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Posts published in March 2006


If you have any doubt that incumbent Democrat Ted Kulongoski is a substantial favorite to win re-election as governor this year, consider one of the uglier but more convincing pieces of evidence to that effect: His refusal so far to engage other candidates in debate, as he did in 2002.

So far he already has missed prospective joint appearances with his declared primary opponents, and appears likely to miss two more - including a Portland City Club event - in the middle of this month.

He has used the usual incumbent excuse of a tight schedule as his rationale for avoidance. he, and his staff, can't imagine anyone actually believes that, do they? If they do, then they're foolish enough to blow the election; if not (which is more probable), they're being dishonest. Either way, they seem to have made the calculation that they're far enough ahead that bailing won't hurt too much.

That rationale will stand until they make the calculus that avoidance would be more potentially damaging that participation. (And we're unsure what they're so worried about; Kulongoski may not be Mr. Charisma but he's surely intelligent and articulate enough to hold his own.) That's where outside pressure - not so much from other candidates, whose pressure in this instance doesn't mean much, but from others - comes in.

The Oregonian, which would have to be a chief player in this, is wading in, first with a front-page news story on Thursday then with an editorial today. That should be the pile-on signal for the rest of the news media, and for interest groups and Oregonians at large.

If it's going to happen, pile-on time has arrived.

WA Senate, staying the course

There seems to have been no serious change in the Washington Senate race for months, ever since it adopted its general Cantwell/McGavick structure: Cantwell has shown a strong, decisive lead every time out. Half a year or so after McGavick's entry, the numbers seem, in general, not to have budged.

More details, many more, come from a look at the crosstabs in a post at the liberal Horse's Ass. The poll is the Elway poll, which has a decent record, and the results comport with what we've seen before. But In this post, Goldy posts more of the details than we've seen before.

Newcomb’s out

Bruce Newcomb, who has been speaker of the Idaho House longer than anyone in the state's history, is headed out: He has announced his retirement.

Bruce Newcomb"Announce" is one of those portentious verbs used a lot in press releases and regularly deleted from mention here at Ridenbaugh Press; but in this case the Newcomb announcement carries the weight. He has been an important figure in Idaho government for nearly all of the 20 years he has been in the Idaho House; he has been in leadership most of that time. Position doesn't account for it all, though.

A usually affable guy, well-liked personally by many in the statehouse, he has managed to keep the tone in the House lighter, on many occasions, than it might otherwise have been. He seems to have capped, early on, any ambition for higher office than he has had, and to an uncommon degree has been willing to put the interests of others first. (Exhibit one would be his good friend Mike Simpson, who probably would not have been a sucessful speaker and later a member of Congress but for the unglamorous work Newcomb did, as Simpson's majority leader, for so many years.) If he merits some long-run criticism for making decisions that have blocked useful progress on taxes and some other subject, he also has been extremely useful in other areas, notably water law.

The departure of all that is half of what makes this announcement an announcement. The other half has to do with what's next. (more…)

Primary kickback

Every state has its hard-to-explain peculiarities: "Why do they do it that way?" "uh ... because there were never enough votes in the Legislature to change it, I guess ..."

One of Washington's has been the mid-September primary election date, which neverhad many defenders and might have been changes years ago except that there were always just enough people opposed to any single one of the realistic options. But no more. The Senate, which for long has kept status quo in this area, gave way today, and - starting next year, unfortunately not this one - the state's voters will have a decent interval between primary and general.

Does that matter, you ask? Secretary of State Sam Reed said that "Moving the Primary from September to August is a win for the people and for democracy itself."

That is because, as his office noted, "Under current law, election workers have less than three weeks after the State Primary is certified to hold recounts, address election contests, hire election board workers, test voting equipment, format and print ballots for the General Election, and finalize and mail Voters' Pamphlets. Election workers have just four or five days between certification of the Primary and the date that military and overseas ballots must be mailed." With resuls like those noted in 2004, when overseas military ballots arrived too late to be counted. Shouldn't happen under this change.

The immediate celebration over this passage (still needs signature of the governor, but that is almost certain) is in state elections offices. Should extend much further.

Stability in mental health

They may be a little rough on the states overall: The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill is saying (in its just-released report) that almost all states deserve a C, D or an F grade in their efforts in that area, and not one deserves an A, just five (none in the west) meriting a B. You suspect a message at work.

That said, there's provocative material in this year's Grading the States report. Upshot in the Northwest: Oregon rates a C, Washington a D, and Idaho an F.

There's some high irony - to put it mildly - in parts of this. Oregon, for example, gets an A for "infrastructure." NAMI must have an artful meaning of the word, because Oregon's very weakest point may be its infrastructure, especially the decaying 9even dangerous) parts of its state hospital at Salem. (It does note Oregon State Hospital remediation as an urgent need.) It points out that the state does have mental/physical health parity, that its recovery sytems are solid and handles services decently, all while falling below the national average for per capital spending. Not a bad report, really.

Washington spends more - in most ways above the national average - but ranks lower in most respects in delivery of service and actual health care.

Idaho was one of eight states graded F, weak on almost everything but its suicide rate, which was well above average. It ranked dead last, 51st, in the area of total mental health spending. Legislation in this area still is making its way around the Statehouse, however, so sme judgement might best be deferred.

A bogus run

Among the advantages of the Oregon system of voting by mail is the disadvantage that system places on one of the least welcome invaders of modern elections: The last-minute ad.

When the votes are being cast over a spread of more than two weeks, you can't easily manipulate the results through engineering a last-minute panic attack over (most commonly these days) the radio. Since the voting is spread out, you're only likely to influence a small sliver of people; and even that sliver is reduced by the number of voters who, having heard a serious allegation, actually have the time and ability to check it out before voting. Instead, getting serious information out there tends to work better.

Like most states, Idaho isn't in that position, and so attack ads like the one aimed at a new Boise schools bond issue could have some effect. In this case, maybe not as much as its backers hoped, since the election is a couple of weeks off and the ad already has been airing - meaning that by the time most people vote, many of its charges may already be adequately refuted.

This isn't an endorsement of either side of the bond campaign. The Boise School District is asking for $94 million, which is a lot of money, and the voters ought to have a full and careful accounting from a district that has some history of obfuscation.

But the proposal is no new topic, and voters would be well advised to beware of most anything they hear in the final days before the election. Goes for other kinds of electi0ns, too, as the people of Boise have ample reason to know.