Writings and observations

carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

Somewhere I lost connections/
Ran out of songs to play. . . .
Oh, Lord, stuck in Lodi again.

–Creedence Clearwater

Despite many folks citing principles, values and service to their community as reasons for participating in politics, one of the more direct reasons is related to pure self-interest: a job derived from political connections.

It’s called political “patronage.” It is not nearly as pervasive as in the days that Boss Tweed dominated New York City or the Daley machine ruled Chicago, but it is still a major element in our system’s form of government.

Lawyers get involved in politics not always for altruistic reasons, but rather because governors and senators either outright make or exert influence on the selection of judges, for example. Or a governor and an attorney general will get together to decide who might represent the state in workman’s comp cases.

When presidential Administrations change, there’s always a bevy of lawyers who see the next U.S. Attorney when they look in the mirror in the morning. Or a county sheriff sees the next U.S. Marshall. Or a farmer sees the next state director for the Farm Services Administration.

One of the most powerful and influential but little known “patronage” positions in the pacific northwest is the Administrator of the Bonneville Power Administration, the entity that manages and markets the enormous amounts of electricity generated by some 30 federally built and operated dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers.

The Administrator oversees the agency’s 3200 employees, and has a $3 billion annual budget paid from the revenues it receives for the power it markets, with a significant component of that budget being an annual payment to the Treasury to pay down the debt incurred in the building of the hydro system, the lines for transmission, and a mandated commitment to enhance the region’s threatened salmon and steel head runs.

Historically, there has been an unofficial practice regarding this post. The senior senator from the northwest’s senatorial delegation of the party in the White House “selects” the administration’s nominee who does have to go before the full Committee on Interior and Insular affairs for confirmation by the full Senate.

When an Administration changes, the administrator resigns. If the administrator leaves mid-term, then the lead rotates to that party’s next in seniority senator. This “patronage,” like all, has produced some fine executives as well as some turkeys.

Among the eagles that did well were folks like former famous Con Ed chairman Charles Luce (1961 to 1966), championed by both of Washington states’ “gold dust” twins, Senators Warren Magnuson and Scoop Jackson; Don Hodel (1972-1977) who went on to become a Secretary of Energy. Oregon Senator Mark Hatfield and Alaska Senator Ted Stevens were Hodel’s patrons.

Idaho Senator James McClure’s turn came in 1981 when Ronald Reagan was elected president. McClure sponsored Boise’s Trust Joist executive Peter Johnson who served until 1986. Johnson received mixed reviews because expectations of working with the newly formed Northwest Power Planning Council to get more things done on behalf of the fish, the river and the entire basin’s ecosystem were unrealistically high.

While many of the region’s power players may disagree with this assessment, one turkey has to be the second longest serving administrator, Steve Wright, who served from 2002 to 2013. Only BPA’s fourth administrator, Paul Raven, who served from 1939 to 1954, had a longer tenure. Wright’s senatorial sponsor was Washington State’s senior senator, Patty Murray.

As the expression goes, Wright got out while the getting was good, and landed the lucrative position of executive director of the Chelan PUD, with a salary rumored to be $250,000 a year.

Ironically, what Wright should be held accountable for, but for which his successor. Bill Drummond (a potential eagle) took the fall on, was an effort allegedly discriminating against veterans applying for a civil service post in the agency. In other words, despite 11 years in the saddle, he botched playing the patronage game.

Wright also has been implicated in a charge of trying to suppress a whistle-blower. Another member of Wright’s staff has taken the fall on that one. Both actions are reportedly being examined by the Energy Department’s Inspector General and the Oregonian has a reporting team continuing to dig.

Not to worry though, folks. Its Oregon Senator Ron Wyden’s turn. He is reportedly backing acting administrator Eliot Mainzer to replace Drummond. And just because Mainzer came to BPA in 2002 from Enron should not be cause for pause. Or should it?

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Carlson

news

Here’s what public affairs news made the front page of newspapers in the Northwest today, excluding local crime, features and sports stories. (Newspaper names contracted with location)

Bedke intros business tax break (Boise Statesman)
UI pitches budget proposal (Lewiston Tribune)
Moscow wants approval of water plan (Moscow News)
Martin juvenile hall in Washington may close (Moscow News)
Nampa Development Corporation may shake up (Nampa Press Tribune)
How many exchange enrollees were insured? (Nampa Press Tribune)
Pocatello schools offer coach job back (Pocatello Journal)
Part of Inkom cement plant demolished (Pocatello Journal)
Sandpoint train depot future considered (Sandpoint Bee)
Trasmission line conflict heats in Cassia (TF Times News)
Blaine school board chief resigns (TF Times News)

