Writings and observations

agrium
A large truck hauls phosphate ore from an Agrium open pit mine on the Caribou/Targhee National Forest. (photo/Mark Mendiola

 

mendiola MARK
MENDIOLA

 
Reports

An earlier version of this column appeared in Green Markets

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has approved the transfer of operating rights for the Dry Ridge Phosphate Project in southeastern Idaho from Solvoy USA Inc. to Fertoz USA LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Fertoz Ltd., an Australian company with phosphate operations in Australia and Canada.

Fertoz joins Canadian companies Agrium, based at Calgary, Alberta, and Stonegate Agricom, based at Toronto, Ontario, as foreign companies hoping to realize hefty profits by developing phosphate mines in southeastern Idaho, but at great up-front capital investments.

Agrium has operated Conda processing plant for decades as Nu-West Industries near Soda Springs and runs the North Rasmussen Ridge Mine. Stonegate Agricom is developing the Paris Hills underground phosphate mine near Bloomington and Paris.

In December, Fertoz acquired an option to explore and acquire up to 100 percent of the Dry Ridge lease on the phosphate-rich Caribou/Targhee National Forest, expanding into the United States as it embarks on an ambitious expansion.

It has engaged World Industrial Minerals as a consultant to provide additional geological services to develop an exploration program in alignment with BLM requirements. Cascade Earth Sciences also has been contracted to start environmental permitting as required by the BLM. CES has teamed with Sound Ecological Endeavours and Sundance Consulting to expedite the biological and archaeological processes, respectively.

The approval process is expected to take 12 to 15 months. Fertoz Managing Director Les Szonyi said the BLM’s approval of transferring Dry Ridge operating rights will allow Fertoz to accelerate the permit and exploration approval process and begin drilling at the end of 2015 in Idaho.

Exploration in the United States requires significant third party input and reports before drilling can be approved, he noted, adding he expects Fertoz will submit in the next few months an exploration application, which outlines the proposed exploration plan. An environmental assessment of the project’s impact also must be submitted.

“This will require approval from both the BLM and the U.S. Forest Service. Our process is on track,” Szonyi told me.

Jeff Cundick, BLM’s minerals branch chief at its Pocatello field office, said the BLM’s state office in Boise approved assigning the Dry Ridge operating rights from Rhodia to Fertoz on Jan. 30, but Rhodia will maintain or keep the existing phosphate lease. The Solvay group acquired Rhodia, the chemicals division of Rhone-Poulenc, and its assets, including the 57-year-old Dry Ridge lease, in September 2011.

Fertoz officials indicated to the BLM that they most likely will apply for a Dry Ridge exploration and drilling permit in the spring, Cundick said, noting the BLM office in Boise is in charge of leasing and issuing permits while the Pocatello BLM office makes sure all federal regulations and requirements are met, including the Clean Water Act and the National Forest Management Act.

“I imagine the process will take several months,” Cundick told me. The BLM will do an environmental assessment under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and work closely with the U.S. Forest Service, especially its biologists and cultural resource specialists. Safeguards will be formulated and Fertoz’ reclamation plan assessed, Cundick said.

Meanwhile, Fertoz will continue to focus on bulk samples from Wapiti East and exploring operations at its other phosphate operations in British Columbia — Marten, Barnes Lake and Crows Nest, known as the Fernie Group.

The British Columbia Ministry of Energy and Mines has approved a permit to allow Fertoz to extract a surface bulk sample from Wapiti East of up to 7,500 metric tons of phosphate rock during the Canadian winter. Fertoz recently announced it has secured the Marten Project, an underground exploration phosphate mine.

Southeastern Idaho is within an area designated by the U.S. Geological Survey as a “Known Phosphate Leasing Area” or KPLA, which contains four operating phosphate mines and a number of smaller advanced exploration/development projects, some of which are directly along the same sedimentary horizon as Dry Ridge.

Fertoz’ Dry Ridge property covers 518 acres west of the J.R. Simplot Co.’s Smoky Canyon phosphate mine near the Idaho/Wyoming border. It lies south of Agrium Inc.’s Husky Unit 1 and North Dry Ridge leases under exploration and directly north of Agrium’s Husky Unit 2.

