child health care, is getting attributed in the early reviews to the most obvious fact of the campaign over the issue: The massive, swamping, super-expensive campaign by tobacco companies against it. Bill Lunch of Oregon State University was quoted in the Oregonian as saying, "It's an example of an election being bought. It's as simple as that." The Oregonian's editorial on the subject this morning suggested a similar view.

Except that it's not quite as simple as that. Look at 50 in the context of where it came from, what else the voters did in Oregon yesterday, and the face of money issues on the ballot recently otherwise, and you get a more complex picture.

To put this in context: We're absolutely not arguing that the most expensive single campaign (by far) in Oregon history, one that rained endless TV ads for months and that drowned out its opposition with a 4-1 spending margin, wasn't an important factor. Obviously it was. But some other factors had to be in play that allowed it to succeed as strongly as it did, and a bit of compare/contrast throws some of them into relief - and may help suggest what child health care advocates might want to do next.


WA: Prop 1 grinds to a halt

The loss of Proposition 1 - technically, two ballot measures - on Puget Sound transportation, the Godzilla funding measure, was pretty widely anticipated. We thought it likely too, though the reasons why may be worth some ongoing exploration.

On October 1, we started a post by saying this: "We’re surely not alone in being a bit thrown by the sheer size of Proposition 1, headed for voter decision next month. It’s enormous, but not only that: It’s so enormous, and covers so massive a scope of space and time, that estimates are almost useless." In fact, the estimates of how much money ultimately would be involved ranged from $18 billion to (admittedly this one sounds unlikely) $160 billion.

The point is that probably few Washingtonians probably felt confident that they had a real handle on exactly what this proposal would amount to. (And the concerns and questions ranged up to pro-public transit figures like King County Executive Ron Sims, with whom this defeat is likely to be closely associated.) Lacking that, a defeat would be little surprise. Was it a vote as well against tax increases? Maybe, but that doesn't seem obvious as yet, one way or the other.

(Bear in mind that the percentages were decisive but not a runaway - at this writing the percentages against were about 56% to 44% for.)

The larger question, though, is the policy question - what do the people in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties want in terms of transportation? Certainly few probably are happy with conditions as they are; but what should be done? This result doesn't really offer much answer to that, except maybe that whatever else is proposed to the voters, the details had better be clear.

Boise: Plenty o’ sleep tonight

David Bieter

David Bieter

The count at this hour has only about a quarter of Boise's precincts reporting, but there's no reason to hold off: David Bieter has been easily re-elected as mayor. It was expected to be a romp, and it was, even if its size - his percentage now is 68.6%, and it should stay well above the 60% level you need to call it a landslide - is a little greater than most people probably would have guessed.

We were thinking a percentage of 60 or thereabouts might be a reasonable call, though. To say the campaign of challenger Jim Tibbs (who will retain his Boise council seat) never caught fire is, well . . . there was never even really a spark, never a point at which he seemed to lay a glove on Bieter. Why that is, remains a little mysterious. Tibbs is a smart enough person, well liked around town, and his depth of background in Boise could fairly be described as second to none. He's not hard to imagine in the mayor's office. He just never gave the voters a very strong reason why he should be there, and Bieter shouldn't.

As for Bieter - who did offer concrete justifications for his mayoralty throughout his campaign - he now has a big win. His first in 2003 was relatively close, just a bit above the 50% he needed to avoid a runoff. Today's win is a community endorsement.

And the council races, as widely expected, were all snoozers too . . .

OR: 49 up, 50 down

The conventional wisdom has held, on Oregon's two big ballot issues (49 on land use, 50 on tobacco tax/child health insurance). We haven't seen complete statewide numbers yet, but the figures from the Portland metro (Multnomah, Washington, Clackamas) are clear enough to tell the tale: 49 is passing, easily, and 50 is failing, though by how much is still unclear.

A big win on 49 has been foreshadowed for some time. 50 was wide reputed to be close, with the weight of opinion, generally including ours, that it would go down. Over the last week we began modifying that, partly out of a thought that a really strong yes vote on 49 might add to the 50-yes tally, and partly out of speculation - really no more than that - that the tobacco-industry-backed TV campaign against it might have been too much, and might backfire. (That's not a complete flyer: Last year just that happened in a couple of Washington state elections.) So in the last few days, we uneasily leaned that way.

But the affirmative campaign on 50 seemed too weak, and voters in Oregon as most places need a strong argument to make a change. They got it with the strong 49 campaign, but not on 50. What they got on 50 was not really a strong argument against, but enough generated doubt to block its passage.

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. "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."


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.