The Talking Points Memo site has an excellent rundown of the prospects in the Democratic contests next week in the many Super Tuesday states, which include (alone in the Northwest) Idaho.

TPM’s take: “Idaho — Unknown: There has been no major polling here, but Obama should probably run well in Boise, the closest thing this deep-red state has to a Democratic stronghold. Total Delegates: 18″

Based on our observation and what we’ve heard around Idaho, the outcome is clearer than unknown. Barack Obama is likely to win the Democratic caucuses in Idaho very strongly. (The most recent indicators: Endorsement from all the Democratic candidates for the 1st district House, and from former Governor Cecil Andrus.)

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Things are moving around these days in the Idaho capitol mall, not limited to the shifting resulting from the Statehouse renovation. A bill just passed without opposition in the Idaho Senate touches on one of those: Moving the state law library.

The bill itself (Senate Bill 1271) is innocuous; the statement of purpose “provides that the State Law Library will continue to be in Boise, but removes the requirement that it be located in either the State Capitol or the Supreme Court building. This will allow greater flexibility and efficiency in the use of the Supreme Court building and open up additional options for housing the State Law Library.”

The library has for decades been located in state Supreme Court building, has been ever since that building was built. The plan now apparently is to move the state Court of Appeals into the first-floor space where the law library has been. That court has been renting nearby private space for years; the shift makes sense.

But where will the law library go? That’s a little unclear. There’s some talk that, for a while anyway, it may be packed up and stored (an odd prospect). There are options. One we heard suggests moving it to the old Ada County courthouse after the state legislature moves back to the renovated Statehouse; a nice thought.

Is the state law library needed? It is. It provides a core base of legal information and resources not just for attorneys but for others as well (we’ve gotten plenty of use out of it, and other public law libraries in the region, for years). In passing this new bill on the library (the House presumably will soon pass it as well), the Idaho Legislature has a kind of moral obligation to track its progress, wherever in Boise it may go.

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John Edwards

John Edwards

Of the recent dropouts from the presidential race, the one with the largest contingent of “name” support would be John Edwards, the Democratic former North Carolina senator.

Before wrapping up his role in the presidential – which entails the highly pertinent question of where his backers go now – we should point out that Edwards had a support base worth the pondering. Not so much in Idaho, to be sure, and significant but not especially high-profile in Washington. But in Oregon, the list is significant.

Both major Democratic candidates for the U.S. Senate, House Speaker Jeff Merkley and Portland activist Steve Novick, were Edwards backers. Others include state Senator Margaret Carter, D-Portland; Portland attorney Robert Stoll; Peter Bragdon, a major Democratic political figure now with Columbia Sportswear; developer Homer Williams; Beth Bernard of the Oregon Trial Lawyers Association; Jesse Cornett, vice chair of the state Democrats; and Kari Chisholm of Mandate Media. Among others.

The push and pull, Clinton and Obama, must already be underway.

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Imagine a candidate for office, maybe one seeking a newspaper’s endorsement, saying something like this: “No, I’m not going to tell you what I really think about that hot-button topic. I’m a politician. So I’m going to craft a stance that artfully straddles the issue to avoid offending anyone, while carefully dodging any disclosure of my real thinking. That bit of truthiness is good enough to pass, right?”

And of course it wouldn’t be: Reality is what’s important to journalists, not just image, right?

Well, tell that to Seattle Times news management, which is (not that this is unusual among American newspapers) discouraging news employees, especially those having anything to do with political coverage, from any political activity which might go public and indicate – gasp! – what personal opinions they might have.

The Times’ political editor, David Postman, writes that Executive Editor David Boardman has posted a memo which begins: “Our profession demands impartiality as well as the appearance of impartiality.” And goes on, “Staff members should avoid active involvement in any partisan causes that compromise the reader’s trust in the newspaper’s ability to report and edit fairly.”

Let’s rewrite that unkindly: “We all know you guys have opinions, at least we hope so, since if you didn’t that would indicate you’re not informed or smart enough to be here. The reading public is obviously aware of that too. We just don’t want to level with the public; we’d rather pretend that you’ve all somehow managed to deaden the opinion-making parts of your brains.”

Outside the news business, there’s a real lack of clarity about how a journalist can be opinionated and nonetheless fair and neutral in reporting. It can be done. On a day to day basis (speaking from background of working in newsrooms for 15 years or so), that’s not hard to understand. Widely understood and commonly accepted standards go into news reporting, and there’s a real professional pressure against reporting that veers too far positive or negative. The reconciliation of personal opinion with straight reportage is not as far-fetched as many people think; we’ve seen people with a wide range of personal views pull it off with solid professionalism.

