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Posts published in May 2009

The nonpartisan BYU-I

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the Mormon church, has for many years been officially neutral in contests between the Republican and Democratic parties. It has also specifically encouraged members to become involved socially and politically - running for office and supporting candidates never has been a bad thing in the view of LDS leadership.

Reconciliation of that together with another fact has over the years proven exceedingly tough: The fact that Mormons are, overwhelmingly, Republican. Some visible exceptions (Nevada Senator Harry Reid, new Indian Affairs director Larry EchoHawk among them) notwithstanding.

So you can more or less see where the leadership of Brigham Young University-Idaho (at Rexburg) was coming from when it declared that student political clubs, the College Republicans and the College Democrats, would be no more, a story that hit nationally in the last few days. A statement from the university: "We are trying to ensure that BYU-Idaho is a politically neutral campus. As a private institution and being affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we feel that it is in the best interest of our university to be politically neutral."

A review in the Rexburg Standard-Journal of the history of the two clubs suggests that interest in them, both, seemed to decline in the last decade. One of the long-time advisors for the Republican group remarked that "in his opinion BYU-Idaho may have the appearance to outsiders of a solely Republican campus. 'The one-sided appearance worries the school more than the reality of having one of each party,' said [Professor Ron] Nate. 'If one group is always stronger, always more populated and always more active, then it can give the appearance of a non-neutral campus.'"

And that may be what the administration was getting at. But the perception won't go away because the party groups do; it doesn't take much to look at the voting returns from the Rexburg precincts to see where the winds blow. Probably more people were surprised that a Democratic organization existed at BYU-I at all, than at the Republican strength there.

The party backers and members won't be going away. But the backers of the minority group may abruptly find they have few avenues left for associating easily with people of like mind, something that won't be so much a question for those in the majority.

40 years of the sound of Jefferson

The state of Jefferson - that area taking in part of southwest Oregon and California north of Redding - may be more a state of mind than it is anything else. But there is a media presence. At least one California weekly proclaims itself the newspaper of Jefferson.

And there's Jefferson Public Radio, now celebrating its 40th anniversary. A fine piece today in the Medford Mail Tribune runs through its history.

Based at Southern Oregon University at Ashland (at the FM station KSOR), JPR has helped keep that southern region a region apart from the rest of Oregon (the rest of which is served by Oregon Public Broadcasting). It does something else too in this time of large-scale broadcasting: It brings a genuinely local flavor to radio in the area.

You can celebrate too: Give 'em a listen.

Triplett arrives

Kurt Triplett

Kurt Triplett

Abruptly, a new major figure on the Northwest political/governmental scene: Kurt Triplett, appointed as interim executive at King County, the Northwest's largest jurisdiction below the state level. He replaces Ron Sims, who for years was one of the highest-profile political figures in Washington state, who left for a job in the Obama Administration.

Triplett has not been so high profile, though he has been around the circuits of King County government. From his new web bio page: "He has served as Deputy Director of King County’s Department of Natural Resources and Parks, Senior Legislative Assistant to King County Councilwoman Cynthia Sullivan, and was a legislative aide to State Representative Judy Roland. As Deputy Chief of Staff for two years when Sims first took office and most recently as Chief of Staff since July of 2003, he has been instrumental in implementation of major initiatives and served as Sims’ chief budget negotiator and lead policy advisor." Not exactly a newcomer.

He will hold the job at least until after the November general election; a batch of hopefuls are competing to replace him. He is evidently not planning a run himself; his statement says he intends to "deliver a sound budget and a well-functioning government to the executive that is elected in November."

There are rumblings underneath his interim appointment; while his succession in the immediate aftermath of Sims' departure was a given, this longer-term appointment was not. So consider this from the Seattle Weekly blog:

Triplett has not spent his tenure as Sims' chief of staff making friends. When the council expressed distrust in the Executive's budget numbers, calling for a separate economic forecasting office answering to both branches of King County government, their frustration was aimed at Triplett as much as Sims. Triplett also made it very clear in late 2007 that Sims (and himself by association) believed the Sheriff should be an appointed position—an unsubtle shot at political adversary Sue Rahr. He also ran into trouble with activists over the King County animal shelter.

So it wasn't surprising when the panel convened by the council to recommend Sims' replacement voted 10 - 5 to name former Seattle mayor Charles Royer to the post rather than Triplett. What is surprising, to county outsiders anyway, is the council's vote today to name Triplett to the position instead. Three council members, Republicans Jane Hague and Kathy Lambert and Democrat Bob Ferguson, actually started off supporting a Royer appointment, but in the final vote approved Triplett.

And we seem to have here a new confluence of issues in the making in an increasingly interesting executive contest.

