Archive for April, 2009

Apr 30 2009

Medical Marijuana Awareness Week

Published by under Oregon

Kitty Piercy

Kitty Piercy

There will be a Global Marijuana March in downtown Eugene on Saturday. Nothing man-bites-dog in that; Eugene’s that kind of town. What’s a little more interesting is that Eugene’s mayor, Kitty Piercy, is expected to be among the marchers.

Nor is that all: She is declaring upcoming week as “Medical Marijuana Awareness Week.” (She said that she isn’t intending to get into the debate on legalizing marijuana generally, only to support allowance of its medica use.)

Now, granted, this is Eugene. But there does seem to be something in the wind.

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Apr 30 2009

A few key facts

Published by under Washington

Any number of people will be left sputtering in the wake of this Gary Crooks piece in the Spokesman Review, but it surely deserves wider play. Hence the mention here.

This, for instance: “The best way to measure a state’s tax burden is to total up personal income and divide it by how much money the state collects. The Washington State Budget and Policy Center has done that and found that the percentage (about 6 percent) was fairly level from the 1995-’97 biennium to the 2005-’07 biennium. Since then, it has plunged to 5.5 percent in 2007-’09 and will drop even further for 2009-2011. The only significant increase in revenue came in 2005-’07, but that haul was courtesy of the housing bubble mirage.”

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Apr 29 2009

Definitions

Published by under Washington

Headline from a post in Olympian reporter Adam Wilson’s blog on the closure of the annual legislative session:

“Did the Legislature finish? Define ‘finish.’”

That works. Works in Idaho too . . .

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Apr 29 2009

Tethered

Published by under Idaho

In trying to evaluate the evolving end game of the Idaho Legislature, threatening to become the longest-ever next week, you’re finding more immovable objects than irresistible forces.

The Idaho House has adjourned sine die – for the year – or so its majority hopes. That hope will die after three days, since the Idaho Senate is not adjourning, yet, and seems likely not to right away. And since in Idaho neither chamber can adjourn for more than three days without the approval of the other, the Idaho House will be back for more business. Probably on Monday.

(And yes, we’ve seen this happen before. The most memorable occasion we recall, from back in the 80s, it was the Senate that tried to adjourn, and was dragged back by the House.)

For all that, we’re leaning toward the idea that the Idaho House’s take on the sticking point issue – transportation funding – is the side more likely to prevail.

Evidence for this comes from Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter’s Capitol for a Day visit to the small farm town of Midvale, the kind of conservative and traditional and Republican kind of place that ordinarily should be Otter’s kind of place. Yesterday, however, in the Idaho Statesman‘s report, “Gov. Butch Otter spent six hours Tuesday fending off accusations he’s abandoned rural Idaho and surrendered state sovereignty to the U.S. government.”

And that he wants to raise taxes all over the place.

The mood was angry, we’d guess Otter was stunned by the reaction. This really was, literally, exactly Otter’s kind of place, what should be about as friendly a piece of real estate as you’d find in Idaho for this kind of governor.

Otter is now offering compromises, one of which was rejected by the House before its attempt at adjournment. We’d guess there will be more attempts at compromise as soon as they return. And this will go on until the House majority gets something it finds acceptable.

The House is tethered into the driver’s seat.

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Apr 29 2009

Wyden, Specter and health

Published by under Oregon

Some of the news reports out yesterday about the switch of Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter from the Republican to the Democratic caucus mentioned his quick hallway meetup, apparently immediately before the formal announcement, with Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, who greeted him with a big smile and words of welcome.

That came to mind when, today, this passage from a Heritage Foundation (the conservative group) blog post came across:

This is important on policy grounds for a few reasons. One issue that will be dramatically affected is Health Care. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon told CQ: “I think his decision is transformative. . . . This makes a very significant difference in the health care reform discussion.”

Wyden is correct. It will change the debate dramatically, because Senator Specter was one of the chief opponents of so called Hillary-Care during the Clinton Administration and now will be on the other side of the aisle for the debate on comprehensive health care reform. Democrats will have a 60 vote majority and will not have to negotiate with the minority party when crafting a package of health care reforms.

