Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter‘s office has released a large batch of names under consideration for appointment to lieutenant governor, the office Jim Risch will be leaving soon to join the U.S. Senate. Which prompts a thought or two.

There’s nothing especially wrong with the names under consideration. An appointee to a major office like lieutenant governor (yeah it’s statewide, so it’s major enough) is getting the office by a single unilateral decision, that of the governor, so it makes sense that this be someone who has also gotten backing from voters in other capacities, as well as demonstrating some substantial public service. (Hello, New York Governor Patterson.) And most of those on the Otter list and apparently interested in the job meet that standard. Representative Scott Bedke, R-Oakley; Senator Dean Cameron, R-Rupert; Senate President Pro-Tem Bob Geddes, R-Soda Springs; Department of Administration Director Mike Gwartney; former state Representative Dean Haagenson, R-Coeur d’Alene; Senator Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake; Senator Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint; Senator Brad Little, R-Emmett; Senator Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston; Senator John McGee, R-Caldwell; Representative Mike Moyle, R-Star; and former state Senator Sheila Sorensen, R-Boise, all hit the minimum threshold for credibility at least, and many do more than that.

The question here is a different one (than, say, apparently, in New York or, God save us, Illinois). Otter has deep experience in Idaho politics, has been in and around it for what’s approaching four decades; he’s a gregarious person, knows all the players; and he surely knows quite well all his options. The questions before him are more a matter of policy than personnel: Does he want a placeholder, or someone who will run for re-election in 2010? Or – should he decide not to run for governor again – who might follow him? Or to groom for another office (like Idaho’s 1st U.S. House district)? Might he want someone to undertake some particular task? But then, none of these questions really require any fresh research, either.

Otter is said to be prepared to make the appointment by next Tuesday or so. What’s unclear is why – especially since we’ve all known about the opening since November 4 – it needs to take that long.

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Idaho

Ted Kulongoski

Ted Kulongoski

In many places around the country, and west of the Cascades more than most, “green” is all the rage. It’s not just the interest groups or the media, but businesses and governments – green is hot. But how much is this green heat generating real change in the way our communities function? And to what extent might it be just fad?

In 2008 Governor Ted Kulongoski set up a framework that could make green uncommonly central in Oregon, from the big picture down to the exercise of daily lives. While there’s a rap on him that he’s not one of the most charismatic of leaders, and while any number of critics expressed disappointment with him in his first term on environmental matters, what he seems to be setting into place could mark a genuinely big change in Oregon in the next few years.

This is, to be sure, speculative. But in 2008 Kulongoski merged with the trend and tides in greening the state’s economy, and was given the political advantages he would logically need to press forward. And almost many kinds of initiatives might be curtailed by weak tax revenues and a tough economy, this won’t necessarily fall to that: He has estimated state spending for his proposals at only about $10 million, a figure low enough to slip through. Atop that, he now has a strongly Democratic legislature – the house was only barely just last cycle – and a strongly cooperative congressional delegation for the federal level.

And, crucially, he has a cearl set of proposals that plug neatly into the economic moment.

An Oregonian story put it this way: “If the Legislature approves the plan, Oregon would become a national leader in renewable energy production, electric car use and ‘green’ building construction, he said. ‘How we live, how we move, how we work is going to change.'”

Items:

bullet Kulongoski’ apparently substantial negotiations with Nissan, which “also committed to work with the state and Portland General Electric to develop an electric vehicle-charging network. PGE has already installed six EV charging stations in the Portland area and Salem, with plans for six more.”

bullet Delete one tax credit, $1,500 for buying a hybrid car, and replacing it with a larger one – $5,000 for plug-in electric hybrids and all-electric cars.

bullet A string of energy-efficiency proposals.

bullet Expansion on incentives for solar energy use and production (Oregon has become the nations’ top solar-manufacturing state), and apparently for wind and wave as well. Substantial business development could emerge from that.

bullet The governor set in place plans to block new carbon-excessive power generation options.

bullet Energy certificates for home sales – a regulatory thing, yes, but also something that brings home to buyers the impact of what they’re doing, something they usually don’t know now.

bullet Substantial inducements to use public transit.

There’s been little real opposition to much of this so far, including from Republicans (whose statements so far seem to have concerned more differences in emphasis than outright disapproval).
In the last couple of years of his governorship, Kulongoski may be poised to shift the state in some surprising and significant ways. Certainly no other Northwest politician in 2008 developed, promoted and positioned for passage such an ambitious agenda.

Honorable Mentions: Some of the others we considered . . .

Jeff Merkley. The senator-elect had a long, hard uphill slog that was by no means a lock all the way to the end. He had a tough primary contest, and the general battle against two-term Republican incumbent Gordon Smith was a rugged slugfest. Rewind to the common chatter of a year ago, when Merkley’s primary against Steve Novick was close and tough (and, the national wizards often said, Merkley just didn’t seem to be catching on). And remember too how Smith was thought to be favored in the race, by a wide range of observers, up until late summer or so. Merkley’s win deprives Oregon Republicans of any statewide elected post, a truly stunning comedown, the lowest point for the party in many decades.

