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Posts published in March 2013

First take: Intimidation

news

INTIMIDATION Seems here that it's a crime to threaten or intimidate lawmakers. In any event, a light needs to be trained on this, as the Oregonian's Steve Duin does in his column today: Gun advocates going a little over the line against legislators with whom they have a difference of opinion on gun regulation. Among other examples Duin cites are several aimed just at one lawmakers, Mitch Greenlick, a Portland Democrat. One describes him "as a "disgusting jew parasite." Another features, in two compact paragraphs, three anti-Semitic slurs and five of the seven words George Carlin once claimed you could never say on television. A third warns Greenlick, "You have made a grave error" in sponsoring House Bill 3200, and suggests he withdraw his support: "Good choices are the foundation for long and healthy life.""

Improvements over time

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
The Idaho
Column

The Idaho territorial sesquicentennial celebration is now properly underway, with ceremonies involving an Abe Lincoln stand-in and much else, much of it centered around Boise, which was one of the few stable communities then existing in the new territory.

The bash may be widely taken as an honorific to what happened back then. It should be better taken as recognition of how far Idaho has come since 1863 (and yes, I'll say that even with the legislature in session). Celebrations of history have a tendency toward whitewash, and that may be liberally applied this year.

Consider pioneer Sheriff David C. Updyke.

Ada County (then including what are now Canyon and Payette counties as well) was one of Idaho's first, established in December 1864. Boiseans looking for law enforcement quickly chose Updyke, electing him early in 1865 as their first sheriff, to lead that effort. He was an energetic man, open to confrontation and experienced with using his firearms. Just what a barely-settled new county needed. Or so they thought.

Updyke was a native of New York, where got into enough varied trouble as to be strongly advised to take his act elsewhere – far away elsewhere. He moved to California, hearing tales of gold, but too late for the mining rush there, and unhappily settled for work as a stage driver. When he heard about the first strike in the Boise River Valley (in what wasn't yet known as Idaho) he raced there to find his fortune. He found just enough metallic scraps to invest in a couple of new businesses in the start-up town of Boise, but Updyke's thirst for more was still acute. (more…)

Lessons from Dorchester

Dorchester
Oregon Republicans convened for three days starting March 8 at Seaside, for their annual Dorchester conference. (photo/Randy Stapilus)

 

cascades RANDY
STAPILUS
 
West of
the Cascades

In his opening remarks at the 49th Dorchester conference, the organization's president remarked that, since former Governor Vic Atiyeh was unable to attend this year's event, it marked the first time in at least three decades that no current or former governor of Oregon had attended the signature Republican event.

That was as useful a factoid as any to underscore the point and usefulness of the conference: Trying to figure out what the future of the Oregon Republican Party ought to be, and how to make it successful. That was much of the point in 1965, when future Senator Robert Packwood helped organize the first one. It has taken on some urgency now, with Republicans out of power in the legislature and holding but one major office (the 2nd U.S. House seat) in the whole state.

Dorchester is known for blunt talk, a willingness to face up to the problems. So it was on the main event on opening night Friday, when Kerry Tymchuk, formerly of Senator Gordon Smith's staff and now of the state historical society, moderated and posed questions to a panel of three, selected in part by differing ages, a college student at Portland State University (Tymchuk quipped that her role with the college Republicans would be like heading up college Democrats at Brigham Young University), an ex-urbanite father living in rural Washington County, and a veteran of Oregon Republican politics with background in the 60s of leftist radicalism.

If they didn't come up with definitive answers on a path forward, they did illuminate some of the obstacles and at least a number of ideas.

Asked why they were Republicans, the answers emerged unsurprisingly: It was the party of personal responsibility, work ethics and limited government and non-reliance on handouts. It did not apologize for the country, they said; one remarked, "it's the patriotic party, not the pity party."

Asked what was, in their view, the major issue of the day, "fiscal responsibility" was the prevailing choice. The former 60s radical remarked that "I'm not so much worried about protecting my social security as protecting my freedom," and she warned, "Communists are out there."

Following up on some of that, the college student suggested, "If we fall, the world falls."

