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Posts published in May 2011

Casinos as a population engine

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.

The risk of no intrusion

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.

Koster’s options

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.

Self-identification, and reasons

The numbers - of how Idahoans identify politically - seem to continue in consistent patterns. But what to make of them?

By all means check out the new Johnson Post (by Boisean Marc Johnson) item on a poll conducted (recently; dates not specifically noted) for the Gallatin Group (for which Johnson works) and the Idaho Business Review, by pollster Greg Strimple. (Though we couldn't help recalling this.)

Just a passing thought about it here.

Growing out of two key lines of Johnson's summary. One: "Right now 38% of Idahoans self-identify as Republican, another 32.5% call themselves Independents, who are affiliated with no party, and just over 24% say they are Democrats." The other: "a strong plurality of Idahoans – 47.5% – consider themselves very or somewhat conservative. Another 29% describe themselves as moderates, while about 16% call themselves liberal."

These sound, facially, like an honest polling results - along the lines of what you'd expect to see. But what does it mean?

It means that an Idaho Republican that has been moving in a direction it (and most observers) consider ever more conservative, has been attracting self-identified adherents well below the logical philosophical base. Look at it this way: If the two major parties logically split through the middle, with Republicans winning support from conservatives and half the moderates and Democrats the liberals and half the moderates, then Republicans should be at 62% and Democrats at 38%. That actually does match up, roughly, with many statewide election results, but it also suggests that despite the broad preference for Republican candidates, the party itself seems less popular - backed specifically by fewer than two in five Idaho voters.

Here's a question to ask - tricky for a pollster to do in a neutral enough way, but important: What do Idahoans think it means to say that someone is conservative, or moderate, or liberal? What are these things, definitionally? What do they translate to? Are the three labels simply picked out as easy bumper stickers? How closely do they match up, accurately, voter preferences with candidates, and parties?

We'll be back to this.

Carlson: Transparency for Thee, Not for Me

Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

In politics there are sometimes coincidences that are not all that coincidental. But whether a coincidence rises to the level of a “conspiracy” is debatable. Most institutions, because flawed and fallible humans are involved, are just not capable of pulling off conspiracies. This is especially true of the federal government. Incompetence, ineptitude and ignorance can create the appearance that a conspiracy is underway, but an appearance is usually all it is.

Recent events in Idaho, though, are causing me to question this “conspiracy” premise.

Exhibit A: Lobbyist and activist Wayne Hoffman. Hoffman, a former newspaper reporter and Bill Sali mouthpiece, masquerades as a journalist and runs a so-called independent news bureau. In truth, this “news bureau” is nothing more than a front for Hoffman’s advocacy organization that, in all probability, is funded by libertarian billionaires David and Charles Koch. They own Koch Industries, an incredible conglomerate operating out of Wichita, Kansas.

And Hoffman’s actions and influence certainly raise questions about who he is working for, not to mention who is paying his bills.

Hoffman’s claim to run a real news organization is disputed by the Capitol Correspondent’s Association, the group that accredits legitimate reporters, and which refuses to characterize either he or his three researchers as reporters.

Secondly, one uses the word “probable” regarding his sugar daddy because Hoffman refuses to divulge all donors to the Freedom Foundation that pays his salary and those of his support staff. True journalists (and most registered lobbyists) have either an ethical or legal requirement for transparency. The public has a right to know who is paying for lobbying and advocacy. Such disclosure permits individuals to draw their own conclusions as to why a particular group is trying to influence the legislature or the governor.

Wayne Hoffman thumbs his nose at this thought, despite touting transparency and the public’s right to know in a post-legislative report. He says some of his donors prefer anonymity, and under our tax code they have that right. Touting transparency for government, but refusing to be transparent as you work to influence government is simple hypocrisy. Hoffman’s activities belie any claim to his being a journalist. He is a lobbyist and an advocate of right-wing, libertarian causes funded by someone with deep pockets and without the courage of their convictions. Hoffman and his foundation were up to their eyeballs this legislative session, pushing for the discredited and bizarre notions of a supposed right of a state to nullify federal law a state does not agree with. (The Civil War settled that one.)

This is a quintessential example for how to waste time and resources. In a recent column Hoffman tries to turn a lemon into lemonade (and shame on the thinking voter if he gets away with it). First, Hoffman takes credit for getting a bill passed forbidding any state employee or agency to engage in any activity that might end up assisting the implementation of so-called “Obama-Care” in Idaho. He brags about leading an effort to “nullify” the federal legislation. (more…)

Is a shift occurring?

