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Posts published in July 2010

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.

Allred at the town hall

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Keith Allred at the Boise town hall/Randy Stapilus

The setup was sweet for a candidate for governor. While there's something of an embunkered feeling to the re-election campaign for Idaho Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter, his Democratic opponent Keith Allred holds - about three blocks from the Idaho Statehouse, at the grand old Egyptian Theatre - an open, come-all town hall meeting. (Can anyone active in Idaho politics imagine Otter this year doing something similar?) The pitch: Come and talk to the candidate.

The results delivered just that, on one frequency, and did not deliver on another. It was as promised a straight-up Q & A, and it had plenty of substance. Presumably it did exactly what Allred, trained by profession as a mediator, wanted and intended it to do - and all that it should do if campaigns were a matter of evaluating policy. Some other frequencies were missing.

Somewhere between 150 and 200 people were there, and generally not the political usual suspects. Not many of the people you'd expect in Boise to appear at a Democratic governor campaign event, did; of the dozen Democratic legislators from Boise, just three or four turned up. The best-known Idaho political figure in attendance was former state Senator Laird Noh from Twin Falls, a Republican co-chairing the campaign. (Like Allred, Noh is naturally low-key, a smart policy wonk and a skilled legislator willing to work with anyone to achieve a carefully considered objective. The match in personal approach and style is easy to see.) Allred was drawing in some new people; some of the stalwarts seemed less in evidence.

His opening statement, and responses, seemed of a piece with where he had been before, with a mix of policy suggestions and a proposal to try to leverage the views of Idahoans to try to budge the intractable - on tax policy, notably, though other subjects as well. He appealed to the mind, but less so to the gut. If there, as people have remarked about his approach, an absence of red meat, there was also a general absence of emotional content. He made a case for the inadequacy of various Otter-related policies, but he didn't make the full-throated case of a crusader, exhorting the crowd to join him on a glorious mission to fire the bastards. The setting, alone (but for the moderator, Boise City Council member T.J. Thomson, well off to the side) under the spotlight was ideal for that kind of tub thumper. But this was an appeal to the intellect. This was a prolonged campaign talk with no real red meat, hardly any sound bits, only few applause lines, and those few seemed inadvertent. (There were a few sharply turned lines, though, even if they weren't punched hard, such as one having to do with education: "Folks, that is the American practice.") Those weren't his thing. (more…)

Any time, any place, any reason (or none)

The question is, how long will this last - and from what direction will the killer blow come?

Assuming the situation is reported accurately by the Coast Lake News, the city council of Lakeview, Oregon, has passed a "New ordinance [that] allows entry to private property at will and without prior complaint to search for code violations." (Hat tip here to Blue Oregon.)

Jessica Lloyd-Rogers, the editor of the paper, wrote that "there was no public notice and the item was not listed on the agenda. Brought up under "Items Not on the Agenda" the Ordinance was referred to only by number and once by title before being immediately adopted without discussion. Not content with violating the Fourth Amendment and Oregon's Public Meeting Law, the Council's procedure violates the City Charter and continues a pattern of secrecy and targeting citizens."

Hard to imagine how this lasts for long. Hard to imagine how many of those city council members expect to stay in office for terribly long, either.

Behind Initiative 1053

The public face of Initiative 1053, the latest measure aimed at requiring two-thirds votes in the legislature for any tax increase, is its tireless chief organizer, Tim Eyman of Mukilteo.

But he is not alone. There are others, too, less interested in generating headlines. In the Seattle Post-Intelligencer today, Joel Connelly has a rundown of some of the other key backers: big oil companies: "BP put up $65,000 to put I-1053 on the ballot. Tesoro, ConocoPhillips and Equilon each forked up $50,000 to pay signature mercenaries whose efforts are essential to make the ballot."

That may be a response to a proposed Hazardous Substances Tax which the state legislature came close to passing this year, and which the companies fought hard. You have to wonder: What might have happened had the legislators known then, as they do now, about the Gulf spill?

Little wonder they're so eager for two-thirds.

Graveyard run to Boise

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Greyhound at Ontario, Oregon/Randy Stapilus

There's this, to begin with: The Greyhound bus run scheduled to depart Portland at 11:50 p.m. left at 11:50. That is exactly what the big clock on Union Station north of downtown, and next door to the Greyhound station in PDX, said as the bus cleared the building.

