HSU grad plays key role
When President Clinton gave his public endorsement of the $206 billion tobacco industry agreement Monday, Tracey Buck-Walsh was sitting just a few feet away, savoring the moment she had worked for so long.
"I've been living in tobacco land, as I say, for almost two years," she said in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C.
For California, the agreement means nearly $24 billion will be pumped into state and local government coffers over the next 25 years. For Humboldt County, in particular Humboldt State University, it means another alumna has made good.
A 1981 HSU resource planning graduate, Buck-Walsh, 40, is a special assistant to Attorney General Dan Lungren and was one of two lead negotiators for California in the historic tobacco deal.
A resident of Humboldt County for seven years, who up until this summer owned property here, Buck-Walsh lives in Sacramento but continues to have strong ties to the area through her in-laws. She's married to former Humboldt County Supervisor and fourth generation Humboldter Danny Walsh, a political consultant and lobbyist.
While Lungren campaigned for governor, Buck-Walsh and a colleague made repeated trips to New York, spending long hours in intense negotiations with tobacco company lawyers.
On Monday, she was at the White House when Clinton endorsed the deal before the press corps.
"We were at the National Press Club for the announcement and we went to the White House and sat in the front row when the president endorsed it," she said. "It was a very satisfying moment. The obstacles placed in the path of this settlement were many and the critics were many."
The deal negotiated after an earlier proposal died in Congress settles remaining claims from 12 states over the costs of treating sick smokers. It also places new limits on how tobacco companies market their products.
The agreement is historic, Buck-Walsh said, "not only in terms of its monetary size it's the largest settlement ever but in terms of the public health concessions we obtained."
While Buck-Walsh doesn't agree with Clinton's politics (she and her husband are Republicans), it was nevertheless an experience to watch the president in action.
"He's very good. He's just very smooth," she said. "I was looking at him when (Washington state Attorney General) Christine Gregoire was speaking and it made me feel like `Wow, I knew this was important from my own personal perspective, but here's the leader of the free world endorsing what we did.'
"I thought, `I need to write this down. This is a story for my kids.' "
Still too close to call?
By Friday, voters in Humboldt County should know who the next 5th District supervisor is and which attorney will be joining the Superior Court bench.
That's when Registrar of Voters Lindsey McWilliams expects all ballots including absentee and provisional will be counted. Within five days after that candidates, or anyone else who might care to, can request a recount, which would cost them several thousand dollars.
As of Tuesday, incumbent Supervisor Paul Kirk had pulled ahead of challenger Sara Senger by 51 votes in the 5th District and Christopher Wilson was leading Eris Wagner in the race for judge by 110 votes.
While absentee ballots for the judicial race had yet to be counted, the only thing holding up announcement of an official winner in the supervisorial race were 116 provisional ballots. And McWilliams wouldn't speculate the likelihood those ballots would change the outcome. The race for judge is countywide, and with several thousand ballots yet to be counted as of press time Wednesday, the outcome was anyone's guess.
There's no telling how many provisional ballots might turn up invalid. Provisional ballots, which are more easily obtained since federal law changed in the early 1990s, are given to voters for a variety reasons: If a voter moves and fails to re-register, or if for some reason a longtime voter's name fails to turn up on election rolls, provisional ballots can be requested, McWilliams said.
Palco won't appeal
As Pacific Lumber Co. announced it would not appeal suspension of its timber harvest license, federal officials worried aloud that the state's action might kill the Headwaters Forest sale.
At issue is acceptance of Palco's proposed habitat conservation plan, which includes provisions for "incidental take" of endangered species. The Headwaters deal is contingent on it being adopted.
But federal law prohibits issuance of incidental take permits for applicants convicted of violating environmental regulations. The law is unclear when it comes to state convictions.
The state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection suspended Palco's license six weeks before it was to run out. The company has applied for a timber harvest license for 1999 and is expected to face further state scrutiny during the approval process.
Palco, which was convicted of state Forest Practices Act violations in 1996 and 1997, is facing more charges for alleged violations in the Elk River and Freshwater Creek watersheds.
Rule benches some students
In January the Humboldt-Del Norte Athletic League plans to officially change its rules concerning high school athletic transfers a move that has some parents and high school principals crying "foul!"
The league, which is comprised of 11 high schools in Humboldt, Del Norte and Trinity counties, plans to tighten its transfer rule to say, if a student transfers from school A to school B without a change in the parent's address, that student will not be eligible to play any junior varsity or varsity level HDNL sport for one year, provided they had previously competed in that sport.
