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Sali’s divergence

Bill Sali

Bill Sali

Two strains have been running in the first few months of Idaho Representative Bill Sali's tenure in Congress. On one hand, to a degree, he has positioned himself as simply another member of the conservative Republican Idaho delegation, alongside Senators Larry Craig and Mike Crapo and House member Mike Simpson. He's had regular lunches with Simpson, patching up a contentious relationship from years past, and he's had his place in statements "from the delegation."

He hasn't, yet, done much that seems likely to hurt him among the operating majority of 1st district voters, and there haven't been any wild explosions from afar (that we've seen reported).

But there is a growing body of votes marking him as different from the other three, and it's starting to become noticed. The national satiric web site Jesus' General posted a sort of open latter to Sali as one "of only seven to oppose helping torture victims, one of twenty who is willing to defund science, and one of a very few who supports enhancing our oceans with chemicals and our leisure time with cockfighting and dogfighting."

Yes, these have been documented, in part due to the watchfulness of the Mountain Goat Report blog, which has been tracking his votes. Its most recent post concerns the Torture Victims Relief Act of 2007, which passed the House 418-7, Sali being among the minority.

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Checking out the port

Port of Seattle

Port of Seattle

Not something we've paid great attention to up to now, but maybe should: A range of issues at the Port of Seattle (maybe other ports, too) that seem to be accelerating.

There's a good quick overview, with links to the Seattle Times and elsewhere, in the Slog. The immediate trigger has to do with a big severance package where none seemed to be indicated, but other issues bob up nearby. We'll be back in this territory again, no doubt.

Including or not

Maybe the fact that Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich spent more time in Oregon in 2004 than any other presidential candidate led to the inquiry at the Oregonian. Which was: Why no news coverage of Kucinich' introduction of articles of impeachment against Vice President Dick Cheney? (At least, until after a bunch of readers inquired.)

The answer is, basically, that national wire services and other news sources had little if anything to say about it: "No wire service purchased by The Oregonian filed a story on Kucinich filing the articles of impeachment. Not one wrote an article about it, or budgeted it." The editor's blog item is worth a scan about how these things work.

Paying for growth

Meridian School DistrictThe high cost of growth is essayed in a new post at the Boise Guardian, by way of pointing out that Meridian residents will choose, on May 15, whether to approve a new school bond.

Write Mike Hawk points out that the district is

asking us to pony up a $30 million dollar bond to build four new schools, purchase twenty school buses and other items essential to the education of the children.

New schools will be built right in the middle of new subdivisions—full of kids— and older schools are cast to the back of the line for funds. A little known fact is that Lake Hazel Elementary is still on septic and the system has failed in the past two years. Past bonds didn’t fix the problem—that money went to growth.

Meridian’s City Council has taken initial steps to charge higher impact fees for roads that facilitate growth. Schools need the same authority. We should not be forced to subsidize the development community. We can take little comfort knowing the Zone 2 representative is a real estate agent.

The growth is real enough. The Meridian district's web page says "Once again this year, the district has experienced unprecedented growth in student enrollment, with more than 1,700 new students enrolling at the start of this school year. Since November, enrollment has increased by an additional 400 students."

Comments on the bond range across varied ground, from residents saying they haven't been notified of the proposal (parents and school personnel, of course, have been) to the ongoing cost that Meridian's wild, unrestrained growth has engendered.

Another commenter: "Voting for the last school bond was so much fun we can continue to do it year after year. M3, the behemoth developer our of Arizona, that Eagle is wooing to build in the foothills, will provide land for FOUR--yes 4--schools that they'll expect Meridian School District to build, and Dry Creek Ranch has proposed TWO elementaries, and one combined Middle & High School. Again, they'll provide the land, but taxpayers must pay for the buildings. One guess as to who gets to pay for it."

Smoke and fire

cigarettesThere was a moment, early in the debate yesterday on the children's insurance fund/cigarette tax legislation (House Bill 2201), of startling eloquence harkening back to a famous speech of old. It came when Representative Ron Maurer, R-Grants Pass, warned that "we should not place our children's health on the altar of a nicotine addiction." It echoed the brilliant 1896 speech of Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan: "You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold."

Bryan, of course, lost that election, and the Oregon Republicans who stood (and walked) with Maurer on the health/cigarette bill are likely to lose, in the larger picture, as well. Bryan's wilver issue eventually fell apart; the Oregon Republicans' stance on the bill could do them some damage as well.

The bill essentially does two things. It creates a program and fund aimed at greatly expanding health insurance coverage for now-uninsured children in the state; the bill has been haggled over for months and has been significantly amended through that time, but not enough to draw substantial Republican support. Its backing has been almost entirely Democratic (and it is a primary project of Democratic Governor Ted Kulongowski). Because it involves an increase on cigarette taxes (raising the level roughly to that in neighboring Washington), it needs a 60% favorable vote in the Oregon House. To get it, five Republican votes are needed, and that's more than it could get.

The House floor debate Thursday on the bill has been described as "the most wild day ever seen on the House floor," which (after reviewing the couple of hours of activity there on the bill) is exaggeration.

