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Posts published in April 2009

75-hour warning


Otter at the veto announcement

If his initial statement didn't make matters totally clear, the answers to reporter questions certainly did: Idaho Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter is staring down the legislature, for "as long as it takes" to get transportation funding, that he feels adequate, in place.

That wasn't obvious from his prepared statement, which accompanied two bill vetoes, of House Bill 161 and House Bill 245, neither of them a really major piece of legislation. (One has to do with chains of notification in case of security breaches, and other establishing a new Parents as Teachers program.)

Later on, though, he pointed to a stack of eight bills on his desk - budget bills - and made clear that he was prepared to do to them what he had done to this morning's two, if he and legislators didn't come to agreement. Budgets are the one thing the Idaho Legislature are obliged to wrap up before they can adjourn, and that threat to veto amounted to a threat to just keep the legislature there . . . for a while.

He corrected a reporter to make the point that the legislators were "friends," but also pointedly mentioned that the Idaho Senate (which has been relatively agreeable to his proposals) has been "responsible," while leaving out comparable mention of the Idaho House.

The budget bills have to be acted upon by the governor by mid-afternoon on Thursday. Otter said explicitly that if he and legislators don't reach agreement, they'll be vetoed. And if the legislators pass something new and just adjourn? He would be amenable to a special session, at which he can set the subjects available for discussion - which would be transportation funding. But suppose the legislators still refused to pass a bill? At that point, Otter broke new ground: He would not rule out calling them back, and back again, and again, until they do.

"Some legislators there need to be reminded there are three branches of government," he said.

None of this comes out of nowhere. Otter has been signaling since last year his seriousness about transportation funding, and has been dropping hints, with gradually diminished subtlety, that he would press seriously on this issue. But he seems, up to now, to have been hoping that giving legislators a little maneuver room, rather than backing them into a corner, might be the way to achieve results. That's over. They - or more precisely, the Idaho House, which is the locus of opposition to added transportation funding - are being pressed. They now seem positioned more probably for a long-term waiting game, rather than a quick adjournment.

"I'm prepared to stay as long as I have to, to get responsible legislation," Otter said.

Full-time governors have the advantage over part-time legislators in such cases, as everyone learned in 2003, when the longest-ever legislation session in Idaho history was held, under nearly identical circumstances. Today, you could get even money on this year's session running even longer than that one. (more…)

You can’t make this up

Not many newspaper personality profiles, even the well done, are edge-of-the-seat reading. Today's Oregonian piece - first in a series - about former KOIN news archor Jeff Alan, written by TV critic Peter Ames Carlin, is that and more.

And it's not so much the writing (though Carlin is a fine writer) as it is, simply, the subject matter: A life with the kinds of turns and surprises a fiction writer wouldn't dare try to craft. A television anchor, webmaster of a site devoted to bondage, a witness to the assassination of Robert Kennedy, a researcher for a conservative group into voter fraud . . . who went missing and was legally declared dead, by his wife, 16 years ago. And that only scratches the surface . . .

Why the rate

Unemployment rate numbers, read in fine grain, have for a long time seemed a little less than perfect measures. (We never bought the office state stats, for example, that Idaho's unemployment rate in October 2007 was 2.5%, when 3% is the norm for something approaching full employment, and employers didn't seem that desperate for help.) So what should we make of the reports out now that Oregon has the second-highest unemployment (now at 12.1%) in the nation, behind Michigan with its collapsing auto industry?

First, a note of context: Oregon is hurting in this depression, alongside the other states. There's been no lack of shutdowns and layoffs. Times are tough in Oregon too - but, that much worse than in so many other states? Doesn't feel that way: Bad, yes, but not that much worse.

In good times as well as bad, Oregon's unemployment rates have tended to run higher than average. Might there be something systemic, or something unusual about Oregon, that contributes?

Evidently there is, outlined neatly in an Oregonian piece this morning. Oregon turns out to be one of those places people are reluctant to leave, and when times get tough they hang in there. It has a good reputation as a good place to live, and so becomes something of a magnet for people around the country when they're out of work and looking for a new place to start over. (The place keeps harking back to its earliest days.) A number of other states, notably Nevada and California, seem to shed people more rapidly when the jobs go away - people who go to places like Oregon. All of this drives up the numbers of the unemployed, creating a higher rate.

This isn't just raw speculation; stats to back it up are available. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in March, when Oregon lost 77,000 jobs, the state's available labor force rose by 58,000 - some of them newly looking for work, some of them arriving from elsewhere even though there was no work for them.

Helps to know what lies behind the numbers.

