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Posts published in March 2009

Definition

At the end of a Horse's Ass post on the failure of a piece of consumer protection legislation in the Washington legislature - it may be dominated by Democrats, who are presumed to be in favor of such measures, but this outcome is hardly unusual there - blogger Jon DeVore came up with a priceless definition of Democrats:

". . . a circular firing squad of cats who won’t be herded towards a gun safety class where free tuna is being served."

Second string on deck

We've suspected for a while that the top-tier Republican possibilities for governor, former Senator Gordon Smith and current Representative Greg Walden, wouldn't go for it.

From an Oregonian story on the Republican Dorchester Conference, held this weekend at Seaside, come growing indications that seems about right.

About Smith, close associate Dan Lavey is quoted, "He's focused on the future, but the future has more to do with pea picking and the law firm than it does with politics." That sounds pretty clear.

And the story says, "Walden says the seniority he's built up in Congress and the lopsided voter registration edge Democrats hold over Republicans give him pause as he looks at a run for governor. He says he won't decide right away." You don't have to parse that too hard to get the drift.

No real specific indications from the Dorchester - this said from a distance, but with such information as is available - of active efforts as yet underway for GOP candidates for governor. Our best guess, for the moment, remains state Senator Jason Atkinson, R-Central Point. But the field is looking fairly open.

Profiteering by radar

The whole area of profiteering from law enforcement is an ugly arena bound to get uglier before it clears up. From private prisons to speed traps (profiteering even without a private organization involved), it's a distortion - money becomes the driving force, not public safety. Anyone who tells you otherwise is conning you.

That profiteering - in this case by private companies - from red-light and other some traffic violations - is what a new Oregon bill is going after: The profit-sharing between cities and the companies they hire to install radar cameras tracking stop-light violations.

Senator Alan Bates, D-Ashland, was quoted: "They should be about deterring traffic accidents and not making money. I have asked departments around the state to send me information to see if they are making streets safer."

Intersection cameras, carefully used, may in fact improve safety somewhat. But when they're set up as they are now in many jurisdictions - in which private companies get a slice (often somewhere around half) of the fines paid by people who run red lights and such - what happens is that there's suddenly an influential force for enforcing some laws rather than others, for the essential reason that one type of enforcement makes money, and others don't. So much for a professional attitude toward "to protect and to serve."

And of a sudden, we have profit profit depending on finding people guilty of offenses. That ought to send a little chill up even the most cautious of drivers.

We'll see where this one goes.

Following up: Lincoln County Chatter

Last August we blogged about a newspaper aftermath in a small town, on the border of ever being able to support a small weekly. Shoshone, Idaho, population around 1,300 in a county not terribly larger, long was home to the Lincoln County Journal. Along with a bunch of other weeklies in the area, it was shut down last year by its owner, Lee Enterprises.

The editor, Marsha Hiatt, may have lost the paycheck but she refused to quit. She started a news blog, the Lincoln County Chatter, and got it off to a promising start last summer.

And now? A few days ago, she sent a mail saying "the blog is still going strong - almost 5,000 hits a month. I have branched out and now have a photo blog and government blog as well. In November I was also elected as Commissioner in my county - the only Democrat elected in the Magic Valley region of Southern Idaho. Just thought I'd let you know - we're still kickin' over here in Idaho."

Today, responding to a query back, she adds:

. . . the blog followers are - for the most part - hugely supportive. This effort is successful because of them and the information they send into the blog. We also have readers all over the country and in many other countries - mostly people who grew up in this area or have family here. (This is astonding to me because our county is less than 5,000 in population). It really has turned into a very fulfilling and full-time hobby. On a political note, I have learned a great deal about what's important in this community and how people view the world. Though I may not always like, or agree with, what they send me I still think it's important to know where their heads are.
Again, thanks. I'm truly proud of what this has turned into.

There may be hope yet beyond newspapers.

Wolves for the state

wolf

The Obama Administration decision taking gray wolves - in Idaho and Montana - off the endangered species list, and letting those states manage them, will likely pay a whole bunch of political dividends.

Yes, wolf advocates can complain that the states won't do what the feds might have by way of protection. But realistically, the states will have to operate within federal parameters and within federally-approved plans. The distinction is likely to be almost as much jurisdictional as anything.

In return for that, the new administration bought itself a lot of goodwill on a subject directly touching on few Idahoans - how many, in raw numbers, will actually encounter a wild wolf? - but of big emotional, symbolic and political impact.

New Representative Walt Minnick reports that he lobbied hard to get this result, working contacts through to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. No doubt he did; his this decision gone the other way, he'd have had a lot of 'splaining to do back home.

As it is, Minnick, the other three (Republican) members of the congressional delegation and Republican Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter got together on a press release of praise. Senator Jim Risch: "I greatly appreciate Secretary Salazar’s decision." Otter: The decision is "heartening." Representative Mike Simpson: "A good, sound decision."

The Idaho Statesman's Kevin Richert suggested, "when was the last time a Western Republican governor howled in approval of any natural resource policy from a Democratic White House? Times could be changing from the Sagebrush Rebellion, which took root after the Carter years, and the oft-repeated 'War on the West' rhetoric from the Clinton years." That potential is becoming real; fulfillment awaits.

Death/dignity/details

The Washington Death with Dignity (or, assisted suicide) initiative takes effect today, and a reader suggested we take a look at a web site packed with information about the new law and how it works. We did, and we'll recommend it, too.

