"I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors." - Thomas Jefferson (appears in the Jefferson Memorial)

Why does this seem just, simply, natural? From an update on the Idaho Statesman web site:

“Canyon County Commissioner Dave Ferdinand thought he had prepped his bags for boarding an airplane Thursday, but he forgot one big thing – a loaded gun, county spokeswoman Angie Sillonis said. Ferdinand was headed to Washington, D.C., for a National Association of Counties conference when an airport X-ray discovered the weapon in a carry-on bag and alerted police. He was cited with a misdemeanor, then released to fly to D.C., said Sillonis, who talked to Ferdinand Friday afternoon.”

Wonder what they’d do if you’re not a county commissioner . . .

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The ipoff here is is quiet – the way this bill, a bill substantive and with real practical effect on a subject of undenied importance, just quietly slid through the process. That it seems to have generated no news stories was of course beyond the realm of legislators, but the quiet and apparent lack of debate – so far as we can tell, the relevant committee minutes from weeks ago still not having been posted – constitute the tell.

The bill passed the House 61-4 and is poised (as of records on line today) for a final vote on the Senate floor.

The subject here is House Bill 465, sponsored by Representative Lynn Luker, R-Meridian, which expands local government planning and zoning authority. In the Idaho Legislature? Without hoo-rah about ever-encroaching socialism? Well, the deal in this case is that local governments essentially have been barred, under state law, from discriminating against setting up group homes for the handicapped, which in extended definition includes those suffering from addictions. A federal law which covers related territory doesn’t include that extended definition, so this bill is structured as a sort of “bring it in line with” type measure.

But that’s not why the easy acceptance, of course. Few people really want group homes for addicts set up in their neighborhoods, and this would be a nice, quiet way to keep that from happening. It’s a sweep-em-under the rug measure, the only catch being that addicts, including those released from behind bars, have to go somewhere. So the bill is almost designed to set up a circular problem – a snake that eats its tail.

The immediate impetus for the bill likely was the series of group homes which has been organized in the Boise area by Dennis Mansfield. (We toured some of his New Hope facilities last month.) The norm in this sort of legislation is that you bring together affected parties and work through a compromise position. But on his blog, here’s what Mansfield is saying has happened:

Neither I nor anyone in this recovery-based industry nor
( I believe) the Department of Corrections ever EVEN knew the bill was being drafted, ever read the RS, ever were invited to any discussion on anything about it….and only came to the Senate Committee to give comment on the bill after I vigorously requested from Rep. Luker that the bill presentation be delayed so he could hear our concerns, but was denied the chance.

Lynn, who’s been a friend of mine in the past, expressed to me that this was a “mild’ bill. Read it for yourself. The new section of the bill reads as follows:

(d) The limitations provided for in subsections (b) and (c) of this sec-tion shall not apply to tenancy or planned tenancy in a group residence, as defined in section 67-6531, Idaho Code, by persons who are under the supervision of the state board of correction pursuant to section 20-219, Idaho Code, or who are required to register pursuant to chapter 83 or 84, title 18, Idaho Code, or whose tenancy would otherwise constitute a direct threat to the health or safety of other individuals or whose tenancy would result in substantial physical damage to the property of others.

What this appears to mean is that any person who is an addict AND on proba-
tion or parole SHALL NOT be allowed the equal protection of the Americans
with Disabilities Act or the Fair Housing Act.

If anyone has an alternative take on how the measure was presented an information about it distributed, let us know and we’ll post it. Assuming Mansfield is correct, what’s happened is a breach of legislative norms.

And an attempt not to try solving a problem, but to sweep it away – dump it in the landfill. Somehow. Somewhere . . .

Mansfield quoted one of his clients this way: “As I sat and listened to Representative Lynn Luker’s remarks about House Bill 465, I couldn’t help but feel the overwhelming “division” between “us” and “them”. From my perspective, he painted the perfect picture of “us” as the exclusion from “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…” We were at one time included, but because we made mistakes in our lives, we have been deemed unworthy of the above aspects of the unalienable rights. It is as if to say that yes, they acknowledge that we are human beings, but just a lower level of human beings than they.”