Extending the string at Lewiston


Lewiston Tribune

The Lewiston Tribune has a long tradition - very long, reaching back into the 50s at least - of publishing outstanding editorials. They have long had personality and bite, and often humor as well. They've leaned left but been such attention grabbers that execs at the paper (which is locally owned) call them real moneymakers: They're likely to get people talking and paying attention to the paper, in a way most editorials in most newspapers seldom have.

The central figure in that bit of newspaper history was for many years Bill Hall, who started writing editorials at the Trib in 1965 and (with a short 18-month hiatus) kept at it till he retired in 2002. His successor was Jim Fisher, who'd written edits alongside Hall for many years and whose style significantly overlapped. Now Fisher is retiring, so a real question has been: Does financially-strapped Lewiston (which recently cut the editorial page staff from two to one) keep the tradition alive?

Looks like it will, having just hired for the job Marty Trillhaase, who has been editorial editor at the Idaho Falls Post-Register. A bit of disclosure is needed: We've been friends with Trillhaase for a good many years, back when he worked at the Idaho Statesman in Boise, and at the Tribune before that, the Moscow paper before that, and Twin Falls . . . He's been around the state, and very highly regarded everywhere. At Idaho Falls he has been for more than a decade writing many of the best editorials in the state, as even those who disagree with him typically acknowledge.

Now, as for the Post Register . . . Following Trillhaase's tradition may be a challenge all its own.

Bremerton v Seattle


Cary Bozeman

Was in Bremerton last night, having dinner with a friend at Anthony's, which is right on the waterfront. A great view from there, but getting to Anthony's wasn't easy: Strategic parts of downtown Bremerton seem to be torn up to street repair, and there's a very concrete feel to a lot of what ought to be one of the city's major attractions.

And there's the matter of mediocre road signage in the Bremerton area, but we'll let that go.

Given that, Bremerton Mayor Cary Bozeman's recent hashing of Seattle's waterfront, and his recommendation that others do as Bremerton has done . . . well . . .

MORE ON BOZEMAN All right, this may have been a little unfair, because Bozeman has been something of a dynamo at Bremerton (probably more, in context, than Greg Nickels at Seattle). Tom Menzel, who lives not far from Bremerton (thursday night's dinner partner) offers this thought:

By the way, I meant to mention a political superstar who hangs around in Bremerton -- Mayor Cary Bozeman. This guy has been kicking ass and taking names in Bremerton for several years now. He is boldly taking a crappy town with no identity or direction into the 21st century. The guy is amazing. Everything you saw on the waterfront was due to his hard work and persistence. I wish you could have seen that area 5 or 6 years ago. It was a horrible disaster. Nearly all retail left downtown years ago for the mongo mall in Silverdale, leaving downtown in wretched shape. Since I had such a great experience working on downtown Boise redevelopment years ago, I have a real affinity for this guy.

Seattle, the cheaper alternative to Tacoma?

Any time a local paper reaches the conclusion that an important local business is likely to move away, that falls into man-bites-dog territory. But there's another bit more remarkable yet in today's story by Tacoma News Tribune reporter Dan Voelpel on the strategic planning, and potential move, of Tacoma's Russell Investments.

Russell is an unusual, maybe one of a kind thing in the Northwest - an investment company that is also a big employer, a direct major force in a local city's economy: Its employment base was 1,100 just at Tacoma, and it has offices around the globe. Note the "was", because the macro economy has led to scalebacks here too, by about 200 employees, a real hit at Tacoma.

But there could be more. Voelpel looked at the physical space and growth (or contraction) considerations Russell will have to be dealing with in the next few years, especially in the period right around 2013. Once-discussed plans for a Tacoma Russell tower probably have evaporated. But there was also this:

"In Seattle today, you can find a glut of vacant office space that could suit Russell’s needs and cost far less than paying the lease on a newly constructed office building. Most prominent of Seattle’s buildings? The former WaMu Center, a 55-story, 1.1 million-square-foot behemoth that became available with the demise of Washington Mutual Bank last year."

The bill parade


Spring in Olympia, with actual sun/Stapilus

Olympia looked and felt like springtime today, which carried implications inside the legislative building (the Statehouse) - a reminder to everyone that the carriage turns into a pumpkin in only a few days. And there seems to be no certainty as to whether the work will be completed by then.

Those big-discussion matters are mainly financial, but piles of other pieces of legislation have been making their way through. This afternoon we took the 3:30 governor's bill signings, which offered a sense of some of the day-in, day-out aspects of this, at a very real choke point: The signature of the governor is a point at which mere legislation turns into actual law.

The way it happens is this. Governor Chris Gregoire sits at the end of a long table in a largish conference room in the governor's suit of offices, in front of a stack of bills and a box of black pens. Helping are a staffer or two; a photographer at the far end of the table shoots the signings. A bill number is called out, and a group of people in the lobby outside (often including bill sponsors and people who worked on the measure) are escorted in for the event; the governor briefly describes the bill and why it should become law, she signs, and the picture of all is taken. They then leave through the other end of the room, and the next group comes in.

