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Posts published in April 2011

Going after it every which way

You can't say Idahoans opposed to the public schools overhaul bills passed this legislative session aren't going after them aggressively: They're running down just about every avenue of challenge available.

They're trying to recall the Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna who is principally behind them. They're trying to recall a couple of the legislators who voted for them. They're trying to place the measures on the ballot as a referendum, to possibly throw them out by voter action. And they're challenging their constitutionality in court, with a lawsuit filed by leaders of the Idaho Education Association on April 27.

Any options they've missed?

Of course, they're not all equally likely to succeed. The one with the best chance, though not necessarily a probability of success, is the referendum. There, the bar to ballot placement is not massively high, and if the negative public attitude really is as strong as it often seemed in recent months, and if it remains negative after more than a year of implementation (the election would be in November 2012), then the prospects for overturn are reasonable. Which is not to say it would be easy.

The recall efforts are very difficult, especially the statewide for the superintendent. And there, the greater problem isn't even getting the recall to the ballot, so much as gathering enough votes in a special election against Luna to surpass the votes he got (in a near-landslide win) in a general election. A win there would be an extraordinary achievement.

The new lawsuit looks to fall somewhere in between. On their face, the substance of the three bills at issue don't seem to violate the constitution. The most interesting argument for an overturn would be the "too many subjects" argument. Idaho laws are supposed to be limited to a single subject, and the argument is that at least one of the bills covered so much territory it violated that requirement. That could be so; in recent years, the Idaho Supreme Court has killed other legislation on just such grounds.

In any event, from a strategic view, there's this: If you try everything, the odds improve that something will stick.

Wu’s town hall

David Wu
David Wu at Newberg/Randy Stapilus

At Representative David Wu's second town hall meeting of the season, in Newberg, a considerable local political story was in the background: Wu has been described (by the Oregonian and others) of exhibiting strange behavior and driving off key staff, and the negative narrative was strong enough that last week a prominent Democrat, Brad Avakian, entered a primary contest against him.

In fielding (by my count) 14 questions from area residents, via tickets chose from a plastic container, in the course of questions mainly supportive but sometimes critical on various issues, Wu was never asked about any of those headlines or the upcoming contest, and he didn't offer any thoughts about them. He appeared a little uneasy at times, but the questions and answers from the crowd of about 70 people were in the normal range for a congressional town hall.

Subjects? The federal budget, options for taxing and spending, and the deficit. (One questioner made clear that he likes the progressive budget plan, for which Wu has voted, and another argued that cuts have to be far more massive.) The Patriot Act and other security-related measures. Military spending and the wars. (Wu suggested that President Obama will have to come to Congress for support for ongoing activities at Libya, if still active after 60 days of engagement.) Outsourcing. Health insurance and health care (a number of individual horror stories emerging). Unemployment and the need for more job creation. Planned Parenthood spending and abortion (the second hottest topic).

Immigration (the hottest topic, sharply dividing the audience): Some people in the audience insisted that immigration laws should be enforced fully, meaning that all 13 million (or so) people in the United States illegally should be departed, immediately. Wu remained polite but his language was in sharp opposition - even were such a mass deportation possible ("Let's be realistic about this"), he said, it would amount to "the ethnic cleansing of America." He did turn a bit political on this (as on a few other topics), asking the anti-immigrant parts of the audience to watch and see whether the Tea Party-backed members of Congress endorse any legislation to do such a thing. He said he thought they would not.

Wu said that he plans to hold another round of town halls in the summer or fall.

The importance of room 56

Washington courts

Four years ago, in the case Washington v. Timothy Jorden, the Washington Supreme Court threw out a conviction because it happened after a search that was part of a broad dragnet (and had no warrant). The facts:

"In March 2003 a Pierce County deputy sheriff stopped by the Golden Lion Motel at Lakewood, whose guests over several years had a history of criminal activity. The officer was welcome, though, and his visit was not unusual, because the motel participated in a cooperative anti-crime program, part of which allowed officers to look over the guest register. The officer saw a familiar name, and in his car’s computer confirmed the hunch: Timothy Jorden, listed as a guest, was wanted on two outstanding arrest warrants. The officer called for and got backup, then knocked on the door. A woman answered; she was pulled outside. The officers entered and found Jorden in bed, and a stash of crack cocaine visible nearby. Jorden was arrested."

