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Posts published in February 2008

Measuring expectations

Oregon SenateIn Idaho, where - as in Oregon - the legislature is launching its activities under strained physical circumstances - expectations for this 2008 session are slight. Ask legislative leaders what they hope this session will accomplish and, once you get past dealing with the budget and money matters, they run dry quickly. And that's not the criticism it may seem. In most specific sessions of any state legislature, the only thing that has to be done is the updating of the state's ledger. When that's done, as legislators almost everywhere know, their obligatory work is done, and they can adjourn.

In the runup to today's launch of the special - with hopes of becoming regular - even-yeared session of the Oregon Legislative Assembly, there's been a lot of harrumphing from many quarters about what bar the legislature must meet to justify its annual appearance. That subject will doubtless return in discussion over the rest of the year, whatever lawmaker do or don't. (Vic Gilliam: "Is it a historic event or a sneaky play for a full-time Legislature?" The Oregonian's David Reinhard, who supports annual sessions: 'As The Oregonian's Harry Esteve wrote in last Sunday's Opinion section, it's being called the 'Seinfeld session' - the session about nothing - and legislators 'desperately want to show the public they can act like grown-ups.' That's a political strategy, not a governing strategy.")

Our take is that this attempt to establish an annual legislative session shouldn't be held to a standard higher than any other (or lower either). Minimally, it should get the state properly updated financially. To do better than the minimum, it also ought to address other important developing situations (the housing finance collapse comes to mind, among others) and review progress since the last session.

A good session (and the last one was pretty good) would be worth aspiring to. But it doesn't seem essential to make the point. (more…)

Quite the coincidence

Jim Ellick

Jim Ellick

Was just three weeks or so ago, around January 11, when the new director of the Idaho Department of Commerce, Jim Ellick, had a blunt suggestion delivered to some Idaho legislators, and also to reporters.

It concerned the real-world possibility that Micron Technology's future in Idaho is not an absolute lock. In suggesting that the state consider how it would plan for the alternate possibilities of Micron staying as is or scaling back in Idaho, as he put it to the Idaho Statesman, Micron is "either going to stay and everything's great or they're going to leave and everything's bad."

Sounds utterly sensible. The only problem was that Ellick's boss, Governor C.L. ."Butch" Otter, has declined to include in any of his (public, at least) budget, revenue or economic projections any indication of what would happen if, say, Micron moved a substantial portion of its Idaho manufacturing offshore. That appears to be The Subject Which May Not Be Spoken.

Today comes word from the governor's office that Ellick has taken a leave "for personal reasons" and that his return, if at all, is "open ended."

Purely coincidental, of course.

Just about everybody: Obama/McCain

The presidential rolls on hard, as newspaper endorsements keep rolling in. Last week, the Seattle Times backed Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination. This week, they go with Arizona Senator John McCain for the Republican: "Arizona Sen. John McCain represents the Republican Party's best hope for victory in November, and the best opportunity for the country to have an informed, constructive presidential election."

The often-distinctive Post-Intelligencer isn't, this time: It too backs Obama and McCain. It's overal conclusions: "In this history-making race, Sen. Barack Obama is the better choice over his worthy rival, Sen. Hillary Clinton, because of the real prospects he offers for change in domestic policy, the tone of government in Washington, D.C., and the conduct of foreign affairs. We are less enamored of the Republicans. Undisturbed by a wrongly launched war of aggression, the leading contenders have competed to show who would be best at standing by the Bush-Cheney legacy of arrogant intervention. Despite his embrace of a particularly dangerous stance on Iraq, Sen. John McCain stands out on the basis of his forceful climate change position, his independence and his distinguished record of public service."

Then there's the Tacoma News Tribune, which also did the Obama and McCain thing: "Obama and McCain are principled, yet possess open minds. Neither carries grudges into policymaking; neither maintains the equivalent of Richard Nixon’s “enemies list.” Both are comfortable dealing with ideological opponents – with anybody, really – and appear capable of being persuaded by good arguments from the other side."

And the Vancouver Columbian, same story: "One is a war hero, the other an icon of diversity. What could a 71-year-old maverick from Arizona possibly have in common with a 46-year-old uniter from Chicago?"

The Portland Oregonian, meantime, does the same pair of endorsements - Obama and McCain. So far as we can tell, its the only Oregon paper to specifically endorse in the presidential so far (though the Albany Democrat-Herald has opined that "it is heartening" that Obama and McCain have so far beat expectations).

