Press "Enter" to skip to content

Posts published in January 2009

Broder on Minnick

Washington Post columnist David Broder's latest column is on new Idaho Representative Walt Minnick, who (he points out) has a back story more unusual than that of most incoming members of Congress.

Nothing especially new of note, but it does put Minnick into some perspective. And Minnick says he will be back in his district weekly - and why.

The Wal-Mart flow

National in scope, but you can see the effects in the Northwest too: Take a look at this flowing map showing the growth, store by store and year by year, of Wal-Mart since its founding.


Wal-Mart in 2007

Easy to forget now that this is a relatively recent phenomenon, that the Northwest had no Wal-Marts at all until the 90s, and how much ore heavily populated with them is the east rather than the west. But see if it doesn't give you creeps just the same.

Lieutenant Governor Little

Brad Little

Brad Little

In these days of controversial appointments to high office, here's one that (overwhelmingly) won't be: state Senator Brad Little to lieutenant governor of Idaho. And while you so often see many politicians grappling for higher office, here's one just the opposite: The surprise here isn't that Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter wanted him for the job, but that Little agreed to take it.

For the better part of a couple of decades, Brad Little has been maybe the foremost name on the Republican bench - the logical candidate for whatever office, or higher office, you're probably talking about. That has in smaller part to do with his pedigree (one of the big southern Idaho ranching families, and a very politically prominent father) but more his personal qualities. He is a rancher and businessman in Emmett, very much a part of the older Idaho, but also highly plugged in to the new and technical West and a bit of a policy wonk. He's considered relatively moderate on social issues. But he's not a Republicrat; Otter surely wanted as lieutenant someone he could work with comfortably, and Little will likely be a solid fit. His political skills are very highly developed. And almost all the way across the political spectrum in Idaho, he's very highly regarded.

(You'll not hear many Democrats bad-mouthing him; he is not an ideologue, seeming to have a more practical frame of mind. There are some Republicans, from the hard-core activist crowd, who have blasted him. But the better measure is that Senate Republicans have elected him to leadership.)

For years, the talk has been that Little be an automatically major candidate for almost any office, and at times might clear the field of serious contenders. (Had he wanted the first district House seat in 2006, the betting here is that he would now be entering his second term there, without breaking a sweat.)

But he has been reluctant. People were pleading with him for years to run for the state legislature, before he finally agreed to do it - the kind of thing lots of politicians like to be able to say, but that Little honestly could. Plenty of other Republicans would have been happy to see him run for high office since, but he's not pursued any of those opportunities. Why? The general understanding has simply been his responsibilities to the family business and his preference to stay where he is. He seems to have no hunger for the title.

So, as noted, the bigger surprise may be that he was willing to move up. Part of it may be that lieutenant governor is a part-time job. But it does raise the question anew of whether Little might be willing to go for a major (full time) office down the line. It now enhances his position on the bench.

New members, new sites

Official congressional sites for the four new members of Congress - just now sworn in - from the Northwest are up, more or less. We'll see how long it takes the offices to get those pages fully up to steam

FOn the Senate side, you'll see at the moment only preliminary teaser pages for just-sworn senators Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Jim Risch of Idaho. Mostly just bio information here.

On the House side, preliminary office pages are up, though they're mostly boilerplate. The sites for Kurt Schrader of Oregon and Walt Minnick of Idaho are up, though, in a fashion.

Longevity, at the outset

Walt Minnick

Walt Minnick

The new Congress, most of it at least, is sworn in tomorrow, and for many that will mark the start of a new career, in some cases an extended period. The two new Oregonians in Congress likely will be there a while. Senator Jeff Merkley will be there for six years anyway (re-election that far out is too hard to predict as yet); and Representative Kurt Schrader looks, for now anyway, to be well positioned for re-election. The same should go for the new Idaho senator, Republican Jim Risch - as matters sit, a strong prospect for re-election if he seeks it.

However, the Hill newspaper today ranks another Northwesterner as the second most endangered new member of Congress (after Louisiana Republican Joseph Cao, whose political difficulties probably are greater than anyone else's in the new Congress). That would be Democratic Idaho Representative Walt Minnick:

Minnick won in large part thanks to outgoing Rep. Bill Sali’s (R) inability to play nice even with members of his own party. The incoming Democrat will attempt to hold down a district that voted 69 percent for President Bush in 2004, and he has shown the fundraising prowess to do so. Minnick would be well-served if Sali ran again, but, even in that case, the GOP primary would be no cinch for the one-term former representative.

The Hill correctly nails the early interest among Republicans in the seat, throwing in the names of Sali, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden (who was interested in a U.S Senate seat last cycle) and state Senator John McGee of Caldwell. (more…)

One of a kind

Bill Grant

Bill Grant

Once, just as the idea of Republicans getting elected from within Seattle was an ordinary and normal thing, there were Democrats - usually relatively conservative, but Democrats - getting elected from the parts of rural Washington east of the Cascades. But there hasn't been one of those - the rural Democrats from eastern Washington - in many years now, with one exception. Bill Grant, a Democrat who has representd the Walla Walla and surrounding area for 22 years, has been the last of his kind. (Even back then, he was unusual - the legislative seat he won had been held by Republican Doc Hastings, now a U.S. representative.)

