A post or two back, Recall Cause, told about a Washington Supreme Court case involving Dale Washam, assessor-treasurer at Pierce County. The Court let stand a move to force a recall election aimed at Washam, who was first elected in 2008 – just two and a half years ago.

Peter Callaghan of the Tacoma News Tribune writes today how he was among those who voted for Washam back then: “All I can say is, it seemed like a good idea at the time. The piece, together with the Supreme Court’s decision, is worth reading as a meditation on some of the reasons we choose the people we do, and why those reasons, even well intended, can be wrongheaded enough to force extreme measures, like recall, later.

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Anyone who wants to talk about tax and economic policy in Idaho needs to have a look at a report just out this week at the University of Idaho. The summary release on it has the provocative title, “Study Suggests Idaho Caught in Low-Skill, Low-Wage Jobs Trap.”

Not too hard to intuitively understand, but this report nails the point with careful study.

Here’s Bill Loftus’ summary of the report, posted on the UI site:

Idaho’s workforce earns nearly $11,000 less for each employee than the national average. That hurts both workers individually and the state, which suffers lower tax revenues to support basic services, a retired University of Idaho agricultural economist’s analysis shows.

Economic data suggests that Idaho is caught in a low-skill, low-wage trap, said agricultural economist Stephen C. Cooke, who retired from the University of Idaho in December. He began studying the issue a decade ago.

“Why are wages so low in Idaho? That’s the question I’m trying to answer,” Cooke said. The answer is complex, he added, but key components include lack of a priority on educating the state’s workforce and a failure to recruit enough highly paid jobs.

The consequence, Cooke said, is that Idaho’s 660,000 jobs, essentially lose out on some $7.2 billion a year in wages each year compared to the national average. Idaho lags nearly $8 billion behind Colorado, where workers average $12,000 more a year.

The economy of the Rocky Mountain region in general can be characterized as caught in a low-skill/low-wage economic gap, Cooke wrote in the journal “The Review of Regional Studies” with co-author Bharathkumar A. Kulandaisamy, an agricultural economics graduate student. Their article was published earlier this year.

Their research analyzed 81 economic sectors and concluded the gap between average annual wages nationally and Idaho in 2009 was $11,000.

With another agricultural economics graduate student, Chen Chen, Cooke took an in-depth look at Colorado, which weathered the recession better than Idaho.

Colorado provides a comparison and a lesson in two very different job environments. Idaho is adding jobs in low-wage sectors but shedding them in high-wage sectors. Colorado is the opposite.

Compared to Colorado, the big three growing job sectors in Idaho include outpatient health care services, agriculture and administrative and support services. The best examples of the last sector are call centers, Cooke said.

Agricultural workers actually fare quite well because they earn more than the national average and the number of jobs is growing, he said.

Idaho’s declining job sectors include professional, scientific and technical services; management of companies and enterprises and mining.

Analyzing economic data from 2001 to 2009, Cooke said, “We found Idaho focuses its economic development on low-skill jobs, which bring low wages, and we have significantly lower wages and employment in the high skill sectors relative to the United States and Colorado.”

The analysis showed that Idaho workers tend to be over-employed, which means they occupy jobs that typically require higher education levels. The problem for Idaho and its workers is they earn less as a result.

Education spending alone cannot improve Idaho’s average wage, said Cooke. “It’s important, but alone it’s not sufficient. You have to do several things, including recruit jobs in high-wage sectors.”

Bringing companies that need educated, skilled workers to Idaho is hard without the educated workforce in place, however. Without high paying jobs, Idaho’s college graduates often go out of state, Cooke said.

Idaho’s economy does have strengths. “Idaho has the distinction of very high job growth, but it also has the distinction of low wages,” Cooke said. That translated to 7 percent job growth in Idaho compared to 2 percent nationally.

“I think that what this shows is that education is good because it makes you a lot of money,” Cooke said. “It’s a means to an end, it’s not the end. It’s about the kind of economy and society we want to live in.”

