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Posts published in December 2007

Democratic targets

An early indication of how the Northwest's U.S. House seats are perceived nationally:

The national Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which at the moment is well-enough funded to go after Republicans incumbents more than it has to play defense (it has $30.6 million to $2.3 million for its Republican counterpart), today released its list of 40 Republican-held target seats. Two of them are Northwestern: Washington's 8th, held by Dave Reichert, and Idaho's 1st, held by Bill Sali.

Money is apt to be flowing in those directions in the months ahead.

Sifting through the cleanup

The topic of cleanup at the Idaho National Laboratory is good for long-term burnout. While an intensive cleanup project has long been underway to the west at Hanford, a great deal of the core cleanup work remains to be done in eastern Idaho.

What's mostly under discussion is the buried waste around the large INL grounds, much of it low-level but some of it quite hazardous. Some Superfund activity has been going on, too, but the whole process - which is becoming a little aged by now, having been launched with a high-profile state-federal agreement in 1995 - still is awaiting some general policy: What do we clean up, what do we just leave as is, and what do we do with it all?

On October 22, federal agencies (the Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency) and the state proposed options "for addressing buried waste at the DOE-Idaho Site’s Radioactive Waste Management Complex Subsurface Disposal Area. The Radioactive Waste Management Complex was established in 1952 for the buried disposal of site-generated radioactive and hazardous wastes. From 1954 through 1970, the landfill received wastes from the Rocky Flats Plant in Colorado and other off-site generators." The options ranged from no action (1) to full waste removal (5). But evidently, the weight of planning seems to be moving toward picking up just some of it. And maybe not all that much.


In need of boat-rocking

port audit

The port audit

The elections last month for the Port of Seattle commission positions seemed to center on to what degree you were a "reformer" or at least a boat-rocker. Too bad the state auditor's report on the district didn't come out a couple of months earlier; it might have clarified the need while voters were making up their minds. As it is, the new report (undertaken as part of the auditor's new Initiative 900 authority) is plenty devastating. The waste and losses reach deep into the tens of millions - just for certain specific projects like the Third Runway - and possibly higher overall.

The overarching conclusions include:
• The Port lacks sufficient policies and procedures to safeguard public assets from misuse, abuse and fraud. In cases in which controls are in place, they are not always followed.
• The Port Commission has largely delegated decision-making responsibilities for construction projects to Port management and employees. In some cases,
vendors control projects and make decisions that should be made by the Port.
• Port executive management has withheld information from and sometimes has misinformed the Commission about the terms and progress of construction
These conditions are caused by: The Port Commission’s adoption of Resolution 3181, delegating some of its decision-making authority to Port administration, including some oversight of construction management. The former Chief Executive Officer’s broad interpretation of the resolution effectively distanced the Commission from information and oversight authority of capital projects. The audit found no record of the Commission reassessing or questioning whether it was meeting its responsibilities to oversee construction projects. These conditions leave the Port’s construction management vulnerable to fraud, waste and abuse. For example, Port management authorized a Third Runway contract that cost $32.7 million more than the Port engineer’s original estimate. The contract violated state law, and details of the arrangement were concealed from the Commission.
In addition, a consulting agreement awarded in 1998 increased without competition from $10 million to more than $120 million and is being used to augment Port staffing, unnecessarily costing taxpayers $60.5 million.

And goes on from there.

There's been occasional talk about bad activity at the port, an undercurrent of "things ain't right there." Now there's a report to put it in perspective.

Not much room for doubt any more: The suspicions are justified.

Private domestic definitions

Of course this was going to be a lawsuit - the people in Moscow should have (and maybe they did) seen this coming. This is exactly the sort of thing the Idaho Values Alliance and its allies live for.

On Monday, the Moscow City Council passed an ordinance detailing provisions for the health insurance it provides, through Regence Blue Shield of Idaho. Among other things, it allows for coverage of household members including "domestic partners" - Regence's language. The ordinance adds that "A City employee who files the Affidavit Of Qualifying Domestic Partnership acknowledges to Regence that the information provided in such Affidavit is for the sole purpose of determining eligibility for the related Regence Blue Shield of Idaho benefits and, therefore, is not an establishment of a 'domestic partnership' or of a 'domestic legal union' prohibited in the State of Idaho."

Not good enough for Bryan Fischer and the Idaho Values Alliance:

This action cannot go unchallenged, and cannot be allowed to stand. If Moscow gets away with granting domestic partnerships – including same-sex partnerships - equal status with one-man, one-woman marriages, the state’s marriage amendment will become meaningless.

The IVA will immediately begin to explore ways to trigger an investigation by the state Attorney General’s office into the blatantly unconstitutional conduct of what even locals call “The People’s Republic of Moscow.”

