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Posts published in “Northwest”

Seating arrangements

In many state legislatures, Idaho for example, a congressional-style seating pattern applies: All the members of one party sit on one side of the chamber, and all the others on the other side. As need arises (as a majority increases), one side may slop over to the other side. (In Idaho, given the massive Republican majorities in Senate and House both, Republicans occupy not only one side of the chamber but also most of the other.)

This is a kind of party separation that probably does have a subtle effect on the way members think of themselves - as people apart.

Oregon doesn't do it that way. Although the floor leaders from each party have designated seats on either side of the chamber, in the back, the other members of the caucuses are scattered around. Liberal Democrats sit next to conservative Republicans, which doesn't happen as much on Idaho, or congressional, floors.

So the interest in the idea that's been floated in D.C. about shuffling Republicans and Democrats in with each other, at least for this evening's state of the union. There's been an informal set of discussions in which members double or even triple up, leading to calling it "date night."

The Hill newspaper has pulled together a partial list.

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden (D) will be seated with Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley (R). Washington's Maria Cantwell (D) will be in a triple, with Maine Senator Susan Collins (R) and Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor (D). Representative Jay Inslee (D) of Washington's 1st district, will sit with Representative Charles Bass (R) of New Hampshire.

Not many senators and House members sitting together, though. Some standards just won't be dropped ...

Carlson on zealots

What follows is a column (previously appearing in the St. Maries Gazette-Record) by Chris Carlson, now living at Medimont, Idaho. He was one of the founders of the Gallatin Group and was from 1989 until last year its representative based at Spokane. His Gallatin bio also notes that he was "a former press secretary to Idaho Governor Cecil D. Andrus, Chris directed the U.S. Department of the Interior Office of Public Affairs during the governor’s four-year term as Secretary of the Interior under President Jimmy Carter. Following his position in Washington, D.C., Chris was appointed to the Northwest Power Planning Council by Idaho Governor John V. Evans. In 1984, he became regional vice president of public affairs for Kaiser Aluminum in Spokane." And he was a journalist before all that. He'll be contributing occasional columns in this space.


carlson
Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles


We’re all familiar with zealots, true believers who go to extraordinary lengths to attract media attention for their cause, hoping the coverage will generate new interest and fresh contributions.

In Idaho most of the zealotry we experience relates to differing visions regarding future use of natural resources and the wildlife on public lands. Thus, we sometimes see civil disobedience activities by the Alliance for the Wild Rockies or Defenders of Wildlife, protesting wolf hunts, timber sales or mining projects.

While at the Interior department serving as the director of the office of public affairs (1987-1991) I had my epiphany, my revelation about how best to handle the zealots that constantly besieged the agency. The key was to deny them the media coverage they seek.

Shortly after this insight, opportunity to apply it arrived in the form of Mitch Snyder, a self-styled social activist who had taken on the plight of the homeless people in our nation’s capital as his cause. He decided the best way to draw attention to the cause was to stage a sit-in of homeless people in D.C.’s stately Union Station.

Having just arrived home one evening, I received a call from an Interior assistant secretary, who said the Park Service police were reporting that Snyder had led 50 homeless people into Union Station and were conducting a sit-in until arrested and forcibly removed.

He wanted to know what I thought should be done. Once I ascertained they were not blocking the passage of commuters and customers to trains, I told him to direct the Park Police to do nothing until midnight.

Why midnight, he asked. Because, I explained, it was the news media picture of police carrying the homeless to paddy wagons that Snyder wanted and we weren’t going to let him have it.

At midnight, after the late evening news is over, I instructed, have the Park Police “gently” pick up demonstrators and carry them out of the station. No arrests. End of story. And that’s what happened.

Shortly after midnight, however, the assistant secretary called again to say the homeless had promptly lain down in the street in front of the station. The Park Police wanted to know what they should do now.

I said they should do nothing more. The street was the responsibility of the District’s city police, not Interior’s, and it was the city’s problem. Within minutes he was back on the phone saying the Situation Commander for the D.C. police on the scene was asking if we had any advice.

I said they ought to block off the street and leave the homeless there. It was below freezing that night and once they realized they would not be arrested they would leave before the sun rises. And that’s what happened.

Nothing ever appeared in the news media on this incident and there was no bad publicity for the Interior Department.

Fast forward a few years to the first part of this decade. Another opportunity arose for display of the principle in action when the public affairs firm I founded was retained by the president of Pacific Lumber Company (PALCO) to devise a strategy to counter tree-sitters occupying some of the spectacular Redwoods it owned.

Vexed by the long sit-in held the previous year by “Julia Butterfly,” he was determined not to be held hostage again. He asked for a counter-strategy. Our company’s game plan worked perfectly.

First, we had the client recruit and train several folks who could quickly scramble up the trees, surprise the tree-sitter, truss them up and bring them down n with removal activity happening after midnight long after reporters had gone home. We had each tree-climber wear a helmet with a small mini-camera affixed to it to record the removal and rebut any false claims (which there were) of “brutality.”