Tymchuck asked for some cross-generational commentary, and he got some. The exurban father said of the millennials that they seem not to have a sense of where the money is coming from the pay for all the enormous bills (college costs, presumably, among them) that are being run up. And there was a comment about some younger voters being "brainwashed."

But the college student had some suggestions too: Older generations, she suggested, are sometimes "obsessed" with social issues (not spelled out, but presumably including abortion and gay rights) that are turning into big electoral losers for the Republican Party.

"I'm so sick of losing," she said. (Tymchuck pointed out that Oregon hasn't had a Republican governor since before she was born.)

That led to a Tymchuk question about whether compromise was, or ought to be, a dirty word among Republicans.

The responses were uneasy and actually somewhat nuanced. There was some acknowledgement that Republicans are increasingly being tagged as uncompromising, and that they're increasingly getting nothing rather than the half a loaf they otherwise might get. But the 60's veteran drew cheers from the crowd when she said, "I don't personally want to compromise with the Democrats ... They're liars."

Added up, there was certainly recognition that the Oregon Republican Party has some big problems. Solutions? Well, they had the rest of the weekend to continue searching for those.

First take: teacher contracts, drone policy

news

TEACHER CONTRACTS The Idaho Legislature seems about to cast aside the message on public school policy sent by the voters in November. A bill has cleared the House Education Committee (which seems like schools mostly in the private, home or charter forms) that would reinstate the killed-off policy allowing school boards to cut off teacher negotiations if they haven't completed by June 10, and then impose their own terms. That gives the boards an absolute hammer, of course, since all they have to do to get whatever they want, is to run out the clock. Expect the bill to pass the House; the larger test may come in the Senate.

WYDEN'S REVOLT There is something sort of bipartisan going on, you suppose, when Oregon Democratic Senator Ron Wyden lend support to a filibuster - the actual vocal kind - by Kentucky Republican Rand Paul. Both of them wanted to draw attention to Obama administration policy on drones and other military activities, policy for which has been kept quite secret. Bright light can be a useful lock pick, however.

Our problems may soon be yours

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

While you’ve got enough national crises on your plate at the moment, there’s a new pile of ‘em building up in our little corner of Southwest Oregon that you need to keep up on. You almost never hear the subject mentioned in normal conversation. But we’ve got a county with one foot in a bankruptcy hole and others standing very close to the edge.

The Oregon legislature is wrestling with what to do about this mess but, so far, no bright ideas. There are several pieces of legislation floating around the marble halls in Salem. But no consensus. Yet.

A combination of the loss of millions of dollars tied to federal timberlands and some bad county management has Curry County going to the voters in May for a property tax levy. Asking Curry voters to approve any increase in property taxes for ANY reason is like playing Russian Roulette with six bullets in the chamber. DOA.

All 18 counties who’ve been drawing the federal O&C lands millions for decades are hurting. While several of our congressional hired hands are trying to get yet another extension through the “Congress of the Walking Dead,” don’t hold your breath. In all likelihood, the State of Oregon will have to be the hero that saves the day. If it can.

Several counties swilling at the federal timber trough all these years have managed to put some bucks away – figuring the whole O&C business would end someday. A couple of reduced dollar amount extensions have kept the budgetary wolves at bay for several years. But those days are over. Unless you can picture John Boehner and his posse riding to the rescue with more federal bucks. Yeah.

Curry is in the worst shape primarily because of bad – or maybe gutless – elected mismanagement for many years. Curry collects taxes at about the lowest assessed values in the state. That often happens in a low population county where everybody knows everybody else. A few years ago, Curry had its back to the wall because the Coos-Curry Electric Board refused to regularly raise rates to pass along increases from power suppliers like Bonneville.

It was piling up debt while its transmission system was being held together with duct tape. The Board simply tried to absorb increasing costs rather than raise rates on rate payers. The neighbors. Finally, the feds stepped in and said – to the effect – “Start paying back your loans or you won’t be getting any more.” Rates went up. Ratepayers bitched. But the rates went up. And some old board members (neighbors) were defeated.

That same scenario has been playing out with several Curry County commissions refusing to increase property assessments to keep up with costs of county operation over the years. Just bein’ neighborly. Faced with a brick wall straight ahead last year, Curry voters said “NO” and things started going to Hell.

