Writings and observations

News reports now have it that Ben Westlund, just recently declared as an independent, is joining the race for governor.

Assuming he meets the statutory requirements for doing so – and that looks likely – he will make the general election a good deal more interesting.

Primary effects? Probably little to none on the Democratic side, since incumbent Ted Kulongoski is almost certainly to easily win that. On the Republican side, he could prospectively strengthen the hands of Kevin Mannix and Jason Atkinson against Ron Saxton. The latter has the reputation of being the “moderate” in the race; the argument could run that with Westlund in, a Republican would have to run stronger to the right in the general to wind up winning. But this sort of thing can and will be spun in all directions.

And Westlund’s chances? For one thing, he’s late in, and has to organize everything, and raise money, from scratch – a horribly tough proposition. For another, as matters sit, the numbers for neither Kulongoski nor any of the probable Republican nominees are so bad as to open a logical large chunk of the vote. Put another way: From where is Westlund going to collect the 35%-plus of the vote he would need to prevail? Until a satisfactory answer to that question emerges, he looks to be more an interesting factor in the race than a probable winner.

But keep watch. The dynamic hasn’t finished settling yet.

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Oregon

Oregon had an independent – politically independent, unaffiliated with party – governor once. His name was Julius Meier, and he was a businessman from Portland.

The year was 1930, and the issues at hand concerned responses to the Great Depression and calls for creation of public power projects and utilities. Public power was growing fast in popularity, but it faced obstacles, including major political figures both among the Democrats and Republicans. After heated battles, both parties nominated candidates for governor who were opposed to public power. (This is, of course, oversimplifying a complex struggle.) Meier was among the liberal Republicans who favored public power, and he entered the race as an independent. He wound up sweeping the general election, taking more votes than the major-party candidates together.

Ben WestlundHard to envision a truly comparable scenario now for Ben Westlund, a Republican state senator from the Bend area (more specifically, Tumalo, just north of Bend) who has split from that party and now describes himself as an independent, and who may or may not run for governor.

This has been coming for a long time, well before Westlund’s active support in Salem for gay rights, among other things. In an article on the switch in the Bend Bulletin, he said, “As I continued to examine my role in the party, it became clear to me that it just wasn’t a good fit and wasn’t intellectually honest. They’re unhappy with me half the time, I’m unhappy with them half the time.” But the Democratic Party wouldn’t be a comfortable fit either, he says, and he makes a good case for that too.

The more immediate question now is, what will this mean – for the governor’s race, for Westlund’s Senate seat, and for the voters of the Bend area.

None of these offer immediately easy answers.

Westlund isn’t saying whether he will run for governor, but the 1930 dynamic doesn’t look likely to repeat. The overwhelming majority of Oregon voters probably will vote for the Republican or Democratic nominee, and most of those unhappy with the choices are more likely to be at the edges of the spectrum, on either side, rather than in the middle.

But what of Westlund’s Senate seat? Is it defensible by an independent?

His persnoal history in-district is strong enough: elected four times in a row to the House, then appointed to the Senate in 2003. In his 2004 Senate race, he was opposed only by a Constitution Party candidate, and he swept about 80% of the vote. The last time he faced a Democrat, running for the House in 2002, he took about two-thirds of the vote.

Clearly he has some local popularity. Clearly too he was a Republican running in a Republican territory. District 27, which includes Bend, Redmond and Sisters and the high country around them (including a lot of the voters in unorganized La Pine) have been solidly Republican for a long time.

Senate District 27

Last election, there were some indicators that Bend itself might be softening in its Republican support. Back in November 2004, for example, we pointed to “a close House race [at Bend] – the Democrat in District 54 came within a percentage point or so of beating the Republican, a startlingly good showing, and possibly a focal point for 2006.”

Could Westlund, with his personal popularity (admittedly, not still in all quarters), pull off a plurality win against a Republican and a Democrat?

Maybe. If he did – and this would be in 2008, when the seat next is up – it would say something about trends in the Bend area.

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Aquick bit of horn-tooting here: The web site Politics1.com named ridenbaugh.com as their “political site of the day.” That throws us in with a nunch of other political web sites around the country for recognition of a special approach to politics. (What that approach is, varies from site to site.)

The list of named sites is worth a look. Quite a few are national in scope; not many are northwestern.

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Should be entertaining but on top of that, maybe even a little enlightening. Might even help Democrats start to work through some of their problems in rural areas in the northwest, and bridge come gaps.

