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Posts published in September 2009

Fish in the Klamath

The Northwest generally has had a decent water year, for the most part not enough water for flooding, but enough to at least come close to normal averages for purposes from agriculture to domestic to fish habitat. California has been less fortunate.

California is in a bad drought, and those conditions extend just about all the way north to Oregon. Conditions have actually resulted in street protests, and the biggest piece of failed legislation in this year's legislative session (which ended on Saturday) was a massive collection of water efforts. (A special session might be called to revisit it.)

Close to Oregon, there's some prospective Northwest impact. Fish are suffering in the northern river basins, including in the Klamath River, which straddles California and Oregon. The San Francisco Chronicle devoted a lead article to the subject today. As hot a topic as have been water flows in the Klamath, expect this subject to rise again in the next few months.

There’s cutting, and there’s cutting more

For the states, what's coming will be a season of budget cutting. In Idaho, budget holdbacks are likely - there may be no choice.

In doing that, there's a temptation to do it simply and "fairly" by cutting across the board. An understandable reaction, but one that often creates as many problems as it solves.

To see why, consider this post from Dennis Mansfield of Boise, who developed a string of post-prison facilities called New Hope.

Offenders, who are drug addicts and are housed in prison, cost taxpayers a substantial amount per day (from $55-$75 per day per person - depending upon the source). Per day! Calc that out per month..and then per year....possibly up to almost $80 million or more per year...funds that could otherwise be spent to keep Idahoans safe from hardened criminals.

If the ex-addict/Offender is elgible for release, he or she may be released to a housing program like New Hope for a little over $11 per day, per person. If the now-ex-Offender/ex-addict can pay for it himself, he/she becomes a self-pay member of New Hope. If the ex-addict/ex-Offender cannot pay, an intermediate quasi-governmental organization called BPA determines if that individual is elgible to recieve a voucher - and therefore receive tax-payer funding of $11 a day (NOT $55-75 per day).

That's an 86% savings for taxpayers...and that seems like the kind of Budget line-item cut that the Otter Administration wants to embrace.

But will the cut be line-item or more closely calibrated? We may see soon enough.

Ward or Roberts?

Ken Roberts

Ken Roberts

Vaughn Ward

Vaughn Ward

As the weeks go by, two Republicans between them seem to be moving into place to lock down their party's nomination for the Idaho 1st U.S. House seat held by Democrat Walt Minnick. Former congressional staffer Vaughn Ward and state Representative Ken Roberts have been pulling in substantial endorsements and money and have been developing campaign staffs and organizations - and doing much of this earlier in the cycle than often happens.

Unless some major name enters the field soon, these two seem very likely to be the serious options come primary election. Which of the two should be considered the front-runner, though, makes for a hard call.

First choice seemed to be Roberts, who in general appears to be more the establishment candidate - he certainly has very strong support from the Republican legislative community, and presumably much of its web of support around the district and beyond. And Roberts is an experienced candidate; and running for office is a different thing than simply observing or even helping. But Ward has been doing well too, raising money, probably making more headlines than Roberts (owing in part to participation from the extended Sarah Palin family) and pulling in some strong staff. Viewed externally, the campaigns seem at present to be fairly closely matched. And any major philosophical or policy differences between them, which might emerge, aren't obvious yet. Both will call themselves strong conservatives, within the usual Idaho meaning of the term.

The immediate prompt for all this review is a post in the Idaho Conservative Blogger, headlined, "Why Do ICB Readers Support Ward Over Roberts?" The blog offered a poll asking readers who they would back in the 2010 election in the 1st, and it came back Ward 90%, Roberts 8% and Minnick 2%.

Polls like this are, of course, self-selecting, and maybe the Ward people got themselves more organized to respond. (If true, that in itself might be an instructive point.) But the blogger also points out that page hits tripled on a recent day when Ward's answers to various questions were featured, as opposed to when Roberts responded.

