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Posts published in November 2008

NW: Looking ahead

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1SUPERBUG AT THE HOSPITAL There have been a few national stories about new unusually dangerous microscopic organisms which have gotten their big boost by way of hospitals, but most of those cases have been on the east coast. The Seattle Times has an outstanding report out today about "MRSA, a drug-resistant germ, [which] lurks in Washington hospitals, carried by patients and staff and fueled by inconsistent infection control. This stubborn germ is spreading here at an alarming rate, but no one has tracked these cases — until now." (And again: Stay out of hospitals if you can . . .)

2WISH LIST What should the Obama Administration do early on? This may be the time to get those preferences in, and the Bend Bulletin has one of the best regional wish-list pieces out so far. Their request includes three items Obama specifically called for in his campaign: "including tens of billions in road and infrastructure investment in an economic stimulus package; extending the tax credits for renewable energy producers for 10 years, rather than one; and fixing the cycle of catastrophic wildfires and underfunded federal agencies that leeches money from popular recreation and environmental programs on an annual basis." (Haven't been able to find a free link yet, unfortunately.)

3THE SWITCHYARD Sometimes obscure government grants can have profound effects, an in the case of a rail switchyard upgrade which would be important both for Roseburg and Coos Bay. Rogue Pundit has a useful followup out.

4HOUSING DEFICIENCIES Lots and lots and lots of new houses were built in the last few years, in the Northwest as elsewhere, but hardly any for lower-income people. In a Eugene Register-Guard general package on the squeeze placed on lower-income people, was this item on lack of affordable housing: "Just about 4,800 affordable housing units and Section 8 low-income housing vouchers are available to the more than 20,000 people in the county who qualified for low-income housing based on the 2000 census, Eugene Urban Services Manager Richie Weinman said. And only about 100 new units of affordable housing are added each year, he said."

The other side of Idaho Falls

The protests against California's Proposition 8 - the voter-passed measure which sought to overturn a state Supreme Court decision in favor of same sex marriage - which spread around the country on Saturday were no big surprise in many places. Large rallies in Seattle and Portland - local officials (including Portland's gay mayor-elect) even lending their support - were pretty much what you'd expect. But another regional story jumped out:

The Idaho Falls Post-Register (the story is behind a pay wall) reports today that on Saturday, "Roughly 50 people gathered in front of the Bonneville County Courthouse with signs such as 'Say No to Hate,' 'Hate is not a family value' and 'What if your children grow up to be gay?'"

They did not specifically take aim at the LDS Church, key members of which were central in the push to pass Prop 8. Or the array of local community leaders who sent the big bucks to California to support its passage. (The Post Register reports that $100,000 came from the prominent VanderSloot family, among about 50 area residents who sent in $1,000 or more each.) But their visible presence on the street, in Idaho Falls, had to come as something of a shock.

Your papers please

Harold Bohm was born 88 years ago in Iowa. He worked in law enforcement for many years, and in driver training. he has lived in the same house at Klamath Falls for 30 years.

When he walked up to the local Division of Motor Vehicles office to renew his drivers license, he brought with him his existing license, which he had held for many years, his a much-worn copy of his birth certificate, and a current passport.

Not good enough.

More documents please.

Some reasonable objective evidence that applicants for a drivers license (or renewal) are who they say they are, seems sensible enough. But bureaucracy so easily tips over into unreason, and that can top over into revolt. When seems to be where this 88-year old, retired law officer and long-time resident, seems headed.

Theory and practice are colliding here, and the Oregon Legislature next session may be well advised to give some weight to practice.

A map we may never see again

Maybe the tightest major race this year in Washington was for state lands commissioner, pitting Republican incumbent Doug Sutherland against Democrat Peter Goldmark, who ran for the U.S. House two years ago.

The win, for Goldmark, was 50.3%-49.7%; any closer and you're into governor '04 territory. A question: how many counties did it take for Goldmark to (just barely) win?

Six, it turns out.

Goldmark map

Goldmark yellow, Sutherland green

King? Jefferson? San Juan? Check - they're the solid reliables. Snohomish and Whatcom? Nothing unusual. But Okanogan . . . therein lies the value of being a native son, that being the only way Goldmark could have one that one . . . although, in truth, he could have won without it . . .

NW: Dams and college

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1SALMON/ENVIRONMENT Perspective on the salmon debate from Rocky Barker/Idaho Statesman noting that the impending change in the Northwest's congressional delegation, combined with the change of presidential administrations, may mean an entirely new approach for salmon. Even before January: He points to this week's dam removal agreement on the Klamath River as "a major shift in the government's position on dams in the West."

