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Posts published in July 2010

The marijuana jobs watch

Ben Jacklet's column in Oregon Business is often good for some unusual takes on the economic picture in Oregon. As with this headline: "Jobs Watch: Marijuana measure makes ballot."

It harks back a bit to two, count 'em two, editorials in the Oregonian in just the last week that seem to be pushing gently but directly in the direction of calling for legalizing marijuana. One arguing that posing that question on the ballot directly, rather than dancing around it with the current measure on pot dispensaries, might be preferable. The second on Friday seemingly expressing support (without daring to be explicit about it) for an international statement saying that the war on drugs is making a number of things, HIV infection rates among them, worse rather than better.

Then there's Jacklet's piece from July 16 on the present ballot issue. From the business standpoint: "Such a system would almost certainly result in a gold rush to tap into the growing market for legal weed, which has been lucratively exploited in California and Colorado. Marijuana is the nation's largest cash crop, and any move to update regulations controlling how it is grown and sold will create opportunities . . ."

He has provided some useful numbers to demonstrate: An Oregon pot crop estimated to have $474 million of value; 36,402 Oregon medical marijuana patients; and a good deal more.

The discussion is changing.

A range of nominations

The Independent Party of Oregon, having conducted its online voting among members (just eyeballing it, maybe around 5% of the membership took part), and the results are in.

It's an eclectic group they voted for. Whatever else you say about it, this is clearly not a group in the pocket of any one political party.

A few thoughts on the results released this evening online.

If the biggest vote-getter was "none of the above," does that mean no endorsement in that race? There were a bunch of those. In state House 22, incumbent Democrat Betty Komp and "none of the above" each got 12 votes.

The endorsement for governor clearly went to Democrat John Kitzhaber, but a little context is necessary too. Republican Chris Dudley didn't seek the nomination, so his name wasn't listed. So: Kitzhaber got 850 votes, but two little-knowns, Jerry Wilson and Richard Esterman, got a total of 738. Were some of those de facto Dudley votes?

In the 4th congressional district, Republican Art Robinson, who's probably a longshot against incumbent Democrat Peter DeFazio, got most of the votes - 418 to 288. And in the 5th, Republican challenger Scott Bruun took 237 votes to incumbent Democrat Kurt Schrader's 211, in a race that could be close indeed.

The legislative races were a deeply split mix. Hard to imagine what single mindset would come up with results like this. (Not an argument that any particular results are irrational, just that some of them seem to run up against some others.) If the original concern was that the process might be rigged, the actual results seem to fly in the face of that idea.

Contender for the bottom rung

In fairness to candidates for office, quite a few actually are (putting aside philosophical points of view) reasonable contenders and worthy of consideration. And then there are those who just make you shake your head.

Leading 2010 contender for the bottom rung in the Northwest may be David R. Fox, an attorney. The factors that may give him that distinction are recounted in a new blog post on the Spokesman-Review's Spin Control.

Start with the filing choice: Fox lives and works in Port Angeles, on the far west side of the state up in the Olympic Peninsula. He is running as one of four Democratic contenders for the U.S. House in 5th district, on the far eastern side of Washington, based around Spokane. (The incumbent, very strongly favored for re-election, is Republican Cathy McMorris-Rodgers.) Maybe 300 miles away. That's not legally disqualifying, but why would you do it? Maybe the legal issues he's had with law enforcement out in Clallam County - which Spin Control describes - is a factor. Call his Port Angeles phone, which is listed in the voter guide, and (Spin Control says) the person who answers says “I really, honestly don’t know” how to reach him.

He has spent time in Spokane this summer, but that has not improved matters. There, he has been accused of walking out on a bar tab and writing a bad check. And, one night on a downtown Spokane street, asking a man he encountered for sex. The man slugged him. Then Fox ensured that the incident would go public by filing a complaint with Spokane police against the man.

So . . . how many votes does this guy get next month?

The unlocking

Election nights are always a little fun (at least, for those of us watching): An unveiling of what actually happens. And it happens, you might say (metaphorically), as elections officials unlock the ballot boxes.

Tomorrow night will be something like that for Oregon's Independent Party. Member of the party have been voting, electronically - will this become commonplace in government-run elections in years to come? - and that phase will wrap up tomorrow at 5 p.m. Members get to choose which candidates should receive the party's endorsement, and there are a lot of candidates to choose from. And a good many Independent members, probably over 50,000. It may be enough to matter in close races.

In an e-mail release, the party reports:

"We expect to have representatives of the Secretary of State and of several county elections offices present at the unlocking," said party chair Linda Williams. "The press is also welcome to observe this conclusion of the first online election in Oregon history."

