If we’re up to the responsibility of a pure democracy, which is deciding directly by popular vote on all policy matters, then the rationale for Tim Eyman’s latest – which would seek to overturn the gay rights bill just passed by the Washington Legislature – would make some sense.

But doing away with representative government altogether never has been much on the agenda. Do all of us have time to educate ourselves and carefully consider the hundreds of policy decisions that come to legislatures, councils, commissions and the rest every year? In initiative-heavy states, not many voters even do so dandy a job of self-education on the issues. (Don’t get us started on self-education re the candidates.)

So here we have Eyman delivering a statement to the press saying this: “Politicians are deciding based on special interest group pressure and their own reelection calculations … The voters have watched this disgusting display of arrogance and selfishness for weeks.”

Putting his point in different words: Politicians have been listening to people who petition their governmental policymakers (something encouraged in the federal constitution) and have been bearing in mind “their own reelection calculations” – which means they are bearing in mind whether their constituents will favor or oppose their actions. Horrors!

Eyman is even more explicit, though, in his actual initiative, numbered 927.

Sec. 1. The people oppose important public policy changes being made without voter approval. The voters want an open debate where both sides are given the opportunity to have their voices heard and to persuade the voters on the issues involved. And after months of deliberation and discussion, the voters want to have the final say so that the decision can be made without fear of retaliation or intimidation. The people oppose the government forcing anyone to impose quotas, set-asides, or other preferential treatment for any group. This measure would prohibit state government from requiring any school, church, employer, or other public or private entity to impose quotas, set-asides, or other preferential treatment to any individual or group based on sexual orientation or sexual preference. Sexual orientation or sexual preference shall not be a specially protected class. The inclusion of this group as a protected class is preferential treatment over other groups not included in this chapter, such as military status,
income level, medical history, or political party membership. The people do not support preferential treatment because the people do not want it to be used as a basis for requiring the legalization of same-sex marriage. This issue has become hopelessly politicized in Olympia. Politicians aren’t thinking about what the voters want. Let the voters decide.

In other words, the legislature has no place in making law: only the voters at the ballot do. In other words, presumably, the legislature is best done away with.

When the initiative process was created and spread, the idea was that it would serve as a safety valve and, maybe, a warning vote – something to ensure that the legislative process would not become so fouled up that the people could not express their will, or – in extreme cases – force action. It has never been held up as the preferred mechanism – and given its history in the last few decades, has little claim on the time – for legislating.

Till now.

The specific subject of Eyman’s latest enterprise, which has to do with gay civil rights, may be its less wild-eyed component.

State legislatures seldom are popular, and Washington’s doesn’t have enthusiastic cheerleaders in the streets. But do the people of Washington really want to take on the whole job themselves? Before answering in the affirmative – or passing an initiative that embraces the proposition – the good voters of Washington probably should consider just how many hundreds of hours a years they are willing to devote to civic legislation. It might cause them to appreciate their legislators just a little bit more.

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Washington

So curious that not only did Washington state’s two main political parties both elect new chairs on the same day, but – even more – that essentially the same underlying logic informed both choices.

Dwight PelzNew Democratic Chair Dwight Pelz (replacing Paul Berendt, who held the job for a decade), is no insurgent or boat-rocker. He’s been around, as a community activist, a labor organizer, a state senator, a member of the King County Council (replacing Ron Sims on that panel). he just ran and lost a race for the Seattle City Council, but had no lack of Democratic-based interest group support in the effort.

Endorsed by such fellow party members as Governor Christine Gregoire, Senator Patty Murray and Sims, you can expect that Pelz will keep things rolling very much as they have been. If you wanted major change within the Democratic establshment (from a Democratic standpoint), you probably supported the other candidate, natural-born boat-rocker Laura Ruderman. But Washington Democrats have been doing pretty well; there’s a good argument for staying the course.

The parallel with the Republican selection is not precise, since Republicans do need to change something about their act; in a state where the partisan split is precariously balances, Republicans have been losing (a little) more than their share of elections. Consequently, any candidate for the Republican chairmanship had to run as something of a change agent.