Same in Josephine County where the crime rate is up 50% in Grants Pass and 45% in the county this year. Prosecutions are down 42%. At least two armed civilian groups have been created to keep the peace. There aren’t enough deputies to man the jail. So, unless you’re Jeffrey Dahmer, you plead and go home. Or go back to breaking-and-entering. (more…)

First Take: Open (or shut) records

news

CLOSING RECORDS This seem to be, in each of the Northwest states and many other states, in ways large and small, an open season on public access to government. A guest op in the Seattle Times by Katherine George of the Washington Coalition for Open Government throws a light on an effort by local governments there - in a state where local governments have been losing a long string of court cases in attempts to keep records in the dark - to change state law to seal off records access. And the limitations it would allow for local governments (cutting back, maybe severely, on the amount of time governments could budget for finding records) isn't even the worst of it. There's this: "The same bill would allow either an agency, or anyone named in a record which you have requested, to file a lawsuit against you in order to block your request. A court could block the processing of your request if it finds that you made the request to “harass or intimidate” the agency or that your “records request will materially interfere with the work of the local agency,” whatever that means. Once you are sued, courts could consider why you want records, what requests you have made in the past, and whether a “burdensome number of records” is involved. SHB 1128 would destroy some of the bedrock principles of the Public Records Act, including that a requester’s identity and interests are irrelevant, that inconvenience is not an excuse to hide records, and that an agency can’t conceal a record unless it falls under one of the law’s narrow exemptions. Neighborhood groups, businesses, civic organizations and individual citizens could be dragged into court for being inquisitive." This measure (Substitute House Bill 1128) is a good candidate for worst bill of the year in Washington - maybe in the whole Northwest.

First take: Corrections, INL

news

CORRECTIONS V CORRECTIONS In most states, the operation that runs some form of correctional industries - making goods or products for sale - is integrated closely with the corrections department. Usually, and partly for that reason, you don't find the two fighting with each other. In Oregon, that seems to have been happening, to the detriment of, among others, taxpayers. Solution would seem to be organizational, first and foremost.

INL SEQUESTER The biggest effect of the sequester in the Northwest may be in the military operations in western Washington. It's possible that the second largest may be at the Idaho National Laboratory, where layoffs or furloughs could run to 230 or more.

Time to Fix WSDOT

Menzel TOM
MENZEL

 
Washington
My Home

If Gov. Jay Inslee wants “lean management” to be a hallmark of his administration, the Transportation Department should be Exhibit 1.

It appears that we have a nasty case of engineers gone wild – and Inslee isn’t one bit happy about it. After months of media scrutiny, outgoing Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond finally revealed this week that engineers in her department blew it – big time. The pontoons for the new Highway 520 bridge across Lake Washington are cracked and leaking, and the $4.1-billion project is likely to be delayed at least a year. Ouch!

Heads could roll when Inslee determines who’s to blame for what will likely be more than a $100 million fix – that’s right, now let’s see that number with all eight zeros: $100,000,000! This revelation hits the news at a time when our schools need an extra $1 billion, our state parks are on their hands and knees begging for every dollar they can get and lawmakers are considering a possible gas tax increase to fund yet more transportation projects.

Hammond blames the pontoon debacle on design errors by state engineers who she says did not follow “standards of good practice” and failed to run models that would have shown the problem. She also implied in an interview last week that someone, somewhere was pushing too hard: “Everybody wants you to take risks, until something goes wrong.” As top dog at the agency (for about one more week), she apparently doesn’t know where the buck stops.

Wherever the fault lies in this case, we can only hope WSDOT will clean up its act once Inslee’s newly appointed Transportation Secretary-straight-from-Oregon, Lynn Peterson, takes over next month. Inslee says she’s ready to do just that, and we wish her luck.

Former Gov. Christine Gregoire’s appointment of Hammond to head up WSDOT in August 2007 made me nervous from the start. An organization that large embarking on the most extensive capital improvement program in its history needed strong leadership, preferably someone from the outside with a wide range of management experience, tons of discipline and lots of new ideas. Hammond was hired as an engineer at WSDOT straight out of college in 1979 and rose up through the ranks. But putting an insider in charge of people she worked with for 28 years just didn’t make sense.

