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Posts published in March 2008


Most recent legislative sessions in the Northwest have done something a little surprising - winding up either before or when they were expected to.

Why the current Idaho legislative session, originally expected to shut down well before the end of march and now expected to run well into next week, is taking longer than expected isn't completely clear. But it does seem to have slowed down its process to give more detailed considerations to a string of real issues, so that may not be such a bad thing.

Where the growth is

Th new census stats seem to emphasize some of the fastest growth around the country in mid-sized or smaller metro areas; in the year from the summer of 2006 to mid-2007, the fastest percentage growth in the Northwest among metros was in the Boise area (and it was by that measure the 13th fastest-growing nationally).

Here's how the numbers stack up, drawn from the Census Bureau's list of the 100 largest-growing (by raw numbers) metro areas around the country. Number 1 overall was Dallas-Fort Worth.

rank metro 07 pop % incr frm 06 added pop
13 Seattle 3,262,445 1.4 46,902
15 Portland 2,175,113 1.9 41,338
32 Boise 587,689 3.5 19,948
68 Spokane 456,175 2.0 8,783
83 Salem 386,714 1.8 6,852
99 Olympia 238,555 2.3 5,388
100 Tri-Cities 228,992 2.4 5,305

By percentage growth in the Northwest, the top growers were Boise (number 13), Idaho Falls (15), Bend (17), Coeur d'Alene (29), the Tri-Cities (41), Olympia (43) and Bellingham (52), Spokane (73), Portland (76), Salem (83), Wenatchee (85) and Longview (96). A small slice of Idaho around Preston is included in the Logan, Utah, metro, which ranks at 51.

Unaccounted for

According to a list compiled at the Democratic Convention Watch, these are the Northwest superdelegates who have not yet announced a preference in the Obama-Clinton contest. There are also some unfilled spots which in some cases could go to a northwesterner. Upshot: Oregon could become a hotspot in the super stakes.

bullet Idaho (1). State Chair Keith Roark.

bullet Oregon (9). Senator Ron Wyden; Representatives David Wu and Peter DeFazio; Secretary of State Bill Bradbury; State Chair Meredith Wood-Smith and party officials Frank Dixon, Jenny Greenleaf and Wayne Kinney; member at large Gail Rasmussen.

bullet Washington (7). Representatives Rick Larsen and Jim McDermott; State Chair Dwight Pelz, Vice Chair Eileen Macoll and party officials Ed Cote, Sharon Mast and David McDonald.


Don't know why it is that Washingtonians in particular seem to be sending this signal. But the signal seems, basically, clear enough; and it comes from two Democratic superdelegates, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell and King County Executive Ron Sims, who have announced support for Senator Hillary Clinton.

On Monday, Cantwell told the Vancouver Columbian's editorial board that

“If we have a candidate who has the most delegates and the most states,” the Democratic party should come together around that candidate, Cantwell said. The pledged delegate count will be the most important factor, she said, because that is the basis of the nominating process.

That essentially is an argument for Illinois Senator Barack Obama, who has an apparently insurmountable lead in both categories.

Today, Sims was a guest on the KUOW Weekday program (a limited transcript is up at the Slog), and spent a chunk of time talking about the presidential - but not by way of advocating for Clinton. He remarked, for example, that "I’ve watched this campaign. I’ve seen two people who I really like. And it just seems, if you look at the polls now, [they] are inflicting great damage on each other and that’s really gotta stop. To have people who support Senator Obama say, ‘I’m not going to support Senator Clinton,’ and to have people who support Senator Clinton say, ‘I’m not going to support Senator Obama’—my issue is, that should not be the national debate. I think we have an opportunity to head in a different direction, and we need to do that, but obviously this campaign is not doing that. And I think more of the superdelegates are beginning to say, 'Stop it.' And that’s being heard by the campaigns and the candidates, because they’ve got to stop this madness."

When the host suggested "that you are wavering and considering that your candidate maybe should withdraw in the interest of unity in the party," Sims responded, "Oh, I didn’t say that." Which doesn't sound like much of a flat rebuttal - that he wouldn't, period. Second later, he retierated that, "Yeah, I’m not changing it yet." Yet.

The Slog's conclusion: "He's wavering." That's two.

Developing DECD

There are candidates around Oregon this year, maybe most notably but not exclusively state Senator Vicki Walker of Eugene, who have showed some interest in doing a significant renovation of the state Department of Economic and Community Development. The department is oddly shaped, including both such things as tourism and boosterism and also management of infrastructure grants for local governments, such as water and sewer money. The combination, goes the argument, has led to problems.

Had sounded as if action on that might get underway next year. But apparently, things are moving more quickly. An Associated Press piece today says that efforts to break up the agency are rolling, and a review of its operations may be going ahead too. Nancy Hamilton, a staffer in the governor's office, was quoted, "These have been two cultures that should not live under one roof, a Legislature that tries to see them as one piece, and everything goes downhill from there." So it would seem.

So the legislature and officials in place in 2009 could be presented with a fait accompli, rather than a task to undertake.

The vote not to vote on it

If state Senator Kate Kelly is reporting accurately, she has been receiving a number of inquiries from Idahoans about Senate Bill 1302, inquiring, "Why isn't it being voted on this year?"