Oregon's 2nd congressional district

The Oregon 2nd District race, where the dominant figure is Republican incumbent Greg Walden, now has two Democrats in the field (probably). One, Scott Silver, went public earlier this month. Now comes a filing and a news report (courtesy the Baker City Herald) of a second: construction contractor Chuck Butcher. (No web site indicated so far.)

Butcher is not entirely a unknown. He has been active in the state Democratic Party organization, and in policy has pressed to make sure references to protecting the 2nd Amendment are incorporated into state Democratic platforms. (Not such a small matter, either; Democrats lost a lot of voters in western states when they gained the reputation of being anti-gun.)

In loose terms, call Butcher the rural-based lunch-pail Democrat in the race, while the articulate and environmentally-motivated Silver comes from another wing of the party. There is opportunity here for internal combat, but in his newspaper interview Butcher seems to want to avoid that: “I am not about beating other Democrats. If somebody else has better ideas and a better campaign, then they should run against Greg Walden. But at some point, somebody will walk away with the Democratic nomination. It would be a good idea for the Democrats not to bloody each other up in the process.”

Walden will be exceedingly difficult to beat. But Democrats would move a few steps down that road, over the longer haul if not necessarily the shorter, if the district’s Butcher Democrats and Silver Democrats learned to get along and find common ground.

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Those who disapprove of the term “corporate welfare” – mainly those whose interests are allied to large businesses which rely on governments for much of their support – might consider an alternative term: “making choices in the marketplace.”

Free-enterprisers usually are quick to suggest that this is something governments ought not to do. Often, they are right about that, but their eagerness to push the argument often depends on which marketplace, and which players, are involved.

Enter the recent talk in Washington state about a new sports facility for the Seattle Supersonics, whose owners say that their team is unprofitable and cannot be made profitable without a new facility. Were the Supersonics owners planning to invest their own money in their own business and build the thing, the only issue under debate would be the precise location and maybe the traffic flow. There would be, in other words, no substantial debate.

There is debate, though, because this business wants its costs and losses to be made up by the taxpayers.

Tacoma News Tribune columnist Peter Callaghan outines the issue cleanly in today’s column, noting first, “The Mariners in 1995. The Sea-hawks in 1997. The SuperSonics in 2005. The names change but the rhetoric and the politics stay the same.”

The idea is getting a round of “no” from elected officials, so far. Callaghan suspects – probably rightly – that the will to resist will fade as the threat of a move is pressed.

Finally, in a tone that suggests defeat, he asks plaintively, “If the Sonics want to claim the team is losing money, they should be required to prove it. And when they get the $200 million to $250 million in public money, there should be an easily enforceable mechanism to make sure they continue to tell their “partners” – the taxpayers – how the business is doing.”

After the past experiences, why is resistance so hard? The rise of Tim Eyman suggests that Washington taxpayers don’t like being smacked upside the head; but the recurrence of public sports facility funding suggests that maybe they do.

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Washington

Up to this point Washington Republican Representative Doc Hastings, who has chaired the largely inert House ethics committee, has fielded attacks basically from Democrats, which he can toss off as partisan.

Harder to do now, with entry into his contest this year of Benton County Commissioner Claude Oliver, who will take him on in the Republican primary.

This is highly intriguing, because Oliver has given evidence before of being not a maverick but a party loyalist. Last month, the Benton Commission had to appoint a new county clerk. Two of the three commissioners chose to reject the recommendation of the county Republican central committee in making their choice; the holdout for the party point of view was Oliver. Should be noted that he apparently has had periodic conflicts with the other commissioners on other matters as well, and both of those commissioners have signed on in support of Hastings.

Certainly he’s no outsider to area politics, though. The Tri-City Herald describes his background this way: “The 58-year-old Republican has spent nine years as a county commissioner and was the county treasurer for 15 years before that. He also served a four-year stint in the state House of Representatives from 1977-81 and ran unsuccessfully for state treasurer in 1988 and 1992.”

We’ll hold off for a time to see how this develops. But this primary contest could be of substantial interest.

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Washington

Even in Microsoft terms, this looks like a big deal, the expansion plan outlined by the software giant on Thursday. This could lock in a big growth spurt on the northeast side of central Puget – a significant expansion for Bellevue and Redmond.

First of planned Microsoft buildingsAnd that’s saying something, because MS has more than 30,000 employees already in the area (along with a similar number elsewhere). It already has reshaped the eastside several times over; now it looks to be doing it again. Here’s the Microsoft description of what’s coming:

Microsoft Corp. today announced it will accelerate campus development plans and spend $1 billion over the next three years to expand its Redmond campus by one-third its current size. Roughly half of the development agreement, approved by the city of Redmond in May 2005 to expand Microsoft’s Redmond campus over the next 15–20 years, will now be fulfilled by 2009, making the company’s Redmond campus one of the largest corporate campuses in the world.

