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Posts published in April 2008

The local paper, 2.0

The newly newspaper-less counties in Idaho who just got word their weeklies in Shoshone and Rupert will be closed, might have another option. Over in western Washington, the same thing just happened to the small community of Orting. There, the locals didn't just sit still for it: They up and created their own new online newspaper, with contributions from the editor of the old print version.

Via Olympia Time, we were interested to read an early edition of the new effort, the Orting News. Some Idahoans might want to swing by as well.

OR: Primary preview/the majors

T-minus a week to two (there's some flexiblity) for the mailing, and then the marking, of primary election ballots in Oregon. (Deadline, and counting day, is May 20.) Time to take stock. Herewith, a short overview of the main races on the ballot, in this post those for major office, and upcoming a rundown of the most notable legislative contests. They're listed more or less in order of significance (as we work it out) . . .

Barack Obama

Barack Obama

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton

bullet President/Democratic. Has to go first - who ever would have figured three months ago that the Oregon contest might have had real national significance? And yet it could, ironically because it is so late in the season. Only one Democratic primary election date, June 3, will follow the concurrent Oregon/Kentucky contests, and both of those small states are probably gimmes for Illinois Senator Barack Obama, and Kentucky is widely considered a slam for New York Senator Hillary Clinton. Oregon is as close as it gets to a genuine end-game contest between the two. (Although be it noted: We're in that large crowd of analysts who've concluded - in our case ever since the Wisconsin primary - that the only way Clint wins the nomination is through some wildly unforeseen earth-shaking event; the odds against her at this point are overwhelming.)

Not that the point should be pressed too far: We'd bet on Obama winning Oregon, albeit we're less sure of the margins. Both campaigns are digging in deep and hard, Bill Clinton is already scheduled for a return visit, and Oregon could become scorched political country over the next month. Right now, the May 6 Indiana and North Carolina primaries necessarily get top billing and attention, but after that (assuming the race is still on) Oregon logically rises to the top of the field. Question: What impact might this have on in-state races? (more…)

Boise: Local radio?

Remember local, home-grown radio? It wasn't all that long ago such a thing was commonly accepted; nowadays, it's almost forgotten.

But now it could happen. The Boise Community Radio Project has just passed a major hurdle, getting radio transmission permission from the Federal Communications Commission, on FM frequency 89.9. They're not on air yet, but the main obstacles remaining are mechanical and financial, and really of a smaller scale than what they just surmounted.

A local option for Boise listeners. In recent years, that qualifies as news.

Newspaper for sale (two for closure)

Two parts to this: The sale and the closures. The first probably is (on balance) more improvement than wash; the second is simply sad.

The paper sold is the Wood River Journal, the weekly at prosperous Hailey (though it competes with another substantial paper, the Idaho Mountain Express, just a few miles away at Ketchum). For many years locally owned, the Journal was sold in 2004 to Lee Enterprises, which also owns the dailies in Twin Falls and Burley and most of the other newspapers in the Magic Valley. The new deal sells it to a group of several owners, but the lead participant and manager will be the Post Company, whose best-known property is the Post-Register daily at Idaho Falls.

Newspapering in Idaho east of Boise has been slipping into ever fewer hands. Once highly diverse - just a generation ago the bulk of these papers were in separate ownerships - now nearly all are in the hands of Lee, Post or Pioneer Newspapers (which have the papers at Pocatello, Rexburg, Nampa, and Logan, Utah, among others). In one sense, the new Journal deal just moves the Hailey property from one big owner to another. But locals will be among the owners, and Post still is based in Idaho, at Idaho Falls. So that probably qualifies as a net plus. (Plus there's the point that Post generally puts more resources into its news operations.)

The sad news is Lee's announcement at about the same time of the shutdown of two of its weekly papers, the Lincoln County Journal at Shoshone and the Minidoka County News at Rupert, adding two to the Idaho counties unserved by a local paper. Minidoka County has a population of about 20,000. (As a technical matter, we should note that a slice of the city of Burley, the county seat of Cassia County, is located in Minidoka; but the daily there is based in Cassia.)

