Archive for February, 2009

Feb 19 2009

Quite a committee

Published by under Idaho

The federal stimulus money has been politicized in various ways around the country; among Republican governors, there’s been talk of not accepting it (though all or nearly all probably will). Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, never a fan of the feds or federal money, has engaged in a little of that. But his first practical response so far has been impressive: An advisory committee on stimulus spending that isn’t just an advisory committee, because of who is on it – three former governors plus four former state budget directors, the overall panel split evenly between the parties.

The governors are Democrats Cecil Andrus and John Evans and Republican Phil Batt.

That (together with the budget office expertise) make up a classy combination. And it’s not your usual advisory committee, because whatever this one comes up with will be very hard to casually dismiss.

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Feb 19 2009

Alley’s space

Published by under Oregon

Allen Alley

Allen Alley

The initial up-front question, in looking at businessman Allen Alley‘s entry into the 2010 Oregon gubernatorial field, is – how does he expect to win the Republican primary?

It wasn’t hard when he ran last year for state treasurer; he was the only Republican who filed for the job. In the general, he did respectably (45.2% to Democrat Ben Westlund‘s 51.1%), but one reason was that his campaign ramped up unexpectedly at the end, taking the Democrats by somewhat by surprise. Nothing wrong with that strategy, but it likely wouldn’t do as well in a higher profile governor’s race. Alley did, as well, come across as an energetic candidate.

The primary issue comes up because Alley doesn’t seem to have a large, easily definable constituency within the Republican voting base, or a really strong organization. It’s hard to imagine him staying in the race should former Senator Gordon Smith or Representative Greg Walden enter (as we’re guessing they won’t, but which they could). The best guess here for a Republican gubernatorial nominee next year – assuming he runs – would be state Senator Jason Atkinson, who has a strong and enthusiastic support base, and has developed very strong campaign skills; he may have been the best natural campaigner for the governorship in 2006 in Oregon.

But who knows, yet, who will or won’t enter – on either side? Alley’s entry is demonstration of just that unpredictability.

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Feb 18 2009

Not an easy thing to do, or say

Published by under Idaho

Wasden

Lawrence Wasden

Lawyers like to sue; it’s what they do when they’re exercising their professional muscles. (Writers write. Dentists drill.) That’s point A.

Point B is that political figures in Idaho can never lose by “taking on the federal government” – just throwing a big ol’ middle finger at ‘em. Idahoans love that.

But the syllogism breaks down in this case.

Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden was speaking (about his department’s budget) to the legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, which writes the budget. A member, Senator Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, was interested in the new developments over federal involvement in wolf population controls; there’s a strong feeling among many Idaho policymakers that the effort should be led by the state, not the feds. That question is up in the air with rule changes by the new Obama Administration. So, he wanted to know, would Wasden sue the feds to keep Idaho in the driver’s seat?

Wasden said that “We are actually engaged in the process . . . I’ve been working right now to have a meeting with the Secretary of the Interior on wolves.”

Then he also said, “The opportunities for litigating the federal government might make us feel good, but they do little more than waste taxpayer dollars.”

He is likely right. But less anyone think his response may have come from a lack of stomach for the fight, be it noted: Took a lot more guts to say what he actually said. Wasden continues to impress. (Hat tip: Idaho Statesman legislative blog.)

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Feb 18 2009

Who owns the colleges?

Published by under Washington

gonzaga

At Gonzaga University/GU, Jennifer Raudebaugh

The news yesterday that The Society of Jesus (usually called the Jesuits), Oregon Province, have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization, is leading to a question of some significance: Who owns Gonzaga University and Seattle University, which are considered Jesuit institutions?

Predictably, the Jesuits say they are separately owned, and the plaintiffs suing them – this is a continuation of the long-running string of pedophile cases – say they are integrated enough that their assets, too, should be up for grabs.

It seems not an easy question. Look on the Oregon Province (it includes Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Alaska) web site, and you’ll find a number of references to Gonzaga and Seattle U, but little that explicitly links the church organization to them. The universities (and several other schools) are described as “educational ministries,” but what does that mean in the context of ownership and asset?

