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Posts published in December 2007

Baseline 08: Idaho Legislature

Idaho legislative building

Idaho legislative building

It being that season again - yes, it's the time of Lists - we have a few to close out the year. (Then we'll have more lists next year. Gee.) Our point (excuse, if you insist) is that this is a reasonable point to pause and take stock of where we are or seem to be in Northwest politics - what it looks like as 07 slides into 08.

This is the first of four lists for the days upcoming, of what now look like some of the most noteworthy and watchable political contests to come: Three lists covering the legislatures of Idaho, Oregon and Washington, then one covering major offices for the three states, with 10 races each. The numbering logic in similar for all: These are the contests which, from this viewpoint, seem to have the most significance or analytical interest as we look to where Northwest politics goes from here. It isn't a list of which seats will change parties (though we think there's a good shot some of them will) or which incumbents are most endangered (among other things, some of these are open seats). Rather, it's: Which contests stand to say the most about local and Northwest politics?

You may wonder if there are as many as 10 potentially significant Idaho legislative races for '08; after all, aren't Republicans essentially a lock to maintain a solid grip on the Legislature regardless? Well, yeah, probably. But there are places of potential or actual change, and places where politics is getting redefined. These races could matter even if the overall partisan balance in the Statehouse doesn't greatly change.

One other highly cautionary note: There's no candidate filing until March 10 (deadline March 21), so we don't yet know for sure who's running for any legislative seat. Could be that some of the reasons for interest in some of these races goes away by then. Just sayin'.

(The list is below the fold.) (more…)

Clearwire emerging?

There's dialup, DSL, cable, microwave, wifi, satellite - what Internet connection mechanisms does that miss? At least one: Clearwire, which sounds to be among the most interesting and maybe broadly useful.

Clearwire is a company based at Kirkland. An Associated Press review describes: "Instead of driving back to the office or hunting for a Wi-Fi hotspot, I booted up my laptop, plugged in a PC card, connected to the Internet and updated my story — all from a bench near the water, with a dreamy view of snowcapped mountains. Such a feat is no surprise to anyone with a wireless card from a cellular carrier, but I wasn't connected to the networks of Verizon Wireless, Sprint or AT&T. Instead, I used an early version of the relatively new technology WiMax, which is being offered in Seattle by Clearwire Corp."

Will Clearwire become an another major regional tech player? We may find out in 2008.

Ganged up

There's gang activity spread out far from the metro areas - there are reliable reports of it in smaller communities far flung across the Northwest. Getting a handle on how large the problem is, though, is a little more difficult.

A swipe at this from Moses Lake turns up; there's evidence of increasing gang activity in the Columbia Basin region, enough to prompt calls for hiring a couple of new prosecutors specifically to deal with it.

How major is it? There's also this in a news story today: "Moses Lake School Superintendent Steven Chestnut disagreed, saying gang activity was not that big an issue. Wearing gang-associated colors and displaying gang symbols in schools is prohibited, and only 3 percent of the 171 suspensions and expulsions in the first quarter of the school year were gang-related, Chestnut said."

Doesn't mean there isn't any, though.

Merry Christmas – snow and all

Christmas snow

Christmas snow

Not a great shock to see Christmas snow in the more elevated parts of the Northwest, but in the more populated lowlands, as around our base, snow on Christmas is unexpected.

It was unexpected today - saw no weather reports in our region predicting anything other than same-ole rain (same as almost every day for the last three weeks or so) but here it is. It isn't much - just a skiff, and it likely won't stick. But we can say Merry Christmas on a day that not only feels like the holiday, but looks the part too.

“go out and cause it”

Aquick note here on why a graduation slogan for Basic Patrol Academy Class #156 is chilling. It's not organizational; rather, it raises questions about the officers being sent out to patrol. (Good catch here, by the way, to Betsy Russell of the Spokesman-Review.)

The slogan was “Don’t suffer from PTSD, go out and cause it,” PTSD being Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. It appeared on a list of patrol academy graduates for this year.

