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Posts published in January 2010

Ceremonial costs

An excellent catch by the Idaho Statesman today: The high cost of photo ops and ego boosting.

The context here, of course, is that the Otter Administration has proposed, in the interest of saving dollars measured more in the thousands (elimination of the Human Rights Commission and Hispanic Commission) or not a lot more (public television's state buy-in, which could bring much of the network to crash).

What the Statesman found was this: "Since June, the Idaho Transportation Department has spent almost $70,000 on seven such groundbreaking or dedication ceremonies - which Otter's office wanted to be the 'governor's signature events.' . . . Four of these highway ceremonies, all in northern or eastern Idaho, were put together by ITD's own communications staff at a total cost of $9,571 - an average of $2,393 per ceremony. But for the three Valley events, ITD paid RBCI, a private consulting firm. The cost for these three: $60,035 - an average of $20,012 per ceremony."

These are the events where "dignitaries" stand around, smile, cut ribbons and get their pictures taken. What the public actually gets out of them . . . well . . .

The House Transportation chair, JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, described herself as "appalled."

The story suggests that the costs more or less snuck up on their governor's office - that they didn't know how large the costs were - while the transportation department put together the events more or less as they seemed to be asked to do. No particular villain here.

Maybe a few lessons to be absorbed, though.

Roach removed, from the room

Pam Roach

Pam Roach

Even if it seems almost unprecedented, you have to figure: It was bound to happen sooner or later.

The Washington Senate Republican Caucus has kicked out one of its members, Senator Pam Roach, R-Auburn (or is it Auburn? where are the district lines again, for King County as well as legislature . . .)

Ousting a member from a caucus is fairly extreme step, and extremely rare, because caucuses are ordinarily focused hard on increasing their numbers, not diminishing them, especially if - as is the case with Washington's Senate Republicans - they're in a distinct minority.

The action by fellow Republican senators doesn't remove her from the Senate (they can't do that) or change her status as a Republican; mainly, it keeps her out of the room when the others hold a caucus meeting to discuss Republican Senate policy and strategy. They are reported to have written her, "As your fellow senators, it is difficult to be in a room with you when you erupt in anger . . . For our employees it is unacceptable.”

There have been . . . incidents over the years, which have gone public, which make you wonder what those caucus sessions have been like. She has been disciplined before and, it's worth noting, by fellow Republicans, not by Democrats.

On her blog, Roach said that "I wanted you to know that there is some petty politics going on with some of my colleagues. Let me assure you that I will not be distracted from my representation of the values of the 31st District."

Soon after, she posted a string of supportive comments: "It is this type of in-fighting that hurts the Republican Party. Keep saying it
like it is, Pam. Frankly, if someone gets their feelings hurt while working in
politics, maybe they chose the wrong field to work in." "The grassroots does have power. Independents do have voting power. I am a voter. Right now; the Republican party has some explaining to do. You do have support!" "Hmmm, When I heard the piece last night on the news my thought was "are they afraid of what she is saying because she is right? Hang in there!" "Please run for governor!" "You are doing a great job Pam!!! You have alot of people who appreciate all you do for our community...." "Pam, You go girl!"

What next?

Capital reporting

statehouse

A bit insiderish, what follows. But some points in this Boise kerfuffle about news reporting, access to government and advocacy are worth some consideration. So here goes.

One of the little-known organizations at the Idaho statehouse is the Capitol Correspondents Association. (Most states have counterpart associations, such as the Oregon Legislative Correspondents Association.) Apart from being an organization of professionals, a few other perks go along with it: Wearing a badge which allows the reporter (or photographer, or editor) access to certain places (such as chamber floors) and at times where other members of the public can't go, including a working room.

I was a member of this group years ago, when working for newspapers in Boise, Pocatello and Nampa. Eventually I concluded that while the idea of associating with peers was fine, the idea of special access was flawed - reporters should be able to go wherever the public can go, have what the public has, but no more (unless, let's space, it was room space paid for). To allow more puts these reporter in a special class, with special priveleges to be protected, and it skews their relationship with the legislators. In 2001 I covered the Idaho session for the Lewiston Tribune in a fashion similar to what they and I had been accustomed to in the past, declined to seek membership (which I have no doubt would have been granted), and found myself at no disadvantage at all in covering the session or delivering news stories. I've since recommended other reporters follow a similar path; I'm not aware of any who have. Perks, however minor, are hard to give up.

