Press "Enter" to skip to content

Posts published in December 2008

The Rothenberg awards

The Northwest figures prominently in the end of year awards by national political analyst Stu Rothenberg. Assessing all the races around the country, he put some of the Northwest's key contests into top-of categories.

"Master of self-destruction" - Departing Idaho Republican Representative Bill Sali is a finalist: "That leaves me with having to choose between Sali, who would have been re-elected indefinitely if he had made any effort to get along with people, and Mahoney [Tim Mahoney, D-Florida], the hypocrite’s hypocrite. Tough call. I can’t make it. How about calling it a tie?"

"Strongest Republican Swimmer Against the Tide" - Returning Washington Republican Representative Dave Reichert. "Reichert has turned back two strong challenges in terrible environments in a swing district that has gone Democratic at the presidential level . . ."

"Time to Stop Running" - Nominee, Idaho Democrat Larry LaRocco. "LaRocco’s last two showings suggest that maybe running statewide in Idaho isn’t his best option."

"Biggest Long-Shot Winner" - Nominee (without comment) Democrat Walt Minnick, who ousted Sali.

Wyden and the next few years 3

Ron Wyden

Ron Wyden

BACKGROUND Not a lot of U.S. senators (there have been more House members) have actively called for investigation into the activities of the Bush Administration. Oregon Senator Ron Wyden is one of them, pursuing - often individually - an inquiry into decision-making at the Department of Interior.

This week, on hearing that Colorado Senator Ken Salazar would be named Interior secretary, Wyden said that would be a good pick. (He and Salazar have worked together on several topics, often energy-related.)

He also, in speaking to Oregon Public Radio, added this: “The Obama Administration will have considerable follow-up work to do, given what [Interior official] Julie MacDonald did to hot-wire too many of these Endangered Species decisions to satisfy her political agenda.” And he said the investigation into the department's activities should be expanded. A new, comprehensive report on just that, developed at Wyden's instigation, was just released on Monday. (It takes something to get Wyden, normally diplomatic, to speak this way: "This report makes it crystal clear how one person’s contempt for the public trust can infect an entire agency.")

Last of

three posts.

That isn't the outline of a legislator content to take a comfortable path, now that his side is - after a long haul in the minority - running things.

He could go to work on a wide range of subjects. According to Wyden's office, his focus will be on: (more…)

Publius, Silence Dogood and Rep. Hartgen

REPORT The antecedents of this political blog run back, through intermittent gaps, back to about 1994 - it has been Ridenbaugh Press since the beginning - and that surely makes it one of the older blogs, online years before the term "blog" was born. Even many of the leading national blogs have been around less a decade; many of the highest-traffic have six or seven years of existence. The medium of blog is in its infancy.

Newspapers were at that stage in the 1700s, especially the later part of that century and the early years of the one following, and in those days they looked and read a lot differently. Facts were interspersed among opinions and aphorisms, and the people now revered as founding fathers were targeted with mud that makes even our recent elections look sickly sweet. Routinely, writers on matters public used pseudonyms, even when almost everyone knew who they were anyway. Ben Franklin probably fooled none of his neighbors masquerading as Silence Dogood. Eventually, newspapering became a bigger deal and a more established deal, and professional standards tended to rise. No regulation was necessary.

Stephen Hartgen

Stephen Hartgen

Newly-minted Idaho state Representative Stephen Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, is a former publisher and editor of the Twin Falls Times News, and other papers around the country before that; and just about everyone who wrote an opinion for those papers - like other conventional daily papers - had to sign their name to what they wrote. (Excepting of course the "institutional" editorials, which as at many other papers bore no signature and were often strongly worded indeed, but we'll move past that.) As the Idaho Statesman's Kevin Richert wrote some days ago, Hartgen "is drafting a bill to require bloggers to post under their real name, and require online commenters to do likewise. In essence, Hartgen wants online commentary to more closely resemble newspaper opinion pages, where letter writers are generally required to identify themselves." (more…)

Avista-CDA deal

READING The deal announced today between Avista (once known more understandably as Washington Water Power) and the Coeur d'Alene Tribe looks like a pretty big deal - among many other components, there's something about $150 million changing hands over a period of years. Flying to some extent under the radar, this may be one of the key Inland Empire developments of the year.

