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Posts published in April 2009

Digging in

symms

Steve Symms

Idaho Representative Walt Minnick - the Democrat elected last year in one of the most Republican House districts in America - just keeps on strengthening his position.

This latest had to be mind-bender for a lot of people: A fundraiser for Minnick, in Washington, headlined by none other than former Senator Steve Symms (1981-93), now a lobbyist in DC.

Symms is in no conceivable sense a liberal or moderate Republican, and as if to underline that, he was the guy who ousted veteran Democratic Senator Frank Church back in 1980. He campaigned alongside Ronald Reagan and was very much of a piece with the big Reagan win that year. He has never suggested, never indicated, any kind of philosophical mind change.

For whatever reason - could the realities of lobbying in Washington in 2009 have something to do with it? or maybe Minnick's own philosophical demeanor - he is fundraising for Minnick. This may be (someone offer a correction if needed) the first ever Democrat that Symms has publicly supported in any significant way.

There may be a reason Republican opposition to Minnick isn't coalescing very quickly yet.

A long way around

bridge

Hood Canal Bridge/WADOT road cam

You see some effort on some of the really big projects, but you have to wonder how much effort is made by transportation construction planners to evaluate the impact their projects will have on people who need to, you know, drive there.

Here's one out of the way for most Northwesterners but a very big deal locally: The Hood Canal Bridge in Washington, which connects the Kitsap Peninsula with the Olympic Peninsula. People who live or work or simply need to travel between the Bremerton-Poulsbo region to the east or the Port Angeles-Sequim-Port Townsend area to the west, use the bridge a lot, and so does a good deal of commercial traffic. There's a contingent who live on one side of the bridge, and work on the other.

The bridge is something of a choke point. If you want to drive from one peninsula to the other, you can do it, but the shortest route will take you two hours. (A pretty drive, but not a pretty commute.) There are ferries, but their capacity is limited, and the could be real time-munchers when relied on regularly.

The bridge needs repairs. The last time we crossed it, about three years ago, the need seemed to be there just in listening to the bumpy road. The repair is a long-running project, but as part of it, the bridge will be closed to traffic for about six weeks, starting beginning of next month.

So what are commuters and others to do? The Kitsap Sun surveyed a bunch of people, and found widely varied reactions. One commuter suggested she may try camping on the work side of the bridge, rather than face the other options.

bridge

/WADOT

The question is how well the Washington Department of Transportation evaluated all this, and the options that are going to be available to drivers, for that six-week stretch?

The WADOT Hood River Bridge web site does suggest some options. One is "drive around," which would be okay but vacationers, not so wonderful (because of the 2-hour time) for most others. There is a free water shuttle, a ferry of sorts, with 30-minute departure times, which looks like a feasable option; maybe. Then there's a temporary Port Townsend-Edmonds ferry, for the traffic headed to or from the Seattle area; but that would bypass the Kitsap area and be really time-intensive.

Maybe there are no perfect answers. But the thought process would be enlightening.

Tea parties, then and now

Jeff Kropf

The Boston Tea Party, 1846 Nathan Currier depiction

The 1773 incident now known as the Boston Tea Party was a truly spontaneous demonstration of immediate anger. It stemmed from the imposition of a royal tax on the tea, and was the result of a situation specific to Boston. Taxable tea was arriving from Britain in all 13 American colonies, but in the other 12 colonies protesters sent the tea on a return trip with their visible protests alone. It was a less simple matter in Boston, where the governor of Massachusetts had an insider business arrangement with the providers (two of them were his sons). And so a standoff. A meeting to consider options was called by the rabble-rouser Sam Adams, and in the midst of it some of the fed-up simply stalked out and (there are differing reports over how many were actually dressed as Indians) boarded the ship and tossed the tea into the harbor.

Some contrast with what's happening in terms of current "tea parties," aimed as criticism of the Obama Administration's financial policies, is worth a note. A string of tea party events are scheduled - for the 15th, of course - in Idaho (Boise, Coeur d'Alene, Council, Idaho Falls, Pocatello, Priest River, Rexburg and Twin Falls), in Oregon (Astoria, Beaverton, Bend, Coos Bay, Corvallis, The Dalles, Enterprise, Springfield, Forest Grove, Grants Pass, Klamath Falls, La Grande, McMinnville, Medford, Milton Freewater, Newport, Oregon City, Portland, Reedsport, Rogue Riven, Roseburg, Salem, Tillamook) and in Washington (Anacortes, Bellevue, Bellingham, Colville, Everett, Grays Harbor, Issaquah, Kennewick, Moses Lake, Mount Vernon, Oak Harbor, Okanogan, Port Orchard, Pullman, Olympia, Shelton, Tacoma, Port Angeles, Redmond, Seattle, Spokane and Yakima).

