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Posts published in September 2009

Was there ever much doubt?

Around here, we never had much doubt that Senator Ron Wyden was a yes vote for the public option on health insurance (for which he voted favorably twice in the Senate Finance Committee). In many places, his advocacy for his own bill (the Wyden-Bennett) seemed to be read as opposition to public option. But they were never in conflict and, as Wyden points out, actually mesh well.

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A strong video on the subject, with Wyden doing some battle on this (something some Oregonians may find interesting, given the senator's generally affable nature). Hat tip to Blue Oregon, which also highlighted this quote from Arianna Huffington: "So, I'm very grateful to Senator Wyden for taking the leadership on this, because otherwise there's no point having so-called "reform" that will actually reform nothing. And, in fact, then Republicans will say, 'You see, another government reform effort that didn't work.'"

NW . . .

The politically marginal east Clackmas/Multnomah Senate district held for years by Democrat Rick Metsger will be sought by Brent Barton, new House member from the area; he's helped with a $50,000 infusion from his attorney father . . . Proposed in King County: budget cuts killing 367 jobs and support for 39 pages, and other things . . . King County executive Seattle Times interviews to be live-streamed at 2 p.m. . . . Neighboring Oregon City and West Linn will be cut off for two years with the Arch bridge closure (for repairs) . . . Hopes of re-opening Tamarack this winter . . . First swine flue - ah, H1N1, death in Idaho . . .

The Nampa mayoral

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Melissa Sue Robinson

Not that the end result necessarily will be much different, but one of Idaho's most unusual candidates this year - Melissa Sue Robinson, running for mayor of Nampa against incumbent Tom Dale - is creating a larger stir than you might have expected.

What there was at first was just some interest by way of curiosity. Melissa Sue used to be Charles, and that change of genders at first seemed to be central to her candidacy, an emphasis on issues related to sexual identity. (Consider her campaign website's domain, equalityidaho.org.) Or that at least was our first reaction, and considering that the electoral jurisdiction we're talking about is conservative Nampa, there seemed not much more to say.

Since then, a few months back, matters have developed. The transgender part of the campaign hasn't gone away - how could it? - but it has become a news peg for a variety of news organizations to take a look at the race. (See this Indonesian web site.) It has even resulted in some odd attacks in cyberspace. Robinson probably is quite well known now in Nampa, abruptly one of the better-known people there.

Put that together with a change in emphasis. Robinson, who has run for office before (though not in Idaho), has begun taking on a variety of topics, all relevant to the way Nampa is run. She has talked about the structure and makeup of the city council and argued that city council meetings should be television on community cable, saying the citizens ought to be more engaged and brought more fully into the system, along with such traditional subjects as economic development. There's some visibility and energy here and, in the last month or two, some breadth of discussion.

Now maybe the biggest bit of controversy of all - "they have me pegged as a Democrat." (In years past, she has run both as a Republican and a Democrat.) But does this suggest maybe a bit of concern creeping into the proceedings?

Dale has been a fairly popular mayor of Nampa, has gotten mostly good reviews, and Robinson's critique hasn't been devastating, nothing to suggest a serious firing offense. Simply on that basis, there's not much more reason to think now than there was several months ago that he won't be easily re-elected. But the contest has at least gotten more interesting.

Chunnel

From early on, the Alaskan Way viaduct - or rather, whatever will replace it - has seemed to be at the core of the Seattle mayoral race. Now there doesn't seem much doubt.

Headlines last week seemed to raise the image of incumbent and outgoing Mayor Greg Nickels poised to push the tunnel project - backed by one mayoral runoff candidate, Joe Mallahan, and opposed by the other, Mike McGinn - as far as he could, maybe to a point of no return, before he leaves office. Nickels has held off on some other things in favor of his successor, but this . . . this would be a big one.

And McGinn is pouncing. He points out that the city's share of the tunnel cost is $930 million, and he's very pointedly asking Mallahan where the money will come from.

