"No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions." --Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1804.

You’ve seen the headlines about the Republican Party, nationally and on many state levels, coordinating with a number of religious leaders to generate votes through the congregation.

The Democrats have certainly taken note. Check out this notice, posted on the web in advance of the Oregon Democratic Party’s convention at Eugene this weekend:

The Republicans have spent decades cultivating relationships with religious leaders and communities and Democratic candidates and our state’s party must do the same. To help accomplish this, the Democratic Party of Oregon is offering a workshop on religious outreach from 3:00 to 6:00 PM, June 2, at the state convention in Eugene.

The workshop’s instructors, Mara Vanderslice and Eric Sapp, have pioneered successful religious outreach strategies across the country. Mara served as national director of religious outreach in the Kerry-Edwards campaign. Eric is a candidate for ordination in the Presbyterian Church (USA), handled faith and politics issues for Rep. David Price (NC), and helped staff the House Democratic Faith Working Group.

Participants in June 2’s event will receive basic facts about major religious groups within Oregon, practical tips about connecting with communities of faith, and suggestions about how to reach out to religious voters in general. There will also be a review of how different faith traditions view key issues, advice about religious polling, canvassing and organizing, and significant time for questions and answers.

What kind of response might they get?

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Jim Risch has been one of the distinctive personalities in Idaho politics for a generation now, and his first substantive press conference as governor today demonstrates several of the key facets of that personality, both as reflected in years past and what’s likely ahead in his next gubernatorial months. Even a read of some of the reports filed from it are enough to note the indicators.

Jim RischThere was efficiency. On the first regular working day of his governership, Risch had his staff in place: Chief of Staff John Sandy, and four deputies, in a thoroughly reorganized office. No sluggishness there; he was set to roll.

There will be no policy advisors in his office, he said – that position would be ended. Instead, the key staffers would be structured as constituent workers: A brilliantly sharp redefinition that reflects both on his predecessor and on the way he wants to define himself and his office.

Kempthorne was big on ceremony, was much noted for it. Risch gave off indications that ceremony is a lesser deal for him, and that should come as a relief. Holding an inaugural ball as a relatively private, campaign finance event seems entirely right under the circumstances, as does (for a variety of reasons) the decision not to try to move into the J.R. Simplot house donated to the state as a governor’s mansion. (They will use it for an inaugural party on Friday.) There’s an aspect of human scale and – can it be said of Risch? – even humility in those calls that many Idahoans likely will find appealing.

The significance of loyalty to Risch was there in Sandy’s appointment; we’d had him temporarily figured for lieutenant governor. Sandy was one of Risch’s closest allies in the state Senate and worked closely with him on his 2002 lieutenant governor campaign, so he seemed a good bet to emerge in a top spot. The four deputies are all experienced Republican hands who have worked with or around Risch for years. They will not have to get used to working with each other.

Risch suggested (didn’t say outright) that department heads will roll next week. If they do then expect – on the basis of today’s announcements – that replacements will be right there, ready to move in.

As for lieutenant governor, Risch said he would make an announcement soon – that it wouldn’t take him “27 days” of vacancy to post the name. That brings in another Risch hallmark: He has an excellent memory about who did what, and who stood where. The last vacancy for lieutenant governor occurred when C.L. “Butch” Otter resigned that office to serve in Congress. Risch remembers the occasion well, since he was passed over for the job – after being kept on the hook for painful weeks – by Governor Dirk Kempthorne in favor of fellow Senator Jack Riggs. In the interim, Risch beat Riggs in 2002 for lieutenant governor and now, as successor to Kempthorne, gets to make the appointment himself. His reference to all that was, no doubt about it, a barbed reference to all that.

It may sound narrow, but master politicians know that much of their clout comes from a good memory. (Cecil Andrus knew as much too.)

The old saying has it that the prospect of hanging in a fortnight concentrates the mind wonderfully. This initial shot at an abbreviated term shows Risch in concentrated form, and generally speaking to good effect.

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Washington Senator Maria Cantwell has put some emphasis on her time as an upper-level type at RealNetworks, and there could be something relevatory in that. We have no particular insight into the management at Real, but many leading high-tech companies are led by people who are, to put it simply, difficult to work for or with. A description by a former staffer running in this week’s Seattle Weekly suggests Cantwell picked up the industry’s executive ethos in spades.

