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Posts published in November 2011

A redistricting hierarchy

The challenge to the new Idaho redistricting plan led by Twin Falls County Prosecutor Grant Loebs (joined in by a bunch of other jurisdictions) is in, and there's been some review of it - and some support in places like the Twin Falls Times News editorial page. There is no perfect way to predict what the Idaho Supreme Court might do; it has a way of surprising on redistricting cases. But from here, the core argument before it doesn't look especially solid.

The Times News describes it succinctly, and it goes like this. The parameters of a redistricting are bound by three sets of terms. There's the U.S. Constitution, at the highest level, which requires (according to Supreme Court interpretations) adherence to the "one man, one vote" principle - meaning that districts should have as close as practical the same number of people (or at least electors). Second, there's the state constitution, which has a similar requirement calling for as few counties as practical to be split. And third, there are a series of laws (and legal cases, which the editorial doesn't make clear) which also have to be considered - things like maintaining communities of interest, not overtly benefitting specific parties or individuals, no overt gerrymandering, care not to disenfranchise certain minority groups (notably Indian tribes in Idaho's case), and others.

The editorial: "If you accept the fact that a state law can never trump the state constitution, the map becomes a lot easier to draw. The current plan that was created by the redistricting commission carves up counties more times than they needed to be. This is where Loebs’ suit makes its stand, and it’s an approach we have a hard time arguing against."

Maybe you already see the logical problem here.

If redistricting is simply a case of absolute trumps, then the state constitution need not apply at all. Rather, you adopt - as a matter of requirement - whatever plan you can draw that split's Idaho's population into 35 equally populated districts. Because, if Loebs' trumping argument is right, then only "one man, one vote" comes into play. Anything else would dilute the mandate of the U.S. constitution.

As a matter of history, the courts haven't looked at it that way. Reasonably and practically, they've allowed for a degree of give and flexibility in the system. As an informal guide, redistricters have found that courts will usually accept plans that have about a 10% or less deviation in population between the most and least populous districts. That means a number of plans could be considered reasonable and practical. That's what allows us to even get to a consideration of what the state constitution says.

The same principle seems to apply to splitting counties. If you split too many counties, that could be a basis for rejecting a plan. But how many is too many? Consider this from the reapportionment commission's report on its plan:

a. 1 county has a population that it can constitute a single district by itself without combining with any other county or portion of another county. It is Bingham County.Bingham County occupies a unique position within Idaho because it is surrounded by counties that must either be split or combined with other counties and contains a portion of a Native American Reservation, the remainder of which is located in three other counties (Power, Bannock, and Caribou).   
b. Two counties could be divided into districts wholly within that county that meet the one person/one vote requirement without having to combine any portion of that county with any other county or portion of another county. They are Ada County
and Kootenai County.
c. Four counties are of such population that one or more districts can be created solely within the county, but a portion of the county must be combined with other counties to meet the one person/one vote requirements.  They are Bannock County,
Bonneville County, Canyon County, and Twin Falls County.
d. The remaining counties are so sparsely populated that they must be combined with other counties to create districts of sufficient population to comply with the federal constitutional requirement of one person/one vote. One of these counties
(Bonner) must be divided and combined with contiguous counties because one neighboring county (Boundary) is not contiguous to any other county."

There is no way, in other words, to split fewer than five counties in crafting a plan, the commission said. It could do that (which seems to be where Loebs is headed). But are the current plan's 11-county splits (of 44 counties, remember) really too many - if it means you rapidly start throwing out all the other considerations a redistricting plan should include? It seems here, probably not.

There's some gray area, as so often the case in this mathematical-based exercise. But the Supreme Court may wind up considering this as well: If it gives such strong primacy to a plan that places such strong emphasis on just one reapportioning goal, it's apt to generate more lawsuits on the basis that others were not considered. And lawsuits on those kinds of bases have worked, from time to time, as well.

Carlson: Just who is?

Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Let’s get back to facts and forget informed opinion in the discussion that has arisen of late around just who is Idaho’s greatest governor.

Out of deep respect for the good, great former governor of Idaho, I bit my tongue during Cecil Andrus’ disavowal of my book’s title during the opening of the Nov. 10 Boise City Club forum. His modesty is sincere. His sense of history though is flawed. The vast majority in the audience, as well as across this state, concur with the assessment expressed by the title as do most other serious students of Idaho history.