Phil Knight. Simply, some of those gifts have been enormous, and impact will be big. Maybe the biggest impact, though, will come not at the traditional collegiate athletics facilities but rather than massive $100 million donation to Oregon Health Sciences University, which could make the Oregon institution a world leader in some areas of health research. On a smaller scale, there’s Beaverton politics – and don’t dismiss it, this is a key growth area – to consider as well.

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Oregon

Bonner County

Bonner County

One of the macro issues in our system of justice has to do with what we do with all those criminal convicts: Are we really making the smartest, most effective or even the safest choices in locking up so many people at tens of thousands of dollars of taxpayer fund each? Sure, some have to be segregated from the rest of us, but is that the only real option available to us?

Question comes to mind in the case of Idaho 1st District Magistrate Justin Julian and convicted stop-sign runner Daniel J. Malone.

Last September, a law officer charged Malone with failing to stop at a stop sign at Larch Street and Ella Avenue in Sandpoint. Malone contested the ticket, saying he wasn’t guilty, and on Christmas Even the case went to trial at the Bonner County Courthouse, Julian presiding. Julian found him guilty and imposed a $75 fine.

Malone responded, “bah, humbug,” in reference to the season. Then his case over, he left the courtroom, but not by much. He apparently stood outside the courtroom and kept looking at Julian, in “a menacing fashion,” Julian said. Exactly what make his stare menacing wasn’t completely clear.

Malone’s attitude was made clear enough, though by what Julian said happened next: “Once I made direct eye contact with the Defendant, he demonstrated his contempt for the Court by willfully and maliciously expelling a large amount of saliva in the direction of the Court, and onto the carpet of the Courthouse hallway.” After which, he left the building and went to his car in the parking lot.

Then the chief bailiff, Mark Johnson, stopped him from leaving and took him back to the courtroom. There, Julian confronted him and (a news report says) told him, “There is no excuse for your disruptive and disgusting behavior. I’m holding you in contempt. You’re serving the next two days in jail.”

Which he did. Malone was released on Friday, having spent Christmas in jail.

Malone’s behavior sounds juvenile, and you can understand Julian’s irritation. But we would have two questions for the judge.

One, the lesser, is whether a judge has enforcement, including jailing, powers for “contempt” that occurs outside the courtroom and isn’t part of a case before him. If so, where would that authority stop? Suppose Malone had been outside in the parking lot, lifted a middle finger at Julian, and Julian happened to observe it – could he have had him him hauled in and jailed for that?

But the larger question is this: If Malone was creating a problem of disruption for the court, then why not send the bailiff out to the hallway to deal with it? (Couldn’t a door have been shut?) Why allow the problem to escalate?

Why not, in other words, try to defuse the problem? In the case of Daniel Malone, angry after a $75 fine, the anger level has no doubt spiraled upward. And get the sense that, for a case involving a stare and a spit, it didn’t have to go this far.

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Idaho

Steve Appleton

Steve Appleton

On November 24, an article in the Idaho Statesman raised a question, an unthinkable question: Might Micron Technology move, in whole or in large part, from its home town of Boise?

The article offered concrete evidence for thinking it might: “Days after Micron announced that it would shut its flash-memory production line in Boise and end 1,500 more Treasure Valley jobs, Micron bought a stake in a Taiwanese manufacturer of dynamic random-access memory, or DRAM, Micron’s principal product. That move was praised by industry analysts, but it led some to conclude that Micron is moving production out of Idaho – and that a long-hoped-for, state-of-the-art fabrication plant might never be built in Boise.”

With thousands of employees at stake – still about 7,500 in the Boise area – the future of Micron is a very big deal to Idaho. But there’s more to it than just the payroll, significant as it is. It’s also the many spinoff businesses that rely on a partnership with Micron, and the people they employ. And more than the tax money and big community participation; Micron is the last of the really large publicly-held corporate giants (Idaho Power’s Idacorp may be next largest – and it is at eventual buyout risk), and a major moveout would have a whole string of effects. And all that would be big enough in normal times: In an economic down period like this . . . well, you can hardly blame a lot of people for not wanting to think about it.

Look around at the rest of the high-tech manufacturing world, though, and the question becomes apparent: Why is Micron still here? Already, much of its operations have shifted to lower-cost areas, but for how long?

We’re guessing many of the answers have to do with Steve Appleton.

Appleton is from Boise, has been with the company at its Boise headquarters since 1983, and CEO since 1994 – remarkable longevity. He’s a Boise guy, and he came in when Micron was very much a Boise operation, period, as opposed to a Boise-headquartered global business. For many years the Boise investor cadre, long led by agribusiness tycoon J.R. Simplot, was an anchor. But Micron is fully global now, to the point of merging and dealing intensively with many other global interests (and Appleton says that’s something likely to continue). From its perspective as a business, it could be located in any of many places. for Appleton, Boise is home. Very likely, he has a preference to keep the business there.

He seems strongly positioned. Prior to a recent shareholders meeting, there was considerable chatter about a possible shareholder revolt. None materialized. The core decisions seem likely to be Appleton’s.