The longer shot but more interesting choice here was Fredi Simpson, the state party’s vice chair and by various accounts an aggressive partisan. She was endorsed by Dino Rossi, who so closely lost the governorship last year. Her loss in the bid for chair may say more about Rossi – whose name failed to work magic in an intraparty contest – than anything else.

Diane TebeliusBut a word is merited too for the winner, Diane Tebelius. She is, like Pelz, a safer, more establishment choice; during her unsucessful run for Congress last year, she was often compared to former Representative Jennifer Dunn, and not just because of appearances. Both passionate in her views and articulate in expressing them, she is unlikely to fall into some of the rhetorical traps to which outgoing Chair Chris Vance was occasionally prone: A former prosecutor, she is likely to plot her moves carefully.

Rational choices on both parts, with chairs who will have to hit the field hard just as the campaigns gear up.

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Washington

You could say that the Trish & Halli show, formerly on KID-AM 590 at Idaho Falls, was at least a local outpost of political talk on radio dials dominated almost exclusively by national canned chatter. Of course, you also would have to say that its replacement by conservative talker Laura Ingraham will not change the philosophical tenor of the time spot, or the station, or talk radio in Idaho, much at all.

Still, Trish Oak and Halli Stone got their critics’ nickname of “Trash and Holler” by going after, on a very personal level, people in Idaho – people like House Speaker Bruce Newcomb, memorably, among many others. In their prime, they got people talking. But the kind of talk was often of the sort that tears communities, and neighborhoods, apart. Valuable as is locally-produced material (and business), Trish & Halli pushed the point, hard.

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Idaho

When the laws on lobbyist filing and registration were passed, the idea was throw light on some of the dark corners of government policymaking, so that – if we care to find out – we can know who is working on what, and who is spreading whose influence in which directions. We can’t either know or understand how our government works, as a practical matter, without such information.

That’s why the February edition of the Idaho Public Affairs Digest will include (as it has before) a full list of registered lobbyists in Idaho. That list in itself tells almost as much about the way Idaho government works as anything brought to your attention in campaign season.

Phil RebergerBut not all of it. One of the names curiously absent from that list is that of Phil Reberger, a former chief of state for Governor Dirk Kempthorne. Reberger is a campaign manager of legendary skill, but he also has turned to other employment since leaving state government. In contrast to so many people in politics, Reberger has a positive aversion to the limelight; if his name never showed up again in an Idaho newspaper until it runs his obituary, that would doubtless suit him fine. But he is deeply involved governance and policymaking in Idaho.

Some of the evidence for this is concrete. Since 2003, according to records in the Secretary of State’s office, he has been a partner with (registered) lobbyist Pat Sullivan, who is one of the very busiest lobbyists in Idaho today, in the firm Sullivan & Reberger.

Most specifically, there is this: On January 17, Reberger and other representatives of a client of his – Unisys Corporation – met with Senator Dean Cameron, who co-chairs the budget-writing Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, about a contract Unisys was seeking with the state. Sounds like lobbying. But Reberger remains unregistered.

News reports about this (starting with a Dan Popkey column) got the attention of Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, who has sent a letter to Reberger, ” requesting that you provide me information pertaining to the manner and character of your meeting with Senator Dean Cameron and Unisys Corporation officials on January 17, 2006,” and asking for background information about the meeting.

Keep watch. Looks like some light may be thrown on a dusky corner of Idaho policymaking.

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Idaho

Jackie WintersState Senator Jackie Winters, the Salem Republican, has quite a bit going for her as she seeks a second term this year (after two in the House). She’s a warm, engaging and smart candidate; she knows details and background without seeming overly wonkish. Her community service pushups are extensive and of long standing. Her district is mostly Republican, according to party registration at least (42.5% Republican, 34.5% Democratic). She lost a 2004 primary race for the U.S. House, but campaigned well – her reputation did not suffer.

And yet her run for re-election is worth closely monitoring this year. Her electoral strength has been less than overwhelming in the past. (She won in 2002 with just 54.4%, less than commanding for an incumbent legislator in a party-favorable district.) And this year, her Democratic opponent, announced yesterday, has the potential to be formidable.

This could be one of the most interesting, and impressive, contests in Oregon this year.