A statement from Gonzaga President Rev. Robert J. Spitzer: “The Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus is a completely separate organization from Gonzaga University. Gonzaga was separately incorporated and registered with the Secretary of State in Washington in 1894. Gonzaga University’s assets are its own and not subject to others’ creditors.” It sounds like a credible argument, but we have yet to know what a court will think.

And what does it mean to the communities? Seattle University is a very substantial institution and a significant force in Seattle, but Gonzaga is a really major player in Spokane. Questions about its future go directly to the front burner there.

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Feb 17 2009

Not done yet

Published by under Oregon

Some days will pass and there’s no reference in any of the usual public sources about the Sam Adams – that is, mayor of Portland – scandal. And it seems to be going away.

But it’s not going away yet. Not, at least, as long as someone can make some coin out of it . . .

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Feb 17 2009

Your ideas, anyway

Published by under Washington

You’ll recall that when the Hearst Corporation owners of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer said about a month ago that they will be ending their publication of the P-I print edition (which end date is about a month from now), there was some indication of maybe continuing in some way as an electronic publication.

That possibility is still sort of out there, but it seems to be fading. A blogger at the Stranger’s Slog, bringing some of this up to date, throws in a fascinating quote from an e-mail from a P-I staffer:

Can I also go off on a tangent and say how bizarre it is for Hearst to ask us for our groundbreaking, lean, out of the box ideas for a profitable online venture? (1) If they were going to ask, shouldn’t they have asked before they let us know via KING 5 that we were probably all about to be laid off? (2) Do they seriously not have a plan already in place? That seems like terrible business planning, (3) Why are they asking us these questions instead of paying someone who might actually know something about how to make money on the Internet? Aren’t reporters notoriously bad when it comes to issues like this, because we have always prided ourselves on having nothing to do with how ads are sold? But, (4) Didn’t the two reporters who did know something about how to make money on the Internet, John Cook and Todd Bishop, come to them with a groundbreaking, lean, out of the box idea not so long ago and get rejected?

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Feb 17 2009

From the feds

Published by under Idaho,Oregon,Washington

While in Washington and Oregon there’s a tone among political people that the federal stimulus money, welcome as it may be, shouldn’t be run through too quickly or without thought, the attitude among many Idaho political people suggests that a really foul pile of landfill deposits is about to emptied on the state.

Idaho’s portion is thought to be somewhere around a billion dollars (ad about 17,000 jobs, a few more in the 1st district than in the 2nd) – substantial money, of course. But the lather could stand some easing off. The Idaho Statesman‘s Kevin Richert put the the money in some perspective in a blog post: “All state agencies [put together] received just over $1.9 billion from the feds. And unlike the one-time stimulus money, this represents year-to-year federal spending, outside the state’s general fund.” And remember that local governments get plenty of federal money on top of that.

Richert concludes: “Idaho has had a federal funding habit for a long, long time.”

WASHINGTON/OREGON: Estimated job creation out of the stimulus in Washington is estimated at 75,000, and in Oregon at 40,000.

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Feb 16 2009

Of record, paper and pixel

Published by under Oregon

blue book

Oregon Blue Book

The cover art for the Oregon Blue Books has long been spectacular, and the coastal shot on the cover for the 09/10 edition lives up to the past entries. Probably helps that the secretary of state’s office, which publishes the book, gets the pictures by way of a photo contest. Probably also helps that Oregon is so photogenic.

The book appears to be as physically full as its predecessors (copies won’t be available until next month), but you have to suspect a lot of the content will migrate, over the next few editions, on line. Already, with this edition, there’s a fair amount of web-only material. Which seems likely to grow.

E-FILINGS On a semi-related note, the Oregonian‘s political blog notes that the Oregon Senate has voted to let people submitting materials to the legislature do so electronically, ending a requirement for print copies.

Mostly. One senator, Sherwood Republican Larry George, cast a protest vote because state agencies still would have to submit paper copies of executive summaries to all legislators. Why that exception, is altogether unclear.

Maybe they can amend that in to the measure when it gets to the House . . .