Let's unpack that just a bit, expanding the view. The Washington congressional delegation hasn't changed, but there are critical changes in the other two. In Oregon, Republican Senator Gordon Smith is being replaced by Democrat Jeff Merkley, who is considerably greener; in the House 5th district, where one Democrat replaces another, newcomer Kurt Schrader is likely to be a bit more green-oriented than Darlene Hooley. In Idaho's Senate delegation, Republican Jim Risch replaces Republican Larry Craig, but the change could be significant; Craig presented himself as almost always flatly opposed to environmental proposals, while Risch turned out to be as green as most Democrats on the environment during his months as governor. (That probably will give Senator Mike Crapo and Representative Mike Simpson a big assist in developing their environmental efforts in the Owyhee Canyonlands and White Clouds area, respectively.) And, there's the change from the 1st House district from Republican Bill Sali to Democrat Walt Minnick, who has been active in environmental groups.

Put it together, and what was a fairly close balance on environmental issues now tilts decisively green in the Northwest delegation. And that's before you get to the impact of the Obama Administration.

2VOTE COUNTS And still they're counting votes in Washington. And especially in Pierce County, where they've been trying out both traditional and ranked-choice ballots. Earlier deadlines for ballot delivery could help.

3POWELLS REMAKE Book people will have opinions, without a doubt, about the new exterior at Powell's City of Books - the flagship - in downtown Portland.

4COLLEGE ENROLLMENT For the first time in more than a decade, Oregon threw some serious money at its higher education institutions. And now (in the Oregonian, but reflected in other papers around the state as well): ". . . the state's universities hired faculty, increased pay, improved student services, stepped up recruitment and built and renovated classrooms and labs. In addition, Oregon more than doubled the money for college grants this year and launched a statewide campaign to tell students and their parents about it. The message worked: More than 15,430 students in Oregon public universities received $33.8 million in state grants this fall, more than twice last year's numbers. The economy also is a factor, because more students seek higher education when jobs are harder to find."

The Sali areas

There are 80 precincts in the portion of Ada County lying in the 1st congressional district. Very roughly speaking, most of the city of Boise, and the areas to the east of it in the county, are in the 2nd district; again roughly, Cole Road, which runs north-sound through the center-west of Boise, is the dividing line between the districts.

That area in the 1st district is the part of Ada County generally voting Republican, in most places heavily so. It voted, for example, for John McCain over Barack Obama - decisively so. But it voted in the 1st District House race for Democrat Walt Minnick over incumbent Republican Bill Sali in numbers much higher - 31.7% higher, enough to give him a win of almost 5,000 votes in that part of Ada County; enough, in turn, to provide his winning margin. Even in the precincts Minnick lost decisively, he heavily outran Obama and other Democrats (generally 25-50% higher). These were people who did not vote for other Democrats, just this one.

Is there anything to be learned from these 80 precincts?

Maybe a little, and we'll start here. First point is that Minnick's win was spread around a bunch of the precincts, not concentrated in a few; he won 51 of the 80 precincts. So the simpler approach is to look at the precincts Sali won. Do those have points of commonality that make them stand out from the others?

Generally speaking, yes: Most of them are rural, among them the most rural and relately remote areas in Idaho's population-heaviest county. The precincts in the far north edge of the county, in the foothills north of Eagle and northwest of Boise (1, 2, 4) were substantial Sali wins. The precincts in the far southern reaches of the county (123, 125 for example) were substantial Sali win areas. The interstices between the cities - some of the areas between Eagle and Meridian, between Meridian and Nampa and between Meridian and Kuna - gave Sali good numbers. The rural area around Star did well for him. And, generally, his old state legislative district and home turf around Kuna stuck with him, delivering solid margins.

Minnick's margins? He won some rural precincts, but mainly he racked up numbers inside the larger growing cities: primarily Meridian, Eagle and western Boise. These have not been friendly areas for Democrats up to now, but they made a highly unusual exception this time.

The nature of that, in those specific precincts, ought to be research project #1 for Idaho Democrats over the next couple of years. Some of it may have to do with the specific dynamics of this race; maybe Sali, specifically, turned some of those people off. It could be that Minnick personally made a sale here; or it could be a combination of the two. It might be that this unusual voting pattern won't be replicated in 2010; or it could be a harbinger, a signal of opportunity to come for other Democrats. Whatever's the case, there's an important development here, maybe the most important single twist in the elections of 2008 in Idaho. That much we can say with some confidence, even without yet being sure exactly what it means.

NW: Bailout shifts and flooding

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FRONTED The federal economic bailout shift is a dominant national story (Oregonian, Spokane Spokesman-Review, Eugene Register-Guard, Idaho Statesman, others). . . . Boise fronts the impending bankruptcy of the owner of the city's largest shopping mall, but the story generally gets modest media attention (though many regional malls are owned by the company in question) . . .

