"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)
Donna Nelson
King County Conservation District

The King County Conservation District is one of those obscure limited-purpose districts, this one tasked with “helping the people of King County manage their natural resources. We educate landowners, schools, scientists, consultants and agencies in how to recognize problem situations and how to avoid creating them. We also provide technical assistance in solving their problems. We promote conservation through demonstration projects, educational events, providing technical assistance and, in some cases, providing or pointing the way to funds which may be available for projects. The King CD has no regulatory or enforcement authority. We only work with those who choose to work with us.” It has a modest budget of $6 million.

It is, however, run by an elected governing board. Its population base is enormous, close to two million people, with more than a million people eligible to vote. So if it is to run an election on its own election day, as is about to happen, the cost would run into multiple millions of dollars – a possibly ruinous amount for this small agency – if it were run according to the traditional polling-place approach. Since Washington has in essence moved on to the mail-in ballot system, the cost is a good deal less, but still would amount to a million dollars or so.

So, in holding an election to fill one of the board seats (there are four candidates), the district is trying something new, something that might be coming your way (even far from King County) one day: On line voting. A contractor, Election Trust LLC from Bellevue, is being paid $50,000 to run it.

Is it secure? Can the vote be trusted? Such are the questions the KCCD is dealing with.

Here are some of the pieces of how the district describes it: “This election features new, convenient and secure on-line voting. Voters may vote from their home, business or other computer locations. … You must be registered to vote in King County (excluding residents of cities that are not members of the King Conservation District: Enumclaw, Federal Way, Milton, Pacific and Skykomish). … On-line voting requires a voter to have access to an email account and internet connectivity. Note that more than one voter can use the same email address. You will be required to complete a two-step process: Step 1 – Confirm Voter Eligibility: Submit a signed affidavit by email (scanned copy), fax or US mail. We suggest voter applications submitted by US mail should be postmarked no later than March 11. Step 2 – Vote On-line:Once your eligibility is confirmed, a personal identification number (PIN) will be issued by email with complete online voting access information. Note: Please allow up to 48 hours after application for voting instructions and credentials to be issued. 4. How do I vote in-person? You may vote in-person at the King CD on March 15 between the hours of 9:00 am – 9:00 pm. In-person voters should bring proper identification.”

Let’s keep watch on how well this works. You can bet a lot of elections officials will be.

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Obama at Hillsboro
President Barack Obama visiting Intel at Hillsboro. (vidcap/White House stream)

Lots of legislative activity – new legislation, still – in this week’s Public Affairs Digests for Washington, Oregon and Idaho. Also a lot else, including last week’s presidential visit to Hillsboro.

Some of the larger stories in the Washington edition:

– NW leaders say they’ll take rail money
– McGinn vetoes Alaskan Way deal
– Senators propose freight act
– Workplace deaths rise in Washington
– Reporting on extreme tides

In the Oregon edition:

– Obama makes Hillsboro visit
– Kitzhaber names department heads
– Roberts named to Metro Council
– Ag amounts to 15% of Oregon economy
– Mollala River measure returns
– $48 million for state health insurance
– New Blue Book out in e-firm first

In the Idaho edition:

– Revisions offered on Luna plan
– Idaho Power signs four wind agreements
– Meridian bans smoking in parks
– Crapo backs monument limit bill
– Geddes on his new job

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This, Senate Bill 741, has the potential to be one of the most important things the legislature of Oregon – or of any other state this year – does:

Establishes Hospital Cost Commission to regulate billed charges for hospital services. Specifies duties, powers and functions of commission. Provides remedy for individual or third party payer that is billed unreasonable hospital charges. Establishes Hospital Cost Commission Fund. Continuously appropriates moneys in fund to commission for purposes of carrying out provisions of Act.

The federal budget deficit and ongoing debt, and the growth of state budgets, relate more to ballooning health care costs than to any other single factor. There’s no one single way to go after it, but seriously bearing down on the explosive costs of hospital-related expenses surely would have to be one of the most productive.