The bus was scheduled to arrived at the bus station just west of downtown Boise, more than 400 miles away and after eight intermediate stops, at 10:05 the next morning. It pulled it at 10:04, and I stepped off the bus at 10:05. The precision was impressive.

I hadn't been at all sure what to expect. But what emerged over the course of the ride is an argument that "riding the bus" ought not to be considered a second-class (or worse) option.

I've not taken a long-distance commercial bus ride for a long time, 25 years at least, maybe more. For a long time, I suspected I never would again: The trend lines seem to be running against commercial bus lines. When you see a business, even one as big as Greyhound, scaling back on lines (the closest GH stop to our residence, a long-time stop at McMinnville, Oregon, was dropped a few years ago), expectations aren't necessarily of the highest. And there's something about the bus in the culture, as something people wouldn't take if driving or flying were available options. A mode of last resort. With, maybe, a clientele reflecting that.

The reality turned out to be a little different, and even intriguing.

The bus was neat, clean and comfortable - the seats more comfortable than most airline seats (not to damn with faint praise). Air circulated well through the coach. The driving was smooth and not especially noticeable (which is a compliment). Some Greyhound buses on the east coast have wifi and other services installed, which would be a nice feature. They're not on the Pacific-side buses yet, but the people at the Portland station seemed to think that may be coming in the near term; more enhanced buses apparently are rolling off the lines this summer.

How much traffic do these graveyard, long-run routes get? Enough apparently. A bus departing Portland station for points south (to California) at 11:25 was sold out at least a half-hour before boarding. A crowd assembled quickly into line for it at gate 8, and everyone there seemed to get a seat.

My bus was about half-full initially, but at a midway stop at a Pilot truck stop at Stanfield about 3:30 picked up a dozen or so more people, apparently on a run originating from the Seattle area but headed southeast. At peak, it was nearly full. I got the impression that's more or less average.

Who were all these people traveling hundreds of miles in the middle of the night? (more…)

It tolls for thee

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Timothy Leavitt

Timothy Leavitt would call it an adaptation to reality. Many of his former supporters would call it breaking his word. Wonder what the voters will think when he's up for re-election, in 2013, as mayor of Vancouver?

The change, however you define it, is dramatic. Last year Leavitt based his seemingly longshot campaign against veteran Mayor Royce Pollard on opposition to imposition of tolls on any rebuilt Interstate 5 bridge across the Columbia River. A lot of Vancouverites commute south (a disclaimer here: The writer's sister periodically is one of them), more than the number of Portlanders who commute north. Leavitt's outspoken irritation at the idea of tolling hit home and swept him in.

Tolling has a lot of support, though, among government officials and others who think hard about how to pay the billion-dollar costs of reconstruction.

Confronted with that, Leavitt last Friday unveiled his own approach, involving a complex system of tolling that could take in people who ride the Interstate anywhere near the bridge, even if they exit before crossing it. Reaction on that generally has yet to coalesce.

The immediate reaction in Vancouver to Leavitt's 180 is a lot clearer.

Check out the comments at the Vancouver Columbian's web site after a story on Leavitt and his critics:

"Interesting that he was a single-issue candidate in most of his campaign materials, including his signs. Now he renegs on that." "A man's word is his bond. It appears to be one of many broken promises by “His Honor”. Some folks can't be trusted and they only make promises to get elected and then work on the agenda given to them by their major contributors." "Lets all remember this when he decides some day to run for another office, we can truthfully call him out as a LIAR." "It's not that we believed that Leavitt could stop tolls by himself, but we did believe that he would be a strong voice in opposition to tolls." "Recall Leavitt the Liar."

And so on.

What they may be asking him about

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Dirk Kempthorne

Tomorrow former Interior Secretary (and former Idaho Governor) Dirk Kempthorne is scheduled to appear before the U.S. House Subcommittees on Oversight and Investigations and Energy and Environment, as one of several witnesses about the subject, "The Role of the Interior Department in the Deepwater Horizon Disaster."