What might be making a difference? ICB's speculation:

Roberts sounds like a typical politician with the same old one liners we all have heard before. I warned Roberts about this problem back on August 12th, I quote "For this conservative, you will have to give me a reason to boot Minnick other than just having an (R) next to your name. Don't be afraid to shake it up. Give me some substance not the usual talking points that I have heard a billion times. Otherwise don't wast my time. I will keep an eye on Roberts and Vaughn Ward, the other challenger, and hope for the best, a reason to give them my support". It seems Ward got the message but Roberts didn't and ICB readers noticed. Although, ICB agreed with most all of Roberts answers to our Q&A exchange on August 20th, it all sounded like a stump speech. It was too safe. ICB threw Roberts a bone to go on the offensive and show why he should take over Minnicks seat and all he came back with was that Minnick voted to confirm Nancy Pelosi. That's not taking chances. Come on! Local newspaper columnists, local radio commentators, and TV reporters read this blog. When ICB dedicates an entire post to you take advantage of it. Say something of substance, go out on a limb, take a chance. If you give the standard cookie cutter answer it's a yawn. I know Roberts has been in politics a long time, the problem is he sounds like it. That will not work this coming election cycle. Again, ICB agrees with 99% of what Roberts says. The problem is how he says it. In what will no doubt be a very emotional and passionate election it just will not work. If Roberts does not figure this out he will have a very hard time.

The implicit message in this seems to be: Come on fiery, and throw those bombs. Which may be right among the Republican primary electorate. And maybe especially if the primary is closed to declared party members. If ICB is right, this could be an upcoming election where that point of law and procedure makes a difference.

Of course, we're a long way off from next May. But this is suggestive of the shape of politics to come.

A study in motivation

Jeff Mapes of the Oregonian calls the story "truly disturbing," and it is. One of the disturbing aspects of it is a question of both private and public import that ought to be raised by now.

Today's specific case is that of Tony Marino, in 2008 a Republican candidate for the state House in the suburban Portland district based around Tigard. A comment on one Republican blog: "I got to meet Tony at Dorchester this year, and was very impressed. We need more candidates like Tony Marino." He was swamped in the fall (64%-36%) by Democratic incumbent Larry Galizio, who recently resigned the seat to take a state job. Marino described himself as a "Business Consultant; Author; Radio/TV Broadcaster; Web Designer; Online TV & Radio Producer."

But by the time of the general election, he had more to report: "bankruptcy, divorces plural, a federal tax lien and a degree from an on-line university that's not accredited in Oregon." Also emerging later: He ran an on-line religious seminary that offered ordination as a minister for $95.

During the middle of the legislative campaign, in August 2008, Marino and his adult daughter stayed at the Emerald Queen Casino and Hotel in Fife, Washington. This February the daughter told local police that during that stay, "her father had nonconsensual sexual intercourse with her while she said she was intoxicated." Marino has pleaded guilty to second-degree incest, and is in the Pierce County Jail; sentencing is in a couple of weeks. The original charge was rape.

You could say all sorts of things about this appalling case. Here's one question: What is the seeming magnetic attraction in so many recent cases around the country (and the Northwest has had its share in recent years) between major sex scandal activity, often (not always) involving illegality of some sort, and the intersection of politics, religion and "family values" activism? These cases keep arising with stunning regularity (you've surely heard just earlier this week about the hot-microphone bragging by the now-former family-values California state representative). The occasional instance, the unusual case of someone who breaks bad, should be dismissed of having larger meaning; but this is a powerfully and repeatedly recurring pattern. What is going on in the minds of these people?

A serious psychological study, if none has been done yet, is badly needed.

A home of one’s own

John Bradbury

John Bradbury

Yesterday Multnomah County Sheriff Bob Skipper said that he will resign from that job effective in a couple of months because he failed to pass a test which he had to take - under state law - like that administered to newly-minted cops, on law enforcement. Skipper, who had to take it because he had been away from law enforcement for a number of years before agreeing to take over the troubled department a couple of years ago, led it successfully for many years and capably in his recent stretch. The test, which has to do mainly with beat cop work, has little to do with the Multnomah Sheriff's Office, which mostly runs the county's jail.

The Oregonian this morning commented that "in other words, Bob Skipper is being pushed out of a job for which he was duly and overwhelmingly elected because he doesn't have a basic certificate that is more or less irrelevant to his actual job." It is happening not because of any political battle, but simply because that's the way the law is. Which suggests more problem with the law than with Skipper

The case, and that latter point, come to mind in reading the Idaho Supreme Court decision out today in John Bradbury v. Idaho Judicial Council, an unusual case of a lawsuit between a district judge and the state's judicial oversight board.