The piece was written by a former press staffer, Mike Seely (who has also been a staffer for the Weekly). Its basic point was that critics from the left who have blasted Cantwell for being insufficiently anti-war should bear in mind that the alternative in this year’s election, Republican Mike McGavick, would likely be a loyal vote for Republican President Bush.

By way of establishing bona fides for his position, he makes clear that the reasons for his support for Cantwell – he calls her “a brilliant, driven public servant who rarely lets political expediency enter her sphere of consideration” – didn’t result from personal charm.

“The seven months I spent in her charge felt like seven years,” he wrote. “The campaign, larded with her RealNetworks stock windfall, spent more money on Red Vines than most candidates spend on direct mail. And conspicuous consumption during happy hour became all but a necessity, as it was invariably better to be half in the bag when Cantwell, a paranoid hellcat of a boss who rolls through staff like toilet paper, would make her daily sweep through the office, berating everyone in sight. On the trail, Cantwell often handled small groups of constituents in closed settings well. But she was not what you would call warm—a trait that should be preternatural for politicians of her stature. Her stump speeches were uninspiring and her grace with would-be donors flaccid at best. Most of the people who helped guide her to victory were motivated almost exclusively by their disdain for her opponent . . . Essentially, we worked for Maria in spite of Maria. Yet if you were to ask Cantwell, the only person responsible for her victory over [Slade] Gorton was the person who stared back at her in the bathroom mirror each morning. Her lack of gratitude and common human decency were simply repulsive.”

This election, Cantwell still seems to be massively out-fundraising and spending McGavick and has loads of advantages in what looks like a solidly Democratic year, and yet has maintained only modest leads in the polls that have surfaced. Might Seely’s portrait be touching on some reasons why?

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Building projects that have to go through an environmental impact statement process, and more besides, presumably have a solid track record for safety in place before construction. That still doesn’t mean something ugly can’t slip through.

Put another way, if Washington state Representative Toby Nixon’s concerns about the underway Brightwater sewage treatment plant are even close to on target, some important officials in King and Snohomish counties might one day wish they weren’t in such a hurry to build.

Brightwater schematic

Brightwater is a planned sewage plant planned for the Woodinville area, near the King-Snohomish county line – north of the line, in Snohomish – on the east side. This is fast-growing country, and you can get the concern about planning ahead for it. The plant is basically King’s project, though a few weeks ago the Snohomish County governing board, after some controversy, agreed to a bilateral deal that eases the red tape in pressing forward. Ground was broken in April.

Getting to this point hasn’t been an overnight thing. King county people started work on planning in 2000, and its proposal for siting happened in December 2003. Then there was the EIS and related research work, which as anyone familiar with the process knows is extensive. (The project people even have posted a library on line – that’s their term, and when you see the roster of documents you’ll think the description reasonable.) And there are, by the way, seismic and geologic studies in the pack.

That said, you can always still miss something.

Toby NixonThere is a lawsuit against the project, which the developers seem to dismiss as minor. Maybe less minor are the concerns of a state legislator, Nixon, R-Kirkland, who is no crank and brings some specifics to the table. In a guest opinion in the Woodinville Weekly, he has some potent warnings:

Brightwater is wedged between major branches of the South Whidbey Island Fault, on a site prone to liquefaction. Other potential plant sites were rejected because of proximity to faults that were much farther away.

King County did seismic trenching to confirm the fault location at the north end of Brightwater, and moved structures south as a result. However, it has refused to trench the potential fault to the south. Why is that?

Because the county knows that if that fault were confirmed, it would become illegal to build Brightwater on that site.

International Building Codes, now state law, don’t permit any structure, including sewage tunnels, to be built across known surface faults.

The 1995 earthquake in Kobe, Japan, showed why that’s good policy. In that disaster, sewage lines like Brightwater’s ruptured where they crossed a surface fault. The entire contents of Kobe’s sewage system – over 100 million gallons – emptied into Osaka Bay.

If that happened here, where would all the sewage and toxic chemicals go? Directly into the aquifer, polluting it for decades. Erupting to the surface, millions of gallons of raw sewage would devastate Little Bear Creek, flow through downtown Woodinville, down the Sammamish River, and into Lake Washington.

King County claims it can shut off the pumps and stop that from happening. But in a major earthquake, would human operators remember to, or be able to, turn off the pumps and valves?

