"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)

Consider the numbers. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the Senate re-elect campaign for Democrat Patty Murray raised $17.1 million, and the campaign for her Republican challenger Dino Rossi $9.6 million. Ad that doesn’t count the piles of third-party money poured into the contest.

By money measures at least, the Murray-Rossi contest, widely considered at least close for several months of its run, was the largest-scale political contest so far in Northwest history. In our view, Murray probably – realistically – held a consistent if modest lead. But it was hitly contested, and Rossi demonstrated that his support around the state remained large and real, even after two losses in gubernatorial races.

It may have put an end, for a while anyway, to Rossi’s run of runs. And it raised the question of what, exactly, Washington Republicans would have to do to win a statewide race – even on an election day when the party made some major gains in the legislature and picked up a U.S. House seat.

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Northwest Washington

For the last couple of cycles, the Oregon Legislature tried doing something not contemplated in the Constitution (and criticized by some legislators on that basis): Holding even-year sessions. The state traditionally, unlike Washington and Idaho, has held regular (half-year) sessions only in odd-numbered years. Only emergencies are supposed to be a basis to call them back in the even years.

But financial and other concerns have been overtaking that theory in recent decades, and legislators – many of both parties – in recent years decided to experiment with the idea of a limited general-purpose session in the even years, something like Washington does. It seemed to work, and in 2010 voters passed the legislature-proposed Measure 71, which set up regular annual sessions.

It may change the way the Oregon assembly works, and thinks.

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A very nice Christmas gift for historians of Idaho and the Inland Northwest: A treasure trove of material from within the Potlatch lumber operations, over a period of decades, donated to the University of Idaho. Significant parts of the region’s history may be rewritten as researchers dive into it.

UI said in a release:

The University of Idaho has received a gift of 521-cubic-feet of historical archives to the Library’s special collections from the Potlatch Corporation, acknowledging the university’s long-standing relationship with the company.

The documents include many from Potlatch Forests Inc. and Potlatch Lumber Company, and personal manuscripts from the George Jewett family from 1986-95. The records document not only the business history, but the environmental history dating back to the late 19th century of the American forestry and paper industry.

Environmental history is a real strength of the collection, with records of the earliest days of forest surveys. The collection details not only what the very early forest look like, but also the change over time for particular locations. Photographs of the forests, including aerial surveys, showed these changes. Other documents also showed the development of forest harvesting work as muscle power and steam engines were replaced with gas and diesel powered vehicles and machinery, as well as the introduction of electricity into forest work camps and mills.

The Potlatch Corporation Archives are considered to be a foundation collection for the university’s Special Collections and Archives, and are dedicated to the cultural and environmental history of Idaho, the northern Rockies and Columbia Plateau region.

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The Idaho Correctional Center, Idaho’s (and the Northwest’s) first privately-run prison – operated by the Corrections Corporation of America – opened near Kuna in 2000, with a “safe operating capacity” of 1,514 – a big prison. This site predicted then that dark investigative news reports would be coming, eventually. And eventually, they did.

In 2010 came reports through the Associated Press about strong violence at the facility, which got the nickname “gladiator school.” The U.S. Department of Justice launched an investigation. The AP released a stunning video showing one inmate beating another senseless, while corrections officers stood by, watched, and did not act until the attacker had walked away of his own volition. CCA complained strongly – most loudly about the AP release of the video, which went viral.

The whole private prison idea in the region took on a new coloration in 2010.

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Idaho Northwest

Mike McGinn

Mike McGinn has not been mayor of Seattle so long as to build up the list of critics and adversaries that any big-city mayor will develop over time. But while seemingly much more easy-going than his harder-edged predecessor Greg Nickels, he has moved quite a way down that path.

His big issue during the mayoral race was opposition to the Alaskan Way viaduct tunnel option, a stance that put him into flat opposition with many of the other regional powers. Here’s one summary from Wikipedia: “After the election, requests for state employee emails revealed a discomfort with the McGinn campaign by state government and transportation officials over McGinn’s anti tunnel position. Ron Judd, an aide to Washington Governor Chris Gregoire, sent emails to staff and DOT officials saying McGinn’s position was “BS” and accused McGinn of stoking populist angers and relying on voter’s ignorance about funding details to advance his anti-tunnel stance.”

