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Posts published in July 2009

Blue House blues: Down to seven

blue house

Blue House, Olympia

According to various counts, the number of statehouse reporters at Olympia, which numbered close to three dozen only a few years ago, now is down to seven.

That's down from nine, with the department of Adam Wilson from the Olympian (to work as a speechwriter for Governor Chris Gregoire) and Rich Roesler of the Spokane Spokesman-Review. They've been helpful and enjoyable Blue House visits on runs to Olympia; we'll miss them there, and in their papers.

Those reporting spots may be filled (we're told they probably will). But the situation is bleak. Reporter Andrew Garber of the Seattle Times, one of the few left, writes, "The survivors can now fit comfortably in my one-room office overlooking the Capitol. . . . This is a story not so much about the loss of reporters as a loss of information. Rich and Adam have been covering state government for years. They know the players, understand the budget and, most importantly, can separate spin from reality."

Fewer and fewer such.

Ullman’s new run?

Ullman

Sharon Ullman

Idaho's governor race for 2010 is beginning to fill, after its fashion. We don't know for sure if the incumbent Republican, C.L. "Butch" Otter, will run (though the weight of opinion is that he will), and there aren't any Democratic contenders emerging (some being talked about quietly, but no serious movement yet). But. There's independent Jana Kemp, who has previously served as a Republican legislator (albeit a relatively moderate one). And among the Republicans Rex Rammell, who ran for the Senate last cycle as an independent, and (apparently) Pro-Life Richardson, who has run for office before too. Not a crew of political giant-killers, but an interesting gumbo.

And now, some added spice: Sharon Ullman, the Ada County commissioner, who told the Idaho Statesman today that she plans to run.

Almost anything you can say about Ullman, beyond the fact that she is an Ada County commissioner (and held the office for two years once before, earlier in the decade), can be interpreted or contradicted through a kaleidoscope. She has run for office as a Republican, a Democrat, and as an independent. She has often been in the middle of local government firestorms, though, seemingly, less so in her current run on the commission. (A description of her first term: "Some called it a personality conflict with her co-commissioners, others accused her of being divisive. Ullman always insisted she was simply standing up for what she believed.") She has been accused of taking her job un-seriously, though she seems to keep herself well informed about the county and county issues, and she seems passionate about it - there's a wonkish component there. Alongside something that feels like populism. It's an unusual mix, and where it might take a gubernatorial candidacy is hard to say.

Why would she? To judge from the Statesman report: "Bottom line, public health and safety. Isn't that what government is all about."

Her blog - she has been blogging throughout this year on the commission - may offer a few more clues. The main one, from June 28, and apparently the only one referring directly to Otter: "More often than not I agree with Governor Otter but this past legislative session had to disagree with his road and bridge funding policies. Personally, I really like the Governor, but politically I am wondering what he is thinking these days and whom he represents with regard to this issue."

The coming union clash

In Washington, Democratic leaders in the legislature this session turned down one of their key backer segments - labor - on a number of key items. (One that was notable, limiting employer requirements that workers attend meetings on non-work related matters such as religion or politics, was adopted in Oregon but not Washington. In Idaho - uh, what was the question?) Now labor is looking at payback, which you presume may mean primary challenges, or withholding of funding or campaign troops. (Although, would they withhold in the case of serious Republican challenges? Or would that be what it would be thought to take to make the point?)

How far this goes is up for guess right now. But a piece on the Seattle P-I site is worth a review for a gauge of how deeply the feelings are running. The comments section is very long, and highly passionate.

The old North Shore

northshore

The North Shore Motor Hotel, Coeur d'Alene, 1970s/post card

The first place I worked in Idaho (in the fall of 1973) is barely visible toward the top center of this post card: The Cloud 9 restaurant, of which you can sort of make the name in lights. The North Shore Motor Hotel, to which it was attached, was a smaller facility than the current Resort (which was built in the mid-80s), but was for its era a nice place to stay and a solid commercial anchor on the west end of Coeur d'Alene.

If you too have some back history in North Idaho, you'll want to check out the picture site Remember the Roxy, which is loaded with great images from decades past.