The unusual activity consisted mostly of a series of procedural challenges to House Speaker Jeff Merkley (who remained tangled up in them for some time; you could only imagine how the more experienced Washington Speaker Frank Chopp would have sliced through the knots with a swift axe). The other element was the walkout, at one point, of just about all of the House members, leaving the chamber, for a few minutes, without a quorum. They included former Speaker Karen Minnis, R-Wood Village, who must have forgotten her words from June 2004, when Democrats failed to show up for a special session she had sought: “I can respect a worthy adversary if they choose to disagree with my position and vote against me. I cannot however, respect those who use their absence from the body to which they have been elected as a strategy to obstruct a vote which could result in the passage of something with which they disagree. It is a cynical rationalization, a dereliction of duty and an insult to the voters of this great state.”

But the fact that all this occurred at all is striking, since logically it should not have. These sort of activities, the guerilla warfare of legislating, is ordinarily a last resort when hopelessly losing, or else when a majority is almost violently beating down on the minority. Neither was true in this case. The issue at hand was on the floor for an ordinary vote, and the debate was proceeding in ordinary fashion; until the Republican technical questions (which did not relate to any ability to debate or vote properly) the floor status was normal. More striking was this: The Republicans essentially were guaranteed to win the vote, which in the end they did.

We can only suppose here that they did what they did because it was the winning that constituted the problem.

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An absolute decision

We have a hard time absorbing the logic against the current plan for Oregon House Bill 3540 - the bill that would amend the land use initiative Measure 37.

There is always an understandable argument against legislative amendment of an initiative: The people have spoken; how dare legislators overturn their will? We have some sympathy for that view, but only up to a point. Legally, laws are laws whether passed by the legislature or by initiative, and either can be amended - changed and hopefully improved - as the years go by. It happens all the time. And there's an especially good case for amendment of an initiative. Voters acting on ballot measures don't have the opportunity, as legislators do, to fine tune the language and add language clarifying intent. More cleanup work is apt to be needed where gray areas exist, and Measure 37 is absolutely packed with gray areas.

The measure, as used so far, has resulted in thousands of claims by land owners to develop massive residential areas, shopping centers and even casinos on farm and timber land. Many of the proposals may never be pursued, and many others may prove impractical, but at the moment a lot of Oregonians may have their breath taken away by what they've unleashed.

Did the voters, who passed Measure 37 in 2004 by a big margin, intend all this, or were they simply expressing frustration at a land use governing system that had become too rigid, absolute and sometimes remote from human and societal needs and concerns? The voters never got a chance to say, then. Polling since has suggested that a majority now would repeal 37 but, of course, polls aren't elections.

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The motel search

Washington courts Amajor dump of significant Washington Supreme Court decisions today, including a decision sure to get lots of political attention; and another we think worthy of more consideration and thought.

The flashy ruling came in the oddly-named San Juan County v. No New Gas Tax, that radio political commentary is not a "campaign contribution" under the state Fair Campaign Practices Act.

We hold that the radio broadcasts at issue fall within the statutory media exemption (RCW 42.17.020(15)(b)(iv)) because they aired during the content portion of a regularly scheduled radio program, for which the broadcaster does not normally require payment, on a radio station that is not controlled by a candidate or political committee. Because the media exemption applies, the radio broadcastsare not a campaign "contribution" within the meaning of RCW 42.17.020(15)(a). Accordingly, we reverse the trial court's CR 12(b)(6) ruling, which was based on the trial court's incorrect determination that the FCPA required reporting of the radio broadcasts as campaign contributions and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

That may be the result that had to be: To draw the line anywhere other than between paid and unpaid air time would amount to opening an almost impossibly unclear boundary between contribution and commentary. (And if talk radio can be a contribution, why not blog entries? And if so, which?) There's messy territory here, when - as happened in this case, where a couple of Seattle conservative talkers basically spearheaded the (failed) campaign against the 2005 gas tax increase; putting their activities, which stopped just short of overt political organizing, in the case territory as editorials and news reports seems not quite right. But it will have to do.

The more fascinating read, however, was in Washington v. Timothy Jorden, which centered on a law officer's viewing of a motel registry.

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First in, first out

In a more normal cycle, Robert Vasquez wouldn't have even entered the race for U.S. Senate this early. As it is, he's not only been in but now, also, out.

He was quoted as saying: "We have been unable to meet the funding goals, which are required to run a viable campaign. I cannot in good conscience continue to raise funds, without the viable chance to run a winning campaign."

Okay. (Though his web site doesn't yet make reference to the withdrawal.)

We'll note here too the flurry in the last couple of days about Boise City Council member Alan Shealey, a Republican, making reference to entering the race. He may be well advised to consider the hurdles much as Vasquez has.

Meantime, incumbent Republican Larry Craig will let everyone know his plans in due course.

Of comments, spam, &tc

In the last few months we've seen a spike in comment spam, and finally hit a point where manual management of it was becoming a pain. So we tweaked the system a bit and yesterday added a new spam-killer to the architecture.

It appears to be working correctly, killing out the junk while letting through the genuine stuff. But let us know if you try commenting and nothing shows up. The spam-killer does not seem especially over-eager, but it may need some adjustment as time goes on so that it doesn't harvest the good stuff along with the bad. (You can mail on this, or whatever, to stapilus[at]ridenbaugh.com.)