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Posts published in January 2011

Eerie news for McKenna?

The cadre of candidate for governor in Washington is only beginning to form, but for years now the single most likely contender - more likely even than the two-term Democratic incumbent, Chris Gregoire - has been the state's attorney general, Rob McKenna.

Gregoire may or may not run; there've been no definitive indicators from her either way, though the majority view seems to weigh against. If she does not, the Democratic contenders seem likely, but not conclusively, to include Representative Jay Inslee and maybe Aaron Reardon, the Snohomish County executive.

Dino Rossi's name inevitably gets a mention, but after three straight statewide losses, that seems unlikely. But: AG McKenna seems to have been on a trajectory for this office ever since he was first elected to his current slot in 2004. He has two solid statewide wins to his credit, and unusually for a Republican last time won King County (where he used to serve on the county council). Negatives and criticisms exist (there was a squabble in 2008 over presidential nomination counts), but are not large; he would enter the race with overall strong positives. He does not seem to get into a lot of ideological or philosophical talk; he would not be at all easy to characterize as a right-wing extremist. (That has been one of the Washington Democrats' strongest weapons against statewide Republicans.) He may be the strongest candidate Washington Republicans have available.

Possibly McKenna's closest political ally for a decade and more has been Luke Esser, a former state senator. Esser also came from eastern King County (as did Rossi). Although he lost a re-election run in 2006, as Democratic advances moved ahead in that area, he was elected the next year as chair of the state Republican Party, unseating incumbent Diane Tebelius. He was re-elected to the job in 2009. With McKenna on the brink as a strong possibility to run for governor in 2012, and maybe the party's best shot at the job for a while, Esser's re-election to the chair would seem to have been assured; he and McKenna could work smoothly together. Gains in the legislature and pickup of a U.S. House seat might not have hurt his case, either.

Except that on Saturday he lost the job, on a strong 69-32 vote, and not just to anyone, but to Kirby Wilbur - one of the last people McKenna probably would have wanted. Like McKenna and Esser, King County knows Wilbur, but knows him as a radio talk show host who talks hard to the right (probably just what appealed to a lot of the central committee members).

Wilbur's talk show ended in 2009, but he has stayed visible as an occasional fill-in host on Fox for Sean Hannity. That may give you a sense of where he'll be coming from.

Also this, from a Yakima Herald-Republic blog: "Local Republican activists may remember him from 1992, when Wilbur chaired the State Republican Platform Committee and GOP Convention in Yakima. You may remember that was the state convention when Republicans took philosophical stands against “values clarification, meditation, yoga, homosexuality, divorce, the United Nations, foreign aid, witchcraft and the National Endowment for the Arts." The platform grew to 18 pages and was emblematic of an ideological fight brewing in the Republican Party over abortion."

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer offers this: "He will almost certainly move the state GOP further to the right. This weekend showed that McKenna doesn't control his own party, which is dominated by rural and right-leaning folks who wanted one of their own to direct things heading into the 2012 elections. There's now a very real possibility that McKenna will face a high-profile opponent from within the GOP (paging Clint Didier)."

If so, he'll be pressured to move to the right himself, which would give Democrats exactly the opportunity they'll want in a run against McKenna, and wouldn't ordinarily get.

On KLIX Monday morning

This year as in the last few, I'm on air Monday mornings (8:20 mountain, 7:20 pacific) on KLIX-AQM Twin Falls, discussing the Idaho Legislature.

It streams and is available via the KLIX web site.

Merkley at Yamhill

The subjects on which Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley fielded questions today: federal help for education, filibusters, the Citizens United decision, war in Afghanistan, nuclear power, job wage reporting, Guantanamo, climate change, Wikileaks (the first time, Merkley said, someone from the public had questioned him about that), gas pipelines and health care. A pretty wide range. (Plus his opening statement, most of which is in the video.)

Nothing about taxes, deficits or the shredding of the constitution - in other words, not a sign of the Tea Party or its sympathizers. That makes it similar to the town hall held about 10 miles to the south by Senator Ron Wyden last weekend, and suggests the obvious question: Where have all the Tea people gone? So visible and loud for most of the last two years, they seem to have vanished from view.

What remained at the town halls was a civil crowd, and evidently dominated now more by backers of the senators - the questions were mostly friendly.

