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Posts published in November 2009

A religious charter


This one looks just about ready to blow up.

The Nampa Classical Academy is an Idaho charter school, running grades 1-9, which emphasizes, to a great extent, a traditional "classical" education - they note, "very strong in phonics, classical literature, grammar, composition, mathematics, "modern" sciences, history, geography, and rhetorical analysis and writing."

It's an interesting approach, but one element of the style of rigorous education as it often was practiced, say, a century ago, runs into problems now: Teaching about religion. And NCA leaders have said explicitly that they intend to use the Bible and other religious books in their classrooms. Which might not necessarily be a problem, depending on how they're handled; but then again, might.

The Classical Academy has in the last few months become a big subject of controversy in Idaho, in part because the academy's stance seems not to have involved much compromise. The Idaho Charter Commission, which seems in most past cases to work alongside charters, has been asking for more information about the use of religious texts.

The Nampa Idaho Press-Tribune backgrounds, "The Alliance Defense Fund brought a lawsuit against the Charter Commission and state officials Sept. 1 in federal court on behalf of the charter school arguing for the school's right to use religious texts as part of its curriculum. The Wednesday letter from ADF says the Charter Commission's recent reprimands of the school are in direct "retaliation" for the lawsuit."

That Wednesday letter from the Alliance Defense Fund - which takes legal action on religious rights issues, and evidently is representing the school - said that the renewed inquiries are retaliation, and it will sue the commission if it continues to pursue its inquiries.

The state's response is that it has responsibilities to pursue whether or not someone files a lawsuit.

Not that the academy has been of one mind about all this. Since mid-October, seven board members have resigned, saying the school's direction (under Chair Mike Moffett) saying among other things "We believe there have been issues at the board level and with some of the leadership at NCA that conflict with the core values and will affect the success of NCA."

The commission's next step may be revocation of the charter school license, which could close the school since it would mean an end to public funding.

A bunch of hot-button culture war elements are beginning to line up into place. This could go national before long.

Substantially completed

ida cap

Idaho Statehouse reconstruction/YouTube

There was some concern, expressed publicly during the last legislative session, that the reconstruction work at the Idaho Statehouse might not be done in time for the next session. But evidently it is, or just about.

A press release from the state Capitol Commission says that "Capitol restoration construction managers presented the Idaho State Capitol Commission with their certificate of Substantial Completion today after commissioners completed a walk-through inspection. The 30-month, $120 million project is on schedule to accommodate the 2010 legislative session in the restored and expanded building."

Doors open on January 9; the last of the construction work, and then move-in, will likely continue until just about then (and maybe a little past).

It's been a longish haul, but not much different than in recent statehouse work in Olympia and Salem; it does take a while. And the offices have managed reasonably well in their locations nearby, though the people in them will no doubt be delighted to move out of the cramped annex and Borah building.

There's been one disquieting note in recent days, about proposals by commission members to more sharply limit displays in the Statehouse (notably the long-running and widely-enjoyed Buy Idaho display, which traditionally have spread to three or four floors). A suggestion: Commissioners may find that pleasure in the end result of this project will relate to how open the building is. The Idaho Statehouse has a tradition of bring a building broadly open to the public, and that is one thing about it that ought to change as little as possible.

Wyden’s addition

It's being billed as a three-senator deal - Senators Max Baucus, Harry Reid and Oregon's Ron Wyden - but the history demonstrates that this is Wyden's baby: A change in the Senate version of the health care bill that would dramatically change the health insurance picture for not just a sliver of people, but for most. And in a way that allows for more options.

Essentially, this is an agreement to insert into the health bill the Wyden proposal called "Free Choice." His office describes it this way:

"Under the Senate legislation as it is currently written, Americans with employer-provided coverage, whose income is below 400 percent of the federal poverty level and whose premiums are between 8 and 9.8 percent of their total income will be exempt from having to purchase health coverage but will not be able to access the exchange to qualify for government assistance to purchase insurance. The agreed to amendment will make it possible for these individuals to convert their tax-free employer health subsidies into vouchers that they can use to choose a health insurance plan in the new health insurance exchanges. The Congressional Budget Office estimates a previous version of this provision will expand coverage to more than a million Americans."

Wyden's comment: "While this is just one step in the direction of guaranteeing choices for all Americans, it is a major step because – for the first time – it introduces the concept of individual choice to a marketplace where it has long been foreign." And "foreign" is a good word choice.

That alone makes Wyden one of the major authors of the bill coming up for Senate voting.

A Northwest Nobel option?


