Archive for April, 2012

Apr 11 2012

Carlson: A nuclear legacy

Published by under Carlson

carlson
Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Jack Byrnes, Dick Legg and Richard McKinley are names few Idahoans know—unless they happen to work at the Idaho National Laboratory located in the Arco Desert west of Idaho Falls.

On Jan. 3, 1961, these three died when the safety rod that absorbs neutrons and slows the nuclear chain reaction was removed too quickly from the reactor vessel core at SL-1, a small Army reactor approximately 50 miles west of IF. A steam explosion occurred blowing the top of the building and spreading radioactive debris into the atmosphere. They became the first humans to die in a nuclear plant accident and 51 years later are still the only Americans ever killed.

While overall the record of the nuclear industry in America, and at the site, is one of spectacular success given what engineers and operators are dealing with, whether the industry has a long-term future remains debatable. Incredible escalating costs for building new plants (ranges vary from $4000 to $9000 per kw) and waste disposal are major red flags.

In January 2011, this column raised questions about an amendment to the Idaho Settlement Agreement negotiated initially by Gov. Cecil Andrus and finalized by Gov. Phil Batt with the Navy and the Department of Energy in 1995.

At a time when Idaho is seeing the benefits of its earlier focus on removing transuranic waste from storage above the Snake Plain Aquifer, reprocessing and repackaging it for shipment to the salt caverns at the Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP) site in New Mexico, it makes little sense to accept even a small amount of commercial spent fuel rods for research purposes at the INL site. The amended agreement signed by Gov. Butch Otter allows 400 kilograms (880 pounds) of heavy metal content in imported spent fuel rods each year for 23 years.

The overarching Idaho Settlement Agreement calls for the removal of all transuranic waste and spent fuel rods on the site by 2035. So, why fret? Well, that date is premised on Yucca Mountain, Nev., becoming the nation’s major repository by 2035. That site has been mothballed. Why run the risk of having to store researched upon rods, even a relatively small amount, approximately 10 tons, beyond 2035?

No one has provided a good answer. After additional research and candid discussions with Department of Energy spokesman, Brad Bugger, I have come around on one issue.

The Otter m.o.a. is NOT opening the floodgates to Idaho becoming the de facto repository for the nation’s considerable number of spent fuel rods. The 10 tons of spent rods that could come in are within the 55 metric ton amount negotiated by Andrus/Batt and capped. Continue Reading »

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Apr 10 2012

Party angst

Published by under Idaho,Oregon

Idaho journalists, especially those who cover or write about politics at all, are having a difficult season on voter registration this year. The angst is contagious.

The rule for many years has been that while voter registration records – showing whether you’ve registered to vote, and whether or not you did – are open, no further information about votes and preferences have been. And journalists have been comfortable with that. But the rule changes this year. The Idaho Republican Party has chosen to limit participation in its primaries to people who submit a form declaring themselves Republicans. Or, more precisely, saying that “I wish to affiliate with the following political party,” and choosing Republican. Democratic, Constitution and Libertarian options are also available, as is unaffiliated.

In the past, political reporters and editors (or any other voter) could walk into a voting place at primary election, go behind a curtain, and pick a party, or not, with no one knowing what choice was made. No longer: The choice has to be made out in public. (Though only in the case of Republican; Democrats are allowing others to participate in their primaries.)

For many journalists, this creates an issue. John Pfeifer, the publisher of the Twin Falls Times News, did a nice run-through on it today, outlining the issues and the questions involved, and it’s worth a read. Among other considerations, what will the usual press critics do? (There’s been some talk about Wayne Hoffman of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, himself a former reporter, possibly publicizing those listings; but whether it’s him or someone else, there’s a good chance someone will.

Pfeifer writes “We’ve been told that reporters at Idaho Public Television have been instructed not to vote and Betsy Russell, political reporter for the Spokane Spokesman-Review and current President of the Idaho Press Club, has been instructed by her editor to do what she needs to do but with the caveat that if “it starts mushrooming into some kind of controversy” she might be reassigned off of the political beat.” (Which would be something approaching a tragedy.)