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Anybody considering their votes on the latest lock-em-up proposals on the Oregon ballot really owes it to read the just-released (released today) report on prison populations from the Pew Center on the States. The headline finding is that one out of every 99 adult Americans is now behind bars – an incredible thing in itself.

There’s a chart on page 14 showing, by state, how much of the state general funds corrections eats. Turns out the highest in the nation is Oregon, at 10.9% – and that was a 4.6% increase in portion of the general fund over the last 20 years.

All three Northwest states have something to learn and grimace at here, though. In Idaho, the percentage of general fund is 6.9% (up 3.8%), and in Washington 5.9% (up 2.4%). The national average is 6.8%. Nationally, over the last two decades, spending on prisons and corrections has risen 127%, while spending on higher education has risen 21%.

And Idaho has some of the most spendy trends: it incarcerates 784 of every 100,000 people in the states – 11th highest in the nation – to Oregon’s 531 and Washington’s 465.

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Idaho Oregon Washington

Agood description of world views in conflict, in a legislative setting . . . something that happens daily at a legislature, but only occasionally perceived well.

Idaho Representative Nicole LeFavour makes clear her view of the legislation in this case, but gets to the view from within the opposition as well in this from her blog . . .

The committee was hearing two bills from the prosecutor’s association. Both allowed for a felony charge if a person is found guilty of breaking a domestic violence protection order or a no contact protective order for a third time.
In debate, Phil Hart was concerned that his ex wife’s own past behavior and accusations would land him a felony charge even if he did nothing wrong. Raul Labrador thought that it was too easy for people to get a protection order just to try to get custody of the kids in divorce proceedings. Lynn Luker moved to kill both bills because he says that judges can put people in jail enough already under the existing law.
None of these legislators I suspect has ever experienced domestic violence or stalking. None has spent long months with every day feeling like a dreaded test of your will to live. Every day a question of whether you can survive psychologically long enough until you are no longer followed, no longer haunted by phone calls, impersonated, no longer tired of having the police on auto-dial, filing report after report, no longer exhausted waiting for your stalker to maybe snap and kill you with a gun, a car or fist.

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You’ve been reading no doubt about the heavy gas prices increases around the country. (And we’ve been grimacing on our recent road excursions around the region.) And the headlines about – uh – $4/gallon gas.

Sounds like a less than ideal moment for a gas tax increase.

As they’re finding out in Eugene. There, the city has had a three-cent local gas tax recently upped to five cents. Except that on Wednesday the Oregon Petroleum Association showed up with petitions bearing, it said, 11,084 signatures. Enough presumably to send the issue to the primary election ballot May 20, and halt the increase in the meantime. And costing city road repair funds an estimated $1.3 million a year.

Transportation is a tough one.

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Coffee at the Washington statehouse coffee shop (Under the Dome) yesterday with a couple statehouse reporters – Adam Wilson of the Olympian and Rich Roesler of the Spokane Spokesman Review, both fine bloggers – led to a Wilson post, which may be of interest (the focus being the Obama-Clinton race).

The statehouse reporters at Olympia work generally out of a building about a block from the legislative building called the Blue House (it formerly being a house, and it still being painted blue). It appears that the journalists working there overwhelmingly are bloggers, Wilson and Roesler being two examples. But the number is large and growing. Walking out of the building, we chatted briefly with a reporter from the Yakima Herald-Republic, who we thought wasn’t a blogger. Turned out, she was.

Before long, there may not be many reporters who aren’t.

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Interesting morning on the Washington Senate floor, as the members scrapped over amendments to House Bill 2878, a supplemental budget bill.

Which one got so much interest? This was the transportation funding bill.

Just now, a proposal to increase funding for improvements on Highway 2 over the Cascades, a road that, in our observation, could use it. Nobody really argued that improvements aren’t needed; the issue was that the limited available money is being pulled in so many different amendments.

Even the Snohomish County delegation was split on the matter, and so were the King Countians. After Senator Ed Murray, D-Seattle, ran through a strong argument against the spending, another senator, Cheryl Pflug, R-Maple Valley, rose to object to his use of the word “snide.” He withdrew it. (The proposal ultimately failed, 19-30.)