Oregon Senate District 10

Paul EvansPaul Evans is a teacher at Oregon State University and Western Oregon University and has a record of community organization service (including as a volunteeer fireman), but that’s not what makes him a bigger story. He fits loosely into the national story of the “fighting Dems,” candidates who recently served in the military and are running as Democrats. Evans was mayor of Monmouth, where he developed a record worth touting (and he does on his web site). In 2003 he quit – trading his role of mayor for that of Major – because as an officer in the Oregon National Guard he took off for Iraq, where he served a tour, after which he volunteered for a second tour in 2005. His military service is now over, but his still will impress, deeply.

One more thing – from early indications – makes Evans prospectively formidable: For whatever reason, he’s not going on the attack against Jackie Winters. Her name doesn’t appear (so far as we could find) on his web site. As for his reasons for running: “I grew up in Oregon when the ‘Oregon Story’ meant something special: Tom McCall taught us that Oregon meant good schools, clean water, fresh air, well-maintained roads, healthy citizens, and a shared belief that together, we can do better. We’re in desperate need of energy, leadership, and vision in the Capitol. That’s why I am preparing to run for the Oregon State Senate. I believe my life experiences and proven record of strong leadership will make a difference in the Legislature and move our state forward.” As a package, that could resonate.

If he wants to win, he eventually will have to explain to people why they should fire Jackie Winters, and that will be the trickiest thing he will have to do, because she is well liked and her record is both respectable and district-fitting. Challengers almost never beat incumbents without giving voters a reason for unseating the current job-holder.

But his apparent decision not to go hard after Winters, well liked as she is, was very smart.

District 10 is in a key transitional spot. Salem, once solidly Republican, gradually has become less so, and this district includes most of the southern and western (the Polk County west-of-Willamette) part of town. If there are more registered Rs than Ds here, the independents hold the balance of clout. And in usually-Republican Polk County, there may be some extra juice for a well-regarded local guy back home from Iraq. Central Willamette’s politics are in the swing here.

The district’s voters look to have two impressive choices for November, and one of the marquee legislative races in the state.

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Backers of the gay rights bill (HB 2661) which cleared the Washington Legislature on Friday, after more than a decade of effort, were heavy into celebration Friday afternoon. That’s understandable enough after disappointments through the years, but two significant points should not go unnoted. Taken together, they point out the road ahead: Passage (and the certain signing) of the bill are only early steps down this path.

Bill FinkbeinerThe first point is what changed between last session, when a similar bill failed, and this one. Nothing much changed in the House, where it passed both times. Only a little changed in the Senate, where it failed by a single vote in 2005 and passed by one this time. The difference was one senator, Kirkland Republican Bill Finkbeiner, who voted against last year and reversed his stand this year.

This was expected (and already announced), which is why Senate approval was expected. Finkbeiner was the only Republican (he is a former Democrat) to vote in favor (two Democrats voted against), but he carries some significance, for two reasons. One is that last year, he was the Republican floor leader but resigned from that post between sessions; you can’t escape the speculation (though he hasn’t said so) that Finkbeiner resigned from leadership so he could cast this particular vote. And why would that be so significant? Gets to the second reason:

Finkbeiner’s district in northeastern King County is no superconservative enclave. True, the Reverend Joseph Fuiten’s Faith & Freedom Network is quoted as saying “It’s time for Bill Finkbeiner to move on. I’ll never endorse him again. He is not representing the values of the 45th District or the views of the people in the 45th District.” Fuiten does run a large megachurch with plenty of constituents in the 45th, and he is not shy about his political preferences.

45th district map

But this area is overall socially moderate to liberal, and corporations (such as Microsoft) have applied some pressure in favor of the bill. The two House seats in the 45th are split, one Democratic, one Republican. And Fuiten has lost a string of local political battles in the last few years. Finkbeiner was unopposed in 2002, but Democratic opposition has been gearing up this year. His change took some guts, but it also may have been the politically shrewd move. And it may foreshadow trends on the pivotal King County east side.

Leading to the second major thing to watch: Ballot action. There will likely be a ballot proposal before long on the subject of repeaking the gay rights law. But how much push will it have? Some communities, especially on the east side of the Cascades, will support such a measure enthusiastically, and the odds of it reaching the ballot are good.

