Fist-bumps in anti-government crowd

By John Laird June 12, 2011 6 a.m.

Trivia question: What historical leader said the following? “All of us together, in and out of government, must bear the burden. The solutions we seek must be equitable, with no one group singled out to pay a higher price.” Karl Marx? Chairman Mao? Barack Hussein Obama?

Let majority rule ... as long as I’m in it

By John Laird June 5, 2011 6 a.m.

Caution: Whenever a journalist starts writing about math, remain highly suspicious. Not necessarily about his views, just his numbers. Through many years of cooking adventures, I have misinterpreted countless recipe numbers and thrown away enough inedible meals to fill a dozen compost tumblers. Those culinary disasters all began with my lousy math. This flaw is also why I am allowed nowhere near a family budget.

All together now: ‘Thanks, Florida!’

By John Laird May 29, 2011 6 a.m.

Fellow Washingtonians, hoist your glasses high and let’s toast our state’s newest BFF: Rick Scott. Because the Florida governor bullheadedly rejected $2.3 billion in federal funding for rail improvements, Washington state is $15 million richer in our own drive for better railroads.

How did Judgment Day go for you?

By John Laird May 22, 2011 6 a.m.

You’re probably wondering why I bothered to write a column for the day after the world ended. But as a hard-working professional, I can weather the greatest adversities. After work on Friday evening, I decided to sneak in a quick nine holes of golf since the world was ending the next day, and I gotta tell you, I was putting like there was no tomorrow. This latest doomsday story gained momentum in recent months as the national media focused on Harold Camping, 89, a preacher in Oakland, Calif., who leads an evangelical nonprofit called Family Radio. I’m not sure why it’s called a nonprofit. This outfit raised $100 million over the past seven years and, according to the Contra Costa Times, Camping’s crew owns 66 radio stations and was worth more than $72 million in 2009.

Listen to Gresham, Hillsboro mayors

By John Laird May 15, 2011 6 a.m.

Somewhere between the lovers and haters of light rail resides the truth. Infatuated supporters think light rail is the best thing since the invention of the wheel, while ferocious foes quickly excoriate the fiscal waste and criminal dangers of the Crime-Train Loot-Rail Victims-In-A-Box CrimeMet system over in Pagan Portland. In search of that middle-ground truth, three years ago I rode the MAX Blue Line for 66 miles from Gresham to Hillsboro and back. It wasn’t the most exciting afternoon of my life, but the Blue Line seemed to be an effective transportation alternative … a choice. None of the passengers complained that light rail was “shoved down our throats” or that we were “forced out of our cars.” As the light rail debate intensifies on this side of the river, a couple of telephone calls seemed in order last week. The premise: “How’s that light rail stuff workin’ out for ya?” For answers, I contacted two politicians whose re-electability rides partly on how well they deal with light rail.

Men at weddings: Show up, shut up

By John Laird May 1, 2011 6 a.m.

One recent evening as I walked through our den, an explosion coming from the TV sounded like Bill Mazeroski just hit a walk-off home run in the ninth inning to lead the Pittsburgh Pirates past the New York Yankees in the seventh game of the World Series. This could not be true, I knew, because all of that happened back in 1960 when I was in the seventh grade. But it sure sounded like that. Of course, the TV screen showed nothing of the sort. All I saw on that screen was a bunch of women shrieking at a wedding dress being shown to them by a designer who had dollar signs where his eyes were supposed to be. I don’t know how anyone can get that stoked about seeing a dress they knew all along would be white and worn only once. But there are a lot of things I don’t know about weddings.

In America, winners should never lose

By John Laird April 24, 2011 6 a.m.

Vermont last week became the latest state to join the drive for a popularly elected president. The little state with just three electoral votes approved a measure that would assure the top vote-getter of becoming the most powerful person in the world. Our state did the same thing two years ago, and now seven states have enlisted in a crusade that would not replace the Electoral College (that would require amending the Constitution) but would make the antiquated system subject to the will of the people.

Clark County: best place in the world

By John Laird April 17, 2011 6 a.m.