DeFazio blasts Pacific trade deal (Corvalis Gazette Times)
Fred Meyer prusuing Civic center (Eugene Register Guard)
Lane Transit warned on payroll tax (Eugene Register Guard)
Hermiston schools see falling enrollment (Hermiston Herald)
KF municipal utility district tabled (KF Herald & News)
Chasing out barred owls simpler (KF Herald & News)
KF considers downtown police shop (KF Herald & News)
Ashland allowing pot medical shops (Medford Tribune, Ashland Tidings)
Medford teacher negotiations (Medford Tribune)
Region at fire risk (Medford Tribune, Ashland Tidings)
School district considers PERS (Pendleton East Oregonian)
Intel tax breaks costing schools statewide (Portland Oregonian)
Portland port labor issues slow transit (Portland Oregonian)
Boise site renewal options considered (Salem Statesman Journal)

Tighter booking at Snohomish jail (Everett Herald)
Possible theft by former council member (Kennewick Herald)
Methanol export plants set for Longview (Longview News)
Easier clearance of barred owls (Longview News)
Local tech company gets patent (Port Angeles News)
Bill would bar ag tax breaks for pot (Port Angeles News)
Seattle looks to much-increase utilities rates (Seattle Times)
President of Eastside Catholic school quits (Seattle Times)
Backlog of homeless families at Seattle (Seattle Times)
Review of Spokane charter schools (Spokane Spokesman)
Olympic wilderness bill returns (Tacoma News Tribune)
Pierce Transit unpaid leave police (Tacoma News Tribune)
Bills would set up pot sales registry (Vancouver Columbian)
Yakima city votes to ban pot shops (Yakima Herald Republic)
Cawley retained as mayor at Yakima (Yakima Herald Republic)

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First Take

trahant MARK
TRAHANT

 
Austerity

Could this be the year of the Native voter?

That’s a tall order for a population that’s less than one percent of the country. But American Indians were key contributors to winning coalitions in Wisconsin, North Dakota and Montana two years ago and there is the potential to do even better this time around.

Three things have to happen first, though. There must be candidates who are inspirational. Next, there must be organization and money. And, third, American Indians and Alaska Natives have to actually vote.

Step one is on target. There are already more high profile candidates for office in 2014 than in any election I can recall. For example, former Colville tribal chairman Joe Pakootas is running against Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers in Washington state. This is a tough race, but Pakootas has a great election narrative: How he turned around a money-losing tribal enterprise and made it profitable, creating jobs along the way.

The candidacy of Byron Mallott for governor of Alaska has to be at the top of any list. Mallott has the ideal resume. He’s a member of the Yakutat Tlingit Tribe, and a clan leader of the Kwaashk’i Kwáan of the Raven people. He has worked in state government and as the chief executive of Sealaska corporation. Mallott was mayor of two towns including Juneau, the state capital.

Mallott’s path to the Democratic Party nomination is clear so he will face incumbent, Republican Gov. Sean Parnell.

Parnell, it seems, has gone out of his way to be on the other side of Alaska Native issues. The governor rejected Medicaid expansion, saying the federal Indian Health Service is good enough health care access for Alaska Natives. This is absurd. There is not enough money in the Indian health system. But at the same time he tells the federal government to cover health care for Alaska Natives, the governor demands sovereignty over subsistence hunting and fishing asking for a Supreme Court review of the Katie John case.

This set of facts ought to be enough to motivate Alaska Native voters.

But that requires follow through on the next two steps, organization (including money) and then actual voting. I looked at the last election, precinct by precinct, and turnout by Alaska Natives in villages ranged from a low of 25 percent to 71 percent. It was mostly lower (with a couple of exceptions) than the statewide turnout and by a wide margin, ten, twenty and even thirty points.

It’s these kind of numbers that led the National Congress of American Indians in 2012 to declare a “civic emergency” regarding voter registration.

The NCAI report calls for voter registration at Indian health facilities. This is the perfect solution for the 2014 election: Encourage people to sign up for health insurance and register to vote at the same time. Imagine how the Alaska’s politics would be if the Alaska Native voter registration was higher. (New Mexico has the highest percentage of Native American voters at 77 percent.) Alaska Natives could have a bigger share of the electorate than in any other state. Alaska has extraordinary challenges that limit Native voting. The logistics of a high turnout election are daunting, much more complex than in any other part of the country, and state institutions continues to depress turnout and throw up barriers to limit Alaska Native voters. That’s why the payoff could be that much sweeter. Alaska Natives could the key bloc that elects governors, senators, and, federal representatives, pretty much determining the state’s future.