Even at the age of 80 the zeal and skill with which Andrus skewered the Idaho Republican party for harboring scoff-laws like tax-dodging, state timber stealing Rep. Phil Hart of Coeur d’Alene, drunk-driving and car stealing Sen. John McGee of Caldwell, borrowing-his-association’s-funds party chairman Norm Semanko of Eagle, to ridiculing Tom Luna’s replace-teachers-with-a-computer phony educational reform was a thing of beauty to behold.

He brought the house down with zinger after zinger, speaking candidly, forcefully and passionately. His ability to use a memorable phrase, such as my “wood butcher” friends, referring to Idaho’s timber industry, charmed the sold out forum. He added he could call the industry that because they knew he’d grown up in the “slab, sliver and knothole” business. When he finished his near 55-minute performance he received a standing ovation from the almost 400 standing room only guests. (more…)

The Independent factor

It may be that the Oregon 1st House district results, on January 31, are definitive enough that relatively small factors in the campaign won't matter. Sitting here before we get even to December, though, it's hard to be certain of that - and hard for the candidates, Democrat Suzanne Bonamici and Republican Rob Cornilles, to be sure of it either.

That has put the Independent Party of Oregon in something of a catbird seat. It will not run a candidate of its own in the 1st district race, but it will (or is expected to) endorse one of the two major party candidates. With an estimated 13,546 members in the 1st district, it could have some genuine effect if the race is otherwise close. They vote on a party endorsement between November 14 (the start of this week) and 29. (That's separate, of course, from their vote in the January 31 election.)

So what is it asking? It already has asked for and received answers to a detailed issues questionnaire. Bonamici's runs eight pages, Cornilles' ten.) They may stand as the most comprehensive single issues statements either candidate delivers in the course of the campaign.

There is also an Independent Party-backed debate, on November 27 (presumably, oddly, after most party members have voted in their endorsement event), aired by KATU (Channel 2).

The party has endorsed plenty of candidates of both parties, so it can't be considered a gimme for either.

How this works with campaigning to the base will be something to watch.

Stop sign on red light cams?

One other development in last week's elections in the Northwest got little attention and should get more.

It arrived by way of initiative advocate Tim Eyman. From an email he sent out today:

As you can imagine, I-1125 rightly got the biggest spotlight, but it wasn't the only issue we had on the ballot. We had public votes on automatic ticketing cameras in 3 cities and voters overwhelmingly rejected cameras in all three. 68% against cameras in Bellingham, 68% against cameras in Monroe, and 59% against cameras in Longview. Those overwhelming votes follow last year's 71% anti-camera vote in my hometown of Mukilteo.

So we're now in our 2nd year of battling against sleazy red-light camera companies. What makes them especially sleazy is that they use high-priced lawyers and liberal judges to do everything possible to block the people from voting. For them, democracy is bad for business.

Rolling occupation

A few words for the organizers of Occupy in Portland, and other locations where people are trying to take over spaces without end in sight ... from someone sympathetic with the core messages they're trying to convey:

Adopt as action the name of another organization of similar mind. Move On.

Occupy started out well, and powerfully, and it has already succeeded in what at least should have been its initial goals. The object was to change the conversation about what the nation's core problems are, to a discussion about the power of great wealth, inequality and the resulting threat to democracy. After weeks of deliberate avoidance by national news media and others, attention was finally gotten. And the scope of action made clear that this was not just about a street crowd in downtown New York. When crowds in places from major metro centers to places like Mosier, Oregon - and there are only a small and scattered number of houses in Mosier - began joining in, a corner of some sort has been turned.

It started as a march, then an occupation, and a few other events have occurred. What needs to happen next for Occupy is to, well, move on.

It needs not to go away, but to evolve.

For a matter of days, maybe as long as two or three weeks, the presence of the protesters in Chapman and Lownsdale Square parks in downtown Portland added to the message, gave it a center, made it more powerful. Over the last week, maybe two, though, the encampment has distracted from it - inevitably. Occupy Portland became about a group of people camping in downtown Portland. The story became its governance, its gradually growing clashes with police (after a highly cooperative beginning) - up to more than 50 arrests today. And the arrival of people whose interest had little to do with promoting the message the original protesters were so passionate about.

The message has gotten left behind. Not totally obscured - a lot of the national conversation really has changed - but the Occupy Encampments are no longer adding to the message, or spreading it. As any organization, however intentionally unorganized, will do, its top priority eventually becomes itself.

That suggests a solution to the problem: Do other things.

Find other ways to get attention. Stage other events (peaceably and legally - there's plenty of room for action within the law). Do more marches. Keep the focus, above all, on the message.

The primary Occupy organizers seem to want that, at least as demonstrated by their determination to avoid a leadership hierarchy and a series of spokesmen.