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Apr 28 2009

Coffee wars

Published by under Idaho

coffee

8th Street: Dawson & Taylor is at the green awning on the left/Randy Stapilus

This sounds minor and it is minor, probably, but there seems a need to weigh in on the Otter coffee battle. (As though Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter doesn’t have enough battles to deal with at the moment.)

The story, which won’t be recounted in full here (you can get a good rundown from Kevin Richert at the Idaho Statesman) essentially is that. Otter’s current office, during Statehouse remodeling, is located in an old post office building at the corner of 8th and Bannock streets in downtown Boise. Periodically he slips out for a cup of coffee. Mostly, that has been at Dawson & Taylor, a Boise-owned coffee shop roughly catty-corner from his office. more recently, though, he has been frequenting its’ across-the-street competitor, Thomas Hammer, which is based in Spokane. One day recently, Otter was accosted by Dawson’s proprietor, who chewed him out, using some non-broadcastable language in the process, for not contributing to local business. (The proprietor later apologized.)

Putting aside the Miss Manners elements of this, there’s something interesting about the two coffee shops. As it happens, I know them both fairly well, as a customer, and like them both. Both are friendly places that serve good coffee, and both have good free wi-fi (two key considerations). But as shops they’re quite different.

Dawson’s – which I’ve described as my Boise regional office when in town – is funky, informal, artsy, often noisy and seems to draw shifting groups of regulars. Hammer is quieter, simpler, more chrome-and-glass, more uptown, and draws a different clientele – though defining the difference is a subtle matter. There’s some temptation to call Dawson’s the Democratic coffee place and Hammer the Republican – especially after the Otter incident – but too many people I’ve seen in both break the types. I’ve had coffee with plenty of both kinds of party people (as well as non-party people) in both places, up to and including the last visit. But . . . there’s a difference, somewhere, between Dawson’s people and Hammer people. My guess is that people who have frequented both places can discern a difference, and there’s a socio-political analysis here.

Maybe Otter can help. Maybe I need another couple cups of coffee.

ALSO There’s this from the Boise Picayune, which extends the story a little further.

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Apr 28 2009

A non-comdemnatory entity

Published by under Washington

court

A notable opinion out today from the Division III Washington Court of Appeals, on the subject of public and semi-public power over private property. Anyone concerned about the extent of government powers of eminent domain might look at it with some relief.

We’ve long looked askance at the proliferation of quasi-governmental entities; our general view has been that a bright line is better, that something should either be governmental or should not. Maybe this decision will offer a little encouragement along those lines.

Spokane Airports, et al v. RMA, Inc. d/b/a Spokane Airways, et al concerns an airport-related condemnation. The background is a little bureaucratic, but hang in for the conclusion. Continue Reading »

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Apr 27 2009

When and what, but not if

Published by under Washington

They’ve adjourned in Olympia, right on the razor edge of completing business. Had seemed highly questionable whether they’d be able to push through a budget in time for Sunday adjournment, but they did. The speed and determination near the end was a little impressive.

Does the legislature need to return in a special session? Evidently the views on that are mixed, among legislators notably. But the governor’s quote was that she plans to meet with leaders “to determine when the Legislature will reconvene.”

When, not if.

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Apr 27 2009

Sounds of silence

Published by under Idaho

This isn’t a suggestion you’ll often see in this space, but nevertheless: The executive and legislative branches in Idaho, if they want to adjourn the legislative session any time remotely soon, need to go behind closed doors and say and do practically nothing publicly.

The problem all sides now have is that they violated the first rule of negotiation: They have have given themselves no room for maneuver or compromise. The one advantage all sides – Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, the Idaho Senate and the Idaho House – have had, is that they are governed by natural political allies. They have no particular need or desire to damage the other side. The disadvantage is that their respective bottom lines have become so clear that there’s no longer any way (so far as we can see) that anyone can win, without someone taking a big fall. The positions have become so hardened that circumstances have become erratic – “bizarre,” Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, said, and he’s right.

Meetings of legislators among themselves and with the governor may be the best hope for finding some way for the loser in this conflict to save as much face as possible. Imagine the governor and his sharpest critics in the legislature locked in a room for eight hours; you’d have to guess they’d come up with something.