Secondly, tree-sitters were informed that by climbing a Redwood they were signing the tree’s death warrant rather than saving the tree. Any tree they scaled and perched in would immediately have a band cut around its base, much as a porcupine does, starting its demise.

The company only had to do it once and the tree-sittings were discontinued.

The key is denying zealots the attention they crave. Without it, they often wither and retreat.

Where they go

This site has a feature (we'll probably be taking it down in a bit) noting where Idaho journalists go when they leave the news media but not the state. The Center for Responsive Politics now has up something similar for members of Congress: Where do they go when they leave office?

They don't always leave Congress, exactly: Some of them go to work as lobbyists. Others in private businesses, academia or elsewhere.

No listing yet on the Northwest's most recent ex-members of Congress, Democrats Brian Baird of Washington and Walt Minnick of Idaho. But we'll be checking back in for what's reported there.

#1 from 10: The flat-line stat

The change that didn't.

From the beginning of the year to the end of the year, the region's unemployment percentages remained steady-state. It was the kind of solid, stable number that could be a good thing if it were a great deal lower. Every month, the state employment or labor departments in Washington, Oregon and Idaho would report their unemployment numbers. And every month, they would change hardly at all.

In November, Washington's unemployment rate was 9.2%, exactly the same as the month before.

A couple of weeks ago, from our Oregon Public Affairs Digest: "Oregon’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 10.6% in November, essentially unchanged from 10.5% in October. The rate has been between 10.5 and 10.7 percent for the most recent 13 months. Oregon’s unemployment rate was 10.7 percent in November 2009."

In Idaho, a little more movement up and down, but not much: "Idaho's rate, a tenth below a recession high of 9.5% in February, remained below the national rate for nine years and two months. The state rate has exceeded the year-earlier rate for 39 straight months. The rate in November 2009 was 9%."

Sooner or later, it's gotta change. But it didn't in 2010.

#2 from 10: Mega-race of the cycle

Consider the numbers. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the Senate re-elect campaign for Democrat Patty Murray raised $17.1 million, and the campaign for her Republican challenger Dino Rossi $9.6 million. Ad that doesn't count the piles of third-party money poured into the contest.

By money measures at least, the Murray-Rossi contest, widely considered at least close for several months of its run, was the largest-scale political contest so far in Northwest history. In our view, Murray probably - realistically - held a consistent if modest lead. But it was hitly contested, and Rossi demonstrated that his support around the state remained large and real, even after two losses in gubernatorial races.

It may have put an end, for a while anyway, to Rossi's run of runs. And it raised the question of what, exactly, Washington Republicans would have to do to win a statewide race - even on an election day when the party made some major gains in the legislature and picked up a U.S. House seat.

#4 from 10: Idaho’s private prison goes viral

The Idaho Correctional Center, Idaho's (and the Northwest's) first privately-run prison - operated by the Corrections Corporation of America - opened near Kuna in 2000, with a "safe operating capacity" of 1,514 - a big prison. This site predicted then that dark investigative news reports would be coming, eventually. And eventually, they did.

In 2010 came reports through the Associated Press about strong violence at the facility, which got the nickname "gladiator school." The U.S. Department of Justice launched an investigation. The AP released a stunning video showing one inmate beating another senseless, while corrections officers stood by, watched, and did not act until the attacker had walked away of his own volition. CCA complained strongly - most loudly about the AP release of the video, which went viral.

The whole private prison idea in the region took on a new coloration in 2010.

#5 from 10: The unmaking of Mayor McGinn?

McGinn
Mike McGinn

Mike McGinn has not been mayor of Seattle so long as to build up the list of critics and adversaries that any big-city mayor will develop over time. But while seemingly much more easy-going than his harder-edged predecessor Greg Nickels, he has moved quite a way down that path.

His big issue during the mayoral race was opposition to the Alaskan Way viaduct tunnel option, a stance that put him into flat opposition with many of the other regional powers. Here's one summary from Wikipedia: "After the election, requests for state employee emails revealed a discomfort with the McGinn campaign by state government and transportation officials over McGinn's anti tunnel position. Ron Judd, an aide to Washington Governor Chris Gregoire, sent emails to staff and DOT officials saying McGinn's position was "BS" and accused McGinn of stoking populist angers and relying on voter's ignorance about funding details to advance his anti-tunnel stance."

And there was much more. The city council started making on its own announcements traditionally made by the mayor - acting independently to astunning degree. After McGinn made statements that seemed to accuse the governor of lying, Gregoire seemed to diss him totally, with statements emerging that apprently cut off relations with the mayor's office in favor of the council (and working through Council President Richard Conlin). Nor does it seem that Olympia and the council is all; other power players, including much of business and labor, seems put off as well. Some liberal groups still cheer McGinn on, but he's lost a lot of the rest.

Seattle Times column Joni Balter, running through some of this, concludes, "McGinn may be a one-term mayor because he has lost contact with the silent middle in Seattle." She may be right.

All this is important to transportation issues. Beyond that, something significant is being reshuffled in the Seattle power structure.