A description from the Avista statement:

"Avista and the Tribe have agreed to support the issuance of a single 50-year license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for the Post Falls hydroelectric facility and the Spokane River hydroelectric projects. The agreement also supports continuation of existing water levels on the lake. . . . The comprehensive settlement provides for payment over the life of the long term license of over $150 million both for environmental measures in and around Coeur d'Alene Lake and for compensation to the Tribe. Also addressed are rights-of-way for transmission lines over tribal lands and future storage payments connected to a new Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) license for the Post Falls dam. Included in the settlement are provisions for Avista to make payments to the Tribe for past and future use of submerged Tribal lands and to satisfy Avista's obligation to mitigate the impacts of the Post Falls dam on the Tribe's natural and cultural resources on its Reservation.

Wyden and the next few years 2

Wyden in Astoria

Ron Wyden

BACKGROUND When Ron Wyden was elected to the U.S. House in 1980, he arrived in counterpoint to a predecessor - Bob Duncan - who though also a Democrat had a very different take on legislating. He was not, generally, an activist on socially expansive legislation. Wyden, a co-founder of the Oregon Gray Panthers and a lobbyist and organizer on various legislative fronts, had other intentions for his office.

He took office at the launch of the conservative ascendancy, his early years at the height of Ronald Reagan's popularity and with only the House in Democratic hands - and many of those Democrats of what now would be called the blue dog variety. The times for an activist Democrat were far from ideal.

Second of

three posts.

In contrast to many Democrats of the time, though, Wyden's stance didn't come across as defensive. (A supportive district back home probably helped.) In his pre-Congress activist days, he worked on measures not especially ideological but with a specific practical bent - a ballot issue to cut the cost of dentures, for example.

In the House, in the 80s, he dug into federal spending in sometimes obscure areas and pushed measures intended to foster competition in health care and change rules on federal reimbursement; there were specific, sometimes technical, regulatory changes related to business phone billing and computer crime and even baby formula, during the era of deregulation. He worked on federal legal backing for certain community health operations, to cut malpractice insurance rates. He found Republican alliances in measures to expand unemployment insurance (in cases where some of the money would go to business startups) and developed new incentives for investing in low-income housing. The Almanac of American Politics in 1988 said that "he approaches issues with an almost child-like wonder but works out solutions that are politically shrewd and make sense as policy." A fair number of these ideas cleared the House.

In the Senate his pace seemed to accelerate. He worked on Internet anti-censorship measures, restricting gag rules by HMOs and other measures of seemingly technical but actually wide-ranging import. With conservative Idaho Senator Larry Craig, Wyden pushed through federal payments to rural counties, maybe the piece of legislation each senator is best known for in the region. (more…)

Grid 2.0


Kachinas/Linda Watkins

READING The comparisons between this period and the onset of the New Deal are probably overstretched, but some specific counterparts are arising - take for example what you might call Grid 2.0.

The old version (1.0) was the massive damming of the Columbia River, the immense hydropower project that transformed the Northwest. Now, there may be something new. From an Associated Press piece just out: "there’s talk of another major public works project for the Northwest, one that would deliver green wind power to the Interstate 5 corridor and, by some estimates, help create 50,000 jobs."

In theory, it could plug into the current Bonneville Power system and then expand it, dramatically. And the amounts could be substantial; already, as the article notes, enough wind power is being produced to power two Seattles, and twice as much capacity is in the pipeline.

Wyden and the next few years 1

Wyden in Astoria

Wyden in Astoria/Stapilus

BACKGROUND Changes of party control in Congress and changes in party control of the presidency make for big changes in who has at least potential impact in a congressional delegation. The results of the last two elections taken together have made for some large changes in the Northwest delegation, and on balance have strengthened its clout.

As matters stand, the most consequential person in the region's delegation now looks to be Oregon Senator Ron Wyden.

First of

three posts.

Those changes in relative influence arise in various ways. Idaho's House delegation probably picked up a little, since one district went Democratic and fell into the majority, while the member in the other stands to gain considerably more force within his smaller Republican caucus. (Whether the Senate delegation is about to gain in influence at this point, or lose, is a tougher call.)

