Writings and observations

Ron Sims, the former King County executive who has spent the last couple of years as a top executive at the Obama Administration’s Department of Housing and Urban Development, says he’s leaving to return to the Puget Sound.

Specifics were few, though he said he is “retiring from public service.” What exactly that translates to, we’ll see.

Certainly Sims is one of the more charismatic candidates – strong campaigning skills – in the area, and he’ll be watched as a potential candidate for something. Evidently, though, not right away.

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Washington

Tonight, the Idaho’s Citizen Commission for Reapportionment gets started on its public hearings around the state. The first is at Rexburg (evidently not streamed, though we’re told that plans are for at least some of the others – maybe half of them – to be streamed).

The others will be at Idaho Falls (June 15), Pocatello (June 15). Soda Springs (June 16), Coeur d’Alene (June 22), Sandpoint (June 22), Lewiston (June 23), Moscow (June 23), Burley (June 28), Twin Falls (June 29) and Hailey/Ketchum (June 30). Two in Boise and Caldwell already have been held. The commission’s schedule for July evidently hasn’t been worked out or set yet, and may not be until the hearings are done.

There’s always some virtue to hearing from the public, and this mass of meetings should provide more than if the commissioners just stayed in Boise.

At the same time, we’ll be curious to know what the turnout is. Oregon completed its redistricting hearings not so long ago, and turnout ranged from moderate to low. Only a handful of spots led to actual large audiences, over 100 of, say, actual local participants and witnesses. Most of the smaller cities drew far fewer – mainly county commissioners and mayors saying their official piece.

What they have to say in Idaho will be worth watching.

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Idaho

So far, the recent widespread predictions about the Washington governor’s race 2012 – Republican Rob McKenna in, incumbent Democrat Chris Gregoire out, Democrat Jay Inslee in – are holding up, two for three. And indications are that the third will materialize as well within a few days.

They’re linked. McKenna’s announcement put immediate pressure on Gregoire to clarify her intentions – if she wasn’t running, she had to clear the decks for another Democrat to gear up. That could have come any time in the next few weeks, but maybe the seriousness of McKenna’s candidacy prompted the speed – her announcement today that she will not seek a third term following on his by less than a week.

Don’t expect to be kept long waiting for Inslee, either.

Will there be others? Maybe … but the widespread presumption that this will be the core of the field seems to be having a pretty solid track record so far.

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Jeff Merkley

A couple of months ago Senator Jeff Merkley met with a group of political-writing bloggers (this writer among them) to talk about various subjects. Merkley had one specific topic, though, that he wanted to address: Mortgage reform.

He outlined a half-dozen proposals on mortgage practices, most of which sounded as if they would be good business for banks and other lenders. (His most recent amendment was proposed on Thursday.) Some of them made you wonder, why don’t the banks just do some of those things, absent a law? They can’t benefit, can they, by the fact that houses by the millions are being foreclosed upon, driving down the value of their own assets?

The housing market may not; homeowners may not; but yes, it turns out that many of the lenders can. How?

Read today’s Steve Duin column in the Oregonian, focused on a foreclosure case in which a soldier based in Iraq may return to Bend on leave to … somewhere other than his family’s house, which may have been foreclosed on by then. His father (the owner) has been making payments and thought he was on a loan modification path until he abruptly learned, after paying for months and years in good faith, like so many others, that he wasn’t.

Merkley, has gotten involved in the case: “It has parallel elements to hundreds of stories we’ve heard. Families think they’re involved in modification, then suddenly discover they’re on the path to foreclosure. … This is not an accident.”

How so? Duin: “Many of the worst mortgages are pooled in trusts. The banks are selling securities that bet against those trusts. All too often, everyone but the homeowner gains “if the mortgage is dysfunctional.””

In other words: Your banker may be betting that your loan will fail, and make money if it does; and if it can mislead you, jack you around, withhold or deliver false information so that you lose your home – the bank wins. In the short term. Big picture, of course, the economy and homeowners, and the country, lose.

Merkley has been, from the evidence, pursuing the mortgage legislation steadily, but encountering plenty of resistance. A suggestion here: He (or, more practically, a staffer) should start a daily blog, detailing exactly what is happening with the legislative and from where, exactly, the resistance is coming. This whole area could use a much brighter spotlight, and Merkley would be well positioned to provide it.