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Feb 16 2009

Evaluating the vunnel

Published by under Washington

tunnel

Viaduct-tunnel/City of Seattle

Right next to the Crosscut article headlined “The tunnel solution for the Viaduct is too risky,” are these links to encouraging stories from other news organizations: “Ideas debated about using private development to help pay for Viaduct park” (Seattle Post-Intelligencer), “Gregoire distances herself from car tabs portion of the Viaduct tunnel deal” (Times), “Tolls probably needed to cover full cost of waterfront tunnel, state says” (Tacoma News Tribune).

It’s never easy, is it?

Approved about a month ago by the top elected officials at Washington state, King County and Seattle, the tunnel – why has no one called it the “vunnel” yet?, since it is loosely expected to approximate the current Alaskan Way viaduct – the underground plan has been on the table for a long time. Its main problem has been that it’s been viewed as the Rolex plan – nice, maybe preferable, but awfully expensive.

Matt Fiske at Crosscut sums up the issues, which include the financial concerns (fair enough) but also adds this:

“My father Tyman Fikse was an expert who invented many tunneling technologies and spent his career designing massive tunnel boring machines (TBMs) for projects around the world. If there is one thing hanging out with “sandhogs” as a kid and riding muck trains miles in the dark deep below ground taught me, it is this: The earth will surprise you. Consider: The ground between preliminary core samples can change most unexpectedly. Geologic pressures are enormous. Tunnel liners shift and spring leaks. Gases escape — or worse. The best hard-rock boring machine will become gunked-up to a standstill if it is surprised by a section of sand or clay. Stuff happens. Deep tunnels are marvels of engineering that are also among the most difficult projects to plan in advance. To pretend otherwise is delusion. Remove the blinders and the real-world cost of the deep-bore tunnel will easily be double the current guess of $2.8 billion.”

All of which sounds real-world. And yet . . . they had to do something.

So now they – and especially their successors (one of the signatories, King County executive Ron Sims, already is almost outta here) – get to ride the tiger.

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Feb 15 2009

Stimulus, health, etc., and Wyden

Published by under Oregon

Ron Wyden

Ron Wyden at McMinnville/Randy Stapilus

We’ve attended a number of the town hall meetings over the years by Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, and today’s in McMinnville (number 498; his 500th is Tuesday in Fossil) seemed the most focused of those, on the part of the audience. It may even have been a fair representation, since somewhere over 100 people showed up, more than the norm.

Held in the city’s utilitarian new police building, this was a policy session, pretty wonkish, and pretty non-ideological. Economic and stimulus questions dominated, health came in a strong second, with a smattering of remaining questions (during the 90 minutes or so) covering energy, transportation, immigration and secrecy/security issues.

That health care, as policy, was as prominent as it was should be an indicator, because it’s not been on recent media radar. Wyden, naturally, was happy to address it, since he’s just reintroduced the Healthy Americans Act he’s been working on for some years. He sounded optimistic that major developments in health policy will make their way through this year, and said that President Barack Obama has in mind a major passage before the year is out. His own bill, he suggested, seems poised for Senate passage not with a narrow majority, but with as many as 70 to 75 votes.

(He also answered a question no one asked: He will not leave the Senate to take a job as secretary of Health & Human Services. After all the headlines about that possibility, the people in the audience were less concerned about that possibility than about, well, health care.) Continue Reading »

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Feb 15 2009

Paperless Mondays at Idaho Falls

Published by under Idaho

Beginning in March, the Post Register daily newspaper will not publish any more on Mondays. The reason is cost-saving: Evidently, to judge from Publisher Roger Plothow‘s piece today on the change (behind a pay wall), it was that or lay off employees. And since the paper will be continuing to update its website on Mondays, that seems the rational choice.

He points out that the Post-Register was a six-day paper – no Saturday publication – until 1996. Might be interesting to know (Plothow doesn’t say) why the ax fell on the Monday, rather than the Saturday, edition. At a guess: The ad picture penciled out better than way.

