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Posts published in February 2011

Carlson: A Mormon primary?

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. (more…)

Coal fired: The future of Centralia

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.

Following the ed money

Another piece to consider when reviewing the details of how and why the education program offered this year from Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna - a 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.

Art critics no more

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."

Disconnects in place

The 20th Public Policy Survey from Boise State University has produced a number of results that don't easily match up - pieces that don't seem to make sense together. Blogger Chuck Malloy has written about that on his blog, and concluded that "the survey is a bunch of bull."

A prime piece of evidence, Malloy writes, concerns the finding that fewer Idahoans (49%) think the state is going in the right direction, than have so thought since the polling started. Malloy: "By reading those results, you’d think that Republicans and Democrats would have about equal numbers in the Legislature, and maybe a few Democrats in state offices and the congressional delegation. ... But that is not the case. For the most part, Idahoans voted for the same people who they supposedly were unhappy with, then added a few more Republicans in the Legislature for good measure."

There's a significant point in this, because unhappiness with general direction and political results often match up. They don't in this Idaho survey and haven't for some time.

That doesn't invalidate the survey, however; rather, it says something significant about Idaho (and other places too).

There's a prevailing sense that budget cuts have had major negative effects. "Budget cuts have affected the quality of children’s education" - 75% agree. "The State is investing enough in higher education in Idaho" - 59% disagree. But: "Idaho should raise the sales tax by $0.01 to help close the budget gap" - 56% disagree.

Or this. "Idaho should be able to opt out of the 2010 health care bill" - 58% agree. While: "Public funds should be used to help provide health insurance to people who cannot afford it" - 63% agree.

Or this. "Idaho should pass a law concerning illegal immigrants similar to the law Arizona recently passed" - 58% agree. While: "A program should be created that would allow illegal immigrants to stay in this country permanently" - 73% agree.

Polling in other states and nationally have found similar kinds of results - contradictory all over the place - though some of the Idaho results, considering the elective officials in place, may be especially noteworthy. The point is that many people do not put the pieces together. They want the services they count on, but don't like to pay for them. And so on. What do the people want from their elected officials? Who can say? "The people" don't seem to have figured it out. Will they be happier if the Idaho Legislature slashes programs than if it raised taxes? Odds are, they wouldn't be happy either way. In which case, what difference does it make who you vote for?

The polling suggests an underlying problem: A disconnect between causes and effects, between money and "policy" on one hand and real world impacts on the other. Those connections are real. But a lot of people seem not to have linked those pieces together.

Definitions of insanity

A highly useful read today in the Oregonian following up on what happens after the criminally accused take an insanity defense - as in guilty except for - and what happens afterward.

Not always, it turns out, what they or many other people think.

For one thing, a good many of the people who are detained and hospitalized are held for a very long time - in a number of cases, a good deal longer than a full prison term might have run. Some of the reasons involve delays in paperwork processing.

And the cost is very high.

The article notes that "At the same time Oregon taxpayers are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into treating a few hundred criminally insane patients in the state hospital, thousands more sit in prison with limited mental health treatment, and thousands more live on the street with no treatment at all."

And: "More than half the inmates in Oregon prisons have some kind of mental health diagnosis, and nearly one-quarter have high to severe treatment needs, according to the Department of Corrections."

Again leading to the thought that if more treatment were available earlier in the process, some the high expenses that come later could be averted.

OR: Video games for politicals


In Virginia, where state elections are held in odd-numbered years and so pressure is on right now for reapportionment, one of things that's happening is a college game. A competition among teams of students from 13 schools (two of them fielding two teams): Who can take the newly emerging census data and craft the best Virginia congressional and state legislative districts?

Those maps, of course, may not be the basis for whatever Virginia finally adopts. But the process may be watched closely for what it says about some important aspects of reapportionment 2011: public involvement, and mapping software.