It is called Compassion and Choices, and it offers a multi-media look at the law, and what it is and isn't. (It isn't, for example, nearly as sweeping as a lot of people probably imagine it is; only a small group of people have ever used it in the decade the nearly identical measure has been on the books in Oregon.) If you're interested in the subject at all, this is worth a look.

The process, not the substance

court

Here's a good example, in the just-released Washington Supreme Court case of Lisa Brown v Brad Owen, of why you often have to be careful in assessing what has just happened. The case was decided, but the question it answered wasn't what you might have thought it was.

For example, this from a press release today from Senator Mike Hewitt: “Today’s state Supreme Court decision was a win for the people of Washington. Their approval of Initiative 960 told the Legislature that they wanted it to show restraint when raising taxes, and they wanted more transparency when it came to knowing how much legislation would take out of their pockets. It’s great news, especially as we’re hearing talk of new taxes to fill the state’s budget hole, that the public will be protected from the Legislature passing huge tax hikes by a simple majority vote."

Hold on a moment.

The underpinning is Initiative 960, a Tim Eyman measure passed in 2007. The first descriptive sentence in the voter guide said that "This measure would require either a two-thirds vote in each house of the legislature or voter approval for all tax increases," and that pretty much describes it. But its constitutionality was challenged, even before its passage, and that issue remained an open question.

On February 29, 2008, the Senate voted on Senate Bill 6931, which ordered that "the liquor control board shall add an equivalent surcharge of $0.42 per liter on all retail sales of spirits, excluding licensee, military, and tribal sales." the money could go half to substance abuse treatment and half to DUI enforcement efforts. It was in effect a tax increase measure. The vote was 25-21 in favor, but Lieutenant Governor Brad Owen ruled that the measure had failed, because it didn't receive a two-thirds vote. Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, who supported the bill, protested, saying I-960 was unconstitutional. Owen replied that courts decide constitutionality, he wasn't a court, and that was that. Brown took the matter to the Washington Supreme Court, asking for a writ of mandamus - an order declaring that the bill had indeed passed and therefore needed to be advanced to the House for action there. (Both Owen and Brown, by the way, are Democrats.)

The Supreme Court left Owen's ruling in place. But what's key here is why. (more…)

Paper to paper

Remember Steve Smith, the high-profile former editor of the Spokane Spokesman-Review, who quit a few months back when orders came for yet another big budget/staff cut? Part of what he wound up doing after that was returning to his college stomping grounds at the University of Oregon, and helping out with the student newspaper there.

Only, "helping out" wasn't quite the way some of the student journalists there saw it. What evolved was a fight, a walkout/strike by the student employees of the Daily Emerald paper, and finally a resignation by Smith.

A substantial rundown of the situation, a sad evolution, shows up at Oregon Media Insiders.

Twitter fight!

Blumenauer

Earl Blumenauer

This is bound to just confuse some people. But on Comedy Central, it was enough to get the Daily Show's Jon Stewart shaking his fist and yelling: "Blumenauer!" (And for the second time in a week, after the "Felonious Monkeys segment.)

That being, of course, the usually mild-mannered Oregon Representative Earl Blumenauer, who has been tweeting on Twitter.

As have we. But now there's more: Blumenauer has gotten into a tweet-fight.

About 21 hours ago he tweeted, "McCain wasnt familiar with a blackberry right? Hows he supposed to understand a solar highway utilizing right-of-way to generate solar power."

That led to a batch of messages around Twitter including:

Twitter Fight! Rep. Blumenauer vs. Sen. McCain
In Twitter Fight, Rep. Blumenauer Slams Sen. McCain - Someone better get McCain to the Burn Unit!
Blumenauer's tweets beat up John McCain's tweets: Fight! Fight! Just go read it. My hat is off
Blumenauer's tweets beat up John McCain's tweets
CFG Blog Twitter Fight Over Pork: Senator John McCain vs. Rep. Earl Blumenauer. Let's get it on!

We may be seeing the dawn of political fights executed by the tweet.

Blumenauer happens to be a regular tweeter and if you're on Twitter, you might consider following. Some of his recent tweets:

Interesting to see the reaction to twittering. It’s helpful to follow the action, keep track and report back.
3:19 PM Feb 25th from web
Jindal is weird. I can't believe Jindal. Such a sad contrast with President. Doesn't even look or sound good, to say nothing about content
7:44 PM Feb 24th from web
Wow! As it settles in, I can only say: he hit it out of the park! Just what Congress and American people need to hear! Yes we can!
7:23 PM Feb 24th from web
New era of engagement! Not a moment too soon!
6:59 PM Feb 24th from web
Best line: "For 7 years we have been at war. No longer will we hide its price."
6:56 PM Feb 24th from web

Ran a check, by the way, to see who else among major Northwest political figures is tweeter. Conclusion: Not many, finding (via a quick search) none in Idaho and three very erratic tweeters in Washington (Senator Patty Murray, Governor Chris Gregoire, and Representative Jay Inslee, whose account is locked).

Oregon does have a couple of occasional twitterers in the congressional delegation, Senator Jeff Merkley and Representative Kurt Schrader. But apart from Blumenauer, the one other really active tweeter among major Northwest political figures seems to be Portland Mayor Sam Adams, who sends a lot of tweets. (Supply your own punchline if need be.)