So here’s the thing: This will be a be low turnout election anyway. Americans get excited over presidential elections and then fade into the background two years later. Indian Country is the same. We vote in presidential years, but there is even much more potential to swing elections two years later. That time is now.

So that means if Indian Country does get organized, and folks actually vote, then the power of that Native vote is amplified. There is time to make 2014 the year of the Native voter.

Mark Trahant is the 20th Atwood Chair at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He is a journalist, speaker and Twitter poet and is a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Comment on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/TrahantReports

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Trahant

news

Here’s what public affairs news made the front page of newspapers in the Northwest today, excluding local crime, features and sports stories. (Newspaper names contracted with location)

Review of Otter on Medicaid (Boise Statesman)
Completion of 8th & Main building (Boise Statesman)
Speaker on affordable care act (Moscow News)
Washington considers higher ed (Moscow News)
MLK rally (Nampa Press Tribune, Pocatello Journal)
Idaho fugutives caught in Washington (Nampa Press Tribune)
Mountain States Intertie project doomed (Pocatello Journal)
Counties argue Obamacare obviates indigency (Pocatello Journal)
Soda Springs wants indoor horse facility (Pocatello Journal)
NIC seeks Sandpoint expansion (Sandpoint Bee)
Planning for Snake River jump (TF Times News)
Senators act on protest rules (TF Times News)

MLK rallies (Eugene Register Guard, Pendleton East Oregonian, Ashland Tidings)
Tribal disenrollment at Grand Ronde (Portland Oregonian, Eugene Register Guard)
Municipal utility district hearing (KF Herald & News)
Air is stagnant (Medford Tribune, Ashland Tidings)
Umatilla, Pendleton talk about bridge (Pendleton East Oregonian)
Judge on hatchery v wild fish (Portland Oregonian)
Boy falls 40 feet at Silver Falls (Portland Oregonian, Salem Statesman Journal)

Report says no Reardon retaliation at county (Everett Herald)
MLK celebrations (Spokane Spokesman, Vancouver Columbian, Kennewick Herald)
Another Cowlitz jail inmate dead (Longview News)
Quinault River meancing chalet (Port Angeles News)
New oil firms replace departing one (Port Angeles News)
Harsher DUI penalties, maybe (Spokane Spokesman)
Report on Pierce Tranit payroll (Tacoma News Tribune)
Trade figures better with China (Tacoma News Tribune)
School funding conflict (Vancouver Columbian)

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First Take

manning TRAVIS
MANNING

 
Opinion

We have reached a testing crisis in Idaho and Common Core hasn’t helped. As a current high school English teacher, I know. We are over-testing children, including the new 8-hour Common Core test: theSmarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC).

In high school alone we give students the PSAT, SAT, IELA, PLAN, ACT, pre- and post-tests, end-of-semester exams, ASVAB, Science ISAT, AP tests, SBAC, PLATO, benchmarks, Career Information System (CIS) and sometimes the NAEP. Not all students take every test every year, but the testing process disrupts the entire school calendar, regardless. Testing burns weeks of instructional time, clogs up school computer labs, and costs millions. Special education students are given even more tests, often with accommodations to take as much time as they need, soaking up weeks more in a teacher’s curriculum calendar.

I support the Common Core standards generally, but I do not support the high-stakes test, the SBAC.

Last year I wrote an op-ed in support of Common Core, but there are some ongoing concerns since then that haven’t been addressed by policymakers: fiscal strain, increased class sizes, cutting necessary programs and courses, teacher and student privacy issues, and tying teacher merit pay to SBAC.

The proposed teacher career ladder is coming down the pike, but details are sketchy. Idaho legislators want to tie as much as 50 percent of SBAC scores to teacher pay. “Our students are the most over-tested in the world,” writes education historian Dr. Diane Ravitch in a January 11, 2014 speech. “No other nation—at least no high-performing nation — judges the quality of teachers by the test scores of their students. Most researchers agree that this methodology is fundamentally flawed, that it is inaccurate, unreliable, and unstable, that the highest ratings will go to teachers with the most affluent students and the lowest ratings will go to teachers of English learners, teachers of students with disabilities, and teachers in high-poverty schools.”

We have become a nation infatuated with standardized testing and, in the process, have given private testing companies the onus for unnecessarily labeling schools, children and teachers. Groups like the Albertson Foundation and their Don’t Fail Idaho campaign continue to beat public schools about the head with statistics. Their campaign is meant to inform – but also to demoralize public schools – in order to privatize them, convert them into for-profit charters.

