Writings and observations

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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The timing is notable. This evening, Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski was headed into his first debate with his two Democratic opponents in this year’s primary election.

A few hours before that, he said he was calling the Oregon legislature into special session, effective April 20.

The timing of the one couldn’t have had anything to do with the other, could it? After all, the call abruptly became the topic du jour once he did it – affecting the content and twist of the debate.

Regardless, the call had merit. People fromboth parties were calling for it. The subject matter listed in his call was certainly weighty enough:

The legislature should limit its attention to two critical issues facing the state of Oregon:

The need to rebalance the budget of the Department of Human Services, and address revenue shortfalls caused by the loss of anticipated federal dollars and higher-than-anticipated caseloads; and
The need to provide additional funding support to Oregon’s public schools.

“I want to emphasize that I am committed to an efficient and productive special session. Discussions with legislative leadership and individual members have gone well. I believe if we work together we can accomplish our task in one or two days.

Those legislators with primary contests ahead no doubt hope so too.

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The approach the Washington Republican Party is using to determine who can and can’t run as a Republican makes sense from a number of angles: encouraging candidates to worh with and be part of the party strcture, to set them up as a relatively unified group, and to have the people who are active in the party have a role in who will be their standard bearers on the ballot.

But it also requires that everything fall into place just right, and therein lies the problem – if it doesn’t, lawsuits and political chaos could result.

The situation is outlined in the Vancouver Columbian, home of one of the spots in Washington where all this may matter most, since Clark County is a politically competitive place, and fast-growing besides.

The Washington Republican Party has put in place a rule placing an added requirement for some candidates who want to run as Republicans. The Columbian described it: “Under new rules adopted by the state GOP, all candidates for legislative and partisan state and local offices who are not incumbents must win the support of at least 25 percent of voting delegates in the districts they seek to represent if they want to run as Republicans in the September primary.”

As noted, there are organizational benefits to this approach – it is not irrational or unreasonable. But there is a problem.

Suppose a county clerk received candidacy papers from someone who is legally qualified under state law (is a registered voter, lives in the district, and so on) who wants to run in the Republican primary? The state law doesn’t include the convention requirement. That clerk reports to state law, not a political party’s organizational rules, and would be obliged to let that person file for office as a Republican. State law would have to be changed to do otherwise.

State Republican Chair Diane Tebelius was quoted as saying, “I would say 100 percent of our candidates are doing it so far. We don’t think there are going to be any problems or that we will have to file any lawsuits against anyone.”

And maybe not. Certainly, a candidate who wants to run seriously as a Republican this year would be well advised to do what the rules suggest.

But what if everyone doesn’t go just right? Politics is a touchy business. And bear in mind that while the county convention season is just getting underway, the candidate filing deadline is months off. What if someone decides in June they’d like to run. (For that matter, what if someone now planning to run, who gets the endorsement, drops out before candidate filing?)

Will be worth watching to see how this plays out.

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The next round of campaign finance data will be coming out in a few days, and that will be worth exploring. One early pronouncement, if not formal report, is worth some note now.

A while back we noted that in Washington’s 8th congressional district, which includes eastern King County and northeastern Pierce County, the Republican incumbent Dave Reichert has had a huge financial lead – about five to one (about $1.1 million to about $205,332) – over his Democratic challenger, Darcy Burner. In considerable part for that reason, this race had the feel of a longshot for the challenger.

Reichert probably still has the advantage, but it’s likely less now. The Horse’s Ass blog reported (and Burner confirmed at a Drinking Liberally event at Seattle) that her campaign income had more than doubled in the last reporting period, to about $536,000 – with another $250,000 from the national Democrats headed in on top of that. (The campaign said $90,000 came in during one two-day stretch, an impressive number for a House race.)

This doesn’t yet put Burner ahead or completely level the field; and we don’t yet know what Reichert will report. (We do know he’s been raising substantial money too.) But Burner clearly has escaped the cellar and will be in position to run a serious, substantial and possibly competitive race – more, if she handles her advantages well, than was the case a couple of months ago.

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The owners of the Seattle SuperSonics, called the Basketball Club of Seattle, has been asking a big favor of the taxpaying public: an upgrade of the KeyArena, where the team plays, estimated to cost about $220 million.

