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Posts published in March 2006

Idaho’s score card

Filing time is over, and it's time for a quick overview of where parties and candidates stand as campaign season formally kicks in.

You can check the full and final candidate list as well - it's just been posted - and various points will be worth dwelling upon. For now, consider these . . .

Vacancies. Before reviewing the Idaho vacancy rate, let's place it in context. Ten days ago candidate filing ended in Oregon; there, with 75 legislative seats up for election, Republicans failed to fill nine ballot spots (a miss rate of 12%) and Democrats failed to fill four (5.3%). Now, in Idaho? Of 105 legislative seats up for election, Republicans filed to fill 11 (10.5%) while Democrats failed to fill 36 (34.3%). (Three of the seats unchallenged by Democrats are actually open seats, including those of retiring Speaker Bruce Newcomb and congressional candidate Bill Sali). The blank rate is much higher in Idaho, and we can easily see to whose advantage.

Having said that, the surprise here isn't the number of vacancies allowed by the Democrats - 36 isn't especially unusual, and better than in some years - but rather those allowed by the Republicans. After all, there are only 20 Democrats in the whole legislature, and more than half of them have been given a pass.

At least for now. Slots can still be filled at the primary election through write-in. But ordinarily, only a few slots per cycle are filled that way. Mostly, what we see now is what we get.

Among major and statewide offices, just one - secretary of state - lacks a major-party contest. Even if some others are placeholders, that's a better record than usual. (more…)

“She called me a bitch”

Lest you forget, there's still an Idaho legislative session going on. Brandi Swindell, pro-life activist and former Boise city council candidate, has not forgotten, nor has she forgotten that the current favorite congressional candidate of the pro-life community, Bill Sali, still has a piece of pro-life legislation floating around the House. So she held a press conference, attended by reporters on the steps of the statehouse to announce that she was going to schedule a meeting to, uh, presuambly, get that bill moving. Of course reporters showed up, an announcement of intent to schedule a meeting being such important news.

All of which did in fact lead to a meeting, of Swindell with House Speaker Bruce Newcomb, to which the speaker didn't admit reporters but after which he probably wished he had. The usually amiable speaker reported to the Lewiston Morning Tribune: "She called me a bitch. I didn't know the speaker of the House could be a bitch."

Swindell's version of events at the meeting is at odds with Newcomb's. (The story is in the March 17 Tribune; no free link available.) The speaker is undoubtedly right, though, that Swindell was after not a meeting or a negotiation or an effort at compromise, but rather a confrontation and a media event. The intended beneficiary, presumably (whether Swindell acknowledges it or not) would be Sali - the narrative being that his efforts to champion pro-life legislation are being squashed again by those squishies in the legislative leadership. (Never mind that similar legislation has been repeatedly thrown out by courts, and that Sali hasn't yet come up with a version of it that even he's willing to stand by.)

That's how politics is played these days - as the news media, which will tomorrow be blasted once again by conservatives as "liberal," gets used like their child's plaything once again. Or, in the language of pro-life meetings these days, like their bitch.

Risch takes a pass

The frustration must be immense. Jim Risch will (very likely) become governor of Idaho in a few weeks, replacing Interior Secretary-designate Dirk Kempthorne, only to relinquish the job at the end of the year. A job for which, not so long ago, he was set to run this year. And then go back to being the light-gov, the fill-in, the understudy.

Jim RischThis is the last day of candidate filing in Idaho (and we'll file on that later today too), and Risch still had barely enough time to have withdrawn his candidacy for a second term as lieutenant governor and filed for governor. His announcement this morning that he will not do that, but seek re-election instead, may end some overnight suspense in Boise, but in spite of it all doesn't come as a surprise.

Risch is a pragmatic guy, no tilter at windmills. By saying, as he did in November, that he would not run for governor, he effectively released all his supporters to run over to the camp of C.L. "Butch" Otter, whose campaign juggernaut is extremely well funded and organized at this point. With two months left until the primary election, the odds against success had to be overwhelming, even with the incumbency advantage. Risch, one of the smarter political analysts in the state, must understand that as well as anyone.

