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Cattle kingdom: from growth to split

More cows than people in the Magic Valley/morguefile

Besides the talk about the urban growth in parts of Idaho, there ought to be another round of discussion about the fastest-growing population in the state. Not of people: Of milk cows.

And that growth is finally have an effect on the people who work with them.

Over the last 20 years, the population of milk cows in the state has increased about two and a half times, from 174,000 to 473,000. As with people, the increase in milk cows (which is to say, the number and size of dairies), as with people, has not been evenly spread. Some places, like Franklin County, that had substantial or even major dairy activity in the mid-80s have declined (in Franklin's case, from 14,000 to 11,500 head).

The growth has been concentrated in the Magic Valley, and to a lesser degree in southwest Idaho, in a band from Owyhee, Ada, Canyon and Payette counties. (Today, Ada has 22,000 head and Canyon 30,000 head, in each case not quite double where they were 20 years - all alongside the massive new human development in those counties.)

The Magic Valley had 75,000 milk cows in 1986, well under half the state's total. Today it has more than four and a half times as many, 341,000, well over three-fourths of the state total. And within the Magic Valley, they're concentrated. Few are in Blaine, Camas or Minidoka counties; Gooding, Twin Falls, Jerome and Cassia, and a fair population in Lincoln, account for the largest portion.

Nor is that all. If a set of applications now on file in the eastern valley, in Cassia and Minidoka, are approved, another 100,000 dairy cows could call the area home.

Gooding County has more than 139,000 - more than twice any other county, well over a fourth of all the dairy cows in the state, and far more dairy cows (which do not account for all of the cattle by any means) in that county than there are people in any Idaho city but Boise. That's 190 cows per square mile in Gooding County.

It is also more than in the entire state of Oregon - 121,000; the biggest dairy county there is Tillamook, with 28,600 head. Washington has 237,000 head in all; geographically large Yakima County with 70,000 head and coastal Whatcom County with 52,000 account for much of it. Neither Oregon nor Washington has a regional dairy concentration resembling the Magic Valley.

You would think this would cause some stress and conflict. You would be right.



Taking note of a non-urban area that's lately adding a bunch of jobs - the Burley area, in the eastern Magic Valley in Idaho.

Almost abruptly, about 500 jobs have been added there, not from high-flying employers but from basic manufacturers like Renova Energy and Pacific Ethanol.

They must be doing something right; a lot of community areas that size, and that far away from a substantial urban area, are having some difficulty consistently attracting new businesses these days.

Fiscal impact

Downtown Coos Bay
Downtown Coos Bay

When the sun set on the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act of 2000 in September 2006, people in urban areas generally took little note. In rural areas, in some rural areas anyway, it has meant, in the months since, a screaming emergency.

Some members of Congress, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden perhaps the lead among them (though he is not alone), have been trying to get those funds restored. One of his lines on the subject goes, “Without county payments funding, there is a real question as to whether or not these communities can survive.”

If that sounds hyperbolic, visit Coos County, as the state Senate Health and Human Services Committee committee did this week, and find out what the cut of $7 million has done to services there.

The tale of woe the senators heard at North Bend could have been a comedy routine if it weren't so serious.


A faith shield

churchWe haven't seen much media attention yet to Oregon House Joint Resolution 16 and counterpart HJR 17, but we can't imagine that will last long. It has the potential to set off a small explosion.

Quite some time ago, when the child sex abuse cases against Roman Catholic archdioceses in Portland and Spokane were being filed, we suggested that the impact of these cases eventually could lead to something larger than themselves: They could lead to some redefinition and rethinking about the roles churches play in society. HJR 16, which results from those cases (and the prospect of similar instances in the future), is good example of how some of the debate around this rethinking is apt to play out.

HJR 16, which seeks to limit awards of non-economic damages in lawsuits against religious organizations, is a simple measure, and its direct impact seems reasonably clear.

SECTION 12. (1) Noneconomic damages may not be recovered against a religious organization in an amount that exceeds $1 million. The limitation of this section applies to all subjective, nonmonetary losses, including but not limited to pain, mental suffering, emotional distress, humiliation, injury to reputation, loss of care, comfort, companionship and society, loss of consortium, inconvenience and interference with normal and usual activities apart from compensated employment.
(2) For the purposes of this section, a religious organization is an organized church or group that is organized for the purpose of worship or religious teaching, and that is exempt from federal income taxation by reason of those activities.

It has a long list of sponsors, Representatives Fred Girod (the lead sponsor), Vicki Berger, Brian Boquist, Scott Bruun, Tom Butler, Kevin Cameron, John Dallum, Linda Flores, Bill Garrard, Vic Gilliam, George Gilman, Bruce Hanna, Wayne Krieger, John Lim, Ron Maurer, Karen Minnis, Andy Olson, Wayne Scott, Greg Smith, Gene Whisnant, and six senators, Roger Beyer, Gary and Larry George, Jeff Kruse, Frank Morse and Bruce Starr. All are Republicans; more than two-thirds of the House Republican caucus are included and more than half of the Senate Republicans. (Where were Dennis Richardson and Donna Nelson?) This appears poised to be hashed out as a partisan matter.

This stands to be a powerfully emotional battle. There is, after all, a point here. Lawsuits which extract so much money from churches (as the recent lawsuits appear to be doing) do conflict with an element of freedom, of people being able to worship as they choose.

