Archive for July, 2009

Jul 31 2009

Newswriting alchemy

Published by under Washington

There is a style and an approach to writing news stories, for newspaper or wire service, on one hand, and news releases, for general consumption, on the other. They read differently. They do different kinds of things. They are different sorts of statements.

So, some fascination in what David Ammons has been doing at the Washington secretary of state’s office. For a long, long time (from 1971 to 2008) he was the dean of the Olympia press corps, the key Associated Press writer on government and politics in the state. Now he’s the public information guy for the secretary of state.

Point here is, read what he’s been writing there, such this recent piece on Referendum 71. It reads more like a news story than a press release – some sort of a new style combining the types, or maybe something new altogether.

It’s a creative approach, whatever it is.

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Jul 31 2009

Reasons for selection

Published by under Idaho

If you threw down a list of the dozen or so key turning point moments in the history of Boise, one of them would have to be the selection of the city by Hewlett Packard for development of its laser printer operations. Its arrival in 1973 was notable but seemed not overwhelming at the time. Over the years, it became pivotal, giving Boise a solid tech anchor it would not have had otherwise, around which the city became a genuine tech center. It’s hard to imagine Micron Technology having launched there, at least the way it did, in geography unplowed by HP. As corporate relocations go, this was one of the most consequential ever in the Northwest.

The man who made that call was Ray Smelek, and he writes about it in his memoir, “Making My Own Luck.” There were other contenders for the laser printer operation, notably Spokane and Corvallis (in both of which HP also developed operations). Why Boise? (Was it, say, low taxes?)

Golf, skiing, personal lifestyle – that was pretty much it, Smelek writes: “I didn’t tell anyone at the time what the truth was about how we site selected Boise. It seemed such a dumb reason. But in reality, I believe that the decision-maker’s affinity for a specific place plays a large part in any site selection when there is no specific business reason, i.e., natural resources, customer proximity, etc.”

(Hat tip to the Spokesman-Review‘s Betsy Russell on this.)

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Jul 30 2009

The lying

Published by under Oregon

Let’s call this what it is: Lying.

From a comment on a post by the Oregonian‘s Charles Pope: “I would not believe anything that Blumenauer says. Obviously they want Senior Citizens to die earlier because they have a created a health plan that is going to ruin this country!”

The health care system in place right now is already in the process of bankrupting Americans by the millions and rationing health according to wealth, primarily in the interest of massive profits for specific industries. But put that aside.

What Representative Earl Blumenauer did was propose an idea reflective of the ongoing health care discussion in Oregon: To allow for a voluntary discussion between doctor and patient about end-of-life considerations and options. Note the words “allow” and “voluntary.”

Blumenauer’s description of what this is about:

Anti-health reform groups are misconstruing a provision of the legislation, which enjoys broad support in Congress, to provide coverage under Medicare for people to talk to their doctor about their wishes and care preferences at the end of life.

Such groups claim that advance care planning consultations include “euthanasia” and are “mandatory every five years.” These claims are blatantly false. Accusations that physicians would be required to “recommend a method for death” are as offensive as they are untrue.
I have been working on a bipartisan basis to ensure that patient wishes are known and respected. The provision included in H.R. 3200 simply allows Medicare to pay for a conversation between patients and their doctors if the patient wishes to speak about his or her preferences and values. This benefit would be purely voluntary, and patients do not need to have this consultation with their doctor if they do not wish to do so. The new Medicare benefit would allow doctors to be compensated for these conversations every five years, and more frequently if a patient has a life-limiting illness or health status changes.
Without these discussions, families often are not confronted with these difficult decisions until emergency situations arise, leaving spouses, sons, daughters and grandchildren unprepared because they do not know their loved ones’ preferences. As a result, families are left struggling to make decisions in the midst of turmoil. These are deeply personal decisions and they do not need to happen in crisis.
Doctors, nurses, and patient advocacy groups have supported our bipartisan effort to improve the quality of care for individuals facing their last chapter of life. I hope you will recognize the urgent need for improved communication around advance care planning, recognize the false claims against this provision, and support our efforts.

From here, this sounds sensible, and in fact has pretty broad support across party lines. But the torrent of fury unleashed by it has been a little astonishing. Blumenauer has posted a “myth vs facts” page which outlines a number of the myths. Among them: “Patients will be forced to have this consultation once every five years . . . Patients will be forced to sign an advance care directive (or living will). . . . Patients will have to see a health care professional chosen by the government.”

On that page, he didn’t even get to the stuff about government-ordered euthanasia, which is running around rampant. But he did mention it in a piece on the Huffington Post, and no, it didn’t come from the outer fringes, but from a Republican member of Congress, North Carolina Representative Virginia Foxx who said in that in contrast to Democratic proposals, the Republicans “would not put seniors in the position of being put to death by their government!”