Hat tip to Dave Oliveria at Huckleberries, for drawing attention to the site.

On moving to Oregon . . .

This is "experimenting with new web media" weekend (especially since it turned out so much cooler and cloudier than expected). Yesterday, a new wiki on wikia.com about the Snake River Basin Adjudication. Today, a new lens on Squidoo about what to expect when moving to Oregon.

No explanation here about lenses and Squidoos (that's available via their main site). Here, just a note that the "lens" is just starting construction, and will be be substantially added to. Suggestions are welcome.

An SRBA wiki

Ridenbaugh Press has launched a wiki reference on the Snake River Basin Adjudication.

The site contains some overview information about the adjudication, and will be filled in with more over time. Readers are invited to add to the site.

A quick user note: You need to set up an account (basically, name and password) to get to the content. It's pretty quick and painless (and, of course, free).

Yes, in my backyard

Former Idaho Senator James McClure, in talking about tax policy, often repeated a line - "Don't tax you, don't tax me, tax that man behind the tree" - to convey that most people tend to point toward someone else (preferably distant and invisible) when comes time to impose tax burdens. There's a corollary to that: Substitute "cut" for "tax," and even many anti-taxers will fit in.

Consider Parma.

Parma, Idaho, is in the western part of Canyon County, one of the most philosophically conservative parts of a conservative county. Taxes do not have a lot of fans here; neither does "big government." You can see it in the yard and other signage, and in the votes for public officials and ballot issues.

Earlier this year, Idaho Power Company - a private investor-owned utility - was seeking to run a stretch of a planned 300-mile power line close by Parma, close enough to concern a number of local residents. Soon enough, government got involved - starting with the mayor, Margaret Watson, and soon a whole array others from the county commission to state leaders to federal agencies, were roped into the fray. Eventually, in April, Idaho Power backed away from the Parma-area run. All of which government regulation of business, to all appearances, was highly popular in Parma.

The next piece of big Parma news this year grew out of the state's revenue shortfall and budget cuts: Announcement that a University of Idaho research laboratory, employing 16 people, would be closed. The center has been around a long time, since 1925, and has long been integrated with agriculture in the area - with "production, storage, and related problems of vegetables, forages, cereals, hop, mint, fruit and seed crops," which is very much what local farming is about.

This too led to a lot of concern in Parma, and an outcry. Its elected officials (and beyond - Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter is only one of many key Idaho leaders with Canyon background) put on the heat. This week, with the explanation that incoming University of Idaho President Duane Nellis hadn't been involved with the earlier decision, the decision was pulled back for further review. (That doesn't mean it necessarily will be reversed.)

Western Canyon County is one of the strongest anti-government spending parts of Idaho, and its legislators very much track along those lines. Generally, they certainly were not pushing for larger budgets for the universities, and could usually be counted on to call for reductions in government.

When will the pieces - far more related than many of these people seem willing to accept - come together?

The Wal-Mart shift

walmart

Wal-Mart

The Wal-Mart store which has served the Lewiston-Clarkston area is undergoing a move, from Lewiston on the Idaho side of the Snake River to Clarkston on the Washington, and shifting from a standard store to a larger supercenter. The new Clarkston facility opens sometime later this month; the Lewiston store will close after an overlap of a month or so.

The departure from Lewiston will result, naturally, in a loss of tax revenue in Nez Perce County, which has county officials concerned.

None of which is an unusual development, except maybe for the shuttle across state lines. But a slice of commentary in the Right Mind blog seems to cry out for response:

"I can’t figure this out. The progressive-liberals say that when Wal-Mart comes to town, jobs disappear. But now they are saying that when Wal-Mart leaves town, jobs disappear. Sounds like global warming to me: everything bad is caused by it."

Okay, let's break this down.

Some businesses add to the size of a local economy - the big paper mill at Lewiston, for example. Others operate within the size and structure of a location's overall economy: Few retail or local service businesses make the economy larger. In a place like Lewiston-Clarkston, there are a limited number of retail dollars available to spend. Add new retail to the mix and you're not expanding the number of dollars available for retail spending, you're just slicing the pie thinner. That is why when a giant like Wal-Mart comes to town, a number of smaller businesses are likely to shut down, because the revenues and the margins become too thin for them to continue to operate.