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Feb 15 2009

Cross-border polygamy

Published by under Idaho

Boundary County area

Boundary County area

The Spokane Spokesman-Review has out today a solid piece – and evidently just one of several to come – on polygamy in the Bonners Ferry, Idaho/Creston, British Columbia area, bringing a lot more detail and clarity to a long-running development that has been in the shadows for years.

The polygamous community – a Mormon splinter faction, not part of the main church – in the area is not new, and neither is public knowledge of it; the great 2003 book Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer made reference to it. But details were few and scattered, and only in the last year or so has the scene there started to come fully into focus.

One semi-surprise: The community is not wholly on the northern side of the international line, as had seemed to be the case. The Spokesman reports that “The move into North Idaho by FLDS [Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints] members began in 2003 after a leadership split in the Canadian community. By conservative estimates, there are at least a half-dozen polygamous families – about 100 men, women and children – living in Boundary County, even though polygamy is banned by the Idaho Constitution. One ex-member says the number in Boundary County could approach 300.”

For some years, Canadian officials had done little about prosecuting the group. But recent media reports about it – notably from Daphne Bramham, a columnist at the Vancouver Sun – seem to have prompted action in the cases of child abuse and the practice of marrying off very young girls. (There does seem to be some question of whether polygamy as such might be constitutionally protected in Canada.)

Idaho long has had, of course, strict anti-polygamy laws. As the news reports about developments in Boundary County start to circulate, will that lead to more crackdowns on the southern side of the international line?

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Feb 14 2009

Inside-the-border stops

Published by under Washington

Norm Dicks

Norm Dicks

The decisions by Senator Patty Murray and Representative Norm Dicks to take a closer look at the Olympic peninsula border stops – not stops at the border, which are not under debate, but quite a few miles from it – are likely to generate a good deal of comment. Not all, but most, we suspect, positive.

From a Dicks release on this:

The congressman said he met in October with the Chief of the Border Patrol, but that since then “CBP agents have adopted an even more aggressive strategy of performing ad hoc traffic stops, making individual arrests. While I understand that the Border Patrol mission includes coordination with local law enforcement on border control issues, I have serious questions about the agency’s direct authority to stop individual automobiles and detain, in some cases, legal residents of the United States until they are able to prove their status.”

In the letter, Rep. Dicks also said that he was also disturbed by reports of Border Patrol agents boarding local buses and primarily questioning riders about their citizenship.

“I would appreciate your personal attention to the question of whether these activities are the appropriate and best use of the limited resources available to your department as it confronts the myriad of serious threats to the security of our homeland,” the congressman’s letter concluded.

You need to recall here that Dicks may be a Democrat but he is also one of the closest to military and security interests – this is not someone automatically and by nature suspicious of that community.

There is, as noted, a lot of comment about all this. There’s a string, pro and con, well worth reading tagged to a Seattle Times piece on this. One of the comments that caught our attention:

I guess none of the other posters on this thread live out on the Peninsula. The Border Patrol’s random stops have caught no-one with any connection with terrorism or illegal drugs or anyone who has crossed into the US from Canada. They have caught medical marijuana users (legal in Washington State, illegal at the Federal level), harvesters of salal without a permit, and a few inoffensive Mexican agricultural workers who have been in the country for years, some undocumented, some who actually are legal but are still sent to immigration detention. For this they violate our fourth amendment rights, make us miss our ferries, and squander our tax dollars.

By the way, the right they claim – to suspend the Fourth Amendment anywhere within 100 miles of a border – would allow them to conduct stop-and-search operations on I-5 in Seattle. If they did that, maybe you’d feel a little different.

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Feb 13 2009

An odd couple, and an idea

Published by under Oregon

Two Northwest House Democrats turned thumbs down on the conference committee stimulus package. Idaho’s Walt Minnick, coming from the Blue Dog conservative side, wasn’t hard to understand; like most of the other critics, he thought there was too much spending and too little likelihood the bill would get the job done. And he had the credibility of having developed an alternative of his own: “My bill was a high-powered rifle. This bill is a shotgun, and it will add nearly $1 trillion we do not have to a debt already out of control.” So, siding with the Republicans.