But will it pass? Odds are against, for two reasons. One is th structure of the issue: Repealer of a measure extending civil rights, which would play horribly in the media and would likely have not near the centrist push of a measure to, say, prohibit gay marriage. Such an issue would be structurally problematic.

The second reason is suggested by Finkbeiner’s switch: The voting pivot, the suburban areas are the Puget Sound, are likely to think much as Finkbeiner did, and come to the conclusion (without the joy of the Seattle Democrats, but to the conclusion nonetheless) that rejection of the law would open more problems than it could solve. The center is not likely to embrace this happily, but it does seem to be moving in that direction.

One more factor to consider: Washington is the 17th state to pass something along this line. Is it within the upper third or so of the states for cultural liberalism? Maybe right around there; which suggests that passage is more or less reflective of the state as a whole (if not all of its component parts).

The bill’s critics would be well advised to move cautiously. Intemperence in their next moves could blow up in their faces.

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Washington

The case of Washington v. Tracey Johnston revolves around the subject of spoken threats, and whether the threat is “real” or not.

Washington courtsThis may sound either esoteric or like the trickery of a clever defense lawyer. It’s not. How many times have you muttered a desire to wreack bodily harm on someone – maybe, for example, a driver on the highway – with no practical intention to follow through? (When I was in college, the phrase “he ought to be taken out and shot” popped up from time to time, usually for minor offenses.) Death and injury feature regularly in metaphor. Should all that be actionable as a felony offense?

On its face, Washington law (RCW 9.61.160(1)) seems to contemplate something like that. It says, “It shall be unlawful for any person to threaten to bomb or otherwise injure any public or private school building, any place of worship or public assembly, any governmental property, or any other building, common carrier, or structure, or any place used for human occupancy . . .”

The first amendment does come into play here, because courts have ruled that speech can be circumscribed only under extreme circumstances. The legal principle is that while most speech is “protected,” one of the categories of unprotected speech is that of a “true threat” – a threat issued with apparent connection to actual or intended behavoir. The Washington Supreme Court has defined it, “in a context or under such circumstances wherein a reasonable person would foresee that the statement would be interpreted . . . as a serious expression of an intention to inflict bodily harm upon or to take the life of {another individual}.”

So what to do about Travey Johnston, who blurs the lines just a tad?

Johnston was drinking, apparently heavily, on an Alaskan Air flight into SeaTac, and as a result of his behavoir was accosted by law enforcement at the airport. The incident might have ended simply except that Johnson, according to testimony, “‘started vocalizing his unhappiness.’ TR at 92. Johnston said that ‘he would come back to the airport and . . . this place up’ and that ‘he was going to blow this place up.’ TR at 94. Blackwell testified that Johnston said that ‘he knew about the airport, and he knew what it would take . . . all he needed was a Ryder truck and some nitro diesel fuel . . . .’ TR at 94-95. Johnston also said that ‘he would fin{d} that bitch of a flight attendant [who had called law enforcement] . . . and get her and said he believed she lived in Mercer Island.'”

At that point he was charged with violating the bomb threat law.

But was it Johnston or just the alcohol talking? Did Johnston, once sobered up, really plan such violent revenge?

We can’t settle that here, not knowing Johnston or many of the details about the incident and his background. The Washington Supreme Court did, however, send his conviction back to trial court for re-trial. (This involved reversing a Court of Appeals decision.) The main reason is that the judge in the case informed the jury about the Washington bomb threat law, but not the legal perspective on it – that conviction had to rely on Johnston making a “real threat” and not just mouthing off.

“In Johnston’s case, the jury was influenced by the erroneous jury instructions that governed the trial. Under these circumstances, independent appellate review is inappropriate. Instead, this case must be remanded for a new trial under proper instructions,” the court concluded.

Significance here on the free speech front.

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Washington

Budgets for state higher education institutions have been taking a hit in Idaho for quite a few years. Even during times when public schools or other angeices are bumped upward, the colleges and universities (except for some one-time construction projects) have had to make do with ever less, in terms of percentage of state spending and in buying power.

