Archive for December, 2009

Dec 31 2009

New year, new decade

Published by under Washington

pike

At Pike Street Market, Wednesday afternoon/Stapilus

A decade ago exactly, we watched the new year in at a ceremony of sorts outside the Idaho Statehouse, presided over by area elected officials (Governor Dirk Kempthorne and Mayor Brent Coles were there, if memory serves). It was a worthy enough midnight ceremony, in the snowy slush, at a time of peace and economic growth, but an undercurrent of uneasiness persisted. This was the night of Y2K, when people all over the world were wondering if their computer operations – and many of their operations overall – would survive to the next day.

They did, of course. And life went on.

Tonight, we close out a decade that in hindsight turned out to be worthy of real trepidation. Happily, there doesn’t seem to be tremendous concern about entering this new one – more a sense of relief at getting out of the last.

We spent most of the day wandering around Pike Street Market in Seattle, and there life went on as usual – the sellers promoting their products, the fish mongers enthusiastically throwing their fish from place to place. Life went on.

On the ferry in early evening west to Bainbridge Island, the ride had plenty of people, but wasn’t packed. The security was theoretically set on high, and maybe steps invisible to the passengers were taken, but no one seemed too stressed.

It feels like a different kind of new decade opening from that opening the year 2000. Maybe it portends a better decade. At least we can hope.

See you on the other side.

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Dec 30 2009

Repotting

Published by under Washington

mis

Marijuana is Safer book

A possible trend in the decade to come: Moves toward legalizing and regulating pot. That’s not a flat prediction. But if the legalization ballot measures on the California ballot next year pass – and there’s some reason to think they will – that could constitute a tipping point.

Not least because it would suggest to politicians, those who write and pass and enforce the laws, that an approach different from the currently dominant lock-em-up approach might actually be more popular than many of them now think.

There’s already some move in that direction. A Washington legislative proposal by Representative Mary Lou Dickerson, D-Seatte, in Washington would legalize marijuana and allow it to be sold in state liquor stores, to customers 21 and over, and subject to taxes.

Her immediate stated goals were fairly modest: She “wanted to start a strong conversation about the pros and cons of legalizing marijuana.” And for this session, that may be as much as it does. But if California passes the ballot issues? The session in 2011 could look a little different.

All brings to mind a recently-read book, Marijuana is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink?, by Steve Fox, Paul Armentano and Mason Tvert, with the Northwest connection of a foreword by former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper. The book’s point is not simply pro-pot; it argues that alcohol is substantially the more dangerous of the two, and that migrating some of the alcohol crowd over to pot would result in improved public safety. Their argument is compelling.

As are some of the anecdotal points. Stamper tells about the meetings he’s had with cops asking them how recently they got into a fight with someone drunk on alcohol – typically within hours or days at most – as opposed to stoned on pot, which is not at all. And this: The percentage of people in the Netherlands, where marijuana is legal, who have tried pot is about half of what it is in the United States. And much else.

From a politics point of view, a couple of chapters near the end of the book are especially noteworthy. The approach they take, comparing the problems associated with alcohol and pot and suggesting diminishment of them overall if pot were legalized, worked in Colorado and may be replicated in California. (The strategic model is worth study by anyone in politics.)

A recommended read, as we approach possible policy changes in this new decade.

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Dec 30 2009

What happened in Boise

Published by under Idaho

You really can’t blame Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter for touting positive local economic news wherever he can find it – to the point of expressing a thrill at the earnings level at Micron Technology. (Can recall governors often expressing pleasure at business expansions; can’t recall a governor ever doing so at the mention of a quarterly statement.) Governors are supposed to tout their states.

But the problems Idaho faces are real and serious. Consider this snippet from a New Republic/NPR report:

“it’s now clear that Boise shared the fatal flaw that led Las Vegas and Phoenix into disaster. To be blunt, all three of the westernmost big metros in the Mountain West got way too entangled in hyperactive real estate activity. Construction and real estate industry concentration figures tell the story. In Las Vegas and Phoenix, famously, the share of employment in the main construction industries and real estate reached 13.4 and 12.8 percent of all non-farm jobs in 2006 — astonishing numbers that gave those metros a reputation. But as it happens, Boise was right there with them, despite its other strengths, and by 2006 had located its own 12.8 percent share of employment in building housing and offices and selling property. By comparison, the average for large metros around the country on this remained just 8.0 percent, and it was 10 percent for the other Intermountain West metros.”

Drive around the growth areas of Ada and Canyon counties, look at all the empty new buildings, and the numbers come into concrete focus.