Washington and Oregon, which together now elect (as they have for some time) 10 Democrats and four Republicans to the House, and now have four Democratic senators, there's considerable massed seniority among the majority members, and they'll pick up various chairmanships and useful slots. One, Washington Senator Patty Murray, is in the Senate majority leadership. Another, Representative Norm Dicks from west-Puget area, is among the senior members in the House and one of the most widely respected, notably on defense matters. The Northwest's congressional delegation as a whole probably has not been so strong - from a standpoint of position and seniority - since the 70s.

But Wyden, a senator not especially well known nationally - he seems not to have been much sought out by the cameras and publicity machine - seems positioned to be the single most key player of all. A year from now, he may well be better-known nationally as well, and for substantive reasons. (more…)

Before and after

READING In scanning through some of Joel Connelly's recent columns (for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer) and running across this side-note, which seemed useful for a spotlight here as a new presidential administration starts to work through its plans for social policy. Connelly is writing here about the approaches used in Vancouver, British Columbia . . .

The city has embarked on a treatment-based, not punishment-based, drug strategy. The head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration flew in to lecture a business lunch on dangers of the city's plans for a "safe injection center."

The Yanks' drug czar was, thankfully, ignored.

Vancouver has experienced a steep decline in deaths from heroin overdoses and other illegal drugs. British Columbia had 396 drug deaths in 1998, 191 in Vancouver. The figures so far this year are 133 provincewide, and just 30 deaths in the city.

The Yamhill Secretary of Food proposal

READING In his column that ran today in the Oregonian (and Wednesday in his home New York Times) Nicholas Kristof succinctly rounds up a whole batch of key changes in American agriculture and winds up with the idea that the federal agency needed on the subject isn't the Department of Agriculture, but a Department of Food. He makes an excellent case, and the column is solidly recommended reading.

We reference it in this Northwest blog because of some of the background Kristof, who has traveled an astonishing number of places around the globe, brings to this issue: His growing up on a farm located near Yamhill, Oregon (which is about three miles north of this site's home base). Among his observations: "I grew up on a farm in Yamhill, Ore., where my family grew cherries and timber and raised sheep and, at times, small numbers of cattle, hogs and geese. One of my regrets is that my kids don’t have the chance to grow up on a farm as well. Yet the Agriculture Department doesn’t support rural towns like Yamhill; it bolsters industrial operations that have lobbying clout. The result is that family farms have to sell out to larger operators, undermining small towns."

You could replicate that story in small towns all over the country.

His blog post on the column includes a bonus, a 1975 picture of Kristof at the Oregon State Fair, showing off the sheep he raised for an FFA project.

Shopping mobs at Enterprise and Joseph

READING Hadn't heard before about the weekend shopping bus from the La Grande area north and east into the country not much renowned as a shopping center - Enterprise and Joseph. Now we have.

There are crafts businesses and other retailers in those cities, but they're a tad out of the way for most people - an hour's drive (albeit a pretty one) from La Grande. The buses make an event out of it, as the Wallowa County Chieftain notes:

"Down the street and around the corner, Wendy Stewart's Bee Charmed Marketplace also did great business - selling more than a month's-worth of product in one day. 'It was really great,' said Stewart. 'It is well worth being a sponsor for this event. I have more customers come in during the bus tour than I do in three winter months added together.' Up in Joseph the good sales continued, with Joseph Fly Shop and Lamb Trading Company reporting 'brisk sales.'"

Five figures

READING There's an impact on the psychology of a town - especially a smaller town - that comes from its population marker. After a certain point, a city like Portland or Seattle, encased as it is by suburbs, seems less defined by its population number.

But Baker, Oregon, has never quite reached the 10,000 population mark. Drive through it and you'll see a small city whose leaders clearly once thought it would be much bigger, but never quite got there. But now, after all these years, it may have crossed the line into five figures. Maybe.

You take what you get.

PolitickerOR down,

READING Sad media news, and sad implications: The political web site, which has sustained not only a site but also a paid on-ground political reporter in Oregon, is closing its in-state operations. The site will evidently remain on line; what that means in terms of content, we'll all find out. The reason is the usual - bad economic conditions.

This is a shame in part because the site has been developing independent political news in the state, as few (still) online public affairs sites have. (We've been eager readers of the site's morning RSS feed, as well as the main site.) The commitment of an actual paid human reporter is unusual. And it held the prospect for developing a business model that could sustain online-only journalism. Evidently, not easily and not yet.

Fingers crossed for the Washington site.