Archive for the 'Washington' Category

Jan 05 2014

Stories of two wages

oregon
RANDY STAPILUS / Washington

Two directions as to worker benefits were among the top stories of the last couple of weeks in Washington.

One was the SeaTac $15 minimum wage story, which has gone through lots of twists since the ballots were turned in a couple of months ago. It was a close race, finally narrowly passing after close review, and then facing a series of legal challenges. The last challenge resulted in a judge concluding that the SeaTac municipality could not (by virtue of an act of the Washington legislature) dictate much to the area covered by the SeaTac airport, which is where most of the city’s workers work. Still, the measure has survived at least in principle, covering some people, and making the declaration that full-time pay ought to equate to a decent standard of living.

Then there’s the Boeing machinists agreement, which is a rather different part of the territory.

The workers involved in that dispute and eventual agreement tend to make a lot more than the minimum wage; some reach into six figures. There is this, though: The union members supporting the deal seem to have done so because of concern that had they not, Boeing might have carried through on its not very subtle threat and moved a lot of highly-paid 777 activity out of the Northwest. They were not negotiating in an arms-length fashion, in other words; they were knuckling under to pressure. But only barely, with just 51% in support.

The principle of substantial work wages and benefits may be as strong around the Puget Sound as anywhere in the United States, and these two care are part of the edgy battleground.

Do not expect that as 2014 unfolds, this battleground will remain unvisited. This is some of the most sensitive policy territory people in this country will be considering over the next few years, and Washington seems to be right in the heart of it.

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Nov 19 2013

Washington by vote

Published by under Washington

A cartogram weighed by actual votes on the I-522 (GMO labeling) initiative, showing fairly clearly how the votes fell. (You can click on it for a clearer, larger view.)

wabyvote

You can see how it failed despite support in King and Snohomish.

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Nov 16 2013

A Socialist – no, really?

oregon
RANDY STAPILUS / Washington

A city council race in Seattle drawing national attention? Well, yeah, in this case. It involves the ouster of an incumbent, Richard Conlin, but that isn’t the reason. Or the fact that the race was very close, coming into clear focus only well into last week.

Rather, it was that an avowed Socialist, Kshama Sawant, appears (narrowly, at a most-recent 1,148-vote lead) to have won.

Socialists have been getting the hard-core blast in national politics for the last couple of decades, demonized to the point that their actual stances have gotten obscured. Even a writer on the Seattle Horse’s Ass blog, no stranger to liberalism, remarked, “It’s so rare that someone in government is to my left, it’ll be interesting to see what it actually looks like.”

Maybe not all that startling. Some decades ago, election of Socialists to local government offices was not especially rare. Small towns in places like Idaho used to do it with some regularity. Check out this list in Wikipedia of Socialist mayors around the country; it’s a long list. Until not so long ago, socialists weren’t that far out of the political mainstream.
(Quietly, to an extent, not so much even now: Bernie Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont, has described himself as a socialist, though generally he caucuses with the Senate Democrats and votes much as most of them do.)

So what is this exotic partisan have in mind for the council? What’s the far-out agenda?

The list of issues on her campaign web site suggests: She likes the idea of a $15 an hour minimum wage, taxpayer-funded election campaigns, labeling GMO foods, and opposition to the coal transport trains.

In other words, the kind of stuff most Seattle City Council members already pretty much support, rent control probably excepted.

The most distinctive element is the up-front quote: “Our campaign is not an isolated event, it’s a bellwether for what’s going to happen in the future.”

Activism and movement, in other words, at least as much as policy.

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Nov 05 2013

Washington through lines

oregon
RANDY STAPILUS / Washington

Do the Washington election results leave us with any particular through-lines?

You know, what with the ousting of a Seattle mayor, the rejection of a major statewide ballot issue, apparent narrow win of a Republican to take a Kitsap-area Senate seat, the seeming SeaTac adoption of a $15 minimum wage. And so on.

The major thread seems to be, for all that people are said to be riotously unhappy, a general willingness to stick with the status quo.
Could it be that after making national waves in 2012 on marijuana and gay marriage, the voters decided to more or less hang in there with what they already had this time?