Here’s proof that calendars lie: Wednesday will mark one month since spring officially arrived on March 20. Yeah, right. And again this year, I urge readers to stop cursing spring for its tardiness and look on the bright side of our local weather. That bright side should arrive any day now. In 2003, I fled the desert (after breaking Moses’ wandering record by 14 years) and sought asylum in the Pacific Northwest. Recently, one of my friends back in the badlands told me it hasn’t rained there in 70 days. Grass fires are consuming the prickly pear. I also know winters here are milder than in many parts of America. So you won’t hear me complain about spring arriving late — no, sir. No amount of moss and mildew will make me forget that — from Easter to Thanksgiving — Clark County serves up seven months of super weather and spectacular sights.

False alarm: DADT repeal not so bad

By John Laird April 10, 2011 6 a.m.

Condolences to all former husbands and former wives whose marriages have been ruined as the encroachment of gay rights erodes the institution of marriage. I know all of you would still be married today if it weren’t for the rise of civil unions and the fall of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” These ghastly trends toward tolerance certainly boost the divorce rate much higher than, say, adultery, alcoholism, spousal abuse, financial hardships, bowling leagues and poker parties. Last week, I went searching for explanations of how the American way of life is being torn asunder by these trends. I was drawn to a story in The Washington Post on Monday that began: “Congressional Republicans — still seething from last year’s repeal of the military’s ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy — are hoping for a progress report Thursday from the military’s top service chiefs about training programs designed to inform the rank and file about ending the ban on gays (serving openly) in the military.”

Tea for two: no talk about politics

By John Laird April 3, 2011 6 a.m.

Confession time has arrived. It was probably going to get out sooner or later. Yes, the rumor is true. I have actually attended a Tea Party rally … and on my own volition. Well, it wasn’t a rally as such. And it wasn’t the Tea Party, just a lower-case tea party. The 3-year-old hostess didn’t much care about her guest’s political failings. As soon as Grampa Johnny agreed to put down the remote, he got invited to Eleanor’s tea party.

Who, really, are ‘the American people’?

By John Laird March 27, 2011 6 a.m.

Obviously, the American people want more tax-supported public golf courses in Clark County. OK, so maybe it’s not the American people per se. And OK, maybe it’s just my foursome on the golf course. And if you insist on details, maybe our vote wasn’t unanimous. Maybe it was just 75 percent of us, because before I polled the group Bubba had announced he was quitting golf for good and walked off the course leaving one golf ball and five craters in an unraked sand trap. But that won’t stop me from claiming to represent “the American people” in my crusade for more local golf courses.

I’m no elitist; just ask my chauffeur

By John Laird March 20, 2011 6 a.m.

The other day while I was turning my compost pile and mixing in some steer manure and coffee grounds, I got to wondering what it takes to be classified as an “elitist.” That particular term is snarled frequently these days during political discussions, usually by people who don’t get their way or can’t get their politicians elected. Naturally, each of us wonders with great trepidation: “Am I an elitist?” Or even more frantically: “Could I be an elitist and not even know it?”

What’s not to love about Portland?

By John Laird March 13, 2011 6 a.m.

Trivia Question: What does Jack Ely of Terrebonne, Ore., have to do with a column about Portland? (Answer below.) Next month marks the eighth anniversary of my move to Clark County, and my only regret is that it didn’t happen 30 years earlier. Blessed is the man who lives in the best community in the best state in the best country in the world.

With freedom comes responsibility

By John Laird March 6, 2011 6 a.m.

Here are four questions to ponder as we examine the subject of freedom of speech at the local level. Your feedback is welcome via online comments or letters to the editor: 1. Does anyone else see the irony when some of our community’s most visible and ubiquitous public speakers complain that their freedom of speech is being denied?

Don’t even think about annexation

By John Laird February 27, 2011 6 a.m.

Hoping to minimize the vigilante uprisings that occur every time I mention the word “annexation,” let me make one thing perfectly clear here in the first paragraph: Officials with the city of Vancouver have no plans to annex Hazel Dell or Salmon Creek in the foreseeable future … or probably ever. They wouldn’t dare. Public sentiments in those two parts of the county lean strongly toward remaining unincorporated. But things are different in the Minnehaha, VanMall and Orchards areas, and in far east Vancouver in the Harmony neighborhood. Unlike residents in Hazel Dell and Salmon Creek, most folks in these four areas receive water and sewer services from the city of Vancouver. And as residents of Fire District 5, they’re protected by the Vancouver Fire Department.

