dorn"
Randy Dorn

It was impolitic, true enough, in that people could predictably react negatively, and it wasn’t the whole story, and there are objections. But still.

Washington Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn (first elected not all that long ago, in 2008), evidently isn’t happy about his annual salary of $121,618. (Well, that was before he called it “a good salary,” maybe after rethinking his words.)

Speaking to the House Ways and Means Committee a few days ago, he pointed out that he is paid less than 121 local school superintendents around the state – that’s not just larger urban district, but getting down into small rural ones with few kids, teachers or staff. And he compared his pay to the $9 million that Cliff Lee is paid by the Seattle Mariners to play baseball.

The heavens rained down on Dorn, naturally. And the fact that $121,618 really is a decent salary at least by the standards of most of us.

But there’s a point to reflect on. How much we pay for this or that says something about us. Dorn probably did a bit of a service in pushing the point into the realm of public discussion.

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Washington

Before heading out to wherever for doings on the 4th, you might want to consider your relative risk.

Of getting a traffic ticket, that is.

The National Motorists Association (which isn’t a fan of lower speed limits) has crunched some numbers and come up with a list. Within the Northwest, you’re most likely to get a ticket in Washington (which ranks 17th among the 50 states), and least likely in Idaho (which ranks 44th). Oregon falls into the less-likely camp, at number 41.

Top ranking – better watch out when traveling there – is Florida, with Nevada and Georgia tied for second place. Least likely place to get ticketed? Montana.

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Northwest

There’s a significant issues buried inside a smaller one in the case the Eugene Water & Electric Board has filed, and the city of Eugene entered, in the circuit court in Lane County. The immediate issue up for consideration – whether the board or the city of Eugene, which actually owns the water rights at stake in the lawsuit – has the right to make a water sales decision. Or ultimate decision, as the case may be.

But inside that is another question: Should one city (Eugene) be able, through its decision on water sales, to effectively control the development of another city – Veneta.

Veneta is a small bedroom community of about 5,000 several miles west of Eugene, out in the woods at the foot of the Coast Range. It has limited local sources of water – that is, water to which the rights haven’t already been grabbed by Eugene. It expects to grow significantly over the next 20 years, doubling its population or so. And it will need water, as a legal (under state law) as well as a practical matter.

Eugene has water, enough that it needs to take care that it uses enough to avoid losing water rights under risk of abandonment. It could meet the need. But does it want to?

Put another way, does Eugene want to contribute to sprawl and commuter traffic, which periodically chokes the city as it is?

Eugene Water, the utility (customer-owned, not a city department), hasn’t made that an issue, approving a water sales contract some months back. But this week, the city of Eugene has filed its own paperwork in the case, saying that because the city owns the water rights, that it has authority to decide whether the contract should be approved. And opinions at the city level appear to be mixed.

The Register-Guard, for example, noted “Councilor Alan Zelenka said councilors must keep in mind the city’s growth management policies that encourage compact growth and efficient use of public infrastructure in evaluating Veneta’s request.”

This could become a legislative matter before long.

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Oregon

The Eugene Register-Guard‘s editorial today had a great line about Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski and the state’s financial planning for the next few years:

“The state leader who shows the strongest evidence of a willingness to face hard choices about Oregon’s future turns out to be the one who is best positioned to avoid those choices.”

Because, as the editorial pointed out, Kulongoski won’t be in office much longer, and he has the option simply to punt. Instead, he seems to be devoting his last year in office to prepping the state, as much as he can, for the dark economic realities hitting the state now and continuing on.

He’s been clearer on the subject, overall, than either of the two major contenders to replace him in January. (Of course, that could change, but the wise wouldn’t count on it.)

That probably should be borne in mind when, late this year, people start considering Kulongoski’s governorship.

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Oregon

More than the usual amount of post-convention commentary after the somewhat odd selections of policy choices Idaho Republicans came up with at Idaho Falls – odd to the point that a number of quite conservative state legislators were opposing, and losing votes on, a number of them.

The platform and resolutions have been posted on Talking Points Memo – a liberal-oriented blogsite, which may give you an indication.

An example of the reaction: One resolution said, “Let free Idahoans pay taxes, and other fees due to the State, County and City in silver and or gold in any form. Payments to City, County, or State employees requested to be paid in silver and or gold, Will be complied with.”

Talking Points: “We asked the state GOP for comment on this one: How would such a system work? How would the state evaluate the proper values of gold and silver in collecting payments? And since governments collect taxes and fees in order to spend those revenues on needed goods and services, how would the state find people who accept gold and silver, instead of the universally accepted U.S. dollar? Would the state simply sell the excess gold and silver, in order to pay for services with dollars? They have not responded to our request for comment.”

