Press "Enter" to skip to content

WA: Almost all-mail?

A certain civic romance remains in the idea of the polling place: You take the effort to bestir yourself to leave your dwelling and commingle among other citizens, make your decision, and exercise your civic responsibility. In public. It has understandable appeal.

Gotta say, though, that mail-in balloting works. In the state that pioneered it statewide, Oregon, it has worked beuatifully and it is immensely popular. Convenience, which is often touted as a big plus, is actually its slightest virtue. More importantly, it allows voters an extended time to think about what's on the ballot, to discuss and to research. (Can't remember what's the deal with those state treasurer candidates? Fine. Put down the ballot on the kitchen table and go Google them.) It allows for better and more relaxed and more informed voting. (Note that's no guarantee of results, just of opportunity.) It has been shown to be secure (at least the way Oregon does it); no problems of any significance reported in a decade of practice. It may be the way of the future.

It looks to be the way of Washington's future, since this week's decision in Snohomish County to adopt mail-in voting county wide. That makes it number 34 of 39 counties statewide to go mail. (more…)

Otter’s recantation

Dare we call it a flip-flop? That might be a cheap shot - and beside the point. The question at the heart of it is this: What is the reason Representative C.L. "Butch" Otter abruptly has this to say today about his till-now firm support for the bill calling for mass sellout of federal lands to pay Hurricane Katrina costs:

“I was wrong. It wasn’t the first time, and it won’t be the last.” And his sponsorship is withdrawn ... "for now."

Part of what Otter is best known for in Idaho is his philosophical stance - clarity, rigidity, thinness, relative purity, define it as you will. He long has been a small-l libertarian, a "limited government" guy, which makes sense of his stand on the Patriot Act and also his stand on the lands legislation; ask him - go ahead - if he thinks there should be more or fewer public lands in Idaho. He has had personal clashes with the feds over land use and environmental laws.

So his backing of the Katrina legislation should come as no shock; it's of a piece.

The criticism of it is no shock, either. Most Idahoans like to grumble about the Forest Service or the BLM, but many of them also enjoy being able to use the public lands - in alternative to being fenced out. That point may be getting ever more pertinent as parts of Idaho are getting ever more crowded.

There are no newly-apparent facts on the table about all this. So when Otter says "I was wrong," what exactly does that mean? What was it precisely that he was wrong about? The legislation specifically? (If so, what did he suddenly come to realize about its flaws?) The way he has thought about public lands, and how they should be treated? Has he had a philosophical reawakening? Did he get scared about a loss of votes and decide to pander? What changed?

That's an important question, because without knowing the answer, we have no way of knowing whether his pullback of sponsorship - "for now" - means, "until the uproar in Idaho dies down," or or whether it is predicated on something else. And without knowing the answer, we have a chasm in our evolving understanding of who Butch Otter is.

Politically, Otter's mea culpa clearly was meant to put the cork in the conversation. What it should do now is uncork that conversation.

Immigration ahead

The direction of the immigration issue is one of the puzzlements of politics 2006 - potentially important, but hard to chart a path to the front burner.

We were discussing the '06 race for the 1st district Idaho House seat, and reflecting on that. One of the sorps of candidates in that race, Robert Vasquez (see the list of 25 influential Idahoans) has made immigration his issue cornerstone. If it flares into a truly big deal, in the minds of voters, around primary election day, then his chances expand; if not, his chances look smaller. Other candidates too, looking for a rocket toride, could seize on this one.

So the new Washington Post-ABC News poll on the subject may be of interest.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll taken in mid-December found Americans alarmed by the federal government's failure to do more to block the flow of illegal immigration and critical of the impact of illegal immigration on the country. But it also found them receptive to the aspirations of illegal immigrants living and working in the United States. ...

Immigration still ranks below the war in Iraq, terrorism, health care and the economy on the public's list of priorities. But in many parts of the country — not just those areas near the U.S.-Mexico border — it has become an issue of pressing significance because of its economic, social and, more recently, national-security implications.

Keep watching.

