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Posts published in April 2009

Back again, in the Times

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.

Early in, early . . . mulling

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?"

Allyn Dingel

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.

Out of fuel, for now

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?

After-effects and Otter

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.

Levels of protest

Galizio

Larry Galizio

There's a normal practice among lobbyists and interest groups when time comes to decide who gets campaign contributions from them: You give to your friends, with maybe some occasional stretching of definition to ensure that, as much as practical, you're also giving to winners. (Giving to losers will do you little practical good.) The norm is that, occasional Blagojevich situations notwithstanding, you don't try to buy votes with contributions, rather you support those who already are your friends. A look at campaign contribution reports usually shows more closely who your friends are than any attempt to buy influence as such.

This is worth bearing in mind when you consider a few new quotes in a furious little squabble having to do with Oregon House Bill 3100.

Back story in thumbnail: The Metolius River Basin is in the eastern Cascades roughly northwest of Band and southwest of Madras, a key section at issue lying in Jefferson County. It is uncommonly undespoiled, notably the river's water quality and resulting habitat, and there's great concern about anything that would diminish it. Proposals have arisen for building resorts in the area, and these have been controversial, locally and beyond. Jefferson County (its elected officials, that is) has been generally amenable to the development. But the state Land Conservation and Development Commission has recommended designating some of the region as a critical environmental area, which could block the development, or at least severely restrict it. HB 3100 is the bill that would, among other things, ban the resort development by supporting the LCSC. Presently, it is in the House Land Use Committee, and has 15 sponsors. The bill is, obviously, strongly opposed by supporters of the resort proposals.

The blowup evolved from a news report in the April 19 Bend Bulletin: "The [pro-resort] group’s lobbyist, Hasina Squires, said the contributions were given to lawmakers who were receptive but have 'not necessarily' said they would support the Metolian [resort] project. Top recipients on the Democratic side include Rep. Larry Galizio of Tigard ($3,000), House Speaker Dave Hunt of Gladstone ($2,500), Rep. Tobias Read of Beaverton ($1,250) and several with $1,000, including [Arnie] Roblan. Top recipients on the Republican side were Rep. Gene Whisnant of Sunriver ($2,500), and several with $1,000, including Sen. Chris Telfer of Bend and Rep. John Huffman of The Dalles."

We'd guess Squires would dearly love to be able to take her quote back. (We've seen no dispute on the accuracy of the quote.) She could have meant that the contributions went to candidates who were friends of the resort effort plus others who might be on the bubble on the issue. If so, they guessed wrong about at least one, Tobias Read, who's a co-sponsor of HB 3100, and maybe others.

But her words might also be taken to mean that the money went to candidates who might look more kindly on the effort as a result of the donations. (A more extensive quote in the original Bulletin story would have been helpful here, one way or the other.)

The Bulletin story is behind a pay wall but blew up through a post on BlueOregon by Carla Axtman, who wrote of Squires' comment: "Translation: We gave piles of scratch to those we thought we could shoehorn into doing what we want. Looks like we'll be finding out pretty soon who that works with."

That drew this angry response from Representative Larry Galizio, D-Tigard: "Apparently disagreeing with Ms. Axtman is a necessary and sufficient condition for being on the take. The concluding remarks in Axtman's post represent the height of arrogance. I've received more than 20 times the amount of money identified in this cynical rant from public education interest groups.....following Axtman's logic that is why I support public education. It has nothing to do with the fact that I've been in public education for over 15 years and was chair of the ways & means education subcommittee in the 2007 session that made the greatest investment in education at all levels of public education in Oregon's history. FYI Ms. Axtman - running in a swing district....$3,000 is a pittance. Moreover, Ms. Squires represents special districts and other clients with whom I've met on several occasions. This obviously illustrates my evil intent."

In a followup comment, he said that he will vote against the bill. It will, he said, impose a state policy on what ordinarily might be a local planning and zoning process, thereby giving useful talking points to land use planning critics.

The counter to that is the string of peculiarities in Jefferson County's handling of the Metolius situation. (more…)

Tow it away

By the time you get down to stories about people having their cars towed away from their own driveways - and yes, this has happened, and people have gone public about it, as you'll read - you've got to figure that putting some fencing around patrol towing would be a political no-brainer.

