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A departure

Steve Ahrens has been a fixture at the Idaho Statehouse for 31 years, and we've known him nearly that long. That makes the idea of his retirement, which he has announced will happen this fall, the more startling: Hardly anyone now around the Statehouse knew it pre-Ahrens.

Steve AhrensIn just about all of his time there as a (first) reporter and (later) lobbyist and (for 16 years) president of the Idaho Association of Commerce & Industry, he has also been more than a fixture: He's been a major presence. That's accounted for in some part by his employers, the Idaho Statesman newspaper, Boise Cascade and IACI, which represents most of Idaho big business along with a chunk of medium-to-smaller business. But that's not all. Ahrens is courteous and has a sense of humor and a sometimes surprising informality, and an interest in helping out the newbies who regularly show up, and all that helps over the long haul. (In our Ridenbaugh Press lists of influential Idahoans, Ahrens has almost always ranked high, and a lot of people would have been shocked if he hadn't.) But that's not all either.

There is another thing about Ahrens that non-professionals might not get: He's a hardcore legislature addict. The minutiae of the legislature, the personalities, the political campaigns, the vote counts, the structure of the committees, the rules and the process - Ahrens has immersed himself into it all deeply, for a very long time, and he can talk about it with the kind of attention to intricate detail that a really good mechanic could use in describing how his favorite make of car works. He is evidence that, apart from all else, information is power.

No small thing, as 31 years will attest.

Secretive police, policing speech

Homeland Security is a lousy name purely for its connotations: It echoes too near the old German "fatherland" and Russian "motherland" (or "fatherland"). The eeriness factor multiplies when it generates cases like that of Dwight Scarbrough in Boise.

That story, told inthe current Boise Weekly (and highlighted well in the current Boise Guardian), is enough to make anyone wonder whose security is being protected. The dividing line, apparently, has to do with who you vote for. (more…)

Casino turnout

Who would have thought? Check the turnout at Clark County's Prairie High School on the subject of a casino proposed for near La Center by the Cowlitz Tribe.

About 1,000 people were estimated to have shown up at a formal federal event that, as the official in charge noted, was still early in the process. Nonetheless, the Vancouver Columbian described the event as "full-fledged political theater with information booths, signs, buttons, stickers and banners. Casino supporters rallied their troops with 300 caps, 500 T-shirts and upwards of 150 pizzas, the uneaten last dozen or so turned over to the high school's busy maintenance staff. More than 700 people filled the auditorium, another 100 milled around outside, grumbling at their inability to get in, and 200 more stood in a hallway and watched the meeting on a video monitor. Judging by who cheered and when, supporters outnumbered opponents by perhaps four or five to one." Union support apparently accounts for much of the organization.

Website notification

We've suspected for a decade or so that the rise of the web was likely to change, eventually, the requirements by governments for providing proper notification to the public of its actions. In sum: Is the public adequately notified of an important action if the agency puts notice of it on its web site, as opposed to - for example - notifying or taking out ads in newspapers?

Washington courtsMedia executives should take notice of Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority v. Kenneth & Barbara Miller (Docket 76284-8), just filed. The subject of the case concerns property condemnation for public use, in this case a tract at Tacoma owned by the Millers (as owners of a construction company) intended for use as a park-and-ride station. (Sound Transit is trying to run its line further south, toward Lakewood.) The case has several prongs; the one at hand here concerns notice to the public. The court summarizes: (more…)

Motivation

In 1982, Idaho's voters repealed an old - original - section of the state constitution which had gone unobserved for decades but remained there as a testiment to bigotry of another age: The provision which, in essence, sought to deny Idaho Mormons their rights as citizens, including the right to vote.

The repealer passed easily. But more than a third of the votes were cast against the repeal; that was, simply, the anti-Mormon vote, the people who thought so little of Mormons that they would just as soon they all moved away. We've wondered, over the years, how Idaho's Mormons felt seeing those 100,113 votes, representing people who just didn't want them around here. That was, after all, their real meaning.