Merkley moved a little beyond that in asking questions of the audience as well. He posed questions about whether audience members like (saw as "a step forward") various elements of last year's health care bill; each got a positive reaction. (The audience may not have been strictly representative of the Republican-leaning Yamhill County, but the answers do suggest that most of the pieces of the bill were more popular than a sweeping, hard-t-grasp omnibus bill.)

He also asked about how the audience felt about pulling troops from Afghanistan. His original question divided the response into "within 18 months" or "longer if necessary." Audience members called on an extra option, which was "right now" and which got the largest vote. Only four or five in a crowd of 150 or so voted for more than 18 months. (One man called out, "Stay till we win.")

Merkley himself didn't seem of a mind to stay for long. After describing some of his briefings and travel to the area, he said that much of the real rationale for staying seems to come down to: "We can't afford the embarrassment of the Taliban (not Al Quaeda as such) gaining ground."

A little more wonkish than Wyden (though more plain-spoken than in his first meetings a couple of years ago), Merkley was nonetheless comfortable with larger-picture ideas, talking at some length, for example, about the connection between a loss of manufacturing business in the United States and the diminishment of the country's middle class. And turn of phrase. Discussing the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, which allows corporations to spend virtually unlimited and unreported funds on political campaigns, he described it as "a stadium sound system drowning out the voices of Americans."

One other note: This must be one of the smaller Oregon communities (in counties that have larger cities) to host one of these events. On the evidence of the interest of the crowd, it made a splash, and might be a good idea to replicate in town hall planning for the future.

Selling the public space

Little-noted (so far as we can tell), Washington House Bill 1288 introduced this week by Representative Reuven Carlyle (D-Seattle) (and with a slew of co-sponsors from both parties), would do something that Washingtonians might want to pause and think about.

The summary: "Directs the department of revenue, the department of transportation, the employment security department, the state lottery, and the department of information services, on behalf of access Washington, to begin selling internet advertisements for display on those agency's web sites."

Key parts of the state's web site, in other words, would be up for commercial sale to advertisers.

The bill has been referred to the House Committee on State Government & Tribal Affairs.

The imagination reels. As does the obvious fiscal desperation.

Why the Highway 12 intensity

If you've been watching the battle over the oil industry megaloads now slated to begin using High 12 east of Lewiston, starting February 1, you may have been struck by the large number of companies involved and the intensity behind their determination to proceed.

Why is getting this equipment to Alberta so important - at least, important to the companies?

A fine article explaining just that is out in the British Columbia The Tyee, which paints the oil industry mega-corporations - the "seven sisters" of legend - as being in a tight spot, a position of decline and desperation stemming from the rise of OPEC in the seventies.

Points to consider: "With the exception of Chevron, supermajor share prices have not gained any value over the past five years. "It would tend to indicate that these companies are not growing," said Robert Walsh, an energy consultant who spent 26 years with Royal Dutch Shell. Though all the supermajors hold top ten spots in Petroleum Intelligence Weekly's oil company rankings for 2010, they're still placed lower than Saudi Arabia's Saudi Aramco and Iran's NIOC. And the Financial Times in 2007 handed the "Seven Sisters" mantle to a new generation of energy firms, all state-owned. Much of that is a function of the reality that supermajors actually control very little of the world's oil and gas. Resource figures from 2008 place ExxonMobil in a distant 17th among all energy firms, the highest even, of the western-owned private players."

Carlson on zealots

What follows is a column (previously appearing in the St. Maries Gazette-Record) by Chris Carlson, now living at Medimont, Idaho. He was one of the founders of the Gallatin Group and was from 1989 until last year its representative based at Spokane. His Gallatin bio also notes that he was "a former press secretary to Idaho Governor Cecil D. Andrus, Chris directed the U.S. Department of the Interior Office of Public Affairs during the governor’s four-year term as Secretary of the Interior under President Jimmy Carter. Following his position in Washington, D.C., Chris was appointed to the Northwest Power Planning Council by Idaho Governor John V. Evans. In 1984, he became regional vice president of public affairs for Kaiser Aluminum in Spokane." And he was a journalist before all that. He'll be contributing occasional columns in this space.

Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

We’re all familiar with zealots, true believers who go to extraordinary lengths to attract media attention for their cause, hoping the coverage will generate new interest and fresh contributions.

In Idaho most of the zealotry we experience relates to differing visions regarding future use of natural resources and the wildlife on public lands. Thus, we sometimes see civil disobedience activities by the Alliance for the Wild Rockies or Defenders of Wildlife, protesting wolf hunts, timber sales or mining projects.