Ravitch notes that U.S. Department of Education website data reveals that recent U.S. test scores were “the highest they had ever been in our history for whites, African Americans, Latinos, and Asians; that graduation rates for all groups were the highest in our history; and that the dropout rate was the lowest ever in our history.” Unabashedly, privateers like Governor Otter and Superintendent Luna choose to ignore these facts.

New York state gave Common Core tests last spring and only 30 percent of students passed, including less than 20 percent of Hispanic students, 5 percent of students with disabilities, and 3 percent of English language learners. Could New York teachers use Common Core test results for item analysis and re-teaching? Nope. Results were reported in August. SBAC passing marks, called “cut scores,” are aligned with the federal test called NAEP, and the bar is set so high only 40 percent of students, at best, reach proficiency.

In Idaho, we are setting up 60 percent of our children to fail. My young children will not be taking the SBAC, especially in their elementary years, when their love of learning is paramount.

One answer: “opt out.” See Idahoans for Local Education website: http://bit.ly/1ac5aRZ. For the sake of Idaho’s children and teachers: “opt out.”

Travis Manning is executive director of The Common Sense Democracy Foundation of Idaho and can be reached at manning_travis@hotmail.com.

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Manning

news

Here’s what public affairs news made the front page of newspapers in the Northwest today, excluding local crime, features and sports stories. (Newspaper names contracted with location)

Drone look at pygmy rabbit turf (Boise Statesman)
Review Inslee’s legislative proposals (Moscow News)
Another record year on the farm (Nampa Press-Tribune)
Flag football league at Nampa (Nampa Press-Tribune)
New grade school at Murtaugh (TF Times News)

YMCA and store both want Civic site (Eugene Register Guard)
Fish have too much mercury in Rogue River (Ashland Tidings)
$100K art project planned for Ashland (Ashland Tidings)
Woodburn police sue leadership (Portland Oregonian)

Seahawks go to Super Bowl (just about all)
More on bikini coffee owner in court (Everett Herald)
Inslee’s legislative plans addressed (Vancouver Columbian, Kennewick Herald)
Digital records coming at St. John hospital (Longivew News)
State bill would regulate drones (Port Angeles News)
Repairs on Greene Street bridge (Spokane Spokesman)

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First Take

news

Here’s what public affairs news made the front page of newspapers in the Northwest today, excluding local crime, features and sports stories. (Newspaper names contracted with location)

Two lobbyists conduct GP campaign school (Boise Statesman)
Special school elections coming up (Lewiston Tribune)
Democrats get more respect in legislature (Lewiston Tribune)
Prison escapees have links to Canyon (Nampa Press Tribune)
Wolf plan survives in court (Nampa Press Tribune)
Big new regional sheriffs armored vehicle (Pocatello Journal)
New chamber plans on economic development (Pocatello Journal)
Pocatello schools still deciding on fired coach (Pocatello Journal)
Sandpoint Fire Chief retires (Sandpoint Bee)
Problems with mobile elk (TF Times News)

The upcoming legislative session (Eugene Register Guard)
Reviewing KF downtown redevelopment (KF Herald & News)
Concerns about Medford gang violence (Medford Tribune)
Former commissioner Walker dies (Medford Tribune)
Review of Cover Oregon’s mishaps (Portland Oregonian)
Contest for Roseburg council seats (Roseburg Review)
E-cigarettes become more popular (Salem Statesman-Journal)

The risks of going into pot business (Everett Herald)
Bakers face discrimination issues (Kennewick Herald)
Finishing work on Boeing tanker (Everett Herald)
Sheriff proposes law enforcement levy (Longview News)
Child porn victims want restitution (Everett Herald, Longview News)
Oil distributor shuts down (Port Angeles News)
Acting prosecutor will quit (Port Angeles News)
Prepping for more oil shipments (Spokane Spokesman)
Legislators hear about medical pot (Tacoma News Tribune)
Looking ahead to legislature, budget (Yakima Herald Republic)

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First Take

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Idaho

An array of familiar Democratic faces turned up Tuesday at the Boise press conference where attorney Nels Mitchell announced his run for the Senate against Republican Jim Risch, but one in particular may have resonated for people familiar with recent Idaho politics.

He was Mike Burkett, a former state senator and like Mitchell an attorney. Also like him, he has run as a Democrat against Risch. What’s remarkable about Burkett is that he is one of the few people ever to beat Risch in a political contest.