If Wal-Mart leaves a town (not something that has happened in a lot of places), that effect theoretically should over time reverse itself: Smaller businesses should arise to fill the gap. But that's not relevant to Lewiston-Clarkston, which is one economic community; the new store will serve the same population as the old one did. And because it is adding new grocery and other facilities, the effect may turn out to be the shutdown of some local grocery-related business. Lewiston-Clarkston will not, after all, have any more dollars available for spending on groceries after the supercenter opens than it does now.

The tax dollars paid by Wal-Mart will still be paid, only on the Washington side of the line - no massive change there, except for which county gets the money. But perhaps Right Mind has an answer to why this corporation, which according to so much conservative theory ought to be driven so heavily in its decisions by tax rates, should move from lower-tax Idaho to higher-tax Washington. Unless, perhaps, taxes are not after all the only consideration driving business location decisions . . .

Inside at a nervous time

Imagine coming to work knowing that this is Black Thursday, the day layoffs hit at your workplace, only no one knows, yet, who or how many. What would that be like?

For anyone not personally familiar with the dynamic, a page at Oregon Media Central will give you the whole eerie feel, from inside the newsroom of the Salem Statesman-Journal. (The news seemed to be, six employee losses plant-wide, but some of the information was uncertain, and there may have been more.

Updates continued all day, reporting on the scene, up to a little over an hour ago. The first one, at 9:30 a.m., started this way:

It doesn't seem to have started here yet but is nearly sure to be this morning. The pub's office is dark right now. Everyone keeps scanning the newsroom to see who is leaving; some gallows humor. Definitely more fake chuckling than usual. Also, more all-black ensembles.

I think a lot of people are following Gannett blog or the #blackthursday tag on Twitter via cell. I know I am.

Rex Rammell’s America

We just finished watching (on DVD) the John Adams miniseries. It won a lot of awards; it gets here a recommendation to watch. As a drama, it was flawed in structure, rambling (determined to rope in all the key elements of Adams' adult life) and a little unfocused, but the history is mostly accurate, and the people and setting are a lot like what it must have been like: Difficult, messy, contentious and very human.

It turns out to be locally pertinent viewing. This morning an e-version of a new book out by Idaho Republican (this time around, and at the moment) gubernatorial candidate Rex Rammell, A Nation Divided: The War for America's Soul (available via his web site), and quite a bit of it reaches back to that time. Sort of.

Here's one summation, near the start of the book:

In the beginning there were socialists and capitalists. The socialists said “let us force our neighbors to be charitable that all mankind may be equal.” The capitalists said “let us give our neighbors freedom that they may choose to be charitable for charity freely given is true charity.” But the socialists disagreed that man could ever rise to be charitable; he must be forced. The capitalists disagreed. And henceforth the war for freedom began.
And men made themselves kings and rulers. And despotism and tyranny abounded. And man lost his freedom. And the capitalists fought back as blood covered the earth. And the great Father who sits on his throne in the heavens watched and wept as man fought for his freedom. But man was not worthy of freedom. And more blood covered the earth. Then a righteous people arose and the Father said it is time for man to be free. And the people fought against the King and the Father sent his angels. And the people won their freedom. And the people knew they must bind the ambitions of men. So they assembled their wisest and counseled together and asked the Father to help them create a Constitution. But men’s thirst for power continued. And the Constitution was argued and its meaning distorted. And men began again to lose their freedom…

To say that passage is representative of the whole book (upwards of a quarter of it is given to texts of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and an essay by Ezra Taft Benson; a lot of it goes to quotes) would be unfair, but it does indicate where Rammell is going. Here's the way Rammell closes his take on America's past, present and future:

"…And the capitalists fought back for their freedom and vowed to save the Constitution. And God was on their side. And the armies of socialism led by Satan began to fear. And good men and women rallied to the cause. And the Constitution’s original meaning was accepted. And America reset her course. And she returned to her glory. And freedom and happiness were once again found in America!"

Hard to say how even to describe something like that. But by way of putting it into context, a viewing of John Adams would be useful.

Comments are welcome.