Fischer to the Spokesman-Review: "What Moscow did was to say that co-habiting and same-sex partnerships are legally and morally equivalent to the marriage of one man and one woman, and that is very bad public policy." Actually, Moscow's resolution said nothing of the sort (as you can tell by reading it). But that hardly matters:

And a new battle in the culture wars is underway.

Larson and Novick

Toward the end of his interview this morning with Democratic Senate candidate Steve Novick, Portland radio host Lars Larson said he'd like to invite Novick back. Sounds like a plan: Given time, this could turn into a neat point-counterpoint.

This morning's had its awkward moments. That may be partly because Novick was on phone rather than in studio (and it does make a difference; these kind of conversations can flow better when you have the visual cues in front of you). Probably too these two strong personalities were still getting the hang of having a discussion.

But they were right on the edge of something pretty good, real engagement between distinct world views, put by two highly skilled talkers.

Some of it was just some easy jousting: Novick tagging Larson for calling it the "Democrat" party instead of its proper name; Larsen saying he'd be glad to put the "ic" back in; Novick rejoinding the he wouldn't want to start calling Larson's party the "Repubes."

Most of the talk, what Novick came on to talk about, was Republican Senator Gordon Smith's praise of Senator Trent Lott for his praise of former Senator Strom Thurmond (specifically, Lott's statement that the country would have been better off if Thurmond's 1948 pro-segregation campaign had won the presidency). Larson didn't seem to take great issue with a lot of Novick's comments on this, though he did say the complaints would have more resonance with him if Lott himself had a segregationist past. To which Novick responded with some relevant background about Lott's close relationship with a number of white supremacist groups over the years.

Other subjects got less discussion. (On global warming, Novick: "Oh, good Lord, get with the program!" Larson: "I think I am with the program.") More would be good.

Ah, thinking about immigration

Bill Sali

Bill Sali

We're among those apt to be irritated by people who deliver an extensive case for some proposition or other and end it with the tag line, "don't you think?" Gee . . . thanks for inserting a whole litany of your thoughts and ideas into my mouth.

Idaho Representative Bill Sali has done something like that with his latest letter to constituents - this was an official and franked mailing - on immigration-related policy. (It is headlined: "An urgent message from U.S. Congressman Bill Sali: We must secure the borders - without amnesty - and make English the spoken language of the United States of America.") There's a survey (a two-choice response possible) at the end, but that follows three pages of single-spaced outline of Sali's position.

Sali, like many Republican political figures, has a difficult time right now with immigration and people who are in this country illegally: The Republican base is split on the subject. His letter tries to come off as definitive, but pause for thought and questions arise almost by the paragraph. Much of it is the usual mix of strengthening the borders, increasing enforcement while "ensuring that the U.S. has access to the temporary workers that its industries need" (while not turning employers into bureaucratic proxies and paper-shufflers) and streamlining the process of immigration. These pieces are most part of the broad conventional wisdom; what no one seems to have figured out yet is how to make them work together rather than in opposition. After reading the letter, it seems no one has yet.

The most distinctive element of this seems to be H.R. 997 (the "English Language Unity Act of 2007"), which would "to establish a uniform English language rule for naturalization, and to avoid misconstructions of the English language texts of the laws of the United States, pursuant to Congress' powers to provide for the general welfare of the United States and to establish a uniform rule of naturalization under article I, section 8, of the Constitution." It was introduced by Representative Steve King, R-Iowa, and isn't new; earlier versions (carrying the same bill number) were introduced, and died, in each of the last three terms of Congress, and in terms before that. Currently, it is lodged in the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education.

What goals does Sali set for it? "As part of a broader package to secure our nation's borders - without granting amnesty - I'm working on a proposal that would help make English the spoken [emphasis in original] language of the United States."


“We knew what he meant”

Gordon Smith

Gordon Smith

Among the many words spoken over a career in politics, departing Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi probably would include some of those he said back in late 2002 in praise of Senator Strom Thurmond, that the nation might have been better off if Dixiecrat (and ardent segregationist) Thurmond had been elected president in 1948.

Among the many words Oregon Senator Gordon Smith has uttered, he may come to regret a few he said this morning on the floor of the Senate, on occasion of Lott's leave-taking:

"I watched over international news as his words were misconstrued, words which we had heard him utter many times in his big warm-heartedness trying to make one of our colleagues, Strom Thurmond, feel good at 100 years old. We knew what he meant. But the wolfpack of the press circled around him, sensed blood in the water, and the exigencies of politics caused a great injustice..."

(His comments are available on UTube.)

Note that "we knew what he meant." And contrast it with Smith's public comments on the matter, to the Oregonian, in late 2002: "However they were intended [emphasis added], Senator Lott's words were offensive and I was deeply dismayed to hear of them. His statement goes against everything I and the people of Oregon believe in."