The answers solicited from the people who control the flow of legislation in the Idaho Senate - Republican leadership and committee chairs - give the sense that, well, it was just caught up in procedure. State Affairs Chairman Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, for one example, said on the Senate floor that “The bill has been called for on the 79th day. I don’t think it is appropriate to pull a bill out from committee at this late date. … We have a committee process. … The committee process is important to getting our business done.” Senator Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, “We simply do not have enough time to hear every bill and to vote on every single bill.”

No, but there's not the level of interest and timely pertinence attached to every bill that there is in this case. SB 1302 is the "revolving door" bill, the one "to prohibit lobbying and
registration as lobbyists by former executive officials or legislators for a period of one year from termination of office." A concept in force (in similar fashion at least) in many other states. And a revolving door Idahoans have been seeing swing a lot faster in recent years.

There's nothing especially unusual procedurally about what has happened to it. Introduced on January 18 in the Senate State Affairs Committee, it never was scheduled by the chair (McKenzie) for hearing or an up or down vote. Senators from the floor have the option to "call" the bill from the committee, and a majority vote of the Senate can do that. Senate Democrats' attempt to do that, unsurprisingly, failed.

A number of the senators who voted in opposition argued for the sanctity of the committee system. But that's really not good enough. What the vote really was, was a vote on whether the Senate should go on record formally supporting or opposing the bill; and a majority of the Senate decided not to go on record. In effect, the vote was an up or down on the substance of the bill.

The vote may have been procedural, but the effect was just that substantive. As a practical matter, the majority of the Senate doesn't want legislation to stop or slow the revolving door; they know took many people who have taken that trip, or may before long. There's no surprise in any of this, but what's being described as just part of the process is certainly more than that, and ought to be treated as such.

Formerly known as

Ben Ysursa

Ben Ysursa

Voter confusion does happen, and a guy immersed for a third of a century in running a state's elections certainly would be sensitized to that. And to attempted end runs around the system, too.

So Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa seems right in his proposal - which looks likely to fly this week through the soon-ending legislature - to require that when a person legally changes his or her name to a political slogan and then runs for office, that the ballot include (just as record store rack jobbers did with the musician Prince) a note that this person was formerly known as, whatever. In this case, the candidate name "Pro-Life", formerly known as Marvin Richardson. Ysursa pointed out that some voters may check off "Pro-Life" thinking they're supporting an issue, and another candidate for the Senate as well, resulting in an "overvote" - invalid balloting.

Richardson's - ah, Pro-Life's - response was predictably negative: “It’s pretty stupid, really, to say that a voter doesn’t know what he’s doing.”

The problem is that Richardson's name-change gambit has to be premised on just that kind of confusion: To encourage a voter to approve him based on approval of an issue. Why else would Marvin Richardson, running as Marvin Richardson campaign on a pro-life platform, not be good enough? You periodically see candidates with unusual names on the ballot (say, the perennial Mike the Mover in Washington). Most of them don't generate any real confusion, though. "Pro-Life" does. If ballots should be clear and simple, and they should be, the added bit of information Ysursa calls for ought to help.

Candidate deficit

The candidate filing deadline still is months away in Washington, but there are indicators that Republicans in the Evergreen state may be as troubled in their candidate recruitment this year as they were south of Columbia, where a bunch of challenge-able Democrats were left with a free ride.

The Tacoma News Tribune has been tracking some of the fallout from internal disputes in the state Senate Republican caucus growing out of allegations against Senator Pam Roach, who was described as abusive toward the party's caucus staff. (And there have been issues with her own staff too, but that's another story.)

Something else the paper ran into was a letter sent last week to fellow caucus members from Senator Don Benton, R-Vancouver, who is disquieted at the level of Republican candidate recruitment so far: “This is a sad commentary on the effectiveness of our whole team in recruiting candidates. Think about it seriously, 16 Democrat seats up, seven where we stand a good chance … and only two candidates. Holy cow does anyone see a problem here?” And the Republicans are pretty far down as it is; the Democratic 32-17 edge is near to two-thirds control.

On one hand, candidate recruitment is far from done; the deadline is June 6. But the reality is that legislative candidates challenging incumbents have been running and organizing long before that; five months ordinarily isn't enough to pull off such a major effort. Legislative districts in Washington are large enough, especially on the Senate side, that serious work on such an effort should be underway toward the start of the calendar year.

Benton's concerns seem solidly based.

Bigger and bigger brother

And right after the Claude Dallas story from Boise, which has as its theme a governmental coverup of incompetence, read this column from Danny Westneat of the Seattle Times, which is about how that same government is watching us, all of us ever more closely.

The whole thing is chilling, from the opening lines about checking citizenship records on domestic ferries, but reaches a peak with the story of a federal monitor for radioactive material on I-5 so sensitive that "the government now has the ability to detect radiation in a cat inside a car going by at 70 miles per hour. And wow at this world we live in, where we feel compelled to sniff, at random, inside the traffic coming out of Bellingham."

Not all of us feel so compelled. But those in power evidently do, which should be more than a little frightening. The closer quote from San Juan County Councilman Kevin Ranker: "I think it's fair to say many people up here have been left wondering just what kind of country it is they're living in."