That’s not a perfect or absolute suggestion, but there’s some reason to think it can fit much of what we saw.

It certainly fits I-522, the measure intended to require labeling of genetically modified food. The results in that issue weren’t a slam dunk, but the rejection may have rested in part with an unease about the idea, a sense that not all the implications were fully thought through. The range of opponents was broad, and the subject a new one for many voters to deal with. Many may have decided, understandably, that they weren’t going to back something they didn’t think they fully understood.
And the ouster of a Seattle mayor? Well, it was the defeat – the second mayoral ouster in a row, remember – of Mayor Mike McGinn. But victor Ed Murray, a veteran legislator from Seattle, is hardly unknown locally, and the two have views on issues close enough that they struggled, without much success, to figure out how to differentiate themselves. Both are liberal Democrats; Murray may be a little closer to business and organized labor (and the gay community, of course), and McGinn closer to activist Democrats. But the difference is more in the area of personality and style. Seattle voters traditionally have liked strong personalities in their mayors, and Murray may fit that mold a little more closely. Remember: Seattle voters had their choice of many options in the primary, and these were the two guys they chose. They’re shades of each other.

Incumbents did well in the Seattle council races, and, where they were challenged at all, on the King County Council. Republican Reagan Dunn was seriously challenged, but prevailed. Executive Dow Constantine had a substantial challenger, but seems never to have broken a sweat. (That race seemed hardly to generate even any headlines, unusual for a King executive race.)

The Senate rate, in which Republican Jan Angel seems (the qualifier needs to be thrown in for a bit, since the race is still close) to have won, is in part the case of a close district, sometimes Democratic leaning, but featuring a Republican candidate who runs in line with the tenor of the district and has deeper political roots and visibility than the Democrat. The upshot may make life harder for Democrats as they try to retake control of the state Senate, but the local dynamic was different from that.

You could break from the pattern a bit, probably, with SeaTac and its vote to support a $15 minimum wage. Despite the city’s small size, the ballot issue drew national attention. (The airport’s fame may have helped with that.) And maybe there’s something of a leading indicator here for the future. But the SeaTac vote was something of an outlier.

Maybe it properly goes into the “watch for more of this in 2014” folder.

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Oct 23 2013

Gentle giant

carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

Towards the end of his fine novel, Citizen Vince, Spokane journalist turned best selling novelist Jess Walter describes Vince’s encounter with an Irish politician in a bar on Sprague Avenue inside a well-known downtown Spokane hotel.

It is the day before the 1980 election and Vince, a felon placed in the Federal Witness Protection Program, has been debating for a week whether to vote given his new identity and a clean slate. He strides into the lounge, sits at the bar and asks the bartender if he can switch the tv above the booze to the news for just ten minutes even though Monday Night Football is about to begin.

The bartender politely points out that the five other patrons at the bar want the football game, but tells Vince if he can get one other patron to second his request he’ll switch for ten minutes. Vince surveys the lounge recognizing that none of those at the bar will give him a second. However, there are two gray suits sitting at a table having highballs and eating a steak.

Anyone familiar with Spokane immediately recognizes the Ridpath Hotel. The Irish politician is also recognizable – it is Tom Foley, the only person to serve as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives from the vast area west of Texas.

Vince recognizes that the larger of the two suits, a bearish but friendly looking guy, is the local congressman—he knows his name begins with F. Vince asks if the Congressman will be the second. As only a writer with a novelist’s eye can, Walter captures the puckish humor of the late Speaker:

He stands, raises a draft beer, and covers his heart. “Esteemed colleagues, the representative from Table Six in the great state of Washington – home of glorious wheat fields and aluminum plants, cool, clear rivers and snow-
capped mountains, and the finest bar patrons in this great country, proudly casts his vote in favor of ten minutes of misery and heartache courtesy of the national news.”

The guys at the bar raise their glasses in confused reverie as the bartender reaches up to turn the channel.