Then he adds: “Really, have we in the media become that fearful of offending people? Have we subjugated our reporters to some persona-non-grata status where they can no longer express their opinions at the ballot box? Do we think that little of our readers? Do we think that little of our legislators? Are we really afraid that if someone broadcasts what ballot our political reporter requests on a single day in May it will affect how she or he reports the news the other 364 (oops, leap year — 365) days of the year.”

He next questions whether that idea might be naive; but the view here is that it is not, that it should be pretty close to the responsive attitude on the part of journalists and their employers. In other words, spine up. Continue Reading »

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Apr 10 2012

Oregon consistency

Published by under Oregon

Oregon is developing some long streaks when it comes to voting for one party or the other.

OR political field guide
Based on material from the upcoming Oregon Political Field Guide

Up until 1986, Oregon – which was historically a Republican state until it moved more into a two-party camp in the mid-50s – elected a number of both Republican and Democratic governors. The longest streak of continuous control of the office by either party was by the Republicans, a run starting with Charles Sprague in the election of 1938 and ending with the defeat of incumbent Elmo Smith in 1956 – in all, 18 years. The current Democratic streak has, though this year, run 26 years, and presumably will hit 28 by the next gubernatorial election.

The record hold by a party of an Oregon Senate seat, the combination of Republicans Mark Hatfield and Gordon Smith in Class 2, just ended in 2008, at 42 years. The second-closest, involving three Republican senators over 37 years, ended in 1954.

None of Oregon’s five House districts have changed party control since 1996, or eight terms ago. The 5th district changed hands a few times in its early days, but among Oregon’s other four districts, you have to go back to 1980 when the 2nd went Republican, to 1974 when the 1st and 4th went Democratic, and all the way back to 1954 when the 3rd district went Democratic – in the latter case, 58 years of Democratic control there.

Many of the counties are about as consistent over time. Our new Oregon Political Field Guide notes, for example, that in the most Republican instance – Malheur County – it “last went Democratic for president in 1940, for governor 1934 and for U.S. senator 1926.”

Quite a few eastern Oregon counties were at least semi-competitive into the 80s, and many had majority Democratic registrations as late as the early 90s. Since then, the consistency has been Republican – solidly so for what is now approaching a generation.

Is there anywhere to look for non-consistency – put another way, for those swing voters that campaigns logically should be most seriously courting? Mainly, it seems, in the suburbs. Counties like Washington and Clackamas are relatively non-consistent over the years, have been most willing to switch sides.

That, of course, is in relative terms.

Just another factor to bear in mind as the election year moves on.

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Apr 08 2012

In the Briefings

Published by under Digests

Oxbow
Renovation work end at the Oxbow regional park just east of Troutdale, Oregon.

The economy shows signs of stabilizing into a slow growth, and the Washington legislature shows signs of stabilizing, period. And much of Idaho is riveted by a viral photo of a wolf hunt (even as Oregon’s OR-7 re-crosses into California).

Meantime Oregon, which comes up first in the Northwest with its round of primary elections, begins to get ready. Newspaper endorsements last week (Oregonian, city council, no surprises) were one early sign of that.

And much more in this week’s three editions of the Briefing, for Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

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Apr 06 2012

OR: Senate vulnerables

Published by under Oregon

Just one seat away from a tie, the Oregon Senate should not be forgotten as this year’s campaign wrangling gets underway.

OR political field guide
Based on material from the upcoming Oregon Political Field Guide

So, in a chamber held by Democrats on a narrow 16-14 margin, what do history and the stats tell us?

History hasn’t shown many partisan turnovers in recent cycles. There have been some big-turnover cycles, like 1994 (five seats to the Republicans, who took over)or 1958 (four to the Democrats, who took over), they’ve been sparse through most of Oregon history.

In the last decade, just four Senate seats switched sides. Two of those happened in 2010, both moving Republican: District 26 and District 26, both centered in Clackamas/Multnomah country. The other two were in 2004 which then each moved from Republican to Democratic. One was a mid-term election following the resignation of Republican Lenn Hannon, who was replaced by Democrat Alan Bates. The other, in District 5, was won by Democrat Joanne Verger, who after two terms is retiring from the Senate this year.

