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Posts published in “Year: 2010”

#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


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…)

A boise description, sort …

There was a bit of news, not massive or unexpected, in today's Roll Call story on Idaho's first congressional district, and upcoming reapportionment: That outgoing Representative Walt Minnick says he's done with electoral politics. No big surprise there.

What was most striking was a bit of description in the story on the subject of reapportionment, about the city of Boise - the area most likely to shift from one district (the first) to the other (the second):

Western Boise can be a swing area, according to GOP insiders in the state, and is represented by a Republican in the state Legislature. Still, shifting the boundaries would also bring in a large number of Democrats. That would begin to shift the mostly balanced districts away from each other — they voted nearly identically in the past two presidential elections, with Republican candidates winning handily.

What do they mean by "west Boise"? And which Republican legislator represents all of it? And ... oh, never mind.

The only way

All the other options seem to have been closed. There seems not to be a lot of overt criticism of what Washington Governor Chris Gregoire has proposed in her budget offering: A huge slashing of state spending, everywhere from small items like the state tourism and arts offices to big ones like education.

Here, for example, is a description of just a few of the education cuts:

Eliminate K-4 class size reduction funds provided to school districts above the state’s basic education allocations for teachers. Funding is sufficient to reduce class size by 1.8 students per teacher above the state’s basic education allocation. ($216.0 million GF-S)

Eliminate the Highly Capable, or Gifted Program, which provides funding to school districts for educational opportunities designed
to challenge highly capable students. The program serves up to 2 percent of the students in each school district. ($18.6 million GF-S)

Eliminate or reduce smaller programs, grants and allocations, including multi-year pilot programs and specialized programs that are not central to school operations. Program eliminations include the Beginning Teacher Pilot Mentoring Program, Focused Assistance Program, Superintendent and Principal Internship Program, middle and high school applied math grants, Leadership Academy, career and technical education program startup grants, Readiness to Learn Program and Washington Reading Corps. Reductions of 6 to 10 percent are made to several other state programs. ($37.1 million GF-S)

Reduce by 10 percent the Washington Achievers and College Bound scholarships and student outreach programs. ($742,000 GF-S)
Suspend the Student Achievement Program under Initiative 728, which provides smaller class sizes, extended learning time for students and professional development for teachers. ($860.2 million GF-S)

And on and on, page after page.

Again, Gregoire and the legislature are essentially boxed in. The consequences of that are that, as the Horse's Ass blog put it, "it surely makes for a meaner, poorer, less healthy and less well educated state."

The people concerned about taxes and spending haven't, most likely, been looking at the impacts on the other side of the equation. After this session, probably the whole state will be.

No easy explanation

The campaign ad - the key image - showed Washington Senator Patty Murray in those tennis shoes she's so identified with, stomping her muddy shoes on the backs of a man and two children.

The ad did not come from the Republican candidate in the race, Dino Rossi; it's hard to imagine him doing it. But a group called the American Action Forum, which likes to position itself as a policy wonkish group, did generate it. The ostensible cause for linking Murray to stomping parents and children was her backing of an expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.

The group Think Progress asked Rob Collins, who runs AAF, how the extension of health insurance for children equates to stomping on them. Here's the key part of the exchange:

TP: The summary is, your ad had Patty Murray stepping on a child, and the back up claim for that ad in the citation was that she voted for SCHIP. Can you explain how stepping on a child, or voting for SCHIP is akin to stepping on a child?

COLLINS: Well you’re clearly trying to make a point and I appreciate that point and we have a different point of view.

TP: As the leader of a policy think tank, could you explain that to me?

COLLINS: Our point of view is government decreases the ability for this company, for this country to have um, economic freedom. This ad was about small business and as you increase the size of government, you decrease opportunity. When you’re — I mean you’ll have to forgive me, you’re talking about an ad. We did 53 individual ads.

Provision of a service, even a life-saving service, then, is tyranny. That's the operating logic here. And elsewhere.

Idaho: Food stamp central

Something counterintuitive: Idaho is something of a food stamp central state. Food stamp recipient rolls have expanded across the country, but more than anywhere else in Idaho, and not by a close margin - about 40%, higher than runnerup Nevada, which is below 30%.

The story in Salon offers a complex of reasons for this. One is the larger than normal drop from fast-expanding to suddenly-slowing economy.

But there are other reasons too, including unexpectedly amenable attitudes in Idaho toward food stamps. A sample:

"But over the course of the recession, Idaho has made it easier for potential recipients to apply. Approval interviews for prospective recipients now take place quickly after applications come in. Wait time has fallen dramatically. And Republican Gov. Butch Otter supported making the program more accessible over the objections of his Republican-dominated legislature. In 2009 the state suspended the "asset test," wherein applicants to SNAP need to show that they have less than $2,000 in certain assets in order to qualify."

Rebel central

And how are Northwest congressional Democrats responding to the uproar over the proposed Obama-GOP tax deal?

Oddly, the reaction has been only thinly pointed up in the local mass media. But generally, they don't seem to like it much. To say the least; in fact, they've provided much of the core of the opposition.

The Oregonian did have a piece this morning about Representative Peter DeFazio, who offered a resolution urging that the deal not even be allowed on the House floor without changes. (Speaker Nancy Pelosi agreed to the caucus terms.)

As you might expect with DeFazio, he was blunt in saying why: "This is a bad deal for the American people. The President has allowed himself to be blackmailed by the Senate Republicans and I will not support it. Compromise requires give and take, but once, again, the middle class gave and the millionaires took.”

Representative Jay Inslee of Washington's 1st district was a seconder; he has remarked, "America should not negotiate with hostage takers. That’s unacceptable. We should work with the bipartisan agreement we have – extension of middle class tax cuts. Our nation can’t afford to balloon the deficit by $700 billion.”

Then there was the letter released yesterday circulated by Vermont Representative Peter Welch, with 54 signers opposed to the deal. They included DeFazio and Inslee but also Washingtonians Jim McDermott and Adam Smith (who has been one of Obama's first and strongest supporters in Washington, and Oregonians Earl Blumenauer and David Wu. That's six of the current 11 Democratic House members from the Northwest.

No problem here

Without getting into the question of whether a nuclear power plant situated in rural Payette County is a good idea, there were a couple of passages in a recent Boise Weekly article about a hearing on the subject that ought to send up a warning flare for people who live in the county.

The event was a December 2 meeting of the Payette County Planning & Zoning Commission, and the agenda item concerned a proposal to build a nuclear power plant, estimated price $10 billion; the applicant is Alternate Energy Holdings. This proposal, if it materialized, would be very large and have a wide range of impacts, as any very large project must, whether it's overall a good or bad idea. Logically that would, and in most cases and places does, mean that positive impacts are weighed against negatives. Locally, however, not so much.

At the December 2 meeting, representatives of the Snake River Alliance did offer some concerns. The commission chair responded with this:

"Look here. Our governor is in favor of this. Every mayor in our county is in favor of this. Our chamber of commerce is in favor of this. I'm offended that there's not one positive thing that you and your group has contributed to this discussion."

Well, that's it, then; of course there couldn't be anything wrong in that case, not if all those people are in favor of it.

The second came with a statement and response on the other side of the equation, from AEH CEO Don Gillespie. The Weekly story recounts: "When Gillispie told commissioners, 'This county will have more money than you'll know what to do with,' many of the commissioners beamed."

Don't know about you, but when we encounter promises like that, whether spoken, or on late night TV or in spam emails, we check to make sure we've still got our wallets. Evidently, people in Payette are a little more ... trusting. At least, those who make the decisions there.