And there was much more. The city council started making on its own announcements traditionally made by the mayor – acting independently to astunning degree. After McGinn made statements that seemed to accuse the governor of lying, Gregoire seemed to diss him totally, with statements emerging that apprently cut off relations with the mayor’s office in favor of the council (and working through Council President Richard Conlin). Nor does it seem that Olympia and the council is all; other power players, including much of business and labor, seems put off as well. Some liberal groups still cheer McGinn on, but he’s lost a lot of the rest.

Seattle Times column Joni Balter, running through some of this, concludes, “McGinn may be a one-term mayor because he has lost contact with the silent middle in Seattle.” She may be right.

All this is important to transportation issues. Beyond that, something significant is being reshuffled in the Seattle power structure.

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No one will know until into January whether the University of Oregon Ducks can claim the title of top college football team in the country. But the team’s no-loss season has already been somewhat transformative in Oregon: The interest level is much higher than the norm, with even loyal Beavers cheering on the players from Eugene.

It may matter beyond football. 2011 could be a key year for state officials to decide what to do about funding the state’s perenially underfunded higher education institutions. UO has been a leader in coming up with options (one being a massive fund on which it, or others as well, could draw), most of which entail in some way greater independence from legislative control. The Ducks’ adventures may have some peripheral effect on all that.

Maybe from a distance, as well, in Boise. There, the Boise State University Broncos, which have become a near-obsessional subject, had a very good but less than great season. Which was not enough for some people. Could this be a point of some useful deflation in Boise?

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A view in Aloha, on the TV Highway/photo from Wikipedia

It’s a choice you can make, but be aware that there are two sides to it …

One of our favorite area eateries has been Reo’s BBQ, which features southern-style que in the proper manner – only but so many in the Northwest can make that claim. Its current location is in southern Portland, but that’s recent: Until a few months back it was located west of PDX on the Tualatin Valley Highway in the non-city called Aloha.

Aloha is something like White Center southwest of Seattle, or maybe the Southwest Community near Boise – a large mass of population, an urbanized area, that is not a city and doesn’t want to become or join one, however much they may look and act like one. The biggest reason seems to be taxes: Live in the unincorporated county, and property taxes are lower.

That’s one side of the equation. An article on Aloha in this morning’s Oregonian outlines some of the other side.

For example: “In the past 20 years, businesses have closed, leaving boarded-up shells along Tualatin Valley Highway, the blue-collar community’s main artery. Nearly a quarter of the county’s [that would be Washington County, population over a half-million] low-income, public housing is in Aloha. The area lacks sidewalks and nutritious food sources, the county told Metro earlier this year. The county-designated town center is a Big Lots and Little Caesar’s pizza.”

In fact the number of boarded-up businesses has grown around Aloha visibly faster than in most of the cities nearby, from large Portland (about a dozen miles away) on down. A number of them, like Reo’s, have moved on. Necessary services will be improved, from the physical like roads and sidewalks to the professional like safety and law enforcement. The larger cities of Beaverton and Hillsboro, on either side of Aloha, seem to be in better shape. And, the article makes clear, neither is eager to absorb Aloha because the region now would be costly to bring up to standards. (There’s even a running joke between the city officials there – “No, I don’t want it; you take it.)

Are taxes so obviously a detriment to business? Read the article and then consider again.

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Highway 12 from Lewiston to Missoula is a pretty and highly scenic drive, but even drivers who are both experienced in mountain travel and driving low-center-of-gravity vehicles will find it a challenge. It has long been used by conventional truck traffic, though car drivers (and a lot of locals) dread spotting one – the clearance is often a little uncomfortable. It is twisting and in some places quite steep.

So the idea of sending indistrial loads so large they take up all of both lanes on this road, from the Port of Lewiston northeast to the oil. fields of Alberta, quickly sounded breathtakingly bad to a lot of people. As of this fall, oil companies planning such shipments had in hand state permits from the Idaho transportation department, and were about to roll when a series of court and other challenges began.

The battle, in courtrooms and hearing rooms, was still underway as the year closed out, though one major development – a hearing officer’s report arguing that the shipments should be allowed – arrived just this week.

It will continue into the new year, though: The issue will go back to others at the state department of transportation. And maybe beyond.

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Idaho Northwest

Some real news in this campaign: This is how far out politics got in 2010.

