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A GOV CANDIDATE With the presumption that Oregon Democratic Governor John Kitzhaber will be seeking re-election next year, and the high improbability of serious primary opposition, the question has been floating in the air for a while: Who’s his Republican opponent? Well, one has surfaced: Jon Justesen, a rancher from small Sherman County whose political experience consists of losing a county commission race there. He’s first in, but don’t expect he’ll be the last: He’s pro-choice and pro-immigrant and pro-sales tax. This may be an indicator, though, of how difficult Republicans will find corralling a truly credible challenger.

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THE PLEDGE A solution in search of a problem? A bill now headed to the Oregon House floor would require that every classroom has to conduct a pledge of allegiance – though, per court decisions, students cannot be required to participate – and every one would have to maintain an American flag to salute. What exactly is the problem this is intended to counter?

WALDEN’S KERFLUFFLE Oregon Representative Greg Walden is in the U.S. House leadership and is even in charge of the caucus’ campaign committee, which might suggest he’s all but immune to intra-party conflict. But not so. A remark critical of cuts to Social Security increases, included in President Obama’s proposed budget, drew a sharp rebuke from House Speaker John Boehner and earned Walden a target on his back for the Club for Growth, which indicates it is encouraging a primary challenge for him. As with the Club’s targeting of similarly centrally-positioned Mike Simpson in Idaho, this seems like folly, though in-party battles often do have consequences one way or another.

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THE ANTI-LEVY Revealing piece in the Vancouver Columbian about the source of a campaign against the Battle Ground school district’s regular levy: A retired Spokane tire dealer, with a couple of other residents of the city on the far side of the state. What he positions as a crippling tax increase is actually just a replacement for an already-existing levy, to be imposed at a lower rate than the old one. So many ballot issue campaigns degenerate to this.

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ZERO TV Not a totally local story, but this comment in the Seattle Times website was irresistible: “If cable companies would let us pick the few channels we DO want to have, instead of making us pay for loads of toilet bowl filler that we don’t want, they’d have more subscribers.” The article, originally in the Los Angeles Times, is about corporate concerns over the growing number of people cutting cable TV, and even broadcast, and using online steaming and other Internet sources for their viewing entertainment. (We do, almost entirely, in our household.)

POT IMPAIRMENT A possibly significant decision out of the Idaho Court of Appeals on a case involving a man who had consumed marijuana – at some point fairly recently – and was arrested on DUI, charged with under the influence of pot. His erratic driving doesn’t seem to be at issue, but the cause of it was: He said that he has paranoid schizophrenia and bipolar disorder (sounds like a great guy to get out on the road in the first place), and there was no evidence he had ingested the pot recently, as in the last day or two. The pot-longevity question may be of some significance in places like Washington state, which are in the process of reviewing a number of laws in that area.

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VANCOUVER DEVELOPMENT This was in the Briefing last week but certainly merits another highlight: What might be the single most transformative building project now up in the Northwest. It is a waterfront building effort in Vancouver on the shore of the Columbia River, where old mill property once was. A region once cut off from downtown by road and rail ways, it’s now poised to become a major adjunct to downtown, and maybe over time even the center of it. A very big deal, highlighted on the front page of the Oregonian today.

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PERS STAREDOWN The Oregonian describes it as “the staredown phase” at the Oregon Legislature, on the subject of PERS changes. So it seems to be, with opposing sides seemingly dug in and holding cards. The House Democrats (led, apparently rather tightly, by Speaker Tina Kotek) have dug in a small-bore set of changes to the state employee retirement system package, which is one of the most generous in the country and is digging deep into budget capabilities for everything else. House Republicans, in the minority and preferring larger-bore changes (scalebacks in payout), have no way to block that, but they do have enough votes to block prospective tax increases that would be needed if PERS changes are kept on the small side. Governor John Kitzhaber, pre-session, proposed a way (a middle path) to straddle those sides. Could it come down to whether he is able to negotiate compromise? Something like that has happened before in the last couple of sessions; this could be the iron test.