#6 from 10: Ducks go national

No one will know until into January whether the University of Oregon Ducks can claim the title of top college football team in the country. But the team's no-loss season has already been somewhat transformative in Oregon: The interest level is much higher than the norm, with even loyal Beavers cheering on the players from Eugene.

It may matter beyond football. 2011 could be a key year for state officials to decide what to do about funding the state's perenially underfunded higher education institutions. UO has been a leader in coming up with options (one being a massive fund on which it, or others as well, could draw), most of which entail in some way greater independence from legislative control. The Ducks' adventures may have some peripheral effect on all that.

Maybe from a distance, as well, in Boise. There, the Boise State University Broncos, which have become a near-obsessional subject, had a very good but less than great season. Which was not enough for some people. Could this be a point of some useful deflation in Boise?

#7 from 10: Highway 12 trucking

Highway 12 from Lewiston to Missoula is a pretty and highly scenic drive, but even drivers who are both experienced in mountain travel and driving low-center-of-gravity vehicles will find it a challenge. It has long been used by conventional truck traffic, though car drivers (and a lot of locals) dread spotting one - the clearance is often a little uncomfortable. It is twisting and in some places quite steep.

So the idea of sending indistrial loads so large they take up all of both lanes on this road, from the Port of Lewiston northeast to the oil. fields of Alberta, quickly sounded breathtakingly bad to a lot of people. As of this fall, oil companies planning such shipments had in hand state permits from the Idaho transportation department, and were about to roll when a series of court and other challenges began.

The battle, in courtrooms and hearing rooms, was still underway as the year closed out, though one major development - a hearing officer's report arguing that the shipments should be allowed - arrived just this week.

It will continue into the new year, though: The issue will go back to others at the state department of transportation. And maybe beyond.

#8 from 10: Art Robinson campaign

Some real news in this campaign: This is how far out politics got in 2010.

Art Robinson, running in the Oregon 4th district, had to be one of the most peculiar congressional candidates in the national in 2010 - and that's quite some company. A climate change denier who lives on what amounts to a remote compound, his rundown of contentions will hold up with any of the year's better known national odd candidates.

One sample quote will give some of the flavor: "Public education (tax-financed socialism) has become the most widespread and devastating form of child abuse and racism in the United States. Moreover, people who have been cut off at the knees by public education are so mentally handicapped that they cannot be responsible custodians of the energy technology base or other advanced accomplishments of our civilization. These ignorant people vote, and their votes are beginning to destroy our way of life. Can this problem be corrected? Yes. Can it be corrected by improving the public schools? No – only by abolishing them."

The arrival of such a candidate wasn't the really noteworthy thing. That would be mass of money, deep into six figures, spent on his behalf - though not through his campaign - aimed squarely at the Democratic incumbent in the district, Peter DeFazio. DeFazio himself went viral when, camera-accompanied, he took to the mean streets of D.C. to try to track down (Michael Moore style) whoever it was that financed the mass TV campaign against him. (The association which paid for it, whose title sounded like a mass grass-roots group, turned out to be a couple of wealthy guys - a hedge fund manager and a construction executive - on the east coast.)

A sign of things to come?

Oh, and there's this from Robinson's campaign web site: "Art Robinson will be running again in the 2012 election. We have made a tremendous amount of progress and if we all keep working - starting now - we will have a much better chance then."

#9 from 10: Intel expands in Oregon

In this year of depressing economic news (on levels of employment and investment within the United States, that is) - not a matter of things getting worse so much as of things stubbornly refusing to get better - the single biggest piece of business news in the Northwest in 2010 may have been a positive business expansion story.

Intel Corporation, whose largest operations (though not headquarters) long have been in Oregon, announced in the fall a massive expansion of its facilities at Hillsboro. Thousands of jobs are expected to appear in the next few years as a result of the billion-dollar expansion, which also signals a major boost to the area's high tech operations.

Watching the tech buiness news in recent weeks, in fact, some of this already seems to be happening.

#10 from 10: Minnick ousted in Idaho

Idahoans had not in 2008 elected a new Democrat to a major office in a full decade when they chose Walt Minnick to oust Republican Bill Sali. (The last was Marilyn Howard in 1998, to superintendnt of public instruction.) He was under a microscope from day one, and he took unusual efforts to align himself with the rest of the state's congressional delegation (all Republican) and to distance himself from many others in his party.

The Republican campaign to unseat him started almost immediately and became a stunning story all by itself. First a legislative insider enters, then is challenged by an unknown who turns out to have some good connections; the legislator drops out as the challenger picks up tremendous steam; another legislator enters the fray, though for months he seems a distant longshot; then the frontrunning challenger implodes, in historic, almost mind-blowing fashion. Meanwhile, Minnick organizes intensively and raises more money, by far, than anyone ever has for a U.S. House race - somewhere around five or six times as much as his Republican opponent.

And then there was the general election campaign, which was almost as hot.

Minnick was very well financed and well organized, but Republican Raul Labrador wound up trouncing him. It was a stunning loss that can't be considered, in Idaho, entirely unexpected, but still demonstrated the difficulty Idaho Democrats continue to have. Might it have the effect of causing Democrats to fundamentally rethink how to become more competitive in Idaho?