Local ankle biters are filing their fangs

By John Laird February 20, 2011 6 a.m.

For the local group BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything), Monday morning’s transportation “listening session” will be better than going to Disneyland. An influential member of Congress will be in town. For the ankle biters, that’s like Disneyland coming to you! Surely they’ll be out in force at the 9 to 11 a.m. meeting at the Clark Public Utilities Building, 1200 Fort Vancouver Way. The show’s headliner will be a man unknown to many Clark County residents until recently: John Mica. The Republican congressman from Florida chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. He was invited here by U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, because the transportation reauthorization bill later this year will fund major infrastructure projects across the nation. Of course, the Columbia River Crossing is — or should be — high on that list.

In politics, all paupers are nonpartisan

By John Laird February 13, 2011 6 a.m.

When your ambulance arrives, do you care if the driver is liberal or conservative? When you’re down to your last buck, does it matter if your next dollar comes from a guy who is straight or gay, vegan or carnivore, Husky or Cougar, Duck or Beaver? For sure, adversity has this strange way of unifying people across seemingly impermeable boundaries. The adversity that engulfs our Legislature is financial. These days, both Democratic and Republican lawmakers are boasting about how harmoniously they’re working to overcome a multi-billion-dollar budget shortfall. One reason the elected officials do this is because they want to become re-elected officials, and “collaborative problem solver” and “reaches effectively across the aisle” will impress voters who read upcoming campaign brochures. But another reason they do this is because they simply have no other choice. They’re broke.

Even tax-averse Texans tolerate tolls

By John Laird February 6, 2011 6 a.m.

Last week I dropped into a meeting of Toll Haters United Must Protest! (THUMP) and found the pitchfork pounding even more robust than usual. It seems the local THUMPers had gotten themselves all fizzed up about their group trip to Super Bowl XLV in Arlington, Texas. They had learned from a Dallas Morning News story that — whether they’re fans of the Steelers or the Packers — they’ll all probably get socked with some roadway tolls when they check in their rental cars after today’s big showdown. Uh-oh. The Dallas area has more than 80 miles of toll roads and — despite the THUMPers’ best planning — the visitors likely will drive in front of a tollway camera or two. Of course, nothing good can come from that. Tolls in and around Dallas generally run from 22 cents to about $1.40 for drivers who have TollTags and about 50 percent more for those who do not. The Morning News reported: “Driving a rental vehicle on the toll roads can get costly, both because the North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA) charges its highest rates for such customers and because (rental) car companies can tack on ‘convenience’ fees that in some cases far outstrip the cost of the tolls.”

Keep music, sports strong in schools

By John Laird January 30, 2011 6 a.m.

Nonmusicians often underestimate the impact that music has on other people’s lives. This is not just some part-time dalliance or hobby. For many people, music is a part of every waking moment. Even if our jobs aren’t music-related, many of us have melodies running through our minds constantly. Some people hear voices; others of us hear songs. Which brings me to my next point: Some of you need to change your ring tones to something that sounds more like a telephone. Please, I’m beggin’ you. I know this sounds overly critical, but when some stupid song blares piercingly from your tiny phone speaker, it’ll run through a nearby musician’s mind for an hour or so. Don’t believe me? I’ll prove it with four words: dogs barking “Jingle Bells.” There. That oughta do it. Now try getting that insipid ditty out of your head.

The ‘state of the union’ is … mundane

By John Laird January 23, 2011 6 a.m.

Americans would love to see — just once — a president step before a January microphone and notify Congress and all the happy peasants watching on TV: “The state of the union is abysmal, and I am to blame.” Alas, the chances of President Obama muttering that confession on Tuesday night are about as remote as Republicans selecting their oldest, ugliest member of Congress to deliver the GOP’s response. The State of the Union address is one of the most shallow and mundane tasks any president undertakes, in my view. Obama performs better when the stage is set by recent circumstances, not by tradition. In Tucson, for example, he seized control of a tragedy and coaxed a wounded country back toward a higher belief in itself (if only temporarily). Tuesday night, we probably should set the bar a little lower.