There is another factor, though, that follows from a thread running through Risch's many years in and around public office: His respect for institutions. His regard for the institution of the state Senate, as an institution, surfaced often in his years of debate, observation and voting there. Risch has been one of the leading voices in support of preserving the old Ada County courthouse - again, a regard for tradition and institution. Many of Risch's predecessors as lieutenant governor have spoken, at some point or another, of abolishing the office; Risch (to our knowledge) never has, but does seem to have some regard for the office as such. Looking across the hallway to the governor's office, the same thought processes probably carry through: That the office itself is something worthy of treating with high respect, and not casually.

In explaining his decision for a re-elect campaign, Risch was quoted as saying this morning, "The decision comes down to this: Do I want to engage in a difficult campaign or do I want to discharge the duties of governor? I've chosen the latter." Risch's personal history suggests that framing had to do with more than lofty rhetoric, and it may speak well of his prospects as he prepares for his new, albeit temporary, job.

Terminal environment

ferry passengers at Seattle docks-pic from Washington State FerriesThe Seattle waterfront area - especially what the the revival of debate over the Alaska Way Viaduct - has been good for a strong debate over what is best for that area. It's about to get reinforced.

Tomorrow's Federal Register has this notice: "The Federal Highway Administration and Federal Transit Administration are issuing this notice to advise the public that an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) will be prepared for the Washington State Ferries Seattle Ferry Terminal Project in Seattle, Washington."

Comment deadline will be May 19. Details are available at the ferry terminal project site.

But for the honor . . .

Invitation to WCF eventYou could say it was just a dinner, and it was an honor, and it wasn't explictly ideological at all, and leave it at that, and be honest as far as that goes. But this attendance at this event is going to go much further: you can just see it working its way into campaign speech after campaign speech over the next few months - and not the speeches of the honoree.

The event in question was an awards dinner by the WCF, the Women's Campaign Fund, and it was held in New York City on March 13. The group is about encouraging women to run for office - no particular or specific philosophical inclincation necessary, and people of both major political parties are involved. (It's buried in the organizational literature these days, but the group clearly is pro-choice on abortion.) And yet you get a sense that there is a tilt here. The guests include Massachusetts Senator John Kerry and his wife, and Ann Richards, the former Democratic governor of Texas (before she lost to George W. Bush) and Charles Rangel, the Democratic congressman from New York. The guest speaker is Al Franken, of Air America.

The lone "honored guest" from the Northwest: former Idaho state Senator Sheila Sorensen, now seeking the Republican nomination for the U.S. House.

Who really might have done better without the honor.

This was one award that, as the Red State Rebels blog predicted, hasn't yet appeared on Sorensen's campaign web site. But it has been noticed. (more…)

Kempthorne’s new gig

M aybe the face time with President Bush last summer helped turn the trick. Maybe the hammering Vice President Cheney has taken in recent weeks contributed. Maybe the field of people who wanted to sign up with an increasingly beleaguered administration has been shrinking. Whichever, or for whatever other reason, Idaho Governor Dirk Kempthorne is about to move on out of the region, back to D.C., to become secretary of the Department of Interior.

Dirk KempthorneHe was listed from the beginning as a top prospect for the job, but then he's been listed as a prospect for other Bush Administration jobs before, and been turned down. This one happened relativley quickly, without a lot of public vetting of names (some have surfaced, but not for long), and without any public comment to this point from Kempthorne himself. Some advance comment once before may have cost him an earlier opportunity.

This appointment has a number of spinoff angles, various of which we'll address soon. Consideration 1: Kempthorne as interior secretary, and as ex-governor.

He will not have a long time in the job, just somewhat over two years (presumably). How much can get done by way of policy change in that amount of time is unclear. But then, the question may answer itself: Kempthorne probably won't be charting new paths are changing many directions, because the approach and p0licies under Gale Norton are Bush Administration plans that will continue through 2008.

Those policies, and the actions of the office, have developed some controversy. (The tribal gaming problems in the office, while in no way Kempthorne's doing, will continue to be closely watched.) For the moment, though, Kempthorne may avoid most of it. While he has stuck closely to the conservative Republican line on environmental matters, he is smoothly-enough spoken to have avoided lightning-rod status on any of those matters. As governor, environmental issues have not been at the forefront of his efforts, other than on some local endangered species matters (the grizzlies and the wolves, notably). If you don't like the Bush Administration's approach generally on environmental matters, you won't like Kempthorne's. At the same time, he won't stand out from that crowd as especially objectionable, the way James Watt did under Ronald Reagan.