Twenty years ago reapportionment mapping software hardly existed in any form; a decade ago it was cumbersome and hard to use. But now, as George Mason University Professor Michael McDonald of the Public Mapping Project told the Oregon legislature's reapportionment committees (meeting jointly today), these things are changing. The public involvement side, where Oregon long has been strong anyway, has been growing (from 37 states holding public hearings in 1991 to 42 a decade later). And the mapping software, as you might expect, has taken off.

Calling in from Virginia, he was able to offer a demonstration of one such, called DistrictBuilder and broadly available around the country. It allows for drag-n-drop rapportionment: You can start with a blank state or with existing districts, and move counties or census tracts around from one congressional or legislative district to the other - visually, with relevant numbers attached. You can see the population of the resulting districts, along with minority population estimates, a statistical estimate of just how compact the district is, whether it meets legal requirements, and so on. (You can play around with it to some extent as a guest.) A video game for the political junkie.

Oregon, which as the one legislative-remap state in the region, seems likely to be the first of the three Northwest states to jump into the reapportionment pools, seems likely to make a good deal of use of some of these tools. Many of them will be available on line, and the opportunity will be there for Oregonians to craft their own and - depending on the rules adopted - send them in to the legislature. With detailed statistical analysis to back them up.

And the impetus may be there, since the reapportionment committee (or committees - there's no solid determination yet of how closely the House and Senate panels will work together) is planning to take the subject on the road around the state. Some scheduling is expected to be announced "soon."

By the way: One person at Friday's meeting noted that February 12 marks 199 years since the infamous "gerrymander" map was signed into law by Elbridge Gerry. Get out a glass of something and prepare to draw.

Wi-Fi to go

One of the single most logical moves these days for transport operations - whether private like Greyhound buses or sort of public like Amtrak, is to provide free wi-fi service. Now, in many instances, both of them do.

Amtrak now reports, of its Vancouver-Eugene northwest run: "Amtrak Cascades® now connects you to more than your destination. Our customers asked for Wi-Fi service, and we answered by equipping every Amtrak Cascades train from Vancouver, B.C. to Eugene, Oregon with FREE wireless Internet service. Now you can stay connected to the office, e-mail, entertainment, and anywhere else the Internet takes you along your route. Just remember to pack your laptop, smartphone, and other portable Wi-Fi-enabled devices the next time you travel. "

Linda this week took the Greyhound bus south from Salem to northern California, to visit family. After boarding she discovered the bus had free wi-fi, and electric outlets for her computer. She stayed in touch with the world at large the whole trip, and sent messages along the way.

Which providers will be next? Would make sense that they all will be, eventually.

Birther humor

But he might have been wiser to make sure up front that this crowd knew that Puerto Rico is part of the United States. The guess here is that not all of them knew.


The web site 24/7 Wall St. notes in a current post that "Regions with better-educated people tend to find it easier to draw and retain businesses. These regions are also likely to be more competitive in contrast to nations around the world like China, which has posted sharp increases in the level of educational attainment among its citizens."

Okay, seems clear enough. And the significance of an analysis the site did of the 50 states, working out: "National Assessment of Educational Progress scores for math and reading in 2003 and 2009. We also looked at the percentage of people in each state with bachelor’s degrees, and their increases compared to the increases in the total populations in their states. We analysed the Bureau of Labor Statistics data on the portion of each state’s population which has white collar jobs. To supplement the figures which we used in the final analysis, 24/7 also reviewed numbers for high school and graduate school education."

Fie on them for not noting the rankings of all 50 states, just the lowest 10. Consequently, Washington and Oregon aren't noted here.

But Idaho is - at fourth from the bottom. It said: "In 2000, 84.7% of adults in Idaho had completed high school. By 2009, the number had dropped to 83.3%. This decrease of 1.71% is the third worst rate in the country. Idaho had the eighth worst percent difference in residents with bachelor’s degrees from 2000 to 2009, and the sixth worst percent difference in residents with advanced degrees."

Other western states in the top (er, bottom) 10: Colorado (1), Oklahoma (3), Alaska (5), Arizona (6), Wyoming (7), Texas (9), Utah (10). Most of the Rocky Mountain west, in other words.