That was in 1988, long before Risch was a U.S. senator, but at another time when he was powerfully positioned in the state, as Senate president pro tem. Risch then had been winning elections for 18 years (for county prosecutor, then senator) and had never lost one. He was very smart, disciplined, an excellent speaker and debater and (with his wife Vicki) a fine political strategist, and centrally positioned among Idaho Republicans in his points of view.

There was also a rap on him: That he was arrogant, loved to wield power, stepped on people. Respect was there; likability slipped over time. By 1986 Risch’s winning margin was 54 percent, not a marker of strength. In 1988 he made the mistake of backing a primary challenge to a sometimes obstreperous member of his caucus, Rachel Gilbert. Gilbert, as was her wont, shot back, describing Risch as a Statehouse power out to crush independent-minded people like her. She won her primary.

When Burkett ran against Risch that year, he played a role Gilbert could have scripted: As an outsider and an unknown with a small-town demeanor, which didn’t stop him from blasting Risch strongly, feeding the narrative of Risch as a powerful insider. Risch lost.

That of course was a quarter-century ago, and Idaho was a different place then, less Republican than now. Risch since has gone on to win more elections. (Disclaimer here: I was campaign manager for one of his opponents, in 2002.) The power-seeker rap wouldn’t work nearly as well now in the context of a U.S. Senate seat, where he’s one vote out of 100, and in the minority (at present), and working mostly outside the state.

Other variations could develop, though.

An echo came in May 2013 when he told the Idaho Statesman, “You know, I really enjoy this job. I really like this job. Governor will wear you down. You can’t do that job permanently. This you can do ad infinitum.” An accompanying news article described him as “remarkably passive about the failure of Congress to deal with the country’s problems,” and “to hear him wax eloquent about life in the Senate makes one wonder if he risks being branded as a dilettante.”

Repeated news articles about his and his staff’s regular trips abroad (he is a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, so in his personal case there’s actually some call for them) and some talk that he’s not been spending a lot of time in Idaho or with his base, could be a basis for reviving some of those old critiques, on a larger scale.

Mitchell has a cool demeanor (though he’s been a federal litigator, which suggests something about what’s beneath that) and the positioning of an outsider, and he’s offered a promise to serve but one term. What appeal may that have?

There are politicians who develop a teflon surface, and those who don’t. The second kind can survive too. But put the wrong set of circumstances together, and surprises can happen.

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Idaho Idaho column

oregon
RANDY STAPILUS / Oregon

Last week’s discussion among legislators about bringing back legislation moving toward background checks for gun buyers seemed a little oddly-positioned. It was legislation that failed – decisively, not reach floor votes – last year; nothing much has happened since to change many attitudes toward it; and this short session is intended mainly for tightly-focused items that need resolution right away. Background checks might seem more logically revisited after the net election, which could rejigger the political calculus.

Republicans quickly jumped to the argument that the revival of this legislation in the election year session might be specifically politically oriented – even down to specific seats.

Of all seats Oregon Senate Democrats see as top targets, two jump out: the Hillsboro-area seat held by Republican Bruce Starr, and the Corvallis/Albany seat held by Republican Betsy Close. In both cases, Democrats have a registration advantage, and probably have already an advantage for taking over one of those seats (Close’s; no Democrat has filed for the Hillsoboro seat, yet). The thinking is that putting Starr and Close on the spot on the backgrounding bill will give Democrats an advantageous issue heading toward November.

If so (we won’t prejudge the motivations here), there’s a significant side-comment here. The presumption has been that outside of central urban areas, gun legislation was mostly a political winner on the anti-legislation side. These two districts at stake are not central urban districts. Hillsboro is the substantial community in the Portland metro area farthest from Portland and until now most receptive to Republicans and conservatives. The Albany/Corvallis district has two midsized cities but is located out in the farm country.

Does the politics of this suggest that the politics of guns is changing a bit?

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Oregon Oregon column

From the Boise Guardian web site, based in Boise.

Thousands of tax dollars later, Team Dave’s desire named street car has resurfaced.

This time around instead of hiring a PR outfit to create public support for Mayor Dave Bieter’s dream of a “downtown circulator,” city officials are aiming for a Jan. 29 meeting to seek “input” on what type of circulator in the downtown area is desired… not presuming no street car is desired, based on past surveys.

The GUARDIAN can only echo years and years of reports, studies, surveys, and studies. Give us a damn bus system and quit wasting our money! People wanting a streetcar make as much sense as those who hailed the runaway bus driver as a hero–before coppers filed charges against him for whacking trees and nearly wiping out the Idaho Power building.

Hint: the city is unlikely to get streetcar permission from ACHD if they can’t get the hockey pucks installed to monitor parking meters.

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Idaho