At the same time, the violation of those standards, which of course happens too (and altogether too much nationally in recent years), happens in many of the best shops and in many of newsrooms where some of the toughest don’t-get-involved policies are posted.

Of himself, Postman writes, “I vote in all elections except for the presidential primary. I have not wanted to put my name on a list that identifies any party preference. And I would never participate in a caucus given that that is a party operation and not a public vote.”

Okay. But suppose he actually did the radical thing – you know, exercise his franchise to participate politically – and got himself listed and went a-caucusing. Would his writings on politics be less credible somehow?

Someone out there may think so, but we wouldn’t. In the end, what Postman (and his many counterparts major and minor) actually writes and reports is what matters, and that either stands up – is fair, accurate and makes sense – or it doesn’t. The only difference is that at present, we’re just left to guess at Postman’s (and other Timesians’) views and leanings, and how they may relate to what we read.

Not to mention that most of the political activists in Washington state already have plenty to say, regularly, about the horrible bias in the Times and every other news organization in sight. Newsroom policies notwithstanding.

And of course you know how political junkies are when a guessing game is afoot . . .

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Dirk Kempthorne

Dirk Kempthorne

Seems as if someone in the Northwest should make notice of this. So here we are (with a hat tip to the reader who pointed it out). Anyone watching the State of the Union speech last night might, if especially sharp-eyed, have noticed that while most of the high-ranking United States officials were there, a member of the cabinet was not, that being Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, formerly governor and senator from Idaho.

An Associated Press report explains: “By long-standing tradition, a member of the president’s Cabinet misses the speech to Congress as a precaution against the entire administration’s being wiped out and to maintain the presidential line of succession. Last year, then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales did not attend. It was the Veterans Affairs secretary the year before.”

One way to look at it is what might have happened if there had been a catastrophic attack. Another is by reflecting on the last two absentees; our reader ponders, “and we know what happened to them . . .”

ADDENDUM Someone else, it turns out, did make note of this – the New West Boise blog. Duly noted.

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Raul Labrador

Raul Labrador

Somebody needs to start keeping track of all the blogs being started by state legislators around the Northwest. Maybe we’ll do it.

Just noticed a promising new one today by Idaho Representative Raul Labrador, R-Eagle, a House freshman, hosted by the Idaho Statesman. It joins one started not many days ago by Democratic Senator David Langhorst.

A blog is, of course, only as useful as it is used, and contributed to. But these legislator views could be good reading as the sessions roll on. We’re not entirely convinced, though, of the case by Representative Brandon Durst, D-Boise (whose blog we noted last year), who after running an analogy to Martin Luther concludes blogging is “the new horizon in which the truth, from the perspective of the author is only a few keystrokes a way. In short, blogging is the political reformation.”

But it does indicate some ambition . . .

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foreclosure map

foreclosure map/RealtyTrac

The real estate market has been taken its long-predicted (here, among other places) hit, and foreclosures are rising fast. You see the headlines all over; but how do various areas compare?

A national firm, RealtyTrac (which is in the business of sales of foreclosed and distressed property), has answers including a national by-county map visible here. The areas where foreclosure rates are lowest are some of the more rural and least growth-prone around the Northwest, notably much of eastern Oregon and central Idaho

Remarkably, the three Northwest states are bunched together among the nation’s 50: Idaho ranks 20th, Washington 21st, Oregon 22nd.

Could be, though, that the trend line may push them apart. The one-year increase rates in foreclosures were quite different: Oregon 12.2% higher, Washington 27.9%, and Idaho 140.5% (though there is a note that rate might be somewhat inflated because of measurement changes).

See also a Seattle Times piece on this, noting the state’s high increase was in Pierce County.

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Idaho Oregon Washington

And why not? Illinois Senator Barack Obama already is heavily favored for Idaho’s February 5 Democratic caucuses, but a simple, short stop in the state could produce a wipeout win. The time and money investment for a short stop would be minimal; the PR and delegate gain could readily justify it.

Another thing. There ought to be a generally accepted standard that during the course of a campaign year, anyone who becomes a major party nominee for president ought to visit, even if briefly, all 50 states, not just the swings. Consider this a suggestion: Both party nominees should be pressured to do it. Among Republicans, Mitt Romney has (are there others? can’t recall) and this week Obama among the Democrats. Figure that they’re two who, in this regard, will be pre-qualified.

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Some of the most useful online Northwest blogging has been David Postman’s, in his reports from the road in eastern Washington, starting on January 23 and still ongoing. Not that he isn’t welcome back to Olympia, but here’s a reader who hopes he stays out there for a while.