Dick HarwoodSome of the reasons why may have emerged in a discussion involving University of Idaho President Timothy White, who was speaking to the legislature’s budget-writing committee (the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee), and St. Maries Republican Representative Dick Harwood, who is one of that committee’s 20 members. As Spokane Spokesman-Review reporter Betsy Russell quoted Harwood:

“In my community, we have four people, the only thing they got was high school graduation, and yet they’re the main contributors to our community. The key to being successful is to find something you love to do and doing it – not really the education.”

Pieces of Idaho’s education funding policy thereby stand explained.

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Idaho

Had wondered whether the talk about Hillsboro Republican Representative Derrick Kitts running for Congress against Democratic incumbent David Wu, was so much smoke.

It’s more than that: Kitts is in the race. He faces an uphill run.

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You can understand the pressure. University of Oregon President Dave Frohnmayer, who is no one’s idea of an off-the-deep-end kind of guy, says that action is needed, and needed soon:

The UO is growing substantially, and is going to need more space soon. It has limited options: It is surrounded, pretty much, by developed Eugene; it is a big institution with few available growth options. A few are available, notably a state office property and a former car sales lot. Of them, he says, “This is property that only comes on the market once in a generation, maybe once in a century. If it’s gone, it’s really gone.”

How to raise the money to buy it? Well, there’s a 400-unit student apartment building on campus which could be sold off.

The catch, of course: What about the residents, hundreds of students, who probably would have a hall of a time finding affordable housing somewhere else near campus?

Students and the university Senate are opposed to the selloff, at least until that question is resolved. That’s the question too that have Eugene’s legislators lining up against Frohnmayer, and asking: Do you really have to move so fast? And especially: Before you’ve figured out what to do with all those people whose housing has been taken away?

Frohnmayer’s stance on this looks – looks – irreversible; he has indicated there is no choice but to go forward. But he’s on a collision course, and this could rapidly be turning into the biggest trouble he’s faced in his dozen or so years at the university.

In November 2004, Frohnmayer delivered an address in Portland on situational ethics. Toward the end of it, he had this to say:

A major component of ethical judgment is to recognize the flashing yellow lights that say “don’t enter the valley of the shadow.” The admonition to avoid the “occasions of sin” may be more important that we have realized. We can easily go too far – authority is seductive; we can reach a personal tipping point after which our hands are inescapably dirty. Some environments blind us to the human consequences of our actions– so we MUST be attuned to the consequences of our behavior and our own weaknesses, our own sins – whatever they may be. This ethical life is hard work – “knowing right from wrong” requires diligence, self-scrutiny and looking into a very well-lit and refractive mirror.

Wise words.

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Oregon

An so Albertson’s is about to be no more, so we may conclude.

Albertsons has been sold (pending some final but expected approvals) to a group of business interests, and the second-largest grocery store chain in the country, one of the largest enterprises ever created in Idaho (and one of that state’s bragging points), likely will be no more, and most of its currently large Boise presence, and the associated business activities, likely will move elsewhere.

Is that too firm a conclusion? Possibly; there’s nothing in the massive buyout that explicitly keeps the Albertsons stores and operations from going on and doing business exactly as they have been doing. But if that’s all that lies ahead, why go through the whole business of a sellout and buyout? Something different is in the wings.

There’s no positive conclusion what that will be. But some careful thinking was underway in downtown Boise on Monday, and underlying it is the point that Albertsons is going not to a single operator, but to a consortium with different interests. Some are in retail. But others are in real estate, and still others have other interests.

Credible current speculation runs along these lines:

Supervalu, which apparently gets the Idaho and Northwest Albertsons stores among many other properties, would replace Albertsons as the second-largest grocery company nationally. But there are quirks: Will all those stores retain the Albertson’s name? (Don’t count on it.) How does that part of the deal mesh with the part relating to Cerebrus investments, which seems to be approached more from a real estate and property management perspective?

As for Boise headquarters, the immediate word was: no change. But then, that was the word out of Albertsons leadership three weeks ago. Current expectations: Most corporate and administrative offices will be stripped out of Boise, though probably one or two divisions will be left in place. (That appears to be a standard procedure with some of the purchasing companies.) Not everything will be moved out. Most of it will be.

The grocery world, and Boise’s business world, has been upended.

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New argot for the Puget: The criticality of”the 12th man” in the game, as the Seattle Seahawks prepare for today’s championship game.