In this, there's some positioning. Both McGinn and Mallahan are Democrats with ties to various parts of the city's Democratic infrastructure. So check out McGinn's current front page on his web site: The lead item is about the "Battle for Seattle," a fundraiser, and goes on: "The Battle for Seattle (and King County). A joint benefit for Mike McGinn, Dow Constantine, and Pete Holmes. With music from The Presidents of the United States of America featuring Krist Novoselic." Constantine, recall, is running for (the nonpartisan office of) King County executive; he is a Democrat, and his opponent is widely perceived (or often described at any rate) as a relatively conservative Republican.

Getting the picture of how the framework is intended to be set up?

A more strategic fit?

No one in Eugene (well, at least, hardly anyone) wanted the Hynix computer semiconductor plant in that city to shut down - as it did last year - and thereby wipe out about 1,300 jobs. There's not any way to spin that as good news for the city.

But . . . the news this week that Uni-Chem of South Korea and Spire Corporation of Massachusetts (in a joint deal) might buy the plant to build solar cells and modules, and thereby restore about 1,000 jobs, might be something a little more than just a recovery story.

Welcome enough on that basis, of course. But the semiconductor business (while certainly valuable on its own merits) had relatively little synergy, brought not a tremendous number of spinoffs to Eugene. The combination of other and related solar and electric vehicle developments in Oregon are a different matter. If this new plant develops the way it sounds it might, this could be a critical link in making the Willamette Valley a keystone in that new and rapidly developing industry. We may wind some some time off looking back on this as a development larger even than the (again, important on its merits) restoration of 1,000 or so jobs.

NW . . .

It's a ballot issue - two of them - in Oregon, for early next year. Signatures submitted for 301, personal tax increase (129,500 unverified signatures submitted, 55,179 required), and 302, corporate tax increase (126,183 submitted, same number needed), almost certainly enough for ballot status. . . . Clackamas County Commissioner Lynn Peterson says (a recent Facebook page to the contrary) she won't run for governor . . . Owing to budget cuts, former state Senator Vicki Walker won't take the job as chair of parole board, instead an administrative job at lower salary, at least temporarily . . . Seattle Times endorsement schedule announced . . . Spokane report on a parking lot scam . . . Mount Vernon struggles to deal with Glenn Beck Day (which is Saturday) chatter; media access (expected to be limited) has become a hot topic.

The holdback

Officials in Oregon or Washington might actually breathe east at the amount, but the $150 million revenue shortfall - a result of the latest revenue estimates coming in lower than they were earlier in the year - is a tough nut for Idaho.

Today Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter did what he had to do in ordering cutbacks; he's required to keep the budget balanced. It was a measured response, though, varying cutbacks by agency, and finding rainy day and other funds to cushion blows where he could. This wasn't a meat ax, across-the-board deal. the cuts averaged 4% but varied considerably.

Overall reaction initially seems positive, or as positive as you can feel under the circumstances.

The video, by the way, comes via Idaho Public Television, which captured the packed press conference.

A disproportionate sentence

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Oregon Supreme Court

This is what they're talking about when they talk about a court throwing out a policy explicitly backed by the voters, and imposing its own. At least, it probably will be presented that way. Or maybe what the people had in mind to do violates the state constitution, and the Supreme Court had to be the (lone) adult in the room who said, "no."

Odds are the merged cases of Oregon v. Veronica Rodriguez and Oregon v. Darryl Anthony Buck will be hotly debated, and that would be understandable. They may also stand as an unusual profile in courage. The justices here have to know that this one could come back to haunt them, if enough people pay attention to political slogans as opposed to the details of the case. (What are the odds?)

Here's the core of the case:

These two criminal cases, which we consolidated for argument and disposition, require us to interpret and apply the requirement in Article I, section 16, of the Oregon Constitution that "all penalties shall be proportioned to the offense."

Veronica Rodriguez touched a 13-year-old boy when, standing behind him in a room with 30 to 50 other people, she brought the back of his head into contact with her clothed breasts for about one minute. Darryl Buck touched a 13-year-old girl when the girl, who was sitting next to him while she was fishing, leaned back to cast her fishing line, bringing her clothed buttocks into contact with the back of his hand and Buck failed to move his hand; that happened one or two more times. When they stood up, Buck brushed dirt off the back of the girl's shorts with two swipes of his hand. Each of those touchings was unlawful because a jury in Rodriguez's case and a judge in Buck's case found that they had been for a sexual purpose - a fact that brought the physical contact within the definition of first-degree sexual abuse. Rodriguez and Buck were both convicted of that crime.