The 2005 NW Influencers

Ridenbaugh Press has been publishing lists of influential people for close to a decade now, and our latest list - three lsts of 25 influencers of change in their states - are now available here.

Be sure to note, though, how we use the term "influence" for purposes of these lists. That may help save you some puzzlement as you come across the names of people whose impact may be a little subtle.

And be sure to make your way back here, and leave all the comments you like. (Trust me - if you're interested in the Northwest at all, you'll have comments.)

And then there were

Years ago, more than a decade and far from where I am now, I had a chat about the future of local television news with a guy in the business. He spun out a long-term scenario I'd not heard before and seldom have since:

Over time, he said, television stations will do what newspapers have done. They will conclude, for purposes of news at least, that the market cannot reasonably support a multiple of stations. So in markets where three or four stations with full news departments have been the norm, that will scale back. To three, two. Maybe eventually to one. It happened with newspapers. And as the many WB and UPN stations have shown, in this age of deregulation, nothing more than pride requires a television station to develop and air local news, or other programming, for that matter.

That speculation came to mind just now, in reading a comment on the Portland Media Insider site. The comment concerns a rumor (specifically noted as such, and if you're interested you can read about it there) that one of the Portland televison stations will outsorce its news operaton.

The comment: "As sad as it sounds, I think the idea makes some sense. Each ratings book comes back with lower overall local news numbers than the year prior, and there aren't any signs of that trend reversing. Eventually, four local news operations will be too many for the market's demand... and that day is coming sooner than later."

For whatever it's worth, the comments on the site suggest that the "rumor" is at least being taken seriously, even without visible sourcing. Says something in itself.

Irony in action

File this under the category of "highly unlikely to happen," but it seemed worthy of regonial note.

From a San Francisco Chronicle piece on a press for renaming the national FBI center after someone other than J. Edgar Hoover, in part because of his role in surveilling Martin Luther King ...

Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D-Ga., who is working for release of King's intelligence files, has introduced legislation to name the FBI building for Frank Church, the late Idaho senator whose Senate Select Committee on Intelligence held scorching hearings on U.S. intelligence gathering and FBI abuses under Hoover.

Blogging back

One trend of 2005 that stand to go away is the drumbeat on the part of newspaper journalists against bloggers - notably, political bloggers. As a long-time former newspaper reporter and editor, I find it unbecoming. And uninsightful - increasing amonts of genuine journalism are getting committed on the blogosphere.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer weighed in the last day of this year in its lists of five people and things it would like to remember and like to forget about 2005. Among the latter: "Stefan Sharkansky and David Goldstein. The right-wing Shark and left-wing Goldy have dominated the local political blogosphere, which during the governor’s race controversy sounded like a schoolyard shouting match."

Let Goldy have the last word [12/31]: "I’m guessing that if the JOA goes the way we all expect it to go, it will be Stefan and I who will be forgetting the P-I in a couple of years."

A closing blast

And so 2005 comes to a close ... with a lot of rain.

rain on an Oregon highwayMetaphors aside, that's a good thing, however tired some of us may be getting at the steady rainfall and periodic light flooding. The flooding, we can at least console ourselves, hasn't done much damage or overflowed many critical waterways. And as for the rainfall ... well, we just need to take care as we go out to celebrate tonight.

And there is something in this to celebrate.

According to the national snowpack recordkeepers, the region is more or less on track for a good, solid snowpack this year, something we haven't been able to say for quite a few seasons. (more…)

Now it can be said

Okay, so it's not as though no one else has ever said this.

But Associated Press reporters watch the state legislators at least as closely as anyone, and they are ordinarily sworn to high journalistic rectitude: Keep your opinions, in public, generally to yourself.

Charles Beggs has retired from the AP after covering the Oregon Legislature for longer than he probably would like to think about. And so, here's what he told the Willamette Week about what really pissed him off in 2006:

"The Legislature. It was very aggravating to see them taking seven months to do four months of work—and even then, they didn't accomplish much. There's an intransigence on both sides that's fueled by the desire to stake out positions that will satisfy interests that will give them money to get re-elected."

And who can argue?