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Oregon last year just busted a record. Never in its 160 or so years had it elected the same person as governor more than twice. Both of the newer states Washington and Idaho have done that, but Oregon, never – not even Tom McCall (who sought a third term in 1978) could pull it off, until John Kitzhaber finally did last year.

Idaho has had one four-term (elected four times, in two separate runs) governor, Cecil Andrus, and two elected three times (Robert Smylie and C. Ben Ross). Washington has had just two: Daniel Evans (the only person to serve three consecutively) and Arthur Langlie, both Republicans (and each breaking the record for the youngest person in the state’s history to become governor). Both, at this point, go back a ways – Langlie in the 40s and 50s, and Evans in the mid-60s to mid-70s. Other governors, even though a number were still popular at the end of their second terms and probably could have run successfully again (Gary Locke probably could have), have generally passed.

Is the two-term thing a jinx or some sort of informal limit, or maybe an indicator that most governors just wear out their welcome after a couple of terms?

On such answers some people probably will be reflecting when the current two-term Washington governor, Chris Gregoire, announces her plans. She is going to have to do so soon. With a strong Republican, Attorney General Rob McKenna, now in the field and running hard, Gregoire cannot hold off on her intentions for very long without beginning to impair her party’ ground work.

The thinking that she will not run again is widespread and seems to be an operating presumption. She won by half a hair in 2004 and did better in 2008, but whether she could pull it off a third time is uncertain. Gregoire’s polling numbers – those publicly reported anyway – have been poor, her numbers low enough to suggest that she’d have trouble hanging on. (Some other Democratic possibles, such as Representative Jay Inslee, seem to be better-positioned.)

Another indicator, maybe, of the unnecessity of term limits, at least for some offices: In the case of some offices, like governor, voters seem to ordinarily impose their own.

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Rob McKenna

The 2012 campaign for Washington governor has been launched, with Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna‘s entry this evening.

He may be starting with the best odds of any Republican seeking the job since the last one who won it, then-King County Executive John Spellman in 1980 (with the advantage of his King base and a deeply unpopular Democratic incumbent, running within a Republican surge; but even the 1984 Republican surge couldn’t save Spellman that year). He had three terms on the King County council, and retains some clear support there (how much in a governor’s race against a Democrat remains unknown). He was elected AG in 2004 in a heated campaign, and strongly in 2008 in a very Democratic year. He has a reputation (which more than a few Democrats have and will contest) as a moderate, which would be helpful in the general. There are no obvious substantial opponents in the Republican primary.

In early-heat matchups, he polls closely with the presumed leading Democratic contender (not yet announced), Representative Jay Inslee. Notwithstanding the razor-close race of 2004, a lot of Republicans have long seen this as their best shot at regaining the governorship they last won more than 30 years ago. And that long run of Democratic control, the longest in the nation, is sure to be a big point of discussion over the next year and a half.

Against some of that are a series of land mines that should evoke to comparisons of Indiana Jones in the cave at the start of Raiders of the Lost Ark. He has already been treading carefully, stepping this way and that, so as not to tick off the conservative base while alienating the middle – an uncommonly difficult task this cycle. Democrats, well aware this has been in the works for a long time, have been firing shots in a variety of ways for quite a while; and comparisons to other Republican governors around the country have been in the air for some time now. (You can get a good overview of that at the Democratic site called Rob McKenna for Governor.)

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As the Idaho redistricting commission moves deeper into its mission on its second day, a quick shot – here – at a legislative redistricting plan, with the idea of isolating where the stress points and idiosyncrasies may be.

redistrict
Stapilus legislative plan (1)

The map as developed is available at the Idaho Maptitude site under the user stapiluscarlton, as “My Current Legislative fast.” The latter referred to my intent of doing it quickly, with an eye to keeping the deviations between district size as small as possible, but political considerations (such as legislator residences) to a minimum. It started from the current districts, and held to population equality as a main principle, along with keeping counties and cities and general communities intact where possible.

The norm in Idaho remapping is to start from the north and working south, since the panhandle districts are more dictated by the narrow geography. Here, I followed a piece of advice offered Tuesday morning, to start both there and in the southeast – another mostly lightly-populated area – working toward the big Ada-Canyon population center, where shifting lines would be most easily accomplished. The other advantage, and the one specific district bias I had in drawing it, was to eliminate the ungainly district at the southeast corner of the state running from Preston to north of Driggs, often through country without a highway serving the widely scattered communities. It is the poorest district in the state at present, and I simply concluded the people there shouldn’t have to put up with it for another decade.