A total of 14 buildings will be added to the campus. Seven buildings will be new and seven have been purchased. Coupled with leased spaces, they will provide the capacity to house approximately 12,000 people based on the current conceptual layout. By June 2009, 3.1 million additional square feet will be available.

That’s more than many cities have in their downtowns. It’s an enormous chunk of activity to drop on these communities – not that there will be (or need be) any complaints.

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Bearing in mind that the subject may – strike that, almost certainly will – come up elsewhere, we found this interesting:

Oregon’s secretary of state, Bill Bradbury (a Democrat) and California’s, Bruce McPherson (Republican), have released a “neutrality pledge.” They didn’t seem to overtly suggest their counterparts elsewhere (and both Washington and Idaho have secretaries of state, and all these states’ SoSes have mostly similar responsibilities) adopt it too, but the subtext seemed to be there. The idea for the pledge evidently grew out of meetings of the National Association of Secretaries of State.

Here are its five points:

I will not serve in any ongoing capacity on a campaign supporting any candidates.

I will remain neutral, will not raise or contribute funds, and will not serve in any ongoing official capacity on a campaign supporting any referendums, measures, propositions, recalls or initiatives, unless they relate directly to the official duties and responsiblities of the Secretary of State.

I will not take any action in my official capacity as Secretary of State for the purpose of directly benefitting or disadvantaging any candidates, referendums, measures, propositions, or initiatives.

I will pledge to follow the current campaign finance and disclosure laws that apply to candidates for statewide office.

If I am a candidate for any office, this pledge will not restrict me from any otherwise legal campaign activity on my own behalf.

May prove interesting if the subject arises . . .

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How to read the political fallout from the Boise library bond vote, which failed at 57% approval (needed two-thirds)?

It was a defeat for Boise Mayor David Bieter; a win would have set him up with some momentum headed toward next year’s election.

But it was a mediated loss – but a big and outright one, and probably not overly damaging. There are two reasons for saying so. One is the positive vote, 57%, which while not enough to prevail in a bond election, does indicate some overall community support for the bond and, presumably and to a degree, for Bieter. It was not a weak showing.

The second reason is that the property taxes that would have supported the bond are, just at this moment, a big topic of discussion, and the dominant word seems to be that the Idaho Legislature will do little or nothing to address the subject. If people are little touchy about the subject of property taxes right now, that may be understandable, and not entirely the doing of the city of Boise.

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Idaho

Toward the end of the movie “Animal House,” the leader of the titular college fraternity, beaten, lost and shut down, made a rousing speech: It was time, he said, to reply in the form of a hopeless but explicit gesture of defiance.

Jim HillSo, we might reasonably assume, is former Oregon Treasurer Jim Hill entering the race for governor.

That was of course not the story four years ago when Hill ran for governor. He was then a recent two-term state treasurer, a current major figure in Oregon politics on a par with Ted Kulongoski, and with a better win-loss record. And he ran competitively for governor in 2002.

But he lost that primary to Kulongoski, and hasn’t been visible in statewide politics since. That puts him at a huge disadvantage. His late start now – true, after raising the prospect for months, but not really starting up until now – puts him at an enormous financial, organizational and message deficit to the incumbent. It doesn’t even position him well against Pete Sorenson, the Lane County commissioner who has been actively running for months, and with whom Hill will split the vote to the left wing of the party.

Hill’s entry was a shot at Kulongoski, who he accused of breaking a number of promises from the last campaign (certainly in the case of casino growth at least, there’s truth in that). But by splitting the opposition vote, he actually solidifies Kulongoski’s lead. (Longstanding rule in politics: When an incumbent is running, it’s investment v. everyone else, and an increase in the number of challengers improves the incumbent’s chances.)

So why do it? Only one explanation really serves: That a number of people to Kulongoski’s left (presumably including Hill) are genuinely ticked off that he has tacked toward the middle during his term, and want to call him on it. Once described as a liberal, Kulongoski has acted more as a centrist as governor, and Hill fired the shot that he couldn’t tell the difference between the incumbent and a Republican.

Well, the Republicans can … and so, likely, can many of the voters in the big middle. If Hill and Sorenson on the left, and the Republicans on the right, push Kulongoski into the position of representing that big group in the middle, well, that’s not so uncomfortable a place to be, especially come November.

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