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Posts published in March 2011

Inslee edging closer

Inslee
Jay Inslee

There's been a wide presumption that Representative Jay Inslee, of the Washington 1st district based around Snohomish County, is aiming at a run for governor 2012 - the job that eluded him in 1996 run (when he lost in the Democratic primary to the King County executive, Gary Locke). The indicators have been growing.

The latest, just pointed out in the Everett Herald, is his upcoming fundraiser, invitations for which pointedly said this: “We know it's early in the cycle, but the Congressman is trying to put some funds in the bank early for his Congressional race and also if there is an opening to run for Governor.”

Presumably, there will be, unless incumbent Democrat Chris Gregoire surprises a lot of people and runs for a third term.

Inslee isn't the only Democrat who's made noises about such a run. Senate Majority Lisa Brown of Spokane has been reported as interested, and so have others. But Inslee could be the major entrant on the Democratic side.

A contest against Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna, who's widely presumed to go for it in '12 (and has to be considered the Republican heavyweight if he enters), could be a battle to behold.

A strange kind of tyranny

As the effort to run the health care nullification bill ramps up again in the Idaho House, amid cries of how the 2010 law is imposing tyranny on the country, maybe a look - one year hence - at some of the actual impact is in order.

Here's a White House summary of the effects on Idaho, specifically. One point not mentioned, to be sure, is the provision on buying insurance - not a mandate, by the way (one of the many routine misstatements about the law) but rather a relatively modest tax incentive to be insured.

Don't know about you, but I'm having a hard time finding tyranny in a health law that doesn't take over health care or insurance, only extends some regulations in a badly broken system. (Before you take any issue with that, you might read one of the latest slices of evidence of that in Steve Duin's column today in the Oregonian, about how wonderful private health insurers can be, and how effective we've been at reining in their many abuses.)

Here's the "tyranny" the health law has imposed on Idaho:

Reducing costs for seniors and strengthening Medicare. More than 16,265 Idaho residents who hit the Medicare prescription drug coverage gap known as the “donut hole” received $250 tax-free rebates, and will receive a 50% discount on brand-name prescription drugs when they hit the donut hole this year. By 2020, the law will close the donut hole completely. And nearly all 44 million beneficiaries who have Medicare, including 211,000 in Idaho, can now receive free preventive services – like mammograms and colonoscopies – as well as a free annual wellness visit from their doctor

Offering new coverage options. Insurance companies are now required to allow parents to keep their children up to age 26 without job-based coverage on their insurance plans. An estimated 5,800 young adults in Idaho could gain insurance coverage as a result of the law. Additionally, most insurance companies are now banned from denying coverage to children because of a pre-existing condition. An estimated 99,000 kids with a pre-existing condition in Idaho will be protected because of this provision.

Lowering costs for small businesses. The law provides $40 billion of tax credits to up to 4 million small businesses, including up to 28,219 in Idaho to help offset the costs of purchasing coverage for their employees and make premiums more affordable.

Improving the quality of coverage. All Americans with insurance are now free from worrying about losing their insurance due to a mistake on an application, or having it capped unexpectedly if someone is in an accident or becomes sick. The law bans insurance companies from imposing lifetime dollar limits on health benefits – freeing cancer patients and individuals suffering from other chronic diseases from having to worry about going without treatment because of their lifetime limits. The law also restricts the use of annual limits and bans them completely in 2014. This will protect 934,000 Idaho residents with private insurance coverage from these limits.

Providing flexibility and resources to States. The Affordable Care Act also gives States the flexibility and resources they need to implement the law in the way that works for them. Under the law, States have received millions of dollars in Federal support for their work to hold down insurance premiums, build competitive insurance marketplaces, provide insurance to early retirees, and strengthen their public health and prevention efforts. So far, Idaho has received $27.9 million from the Affordable Care Act. Grants to Idaho include: $1 million to plan for a Health Insurance Exchange; $1 million to crack down on unreasonable insurance premium increases; $15 million to support capital development in community health centers; $3.6 million from the Prevention and Public Health Fund; $100,468 for Medicare improvements for patients and providers; $784,503 for Maternal, Infant and Childhood Home Visiting; $6.5 million for the Money Follows the Person demonstration project.

Note: The White House release typo referred to "934,000 million Idaho residents" corrected here.

This Week in the Digests

Brookings
Tsunami damage at Brookings harbor. (image/Department of Energy)

Tight state budgets continued as a leading thread in Northwest news this week; Washington reported an enormous $778 million drop in anticipated revenues. Cuts rather than revenue increases appeared to continue to be the preferred alternative at all three legislatures to dealing with the shortfalls.

Economic indicators in Oregon and Washington were pointing up, with Oregon posting its largest one-month gain in jobs in 15 years. And in Idaho, two major public school laws were signed into passage, and another was under revision in the Senate.

Some of the larger stories in the Washington edition:

bullet Revenue estimate: A $778 million drop

bullet Washington job numbers improve

bullet Constantine proposes stimulus

bullet Worker compensation bill signed

bullet Cantwell: Crack down on gas speculation

In the Oregon edition:

bullet Major job additions in February

bullet Two wilderness areas proposed

bullet No radiation from Japan

bullet Tax credit information still hard to get

In the Idaho edition:

bullet Otter signs two Luna plan bills

bullet Wolf litigation partly resolved

bullet Senior water rights upheld over juniors

bullet Otter signs geothermal leasing bills

Cowboy ethics

When Idaho Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter was running for governor last year, and before that, his campaign office had in the window a "Code of the West" - "live each day with courage," "take pride in your work," "be tough but fair," "when you make a promise, keep it," "ride for the brand" (aka, Be True to Your School, or loyal to your community and country). Concepts that, doubtless, you've never heard of before. It came up during the campaign and Otter has pushed them as governor, even reciting then when talking to school kids.