John Bradbury, a Lewiston who became a 2nd district judge in 2003, was elected to the judicial seat for Idaho County, though his actual judicial work would range elsewhere too, as to Lewiston, Moscow, Orofino and Nezperce. He bought a house in Grangeville, the Idaho County seat, and changed his voter registration from Lewiston to Grangeville.

In May 2006 the Judicial Council started an investigation into whether he really lived in Idaho County. (Of note: Bradbury has run crosswise with a number of people and institutions around Idaho law, having once sued the Judicial Council in 1998 and run, nearly winning, for the Idaho Supreme Court in 2008. Bradbury maintains that key people in the system were prejudiced against him, but we'll bypass that argument here.) While acknowledging he had a home in Grangeville, had a homeowner's exemption on it and voted there, it also said that "he spent practically none of his nights in Grangeville, or, that in the prior six (6) months he had spent fewer than ten (10) evenings in Grangeville.” Bradbury acknowledge in one interview that he spent few evenings in Grangeville, licensed his cars in Lewiston and got his personal mail there. The Judicial Council proposed to suspend Bradbury until he "resides" in Grangeville. Bradbury appealed.

So what it mean to "reside" in a specific place? (more…)

Blue urban, red outlying, of course

king co

King Exec map/Seattle Times

This is a slice of a map developed by the Seattle Times showing where the candidates for King County executive, in the recent primary election, came in first. First-place Susan Hutchison, widely viewed as the relatively conservative Republican candidate (bearing in mind that this is a nonpartisan office and there were no party tags on the ballot) took first in the areas in red. Second-place Dow Constantine (a Democrat) came in first in blue. The smatterings of green show wins by Fred Jarrett, another Democrat (and formerly a Republican).

The larger map (follow the link to see the whole thing) shows the picture more thoroughly, but this slice will give you a sense of what's there: Heavy Constantine wins in nearly all of the city of Seattle and Vashon Island, while Hutchison takes the bulk of the rest.

Of course in looking ahead to the general election, Constantine is likely to pick up many of the votes split among four Democrats, which allowed Hutchison wins in many of those red areas. But this gives you an idea of how the geographical battle shapes up.

Speculation, state and federal

Could not help but add a concluding thought to a letter to the editor in today's Twin Falls Times News, from a retiree (from the College of Southern Idaho) who has been enrolled in the state government's Blue Cross supplement for Medicare.

"Imagine my surprise when I received a letter from Blue Cross stating that as of Jan. 1, 2010, all state retirees over the age of 65 were going to be kicked off the policy. Guess we are just too old and feeble? . . . If our state Legislature can pull this kind of a stunt, imagine what our national people will do if we turn health coverage over to Congress."

Just imagine. Bearing in mind that it was Congress that authorized Medicare, something it did 44 years ago and has sustained since, it being - you might recall - one of those hated federal programs. So why is it that this letter writer would find the state legislature any more trustworthy on this than Congress? []

A bigger transformation

The McMenamins brothers have done some spectacular rehabs over the years, saving a whole bunch of buildings in Oregon and Washington (stretching some distance from their base in Portland) that probably would have gone the way of the wrecking ball otherwise. The indications from this next one may suggest an expanded level of ambition even beyond that.

That would be the Tacoma Elks Temple, a large and empty structure across from the city's old city hall building. Mike McMenamim was quoted as saying, "That's one of the most fun buildings I've ever come across."

Could be a great bonus for a slice of Tacoma that could use one.

Closed primaries, maybe

Those of us interested in political analysis will be poring over what the parties in Idaho Republican Party v. Ysursa provide in the coming weeks and months: Nothing less than evidence of who, exactly, votes in Idaho Republican Party primaries. Dry to some people, true, but lip-smacking to some of us.

All this comes out of a decision - a partial decision out today - in that case, where the Idaho Republican Party is seeking to get federal court, in this case, through Judge Lynn Winmill, to change Idaho election law.