We spent a fair amount of time on the road in eastern Washington (and Oregon) last year, and while there were limits to the political insights to be pulled up – almost all of these areas are deeply red, differing mostly by subtle shades – the attitudes and underturf of what makes them so is surprisingly varied. And Postman’s interviews and reviews seem to be getting, helpfully, at that.

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You’ve heard – well, if you’re reading this, you probably heard – about the video operator in mid-2006, a Democratic operative, who followed Virginia Senator George Allen around at public events, captured whatever he said or did. Allen one day made the mistake of talking about him and using the word “Macaca” in describing him, touching off a cascading series of blowups that eventually helped cost him a seat in the Senate.

That video operator was a “tracker” – that’s the job title now – and trackers these days are employed or put up with by most candidates for major office. Around here, we watched one watching 2006 Republican Senate candidate Mike McGavick, who occasionally referred to him on his travels around the state (but never made anything resembling a “Macaca” mistake). Trackers are busy again this year, on both sides in Oregon’s Senate race, and they’re becoming the subject of some contention.

Probably some kind of an informal but standard code of behavior is needed for this sort of thing. And probably it needs to start with acknowledgment of who the tracker is, and what he or she is doing there. It probably should continue with a strong press on candidates to allow the other side in, as, for example, McGavick did. (The results of the tracking didn’t seem, in his case, to do his candidacy any harm.)

The new round in Oregon started with a Eugene Register-Guard report about a Republican tracker who made his way into events held by Senate Democratic candidate Jeff Merkley. The tracker, Tim Lussier, apparently wrote the campaign to say that he was “a local activist and a big fan of Jeff. I’d love to find out when I can see him speak.” So they let him in.

Then they found out he has a substantial background with Republican politics and had even posted on line a picture of himself with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Russ Kelley of the Merkley campaign had a gripe about that: “But there’s an honest way to do it, and there’s a dishonest way to do it. You find out where they are through public notices and things like that. You don’t call and misrepresent yourself.”

That seems fair enough.

Republican blogger I Am Coyote at NW Republican had something of a counterpoint: A piece about a Democratic tracker who has tracked Republican Senator Gordon Smith, accompanied by a photo showing him wearing a press pass. He wrote: “Senator Smith was speaking with Wyden at the Oregon Business Summit’s meeting and this individual worked his way in as ‘press’ so he could shoot footage.”

That drew quick response from Marc Siegel of the Oregon Democratic Party: “Please correct your post about the DPO’s tracker. Our tracker told the organizers of the event who he was and who he worked for and they asked him to wear that badge and let him in. He told the truth, yet you are calling him a liar.”

There’s another question here too, though. If he was asked to label himself as press by the holders of the event, then the tracker isn’t to blame. But a deception was going on anyway, even if the fault wasn’t strictly on any side of the partisan line.

As we burrow deeper into the age of UTube, these kinds of things will be coming up. Maybe time has come to set a few guidelines.

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We weren’t among the leading fans of Oregon Senate candidate Steve Novick‘s first video spot; it drew attention to his physical differences from other candidates without suggesting why that could amount to a compelling argument for him.

The Portland Democrat’s second, web-only, ad is a little different, and we’ll give it a thumbs up (as it were). Subtle it may not be, but it slips up on you quietly and neatly, with humor and without beating you over the head. And yes, Novick actually is agreeable dining company even if you don’t need a bottle opened.

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The Twin Falls Times News lists its current reader comments on the front page of its web site. Third from the top is one with the headline, “Life as We Know It Will End if Hillary Becomes President.”

Question: What’s the percentage of Idahoans who essentially agree with that?

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Doesn’t feel like endorsement season, but if you’re going to have your say about presidential candidates, this would be the time. And the Seattle Times did, in part, today:

“The Seattle Times endorses Sen. Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination for president. He has the grasp, temperament and skills to right our standing in the world. He has broad insight and specific ideas to assuage our own hardworking citizens’ fears of an economy turning sour.”

The Republican endorsement is next Sunday. These have to do with the caucuses on February 9 and primary on February 19. (Yeah, yeah, we’ll discuss later.)

Meantime: Will there be a counterpart editorial in the Idaho Statesman, since Idaho Democrats caucus on February 5?

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bingen in snow

Bingen, Washington, in snow

This morning, back at home and blogging by the fireplace, thoughts return to that scene from last night, out of Dante – not the Inferno but the Icebox – and whatever may have happened to all those people . . .

What follows isn’t political, as such. It certainly is a matter of public affairs, and a reflect on how often people in positions of responsibility lose sight of the point of their work.

