"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)

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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One more quick tea party note: The congressional candidates.

In District 1, where two Republicans are competing for the nomination, just Representative Raul Labrador, R-Eagle, was present to deliver to the group. Front-runner apparent Vaughn Ward was, his campaign tells us, in northern Idaho.

Of larger interest, maybe, was the contrast between the two primary challengers to Republican Representative Mike Simpson, in District 2, both seeking to position themselves to his right. One was state Representative Russ Matthews, R-Idaho Falls, who delivered the usual message but looked and sounded like a state legislator. Our sense was that the biggest single response for any speaker at the event was for the other District 2 contender there, Chick Heileson, a first-time candidate.

He highlighted up front his lack of a formal title – the crowd responded lustily to that – and delivered a speech both raw and energetic, overwhelmed by rapid and repeated use of the two words “God” and “constitution,” urging that both be followed, and offering nothing much more specific than that. The crowd seemed to love it. If either of the District 2 challengers actually gains serious traction on Simpson (which does, at this point, still seem unlikely), our guess would be that the juice is with Heileson.

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Tea party at the Idaho Statehouse, Monday/Stapilus

We’ve been speculating that the white heat of last summer’s tea bag events has been cooling, gradually. We decided to put that to the test: The big winter teabag event in Idaho, on the steps of the Idaho Statehouse – which by rights ought to be the Teapot Dome – was held this morning, and it seemed a reasonable barometer.

The verdict: Nothing like the big crowds of last summer. The emotion wasn’t all gone, but its scale was diminished. Only about 150 people showed up to this one, which featured a batch of speeches over the course of an hour, mostly from conservative Republican legislators. A substantial chunk of the crowd was made up of conservative Republican legislators; quite a few of them showed up. And across the street were about a dozen counter-protesters.

Maybe the legislators’ presence was part of why this wasn’t a bigger deal. An emcee (oops, almost wrote “moderator”) told the group that the idea now is to move beyond complaining: “Today, in partnership with the legislature, we offer solutions.” Did the teabaggers of last summer really want solution? They seemed more interested in venting.

Some of that was going on. There were some of the signs you’d expect, like “Liar’s Club” (Preceding a list of elected Democrats), one that said “You ram it down our throats and we will shove it up your ass” (no speculation here on the mindset generating that one) and one that depicted President Obama as Alfred E. Neumann. There was a fair amount of talk about how the feds are enslaving us all.

But mostly what the crowd got was speeches of two types: Legislators hyping their pet legislation, and candidates for Congress doing their campaign thing.

The legislation was a real mixed bag. The longest speech at the event had to do with regulation of midwives. Representative Phil Hart, R-Athol, touted his bill to create “sound money” in the state of Idaho; Representative Lenore Hardy Barrett, R-Challis, had a competing proposal. The 2nd amendment made its appearance too, of course, along with lots of state sovereignty talk.

But was this what the teabaggers came to clamor for, or against?

One other note of interest: The event apparently was closely tied in with the Idaho Freedom Foundation. About which, more in another post before long.

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Idaho Senate, 2010/Stapilus

The Idaho Statehouse almost looks like a newborn, even has that “new house” scent to it. If you’re used to the old version, before the rehabilitation which has taken the last couple of years, it looks better – brighter, more open, roomier (and not just in the new underground add-ons). It rates a clear thumbs up.

Walk onto the old ground floor and it feels clean but barren: No artwork or much else down there. Yet. It may be coming.

The third and fourth floors, the main legislative area with the chamber floors, has been changed most dramatically. The hallway around the four-floor overlook of the House chamber now is glassed-in, instead of dark-walled off; the effect is one of openness and light. (And maybe fewer dark corners for lobbyists and legislators to do their thing.) The new curtains in the Senate, reminiscent of those from many years ago, look classy. The new elements of the design strike a fine balance between traditional and modern.


Committee room/Stapilus

The biggest specific asset to the public is the new meeting rooms, for committees and other activities, on under underground level. You had to have seen the old statehouse to appreciate how large an improvement this is. Those old meeting rooms were tiny, cramming in too many people and not allowing many in at all. The new rooms have space for large audiences and are audio- and video-wired as well. They compare respectably with the facilities in Washington and Oregon. And a good deed by omission: The designers seem not to have closed off public access to areas of the statehouse, something they probably got some pressure to do.