The bill comes Senator Lee Beyer, D-Springfield. On Thursday, on a visit to Portland, he and Governor John Kitzhaber released another bill, Senate Bill 766, which would all for creation of economic zones around the state, simplifying land use requirements in some places. Beyer said that it “will solve one of the biggest problems facing this state’s economic recovery.” It has some real promise.

But that of 741 seems even greater.

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Since our post some days back about some of the financial contributions and corporate ties between those involved with public school administration and strategy in Idaho – the links between Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, the education business K12, the Albertson Foundation and others – we’ve fielded a clutch of additional emails on the subject. The list of particulars has grown to an impressive length.

We may revisit it, putting some of those pieces in place. If we do, one of the main initial outlines will be an Associated Press story out of Boise by John Miller, probably the best single explanatory news article from Idaho so far this year, pulling together in clear terms how many of these pieces fit together. It’s a little longish, but click the link and take the time to read it, now. Among other things, your sense of what the high-profile, much-admired and highly-influential J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation has become and is about, may change forever.

It is compelling, essential reading – especially if you’re from Idaho. Useful even if not, because this kind of thing is going on in many more places as well.

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Is this the first Northwest metro paper to explicitly, no question about it, call for legalizing marijuana? Believe so.

Says the Seattle Times today:

“MARIJUANA should be legalized, regulated and taxed. The push to repeal federal prohibition should come from the states, and it should begin with the state of Washington.”

It is clearly-stated and well-reasoned, not with arguments especially new but which have become increasingly undeniable. Such as this point:

“There is a deep urge among parents to say: “No. Don’t allow it. We don’t want it.” We understand the feeling. We have felt it ourselves. Certainly the life of a parent would be easier if everyone had no choice but to be straight and sober all the time. But an intoxicant-free world is not the one we have, nor is it the one most adults want. Marijuana is available now. If your child doesn’t smoke it, maybe it is because your parenting works. But prohibition has not worked.”

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After President Barack Obama released his budget, Representative Doc Hastings, of Washington’s 4th district, had this to say – a statement generally similar to that of many other Republican House members:

““In recent years, Congress and the White House grew government and spent trillions that we don’t have – from bailouts of Wall Street and the auto industry to the health care law to stimulus spending and more. Unfortunately, President Obama’s budget proposal continues down the same path of massive spending and deeper deficits. The higher taxes and bigger government included in his budget ignore the reality of the budget crisis facing our nation and will harm efforts to create private sector jobs and revive our economy. As a result of the Washington, DC spending spree, it is even more difficult to get our fiscal house in order.”

The same day, on the subject of funding for the Hanford project (which is in his district), there was this:

“In terms of Hanford cleanup, the requests for ORP and RL when taken together are certainly sufficient to keep cleanup progress moving forward. I have questions though about the tradeoffs associated with increasing funding for WTP at the expense of critical projects within the Richland Operations Office.”

He did say, later, that “a distinction can and should be made between activities that the government has a legal obligation to fund and those that are optional.” That’s often, of course, in the eye of the beholder.

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Imagine that you have, scattered around your state, sworn police officers who have reason to arrest someone violating a state law, but are barred from taking them to court – to pursuing action against them. There you have the situation of the tribal police in Idaho. And there, after a vote in the Idaho House today which could have changed matters, the situation remains.

The statement of purpose of House Bill 111 says that it “authorizes law enforcement officers employed by a federally recognized Indian tribe in Idaho to exercise powers given to peace officers pursuant to, and in accordance with, the laws of the state of Idaho, within the
boundaries of the reservation of the tribe employing the law enforcement officer” – allows a tribal officer to enforce state law inside the reservation (doesn’t cover enforcement outside of it). And, “There is no negative fiscal impact to state or local government. The Indian tribe bears the expense of POST training under current law, which will continue. Positive fiscal impacts may result from the addition of qualified law enforcement officers employed by a federally recognized Indian tribe within the state of Idaho in the Indian reservation rural areas, without county or city expense.”

If you’re interested in stronger law enforcement, without even raising taxes, this should seem to be up your alley. It was backed by a conservative Republican, Representative Rich Wills of Glenns Ferry, a retired state trooper who chairs the House Judiciary Committee. Sounds like a slam dunk.