Anyone who ever knew Speaker Foley can easily envision this fictional scene. It captures the quintessential Foley – his humor, wit, intelligence, compassion, perspicacity, all in one brief vignette. The Ridpath, once the hotel of choice for Labor as the only “union” hotel in Spokane, has been shuttered for years. And Tom Foley passed away at the age of 84 this past week. Continue Reading »

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Sep 01 2013

An opening door

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Idaho

Since Washington and Colorado voters last year chose to create a legal marketplace for marijuana, and other nearby states like Idaho watched closely – or, like Oregon, positioned themselves to follow suit – the big question has been: What will the federal government do?

Marijuana is still banned under federal law, and nothing in the law stops federal officials and agents from swooping into Washington and Colorado (and any followup states) allowing for legal consumption, and imprisoning, at least in theory, a whole lot of people for doing something their states have okayed.

There’s also this, however: Law enforcement officials, and prosecutors, always have made choices about which laws to enforce, and how. There are far too many laws on the books, too many infractions, misdemeanors, and even felonies to even consider trying to enforce them all with equal force. (I once asked a veteran Idaho legislative staffer how many felony offenses are on the books in Idaho, and he had no idea.) Talk privately to a cop or a prosecutor, and they’ll probably acknowledge a kind of triage: usually, they enforce strenuously laws aimed at protecting people from some kind of specific harm. Murder and other violent crime, for example, are very high priority, which seems to make sense.

When Attorney General Eric Holder on Thursday issued his department’s policy on marijuana in the age of state legalization, he seemed to bear that concept in mind. As an operating principle, he said, the department would let Washington and Colorado (and other states) do their thing on “marijuana-related conduct” – but he also provided a collection of eight red flags that might draw in federal responses.

Those “enforcement priorities”, listed in a “memorandum for all United States attorneys”, include keeping pot from being distributed to minors; keeping money from marijuana sales out of the hands of criminal elements; keeping pot from seeping out of smoking states to non-smoking states; keeping legal market activity from being used as a cover for illegal activity; preventing violence or use of firearms in cultivation and distribution; preventing drugged driving; avoiding grows on public lands; and barring marijuana use on federal lands.

In deciding whether the feds should jump in, the memo said, “The primary question in all cases – and in all jurisdictions – should be whether the conduct at issue implicates one or more of the enforcement priorities listed above.”

The point might be made, though it wasn’t explicitly by the department, that all these things already have been happening under prohibition, and that a legal market regime might be best judged not by absolute compliance but by improvement.

Still, while the new federal rule is a long way from an open free-for-all – a totally free marketplace? – it has set down for the first time a set of rules under which states could legalize without risk of federal pre-emption. That may be important.

It’s likely, for example, to increase the odds (already favorable) that Oregon will vote for legalization next year, since the terms of federal cooperation now are a lot clearer.

And for Idaho, the question will arise: How can Washington (and maybe Oregon, and conceivably Nevada too) draw the line at their border so that legal pot doesn’t cross to the Gem State? Does the border at Idaho, totally porous without any slowdowns to the west now, start to sprout checkpoints and enhanced law enforcement?

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Aug 29 2013

One-party or dominant?

Published by under Washington

Let’s get our terminology straight here.

New Republican Chair Susan Hutchison, a former TV news figure who ran a while back for the non-partisan office of King County executive, was doing some splashing of cold water at one of her figure public talks since the election. Of her party’s status in Washington, she said:

“What we have now is a one-party system: We don’t get push back.”

Um, no.

If you want to see a one-party state, look across the border to Idaho. There you will find Republicans only, and some years now, in statewide offices, in congressional offices, in more than four-fifths of the legislature, and in nearly all of the courthouses. And very few of the general elections are close.

Washington does have one Republican left among the statewides, though some of the races (such as for governor) often have been close. But it also has four of the 10 U.S. House seats, and enough seats in the legislature that Republicans were able to win functional control this term of the state Senate. And there are plenty of Republicans in local office.

In Washington, Republicans are in the minority, and Democrats are dominant. But if you want see some one-party places, you need to look elsewhere.

She’s right to point out that Republicans have the tougher hand to play in Washington. But is it hopeless? No. Depending, of course, on how the party and its candidate play the cards they do have.