Until now. Grant, diagnosed with lung cancer only last month, died on Sunday at Walla Walla.

There will be the usual laudatory remarks following his passing. I his case, they will generally match with the favorable descriptors he tended to get from around the political sphere. They also match up with this: A person who could get elected as long and convincingly in such strong territory for the opposing party, must have been doing something right all those years.

The Bell page

One of the Web's utilities, in addition to moving information quickly, is its use as a standing reference sheet. We've used it for that purpose here, with information about subjects ranging from candidates for office to whatever happened to former journalists.

We ran across another use a short time ago: A tracking location for keeping up with radio announcer Zeb Bell.

Posted by the editors of The MountainGoat Report and The Political Game, the page about Bell - actually Ronald Zebell - is of note as provider of one of the more extreme radio voices in southern Idaho. The bloggers describe him: "an ultra-conservative talk radio host who leases time on a Rupert, Idaho AM radio station owned by Lee Family Broadcasting. His show, 'Zeb at the Ranch' currently airs four days a week on KBAR which he hosts from his home in Murtaugh, Idaho and which is broadcast throughout the Magic Valley and Mini-Cassia areas and online through a live stream. Bell's show is a call-in/talk format where topics range from political to agricultural to promoting community events. "

It is, of course, not the agricultural or community events discussion that tends to bring the outside interest. The tracking page and Bell's own site provide plenty more background, better digested at length there than by summary here . . .

Cabin fever, when there’s a cabin

Spokane snow

Clearing the Spokane snow/Spokane Street Department

Two days ago we were plowing through water - some rain, some snow melt - and barely made it through the Coast Range before the road we were on was closed due to flooding. But if it's snow you want . . .

The situation is getting really bad around Spokane. This is a city accustomed to snowfall, and generally fairly prepared for it; the city says it has "a total of 35 plows for use, 7 of which can sand at the same time and 6 of which can de-ice at the same time. Additional sander trucks and 3 de-icer trucks are available." Which would seem enough.

But this is really unusual snow - mass drop after mass drop, with no change for meltoff. And it's not just the roads. The city's web site also says this: "With an additional 6 inches of snow last night, many buildings which had sustained the weight of recent snow storms finally succumbed last night. An additional four buildings suffered from collapsed roofs this morning bringing this week’s roof collapse total in the City of Spokane to about 28, which include a mix of commercial buildings, industrial buildings, awnings, carports, and residential garages."

The Spokesman-Review is running a backgrounder on "cabin fever throughout history."

Another storm is scheduled for Sunday night.

Unearthly formations

Rainier clouds

Lenticular clouds/photo by Kathy Marshall

There's something almost hypnotic about this shot we received in email today via the feds: The clouds almost seem like something out of Close Encounters.

From the mail: "Those are called 'lenticular clouds.' They're caused when the air flow is just right so when it flows over Mt. Rainier, the air gets pushed upward where it cools and condenses into clouds. Depending on how smooth the flow is, you can get some amazing clouds formations. (Photo: submitted by Kathy Marshall, Assistant PN Regional RD)"

Initiative misdirection

The latest Tim Eyman special is truly classic misdirection - an initiative that would, if passed, seek to do something a whole lot different than its backers are proclaiming. Without telling you very exactly what that something different is.

Here's what Eyman says: "We have a proposal for 2009 that aggressively tackles our state's property tax crisis. It's called the Lower Property Taxes Initiative. Our tax burden keeps growing faster and faster and government keeps getting bigger and bigger - the people are losing control. The Lower Property Taxes Initiative is our last, best chance to gain control of our government."

It is spun as a property tax limitation proposal. But that's not exactly what it does; the core of that comes in this a little further down: "This measure would limit the growth of state, county, and city general fund revenue, not including new voter-approved revenue, to the annual rate of inflation. Revenue above this limit would be used to reduce property taxes."

In other words, what it gets at directly is overall spending limits, the same sort of trouble-prone device we've seen across the last generation. What it has in common with those long list of efforts (which started with California's Prop 13 all of 30 years ago) is the placing of a ceiling on governmental spending, but no indication of how those budget limitations will be managed - where the resulting cuts will be. Like so many other initiatives before it, it says, "I don't wanna pay," but is silent on the other side of the equation: What should be tossed overboard.

Which is why it explicitly isn't the "last, best chance to gain control of our government." It might be if Eyman filled in both sides of the equation; by leaving one side blank, voters would be no more in control of their government with the initiative than without it. (We've long thought an initiative aimed at cutting specific government activities would be a far for responsible approach than cuts on the revenue side.)

Will it pass? Maybe - anti-tax initiatives are always popular. But then, voters should see the impact of this coming a mile away.