But no; the House rejected it today, 34-35.

Betsy Russell of the Spokesman Review reported that Wills “said he’s received hundreds of calls and e-mails threatening him and questioning his integrity for backing the bill. “I’ve had threats I’d better never go into the county again,” he said. “I’ve been called all kinds of sundry names.” Opponents raised fears, ranging from the tribe taking away the guns of non-Indians who have concealed weapons permits and pass through the reservation to provisions of tribal code being used to impose civil penalties on non-Indians – something that already can occur today on the reservation. “This doesn’t change anything about that,” Wills said. Instead, it addressed criminal violations – saying tribal police officers could enforce state law against non-tribal members, but they’d have to be cited under state law and into state court.”

There was also this, from Representative Mack Shirley, R-Rexburg, who was in favor of the bill, and who said during debate that he was “stunned to hear that the first question a dispatcher asks in Benewah County is whether the person calling in with an emergency is an Indian or non-Indian. That’s just not right, he said.”

Some of the bill’s opponents argued that the opposition really didn’t have racial undertones. Put that pitch in the category of a tough sell.

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This would not seem to be, and rationally shouldn’t be, a part of current Northwest political debate. But mull over this quote: “Our states have neither more nor less power than that reserved to them in the Union by the Constitition – no one of them ever having been a state out of the Union. The original ones passed into the Union even before they cast off their British colonial dependence; and the new ones each came into the Union directly from a condition of dependence …”

You’ll note that analysis: The states did not exist before the union did; before the union, they were colonies. This is what a plain reading of history tells us. (There is an excellent point-by-point description of this in Garry Wills’ fine book A Necessary Evil, among many other places.) And the quote? That came from Abraham Lincoln, a Republican the last we checked. And whose actions pretty much put paid to the whole nullification concept almost 150 years ago.

Except in Idaho (a territory Lincoln helped bring into being), which is what this has to do with politics today in the Northwest. Plain facts misunderstood, to a truly eye-rolling degree, led today in the Idaho House to some of the most peculiar and poorly thought-out legislative debate we’ve ever heard on the floor of a legislative chamber in the region.

The measure in question is House Bill 117, which in essence says that Idaho won’t obey the 2010 federal health care law. Its statement of purpose said “The purpose of this legislation is to declare the two federal laws: Public Law 111-148 and Public Law 111-152, void and of no ef fect in the state of Idaho.” The bill passed the House 49-20 – overwhelmingly.

Veteran Representative JoAn Wood remarked that “we have the right to dissent,” as of course we all do. Her remark, in this context, suggests that we also all have the right to pick and chose which laws we want to obey.

Representative Tom Trail asked whether the state could simply decide unilaterally to not obey any number of other federal laws (notably unfunded mandates). Sponsor Representative Vito Barbieri didn’t seem to answer directly, but by implication his answer was yes: “I do not believe that states are creatures of the federal government … the states voluntarily joined the compact with respect to the other states.” (Which as noted above, wasn’t the case.)

Trail wryly responded, “United we stand, divided we fall.”

The ethics-troubled Representative Phil Hart extensively quoted the Declaration of Independence as the founding document for the nation. It wasn’t; the constitution was. Barbieri said in his closing argument that “This issue was resolved in the Nuremberg trials” – comparing intended nullification of a federal law aimed at extending health care to resistance to Nazi holocaust orders.

The vote, as noted, wasn’t close. The bill goes for action next to the Idaho Senate.

ALSO A suggested trailer bill for this one: A secession bill.

ALSO A Facebook comment from Coeur d’Alene City Council member Mike Kennedy (also cross-posted on the Huckleberries blog): “I think I’ll make a motion at our next City Council meeting to nullify Idaho’s sales tax formula and keep our revenue here locally.”

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

The internet website Politico has dubbed it the “Mormon primary” – the possibility of two articulate, intelligent, conservative-to-moderate former governors, who also are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormon), will be slugging it out along with other contenders for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012.

It is an intriguing possibility, one that contrary to conventional wisdom may actually be a welcomed development by the presumptive front-runner, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the first serious Mormon candidate since his father, former Michigan Governor George Romney, ran in 1968.

