Writings and observations

The Seattle-based blog Horse’s Ass has an unusual biographical distinction: It was prompted by a specific person. The blog’s founder, David Goldstein, had pursued a satirical effort to declare, via ballot issue, that initiative developer Tim Eyman was a horse’s ass. After that effort failed, he founded the blog, and named it, in effect, for Eyman. So far as we know, this has been the only political blog in the Northwest so inspired.

Until now. The editors at the Nampa Idaho Press Tribune have launched an editors’ blog – nothing unusual in these days of widespread newspaper blogging – with an unusual distinction:

Wayne Hoffman, the man behind today’s launch . . . If you haven’t read the Idaho Press-Tribune‘s editorial in Sunday’s paper, read it now. In short, it took Rep. Bill Sali‘s office and his spokesman Wayne Hoffman to task on several issues. It’s created a bit of a firestorm. Bloggers seem surprised that this ‘rightwing’ newspaper would speak up on this. . . .”

Hoffman is the press spokesman for Representative Sali, and he was quoted in part as responding, “They took the entire matter out of context in my mind, and I worked for the Press-Tribune for four years. It borders on libel.”

Response to that = new blog. Evidently, the editors at Nampa will have more to say on the subject of Sali and Hoffman. (Then too, Goldstein still gets in his digs at Eyman now and then . . .)

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1946 ballot

1946 ballot

You could look at this way: What’s more important, the candidate or the party under whose banner they run? If like us you’re of some independent streak, that would lead to the conclusion that a ballot should foremost list the candidates, and then any political party backing them. If parties are more significant, then you give each party a ballot line (wherever they have a candidate) and then just fill in the name in the slot.

The latter approach is what you’ve most commonly seen in recent years in the Northwest. But some states, such as New York, allow candidates to run under the banner of two or even more parties. Could they legally do that in Oregon?

Maybe.

The Oregon Secretary of State’s office says no. But the Independent Party of Oregon, which has endorsed candidates running mainly under Republican and Democratic banners, points out that multiple-party candidates have appeared on Oregon ballots in the past (see above) and argues they could again, and now has filed a suit.

Most directly, this affects three candidates – Senate candidate Jeff Merkley (a Democrat), treasurer candidate Ben Westlund (also a Democrat) and U.S. House candidate Joel Haugen (a Republican). Westlund, for one, said that “The statute seems to indicate that both nominations should be printed in this case.”

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Having the legal right to do something isn’t the same as displaying sense in doing it. Washington Democrats may have found a soft spot in the campaign of Republican gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi, and we’d be surprised if they just let it go now.

A political campaign holding an event on private property has the legal ability to include or exclude whoever it wishes. Want to include just supporters? You can. Just supporters plus certain media representatives? You can. And, at an endorsement event last week by the Seattle Police Officers Guild, the Rossi campaign elected to do just that. When a video recorder named Kelly Akers showed up and started recording, he was asked, and then made, to leave the premises, by three off-duty police officers.

The Seattle Times noted that Akers has been asked to leave other Rossi events, and that the Rossi campaign specifically discourages video tracking. And this Rashomon-type recounting of the situation:

Sgt. Ty Elster, vice president of the guild, said three members “escorted” Akers out the door. Elster was not at the event but spoke to staff members who were there. He said he didn’t know the names of the off-duty officers involved.

“I’ve heard various sources describe it as being manhandled,” he said. “Our folks tell me it wasn’t anything of the sort. They merely placed a hand on his arm and escorted him out the door. There was no force involved. There was no struggle.”

A Democratic spokesman says that’s not true. Kelly Steele, Akers’ supervisor, accused the guild members of “violence” and said Akers was “drug outside from behind.”

As Akers was evicted from the office, his camera recorded him saying, in an increasingly loud and alarmed voice, “Sir, could you please take your hands off me? Sir, could you please take your hands off of me?”

A guild member told him, “You were advised not to come into the building. This is private property. If you come back in the building you will be arrested for trespassing. Do you understand that? Do you understand?”

Sooner or later, someone on the Democratic side will probably spin out the video of Akers being thrown out of Rossi events – the “could you please take your hands off me” piece will no doubt be prominent – and when it does, it probably will go viral, and talk about it will swamp any minor glitch Akers’ camera might otherwise have recorded at the events.

Point here is that Rossi’s response to the video collection is distinctive from many other political figures. In 2006, Republican Senate candidate Mike McGavick watched himself being taped by the opposition at stop after stop, and joked about it. (He got some praise, from this quarter among others, for his handling of the situation.) Rossi’s opponent this year (as in 2004), Democrat Chris Gregoire, doesn’t try to stop the video collection. Increasingly, it’s simply becoming part of the landscape for anyone running for high office.

Rossi’s campaign is trying to push back the tide on this one. That’s not likely to go too well.

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We’ve remarked before that proposals to put fees on grocery bags (variable, paper or plastic or both) is likely to be something of a definer – How do you really feel about recycling and related matters? It hits pretty close to everyday activities.

It’s of interest in the big cities which have moved in that direction (Seattle, Portland). But maybe more so in the smaller ones.