Check out the roster of resolutions, not all (though most were) approved by the full convention, but all with support from at least a committee or county organization. Here are the resolutions, or nearly all of them:

Unilaterally reduce state payments to the federal government based on what someone in Idaho deems to be an “unconstitutional” federal spending; jury nullification; put the FBI and other state and federal law enforcement under control of county sheriffs; rejecting any federal food-health activities; repeal contractor registration with the state; an absolute constitution ceiling on taxes, fees and spending; backing the Arizona immigration law; wipe out teacher unions; end the state corporate income tax; bar the de-certification of charter schools; “Idaho legislature and executive should assert ownership of federally-held Idaho lands and resources”; the state should unilaterally defy any federal law or rule it disapproves of (number 21); state prisons should be made self-supporting (22); eliminate concealed weapon registration – not concealed weapons, just the registration; set up a second Idaho state militia; legislation to specifically encourage use of the Bible as a text in public schools; a constitutional declaration that a fetus, of any level of development, is a “person”.

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Idaho

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weekly Digest

Hard economic times wound through this week’s Washington, Idaho and Oregon Public Affairs Digests. Oregon declared a massive 9% cut in state budgets, including hits at public schools, while Washington government set itself up for a new sort of budget process. In Idaho, the Department of Labor and the Human Rights Commission got ready to merge.

It was a good week for open records, as high courts ordered public that names on petitions for referenda in Washington state and of recipients of concealed weapons permits.

As a reminder: We’re now publishing weekly editions of the Public Affairs Digests – for Idaho, Washington and Oregon – moving from a monthly to a weekly rundown of what’s happening. And we’re taking it all-electronic: The print edition will be moving to e-mail.

That means we can include more information, and get it out a lot faster: The weekly Digests will be in your in-box first thing Monday morning. If you subscribe, of course: That’s $59 a year, for 50 issues and the yearbook. Yes, including the yearbook. The Idaho Yearbook, which we published for years up to 2002, will return early in 2011 – in printed book form – and Digest subscribers get it for free with their subscription. And the Oregon and Washington yearbooks will be coming out at the same time.

If you’d like to take a look at one of the new weekly Digests, here’s a link to the Idaho edition, to the Oregon edition and to the Washington edition. If you’d like to subscribe, here are the links (through to PayPal) for Idaho, for Oregon and for Washington.

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Digests

If you had any doubt just how large a player Idaho Falls businessman Frank VanderSloot is in Idaho politics, here’s some photographic evidence.

Taken at a dinner to which he invited participants at the state Republican convention, and which evidently drew a large portion of the state’s top elected officials.

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Idaho

A Democrat of our acquaintance years ago liked to say that party platforms should say that “We’re in favor of peace and prosperity and happiness” – and leave it at that. Might be wiser.

Consider two items from the Washington Democratic convention at Vancouver, two policy decisions, both of which may give some aid and comfort to Republicans.

One of would would support a possible ballot issue (whether it will get access isn’t quite clear yet – it would be Initiative 1068) which would legalize marijuana in Washington. The vote favoring it was not close – 314-185 – although some delegates warned that in more conservative and politically marginal areas, that vote could become a club for Republicans to hammer Democrats with. Even if the measure never makes the ballot.

Our thought, though, is that the policy on legal mind-altering substances might be more useful.

The convention also rejected a proposal to privatize liquor sales, to allow (as California does) privately-owned stores, such as supermarkets, to sell liquor now sold only in state stores. That seems likely to be a popular position, sop what was the key argument that led to the party’s smackdown against it? The Tacoma News Tribune reported, “most cheered arguments that it would lead to more underage drinking while enriching businesses at the expense of well-paying government jobs.”

That’s otherwise known as playing into the Republicans’ stereotype of Democrats.

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Washington

Next time you hear the argument that trademark and related laws are there just simply so that people can fairly profit from the value they’ve built up . . . remember G.I. Joe’s.

You remember the Oregon-based sporting good retailer that had a strong run in the Northwest for many years under its original ownership, then sold to a larger operation, only to see it wither and eventually die a couple of years ago. It saddened a lot of loyal customers around the region, too. (Yes, this oversimplifies a complex and twisting story, but in outline it’s a reasonably valid chronology.)

A couple of months ago, a piece of encouraging news: A group of the original G.I. Joe’s owners wanted to re-create the store, get at least one up and running again, maybe more. This would be, they said, the “G.I. Joe’s Comeback.”

It wasn’t to be.