The outcomes for most of the 60 races for public office (Governor, U.S. Representative, State Senator, and State Representative) will be immediately apparent. The outcomes for some races, however, may depend upon reading and tallying the write-in votes.

The Independent Party is conducting the first-ever Oregon minor party primary election open to every member of the party and the first-ever party election conducted through internet voting. This election includes 86 candidates seeking the Independent Party nomination for 60 different offices.

We'll keep watch.

Crossing the threat threshold

court

When it is jus talking trash, when is it a real threat? The difference isn't small: One may be an annoyance, and the other a crime and possibly an alert to imminent harm. It's a legal question with absolutely practical applications.

The issue came up in Washington v. Glen Arthur Schaler, decided today by the Washington Supreme Court.

The law itself isn't of terrific help here. Washington law says a threat - this being a form of "unprotected speech" - is "a statement made in a context or under such circumstances wherein a reasonable person would foresee that the statement would be interpreted as a serious expression of intention to inflict bodily harm upon or to take the life of another person." Sorry, that doesn't allow for a really objective standard - you and I, reasonable persons both, may disagree about whether a statement was a threat, an offand or angry statement, or even a joke.

To an extent, the Supreme Court punted on this one. It found error in the way a jury was instructed, keeping the case alive. What it said by way of clarifying what a threat was is this: "The speaker of a "true threat" need not actually intend to carry it out. It is enough that a reasonable speaker would foresee that the threat would be considered serious. Importantly, only threats that are "true" may be proscribed. The First Amendment prohibits the State from criminalizing communications that bear the wording of threats but which are in fact merely jokes, idle talk, or hyperbole."

The whole story of the Schaler case makes for a fine case study of divining the fuzzy lines in this area. Its retelling in the court's decision follows on the jump. (more…)

The rivalry scramble

kustra
Bob Kustra

We were wondering some weeks back when the celebration broke loose about Boise State University athletics joining the Mountain West conference whether all the social elements - and not just the financial elements - had been fully worked through. The nagging point was this: The conference shift probably would mean that Boise State's Bronco football team would quit playing, at least most years, the University of Idaho Vandals. That point was noted in reports and discussions at the time, but downplayed or buried.

It shouldn't have been. The BSU-UI match has for decades been the big athletic event in Idaho. It's a big deal for a lot of people. Maybe not quite on the scale of the University of Oregon/Oregon State Civil War to the west, but a Big Deal nonetheless.

Now that's coming home to roost. BSU President Bob Kustra, ordinarily a careful and diplomatic speaker, trash-talked (at an Idaho Statesman editorial board meeting) the UI, calling its culture "inebriated" and "nasty," and suggested in essence that BSU had no reason to lower itself to that level. And that if BSU never plays the UI again, great.

Coming from Kustra, who's sometimes been mentioned as a prospect for political office (but probably not again in Idaho), those remarks are a little stunning. Most university presidents are a lot more even-tempered about their fellow institutions; they do, after all, often have to work together.

Now Kustra's comments, which he seems not to be walking back, in combination with the already-sore matter of a tossed tradition, have blown up. Today, Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter was asked what he was going to do about it. Otter did about as much as he could, which was to express support for the traditional game while pointing out (correctly) that football scheduling really isn't in his bailiwick. You might guess, though, that some of the state Board of Education members will be getting a call from him sometime soon.

This isn't anywhere near over yet, and it's hard to see where exactly it does end . . .

Fire transitions

Another transition: We're seeing the phasing-out of fire lookouts.

The Medford Mail Tribune had a piece out today about Ken and Colleen Struck, now in their 70s and nearing a quarter-century of summer work as upper-elevation forest fire lookouts. The Oregon Department of Forestry has only one other fire outlook left in its southwest region. Others seem to be scaling back too, in favor of cameras or satellite observation.

Unclear whether this is a case of new technology simply superseding old. After all, as one person quoted remarked, you can't get a feel for the situation from a camera.

Space for the bighorns

sheep
/Payette National Forest

Remember some months back when a big blowup occurred over University of Idaho studies of whether diseases and other problems associated with domestic sheep might harm wild bighorn sheep?

Today, the upshot demonstrating why that was a blowup: A Payette National Forest record of decision restricting agricultural sheep to less than a third of the land they historically have used. It was written - and decided - by Payette Forest Supervisor Suzanne Rainville.