The closures were attributed to weak circulation and advertising bases.

Another one goes away

So the Northwest loses another of its major businesses: SafeCo, apparently about to be bought out by Liberty Mutual Group of Boston. SafeCo has been a major regional player; to the point that a former top executive of it, Mike McGavick, was a U.S. Senate candidate from Washington last cycle.

The SafeCo name is supposed to remain the same, and the cutbacks could be smaller than in some other cases because its major segments of business within the insurance do seem more to complement than overlap with Liberty's. (There will almost certainly be some cutbacks around Seattle, of course.) Still. If it feels like a cut to the Northwest, that's because, most likely it is.

Speak for yourself

Probably got started with a perfectly reasonable idea: A form has been received by a group of people; one person well-experienced in filling it out passes his finished version around, to show how the task might be handled. A template, meant to be used as guidance for dealing with the matter at hand.

Not with the idea that every word be plagarized.

So the Oregonian story today about the House Republican caucus members who wound up submitting word-for-word same answers on the paper's candidate questionnaire raises a string of issues. That the filled-out form by Representative Bruce Hanna, R-Roseburg, was sent around to the others, isn't an issue; it might simply have shown some useful ways to address whatever was asked. But what does the direct copying by some of his fellow caucus members (all of which would be sent to the same people) say about the members' capacity for or willingness to exercise independent thought? Among other things.

A cottage industry that needn’t be

The talk is of a man who's filed lawsuit after lawsuit and, some of his critics say, is making - with his attorneys - a cottage industry out of it. He's certainly been awarded substantial sums of money. All of which in these days of frivolous lawsuits reasonably sounds suspicious, except for two things:

First, he's been winning.

Second, his lawsuits have been performing a public service.

The man is David Koenig, a construction worker from Federal Way. As a story in the Tacoma News Tribune outlines today, it all started about a decade ago when a family member was sexually assaulted, and he asked the city of Des Moines for public records - and they were clearly public - related to that incident. He was denied. (There was, we should note, an issue here about whether the form of his request in effect identified the otherwise unnamed victim in a sexual assault.) He took his case to the Washington Supreme Court, which ruled in his favor, and ordered Des Moines to pay his (and his lawyers) $83,000.

Koenig has been after public records ever since. The small town of Buckley paid him $22,700 in another law enforcement records case; the larger city of Tukwila paid $27,000; and now still larger Lakewood in Pierce County has been dinged $40,000 - all for refusing to turn over public records. (Keonig says he's using the part of his intake that doesn't go to attorneys to pursue additional public records cases.)

A number of local government officials, naturally, are up in arms, and one can imagine seminars at local government association meetings about how to avoid similar judgments. We can cut to that chase right here: Unless you have a clear-cut no-question exemption in state or federal law and can point to it immediately, turn over the damn records.

Sooner or later, the taxpayers of Lakewood, Des Moines, Buckley, Tukwila and other jurisdictions likely will get the point. When they do, the questions they put to their officials may be more pointed than Koenig's.

A Brown secretariat

Kate Brown

Kate Brown

The three main Democratic candidates for Oregon secretary of state have a lot in common: All veteran state senators, all from larger urban areas, all more or less centrist within their caucus, all in various ways highly knowledgeable, with some inclination to deliver an essay's worth of detailed response to even fairly narrow questions. The three are very distinct anyway, maybe most especially in the way they see the office and how they might address it.

We've written here before about two of the contenders, Vicki Walker of Eugene and Rick Metsger of Welches. This morning we participated in a blogger call with Kate Brown, until recently the Senate majority leader, still the top fundraiser and probably (though debatably) the front-runner among the three. If Walker's stance is as a tough populist auditor and guardian, and Metsger's is more attuned to economic development alongside linking stat government to people on the ground, Brown's take seems to be something else again.

She sounds more directly focused, for example, on elections management (which has been one of her central issues as a legislator). Among three priorities she cited for the office, two were elections-related: integrity in the initiative system, enhancing voter registration, and picking up steam on performance audits of state agencies.