SuperSonicsAs such requests go – and they have become commonplace; Portland has a similar issue on tap now – this one is ordinarily in scope and in its proponents’ appeal: The presence of the team is a big boon to the city (i.e., the carrot), and if we don’t get it, we may sell off the team and this major league sport won’t be played here (the stick).

This space has been basically critical of these proposals: All of them boil down to a decision to give taxpayer money to a preferred business. (If giving underwriting businesses whic perform some publicly useful function is a propert use of taxpayer money, then consider our hands, here at Ridenbaugh Press, out.)

There is an added component to the Seattle issue, though: The people of Seattle don’t even know who the people are who would be benefitted from their largesse.

Today’s Seattle Times takes a look at the Basketball Club of Seattle – specifically, who the owners are. It has developed new information, and the overall picture is now closer to complete than it was before.

Some of this was known. Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz has sometimes served as a spokesman for the owners. Others include members of the Nordstrom family, other Starbuucks execs, and a number of other reasonably well-known Seattle business leaders; it sounds like a group of local boosters. The Times notes:

Over the past several weeks, The Seattle Times has constructed the most complete roster to date of the investors, who also own the WNBA’s Storm. Some were announced when they bought the team in 2001; others were identified in public records or interviews. Several were recently confirmed by the team for the first time after repeated inquiries by The Times. The team still will not identify about a dozen owners; some are family members of other owners.

With a combined wealth in the billions, the owners represent a cross section of Pacific Northwest money and influence. They include several of Schultz’s lieutenants at Starbucks, cellphone tycoon John Stanton, University of Washington Regent Stan Barer, and former Microsoft chief financial officer Greg Maffei. The group also includes partners at two of Seattle’s biggest law firms, the local inventors of the popular board games Pictionary and Cranium, and the man in charge of ending homelessness in King County.

This group may have made money elsewhere, but not on the Sonics, one reason they could wind up bailing out.

But these are also experienced and presumably smart business people, who in investing in the Sonics made a business decision. It may have been influenced more than most investments by the “fun” factor – evidently, most or all really are basketball fans – and maybe as well by the idea of investing in the community. But it was a business investment, and tax dollars usually don’t go to making those good.

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Constituents expect, or they ought to, that if a person asks for the responsibility of representing them as well as they can, that they will – and means at least showing up for work whenever possible.

That ethic may be weakening at the Idaho Legislature, where lawmakers long have had the fallback position of bringing in appointed substitute legislators to vote for them. But once upon a time, the reasons a lawmaker was absent tended toward the reasonable – illness or family emergency, for example.

During the 2002 session, a state senator named Ric Branch, who had become chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, missed a bunch of days at Boise, and his committee went without meeting at times. It became something of a embarassment, and Branch eventually lost the chairmanship, and decided against running for re-election. It was as well: A cattleman, he said his business was suffering without his presence there. The common reaction at the time was: If his personal or business life isn’t free enough to allow for the legislative service, then he shouldn’t serve. At least until it does.

Gerry SweetAll of which is preface to the story outr today from the Boise Associated Press Bureau (via Betsy Russell’s excellent Spokesman-Review blog). The legislator missing votes this time isn’t a chairman. But state Senator Gerry Sweet, R-Meridian, occupies a position some people give up chairs for: He’s a member of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, where almost all of the state’s budget is written. It’s a very important spot. The AP account:

The absences of Sen. Gerry Sweet, R-Meridian, drew criticism from some lawmakers who say he hasn’t paid enough attention to one of the Legislature’s most important panels. Sweet didn’t vote on 63 of 200 budget bills for fiscal year 2007, based on figures provided by the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee to The Associated Press.

Sweet missed votes during at least 15 meetings, including March 29 and March 30, when the 20-member committee put together a $35.4 million final budget package that contained Gov. Dirk Kempthorne’s “Experience Idaho” parks program. The Meridian lawmaker says his business – he’s a gun dealer who sells weapons over the Internet and at gun shows, including one last weekend in Boise – has grown this year, keeping him away from the Statehouse.

Guns shows are more important than the budget of the state of Idaho, in other words.