Agrium, Simplot and Monsanto all have processing plants in the region and are responsible for processing up to 14 percent of U.S. phosphate ore. They have operating mines within 20 to 90 miles from their processing plants where rock is transported by truck and slurry pipeline. The Soda Springs processing plants of Agrium and Monsanto are within 22 miles of the Dry Ridge property.

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Mendiola

oregon
RANDY STAPILUS / Oregon

It was only a short session, and if not a lot got done outside the budget basics, you can more or less understand that. The idea of these shorter even-year sessions – of which this was the second – wasn’t to address the whole smorgasbord, but rather just do some touch-up and adjustment on items that needed to be handled right away, or on an emergency basis.

Fine Having reached that understanding, legislators would do well to remember it in 2015 … as they didn’t remember it in 2013, when a string of items including a number that some legislators just didn’t really want to deal with (from pot to guns to the Columbia River bridge) were pushed to the side, occasionally with the remark that they could hold another year.

The idea of a 2014 ballot issue on liquor privatization or pot legalization, both of which probably could have been handled better within a legislative context than through the writing of ballot issues, were among the items legislators didn’t really want to deal with in 2013. Part of the argument? It doesn’t have to be handled now, because the ballot issue wouldn’t come up until more than a year away anyhow.

After this session, that kind of argument never should be heard again at Salem in the odd-numbered years.

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Oregon Oregon column

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)

Materials needed for Common Core teaching (Boise Statesman)
Old ethics conflict re Denney, Toryanski (Boise Statesman)
School bond levies just ahead (Nampa Press Tribune)
Kimberly meal service accused of Medicaid overbills (Nampa Press Tribune)
.22 ammunition locally hard to find (Pocatello Journal)
Overview of Magic Valley food industry (TF Times News)
Wolf kills won’t get $2 million (TF Times News)

Financial concerns about Civic purchase (Eugene Register Guard)
OR Republicans, gay marriage (Eugene Register Guard, Medford Tribune)
Reviewing speeding tickets at Medford (Medford Tribune)
Plenty of initiatives coming this year (Portland Oregonian)

What’s a head at legislature (Everett Herald)
High housing foreclosures at TriCities (Kennewick Herald)
WA passes new medical marijuana bill (Tacoma News Tribune, Longview News)
Sewage entering Port Angeles harbor (Port Angeles News)
Nippon Paper plant reopens (Port Angeles News)
First Federal close to stock offering (Port Angeles News)
Investors mass-buying homes (Seattle Times)
Are string of rural bar fires linked? (Spokane Spokesman)
State goes to poor-scoring school (Tacoma News Tribune)
Benton paid by state and county (Vancouver Columbian)
Clergy sex trial to begin (Yakima Herald Republic)

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First Take

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Idaho

One way to get some perspective on Idaho government today is to look back to how it once was. Let’s go back a century and see what happened then.

The governor then was John Haines, a Republican real estate developer who was elected on a small-government platform; he was serving just one two-year term (and would lose a bid for re-election in 1914). The Legislature was even more Republican then than it is now, 21-3 in the Senate 56-4 in the House.

So what did they do in the 1913-14 term? What follows is a short description, extracted from the book Idaho 100 (by your scribe and Martin Peterson, published in fall 2012); Haines ranked number 54 on that list. Your assignment, should you choose to accept it: Compare and contrast to their present-day counterparts …

An Iowa native, Haines spent his early adulthood dealing real estate in Kansas, only to be wiped out by a severe drought in the late 1890s. Along with many others, he headed west, to Idaho. On the way, he encountered several other would-be realtors, and when they got to Boise they formed the W.E. Pierce and Company real estate firm. It rapidly became the leading realty firm in Idaho, and played an important role in the development of southwest Idaho—Boise in particular. That development became all the more important because the senior partner, W.E. Pierce, was elected Boise mayor in 1903, and Haines succeeded him in 1907. The office of mayor gave Haines the platform to run for governor in 1912, in a race he only barely won over Democrat James Hawley, after running hard on a campaign of fiscal austerity.