First-degree sexual abuse carries a mandatory sentence of six years and three months (75 months) in prison, under Ballot Measure 11 (1994). In each of these cases, however, the trial judge determined that the mandatory sentence was not "proportioned to the offense" committed by the defendant and therefore was unconstitutional under Article I, section 16. The trial courts imposed shorter sentences - 16 months in the case of Rodriguez and 17 months in the case of Buck. The state appealed the trial courts' sentencing rulings, and Rodriguez and Buck cross-appealed their convictions. The Court of Appeals affirmed the convictions, but agreed with the state that the trial courts should have imposed mandatory 75-month sentences.

The slippery terrain the Supreme Court had to walk: What, exactly was a proportional sentence? The justices could have taken a walk on answering the question. Instead, they chose to grapple with it.

The reasoning is a little complex, which may mean it will be attacked simplistically since it could prove hard to defend. But the most compelling slice of the argument may lie in this paragraph:

"An as-applied proportionality analysis that considers the facts of an individual defendant's specific criminal conduct is particularly significant when the criminal statute at issue covers a broad range of activity, criminalizing a variety of forms and intensity of conduct. In such a case, a harsh penalty might not, on its face, be disproportionate, because of the fact that the statute dealt, inter alia, with some extreme form of that conduct. However, when a defendant is convicted for engaging in only more minor conduct encompassed within the statute, the defendant may plausibly argue that the mandatory sentence, as applied to the particular facts of his or her case, is unconstitutionally disproportionate. To refuse even to consider defendants' as-applied challenge would not only be inconsistent with Huddleston, but would undermine the basic proportionality concept that more serious crimes should receive more severe sentences than less serious crimes and vice versa."

In other words, blindly sentencing according to Measure 11 undermines the whole idea that more serious crimes ought to be punished more severely than less-serious crimes - something most voters very likely would agree with. It may be a stronger argument than one cited in the conclusion that "this court's cases establish that a criminal penalty is unconstitutionally disproportionate to the offense, in violation of Article I, section 16, when imposition of the penalty would "shock the moral sense" of reasonable people."

If you view this decision as seriously undermining Measure 11, you're probably right. This is a shot at its heart.

NW . . .

Boeing continues to scramble for that air tanker business, but the Pentagon says it is opening up another round . . . A fine first-person blog post from Chuck Sheketoff, getting very specific on how people are being misled about the actual impact of this year's pair of Oregon tax increases . . . Oregon Representative Chip Shields named senator in a Democratic Portland district . . . Democratic Senator Rick Metsger won't run again, in what has been a close-margin district, which will lead to GOP targeting in that area . . . King County animal control going away, transitioning, or something . . . A Chicago Tribune editorial touts Boise State President Bob Kustra as a prospect for University of Illinois presidency . . . Twin Falls Times-News opines, "The governor needs $159 million to make the budgetary pot right. He'd already have most of it except for all those tax incentives the state gave away recently, to the likes of Micron Technology and Albertsons. How'd that work out for Idaho, anyway?" . . . Boise continues battle over air traffic control, may lose some of those functions to Salt Lake . . .

On end of life

Check out the fine New York Times blog post by writer Timothy Egan, telling the story of Annabel and Albert Kitzhaber - parents of former and possibly future governor John - and how they chose to die: Peacefully at home, with family, rather than "the tubes and the needles, the meds and smells and the squawk of television" at a hospital.

Egan pauses in wonderment at how, "for reasons both cynical and clinical, the American political debate on health care treats end-of-life care like a contagion — an unspeakable one at that."

The article is a thoughtful read, but check out too the comments below (and a lot of them have accumulated). The very first tells a story somewhat like the Kitzhabers. The third suggests, "This is a touching story, but I fear that Kitzhaber’s battle is an uphill one. For some reason, we Americans seem utterly incapable of conducting rational, mature, and nuanced discussions about issues such as the right to die. The adults always seem to get crowded out by the red-faced moral absolutists and the carnival crowd."