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Posts published in May 2012

Is Seattle losing it?

Danny Westneat's Seattle Times column today ended with this: "This is the mood of the city. Joggers are packing heat. Moms of toddlers are contemplating arming up or heading out of town. It's insane, yes. We are losing it. Can you blame us?"

Well, yes.

That's not to dismiss the tragic events of the last week. A week ago: A man shot at the Northwest Folklife Festival. Shortly after: Four drive-by shooting incidents in South Seattle. Wednesday: Four killed in a cafe in the University District, a woman shot to death in another neighborhood - by, it turns out, the same man, who then shot himself.

Westneat's column reflects the attitude of a lot of Seattlites, to either arm up (he writes about a jogger visibly carrying a firearm) or get out of Dodge. (You can imagine how local TV news has been dealing with this - scaring the bejeebers out of everybody.)

Some blame the police. Some blame the Department of Justice, which has been leaning on the police over civil rights issues. There's a lot of blame being spread around elsewhere, too.

Consider it this way:

The meshing of these events into a short span is a fluke of timing. Nothing has changed. Seattle, in large part, is a safe large city, a fact true two weeks ago and true today.

The shootings reflect two trends contributing to violence especially in larger cities: gangs and mental illness. Both are challenging for police to deal with, but better approaches do seem to be coming along. (Seattle might cast a glance southward to Portland, for example, which is working on some innovative approaches in dealing with potentially hazardous mental illness cases.)

There's nothing really new here. The mass of bullets is just, simply, drawing our attention to what's already there: Problems that will take hard, slogging work to resolve. Seattle will probably figure that out before long.

Backgrounding Rudy Crew

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Rudy Crew

Oregon has never had a chief education officer; newly-hired Rudy Crew will be the first. He may have a big effect on Oregon education - certainly, that's the hope - and while a number of the policy points inherent in overhauling the state's education system are already in place, many will have to be devised on the fly. Crew will the guy in charge, more than anyone else, of doing that.

The immediate news reports have noted that he's been a major figure in national education circles: Head of public schools in New York and Miami, executive director of the University of Washington's Institute for K-12 Leadership, and an academic more rcently. His tenure at these spots has been described as "contentious," and there's some acknowledgement that he has both fans and detractors, but we haven't been given much sense of what that translates to. Being controversial could be a good thing or bad, depending on how you assess it. Governor John Kitzhaber and other Oregonians clearly, as the Oregonian pointed out, want someone who will shake things up. They seem likely to get that with Crew.

But what sort of shakeup?

Here are two paragraphs from the (heavily footnoted) Wikipedia entry on him:

Crew’s leadership in Miami was reflected in recognition as a finalist for the prestigious Broad Prize for three consecutive years (2006–08),[4] and in School Improvement Zone being named a Top 50 Innovation by Harvard Kennedy School's Ash Institute,[5] 12 high schools being named among the best by Newsweek,[6] Crew was named the 2008 National Superintendent of the Year by the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), topping the 50 state winners.[7] His initiatives have led the District to be viewed nationally as a model of success,[8] with the secondary-school reform program being credited with Miami’s graduation-rate boost.[9]

Crew has also garnered controversy. At a June 2008 school board meeting, Crew said the district had overspent millions of dollars during the past two years because it had hired more teachers than budgeted, lost state funding, and encountered rising costs.[10] School Board member Renier Diaz De La Portilla called for Crew's ouster, criticizing the way he has managed the schools' budget.[11][12] Ana Rivas Logan, another board member, called Crew "insubordinate."[11] At an August 4, 2008 school board meeting, the item to terminate Crew's contract failed. Despite Crew's strong support from business and community leaders,[13] the School Board bought out his contract at its September 10, 2008 meeting.

Is there a way to characterize what sorts of change Crew might want to push toward? (more…)

Throwing out 1053

Today's court decision throwing out Initiative 1053 may reshape quite a bit of Washington politics. It was a lower court decision, by King County Superior Court Judge Bruce Helle, but there's a strong chance it'll be upheld at the Washington Supreme Court level (where it certainly will reach).