Since Kempthorne left the Interior Department a year and a half ago, and well more than a year before the BP gulf disaster, you might wonder what he'd have to offer. But bear in mind that decisions, policies and personnel in government agencies can continue generating ripple effects for years after the top dudes depart. And bear in mind what was said and reported about Kempthorne's tenure at Interior.

This isn't the first time a spotlight has been shone on the department in those years. Of the results of one 2008 inquiry, Representative Nick Rahall summarized: “The results of this investigation paint a picture of something akin to a secret society residing within the Interior Department that was colluding to undermine the protection of endangered wildlife and covering for one another’s misdeeds.”

But the issues aren't just generic at Interior; they are also specific at the Minerals Management Service, the division of Interior responsible for overseeing drilling operations like BP's in the Gulf, and which has come under a great of criticism in the last couple of months.

During Kempthorne's tenure, which ran for two and a half years up until January 2009, the agency had a string of problems. The New York Times reported this in September 2008 (after he'd been in charge more than two years): "As Congress prepares to debate expansion of drilling in taxpayer-owned coastal waters, the Interior Department agency that collects oil and gas royalties has been caught up in a wide-ranging ethics scandal — including allegations of financial self-dealing, accepting gifts from energy companies, cocaine use and sexual misconduct. . . . The reports portray a dysfunctional organization that has been riddled with conflicts of interest, unprofessional behavior and a free-for-all atmosphere for much of the Bush administration’s watch."

The hearing cranks up at 8 a.m. MTN/7 a.m. PAC, tomorrow morning. Might be entertaining.

This week in the Digests

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weekly Digest

Congressional campaign finance reports fell hard and heavy toward the end of last week, and they suggest the outlines of the campaign season about to unfold. That may be especially true in Washington, where the primary election is only a few weeks away.

State budgeting (and revenues) remained a big concern during the month, while unemployment remains high everywhere (diminishing a bit in Washington, holding in Oregon).

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.

Dudley’s unfolding problem

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Chris Dudley

The problem is somewhat bigger than it first seemed, and it started as a problem. It has sort of unwrapped, getting more pungent.

If you're Chris Dudley, the Republican nominee for governor of Oregon, your biggest problem is this: You're untested in public - governmental and elective - life, and questions both about how well informed you are and about how you react to various pressure stimuli are real questions voters and the people who advise them on voting will be considering. Dealing with that concern will be a main thread of the upcoming gubernatorial contest with Democrat John Kitzhaber, whose issues are in other areas: He has broad mastery of the subject matter, and his reactions to various challenges have been documented for a long time.

One way Dudley could spike the problem is by going right at it: Putting himself out there, answering questions, providing detail, exposing himself to the pressures so people can watch him in action. If, that is, he would leave a good impression afterward. There's the risk of falling on his face, and avoiding the risk is a way of conceding that those problems people wonder about really are, you know, problems.

So far, Dudley has been practicing avoidance. He has been arguing for fewer (and Kitzhaber more) debates. The traditional first one is the summer newspaper publisher's confab, where since 1986 the party nominees faced off in front of the state's newspaper reporters. Dudley begged off, saying he had a family vacation to tend to instead.

That sounded pretty weak. And the vacation wasn't even in Oregon, also not wonderful.

Then it turned out that while in Colorado, Dudley was not just relaxing with the family. Instead of speaking to newspaper publishers in Oregon, he was at Aspen at a Republican governors' meeting, speaking to the lobbyists and campaign finance people who were there.

As Jeff Mapes of the Oregonian wrote, "When the Dudley campaign declined an offer to debate Kitzhaber before the annual meeting of the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association - which has a more than two-decade-old tradition of holding the first gubernatorial debate of the general election campaign - no mention was made that Dudley would be at another political event."

That's not likely to be forgotten. And it raises another dimension to the problem he has to deal with headed into the last three months of the campaign. Kari Chisholm at Blue Oregon outlined it:

"Dudley's now in a position where every time he tells folks that he has a seemingly-legit schedule conflict, they're going to wonder: What's really going on? What's he really doing? This is no longer just an issue about whether Dudley is willing to answer tough questions from the press and for Oregon voters - though it is still that - it's now also a more fundamental issue about his credibility and trustworthiness."