The possible entry of former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman Jr., who resigned his seat a few months after winning re-election with 78 percent of the vote to become U.S. Ambassador to China, is causing GOP aspirants, as well as the incumbent, to redo their political calculations.

Why now? Why didn’t he wait until 2016? What has he seen or figured out that others haven’t? These questions reflect the tremendous respect Huntsman commands with political cognoscenti across the spectrum.

The 16th governor of Utah has more going for him than just an impressive resume. He has a certain charisma that flows not just from his obvious intelligence and his personal charm. He has that “noblisse oblige,” much as John, Robert, and Ted Kennedy did, that sense of obligation and duty to give a real return on the gifts they have been blessed with and the fortunate circumstances of their birth. (His father, Jon Sr., chairman of the worldwide chemical production plants, is one of the nation’s leading philanthropists.)

It’s the biblical parable of the talents: To whom God has given much, much is expected.

So far, Huntsman has acquitted himself well. His tenure as Utah’s governor at the time was praised as the best in the nation by the Pew Center for Government, and the conservative Cato Institute rated it as one of the nation’s five best. A fiscal conservative, he put in place practices that have insulated Utah from the economic vagaries that bedevil most other states.

His reputation for thoughtful analysis and well considered moves, though, is what intrigues most observers. Those who know him say he is not leaving a position he always longed for, the Ambassadorship to China (which he first sought when Bill Clinton was president) on a lark. These folks suspect there has been polling that tells him he can overcome the conservative, fundamentalist Protestant bias against Mormonism and his moderate social views, such as supporting same-sex unions.

Like Romney, he has a solid background in business, having held positions in his father’s business and Huntsman Foundation that operates the Huntsman Cancer Institute, among other charitable endeavors, in conjunction with the University of Utah Hospital. (Full disclosure: This writer is the beneficiary of exceptionally fine treatment for a rare form of late Stage IV carcinoid neuroendocrine cancer several years ago at the Institute).

The other advantage Huntsman and Romney enjoy is an ability to self-contribute to their campaigns. In a crowded primary that can be an even bigger difference than normal.

Romney is given the front-runner status because of his personal fortune and his ability to work corporate America. Evidence in the form of generous contributions to other candidates and campaigns also attests to his early lead in the money race.

But Huntsman’s father is a billionaire, the son is a millionaire with access to the family fortune, and one suspects there already has been some quiet but cost-effective money expended, a preliminary strategic plan drawn up, tasks assigned, key troops retained and dispatched, and the Long March of what White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley deliberately called “the Manchurian Candidate” to the White House has begun.

Only time will tell whether brilliance, organization and money can overcome the religious (especially Southern Baptist) suspicions that Mormonism is not Christian and that neither of the Mormon candidates is conservative enough to capture the GOP base.

Romney will be dogged by his sponsorship of Massachusetts’ Health Care Reform legislation that resembles closely the Obama bill and his flip-flop on the abortion issue. Huntsman will be dogged by his daring to work for a Democratic President as an ambassador, as well as his support for same-sex civil unions (although polls show a vast majority of Americans supports civil unions, but split on gay marriage).

One wild card that could make a big difference and is part of the calculus of both Mormon candidates: all GOP primaries and caucuses will award convention delegates in 2012 based on proportional voting. There’ll be no winner-takes-all primaries.

If either candidate emerges with the nomination, he will provide formidable challenge to the incumbent. It will be fascinating to watch.

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Carlson Idaho

col fired testimony
Coal fired testimony at House Environment/capture from TVW

The big hearing at Olympia today is centered on a subject of largest interest about 45 minutes south – at Centralia. But it’s a very big deal in Centralia: There, among other things, it means jobs. The bill (House Bill 1825) calls for phasing out coal-fired plants – it sets up an institutionalized structure for it – in Washington, and the one significant one in Washington is at Centralia. There, Trans-Alta employs about 350 people.

The plant has been slated for operating generally as is through 2025, by which time it would transition from coal; the bill would considerably shorten that, to as early as 2015.

A number of them seem to have shown up at the House Environment Committee hearing on the bill, which was proposed by a group of mainly Seattle legislators (17 of them, including the Environment chair). A goodly number of backers were there too.