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1One of the biggest pieces of concrete environmental news in the Northwest this year: An agreement, apparently on the verge of final signoffs, for tearing out four substantial dams on the Klamath River. But, be it noted, it would not happen for several years, and several steps beyond the major signoffs are needed.

2A new historical exhibit on the Ku Klux Klan in Washington state (in the 1920s) is being released. Check out the pictures the Seattle Times has posted. Oregon's unfortunate history with the Klan is better known; this exhibit fills in some gaps.

3Libraries probably are going to have to find some new approach for offering rental DVDs, especially popular movies. The Tri-City Herald writes about what amounts to much more than just a rash of thefts: "Library records show that so far in 2008, Pasco's library has had 437 DVDs 'assumed stolen,' Cox said. The Kennewick branch has had 89 thefts and Keewaydin Park has lost about 20, he said."

4They're having civic fun aplenty in St. Anthony, Idaho. The mayor there has quit, after (according to some people present) saying some of his city's residents are "stupid" and all of them can "go to hell." There's also a recall effort on, which may be a related factor. (Story is behind a pay wall, but part of it is available on newseum.)

5Wednesday's flooding in western Washington gets a useful review in the Everett Herald, worth the read because recent history suggests that the Northwest hasn't seen in this season the last of this kind of weather behavior. See also the Seattle Times on this.

And where did they get it from?

Madison County in Idaho is one of the three or four most Republican counties in Idaho, making it one of the most Republican counties in the nation. In the presidential election, it voted 87.5% for John McCain.

This small university community - Rexburg is the dominant city - usually has an almost preternatural calm. But out of somewhere somewhere, a bunch of grade schoolers riding home on a school bus at the Madison School District picked up a new chant this week: "Assassinate Obama." The kids, evidently, weren't clear, as they were chanting, what "assassinate" means.

But someone did. Those kids learned it from someone.

A parent who heard about it called the school district, which seems to have responded reasonably in talking to the students about it. The story made local television news across southern Idaho.

But the issue here may be someone other than the students.

AND ALSO At the far end of the state, in Bonner County, there's a man who proposes - and has posted a sign indicating - the "free public hanging" of Obama and other top Democratic figures. Ken Germana, who posted it: "That's a political statement. They can call it whatever they want, a threat or whatever."

NW: The econ crash continues

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FRONTED Lots of veterans day aftermath, around the region (the Lewiston Tribune stands out). The economy and portgage foreclosures (Seattle Times, Spokane Spokesman Review, Oregonian, Idaho Statesman), decline in gas prices (Seattle Times, Salem Statesman-Journal, Nampa Idaho Press Tribune . . . . State budget cuts planned in Idaho (Idaho Falls Post Register, Nampa Idaho Press Tribune)

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1Good news for Washington Republicans? To an extent, anyway: This year's election at least seems to indicate a bottoming out, an end to the free fall, that has been consistent through the last decade's worth of elections. Republicans defeated a well-established Democratic state senator on the west side (Marilyn Rasmussen) and seem likely (the final votes aren't yet in) to pick up a seat or two in the state House. No massive gains, and only minor dents to the mass Democratic majorities, but an end to the slippage. A good overview of current status in the Tacoma News Tribune/Olympian.

2Sounds as if the owner of a whole bunch of Northwest shopping malls is headed for bankruptcy. General Growth Properties Inc. was the buyer of the already-massive Rouse company in 2004, and now its debts will balloon to billions next year. Policy suggestion: In the future, companies have to be split up before they become too big to fail - or so big their failure drags millions of other people down with them . . .

The malls (in the Northwest only, and according to General's web site)? In Washingto: Alderwood at Lynnwood; Spokane Valley Mall at Spokane; Bellis Fair at Bellingham; Three Rivers Mall at Kelso; NorthTown Mall at Spokane; Westlake Center at Seattle; SouthShore Mall at Aberdeen. In Oregon: Clackamas Town Center at Happy Valley; Rogue Valley Mall at Medford; Gateway Mall at Springfield; Salem Center at Salem; Pioneer Place at Portland. In Idaho: Boise Towne Square at Boise; Pine Ridge Mall at Pocatello; Grand Teton Mall at Idaho Falls; Silver Lake Mall at Coeur d’ Alene. Betcha didn't realize they were all owned by the same megacorp, did you?

3A thoughtfully-written piece on the effect of wind-power on the lives and economy of windswept Sherman County, in the Oregonian.

4At Wapato, a detailed story of the founding of a homeless shelter, in an are where, come darkfall, the homeless have been head heading out to sleep in weed patches.

5A quick post, but worth a review, on internet lobbying, at Horse's Ass. This is probably an unproductive area generally for the disclosure commission, and Goldy's point here is one of many likely to get made . . .