Took a while, but today that point seems to have arrived at the Oregon Legislature, as House Bill 2578 is moving from committee toward House floor. This will be an ongoing fight; a substantial business group is seeing something of significance here, and they will fight.

What it does, most basically:

Requires owner of parking facility to affix notice on vehicle
prior to contacting tower to remove vehicle.
Requires tower to contact owner of parking facility before
towing motor vehicle from facility.
Requires tower to release motor vehicle free of charge if owner
or operator of vehicle is present at time of tow.
Provides sanctions for applicant for or holder of towing
business certificate who has accepted or provided compensation
based on number of vehicles towed.

Sean Cruz, a former state Senate staffer who has been working on this for years, and helped push through some preliminary regulation. Indications have been that those efforts only dented predatory towing, hence the new. In February he posted his testimony on the new measure (he supports it) and makes some points not often heard. Consider this one:

"Unlike any other commercial activity in Oregon, patrol towing creates a direct burden on local police resources, paid for entirely by the taxpaying general population. This burden begins when the tow driver calls the police to report that he is towing a certain vehicle. Then there is the second call to the police, coming either when the vehicle owner finds her vehicle gone and is reporting it stolen, or when the vehicle owner returns to her vehicle and finds some surly stranger with a tow truck hooking it up. This driver is fully aware that either money changes hands at this moment, or he is wasting his time, about to drive off with an empty wallet. The third burden on police resources comes when at least one officer is called to the scene, and then anything can happen or might have already happened."

And the horror stories continue: (more…)

It’s in the Times

blue house

In the window, in the Blue House/Stapilus

What you see here is the Blue House, a former residential building located a block or so from the Washington statehouse. It is where what remains of the statehouse press corps has its offices, a non-extravagant but functional place for the reporters. (And, from time to time, Bob the Cat.)

Directing your attention to the windows to the right of the doorway, you'll be looking at the Olympia office of the Seattle Times. Now look to the center window, and you'll see a patch of red. That is an old newspaper dispenser formerly used - and still painted for - the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which has quit printing its paper editions. The P-I's slogan long was, "It's in the P-I."

Can't be helped: Now, it appears, the P-I is in the Times.

The popular meter reader

Well worth the read on the job front: Nicole Brodeur's column today in the Seattle Times, about the job opening at the city of Tacoma. The city runs the local electric utility, and it needed to hire a meter reader.

There were 1,400 applicants. Brodeur: "so many applicants, they had to rent out the Tacoma Dome for the testing."

Trench warfare is joined

Ooo . . .kay. The last post, about the possibility of Idaho Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter doing some smackdown and drawing a hard line for the lawmakers - if he vetoes a stack of eight key budget bills - needs to be superseded. This morning, the vetoes were something he said he might do on Thursday. This afternoon, he did it - the bills are vetoed.

Legislative reaction seems to be as you might expect: They're not happy, and the operating majority in the House - which is the rampart against Otter's transportation request - sounds as if it is determined to hang in there. Which means, since there are no budget bills in operation, that both sides have locked into trench warfare.

Trench warfare is a matter of attrition, of patience, of holding out longer than the other guy. In this case, since the governor is a full timer who reports to the work every day whatever happens, and since the legislators are part-timers who have other work to do, the advantage seems to lie with the governor. That suggests that legislators are the ones to cave, except that they did that before, in the term of Governor Dirk Kempthorne, and they may loathe to let this become a pattern.

Do they have any options, any edge? That's unclear, but here's one thought (and don't count this as a prediction they'll try to do it).

The two houses of the legislature cannot adjourn, in effect, for more than three days at a time. But suppose they did that - meet in pro forma, quorum-satisfying, sessions briefly once every three days. They could keep on doing that for quite a while, especially since so many legislators live within an hour's drive or so of the statehouse. They could keep doing that for months.

In July, a new fiscal year begins, and agencies - all of them - will need an operating budget. Imagine a game of fiscal chicken running up to June 30 . . .

The mind boggles.