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Posts published in June 2009

OMI to OMF

More sad media news, meta division this time: Lynn Siprelle's excellent Oregon Media Insiders site, which we've referenced here periodically, is gone. A fine spot for keeping up to date with changes in Oregon news media, it will be missed.

There is, however, a new Oregon Media Forum, self-described as "an OMI expat community." Set up in forum fashion, it seems equipped to pick up, in part at least, where OMI has left off.

Filings are in

Off-year candidate filing is done in Washington, with basically no last-minute surprises. The primary election in August will skim off the top-twos in the competitive races.

For Seattle mayor, that presumably means incumbent Greg Nickels and Council member Jan Drago, though Drago's path to an ultimate win (her complaint with Nickels has to do not with substance but with process, almost always a snoozer for voters) remains obstacle-ridden.

The King County executive race remains a lot more interesting, with the five expected candidates - two county council members, two legislators and a former TV news anchor - piled in. Polling seems to indicate that, on the basis of name ID, the former anchor, Susan Hutchison, might pull a first-place plurality win in August, but we'd guess she'll have a harder time in the one-on-one to follow. Of course, there's no clarity yet as to who that one will be.

And the engines rev . . .

Fried

Idaho Fry

Idaho Fry Co. in Boise

Over a good many years, several key Idaho people and organizations did something unusual and remarkable and that wouldn't have happened by itself: They developed a specific commercial identity for Idaho potatoes, as products of particular quality and therefore worthy of higher price. There's some real value in that, and some commercial need to protect it.

What might threaten it? If the quality of the state's potatoes were to be diminished, that might hurt. So might false claims from someone else, a producer in some other state who labeled products from there as Idaho potatoes - that would inflate the size of the crop sold under the label, and might damage the quality levels. The Idaho Potato Commission has each of these possibilities seriously over the years in the defense of Idaho potato growers and protection of their long-term investment in brand building: If you're going to sell something as an "Idaho potato," you have to meet certain standards and follow certain rules, and there are legal avenues for enforcement.

There appears to be, generally, some clarity about that. On its website, the Potato Commission specifies "Who Should License With Us," and lists three criteria:

Any company or individual packing fresh Idaho® potatoes. This is required by Idaho statute.
Any company, organization, or individual intending to use trademarks or certification marks owned or administered by the Idaho Potato Commission. This is required by Idaho statutes and Federal trademark law.
Any container manufacturer or company who reproduces IPC's trademarks or certification marks.

Which seems reasonable enough. How the Idaho Fry Co. fits any of that can be explained only by a wild imagination or by a very creative trademark lawyer.

This business is a small restaurant (allowing takeout) located not far from downtown in Boise (even closer to the Potato Commission's offices). Its focus is on potatoes, to be sure - French fries specifically, which are sold in a variety of formats (thick, stringy, curly, fixed with various oils, and so on), and loving attention seems to be paid to them. The burgers, and other foods, really are "on the side."

Although they're potatoes, there's no statement anywhere we could see, outside the store, inside, on menus, on line, that any of these are Idaho potatoes. In fact, considering the variety of potatoes used, a number of them probably couldn't be Idaho in origin. The "Idaho" in "Idaho Fry" clearly refers to the geographic location of the store. It does not pack potatoes and it does not use any Idaho potato trademarks (see the criteria above).

All of that notwithstanding, the IPC has loosed the legal dogs against the Fry Company: "a business card was slipped beneath our door with this cryptic message scribbled on the back: 'Blake – This name is a problem. Idaho™ is our trade name.'” (more…)

Strange storm

Thursday night's was a really peculiar regional storm. Driving around Boise, I saw lightning and heard thunder rapid fire of a sort I'd not seen here for along time.

Turns out the same sort of thing was happening back in Oregon, on the far side of the Cascades. Salem, evidently, was particularly hard hit.

A meteorological oddity. not necessarily over yet, to judge from the weather reports.

Unhelpful labels

In Idaho, the Democrat holding the premier elective office in the state was, for a couple of years, David Bieter, the mayor of Boise - which is a nonpartisan office. We have Bieter's Democratic background on conclusive record because he served as one in the state legislature, not any other way. The fact of the mayor's office being nonpartisan probably was a help to Bieter's election and re-election.

The office of King County executive is also officially non-partisan, but here too the partisan background of most of the contenders isn't a big secret. Of the five candidates, four have been elected to office before, and their background as Democrats (in Fred Jarrett's case, of recent vintage, but nonetheless) is well established.

Susan Hutchison, the fifth candidate and a former news anchor at KIRO-TV, is a different matter, because she hasn't run for office, partisan or otherwise, before, and there's no party registration in Washington. So where does she fit into the picture?