Art Robinson, running in the Oregon 4th district, had to be one of the most peculiar congressional candidates in the national in 2010 – and that’s quite some company. A climate change denier who lives on what amounts to a remote compound, his rundown of contentions will hold up with any of the year’s better known national odd candidates.

One sample quote will give some of the flavor: “Public education (tax-financed socialism) has become the most widespread and devastating form of child abuse and racism in the United States. Moreover, people who have been cut off at the knees by public education are so mentally handicapped that they cannot be responsible custodians of the energy technology base or other advanced accomplishments of our civilization. These ignorant people vote, and their votes are beginning to destroy our way of life. Can this problem be corrected? Yes. Can it be corrected by improving the public schools? No – only by abolishing them.”

The arrival of such a candidate wasn’t the really noteworthy thing. That would be mass of money, deep into six figures, spent on his behalf – though not through his campaign – aimed squarely at the Democratic incumbent in the district, Peter DeFazio. DeFazio himself went viral when, camera-accompanied, he took to the mean streets of D.C. to try to track down (Michael Moore style) whoever it was that financed the mass TV campaign against him. (The association which paid for it, whose title sounded like a mass grass-roots group, turned out to be a couple of wealthy guys – a hedge fund manager and a construction executive – on the east coast.)

A sign of things to come?

Oh, and there’s this from Robinson’s campaign web site: “Art Robinson will be running again in the 2012 election. We have made a tremendous amount of progress and if we all keep working – starting now – we will have a much better chance then.”

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In this year of depressing economic news (on levels of employment and investment within the United States, that is) – not a matter of things getting worse so much as of things stubbornly refusing to get better – the single biggest piece of business news in the Northwest in 2010 may have been a positive business expansion story.

Intel Corporation, whose largest operations (though not headquarters) long have been in Oregon, announced in the fall a massive expansion of its facilities at Hillsboro. Thousands of jobs are expected to appear in the next few years as a result of the billion-dollar expansion, which also signals a major boost to the area’s high tech operations.

Watching the tech buiness news in recent weeks, in fact, some of this already seems to be happening.

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Donna Nelson
Population of Washington congressional districts/WA Secretary of State map

Congressional reapportionment can be hard to conceptualize unless you can picture the area in your mind: As mobile blobs, some overstuffed and others too thin. In the case of congressional districts, all are supposed to come close to a specific target, and when a new one has to be created out of the existing ones, the population for the new will have to come cheifly from the fat portions of the existing.

As you can see here, in this useful map from the Secretary of State’s office. (You can get a better, clearer look via the link in the cutline.) The fattest (in population) congressional district is District 8, the area east and southeast of Seattle; by itself, that’s approaching a fourth of the population for a whole new district.

Looking at the map, you can imagine slicing off maybe 135,000 people from the south of district 8, about 115,000 from District 3 to its south, and another 50,000 or so from District 9 to the west of them, to form a contiguous area … that would still be less than half of what you need for a new congressional district.

So it’s going to be more complicated than that, even before we start considering the question of where the current members of Congress live (and don’t imagine that won’t come up for discussion).

Sparks some thoughts, though.

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Idahoans had not in 2008 elected a new Democrat to a major office in a full decade when they chose Walt Minnick to oust Republican Bill Sali. (The last was Marilyn Howard in 1998, to superintendnt of public instruction.) He was under a microscope from day one, and he took unusual efforts to align himself with the rest of the state’s congressional delegation (all Republican) and to distance himself from many others in his party.

The Republican campaign to unseat him started almost immediately and became a stunning story all by itself. First a legislative insider enters, then is challenged by an unknown who turns out to have some good connections; the legislator drops out as the challenger picks up tremendous steam; another legislator enters the fray, though for months he seems a distant longshot; then the frontrunning challenger implodes, in historic, almost mind-blowing fashion. Meanwhile, Minnick organizes intensively and raises more money, by far, than anyone ever has for a U.S. House race – somewhere around five or six times as much as his Republican opponent.

And then there was the general election campaign, which was almost as hot.

Minnick was very well financed and well organized, but Republican Raul Labrador wound up trouncing him. It was a stunning loss that can’t be considered, in Idaho, entirely unexpected, but still demonstrated the difficulty Idaho Democrats continue to have. Might it have the effect of causing Democrats to fundamentally rethink how to become more competitive in Idaho?

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Idaho Northwest