The fear campaigns we saw in 1993 and 1994 was mild compared to the madness being unleashed now. How many people will recognize it for what it is? How many will buy into it?

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Jul 29 2009

A candidacy?

Published by under Oregon

Brian Clem

Brian Clem

Oregon State Representative Brian Clem, D-Salem, is sounding more and more serious about running for governor. Today he shipped out an email outlining his activities since the legislative session ended, and they sound a lot like the early stages of a run for higher office.

For example: “I appeared on the radio with conservative host Jeff Kropf on July 14 because I’ll never be afraid to talk seriously with anyone, of any political persuasion about creating the future Oregon deserves. On July 15 in Camp Sherman, my family and I witnessed Governor Kulongoski sign the bill I championed to protect the Metolius, an extraordinary Oregon treasure. I spoke at several events, including the world-famous Lane County Chili Feed on July 26 and the Marion County Demo Forum on July 20.”

All outside his Salem-area district. (Should be noted here that Clem is a capable speaker, has some presence, won election in what had been a mostly Republican district, and has been a relatively visible legislator.)

Clem’s candidacy, to judge from statements he’s made, is apparently contingent on other candidacies (notably the possible run of former Governor John Kitzhaber). Absent that, he’s making all the sounds of someone planning to run . . . in the event . . . Meantime, sooner or later, he’s laying the groundwork.

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Jul 28 2009

Johnson’s posts

Published by under Idaho

Johnson

Marc Johnson

Marc Johnson is the president of the Gallatin Group, a public affairs consulting company (what it does exactly seems a little too amorphous to describe in only a few words) and before that was chief of staff and press secretary for former Governor Cecil Andrus. Those who go back in Idaho politics in the decade before Andrus’ third campaign for governor in 1986, recall Johnson in a different context, that of a television newsman.

Begone the thought of your basic local commercial TV anchor; Johnson spent most of his years in Idaho television at public television. You might reasonably put him in the Idaho neighborhood of a Jim Lehrer/Bill Moyers community. He’s almost everyone’s first choice in Boise to emcee public affairs events, but not just because he handles them so smoothly; there’s an informed and thoughtful underpinning that gives the technique grounding. You saw it those years ago when he hosted news programs on public TV; he was (and presumably still could be) one of the best questioners in the state (noted here as a then-reporter who periodically fielded his questions).

All of which is noted now because Johnson has launched a new blog, the Johnson Post. (Picked up, it should be added, via a comment on Facebook by one of his co-workers.) His first entry concerns a slice of Idaho history, about Senator William Borah’s involvement with two key Supreme Court appointments and confirmations, timely now of course because of the current confirmation activity.

A suggested read. We’ll look forward to see what Johnson posts about next.

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Jul 27 2009

Sifting endorsements

Published by under Washington

During general election season, we keep some track here of endorsements by newspapers around the Northwest; taken generally, they’re an interesting thermostat both of the politicians and of the news media. It doesn’t constitute, of course, some sort of uber-endorsement (vote as they say), just an indicator of who’s lining up where.

To that extent, the recent rash of endorsements in Washington local government elections, by people who often have little to do with the local election, has some analytical value. As a serious marker of who to support, not so much.

Joel Connelly has collected a number of these, and some are laugh-inducing. Or should be. One argues the case for which King County executive candidate former Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson would have backed; remember that Jackson died close to three decades ago. There’s a prospective endorsement in a Spokane race by initiative activist Tim Eyman, which would be fine if he lived in Spokane but less so as a resident of Puget Sound community of Mukilteo.

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Jul 26 2009

If Inslee runs for gov

Published by under Washington

Jay Inslee

Jay Inslee

Horse’s Ass has an intriguing bit of political insider speculation, about the governor’s race in 2012 and possible fallout from one of the candidacies.

It starts this way: “Everybody knows that Democratic U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee (WA-01) has long had his eye on the governor’s mansion, and is widely expected to give up his House seat to run for our state’s top office in 2012.” Not sure what the sourcing on that is like, but the idea is interesting.

And the follow: “But who of note has his eye on Rep. Inslee’s coveted House seat, once it becomes vacant? Word is that noted travel writer and TV and radio personality Rick Steves is seriously considering giving up his globetrotting ways for an extended stay in the other Washington, and is already working the local Democratic circuit in preparation for a potential run.”

The evidence for Steves feels a little thin, but who knows?

As to Inslee, a Democrat, a couple of pieces of background seem in order, since he has specific political background in two geographic areas of interest.

