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Posts published in January 2009

Kempthorne for president?

Dirk Kempthorne

Dirk Kempthorne

Don't count on this one happening. But in some ways there's not a shock in seeing it - the notion being floated about Dirk Kempthorne, former interior secretary and former Idaho governor and senator, running for president in 2012. (To be clear, there's no specific indication that any of this has come from Kempthorne himself.)

A few thoughts . . .

One is that having such trial balloons floated isn't an especially bad idea, even if you never follow up on them. The idea that you might become a real national figure, in the top=rank way that presidential contenders and few others are, gives you heft and prominence in whatever you're doing right now, whether that is serving in Congress, as governor of Alaska or even if you're in the process of nailing down ongoing employment.

Another is that there's some reflection here of the thinness of the national Republican bench. Looking to 2012 there are such names as Romney and Palin and Huckabee, but their actual campaign history in 2008 exposed serious weaknesses for all of them, and many Republicans may be looking elsewhere. But where? Going back decades, there's always been at least one and maybe more plausible major figures for Republicans headed into the presidential cycle; who would that be now? Lesser-known figures might realistically enter seriously into the mix.

Third: Kempthorne? interior secretary is a national post, but he's hardly a household name, and connections to the Bush Administration may be politically toxic for a while. He's been a down-the-line standard conservative, as the term has been understood in recent years; but how is that likely to help in 2012? He does have good campaigning skills, though, and as the Atlantic's Marc Ambinder points out, he is close to the natural resource industries, which could help fund the early stages of a campaign.

Would he try to do it? Not likely. The Idaho Statesman's Kevin Richert noted that "He has never said that to me and in recent talks with his associates no one made any suggestions that he was looking at it." This is probably a trial balloon being lofted for other purposes. But then, that's partly what trial balloons are for.

A tax review?

Last May Stan Howland, a veteran corporate income tax auditor for Idaho Tax Commission, delivered a startling 17-page report on what he argued was an inappropriate activity at the commission: Making secret (as in not disclosed to the public) deals with out of stat corporations that allow them to pay to the state a fraction of the taxes they owe. The argument in favor of this approach is that the legal action needed to collect the taxes might, at least in some cases, exceed what could be collected.

The report caused a flurry of discussion, most of which seemed to lead to three conclusions: (1) the activity he describes does in fact go on; (2) it appears to be legal; and (3) nothing more seemed likely to come of it, since the commission is arguing it is doing the right thing, and no one else in a position to impose their clout seems interested in forcing them to do otherwise.

But is the current economic crunch, alongside the crunch in state revenues, leading to a reconsideration of that outcome?

The subject came up Thursday at the state Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee, and the upshot didn't look so good for the commission. From the Idaho Statesman's Kevin Richert blog post on the meeting: (more…)

Remaking Springfield

In September we posted on a Eugene Register-Guard article noting the number of larger strip clubs in Springfield than in neighboring, and much larger, Eugene, a piece speculating on how the cities' different histories and social attitudes may have led to the disparity.

A guest op in the R-G today carries some of that forward, in the current debate over a proposal to open a new strip club in the downtown area.

Twenty years ago, The Register-Guard published an article with a headline that was something like “100 Best Things About Springfield,” and one of the highlights was “the real blue- collar bars downtown.” Ten years ago, maybe only five years ago, Dugger could have opened Shaker’s downtown and there would have been little outcry. What’s changed is that many in Springfield now have higher expectations of what they want their downtown to be.

They want to take families downtown after dark and feel safe anywhere from 10th Street to the Willamette River. They want nice places to shop and eat. They want to see their Academy of Arts & Academics students in a play at the Wildish Theater and get a fudge sundae after the show. They want to visit the Springfield Museum or take in an exhibit at the Emerald Art Center and have a nice glass of wine before or after. They want well-lighted streets with windowed storefronts to see what’s going on inside.

They don’t want to feel as though they have to cross the street to avoid a long, dark, uninviting block or a cluster of unsavory characters.

Dugger’s plans may have fit in the old downtown Springfield, but not in the new one — and that’s why so many showed up at the City Council meeting. To him, this is about his right to make a living with a legal strip club; to many others, this is about whose downtown it is and what kind of businesses they want to see there.

Adams’ survivability

Sam Adams

Sam Adams

Our first take on the scandal storm surrounding Portland Mayor Sam Adams (now a national story) was that it was significant but probably survivable, on grounds that his actions has no involvement with the handling of his current office. There also seemed to be a limit to the water torture effect: What else could come out to keep the story alive, to justify ongoing headlines?