This latest misstep by WSDOT is just one of many in recent years, some of which predate Hammond’s five years at the helm.

Here’s a shortlist: (more…)

Support your local police chief

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

Over the last couple of months, several hundred sheriffs in this nation have made some ridiculous, self-serving public statements, passing themselves off as self-appointed arbiters of what’s constitutional and what’s not when it comes to the very public issues of guns, gun ownership and gun laws.

Here in the Oregon woods, our guy was one of the first to sound the “Barney Fife alert,” announcing he would not enforce any gun laws he “believed unconstitutional” nor would he “allow federal law enforcement to do so” in his jurisdiction.

Absent a law degree or a judicial appointment – while ignoring the fact that constitutional determinations are the sole province of our court system – his unwise and certainly politically motivated announcement played only to the far right while undermining the respect a number of us previously had for him. Gun owners or not.

He certainly was not alone out there on his chosen limb. There were some others – in Oregon and elsewhere – who got on the bandwagon to play to the right while making the rest of us wonder about their suitability for the job.

Making the sheriffs appear all the more blatantly political – and all the more out of step with what all polling is suggesting the majority of us want done on these issues – are long-held official positions of the International Assn. of Chiefs of Police. The IACP has over 21,000 members and has formed a number of official positions on guns, gun ownership and gun safety.

Here are some of those IACP statements:

ARMOR PIERCING AMMO: Prohibit the sale of such ammo tested and found to fit the armor piercing description by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
ASSAULT WEAPONS BAN: Opposed the sale since 1992 and members have re-authorized that position several times and currently still do..
CONCEALED WEAPONS: Opposes any federal effort to allow concealed weapons carry in states other than where a permit is issued without new federal requirements. Applies to all citizens – including former law enforcement people.
FIREARMS ENFORCEMENT: Increase federal resources to better allow local enforcement and greater prosecution for Brady Act violations. IACP supports Project Safe Neighborhoods and others local programs because they work.
FIREARMS OFFENDER REGISTRY: Supports a federal registry for offenders convicted of felony or misdemeanor firearms violations similar to the sex offender registry.
PURCHASE WAITING PERIOD: IACP supports legislation creating a mandatory five-day wait- or “cooling off” period – prior to completion of a handgun purchase.
GUN SHOW LOOPHOLE: Wants Congress to close person-to-person gun show sales loopholes. Make all gun registry laws apply as they are supposed to.
ILLEGAL TRAFFICKING AND TRACING: IACP opposes all legislation that would weaken current federal laws dealing with law enforcement’s ability to trace illegal firearms.

These are some of the positions on guns of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Contrast them to the bombast and vote-chasing noises emanating from many of our local sheriffs who’re holding themselves out to be deciders of all things constitutional.

I know who I’d rather have watching my back.

Review: Beautiful Nate

book
Beautiful Nate/Dennis Mansfield
Howard Books

Beautiful Nate: A Memoir of a Family's Love, a Life Lost, and Heaven's Promises, written by Idahoan Dennis Mansfield about the son who died four years ago, is as much as anything else about finding the beauty within a mess. Mansfield does, although doing that has meant rethinking much of what he once thought he knew.

Those who got to know Mansfield when he first moved to Idaho a bit over 20 years ago, when he emerged as a state leader of Focus on the Family and maybe the state's most visible social conservative, encountered a person of near-total certitude. An activist on the abortion and gay rights fronts, and tightly connected through much of the Idaho (and national) evangelical community, he seemed easily defined by stereotype. In his personal life too, he writes, he had a definitive take on among other things how to raise children.

Then Nate happened, and if what followed didn't upend everything in Mansfield's world, it changed a great deal.

He still is a highly active evangelical Christian and a political conservative, and his faith runs through a book which feels written more for an evangelical audience, or at least within that framework, than for people of other persuasions. But it's well worth reading for non-evangelicals too, partly for the insights Mansfield offers here into the mindset, and partly because the story at the heart of the book, Nate's, is at its core a human tale of tragedy and hope, running well beyond limitations of religion or politics, a sequence of events that could happen to anyone and has happened to many.