If they're really serious about it, their next move is clear: Break up the encampment, and schedule another activity in, say, a couple of weeks.

Otherwise, their message is almost sure to be trampled underfoot.

The Paterno Center

Nike, based at Beaverton, has long had a close tie to Pennsylvania State University, and especially close with Joe Paterno, the renowned football coach there. Which makes its situation a little touchy now, after reports about child sexual abuse at the Penn State program, which Paterno - from various reports - did too little to stop it after learning it was happening. Paterno, not far ahead of his planned retirement, has been dismissed.

Which is mostly a Pennsylvania story, except for this: The child day care center at Nike's headquarters campus is called the Joe Paterno Child Development Center.

The Oregonian reports that Nike officials say they do not plan to change the name of the facility.

Care to bet that they will?

Carlson: Having your cake

Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

The refusal of Idaho’s gaming tribes to abide by the 2002 initiative to distribute 5 percent of each year’s annual gross revenues to school districts surrounding the reservation, and to disclose how much each district receives, could lead to a lawsuit. That it could foster more animosity among Idaho’s largely white population is a foregone conclusion.

The essence of the debate is encapsulated by two phrases: a) The public has an absolute “right to know,” especially where its tax dollars are involved; and, 2) “trust, but verify!” In addition it reconfirms the old saying about true tragedy being the conflict between equally valid rights, not the conflict between right and wrong.

The immediate issue regards questions that have been raised about the Coeur d’Alene Tribe’s original pledge of support for the 5 percent commitment until recent years when some surrounding districts privately acknowledged not having received any more donations. The pledge, contained in the initiative voters ratified in 2002, was viewed as the key part of the quid pro quo that permitted the gaming tribes to utilize more slot-like machines in their casinos.

Idaho’s executive director of the State Lottery is supposed to monitor and enforce tribal compliance with this feature of the initiative but in reality the oversight is non-existent. There are two obvious flaws in this scheme.

First, without an annual outside audit by an independent and reputable auditing firm how does one know with any confidence what gross receipts really are from which the 5% is calculated against? Second, Tribes have taken the position that they do not have to disclose who the recipients of this tribal education largess are and how much they may have been granted. Ipso facto, how is the public to know that the original deal is truly being honored?

Some tribes (the Coeur d’Alenes and the Nez Perce) say “trust us” and the Lottery’s executive director says he does. To many that is a dereliction of duty and the state is stinting on its responsibility to monitor and enforce compliance. Other tribes, notably the Shoshone/Bannocks, say their compact with the state and its governor trumps the initiative. Since it does not reference the 5%, they do not have to contribute nor are they. (more…)

Watch 5&7: Keeping the mayors

Two Idaho mayoral races were well worth keeping an eye on for their partisan and ideological implications - both in conservative Republican cities in west Ada County.

Both featured established mayors, conservative and with Republican support, being challenged by contenders with more-conservative and more-Republican identification. In Meridian, that was two-term mayor Tammy de Weerd challenged by four candidates but mainly former state Senator Gerry Sweet, long a close ally of former U.S. Representative Bill Sali. In Eagle, that was incumbent Jim Reynolds challenged by Norm Semanko, a council member who (among other things) has been chairing the state Republican Party. Both challenges were serious and organized, and opinions about who would win varied.

In the end the mayors won, and it wasn't close. Reynolds was running (with results not yet complete) at around 75%. De Weerd was running well over 50%, which means that she would have been re-elected without difficulty even had Sweet (who got about half as many votes as she did) not had to contend with all those other fellow challengers.

Boise Mayor David Bieter, by the way, was running at about 75% against a minor challenger.

Watch 1: Liquor goes private in WA (and OR too?)

The campaign to move sales and distribution of liquor from state agency management to private business was the big campaign issue of the cycle in Washington state, and very nearly in Oregon too. The word spreading around Oregon was that if the Washington proposal to privatize passed, and especially if it passed by a large margin, a similar attempt likely would be made in Oregon in the next year or two.

Well, it got the green light: As per polling (which called regional races with considerable accuracy this season), Washington voters gave thumping approval to moving liquor sales to private stores. The percentage, over the last hour, has been hovering around 60%, which is surely more than enough to convince Oregonians advocates that a similar idea might sell south of the Columbia.

It was also widespread approval. Of Washington's 39 counties, all but five voted in favor. (And those five were an odd collection, generally small and rural - Cowlitz and Wahkiakum in the southwest, and Adams, Garfield and Asotin in the southeast). Counties red and blue, urban and rural, all signed on to the change.

More on this later. Definitely.