Writings and observations

The opening piece of analysis from this site about the 2004 U.S. House races in the Northwest is a default to status quo. Even the one House seat we know will be open (the Idaho 1st) probably will stay with its current party. For every other House seat in the Northwest, barring unexpected retirements or something else out of the blue, the larger probability is that the incumbent will be returned in 2006 for another term.

Probable but not a lock, of couse – these things never are a lock until election day, and sometimes even then. Still, you have to look hard for many chinks in the armor. Probably only two members of the House delegation are representing districts whose partisan leanings are just a bit at odds with the incumbent’s situation. And neither of those – Republican Dave Reichert in the Washington 8th, and Peter DeFazio in Oregon’s 4th – look weak. Both won decisively in 2004.

Analysts over at the Democratic Daily Kos site, however, do list a few Northwest seats – three altogether, those two and one more – on their roster to watch, of potentially vulnerable Republican and Democratic seats.

The only vulnerable Republican in the region on the list is Reichert; the comment there is this:

Reichert is a freshman who narrowly won this swing district when it was open last time. The Dem challengers, former Microsoft executive Darcy Burner and attorney Randy Gordon are unknowns who must build name recognition. Neither has had great fundraising (not bad, but not great). Still, you gotta figure that this one will be tight when all is said and done.

On the Democratic side, Representative Brian Baird is listed as 25th most vulnerable (against businessman Tom Crowson (whom Baird beat in 2004 with 61.9%), and DeFazio 24th in a rematch with Jim Feldkamp (who is, to be sure, hustling hard early in the season).

The 17th most vulnerable Democrat, the analysis says, is a little bit of a surprise:

Washington 02 (33) (Rep. Rick Larsen (D) vs. Businessman and Fmr. Navy Officer Doug Roulstone (R)) Roulstone is a touted GOP recruits in a district that was among the closest in every election from 1994-2002. Larsen was first elected in 2000 when GOPer Jack Metcalf honored his three-term pledge. Larsen’s original election and his first reelection were close, hard-fought affairs, but he cruised in 2004. Larsen has raised $443,000 with $484,000 on hand; Roulstone has raised $156,000 with $136,000 on hand.

Larsen has been prepared and organized for a challenge for some time, as his fundraising indicates. Historically, though, the 2nd has been a marginal district. 2006 could be an indicator of whether it really is trending Democratic, or whether the last few elections (including last week’s) just happened to make it look that way.

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The sale announced Sunday of timber-producing Georgia-Pacific Corporation to Koch Indistries may not jolt the region as much as it should, since G-P moved its headquarters from Portland to Atlanta 23 years ago.

But it should draw attention, for two reasons, one economic and one political.

Koch logoOn its face, the deal seems to change little; the official Koch statements say, “Koch has confirmed that Georgia-Pacific will be operated as a privately held, wholly owned subsidiary of Koch Industries. Georgia-Pacific will continue to do business worldwide under the Georgia-Pacific name and continue to operate its businesses from its Atlanta headquarters as an independently managed company.” The impression is one of status quo.

But such deals seldom result in status quo: Where, ultimately, would be the big advantage to anyone in that? This could mean a positive. Koch, being privately rather than publicly held, doesn’t have to worry about quarterly stock price reports, and can reinvest much more heavily than a public-traded company can. That could be very good news for G-P. Alternatively, it could do the dismemberment-by-sale thing so popular on Wall Street these days. Also alternatively, it could keep G-P and even heavily reinvest, but change its practices in some dramatic way.

All of that is of some significance because George–Pacific still has substantial operations in the Northwest, including plants at Camas, Washington, and Toledo, Oregon. It is still a major regional timber player.

The political side to this is semi-related, since Koch has not been a big figure in the Northwest but now will be.

The transition statement describes Koch Industries this way: “Koch Industries, Inc., based in Wichita, Kan., owns a diverse group of companies engaged in trading, operations and investments worldwide, including a presence in 50 countries in such core industries as trading, petroleum, chemicals, energy, fibers, fertilizers, pulp and paper, ranching, securities and finance.”

That description doesn’t mention the extent to which Koch’s leaders, brothers David and Charles, is heavily involved in financing conservative Republican causes around the country.

The Center for Public Integrity describes them this way:

Koch Industries (pronounced “coke”) is a huge oil conglomerate controlled by brothers Charles and David Koch, two of the country’s richest men and among the biggest backers of conservative and libertarian causes. With estimated revenue of about $40 billion last year, Koch is bigger than Microsoft, Merrill Lynch and AT&T.

Koch is the leading campaign contributor among oil and gas companies for the 2004 election cycle, giving $587,000 so far. Next came Valero Energy at $568,000.

Since 1998, Koch is the fourth biggest campaign oil and gas industry giver, behind ChevronTexaco, El Paso Corp. and Enron Corp.

Despite its size and political largesse, Koch is able to dodge the limelight because it is privately-held, meaning that nearly all of its business dealings are known primarily only by the company and the Internal Revenue Service. In fact, it is the second largest private company in the country, trailing only food processing giant Cargill.”

More specfically, the Center notes,

Although it is both a top campaign contributor and spends millions on direct lobbying, Koch’s chief political influence tool is a web of interconnected, right-wing think tanks and advocacy groups funded by foundations controlled and supported by the two Koch brothers.

Among those groups are some of the country’s most prominent conservative and libertarian voices including the Cato Institute, the Reason Foundation, Citizens for a Sound Economy and the Federalist Society. All regularly beat the drum in official Washington for the causes the Koch’s hold dear—minimal government, deregulation, and free market economics.

For the Kochs, conservative and libertarian views are a family tradition. Fred Koch, who founded the company’s predecessor in 1940, helped establish the ultra right-wing John Birch Society.

Are we about to see heightened interest on their part in the Northwest? The next two or three years will tell.

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Presumption here is that Washington Democratic incumbent Senator Maria Cantwell starts with an edge – not overwhelming, but there – in her run for re-election next year against Republican SafeCo executive Mike McGavick.

Some confirmation comes from the new Rasmussen poll, wich outa her at 52% and him at 37%. His numbers are likely to improve as his name ID does in the months ahead, but an incumbent over 50% makes a challenger’s job tough.

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