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Aug 27 2013

The Seattle mayor map

oregon
RANDY STAPILUS / Washington

After the results settled from the Seattle mayoral primary – or is it pre-runoff? – Seattle political consultant Benjamin Anderstone mapped the results by precinct. You can see the results via the PubliCola site.

Publicola carried Anderstone’s summing up:

Here’s the results for the 2013 Primary for Seattle mayor. Mike McGinn (green) performed well in young, highly urban areas. Bruce Harrell (yellow) did very strongly in ethnically diverse neighborhoods. Peter Steinbrueck (blue) won a few precincts, mostly ones with lots of long-time voters. Ed Murray (red) basically cleaned up the rest of the Democratic vote, doing especially well in wealthier zones.

That seems about right, looking at the precincts and their coloration, but is there might we might draw?

First, it seems that McGinn’s base from four years ago stayed with him. He had a young, somewhat idealistic, base back then, and he seems to have retained it – but he also seems not to have expanded a lot beyond it. Young idealists aren’t an operating majority.

In the runoff, he faces legislator Ed Murray, who seemed to do notably well in all the precincts not dominated by specific ethnic minorities, the elderly, and the notably young. But there’s a catch: It’s a little easier in saying that to define what Murray’s base isn’t, than what it is.

A little more definition will be needed, and may be unavoidable, between here and November.

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Aug 21 2013

A rightward drift

Published by under Washington column

oregon
RANDY STAPILUS / Washington

A few minutes before writing this I was reading a column by conservative Myra Adams in the Daily Beast, inquiring about whether a Republican can win the 270 electoral votes needed to become president in 2016, and concluding that as matters sit, probably not.

She started with this: “As I was chatting with a man in his mid-30s, the conversation turned to the 2016 presidential race. When I asked him who he was supporting as the Republican nominee, his answer was Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul. Then I was prompted to ask the question I ask every Republican after they tell me their preferred candidate: “Do you think Rand Paul can win 270 electoral votes?” The man immediately replied, “I never thought about that.” … let me state that the concept of nominating someone more conservative than ever in 2016 is a foregone conclusion among the Republican base.”

But, she suggested, a general election win by a Republican is extremely unlikely under those conditions.

In a somewhat different context, Danny Westneat of the Seattle Times makes a similar point in a column today, in considering the prospective candidates for state Republican Party chair.

He quoted one: “American before partisan, conservative before republican, dead before liberal.”

Another: “Will the Jews face another Holocaust? We know that babies have been facing their Holocaust. Abortions and infanticides.”

A third: “Social Security: The Statist Fraud that Undermines Everything Else.”

And then there’s state Senator Pam Roach who, he notes, may be running “to lead a party that has tried to bar her in the past for bad behavior.”

And sundry others who argue that the party’s big mistake has been trying to cave to the political center.

Odds are that the Republican Party will make a political recovery one day. But that day does not seem to be soon.

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Aug 17 2013

Way up in Prince Rupert

Published by under Washington

oregon
RANDY STAPILUS / Washington

The port of Prince Rupert, way up on the coast in Canada, is a growing proposition, a modern and expanding port. But you have to wonder if $109 in savings – over ports to the south in, say, Seattle or Tacoma – is the big reason why.

Here, for example, is the lead of a Tacoma News Tribune story on the subject: “Every big metal container of imported cargo delivered by ship from the growing port of Prince Rupert, B.C., to the American Midwest now enjoys an instant $109 shipping cost advantage over containers imported through U.S. ports such as Tacoma and Seattle, courtesy of the U.S. Government.”

It makes sense for people in Washington to ask the question, and the state’s senators, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, have. And answered it in their new legislation to eliminate the long-standing Harbor Maintenance Tax, which apparently “is not being fully collected” but nonetheless is driving shippers to unload their Pacific goods in either Canada or Mexico, at points far from their ultimate destinations in the United States. They would replace it with a Maritime Goods Movement User Fee, which would, they say, encourage commerce and at the same time generate twice as much revenue.