Generally the highest-paying jobs require a college education. Cooke said Idaho has one of the largest education gaps, meaning the difference between the number of jobs requiring a college degree and the number of college graduates, among the five Rocky Mountain States.

Neighboring Utah gained on Colorado during a recession because it continued to invest in education and produce college graduates, Cooke said. That helped Utah gain more highly-paid workers when the economy improved.

Like a lighter, more nimble race car passing a heavier, faster race car in a curve, adding graduates helped Utah’s smaller economy outpace Colorado’s larger economy in an economic downturn.

Cooke and Kulandaisamy’s paper in the Review of Regional Studies journal published by the Southern Regional Science Association is available online at bit.ly/iP9XDm.

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Washington courts

Not all that often could you just take a court decision out to the public, print off copies, and have all the reasons you could want to oust a public official – in this case, by recall.

But here we are, in the case of Pierce County Assessor-Treasurer Dale Washam. In Washington, remember, you have to meet certain legal standards for recall (a good idea) – you have to demonstrate serious wrongdoing by the person in the course of their job. (The allowable reasons: “malfeasance, misfeasance, and violation of oath of office.”) Those reasons are ordinarily reviewed by a court, and – if appealed, as was unwisely done in this case – the Supreme Court, as happened in the just-released In recall of Dale Washam.

Washam is the assessor-treasurer of Pierce County, and the recall advocates allege he “violated whistleblower protections, retaliated against his employees, grossly wasted public funds, failed to cooperate with discrimination and retaliation investigations, and violated his oath of office.”

If that sounds like an office politics situation, the Supreme Court decision adds some information that puts it in perspective: “Washam is no stranger to the recall process. In 2005, he filed a recall petition against his predecessor in office, Ken Madsen. After Washam was elected Pierce County assessor-treasurer in 2008, he continued to doggedly pursue his predecessor. In his first few months in office, he asked the Pierce County Prosecutor, the state auditor, and the state attorney general to investigate, file charges, or take other action against his predecessor in office for relying in part on statistical modeling. All declined.”

The battles between Washam (who was elected in 2008) and the staff sound as if they just went on and on. The Supreme Court wrote of one part of the long-running narrative, “Another independent investigator found that Washam had violated various Pierce County Code provisions protecting the confidentiality of people filing complaints, had retaliated against employees for protected conduct, and had identified and posted derogatory information about the complaining employees. An investigator found that Washam’s “dogged unwillingness” to stop pursuing his predecessor and office staff resulted “in a gross waste of public funds.” Staff complaints against Washam have resulted in at least three outside investigations of Washam, all finding misconduct.”

The most interesting piece of this may have been in the question of Washam’s long pursuit of his predecessor. The trial judge in the case, Thomas Felnagle, had an uneasy time with this. Given the nature of the job, he wrote (and the Supreme Court affirmed), there was maybe some legal allowance for going after some of the issues involved. But:

The next question becomes, was this intention or was it just a question of bad judgment. You know, that’s a hard line to draw, but I liken this, when I thought about it, to the novel Moby Dick. And in Moby Dick, Captain Ahab is obsessed with getting the white whale, and he’s obsessed with getting the white whale to the extent that he’s willing to take down his ship and his crew in the process. And what we see here is an allegation that, when warned about the lack of legal basis, the argument goes that the elected official continues on seeking out his white whale, in this case, his predecessor in office, even to the extent that it’s going to jeopardize his crew, in this case, the tax-paying public.

Coming to a recall vote sometime soon in Pierce County.

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A quick note to suggest looking at some of the most viewer-friendly (though non-editable) maps out there, from a Eugene company called Moonshadow Mobile.

Kari Chisholm of Blue Oregon, who pointed them out on his blog post, notes that “That’s an Oregon company, owned by Eugene City Councilor Mike Clark, that layers a redistricting tool over the intuitive Google Maps interface. … that’s the company that provided redistricting tools to the Republicans, but whatever. It’s a nice map tool.”

