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Posts published in “Day: May 28, 2012”

Rainey: The pain’s only starting

rainey
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

rail build
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.