Learn by listening to the 9-year-olds

By John Laird January 16, 2011 6 a.m.

Eager to transfer my vast parental wisdom to my daughter, I sat her down about 20 years ago for another BLT (Boring Lecture Time). The subject was bigotry, and our shared need to repudiate it. This was my chance to set one young mind permanently upon a proper path, sort of my gift to the world. The intensity of the lecture rose as I explained the evils of prejudice and, wanting her to become more like me, I concluded with a robust, “I really hate bigots.” She rolled her eyes, then bore them directly at me and muttered, “Dad, think about what you just said.”

The Constitution belongs to all of us

By John Laird January 9, 2011 6 a.m.

Two days after standing in the U.S. House of Representatives and reciting the First Amendment’s guarantee of “the right of the people peaceably to assemble,” Gabrielle Giffords was gunned down outside a Tucson grocery store. The Congressional Democrat had been assembling with her constituents. At least six people died, and 12 (including Giffords) were wounded. As details of this tragedy unfold in days to come, Americans should agree that the U.S. Constitution must be nurtured by the way we live, work and play each day. Some days pass routinely. Other days present joys worthy of mountain-top arias. Then there are days such as Saturday, when families are torn apart, and not even the Constitution can protect some people’s rights.

Public officials set their sights on 2011

By John Laird January 2, 2011 6 a.m.

My investigative aides have spent the last several weeks snooping around the more visible public figures and ferreting out New Year’s resolutions. As it turns out, many of these famous people made more than just one resolution. Hoping to beat WikiLeaks to the punch, I herewith present these promises for the edification of the electorate: Newly elected Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler resolves: To resist the urge to snarl, “Stop squawking about my name change. Here’s the deal. I’ll call you by whatever name you like, so why don’t you just return the courtesy and call me by whatever name I like? Got it? Good!”

Equality: Why must it take so long?

By John Laird December 26, 2010 6 a.m.

Today it is my distinct privilege to announce the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” No, no, not that DADT. The other DADT. You know, the one I described in my Feb. 7 column about my neighborhood — Hazel Dell But The Good Part — adopting a policy on being openly Texan. Explaining the HDBTGP doctrine, I wrote: “No one can ask if you’re a Texan. How you barbecue in the privacy of your own backyard is nobody else’s business. … As long as you aren’t flaunting the Lone Star lifestyle, you are accepted.” Just be careful not to “mutter something deviant like ‘How ’bout them Cowboys?’”

Tax cuts and tsunamis: That’s so 2011

By John Laird December 19, 2010 6 a.m.

So, is everyone ready for the 2012 presidential campaign? Hey, kickoff is expected any minute now! As the Nov. 2 election fades in the rear-view mirror, let’s look ahead — way ahead. Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer offered this preview in Friday’s Washington Post: “If Barack Obama wins re-election in 2012, as is now more likely than not, historians will mark his comeback as beginning on Dec. 6, the day of the Great Tax Cut Deal of 2010.” Whoa, Charlie! Such despondency will get you banished even deeper into the GOP doghouse. Get with the program, son.

It’s time to empower the DREAMers

By John Laird December 12, 2010 6 a.m.

When it comes to sheer meanness, it’s hard to match the contempt that’s raging among some Americans these days for the DREAM Act. This decade-old measure contains provisions for undocumented students who graduate from high school to gain temporary legal residency, and later permanent legal residency. For the first, a student must have lived in the U.S. for five years, must have been brought here before age 16 and must be of good moral character. Within six years, the student is considered for permanent legal residency if he or she graduates from a two-year college or completes two years toward a four-year degree or serves two years in the U.S. military. In other words, if you’re good and smart, you can be an American.

Holiday season belongs to everyone

By John Laird December 5, 2010 6 a.m.