There are maps for the Oregon U.S. House and state House districts (current and the two partisan proposals). Easier to look at and absorb than the state committee maps (from which we cut and pasted in posts previous).

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We’ll get into some of the details of the legislative remapping proposals a little later. The full maps are too large to reproduce easily here, but both the Democratic (for Senate and House) and Republican proposals (for Senate and House) are posted on line.

A general overview: Allowing for a number of exceptions, Democrats seem to like something resembling the current lines a little better than the Republicans do. Although they are certainly up for adjustments in a number of areas. Jeff Mapes at the Oregonian quickly caught, for example, how Democrats would put their House floor leader Dave Hunt in a district with Republican Bill Kennemer, in what would be a strongly Democratic district. In our local area, looks (this isn’t confirmed, but the map looks this way) as if the Democratic plan would surgically slice incumbent Republican Jim Weidner out of his current district into almost all new territory.

More fun and games to come.

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The battle is joined and the fun begins. When it came to Oregon’s congressional districts, the basic strategy and principles at play have been clear for some time, and now – with release of Democratic and Republican proposed maps (for legislative as well – see the next post) – we now have maps to fight over.

The next redistricting commission meeting is May 17.

The basic strategic goal for the parties on the congressional level has been drawing lines that will continue the likelihood of a 4D/1R House delegation, as opposed to increasing competitiveness of one or two of those districts. (Two of the districts, those based in Portland and east of the Cascades, are foregone conclusions as strongly Democratic and Republican respectively; the battles are over the other districts.) And the main way you would change the equation is by keeping big and heavily Democratic Multnomah County in one district, making the two main suburban districts to the west and south (currently, districts 1 and 5) less Democratic.

Here’s the Democratic proposal. (What’s shown here, in northwest Oregon, is the key area; the Cascade range and beyond, to the east, all goes in district 2, and the area to the south, south of Corvallis and Albany, are in 4. This is true for both parties’ proposals.)

Democratic congressional

Looks a good deal like the current district lineup, the main difference being the addition of (increasingly Democratic) Hood River to heavily Democratic District 3. It continues to split off a significant chunk of Multnomah into District 1, and a smaller piece into District 5 – giving each a little more Democratic edge. District 3 would run from Hood River along the Columbia to about Ranier.

And here’s the Republican.

Republican congressional

It looks smooth, with compact districts. There are political implications, of course. But keeping Multnomah in one piece, districts 1 and 5 have been given more Republican territory, moving each in the Republican direction from their current makeup. District 1 would lose heavily Democratic western Portland, for example, and pick up Republican Polk County.

The Republican plan makes District 4, the currently marginally Democratic area held by Democrat Peter DeFazio, more Democratic by throwing in (usually Democratic) Lincoln and all of Benton counties. Republicans seem to be conceding that one as the price for picking up (they hope) advantages in 1 and 5.

The big fight, though, clearly is going to be over whether Multnomah is split between congressional districts (whether two or three) or made intact within one. It’s hard to see where the compromise on that will come.

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Cece Andrus’ uncanny ability to look over the horizon is one of the hallmarks that make him such a unique political figure. A reminder of this occurred recently in a reflection piece on a Fairbanks trial by Alaskan writer Craig Medred.

A cantankerous, iconoclastic “outback” figure was on trial for not following the regulations within the boundaries of one of the National Parks created by landmark Andrus led “set aside” legislation that doubled the size of the National Park system when signed by President Carter in December of 1980.

Trial testimony revealed a classic over-reaction by the Park Service as a SWAT-team descended to arrest and haul the guy off to jail. The image of NPS police holding a shotgun to his head said it all.