I-1053 was the measure requiring that a two-thirds majority is needed in the state legislature to pass tax or many fee measures. It has put a severe limit on state budgeting options. The group No on 1052 - Uphold Our Constitution argued, "Initiative 1053 is Tim Eyman’s latest attempt to wreck government, funded by out-of-state corporations like BP, ConocoPhillips, Shell, Tesoro, Bank of America, USBank, and Wells Fargo, who want to change the basic rules our Legislature has operated by since statehood so they can preserve their special tax breaks. Under Initiative 1053, seventeen out of one hundred and forty seven lawmakers can block any revenue-raising bill that they don’t like. Initiative 1053 is an assault on our cherished tradition of majority rule – the bedrock principle of our democracy. It would effectively give a fringe minority the ability to veto important fiscal decisions."

Helle's short summary judgement decision was more to the legal point, that the initiative's "supermajority vote requirement violates the simple majority provision of Article II, Section 22 of the Washington constitution, rendering that provision of the statute unconstitutional." A mandatory referendum requirement, he wrote, violates another portion of the constitution.

If upheld, that means nothing like 1053 can hold up - Tim Eyman and his initiative organization can't simply try against with different words. The concept is too flawed, by this legal ruling.

Since the Supreme Court is unlikely to deliver a decision on this before the Washington Legislature convenes in January, this is going to create a big squabble. Not least in the upcoming general election.

Carlson: More like Simpson

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Second District Congressman Mike Simpson continues to make a case to be Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives some day. He believes in solving problems and making government work. We need more like him.

He recently spoke candidly to the Idaho Conservation Leagues’ annual retreat at Redfish Lake. What he said was a breath of fresh air to those who are beginning to wonder if either political party will figure out that real solutions to the nation’s challenges will require compromise and bipartisanship.

Simpson not only figured it out a long-time ago, he has taken steps to form a working coalition of like-minded Republicans and Democrats. His frustration is that outside of the “Gang of Six” in the Senate he sees little else that gives any hope that the Senate, which has failed to pass a budget for three straight years, will be of similar mind.

In what some would consider heresy, Simpson repeated his endorsement of the castor oil but comprehensive approach worked out by the Erskine Bowles/Allan Simpson Commission. It arrived at a combination of entitlement reform, spending cuts and revenue enhancements that would be a path forward out of the debt wilderness would folks, including the President who formed the Commission, get behind it.

Asked about the unholy hold “take the no taxes pledge or else" Grover Norquist seems to have over most Republicans, Simpson said he’d signed the oath once and had refused to do since. He pointed out the illogic of closing loopholes and supporting tax reform being translated into further tax increases by Norquist.

A line that brought applause was a statement that he no longer signed any pledges or requests by any interest groups, that the only oath or pledge any member should take is the oath of office that pledges to defend the Constitution.

Other statements by Simpson included: (more…)

Mixing messages

You can understand the confusion that the Washington Post wonders about.

The beer, from Utah, called Polygamy Porter is available for sale in Idaho, in stores generally that sell beer.

But Idaho liquor stores, you can't buy another Utah alcohol product called Five Wives Vodka, made in Ogden. They sell it in Utah (which Polygamy Porter isn't), but not in Idaho. The Post quoted Idaho State Liquor Division administrator Jeff Anderson as suggesting it was offensive: “The bottom line is, we represent everybody. It’s masterful marketing on their part. But it doesn’t play here.”

We can think of some quarters, at least, where it would play just fine.

Rainey: The pain’s only starting

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Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

From time to time, I’ve used this space to describe the unique nature of the several counties of Southwest Oregon. Politically, socially, economically – they don’t resemble any other section of the state. Now, because of some of our “differences,” folks here are starting to feel a lot of hurt. In several ways, that hurt is – and will be – self-inflicted. It’s already begun.