He turned out, once elected, to have a head for reform, in all sorts of areas. He pushed for non-partisan election of judges (who then ran on party tickets; his suggestion would be taken after a few years). He pressed for the full range of progressive political issues, including the recall and referendum.

Governing during a session when legislators were preoccupied with choosing a new U.S. senator, he argued for passage of the 17th amendment to turn that over to the voters. And, amid the political confusion, he became central in the 1913 session in setting an agenda for passing what he considered very important items. He got them.

One was creation of a state Board of Education. Idaho already had a board of regents for the University of Idaho, but the new board would be united with it and oversee education statewide. That same system survives a century later.

So has Haines’s proposal for a public utility commission. He pushed the idea at a time when electric power companies were just starting to merge, when other utilities were beginning to turn into larger companies. Idaho presumably would have wound up regulating them in some fashion in later years; but if it had been done at a point when utility lobbyists became much more powerful, the regulatory structure might have looked a lot different.

He also proposed creating the Workman’s Compensation Board (later, and currently, the Industrial Commission), which is still active in essentially the same form.

Haines was a close watcher of the legislature, proposing and vetoing with great frequency (and sometimes even vetoing bills that grew out of his proposals). The counties of Gooding, Franklin, Jefferson, Minidoka, and Power were created in 1913, with his explicit approval. He vetoed creation of Valley County by splitting Boise County, however, saying the change would leave Boise County with too little valuation. That would have to wait another few years.

In all, Haines’ two years as governor marked one of the most critical legislative periods in Idaho history.

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Idaho Idaho column

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)

FBI inquires into CCA Idaho operations (Boise Statesman, Nampa Press Tribune, Lewiston Tribune, Pocatello Journal)
Valley Ride extra stops banned (Boise Statesman)
NNU gets biggest gift in history (Boise Statesman, Nampa Press Tribune)
Budget panel wraps budget (Lewiston Tribune)
Pot research ahead (Moscow News)
WSU’s Floyd looks ahead (Moscow News)
Levies for school districts on Tuesday (Moscow News)
New Nampa schools chief, David Peterson (Nampa Press Tribune)
ISU ‘adds the words’ in student rights (Pocatello Journal)
Rethinking Wood River water management (TF Times News)

Legislature sets budget, ends (Portland Oregonian, Eugene Register Guard, Salem Statesman Journal, KF Herald & News, Corvallis Gazette Times, Ashland Tidings)
White City mill reopens with funding (Corvallis Gazette Times)
Elk may be hunted on refuge (Corvallis Gazette Times)
Refuge bird numbers hold up (KF Herald & News)
Low snowfall at Mt Ashland (Ashland Tidings)
Packing heat at Milton Freewater city hall (Pendleton East Oregonian)
Wanapum Dam crack still not repaired (Portland Oregonian)
CRC ends its hoped for run (Portland Oregonian)
Salem-Keizer district leader nominees (Salem Statesman Journal)

Managing waste at tank AY-102 (Kennewick Herald)
Wanapum Dam hydropower ceases (Kennewick Herald)
Many more seals at Ranier (Longview News)
Seattle tunnel efforts continue (Seattle Times)
Boeing finds cracks in Dreamliner wings (Seattle Times)
Legislative conflict over teacher evaluation (Tacoma News Tribune)
Pierce County pot grower has legal issues (Tacoma News Tribune)
FBI investigates CCA prison in Idaho (Spokane Spokesman)
CRC efforts conclude in Oregon (Vancouver Columbian)
Inslee wants money for oil safety (Vancouver Columbian)
Yakima-Ellensburg bus run may quit (Yakima Herald Republic)
More stoned drivers, but not more accidents (Yakima Herald Republic)
Yakima Ecology office may move (Yakima Herald Republic)

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First Take

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

“From sea to shining sea” across our national landscape, we are awash in unnecessary, racist, homophobic and outright despicable efforts to legislate against us and our neighbors – to control what we think and do. It’s being done in the name of someone’s “God” or someone’s corporate interests or others with self-serving, underhanded – often dangerous – attempts to prolong their worthless political lives at the public trough.

