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Radio wars/Idaho

Here's something lawsuits are sometimes good for: Providing insight, shining halogen lights on sometimes significant places we might not otherwise see.

The Idaho Radio blog has a fine post about the conflict between Citadel Broadcasting and Peak Broadcasting, both significant players in Idaho radio (as predecessor and successor), drawn from court documents over their battle. The documents suggest an insiders' view of radio programming and competition in the Boise market.

Interest from Bates

Alan Bates

Alan Bates

In our post yesterday on the emerging (ever so gradually) Oregon U.S. Senate race, we noted that state Senator Alan Bates, D-Medford, has been mentioned as a Senate prospect but hadn't much indicated whether he actually was interested.

Turns out he is. Today, Blue Oregon has pulled together material from the Ashland Daily Tidings and other sources about Bates' interest in the race, which is evidently quite real. The Tidings reported "Bates said he's been considering a run against Smith, Oregon's two-term junior United States senator, for six months, but said he did not want to announce his interest prematurely, hoping that 'somebody with a better chance and who was better known' would emerge." He went public after the last of the Democratic U.S. House members said they didn't plan to run.

Bates described himself as a "dark horse," and that may be good positioning, but his assets are stronger than that suggests. He is an experienced candidate, running strongly in areas where his party is not in the majority, and certainly not running as a Republican-lite candidate; it helped that in the Medford area he was a well-known public figure and professional leader long before entering the legislature. He became third in line in Senate Democratic leadership - almost immediately after moving from the House to the Senate. He has good campaigning presence and skills. He's respected as a legislator, and at Salem has taken on some highly ambitious projects (including, with fellow Senator Ben Westlund, a health care plan in Senate Bill 329 that could be the most important single piece of legislation in the Northwest this decade - if it passes).

And his rhetoric is clear and strong: His blasts at Smith over Iraq, for example, is all a Democrat would want of a Senate nominee.

He said he will announce a decision shortly after the legislature adjourns (which is expected for late June).

An immigration backboard

Common sense tells us that there's no such thing as a "solution" on the immigration issue. The rate and type of inflow, our nation's needs and our ability to control travel are ever-changing. The most we can hope for is an ongoing monitor and adjustment, developed outside the context of panic and hysteria the topic seems to produce in so many areas.

Northwest politics likely will be affected, then, by the new compromise immigration bill in the U.S. Senate. Idaho Senator Larry Craig, who has worked with a wide variety of senators on immigration (one of his best allies has been senior Senate Democrat Robert Byrd) offered this: "While there is no way to please everyone on an issue as complex and divisive as this one, the legislation the Senate will be debating next week has many provisions that will promote our economy, protect the security of our country and its citizens, and deal fairly with both citizens and non-citizens alike. I believe this bill will serve the interests and needs of Idaho and the nation well."

The bill will not, however, much satisfy the anti-immigrant community. You can expect to be hearing a lot more about this soon.

Salaries, and what’s behind them

The attention, naturally, will go to the dollar amounts. The Washington Citizens' Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials has proposed the next-term round of salary increases for state elected officials, and the numbers ($167,000 for governor, as of September 2008) are understandably the focus. Though, to be sure, there's nothing especially mind-bending there.

There's a better civics lesson, though, in the reports the agency produces - reports that analyze, from several perspectives, the jobs that these elected officials are supposed to perform. If you ever wondered what it is exactly that the governor of Washington does, or at least is responsible for, here's your chance.

And you gotta like the agency's slogan (yes, they have one) - "We evaluate the position - Voters evaluate the performance."

Scratch Blumenauer; next?

Earl Blumenauer

Earl Blumenauer

Almost all of Oregon's Democratic top tier now has taken a pass on a run next year for the U.S. Senate, with the announcement today by Representative Earl Blumenauer that he will stay put. From his political/campaign site, about deciding not to taken on Republican Senator Gordon Smith:

My issues, from ending the Iraq war, stopping global warming, making sure everyone has health care they can afford, a quality education, and a good job, have gained not just attention, but traction and even momentum. My committee assignments put me in the best possible position to deal with these priorities everyday. I’ve been working for over a decade to get on the Ways and Means Committee and to regain a Democratic majority. I say with January both of these dreams become a reality. Speaker Nancy Pelosi also chose me to serve on the new Global Warming and Energy Independence Committee.

At this unique moment in history there is too much work to be done in the House of Representatives to take on a campaign for the US Senate.

The winning candidate should devote 100 percent effort for the next 18 months to overcome the onslaught that will come from the incumbent, Karl Rove and the Bush White House, and the many special interests who want to keep Smith in office.

Understandable, and similar to the logic keeping the other Oregon Democratic House members where they are. Smith was helped immeasurably by the Democratic takeover of the House last November.

The only undeclared in our estimate of the Democratic top-tier prospects, state Senator Ben Westlund, D-Tumalo, is widely rumored to be planning a run at state treasurer instead. The only Democrat now in the field, activist Steve Novick, is smart and sharp-tongued but also acerbic and a first-time candidate whose fundraising prospects are unclear.