The problem - and the issue here should be obvious enough - doesn't seem to lie with the academy, which didn't develop or choose the slogan. The slogan was chosen, by vote, by the class itself: This was the graduating class' slogan for itself.

Does that say something disconcerting about the outgoing class? Whatever happened to, "Remember - let's be careful out there"?

Meshing the pieces

Nicole LeFavour

Nicole LeFavour

Let's take two pieces of political information and see if there's a way to mesh them. Warning: This will not be easy.

One is poll results released late last week by Idaho state Representative Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, partly on the subject of attitudes toward gay people and gay-related issues. (We should note here that LeFavour is Idaho's one openly gay state legislator.) Her conclusion (this was in e-mail and not posted so far on her web site): “I think people have long assumed that a vast majority of Idahoans are anti-gay. Clearly that's not the case. Most people know someone who is gay, as part of their family, as a friend, or from work or school. That was not true of a majority of Idahoans a decade ago. I think this has helped change attitudes and create greater understanding and respect for gay people all over the state."

A reasonable interpretation of the numbers. Asked if "Homosexuality should be discouraged by society" the strongly agrees were 29% and somewhat agrees were 15% - 44%, less than half. Of the sample group, 20% (probably less than the percentage in the state overall) were listed as Mormon; of the self-identified Republicans 47% were in the strongly or somewhat categories. (Polling was done by Myers Research; 600 respondents statewide; no margin of error noted.)

So what do we make of the recent request by six Republican legislators for an attorney general's opinion about a city's health benefit policy?

That policy is the city of Moscow's, noted here last week. The policy doesn't refer directly to gay people but it does extend health insurance coverage (in a form fairly standard for its private insurer, Regence Blue Shield of Idaho) to "domestic partners," which presumably would include gay couples.

That was enough to set off alarm bells for the six - Senators Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, Michael Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake, Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, and Representatives Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, Curtis Bowers, R-Caldwell, and Phil Hart, R-Athol. They pointed out that voters in 2006 passed a constitutional amendment that not only banned gay marriage (the subject of most of the attention) but also "to provide that a marriage between a man and a woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state".

Resolution of the legal issue here (which comes to whether insurance coverage can only be extended to state-recognized domestic unions - are private corporations subject to this?) isn't immediately obvious. What clear enough is the impetus behind the legislators' action: A determination to swiftly quash anything remotely resembling a public acceptance of homosexuality. There was no pause, no hesitation, between the arrival of the issue in the news, and the legislators' response.

So where do the people of the state come down on this? Did they lie to the pollster, and so quietly approve of six of their legislators doing this? Or not?

Tacoma’s Boeing?

Russell Investment

Russell Investment

While cities generally would rather keep than lose businesses, especially large highly profitable businesses that generate pretty much no civic negatives and hardly any costs, the top of today's lead Tacoma News Tribune story sounded a bit excessive: "The City of Destiny has reached a tipping point. Whether it tips forward into greater prosperity or back into disappointment hangs on a fateful decision by Russell Investment Group."

It's an investment company, one that sounds not terribly different from lots of other investment firms around the country. What's so special that Russell ought to generate that kind of lead (and equally strong-worded quotes from community people)?

Several things, as it turns out; this was a piece of the Northwest whose significance had passed us by. Russell, it seems, is not just any investment company. Founded in Tacoma 71 years ago as essentially a one-man operation (remember that this was an investment startup in the teeth of the Great Depression), it has grown. Quite a bit. It employs 2,100 people (in offices linked to Tacoma from Amsterdam, Auckland, Hong Kong, Johannesburg, London, Melbourne, New York, Paris, San Francisco, Singapore, Sydney, Tokyo and Toronto) and manages more than $230 billion. It is a big international player, but more than half of its people (employees have increased almost 10-fold in the last 30 years or so) and the largest chunk of its operations remain in unlikely Tacoma.