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Dec 29 2009

WA: A decade gone by

Published by under Washington

One in a series of posts about changes, or lack thereof, over the last decade around Northwest politics.

Washington looked a good deal different a decade ago – it looked like a closely-split state, a place whether either party could about as easily catch a break. It 2000, for example, it had a true cliffhanger of a U.S. Senate race. In the upcoming Senate race for 2010, Republicans have had a tough time getting a top-drawer candidate at all.

Here is where Washington was a decade ago in partisan office-holding:

Office Democrats Republicans
U.S. Senate Murray Gorton
U.S. House 5 4
Governor Locke 0
Statewide ofcs 7 1
St Senate 27 22
St House 49 49

.
And here is where Washington is today:

Office Democrats Republicans
U.S. Senate Murray, Cantwell 0
U.S. House 6 3
Governor Gregoire 0
Statewide ofcs 6 2
St Senate 31 18
St House 61 37

.
It shows up most strongly in the legislative numbers, where the parties went from something very close to parity a decade ago (exact parity in the House) to serious Democratic dominance.

The parallel to Oregon is overall fairly close. As in Oregon, not a lot changed in the central urban areas (Democratic) or the rural regions (Republican). The shift was in the suburbs, and it was profound. Eastern King County was still clearly Republican a decade ago; now by most measures it is clearly Democratic (the persistence of Republican Representative Dave Reichert notwithstanding). The patterns are similar, and the moves and development notably in parallel. (That applies to a considerable extent in the Spokane area, on a smaller scale, as well as Seattle.)

What will the next decade bring?

There’s no particular reason to think the political shifts are over, though some reason to think the Democrats, with their big legislative majorities, have come somewhere close to maxing out. A good part of what makes the difference could have to do with what face the Republican Party puts on itself in the next few years.

Something to watch: The congressional race in the 3rd district, for the seat held for more than a decade by Democrat Brian Baird. It has been held decisively by Baird, but the overall voting patterns are a close split. Either party could realistically win the seat; and what’s more neither party’s nomination is locked. What chances do Republicans have for a comeback? (After all, with the right approach, Attorney General Rob McKenna is a fair bet for governor in 2012.) Watch this 3rd district race; it could provide a number of clues for what will come next.

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Dec 29 2009

Air screening, again

Published by under Oregon

The attempt at taking down Northwest Flight 253 as it approached landing at Detroit – an attempt in progress before it was stopped – gives cause for some reflection on airline security. We’ve addressed this before, but some of the same wrong lessons emerge once again. So, once again.

Today’s editorial in the Oregonian, “Screen the passenger, confirm the administrator,” had some fair enough points (such as confirming the Transportation Security Administration nominee, held up presently in the Senate). And its criticism that intelligence (in this particular case at least) has failed to properly flow through the system is of course right.

The touching faith in screening technology is another matter: “The bomb ingredients that Abdulmutallab sought to detonate were hidden under his clothing, sewn into his underwear. If he had been sent through one of the advanced, see-to-the-skin screening machines, a screener would have seen them. As Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., has urged, those machines should be in place at any airport where passengers board planes bound for an American airport. Schiphole Airport in Amsterdam has some of the machines, but Abdulmutallab evidently wasn’t required to pass through any of them. Some resist the use of the machines on the grounds that they are invasive, in that they can make passengers appear to be unclothed. But, says DeFazio, a member of both the Homeland Security Committee and the Aviation subcommittee, this effect can be diluted with software that dulls the appearance of the human body, while retaining the ability to detect contraband.” Continue Reading »

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Dec 28 2009

Licensing in the red

Published by under Idaho

Of interest: A spreadsheet the Idaho site Fort Boise has put together showing that a number of the state occupational and business licensing agencies (which have been bunched together under the Bureau of Occupational Licenses) appear to be running a deficit.

This could be somewhat illusory, at least in some cases, because of when fees are requested and when paid (a point Fort Boise notes). Still . . . another area in tough financial times, and one you might not have thought of.

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Dec 28 2009

ID: A decade gone by

Published by under Idaho

One in a series of posts about changes, or lack thereof, over the last decade around Northwest politics.

You can say of Washington and Oregon that there were major changes in politics over the oughts. In Idaho, not so much – or at least, they’re harder to spot.