For a couple of generations, the procedure for Idaho voters in primary elections has been that anyone can vote for any party's nominees. You can vote in the intra-party races in the Republican or Democratic parties or neither, but only for one. That's a little different from the "blanket" primaries - where you can bounce back forth between parties, voting for a Republican for the Senate and a Democrat for governor on the same ballot - which have been thrown out by courts. But not all that different. The closed system, backed by activists like Rod Beck and supported by current Idaho Republican Chair Norm Semanko, presumably would mandate a system something like Oregon's: You register to vote as a member of a party or as non-affiliated, and then you can vote for that party's nominees. And only that party.

The point is that people who are not members of a party can, under the current Idaho system, cross over to vote in another party's primary. Since so many Idaho elections are essentially settled in the Republican primary, the presumption has been that a good number of independents and Democrats do cross over to influence the outcome. That violates the right and ability of people to decide with whom they want to associate, an important point in many places but especially in a political context.

That can get overstated. For all the talk of crossover voting, you can't find a lot of examples in recent elections where it seems likely to have changed the outcome. The elected officials of the Idaho Republican Party are, with remarkable and even monotonous near-unanimity, conservative. And it's hard to buy Semanko's contention that (as Winmill described it) "'every single Republican who has been on the primary ballot since 1988' has modified his or her political message, ideology and position on public policy issues in order to persuade nonparty members to vote for him/her in the primary election." Really? Even such conservatives as Bill Sali? Modified from what?

Still, the larger point is a serious one, compelling at the least. And the tone of Winmill's decision today suggests he is more persuaded by it than not. He did not reach a final decision because the hard evidence that primary election results are or have been affected by crossover voting simply hasn't been provided. He invited both sides to present such evidence. Similar kinds of numbers have been developed for "blanket primary" legal cases, and likely comparable work could be done here too. At a guess (with such information as yet sight unseen) we'd suppose Winmill will grant the Republican request, if he gets evidence to reasonably support it. And there's a good chance that can be gotten.

And that evidence should be fascinating. Not to mention what happens if Winmill does ultimately side with the Republicans, and close the primaries.

Ever consolidating

St Alphonsus

St. Alphonsus RMC

One of the problems that the "let the market solve it" crowd - in the health care debate - has is that there's little real competition among many providers. And there's less and less all the time.

Most communities, of course, have only one major medical center. (And don't mistake this for an argument that we should be building more.) Increasingly, whole regions have but one, or maybe two, corporate organizations running them. Some are for-profit, some not-for-profit (though that term as often applied truly is a term of art), but the number of separate masters is shrinking. From a Wednesday press release from Trinity Health of Novi, Michigan:

Catholic Health Initiatives and Trinity Health announced today they have signed a letter of intent to combine their four Eastern Oregon-Western Idaho hospitals into a single local system. The agreement calls for transferring the three CHI facilities to Trinity Health, thus creating a new regional healthcare system to be operated by Trinity Health.

Three of the hospitals – Mercy Medical Center, Nampa, Idaho; Holy Rosary Medical Center, Ontario, Ore.; and Saint Elizabeth Health Services, Baker City, Ore. – are part of Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI) of Denver, Colo. The fourth hospital is Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center (SARMC) of Boise, a part of Trinity Health of Novi, Mich.

Trinity describes itself as "the nation’s fourth-largest Catholic health care system with 45 acute-care hospitals, 379 outpatient facilities, 29 long-term care facilities, and numerous home health offices and hospice programs based in seven states. Trinity Health employs 45,000 full-time staff, had $7 billion in annual operating revenue . . ."

Catholic Health Initiatives "operates in 20 states and includes 78 hospitals; 40 long-term care, assisted- and residential-living facilities; and two community health-services organizations. . . . With annual revenues of $8.2 billion, we rank as the nation's second-largest Catholic health care system." It has operations in Washington, Oregon and Idaho: In Washington, at Tacoma, Lakewood, Gig Harbor, Federal Way and Enumclaw; in Oregon at Ontario, Roseburg, Pendleton, and Baker City; and in Idaho at Nampa.

This is, of course, actually just a shift of properties from one mega-organization to another. But it does tend to further consolidate ownership control within regions. The celebratory tone in the release suggests, of course, that the people of the Northwest are meant to celebrate this.