Nothing particularly wrong with them, either. But what wasn't clear then, seeing the "Code" posted on a campaign window or website, was that it wasn't the idea of Otter, or of some Idahoan.

It's popped up again this session at the Oregon Legislature, in the form of House Concurrent Resolution 14 (a hearing is set for Monday), to approve of the "Code" (because, remember, it has to do with the mythical Old West, not the real one) as a sort moral guideline for the state.

It has also appeared, the Oregonian noted in writing about this, in other places: Wyoming has adopted it as state policy (to accomplish what exactly is unclear), and the Montana legislature is considering it.

So it didn't just pop up as one local lonesome cowboy's thought.

It came from one James P. Owen, who has made substantial bucks from a series of books. The first one was Cowboy Ethics: What Wall Street Can Learn from the Code of the West, and when it sold well, was quickly followed by two sequels. Getting a marketing boost for his book from governors and legislators surely didn't hurt. And he set up a non-profit corporation as well, The Center for Cowboy Ethics and Leadership. The approach of the New West wrapped in the mythology of the old: Quite a mashup.

If you're wondering where that reference to Wall Street came in, you need to know something about Owen. He is not a cowboy (though the fringe-sleeved jacket he wears on his non-profit's web page conveys the impression). Owen's background is on Wall Street, as an investment professional; he has even been linked to investor Bernie Madoff's operations (though he has said the financial connection occurred after his left his firm). The cowboy principles do not come from any study of the old west, or life on a ranch, but - he has said - from recollections of his childhood, watching Roy Rogers and Gene Autry.

A 21st century philosopher of the American West. Truly.

OR remap: Pleas from John Day

A woman, named Smith, who farms near John Day describes the isolation of the John Day and Canyon City area - which is to say most of the people of Grant County - in terms of mountain passes. You have to climb through two or three of them, she said, "to get anywhere that is somewhere."

This came up at the second redistricting committee road hearing today, a later-afternoon and light-attended session based at Burns but with video feeds at John Day and Ontario. Tomorrow's hearing is at Bend.

She said she testified a decade ago when reapportionment was last done, with the idea that Grant County should be kept intact. By the time the map was drawn (by the secretary of state, not the legislature), the county was split down the middle between two state House districts. They do share state Senate and a U.S. House district.

What counties should be united with Grant (which is far too small to form a legislative district by itself) into a House district? Mrs. Smith suggested that similar resource counties be fitted, like Harney and Malheur, more than "anything up along the Gorge."

No one in Ontario testified.

Of all the eastern Oregon counties, Grant may be the one that has the most - and logically so - interest in reapportionment.

Cliff Bentz, the House member who represents much of this vast area, was ironically in Salem but participated by video feed. He noted that "the need to add 8,300 people [to his current district] is a sad commentary on my corner of Oregon," another indicator of the need for economic development there.

He added that he wanted "to make sure that the committee does not carve Ontario off into Idaho. That would be an unfortunate event."

Senior rights upheld over juniors

Unanimously, the Idaho Supreme Court yestrday upheld a judgment of District Judge (and former SRBA judge) John Melanson, protecting senior decreed water rights in the Thousand Springs region and dealing a blow to groundwater pumpers to the north and east.

The ruling, authored by Chief Justice Daniel Eismann, put the onus directly on the groundwater pumpers. It followed directly on the age-old appropriation principle of "first in time, first in right."

The case, Clear Springs Foods Inc. and Blue Lakes Trout Farm Inc. v. Idaho Department of Water Resources, is available on line.

The decision, about 40 pages long, was a thorough rundown of the conjunctive management situation and legal changes in recent decades.

Adapted from opinion and related documents:

Clear Springs Foods, Inc., and Blue Lakes Trout Farm, Inc. have decreed water rights in certain springs in the Thousand Springs region of the Snake River Plain. Appellants Idaho Ground Water Appropriators, Inc., North Snake Ground Water District, and Magic Valley Ground Water District are users of the Eastern Snake River Plain Aquifer ground water across southern Idaho. Groundwater Users pump groundwater from the Aquifer, primarily for irrigation purposes. The decreed ground water rights of Groundwater Users are junior to the surface water rights of Spring Users.

In the spring of 2005, Spring Users sent letters to the Director of the Idaho Department of Water Resources requesting that the Director administer water rights. The director treated these letters as calls for delivery under the Department’s Rules for Conjunctive Management of Ground and Surface Water Resources. The Director found that the Groundwater Users’ diversions were materially injuring Spring Users’ senior surface water rights and issued curtailment orders. An administrative hearing was held in November 2007 and the hearing officer approved the curtailment orders. The Director thereafter entered a final order, based on the hearing officer’s recommendations but substantially affirming the original curtailment orders. On judicial review of the orders, district court affirmed the Director’s findings. The Groundwater Users appealed to the Idaho Supreme Court, arguing that the Spring Users should be denied their requests for water based on the economic impact that would result from curtailment. (more…)

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

broadband
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.