Politically, the majority Democratic constituencies were split: Environmental groups were among those in favor, but area labor unions were sharply critical. There were economic concerns (this could throw a block in the way of some electric power ramp-ups) and health concerns (climate change, and mercury emissions from the plant). The debate ranged from the industry’s environmental record to the substantial environmental improvements at this particular (albeit older) plant. The league of Women Voters favored the bill; so did young mother who has asthma.

One interesting set of stats grew out of the suggestion by proponents that if coal fire production had to be phased out, the transition of the plant to other uses might generate nearly comparable numbers of jobs. But the point didn’t seem to be explored in much depth during the hearing.

This could be among the more significant pieces of legislation this session. What will it mean economically? Maybe more discussion will follow.

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Another piece to consider when reviewing the details of how and why the education program offered this year from Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Lunaa plan now being retooled – was submitted for prime time.

Often, it helps to check the personal ties and connections – who is being listened to, who is working with and talking with whom.

Consider this, a timeline developed by Boise writer Grove Koger:

1993 Thomas J. Wilford becomes President of Alscott
1995-2003 Wilford President of J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation
1999 VA-based K12 founded by former U.S. Secretary of Ed. Bill Bennett
1999-2001 Wilford a Director of Albertson’s Inc.
2002 Idaho Virtual Academy created in cooperation with K12

Nov Wilford becomes a Director of K12
2003 Wilford becomes CEO of J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation
2004 Wilford becomes a Director of IDACORP
Wilford becomes a Director of Idaho Power, an IDACORP subsidiary
2005 J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation give grants to several charter schools, including Idaho Virtual Academy
2006 08/10 Maryland-based Connections Academy contributes $500 to Luna’s campaign
09/29 K12 donates $5,000 to Luna’s campaign
12/19 K12 donates $891.29 to help retire Luna’s Primary ’06 debt
12/19 K12 donates $4108.71 toward Luna’s Primary 2010 fund
2007 Wilford’s total compensation from K12 for 2007: $354
2008 Wilford’s total compensation from K12 for 2008: $28,578
2009 Wilford’s total compensation from K12 for 2009: $55,829
2010 04/30 TN-based Education Networks of America contributes $1,000 to Luna’s Campaign
05/11 PA-based Apangea Learning donates $1,000 to Luna’s campaign

07/02 Education Networks of America contributes $1,500 to Luna’s campaign

07/26 Wilford sells 5,000 shares of K12 stock; retains at least 3,041 shares Wilford donates $250 to Luna’s campaign

09/20 Apangea Learning donates $2,500 to Luna’s campaign

09/28 AZ-based Apollo Group donates $2,500 to Luna’s campaign

10/20 K12, whose curriculum is used by the Idaho Virtual Academy (largest Idaho online public charter school), donates $25,000 to Idahoans for Choice in Education. Almost immediately Idahoans for Choice gives $25,000 to Arizona firm for broadcast advertising and production in an independent campaign supporting Luna’s re-election

12/16 Wilford ceases to be a Director of K12; not clear whether he is still a stockholder. Wilford’s total compensation from K12 for 2010: $107,114
2011 01/29 J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation takes out ad in Idaho Statesman supporting Tom Luna’s education plan

When the Luna-Otter plan emerged seemingly out of nowhere a month ago, in other words, it didn’t really emerge out of nowhere.

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Metro daily newspapers used to employ, as a matter of course, art critics. They worked for newspapers in places like Seattle and Portland, among other metros.

Note the past tense: Another indicator of what newspaper scaledowns have been leading to.

Blogger Eva Lake writes that at the Oregonian, “D.K. Row is no longer The Art Critic. But he’s not leaving. He’ll write about philanthropy, amongst other things (which still peaks my interest, in ways I’ll detail in a future post) at the paper. But as to who will be writing and how they will do it, he couldn’t say. So it’s possible there will no longer be this major voice at the Oregonian.”

The point, as the Stranger‘s Slog notes: “There goes the last standing full-time art critic at a daily newspaper in the Northwest.”

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