The end result is not perfect (there are a number of small oddly-assigned areas, which don’t change the bigger picture but were hard to remove). But the highest deviation for any district was 4.7%, pretty low, and most were much lower than that. It probably could pass legal muster. (I think.)

Here are a few things that became clear in the process of drafting it.

bullet Lewiston and Moscow always have been united in their own separate districts, and anchored them. That may simply not be possible this time. This map splits Lewiston, and it may be hard to redistricters to avoid doing something like that. That’s just the nature of the population shifts.

bullet The long-running big district in the east, long anchored at the southeast by Rigby and running off to Salmon and Challis, would logically this time be split up. A district tossing Lemhi and Custer counties in with Blaine would make redistricting sense – and a real pot boiler of a district.

bullet Because the current Democratic/competitive districts of Ada County (16, 17, 18, 19) lie toward the middle of a large population area, many outcomes are possible. But absent heavily political maneuvering, this seems most likely: One district (19) with an ongoing Democratic advantage, and the other three with infusions from precincts which have had strong Republican advantages. Of the three districts, 16 (or a rough equivalent) seems most likely to give Democrats some advantage, and 18 least.

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

For years millions of radio listeners were tantalized each noon hour by the news and personal interpretations of the great radio commentator, Paul Harvey. He would throw out a nugget to tease his listener before a commercial break and then come back with “and now, for the rest of the story.”

That thought, and an old saying – “success has a thousand fathers, failure is a bastard” – came to mind as I read recent reports regarding removal of the dams on the Olympic peninsula’s Elwha River.

On June 1, the process of shutting off generators in the Elwha and Glines Canyon Dam powerhouses began. This will lead to dismantling the two dams that have blocked the return of once bountiful salmon and steelhead runs following construction of the projects shortly after Woodrow Wilson was elected to the presidency in 1912.

Restoration of these salmon runs and acknowledgment of their centrality to the religion of the indigenous native American Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, is the primary driver for this historic action.

It is the largest dam removal project in American history, will take three years to accomplish and cost America’s taxpayers $325 million. While there will be many who claim parentage, some with legitimacy, such as the tribe and the advocacy group American Rivers, much of the credit should go to a former aide to Governor Cecil Andrus: John D. Hough.

Hough first hooked on with Andrus as campaign press secretary during Andrus’ successful 1970 governorship race. Adept and imaginative at generating coverage for candidate Andrus, once in office Hough chafed at the “baby-sitting the media” role called for in a press secretary.

Hough’s true love was and is resource policy. He convinced Andrus to make him his natural resource aide. Eventually, Andrus made him chief of staff. Before then, though, Hough left fingerprints on a number of successful resource protection issues.

For example, Hough led initial designations for several Idaho rivers as “wild and scenic,” including stretches of the St. Joe, and the Snake River, where it flowed through Hells Canyon. Hough also worked closely with Andrus to obtain National Recreation Area designations for Hells Canyon and the Sawtooths.

He further played a key role ensuring the Chamberlain Basin was included in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, and off-limits to timber interests that lusted after the area. Success here brought the undying enmity of Boise-Cascade.

Hough has several passions and ranked only slightly behind wife Ellen and their four children is he loves to fish, especially for salmon and steelhead. Now semi-retired and living on the Kitsap Peninsula, Hough fishes often, and loves to torture friends with snapshots of his latest catch.

Despite his key role in the Andrus administration, Hough chose not to accompany the Governor to Washington, D.C., in 1977. Rather, he became Western Field Director for the new Interior Secretary, a role he relished.

One issue Hough focused on was removing the Elwha dams and restoring the salmon runs. He saw an opportunity to demonstrate that it could be done. With the assistance of his deputy, Dave McCraney, and a willing accomplice in Olympic National Park Superintendent Roger Contor, as well as strong support from Andrus’ assistant secretary for Indian Affairs, Forrest Gerard, Hough set about the gargantuan task of orchestrating and mobilizing public support to obtain congressional authorization to remove the dams.