Which also are the same as the largest paper in California (the Los Angeles Times) - a sweep of the coast for those two.

Over in Idaho, the Idaho Statesman hasn't endorsed (though it has some kind words for Obama's visit to Boise yesterday.) But the endorsements out so far are striking in their singularity. What will the voters say Tuesday?

Obama in Boise

Obama Boise

The crowd at the Obama event, 360 view/Obama campaign

The crowd estimate for the Barack Obama event in Boise today was just under 15,000, making it one of the largest political events ever in Idaho.

One commenter (from Vermont) on the Obama campaign blog remarked, "Wow, I didn't know there were that many people in Idaho much less Democrats. The stage has more people on it than attended Larry Craig's last press conference." (Be it noted that Idaho has a substantially larger population than Vermont.)

One e-mailer to us suggested the reason for the Obama visit to Boise, at a moment when California swings in the balance and other, bigger states are calling, is the visual: The mass crowd Obama is able to draw in Idaho, the heartland of the reds. It's an impressive message, all right; with what effect, we'll all find out on Tuesday.

Mosman ruling: Two tracks

Two topics are worth following in the wake of today's federal court decision on the new Oregon domestic partnership law, a decision allowing it to go into effect more or less immediately.

It had been on hold (though scheduled for implementation January 2) because Federal Judge Michael Mosman had questions about the signatures gathered in an attempt to block the law. If enough valid signatures were properly gathered, the law would have been put on the November ballot as a referendum, to be voted up or down, and in the meantime would be suspended. The signatures gathered were approximated the necessary legal requirement, but after elections officials threw out those deemed invalid, the effort fell 96 signatures short. The referendum advocates went to court, and Mosman on December 28 ordered enjoined the law from taking effect until the signature issue was sorted out.

The sorting was what he did in court today, over about five hours. He concluded that the referendum backers indeed fell short, and the law should go into effect.

Two pieces of fallout.

One is that the political battle isn't yet over, though once the law is actually in force and in effect it will be increasingly hard to overturn. The court issue may go on, and could be appealed, though appellate courts usually are loathe to overturn lower court rules on matters of fact - which was key here - as opposed to matters of law interpretation. Or there could be legal challenges on the substance, and you never know what might happen there, The law's critics can try other avenues, such as an initiative, but odds of that succeeding aren't good; if there's not enough push to easily generate more than enough petition signatures, then odds of electoral success are less than even. Odds are that domestic partnerships are here to stay in Oregon.

The other aspect of this, a little troubling, is the variable and uneasily subjective standards that seem to be used in deciding the veracity of signatures. One report noted that "Mosman called out the SoS [secretary of state] for the not-very-well-articulated standards when it comes to signature verification." That would be well worth a closer look, since the battle over signature verification is likely far from over, and may go on longer than the political contest over the substance.

Metsger’s version

Rick Metsger

Rick Metsger

The run for Oregon secretary of state may slow just a bit next week with the opening of the Oregon Legislature, seeing as how all four of the candidates (all Democrats; no Republican yet) are state senators. But some of the contours of the race are coming clearer, thanks to talks we've had with two of the candidates so far, Vicki Walker early in January, and this week with Rick Metsger. (At some point we hope to chat as well with the other two contenders, Kate Brown and Brad Avakian.)

Metsger, deep-snowed out of his mountainside house at Welches, was in Salem on campaign and Senate activities, and waxing intense on his view of what the secretary of state's office ought to be. Walker had, too, but Metsger's approach was distinct from hers. Among these four candidates who aren't radically different in political ideology, those takes on how the office should be shaped may be some of the most useful defining differences between them.

Hadn't seen Metsger's tack on this coming, based on what we knew of his background and saw on his web site. The web centerpiece is Metsger's endorsement by Bill Walton, the Trailblazer of years back, who met Metsger back when Metsger was the sports anchor for Portland KOIN-TV. That media background and the big initial endorsement might suggest slick and light on substance, but Metsger's take on what the office should be and what he'd like to do with it takes his candidacy in a whole different direction.

It starts with something fairly ordinary for candidates - "as I listen to people about where Oregon is going, people want leadership" - but Metsger seems to have something specific in mind: "Confidence in government: Confidence by the electorate that the government is doing what it is supposed to do." (more…)