We're all of us complex people, but Nate Mansfield, Dennis' eldest son, may have been more obviously so than most. A political conservative and an evangelical Christian - he evidently shared those things with his father, to some degree at least to the end - was both gifted and capable on a number of fronts (as a teenaged campaign manager, for example) but also rebellious, ferociously angry and driven toward drug abuse. The roots of this aren't completely spelled out (Mansfield may here be telling as much as he knows about those origins), but before Nate left high school he had been arrested - creating a problem for Mansfield's 2000 congressional campaign - and would be arrested repeatedly in the years to come. Periodically addicted to substances both legal and not, heroin among them, Nate died in 2009 of a drug interaction.

The story of how Nate and his parents related uneasily over the years to come is unfortunately not an altogether new tale these days. There is a notably breathtaking and wrenching section here where Mansfield and his wife have to decide whether to allow a then-imprisoned Nate out from behind bars and back into their house, and decide against. You can feel the pain on the page.

The background is distinctive, however, because Mansfield had come into parenting and into much of his early activist work out of certainty that he knew the right way to raise a child - he describes in some detail what that was, where it came from, how he tried to put it into effect and how it periodically smashed into practical application - and was thrown when it didn't work out. (In Nate's case, that is: We aren't told quite enough about the other two children in the house, but their lives apparently proceeded on less eventful and markedly smoother tracks to adulthood.) (more…)

This week’s Briefings

pontoon
Concrete is poured on the Highway 520 pontoon bridge east of Seattle by Department of Transportation crews. (photo/Washington Department of Transportation)
 

Washington: Financial bill introduction cutoffs are imposed at the statehouse, which means session tensions are about to ratchet upward. That and the fact that not a lot of time remains before the constitutional session cutoff arrives. Notably likely: Little immediate fallout from the Supreme Court decision on supermajorities and tax bills; the split legislature provides a brake on that and on the idea of a constitutional amendment to allow for it.

Oregon: Approval in the Oregon House of key financing for the Columbia Crossing bridge project was hot enough material that Governor John Kitzhaber sent a press release about out from his meeting his D.C. He may have been hoping that presages success on the more difficult project he has set for himself this session – PERS reforms.

Idaho: The University of Idaho's president for the last four and a half years, Duane Nellis, appeared headed to a university job in Texas by week's end. That apparently will set up another year-long national search for the next UI president (who, based in recent history, might last at the institution as much as three to four times as long).

Busting the Club

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
The Idaho
Column

Idaho voters may despise Congress, but they do not often throw out their own members – they've done it just four times in the last half-century. Less often than that do the voters of a party reject an incumbent of their own party for another term.

The last time it happened was almost 40 years ago, in 1974, when Orval Hansen, a three-term incumbent in the second district, was defeated in the primary by former Representative George Hansen. The campaign was messy and a number of factors, some of them personal to the candidates, were at play. But the ideological dynamic was one familiar to Idaho voters today: The challenge to Orval by George was seen as a challenge of the right against a more moderate conservative.

You wonder if the Club for Growth is doing a little research on that election.

The Club, which made a splash in Idaho in 2006, is described in Wikipedia as “a fiscally conservative 501(c)4 organization active in the United States of America, with an agenda focused on taxation and other economic issues. … According to its website, the Club for Growth's policy goals include cutting income tax rates, repealing the estate tax, limited government and a Balanced Budget Amendment, entitlement reform, free trade, tort reform, school choice, and deregulation.” It does not much compromise on any of that.

In 2006, when Idaho had an open seat in the first district, it threw massive money and support to then-legislator Bill Sali, enough that you could fairly say it was the number one reason Sali won his primary and general election that year. One piece of evidence is that in 2008, when Sali ran as an incumbent, the Club stayed out of the race, and Sali lost.

Now the Club is signaling it wants in again, time targeting 2nd District Representative Mike Simpson, now an eight-term member and probably the member of the Idaho delegation with the most clout within Congress. He describes himself as a conservative, and certainly is a loyal member of the House Republican caucus, and close to House Speaker John Boehner. (more…)