Would calling it a fee rather than a tax have something to do with it?

Maybe those pieces fit together somehow, but it doesn’t seem intuitive.

And there’s also this,

You may r may not even have heard of Price Rupert, even if you live in the Northwest – that’s how far away it is. It’s a smallish city of about 12,500. Services are limited. There’s also this: It is approaching as far north of Seattle (about 640 miles) as San Francisco is to its south (about 800). And you can;t get there in anything approaching a straight line – you have to go deep into interior BC to get from the Seattle area to PR.

It’s a long way, a very long way, to get product shipped by road from Price Rupert to the population centers of the United States.
A very long way. And the cost of shipping over that distance would surely be a lot more than $109.

Of course, Prince Rupert would seem to make perfect sense as a delivery point for equipment to the Alberta oil fields, equipment shipping and delivery causing so much heartburn in the U.S northwest.

You might think.

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Aug 06 2013

Murray-McGinn

Published by under Washington

oregon
RANDY STAPILUS / Washington

Yeah, there were plenty of people saying incumbent Seattle Mike McGinn might not even make the runoff in today’s primary election. You can understand why, given the history: Four years ago, incumbent Mayor Greg Nickels, who was a much more experienced and seemingly stronger candidate, ran in third place behind McGinn (who came in a narrow first) and Joe Mallahan (second).

McGinn just hasn’t seemed like a strong, dominant leader. the narrative since before he took office was that this guy was running the city. When Governor Chris Gregoire had to meet with a Seattle leader on transportation issues, she met with people from the Council. Nickels, at least, had been a forceful presence.

But maybe that matter of personality shouldn’t be read, as a matter of popularity with the voters, quite so simplistically. McGinn has been underestimated over and over.

Okay. Some context, then.

Political calculus is that an incumbent forced into a runoff – in other words, an incumbent (whether that’s Mayor of Seattle or a council member at Baker City) who fails to get 50% of the vote in the primary, is in trouble for the general election. Incumbents usually pull their full weight first time around; they don’t usually pick up many votes from voters who already have opted to change the occupant of the office. That’s true even if you come in first, but under 50%, in the primary. And McGinn came in second, with only 27% of the vote, to Ed Murray’s 30%.

The odds have to favor Murray for the November faceoff.

But don’t be too quick to write this off. A great deal will depend on what kind of face Murray presents to the Seattle electorate. As he puts that effort together, he may want to reflect on the particular personal qualities that voters have found appealing so far in McGinn. There are reasons, after all, why he’s the mayor and, say, Greg Nickels is not. Even under these conditions, he should be underestimated at risk.

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May 30 2013

First take: Quiet watchdog

Published by under First Take,Washington

news

QUIET WATCHDOG Washington’s Public Disclosure Commission has had a fairly good reputation, at least in some quarters, for watchdogging reporting and ethics issues in state government. But is that reputation inflated? The Associated Press has a powerful piece out about the agency’s deficiencies. Oddities in reports by lobbyists and campaigns, oddities that go unchallenged, are becoming increasingly commonplace, the article suggests. And “The Associated Press found cases in which lobbyists failed to properly complete basic forms, failed to disclose details of their expenses or regularly filed reports past their deadlines. Some lobbyists indicated they didn’t know the rules until reporters started asking questions.” Not to say, though it should be, that the population of reporters doing the asking is shrinking, rapidly.

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Apr 26 2013

“License to hate”

Published by under Washington

You might think that a big warning sign might have been posted, in letters too large and obvious to ignore, somewhere in the Washington Senate Republican caucus, a clear message: Don’t give the Democrats social-issue raw meat. Stick to taxes and budgets; leave the rest for another day.

But no. Here’s the text (all but a link) of what may be the Senate Democrats’ last press release of the session: “With literally hours left in the 2013 session, and virtually nothing to show for more than 100 days of work, 11 Republicans have decided their time would be best spent rolling back civil rights.”