Of the Senate seats up for election this year, that District 5 seat in 2004 saw the closest election within the last decade: Verger then defeated Republican Al Pearn by just 1.44%. That and her retirement (and the fact that Republicans didn’t contest the seat at all in 2008) put it on the map as a seat to watch. Still, Democrats have a strong veter registration edge in 5 (by 41.52% to 31.57%), and their candidate is the current House co-speaker, Arnie Roblan, who has held the more competitive part of the district since 2004.

Here are the Senate seats, with incumbents, up for election: Continue Reading »

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Apr 05 2012

Cross-endorsers

Published by under Idaho

Idaho will have a lively primary season with lots of contests at the legislative level (and in cases elsewhere), and maybe nowhere more than in the Panhandle, where an array of Republican groups, each proclaiming itself the real conservative spokespeople, are beginning to weigh in.

The Kootenai County Reagan Republicans listed their endorsements a little while ago. Some more Tea Party-oriented people have gotten into a more ideological swing, urging the ouster of a number of incumbent Republicans in the area, including the three from District 1.

Today the North Idaho Political Action Committee released its endorsement list. You might call them less ideological, more pragmatic; the idea of “less conservative” certainly would not make sense. Their leaders including Sandy Patano, who worked for many years for former Senator Larry Craig and was for a long time a leader in the state Republican organization; and former state legislator and area businessman Dean Haagenson.

They endorse, among others, the three incumbents in District 1. And for District 2, their statement had this to say: “NIPAC has identified the primary race for Idaho House seat 2B, currently held by Phil Hart, as its highest priority in the May Republican primary. There are four candidates vying for the seat, and NIPAC is concerned that such a fractured field greatly assists the re-election of Mr. Hart. Unified support for Ed Morse is the best way to restore integrity and accountability to the position.”

Hart, you may recall, is the incumbent legislator doing battle over his tax payments, or lack thereof. Among other things.

The battle is joined.

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Apr 04 2012

OR: A little 4th history

Published by under Oregon

An indication of the lower-key level of Oregon major-office races this year: We just received a fundraising letter from Senator Jeff Merkley, who’s up for re-election in 2014. None of the congressional office races at this point have the feel of being nailbiters.

OR political field guide
Based on material from the upcoming Oregon Political Field Guide

The most interesting of the bunch may be in the Oregon 4th, the seat in the southwest corner of the state, which was in 2010 plenty lively and – since the candidates in the general election at least are slated to be the same – is apt to be again this time. The incumbent is Democrat Peter DeFazio, who has held the seat for a very long time, since 1986. But what does history tell us about the seat?

It was once more Republican than at present – it has in the past included Republican Linn County – but in the last decade it has had a Democratic registration edge. The Democratic registration margin between late 2010 and February this year (the latter number: Democrats 39.85%, Republicans 33.26%) actually diminished very slightly, but when registration kicks in at Corvallis, much of which was added to the district with redistricting, it is likely to grow.

DeFazio has been a formidable vote-getter. The record is that with the exceptions of his first general election in 1986 and his most recent in 2010, he has gotten landslides every time out – his low point being 61.05% in 2004. Twice, in 2008 and 1990, Republicans passed on filing against him (in which cases he took 83% and 86% of the vote, respectively).

He has had nine different Republican opponents, three (counting Robinson) opposing him twice. How did the other pairs of races do?

Jim Feldkamp filed in 2004 and held DeFazio to that 61.05% win, which encouraged him to try again. But in 2006 he did not as well, taking almost exactly the same percentage of the vote, but DeFazio actually increased his share (meaning less went to minor candidates). One difference between the two races: DeFazio and Feldkamp reported almost exactly the same amounts in fundraising in 2004, but two years later DeFazio increased his total while Feldkamp raised less (resulting in a DeFazio edge approaching two to one).

The other rerun challenger was Republican John Newkirk in 1994 and 1996. Newkirk, who was heavily outspent, actually dropped in his raw vote total from 1994 (an off-year) to 1996 (a presidential), while DeFazio gained.

Not a lot of encouragement there for the idea of a stronger run the second time around.