That's a lot of scheduled spontaneity.

Some of what's happening is coming out of conservative blogs and networking. But there's a good deal more going here.

The central Tax Day Tea Party web site is well equipped with Resources, Media/Press, Team Wiki, Media Wiki, Social Networking and Store functions. Someone centrally put this up and organized rapidly and at considerable cost.

It turns out to be a lobbying astroturf project of Freedom Works and Americans for Prosperity. The liberal site Think Progress pointed out how

– Freedom Works staffers coordinate conference calls among protesters, contacting conservative activists to give them “sign ideas, sample press releases, and a map of events around the country.”

– Freedom Works staffers apparently moved to “take over” the planning of local events in Florida.

– Freedom Works provides how-to guides for delivering a “clear message” to the public and media.

– Freedom Works has several domain addresses — some of them made to look like they were set up by amateurs — to promote the protests.

– Americans for Prosperity is writing press releases and planning the events in New Jersey, Arizona, New Hampshire, Missouri, Kansas, and several other states.

Freedom Works was "founded in 1984 and described as a 501c4 "grassroots organization," is chaired by former U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Armey. . . . FreedomWorks was formed in 2004 when Citizens for a Sound Economy merged with Empower America." It has worked on a number of policy matters, notably on Social Security, closely with the former Bush Administration.

There's nothing wrong with any of this - free speech is everyone's right, and everyone has the responsibility to protest government actions they disapprove of - but the parties shouldn't be described (as they are in some quarters) as an uprising from below. That would be a significant mischaracterization.

Side note: A distinction of core message. The message behind the first was, "No taxation without representation." Today, we pretty much have the "representation" part covered, which leaves the new message a tad unfocused. (The national tea party site doesn't focus on a specific message; the words on its core graphic are, "Silent Majority No More." That may give a clue as to the point and purpose.)

Foreclosure patterns

The Puget Sound Business Journal this week pulled together a large take-out on foreclosures around King County, and used the statistics on foreclosures to map the areas around King where foreclosures were especially high or low.

High? Maple Valley and Tukwila, notably high-growth areas over the last decade. The highest concentrations of foreclosures in the county, in fact, run roughly in the south-county triangle between those communities and Federal Way. Seattle itself? Less so; and most of the really rural areas in east-county aren't especially foreclosure hotbeds either.

These are mostly new houses.

Amtrak hopes

In the southern Idaho-eastern Oregon area there's been hope, for a long time, of restoration of the old Pioneer trim passenger line on Amtrak. It's been a distant hope, even as legislators such as Idaho Senator Mike Crapo have pushed for it. But now comes a sign that maybe, possibly, it might happen.

Financially, the line was a loser ($20 million a year) when it was shuttered in 1996. But times are changing, and prospects - especially in the new economic-political environment - are changing. Last year Congress ordered a rethink on passenger lines in Amtrak, and the Associated Press is reporting now that Pioneer is currently under evaluation.

Cards and letters time.

The fork in the outlet

Otter

Butch Otter

Title of this post refers, as viewers of "Lost" may recognize, is the nickname assigned by its producers to the upcoming season-ending big deal. It also may apply to the immediate situation at the Idaho Statehouse.

Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter allowed today as how he's frustrated by the legislature, and he has ample reason. (And this week's are far from his first frustrations.) As the Idaho Statesman pointed out, "On Thursday alone, various parts of the Legislature rejected some of his plans on transportation funding, and on spending federal stimulus money."

There is the possibility, albeit a thin one, that the legislature could wrap up business by the end of next week. Another week or even two would be a better bet. But they could be in session a lot longer, because Otter could keep them there. A key quote from the governor: "All you've got to do is look back, if you've got any historical memory. There's lots of things the governor can do."

You don't have to reach back especially far, either, just to 2003. That year, the legislature kept rejecting transportation plans offered by Governor Dirk Kempthorne (does this sound familiar?). Kempthorne couldn't force them to pass them. But he could veto budget bills, as he did in an eight-pack one memorable day, and budget resolution is the one significant thing the legislature has to do before leaving town. The two sides endured an angry standoff for weeks, until after 118 days on May 3, the legislators finally caved.

Otter could do something similar. Its not something anyone really wants. But his comments today leave no doubt: It's on the table. Message to legislators: Don't buy any non-refundable plane tickets any time soon.