It’s been a local concept for a while, but the push on it lately has been remarkable. The Seawhawks’ web site even notes, “The Seattle Seahawks 12th Man Flag, a fixture at Qwest Field’s south endzone, will be raised atop Seattle’s Space Needle to salute Seahawks fans and the team during the NFL playoffs. The flag will be raised Tuesday, January 10 at noon and will be displayed throughout the Seahawks postseason.”

The Tacoma News Tribune enthuses, “We’re a closer community right now. And it’s great to be a part of that.”

But attention should be paid to another commentary in the TNT, that being today’s Peter Callaghan column about the “13th man” – the taxpayers who made possible the stadium in which the Seahawks play.

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That gangrene on our society called talk radio – it needn’t and shouldn’t be gangrenous, but too typically is – runs to its worst when the effort is to draw lines between the perfectly reasonable “us” and the out of line, irrational, zany “them.” It’s worst when it’s subtle – alert listeners won’t get what’s being done surruptitiously.

Here’s the background story (and the facts happen not to be disputed, because the incident was captured on Tri-Met cameras).

A Portland resident named Randy Albright was pedaling his bicycle (he happens to be an activist on bicycling issues) around Hawthorne Bridge, one of the bridges crossing the Willamette River in Portland. He was not riding in the bicycle lane (most Portland bicyclists are scrupulous about sticking to these) since it had extra garvel that day, but in the main lane.. A Tri-Met bus rolled up and passed him, narrowly, there being little space available. He shook his fist at the bus; he may have swung at it with his fist as well. Then he followed the bus and, when it arrived at its next stop, he tried to get the attention of the bus driver. He apparently either did not, or the driver ignored him. Albright then walked his bicycle in front of the bus and planted himself and it there.

Almost immediately, a man exited the bus, swung at Albright and pushed him back onto the sidewalk. (Albright has said he was battered.) The man then re-entered the bus, which promptly drove off. Albright has filed a complaint against the driver; the activist passenger evidently has not been identified.

Talk jock Lars Larson, whose home station is Portland’s KXL, asks the following on his web site: “Bicyclist suing Tri Met for his own road rage. Was rider [presumably, the bus passenger] unreasonable?”

Notice how carefully this has been framed. The road rage of the bicyclist is highlighted, but that of the bus driver and his passenger is not. Was the passenger unreasonable for beating up the bicyclist? We’re invited (not very subtly) to say that the beating up was perfectly understandable. The bus driver’s responsibility, if any, is not addressed.

Those thin-skinned, highfalutin’ bicyclists! Those put-upon drivers and passengers in motor vehicles!

Given the facts of the case, most sensible people would assess culpability a little more broadly. Albright was asking for more than he was owed when he rode in the motor vehicle lane on a busy, central Portland bridge at rush hour; other options were available. He was pushing it past the point of sympathy; most people driving or riding on that bus would have been ticked. The bus driver, for his part, should have been more careful and he shouldn’t have allowed an evidently violent passenger off the bus – and he shouldn’t have just hauled off after one of his passengers beat up a (then) pedestrian. As for the passenger: Is Larson really suggesting an endorsement of road rage, of beating up people on the streets who irritate us? Is he really suggesting that’s a reasonable thing to do? (He unhooks himself from that one, of course, by merely posing the question – but the rhetorical work has been done.)

There’s plenty of fault to go around in a case like this. But acknowledging that wouldn’t do such a good job of getting our blood boiling at the horrible group of “them.”

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Those porous borders around the Northwest are super-sensitive to legislation, maybe more so than anywhere else in the states. Subtle distinctions can have a big effect on interstate traffic.

As a student at the University of Idaho at Moscow, I would watch from my form window toward the west, to the point where Idaho became Washington, and where cars slipped between the two on Highway 8. Early in the evening, especially on Friday and Saturday nights, I would watch the steady stream of white lights from Pullman – heavy traffic to Moscow. After midright, the lights would turn red, traffic headed back to Pullman, home of Washington State University. The reason? Idaho’s drinking age then was 19, to Washington’s 21.