DeFazio’s closest general election for Congress remains his first, in 1986, against Republican Bruce Long: He was held to a 54% win. That was also the only race, at least until recently, in which DeFazio was outspent (about $333,000 to about $295,000).

His next-closest was the 2010 Robinson race, in which Robinson and DeFazio each reported raising almost exactly the same amount of money – about $1.3 million (much more than any candidate had ever raised in this district before) – but where hundreds of thousands of dollars was also thrown into the race on Robinson’s behalf by an independent committee. In that Republican year, with money stacked against him, FeFazio was held to 54.59%.

Robinson’s re-entry (and that of his son in the Democratic primary) may make for another live-wire contest. But his early fundraising has been so-so; DeFazio hgas been out-raising him nearly 2-1, and the outside funding that so influenced the 2010 race hasn’t materialized yet. Often, when it comes to second races, those kinds of external supports are harder to get. But this may be the best watch this year among Oregon’s U.S. House seats.

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Apr 04 2012

Wolf hunting, close up

Published by under Idaho

It’s long been our thought that the policy reintroducing wolves to parts of Idaho and the west was a mistake – not just because of the impact the wolves might have on other animals and on people, but because of the impact on the wolves themselves. And beyond that, what people turn themselves into as a result.

wolf trap
“Pinching” and the bloody, slowly dying wolf/from www.trapperman.com

You can see some of that directly in the picture, reproduced from the site trapperman.com, showing a hunter with the handle “pinching” seemingly having a wonderful time as an agonized wolf behind him leaves his blood in the snow, suffers and slowly dies. Is, a good many web writers have said, simply tortured to death. A detailed account can be found on the Earth Island site.

“Pinching” (who happens to be a Forest Service employee at Grangeville) remarked of the kill: “No rub spots on the hide, and he will make me a good wall hanger.”

In a followup, the Idaho Statesman‘s Rocky Barker notes that “Idaho Department of Fish and Game official said the trapper broke no laws. The trapper had all of the necessary permits, permission from the landowners and he had participated in the mandatory wolf trapping class, conservation officers found when they investigated. “They couldn’t find that he did anything illegal,” said Mike Keckler, Fish and Game communications chief. Had the trapper followed guidance provided in the trapping class he would not have photographed himself with the live-trapped animal, Keckler said.”

Idahoans may find out what happens when that admonition isn’t followed. Don’t be surprised if the picture goes viral, and begins a visual definition of wolf hunting. A number of wolf hunters may object that they don’t act that way, that they go for a humane kill rather than something like this. But comments from a string of public agencies say that there’s no law against what you see in this picture. So there we are.

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Apr 03 2012

OR: At-risk in the House by registration

Published by under books,Oregon

In a 30-30 state House like Oregon’s, with an election coming up, every seat matters. A lot. So who’s sitting on the hot seats?

You can look at this from various directions, not all of them strictly statistical. Such matters as quality of candidates, gaffes and other negatives and the strength of a challenge matter. And, of year, money too. But party identification, in these very partisan times, matters a whole lot, and one useful place to start may be a look at what legislators are representing the most politically divided districts – or districts in which the other party has a registration advantage. (The registration numbers are those for February, posted by the Oregon Secretary of State’s office.)

OR political field guide
Based on material from the upcoming Oregon Political Field Guide

In that last category, of legislators who have partisan minorities in their districts, there are six, all Republicans.

By this standard, the single most endangered Republican should be Katie Eyre Brewer of Hillsboro, in District 29. The district has a Democratic edge of 6.62%, and Brewer won with 53% in a relatively low-turnout year. She pulled a record Republican vote in this district, but Democrats exceeded her raw totals both in 2008 and 2004; and this year, like those, is a presidential. She’s at high risk.

The second most endangered Republican on this list would be Patrick Sheehan, of Clackamas, in House District 51. This district (well, its analogue before redistricting) was Republican a decade ago, and decisively into 2006, but clearly Democratic in the last two cycles – presently by a margin of 6.47%. Sheehan won his first term in 2010 with a respectable 54.57%, but his vote total was lower than the last Republican there, Linda Flores, had two years before that when she lost the seat. If turnout is up this year, Sheehan could be at big risk.

