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Posts published in January 2010

Back on KLIX

On Monday mornings last year, I talked with the news staff at KLIX-AM in Twin Falls during the legislative session, about what was coming up at the Statehouse - or, then, the Statehouse annex.

This year we're doing it again, starting this morning. You can reach KLIX online via the image at the top of the right column. And there's one difference between this year and last: This year's radiocasts will be podcast, and available via streaming. This morning's, for example - it of course had to do with the arrival of the legislators and Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter's state of the state speech, upcoming shortly - is available for listening. Check it out.

Reassembling

The Idaho legislative session for 2010, the first back in the statehouse for what seems like a long time (and probably seems a lot longer to them), cranks up on Monday. Its tone, in this time of funding shortfalls, is unlikely to be cheerful.

But it may not be as terribly difficult a session as it's been billed. And to the Idaho Falls Post Register's suggestion that "it's not hyperbole to say 2010 could be the most important legislative session" since the last really turning-point session in 1965 . . . well, anything could happen, but from here the likelihood is that, yes, it's hyperbole. This session is more likely to be one in a series, all pointing the same way.

1965 was a critical session because it changed things in Idaho, quite a few things, starting with the imposition of the sales tax and going on from there. It altered directions, to the point that politics reaction to it split and shifted.

There's always a possibility that Idaho's legislators (and governor, whose signature is a key component in whatever happens) will tear off in some whole new and unexpected direction. But based on what Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter has said, and what legislative chamber and budget leaders have said - and they none of them seem to be very far apart in their views - the course of the next three months or so looks pretty clear.

No new taxes or other significant money raisers - at most, maybe some small idea slips through. Basically, the revenue shortfalls will be made up by cuts, in schools, colleges and universities, health care, parks, and all sorts of other things. The main exceptions may be those agencies heavily reliant on dedicated funds of money (like the hunting and fishing fees going to Fish & Game). Otherwise, deep cuts all over.

The exact numbers will be up for grabs. Otter will offer his list tomorrow. Legislators will accept some of those numbers, adjust some. But in the main this will be a chopping block session.

And when it is done, the trajectory of the last session - which was heavy into cutting as well, though not as much as this one likely will be - will be continued. And the overall style of budget limitations Idaho has seen for some years will be simply put on steroids.

Not so much a new direction as an acceleration of what has been. A simple and straightforward shot. Other subjects will arise for consideration, of course; at any given time, most legislators aren't working on the budget, so they'll have time for other things too. But as we sit here now, this could be one of the shorter sessions in recent years. The big decisions seem already to have been made.

Newspapers, newsprint

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At Oregon City/Stapilus

Newspapers are shrinking. There have been times, during the boom years for newspapers, when they actually had some trouble laying hands on enough newsprint paper. No longer; with consequences for the newsprint industry.

As Rogue Pundit usefully points out: On New Years Eve, Blue Heron Paper of Oregon City (if you go through downtown, its maybe the most visible business of all there) filed of Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization, and laid off 50 employees.

Rogue takes a look at the industry through the eyes of Blue Heron, and it's worth a look. One observation that jumped out: "Notice that it's cheaper to ship old newspapers to China, recycle them into newsprint, and ship it back to us. No doubt the purchasers of that newsprint brag they're being green because it's recycled."

At Newberg: Not your daddy’s teabaggers

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Wyden's Newberg town hall/Linda Watkins

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden's town hall meeting at Newberg this evening was not so different, in many ways, from those we've attended in past years. But this is the era of the teabagger, and so some things were different. The venue (a high school commons) was larger with more seating, and questions were take on a ticket system. Those things, neither bad, were just reflective of a larger audience. When in past town halls in this county Wyden asked how many people had attended before, nearly all hands rose. Tonight, the percentage was maybe less than half - and the overall persuasion of the audience was decidedly different.

Last summer that might have suggested an overheated room with a chorus of people yelling, shouting, calling out "liar!" and "Nazi!" and such. And signs and pictures with Hitler mustaches for Barack Obama. But that was then. The opposition - which is to say, the conservative Republican opposition to health care reform and lots of concern about illegal immigration - was certainly in evidence. But it neither dominated the proceedings nor offered the kind of "they'll hauling granny to the gas chamber" type of claims that made the rounds back then.

Things actually seem to have cooled off a bit, and Wyden's handling of the meeting was not a lot different from the way he has dealt with the last few. On a string of issues, he delivered clearly-developed stances, well-framed. To one woman concerned about citizenship for children of immigrants here illegally, he was definitive: The adults should face consequences for breaking the law, but the kids did nothing wrong and shouldn't be penalized. On health care, Wyden's work on his own health bill, co-sponsored with both Republicans and Democrats, actually wound up giving him cover of a sort: To concerns about deficiencies in the bill which passed the Senate, he could and did argue that his own proposal was better (as, in our view, it generally is). He also argued that the Senate bill is useful as a starting point, and useful enough in that sense to merit a vote for it. (more…)

Washington: Ban ahead

What with Oregon and California both banning hand-held cell phone talking while driving, as a primary offense - something cops can pull you over for as a singular offense - it's not a tough guess that Washington soon will follow suit.

Police in Oregon already have begun ticketing on the offense, though warnings seem to predominate at the moment.

Then there's this from the Slog in Seattle, which makes the argument against texting, or at least sexting. With a little help from a state senator.

A government-business mashup from long ago

The too-tight relations between so many government officials (not to say so many entities of government) and well-connected business operations is one of the problems of the age. But not only this age.

Steve Crump of the Twin Falls Times-News today unearthed an old one indeed, and worth the review and the ponder.