We’ve been inundated by media coverage of one of the worst of the crop that made it to a governor’s desk. A piece of legislative trash – sponsored mostly by a Colorado group calling itself “christian” – to allow “religious beliefs” to trump citizenship rights of those whom the “believers” disapprove. While the media made it mostly a matter of sexual orientation, it was, in fact, an effort to legislate absolutely any person’s activities if those activities ran counter to someone providing a public service or product. That’s all of us.

The governor vetoed the bill. Not, I think, because it was the right thing to do. Which it was. Remember, this is someone running for re-election. I’d bet she suddenly realized overwhelming public – and corporate – opposition was a prime indicator of Arizona political winds and that she’d be better off temporarily angering her right-wing base than running afoul of possibly a much wider – and likely corporate “contributor” – constituency.

But her political fortunes aren’t the issue here. What IS the issue is eight other states are dealing with the same piece of phony moralistic garbage. Legislatures in Oregon and Idaho appear to have bottled up those bills in committee. For now. But they’ll be back. You can count on it. What the other six states will do is anyone’s guess.

This is just one area in which wrong-headed, narrow-minded, moralistic minorities are trying to do through law what they can’t do any other way – infringe on the rights of the rest of us by making our conduct in various issues illegal if our conduct flies in the face of their “moral beliefs.” There are many, many more similar legislative land mines out there..

Whether it’s gay rights, voter rights, abortion rights, access to medical care, privatizing schools or the post office or prisons or other public institutions of choice, a network of these ideologically vacant “moralists” has been created to raise havoc with our society. We hear and read so much about their efforts that it’s hard to keep in mind they’re minorities. But they are.

It’s no secret who’s behind them. James Dobson and other fundamentalist church leaders, the Koch brothers and their various 501(c)3 and (c)4 fronts, the John Birch Society, Family Forum, the NRA, Heritage Foundation and dozens and dozens of small, tin-hat groups and billionaire self-appointed keepers of the national moral flame. Some are new- some aren’t. But the Internet and other recent technologies have given them the means of spreading their societal undermining so they seem much larger and more important than they really are.

I tangled repeatedly with the little Idaho nest of the Birch Society in the 1960’s. The message then was the same as the message now – this country is “going to Hell in a handbasket “ because of (insert your favorite conspiracy). The focus 50 years ago was mostly on “Communists” hiding in our government. But abortion and subjugation of the rights of minorities were – and are – also Birch menu items.

Back then, they were isolated. Now, with the push of a computer key, they flood the Internet with hundreds of thousands of email messages of hate, suspicion, conspiracy and nut-ball fantasies. Their presence is so much more noticeable because of the ease of access to the rest of us., But, if you pull back the electronic curtain, you’ll likely find the same scared little people – resistant to change – unable to cope with our quickly moving technologies – afraid of the government bogeymen they still see in every dark corner – frightened of the “Communist infiltrators” of years gone by.

But there have also been at two very real changes for these small, disparate groups of haters and conspiratorial nuts. First, largely by years of hard work in mostly local and state Republican central committees – coupled with the normal political indifference of most Americans until it’s one of theirs in the wringer – they’ve captured party nominating control and, in some cases, frozen out otherwise normal candidacies. Our political zoos are now filled with the likes of Bachmans, Ghomerts, Brouns, Cruzes, Issa’s, Lees, Kings, etc.. Check your local legislature for carbon copies.

The second change is the proliferation of dangerous front groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Sponsored by the Koch’s and other corporate interests with a right wing agenda, ALEC and others are clearing houses used to create sample bills for introduction into the 50 legislatures and Congress. The current rash of anti-gay, “religious freedom” and voter suppression garbage can be traced back to these various sources. They’re “one-size-fits-all” copies intended to flood statehouses and Congress. Some die Some don’t.