The glitch in all this is that candidate filing is done in Idaho, wrapped up last month. Sweet has no Republican opponent, which means – since his exceedingly Republican district is exceedingly unlikely to come even close to electing any Democrat, such as the one he faces at the general election, under almost any conditions – he is as good as unopposed.

The AP says Sweet hopes to be back on JFAC next year. He might. What of the prospect of a Branch-like internal reaction? The AP: “Others Republicans on the budget panel said it’s up to constituents to decide whether their lawmakers are attending enough meetings to properly represent them.”

Welcome to accountability at the Idaho Legislature.

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downtown Seattle-city of Seattle imageMost planners of urban areas nationally have concluded that downtowns, as a precondition of thriving, must be places where substantial numbers of people reside, as well as work and shop and entertain. The pieces tend not to hold together well otherwise. And cities around the Northwest have recognized that in recent years and acted on it, from Portland to Boise to Spokane.

Peter SteinbrueckSeattle, though, may be leading the pack with its latest move, undertaken Monday afternoon. That is when its city council passed the “downtown livability plan” proposed, and worked on for more than a year, by Council Member Peter Steinbrueck, who has chaired the council’s committee on urban development. It coordinates with a building height and density proposal Greg Nickels had been developing; that effort is a response to state requirements aiming to limit most growth to urban areas and away from rural.

The changes are varied and complex, and the details have undergone alternation all through the process. Generally, the changes will allow skyscrapers in some parts (not all) of the downtown area to be almost a third higher than they are now. Fees and benefits are attached to the new development, encouraging residential addons, some at the higher levels of these buildings, some elsewhere. There are provisions for lower-income (that is, non-wealthy) residential development as well, and provisions too for amenities, from green spaces to awnings.

The talk about the council and mayor about the vote as a dramatic turning point for Seattle may be a big exaggerated, just because – odds are – the tweaking of the plan probably will continue. (It went on right through the Monday council meeting.) But it surely is important, and it could be a big boost to continuing the reinvigorating of downtown Seattle that has taken such strong hold in the last few years.

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They say it’s all in fun. But whatever the disclaimers – and naturally they would give them – there’s an unmistakable barb.

A story in the Idaho Statesman today notes that several dozen legislators – that’s a lot out of a total 105 – have started wearing buttons promoting their wives for appointment to lieutenant governor.

Here’s the background: That office is likely to come open in another month or two after Governor Dirk Kempthorne is confirmed (which is strongly probable) as Interior secretary and Lieutenant Governor Jim Risch steps up to replace him, leaving his current job vacant. Risch then gets to name his replacement. A number of names have surfaced, but the only person who we know has specifically asked Risch for the appointment is Kempthorne’s wife, Patricia.

Hence, the buttons promoting my wife. The trend apparently started after friends of Representative Max Black, R-Boise, presented him with a joke “campaign button” for his wife. But the joke has spread, widely.

And it’s not a commentary on the Kempthorne situation. Of course not.

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Provocative item indeed on the NW Republican blog, suggesting that some kind of big splash is about to be made about Oregon Republican gubernatorial candidate Kevin Mannix.

Kevin MannixThe post has some specifics, which lend some credence to the idea that a big Oregonian piece is about to hit. (We should note here that NW Republican has enforsed one of Mannix’ opponents, Jason Atkinson, for the Republican nomination for governor – though doubtless it would support Mannix in the general if he wins the primary.) Most specifically, it quotes from a letter said to have been sent from Oregon Republican Party Chair Vance Day to party leaders:

It’s come to my attention that a reporter from the Oregonian has been calling some of you and making inquiries regarding the ORP documents and activities. We have had the same sort of calls.

This same reporter (Les Zaitz) has also made written requests of the ORP which I consider outside the bounds of what is reasonable or relevant to the general public. We disclose all that is required by law to the Federal Election Commission and the Secretary of State and have nothing to hide in those regards. Beyond that, I feel that our internal operations are just that – internal.

Zaitz is one of the O’s top reporters, well steeped in investigative reporting. Indications in the post were that something is expected to run in the first half of April, possibly on or about April 8 (about the same point in the election schedule when, last cycle, a big expose hit about Democratic U.S. Representative David Wu before the general election).

Heads up.

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