She's been described as the Republican and the conservative in the race, which may not be helpful right now in King County - “I don’t think labels are helpful,” she told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (in a story that highlighted how little she has specifically said about her views).

But the article also pointed out (while mentioning some prominent Democratic backers) her very close ties to Republican and conservative organizations.

The site PubliCola has been digging in further, pointing out "FEC records showing that Susan Hutchison’s campaign manager, Jordan McCarran, has worked for Mike Huckabee and Sen Sam Brownback."

Unhelpful to Hutchison (who because of her years on local TV might be the be the best-known of the five candidates) or not, looks like the labels may be going to stick.

Did someone co-opt someone?

"Strange Bedfellows" indeed.

A must-read piece in that blog by Joel Connelly (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) about how happy with the Building Industry Association of Washington - the most ferocious big-funder among conservative activist groups in the state, the top backer of Republican gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi in both his races - is, after reviewing the way the 2009 state legislative session went. Practically everything, the group says, went its way.

It's a mind-bender. More explanation is clearly needed . . .

Over-value

How much is something worth? goes the old question. However much someone will pay, goes the traditional answer - except in recent years, as we know, in the case of the housing market, where prices ran up massively higher than people (viewed in aggregate) were able, at least, to pay; an increasingly, willing, too.

Washington and Oregon were among the relative latecomers to the mass housing price rampup, and they apparently are a little slower than some to slide back down. They have been sliding down, but indications are that they have a ways to go.

The consulting firms IHS Global Insight and The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. today released studies indicating which housing markets around the country remain most overvalued, and Washington and Oregon are high on the list.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer pulled out the numbers and said that of 330 metros analyzed, Seattle ranked 35th in the country, although "The report put the average house price at $366,500 in the Seattle area, down 1.6 percent from the previous quarter. Wenatchee and Longview were third and fourth on the overvalued list, with Bend, Ore., Bellingham and the Portland area (including Vancouver) seventh, eighth and ninth. Others in the top 26 were Mount Vernon (18th), Spokane (20th), Yakima (23rd) and Olympia (24th), in Washington, and Eugene (12th), Salem (16th), Corvalis (25th) and Medford (26th), in Oregon. The Tacoma area was 31st."

The Fischer transition

Bryan Fischer, the executive director of the Idaho Values Alliance, will be moving this month from Boise to Tupelo, Mississippi, there to take over a radio talk show (this being a major source of employment in this country for conservative - not other - activists). Just what impact this may have on social conservative activism in Idaho is turning into a considerable subject of discussion.

Fischer's own comment on that: "My departure will create, at least for a time, a bit of void on the pro-family front in Idaho. Since 2005, the IVA has been able to be a voice for our shared values in public, in the media and at the statehouse, and we have played what I believe has been a necessary role in promoting and defending the sacred values of religious liberty and the sanctity of life and the family. But I am also convinced that God cares too much about Idaho and Idaho families to leave this void unfilled for long, and I am sure that a new and effective pro-family voice will arise to carry on the work."

Fischer has been in Idaho since 1980, and a highly visible figure for more than a decade; it's that visibility which is key here. As the Idaho Statesman's Kevin Richert remarked, "Fischer was the type of person with an opinion about anything, and a penchant for getting ink and airtime." And he got ink and airtime: He turned into the go-to guy whenever media reporters wanted a comment on something that might relate to social conservative issues.

Who exactly he was a spokesman for, though, is a more complex question. He has had allies and supporters, certainly, but news reports would often seem to suggest that he spoke for a monolithic social conservatism, which isn't close to true. Within that community, attitudes are grayscale: Strong backers on out to others who, while sharing varying numbers of Fischer's views, had little use for him.

The socially conservative community in Idaho is large, large enough to (for example) elect a Bill Sali and Helen Chenoweth to Congress (it was instrumental in both). Depending on how you define it, this is a group running somewhere in the hundreds of thousands. The reach is the IVA is a good deal smaller than that; Fischer refers in his goodbye piece to "Hundreds of you [who] have signed up to receive daily Scripture readings and prayers," which seems to indicate a modest direct reach, maybe not a lot more than a fair-sized church. He seems also to have a fine e-mail network, but his overall reach may have as much to do with media exposure over the years as anything else.

There's another indicator in his statement that "I am sure that a new and effective pro-family voice will arise to carry on the work" - suggesting the lack of a succession plan or solid network within the IVA, an indication that it may fold when he departs.

But he's probably right that a new voice will appear. Reporters will find someone who will speak on social conservative matters, and activists will want to carry on much of the activism Fischer has; the environment isn't changing. As yet, so far as we can see.