For those who want additional proof – check out what’s happened to the anti-gay bills signed into law in nearly a dozen states. As one federal court after another strikes them down one by one, the wording in the decisions is almost as uniform as wording in what’s being tossed out.

Something dangerous is afoot here. As state after state passes this junk – and as court after court cancels much of it – judges are in the position of making law rather than deciding it. They do so by overruling legislature after legislature. One state loses and ten more lose as well.

There’s also the issue of those few bad laws that might survive lower federal courts moving up to the U.S. Supreme Court. That puts SCOTUS in the position of not just deciding federal constitutional questions but also state laws by the handful. So, what happens to the balance of power among the three branches of government? Or the sovereignty of states? Or, if SCOTUS refuses to hear the appeals, then what?

There’s much more at stake in examples like the Arizona Legislature making bad law. Or Idaho. Or Oregon. We’ve got a cancer of single-minded minorities shoving self-serving agendas through the 50 states – agendas that don’t respect the rights and privileges of the citizenship the rest of us enjoy and are entitled to by law.

You may be comfortable on your pillow at night with having SCOTUS and Chief Justice Roberts acting as freedom’s backstop for this legislative effluent. Me? I’m not sleeping nearly as well.

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Uncategorized

carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

Idaho Senator Jim Risch’s cruise to easy re-election just may not be the lock Republicans would like to think.

A poll of 773 Idaho voters (the margin of error is +/- 3.5%) during late February by Public Policy Polling revealed some potential problems for the often acerbic, staunchly conservative senator who is the 15th most wealthy member of Congress.

The numbers have to be heartening for Risch challenger Nels Mitchell, a successful Boise raised attorney seeking his first public office.

There are two key numbers that incumbents, pundits and lobbyists give careful scrutiny: the favorability number and the re-elect. Both in the case of Risch signal potential problems.

Risch’s favorability number was 47% (22% very favorable, 25% somewhat favorable). An old and venerable political rule of thumb is that anytime an incumbent’s number is below 50% there’s trouble on the horizon.

Even more troubling for Risch was the so-called re-elect number. The question can be posed several ways: “If the election for the U.S. Senate were held today, would you vote for Senator Risch?” Or, “Given what you know today regarding Senator Risch and his record, would you return him to office or would you consider someone else?”

According to the PPP, only 36% of Idaho voters are solidly committed to Risch while 48% think it is time to consider someone else. Like many Republicans, Risch is especially in trouble with women voters, particularly independent women voters, as well as Democratic women voters and pro-choice Republican women.

Almost half the respondents to the poll (45%) said they were less likely to support Risch because of his vote against the Violence Against Women Act. Some 31% said they were more likely to vote for him because of that vote.

Many Idaho voters also are critical of the Senator’s mishandling of Republican House colleague Mike Simpson’s proposed Boulder-White Clouds legislation. Some 46% of those responding said they were less likely to vote for the Senator because of his meddling obstructionism, while 25% said they would be more likely.

The poll appears to confirm anecdotal evidence that Risch has laid some seeds that could result in a huge upset come November. The Senator’s comments to Idaho Statesman political editor Dan Popkey a year ago last December regarding the easy path he was pursuing because nothing was getting done in gridlocked Washington, D.C., and that he could in effect put it on cruise control forever, in contrast to the hard job he found his seven months as governor to be, still rankles many.

His globe-trotting, often with wife Vicki, because he is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, does not appear to relate to or benefit Idaho business interests. His boastful pride in being designated the most conservative member of the U.S. Senate, a veritable abominable “No” man regardless of the merit of various legislation, his insensitivity to the less fortunate in our midst who aren’t sheltered from the vicissitudes of life by the millions he has – all of these combined could spell trouble in November.

The key will be whether Nels Mitchell can raise the money to get his message out that it’s time for a change and that Idaho needs a senator who will work constructively for the citizenry. Reportedly, Mitchell has been working hard at tapping an extensive network of friends across Idaho and from New York to Los Angeles for the kind of money it will take to exploit the cracks appearing in the Risch armor.

Time will tell, but there’s a glimmer of hope in these numbers for Mitchell, and a clear “stormy seas” ahead message for Risch.