But every public statement, every public vote or veto, draws the canyon all the deeper. This session of the Legislature, which has completed nearly all its business, is on track to become the longest ever, as of next week.

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Apr 26 2009

Water woes

Published by under Oregon

Two regional newspapers have published extensive takeouts on the water supply situation – increasingly tenuous – in their respective states.

The Portland Oregonian points out how water demand, and groundwater extraction, has increased dramatically in the last half-century, and how it is expected to continue that way in the next few decades.

The supply difficulties are not limited to the relatively dry portion of the state east of the Cascades, much of which is desert or highly arid country. on the westside, demand has increased heavily, most notably in Washington County (rapidly-growing, and the state’s second largest, located just west of Portland) and Clackmas County (just south of Portland).

Said the article: “In a state that boasts about webbed feet, access to water is increasingly contested. The state estimates that in the coming years, demand will grow by 1.2 million acre-feet; we use about 9 million acre-feet now. Whoever controls the limited supply will control new housing and industry and how farming expands.”

Also today, the Denver Post reports that a mass of Front Range water projects, with a combined estimated price tag of upwards of $3 billion, are putting a squeeze on water supplies there.

Among the concerns: So-far limited cooperation among the various water developers, which include Aurora Water, cities including Denver, Greeley and Fort Collins, the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District and Northern Colorado Water. And despite all the development, some estimates suggest that water still will be in shortfall a few decades out.

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Apr 25 2009

Back again, in the Times

Published by under Idaho

The neo-Nazi Aryan Nations, once among the most famous residents of the Idaho Panhandle, never left – not entirely. They were crushed, greatly diminished, by the loss first of their compound near Hayden, and then by the death of their long-time leader, Richard Butler. They’re a far smaller presence now than they were; few events, hardly any people, and no major gatherings or parades. But there’ve been a few around in the years since those events.

Now that has gotten some notice. Maybe most notably, a wire story on the subject has made the New York Times. It’s a national thing again.

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Apr 24 2009

Early in, early . . . mulling

Published by under Oregon

alley

Allen Alley

In contrast to some other statewide offices last time around, Oregon Republicans actually do have a probable candidate for governor next year, one with some campaign experience and a professional background that gives the sense of a credible contender. And Democrats don’t even have a clear, definitive contender yet.

And how excited are Oregon Republicans about Allen Alley?

A post and comments at Oregon Catalyst gives a fair sense of the mixed feelings involved. Some commenters point out that Alley is an intelligent, capable guy, an experience and articulate executive. Others note the areas in which he doesn’t exactly line up with the Republican activist base, and how he isn’t an especially charismatic contender.

Blogger Tim Lyman, who argues that a Republican running these days in Oregon has to be a sterling campaign to have a shot: “If anyone had told me there could be a less exciting candidate for Governor than Ron Saxton, I never would have believed it. But, over a year and a half out from the election, the Oregon Republican establishment is already lining up behind Allen Alley.”

A commenter in reply: “Okay, Tim. If not Alley… than whom? I disagree with you that it is too early to line up behind a candidate. I think Alley is an excellent candidate. I just don’t see anyone else emerging that can raise the enormous amount of money that will be needed to be competitive??? I’m curious to see who you are suggesting to line up behind?”

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Apr 24 2009

Allyn Dingel

Published by under Idaho

Jeff Kropf

Allyn Dingel (left) with Daniel Eismann

Not every word approved by vote at the Idaho Legislature is necessarily apt, but these from Senate Concurrent Resolution 111 are: “his good humor, his prodigious memory of persons, times and events, and his unfailing courtesy, honesty and integrity.” Even the order fits well.

Allyn Dingel, an attorney and lobbyist – though that description seems somehow a little off – who died on Thursday, was a veteran of the Idaho Statehouse, an effective participant there and liked across the board. He was a Republican, but not entirely doctrinaire, just as – for an insurance industry advocate – he wasn’t wholly doctrinaire about that business either. And he seemed to relish the fact that, by way of his son’s marriage, being related to the Democratic Bilyeu family. He also relished the Bilyeus along with, it seemed, almost everyone he knew.