The question arising this week is somewhat different. It too will put me in a minority position. (more…)

NW vs. Bernanke

Ben Bernanke was confirmed today to remain as chair of the Federal Reserve. the Senate vote was 70-30, a clear win margin.

But two-thirds of the Northwest delegation was against him.

Both of Idaho's Republicans, Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, voted against; most of the 30 opposition votes were Republicans.

But the area's four Democrats split - seniors against juniors. The senior senators in Washington and Oregon, Patty Murray and Ron Wyden, voted in favor. The juniors, Maria Cantwell and Jeff Merkley (who has been loud for some weeks in his opposition to Bernanke), voted against.

Reasons for the yes vote

If you're looking for a one-sentence explanation of why "yes" won on the 66/67 votes yesterday, well, there isn't one. There are lots of individual factors, though. The structuring of the taxes involved (while far from perfect) were such as to appeal to a clear majority of voters. It helped that the yes side wasn't outspent by no (which might have been the case - in fact the two sides weren't that terribly far apart).

Blue Oregon's Kari Chisholm has drawn a common line through the votes for Oregon taxes, Massachusetts Senate and New Jersey governor - all responses against a wealthy or insider elite.

And there was something else: The massive ground game put on the yes people, especially in the last week. The margin in Multnomah County (Portland/Gresham) in favor of the issues was so large that it nearly equalled the statewide margin in favor, and Multnomah balloting was sluggish as recently as late last week. Then volunteers pulled in the votes by the tens of thousands.

Another Blue Oregon writer, T.A. Barnhart, pointed out (on a Facebook comment today) that the turnout level (upward of 50%) was not such as ordinarily might help this kind of ballot issue. But: "the tv ads may have been good (i only saw a few) but it was the ground game that won this. a lot of that money supported that: the Activate phone system, flyers, staff, offices, etc. if volunteers by the thousands had not busted ass for weeks, no tv ad would have saved us. and it's awesome because it shows us how we win progressive victories. Howard Dean gets it; Rahm Emmanuel does not. hence the problems Obama faces for his choice in advisors."

Lots of food for thought here.

Impact at Olympia

That speculation that Oregon's vote yesterday for two tax measures would have an effect in Washington state too is more than just speculation.

Washington Governor Chris Gregoire released this today:

“Oregon voters met the challenge of these difficult times and clearly said that schools, healthcare, public safety and other essential services cannot be forsaken. It is gratifying to see that the public understands the importance of preserving services to the most needy and providing education to the next generation--especially now when those efforts are most needed.”

Hint, hint.

The big yes

Is the idea of raising taxes dead in this political climate? No . . . and that was one of the points you can draw from the decision in Oregon tonight.

Last year, the Oregon Legislature passed two tax measures which were challenged. After a ferocious campaign, the voter verdict was in favor. With the great bulk of the votes in (what remains are widely scattered and unlikely to drastically change the percentages), yes on 66 stood at 54.4% and yes on 67 at 54%.

We'll have more on this in the days ahead, but for now, a few points to bear in mind.

bullet One aspect of this genuinely is historic: Oregon voters have not approved a new tax or a tax increase in 80 years (when they okayed the income tax). This is a truly remarkable reversal.

bullet The vote is a huge blow to Oregon Republicans. It brings to mind a parallel from 2005 in Washington state, when Democratic legislators passed a controversial gas tax and Republicans challenged it on the ballot. The voters upheld the gas tax, and in the 2006 election swept out a bunch of Republicans. The partisan dynamic in Oregon has just changed: If Democrats were on the defensive in the state in recent months, that's no longer true. Republicans are going to have to scramble - and come up with some new rationales.

bullet This will provide a powerful incentive for Washington Democrats to come up with some form of new tax or other revenue source to patch their budget holes. This current experience in comparable (and even more tax-averse) Oregon, coupled with their 2005 experience, likely will be encouraging. And assuming whatever they do is reasonably well crafted, Washington Republicans may be wary of trying another ballot challenge only to risk more voter blowback.

