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Posts published in March 2011

OR remap: From LaGrande

On the four-way split screen (accessible through the Oregon Legislature's Hearing Room C cam), Lake County Commissioner Ken Kestner was responding to a reapportionment-pertinent question: Does Lake County look more to, and communicate, trade and deal more with, and have more in common with, the larger communities to the west (Klamath Falls, Medford) or to the north (around Bend)?

His answer was logical, doubtless accurate, and also confounding.

Lake County, which has just 8,000 or so people but a immense land area, has two more-or-less population centers of comparable size. One, in the south near the California border, is Lakeview, and its people look mainly to Klamath Falls and Medford. The other, more spread out, is in a group of communities in the north of the county, and it looks toward Bend.

Combine the community-of-interest priority together with another, to keep counties intact where practical, and you have a conflict. And no one in the eastern counties where the legislative redistricting committees are focused today - in a hearing at LaGrande this morning and a later one today at Burns (with video participation from other eastern counties) - wanted counties split. No one wanted to be like the John Day area - a small community split between two legislative districts (50 and 60).

The legislative redistricting committees, separate Senate and House panels holding hearings together around the state, have the job of squaring the circle. In this first road hearing (after the tsumani-forced cancellation at Tillamook last week) the questions and answers were a little general, befitting a process still trying to find its way. One witness noted that it'll be easier to comment, in some ways, once plans are actually drawn, than it is now.

Testimony was light, under a half-dozen people in LaGrande (where the mayor and university president were on hand for greetings), and fewer than that in Pendleton, Baker and Lakeview (the county commissioner was alone there).

Still, some educational points were made.

Several speakers made the emphatic point that, in the northern part of eastern Oregon, Interstate 84 is the critical conduit and connecting link. They generally made a point of setting themselves off from the Bend area; that, they said, is central Oregon, not eastern Oregon (as many Portland-centric people would have it). And they do not feel much of a commonality of interest with it. From La Grande, speakers said, people heading out of town for goods or services might hit the Tri-Cities or Boise (both out of state), but not Bend. But the eastern area sounds internally knit together. People in LaGrande said they felt comparably connected to Pendleton and Baker, and those in Baker said the same about LaGrade and Ontario. The I-84 corridor seems to tie tightly.

This is an area that will change in its legislative districting. Several eastern Oregon counties lost population, and the current House District 57 (which includes Union County) is short about 6,100 people of the new required state average for House districts - it will have to add territory from somewhere. In fact, the east overall probably will have to, which may make some meetup with Bend inevitable, even if not especially wanted.

People will die

Representative Peter DeFazio on cuts, in the U.S. House budget, to emergency early-detection services (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, for example, in the case of tsunamis).

So often, this kind of rhetoric doesn't relate to real-world risks. In this case the risks are real and apparent; you have only to look on the other side of the Pacific to see them (in a nation generally better-prepared for disaster than we are).

These services are there for reasons. Ignore those, and reap the consequences.

Broadband visuals

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Broadband in the Northwest

A fascinating online tool is out for checking where broadband service is available, and what types and what speeds.

Developed by the National Telecommications and Information Agency, the National Broadband Map shows where broadband is and isn't available. (By land-based services, anyway; satellite is obviously available in many more places.)

In the Northwest, you see what you generally expect to see, with maybe a little stronger lines through the outskirts of the Portland metro area, and in eastern Washington. But you can drill down to the street level. Want to find out exactly what's available where you live? Here's how.

Rapist rights

It was caught also by Betsy Russell of the Spokesman-Review, but not noted widely, so we'll note it here ...

The legislation in question is Idaho Senate Bill 1148, aimed principally "to prohibit the abortion of an unborn child of twenty or more weeks postfertilization age."

One of the provisions of the bill (section 18-508-1), not highlighted in the statement of purpose, says this: "Any woman upon whom an abortion has been performed in violation of the pain - capable unborn child protection act or the father of the unborn child who was the subject of such an abortion may maintain an action against the person who performed the abortion in an intentional or a reckless violation of the provisions of this chapter for actual damages." (emphasis added)

Senator Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, had a question for the attorney general's office: Does that mean a rapist could sue an abortion provider. The reply (in an informal but researched opinion): "Section 508(1) is unambiguous on this score and, as currently drafted, provides a private right of action to the biological father without exclusion. The answer to your question is therefore in the affirmative."

Rapist rights in Idaho, protected by the Idaho Legislature. At least until or unless this bill, sponsored by six Republican senators and 10 Republican House members, is amended.

A non-citizen’s right to counsel

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The decision seems basically right, but you can just imagine how it is going to go down among the anti-immigrant crowd.

Here's the short version: Washington v. Valentin Sandoval, decided today by the Washington Supreme Court, concerns a non-citizen of this country who was accused and found guilty of rape. The high court overturned - vacated - the conviction not on a question having to do not with evidence, but whether his attorney gave him the best advice on legal strategy. That's a reasonably fair and accurate summation, and it may be repeated broadly in months and years to come.