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Carlson Idaho

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)

Otter’s role in straight-to-video western (Boise Statesman)
Guns-on-campus passes House (Boise Statesman, Nampa Press Tribune, TF Times News, Lewiston Tribune, Pocatello Journal, Moscow News, Sandpoint Bee)
Tribal police can go after a little more (Lewiston Tribune)
Clarkston developing business park (Lewiston Tribune)
WSU forum considers tobacco ban (Moscow News)
Albertsons-Safeway merger ahead (Nampa Press Tribune)
Juvenile Corrections suit moves ahead (Nampa Press Tribune)
Payday loan regulation bill advances (Nampa Press Tribune, TF Times News)
Muslim invication at Pocatello council (Pocatello Journal)
NIC-Sandpoint gets some state expansion funding (Sandpoint Bee)
Inquiry done on shooting of Filer dog (TF Times News)

City, union make agreement (Corvallis Gazette Times)
Albertsons, Safeway merger ahead (Eugene Register Guard)
Obama budget has Eugene bus funds (Eugene Register Guard)
Strong salmon run in Klamath (KF Herald & News)
Legislature hit final budget items (Portland Oregonian, Salem Statesman Journal, KF Herald & News)
SOU faculty make no confidence vote (Ashland Tidings)
Zoning issues threaten port development (Pendleton East Oregonian)
Senate rejects class action bill (Pendleton East Oregonian)
National labor board blasts longshoremen (Portland Oregonian)

Machinists get new leader (Everett Herald)
More radioactive waste found from tanks (Kennewick Herald)
More surface water set for Odessa area (Kennewick Herald)
Debate over huge fish catch by Pasco man (Kennewick Herald)
Albertsons, Safeway merger ahead (Spokane Spokesman, Tacoma News Tribune, Longview News)
Work on Olympic dam delayed by rain (Port Angeles News)
LaPush harbor may get dredging funds (Port Angeles News)
Boeing pensions plan adjusted (Seattle Times, Tacoma News Tribune)
Veteran tuition bill may fail despite broad support (Seattle Times)
March rainfall hitting record (Tacoma News Tribune)
Commissioners review state of Clark County (Vancouver Columbian)
Inslee weighs on teacher reviews (Vancouver Columbian)
More water for Yakima basin (Yakima Herald Republic)

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First Take

ridenbaugh Northwest
Reading

From a March 6 post on the Boise Guardian.

At the risk of posting another typical “growthophobe” story, we offer up a major caution in the rush to embrace the Gardner folks’ latest plan for downtown Boise.

As wise businessmen, they are gathering as much public funding as possible to build on some pretty small plots adjacent to the Grove Hotel and the U.S. Bank building.
Plans for their “City Center Plaza” call for buy-ins from Valley Transit for an underground transit hub as well as the Greater Boise Auditorium District which has money burning a hole in its pocket collected from the hotel tax.

There will be assorted easements and complex deals regarding above and below ground ownership as well. The Urban renewal agency, Capital City Development Corp (CCDC) will also give taxpayer funds to Gardner.

It wasn’t long ago that Mark Rivers was the heart throb of city development politicos. He went with the Lt. Guv to Europe, was featured speaker at the City Club and offered all sorts of plans to supplement his BoDo project. Well, BoDo was built, tenants have come and gone, a third of the parking spaces in the public parking garage are not available to the public and the rest of the spaces are so cramped they keep body shops in business fixing dents. It’s a success.

For more hints on why Rivers has faded from prominence, just do a Google search for MARK RIVERS DEVELOPER.
Gardner has filled the hole in the ground with the Zion’s Bank building and is looking for more. The problem we see is the urban renewal district expires in 2017. We expect some manipulation of the law and funds in order to extend the CCDC jurisdiction beyond 2017. The best we can learn from sources is “its unclear” who owns what and who pays after 2017.

In conclusion, we urge caution in putting too much faith–and public money–in one developer. We joke that “downtown Boise is so crowded no one goes there.” Jamming more buildings into our once “quaint” downtown creates shadows on existing structures, high winds with the venturi effect, and blocks the scenic views from many angles.

