Writings and observations

There being another resource-related vacancy in the Bush Administration – with the resignation today of Interior Secretary Gale Norton – it’s time once again for another round of that favorite Idaho game, “Will Dirk get the appointment?”

Or the trailer appointment at EPA, if Mike Leavitt of the Environmental Protection Agency is moved to take the Interior spot.

Once again, folks: Serious speculation is pointless.

Those who argue in favor note that Kempthorne had a bunch of presumably pleasant face time with the president a few months ago at Tamarack, and he must rank as among the increasingly unpopular president’s most unquestionably loyal supporters anywhere outside his administration. (In the review of a whole wide range of controversial/troubling policies, the only break coming to mind is Kempthorne’s joining with 49 other governors in a protest of a prospective cutback in National Guard forces.) Hard-core loyalty is there, and that’s important to Bush.

Of course, none of that has changed since the several other openings for which Kempthorne was reportedly considered, and passed over. One would think that if they wanted him on board, they would have brought him by now.

If it does happen, the impact now would be far less than it would have been last year, when Lieutenant Governor Jim Risch could have used the step upward to run a strong campaign for governor; now, with campaign filing deadline only a week away, that option is essentially foreclosed.

Share on Facebook

Idaho

You can bet the lobbyists worked out the little calculus that follow about three seconds after Representative Dolores Crow said today she will end her 22 years in the Idaho House, and not seek re-election this year.

Dolores CrowCrow has been the controversial chair of House Revenue and Taxation for some years – the one-person roadblock to a large pile of tax legislation, and a bulwark of her version of conservative tax policy. As such, she’s been a major player in Idaho government for most of a decade now. So: Who will replace her?

There’s no definitive answer, but some facts are relevant. One is that there will be a new speaker, and no one now knows who that will will be. But as the cheif voice in assigning chairs, that will be an important factor.

The vice-chair on Rev-Tax is Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, an agribusiness guy who has impressed many in the House (and beyond) with his fluency with numbers and finance policy, notably in arcane areas that tend to boggle other minds. He has been a leader on the property tax interim committee. Very conservative, but grounded in a professional world view; one imagines him not as as a pushover but possibly as a listener and a compromiser (in the good sense).

He is one possibility for chair, but not the only one, because after this session he will not be the senior member on Rev-Tax. That will be Lenore Hardy Barrett, R-Challis, one of the most edgy and fierce conservatives in the House, who might make Wood look like an indecisive waffler. Her appointment would mean a tax committee in the House somewhat like the last few years, only more so.

The stakes rise.

Share on Facebook

Idaho

One early and fair measure of political effectiveness, at the opening stages of campaign season, is this: How well do the parties fare in filling all the ballot spots in their state?

In Oregon, with candidate filing now closed, we now can evaluate the ballot spot vacancies for the parties. Overall report card: Both parties did well, installing candidates for most substantial state positions.

There is, certainly, no lack of candidates for governor: three Democrats and no fewer than eight Republicans (though just three of those can realistically be considered serious contenders). Both parties have candidates for all five U.S. House seats (though, at the moment, none of the races shows signs of being very close).

Of the 15 Senate and 60 House legislative seats up for election – 75 in all, or 150 ballot positions – the parties filled all but 13 slots – leaving fewer than 10% uncontested. (Some of those could be filled through election of write-ins at the primary election in May.)

Should be noted that those open spots are not evenly devided. Democrats account for four open spots, all House races, while Republicans account for nine (one in the Senate, the rest for the House). In the tight race for control this year, that gives Democrats a slight but instant edge.

Share on Facebook

Oregon

Stopping by the Washington statehouse today, neither the House nor the Senate seemed in particularly rushed, tense, and agitated sine die mode (this being the norm on the edge of adjourning).

Washington statehouseTrue, their leaders had been making noises about adjourning Wednesday, but leadership always says things like that – gotta get the troops in the adjournin’ frame of mind, you know. When we departed the statehouse, inthe midst of a particularly fierce rain, it was in the conviction that final adjounrment today was highly unlikely. After all, the state constitution still gave them another day for the abbreviated session – legislators always use all the time available.

