Northwest Digest

Posted: Friday, July 13, 2007

House Majority caucus hires Bitney

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ANCHORAGE - John Bitney, who resigned last week as Gov. Sarah Palin's legislative director, will be working for the House Majority caucus, House Speaker John Harris said Thursday.

Harris, a Valdez Republican, cited Bitney's experience with the Legislature when announcing the hire. Harris said Bitney's duties initially will include researching legislative and budget issues.

"John's intimate knowledge of state budgets, as well as his recent experience advocating for the governor's gas pipeline bill, will be very helpful in the process going forward into the coming legislative sessions," Harris said in a prepared statement.

Bitney had served as Palin's legislative director since December 2006. He left last Friday for personal reasons.

Bus driver charged with sexual assault

ANCHORAGE - A city bus driver was charged Wednesday with molesting a 24-year-old woman who has the mental capacity of a child.

James R. Cloud, 46, was being held at the Anchorage jail with bail set at $20,000. The four-year People Mover employee faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $100,000 fine for the second-degree assault charge, a felony.

Judge Susan Lombardi ordered Cloud be appointed a public defender during his arraignment.

Speaking from behind a Plexiglas window in the jail courtroom, Cloud told Lombardi he had no questions about the charge, which Anchorage police Lt. Paul Honeman said was more severe because of his position as a bus driver.

"This person is in a position of authority," he said. "If he's exploiting that for his own personal gain, it can result in a higher degree of sexual assault. It makes it more aggravated."

Firebreak keeps blaze from Oregon towns

BURNS, Ore. - Firefighters tussled with gusty winds and hot, dry weather Thursday and managed to keep the growing Egley Complex of fires from southeastern Oregon towns.

The fires were burning on more than 72,000 acres, or about 112 square miles, in Harney County. Temperatures Thursday were in the lower 90s.

Officials closed the Chickahominy Campground off Highway 20 for use as a staging area for firefighters and a helicopter. About 1,200 firefighters were on the fire, nearly double the size since Tuesday.

Bulldozers earlier had defended the towns of Burns and Hines, five miles east of the fires.

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