Brewer and Sheehan both represent districts with higher Democratic edge than the district held by the top-ranking House Democrat, Arnie Roblan of Coos Bay.

The other four Republicans in tough terrain are Shawn Lindsay of Hillsboro (District 30), Mark Johnson of Hood River (District 52), Jason Conger of Bend (District 54) and Julie Parrish of West Linn (District 37). All but Parrish unseated Democrats in the Republican tide year of 2010.

And it should be noted that the comparisons aren’t totally apples and apples, since the districts have been redistricted. But in most cases that doesn’t seem likely to make a big difference.

If that sounds like the makings of a Democratic target list, who should be the Democrats on the Republican short list?

There are no Democrats representing Oregon House districts with Republican registration leads. The closest would be District 9 – the Coos Bay district Roblan, the current House co-speaker, is leaving to run for the Senate. That district could have the makings of a serious contest.

After that, the going gets tougher. The Democrat in the next most marginal district is Deborah Boone (of Cannon Beach) in District 32 (Democratic edge: 8.8%), based in Clatsop County. She had a close race in 2010 (winning with 52.31%), but won easily earlier; and her new district should be more helpful to her than the old one was.

The next three districts in relatively small Democratic advantage are districts 40 (an open seat, with Dave Hunt‘s departure for a county race), 50 (Greg Matthews of Gresham) and 22 (Betty Komp of Woodburn). None look like easy catches.

In a race where such large results can turn on small conditions, the future of the Oregon House is far from settled. Based on party registration, Democrats have an early advantage.

What about other measure?

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Apr 03 2012

Carlson: Elder Larry EchoHawk

Published by under Carlson

carlson
Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Idahoans of all persuasions, political as well as religious, should congratulate their former attorney general on his call to serve as a general authority and a member of the LDS Church’s First Quorum of the Seventy. It is an honor long overdue.

EchoHawk, 63, was also the 1994 Democratic nominee for governor, but lost narrowly to former Lt. Governor Phil Batt. The Wilder State Senator won 52% to 48% giving EchoHawk the distinction of being the first Native American to come close to being elected governor.

EchoHawk, a Pawnee, is currently the Interior Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs. To know Larry is to like him. He’s just one of those truly fine people all too rare nowadays.

Quiet, competent, hard-working, analytical and dedicated to supporting his wife and sons, he walks the talk of “faith, family and friends.” Educated at Brigham Young, he was a star defensive back on the Cougar football team and two sons were also star players, one at the Y, the other at ISU.

The sons obtained their own law degrees and set up law offices in Pocatello. The former U.S. Marine has spent time as an “of counsel” member of that firm and has represented the Fort Hall Sho-Bans in the past.

Given the prominent position Native Americans hold in the Mormon story (Saints believe today’s native Americans are descendents of the two “lost tribes” of Israel and that Christ appeared before them in the New World), it is surprising EchoHawk was not named sooner. There are some who expect he will eventually be named one of the 12 Apostles who serve as the “board” to the LDS president and his two first councilors.

As most know it is a gerontocracy that runs the LDS Church, but at 63 Larry is thought to be a “youngster.”

EchoHawk is only the second Native American named to the First Quorum of the Seventy and as such, carries the additional burden into this ecclesiastical office of having to redress the image left by the first Native American, Navajo George Lee, who served 14 years before being excommunicated for apostasy and conduct unbecoming a member of the church. Continue Reading »

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Apr 02 2012

This week in the Briefings

Published by under Digests

Seattle Police Chief John Diaz talks about the proposed policy changes the department plans in the wake of federal inquiries.

The legislature ended its yearly work in Idaho, but plodded on in special session in Washington. And the region was awash in rain. Some of the mountains were re-packed with snow (the point of the Oregon edition’s cover).

Seattle saw a response from the city to federal concerns about police department policies on use of force and related issues. (That’s the police chief in the Washington briefing cover picture above, explaining those responses.)

If you’d like to see a full copy of the briefing, just drop us a line at [email protected]

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by Randy Stapilus and Marty Trillhaase is the reference for the year on Idaho Politics - the people, the districts, the votes, the issues. Written by two of Idaho's most veteran politcal observers.
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