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Posts published in January 2010

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.

The O wraparound

wrap

Whatever impact the Oregonian expects to have on the Measures 66 and 67 election (final voting day is Tuesday) is surely going to be minimal among those who actually pay much attention to the paper. Or what's been written recently about it. What may be larger are the questions growing about just what's going on at the paper.

The impact it presumably hopes to have is what's stated in the paper's editorials opposing passage of the two measures. In the last legislative session the Assembly passed tax measures increasing the marginal tax rates on individuals with income over $125,000 a year (or $250,000 for a household), alongside a tax cut for some lower-income people, and a measure increasing the corporate income tax rate and minimum payments for some (not all) corporations. These have been challenged in the two referenda; a yes vote sustains the legislature's actions, and a no vote throws them out. The Oregonian on January 4 editorialized for a "no" vote, and reiterated the view since. "The Legislature can do better," it said.

That would seem to be that - newspapers take such positions all the time - except this time for a mass of complicating factors.

One is that the paper didn't have such a big problem with the tax increases last year, when they were passed. Editorially, it was not thrilled (like many others, there seemed a preference toward making the increases temporary), but it was generally supportive. Last June 11, it said that "You shouldn't raise taxes in a recession. But you don't close schools, boot thousands of students from universities and gut your public safety system in a recession, either. In a state that has little savings, it was one or the other, and the Democratic majority made the right choice." As for the idea that in the upcoming February legislative session lawmakers might simply adjust the tax package, the Oregonian opined on September 21, "after a brutal and expensive battle leading up to a vote - and at the start of an election year - does anyone really believe that lawmakers will, or even should, tinker with a tax package that voters have either approved or rejected?"

Considering that the Oregonian now apparently thinks just that, you have to wonder what changed.

There's a good deal more. (more…)

Blunted cuts

When Idaho Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter delivered his budget a couple of weeks ago, he told the legislature that he proposed some major changes in some smaller agencies. The big raw dollar cuts may have come in places like public schools and colleges and universities, but he proposed what amounted to elimination of a number of others.

Operations of the Department of Parks and Recreation, he said, should be moved to the Department of Lands and some registration activities to the Department of Fish & Game.

And he proposed a "Four‐year phase out of General Fund" - meaning that money other other than state funds would have to be found to maintain current operations - for Idaho Public Television, the Human Rights Commission, the Hispanic Commission, the Independent Living Council, the Developmental Disabilities Council, the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Council and the Digital Learning Academy.

He also said, as he has in budget matters before, that he's open to legislative alternatives. Two weeks on, looks like he'll have to be open to alternatives: Most of those slash-outs themselves look headed to the trash heap. Some of that is because these programs turn out to have actual supporters around the state. But part of it is because someone in the Otter Administration seems not to have done their homework.

The Department of Parks & Recreation, for example, has reasons for existence that can't simply be reorganized away. It was created in the early 60's to meet the terms of a massive gift to the state by the Harriman family - the Harriman park in Fremont County, possibly the finest of the state parks. The Harrimans insisted on a specific kind of professional management of the land, and Governor Robert Smylie rammed through the new parks department to meet the terms. The state has gotten other gifts through the years too under the assumption that a professional parks department - not a lands department, which has a valid but different sort of mission - would take charge of them. Remove the parks department, and the Harriman state park is put into risk.

After much discussion of all this, Otter on Friday appears to have backed off the proposal, instead settling for a package of other parks-related cuts and fundraising. He acknowledged the mistake, explicitly: “The whole idea that we were going to eliminate the parks department was dead wrong."

Others will be hard to do away with, too. (more…)

Only one choice

Olson

Stan Olson

The soon-to-retire superintendent of the Boise School District, Stan Olson, is reportedly planning a run for superintendent of public instruction, which presumably would pit him against incumbent Republican Tom Luna.

The Idaho Statesman story on this notes that "He said he hasn't made a decision about whether he would run as a Democrat or challenge incumbent Tom Luna in the Republican primary."