Washington, D.C. doesn’t allow tall buildings and that isn’t all bad. Our message is to reassess the need and desire to fill all the surfaces with megastructures. Do we really want to hide the capitol from view and create a big city feel?

Some would say building downtown condos, megastructures, etc. creates a demand for more traffic which can then be managed with a transit system which needs a transit center, which makes the foundation for another tall building…we see another Fairview and Eagle, but with no sunshine.

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Reading

malloy CHUCK
MALLOY

 
In Idaho

Governor Butch Otter, as the leader of Idaho’s Republican Party, should have clout when it comes to issues such as closed primaries. But on this issue, party loyalists are more likely to listen to former Sen. Rod Beck than Otter. Now, the governor is stuck with a voting system that could bite him on the backside as he seeks his third term in office.

Conventional wisdom suggests that Otter should have no trouble sailing through the primary and winning re-election. I’m not buying it.

With a closed primary and a probable low voter turnout, Senator Russ Fulcher has a legitimate shot at pulling off the upset. Fulcher doesn’t have Otter’s bankroll, and the media is largely ignoring his campaign. But Fulcher has one big thing on his side: People who vote in primary elections and have no hesitation about registering as Republicans. Tea party supporters and social conservatives aren’t bothered by the lack of press coverage; they don’t care much for Idaho newspapers anyway.

So Fulcher has a clear path to victory. The first step is rounding up those who supported Congressman Raul Labrador and former Bill Sali. Fulcher has served plenty of red meat to that crowd, voicing his displeasure with Obamacare and Common Core. The senator can count on help from social conservatives, who learned a long time ago that political power comes from voting in primary elections. Otter is many years removed from a DUI arrest and participating in tight-jeans contests, but religious conservatives have long memories and Fulcher is about as squeaky clean as a politician can get. Fulcher also could look to support from those advocating for term limits. All they need to know is that Otter is a 71-year-old career politician who is seeking a third term in office. And there’s nothing stopping him from going for a fourth, fifth and sixth term – unless he dies, or voters boot him out.

So don’t be too quick to write off Fulcher in this election. Otter supporters may like the numbers they see. But will their voters come out on May 20? I worked with former state Senator Sheila Sorensen’s congressional campaign in 2006 and we were pretty optimistic about the numbers we saw two months before the election. Bill Sali, the most conservative candidate in the field, was the clear winner. Vaughn Ward probably felt good about his numbers two months before the 2010 primary, but his campaign imploded and Raul Labrador – the more conservative candidate — was the easy winner.

Those things happened when Republican primaries were “open” to Democrats, independents and anyone else who wanted to vote. Today’s closed-primary format sets up perfectly for Fulcher.

Otter’s concerns about closed primaries are legitimate. In a speech to Farmer’s Insurance agents, as reported by the Statesman’s Dan Popkey, the governor talked about voters’ reluctance to sign a paper declaring themselves as Republicans. As Otter accurately states, many people are disenfranchised with closed primaries, including state employees who are supposed to be non-partisan.

“Now when you sign this piece of paper, it says that ‘I am a Republican,’ and it’s the only way you can get on the Republican ballot,” he said.

In my view, it’s Otter’s own fault for allowing himself to be steamrolled on this issue. Sure, he made a few token statements in opposition to closed primaries, but he wasn’t putting himself on the line. After two embarrassing political defeats – the dismissal of Kirk Sullivan as the GOP chairman the killing of his gas-tax proposal to improve Idaho roads – Otter wasn’t about to take a third whipping.

“I didn’t think it was a good idea to do that,” Otter told the insurance agents. “But that’s what the party wanted to do and that’s what the Central Committee voted for, so that’s what we do.”

Now that’s what I call leadership … for a church mouse. Otter was merely employing the kind of political survival skills that have allowed him to hold high office for parts of four decades.

If he had stood up to the Rod Becks of this world and put up a real fight against close primaries – as one might expect from the party’s leader — he would have lost big. And he knows it.

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Idaho Malloy