bullet Counties passing 66 and (with present incomplete numbers) were the same list: Benton, Clatsop, Columbia, Hood River, Lane, Lincoln, Marion, Multnomah, Polk, Tillamook, Washington; third-largest Clackamas was on the bubble. There was a line of thought that 66 might pass while 67 failed; not only was the vote very much the same for both, but it was very much the same for both almost everywhere. The vote also matched pretty closely the partisan split in the state, with one area of special vote: Marion/Polk, an area with lots of state employees but also an area traditionally resistant to money issues on the ballot.

bullet You almost feel, many miles away, that exhale of relief from many Oregon legislators. Next month's session abruptly became vastly easier.

bullet Did this provide a bit of a message nationally? Might it have a little impact on the Washington on the east coast? Just might.

Taking wings

If you're following the Idaho 1st district campaign, you'll want to check out the just-posted piece by the Idaho Statesman's Dan Popkey, outlining the emerging breaks among Republicans as they separate into support of the two (current) candidates for the U.S. House, Vaughn Ward and Paul Labrador.

Specifically, he described Republicans as "separating into camps representing the Idaho Republican Party's establishment and libertarian-conservative reform wings" - backing Ward, a former staffer for former Senator and Governor Dirk Kempthorne, and state Representative Raul Labrador.

No quarrel here with the basic structure Popkey lays out, but two other points also should be borne in mind.

One that Ward originally positioned himself as as sort of reform/outsider in running against Ken Roberts, who was in the state House Republican leadership. (Roberts later dropped out.) Of course, he could hardly have gotten the kind of financial and organizational support he got without backing from some well-placed people, but that early positioning allowed him to gather some backing from those disaffected with the party establishment as well. (Some critics within the party see him, rightly or wrongly, as the candidate of the Kempthorne and Jim Risch crowd.) His high-profile support this week from both Kempthorne and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna (who was very much on the same side as Labrador in some of the internal party battles of recent years) is an indication of that.

The second point is the cross-currents in the Republican Party, the mini-ripples of personal and policy conflicts within a party which for so long has been in a position of dominance, mean that loyalties among elected officials and party people don't always fall exactly where you think they will.

And there remains the outside possibility of a return of former Representative Bill Sali into the contest. This will be a battle of some interest for the next several months.

A big special election

Might as well be said now, before the votes are counted: The voting ending in Oregon today is taking place in a substantial election. Special elections often aren't so big a deal, except maybe locally. This one is different.

The first election in the Northwest in this new decade, it will likely have a decisive effect on how Oregon pays for its state and local services - but also much more. Last legislative session lawmakers imposed two tax increases: Is that a permissible thing? What are attitudes toward government, and toward the parties?

Not only Oregonians but political people around the country are watching. Notably, policy makers in Washington, where legislators are trying to figure out what to do with the massive hole in their budget.

Jeff Mapes at the Oregonian noted,

Whatever happens, Tuesday night will be historic. If the Yes side wins, it would be the first voter-approved income-tax increase since Oregon voters approved the income tax back in 1930 (and that was after they voted it in and then quickly repealed it in the 1920s).

If the No side wins, it will be a huge repudiation of the Democratic supermajority in the Legislature and an expensive failure for the public-employee unions that largely bankrolled the pro-tax campaign.

All true, of course. The Oregonian's page should be a good place to follow this; we'll be back shortly.

No more field trips for you

And maybe sometimes micromanaging is what a legislature has to do.

A long-standing, fairly normal part of long-term mental health treatment for many patients has been field trips. (Remember the trip in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest?) Not hard to see how such trips can be beneficial, and why they've been done for a long time. And why they should be.

But then you run into this:

Last September 19, the Washington Eastern State Hospital conducted a field trip to a Spokane fair for some of the patients. One of those patients was Phillip Michael Paul, 47, who in 1987 was determined not guilty by reason of insanity in the killing of an elderly woman. In 1981, he escaped but was recaptured. So last fall, he and various other patients were taken to the Spokane fair . . . and Paul escaped. He was at large for several days before recapture.

Now, Representative Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, has proposed a bill to prohibit field trips for patients who are in mental institutions because they have violent histories.

You wouldn't think that would be necessary. But apparently it is.