The blog Palousitics has been tracking (from its from-the-right standpoint) the development of the issue in Pullman, Washington. In June, about 80 residents asked the city council to place a tax on plastic bags, and the council is expected to act on the idea on August 27 (or 26 according to one report). An opposition group, Pullman Consumers for Choice, has been formed to oppose the tax. The Moscow-Pullman Daily News has weighed in on the opposition side.

The lines forming and the weight of opinion will be worth watching.

ALSO Catch this Peter Callaghan column out of Tacoma.

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The Oregon Senate race is showing some signs of real interest: Thi could be highly unpredictable a long way down the road.

Following the May primary up until the last month or so, polling showed Republican Senator Gordon Smith leading Democratic challenger Jeff Merkley. Then, two polls showed Merkley ahead, one barely, the other substantially.

Now, two polls show Smith retaking the lead. Today’s from Rasmussen Reports shows Smith ahead 4% to 39% for Merkley. Is it the large ad campaign Smith has unleashed (despite a raft of criticism of several of those ads)?

Or are these shifts really significant shifts at all? Our sense is that the safest conclusion to draw from any of them, and from other evidence, is simply that the race is fairly close and nowhere near resolved yet. This could turn into an October nailbiter.

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We know of diploma mills, those places that churn out piece of paper that look a lot like academic degrees but, like counterfeit money, are useful only if you don’t get caught while using them. As the price of higher education roars higher, the demand for lower-cost higher ed increases, and so have the number of “colleges” that aren’t accredited, whose credits won’t transfer and whose degrees aren’t generally considered academically valid.

The Idaho Statesman today has a piece focusing on one such, the Canyon College based in Carmichael, California, but offering online courses to places including Idaho. After describing the case of a woman who spent four years and $5,500 obtaining what she thought was a master’s degree in nursing, only to find out no one else seemed to accept it that way, the story hits the core point: “How can something like this happen? The Idaho State Board of Education, which oversees for-profit colleges like Canyon, hasn’t had the staff to enforce state rules that require schools like Canyon to be registered with the state before handing out diplomas.”

Washington and Oregon are relatively strict on this. But the story quotes Alan Contreras, who runs the Oregon Office of Degree Authorization, as citing Idaho as being one of “Seven Sorry Sisters, the states with the worst regulation of private colleges” – alongside Hawaii, California, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and Colorado.

Idaho does have some classy local private colleges (the College of Idaho and Brigham Young University-Idaho come to mind among others), and long has had. But the marketplace is bringing in some more questionable players too. Maybe the story today will generate some renewed review. And that $5,500 won’t have been spent entirely in vain.

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Liveblogging – through comments, or through site plugins that have gotten pretty nifty these days – would have been better than the simple one-on-one Q&A: More wide open is better.

But you take what you can get, and the 20 questions the Spokane Spokesman-Review‘s Dave Oliveria put to Idaho Lieutenant Governor (and Senate candidate) Jim Risch worked pretty well. if you’ve been seeing lots of material about the Idaho Senate race, and noting that the large majority of it has come from the camp of Democratic candidate Larry LaRocco, you might be interested in seeing something from the other side. (The LaRocco forces no doubt took plenty of interest.) The interview is in four pieces (here, here, here and http://www.spokesmanreview.com/blogs/hbo/archive.asp?postID=25374).

Suffers in a few place from lack of followup. The first question was about why, though Risch has agreed to four debates, he has passed on the most institutionalized, backed by the League of Women Voters. Risch’s reply: “We’re working on a fifth one. The debates we’ve agreed to – first of all you can’t do all the debates. You get lots of invitations. You pick the ones that get most coverage around the state. We look for the ones with the best format for getting out our message. And it has nothing to do with whether or not Betsy Russell [a Spokesman-Review reporter] is on the panel.” An interesting reply, but did it address the question?

There were noteworthy replies all over the place, though; we were especially drawn by the remark that Risch (or at least his campaign) may start blogging next month. (If he does, we’ll be watching.) Risch’s reputation as sharp, articulate and witty (which he’s long had among Statehouse types) would gain considerably if he were more visible and outspoken on the campaign. The questions and their replies are well worth a review.

Quick note of this one. The LaRocco campaign has been saying that Risch, if elected, would likely be the most junior, or nearly so, senator in the minority party, putting him near the bottom in influence. Oliveria’s question, essentially, was seeking a reply to that. Risch’s response was to point out that if LaRocco were in the Senate along with conservative Republican Mike Crapo, “We’d have offsetting votes on all major issues to the point that Idaho wouldn’t have representation in the U.S. Senate.” Followup question: Would he and Oregon Senator Gordon Smith like to have a discussion on that topic? (Secondary followup: If LaRocco were to be elected this year, would that mean Idahoans ought to elect a Democrat to the Crapo seat in 2010 so they’re voting the same way?)

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Delia Lopez

Delia Lopez

Get ready for a couple of reversals, as we check out a congressional candidate and the source of their concern – a piece of federal legislation.