It dates to 1921, when a land speculator in New York, D.W. Scott, touted a great land buy opportunity in the Idaho Magic Valley. Nothing new in that (and some small present-day Idaho communities, New Plymouth for one, got their start that way). Here's the added twist:

"He learned that Idaho Gov. D.W. Davis was in Washington, D.C., for a conference, so he traveled to the capital and button-holed the governor. Would Mr. Davis come to Brooklyn and pitch the project? The governor agreed, and on May 22, 1921, he met with about 100 investors and potential investors and endorsed the Roseworth venture. According to historian George Frederic Stratton, one of the potential settlers asked Davis if city folks could go on to sagebrush land and raise a crop within a year. Yes, the governor replied, adding cryptically that Idaho didn’t want Eastern farmers who knew nothing about irrigated agriculture."

Of course, the settlers who arrived at the location, Roseworth (they came up with some of the nicest names), found nothing but dust and sagebrush, and soon gave up.

Crump points out that Davis soon after was named to head the agency that is now (after a renaming) the Bureau of Reclamation.

Why is it so hard?

Our household has weighed in on just about every election - allowing for the possibility of missing an occasional special minor-district contest - over the last couple of decades and beyond. That's not a brag, or shouldn't be: Casting those votes, while the decisions on occasion have been close calls, hasn't been a difficult thing to do. That was true when we lived in Idaho, and even truer, what with ballots that are mailed to us and can be easily posted back, in Oregon.

Why do so many candidates for higher office seem to have such a hard time doing this basic civic task?

The Oregonian reported last month about Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Dudley, the former basketball player, missing a lot of votes, seven of the last 13 back to 2004, and probably a whole lot before then. Now it has followed up with reports about the mediocre voting patterns of other would-be governors - Democratic former Governor John Kitzhaber, and Republican Allen Alley. Only former Secretary of State (and, therefore, the top elections official in the state), Bill Bradbury, emerged with a good record of casting ballots.

A suggestion: Checks for vote casting ought to be run for candidates for all offices, as a matter of course. Maybe candidates ought to be pressured (not legally required, but pressured) to include the information in their election guide profiles. After all, voters may well want to consider how eager they will be to vote for candidates to can't be troubled to do as much, in this very basic civic job, as they.

The cusina

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www.greekcusina.com

Walk around downtown Portland - especially the central area around 4th Street - and you can't miss it: A giant purple octopus looming over the sidewalk. By the name of Spoticus.

It portends a restaurant, but not seafood: This is the landmark Greek Cusina, one of Portland's more visible restaurants, and specializing as indicated in Greek food. We've lunched there a time or two. Very atmospheric.

Or was. It has been closed, following a long-running battle with city licensers, and in particular with Commissioner Randy Leonard, whom the Cusina's owners have accused of a vendetta against them. Leonard (a former firefighter, and as blunt an elected official as you'll find around the Northwest) simply calls the place "the most dangerous occupancy in the city."

Seems tailor-made for someone to check out the records and find out . . . are these regulators shutting down a struggling landmark, or a serious safety hazard?

Meantime, the Oregonian reports, Spoticus is up for sale on eBay.

Toward transparency

Public budgets are published and are openly-available documents, but they're not exactly light reading. You'd think that with the capacity for communications available today, someone would be making them more available . . .

There are a few stabs at this, growing. One to note today: The Oregon Transparency site, which runs through a lot of information about state spending in a clearer than usual manner.

Also worth reviewing (if you're an Oregonian, and interested on how the state spends its money) there's this relatively obscure but useful document, recommended by a reader who found it more than a little enlightening.

Subtle restrictions

The just-released Oregon Supreme Court decision in Fred Vanatta v. Oregon Government Ethics Commission is being hailed at a blow for regulation of, well, bribery and efforts just short of that. Oregon, after all, defines free speech and expression a little more broadly than most other states.

Such limits - basically things like gifts to legislators - that are routinely regulated in other states, got a close parsing in Oregon. The decision was so down the middle it may be hard to apply (and in fact was referred back to lower court for more action).

The group Fair Elections Oregon said in a statement that the "Oregon Supreme Court upholds limits on lobbyist gifts to public officials and legislators; but the limits have no practical effect in Oregon's regime of unlimited campaign contributions and virtually no limits on how they are spent."

Here's a key paragraph from the court's decision"

Plaintiffs assert that, "by prohibiting * * * expenditures to inform or persuade legislators regarding legislative matters, the lobbying restrictions impermissibly restrain Oregon inhabitants from 'instructing their Representatives' or 'applying to the Legislature for redress of' grievances.'" However, plaintiffs have failed to support their assertions with any case law, or with any analysis of the origins, the historic concerns, or the drafters' political theories that underlie Article I, section 26. See State v. Montez, 309 Or 564, 604, 789 P2d 1352 (1990) (without extensive briefing on the origins, historic concerns, and political theories underlying federal Guarantee Clause, court would not consider full range of arguments that could be made regarding impact of Guarantee Clause on constitutionality of death penalty statute). In the absence of that kind of extensive and focused analysis in this case, we fail to see how the rights to assemble, to instruct representatives, and to apply to the legislature for redress of grievances, as protected by Article I, section 26, necessarily must include a constitutional right for public officials to receive gifts, entertainment, and honoraria, or for lobbyists to give restricted gifts to public officials. The fact that gifts may be "helpful" in creating goodwill with public officials does not mean that Article I, section 26, protects the delivery of gifts to them.

Sounds as if it's time to head back to the drawing board.