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Posts published in March 2009

Wolves for the state


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.


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


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!


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.)

Not enough to do?

Dick Harwood

Dick Harwood

The Idaho Legislature is in a slow state right now, for understandable reasons - more needs to be done on the matter of budgets and revenue before the pace can pick up to normal. But that seems to be allowing all sorts of . . . creative . . . stuff to take up some of the quiet time and committees.

Like the special from Representative Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries, introduced today in the House State Affairs Committee (the vote was 13-4). It would have Idaho "declare its sovereignty" from the federal government.

Declare its sovereignty? As in independence, as in sovereign nation? Well, no.

The Harwood measure, a resolution, isn't on line yet. (We'll post a link when we see it.) But you can get a sense of where this is intended from the New With Views web site, which in turn cites a measure in Washington state. Read that touted measure, House Joint Memorial 4009, and what you find are, well, several indicative things. First, it is a memorial, which as people familiar with legislation know, is the same thing as a letter stating an opinion, just arriving on legislative stationary - it has no force or effect. (Harwood's seems to be a resolution, but it is evidently structured much the same way.) Second, its description says it is "Claiming state sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment" - which is certainly a part of the constitution, and has been, for a very long time; the reach and meaning of the 10th amendment (like all others) is determined by the courts, not by state legislatures. And third, HJM 4009 isn't going anywhere; its been immobile in committee since January 30.

Which may be the fate of the Harwood measure as well. If it does go further, even if it passes, it will have no practical effect. How could it?

So why is a legislative committee spending its time with this? Only two reasons suggest themselves. One is that political people in Idaho never lose a cheering section by bashing the feds. And the other is that, well, they seem not to have a lot else to do right now.

The unhappiness metrics

Kari Chisholm does a nice deconstruction at Blue Oregon on the Business Week ranking of "unhappiest" cities in the country, and placing Portland at the top - a proposition likely to generate more guffaws than anything else from most Portlanders.

These national "best," "worst," and so on lists of metro areas around the country are mostly ridiculous beyond measure, mainly because of the metrics they use. (An honestly subjective list probably would be a lot better.) They doubtless make for nice handles for magazine articles, where lists are often prized, but almost never should they be taken seriously. That "almost" is there because someone, someday, may come up with one that's truly meaningful. We're not counting on it . . .


A correspondent (who asked to remain anonymous) pulled together some comparisons of daily newspaper page size, on occasion of the Boise Idaho Statesman's switch today to publication on the press of the Nampa Idaho Press-Tribune - which is cutting the page size.

But it has been cut before, and it has been a process. A big process it has been, too. In 1986, space on a page of the broadsheet Statesman covered 323.1 square inches. As of today, a page is 233.7 square inches.

And we should note here that the Statesman is far from alone in the trimming; few if any daily newspapers publish today in the dimensions they did 20 years ago. (more…)

So, uh, how’s he doing?

Obama Robinson

Barack Obama and Craig Robinson/OSU, 2008

So, most Oregonians are well aware of the family connection in their state to the First Family - Craig Robinson, who coaches men's basketball at Oregon State University, is the brother of First Lady Michelle Obama. No lack of clarity there.

For those of us not following collegiate sports very closely, though, the logical followup question can be a stumper: How well is Coach Robinson doing?

John Canzano at the Oregonian answered the question cleanly in his column today, and added an implication. The background here is that the OSU Beavers were for some time serious cellar dwellers - this was a matter of breathing some life back in. Canzano: "Robinson's team (13-13, 7-8 Pac-10) has three regular-season games and the conference tournament remaining. OSU is flirting with a National Invitation Tournament berth. Which is only to say, the guy has been terrific. And also, someone is going to try to hire him away."

OSU, he advised, should make the effort to keep him, not so much on grounds of celebrity but because he happens to be a good coach getting results.