Friday was not a good day for travel across the width of the state of Oregon. Saturday looked better, and it wasn’t awful in its easternmost reaches, at least in early to midday; snow fell but the roads remained easily passable. On our journey, accompanied by a rescue dog headed from Nampa to Portland, trouble began with the ice rain, which started clunking down just past Arlington and was becoming inescapable by gasup at The Dalles.

Ahead, it apparently was much worse, at least account to Shell station gossip (which is usually pretty sound on such matters). US 84 had been shut down through much of the Gorge, from Cascade Locks to Troutdale on the east edge of Portland, because ice rain had led to a series of wrecks there. An alternative was to cross the Columbia and head west on Washington Highway 14; in fact, traffic between the Cascade Locks and Portland areas was being formally diverted there.

Sounded reasonable.

Westbound on 14, which is a narrow and sometimes twisty road but in many places more scenic than 84, was efficient – since we had light snow instead of the dread ice rain on the north side – and slowing only after we got through Bingen. Then, around the Carson area, maybe six or seven miles form the small city of Stevenson, we came to a stop. There were small advances, but in the two hours after reaching there about 4 p.m., we advanced little more than a mile. And then a complete stop. Darkness fell, and snow began falling heavily, piling two or three inches around the stopped vehicles.

People dealt with this in different ways. Some relaxed, turned their vehicles off and seemed to snooze. But for others the frustration level rose. Some tried driving on the mostly empty left-hand lane, only to be directed by a police officer to a parking lot (presumably to be ticketed later). Up and down the line, you could start to hear, after an hour or so had elapsed, loud voices. Turning to angry voices. Physical manifestation appeared not far away.

Your scribe tramped through the snow to ask the police officer what was happening. A half hour later, repeating the procedure. Little emerged from those efforts; a question elicited a strong rant against stupid and unprepared drivers, and he seemed little willing to say much else. He was connected with the regional law enforcement world by radio, however; he must have known more than he was saying.

After the stopped-vehicle coconut telegraph said that westbound on 14 was closed, period, presumably for the night, a third attempt at engagement followed. This time, the dialogue went about this way:

“There’s word back there that 14 west is closed, period. Is that the case?”

“Not closed, period,” he said. “It’ll be reopened when the accidents are cleared off. But every time traffic moves ahead, someone slides off or there’s a fender bender.”

“So you don’t know when it may be reopened. Could be hours.”

“It could be.”

“Could be morning.”

“That’s possible,” he said.

“Okay. Staying out here all night will be good for neither my health nor safety, nor that of the dog I’m carrying. You are a law enforcement officer sworn to protest health and safety as best you can. What is your best professional recommendation as what I should do?”

For a moment, that seemed to throw him; this wasn’t a challenge to his authority, but rather a request that he use it to help solve a problem. And after a moment’s pause, he did just that.

He asked for the preferred destination – which was, most directly, Portland – and said, “you can turn around, cross the Hood River bridge, and go west on 84 to Portland. They’ve reopened it. If I were in your shoes, that’s what I would do.”

After thanks and a nod, that is just what happened. The road doubling back toward Hood River had just been snow plowed (we followed a plow part of the way) and the traffic back was light. The rickety wire bridge was passable, and they waived the usual 75 cents toll. I-84 was snowpacked at Hood River through Cascade Locks, turning to slush and ice and finally plain rain after Multnomah Falls through to the Portland metro area, but ultimately passable.

What kept popping up, alongside the tight focus on a slow and cautious drive, was that scene of more than two miles of vehicles backed up near Carson. (A phrase from a character in the TV series Lost came to mind: “It’s gettin’ to Lord of the Flies time.”) And the question: Knowing what he did, why didn’t the police officer spread word through all those drivers, scores at least and maybe several hundred, that the way to go was back through Hood River? Why leave them to sit out in the cold and heavy snow? (And yes, there were pangs of guilt as we drove back; but how to communicate with them all?)

No doubt the cop was right that there were plenty of foolish drivers creating unnecessary problems up ahead. But why could he not have taken the next step: Actively trying to help those people stuck out in the deep freeze in the middle of the night, instead of waiting for someone to phrase the question in just the right way?

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As long as they keep acting this way, we’ll keep posting about it. Today’s latest case of inanity, courtesy the Boise airport (this account of it, though, courtesy of the Idaho Statesman):

About 400 passengers at the Boise Airport about noon Friday had to go through screening a second time after a California man seeking a shoe shine entered the secure area through the exit corridor, Transportation Safety Administration officials said.
TSA officials said the man, since identified as 38-year-old Jesse Flores, of Victorville, Calif., could not immediately be located in the terminal after he bypassed security. The breech caused the Boise Airport to be closed for about one hour and 20 minutes as Boise Police and the TSA investigated.

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