Because people love parades and the holiday season is full of lights, a Holiday Parade of Lights is scheduled Saturday in Tulsa, Okla. Logical? Yes, but Jim Inhofe is furious: “Until the parade is again named the Christmas Parade of Lights, I will not participate,” said the U.S. senator who usually rides a horse in the parade. Oh, brother; here we go again. The supposed “War on Christmas” — which only the defenders seem to fight — is resumed. Just as predictable as Santa’s flight and Bill O’Reilly’s defense of Christmas, this is the season when Inhofe and other xenophobes shudder at the thought of Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews and atheists feeling welcome at a parade. This is worse, to them, than mere political correctness or the creeping incursion of diversity. This is their winter Crusade, not to be confused with the jihads by other fundamentalists that O’Reilly, Inhofe and others warn against.

Balance arrives at public podiums

By John Laird November 14, 2010 6 a.m.

Have the Hounds of Whinerville met their match? Perhaps temporarily, and on one particular battlefield: the Columbia River Crossing. But never underestimate the durability of the chronic complainers who camp out at public meetings. Here in Clark County, the Hounds of Whinerville are a leashless confederation of contrarians who could also be described as NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard), CAVE (Citizens Against Virtually Everything) and my personal favorite: BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything). Make no mistake, their disdain for progress is as vigorous as their contempt for a three-minute timer.

Election’s over; everyone calm down

By John Laird November 7, 2010 6 a.m.

My former-drill-sergeant therapist said that, if I didn’t like the results of Tuesday’s election, maybe I should chug on over to Mamby Pamby Land and find some self-confidence. His stern advice helped boost my spirits, although I’m still trying to decipher what he meant by “you jack wagon.” Even if you don’t recognize that Geico TV commercial, you’ve got to admit we’re all burdened these days by post-election psychological strains. Here are a few myths and realities that might lend stability to the chaos.

Our words should carry consequences

By John Laird October 24, 2010 6 a.m.

These days, to be politically correct is neither political nor correct. It’s one of the quickest ways to spark anger. Some self-appointed experts on the subject are bloated with hypocrisy. Many liberals were irate when the Dixie Chicks were criticized for anti-Bush comments. How dare you erode singer Natalie Maines’ free-speech rights! But last week many of those same liberals ignored Juan Williams’ free-speech rights after he said Muslim airplane passengers made him nervous. Fire the insensitive babbler!

Root for the villains in TV attack ads

By John Laird October 17, 2010 6 a.m.

If David Allan Coe ever ran for political office, his opponent would run an attack ad on TV. A man with a deep, frightening drawl — say, Sam Elliott — would snarl something like: “Tardy alcoholic Coe arrived too late to rescue his ex-con mother from a violent death! Do we really want him to be our next senator? Not in this state!” That indictment of Coe would be false. But because Coe crooned a vaguely similar confession once (no, repeatedly, almost nightly in honky tonks), it becomes nectar for his political opponent’s campaign manager. Coe is the outlaw country singer who, when trying to write the perfect country-music verse, penned this masterpiece:

Drama intensifies for Nov. 2 election

By John Laird October 10, 2010 6 a.m.

Notes, quotes and anecdotes about the national, regional and local political scenes: Please, ditch the partisan labels — If it really doesn’t matter if the chief of the Washington State Patrol — or a city police chief — is a Republican or a Democrat, why should it matter if a county sheriff is a Republican or a Democrat? Of course, it doesn’t matter, yet in our state candidates for sheriff must declare party affiliation, or independence. In Clark County we have GOP incumbent Sheriff Garry Lucas running against Democrat challenger Tim Shotwell. Both say they hate having to declare a party affiliation, and they see no possible way that partisanship could play a role in law enforcement. It’s time for state leaders to ignore entrenched defenders of the status quo and make sheriffs’ elections nonpartisan.

Kindred spirits leave lasting legacies

By John Laird October 3, 2010 6 a.m.

Hearts are heavy throughout Clark County after Thursday’s passing of two influential and beloved pillars of our community. In age, they were separated by 10 years. In occupation, they were separated by the proverbial wall that divides the news reporter from the newsmaker. But in many other ways, Tom Koenninger and Bill Fromhold were kindred spirits. These were two straight-shooters with colossal credibility. I knew both men well enough to know that each would be proud to be compared to the other. That’s why, even through the heartache, this is one of the easiest columns to write.

