Writings and observations

Washington and Idaho just finished a major newspaper ownership transfer, one of the biggest in a generation. Is it about to see a new one?

Knight RidderThe national backdrop is the decline in newspaper circulation, following a quarter-century of ever-tighter squeezing of profits out of newspapers. That is something the recent newspaper swap between Gannett Corporation and Knight-Ridder, which left the latter with the Boise Idaho Statesman, the Olympia Olympian and the Bellingham Herald, in addition to the 49% of the Seattle Times it already owned, did not address. But now Knight-Ridder’s largest single shareholder is hitting it head on.

He – as head honch at Private Capital Management – is Floridian Bruce Sherman, a major figure in Wall Street circles, and expert in the game of buying low and selling high. Knight-Ridder’s stock prices, in which Sherman is heavily invested, have been on a general decline for some years. Sherman has been bullish on newspapers in large part because they maintain a heavy cash flow as well as (generally speaking) excellent profits; but what will the future bring? His solution (hello, Albertsons!): Put up the pieces or the whole at auction, sell it off. From the perspective of stock prices, at least, Sherman appears to have a point: K-R’s numbers took an uptick after he pitched his point.

Consider this from the Seattle Times piece on Sherman:

The contrarian Sherman likes newspapers: He has trebled his newspaper holdings since early 2003 to total some $4.5 billion worth of stock across nine companies, according to Deutsche Bank.

When he targets a company, he meets management and employees and gives the place the once-over. “The company visit is half of it,” he said.

Once Sherman decides to invest, he goes in big. He aims to be one of the three largest shareholders in order to have some say-so over management.

Say hello to one of the influential people in Northwest media. From his home base in Florida.

Share on Facebook

Idaho Washington

These two cases of Oregon state representatives, Democrat Kelly Wirth and Republican Dan Doyle, are more than instances of private failure: Both dragged over into the public sphere. That does not make them less sad. But it mens the rest of us have an understandable stake.

Dan DoyleDoyle was the legislator who started the year at a political high – as the top House budget writer, one of the most influential people in the state – and will end it in prison, serving a 10-month term. He resigned from the Oregon House on January 31.

His offense was lying on his campaign finance reports, hiding the way he shifted money from campaign coffers to cover his personal expenses. His may have been the first case ever of an Oregon legislator serving time for a campaign offense.

Kelly WirthWirth’s case, still in process, is more complex, but suggests no less moral culpablity. During a police inquiry of an assault against her – the background of which is still murky – a small amount of methamphetimine was found in her vehicle; she then resigned effective October 15. One could consider the matter serious legally but semi-private in nature up to that point. But then came reports about Wirth drastically increasing pay for some of her aides – most notably her mother, a woman now receiving about $6,000 a month, who according to news reports seldom was seem in Wirth’s statehouse office.

The question: What effect do these cases have on public affairs and politics in Oregon?

The short answer seems to be, not a lot.

Taking a very broad view, these cases of course diminish the already-weak status of the legislature in the eyes of the state. One case would be easier to explain away as a personal quirk; two personal quirks (which these seem to be) begins to feel more like a pattern.

Doyle’s case taken along might have given Democrats some thin ammunition in the upcoming campaigns, but the matched set on either side deprives both parties of much immediate partisan advantage.

What then about the home districts of these two?

Again, the probability is that neither party will gain much advantage.

Doyle was replaced by Kevin Cameron, a restaurant executive who had a largely quiet session this year – nothing wrong with that for a freshman under the circumstances – and seems at first glance a reasonable match for the district. His chances for election to the seat in this generally Republican district look good.

Wirth’s successor hasn’t been chosen, but the likely bet would be Sara Gelser, who ran against Wirth in the 2004 Democratic primary and has already organized to follow up in 2006 – followed up, in fact, by the time the legislature ended this summer, long before Wirth’s visible problems hit. She ran a solid campaign in 2004 and nearly won then, and has developed a strong endorsement roster and organization since. Had Wirth’s problems not gone public, she probably would have defeated her next year in any event. And this Corvallis-based district is about as Republican as Doyle’s/Cameron’s is Republican.

So no particularized advantage here. Just an unfortunate set of events all around.

Share on Facebook

Oregon

There’s no huge shock, but some food for thought, in the latest Survey USA state-by-state poll on abortion.

The question asked was whether the respondent considered himself or herself “pro-life” or “pro-choice.” There are loads of objections to this approach, not least that attitudes on abortion in this country tend to be far more nuanced than that. But the effort to deliver a clean dividing line as a tool for political analysis.