Let’s start with the score sheet from 10 years ago, as the dreaded new millennium hit:

Office Republicans Democrats
U.S. Senate Craig, Crapo 0
U.S. House Chenoweth, Simpson 0
Governor Kempthorne 0
Lt. Gov. Otter 0
Statewide ofcs 5 2
St Senate 31 4
St House 58 12
Co Commissioners 99 33

.
Now here’s where we are today, 10 years later:

Office Republicans Democrats
U.S. Senate Crapo, Risch 0
U.S. House Simpson Minnick
Governor Otter 0
Lt. Gov. Little 0
Statewide ofcs 7 0
St Senate 28 7
St House 52 18
Co Commissioners 104 27

.
Very close to a wash. Democrats picked up one of the congressional seats, no small thing, and gained a little ground in the legislature (three seats in the Senate and six in the House). But Republicans gained two statewide offices the Democrats had a decade ago, and added to their under-recognized courthouse strength. And those start-of and end-of decade numbers were not aberrations; they closely reflected the state of Idaho politics for each cycle through the decade. Continue Reading »

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Dec 27 2009

OR: A decade gone by

Published by under Oregon

One in a series of posts about political changes, or lack thereof, over the last decade around Northwest politics.

In some ways, Oregon Republicans probably would love to have a do-over on this last decade. But what exactly would they do over?

Here is where Oregon was a decade ago in partisan office-holding:

Office Democrats Republicans
U.S. Senate Wyden Smith
U.S. House 4 1
Governor Kitzhaber 0
Statewide ofcs 4 0
St Senate 13 17
St House 25 35
Co Commissioners 28 56

.

And, after a decade in which all of the statewide seats have turned over and U.S. House seats have been up every two years, here is where it is now:

Office Democrats Republicans
U.S. Senate Wyden, Merkley 0
U.S. House 4 1
Governor Kulongoski 0
Statewide ofcs 4 0
St Senate 18 12
St House 36 24
Co Commissioners 23 49

Only partisan offices are included among the statewides and county commissions here; and there was some shifting among counties in choosing to have partisan or nonpartisan offices, so those comparisons are a bit of apples and oranges. Continue Reading »

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Dec 27 2009

Dave’s Redistricting App

Published by under Northwest

A new decade brings with it that wonderful political tradition known as redistricting. And just in time for the new year, a fine online (and free!) toy for all the political wonks . . .

Dave’s Redistricting App is a 50-state map/database device (reliant on Silverlight), and maybe the best free device for political mapmakers around. The best thing about it is that it drills down to the precinct level, which is unusual for free interactive political maps.

This will be fun for Washingtonians and Oregonians who contemplate the possibility of a new congressional district. But it also allows for redistricting on the state legislative level, so Idahoans can join in the fun.

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Dec 25 2009

What was news

Published by under Washington

As we look back on the last decade (and year for that matter) on the diminishment of the news, we might see some opportunity ahead for redefinition of what news is. That thought arrives via the AP report out today about the top news stories of the year in Washington state.

These are, in other words, the biggest news, the most newsworthy, stories of the year across the state. (Every state, or nearly all at least, compile similar lists annually.)

Number one was the November shooting of four Lakewood police officers. This was a powerful, dramatic, wrenching story without doubt; it was properly big news. It was somewhat unusual in that the incident was an ambush of police who were not at the time even interacting with the public.

But did the world, or Washington state, or some big portion of it, change as a result? Did we learn anything very new? In this case, a psycho decided to kill police officers; most of us probably know that this is (sadly, certainly) a part of the world as it is.

Story 2 was voter approval of the “everything but marriage statute.” That was a major change in the state, and marked a significant change in the cultural outlook nationally. Story 3 was the state’s 9%+ unemployment – a huge new fact of life facing and affecting (directly or indirectly) all Washingtonians. Story 4 was the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s closure as a print operation – a major turning point in communications, news reporting, politics and economics in the state. Story 5 was the Boeing decision to go to South Carolina for its new 787 production line, a development with large-scale implications for the Puget Sound.

So what is news? What are the priorities? Maybe, in this time of turmoil, we may want to pause a bit to consider.

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Dec 24 2009

Christmas for the dogs of Harney County

Published by under Oregon

dogs

The dogs shipped/Linda Watkins

Crossposted from the Dog Rescue blog and written by Linda Watkins.

I’ve spent most of the last three days working on this project — ironic as I’d planned to do no more than help with a little networking and “let someone else take the dogs.” But such is the nature of rescue that instead I’ve been helping Harney County Save a Stray with networking contacts; spent most of one day drafting a press release and researching and gathering the names and contact addresses for the relevant newspapers and television stations; and even found some foster spaces for some of the dogs. What else could I do?