He has options. Micron has seen big losses lately, but it also has substantial cash on hand – it is pressed, but it has room to maneuver.

Appleton’s moves determined the Idaho dynamic more than those of any other one person in 2008.

MENTIONS (whether honorable or not): Some of the others we considered . . .

Bill Sali and Walt Minnick. The biggest political shift in Idaho in 2008, and one of the two or three biggest in the last decade, was the takeover by Democrat Minnick of Republican Sali’s congressional seat. It was a lone shift, though: This one narrow decision aside, Idaho politics remained nearly static, even in a year of national political upheaval.

C.L. “Butch” Otter. The governor’s push on transportation, which appears to have been his main initiative this year, has gone through a series of phases, and remains highly active heading into 2009. But it remains a slow push.

Larry Craig. The departing senator was suggested by more people than anyone else, and had we run this feature last year he would have been hard to overlook. This year? For all the uproar of 2007, and his ongoing cultural icon status, he wound up his tenure in the Senate fairly quietly, voting and taking stands on issues much the same way he had for so many years before.

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Idaho

Recommended reading for today: The Oregonian‘s perspective piece on the Boardman coal-fired power plant, the major coal plant in the Northwest. The article points out, though, that the plant is only one of quite a few (there are more in Wyoming, Utah and Nevada) that the region relies on for power.

And there was this useful stat worth bearing in mind as the green discussion continues apace next year: While the Northwest’s much-touted cheap and clean hydropower produces 40% of the area’s juice, coal-fired, pollution issues and all, account for another 40%. The volume is so large that components like wind power, significant as they are, are small in comparison.

Real power restructuring, which probably is going to have to happen eventually, is going to take some hard thinking.

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Oregon

In the next three days, we’ll run posts on our picks for the person of the year in Idaho, Oregon and Washington. A quick word on these first.

They will be along the line of the influential persons lists we did for some years in Idaho, at least in matters of criteria – and but for the fact that we’ll be naming just one person.

The idea is not honorary, not necessarily an indication of goodness or of excellent achievement. The idea is to name someone who somehow or another threw a curve into the very recent history of their state, affecting it on a substantial level for good or ill. And someone whose actions were specific to them, not necessarily undertaken by whoever might have been standing in their shoes – someone without whom their state would have been different than it actually is right now. The thing is more an invitation to consider not necessarily what made the big headlines but what mattered in the Northwest over the last year.

Let it be not a conversation ender, but conversation starter.

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While the west of the Cascades sloshes through the meltdown, inland places are still facing snow and more snow.

In Coeur d’Alene, January 1969 set an all-time record for the most snow falling in a single month – 82.4 inches. That record is actually at risk now, what with 66 having fallen so far and a half-foot or more added to that by sometime tomorrow.

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Idaho

Jeff Kropf

KVI in Seattle

There’s a good argument that for an extended stretch in the 90s and maybe into this decade, the single most influential radio station in the Northwest was KVI-AM, a place that not only had some of Washington’s best-known talkers (along with nationals like Rush, of course) but also turned into an activist organization, backing such things as a string of conservative ballot issues. It had political impact.

That seems less so now, and there’s an insightful post on why at the Seattle blog BlatherWatch.

Talker Kirby Wilbur is about the last local voice left, and BW suggests that may be over when Wilbur’s contract is up next year. Toss all this in the mix when you evaluation the political dynamic in Puget Sound.

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Washington

At least one of the Northwest 10 banks what have gotten federal bailout money has explained what was done with it. And as far as it goes, the explanation sounds reasonable – or at least, in line with what we were all told about the situation originally.

Umpqua Bank at Portland took in $214 million in federal money, second-most among the Northwest banks. The Oregonian reports today that Umpqua “is a healthy, profitable bank. When Umpqua cut the deal with the feds in October, it didn’t need money to survive, Umpqua CEO Ray Davis said at the time.”

Okay: So what was the point of our giving the money to Umpqua? “Ron Farnsworth, Umpqua executive vice president, said Monday that the Treasury money has enabled the bank to continue making loans. Umpqua originated about $400 million in new loans in the current quarter, about the same as it did in its second and third quarters.”

Presumably, the amount would have been less without the infusion, another tap on the economic brake.

The jury still seems out on whether this is doing much good, and at least one economist the Oregonian quotes is highly doubtful. (Members of Congress, having already opened the treasury to these guys, finally, belatedly, seem to be asking some of these questions too.) But at least one bank is providing some explanation for where all those taxpayer bucks are going, and at some some justification for them.

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One of the best Christmas presents some of us west of the Cascades could get is a Christmas that’s a little less white. Looks now like we’re getting it.
We woke up this morning to more – yet more – snowfall. After the last 10 days or so, that was a depressing prospect. But somewhere during a walk around town, the light precip turned to rain, and stayed there.

Day long, the melt has escalated. Out here – west of Portland – a lot of roads, yards and roofs still are white-covered, but the depth is diminished, and the number of non-white surfaces is growing.

Looking forward to a Christmas with passable roads . . .

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Oregon