That likely means confirmation by the Senate, of which he is a former member (such a consideration usually helps), will not be a problem. Idaho's congressional delegation has already jumped on board with its support, and the Senate vote isn't likely to be close. (Though it will be interesting to see what criticism doesn materialize.) (more…)

Union fee upheld

The matter of employees in a union shop who don't want to join the union, or contribute to its political causes, has been a pointed lever in the politics of workplace. In Washington State Public Disclosure Commission v. Washington Education Association, the Washington Supreme Court this morning drew the sometimes blurry dividing lines a little more brightly.

The case grew out of complaints by the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, a business-aligned think tank which with other conservative groups has for some time sought to circumscribe union activity. (The named complainants, of course, are nonunion workers.) The specific target in this case was the Washington Education Association, though the impact ranges much farther. (more…)

Money from wherever

In some states this sort of thing could be damaging politically, though not in Idaho since Republicans evidently are impervious to assault there. Noted anyway, and because the attention now is national, this front-paged item about Idaho's two Republican senators, Larry Craig and Mike Crapo, on the liberal Daily Kos blog:

The Culture of Corruption has even hit Idaho. Like Republicans need to be corrupt to get elected there. Crapo has taken in more campaign money from residents of the Virgin Islands, $39,000 by the end of the 2005-06 election cycle, than Idahoans--under $20,000. And the story that has my dad (kossack Old Timer) really excited, details $43,500 received by Craig from contributors connected with Cunningham. The Idaho Statesman has done a good job of tying donations to legislation sponsored by Craig. Unfortunately, they haven't put that information online. Once this was all found out, Craig donated the money to charity. Not that it helps right now, neither being up this cycle, but we can always look ahead.

A Virgin Island news report noted this on Northwest senators: "Senator Harold Gordon Smith, a Republican from Oregon, took in the second-largest amount [from Virgin Island sources] with a total of $47,000 from 48 donors. Michael D. Crapo received $39,000 from 27 donors in the Virgin Islands this cycle. The site reports this doubled what he received from residents of his own state this election cycle. Crapo is also mentioned in the [New York] Sun article. It says, 'Observers familiar with the efforts said the primary target is Sen. Crapo, a Republican of Idaho, whom Virgin Islanders hope will introduce an amendment to upcoming tax legislation allowing individuals to be considered USVI residents if they spend just three months out of every year there.' He is a member of the Finance Subcommittee: Taxation and IRS Oversight."

The Crapo explanation on the Virgin Islands money (via the Idaho State Journal and Spokesnan-Review):

"He's very much involved in the philosophy states should be able to determine states' business," Crapo spokeswoman Susan Wheeler told the Idaho State Journal. "And in the same vein, territories should be able to determine the tax benefits that bolster business and the economy."

Jaws dropping

There's this much anyhow: You never would have picked this out as the possible new slogan for Washington state.

SayWA

Some state slogans actually do stick in the mind and have some branding utility: "Super, Natural" British Columbia and "Things Look Different Here" in Oregon c0me to mind. Somehow, Washington's new catch-phrase doesn't seem to have quite that kind of quality:

SayWA. (Coupled with, at times, "This is the sound of jaws dropping." Or, "This is the noise happy muscles make.")

Of course, the immediate response is: Say what? Yes, all right, it's a play off that phrase - but was that a really good idea? And yes, there is an obscure language in South America in which "saywa" means "landmark." And that point is ...?

In the Seattle Times online poll, 79% said of the slogan, "Are you kidding? It's lame."

Then there was the comment from a major regional tourism businessman, Darrell Bryan, general manager of Victoria Clipper: "Thirty-five years ago I smoked dope and probably could have come up with something like that."

Side to side

Eearly in the last legislative session, Senator Bill Finkbeiner, whose 45th district includes Kirkland, Woodinville and part of Redmont - the northern eastside of King County - made a significant switch. In the 2005 session his vote was key to killing a key piece of gay rights legislation. This January, having resigned his leadership of the Senate Republicans, his vote changed in favor of passage, which it did. And it was hard to escape the notion that his vote change had a lot to do with attitudes on social issues on the east side of King County.

