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Dirk Kempthorne

Dirk Kempthorne

Seems as if someone in the Northwest should make notice of this. So here we are (with a hat tip to the reader who pointed it out). Anyone watching the State of the Union speech last night might, if especially sharp-eyed, have noticed that while most of the high-ranking United States officials were there, a member of the cabinet was not, that being Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, formerly governor and senator from Idaho.

An Associated Press report explains: "By long-standing tradition, a member of the president's Cabinet misses the speech to Congress as a precaution against the entire administration's being wiped out and to maintain the presidential line of succession. Last year, then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales did not attend. It was the Veterans Affairs secretary the year before."

One way to look at it is what might have happened if there had been a catastrophic attack. Another is by reflecting on the last two absentees; our reader ponders, "and we know what happened to them . . ."

ADDENDUM Someone else, it turns out, did make note of this - the New West Boise blog. Duly noted.

Blogging from inside

Raul Labrador

Raul Labrador

Somebody needs to start keeping track of all the blogs being started by state legislators around the Northwest. Maybe we'll do it.

Just noticed a promising new one today by Idaho Representative Raul Labrador, R-Eagle, a House freshman, hosted by the Idaho Statesman. It joins one started not many days ago by Democratic Senator David Langhorst.

A blog is, of course, only as useful as it is used, and contributed to. But these legislator views could be good reading as the sessions roll on. We're not entirely convinced, though, of the case by Representative Brandon Durst, D-Boise (whose blog we noted last year), who after running an analogy to Martin Luther concludes blogging is "the new horizon in which the truth, from the perspective of the author is only a few keystrokes a way. In short, blogging is the political reformation."

But it does indicate some ambition . . .

Rolling in foreclosures

foreclosure map

foreclosure map/RealtyTrac

The real estate market has been taken its long-predicted (here, among other places) hit, and foreclosures are rising fast. You see the headlines all over; but how do various areas compare?

A national firm, RealtyTrac (which is in the business of sales of foreclosed and distressed property), has answers including a national by-county map visible here. The areas where foreclosure rates are lowest are some of the more rural and least growth-prone around the Northwest, notably much of eastern Oregon and central Idaho

Remarkably, the three Northwest states are bunched together among the nation's 50: Idaho ranks 20th, Washington 21st, Oregon 22nd.

Could be, though, that the trend line may push them apart. The one-year increase rates in foreclosures were quite different: Oregon 12.2% higher, Washington 27.9%, and Idaho 140.5% (though there is a note that rate might be somewhat inflated because of measurement changes).

See also a Seattle Times piece on this, noting the state's high increase was in Pierce County.

Obama at Boise

And why not? Illinois Senator Barack Obama already is heavily favored for Idaho's February 5 Democratic caucuses, but a simple, short stop in the state could produce a wipeout win. The time and money investment for a short stop would be minimal; the PR and delegate gain could readily justify it.

Another thing. There ought to be a generally accepted standard that during the course of a campaign year, anyone who becomes a major party nominee for president ought to visit, even if briefly, all 50 states, not just the swings. Consider this a suggestion: Both party nominees should be pressured to do it. Among Republicans, Mitt Romney has (are there others? can't recall) and this week Obama among the Democrats. Figure that they're two who, in this regard, will be pre-qualified.

The shoeshine crisis

As long as they keep acting this way, we'll keep posting about it. Today's latest case of inanity, courtesy the Boise airport (this account of it, though, courtesy of the Idaho Statesman):

About 400 passengers at the Boise Airport about noon Friday had to go through screening a second time after a California man seeking a shoe shine entered the secure area through the exit corridor, Transportation Safety Administration officials said.
TSA officials said the man, since identified as 38-year-old Jesse Flores, of Victorville, Calif., could not immediately be located in the terminal after he bypassed security. The breech caused the Boise Airport to be closed for about one hour and 20 minutes as Boise Police and the TSA investigated.

Obama taking Idaho

Obama headquarters

Obama headquarters at Boise

The Barack Obama headquarters in Idaho are tucked away in the central Boise bench, but the fact of its existence is a little remarkable: This is the first real, long-run, fully-staffed presidential headquarters in Idaho, at least in a long time and maybe ever. No one else in either party comes close.

Their offices, which we toured this afternoon, have ongoing staff and plenty of volunteers running in and out. It's pretty much what you'd want to see in a campaign headquarters, and it's been ongoing since well into last fall. In addition to heavy phone calling, door knocking and the like, there's what sounds like solid caucus training, which is useful stuff for the maze-like process. Combine that with the long roster of Idaho Democrats who have endorsed him (including most Democratic state legislators) and you get a picture of a probable lopsided Obama caucus win on February 5. That's not evidence of whatever may happen in other states, but Obama does seem to have Idaho largely wrapped.

The Hillary Clinton forces do exist, but they're much lower key. The discussion this week has to do with the personal calls to some key Idaho Democrats (who either hadn't endorsed yet, or who were thought not to have) from no less than Bill Clinton. One on one, that could have some effect.

But in the one Northwest participant (Democratic side only) on Super Tuesday, much of the battle seems over. Unless that turns into yet another in the long series of political shocks this season.

Limited, in space and size

Geddes and Denney

Leaders face the press: Robert Geddes (left), Lawerence Denney

They probably intended to convey a workaday Idaho legislative session, nothing especially exciting here, and if that was the idea, then Idaho Senate President pro tem Robert Geddes and House Speaker Lawerence Denney succeeded.

They were at an Idaho Press Club lunch today, fielding questions on a fairly broad range of subjects, from property taxes to teacher pay to the corrections explosion. But the overarching metaphor for everything seemed to be the legislature's cramped circumstances.

The Idaho Statehouse is shut down for renovation, for this session and next moving legislators next door to the old Ada County courthouse (now referred to as the "statehouse annex"), much smaller and less comfortable quarters than before. People are stepping over each other (especially in the House), or jamming into small corners. Denney asked reporters trying to interview House members to do it off the House floor, rather than at their seats as they historically had; the closeness of the quarters means legislators might have trouble working with visitors climbing over them.The limits on freedom of movement probably have a psychological effect, too; lack of physical ambition can lead to the mental version as well. (Something like this probably affected the Washington Legislature this decadetoo, in the sessions when it also was bounced from an under-renovation statehouse; those were not especially productive sessions.)

The exploding population in jails, prisons and parole "is a problem we need to address this session," Geddes said, and probably some movement will be made, whether or not toward the private prison ideas Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter has proposed. Geddes described the problem in some detail, and he seemed quite conversant with the implications of several of the options. But as to what path any of those options might take remained unclear.

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Boom, bust and the aftermath

There's what's become an article of faith in Idaho that things would be great if only government would get out of the way and let the free market do its thing.

So you wonder what consternation there may be in the area on reading this paragraph today in the Idaho Statesman, about the recent super-heated growth followed by slowdown in the new city of Star, in northwest Ada County:

"One of the last major Valley towns with no planning and zoning commission and no design review committee, Star has a free-market mayor who didn't want government to stand in the way of private development. The boom and bust have left the city with unsold homes, half-built neighborhoods and even dangerous holes in the ground that developers abandoned without filling or covering."