First, some background. Geographically, we’re isolated. Only Interstate 5 and Highway 101 on the coast run north and south through several counties. Some communities have no direct east/west access. Several are large but most land is owned by one level of government or another. Most communities are small. Timber cutting/processing is big. But – because of limited access to those government trees and given today’s sluggish economy worldwide – unemployment is high and the standard of living for many is pretty low. The economic importance of commercial fishing is not near what it used to be and likely won’t ever be again.

Population in several counties is older than typical. Several regional Vet’s Administration hospitals account for a lot of that. Retirement, too. Not much here to keep lots of young folks. So, with many older people on fixed incomes – and without the usual liberalism balance of youth – politics hereabouts is very conservative. From right-of-center to edge-of-earth. Seceding from Oregon is not uncommon talk in our neighborhood.

A lot or our county commissions, city councils, boards and the like often have people who’ve served 10-20-30 years or more. Because of that – and the fact our county-city populations are mostly small, the folks that serve and folks that elect often have close relationships. Which – in some ways – has added to our problems.

Example: a multi-county electric cooperative nearby had a member who had been on the board more than 40 years. The co-op board prided itself on almost never raising electric rates, regardless of increases in costs of power it bought. It just didn’t pay all the bills each month. The situation got so out-of-hand the federal agency that loaned the millions for all the system improvements over the years demanded a new repayment plan. Now! Or the Bonneville plug gets pulled! Rate increases – sizeable rate increases – hit the mailboxes and restructuring of the board of directors soon followed.

Another problem. Several counties have been receiving sizeable federal checks annually for years. The millions are supposed to support schools and other services because (a) the feds own so much land here and (b) the feds don’t pay taxes. So “in lieu” monies were paid under a special program – a program that’s now going away. Most everyone knew it would.

So – in the midst of our national economic troubles – these counties have been hit double. The hurting has begun. But only begun. (more…)

In the Briefings this week

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A time-lapse image capture of construction of a new rail bridge across the Willamette. (Photo/capture from Tri-Met)

Last week, economic forecasts around the region showed a slight improvement - but just slight. In Idaho, some county jobless rates fall, but others rose.

Oregon state auditors say that school districts in the state have missed $40 million in energy cost savings. Washington State University researchers say they have come up with a new super battery. RealNetworks settled on a series of customer complaints with the state of Washington. Idaho legislators pushed for more potato sales access in Mexico.

The first fires of the season in Washington were reported. In Idaho, discussion flared about whether Idaho might be at risk of having to take more nuclear waste (the governor says not). Representative Doc Hastings had his say on a federal stormwater-logging rule. The Portland-Milwaukie light rail picked up some major federal financial support, while Metro worked on a new process on public engagement. A new transit center moved toward reality at Moscow.

All this and a lot more in this week's Briefings. For more, write us at stapilus@ridenbaugh.com.

The precinct wars

Most years, the job of precinct committee person (each major party has them) flies quietly under the radar. In Idaho (and some other places), not this year.

Across Idaho, battles for precinct committee positions have erupted, reflecting an ideological struggle inside the Republican Party.

One of the problems Idaho Democrats long have had is the lack, in many places, of precinct leaders. These are important, basic, building-block positions for party organization, important for local organizing and choosing local party leaders, and sometime filling vacancies for offices like state legislator. In Idaho, the Republican Party long has outshone the Democrats in getting many more of those spots filled. (Neither party fills them all.)

Ordinarily, only one person runs for nearly all precinct committee spots, but this year Republicans had an unusually large number of contests, in places around the state. They became intense enough that I spotted something I’ve not seen before, in any year – a campaign web site devoted to one precinct, aimed at one political party. (It is Kootenai County precinct 61; the web writers describe it as “A resource for the republican party members of precinct 61.”

In Twin Falls County, the Republican Liberty Caucus ran a slew of challenges to often-veteran precinct officers, and won almost a third of the seats. The mainstream party leaders expressed relief that the challengers hadn’t won a majority, but they’d better not count on the fermet to ease off soon. Many races were competitive; one was decided by a coin flip.

