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Posts published in December 2010

#9 from 10: Intel expands in Oregon

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.

A pre-remap map

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.

#10 from 10: Minnick ousted in Idaho

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?

#11 from 10: WA gets a 10th

The bigger story should kick in come 2011, when more numbers come in and the redistricting commission starts meeting. But the fact of Washington state getting a 10th congressional district - this according to population figures released in December by the U.S. Census Bureau - has some significance all its own.

Symbolically, there's this: Washington becomes only the second state (California being the other) to grow large enough to develop a House delegation in two figures. Arizona, for example, grew but remains at nine.

Politically, this: The newly-added seat, which is highly likely to center on the Puget Sound, seems likely to push the state's House partisan split from its current 5-4 Democratic majority to 6-4. There are enough Republican population centers around the Sound to give them probably one more district in addition to three probably R-majority districts elsewhere (analogues to the current 3, 4 and 5), but probably not more than that. On the other hand, if Oregon rather than Washington had gotten the extra district - and the gap between the two states for the gain was not large - it would likely have gone from 4-1 Democratic to 4-2 Democratic, a Republican gain.

Where will the "new district" be fitted in? Most opinionators tended to focus on the southern Sound area, somewhre around Pierce and Thurston counties. But that's not a given; some of the largest numerical growth was in northern King. A number of possibilities exist.

But then, the commission has yet to weigh in.

Sue the government? Maybe not so much

You hit that huge pothole, bust your axle and you think: I oughta sue the government! They're supposed to maintain the roads, aren't they?

Suits like that can get iffy, but Washington state in 2009 doled out about $50 million in settlements and judgments.

Its officials say that's more than in comparably-sized states. And Attorney General Rob McKenna reportedly is planning legislation that will make suing the state a lot harder.

In these state budget-cut times, that's understandable and probably inevitable. But tell it to the guy who figures he's been wronged by the state. Who pencils out best in that equation?

#12 from 10: Pioneer Courthouse square bomb

muhammed
Mohamud

In a way, it was the story that didn't quite become one. Fortunately.

On the evening of November 26, Mohamed Osman Mohamud, a student at Oregon State University journeyed to the Pioneer Courthouse Square in downtown Portland, where the city Christmas tree was about to be lit. A few blocks away, according to FBI reports, he press a button which he believed would case an explosion killing hundreds or thousands of people at the square. The bomb was a fake, Mohamud would up not as a killer but as a pawn in an FBI sting - they had provided the "bomb," the transport to Portland, and much else.

In a strict sense, it was a story that wasn't, since no bomb exploded, and in fact none was ever there. But Mohamud's arrest, and the legal proceedings that will kick in earnestly in 2011, are guaranteed debate fodder. Was the kid (age 19)

racing down a track toward doing major damage? If he had not been spotted by the FBI, would he in fact have killed? Or was he subtly manipulated by the feds, led into the act by the fed's easy provision of transport, materiel and cooperative (seemingly) partners? Some people have made up their minds already. For us, at year's end, the answers are not fully in yet. But they are bound to affect the conversation in the year ahead.

More to the point, seems to us, is the law enforcement and security aspect of this. While there was some talk of added policing in Portland's downtown, no one seems to have panicked. We visited the Square about a week after the arrest, and it was full of people - attending a beer fest. Many people (Oregonians anyway) may have paid attention that this event was quashed not by metal detectors or backscatter machines but by investigation, human resources, data analysis and shoeleather - the same way most of these sort of plots get averted.

Upcoming: 12 stories, 5 trends of 2010

In this low-news week - the stretch between Christmas and New Year's almost always is - we'll take a look back at 2010 in the Northwest through two lenses.

First, a dozen "indicative" stories - high-profile news of the time that has significance beyond the daily news cycles. Then on Friday a rundown of five larger trends that seemed to shape events in the Northwest (and sometimes far beyond).

The upcoming dozens stories aren't intended to match up to the regular news media lists of top stoties of the year. The standards are different; ours are measured less by the blaring size of headlines than by their larger significance.

For example. The Oregonian and the state's news organizations would be remiss if, by their usual standards, the story of the disappearance of Kyron Horman didn't rank high, or even at the top. It generated endless huge headlines (which far outran actual news), and local TV spent a whole lot of time on it. It was high-interest, without a doubt. But as to its larger significance? Not so much, unless you include addition of yet another round of security at some area schools. So Kyron won't show up here.

The stories related to relatively specific events or chains of events. The trends are bigger picture; if something major doesn't show up among the initial dozen, it may be swept up within the five trends.

The stories and trends are numbered, but don't take from that a serious rank order of significance: It's mainly a way of keeping track (for reading and writing) of where we are. But for various reasons, they all do merit a little head-scratching.

Another seat for Washington

Washington gets a another seat in Congress, Oregon and Idaho do not.

According to the new run of census data released this morning.

No shock at all for Idaho, which wasn't close to the margin for an addition, and not a big surprise for Oregon, which a couple of years ago seemed on track but fell back from the edge in the last couple of years.

Washington now (post-2010 elections) has five Democratic and four Republican U.S. House seats. Who gets the new one? Realistically, either party might, because the probability is that a new district will be carved out of south Puget Sound areas that include both strongly Democratic (Olympia-Lacey) and strongly Republican (south Pierce County) turf. Chalk this up as a spot where the work of the state reapportionment commission really may make a big difference.

Off the turnip truck

Not to get too deep into we-told-you-so territory, but this really was pretty quick. It was only December 8 that we sent up a cautionary warning about a deal that local officials in Payette County seemed ready to jump right into. Their reason for jumping was the same as our cautionary note: The excited promise of quick and easy riches.

At least their counterparts in Elmore County, who also had been dealing with Alternate Energy Holdings and its CEO, Don Gillespie, took their deliberate time. They at least have a lot less 'splaining to do, and may have saved some other Idahoans from themselves in the process.

One week after our concerned post about how Payette County appeared to be green-lighting a multi-billion-dollar nuclear plant, proposed by Gillespie, the federal Securities and Exchange Commission posted this:

The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged a self-described power company in Idaho with fraudulently raising funds for a $10 billion nuclear power project. The SEC is seeking an emergency court order to freeze the assets of the company and two executives.

The SEC alleges that Alternate Energy Holdings Inc. (AEHI) has raised millions of dollars from investors in Idaho and throughout the U.S. and Asia while fraudulently manipulating its stock price through misleading public statements that conceal the secret profits reaped by its CEO Donald L. Gillispie and Senior Vice President Jennifer Ransom. Gillispie has touted the company as a tremendous investment opportunity that could rival Exxon Mobil in profitability, despite the fact that AEHI has essentially no revenue and minimal operations.

A side note. The SEC said in its release that it "acknowledges the assistance of the Idaho Department of Finance," which makes sense since it is the state agency overseeing securities. So when the plant boosters in Payette County said that the project had the full backing of Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter ... was Otter up to speed on what was happening at the SEC? Or are we missing something else, because you'd think the governor wouldn't be jumping onto a project that was about to have the weight of the federal government crash down on it. Would you?

The rest of the SEC release on the case: (more…)