It's not the whole story, as you might imagine. For one significant thing, while the conviction was thrown out, nothing in the decision seems to preclude a trial - and it would be the first one - in the case.

Here's a longer version of the background from the court (legal references deleted):

Valentin Sandoval, a noncitizen permanent resident of the United States, was charged with rape in the second degree. The prosecutor offered, in exchange for a guilty plea, to reduce the charge to rape in the third degree. Sandoval conferred with his attorney and said that he did not want to plead guilty if the plea would result in his deportation. Sandoval's attorney recalls Sandoval as being "very concerned"that he would be held in jail after pleading guilty and subjected to deportation proceedings. Sandoval's counsel advised him to plead guilty: "I told Mr. Sandoval that he should accept the State's plea offer because he would not be immediately deported and that he would then have sufficient time to retain proper immigration counsel to ameliorate any potential immigration consequences of his guilty plea." Sandoval explains, "I trusted my attorney to know that what he was telling me was the truth."

Sandoval followed his counsel's advice and pleaded guilty on October 3, 2006. The statement on plea of guilty, that Sandoval signed, contained a warning about immigration consequences: "If I am not a citizen of the United States, a plea of guilty to an offense punishable as a crime under state law is grounds for deportation, exclusion from admission to the United States, or denial of naturalization pursuant to the laws of the United States." During a colloquy with the court, Sandoval affirmed that his counsel, with an interpreter's help, had reviewed the entire plea statement with Sandoval. After the original sentencing hearing was continued, Sandoval was sentenced on January 23, 2007 to the standard range of 6 to 12 months in jail, with credit for time served.

Before Sandoval was released from jail, the United States Customs and Border Protection put a "hold" on Sandoval that prevented him from being released from jail. Deportation proceedings against Sandoval then began. Sandoval now claims, "I would not have pleaded guilty to Rape in the Third Degree if I had known that this would happen to me."

On this issue, you can kind of see his point - I thought I knew what my lawyer was doing.

From the court's conclusion (legal references dropped):

"Although Sandoval would have risked a longer prison term by going to trial, the deportation consequence of his guilty plea is also "a particularly severe 'penalty.'" For criminal defendants, deportation no less than prison can mean "banishment or exile," and "separation from their families." Given the severity of the deportation consequence, we think Sandoval would have been rational to take his chances at trial. Therefore, Sandoval has proved that his counsel's unreasonable advice prejudiced him."

The case was close; there were two concurrences with varying views. So may there be in the public.

Carlson: Decline and fall


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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles


It did not start with Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, but the decline of higher education in Idaho has reached its nadir on his watch.

Consider the abysmal record of Idaho’s Board of Education. For all the good it does in serving the best interests of educating Idaho’s youth, from kindergarten through college, it might as well not exist. The state’s founders actually wrote the board into the Constitution to serve as the Regents of the University of Idaho. That’s how important they thought the role was.

Unfortunately, no more.

As an independent body supposedly put in place to advocate for the best interests of education, the Board of Education has in recent years been nothing more than a lap-dog for Idaho’s governors, especially Otter, who have been eviscerating education budgets, K-12 and higher ed, for years. Ponder this fact: the recently proposed Idaho higher education budget takes state support for colleges and universities back to where it stood in 2000. At the same time, mom, dad and the kids face sky- rocketing tuition and fees.

Most importantly, there’s little scrutiny and absolutely no challenge by the state board for what the governor, the state superintendent or the Legislature wants, regardless of how harmful to education’s interests it might be.

Forty years ago, the kind of people then serving, Democrats and Republicans alike, would have resigned en masse if they had been blindsided like the present board was by Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna’s radical reform proposals not to mention the unfunded mandate they represent for local school districts.

Board members had not a clue. Nor were they consulted. And not a peep from them. I find that incredibly sad. I can recall strong pro-education Republican board members in the past, such as John Swartley of Boise, Ed Benoit of Twin Falls, Mal Deaton of Pocatello, Kenneth Thatcher of Rexburg and Janet Hay of Nampa.

On the Democratic side there were sensible, solid board members like A.L. “Butch” Alford Jr. of Lewiston, State Senator Mike Mitchell and Sandpoint’s J.P. “Doc” Munson. These folks took their role seriously; none were the kind of people a governor took for granted or expected to be a rubber stamp, as is the case today.

Democrats on the board of education? Yup. At one time governors like Republican Phil Batt and Democrat John Evans recognized the importance of a bi-partisan board and appointed members of each party. There’s not one Democrat on today’s board.

Instead, the Board was dominated just a couple years back by the likes of disgraced former Republican state chairman and Idaho Falls attorney Blake Hall, whose personal life read like a bad soap opera. Nonetheless, this partisan apparatchik engaged in blatant micro-management of the activities of Idaho’s university presidents down to dictating the tuition and fees each school could charge. (more…)

Seattle’s turn?