At the same time, churches do not exist outside of society: Why should they have legal shields other non-profit, and other charitable, organizations do not? (Of course, it is true they're not substantially taxed, either.) But we should note here that just such a shield - for nonprofits generally - is the subject of HJR 17, proposed by the same sponsors and reading similarly except for extending the limit to non-church nonprofits as well.

What then about the plaintiffs who were damaged, and the ability of society to exact a punishment for wrongdoing that will at least be painfully felt?

No definitive answers here. And the Oregon Legislature may not find anything definitive either, but the issue now has certainly been placed on the table.

Buyer’s remorse

Wallowa LakeFollowing up a string of other polls indicating similar attitudes, a new Portland-based poll of Oregonians suggests that the land use Measure 37 is exactly as unpopular today as it was when it was passed in 2004.

A Moore Information poll of 500 registered voters statewide says 61% want the effect of Measure 37 to be lessened. That's the same percentage by which the initiative passed.

Oregon legislators are at work on amendments to it, but the outcome isn't yet clear.

COUNTERPOINT For an alternative view, you might also want to check out Ted Piccolo's counterpoint on the recent Measure 37 polling. However, the BrainstormNW editorial he cites in a nearby post generally does not persuade; it argues that the pre-passage predictions of trouble ahead were overblown, while we suspect a majority of Oregonians at this point would agree the problems today are substantial indeed.

Romney pulling Idaho’s GOP

With the latest news that Idaho Republican Senator Larry Craig is becoming one of the two Senate "liaisons" (Utah Senator Bob Bennett is the other) for former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, you get the sense that most of Idaho's top-tier Republicans are headed into the Romney camp.

We've thought that likely for a while. Locally, Romney has been talked up more than any of the other contenders. And there's the Utah connection (through Romney's work on the Olympics several years back) and as a member of the LDS church, to which something like a third of Idahoans also belong. His personal style is probable more appealing, too, than that of his two leading competitors, John McCain (whose sometimes a "maverick," sometimes not manner may not sit well) and Rudy Giuliani (who among other things may simply be too New York for Idaho tastes).

Not that all Idaho Republicans will necessarily fall into line. We'd not be surprised if Representative Bill Sali signed on with the longshot campaign of Tom Tancredo; that association runs deep into the early part of Sali's campaign last year, if not earlier. But in the main, for now, Romney seems to have the main Idaho track.

Wasn’t just Crow

Alot of attention focused in the last few years, among those tracking the Idaho Legislature, on (now former) Representative Dolores Crow, R-Nampa, who for years chaired the House Revenue & Taxation Committee, from which tax bills originate. She, it was said or implied, was the bottleneck that kept a lot of wide-desired legislation from making its way through the process.

She was without doubt an impactful legislator, but the story was never that simple. The evidence has come in the record of the committee this year, as it has rejected various tax proposals, some of them backed by the libertarian-conservative governor, Butch Otter. On Wednesday, the committee rejected a proposal to reduce form 66.6% to 60% the vote needed to establish a community college district, something loads of advocates in the Ada-Canyon area have been pushing for. Rev-Tax has, in other words, behaved this year, under its new Chair Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, not very differently than it did under Crow. (Albeit that Lake is a much smoother, less abrasive and more numbers-comfortable chair)

Idaho Statesman editorial page editor Kevin Richert has delivered two highly pertinent posts, both worth reading, about this on his new blog, after watching the committee in action for a while.


Dismissal confirmed

John McKay
John McKay

Confirmation today that suppositions from early last month [on this site among other places], that former U.S. Attorney (for Western Washington) John McKay was forced to resign - was fired - were on target.

McKay at first had little to say about his abrupt departure, other than in what he didn't say - that he he was leaving for another job, for health reasons, for family reason, and so on. (He has since taken a job as a law professor at Seattle University.) Now he's on record:

"I was ordered to resign as U.S. attorney on Dec. 7 by the Justice Department. ... I was given no explanation. I certainly was told of no performance issues."

Nor were any evident externally. Robert Lasnik, the chief federal judge in McKay's district, offered: "This is unanimous among the judges: John McKay was a superb U.S. attorney. For the Justice Department to suggest otherwise is just not fair." The last performance review of McKay by the Justice Department's evaluation board (which the Seattle Times obtained and released] said "McKay is an effective, well-regarded and capable leader of the [U.S. attorney's office] and the District's law enforcement community."

It may be that what finally brought McKay to speak out was a Wednesday remark by Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, speaking before the Senate Judiciary Committee, that "performance-related" matters were what led to the simultaneous dismissal of a string of western state attorneys.

Light is continuing to crack open on this.

Out on the edge

The Red State Rebels blog (proprietor, Julie Fanselow) has nominated state Representative Steven Thayn as the best choice, for the moment, as "the most extreme legislator" in Idaho. The farthest out to the edge, that is, on his side of the philosophical divide, which probably would mean the farthest out (on his side of the face) among the northwest's 347 state legislators.

She has good evidence. Her assessment seems the sounder when you add to the material she already provides.

Which starts with a snippet of committee debate quoted in today's Idaho Statesman, suggesting taxpayer money could be saved if school hours were cut to four hours a day.

She goes on to a nice find, a website apparently set up for Thayn (nicely designed by a Nampa web company, Impact Design Studios). The Committees of Correspondence site (with the quite different url suggests a larger organization, but Thayn is the only person mentioned. If there's more to it than the web site, that's not made clear; and most parts of the web site are empty, apart from several pages of philosophizing and a plea for $25 contributions. A newsletter is on offer, but samples are not. Red State Rebels has links to a number of quotes from it.

To that, we have some additions.