"I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors." - Thomas Jefferson (appears in the Jefferson Memorial)

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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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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Idaho Oregon

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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One of the great dividing lines between the regions west and east of the Cascades is attitudes toward church and religion. Oregon and Washington have (largely on account of their west-of-Cascades population bases) for years been rated among the “least-churched” states in the country, and Idaho toward the other end.

A just-out Pew study suggests that both are moderating in those regards, albeit gently.

Among people who say that religion is very important in their lives, Idaho (at 58%) ranks 19th-highest among the states – not especially far above the median – while Washington (46%) ranks 36th and Oregon (48%) 40th. (Number 1 is Mississippi, at 82%, and the least is New Hampshire/Vermont at 36%. California is almost identical to Washington.)

There are some interesting variations. Utah ranks only 12th on the most-important scale (which seems low), but second in worship attendance. Idaho is 19th on imporance but 15th of regular worship attendance.

H/t to Jeff Mapes at the Oregonian for the alert on this.

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No one is running away with the campaign contributions in Oregon’s race for governor. Beyond that, how you assess it depends on how you count the dollars. By number of contributions? In a fund also listed as in support of ballot issues? Or?

Here’s how it stacks up as of the most recent reports at Orestar:

bullet John Kitzhaber (D) – raised $389,670, spent $93,571

bullet Chris Dudley (R) – raised $391,467, spent $75,609 (note that Dudley’s committee, unlike the others, also has been specifically marked as opposing Referenda 66 and 67)

bullet Allen Alley (R) – raised $248,505, spent $199,808

bullet Bill Bradbury (D) – raised $178,803, spent $157,284

bullet Jerry Wilson (Progressive) – raised $4,500, spent $1,750

John Lim (Republican), who has said he is running, is not listed. Steve Shields (Democrat), who has opted out, is.

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Jackson County – the Medford area – says it is planning to quit the Association of Oregon Counties, which for many, many years has had as members all 36 in the state. (If recollection serves, its counterparts in Washington and Idaho have all counties as members.) Its annual dues are about $31,000.

Why is apt to be a complicated story and it will probably sound different in the telling by different people. The view from Medford turns up in an intriguing article in today’s Mail Tribune, which suggests that a large part of it has to do with differences over legislative proposals.

More coming on this, probably.

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Yeah, it’s something of an ad, but techies will find this of interest – a new wireless music product that looks as if it breaks some new ground.

Noted here because the company coming up with it, Avnera, is Northwest-based, in Beaverton. (See also an article on the Oregonian site.)

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When you have the mix of tax exemption, non-profit organizations and political activity, you’re in legally-sensitive territory where the potential for slipping into legal gray areas, or even a serious red zone, is very real. You’d probably need an attorney conversant with this sector of the law to know conclusively whether the Common Interest, the Idaho advocacy group, and its recent head, Keith Allred, now a Democratic candidate for governor, conclusively met all the obligations precisely. It’s just a complex field.

But this much, from an e-mail by Jonathan Parker, Idaho Republican executive director, was simpler: “the Idaho Republican Party discovered that Keith Allred and The Common Interest have never filed with the IRS as a non-profit, tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization despite holding themselves out to be.”

A serious legal charge if true – very serious. We’re talking about funnin’ the IRS here. Jail time has happened for some people who have violated these kinds of laws.

Turns out it’s not true.

First, the Common Interest’s web site at least (we can’t account for all printed materials, but the web site these days is a pretty good mark of an official statement) doesn’t say that it is a 501(c)3. Its site says, “We’re are currently seeking IRS 501(c)(3) status for this organization. While we’re already a non-profit and do not have to pay taxes, donations are not tax deductable until and unless we are designated as a 501(c)(3). (The Common Interest of Idaho, Inc. is the legal entity responsible for advocating positions in the Legislature. It is a 501(c)(4) non-profit. It’s work is done excusively by unpaid volunteers.)”

In 2006, it said “Although we are a non-profit, donations are not tax deductable. This is because the federal tax code prohibits deducting donations to non-profits involved in the political process, even to non-partisan organizations like ours.” Which seems cautious enough.

But it legitimately could have gone further. Since 2004 the affiliated group Common Interest In Action (both are listed in Idaho Secretary of State corporate files) has had 501c4 nonprofit status. And last February the IRS sent a formal letter of determination (which Common Interest emailed around to reporters this afternoon) saying 501c3 status was granted and Common Interest was officially designated a “public charity.”