And they're already anticipating what a 9.0 quake, or higher, might do to Seattle.

This article runs through it in some detail, with the eventual recommendation to be prepared to live three days alone, without food or water.

From their report of a 2008 study: "In that study engineers looked at 575 buildings from the outside and further that estimated 850 to 1,000 old brick buildings that date back to the 1930s would be at risk if a 6.7-magnitude earthquake occurred on the Seattle fault, which runs through the center of Seattle and Bellevue. The Seattle fault is widely considered the most dangerous quake threat to Seattle. Scientists have predicted that a significant earthquake on this fault could cause widespread devastation and at least 1,000 deaths in the city because of collapsed buildings, fires and other infrastructure failures."

WA/OR: A little less unemployment

The headlines tend no to be so large when unemployment drops as when it rises, so noted here: Unemployment in Washington and Oregon is dropping. Not enormously, but dropping.

Oregon added 9,800 jobs in February, more than in any month since the economy was riding high in 1996. The unemployment rate dropped only a little, from 10.4% to 10.2%, but the decline has been steady, and the outlook now is that Oregon may finally slip below that dreaded 10% mark in the next month or two.

Especially interesting was the addition of 1,200 construction jobs; the seasonal norm in February is the loss of several hundred jobs in that area.

Washington's job gains, meanwhile, were smaller in size - just 800 - but that contributed to dropping the unemployment rate from 9.2% to 9.1%. (Washington may soon drop below the 9% level.) And there too, construction seemed to be one of the significant drivers behind the improved outlook.

Red meat, flung from the left

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Dwight Pelz

All kinds of bloody red meat was dispensed, according to a piece in Publicola, by Washington Democratic Chair Dwight Pelz - to the extent of calling for the ouster of one of President Obama's cabinet members (Education Secretary Arne Duncan).

Some really rough rhetoric - over the top stuff - on Republicans ("they're evil. These guys are fascists.").

There was also this well-crafted bit: "“There was a joke 20 years ago, when [then-Russian president Boris] Yeltsin was in power: ‘What did capitalism do in Russia in five years that communism couldn’t do in 50 years? The answer was, make communism look good. What is it that the Republicans can do that Democrats can’t do? Make Democrats look good.”

This week in the Digests

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Tsunami damage at Brookings harbor. (image/Office of Governor John Kitzhaber)

The Friday tsunami did not do the damage in the Northwest it did in Japan, but there was some damage - most notably in Brookings, where an emergency situation persists.

Idaho saw passage through the legislature of two major education overhaul bills, likely to be signed early this week. Legislative and economic news were key elements in this week's Digests.

Some of the larger stories in the Washington edition:

bullet Locke nominated as ambassador to China
bullet Emissions agreement hits home in Centralia
bullet Vehicle emission changes proposed
bullet CMLK would-be bomb suspect arrested
bullet Death with Dignity update

In the Oregon edition:

bullet Tsunami hits South Oregon coast
bullet Job openings increasing in Oregon
bullet Wyden co-sponsored wireless tax bill
bullet Workplace deaths decline

In the Idaho edition:

bullet Luna school plan passes legislature

bullet Activists plan Luna recall

bullet Census releases new numbers on Idaho

bullet Idaho Power irrigation plan approved

Another marker

Toward the bottom of an Idaho Press-Tribune profile article about Wayne Hoffman and the Idaho Freedom Foundation, which he heads, a quote of considerable note. Especially to Idaho state employees, local government workers, and retirees.

The article's main point was how influential the group has become in the Idaho Legislature, and it surely is. One person quoted suggested it was now more influential than the long-running most-influential lobby organization, the Idaho Association of Commerce & Industry. It may be, and if it is, that's probably in considerable part because its views - libertarian, generally anti-government - are in alignment with those of a lot of Idaho legislators.

Which makes the quote of note. The article noted that Hoffman's group has "plans to propose changes" to the Public Employee Retirement System of Idaho, which handles retirement payments for state employees and many other public workers in the state.

Of PERSI, Hoffman was quoted as saying: “It’s a bad system, it should go away.”

Take it as an indicator. Among the most-conservative of Idaho legislators, the Idaho Education Association isn't the only organization with a target on its back.

Crisis in the nuclear debate

We've long thought that the people who dismiss the idea of nuclear power as a realistic energy source are being too dismissive. If you can resolve reasonable safety issues, ensure that the operation is price effective (not an obscene cost per kilowatt-hour) and get clear-eyed about the waste issues, it should be a realistic option, at least in some places and circumstances. And advances in technology suggest those issues shouldn't be insurmountable. The political could be harder.

Maybe much harder after Friday's tsunami. News of partial and possibly further meltdown of a nuclear operation in Japan, resulting from an earthquake the likes of which the Northwest could see somewhere in the future, is likely to shake up the nuclear debate in big ways.

Headlines like "200,000 evacuated as N-crisis escalates" in the Seattle Times won't make the pro-nuclear advocates' job much easier.