Melanie was single handedly trying to find placements for over 60 dogs – and the frustrating part was that most people thought everything was already taken care of so we were having a hard time finding the help. The problem stemmed from the great news coverage the Oregon Humane Society got when they pulled over 80 of the dogs when the case first broke. We’re all grateful that OHS took so many dogs, but unfortunately in the course of publicizing their work, the impression was left with the public that all of the dogs were taken care of. Instead there are scores of dogs still at the site and if we can’t get them moved soon, they will probably be shot. Continue Reading »

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Dec 24 2009

Sourcing

Published by under Idaho

Noting here a new Northwest public affairs site, Idaho Reporter, which we’ll keep on our regular-check list. It says that it will be following Idaho government and politics, and has posted a number of news stories already.

So who is doing this? Its about page says this: “We provide non-partisan, non-biased, un-opinionated news and information about government actions and proposals for use by the general public, elected officials and the news media. IdahoReporter.com does not endorse or voice support candidates or policies. IdahoReporter.com is a product of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, a non-profit, non-partisan education and policy research organization based in Boise, Idaho.”

The key phrase here is, Idaho Freedom Foundation: Its base is not dispassionately neutral. Its main public face and prime writer (and one of its board members), Wayne Hoffman, is a former spokesman for conservative Republican Representative Bill Sali. Its board also includes Dan Symms of Caldwell – and of the same Symms family that produced former Senator Steve Symms – so you should be getting an idea of where the financing and impetus is coming from. You may consider the “non-partisan, non-biased, un-opinionated” aspects to be in the eye of the beholder.

Not to be dismissive, though. The foundation also has been developing a substantial database site called OurIdaho.com which tracks the details of government spending, and is turning into an excellent information resource. And the columns by Hoffman (who has been working on the database) frequently have been doing in fact something conservatives should be doing a lot more of (instead of the generic and tiresome moan about how awful government is): He’s been mining into the details of government spending, writing seriously about the nuts and bolts, and going after the specifics of what doesn’t make sense. (A recent favorite: The column “Salaries of many state department heads outpace inflation.”)

This material is not politically neutral. It has an agenda. But it is facts-based, quite useful and worth the read. If Idaho Reporter matches those standards, we’ll be reading it regularly for some time to come.

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Dec 23 2009

Beyond sleaze

Published by under Washington

Most of us don’t begrudge banks making a profit – they’re in business, that’s what you do. But on day, if practices like this continue, there will be infuriated revolt against them:

The Washington State Department of Financial Institutions issued an emergency rule yesterday, providing stronger protection for consumers taking small loans. The rule went into effect immediately upon filing, Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2009.

“This rule is a result of our learning a consumer had been charged a $1,950 participation fee for a $600 loan,” DFI Director of Consumer Services Deb Bortner explained. “That’s the equivalent of more than 4,000 percent interest – it’s simply unconscionable to charge such outrageous fees.”

This emergency rule was made effective immediately in an effort to protect consumers and prevent lenders from circumventing the will of the legislature. DFI does, however, intend to begin a notice and negotiated rulemaking within 120 days from the filing of this emergency rulemaking. DFI may also seek a statutory remedy to this situation.

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Dec 23 2009

Qualifications for governor

Published by under Idaho,Oregon

When employers fill job positions, they ordinarily look for people who already have some relevant experience and education – who have in some respect qualifications for the job. That became a big subject of discussion in the race for president last year. It may become a big subject of discussion in the contests for governor in the two Northwest states where that office is up for election next year, since in both major party nominees may appear without the usual kind of resume items.

What are the normal credentials for a major candidate for governor? Often, service in a statewide office or in Congress. (That fits both incumbents, Idaho’s C.L. “Butch” Otter, who had been in Congress and had been lieutenant governor, and Oregon’s Ted Kulongoski, who had been attorney general and a Supreme Court justice.) Or a mayor of one of the largest cities in the state. Or, maybe, a prominent state legislator. Most major candidates – and most major party nominees – for governor have at least served in some elective office before, and that has a point: There are skills and dynamics unique to that kind of work that are central to the tougher work that a governor does. In California, Arnold Schwarzenegger came into the job with massive celebrity and popularity but was nearly swept out before he frantically shifted course dramatically.

In Idaho, the Democratic nominee appears (as matters now sit) to be avowed independent and first-time candidate Keith Allred.