His flair for publicity was immeasurably helpful in drawing media attention to the issue and generating support. He worked tirelessly with all interest groups including American Rivers and the Sierra Club. Ultimately, he was the indispensable element that set in motion the process which culminated after Carter left office in congressional authorization to remove the dams.

Ironically, a year before the end of Andrus’ tenure at Interior, Hough became northwest governmental affairs director for ITT, the huge conglomerate that owned the Rayonier Pulp Mill in Port Angeles, the prime recipient of power produced by the Elwha projects. To his credit he continued his campaign for dam removal, convincing his superiors it was in ITT’s long-term interests to support dam removal.

Twenty years after Congress said get started the process is finally underway. As I read news accounts my thoughts turned to John. From afar I said, “Take a bow, Hough. That’s one for you!” And now you know . . . . . . . the rest of the story.

A native of Kellogg, a former teacher at Kootenai, and a former journalist, Chris served as press secretary to former Idaho Governor Cecil D. Andrus for ten years. He is the founding partner of the Gallatin Group, is now retired and he and his wife, Marcia, reside at Medimont.

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The new bi-partisan state Senate plan/committee map

On the same day the Idaho redistricting committee was sworn in and got to work, the Oregon rdistricting legislative committees (working jointly) produced something many people had no more than half expected to see: An actual bipartisan plan, one for state House and one for state Senate districts.

(MIA: A congressional plan. And the guess here is that, what with the central seemingly irresolvable issue of dividing Multnomah County, it may go on missing, for a while if not permanently.)

Here’s how the legislators described their result in a release:

“This bipartisan agreement represents the first step towards approving a final legislative redistricting plan for the next decade,” said Representative Shawn Lindsay (R-Hillsboro). “This is an excellent
example of how Democrats and Republicans can work together for the people of Oregon.”

The proposed map is based on hours of public testimony. It honors the statutory requirements to create districts of equal population, not divide communities of interest, and connect communities within districts by transportation links.

”This bipartisan proposal is the result of hours of testimony and work by both the House and Senate committees,” said Senator Suzanne Bonamici (D-NW Portland/Washington Co.). “We heard the public when they overwhelmingly encouraged us to reach a plan within the Legislature.”

The House and Senate Committees on Redistricting will take additional public testimony on the proposed bill, including proposed maps, later this week.

“We’ve managed to put many of our differences aside in what is typically a very partisan process,” said Representative Chris Garrett (D-Lake Oswego). “Reaching bipartisan agreement on this plan is a major achievement for this Legislature.”

“This is an accomplishment that Oregon can be proud of,” said Senator Chris Telfer (R-Bend). “A bipartisan redistricting map represents the legislature at its best, working together and finding common ground, even in the face of big obstacles. This is a fair and bipartisan plan that will give Oregonians quality representation over the next ten years.”

What jumped out most immediately: How similar many districts look to the districts now in place. The Senate districts particularly are so strikingly similar (at least other than some of the geographically-smaller metro districts) to those at present, that most people probably can reasonable assume they” just continue to be in the same-numbered district they’re in now. The House districts seem to vary a little more, but not by a lot.

The similarity is not total, of course, since numbers had to be adjusted for population shifts – the whole point of the exercise. Districts bulged and contracted here and there. But the appearance is that the new districts will resemble the current ones about as closely they could numerically can. Anyone hoping for a radical redraw is going to be disappointed; people who just want as little interruption to their current districts as possible may be happier.

Hearings on virtues and lack thereof are forthcoming – possibly this week.

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Oregon

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The Columbia River Crossing design/CRC site

Meant to note this last week, after finishing reading the article on the MAX …

Nigel Jaquiss’ latest piece in Willamette Week, “A Bridge Too False,” may be one of the most valuable pieces of news writing in Oregon this year. It pokes a series of holes in the usual narrative about the Columbia Crossing Bridge, the planned I-5 upgrade which, we are given to understand, is all but a done deal since the governors of Washington and Oregon approved a design plan earlier this year.

The narratives says that the bridge expansion will help solve a growing traffic congestion crisis at one of the country’s worst highway bottlenecks, is needed because the existing bridge will soon become dangerous, and adequate payment plans have been developed.

Jaquiss skewers all of these presumptions. He drew on well-established stats, often from the state of Oregon, to argue that the congestion is not as bad as often thought, is not getting worse, is nowhere near one of the worst in the country, is not particularly dangerous … and the money side of the equation is iffy. A must-read.

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