He was never elected to office though you suspect he could have been; he had the right skill set. He loved to talk, and not much was needed to prompt a great stemwinder of a story.

Dingel had a lot of stemwinders to share, and share them he did, and that’s our primary memory of him. Over a span of half a century, he was in the middle of a lot of political events, and few of them seemed to escape his recollection. He enriched our understanding of the state that way. And he made the state a better placed in other ways too.

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Apr 23 2009

Out of fuel, for now

Published by under Washington

brown

Lisa Brown

It was the probability that income taxes in Washington would get only so far before the plug was pulled, as it was today by the Senate Democrats. The income tax – even this version applying only to those with annual income of a quarter-million dollars or more – is just a tough sell in Washington, and doesn’t have “the legislative support to move forward at this point.”

The immediate news article notes that the proposal is “politically risky,” which makes the sponsorship interesting. The key figure behind it, and publicly, is Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, and at this point maybe the single most likely entrant into the 2012 gubernatorial race.

That suggests the issue won’t go away, and Brown’s comment on the subject from a couple of weeks ago suggests the form it might take.

Opponents to a modest income tax on the most affluent in our state have been vocal and vociferous. Because they can’t argue about what the proposal is, they focus on the specter of what it might become. In the past, this has been a prescription for the status quo, preserving a tax system that is more unstable and less fair than the people of Washington deserve.

Fortunately, there are also those rising to voice support. I have heard in recent days from religious leaders and representatives of higher education faculty as well as from individual citizens from all over the state, who are pleased that this conversation is taking place.

In the end, I predict that any proposal, whether this session or in the future, will go to voters. I hope and trust that with an open dialogue about the modest costs to those who can afford them and the tremendous benefits to everyone else, that common sense and the common good will prevail.

Will the income tax actually be a major piece of the debate in 2012?

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Apr 22 2009

After-effects and Otter

Published by under Idaho

When a few years back then-Governor Dirk Kempthorne battled with the Idaho Legislature and dragged it out to a record length, he seemed to emerge strengthened, and the legislature almost a bit chastened. That could still happen in this new squabble over transportation funding, which presently looks to extend the already second-longest-ever session out into May.

The prevailing view in Boise, though, seems to be that Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter isn’t likely to get the best of it. That was view voiced across the spectrum and by a number of people who personally and/or philosophically like Otter. Mash their views, and you get a sense that he’s picked the wrong battle at the wrong time, and that his legendary personal charm is failing him now.

The Idaho Statesman‘s Kevin Richert (in a post headlines “Why Butch Otter is losing the battle”) offered this: “Otter is contriving a crisis. He has no other option. And he risks political backlash. He risks being seen as the guy who insists on raising taxes during a recession — and who insists on holding the Legislature captive, at a taxpayer cost of $30,000 a day.”

Is there political subtext? Of course there is.

From Dennis Mansfield (who, it should be noted, years ago ran in a Republican primary against Otter): “I’m thinking that Governor Otter hoped for a whole heck of a better ‘gig’ than the one he got in 2006. It’s like watching a photocopy of a photocopy of former Gov. Kempthorne’s last couple of years in office…only earlier, isn’t it? Ahh, the anguish…. Let it be known that I’m startin’ to think that Butch positioned his old friend Brad Little as Lt. Gov, with a keen eye on a possible self-exit strategy for 2010…and the waters around him are being ‘chummed’.”

The question of whether Otter will seek a second term next year remains out. (An opt-out does feel a bit more likely now than, say, six months ago.)

Still. We asked one veteran Republican observer (who counts himself a long-time fan of Otter): Short of dropping out, is there political meaning if Otter loses this battle? He’s highly unlikely to lose to a Democrat, right? The Republican agreed with that.

But what about a primary challenge? Suppose Otter got a challenge from a well-established, strong contender who could prospectively run a serious campaign – such as, to pull a name out of the air, House Majority Leader Mike Moyle. Could Otter be vulnerable? The Republican’s take: Otter would probably win, but not definitely, and it could well be close.

In Idaho in recent years, few legislative battles have had much political impact in the elections that followed. This one just possibly might.

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