The same kind of thing will happen this year, as Idaho voters act on another constitutional amendment, one approved this morning by the Idaho Senate, to ban marriage in Idaho by same-sex couples. (more…)

ISU president, and direction

Announcements of new university presidents usually suggest little interest outside the institution's community. Today's announcement that the State Board of Education has named Arthur Vailas as the new president of Idaho State University at Pocatello ought, probably, to suggest a little more.

Arthur VailasThere has been some talk, generated partly by the interim ISU president but also running around elsewhere, that the university ought to aim its long-range future toward medical schooling. And maybe it should. But the path getting there would not be easy or cheap, and the navigation would have to be strong, careful and well-informed.

So view Vailas' hiring in that light. Here's the ISU short summary of his background:

Dr. Arthur Vailas is vice chancellor and vice president for research and intellectual property management for the University of Houston System and the University of Houston (UH). He joined UH in 1995 as vice president for research and vice provost for graduate studies, and professor and distinguished chair in biology and biochemistry.

Prior to joining UH, Vailas was associate dean for research and development at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a university he served in numerous capacities including professor of surgery, division of orthopedic surgery in the College of Medicine; professor of kinesiology, school of education; professor, department of poultry science in the College of Agriculture; and professor and director of the Biodynamics Laboratory.

And there is plenty more besides; he is, apart from other considerations, a fully-qualified academic. But the interest comes in this: He's just about what you'd want if your idea is to move ISU in a more developed medical-research direction.

Independent’s in

News reports now have it that Ben Westlund, just recently declared as an independent, is joining the race for governor.

Assuming he meets the statutory requirements for doing so - and that looks likely - he will make the general election a good deal more interesting.

Primary effects? Probably little to none on the Democratic side, since incumbent Ted Kulongoski is almost certainly to easily win that. On the Republican side, he could prospectively strengthen the hands of Kevin Mannix and Jason Atkinson against Ron Saxton. The latter has the reputation of being the "moderate" in the race; the argument could run that with Westlund in, a Republican would have to run stronger to the right in the general to wind up winning. But this sort of thing can and will be spun in all directions.

And Westlund's chances? For one thing, he's late in, and has to organize everything, and raise money, from scratch - a horribly tough proposition. For another, as matters sit, the numbers for neither Kulongoski nor any of the probable Republican nominees are so bad as to open a logical large chunk of the vote. Put another way: From where is Westlund going to collect the 35%-plus of the vote he would need to prevail? Until a satisfactory answer to that question emerges, he looks to be more an interesting factor in the race than a probable winner.

But keep watch. The dynamic hasn't finished settling yet.

Going indy

Oregon had an independent - politically independent, unaffiliated with party - governor once. His name was Julius Meier, and he was a businessman from Portland.

The year was 1930, and the issues at hand concerned responses to the Great Depression and calls for creation of public power projects and utilities. Public power was growing fast in popularity, but it faced obstacles, including major political figures both among the Democrats and Republicans. After heated battles, both parties nominated candidates for governor who were opposed to public power. (This is, of course, oversimplifying a complex struggle.) Meier was among the liberal Republicans who favored public power, and he entered the race as an independent. He wound up sweeping the general election, taking more votes than the major-party candidates together.

Ben WestlundHard to envision a truly comparable scenario now for Ben Westlund, a Republican state senator from the Bend area (more specifically, Tumalo, just north of Bend) who has split from that party and now describes himself as an independent, and who may or may not run for governor.

This has been coming for a long time, well before Westlund's active support in Salem for gay rights, among other things. In an article on the switch in the Bend Bulletin, he said, "As I continued to examine my role in the party, it became clear to me that it just wasn't a good fit and wasn't intellectually honest. They're unhappy with me half the time, I'm unhappy with them half the time." But the Democratic Party wouldn't be a comfortable fit either, he says, and he makes a good case for that too.

The more immediate question now is, what will this mean - for the governor's race, for Westlund's Senate seat, and for the voters of the Bend area. (more…)

Politics 1

Aquick bit of horn-tooting here: The web site Politics1.com named ridenbaugh.com as their "political site of the day." That throws us in with a nunch of other political web sites around the country for recognition of a special approach to politics. (What that approach is, varies from site to site.)

The list of named sites is worth a look. Quite a few are national in scope; not many are northwestern.