In 1988 he ran for the state House and won, in a Yakima-area district – a hard get for a Democrat even then. In 1992 he was elected to the U.S. House from that central Washington district, also a tough go, and his loss in the 1994 Republican sweep was hardly an indicator of specific weakness. He moved to the Puget Sound after that and (after a primary-losing run for governor in 1996) ran for the U.S. House in his new turf, District 1, which includes a slice of King County but most takes in Kitsap and Snohomish – those latter mainly being swing suburban areas. He won by a hair in 1998, tossing out Republican incumbent Rick White. But since then he has become entrenched, and wins in landslides – Republicans haven’t even tried seriously the last few runs. (His six general election percentages in District 1, in order from 1998 to 2008: 50%, 55%, 56%, 62%, 68%, 68%).

Inslee would have ample appeal in King County generally; he would be for the most part their kind of liberal Democrat. He has worked key suburban areas with considerable success. And he would have some experience in, if not necessarily winning in rural areas, at least appealing to them enough to toss a little blue into the sea of red. he also has had the experience (albeit unsuccessful) of running for governor.

A strong prospect, if that materializes; you can imagine a second Inslee run for governor doing better than the first. A primary between he and Spokane Senator Lisa Brown would be fascinating.

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Jul 26 2009

Tight budgets, but production goes on

Published by under Washington

The Seattle Post-Globe – an online aftermath spinoff from the old Post-Intelligencer staff – has been running some interesting material, some of it on local politics and other governmental actions. But the link today is a little more direct, about the Post-Globe itself.

Fundraising standard practice probably wouldn’t suggest trumpeting, “We’ve raised enough to pay our all-freelance staff of writers for another two or three weeks.” (And yes, that’s apparently as far as it goes at the moment.)

But the piece also points out that there’ve been a number of useful efforts in the last couple of months. Among the headlines: “‘Nickelsville’ told to move again” (concerns a homeless encampment); “City Light superintendent’s bonus was much more than he’d received before”; “Seattle mayoral debate focuses on Nickels and Mallahan” and a number of others.

You might take a look.

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Jul 25 2009

A Nazi revisionism watch

Published by under Idaho,Oregon

protest

Protesting Irving in Portland/Indymedia

A little belated with this recommendation, but a highly recommended link regardless: A Boise Weekly story about the visit to downtown Boise (the relatively most liberal section of Boise, by the way) of David Irving, a historian who has come to align with the neo-Nazi movement.

Irving’s approach isn’t that of the Aryan Nations crowd. A description from David Neiwert at Orcinus: Irving “is an academically trained historian, one whose career arc traversed from ‘controversial’ to ‘extremist’ over the course of several years. . . . Even in his early, ‘controversial’ years, careful examination of Irving’s methodology revealed ‘that he omitted important evidence and that he misused, manipulated and even altered documents to support his theory’ (sound familiar?). Eventually, rather than accept the criticism and alter his approach accordingly, Irving defiantly drifted into the murky waters of Holocaust denial . . .”

There were no parades here; this was a quiet tour, evidently organized mainly through a web site. There has been little-noted stops – this was a book-signing and sales tour – around the Northwest, first in Boise on July 15, then in Spokane (July 16), Seattle (July 18), and Portland (July 19). The page notes, “Rights of admission strictly reserved. Use this registration button to get on the list.”

There have been a few online reports of Irving’s latter three stops. A protest developed at his Portland stop but it got little external attention. At Spokane, word gout out by way of Twitter and MySpace.

But the report to read came by way of Nathaniel Hoffman at Boise Weekly. In part, it’s a reflection on the difficulty of properly covering such an event, even deciding what proper coverage is. But there’s a fair amount of useful material here too about Irving and (more to our point) the reactions of people around him. Recommended.

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Jul 24 2009

Merkley on health options

Published by under Oregon

Following up on yesterday’s post on the lightly-mentioned state-run insurance funds – which do provide some health insurance for employees – it turns out that a mention of them was made yesterday by Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley. (And, his staff says, not for the first time.)

Appearing on Fox news, Merkley made a number of useful points. (The insurance fund reference, toward the end, was relatively brief but hit a mark.) The trillion-dollar cost of one current proposal gets batted around a lot, but seldom in the context – which Merkley provided – of overall projected health spending during that time of $40 trillion. And the highly useful point that many of the fiscal benefits of the proposal, especially in the area of preventive care, haven’t been “scored” by federal budget analysts because no firm numbers for them exist – although there’s little doubt those benefits would be substantial.

Not a long interview (and cut off by the Fox interviewers with a slice of unwarranted snark at the end) but a useful listen,

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Jul 23 2009

Well, we have state insurance funds . . .