Medred was one of a contingent of national and Alaskan reporters taking part in a tour put together at the behest of the then Interior Secretary during the summer of 1979 to showcase the many “crown jewels” in Alaska being proposed for permanent protection. The ten-day tour was designed to educate a national audience to what was at stake for all Americans in perpetuity in these unique public lands.

The tour was successful with hundreds of news stories and tv clips appearing in major cities across the nation. Alaska’s senior senator, crusty Ted Stevens of course charged Andrus with lobbying with public funds but there was little he could do but fume.

During the tour time was scheduled for reporters to hike and fish as well as watch birds or, at a distance, Alaskan caribou and grizzly. On such a break the Secretary and Medred wandered off to do a little fly fishing.

Medred recalled that while casting Andrus opined one of the reservations he had about creating new additions to the nation’s various protection systems was turning over the most scenic tracts to management by the National Park Service. Andrus opined it would be better for all if the lands were declared part of the wilderness system managed by the Forest Service.

His concern was legitimate and prescient as anyone visiting Alaska today knows. The National Park Service, much as Andrus feared, has ham-handedly lost the respect of Alaskans living adjacent to the vast, protected tracts. The parks are viewed as play grounds for the rich from the lower 48 who trek to Alaska during the two months of the year when the weather is nice, there’s almost 20 hours of daylight, and they can ride tour busses or, fully clad in recent purchases from an Orvis Fly Shop, descend upon streams to flail away.

So how did Andrus come to know that this was something to be worried about?

Experience, pure and simple. While governor in his first two terms he dealt with representatives of that Interior agency who were casting covetous eyes on the Sawtooths, the White Clouds and Hells Canyon. All these areas were then being managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Familiarizing himself with what one could and could not do in a national park, Andrus concluded their management scheme would be too restrictive for those who love to hunt and fish in Idaho’s backcountry.

He intuitively understood a National Park designation could also quickly lead to an area being “loved to death” by an influx of folks who trek to the national parks precisely because of their notoriety.

Thus, he settled on the “national recreation area” designation which would keep the Forest Service as the lead land manager, much to the consternation of the late Paul Fritz who then managed the only piece of NPS turf in Idaho, Craters of the Moon National Monument.

For years Andrus watched as Forest Service personnel did a better job of integrating themselves into their communities and working in a truly neighborly way.

Several times during his four terms as Governor he would disappear into remote parts of Idaho’s backcountry with just the supervisors of Idaho’s national forests and their bosses from Ogden or Missoula for four day horse-packing trips. He never took staff, nor did they.

It’s amazing how seemingly insoluble challenges give way to possible solutions when sitting around a campfire in some remote corner of the proposed Mallard-Larkins wilderness area, for example.

The key Andrus would say today reflects what he has always practiced—-understand the public office is a public trust, know a public servant is just that, that the public is the boss, listen because there is a collective wisdom to the public sense of propriety, use common sense, keep working to figure out the greatest good for the greatest number.

If he were still Secretary of the Interior there’d be a few NPS personnel being sent to charm school to learn that a little bit of honey goes much further than a lot of vinegar.

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From a diary on Daily Kos, a provocative look at some of the ways Oregon’s five congressional districts might be redrawn this year.

The key question is whether Oregon, which now has four Democratic representatives and one Republican, might get a set of districts which would favor election of one more Republican. In his diary, James Allen has “drawn up 3 not so revolutionary maps which should add another Republican leaning district, or at least make the Democratic districts more competitive. They keep the districts mostly in the current orientation, but make some changes, obviously.”

Worth a look, as time nears for release of some of the initial districting committee-based maps.

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Yet another indicator of how unpredictable the Republican race for the presidential nomination has become:

Last Friday the Washington State Republican Party, meeting at Bellevue, for an annual dinner, ran a straw poll to assess the support there for the various presidential contenders.

357 ballots came in, and split deeply among 17 named candidates (and nine “others”). The “winner” with 54 votes – 15.1% of the total – was businessman Herman Cain, outpacing former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney by two votes.