3rd District’s lines to be redrawn soon

By John Laird September 26, 2010 6 a.m.

Take a good look at that race in the 3rd Congressional District. No, not the candidates (Camas Republican Jaime Herrera or Olympia Democrat Denny Heck, to succeed Brian Baird). I’m talking about the district itself. This will be the last election for the 3rd as we know it. The 2010 Census will trigger the decennial redistricting efforts, and the two fastest growing congressional districts in our state are the 3rd (Clark, Pacific, Wahkiakum and Cowlitz counties and most of Thurston and Skamania counties) and the 8th (Bellevue, eastern King and Pierce County). Both districts will shrink in geographical size to meet redistricting standards. Then, the 2012 election will be based on the redrawn boundaries.

Freedom lives even during the shouting

By John Laird September 19, 2010 6 a.m.

Much as I would like for it to, my freedom of speech does not entitle me to sing “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” on your front porch at 4 a.m. accompanied by my 2½-year-old granddaughter. Nor does the Constitution enable local activists to angrily grind their axes with long-winded sermons on irrelevant topics at public meetings. And yet, anxious as they are to proselytize at every opportunity (especially when TV cameras roll), some local crusaders have been turning “citizen communication” portions of public meetings into unproductive harangues.

In politics, solidarity withers quickly

By John Laird September 12, 2010 6 a.m.

Having coached more than a dozen Little League teams through the years, I’ve learned that solidarity is a great thing. Keep the kids focused on teamwork. But I’ve also learned that, if your team has no talent, solidarity doesn’t mean squat. Ultimately, your team’s weaknesses will be exposed. This reality also applies in politics. Instead of baseball dugouts, political parties have caucus rooms where they hide and huddle to get their acts together. Ultimately, though, even the most rigid alliance can’t hide the truth.

News flash! Universities are liberal!

By John Laird August 29, 2010 6 a.m.

When our daughter Jennifer graduated from the University of Southern California in 1999, she had something that Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity still don’t have: a college degree. Then, after gaining her master’s at George Washington University, any connection she might have had to those three men grew even more strained. Now that she’s working on her doctorate at the University of Washington, Jennifer has virtually nothing in common with the talk-show titans other than her co-residence with them in the homo sapien species. But this 32-year-old woman is not without her flaws. For example, I have to keep reminding Jennifer that her alma mater USC has (or had) a superb sports program. “We’re the Trojans, right?” she keeps chortling. Now that Jennifer is in Seattle, the Huskies’ recent return to football prominence elicits from her only a glazed stare. I doubt if she even knows that the man who built USC’s most recent football dynasty (Pete Carroll) now coaches the Seattle Seahawks in the NFL.

Reflections on Tuesday’s showdown

By John Laird August 22, 2010 6 a.m.

Notes, quotes and anecdotes in the aftermath of Washington state’s top-two primary: • We the people … — A Seattle Times editorial offers two examples that support the greatness of the top-two primary. In the 38th Legislative District (Everett), Democrat challenger Nick Harper got 35 percent of the primary vote, incumbent Democrat state Sen. Jean Berkey received 33 percent, and Republican challenger Rod Rieger got 31 percent. So two Democrats advanced. That’s what the people wanted, and what party leaders wanted didn’t matter. In the 14th District (Yakima), incumbent Republican Rep. Norm Johnson got 45 percent, Republican Michelle Strobel 34 percent, and Democrat Scott Brumback 21 percent. So two Republicans advanced. That’s what the people wanted. Any questions?

When ‘I resign’ turns into ‘Wheee!’

By John Laird August 15, 2010 6 a.m.

Sliding down an evacuation chute with a couple of beers — and without an exit interview — sounds like a great way to tender one’s resignation, doesn’t it? That’s why it didn’t take long for Steven Slater to become a cult hero. As Americans debate the propriety of using an airplane’s PA system to cuss out the customers, I suggest this is one of those rare events when we should not get bogged down in details. Yeah, maybe the JetBlue flight attendant might have been more of a provocateur than a victim. It doesn’t matter. This is still a great story.