Published by under Idaho,Oregon,Washington

The widely-expressed fear of a federal health insurance fund – a federal health insurer of last resort – doesn’t just seem but is simply weird. If nothing of the sort had been tried before, that, might be another matter; if we had to look solely to other countries for counterparts, that might give some understandable pause too. But there are already a number of more limited programs long in existence. The point that Medicare has done a similar job (it’s been underfunded, but still does remarkably well with great efficiency) has been made often enough. But there are other examples too.

Odd that the state insurance funds have been so little mentioned in all of this. A lot of people in the country, and everyone in the Northwest, has been living comfortably with those for years, even if relatively few people pay a lot of attention to them.

A bit of history. About a century ago, a movement developed to provide health protection for workers and compensation (formerly workmen’s, now worker’s) for injuries and other health issues growing out of the workplace; the gain to employers was some immunity from lawsuits. Wisconsin passed a worker comp law in 1911, and all other states had done the same by 1948; about 98% of workers around the country are estimated to be covered. Among other things, this meant that employers had to provide some sort of insurance for their workers.

Nationally, much of this insurance was and remains private – conventional private insurers writing policies. But a dozen states, responding to concerns (we’re talking about the 1910s and 1920s here) by businesses that they couldn’t easily afford the premiums, decided to set up their own worker comp insurance funds, not to take over the market as a monopoly, but to provide an alternative to private insurance coverage that had become unaffordable. (Does this situation suggest any parallels to today?) The states doing this included Oregon, Washington and Idaho.

In Oregon, this is the State Accident Insurance Fund (SAIF), set up as a state agency in 1914, and in 1980 re-designated as a state-chartered corporation; but its board of directors is appointed by the governor. It writes about half of the worker comp policies in the state, covering somewhat over a half-million people. There has been some controversy surrounding it, including some legislative complaints about public disclosure. But when another insurer led a ballot initiative effort in 2004 to abolish SAIF and move to an all-private insurance system, 61% of the voters backed SAIF.

Idaho created the State Insurance Fund in 1917, as it site says “for the purpose of providing a reliable source of workers compensation insurance for Idaho employers and to provide security for the payment of benefits to covered workers. The law provides for the State Insurance Fund to be self-supporting from premium and investment earnings. The State Insurance Fund is not tax-supported and the State of Idaho is not liable for any indebtedness incurred by the Fund.” There’ve been a few small dustups concerning the SIF over the years, but nothing massive. It too historically has insured around half of the worker comp cases in the state, with private insurers splitting up the other half.

Washington runs a worker comp insurance program through its Department of Labor and Industries, a direct state agency as opposed to the slight remove in Oregon and Idaho. In its description, “The agency manages claims and pays benefits out of an insurance pool called the Washington State Fund. The fund is financed by premiums paid by employers and employees.” That’s in line with the Oregon and Idaho programs.

In all three cases, private employers have the option of where to get their worker comp insurance, and not everyone goes for the state option. But the state option numbers do seem stable. One reason may find reflection in an incident in 2002 involving the Association of Washington Business, when the insurance fund there announced a 41% rate increase. Post-outcry, that increase was lowered to 29%, still large and of concern to the business community. But if you follow the link to the AWB’s press release, notice the tone: There’s a sense that these rates and conditions can be negotiable. They may have recognized that similar negotiations with a private insurer, where no political leverage is to be had, would be a more difficult proposition.

At the same time, these state programs haven’t driven private insurers out of the market. A bunch of companies do this, either as a major part of their business or as a smaller stream. Options are out there.

Other states, California being one of them, have similar programs. None are perfect. Most seem to work at least reasonably well.

Well enough, in fact, that the thought has occurred here: Why not extend these worker comp programs to provide health insurance generally?

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Jul 22 2009

The evolution of reputation

Published by under Washington

What sort of a mayor, what sort of political personality, is Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels? Some call him Daleyesque . . . and thereby hangs a tale.

The Seattle Weekly has a fascinating runthrough about how and why that reputation, which in some loose sense has taken hold and may help account for his weak popularity, gained force. And some reflections on jut how large or small the kernel of truth underlying it may be. (Shorter version: There’s some truth, but it’s more kernel than the whole plant.)

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Jul 21 2009

The tax issue ballot fight, and beyond

Published by under Oregon

The new group Oregonians Against Job-Killing Taxes, just launched with the purpose of overturning two tax measures passed in the last legislative session, actually has a point running a little beyond. It says says so explicitly and formally in its campaign filing with the state: In the Nature of Committee section, it says, “To support or oppose one or more cadidates that may support or oppose job-killing taxes. To oppose one or more job-killling tax measures.”