And so it went on, and on – proposal after proposal, some of them aimed broadly (one that had to do with encouraging car sharing and leases) and narrowly (very specific projects – can you say “earmark”?). Through it, Senator Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, rose repeatedly to keep the existing transport funding bill more or less intact (more successfully than not, it seemed).

Do you get the impression that transportation is right up there on the political front burner in Washington?

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The mayor of Arlington, Oregon, has been recalled on a vote of 139-142, in large part because she once posted a picture – taken before she became mayor – dressed in what amounts to a swim suit.

Consider this another argument for reform of the recall law . . .

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You hear about it with corporations – having a specific culture, in which things happen in part because they’re simply expected to, or not to. It’s true of other organizations too; patterns of thought become ingrained, and alternative ways of thinking just have a hard time taking root.

Consider the Idaho state Board of Education, recently hand-slapped, sort of, for “a non-knowing violation of the Open Meeting Law.” Today reporter Betsy Russell (of the Spokane Spokesman-Review), who filed the initial complaint leading to the AG’s action, blogged this:

“The state Board of Education has sent out its schedule for meetings this week, and it includes “open government training” this Wednesday at 3:30 p.m., followed immediately by – you guessed it – a closed-door, executive session at 5 p.m.”

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Rick Dancer

Rick Dancer

Oregon has some back history of television newscasters running for public office, successfully. The most emblematic Oregon politician of recent decades, Tom McCall, a reporter and analyst at KATU in Portland for years, was one of them, until he ran successfully for secretary of state. He did, though, have some political experience, including staff work in the Oregon governor’s office and a failed run for Congress in 1954, as well as sundry Republican Party work, under his belt by that point.

Will lightning strike again? Oregon Republicans may be banking on it. On the 11 p.m. news program at KEZI in Eugene, anchor Rick Dancer announced he’s leaving his job and will run for secretary of state, as a Republican. He becomes the first Republican to specifically announce for any of the three constitutional offices (attorney general and treasurer are the others) up for election this year. Four Democrats are running for sec-state.

Dancer is well-known in the Eugene area; he has been a reporter or anchor at KEZI (which broadcasts north to Corvallis, south to Roseburg and west to the coast) since 1989. He’s a familiar figure, but not especially identified with specific issues. (His station does note on a descriptive page that he’s been “especially interested in children’s issues.”) In McCall’s day, in the late fifties to mid-sixties, local television was active in a wide range of issues, and long-form and even investigative reports – McCall did a number of those over the years – were an ordinary part of newscasting. Local television news, as anyone who watches it knows, is a lot different now. Dancer – for reasons certainly not his doing – has by necessity to enter the race as more of a cipher.

Politically, that could be good or bad. Dancer starts as a blank slate, so much can depend on how he defines himself.

But unlike McCall, who drew on political alliances and networks from early on, Dancer is starting from scratch. And Dancer evidently understands that; his announcement on his personal web site concludes, “Agreement on Dancer’s departure from KEZI-TV was not reached until last week. Because of his position as a TV journalist, Dancer has not been able to assemble his campaign team or make arrangements for organizing his campaign prior to Sunday night. Further details will be announced as they become available.” The four Democrats in the race have been organizing, campaigning and fundraising for months. That difference isn’t minor.

Coyote at NW Republican has been tapping at the idea of a Eugene Republican as a strong statewide contender, and cheered on Dancer’s entry: “Rick Dancer will pose a real problem for any Democrat interested in SoS and poses and GREAT opportunity for the GOP to take this seat back.” The Lane County location, he suggests, will be an asset, along with Dancer’s back visibility through the region; as a television personality, he should already have well-developed media skills.

And state Republican Chair Vance Day drove to Eugene to welcome him into the field.

On the other hand, Oregon Rino Watch has already taken a swipe at him: “If you didn’t hear Lars Larson’s interview today with Republican Oregon Secretary of State candidate, Rick Dancer, you missed hearing from a TOTALLY uninformed and Weak candidate. Dancer’s answers to Lars questions were pathetic regarding this: Lars: ‘Should Oregonians have to prove their US Citizenship to register to vote?’ Dancer: (after a pause) ‘Gee don’t we have to already? I thought that is already the law’ …… Sorry folks, Rick Dancer ain’t the guy for Republicans . . .”