Here's background from the decision:

Only portions of two bighorn sheep metapopulations remain on the Payette National Forest, one within Hells Canyon of the Snake River and the other among the Salmon River Mountains. Historically, these populations were likely connected by suitable habitats between the two major drainages and recently, bighorn sheep have been observed travelling from Hells Canyon to the Salmon River and back again. More than 10,000 bighorn sheep may have once lived in the Hells Canyon and surrounding mountains, but they were extirpated by the mid-1940s. Through reintroduction, 474 bighorn sheep were transplanted into Hells Canyon between 1971 and 2004. Seven die-offs have been reported since 1971. Today, the population is estimated at 850 animals. The Salmon River metapopulation was never extirpated. Winter population surveys conducted in 2001,2003, and 2004 document at least 508 bighorn sheep within the various drainages of the Salmon River and 210 bighorn sheep in the South Fork Salmon River and Main Salmon River. Historic accounts of major die-offs of bighorn sheep in the Salmon River Mountains began in approximately 1870. The population has experienced periodic die-offs and population decline since that time. The current estimated numbers of bighorn sheep in hunting units in and around the Payette National Forest has decreased 47 percent since 1981.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, large numbers of domestic sheep were grazed on the Payette National Forest. In 1915, 174,445 sheep were permitted to graze on the Payette National Forest. This number declined throughout the 20 century to around 18,300 in 2009. Today, four pennittees are authorized through term grazing permits to graze sheep on the Payette National Forest. Both statutory and case laws infer that a term grazing permit represents a privilege, not a prope11y right, to use National Forest System lands and resources. Procedures exist to modify or cancel term grazing permits. Although the Multiple Use Sustained Yield Act of 1960 directs that National Forests provide for multiple uses, such as range, it also states that some land will be used for less than all resources and periodic adjustments in use to conform to changing needs and conditions are allowed.

The decision says flatly what a number of others have danced around: "A long history of large-scale, rapid, all-age die-offs in bighorn sheep has been documented across Canada and the United States, many presumed associated with domestic animal contact (Shackleton 1999). Although limited knowledge of transmission dynamics exists (Garde et al. 2005), extensive scientific literature supports a relationship between disease in bighorn sheep populations and contact with domestic sheep." (more…)

Overrun end run

Thing is, massive construction projects tend to - customarily do run over estimated costs. That's the way it usually goes. Small projects often, too, but this one - the Alaskan Way Viaduct reconstruction in Seattle - is enormous, and the size of possible overruns is a very big deal.

Most specifically, for whoever has to pay.

There's some uncertainty about that right now, and some people in Seattle, including Mayor Mike McGinn, are concerned about it. But that's not the only worrisome point. Something has to be done about the Alaskan Way, and soon, and negotiations over it among the involved parties, which include a variety of governments, took years and nearly came undone last year. The people who went through all that, including many of the city council members, are loathe to want to start all over again.

So on one side, the city council which today had this in a release: "Seattle City Councilmembers today announced the completion of negotiated Alaskan Way Viaduct agreements and their intent to authorize these agreements among Seattle City Light, Seattle Department of Transportation and Seattle Public Utilities and the Washington State Department of Transportation. After months of negotiations, the City Council has reached agreement with the State and introduced Resolution 31235. This resolution implements Ordinance 123133 and details the Council's intent to authorize the agreements once the State awards a contract consistent with the program's scope and budget and subject to environmental review."

On the other, McGinn, who has been pushing for a public signoff before the commitment is made: "It appears that Council is doing everything possible to prevent a public vote. Yet they still have not dealt with the underlying issue - who will pay for overruns given the $2.4 billion cap in state law. Until the state law is changed, Seattle remains at risk of paying cost overruns."

Things have been a little tense in Seattle since McGinn's investiture. They're about to go to a whole new level, on the biggest issue the city now has to deal with. The real politics is about to crank up.

Feel-good mythology

Most useful column of the weekend: Danny Westneat's in the Seattle Times today, deconstructing the myth of the West as a place of "rugged individualism." Not that a lot of people don't buy into it; many do, and even more are the politicians who traffic in it. But none of that makes it any more true.

Westneat: "Of all stories we tell ourselves, the one about how we're a merit-based nation of lone wolves has got to be the most enduring. The most intoxicating. And the most baloney."

Westneat aims his barbs most directly at eastern Washington, prompted by campaign rhetoric from senatorial candidate Clint Didier. (Didier: "We've got to get rid of this 'protecting the weak'. If we keep the weak alive all the time, it eats up the strong.") But eastern Oregon and, even more, Idaho are just as much swept up in the tale of the hard-bitten but often brilliant loner who can do it all by himself if the damned government would just stay off his back.

Except for providing for his public education, of course. Or roads. Safety. Waterways. Electricity. And on and on.

Read, by all means. We'll be returning to this, no doubt.