So what do you know? Six hours later, they up and adjourned.

Shouldn’t have been such a shock: That early wrapup was of a piece with what had gone before. On the day this term of the Washington Legislature began, a year ago January, it was the most bitterly, angrily divided in decades, maybe ever, with the arrival as well of a new governor whose very legitimacy was ferociously disputed by half the state and just under half the legislature. Mandate? Political chits? You gotta be kidding. Few legislative sessions in any state, ever, may have started less auspiciously.

From that point on, up through its final actions on Wednesday, this term of the Washington Legislature has exceeded expectations and pushed through one important piece of legislation after another – on roads, on medicine, on water rights, on a batch of other matters (even sexual predators, a subject which needed little revision in state law but this year did get a few useful additions). Seldom have Washington’s legislators been so able to return home to constituents and point to such an impressive record.

These guys – and this level of productivity involved plenty of members of both parties, even if just one (the Democrats) was in charge – could give lessons.

Share on Facebook

Washington

Don’t see how you can possibly call it “Connecting Idaho” any more. Based on the plans developed by legislators, what was a massive, generational effort to link parts of Idaho with what would amount to a new road system, has been reduced to a handful of maintenance jobs.

That is the direction being taken by the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. According to the Idaho Statesman report on its proceedings: “The committee voted to divide most of the money among three projects: $70 million to I-84 between Caldwell and Meridian, $65.6 million to U.S. 30 between McCammon and Soda Springs and $45.6 million to U.S. 95 between Worley and Setters. Of the remaining money, $15 million is divided between three additional projects and $3.8 million is left over, presumably to pay project managers Washington Group International and Denver’s CH2M Hill.”

(Of those three main projects, our opinion is that the first and third are most worthy, and we’d have a couple of other recommendations for the other spot … but we digress.)

Some of what JFAC is doing here is simply the result of revised cost and revenue estimates. But there is more as well, and that is where the serious bumping of heads is likely to occur with Governor Dirk Kempthorne.

Are we ready for the Gov/Xgr Mega-Facroff III?

Share on Facebook

Idaho

Candidate filing is underway in Idaho, and we”ll report on it periodically. But maybe not a lot, because – although this is only Day 2 and the filing period has been expanded from one week to two – most candidates appear to have filed already.

Idaho votes logo - Secretary of StateHow many of them? Certainly not all. Several expected (virtually certain) candidates in both parties for Congress and governor have not appeared yet, and nor have any for a number of legislative districts. But a lot of the expected names already are in place.

What’s most noticable in these early filings is the relative paucity of Democrats. As of the current posting (when this was written), for all the offices on the congressional and statewide level, just three have filed so far (just one, Dan Romero for lieutenant governor, among the statewides). And just six among legislative candidates statewide – compared with 53 Republicans.

To what extent will Democrats be able to turn those numbers around? That will be one of the significant questions in Idaho politics in the days ahead.

Share on Facebook

Idaho

The Seattle Times has an excellent series on the sealing of civil cases in King County. The Times is following up by filing motions for the opening of those cases – many of them, at least.

It appears that the Times is on sound legal ground in asking. The Washington Supreme Court has set clear rules on sealing cases, and contemplates that will happen only in rare instances. The paper notes

The Washington Constitution says: “Justice in all cases shall be administered openly.” To this, many King County judges have effectively added: “unless the parties don’t want it to be.”

The judges have displayed an ignorance of, or indifference to, the legal requirements for sealing court records. They have routinely sealed files while 1) offering little or no explanation, 2) applying the wrong legal standard, and 3) failing to acknowledge, much less weigh, the public interest in open court proceedings.

At least 97 percent of their sealing orders disregard rules set down by the Washington Supreme Court in the 1980s.

This is a subject worth following up by other newspapers – and interested citizens – in any and all other jurisdictions, and not just in Washington.

Share on Facebook

Washington

Nothing unusual for state Representative Bill Sali, R-Kuna – now a candidate for U.S. representative – to be fiddling around with Idaho abortion law. Monday, he was trying to get introduced the first abortion measure of the session in Idaho, another tinker with the parental-notification on minors situation.