SCHOOL BUDGET PATH Last week’s Senate floor rejection of the Idaho public schools budget seemed enough like a narrow turf fight over relatively minor issues, among people who ordinarily are not locked in battle with each other, than it didn’t (and doesn’t) seem like a long-term dealbreaker. So it seems: The Idaho Ed News site reports “Sen. Dean Cameron said a series of meeting between lawmakers late Monday went well enough that he sees “a path forward” to solving the Legislature’s school budget dilemma and adjourning as early as Thursday.”

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DYSFUNCTION JUNCTION The Idaho Legislature has its problems, and many public school advocates would be quick to list them, certainly in terms of this session. But note too a recently-posted piece by Senator Steven Thayn, R-Emmett: “I believe the 2013 legislative session has been a dysfunctional session as far as education issues are concerned. There is a lack of common direction, agreed upon goals, or methods needed to accomplish these undefined goals. The legislature is drowning in information without direction.

“This confusion has lead to conflicting policies. The Legislature is restoring some of the cuts to teacher salaries while at the same time making it easier for the school districts to reduce teacher salaries. Also, there is a desire to give parents choice in education but opposition to funding charter schools. This confusion is to be expected with the defeat of the propositions in November. What should be the direction of education reform? Many, especially the Idaho Education Association (teachers union), assert that anything the voters rejected in November should not be addressed this session. “The voters have spoken” is the refrain. I, personally, do not know exactly what the voters really meant except for one thing — the voters did not like the process. The voters felt like the Governor, Superintendent of Public Instruction, and the Legislature simply imposed a plan on the teachers without the teachers input. They want the stakeholders to work together.”

Suspicion here is that they wanted more than that. But useful thought processes begin with an acknowledgement that one doesn’t have all the answers, something Thayne certainly is doing here.

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BOEING JOBS It’s not just how many jobs; it’s also what kind of jobs, and how much they pay. That may give some outsized significance to the report out today about the prospect that Boeing may moved hundreds of white collar jobs from the Puget Sound area south to California. In the Seattle Times: “The company’s blue-collar workforce last week learned Boeing would shrink the ranks of machinists by more than 2,000 this year, including about 800 layoffs. Boeing’s white-collar workforce in the region will also lose some jobs — though the process will be more piecemeal.”

IDAHO MEDICAID You might think that the idea of sending tax money to the federal government only to deliberately get less of it back might be a winning arguing point … even in Idaho. A Medicaid committee set up by Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, no fan of the feds, says as much, that such “leaves Idaho citizens in the frustrating dilemma of Idaho federal tax dollars supporting expansion in other states, while our taxpayers reap none of the benefits. We urge serious consideration of the negative consequences of delaying expansion.” As matters stand, though, legislative leaders seem poised to block even consideration of the idea this year.

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BUDGET INTERACTIVE Should’ve been the state, specifically the legislature, doing this. But there’s nothing wrong with the effort by the Seattle Times: An interactive that allows people to make their own choices about what the state budget should look like. Budget choices are priority choices, after all. The Times introduces its interactive this way: “State lawmakers have a big problem: The next two-year state budget faces a shortfall of up to $1.3 billion. And on top of that, the state Supreme Court has said Washington isn’t meeting its obligation to fully fund basic education. Meeting that mandate could cost an additional $500 million to $1.7 billion over the next two years, depending on whom you ask. Here’s your chance to decide how you would balance the state budget and increase education funding at the same time.” But did they have to call it a budget “game”?

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AUTO-REGISTRATION Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown is proposing to make Oregon the second most open state in the country as regards voting. (First: North Dakota, which requires no voter registration at all.) Brown’s proposal would still require it, but automatically register everyone within certain categories; obtaining a drivers license probably would be the big one. It’s unclear how many more people actually would cast ballots under this approach; but then, since Oregon’s approach to ballots is to mail them out, it might in fact increase turnout a bit. The parties seem to be looking at this cautiously but not with pre-emptive disdain. The debate may be interesting; this will be fun to watch.

TELEVISION STANDARDS You do know how much impact state memorials – which are basically letters sent by a state legislature to someone else – have when they get to Washington? (The phrase “toilet paper” comes to mind.) So now the Idaho House is on record (57-13) calling on the Federal Communications Commission to more rigorously support “standards of decency” on broadcast television. Never mind that that amounts to a steadily shrinking portion of the viewing environment, an island amid the unregulated. HJM 2 may be the least efficacious piece of legislation we’ve seen in the Northwest this season.

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