Linus Torvalds

Former Vice President Al Gore's visit to Portland today and tomorrow has prompted some Nobel Peace Prize thoughts, and in Oregon the idea of nominating a Northwesterner. The prospect shot around the Portland-area Linux circles (drawing some debate as well as approval as it did), starting with this email from Keith Lofstrom:

Since the Nobel Peace Prize is often given to politicians, some disagree with the choices. But it is often given to non-politicians who create international efforts to change the world for the better.

Look at the massive international efforts represented by SC09, and realize that much of it started from the work of a 21[-year-old] Finnish college student named after 1962 Nobel Peace Prize winner Linus Pauling. It would be fitting to honor that international effort by giving a Peace Prize to Linus Torvalds, perhaps in 2011 on the 20th anniversary of the August 1991 Linux announcement, or in 2012 on the 50th anniversary of Pauling's award.

Linux is one of the largest cooperative international efforts ever undertaken. It inspired Ubuntu, One Laptop Per Child, and many other global projects. Linux conquered the supercomputer space, the server space, the embedded computer space - by peaceful means! Linux helped sequence the human genome, helps protect the world computer infrastructure from viral attack, and is now the pathway for millions to learn computer programming and participate in new international efforts.

The 2007 Nobel Peace Prize recipient (a politician some disagree with, please disagree in a different thread, thanks) is giving the keynote to SC09 as I write this. Meaning that we are all three handshakes away from the people that decide on future Peace Prizes. Perhaps it is time to launch some messages through our connections and see what makes it to the committee meetings in Oslo.

According to the list on Wikipedia, the five people to convince are Thorbjørn Jagland (chair), Kaci Kullmann Five (deputy chair), Sissel Rønbeck, Inger-Marie Ytterhorn, and Ågot Valle. We can start by sending them Norsk language Ubuntu disks.

While I imagine Linus Torvalds would be embarrassed by the attention, it would sure make his parents happy. And it would mean one less Peace Prize for a politician.

That list of Linux-related or -inspired developments is only partial. Here in the Northwest, for example, we could add the Free Geek operations in Portland, which do a lot of good for not only the low-income people and non-profit groups they are specifically aimed to help, but also almost everyone who comes into contact with them. The effects though have been world-wide, and are accelerating. And could grow faster with a little more attention.

Probably not a lot of Northwest people outside the Linux community know about Torvalds, or that he lives in the Portland area, or that this is one of the true open-source centers around the globe.

This would be a dramatic way to find out.

A clinic in Pasco

The Pasco City Council has approved a new medical clinic in town - not one, it should be noted up front, that offers abortions. It has been the subject of demonstrations and protests, though, because it will be run by Planned Parenthood.

There's an overview in this post at McCranium, which also has a link to a Tri-City Herald story.

There'll be more on this.



A book we're going to track down and check out: From a black scholar writing about race relations in a different way, "Searching for Whitopia: An Improbable Journey to the Heart of White America."

Usually, we'd wait to read it before writing about it here, but this is an unusual case - its existence says something notable. Rich Benjamin, a senior fellow at Demos, a New York think tank, took note that in many metro areas around the country are becoming more racially and ethnically diverse, but that some fast-growers have been moving the other way, from (say) off-white to more white. The statistical cutoff was places more white than the country overall, growing at least 6% since 2000 and the bulk (at least 90%) or newcomers being white. White places, in other words, getting white - or maybe, destination spots for white flight?

The Coeur d'Alene Press has a piece on this because Coeur d'Alene was one of the handful of places around the country Benjamin focused on. (The next nearest was St. George, Utah. Both are excellent choices for what he was working on.)

The Press reports, "Benjamin spent four months in 2007 living in a rented split-level cabin on Hayden Lake. He hosted dinner parties, fished, bowled and played golf. . . . While in North Idaho, he attended his first demolition derby at the Kootenai County Fairgrounds, and at the Bonner County Fair and Rodeo, he ate bratwurst, admired 4-H entries and perused farm equipment. Benjamin had a coffee date with Coeur d'Alene Mayor Sandi Bloem at Java on Sherman, and spent time with a plethora of other influential Panhandle folk, from Alice Rankin, the wife of former Kootenai County Commissioner Ron Rankin, who passed away in 2004, to attorney Norm Gissel. He hung out with a group of retired Los Angeles police officers, and attended a three-day white separatist conference at a church in Sandpoint."

This is going to be a must-read.

An Olympic freezeout

An excellent Seattle Times report details where the Vancouver Olympics tickets, which are supposed to number about 1.6 million, actually are slated to go. About a third go in-house, to the "Olympic family," and of the rest just 35,000 originally were slated to be available to the general United States public (though that might be boosted to 90,000 because of an internal transfer).