Natonwide, SUSA said, 38% call themselves “pro-life,” and 56% “pro-choice.” In ranking the states, in just 13 states did the “pro-life” percentage outnumber “pro-choice.” Utah came in first, which is no surprise.

Idaho was fourth, decisively so, 55% pro-life, 41% pro-choice. So decisive a pro-life lead is a little surprising, since the issue has not been a decisive winner at the polls. The last time it was a truly driving issue was in 1990, when the Idaho Legislature passed what would have been the strongest anti-abortion legislation in the country, only to see itself rebuked first by Governor Cecil Andrus’ veto and then by Idaho voters, who gave the state’s Democrats a sohrt moment of sunshine before the Republican lock set in two years later.

But – on the other hand – that was 15 years ago, and Idaho has changed a lot since. Has it become so much more socially conservative that the legislature’s action, rejected in 1990, would be decisively upheld today? Maybe so.

Oregon and Washington scored almost identically in the SUSA survey, with 33% and 32% respectively calling themselves “pro-life,” and 62% and 63% respectively self-described “pro-choice.” Makes clear why the issue doesn’t often come up in these states as a wedge; it wouldn’t work very well.

In Tuesday’s balloting, California voters rejected a proposal to require parental notification for abortion for a minor. (California’s numbers: 28% pro-life, 65% pro-choice.) There has been talk about putting such an issue on the Oregon ballot in 2006. One suspects that after a review of the California results, and of polling information, that idea may go by the boards.

Share on Facebook

Idaho Oregon Washington

Newspaper alert: The editor of the Missoula Missoulian newspaper has been transferred, within Lee Enterprises, to the chain’s daily in Corvallis, the Gazette-Times, as its publisher.

Corvallis Gazette-Times logoThis constitutes a promotion, but it must be tough for the transferee, Mike McInally, who has spent decades in Montana and has been deeply invested in that state. The change may be of use to Corvallis, though; the Missoulian has (and has had for quite a few years) a good reputation, better in general than the daily in Corvallis.

Share on Facebook

Oregon

There were few shockers in Idaho – most everything in southwest Idaho was predictable, and was predicted, with maybe excepted the small size of the Swindell vote. But every election has its surprise, and for that we turn to Idaho Falls.

Idaho Falls city hallThat city has a new mayor, since three-termer Linda Milam, long assumed to be in effect a moderate Democrat, opted not to run again. In this conservative city, the ongoing expectation was that her replacement would be the man she defeated eight years (two terms) ago: Bill Shurtleff, then a county commissioner who went on to serve on the city council, and clearly a conservative Republican. He is more experienced now than he was then, a number of people noted. And some of his then-rough edges have smoothed over a bit.

But so much for making assumptions. Shurtleff’s main opponent (there was a third, minor, candidate too, nicknamed “Huggy Bear”) was an 18-year Idaho Falls police officer named Jared Fuhriman, a new member of one of the local school boards but not terribly well known. But he presented himself well, and he picked up Milam’s endorsement. His status as a public employee and backing from a political moderate would not seem to be good medicine in a community as “conservative” as Idaho Falls. But who knew? He took 58% of the vote to just 36% for Shurtleff – a stunning win.

Maybe there’s more going on under the surface in Idaho Falls than most of us think. Or maybe even that city caught a whiff of the Tuesday night political air.

Share on Facebook

Idaho

Two or three months ago hardly anyone was seriously entertaining the idea that I-912,which sought to roll back the Washington gas tax increases passed by the legislature this year, would fail. (Joel Connelly of the P-I entertained it, but didn’t go so far as to suggest it likely.) Yet, here we are – 52% no, 48% yes, or thereabouts, with a pile of additional King County votes yet to materialize.

And where is that?

It amounts to a massive win for Governor Christine Gregoire, who helped engineer the deal and whose governorship was to an extent riding on the result. She might not have been crushed, exactly, by passage of the initiative, since passage of anti-tax initiatives in Washington have been such a recurrence. But the rejection of it is almost like the vote of confidence she didn’t exactly get in the election a year ago. She did a Big Thing, a potentially unpopular thing, and now the voters have checked off on it.

The overall Democratic tenor of this election season nationally – Republicans have to look hard, with a microscope, to find much to celebrate in the Tuesday voting – may have contributed to all this. But such moods are unifying things, and form a web of interactions. King County Executive Ron Sims’ strong re-election was a part of it. So too – there can be little doubt – the return to the Snohomish County Council of Democrat Dave Somers (a biologist), who lost his seat four years ago to, and has now defeated, Republican Jeff Sax (strongly supported by developers) – as cleanly ideological a contest as any in the Northwest this cycle.

There is a shift of mood here. Democrats will spend a few days celebrating it. Republicans, notably those in Washington (and who watched their party endorse the “sure-thing” I-912), have some pondering to do.