One of the few specific distinctions from her opponents she offered (she didn't specifically bring up their names at all) is that she was the only one of the three with direct experience in legislative reapportionment. (The secretary of state remaps legislative districts if the legislature is unable to reach a conclusion on it; just that happened at the beginning of this decade.)

She spoke on something else too in the election field that could be a significant factor in years to come, as the electorate becomes increasingly wired into the political system - a "tension between direct and representative democracy." She even suggested that "the challenge for representative democracy [as in state legislatures] is remaining relevant." Her take seems to be that initiatives and other direct ballot efforts may become increasingly powerful as time goes on, and the legislature could merge some of its activities with that, such as putting state budget proposals on line and soliciting voter responses to it. At the same time, she suggested steps could be taken to put ballot issues through something more of a vetting process, so fewer of them are tossed out by courts after being passed by voters.

In all, it's an intriguing vision of where politics and governing may be headed.

Her campaign doesn't seem totally focused on any of that. It has out three videos with the theme, "What can Brown do for you?" They suggest an active and responsive legislator, but only to a limited degree the work of a secretary of state.

She's obviously given it plenty of thought, though. And, like her two competitors, reaching some intriguing answers. The primary winner will have some useful material to cherry-pick from the others after the May election is over.

A necessary condition

We've generally been mostly positively impressed by the move over the last decade of so many congressional offices across the region from federal buildings to private office buildings.

There have been some real pluses. As an internal matter, those federal buildings were often tight for space and had poor electric, telecom and other resource access, so the new spaces were usually a big improvement for the staffs and for efficiency. From the public's standpoint, as the Idaho Falls Post-Register's Marty Trillhaase writes in an editorial today (the article is behind a pay wall), the federal offices were often "security-ridden" - constituents seeking help from their congressional offices would often be treated like prospective terrorists, and neither the constituents nor members of Congress much liked that.

There is a potential glitch, though, in using private property: The property owner does have a right to set terms and conditions for use of the property. In Idaho Falls, where Senators Larry Craig and Mike Crapo and Representative Mike Simpson have offices, that building is owned by a fellow Republican, attorney Blake Hall. When Iraq war protesters sought to carry their message to their members of Congress, and picketed their offices (all three have been strong war supporters), Blake ordered them evicted.

Trillhaase: "However anomalous Tuesday's episode, it has exposed a precedent. What happens the next time a landlord decides to block people protesting immigration policies or salmon restoration, for instance, from petitioning the congressional offices in his building?"

Simpson and Crapo are reported to be reviewing the situation with Hall, and Simpson particularly seems to get the point, saying that either his offices are open to the public (including protesters) or "I will begin considering my options for alternative office space."

The point to draw the line seems clear enough. It doesn't really lie with property owners like Hall. Rather, government agencies should operate under rules which require that any space leases they execute must allow for free public access, period. As open as the federal buildings used to be.

BY THE WAY If you know anything about how thoroughly connected to Idaho Republican politics Blake Hall is, you have recognize how uncommonly cozy this particular lease arrangement looks.

Regard for Sali

The Mountain Goat Report has put together a succinct rundown of the primary contributors to Idaho Republican Representative Bill Sali (the leading subject of observation by that well-crafted blog).

In looking at a list like this, something of a middling view is required. It isn't a list of buyers of votes; specific quid pro quos (which would amount to bribery) are unusual, and there's reason to suspect that here. On the other hand, PR explanations that these contributions are simply a support of good government are, yes, as ridiculous as they sound. Think of these endorsements instead as a sort of free-floating investment, a loose expectation that the recipient (partly because of the largesse and partly for other reasons) is likely to be amenable more often than not to what the contributor may need.

So the question worth asking is, in this case, what might such contributors as Washington Group International, the American Bankers Association and the National Rifle Association (and smaller contributors as R.J. Reynolds and Halliburton) - all these through their PACs, of course - might be asking of Representative Sali, that maybe a different representative might be less inclined to support. And their other donation recipients.

We'll be spotlighting some more of these contribution lists later. For now, Mountain Goat's makes good review.