Bill SaliWhy is he bothering? Why waste his time on such minor stuff when the state of South Dakota is cutting to the heart of the matter? Its legislature just passed, and its governor just signed, a law saying this: “No person may knowingly administer to, prescribe for, or procure for, or sell to any pregnant woman any medicine, drug, or other substance with the specific intent of causing or abetting the termination of the life of an unborn human being. No person may knowingly use or employ any instrument or procedure upon a pregnant woman with the specific intent of causing or abetting the termination of the life of an unborn human being. Any violation of this section is a Class 5 felony.”

No abortion period – not for reason of rape, incest or health of the mother – except only to immediately save the life of the mother.

The Idaho Chooses Life website has some qualms, but concludes: “But we must also recognize the fact that we have made precious little progress in ending the wholesale destruction of God’s little ones for more than a generation. We need to up the pressure on our court system.” An estimated 11 states, so far, are considering passing similar legislation.

One wonders why Idaho is not yet among them.

Sali has been the face of the hundred-percenters – Those who want to ban abortion, period. Granted, it would be tough to out-do Walt Bayes in the governor’s race. But if Sali wants to represent the really serious pro-life movement – the Republican National Coalition for Life endorsed him for Congress just last month as, one presumes, the most pro-life of the candidates – where’s his South Dakota bill and why hasn’t he brought it in front of the House Ways and Means Committee?

Share on Facebook

Idaho

Got a call from a Boise housing construction contractor who’s concerned a new piece of legislation might drive him out of business. He might even be right. And its intended purpose doesn’t require such an extreme result.

The measure in question is House Bill 677, which would allow school districts to impose impact fees on new residential construction within the district. The fees could amount to $2.50 per square foot, or, for example, $2,500 for a 1,000-square foot house. The measure is sponsored by leaders of the property tax renovation effort, Senators Shawn Keough and Representatives Dennis Lake, Mike Moyle and Jim Clark, all Republicans.

The idea behind it is generally unassailable: New growth should help pay for the growing budgets needed by school districts, most notably those like Boise and Meridian where the growth has caused serious pressures. Those new kids moving in – and generally, the new people moving in – create costs and so should have to help underwrite.

Under 677 they ultimately do, but the serious pressure instead is placed on the builders of the houses. The fee is imposed on “construction,” not on sale or occupancy. Ultimately, presumably, the builder would pass the cost along to the developer and buyer, but in the meantime, for months, that’s a high cost he alone would have to bear. In some cases, especially considering the size of houses so often built these days, that could be enough to put some builders out of business. If it were imposed instead at the time of sale, it could be incorporated into house financing relatively easily. And the arrival of the people into the house is more closely tied to the cost to the district than is construction of the building.

The bill is up for amendment on the House floor. Will be interesting to see how, or if, it is amended, as the session nears its frenetic final (well, presumably final) weeks.

Share on Facebook

Idaho

Turnout was substantial at Dorschester XLII (42, that is) at Seaside on a cool but pleasant Friday evening: These Republicans want back the governorship, and the prospects for doing that were on tap. It looked like around 500 or; if the official estimate was closer to 600, we won’t quibble. It was a substantial group.

Dorchester conference at SeasideBut which way to go? The decision seemed tougher the more this crowd pondered it.

A moment about Dorchester: This is an annual gathering of Oregon Republicans, founded (in largest part) by Robert Packwood, later a U.S. Senator – the Dorchester conferences were one of the devices he used early in his career to catapult his way to statewide prominence. It’s very much a private event (albeit well-publicized, with portions like the Friday night event open to the public) which allows Republicans, outside of any formal structure, to meet, interact, discuss and figure out what and who they’re all about. It’s a good idea any party in any state could adopt to benefit. (Hello, Washington Republicans and Idaho Democrats.)

It can be most useful of all when a party has an important decision looming ahead, as the Oregon Republicans do in choosing among gubernatorial candidates. The sense Friday night seemed to be that they still – and not as a result of dissatisfaction or disapproval – were figuring out how best to weight in.