There are of course downsides. Legislators have individual offices now, scattered all over the building; your favorite (or least) lawmaker will be harder to find now. (One reporter I bumped into this morning bemoaned exactly this.) Keep on the floor, at their desks right there, where we can keep an eye on ’em.

But the few criticisms feel like niggling. This is being taken by the habitues as a fine improvement, and for good reason. The cost was high (well over the $100 million this scribe was once excoriated for predicting), but the end result will be a site Idahoans have good reason to be happy with.

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Our basic sense in the Idaho 1st – Republican primary side – has been that the solid frontrunner is and has been for a while Vaughn Ward, the first-time candidate who has some strong connections via the McCain campaign forces, work around the Dirk Kempthorne camp, and elsewhere. He started out campaigning, organizing and fundraising hard, with money moving ever deeper into six figures.

His opponent, state Representative Raul Labrador, R-Eagle, has longstanding connections and alliances in Idaho Republican politics, but he started months later, only after another Ward opponent (and another state representative, Ken Roberts) dropped out. Surface reading continues to suggest an advantage to Ward.

But for those watching this race, this post on the Idaho Conservative Blogger ought not to go unseen. In running a poll, the same sort that months ago gave Ward a big advantage over Roberts, different results:

Labrador wins with 641 votes and 59%, Ward 430 Votes and 39%, the rest either vote other or undecided.

Again this is in no way a scientific poll. I don’t track the voters and do not know the demographics, I again can’t even guarantee the voters are all from the 1st congressional district, (sounds a little like holding an open primary but, that’s a topic for another day) Why would Ward win with 90% of the vote in September against Roberts and loose to Labrador today with 39% of the vote?

ICB thinks there are many factors in play. If memory serves me right the total votes in the September poll were under 200. In this latest poll there was 1,080. It only makes sense, ICB was a new web page and readership has grown. Could be that the Labrador camp got the word out about the poll to more of their supporters than the Ward camp?

And if they did, what might that say about organization?

Maybe not a big deal. But worth tossing into the kit bag for consideration.

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Jeff Merkley

Jeff Merkley at Dallas town hall/Stapilus

U.S. senators are under pressure – that’s part of the job – and Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley, a year into the role, felt it from at least two directions in the last 24 hours, as this is written. From the left, Friday night; from the right, midday at Dallas. As hot as the economy is, topic A seems to be, still, health care and the legislation in Congress.

Friday night was an event organized by Merkley staff for a meet-up with bloggers; eight or nine bloggers (your scribe for one, a few from Blue Oregon, a frequent writer for the Huffington Post and others) met at Madison’s in southeast Portland to . . . converse, really, informally. It was an on-the-record session, but informal enough as to not resemble a press conference with formal statements. Blue Oregon blogger T.A. Barnhart has delivered a good rundown on what was said and the overall tenor. (A good event, and we’d hope it becomes the first of many.)

The key subject, out of a wide range discussed, remains health care, and where the current legislation goes from here. The bloggers generally were dissatisfied with what has been done in Congress, with the watering-downs and scale-backs in the bill, and some were convinced the bill was better off dead. Merkley generally agreed with them on the policy questions, but argued that enough good remains, and the effect of a defeat would be so paralyzing, that pressing forward was the way to go.

Cut to the civic center at Dallas, for Merkley’s Polk County town hall meeting. (Like fellow Senator Ron Wyden, Merkley has committed to a town hall in every county, every year, and so far is on track.) There, he had to pivot a bit in managing the audience – maybe a little over a third of it was strongly against the bills, ready to believe the worst about it from any scrap of information and quick to denounce it as a government takeover of health care (though just about anything that could amount to such has been long since stripped out). His stance on the issues was unchanged, though, from the night before.

A year ago, Merkley still sounded a little wonkish in talking about legislation, but he’s since gotten the knack of handling a town hall, explaining and proposing in plain and simple language. He broke down the health bills as including mainly what amounts to a patient’s bill of rights, and a plan to foster competition among and access to a range of insurers.

