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Posts published in October 2009

Lobbying for a prison

There's something sad about this. Time was when communities scrambled to avoid being a "prison town" - as in, put that thing somewhere else.

Now, they can be considered moneymakers.

And money is invested. From the Twin Falls Times News, in a report on Cassia County's commissioners' pursuit of a new $300 million federal prison: "The contract approved Monday calls for a monthly fee of $5,000, and commissioners also set aside a monthly travel budget of up to $500 for the effort."

The fee goes to New West Strategies, the lobbying group founded by former Senator Larry Craig and his former staffer Michael O. Ware. (In case you were wondering what the former senator is up to.)

The real Olympians

Keep watching these trademark cases; you'll see a disquieting pattern that reaches ever closer to home.

The Washington capital city of Olympia has had, as its leading newspaper since 1860, the Olympian - a logical choice for a name, since that also is what residents of the town are called. (And other things as well.) The paper has had several owners over the years, and when the most recent, McClatchy Newspapers, bought it in 2006, it decided formally to trademark the name, filing paperwork with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

This would seem to be uncontroversial. "Olympian" refers to a local business whose name is drawn from the community, and it has very long standing. The perversity of our trademark laws (regular readers will know we've been here before) will out, though: The U.S. Olympic Committee is challenging the trademark. The newspaper's name, in place longer than the modern-times Olympic games have been (those date to 1896), "tends to cause confusion or mistake, to deceive, and to falsely suggest a connection.” Or so say the lawyers.

Why not just demand in court while they're at it that the whole city of Olympia change its name as well?

Actually, this has been predicted, for a long time now. Former Washington Senator Slade Gorton crafted into federal law an exception for words relating to "Olympic" when applied to businesses and communities in the western Washington area. The Olympian quoted him as telling the Senate in 1998, “It is only fair that the USOC not be able to interfere with this use. Although there are relatively few instances in which the USOC, crying ‘mine, mine, mine’ has gone after any of the thousands of businesses in Washington state that use the word ‘Olympic,’ the attitude that the USOC has displayed in these few instances demand correction.”

That special exception may give the Olympian newspaper a break. But the law as a larger thing still deserves a much closer look.

Note McClatchy purchase date corrected.

Chuck Oxley

I just concluded a week-long, 1,600-mile road trip around southern Idaho. One of the people scheduled for a coffee visit, in downtown Blackfoot, was Chuck Oxley, a long-time Idaho newsman, for a couple of years communications director for the Idaho Democrats, and most recently managing editor of the Morning News. The coffee didn't happen; Oxley wasn't at the newspaper office because he was home with the flu. We made tentative plans to meet later.

Won't happen now. The first bit of news I saw after returning home was about Oxley - he died on Saturday in a one-truck accident, west of Blackfoot. The news hit home as sad and chilling at once.

He was a journalist at a couple of places I also worked (the Idaho Statesman, the Idaho State Journal) and I knew him from those experiences as a solid and committed journalist. Like many people in newspapers in this decade, he left the industry to work elsewhere (in this case, for the Idaho Democrats). But then he pushed to re-enter his old trade, something hard to do in most times and extraordinarily difficult now. Among various options, he was looking into the idea of setting up a suburban newspaper in western Ada County.

Idaho lost one of the good ones in that accident.

Washington tax increase?

People don't like tax increases. Pretty nobody does, not even those on the left accused of being in love with them - they have to pay taxes too.

So this quote from Washington Governor Chris Gregoire in a Seattle Times story about potential tax increases - something the governor has opposed in this cycle up to now, but now accepts on the table - jumped out:

"I've told them, 'Come on in and convince me that's the right thing to do and that people will support it.' At some point the people, I assume, don't want us to take any more cuts."

Indeed: At some point presumably, tax increases, however unpalatable, may become acceptable. And where is that point?

On one side, Oregon may find out in January when voters decide whether to keep the small-scale tax increases (paid by only a relative few Oregonians, to be sure) imposed in the last session. And that will be a fight.

On another side, Idahoans may find out just what happens when cuts go deep enough. A number of agencies are scheduled to see holdback cuts of 7.5%, and a few much more than that; after several years of tightening, there's real questioning among a number of legislators - yes, conservative Republican legislators (heard from some of them yesterday on this) whether some of those agency functions can even be properly continued.

Where's the break line? We may be about to find out. And Washington looks to be in this upcoming session, right on the edge. At present, the state Senate majority looks to be in favor of putting increases on the table, the House seems reluctant, and Gregoire is open to discussion. Keep watch on this.

NW . . .

Washington is considering closing one or more prisons, and cutting back on other corrections activities. Depending on how some of this play out, it could turn into a notable social experiment, though corrections officials warn about public safety problems . . . Idaho's Otter okays a delay in moving gas tax revenues from parks and police to roads, a major shift itself from a few months ago . . . A right to newspaper distribution? A conservative Oregon state paper's publisher thinks so . . . Everett says, no lewd conduct at the coffee shop . . . Year-round schools: Maybe something a whole lot of us can agree on? We'll agree with Lars Larson and Barack Obama on this . . .

NW . . .

In economic sweepstakes, the Tacoma News Tribune's Peter Callaghan writes, "Gregoire made the state’s case with Boeing, but said no to shameless begging." What? . . . Oregon State Representative Scott Bruun, R-West Linn, says he will run against new Democratic U.S. Representative Kurt Schrader in the 5th. Bruun, on the relatively moderate side of the state House caucus, often gets high marks (sometimes from Democrats), has been a skilled legislator and may make the race high-toned. He may be the best candidate for the general election Republicans could have. But will more conservative possibilities leave him unprimaried? And what of his House seat? . . . Interior's Klamath Dam plan released . . . Quote of the day, laying the marker in the Seattle mayoral race. From candidate Mike McGinn: "The issue here, though, is big business, the Chamber (of Commerce) and the big construction unions really want that tunnel. And Joe Mallahan is their man. I've come into this race, I haven't needed their support to win the primary. If we build a campaign based on people and ideas and win I think that's a different type of politics in Seattle and that concerns them. They've set the agenda for a long time and they want to keep setting the agenda and I'm suggesting we need to take some different approaches to build for the future." . . . As Nampa mulls Sunday liquor sales, still banned there . . .

Things that change slowly


Buddy's at Pocatello

It's been a while since I've been to Pocatello, just a little over 30 years since I moved to it the first time, to report politics at the Idaho State Journal. Given the pall over so many places in the Northwest, and Pocatello's history of never collapsing but often struggling for economic air, expectations for the Gate City on this visit weren't high.

The city appeared surprisingly prosperous, though. Its commercial districts seemed to be doing well - few empty fronts, plenty of traffic. (They look better right now, as a whole, than Boise's do.) Maybe one reason is a sort of economic caution. Pocatello isn't a go-go business town so much as it is a stick-to-business town. That may be paying off.

And some things don't change at all. 30 years ago, Buddy's restaurant, near downtown, was sort of locally legendary, most notably (not to disparage the rest of the menu) for their salads, which for this palate remain for reasons hard to describe the best in the Northwest. Glad to see they're still here. And bearing in mind the surroundings, maybe they will be for a while.