Other possibilities? On the national Daily Kos, blogger mcjoan points to state Senate Majority Leader Kate Brown, D-Portland; we'd call that an interesting prospect, and her legislative skill and energy are solid, though the transition from a south-central Portland district to statewide may be a little tough. House Speaker Jeff Merkley, D-Portland, would also be a credible prospect. Another name mentioned recently (not, so far as we can tell, by the principal) is Senate Majority Whip Alan Bates, D-Ashland, a physician elected and highly popular in a politically mixed district, and bringing some strong campaigning and legislative skills to bear. (He has been working with Westlund on an ambitious statewide health care plan.)

Overall, though, between Blumenauer's announcement and the endorsement from the state's Indian tribes, this has been a good political week for Gordon Smith.

What kind of community

Saving the libraries

saving the libraries

One of our key indicators of the thoughtfulness of a community is its level of support for bookstores and libraries, those being among the best indicators that a community is educated, values education and learning and encourages it broadly, and is - by virtue of that - better positioned to deal with the realities of a complex future.

So what do we make of the vote reported tonight at Medford and nearby communities, which rejected - 59.3% voting no - a ballot issue which would have reopened 15 libraries in Jackson County.

The libraries were all closed several weeks ago because of drastic cuts in federal timber payments on which the county has been heavily reliant. (Several other counties in the area, including Coos and Curry, are deeply damaged by the federal cuts as well.)

The group Save Our Library System has been organizing to pass a ballot issue to raise enough money to reopen the libraries. It made the case for what libraries mean in a community:

Over 36,000 children and teens participated in reading programs throughout the year.
Each day, an average of 3,000 people visit the library and 770 people access the library from home or business
Last year, Jackson County residents borrowed 1,444,813 items from the libraries. Circulation for children’s items exceeded 434,000.
Many senior citizens and homebound rely on outreach programs to provide them with library materials.
Children read 63,000 books in the summer reading program alone.

Its proposal was not extravagant: "The average property owner will pay about $9 per month for three years to create the bridge to find a long-term solution to library funding."

But Jackson County voters decided, decisively, that libraries weren't worth it. Which raises the question: in that case, why not own up and declare the county rid of them permanently?

We suspect there'll be some reluctance to do that overtly, if only because the only possible interpretation is that, in Jackson County, learning is not much valued, reading is unimportant, and if you can't afford to buy it at the book store, too bad.

But then, today's vote may have made that interpretation unavoidable anyway.

Banning images, banning books


Backtracking cover

The Seattle publisher Sasquatch Books had, it would seem, a winner. Its 2000 book "Backtracking: By Foot, Canoe, and Subaru Along the Lewis and Clark Trail" by Benjamin Long not only sold well but won the Chinook Literary Prize, and the Northwest Outdoor Writers Association called it book of the year. All was well until 2004 when the hardback book was reissued in paperback and a new cover was designed for it.

As a result of that, the book is now dead - out of print, and (though copies are still for sale on Amazon and in some other places) unlikely to be revived any time soon. Readers like us, who haven't yet read it and might have wanted to buy a copy, are out of luck.

Welcome to the rule of law where ownership of images and ideas can trump practically everything else.

The book design incorporated a clearly recognizable image, the outline of Lewis and Clark used by the National Park Service, developed by it decades ago; you've seen it on road signs around the northwest. Since the park service has a role in fostering interest in and travel along the Lewis and Clark trail areas, you might thing the agency would be happy about the Long book and the use of the image. You would be wrong.


Flipping sides

One of the political norms of the Northwest is this: Indian tribes vote Democratic. It's broadly the case, and in some places it sticks out. Jefferson County, Oregon, and Bingham County, Idaho, to cite two examples, are two strongly Republican counties; in each case, the one precinct that tends to go Democratic is the one holding most of the population of an Indian reservation (Warm Springs and Fort Hall reservations, respectively).

Which is what makes interesting the report today that the nine Indian tribes of Oregon (those groups, often including many bands each, recognized by the federal government) all have endorsed Republican Gordon Smith for re-election to the U.S. Senate.

The numbers involved are not especially large; only about 1.4% of Oregonians are Native American. But Smith can take some useful symbolism from it.

Blind spot

Today's editorial in the Astorian points out a true regional oddity: "Watch television weather reports from around the Pacific Northwest and you will notice a curious thing. Radar shows our skies cloudless as the Sahara."

Not all the time, of course. But often, especially from late spring to early fall.

The explanation? "The answer is simply the Willapa Hills and the Coast Range, which block the sweeping beams of Doppler radar stations positioned around Puget Sound and the Willamette Valley, 100 or more miles from the ocean. Even when the radar does manage to peer down the Columbia River channel to the sea, it lacks the resolution to pick up some of the tightly packed little welter-weight weather systems that almost routinely pound our communities and fishing boats senseless in violent rounds of hours' or days' duration."

The edtorial calls for an additional Doppler radar station or two; correctly placed, they could resolve the problem.

You might think the Portland and Seattle television stations would be calling for something similar, if only to cut back on the cognitive dissonance.