Writings and observations

Herewith (thanks again to the Betsy Russell Boise blog), a commentary by the Speaker of the Idaho House of Representatives, Bruce Newcomb, whose ascension to that position eight years ago and retention since has owed much to his his easy-going personality and broad friendships; providing testimonial upon the character of his fellow Republican state representative, Bill Sali, currently the front-runner for the Republican nomination for the U.S. House in District 1:

“That idiot is just an absolute idiot…He doesn’t have one ounce of empathy in his whole frickin’ body, and you can put that in the paper.”


No, that certainly didn’t just materialize out of nowhere.

Yes, the irony is that it constitutes catnip for the Sali campaign.

Useful additional reading may be found in today’s Dan Popkey column in the Idaho Statesman.

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Nope, there really wasn’t an excuse for this session of the Idaho Legislture going on this long. It was supposed to have been either a short one, or one of moderate length. Instead, presently at 89 days in length, it has become the third longest session in state history.

Idaho StatehouseIf it lasts until next Thursday, and at the rate they’re going it might, it will tie for second-longest in state history.

The longer ones? Well, the longest-ever was in 2003, when lawmakers and Governor Dirk Kempthorne engaged in a standoff over a proposed tax increase. (Kempthorne won.) The length for that one was at least understandable.

And much more so the second-place session, the record-holder until then. That was the first legislative session in Idaho state history, at which the core of Idaho state law had to be passed. You can see why that might take more than a week or two.

This current session is running long in part because certain lawmakers simply refuse to let an issue go. Aquifer recharge, in the case of House Speaker Bruce Newcomb – it got a vote and failed, but it’s coming around again. Abortion, in the case of Representative Bill Sali. And several others.

In sessions past legislative leaders usually would step in at a point like this and say something on the order of, “The vote’s been taken. You lost. Bring it back next year if you want, but this session has to end.” No one seems to be doing that this year.

And if the hot emotions in the last couple of days on the floor – notably the House floor – were an indication, things may not get much better on Monday.

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Let’s pause for a moment and reflect upon primaries past – notably the 2002 primaries, Democratic and Republican, for governor of Oregon.

It’s worth a review, and maybe more than one, because so much has gotten repeated: The top two finishers on the Democratic side in 2002 are facing each other again, and so are two of the three top Republican finishers from that year. Are there lessons we might draw from the last go-round for the next one?

Democrats first: They’re simpler. Much.

The basic lesson out of the ’02 Democratic primary numbers is that Ted Kulong0ski did well – better, in fact, than most people seem to remember he did.

Of the six candidates (didn’t remember there were so many, did you?) only three won substantial votes: Kulongoski, former Treasurer Jim Hill (returned to the primary this year) and former Multnomah County Commissioner Bev Stein. And did you recall that Kulongoski outpolled the other two put together, or that he won every county in the state – and that in no county his win was even close? (The numbers: Kulongoski 170,799, Hill 92,294, Stein 76,517.)

Can’t resist quoting this from a Eugene Weekly piece on Stein: “She lacks name recognition compared to her Democratic primary opponents Ted Kulongoski and Jim Hill. But she is attempting to make up for it in getting out and firing up communities across the state with ideas that snap and buzz and smolder until suddenly, hopefully, all of Oregon is ablaze with Bev Stein fever.” The fever remained low-grade, but there was some evidence of it: Her third-place finish was quite respectable, she came within 200 votes of a second-place win in Multnomah. (Her commission roots helped, of course, but Hill had background there too.) She did beat Hill in Coos, Crook, Curry, Douglas, Harney, Jackson, Jefferson, Josephine, Klamath, Lake and Sherman – a whole bunch of rural areas.

By contrast, Hill’s best tended to some of the midsized urban regions: Lane. Marion, Polk and Umatilla did respectably for him – he pulled closer to Kulongoski in these than elsewhere, though still not enough to closely challenge any.

Hill has two problems now. One is that Kulongoski has been working the rural counties, and stands likely to pick up many of the primary votes in those places that last time went to Stein. The other is that his fellow primary competitor, Lane County Commissioner Pete Sorenson, seems likely to pull from some of the same Lane-Marion base that helped Hill last time. The one major mark is whether Hill (or Sorenson) can do much better in Multnomah or Washington.

On to the Republicans.

In ’02, this one was not a runaway such as the Democrats had. Kevin Mannix’ win over his two substantial competitors, Jack Roberts and Ron Saxton, was significant but not overwhelming. Assessing the similarities and differences between then and now is also tougher for another reason: The candidates are running differently. In ’02, Mannix ran as the relatively hard-edged conservative in the race, while Saxton and Roberts ran as “moderates.” This year, there’s been a shift, in presentation at least: Mannix sounds a bit more “moderate” and certainly smoother, Saxton has taken on a rougher, more conservative tone, and Atkinson, presumably the most conservative of the bunch, sounds the last so. What the voters will make of all that is unclear.

In ’02, at least, here is how they broke.

Oregon 2002 gubernatorial primary results

tan=Mannix green=Saxton blue=Roberts

At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be much pattern to this. But it does shoot holes into some conventional wisdom.

Theoretically, Saxton is the urban candidate; he does, after all, hail from Portland, and he did win Multnomah. But consider more closely. He beat Mannix in Multnomah by only 64 votes – less than a tenth of a percentage point – so that wasn’t much of a win. Of the dozen counties Saxton won, his percentage in Multnomah was only eighth-best. His best county was Hood River (41.6%), and his next-best was Jefferson (the Madras area, including part of the Warm Springs reservation, at 39.5%).

And theoretically, Mannix was the conservative who appealed to all the bedrock conservative parts of the state, and turned off the more urbanized and suburbanized areas. But look again. The east of the Cascades region – the big part of the state most closely fitting that description – was deeply split among the three candidates. That he took his home Marion County – Salem – should come as no surprise, though the fact that he did so well – 47.5% in a crowded field – in Oregon’s second largest city, and its state capital, perhaps should. Beyond that, he also took the two big Portland suburban counties, Washington and Clackamas, and fast-growing Deschutes (Bend). And remember his close call in Multnomah. And Mannix’ absolute worst counties were Harney and Lake, and no more hard core rural conservative places than those will you find in Oregon. Conservative his appeal may have been, but the voting patterns were more complex than that.

All this makes the 2002 calculus a very tough read. And if you’re trying to read (in advance) how matters are shaking out for 2006, with candidates whose images are smudged over from the last go-round . . . good luck.

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