The next two highest finishers included one person who might or might not right (Mitch Daniels, Indiana governor) and one who has flatly said he will not (Chris Christie, New Jersey governor).

After that, no one got even a tenth of the votes. Former Arkasnas Governor Mike Huckabee (who did well in Washington four years ago) got only 14; Representative (and Tea Party favorite) Ron Paul just 10; former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin eight (how the mighty have fallen). Even The Donald got only 10.

Certainly looks from here like a wide-open race.

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Not entirely a tax amnesty, in that the taxes were forgiven, but that businesses (and it was basically business involved here) could pay up without risk of being legally at risk … may have helped out Washington in a big way.

How much? When the Washington legislature approved the idea of an amnesty period, the estimate was $24 million. What the state actually got from businesses that hadn’t paid up? $321 million – more than 10 times as much.

That’s actually been dampening talk of a second special Washington legislative session. Governor Chris Gregoire: “With this information, they can go home.”

Maybe some others might try the same thing, and see what they pull in.

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A few changes at work around the site.

You may notice the subject bar just below the picture at the top of this page is a little shorter. The pages that were listed there and are not now – the outta Idaho journalism, Costa Rica and other pages – are not gone. They’re just accessible from elsewhere. (Look down in the column to the right, under “Pages”.) They’re updated infrequently enough that we thought a little less headline-y location would be more appropriate.

And you may have noticed the new box above the posts here. It’s there to draw a little extra attention to the blogs, publications, posts, books and other things we do that otherwise sometimes get buried.

We’ll be doing a few more things in the weeks ahead. Stay tuned.

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phone books

Seattle phone book recycling/Office of Mike O’Brien

A lot of people (we among them) probably sympathize with the idea: A requirement that people distributing telephone books allow people to opt out of distribution – to not receive them. Considering the number of trees used to produce masses of telephone books a lot of people don’t want and simply throw out … Well, there are masses of them. Were there just one phone book covering a specific area, as was the case years ago, and were there no Internet for phone number lookup … but again, we live in another world now.

So our impulse was to declare the ordinance pushed by Seattle Council member Mike O’Brien, and passed there last week, as a good thing. The opt-out site has gone live, and by the end of the first day “8,800 households logged on and opted out of 59,600 phone books,” notes the Slog.

And it still could roll ahead … but it’s got some problems. Most of those stem from going beyond simply allowing customers to opt out of delivery, and leaving it at that; had O’Brien stopped there, his effort might be in good shape.

As it is, we’d guess his ordinance will run into a judicial buzzsaw. A number of phone book producers (including the largest, Dex, which is about to deliver its next edition at Seattle), have filed suit. The first sentence of their suit suggests the problem areas involved:

“Seattle Ordinance 123427 violates the First Amendment by banning distribution of yellow pages without a license, taxing publishers for every book they distribute, and forcing publishers to print the City’s messages on their books and to participate in the City’s delivery opt-out program.”

It goes on:

Ordinance 123427 bans distribution of yellow pages unless publishers meet four conditions:

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For a number of Indian tribes around the country, casinos have been a major economic boon. (Thinking here about the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes at the Fort Hall reservation, where a casino has been a centerpiece for an economic boon that includes a major meeting and tourist center just for which ground has just been broken.)

Less obvious: The casinos have been drawing tribal members who have moved to other locations, back to the reservation.

The Seattle Times, parsing 2010 census figures, has a useful piece on this today. The numbers of tribal members in Washington (that is, members of tribes whose reservations are located in Washington) are not massively large – 61,582, scattered among 29 tribes. (The Yakama and Colville reservations account for about a third; the Stillaguamish, with 200 people, are the smallest.) But it makes some difference as a matter of clout whether the people are scattered or in a close physical location; concentration generates influence.

Now, the Times reports, the Suquamish Tribe, which had slight population and few resources of any sort 40 years ago, employs 1,200 people – even more than the tribe’s population. It notes, “At Suquamish, the count of Indian people living on the reservation is up 47 percent over the 2000 census. So many have returned home to Suquamish, or chosen to stay there, that tribal housing is in chronic short supply.”