It sounds a little factory-like, but there are a couple of mitigators. One that Gregoire projects friendliness and courtesy (seems to work better for her in person than on television), and everyone got some attention. The other is that, well, the bills have to be dealt with quickly. Washington requires the governor act on bills within five days (that includes Saturdays and Sundays) after final passage during the session, and when the bills fly out, they pile up.

So there were 16 bill signings on Thursday, in somewhat over a half hour (going a little faster than usual) and odds are that none will make for any big headlines. SB 5305 repeals obsolete language in the state retirement law. SB 5322 concerned civil service commissions for sheriff's offices. SB 5343 had to do with the regulation of accountants. (How's that for excitement? But someone has to deal with all this.)

One bill stuck out: SB 5284, "relating to truth in music advertising." More fully: "Creates the truth in music advertising act. Prohibits a person from advertising or conducting a live musical performance or production through the use of a false, deceptive, or misleading affiliation, connection, or association between a performing unless certain conditions are met."

Meaning? Suppose you see an ad for a concert by a famous music group, you buy a ticket, and then discover that it wasn't the original group, it's someone else performing their material, possibly using the original group's name. The bill wouldn't ban the concern but it would allow a promoter to sell tickets only if he made clear who and what the performing group actually was. (You can probably guess where the bill came from.) A consumer protection measure, in other words.

Signed off by the governor on Thursday. And spring rolls on . . .

Bailout numbers

The number of banks in the Northwest getting bailout (TARP) money keeps on rising. Here's the latest, according to ProPublica:

Washington: 15 banks.

Oregon: 3 banks.

Idaho: 4 banks.

The gay marriage referendum

The Washington Legislature's passage today of Senate Bill 5688, the revised domestic partnership act - revisions that provide same-sex couples virtually all of the legal status of marriage except that formal description - was not close, though it was partisan, splitting pretty much along party lines. And the aftermath is as predictable: A push for a referendum, to try to overturn the law at the ballot box.

The core national analysis has been that public attitudes on same-sex marriage have been shifting, in increments, gradually becoming more accepting of them. The question mark seems to be the timetable. Oregon gay-rights activists seem to have mapped that transition carefully, deciding to pass on 2010 for an attempt to overturn the 2004 constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Their thinking clearly is that a little more time is likely to improve their odds of success, and they're probably right.

However, the Washington referendum - which will have to content itself with settling for complaining about specific provisions, rather than an up-or-down on "gay marriage" - is likely to do two other things, whatever the results (and assuming the proponents succeed in getting it to the ballot, which may not be a foregone conclusion).

First, it effectively inoculates the legislators who voted for it. If the referendum to kill the new law fails, that means the legislators were on the popular side, If it does kill the new law, the beast is dead anyway and no one will care next year.

Second, it will provide a new, reasonably clear measure of how people are feeling about this now.

Where will that go? The Slog today quotes one referendum organizer as saying, “We are taking a statewide poll this week. We’ll make the poll public when we get it, unless it’s so ugly that I don’t want to tell anybody.”

That they're holding out that possibility may have some significance.

The Salem to Vancouver rail line?

What was striking, sitting in the Oregon House Sustainability & Economic Development Committee session this afternoon, was the matter of factness around a pretty big idea: Extending a commuter rail line from the Portland metro area to Salem.

There is, of course, sometime to work with already on the northern reach: The tri-county MAX rail system, together with a recently-opened add-on, already runs not just from Hillsboro to Gresham but also south to Wilsonville, a big chunk of the way to Salem. There are also plans, in conjunction with planning for the upgrade to the Columbia River I-5 bridge, to extend commuter rail north through to Vancouver, where it could easily be strung in parallel to the Mill Plain crossway.

So now imagine a connector linking to the south, running through communities large and small (Donald might be a stop, or at least slow-down point) on existing tracks. The significant number of people commuting or running back and forth between Portland and Salem could train it. (Especially if they start loading in wi fi throughout the system.)

It's a big project at a time when big new projects aren't much in fashion. House Bill 2408, which has a substantial bipartisan group of sponsors, doesn't authorize the line, but it does create a task force on it and will wrap up a study on the idea, due out this fall.

Representative Paul Holvey, D-Eugene, said "I'm not famliar with Donald" (well, most people a few miles from it aren't), and said it was a shame the 4th congressional district wasn't included. But he'd support the study anyway.

We know of at least one legislative staffer (and there are doubtless others) who commutes from Eugene to Salem. Give it a little time, and Eugene might make the line yet.