Count that as: Almost certainly running as a Democrat. After a statement like that, the Republicans are unlikely to give him a double-digit percentage of the vote; while the uncertain party loyalty would fit into the Democratic ticket this year quite well.

Growing on the outside

parties

Where are people headed politically in Oregon? This chart may offer some clues.

In the last three years, growth in registration in Oregon among Democrats skyrocketed in 2008, then took a dive this year. That's still better than the Republicans, who are still far behind and still losing registrants.

So who's gaining? The people who sent us the chart - the Oregon Independent Party, which now has 51,000 adherents and is beginning to look as if it really can attain major-party status (if it wants that, which it may not). Both currently-major parties would do well to pay some attention.

Prineville from tires to tech

data center

Facebook's Prineville Data Center/Facebook architectural rendering

Prineville in central Oregon (a little northeast of Bend) would strike you on a visit as a classic small town from another era - streetscapes that look not so far removed from the 60s or 70s, a calm sensibility. A good deal of traffic passing through owing to the confluence of highways; but this is a town, of about 10,000, out on the edge of national forest and public lands, well away from population centers. Its key business for many years has been Les Schwab Tires, though in 2006 it announced plans to move its corporate headquarters to Bend. A tire seller would be the kind of basic business you might expect to be central in Prineville.

Not the kind of place you'd expect to find a substantial data center for a cutting edge operation like Facebook.

And yet here we are. From a governor's press release:

Governor Ted Kulongoski announced today that Facebook, the world’s
leading social networking service with more than 350 million users, will locate a multi-million dollar data center in Prineville. The facility, which will help store and route information posted by users, is expected to create more than 200 jobs during its 12-month construction phase. When finished, the data center will employ at least 35 full-time workers and dozens more part-time and contract employees. Additional construction phases may be possible in the future, depending on business needs.

“This is great news for Prineville and really the entire state. I am pleased to welcome this leading Internet technology company to Oregon,” said Governor Kulongoski. “The stable, family-wage jobs and economic stimulus they will provide to this area during construction are a bright spot as this nation and this state climb out of this recession.”

Governor Kulongoski said the state has been working with Facebook’s representatives for a number of months to help bring together the land, utilities and incentives to make the project a success.

This may not immediately change the small-town feel of Prineville. But it will certainly give an additional layer of experience.

Actually, multiply it

Not Northwest stories as such, but sure to impact here, and noted in this way on the Blog Blue Oregon:

Two pieces of stunning news this morning:

Goldman Sachs reported record 2009 profits of $13.4 billion

The U.S. Supreme Court says corporations now have unlimited rights to influence elections.

Let’s see – unimaginable profits plus unrestricted ability to spend on elections. I wonder how that’ll turn out?

Added. The court's majority opinion said, "This Court now concludes that independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption. That speakers may have influence over or access to elected officials does not mean that those officials are corrupt. And the appearance of influence or access will not cause the electorate to lose faith in this democracy." Wrong on all counts. Possibly not since Plessy v. Ferguson has this court been so profoundly wrong.

A Klamath deal

The Klamath Basin has been the hottest water war in the Northwest over the last decade-plus. In the last couple of years, there's been a lot of movement toward resolution.

Today, a billion-dollar agreement seems to have brought the Klamath Tribes on board. That could have some major significance.

A measure of security

If you're a U.S. representative, here's one potential metric for measuring how safe you are: If your opponent doesn't live in your district. Fine tune the metric by noting how many miles from the district your opponent lives.

In the case (so far anyway) of Representative Earl Blumenauer, Democrat representing the district that includes most of Portland, that would yield a pretty strong number. He has an opponent, the same one in fact who ran against him in 2008. But Republican Delia Lopez lives about 150 miles from District 3, which Blumenauer represents. Lopez, from Oakland, is personable and might otherwise be a solid candidate for something. But the distance issue is kind of a problem.

You can do that: To run for a U.S. House seat, you only have to live in the same state, not necessarily in the district. But it doesn't often happen (has it ever?) that such an out of district candidate wins, or even comes close.

Math people: Get to work on the metric.