While at the Interior department serving as the director of the office of public affairs (1987-1991) I had my epiphany, my revelation about how best to handle the zealots that constantly besieged the agency. The key was to deny them the media coverage they seek.

Shortly after this insight, opportunity to apply it arrived in the form of Mitch Snyder, a self-styled social activist who had taken on the plight of the homeless people in our nation’s capital as his cause. He decided the best way to draw attention to the cause was to stage a sit-in of homeless people in D.C.’s stately Union Station.

Having just arrived home one evening, I received a call from an Interior assistant secretary, who said the Park Service police were reporting that Snyder had led 50 homeless people into Union Station and were conducting a sit-in until arrested and forcibly removed.

He wanted to know what I thought should be done. Once I ascertained they were not blocking the passage of commuters and customers to trains, I told him to direct the Park Police to do nothing until midnight.

Why midnight, he asked. Because, I explained, it was the news media picture of police carrying the homeless to paddy wagons that Snyder wanted and we weren’t going to let him have it.

At midnight, after the late evening news is over, I instructed, have the Park Police “gently” pick up demonstrators and carry them out of the station. No arrests. End of story. And that’s what happened.

Shortly after midnight, however, the assistant secretary called again to say the homeless had promptly lain down in the street in front of the station. The Park Police wanted to know what they should do now.

I said they should do nothing more. The street was the responsibility of the District’s city police, not Interior’s, and it was the city’s problem. Within minutes he was back on the phone saying the Situation Commander for the D.C. police on the scene was asking if we had any advice.

I said they ought to block off the street and leave the homeless there. It was below freezing that night and once they realized they would not be arrested they would leave before the sun rises. And that’s what happened.

Nothing ever appeared in the news media on this incident and there was no bad publicity for the Interior Department.

Fast forward a few years to the first part of this decade. Another opportunity arose for display of the principle in action when the public affairs firm I founded was retained by the president of Pacific Lumber Company (PALCO) to devise a strategy to counter tree-sitters occupying some of the spectacular Redwoods it owned.

Vexed by the long sit-in held the previous year by “Julia Butterfly,” he was determined not to be held hostage again. He asked for a counter-strategy. Our company’s game plan worked perfectly.

First, we had the client recruit and train several folks who could quickly scramble up the trees, surprise the tree-sitter, truss them up and bring them down n with removal activity happening after midnight long after reporters had gone home. We had each tree-climber wear a helmet with a small mini-camera affixed to it to record the removal and rebut any false claims (which there were) of “brutality.”

Secondly, tree-sitters were informed that by climbing a Redwood they were signing the tree’s death warrant rather than saving the tree. Any tree they scaled and perched in would immediately have a band cut around its base, much as a porcupine does, starting its demise.

The company only had to do it once and the tree-sittings were discontinued.

The key is denying zealots the attention they crave. Without it, they often wither and retreat.

Cell phone OR: 17,142

Last week, the new (and former) California Governor Jerry Brown said he had learned that the state was paying for 96,000 cell phones for state employees. He issued a statement saying that "It is difficult for me to believe that 40 percent of all state employees must be equipped with taxpayer-funded cell phones," and ordered half of them to be turned in by June 1.

Which led to the question: How many state cell phones do Washington, Oregon and Idaho have?

We posed the question to the three states. The one responding so far is Oregon, where a Department of Administrative Services spokesman advises us via email, "that number is 17,142."

Which on a basis of per-capita population in the states, means Oregon state government has considerably more. Could be interesting to hear if there's a good reason for that.

We'll check in again with Washington and Idaho too.

A question and … did he get the question?

Take note that Idaho state Senator Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, is a conservative in good standing, and as a long-time co-chair of the state's Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, no free spender.

Listening to discussion today from Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna today, though, he had a question that economist Paul Krugman might have posed.

Luna has proposed a large-scale effort to change public education in Idaho, and one piece of that involves doing away with hundreds of teaching jobs in the public schools. The plan is being proposed, in part, as beneficial to the Idaho economy.

Cameron's question: “You indicated that the economy demands this type of change. I have to wonder in my mind why a thousand less people working helps the economy.”

His point seems totally clear: A thousand fewer paychecks, many of them in rural areas, would seem to mean less money circulating in local businesses and more people on the unemployment line. Among other non-beneficial factors.

Luna's response, according to reporter Betsy Russell: "Understand that through attrition, most if not all of these positions can be absorbed.”

Did he get the question?