Stressed? Discover peace at the park

By John Laird August 8, 2010 6 a.m.

From its namesake to its largest statue to the frequent groups of stroller-pushing exercisers, there is no denying the feminine mystique of Esther Short Park. As far as I’m concerned, the mere fact that she had 10 children qualified Esther for the honor that remains hers 188 years after the park was dedicated. She and others are commemorated with “The Pioneer Woman” statue on the north side of the 5-acre park in downtown Vancouver. Like a consoling mother, the park reaches out to comfort the weary journalist who has wandered from the west to escape the stress of political upheaval, social unrest and national economic decay. The park’s maternal solace is extended quietly, for the most part, punctuated occasionally by a swinging child’s giggle or the soft click of a camera shutter by the flower beds. More than once, as I have left the park and crept back to work, a colleague coming toward me, embarking on his own relief mission, has snapped, “One of us is walking the wrong way.”

Helicopter ride: the ultimate OMG!

By John Laird August 1, 2010 6 a.m.

Our awe-inspiring Northwest has inflicted an awful impact on my golf game. Precious practice time has been spent instead wandering the woods, cruising the Gorge, combing beaches, hopping islands and gazing transfixed at leaping salmon, diving raptors and hour-long sunsets. Strange, how so many people around here take all this for granted. In seven years I’ve seen more of the beauty that decorates this region than many long-time local residents have seen in 30 years. A friend confessed recently: “Silver Falls State Park east of Salem, Ore.? Yeah, I’ve thought about going there.” Dude, get off the couch! We’re talking 9-mile trail with 10 waterfalls, four of which you walk behind!

Toll lessons learned after the election

By John Laird July 25, 2010 6 a.m.

Wednesday afternoon, Royce Pollard answered my first question in our telephone interview: “I feel great!” Much better, apparently, than a day earlier, Tuesday morning, when he told Bob Miller in a KPAM-860 radio interview: “I want to puke.” My question was a polite inquiry about the former Vancouver mayor’s health. Miller’s question on the radio was more to the point: How did Pollard feel about Tim Leavitt’s switcheroo on bridge tolls? Last year, Leavitt ousted Pollard from his 14-year mayor’s job largely on the strength of a no-tolls vow but recently admitted that tolls would, indeed, be needed. Predictably, Leavitt’s post-election conversion has unleashed the Hounds of Whinerville, who used to carry Leavitt around on their shoulders but now want to carry him out of town on a rail.

Denver, Seattle thinking long-term

By John Laird July 18, 2010 6 a.m.

Travel typically serves up the wonders of comparison and discovery. Having been born a couple of centuries too late to fully accommodate my wanderlust, I settle instead for leisure reading about the Oregon Trail and Lewis and Clark. My travels yield nowhere near the sense of awe that those pioneers experienced, but on the positive side, I’m less likely to become trapped in a blizzard, die of dysentery or ensnare myself in the nasty politics of a wagon train election. Earlier this month I was able to compare two great cities — Denver and Seattle — with the place where I live: Hazel Dell But The Good Part. In the Mile High City on Sunday evening, July 4, I rediscovered the advantages of public fireworks displays over the private, amateur efforts. Downtown Denver was ablaze that evening with smoothly orchestrated, professional pyrotechnics. Back home in HDBTGP, I knew the tenderfoot technicians were doing their best to keep the term “blowing up the neighborhood” merely hyperbolic and not literal.

States’ revenue lifeboats are leaking

By John Laird June 27, 2010 6 a.m.

Hair-on-fire ranting usually draws the most attention. Such a tactic is much easier than any in-depth analyses. And, best of all, it’s much easier for the media to cover. Nevertheless, while we’re all sharpening our pitchforks and larding up our torches in preparation for our march on Olympia to storm the Capitol for raising our taxes, several calmer minds have taken a more academic approach. Before I report the findings from the geeks, allow me to address the popular belief that the public sector should be run like the private sector. In many ways, this is true. Certainly, employee pay and benefits should be comparable in both sectors. But in other ways, government and business are strikingly different. The Great Recession illuminates one difference. In these times of plummeting revenues for state governments, many needs for government services actually increase. Less revenue + more need = budget crisis. Factor in the political element of an election year, and the budget-writing challenge gets even tougher.