"We knew what he meant . . ." But what, then, did Smith mean when he spoke to the Oregonian five years ago? Did he mean it at all? (Smith became a key manager in Lott's eventual return to Senate leadership.)

We're not much interested in "gotcha" quotes or incidents. This wasn't just a misstatement or a misstep; this opens the door to something larger. Gordon Smith may have a time trying to circle this square.

The geography of the uninsured

Uninsurance report

Uninsurance report

Haven't seen a lot of visible response so far to last week's status report from Washington's office of the insurance commissioner, which may be partly because on its face - the preceding description - it doesn't sound like hot stuff.

The content is, though, or should be. And for the politically-minded among us, there's some terrific resource material packed in toward the back.

The main thrust of the report ("Threatening the Health Security of Washington") ought to be disturbing, if not especially surprising (for those who've paid attention to the woes of the medical care system these days). Except maybe in the details.

Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler has pulled together a strong case for getting covered those who have no health insurance, and the very large additional number who are drastically underinsured. He means to take the case to the 2008 legislative session, and if he makes serious headway at all it could be the biggest single thing the legislature does this session, or maybe this term. Among the pieces:

Guaranteed coverage for all Washingtonians • All Washington residents would have a guaranteed benefit plan that provides catastrophic coverage for unexpected health emergencies and guaranteed access to basic preventive care such as immunizations, cancer screening, and annual check-ups. All residents would be able to purchase additional coverage for the more routine health care not included in the guaranteed benefit plan. Premiums would be more affordable due to the plan, and subsidies would be available, on a sliding-scale, to help individuals and families purchase additional coverage.
Managing risk instead of avoiding it – changing insurance company behavior • The costs for insuring all Washington residents – regardless of their health status –would be covered through combined pooling and better managing risk, rather than avoiding risk by making coverage unavailable and unaffordable for some.
Personal responsibility • All residents would contribute according to their means and be encouraged to live healthy lifestyles, in part through guaranteed access to preventive care.

Is something like this doable? It's no slam dunk. But Washington legislators may be influenced by the example south of the Columbia, where Oregon officials already are busy setting up a health system approved by that state's legislature earlier this year. Handled with great care (as it was in Oregon), something like this might happen.

The report points to the urgency. After a description of the problem of the uninsured (about 700,000 or so Washingtonians), there's this on the insured: "Despite digging deep into their savings, raiding their retirement accounts and running up credit card balances, 27 percent of underinsured residents said they were still in debt to doctors and hospitals. Forty nine percent of all U.S. residents, and 43 percent of residents with insurance said they were “somewhat” to “completely medical emergency over the coming year."

The problems have ballooned all over the system. Increasingly, hospitals are eating medical costs, and the operative word is "increasingly." In 1996, Washington hospitals wrote off $160,347,281 in "uncompensated care"; exactly a decade later, the figure was $493,143,147 - tripled. That ought to be a number to conjure with at the statehouse.

Politics watchers can also find some juicy chart data here.


Starrett for Senate?

Mary Starrett

Mary Starrett

Maybe nothing comes of this, but we'll note here the possibility of a U.S. Senate candidate that could tip a balance if things are close in November: Mary Starrett, who ran for governor last year on the Constitution Party ticket.

From the Senate 2008 Guru site:

I engaged in a little investigative journalism and simply contacted Ms. Starrett. I mentioned the rumor and asked if a 2008 Senate bid was something she was considering. Her response by e-mail:

Anything's possible...and let's face it Gordon Smith needs a spanking, don't you think?

First off, that certainly isn't a "Nope, not considering a bid." And it certainly sounds like she's no fan of Gordon Smith. Like I mentioned on Saturday, she got 3.6% in the OR-Gov race, so her entry could cost Gordon Smith two or three percent.

Starrett's percentage in the governor's race was somewhat above that of most minor-party candidates, probably because she was a good candidate: Very presentable with strong candidate skills. She probably wouldn't get much more than that 3.6% in a Senate race, but then, depending on how things go, that could be an important 3.6%.

In favor of sending tax money out of state

The one-time diversion of corporate kicker (Oregon income tax refund) money this year drew little opposition, even from the business lobbies and corporations which were going to be losing the bucks. General public support seems substantial, since somewhere over four dollars out of five paid out in the corporate kicker go to businesses based out of state. So the opposition to removing the corporation kicker altogether (which would take constitutional and statutory changes), an effort begun last week, should be minimal, right?

Not necessarily. You can gauge an early sense of it from a post today by radio host Lars Larsen (shorter: it's all about liberal money-grabbing) and the comments following, on Oregon Catalyst.