The Court threw out the conviction as the result of a search and seizure beyond specific reason, the issue being "whether a random and suspicionless search of a guest registry reveals intimate details of one’s life. We first consider that here there is more information at stake than simply a guest’s registration information: an individual’s very presence in a motel or hotel may in itself be a sensitive piece of information. There are a variety of lawful reasons why an individual may not wish to reveal his or her presence at a motel."

This site approved of the decision and the logic, although a Court critic might argue that basically bars cops from making use of motel registries. But not so. Today we have the decision In Restraint of Glenn Gary Nichols, which throws some shading on the idea.

Here's the background of the new case. A Seattle police informant went to the home of a person in the southern part of the city to score some cocaine (with $50 of Seattle drug buy money). The seller had none but was about to get some, at a nearby motel, where her supplier was. The two of then went to the motel, where the intermediary knocked and was admitted to room 56. When she returned, cocaine was delivered to the informant. Shortly after, the informant called police with the information. Soon after that, police came to the motel and asked the desk clerk who was in room 56. The information was provided - Nichols was registered there - and when police saw him drive up to the door, they determined his identity, then arrested him (initially for a driving-related offense, later on drugs).

Naturally, the Jorden decision came up, and was central, as appeals in the case arose. Here is what the Supreme Court said about it in the new case:

"A fair reading of our opinion in Jorden is that motel guest registries are 'private affairs' only to a limited extent. Indeed, in Jorden we recognized that in prior cases we have recognized that hotel or motel guest registries were not historically considered private when police officers had an individualized and particularized suspicion regarding a guest. Such a tiered understanding of what is a private affair under article I, section 7 of our state constitution is not without precedent. In a number of cases we have expressed displeasure at random and suspicionless searches, "fishing expeditions," while at the same time recognizing that searches of the same person or property with individualized suspicion can pass constitutional muster. In that regard, see, e.g., City of Seattle v. Mesiani (1988), in which this court held that a program involving "random" road block sobriety checkpoints violated article I, section 7 because it lacked particularized and individualized suspicion, and York v. Wahkiakum School District No. 200 (2008), in which we struck down a school district's program of urinalysis drug testing of student athletes where the testing was done without any individualized suspicion of drug use."

In this case, in other words, they had a specific drug buy, and they had room 56. A lot different from rousting random motel guests.

60 years on

Check this out from 1950, and what's changed and what hasn't. The things mentioned, and the things not yet conceived of.

A short video, but a fine history lesson.

Carlson: Welcoming Simpson

Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Idaho’s Second District congressman, Republican Representative Mike Simpson, is visiting northern Idaho over the next few days and people of all political persuasions ought welcome him.

On April 28 the seven-term House of Representatives member had planned to tour Shoshone County to observe why so many residents are justifiably concerned about the Environmental Protection Agency’s $1.2 billion, 100-year Phase II clean-up plan. Residents wanted him to see firsthand the excessive intrusion of federal bureaucrats, who in their zeal to eradicate the last small increment of historical pollution, are threatening the ability of the region’s rebounding mining industry to survive.

Out of deference to the family of the miner killed in the accident at Mullan’s Lucky Friday Mine he understandably postponed that portion of his north Idaho visit.

The visit of the former Blackfoot dentist and Speaker of the Idaho House is important because he now chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee which oversees the purse strings for the Department of the Interior and for the Environmental Protection Agency.

From that position alone, he exerts influence, already signaling to EPA that there is a new sheriff in town who will stand up to an agency that many believe is out of control and oblivious to the damage it does to legitimate businesses, small and large.

Many consider Simpson to be the single-most effective member of the House this state ever sent to Washington because he knows how to get things done legislatively, knows he is elected to solve problems, and knows that compromise is not a dirty word.