Get your dander up, for a good reason

By John Laird June 20, 2010 6 a.m.

Fellow Clark Countians, our long nightmare is over. The No. 1 crisis in our community is averted. For the first time in three months, the traffic lights on Hazel Dell Avenue at 81st and 82nd streets no longer flash red and instead show all three colors, as our Founding Fathers intended. Hallelujah! Now we can proceed to the No. 2 crisis in our community: whether dogs should be allowed at Vancouver Farmers Market. (Can you tell I’ve been editing letters to the editor? Is it that obvious?)

Awaiting the anti-incumbent tsunami

By John Laird June 13, 2010 6 a.m.

That old line about lawyers — they’re all rotten except mine — seems to apply also to incumbent politicians. No doubt, Americans are angry with elected officials. A recent USA Today/Gallup poll showed 63 percent of voters believing most members of Congress do not deserve to be re-elected. But whether that anger trickles out from Washington, D.C., into local ballot boxes remains to be seen.

Vacations renew our identity crisis

By John Laird June 6, 2010 6 a.m.

Ah, summer! Always the best season here in Clark County, and elsewhere as vacations unfold. Unfortunately, when we venture more than a few hours’ drive beyond our community, we usually become entangled in familiar snares of geographic confusion. It’s the price we pay for living in or near a city that few people in distant places have ever heard of. (Sorry to offend longtime local residents, but some of us never knew about Vancouver, Wash., until we started thinking about moving here). Our problem is compounded by the fact that we must share our city’s name with a younger but bigger and more prominent city. And worsening our identity crisis this year have been two developments in sports: the 2010 Winter Olympics, and the more recent success of the Vancouver Canucks in the National Hockey League playoffs. Not until May 11 were the Vancouver skaters eliminated by the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference semifinals. For almost a month of hockey playoffs, newspapers across two nations carried headlines about “Vancouver.”

The bravery begins in the boot camps

By John Laird May 30, 2010 6 a.m.

Even before the man they called “Pops” rose to speak to the soldiers, they knew something was up. The age discrepancy had been obvious for a full week, our first week in boot camp. I had tried to hide the fact that I was 41. The other recruits didn’t know that I had enlisted in the Army for just one week, or that their leaders allowed me to do so as research for a seven-part series of columns I would write. The drill sergeants knew about my scheme during that one week back in 1990, but they granted me no preferential treatment. The recruits weren’t told about my little project, but from the moment the Army clippers grazed my scalp, everyone I encountered at Fort Bliss in El Paso knew I was different, older than the norm. Some suspected I was an infiltrator from the command side, checking to see if boot camp was running properly.

Don’t mix politics with police work

By John Laird May 16, 2010 6 a.m.

View the Columbia River for a moment in the context of a zoo fence. Which side has the people, and which side has the critters? With the superiority complexes that exist on both sides of the river, it’s hard to tell. Every time some dolt on our side of the river acts up and grabs headlines, Portlanders trot out the derisive labels such as “Vancooter” or “Vantucky.” But then something happens over there that proves the real zoo captives are the Oregonians. After all, we on this side of the river are the civilization that’s advanced enough for people to pump their own gas. We’re even enlightened enough to legalize 70 mph.

Polls offer scant reason to get excited

By John Laird May 9, 2010 6 a.m.

Another way of looking at the 2008 presidential election is described in this hypothetical headline: “War hero McCain draws 59 million votes; alleged Muslim from Kenya finishes next-to-last.” Technically, I suppose, that headline could be defended by some people as accurate. The same flexibility of perspective applies to polls. Like biblical passages, they are whatever you want them to be. The arrival of May signals the unofficial start of the political primary season as speculation intensifies and more polls are released. Public interest grows in June as candidates officially file to run for office (June 7-11). The drama accelerates in July with more candidate forums and endorsements, and the competition hits full stride on July 28 when ballots for the Aug. 17 primary are mailed.