Asked about special deals for specific states demanded by individual senators (Ben Nelson for Nebraska, for example), Merkley denounced the practice, and also said he agreed that the process should be more open. He actually drew some applause from some of the health care critics for some of those statements – “The idea of special deals for one state is wrong,” for example.

Still, four questioners asked the senator why he supposed a bill that has scored 65% negatives in the polls, and one man accused Merkley: “He doesn’t really care what we feel.” Merkley responded (more directly than those questioners gave him credit for) by noting that he had campaigned and been elected on health reform, that his job is to use his best judgment, and that action is needed.

The atmosphere was less heated than it was last summer (reflecting the recent Wyden town halls – see our report on that last week) and the misinformation floated less extreme. Still, by the time one man proclaimed, “Our health care system isn’t broken,” something on the order of a reality check seems to be in order.

Merkley addressed that in part, pointing out the extremely high cost of health care and how it’s dragging down the economy. But, as he hears such comments in future halls (as probably will, often in the same words), he might diplomatically offer a few other thoughts:

First, if you want to talk polls – not that they ought to be the basis of every decision – then use them correctly. It’s true that polling consistently shows most Americans unhappy with the current health care bills, but that’s because many of the unhappy want the bills stronger (including such things as the public option) rather than weaker or non-existent. Components such as the public option have very strong polling support among the public at large – the public would be willing to pass a health care bill far more liberal than the Congress will.

Second, check your facts. The number of sheer lies, on top of the number of distortions, on health care been been beyond astounding, and information ought to be checked out. Especially when the source turns out to be someone who has a financial stake in the outcome. And when you ask why this legislation is being “rushed through” – when it has been under a blazingly intense spotlight for more than a year now, is the product of policy discussions going back over a decade – please ask yourself: How long should it have to take? To the next century, perhaps?

Third, learn something about how things work. Talk about the “two thousand page bill” (which Merkley, like Wyden, was very wisely abl to say he had actually read) has become a key piece of evidence for how the whole thing is overblown and incomprehensible; but legislation that large is not especially unusual in Congress, and it’s often not even a sign of special complexity. A bill is long usually because it addresses many areas of law (this is true in state legislatures too), not necessarily because it is complicated in concept. Long bills are not exactly unheard of in the halls of Congress, so gee: Why is it that certain spokesmen well aware of that suddenly find this one so daunting?

All right. For good reason, senators don’t like to go around insulting their constituents, even the nutjobs among them. But Merkley’s getting increasingly good at this: He may well be able to find ways to incorporate some of these points in a fine soft sell.

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The last post made a reference to the forces opposed to Oregon’s measures 66 and 67 as proposing “a few too many specious arguments.” On example was given there; another really should be noted here. As, also, a case study in the wisdom of double-checking potentially unclear facts before speaking.

Like other states, Oregon annually issues an annual financial report, and on page 14 of the most recent one you can find this statement: “As of June 30, the State’s government funds reported combined ending fund balances of 44.4 billion. Of this amount, approximately 25.1 percent was reserved for nonspendable items, such as inventories and permanent fund principal, or specific purposes, such as debt service. The remainder was classified as unreserved, undesignated fund balance and was available for spending, subject to statutory and constitutional spending constraints.”

Reading it cold, you could reasonably think: Wow! So Oregon doesn’t really have a revenue shortfall at all: In fact, it has a big pile of money ready for spending. What do we need Measures 66 or 67 for with all this money available?

That was the essence of what Senators Chris Telfer, R-Bend, and Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, suggested a few days ago, just as the ballot-casting on the measures were getting underway.

Given that these two senators were enmeshed in the budget-setting through the first half of last year, you might think they’d wonder where this massive pile of money, invisible to them and everyone else then, suddenly came from.

Turns out, as you probably expect by now, it doesn’t exist.

The Oregonian checked in with Kathryn Ross, who drafts the reports, which like many other accounting reports the world over is full of what you might call “terms of art.” It is written as it is to comply with national standards for such reports (Washington and Idaho do about the same), and that means it has to be read carefully – many things aren’t always what they initially seem. Ross: “I’m always amazed that people could think there’s a pot of gold here that no one knew about except the state controller’s division.”

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