He is a fiscal conservative, but not an ideologue who believes it is his way or the highway. He is not someone who votes “no” simply to take a blindly stupid stand to create a temporary headline somewhere.

He is what the late Arizona congressman, Mo Udall, would have called a workhorse, not a showhorse. The two of them would have gotten along well because just as Udall worked well with the late Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona for their constituents, so Simpson works well with Democrats.

Exhibit A is the pain-staking, 10-year process to come up with a compromise that will provide Idaho’s majestic White Clouds and Boulder Mountains with the wilderness designation they merit. In leading the effort, Simpson gained respect from environmentalists and conservatives alike for the even-handed way in which he worked with all interest groups to devise balanced solutions. (more…)

Election calculus

From Politics 101, a few basic principles. Elections are about incumbents more than they are about challengers. Incumbents usually have a fairly definite corps of supporters. Challengers, as a total, therefore have a limited pool to draw from; the more challengers deeply divide the anti-incumbent vote, the more likely the incumbent is to win. A weak incumbent may lose to a single challenger; two reasonable strong challengers in the field greatly improves the incumbent's odds (excepting in cases of runoffs).

That has relevance in the case of the Oregon 1st district, where incumbent Democrat David Wu is facing a strong challenge from state Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian, who announced last week. (One indicator: Facebook page is up to 845.) If those two are in the Democratic primary, Wu may lose to Avakian. If more strong candidates appear, Wu may prevail.

It's a basic calculus that probably has been on the minds of quite a few Democrats - and Republicans, since a weakened Democratic nominee could open the seat for a Republican candidate.

The point is spelled out with more detail in a Jon Isaacs piece on Blue Oregon, noting as well that several other Democrats are also considering entering the 1st district race. If you see fast moves by Avakian in the next couple of weeks, toward gathering endorsements and support, bear this in mind: His chances may depend heavily o whether any of those other prospects in fact jump in.

The bridge

The Columbia River Crossing design/CRC site

It may look a little plain, but just how much are you willing to shell out of your pocket for a prettier design? If it works - if it gets traffic movig at a better speed - at a lower price, most people are probably going to be satisfied. Or at least accepting.

This is the design the Washington and Oregon governors, Chris Gregoire and John Kitzhaber, released on April 25. If as billed it has a good chance of getting built at somewhere close to budget, it will be noted as a major positive development.

That of course may be a while coming. Ground isn't supposed to be broken until sometime in 2013, and you could expect a couple of more years to pass before the whole of it is done. But you have to start somewhere.

Rainey: Flat-out scary

[From the Barrett Rainey blog, Second Thoughts]

Several weeks ago, I had a brief conversation with the city manager of our little Southern Oregon community. He’s an affable fellow, who’s earned high marks for his job performance. He’s well-schooled in city affairs and dealing with city officials. I told him of a bill in the Michigan Legislature, at that time, that concerned me. I thought it might concern him. A “heads up” if you will.

The bill in question would authorize Michigan Governor Rick Snyder to send one of his self-appointed “financial managers” into any Michigan city of his choosing. It allowed that “manager” to remove the elected mayor and city council from any authority whatsoever, leaving them with no power to do anything. Further, the “manager” could unilaterally break any contact with any entity, void any agreements with city employees or anyone else and take any action he deemed necessary for any reason. Or no reason. Power unrestricted. He’d be God.

Neutering elected officials really bothers me. I thought it would bother our city manager, too. It apparently didn’t. His response was something like “Well, that’s interesting.” Conversation over.

Fast forward to Monday of this week. (More ...)

A not so special session

This week, the Washington Legislature, having run out of time - as so often it does - in its short regular session, will return for a special.

Not so terribly special, really. Their job (still fairly complex) is to pass a budget, and adjust a series of laws that the budget affects. But revenue increases? Evidently not on the table - and that (the debate over that, anyway) is what should probably be a genuine cause for an overage.

A simple, plain and clear summary of the situation was posted today in the Spokesman-Review.

A suggestion: Make the odd-year sessions in Washington longer, along the lines of what Oregon now does - in what is looking like a useful approach to scheduling.