The proposed rule modeled after the California Scholarship Federation's Rule 214 was created to prevent recruiting and "school shopping." The rule prevents winning teams, for instance, from luring top athletes to their schools to further strengthen their programs.
According to an Oct. 1 letter written by Dennis Hanson, superintendent and principal of the Fortuna Union High School District, the North Coast Section of the CIF overrode the state CIF rule and adopted a more lenient policy in the 1970s. Hanson said the NCS was attempting to accommodate student-athletes' "familial and personal situations."
The NCS rule had allowed students who want to continue playing sports to petition for a waiver of ineligibility. The waiver requires the signatures of both principals, and as long as it can be shown that the transfer is not solely for athletic purposes, the student was able to continue his or her athletic participation.
But the HDNL voted 9-2 at its mid-October meeting to scrap the NCS transfer rule and implement a more stringent policy.
"We got tired of the lying. We got tired of pretending that the NCS transfer rules were keeping the playing field level for all athletes," Hanson said.
Hanson said that under the NCS rule, "The real issue in almost every (transfer) case was for athletic reasons."
The NCS rule "has led to the same (recruiting) abuses that existed before the state CIF adopted their existing transfer rule" Hanson said.
Jacobs said although none of the other schools in the HDNL have been willing to publicly accuse St. Bernard's of recruiting, it has been suggested that the private school may have offered "financial aid" to athletes who couldn't afford the tuition.
But Jacobs said that students applying for financial aid at St. Bernard's send their application to a company on the East Coast for review.
"Athletics isn't a part of the questionnaire," Jacobs said. "The people on the East Coast have no idea if the kids play sports or not."
The proposed HDNL rule is a return to the CIF Rule 214. It would allow transferring students who want to play varsity sports to apply for a "hardship" waiver only for an "unforeseeable, unavoidable and incorrectable acts" causing a "non-athletic" burden on the student.
Maureen Bolton, a parent and member of the school board at St. Bernard's High, calls the language in the proposed HDNL rule "hard to decipher." She said the rule essentially prevents transfering juniors and seniors from playing sports.
"These students need athletics for the discipline and the camaraderie," she said. "They're having to fight to be able to play.
Jeff Jacobs, principal of St. Bernard's, agreed.
"It comes down to integrity," he said. "(The new rule) creates the problems that students have to prove hardship. It brings personalities into this."
Although the HDNL hasn't formally adopted the new rule, Hanson said the rule has already been used in five hardship requests. The league was able to implement the rule based on a voting technicality that occurred as a result of the HDNL's meeting last April.
Hanson said two of those transfer requests were denied, two were accepted and one is "in the pipeline."
Too many physicians?
As more and more doctors flee the managed care environment of metropolitan areas for the independence still offered in rural communities, one Humboldt County family practitioner asks, "Is our area becoming glutted with physicians?"
In an editorial in the Humboldt-Del Norte County Medical Society monthly newsletter, Dr. Stephen Kamelgarn reports that Humboldt County has 182 physicians per 100,000 people, six times more than what it considered a shortage and just four physicians shy of surpassing recommended service levels.
"We have a wonderful medical community up here on the North Coast, but as our numbers swell we run the risk of `Balkanization,' with us fragmenting into every smaller and more parochial factions," Kamelgarn writes.
In his research, which Kamelgarn points out is not scientific, the doctor found that while Humboldt and Del Norte counties have an abundance of general practitioners, the area is lacking specialists in disciplines such as rheumatology.
The doctor, a family practitioner with Health Care Medical Associates in Eureka, does not draw conclusions in his editorial but rather raises questions as "a wake up call for the medical community."
"It seems that every time I turn around," he writes, "I'm receiving yet another notice to welcome yet another new physician to the area." Within the past year, 58 new physicians have moved to the two counties, he said.
Kamelgarn blames the trend on managed care and health maintenance organizations in more populated areas, which, he said, create an unpleasant, cutthroat working environment.
While Humboldt County has "a very small penetration" of managed care, the area has no health maintenance organizations such as Kaiser Permanente. And Kamelgarn doesn't see that changing any time soon.
The largest managed care contract here is through Blue Cross California Care, but the number of people using that insurance "pales before the amount of Medicare and Medi-Cal up here. They're really the 500-pound gorilla in our corner," he said. (According to Kamelgarn, having some one-third of Humboldt residents on government-assisted insurance discourages health maintenance organizations from moving into the area.)
He writes: "We've all heard horror stories of the practice climate in such places as San Francisco, with actual unemployed doctors (formerly an oxymoron). Do we wish to foster the same climate up here in our little corner of paradise? I think not."
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