An education lobby crackup

Here's a column out of Tacoma that some of the Salem budget-setters, and influencers upon budget-setters, might want to read. It could suggest where Oregon's education community may find itself a few months hence- not far from where Washington's does now.

A key quote: "To be specific, the Washington Education Association has decided it’s no longer friends with groups that have long been in its political clique. That includes the Washington State PTA, the union that represents school staffers, the League of Education Voters, the Children’s Alliance, Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire and Democrats in the state House and Senate."

Oregon's situation is no less severe than Washington's was. Could be that Oregon is a little less rigorous in unwillingness to go the tax route, but there's little doubt significant cuts are coming. As in Washington.

“Poverty with a View”

Toward the end of today's Oregonian front-page piece on crashed Bend, a long-time recalled the last occasion Bend went through hard times. He said that back then, people made a great effort to stay in the town. It may have been poverty for some, he suggested; but the operative phrase was that it was "poverty with a view."

That seems to be an operative way of looking at it now, too.

Bend's unemployment rate now is upwards of 16%, more than four points higher than Oregon's overall, which sounds like a prescription for decamping and searching for work. It would suggest that the 80,000 or so people there - more than four times as many as a couple of decades ago (18,970 in 1988) - will start to drop, possibly fast.

And yet it isn't looking that way. During a drive around Bend a few weeks ago, not a lot looked changed. There were scattered overbuilt subdivisions (doubtless plenty of those around town), but people do not seem to be tearing out of town. Traffic was just as lousy as it typically has been, businesses seem to be mostly occupied. The town doesn't look shuttered.

At least not yet. If economic conditions stay down long enough, people eventually will migrate to where jobs are. But Bend seems pretty indicative of Oregon's experience with unemployment, and a key reason the state's unemployment rate often is higher than the nation's: People are less willing to move from here. If bad times hit, they'll go to more effort to wait it out, rather than move. Poverty maybe, but it at least has a view.

OF NOTE The Oregonian piece linked above also has attached a good video watch watching.

Review: Mr. Lincoln’s Book

lincoln book

Mr. Lincoln's Book

What does it mean to be the author of a book? Sometimes it means sitting down for extended periods at keyboard (or typewriter, or pen and paper) to say what has to be said. Sometimes - you can take this as the norm, though not the absolute, for celebrity books - it means submitting to a few longish interviews with a writer, who then crafts the book. And there are all sorts of other variations, and descriptions of authorship that run along a sliding scale.

David Leroy of Boise has out a new book provocatively called Mr. Lincoln's Book (Oak Knoll Press/Abraham Lincoln Book Shop, New Castle DE 2009, provocative because Abraham Lincoln usually is assumed not to have written a book. (A post-presidential memoir, which he seems to have contemplated, by this expert wordsmith would have been something to savor.) However, Leroy here has latched on to something, a unjustly obscure piece of Lincoln's story, that prompts whole series of lines of thought, and ought to get some attention from historians professional and amateur alike.

Leroy's name will sound familiar to historians of recent Idaho politics, because he has periodically been part of it. He was a fast-riser for a while in Idaho politics, Ada County prosecutor, state attorney general and lieutenant governor; his string snapped in 1986 when he lost a race for governor, narrowly, to Cecil Andrus. In 1994 he also lost a run for the U.S. House, and in more recent years he has been around but not especially visible in Idaho politics.

Those who know him, though, also know him as a fanatic on history, mainly on two threads, early Idaho history and Abraham Lincoln, the link being Lincoln's designation of Idaho (1863) as a distinct territory.

Leroy's subject here goes back just a few years before that, running chiefly from the debates between Lincoln and Stephen Douglas in the 1858 Illinois Senate campaign, into Lincoln's run for president in 1860. Those two events are connected. The little-known Lincoln actually won the popular vote in the contest with Douglas - a major national figure through the 1850s - even though he decisively lost in the state legislature, where senators then were chosen. But the battle in one state might not have been enough to give Lincoln national cachet but for the legendary series of debates between the two candidates. And those debates, in turn, might never have gotten much national attention but for a scrapbook of newspaper and other reports of the debates which Lincoln personally compiled and lightly edited. It went to a book printer, and wound up selling commercially, and selling very well. Sales estimates varied widely; Leroy figured them at somewhere around 50,000, which would make it one of the first big political bestsellers in the country. And those sales happened during the supercharged presidential election season of 1860, when the leading candidates were none other than Lincoln and Douglas.

There's a temptation, in reading through the story, to suggest that Lincoln was the first presidential candidate (as Barack Obama is the most recent) to make specific effective use of a relatively new media technology in a presidential campaign. Books weren't new, of course, but printing capacities had recently developed and expanded, and so had distribution networks - a sale of 50,000 or so books in the way Lincoln managed it probably wouldn't have been feasible a generation earlier.