It is, by the way, pulling in strong money at a fast clip, $198,500 so far. Contributors include the Oregon Association of Realtors, Norm Poole Oil, Tyree Oil, Colvin Oil, Stein Oil, Byrnes Oil – lots of oil companies – the Portland Metropolitan Association of Building Owners and Managers, Morgan Distributing – the bucks are flowing in from the business community.

The two tax measures in question were more limited in scope than voters are likely to be led to believe. One provides only a small, incremental increase on income in the six-figure-per-year range and beyond; the other sets a generally modest increase on corporate taxes that in real dollars are far lower than they were a decade, or two, or three ago. Realistically, neither looks much like a job killer. But they were indisputably tax increases, and now two questions are on deck, the same two questions suggested in the OAJKT mission statement.

Will Oregonians, who have a generally consistent history of voting against tax increases no matter who, why or how much, vote to throw out this one?

And, will Oregonians punish the legislators who passed them?

The second question almost certainly grows out of the first. That means more will be at stake this year in the upcoming ballot issue fight. If the voters sustain the taxes, the second question likely will be moot; a lot of the fight may even go out of the tax critics. But if the anti-tax group is successful, the shape and future of Oregon government will be up for grabs.

The OAJKT, and its backers, clearly are taking this fight seriously. A great deal may weigh on how seriously the taxes’ supporters take it as well.

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Jul 20 2009

The non-contest

Published by under Washington

Joel Connelly’s review (in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer) of the progress of the Seattle mayor contest is . . . there isn’t much. The polling seems to be pretty consistent: The voters don’t really think much of two-term incumbent Greg Nickels, but then they don’t have a lot of use for any of his challengers, either. All their numbers are low, and no one has budged.

From the Survey USA polling summary (conducted last Thursday):

Today, Nickels takes 26% of the vote, up 2 points from an identical SurveyUSA poll released three weeks ago.
City Council member Jan Drago takes 15%, down 1 point.
Former Seattle Sonic James Donaldson takes 11% today, down from 14%.
Businessman Joe Mallahan takes 8%, up 1 point.
Community organizer Mike McGinn also takes 8%, unchanged from the previous poll.
Three other candidates combine to take 6% of the vote. 1 of 4 likely voters are undecided today, 13 days before ballots begin to be mailed in the all-mail primary.

So it looks like the predictable, Nickels v. Drago, predictable since a sole incumbent council member ordinarily will have an edge toward making the runoff (er, general).

All of which, in general, may give some comfort to Nickels, in that things are playing out conventionally, and none of his opposition really seems to have much traction. On the other hand, elections are mostly about incumbents more than they are challengers, and an incumbent falling far short of 50% in a multi-candidate gang run – if that turns out to be the case – could be in big trouble in November.

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Jul 19 2009

An angle on recent Idaho politics

Published by under Idaho

Hall

Blake Hall

Anyone who wants to add another piece to the mosaic of recent Idaho politics will want to check out the detailed piece in the Idaho Statesman today about Blake Hall. That’s a name already familiar to anyone conversant with Idaho politics of the last couple of decades or so. But there’s some new material here to add some dimension.

An advisory here: This is something of a historical piece, albeit recent history. As its headline says, Hall has been “dialing back” his heavy involvement in Idaho government and politics (though he has certainly not left the building entirely). Hall left his most significant state post, on the Board of Education, a couple of years ago, and for various reasons his impact now isn’t what it was. (In 2002, the last time we ranked Idaho’s most influential 100 people, Hall was listed at number 18, and the year before at number 24.)

But the article, by reporter Dan Popkey, does slice through a number of useful areas of significance and influence in Idaho. Read it, and you’re likely to come away with some added layers to your picture of how Idaho operates.

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    Upstream

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    The Snake River Basin Adjudication is one of the largest water adjudications the United States has ever seen, and it may be the most successful. Here's how it happened, from the pages of the SRBA Digest, for 16 years the independent source.

    Paradox Politics

    ORDER HERE or Amazon.com

    After 21 years, a 2nd edition. If you're interested in Idaho politics and never read the original, now's the time. If you've read the original, here's view from now.


    Governing Idaho:
    Politics, People and Power

    by James Weatherby
    and Randy Stapilus
    Caxton Press
    order here

    Outlaw Tales
    of Idaho

    by Randy Stapilus
    Globe-Pequot Press
    order here

    It Happened in Idaho
    by Randy Stapilus
    Globe-Pequot Press
    order here

    Camping Idaho
    by Randy Stapilus
    Globe-Pequot Press
    order here