But then there too was the nay from Oregon’s Peter DeFazio – for almost exactly the opposite reasons. Too many cuts from the bill for spending proposals, in DeFazio’s view.

Of course, no one knows exactly what will work best to pump some adrenaline into the economy.

Some further attention ought to go, though, to one suggestion DeFazio had – a procedural one applying to the Senate.

The idea in the Senate is that to pass controversial legislation, you have to have not just a simple majority (50 senators and the vice president, if all are present and voting) but 60 votes to override a filibuster. The Senate rule basically is that you can’t stop a senator from speaking on the floor – for hours or days – unless you round up 60 votes for “cloture.” In recent years, we haven’t seen many real filibusters, instead abbreviating to the idea that you need 60 votes to force a bill to the floor if the minority says it even might try to filibuster.

DeFazio’s suggestion (according to the Bend Bulletin): Eliminate the niceties. If the Republicans, or anyone else, wants to filibuster, let ‘em filibuster. Make ‘em work for it. Let it all out there. For that matter, entertain us – and point up what’s at stake at the same time.

Here’s a case where some bread and circuses could actually result in better lawmaking . . .

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Feb 12 2009

Hard times, all over

Published by under Idaho

Member of Congress – not all, but most – tend to be more insulated than most of us from economic downturns, but that’s a little less true at the state legislative level. State legislators (in the Northwest’s states, as in most others) are part-time positions, and those not retired or relatively wealthy have to deal with the same economy as the rest of us.

A useful piece in the Boise Weekly points out some of the Idaho legislators who are hitting scrambling times outside the session.

House Majority Caucus Chair Ken Roberts, R-McCall, is quoted, “I’m looking for jobs and doing my taxes,” and the report adds, “Roberts owns a construction and excavation business in Valley County, where construction has come to a near standstill. His wife works four days a week at a pancake house in McCall.” Had a little intake of breath when we saw the phrase “construction and excavation business in Valley County” – that may be as good a locus of a rough business climate as any in the Northwest right now.

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Feb 12 2009

The breakup

Published by under Washington

Tough budget times tends to foster talk of either (1) combining agencies to merge and diminish administrative costs, or (2) splitting up agencies, the better to search for efficiencies which might more easily be hidden away in larger organizations.

Which is right? Hard to say; and it probably varies by agency. But there are plenty of efforts around the Northwest to seriously consider one or the other.

This thought prompted by a proposal to split the Washington Department of Social & Health Services into two. Or four. Depending on which legislator you’re talking to . . .

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Feb 11 2009

But will they know it when they see it?

Published by under Washington

Mark Miloscia

Mark Miloscia

The definitions are so often what trip you up.

It was Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart who remarked in a 1964 decision that he would not “attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [hard-core pornography]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it . . .” The know-it-when-I-see-it standard, though, never quite works for state laws, which creates no end of difficulties.

A group of Washington legislators, evidently led by Representative Mark Miloscia, D-Federal Way, has the idea of helping fill a bit of the state revenue deficit with a porn tax of 18.5% on goods and services. That concept may not get too much criticism, apart from the affected industry. Buy how do you define exactly what is covered?

Here’s the attempt in House Bill 2103:

“Adult entertainment materials and services” means those entertainment materials and services that are primarily oriented to an interest in sex, including but not limited to magazines, photographs, motion pictures, videotapes, videodiscs, cable television services, telephone services, audiotapes, computer programs, and paraphernalia. “Adult entertainment materials and services” does not include (a) books or magazines that contain no photographs or other graphics; or (b) motion pictures, videotapes, videodiscs, or cable television services that do not contain any explicit sex of the type that would be rated “X” using the standards existing on January 1, 2009, of the motion picture association of America, inc. Any motion picture, videotape, videodisc, cable television service, or other visual medium that contains any explicit sex of the type that would be rated “X” using these standards is considered to be primarily oriented to an interest in sex.

You can probably start listing the question-mark areas – how about this? how about that? – about as well as we can. Passed in present form, this one will probably be shot down in court. But there’s some indication it may be amended before going much further. We’ll be interested to see what improvements they come up with.

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