The Eastside has been a pivot in Washington politics for a decade and more - the side winning substantially there has a good shot at winning statewide. That was part of the strategy underlying the near-win of Dino Rossi for governor in 2004: He had been a Republican senator on the east side, and was thought likely to capture enough of those votes to launch him over the top. That effort came to the edge of working.

But is the Eastside moving away from Republicans? The turn of a couple of legislative seats in 2004 toward Democrats was one indicator it might be. The policy switch of Bill Finkbeiner was another. And now, the case of Rodney Tom. (more…)

The gentrification of grungetown

Athoughtful piece in the Seattle Times today by long-time area music writer Charles Cross suggests that the Emerald City, which became such a target of gentrification in large part because its arts scene is so active, may be driving away its popular arts because of just that success.

Gas Works ParkThe trigger for his immediate concern is Gas Works Park, a 20-acre former industrial site (as its name suggests) obtained by the city of Seattle and opened as a park in 1975. A series of 17 concerts had been planned there; a lawsuit from neighbors (who are not exactly right on top of the area) apparently has killed it.

That would be a minor issue by itself, but apparently it is emblematic. All over Seattle, Cross writes, in places like Pioneer Square and Belltown where funky music outlets fostered the development of grunge and much else, and where neighbors often are much closer - and where they often have paid outrageous prices for the privilege of cultural nearness - similar battles have been underway. The issue is of special note because the arts, and especially music, play such an important part in the identity and culture of Seattle: They are an important piece of its definition.

"Club owners have found themselves squeezed by rising rents, plus ordinances that control noise, hours and crowd sizes. Artists and musicians rely on cheap urban rent districts — which was the very reason Belltown spawned a music scene two decades ago — and those are increasingly impossible to find in Seattle," Cross writes. And he asks: "The larger question, though, is what kind of city will Seattle be in the future: one ruled by condo owners and developers and not-in-my-backyard special interests, or one where a vibrant arts scene plays a role?"

Sounds like a question ripe for serious civic consideration.

Concentration

A number of readers of the Tacoma News Tribune and the nearby Olympia Olympian put together a few pieces of information and asked the question: With McClatchy Newspapers, which already owns the paper at Tacoma, set to take over the paper at Olympia, might that mean closure of the smaller Olympia paper?

The reply today, from the publisher at Tacoma, was: “We have no intention of closing the Olympian or selling it.”

And there's no immediate reason to think they will. Olympia (with Lacey and Tumwater) is a market distinct from Tacoma, even if it is only 30 miles away. It also is a growing market, which may be one reason McClatchy put the Olympian in the "keep" rather than the "spin off" category. There's also some ugly newspaper industry history when companies try that sort of consolidation; an attempt some years back by Lee Newspapers to merge the Oregon papers at Albany and Corvallis, just 10 miles apart, blew up, and the papers remain mostly separate to this day.

That said, those concerned readers may be missing a larger issue: McClatchy is moving from being a substantial player in the Puget newspaper scene, to being the dominant player.

In addition to the Tacoma and Olympia operations, it also will own outright the paper at Bellingham, the Herald (also a keeper). And although the partnership has been mostly silent, McClatchy will have 49% of the leading paper in the Seattle area, the Seattle Times - no small consideration. And don't forget another paper of substance, the Tri-City Herald, just over the Cascades.

What may this mean? Consolidation of some regional reporting? A reshuffled business picture, surely. It does mean a concentration of newspaper clout in the hands of one company unlike anything the Puget Sound, or even the Northwest, has ever seen before.

UPDATE NOTE: Several news stories have pointed out that McClatchy so far has been able to avoid the ever-growing pressures on profitability (and cutbacks at newsroomss) in part because the corporate stock is structured in such a way that the family has maintained strong voting control. This space suggested yesterday that McClatchy may have trouble resisting Wall Street and its larger investors; the stories suggest the stock structuring may allow it to do so.

Maybe - and we hope so. But we have our doubts, because the larger picture remains: The massive expansion of this company will mean far more outside, non-family, money will be coming into the picture. And it will come with a price that will insist, eventually if not immediately, on payment.