Another coin flip came in Ada County, home to a large pile of contests, where Roger Brown, a Ron Paul activist, unseated governor’s aide Roger Brown. In another race, a party nominee for state legislator lost a precinct office. One of the most prominent Paul backers in the county, former legislative candidate Lucas Baumbach, was defeated. But Paul backers won more than a third of the precinct seats in the Ada County party organization, enough to have impact.

Overall, the Paul forces fell short of the statewide precinct numbers they would have needed for their more ambitious projects, like the attempt to shift Idaho national convention votes to Paul from Mitt Romney. (That one never felt like much of a starter.) In Bannock County, a county meeting projected by one veteran county party official, Jim Johnston, as “a bloodbath”, turned out sedate.

But getting even a third of the votes in a county organization has its uses. Here’s an indication how.

Kootenai County Republicans earlier this year asked Texas congressional candidate Richard Mack to speak to the party’s Lincoln Day dinner. After the invitation was made, 14 precinct committee members sent a letter to the local party leadership objecting to Mack, saying his “support of the Republican Party and Republican Party candidates is inconsistent, intermittent and questionable.” The battle raged for a while and went public. Eventually, the Mack invitation held up, he spoke, and the event was held without incident. Not without trepidation on Mack’s part: He told reporters he had never felt as unwelcome as he had before coming to Coeur d’Alene.

It doesn’t take a majority to create a civil war. Just ask the South.

The ATM states

Presidential candidates campaign, as such, during general election races in states where the votes are up for grabs - Virginia, or Florida, say, or Ohio. Not so much in Oregon, where both sides know the state is highly likely to vote for Democrat Barack Obama.

Still. You wonder if there may be a little bit of irritation about Republican Mitt Romney's third visit to Oregon (upcoming June 4) not to campaign but, each time, to hold a fundraiser.

Blue Oregon notes, "And once again, he won't actually be talking to any real voters -- and won't even be doing the sort of pro forma political stop that usually accompanies an ATM run. He's not even going to go read stories to kids, or tour a factory floor, or anything."

After a while, doesn't it seem a little crass, even for a presidential campaign?

Carlson: 30 pieces?

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Some may recall an ad for a brokerage firm a few years back. Folks would be talking and suddenly everything would go silent as everyone strained to hear what the man from E.F. Hutton was saying. The message was simple: when E.F. Hutton speaks, everyone listens.

Former four term Governor Cecil D. Andrus spoke this past weekend to the Idaho Conservation League’s annual retreat at Redfish Lake. He had two very pointed messages not just for the ICL, but for all the Idahoans as well as the states’ elected leadership.

Everyone should stop everything they are doing and listen. Nothing less than the future of Idaho as a viable, economically growing state is at stake.

Cece is 80 now, still sharp as a tack, but hard of hearing, has vision impairment in one eye (Not his shooting eye he’s quick to tell one), and manages other ailments that come with age. Gifted with energy as he is, inevitably the old clock starts to slow down, but his devotion to a state he loves and led during 14 years as governor compels him to speak out.

His first message was typically blunt. He told his friends at the ICL and Congressman Mike Simpson, who also spoke later, that it was time to quit fiddling around with trying to please everyone regarding the need to provide additional protection for the high peak areas of the Boulders and White Clouds to the east of Redfish Lake.

Andrus called on the ICL and Simpson to write President Barack Obama that just as Jimmy Carter had to do in Alaska, President Obama had to declare the Boulder/White Clouds a National Monument. Both Simpson and the ICL, who have worked so hard for so many years to obtain compromise wilderness legislation, had to support this step as the only way to overcome Senator Jim Risch’s “hold” on Simpson’s wilderness bill and galvanize the Congress into acting.

While complimentary of Simpson’s extraordinary efforts to achieve reasonable compromise, Andrus was critical of Senator Risch for bowing to the single issue interests of those who simply desire to take their snowmobile or ATV anywhere they want on public lands, damn the consequences. (more…)