A hidden budget?

You have to wonder what Seattle Times columnist, as opposed to Seattle Council member, Jean Godden would have written about this:

"A Seattle Times reporter was denied entrance to a budget briefing on Thursday afternoon. Tom Von Bronkhorst, a legislative aide to Councilmember Jean Godden, physically dragged the reporter away from it by the strap of her bag."

We're not so totally one-sided on the matter of public meetings as to argue that there are, from time to time, legitimate reasons for shutting the doors. But there are no very damn many, and they certainly don't include the fashioning of budgets - which are financial documents describing how the public's money is going to be spent for, one hopes, the public good.

Leave aside the matter of law, that shutting out the public from a budget session is almost certainly illegal. As well: How is it possibly defensible as a matter of public ethics? Maybe council member Godden could offer some enlightenment . . .

ANOTHER VIEW The Slog has a very different take on what was going on - primarily, that the meeting was informal and concerned budget cuts, not budget setting. Still doesn't especially convince us away from the main point.

An early clue

court

From the pages of Washington Supreme Court decisions today comes one that may not have tremendous precedential import (or, maybe it will within the field of family law) but makes up a pretty astonishing read.

In re Marriage of Bernard is the tale of a pre-nuptial agreement, and the wording is intentional: This is a story a small novel could be wrapped around, and maybe one will. It concerns a pre-nuptial agreement insisted on by a wealthy man prior to marriage; the high court tossed it out as procedurally and substantively unfair. The thread of fact and argument are best read there.

But you come away with the thought: If the pre-nup was this difficult, how did either of them ever think the marriage was going to work?

A red light

stop light

Red-light cameras, designed to catch drivers who run red lights, have been developing some value in the cities around the Northwest which have taken to using them. Red-light runners are menaces on the road, and these catchers have some safety utility. Problems arise when they're used not for safety but as ATMs.

This space has ranted no lack of times about the trouble inherent in letting a government agency - whether law enforcement or something else - build its budget off regulatory fines. We're also highly skeptical of any place in public law enforcement for private corporations: The temptation to hand people fines or to lock them up to boost the quarterly bottom line is just too great.

A measure in the Oregon Legislature, House Bill 2701, is aimed at exactly this point. Ashland Senator Alan Bates has been its prime sponsor in the Senate.

Medford, which is part of his district turf, has a red-light camera program, and Bates said that "I would not have sponsored HB 2701 if its passage would end Medford's photo red-light program, nor is that the purpose of the bill." He said he is backing it because:

First, the bill would prohibit cities that use red-light and photo-radar equipment from compensating manufacturers and vendors of red-light and photo-radar equipment based on the number of citations issued or on a percentage of monies collected from payment of fines. Six U.S. cities (Dallas and Lubbock, Texas; Union City, Calif.; Nashville and Chattanooga, Tenn.; and Springfield, Mo.) have been found guilty of shortening the yellow-light cycles on intersections equipped with cameras meant to catch red-light runners. According to the National Motorists Association, when Virginia officials added 1.5 seconds to the yellow light at an intersection with red light cameras, the number of violations went down 94 percent.

Second, the bill would prohibit any city that uses red-light and photo-radar equipment from collecting more than 5 percent of its annual budget from the citations issued using it. Tim George, deputy chief of the Medford Police Department, is quoted in the article as saying "We don't come anywhere close to generating 5 percent of our budget from the red-light cameras or the two speed vans." It is my understanding that the most recent statewide average for revenue generated from traffic citations is 3 percent; however, there is no cap in place. HB 2701 seeks to remedy this incentive: Public safety should be our goal, not generating revenue.

The bill isn't moving fast; it's still in House committee. But there's still plenty of time.

Another interest group blog, sort of

Writer Chad Dryden worked for the Idaho Statesman (or one of its subsidiaries) since moving to Boise in November 2005 until earlier this month, when he joined the crowd of the media laid-off. From that point, he has been generating a logical response to the situation: A journalist, he's writing about the new world he's entered.

This is in the blog Laid Off Loser, and there's some insightful and amusing material to be found there. From his description: "I started Laid Off Loser to fill the empty spaces, but also to pimp myself to prospective employers, keep my writing limber (it's like exercise yo), review some music, compile up-to-date unemployment/economy news and network with other Laid Off Losers in the hopes of helping one another find work during this awkward waltz known as the Great Recession."

Newly possibly-relevant question: "Are Costco stock boys allowed to wear iPods?"