Share on Facebook

Washington

No basic changes from the earlier post on the Boise races. The bottom line remains: incumbents Bisterfeldt crushes Seeley and Jordan crushes Swindell by landslide margins, and Tibbs ousts incumbent Mapp by a smaller but substantial margin.

This was not a pro- or anti-incumbent thing. People clearly drew a distinction between Tibbs and Swindell instead of – as pieces of their constituency sought to do – linking them together. Their candidacies were about very different things. The candidates could hardly have been more different:- Tibbs very well known in town for decades and deeply involved in the community on a range of subjects, Swindell a flash who showed up to protest on the Ten Commandments and has little other relevant background in civic affairs. The voters may have noticed.

This was not a particularly ideological thing, either, though the small size of the Swindell vote, following all the publicity she got and organization brought to bear, does suggest that Boise (the city, not the area beyond city limits) is backing off, gently, from the philosophical right, and toward the center. That may give some reassurance to Mayor David Bieter as he looks toward re-election in a couple of years. And that can be effectively counterpoised with the presence of Tibbs on the council, which certainly should keep the mayor on his toes.

Share on Facebook

Idaho

The list of political axioms which includes the notion, “You can’t beat an anti-tax initiative in Washington state,” may have to be revised.

The night is still a little early for flat predictions, but based on which counties are reporting in – and how they are reporting – the anti-gas tax initiative, I-912, looks poised for a loss. It passed in many of the rural and conservative counties, of course, but not all of them (Walla Walla?). It has failed in Shohomish, Jefferson, Thurston and a few others, and among King County absentee voters, which are about 15% of the total. The balance right now is very close, but the key is this: The big chunk of remaining votes coming in will come from King County, that 85% of precinct voters. And if they vote anything like the absentees did – and the absentees went 62% against 912 – then you can stick a fork in this initiative.

If it materializes that way, it will be a remarkable outcome which – together with the possibly-underestimated Sims win – could reshape Washington politics for the next cycle or two.

Share on Facebook

Washington

First, some kudos to the Northwest liberal site Pacific NW Portal, which has some of the best local web election results reporting anywhere. Those guys have done a heck of a job this evening in keeping up with prompt results, and their approach should be emulated.

Now:

The marguee race here among candidates is for King County executive, where Republicans have been looking forward for a long time for their shot at Democrat Ron Sims. They really thought they had him this time, with his loss a year ago in the gubernatorial primary, problems in the elections office and other things. Turns out they didn’t have him, though possibly the negative publicity about personal and ideological issues may have wound up hurting Republican challenger David Irons. But the Irons negatives shouldn’t be allowed to become the whole story: Sims, simply, is strong here, as long as he runs for local office. He was tougher to beat this time than many Republicans wanted to admit – King County is majority Democratic, after all – and he will be tougher next time (if there is a next time) too.

The non-personal marquee race, I-912 (roads funding), showed it passing (meaning a defeat for the funding passage) in early returns, but many of those were from rural counties already expected to vote against. The jury is still out on that one.

More soon.

Share on Facebook

Washington

All right, the vote counters are being a little slow this evening, but the 10 precincts reported in the Boise council races – since we do know which they are and where they are – do turn out to be enough to let us draw some preliminary conclusions.

That’s because the districts are so widely scattered: three in the southeast, three in the west, one in the north end, the others around the bench and northwest. Politically, they’re a smattering, not unreasonably representative of Boise as a whole, probably de-emphasizing the North End vote if anything.

Those precincts give incumbent Vern Bisterfeldt 76% in his race: He’ll win going away. In the Maryanne Jordan (incumbent)/Brandi Swindell race, Jordan seems to be doing nearly as well, with 73% of the vote against a high-profile, energetic and organized opponent. Guess here is that the 73% will slip, but not nearly enough to cost Jordan re-election. More on this in a bit.

In Jim Tibbs’ effort to unseat long-time incumbent Jerome Mapp, things are a little less clear, though looking good for Tibbs – who has 53.7% – at the moment. I wouldn’t call it yet, but Tibbs seems to have an edge.

Elsewhere in Idaho, Pocatello Mayor Roger Chase looks (based on a third of the vote in) to be cruisng to a landslide re-election. Council member Richard Stallings (a former congressman) appeared to be doing likewise, though conservative Harry Neuhardt appeared to be in trouble.

A shocker in Idaho Falls may be in the making, however, if early numbers hold up. Former county commissioner and council member Roger Shurtleff, who was expected to cakewalk into the mayoralty, looks headed for defeat. We’ll update before long to check if that holds up.

Share on Facebook

Idaho