The candidate is Delia Lopez, who has taken on the exceptionally difficult job of running as a Republican in Oregon’s 3rd congressional district – most consists mostly of Portland and immediate areas, is everwhelmingly Democratic and is represented by a Democrat (Earl Blumenauer) who routinely wins re-elects in the high 60s or higher. Lopez has another problem, her residence: Oakland, a small town near Roseburg, and about three hours’ drive time south of the 3rd district. (Her candidacy is quite legal: To run for the U.S. House, you have to live in the same state as the district but not necessarily within the district itself.)

All of which makes her an unusual candidate, but one more thing got our attention the other day, an e-mail noting her endorsement by the Oregon Consumer and Farmers Association. It describes itself as “an Oregon group leading the fight against NAIS, the National Animal Identification System.” (In an e-mail to us, Lopez confirmed the endorsement.)

The NAIS is proposal of some import which probably has passed by a good many Americans. It is supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and at its core has to do with tracking food and some other animals, especially those that may carry disease. From Wikipedia: “The National Animal Identification System covers most livestock species, including cattle, bison, deer, elk, llamas, alpacas, horses, donkeys, mules, goats, sheep, swine, all poultry species, and even some fish species, under the heading of aquaculture. Locations, or premises, where these animals are housed or otherwise handled will thus need to be identified, as this is the first component of NAIS. Afterward, the animals themselves will be identified, and, finally, they are to be tracked in their movements between the various premises. Once these three parts of NAIS are fully implemented, the ultimate goal of the program, traceback within 48 hours of a diseased animal’s movements, will be possible. This traceback would enable animal health officials to identify all the animals and locations that have had direct contact with the animal and take appropriate measures to prevent the further spread of disease.” The technology used for the tracking probably would involve microchips.

Support and opposition to the idea split along sometimes unexpected lines. A coalition of the largest agribusiness companies in the country (Monsanto and Cargill, for two good examples) are strong in favor and have been pushing it; the alliance there with the Bush Administration is clear. On the basis of ties and alliances, you’d expect a lot of national Republicans to go along with it. But there’s also a substantial and apparently growing opposition, nationally well organized, and tied around a number of ideas ranging from big brotherism to concern about property rights, imposing bureaucracy on very small operators (even, some note, families that have just one animal in residence – say, a single pet chicken). There are even religious concerns.

The Oregon 3rd district is the second most urban district in the Northwest; not but a limited number of farms there. It would seem to be an unusual place for a discussion about NAIS. But maybe not. Farm issues properly concern urban people too, as any Oregonian who visits a farmer’s market well knows. This could be an unexpected but appropriate venue for the discussion.

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Maria Cantwell

Maria Cantwell at a gas station – 2006 (note the prices)

Most of us know that gas prices logically are going to go up over time, as supply is limited (even if more oil is pumped) and demand grows. But that’s a matter separate from the issue of what gas prices shot up so very high in less than the last year. Nothing about either supply or demand changed all that drastically during that time, so why would prices change so much?

If you’re thinking there’s some cause for suspicion, you have good reason. If you’re wondering whether there’s some actual legal recourse potentially available, well, yes, there might be – if the powers that be were willing to use it.

The national spearhead on that might be Washington Senator Maria Cantwell:

Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Robert McCullough of McCullough Research, a former investigator who exposed Enron’s market manipulation, released a new statistical analysis research report of oil futures and spot market prices. This report shows that the dramatic rise in oil prices in June, and the subsequent fall in price in July, can’t be explained by any of the fundamentals of supply and demand. Instead, it could be a result of the trading strategies of major market players. Cantwell and McCullough said new data collection tools are needed so that federal agencies can identify the culprits and stop any market manipulation.

Cantwell plans to introduce legislation when Congress returns in September requiring the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), Energy Information Administration (EIA), Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), to implement new data collection tools.

“Mr. McCullough’s research clearly shows that oil prices are no longer tied to supply and demand,” said Cantwell. “Statistically, this research shows that prices are spiking absent of a crisis like a natural disaster or supply disruption. However, prices then fell when Congress began serious debate on how to crack down on those who may be trying to manipulate the markets. Research shows that traders may well be in control of the market, not supply and demand, and consumers have been left paying the price.”

“There is evidence of a troubling concentration of ownership in the oil markets,” said McCullough. “This allows a few players to have undue influence on setting prices. However, the regulators are driving blind through this crisis since they are collecting such little information that reveals who is doing what in the market.”

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The detailed complaint by Idaho Tax Commission auditor Stan Howland has till now been a statement by one whistleblower against the agency at large – with refutations coming from the commission, others in it employ, and partial disses from other places (an attorney general’s report indicating there was no illegality on the commission’s part).

Now Howland has some support. Betsy Russell’s blog is posting a letter from five Idaho multistate tax auditors (Paul R. Chugg, CPA; Terry Harvey, CPA; Steve Fields; Steve McCollum; Joanne Quinno). They land solidly on Howland’s side, saying “only very superficial and biased reviews have been conducted. It is alarming and disturbing that the elected and appointed officials who serve the taxpayers of Idaho have not taken seriously Mr. Howland’s complaints. For these reason we respectfully request that the Governor and the Legislature immediately launch a thorough independent investigation.”

This could change the dynamic.

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