As we get into Day 3, though, the question of Adams' survivability is moving rapidly in new directions, and becoming a lot less clear. There's an accumulative piling on effect, and it could make Adams' position untenable in short order. There are four factors here: The fact that he lied; that he lied about the whole case in response to charges from a fellow candidate for mayor, developer Bob Ball, which led to Ball's statements being dismissed as untrue; acknowledgment that another part of his story (relating to mentoring) was untrue as well; and the appearance at least that as a city council member he hired away a reporter at the Portland Mercury who was working on the story, essentially to quash it. The line between private activity and abuse of office has gotten a little blurrier.

There's a recall effort underway; the grounds: "1. Alleged illegal sexual misconduct with a minor under the age of 18; 2. Alleged ethical misconduct during his mayoral campaign of 2008 by making false statements; 3. Alleged ethical misconduct by encouraging others to lie about his own misconduct; 4. Alleged ethical misconduct by awarding city jobs to members of the media that were reporting, or were professing to report, this issue." That effort is somewhat stymied, though, because under state law elected officials cannot be recalled until they have served at least six months in office.

Although there's been no specific allegation of an illegal act, a state attorney general's inquiry is under way. Multnomah County is doing likewise.

And the news media is all over the story. The print Oregonian this morning had six news stories about Adams' scandal this morning - probably more space devoted to it in the local section than to everything else there put together - along with an editorial concluding: "He's already said he doesn't plan to quit, but we submit that it is not in the city's interest to have a mayor who cannot vouch for his own character under fire. He should resign." The Portland Tribune called for resignation too. And so have piles of letters to the editor around the area.

Can Adams ride this out, or is he being swamped by the storm? Today, even though a resignation may be the only way he would depart, his odds of survival in office much longer look a little less than even.

Obama candidate fallout

The call in today's inaugural speech by the new president for getting involved may cause a whole large new crop of candidates, some of them recent graduates of the successful Obama campaign, to jump in. Here's one in the Northwest who just did.

Thomson logo

logo for TJ Thomson campaign

From a just-received press release (oddly, no web site yet): "At the Obama Inaugural Celebration in Boise tonight, TJ Thomson declared his intent to run for the Boise City Council in 2009. Earlier today, TJ filed an Appointment and Certification of Political Treasurer for Candidacy with the City of Boise, naming former Idaho State Senator, Gail Bray, as his Political Treasurer. TJ is well known throughout Idaho as an engaged citizen and respected policy analyst, program evaluator, and community organizer. More recently, TJ lead the grassroots organizing efforts for President Barack Obama in the State of Idaho, served as the State Chair of Idaho Veterans for Obama, and addressed a crowd of over 14,000 at Taco Bell Arena, during Barack Obama visit to Boise prior to Idaho’s Super Tuesday election."

No particular predictions, other than this: He's likely to run a strong campaign. The basis for thinking he will, at least, is pretty solid.

Sam Adams and the unfiltered impulse

Sam Adams

Sam Adams

Some months back a first-time candidate (not in Oregon) asked the question: Why do so many politicians keep getting caught in scandalous or near-scandalous sexual situations? (Worried, maybe, he might be missing a crucial strand of political DNA?) It was a good question. The snap answer might be that politicians tend to be gregarious people and prone to lots of human interaction generally; they draw energy from being around other people. Or something like that.

But there ought also to be a strand of political DNA that sends up a red flag in the face of a bad idea, and that's a strand that seems to be missing from a lot of political people these days. At the moment, you wonder: What was Sam Adams, long considered one of the brightest guys in Portland politics, thinking when he struck up that close friendship in 2005 with a 17-year-old named (however improbable it may sound) Beau Breedlove, a friendship that eventually and briefly went further than that. And then, for an extended period, lied about it.

Now on Adams' website (responding to a story just broken by Willamette Week): "In the past, I have characterized my relationship with Beau Breedlove as purely non-sexual. That is not true. Beau Breedlove and I had a sexual relationship for a few months in the summer of 2005 after he turned 18 years of age. I should have been honest at the time about the true nature of my relationship with Beau Breedlove when questions about my relationship with him first surfaced publicly in October 2007. In fact, Beau encouraged me to be honest about the facts of our relationship. I am deeply sorry that I asked him to lie for me."

The immediate comparison in the Northwest would logically be to the case of former Spokane Mayor James West, who was recalled from office in December 2005, after exposure of his trolling on gay sex web sites and relationships with much younger male partners. That was an explosive story that totally riveted, dominated, public life in Spokane for nearly a year.

How does the Adams story compare? What effect might this revelation have? (more…)

Wacked-out according to whom?