Certainly, the fact that the polling information in question comes from one of the partisans in the fight has to give you pause.

Still, take a moment to consider the polling information the Idaho Education Association has released (by Grove Insight of Portland, 600 Idahoans polled in March, MOE 4%).

The summary from the IEA:

In a recent poll, only 25 percent of likely voters surveyed gave Tom Luna a favorable rating, compared to a 75 percent favorable rating for teachers. Luna’s unfavorability rating skyrocketed from 18 percent negative in March 2010 to 41 percent negative a year later, with 15 percent taking a neutral view.
Teachers’ favorability ratings remained near constant, dipping 2 percent from 77 percent last year. The Idaho Education Association’s favorability ratings rose from 39 percent to 47 percent since March 2010.

Not so much to take to the bank, as a bookmark for future reference. As the recall and referendum efforts continue on, we may be revisiting those numbers.

The safe Northwest

When it comes to disasters, they tend to be so all-consuming - when they do happen, or might - that we miss the larger risk picture. For example, this question: How risky a place is the Northwest, from storms, floods, quakes, twisters and so on?

Pretty safe, it turns out.

The New York Times last weekend posted a map showing which parts of the country are overall at higher or lower risk of disasters, and the Northwest is much the lowest. The safest metro area in the country, it turns out, is Corvallis. And of the eight safest metro areas in the country, seven are in either Washington or Oregon (Corvallis, Mt. Vernon, Bellingham, Wenatchee, Spokane, Salem and Seattle). The lone holdout was Grand Junction, Colorado.

The list of high-risk places was led by Dallas, Texas. The eight riskiest were all in Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and Alabama.

So why don’t they do it?

This weekend's Wayne Hoffman column in various Idaho newspapers concerns an upcoming election issue - two local issues, with the same idea - in Idaho Falls and Nampa: Setting up a new auditorium district in those places, as Boise did a generation ago (and has operated since).

The district has a misleading name (not so much when the term was coined a long time ago, as it is now). Its main purpose is to create a marketing center for a local area, and (generally) build a community convention or meeting center, like the Boise Centre on the Grove. It does this by adding to the local room tax, imposed on people who stay at motels and other lodgings. The approach has its pluses and minuses, and the Boise district has attracted a number of critics over the years.

This being a government agency, Hoffman's opposition is locked in advance (the Idaho Freedom Foundation, which he runs, is supportive of market solutions and "limited government"). After calling a voter-approved (if the voters do approve, which may or may not happen) district creation a "crime" - as he does before in his first paragraph - he goes on to say this:

"The defenders of auditorium district taxes are opting to create a new taxing district and companion government bureaucracy despite less expensive, less intrusive options. For example, there’s nothing prohibiting local hoteliers, restaurateurs, chambers of commerce and other businesses from using their own resources, individually or collectively, to market the community or their own industries. If they really wanted to, those businesses could do it tomorrow in a way that does not require the creation of a new taxing district. They are instead opting to use the power of the government to extract wealth from people because they can and because it’s easiest."

Hoffman's point that local private businesses could get together and build their own convention center and marketing entity is absolutely right. They could do it tomorrow. Would the auditorium district option be "easiest" in comparison? Local businesses would have no direct control over such an agency - its governing board would be elected by the voters (as it is in Boise), who would retain control over many of the major decisions. Its books and activities mostly are open to the public, as a private entity's would not have to be. A district has to jump through all kinds of legal requirements and adhere to limitations that a private corporation doesn't have to. It would be a slower option (as anyone familiar with the Boise district's history could tell you) to get things set up.

And besides all that, this point from Hoffman that sounds highly compelling: "In creating a taxing district, the government will collect money that otherwise would be spent in the private sector. This is money that might have gone into the coffers of local restaurants, coffee shops, movie theaters and other establishments."

This is where the "market solution" logic starts to run into problems. Because if you assume that Nampa and Idaho Falls do need this kind of organized convention and visitor effort, whether public or private, then someone will have to pay for it. If a coalition of motels, restaurants et al wanted to undertake the effort, it would cost them. And they would have to do what businesses usually have to do under such cases when their costs of doing business rise: In this case, raise room rates and meal costs. Same end result. Except that the businesses would have to be responsible for making the tourism effort work - the risk would be concentrated among them, rather than spread through a community that would broadly, one would think, be getting some benefit from larger visitation.

There are, after all, reasons why these business people aren't doing it. It may not pencil out as an immediate profit-generator. There may be difficulties getting the various businesses to work together in a mutually agreeable way. Plenty of reasons come to mind, but most of them wouldn't advance the case of the one-size-fits-all "market solution."