Now those central offices, spread around town inconveniently, are giving cause for Russell to reconsider its physical situation. Simply finding new quarters in Tacoma might be a simple enough answer if the company were still locally owned, but it isn't: The most recent Russell sold it in 1998 to the Milwaukee insurance company Northwestern Mutual. And, the News Tribune reports, the company's major leases on space in Tacoma expire in 2013.

Tacoma clearly would like to keep Russell. And maybe it will. But the immediate question to ask and issue to watch is, what will it do, how far will it go, to try to make that happen?

Logical sequence

Let's pause a moment to review the sequence of events, as they have emerged, following the legal repositioning of cold medicine from last year.

Components of many cold medicines are often used in creating methamphetamine, so Oregon lawmakers decided to slap controls on them, taking them off shelves and keeping track of who buys them. To that was soon added a similar, but somewhat less sweeping, federal law. We were skeptical about how much good this would do.

On the plus side, there have been consistent reports that the number of local small-scale meth producers - the kind of places operating in houses and other small buildings - have declined considerably. Those places have been hazards, so this much is good news.

The rest of the story: Meth use has remained roughly constant, evidently not declining at all. And where they are getting the stuff? From the Oregonian (a major crusader on meth) today: "Those small-time dealers largely have been replaced, law enforcement officials say, by gangs who buy the drugs in large quantities and sell them in bulk to lower-level dealers."

In other words, more larger-scale trafficking, more concentrated money involved, even more guns and even more violence. The state's solution (understandable under the immediate narrow circumstances) - at least that of initiative developer Kevin Mannix and a growing number of state legislators - is to increase the allowable prison sentences for drug dealers. Hello more prisons and ever-ballooning ex-cons to come. And very little more done to actually reduce the number of meth users (although a number of efforts, from drug courts to other kinds of rehab, do show signs of promise).

Meth is a very real problem; there's no making light of that. But we just keep doing such a wonderful job of dealing with it, you have to wonder when some new approaches will take root.

Jim Goller

Jim Goller

Jim Goller

The 2007 biography of former Idaho Senator Jim McClure contained a lot of references to a man probably few Idahoans - speaking generally, as opposed to the politically involved - knew much about: Jim Goller, operator of a small business until he hooked up with McClure and worked for him through his years in Congress. Such a quick description comes nowhere close to doing justice, though, or explaining why Goller was (rightly) so prominent in the story of McClure and in Idaho politics.

Goller, who died on Thursday at 81, was the political craft supporting McClure, one of the most successful Idaho politicians ever (three terms in the U.S. Senate, three in the U.S. House, three in the Idaho Senate, spanning 30 years). McClure was a skilled officeholder and a good candidate, but the political work underlying all that, getting McClure elected and keeping him in office, stemmed from Goller. The book (McClure of Idaho by William Smallwood, reviewed here in August) spelled this out pretty thoroughly, but the point works in reverse too: Writing a biography of McClure without Goller as a major player would be either dishonest or impossible, as McClure would be quick to say.

He was a nice guy and a fine conversationalist, but the point here is the effect he had on Idaho politics. Goller became an important figure in Idaho with McClure's first campaign for Congress in 1966, and hindsight shows that to be an important campaign. With it, Goller and McClure set a pattern for Idaho Republican conservatism, a winning formula, that had not been nailed down before that, but that has come to dominate Idaho politics in the four decades since, and is overwhelmingly in political control at present. Goller, who never held elective office and just one substantial appointive one (a seat on the Northwest Power Planning Council, appointed there by Democrat Cecil Andrus), has been one of the most consequential Idaho people of the last couple of generations.

He was something else, too, something fading a bit in the political world around and without him: A tough partisan who never (and that is the right word) demonized the opposition. Which is why an Andrus would describe (in the Idaho Statesman) Goller this way: "a consummate political professional who was widely respected on both sides of the political aisle. He was tough, competent, smart and a worthy adversary and also a very dear friend of mine."