There are, in all, seven Republican candidates for governor; three of them were given time to speak to the crowd, and these are three that, realistically, have the support and organization to stand a credible chance of winning. (A couple of others, Gordon Leitch and W.C. Ames, did rent tables at Dorchester even though they had no platform.) A purely private group like Dorchester can readily do that.

And it did a good job of giving visiblity to constituent groups and vendors and bringing people together. It gave political talk radio KPAM a shot at the big Oregon names; we observed the interview of Senator Gordon Smith, for one.

(An obligatory mention here before we get into the governor’s race. On the board listing the donor contributors to Dorchester one name topped the list, above all others: Wal-Mart. And Wal-Mart was the only organization not specifically political in orientation to have its own table in the Dorchester vendor room.)

All three major candidates – Jason Atkinson (backers in white t-shirts), Kevin Mannix (green) and Ron Saxton (red) – were well represented with campaign workers and all had cheering sections at the debate. If Saxton’s sounded somewhat the largest at first, all three were getting roughly similar applause as the event proceeded. (Nice moderation, too, by Representative Greg Walden, who poked some fun at the upon-a-time rumors about his own possible run for governor.)

A Dorchester panel developing individualized questions for the candidates did a pungent job.

Kevin Mannix on KPAM at Dorchester

For Mannix, the point of the question was: You’ve run over and over, never won statewide (including in the last governor’s race, when he narrowly lost to Democrat Ted Kulongoski), everyone already knows you, and, well, are voters getting tired of you? His response – noting that Oregon has a history of defeating candidates for governor before electing them – made coherent sense but may have fallen short as a convincer. (There was also the matter of the jowly caricature on his campaign signs which didn’t do justice to his appearance.) Still, a lot of people there liked him, and there seemed to be some real affection growing out of his recent tenure as state party chair.

For Atkinson, the question had to do with his alternative and grass-roots campaign approach: Candidates who rely on such methods usually do so because they haven’t got the money, organization and familiar name to run a more conventional race. Atkinson’s response to that was necessarily a great convincer, either. But Atkinson, though relatively new as a candidate on the statewide stage (and considerably younger than Saxton or Mannix) had something else: Major campaign skills and charisma, and a deft sense of addressing a broad audience. He easily had the strongest campaign skills of the three candidates, and you got the sense that if he loses this race, he could easily still go places in the years ahead.

There was another curiousity about Atkinson. Though he and his father (a former state Republican chair) have a long history of social and religious conservatism, not a smidgen of that was in evidence Friday – in fact, based on his appearance at Dorchester, you’d guess he was the most moderate of the three candidates.

By contrast, Ron Saxton, usually pegged as the most moderate of the three, sounded – in feel and sense if not strictly in verbiage – the most conservative of the three, and aggressively so. That in turn drew this barbed Dorchester question: In 2002 you ran against the PERS retirement fund issue, and this time against illegal aliens. Are you running the risk of having the Republican Party tagged as a group of blamers of unpopular groups? It was a great question (and one directly suggesting a Democratic strategy in response), and one Saxton didn’t ever quite answer – he said his criticisms were about failures of leadership rather than attacks on groups, which didn’t quite resolve the matter. Saxton had another problem: Probably in an attempt to very carefully walk a more conservative line this election than he did in 2002, while not abandoning the rationale of why he could still appeal to the great middle, he came across as bland. All that said, he still clearly has some of the mystique of the winner-that-might-have-been-last-time. The prospect is still tantalizing: Is this the guy who could do it?

The audience seemed divided.

UPDATE: On Sunday, the Dorchester straw poll was held, and the preferences were decisive. Saxton took 162 votes for first place; he’s been sold as The Man Who Could Do It, and the argument seems to be sinking in. A close second place – and we’re guessing here that our take on Atkinson’s charisma was shared by others – went to Atkinson, with 151 votes. Mannix came in a distant third; our thought is that his explanation of how his multiple losses can lead to a win now just didn’t satisfy.

This space has been saying for some time now, don’t write off Atkinson. We reiterate that, as the campaign nears its final turns and people start taking a closer look.

Share on Facebook

Oregon