Change now drinking to smoking, as reports now point to smokers flocking across the border from Washington – where almost all public places, including bars, are required to be smoke-free – to Idaho, where the rules aren’t quite so strict. That’s ironic, since Idaho did toughen its statewide smoking rules considerably just a couple of years back.

So expect to see some altered traffic flows on the Lewiston-Clarkston, Pullman-Moscow and Spokane-Coeur d’Alene lines. The legal marketplace at work.

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Ron Saxton, Republican candidate for governor, is a man pulled in a couple of dstinct directions. His main appeal is as the guy who’s centrist enough to win over voters in the general election. But to get to the general election, he has to win a primary election where most of the voters are conservative.

Ron SaxtonThat makes for a question ticklish in the extreme: How “moderate” – or “conservative” – is Ron Saxton?

All this should be prefaced with our usual disclaimer: Such labels as “conservative,” “moderate” and “liberal” have long since passed any point of real meaning, especially when the most “conservative” politicians in our nation’s capital qualify as the most radical major politicians of the last couple of generations. The terms have more to do with branding and with group self-identification, and there they have real political impact and significance.

In running against two candidates commonly defined as “more conservative” – Kevin Mannix and Jason Atkinson – Saxton has been shorthanded as the moderate in the race. He hasn’t really seemed to push against that definition, maybe because of the general election advantages it could confer.

But he has gotten support from a number of Oregonians who define themselves as very conservative indeed, and that may – with less than four months remaining till primary election deadline – start to send some ripples, and shivers, around the state.

Veteran tax activist Don McIntire is one. But perhaps more immediately notable is the endorsement from Rob Kremer, a conservative Portland broadcast commentator (especially on education). He had no criticism for Mannix or Atkinson, but, in addition to making the general election electibility case for Saxton, he said this:

Before going into my reasons for supporting Ron, I want to address an important issue: lots of conservative bloggers have been trying to paint Ron Saxton as a liberal, or as an inauthentic Republican – a RINO.

Let me put it simply: They are wrong.

Ron is not only the most fiscally conservative candidate running for governor, I believe he has the best grasp of precisely what is wrong about they way Oregon government operates right now and how to correct it.

On social issues, Ron is conservative where it matters: he would sign a ban on partial birth abortion, and he supports parental notification. He may not be as much as an abortion purist as the other candidates, but I have news for you: it doesn’t matter who the governor is – you’re not going to get more than this.

Writing in the left-leaning BlueOregon blog, Kari Chisholm concluded, “Ron Saxton. Conservative. ‘Nuff said.”

How does Saxton define himself? Summing up on his web site’s home page, there is this: “I am the only candidate in this race who is not a career politician. I am a lifelong, common-sense Republican who has valuable private sector experience.
I have a record of success as a fiscal conservative. And I am not remotely interested in maintaining the status quo.”

Note closely that last sentence – it may be be the best key to peeling the onion. And add up these issue-points scattered through his page on issues stands:

  • To promote efficiency, the private sector will be considered to deliver services at all levels of government.
  • Oregon citizens-and Oregon businesses-already pay enough taxes. I support eliminating the tax on capital gains to encourage investment in Oregon.
    I support tort reform.
  • I support Measure 37 and the rights of private property owners.
  • I am committed to expanding education choice and support charter schools, and home schooling.
  • I support pro-family programs aimed at stopping domestic violence, and private sector treatment programs for addicts and victims. Oregonians will know that I am a strong supporter of Second Amendment rights and a supporter of the death penalty.
  • In a Saxton administration, Oregon will stop issuing drivers’ licenses to illegal immigrants and we will enforce the law.
  • Those issue points are a selective, abridged list, not everything he has to say (you can read the whole statement on line). But the overall tenor is certainly nowhere near mistakable for that of a Portland Democrat, or even a coastal or Salem Democrat. His policy statements have the ring of a conservative very much like Mannix and not far removed from Atkinson. By the evidence of Saxton’s written statements, the analysis by Kremer (and Chisholm) holds up solidly.

    Now imagine you are Mannix or Atkinson. What do you want to do next – blast away at Saxton because he’s too much like you? Cry out that he’s been misrepresented? And suppose you are Saxton – how much do you want to play up your philosophical similarities with the other two, and how far not? For that matter, what really are the differences?

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