Leroy's core thesis here is that this book was a book by Lincoln - that he was the author of it. This gets into a matter of definitions, and back to the question of what it means to "author" a book. The takeaway is that Lincoln probably best ought to be considered the "editor" of the book, because even though many of the words in it (from the debates) are his, so too are many from Douglas, and some from other writers. But Leroy has pulled together the details that show clearly the extensive effort Lincoln made personally to get the book organized, edited and into print - it was certainly his book in a meaningful sense. (That may be underscored by Douglas' eventual protests of it.)

Leroy has done a bit more here than assemble the history behind the book (write entertainingly about it), and to make the argument for it. He also has tracked down all 42 known authenticated signed copies of the book notes that "now we will identify each of these signed Debates by its Leroy number."

With the number of books on Lincoln up in the tens of thousands, you'd expect that not much new is left to be said. But the spins of interpretation seem endless, and surprisingly pertinent (hello, Team of Rivals). Leroy's deep dig into this obscure angle of the Lincoln story will give you an unexpectedly large number of things to think about afterward.

A lower target?

The crucial revenue estimate for Oregon came out on schedule this morning, and while not-good, it wasn't as bad as legislators were preparing themselves for. The new numbers pin the revenue shortfall at about $3.5 billion - an enormous deal, but still maybe a billion better than had been expected.

An interesting point is the reviving talk about tax options, something that had been mentioned only peripherally before. There's talk now about an upper-income bracket increase, to raise taxes on those reporting a quarter-million or more. (In Washington a related thought - different in that it would have meant creation of an income tax where there currently is none - was raised but withdrawn.)

And now Jeff Mapes at the Oregonian notes that talk of revenue increases is centering around the figure of a billion dollars or so.

Some of this may be in the form of trial ideas, tests to see how they fly when legislators talk with the folks back home. That may have some impact on how they fare over the next few weeks, as the budget picture begins to take hold.

Take that, or not

richard Sanders

Richard Sanders

A highly unusual Washington Supreme Court decision today in which no members of the Supreme Court participated, for the reason that one of them was the subject of the case. And that one got nailed.

Richard Sanders v. Washington relates back to a tour Sanders took of the McNeil Island Corrections Center in January 2003; during it, he was alleged to have talked with inmates who had cases before the Supreme Court. Ethics charges eventually were brought. In their course, Sanders asked for legal representation from the state attorney general's office, saying he had been acting in an official capacity; the AG turned him down. he then hired his own attorney. The Commission on Judicial Conduct eventually admonished Sanders, who remained and still is on the court. The current case comes from Sanders' contention that the state should pay for his attorney costs in the case.

Here's what the pro tem justices concluded:

Justice Sanders was charged in the complaint before the Commission with ethical violations involving acts that are outside the scope of a judge's official duties. His acts involved contact with offenders who had cases pending in his court. Representation of a judge being disciplined for ethical violations is beyond the purpose of RCW 43.10.040. Its purpose is to provide defense to an official when engaged in official acts. Justice Sanders knew or should have known that his conduct was unethical; therefore, he is not entitled to representation.

Justice Sanders argues that denying representation could leave a judge vulnerable to improper or unfounded charges of ethics violations. If a judge is wrongly charged, however, there are adequate safeguards within the Commission's procedures. Before a case may proceed to hearing, there must be a screening, a preliminary investigation, and a finding of probable cause.

Justice Sanders also argues that since he prevailed on the more serious charges, he should be entitled to recover a pro rata share of his attorney fees. In our view, if a judge is found to have violated any of the canons of the Code of Judicial Conduct, there is no right to representation or reimbursement. Such is the case here.

Slowdown in Interior nominees

Not much noted amid the headlines about other Obama Administration nominees - some sliding through, some held up - is the story of David Hayes, formerly of the World Wildlife Fund and chairman of the board of American Rivers and once an Interior official in the Clinton Administration. Not an especially controversial guy, evidently, but not to the liking of certain interests. Turns out that Utah Senator Bob Bennett has put a hold in his nomination, which could freeze it in place for some time.

Ray Ring of the High Country News has posted a piece on this, including some review of what underlies Bennett's actions, that's well worth review. Ring concludes: "No doubt there are other Senate Republicans who think Hayes is OK ... but they're also gunshy of the rightwingers they would face in their primaries. Another reason the rightwingers fight this round so fiercely: They're gearing up for the upcoming battles over Obama's call for raising taxes on the oil and gas industry."

The key players aren't specifically Northwestern, but the impact surely is.