Ken Jacobsen

Ken Jacobsen

There's an air around some of the legislation proposed by Senator Ken Jacobsen, D-Seattle - maybe in part because of the sheer volume of it, 46 bills so far this session - that some of it is maybe half-baked, or just a little quirky. Maybe. But that doesn't mean the underlying ideas aren't worthy of some consideration.

Like the current hot topic at the Washington statehouse, Senate Bill 5063, which would allow for joint burial of people with the pets (dogs and cats only). Which on first glance sounds a little like, well, yeah, maybe one of those weird ideas from Seattle. Think on it a little further, and ask . . . well, why shouldn't be be allowed to if they want to? The bill could use some tinkering (it would require cemeteries to allow the practice; a wise colleague suggested it merely allow cemeteries the choice). But for many people, pets are family. The guess here is that this will actually be a coming thing.

Sometimes ideas take time to mature and develop strength, and maybe fine-tine along the way, and it could be that Jacobsen is one of those people who pick up on the earlier waves. He recalled (in a Spokane Spokesman-Review article) how when he proposed state labeling of organic foods, “I was treated like I was talking about kinky sex.” Pretty widespread these days. (Organic labeling, that is.)

So what else is Jacobsen about this year? From the Spokesman: "Barely a week into this year’s legislative session, Jacobsen has proposed an airline passenger’s bill of rights, allowing pet dogs in bars, designating a state oak tree, and giving tax breaks to taverns that install on-site breathalyzers." The first and last of those anyway are highly useful ideas we've long thought to be wise policy. They could be coming things. And herewith, an indication of that.

Avimor’s timeline

We've been wondering about how the string of mega-developments around Boise, all launched a year or two to mere months before the real estate/finance crash last year, are getting along. The key case would be Avimor.

Avimor is a big development, located in the Boise foothills partway between Eagle and Horseshoe Bend off Highway 55. The developers' web site offers a by-the-numbers rundown: "684: The number of housing units. The majority would be single-family homes, with about 60 multifamily units such as lofts. 75,000: Square footage of commercial and community space. 1,952: Projected population of Avimor. 830: Total acres in Avimor. 498: Acres of open space and parks in Avimor. 9.5: Miles of public trails in Avimor. 5: Years to build Avimor."

Note that last: Five years to build, according to the web statement in February 2006. We're now nearly three years into that.

Their odds of hitting target don't look great. From a post a few days ago in the Boise Guardian:

We got the following from an obvious insider and frankly what they apparently see as a positive sign is pretty weak.

“Avimor has had residents since October. There are three homes closed, two with families living therein. One home is under construction for a family. Another pre-sold home is about to start for yet another family.

“All four families are from the valley and have lived in Idaho for several years. The MLS only has a few spec homes listed which none have sold. Two spec homes have contracts pending, contingent on financing which is almost impossible to get.”

Even if we give them the benefit of SIX homes sold in the past year, it will take 500 years for them to sell 3,000 homes.

D.C. stimulus? Don’t count on it

Thompson

Dock Thompson at EDTI Committee/TVW

There's an undercurrent of discussion in the Northwest statehouses, hard-pressed financially all three of them, about the possibility of at least partial salvation coming from Washington, D.C. There is, in that Washington, a major stimulus package under development. What will it mean for the states in the Northwest? No one knows.

But the legislatures would like to know what they can. In Washington, Governor Chris Gregoire at one point said she was hoping for a billion dollars or so in stimulus money.

Best not count on it. This afternoon, the Washington Senate Economic Development, Trade & Innovation Committee heard from Dick Thompson, special assistant to the governor (and previously holding a wide range of positions in state government), who has been tasked with finding out what to expect.

"For year, my advice to people who were going to testigy was never guess," he said. But: "Guesses and rumors is about all I can give you today. . . . I will tell you everything we think we know. But there is not a lot we know in real fact."

Much of the package, he said, seems to be in the form of tax relief rather than direct spending, so that portion doesn't do much for state budgets. "We have gone from thinking we have large discretion to thinking we have very, very little." (A big difference from the bank bailout last year.) Highways and bridges have been thought to be a key component of this, he said, but it still amounts to just about $30 billion nationally - and maybe a little over $500 million might make its way to Washington. Not nearly as much as once hoped for.

Looks like a window of three to four months to let bids, which means project would have to be close to ready to go. And money apparently would go directly to local or state agencies, not to the state for general distribution.

There's little clarity though, he said, of whether this formula is an Obama-backed proposal or just something wandering through the U.S. House. And everyone waits . . .