For a first-time candidate, he has more advantages than most. Early reports on his announcement speeches suggest he has some genuine campaign skills. He appears to be well informed at least within certain areas (his advocacy non-profit, the Common Interest, has been able to choose its subject areas), but he seems to have the capacity to learn quickly and absorb conflicting arguments effectively, which would be a strong plus. He also has demonstrated, for half a decade and more, real interest and concern about Idaho public affairs, spending a good deal of time and energy and probably some money developing alternative approaches to issues. You’d have to be greatly surprised if it turned out (and some reporter ought to check it out) he had missed many votes in elections since his return to Idaho in 2003. (The point will doubtless be made that Allred lived the first 20 years of his adult life, after his graduation from Twin Falls High School in 1983, far from Idaho, mostly in Ivy League colleges and universities. How Idahoans will assess that may be up for grabs.)

He does, though, have a long-running interest in mediation and resolution of policy issues – that was the mainline of his academic-related work.

His semi-counterpart in Oregon, former NBA (Trail Blazers) basketball player Chris Dudley, a Republican who has already picked up support from a number of Republican elected officials, has a maybe a tougher case to make.

The prompt for this is a Jeff Mapes story in the Oregonian today noting that “Elections officials in Clackamas County, where he is registered to vote, said that Dudley has missed seven of the last 13 elections. County Clerk Sherry Hall said she did not have on hand complete records before 2004. But the 44-year-old Dudley admitted that he had a “terrible” record of voting during his 16-year career as a player in the National Basketball Association. He could not say whether he had ever voted during his playing years from 1987 until 2003.”

Sound like someone with a long, deep commitment to public affairs?

There is more in Willamette Week, saying that while in the NBA he lived (in contrast to most Blazers) as a “tax refugee” north of the Columbia in Washington state (which has no income tax), but moved south when he built a $2.9 million home at Lake Oswego, and only registered to vote in 2004. His work experience, up to the last three years, has been almost exclusively in the sphere of basketball playing. And the diabetes foundation he is known for helping found (and which is widely praised for doing good work for kids with the disease) has had some tax reporting issues too.

On the liberal Blue Oregon blog, Kari Chisholm asks, “Having displayed very little interest in politics and public service, what makes Chris Dudley suddenly think he should be Governor? And what evidence is there that Oregonians can trust him to think deeply about the serious public policy questions that face our state?” That question can be expected to recur.

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Dec 22 2009

The white horse and the cherry tree

Published by under Idaho

There’s often some degree of religious tribalism in politics – the identification of some voters with some candidates because of a shared religious view; to some extent, that’s just a normal part of elective politics. There are limits, even in places where the identification is very strong, to how far it can be pushed. In the 1994 gubernatorial race in Idaho, Democrat Larry EchoHawk (Mormon by faith) was thought to be damaged somewhat when links between his campaign and support out of Salt Lake City. The damage was not least among fellow Mormons who disliked having their church so overtly identified with a partisan political campaign.

But that was nothing to what an Idaho gubernatorial candidate this year has in mind. At least according to a news report in the Rexburg Standard Journal – there being no apparent reference to it on the candidate’s own web site. . .

The candidate is independent Rex Rammell, who has made highly overt mention of his LDS faith before, and next month plans to kick it into a new gear. According to the Standard-Journal: “In January, Rammell will kick off a series of special meetings targeted specifically at ‘faithful priesthood-holders of the LDS Church’ to discuss the so-called ‘White Horse’ prophecy.”

Meaning the meetings – though apparently campaign events held by a man seeking to be elected governor of all Idahoans – will be open only to men active in the church, because “it’s just the sacred nature of the things we will be talking about.” Starting January 19, meetings are planned for Idaho Falls first, then Rexburg, Blackfoot, Pocatello, Twin Falls and Boise.

This is something new, at least in recent times: A political campaign explicitly aimed at one religious group.

But this isn’t just marketing segmentation; it’s much more than that. The newspaper report indicates that a good share of the talk will relate to the “white horse prophecy,” and that should raise some wider concerns.

You may have heard reference to it before, in the context of a prediction that the constitution one day would “hang by a thread.” Here’s the generally neutral Beliefnet description:

The White Horse prophecy is the name for a largely oral tradition that says Joseph Smith predicted that a day will come when the Constitution will hang by a thread (or “be on the brink of ruin”) and the elders of Israel (or “the Latter-day Saints,” never an individual) will step forward to save it from destruction. Although no definitive version of the “white horse prophecy” has been traced to Smith, a number of sources recorded him as saying something to that effect. The denunciation of the prophecy as false and ridiculous by a few Mormon leaders is probably a reflection of the prophecy’s non-canonical status, and their wish to rule out melodramatic interpretations of what may have been a largely metaphorical prediction.

Put that in the context of Rammell’s gubernatorial campaign, its projected audience, the influence of Glenn Beck and the superheated rhetoric aimed at the Obama Administration. This ought to be watched closely.

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