Apology at the least would seem to be warranted.

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Attention all those people concerned about “the government” getting into health insurance, a post from the Washington state insurance commissioner’s blog . . .

Our office ran some numbers for Washington state, tallying the number of people getting health care under Medicare, Medicaid, the state’s Basic Health Plan, and the state’s General Assistance for the Unemployable program.

Medicare and Medicaid are the big ones, of course. Here in Washington, our office calculates that as of the end of 2008, some 917,000 Washingtonians get health coverage through Medicaid. Another 897,000 get it through Medicare. Add in BHP and GA-U, and it’s about 1.93 million people, out of a total state population of about 6.67 million.

In other words, about 29 percent of the state’s population is getting their health coverage under a government-run plan.

And these numbers don’t include the people who get their health care through the military, state employees’ Uniform Medical Plan, federal employees’ health coverage, etc.

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We’re going to need a new desktop widget to keep track of all the candidates in Washington District 3. That’s not a surprise (we suggested as much would happen) but the field really has grown large and fast in the few days since Democrat Brian Baird said he would not run again next year. Helped along by the fact that there’s no really obvious successor, and that fact that this is a closely-balanced enough district that it realistically could swing either way next fall.

So. Among the Democrats, we now have: State Senator Craig Pridemore of Vancouver, state Representative Deb Wallace of Vancouver, peace activist Cheryl Crist (who primaried Baird, to little effect, in the last two cycles) and Hispanic activist Maria Rodriguez Salazar.

Among the Republicans, there’s state Representative Jaime Herrera of Ridgefield, David Castillo of Olympia (a former federal veterans department official), Washougal City Council member Jon Russell, and former Marine John William Hedrick of Camas.

That’s eight candidates in the week since Baird’s announcement, and no reason to think there won’t be more.

To try to sift for something resembling a front-runner . . . on the Democratic side, Pridemore probably has the most substantial voting track record (improving his 50.7% in 2004 to 61.7% in 2008), in the center of Vancouver, where the largest chunk of the voters in the district are. Of course, that’s also one of the more liberal sectors of the congressional district, and Wallace’s 61.3% last time in a slightly tougher district wasn’t a bad calling card either. On the Republican side, Herrera (initially appointed but elected last year with 60%) displayed strength and campaign capability too, and is well-connected through her staff work with eastern Washington Representative Cathy McMorris-Rodgers.

But the race is early. It can reshape in many ways in the months ahead.

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Our December 2009 Washington Public Affairs Digest is out, with reviews of the November elections – and new choices for Seattle mayor and King County executive – details of the state unemployment and business situation, developments in Congress, health issues and much more.

There’s an excerpt on the state’s promotion of a “vampire tour” around the Forks area. And the usual rundown of important court decisions, regulatory actions, calendar of upcoming events and much more.

Interested in subscribing, or seeing a sample copy? (Subscribers also get access to the full archives, a detailed recent history of Washington month by month, going back to 1999.)

Just send us a mail at [email protected].

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On and on we see news scraps from D.C. like this one: “On Monday the president met with top banking executives at the White House (some by speakerphone) to plead with them to do more lending, even as the last of them, Citigroup and Wells Fargo, agreed to pay back their bailout money and free themselves of government control. Obama chided the execs for unleashing their powerful lobby on Congress in order to restrain new regulation.” You get lots of confidence, in other words, that the maniacs on Wall Street are anywhere near restraint.

Elsewhere in that same article (from Newsweek) comes something interesting, a deflater arrow aimed right at Wall Street from Washington Senator Maria Cantwell and (remarkably) Arizona Senator John McCain: To, roughly, bring back the Glass-Steagall Act, which separated investment and commercial banking. Over the last generation, the law has been weakened repeatedly and finally eliminated totally in 1999. With such wonderful results.

There’s some argument that the connections woven through the financial system have become too deep to undo; Newsweek quotes a Treasury official as comparing it to “going back to the Walkman.” Certainly the Obama Administration is opposed.

But middling measures aren’t going to make the sweeping changes Wall Street keeps demonstrating it needs. How far Cantwell, or McCain, will go with this isn’t clear; we couldn’t find anything about it on her web site. But if the public were well enough educated on the stakes and what’s needed to rip out the heart of the problem, there’d be a lot more support around the country for something like this.

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