Beyond that, the Times noted in its story outline: "Vancouver's Olympic organizers promised an affordable, fan-friendly Games. But tickets available to the public are often out of reach, bundled into packages costing far beyond face value."

None of which should be surprising, but it isn't often spelled out so clearly.

Kitzhaber/McCall: Running parallels


Tom McCall

In our nation's history, just one president, Grover Cleveland, got elected to the job in two separate runs, with someone else (Benjamin Harrison) serving in between. It's an uncommon thing for governors, too, a point somewhat relevant now since a former Oregon governor, Democrat John Kitzhaber, is running in next year's elections for the office he left about seven years ago, after serving two terms.

Oregon has never had such a case. Washington has elected the same person as governor in two separate runs just once: Arthur Langlie (also, oddly, the only mayor of Seattle to go on to be governor). Langlie, a Republican, was first elected governor in 1940 in a close and hotly-disputed election (in that year, it was Democratic legislative leaders who threatened not to allow the new Republican governor to be seated). He lost his run for re-election in 1944 (running hard against the Roosevelt Administration in wartime). But the Democrat who beat him, Mon Wallgren, turned out not to be much of an administrator, and Langlie went on to win in more favorable political climates in 1948 and 1952, becoming Washington's first three-term governor.

In Idaho, Cecil Andrus was elected governor in 1970 and 1974, resigned mid-term to become secretary of the Interior, then ran again and won the governorship in 1986 and 1990. Idahoans probably most clearly remember Andrus' 1974 and 1990 wins, which were landslides; but his 1970 and 1986 victories were narrow, and not until late election night in 1986 was it clear Andrus had actually won. A campaigning natural who had swept to re-election the last time on the ballot and was widely expected to win easily in 1986, Andrus almost didn't.

Oregon never has had a three-term governor, nor a governor elected to two non-consecutive terms. It does have one historical case worth examining in the Kitzhaber context, though: That one of one of the state's best-known and even legendary governors, Tom McCall. Kitzhaber and McCall have this in common: Both were elected governor in strong wins to two consecutive terms, and then later - four years later in McCall's case, eight in Kitzhaber's - sought to regain the job.

McCall, legendary (even then) and popular as he was, and despite initial expectations that he would succeed easily, failed - failed in fact to win his own party's primary election. (There's been some speculation that if he'd managed that, he might still have won the general.)

What lessons might be drawn from McCall's 1978 campaign? Might any of them apply to Kitzhaber?

The short answer seems to be: Significant differences, and some possible similarities that might or might not emerge as the campaign progresses.

McCall was a larger than life figure - the subject of strong impressions, not all positive. He may be best known now as the key instigator of much of the state's strong land use and environmental planning, and that was an important part of his story then too, but the whole picture was more complex. He gets described now as a "liberal Republican," but that over-simplifies: He was more business-oriented than many people remember, and it doesn't square easily with his support of the conflict in Vietnam.

A fine detailed biography of McCall, Fire at Eden's Gate (by Brent Walth, now at the Oregonian), puts these uneasy pieces into focus. And it includes a solid description of why McCall, so popular in the 1966 and 1970 races for governor, lost the nomination in 1978. (Not all but much of what follows comes from Walth's report.) If you're thinking: The party was moving to the right, you're mostly wrong - that shift in general was yet to come.

The governor then was Democrat Bob Straub (who McCall had earlier defeated for the job), and he had the misfortune of presiding during an economic downtown; Oregon's economy had done better during McCall's years as governor. Two Republicans got into the race early, state Senator Vic Atiyeh and state Representative Roger Martin, both caucus leaders and both to McCall's philosophical right. When McCall announced in February, just three months remained to the primary, and both polls and "conventional wisdom had McCall as the winner . . ." (more…)

Precinct mapping – Boise and Spokane

For the true polisci junkies, a couple of posts with precinct maps - of how the elections went in Boise and Spokane.

In Spokane, Jim Camden's Spin Control blog contains a series of maps from the last Spokane elections - tracing voter turnout, population, fire bond results and so on. Nothing especially unexpected here, but the watchful will find some of the precinct results of interest.

In Boise, Nathaniel Hoffman of Boise Weekly pulled together a series of maps showing who won the council races by precinct. They are, again, not surprising - the incumbents and incumbent-aligned T.J. Thomson won Boise to the north and east of the Boise River and most of the bench, while the opposition (generally, Republican) won toward the west and south. It was a clear indicator, again, of the state of politics in the city.

The really wonkish will want to read Hoffman's description of how he developed the maps. It was a complicated process, complicated enough that for those of us interested in this kind of information raises the obvious question: Isn't there an easier way?