In the case of many well-managed tribes, the casinos have been only the engine of a larger economic redevelopment. And the spinoff effects of that may be only starting to come into view.

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Generally, people in southern Idaho are accustomed to the need for close regulation of water rights. Water is limited; if there isn’t someone to control how it’s apportioned, trouble is going to ensue. In northern Idaho, where there’s been somewhat more water than in the arid south, people are less accustomed to the water rights regime. There, attempts to adjudicate and close regulate water is just seen as, well, intrusive – and maybe threatening.

Those people may want get a load of this: A Washington state Department of Ecology study: “Spokane Valley-Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer Optimized Recharge for Summer Flow Augmentation of the Columbia River.”

The department notes, “The research was done as part of ongoing efforts to ensure adequate water supplies in the SVRP aquifer and in the Spokane River in the face of population growth, ever-increasing groundwater pumping and expected effects of climate change. Large amounts of aquifer pumping have already decreased summer low flows in the Spokane River, the report says.”

So where would this water come from? “The study looked at three alternative sources for water to recharge the aquifer and the drier reaches of the Spokane River: the Spokane River during high flows; pumping aquifer water from a site in Washington up into Idaho; and using groundwater near the southern end of Lake Pend Oreille. Spring runoff water would be piped to Idaho and discharged to the aquifer, arriving in the Spokane River in the late summer. The technically preferred source is the latter.”

As described here, Washington wouldn’t necessarily be making a grab for Idaho water. But we’re talking about working right along the state borders, with an aquifer that cuts across both states. If you’re a Panhandle Idaho resident with water rights, this report may come as a cold slap.

Especially if you’re one of those who’ve been opposed to state adjudication of water rights – which is another way of saying, protection of them.

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Idaho Washington

John Koster
John Koster

The whole notion of Dennis Kucinich, who may face a redistrict squeeze in his Ohio environments, running next year in a new Washington state district (or District 1, if Jay Inslee runs for governor), sounds so ridiculous on its face that you have to wonder why the idea still seems to have legs. Which, odd as it may be, it seems to.

That frame of mind made us initially dismissive of word today that Republican John Koster, who last year lost – but by a hairline only – his bid to unseat 2nd district Representative Rick Larsen, is planning to run for Congress again next year.

Has announced it today on his website, in fact, and noting this: “With Koster’s strong showing against Congressman Rick Larsen in November of 2010, many supporters have urged him to consider a run against United States Senator Maria Cantwell. While Koster has not ruled out the possibility, he has made it clear that pursing a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives is “where his heart is.”

Okay: First thought was that this was not a great idea, based on the second-run principle and the changed-year probability. Candidates who face off in successive election years against the same candidate and lose, tend to lose worse the second time, unless some key element in their race – something about one of the candidates, something in the political environment, something in the structure of the race – has changed dramatically in between to the benefit of the challenger. And if Koster faced Larsen again, what would that be? On the other hand, 2012 is unlikely to be as favorable a year for Republicans as 2010 was.

And the idea of a Senate run against Cantwell – well, good luck with that. Koster might well get the nomination, but he’d need some kind of astounding luck to prevail there.

However, on further reflection, there’s this: The House picture in northwest Washington will be changing. There will be new congressional districts in 2012, and no one now knows what they’ll look like. Besides that, if Inslee does run for governor – which seems to be the wide expectation – that could open District 1, of some facsimile thereof, which might (or might not) be more politically competitive than it is now. Or, Larsen might be thrown into a very different kind of district.

In any of these events, Koster, by announcing now, has made himself a player in the mix – someone who will have to be dealt with and accounted for as Republicans start to sift through their options in the area for 2012. His prospective role in this gives local Republicans something of a planning principle to work around, which is better than having none at all.

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