The measure in question is Senate Bill 5927, and has to do with civil rights. Here is how one Democrat, Senator Kevin Ranker, described it: “if you own a business in our state and don’t like gay people because of religious beliefs, philosophical beliefs or just because you don’t, you will no longer have to provide services or sell your goods to any gay people. How’s that for progress? This of course all stems from the case of a florist in Richland who decided to not provide flowers for a gay couple’s wedding. Providing legal protection for this kind of bigotry takes us back to the days before Martin Luther King Jr., and attempts to reopen an issue that has been settled history in this country for decades.”

You will be hearing about all the way through 2014, as the parties battle for more outright control of the Washington Legislature.

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Apr 19 2013

How it plays

Published by under Reading,Washington

ridenbaugh Northwest
Reading

When a party takes over a legislative chamber, especially by a modest margin, the incentive ought to be to play it cautiously, stay relatively moderate, and not overstep. That’s even more the case if you’re in the position the Washington Senate Republicans hold today: In effective control of the chamber (with crossover help from two conservative Democrats), even though the voters didn’t give them a majority at the ballot. Stepping carefully, and cooperating with the opposition, would seem to be in order.

That’s not been happening. You needn’t buy all the Democratic spin to get that the Senate Republicans have been operating more as if they had a large and secure majority in the chamber. This may come back to bite them.

How that may happen is suggested by an April 17 press release from Democratic Senator Nick Harper, which seems to outline clearly Democratic talking points next year:

Sen. Nick Harper, D-Everett, released the below statement following Wednesday’s cutoff to consider bills from the opposite chamber.

“When the Republicans took control of the Senate, they said their style of governing would be one of ‘policy over politics.’

“Four months later, their policies have proven to be purely political.

“They have operated in lockstep with the National Republican agenda, rolling back rights of working families, denying women access to reproductive choices, preventing aspiring Americans education options and doing absolutely nothing to prevent gun violence, most recently refusing to vote on HB 1840, which would have helped protect victims of domestic violence from gun violence.

“This bill passed the House with bipartisan support and was further amended in the Senate to address concerns raised by organizations such as the NRA. This is a yet another piece of common sense firearm legislation left to rot on the vine by the Republican majority.

“Their values are not the values of the majority of Washingtonians and they have demonstrated that every misstep of the way.

“This ‘Coalition’ of 23 Republicans and two ‘Democrats’ is firmly in the hands of a few far-right ideologues who have threatened to walk should any legislation that doesn’t line up with their FOX News-view of the world advance to the Senate floor.

“One session after seizing control, Washington state has at best been stuck in neutral and at worst been thrown in reverse.”

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Mar 28 2013

Inslee off the fence

cascades RANDY
STAPILUS
 
West of
the Cascades

A broad take on Jay Inslee, in the few months since he was elected and then sworn in as Washington’s governor, has been that he’s full of smiles and intentions of working with everybody, but that there’s not been a lot of coming down clearly on policy, one way or another.

That ended today, as these things often do, with numbers.

His proposed budget calls for $1.2 billion in targeted education increases, among other things. His thematic statement was that “I feel deeply that my number one priority is to help rebuild our economy, get people working again, and take important steps toward building a workforce for the future. And that begins with education.”

Also begins with spending more than Republicans would like, and that’s notably important among the Republicans who now control the Senate.

From Inslee’s press release: “Inslee has said repeatedly that the state cannot fund its basic education obligations by making deeper cuts to vital services for children, seniors and vulnerable adults. Instead, the Governor proposes closing tax breaks and extending tax rates set to expire June 30 — a 0.3 percent business and occupation tax surcharge paid by doctors, lawyers, accountants and others and a 50-cent-per gallon beer tax.”

That sets out with some clarity what he wants to do. It also marks out the battleground for the remainder of the session – or, if he holds to his determination (he and the House Democrats), however many subsequent special sessions lie in wait.

This has become a battle of wills. If Inslee’s approach has been to build up political chits till now, he’s reached the point where spending them will become necessary.

Washington’s legislative session is about to get a lot more interesting: The sides have now begun to fully collide.

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    It Happened in Idaho
    by Randy Stapilus
    Globe-Pequot Press
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    Camping Idaho
    by Randy Stapilus
    Globe-Pequot Press
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