Turned out that the rights to a clutch of G.I. Joe’s-related names, the ones the original G.I. Joe’s owners wanted to use, had been sold to a Canadian company called UFA Holdings Inc. It runs a group of stores called Wholesale Sport, but doesn’t seem to be actually using any of the G.I. Joe’s names. Regardless, it quickly sued the original G.I. Joe’s execs and demanded damages (even though no store has yet been opened) of $75,000, for trademark infringement.

That killed the revival. Tack up G.I. Joe’s on the long list of businesses killed or damaged by the over-zealous use of our trademark laws . . .

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Oregon

There was a temptation to say something a little snarky about the proposal, which was narrowly defeated in committee, about the state militia. The scene is the Idaho Republican Party convention at Idaho Falls, at the committee level, where ideas get thrashed around, some of them a little more solid than others. The ideas aren’t yet, to be clear, at the full-convention level; quite a few original concepts don’t quite make it through there.

But at the committee level, there was a proposal to establish a state militia. This sounds at first like, well, what you might expect. Except that the rationale of the proposer was a little more thoughtful than that: Yes, Idaho has a militia now, the National Guard. The problem is that it ultimately is subject to federal control and being whisked off to Iraq or Afghanistan, and part of the reason we need a militia is to help with natural disasters and the like here at home. There are some problems with the idea (it probably would never pass legal muster – two state militias? and how exactly would the feds not be able to mobilize the second one?), but the concern and thought process certainly weren’t off the rails. It passed the committee.

Harder, much harder, to explain this: A committee voted in favor of repeal of the 17th amendment, which would mean that state legislatures, rather than individual voters, would choose United States senators. This is an idea that has been unearthed and gotten a pretty good national thrashing in the last few weeks. These people must have known what it was.

They were warned. State Senator Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, and as solidly conservative as they come, told the committee, “You’re giving up your right to vote for people who are representing you in Washington, D.C.”

Wonder what else will emerge at the Idaho Republican convention before it ends.

UPDATE (a few minutes later) Well, that didn’t take long. Another committee, uncertain that the state’s extremely clear restriction of marriage to man + woman isn’t enough, agreed to a plank barring transgender people from marriage as well.

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Idaho

You live in a small town that’s about as wine-centric, per-capita, as any in the country, and you’d expect to hear about nearly all the heavy-duty wine activities.

Somehow missed this one: The 2010 Wine Blogger Conference will be held in Walla Walla, for the first time outside California.

It will be, they say, “the premier conference for new media and the wine industry.”

Noted here in part as one more small indicator of how the Washington/Oregon wine industry is coming along. Plus the curiosity factor . . .

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Oregon Washington

scotus

The U.S. Supreme Court, in what amounts to an 8-1 decision, made what would seem to be the obvious call in the Washington case of Doe et al v. Reed: When you sign your name on a referendum petition (and presumably as well, initiative or other formal petitions), your name is public. Although it’s actually a little less broad than that.

The issue arose after the Washington passage of the everything-but-marriage domestic partners law last year, which was challenged by the group Protect Marriage Washington. It launched a referendum (ultimately defeated) to try to overturn the law, and to do that it needed petition signatures, a lot of them. It submitted about 137,000. When that happened another counter group asked Secretary of State Sam Reed for access to the names, which it planned to place on a web site. Protect Marriage Washington then filed the lawsuit, saying the names of signers should be kept secret because they might be subject to harassment.

This was a fairly new proposition, and a little strange. Other groups further out of the mainstream, who seemingly might have a lot more to lose through association with a particular cause, never asked for the cloak of privacy on this very public action. But the case went to the Supreme Court, and now the decision (written by the chief, John Roberts) is out:

“The issue at this stage of the case is not whether disclosure of this particular petition would violate the First Amendment, but whether disclosure of referendum petitions in general would do so. We conclude that such disclosure does not as a general matter violate the First Amendment, and we therefore affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals. We leave it to the lower courts to consider in the first instance the signers’ more focused claim concerning disclosure of the information on this particular petition, which is pending before the District Court.”

The court left open a door, though, and maybe one any number of groups will try to use: The argument that their backers will be harassed if exposed. They should have closed that door entirely. Laws against harassment already are on the books and can and have been used. Beyond that: How cowardly to you get to be when you want affirmatively change things in our society? How many cloacks of darkness do you need? Casting a private vote, on an issue submitted to the public, is one thing; acting to place that matter on the ballot is quite different.

The line from the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, “Disclosure requirements may burden the ability to
speak, but they . . . do not prevent anyone from speaking,” is exactly on point. The court’s decision would have been stronger had they stuck closer to it.

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