Not a lot comment yet from Democrats. Though there was this snark in a comment on Blue Oregon: “Damned liberals in the media…now they wanna run for pub…er uh, er uh, sorry.”

What it all adds up to . . . Dancer starts from serious disadvantage, help from his party’s structure notwithstanding. But the Republicans can at least say they now have a candidate for secretary of state.

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Our take on the policy argument is that Idaho’s Joint Finance-Appropriations (budget) Committee’s action restoring $10.7 million to the Office of Drug Policy – money that would be aimed at maintaining drug treatment services at existing levels, rather than being sliced to ribbons – was the right move. But it also had a secondary beneficial side effect: Exposing why the cut was proposed in the first place, and maybe revealing more even than that.

Last year Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter brought together several anti-drug state efforts under one roof, the ODP, and put former legislator Debbie Field in charge. The office handled significant funds, including a large $21 million federal grant. That money is going away, leaving the substance abuse treatment efforts with a measly $3 million. In preparing the proposed budget for this session, she proposed replacing much of it. In making his budget decisions, Otter eliminated the backfill, drastically cutting drug treatment programs.

Policy note here: He was doing that at the same time he was calling for major stat rampups on prison spending. That would suggest he’d rather spend vastly more money on warehousing people who have gotten deeper and deeper into trouble than spending fewer bucks working to keep them out of trouble and productive in the state’s society. But that wasn’t the argument he made.

The Idaho Statesman reported on the governor’s rationale – inadequate paperwork:

“Debbie’s budget was no different than anybody else’s,” Otter told me. “They were spending 7 million bucks a year and not takin’ a single note. … I just couldn’t in good conscience say, ‘Well, OK, just because the feds walked away from it, we’re gonna pick it up.'”

“I don’t disagree,” said Field, who missed by 10 weeks her deadline to justify her spending request. “People couldn’t give me data that I asked for.”

This made little sense. Most governors, faced with a subordinate who had failed to develop the necessary information to determine proper funding levels for a program, would have ordered the information be developed, or find someone else who would get the job done.

But now we have a little more information to evaluate with.

Today, JFAC added in $10.5 million for substance abuse treatment, deeming it a sound use of state money. What was interesting was the response to that from Otter’s budget chief, Wayne Hammon. He said, at one point, that “Yes, we need to do something about drug treatment, but this is a lot of money.”

But then there was this, noting also that legislators had approved less than Otter wanted for state employee pay increases: “Is their priority state employees? No, it’s drug users, that’s their priority.”

It isn’t, of course; drug treatment, with the idea that it might be a sounder way of spending money, was. But unless we’re much mistaken, the real rationale from the governor’s office was just given away this morning.

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We’ve held off rolling out poll results for a while, but the new University of Washington poll – its 5.6% margin of error notwithstanding – seems a fair spot to jump back in. It is, after all, an academic rather than a partisan poll. Detailed results and specs are in powerpoint. Of interest here are the numbers developed for presidential and gubernatorial races. It was conducted between the caucuses and primary this month.

In common with polling in a number of other places, this one said that Republican John McCain polls slightly ahead of Democrat Hillary Clinton (48.6%-45.1%) but significantly behind Democrat Barack Obama (40.3%-54.9%). Where came the difference? Well, Clinton and Obama drew equally well among fellow Democrats, but while Clinton got no – literally zero – Republican crossovers, Obama got 9.7% – drawn straight out of McCain’s percentage. He also did better among independents.

In the gubernatorial, this poll showed a wider gap than some other polls in recent months. Most others have given Democratic incumbent Chris Gregoire a small edge, but within the margin of error, over Republican Dino Rossi. This one has a bigger margin for Gregoire – 53.7%-42.1%. What notable here is that the last time the UW polled on this, in October, the Gregoire lead was 42.4%-42.1% – essentially a tie. The change mainly reflected improved Gregoire numbers primarily among independents, and secondarily among her fellow Democrats. Rossi’s numbers remained close to the same from last fall.

We’ll be watching to see if other polling reflects the UW.

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