They also say such an earthquake is unlikely during the plant’s 50-year design lifetime. Are you willing to take that bet?

King County is now determined to make it impossible to find the fault at the south end of the site. Claiming it’s doing “grading,” it’s about to dig a hole 90 feet long, 24 feet wide and 54 feet deep for a conveyance tunnel portal. Such deep soil disturbance would prevent seismic trenching from verifying faults on the site.

Why the rush to dig this hole? When the evidence is unfavorable, bury it.

On one hand, this project doesn’t seem to have been rushed with wild haste. But on the other, Nixon has raised issues that may resonate.

You can easily imagine some of the people in the area posing these questions as the work progresses over the next few years. This questions especially: Is the cost of slowing down a bit and getting these questions answered worth the risk that the concerns are real? Put another way: Can you really be that sure none of us have anything to worry about? And put still another: If the project is sound, why not prove it with solid answers?

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You can never tell conclusively what has legs and what doesn’t, but you get the growing impression that for major candidates and political leaders, immigration is increasingly looking like the obnoxious party guest you’d really rather went away.

For the moment at least, it remains a hot button. It was enough, in Idaho, to vault Canyon County Commissioner Robert Vasquez (it was his only substantial issue) into second place in a field of six; but it wasn’t enough for a win. It was enough to interest the candidates for governor of Oregon a couple of months earlier, but the candidate who initially seemed to make the big splash with it – Republican Ron Saxton – used it but little toward the end, and it felt more like an unwanted appendix on the scene as election day drew near.

There’s a constituency there, a group for whom illegal visitors to this country is topic A. But it is a piece of the electorate only, and too direct an appeal to that group – put another way, too blatant an assault against those here illegally – can put off and turn off larger groups of people. It’s a delicate line. Saxton in Oregon and congressional primary winner Bill Sali in Idaho managed it, each probably picking up some support from that interested crowd without seeming cruel or bigoted.

Will Washington manage the challenge?

The delicate line was something party leadership clearly had in mind as it met for its convention and platform decisions, both this weekend. The issue is toughest for Republicans, because Republican President George W. Bush has proposed a relatively open program which could lead to citizenship, while a significant piece of that party is appalled by the idea. If Washington Republican Chair Diane Tebelius could dictate, she probalby would seek a party plank that smoothed over the differences, or tried to.

No go. The Washington Republicans passed a proposal calling for no citizenship for babies of illegal immigrants born within the United States (which, as state Attorney General Ron McKenna pointed out, runs counter to the federal constitutions). More significant than that was some of the debate, which got ugly in places. Consider this items from David Postman’s blog:

When another delegate said it would be impractical to deport all those workers, the sponsor of the amendment said, “We let them take themselves back. They brought themselves in. If they want to be legal we let them do it the right way.”

On babies, a Spokane delegate told the convention that in Southern California hospitals are “flooded with illegal aliens trying to have babies.” She said the problem is spreading to Washington. “They are called anchor babies and once they are born they can get welfare and all sorts of stuff.” She later said that people who are white are being denied benefits given “to people who are brown.”

Some at the convention suggested none of this would hurt the party with key Hispanic voters. The guess here is that some of this, some of the quotes especially, may not go over very well.

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On Oregon’s primary election night there was a mysterious dog that failed to bark in the night-time. Some explanation comes in an Oregonian story today, outlining a strategy and mindset – equal parts both – that could serve as a useful model for a number of growing jurisdictions.

The organizational dog was Metro, the planning and regional management organization for the three main metro counties of the Portland area (Multnomah, Wahsington and Clackamas). It’s human representative is David Bragdon, its elected president (its first, in fact, elected in 2002). Metro runs the region’s public transprotation (such as Tri-Met buses and MAX trains), some parks and other public facilities, and is in charge of region-wide planning: How and where and when, precisely, growth occurs and things are built, or not. Working in a visible position for Metro, in other words, is not a place to be if you’re easily upset by having people get mad at you: It seems unavoidable.

David BragdonAnd Metro is not exactly universally popular, but its work in the last few years has been vastly more widely accepted and approved that you might think. The hard evidence of that came in the primary election, when President Bragdon was not only re-elected, he was unopposed for re-election. And the two other commissioners on the ballot, who were opposed, won re-election overwhelmingly.

The tradition in matters of planning is work silently and present the opposition with a conclusion – an all but accomplished result. That tends to be true whether the clout resides more with development or conservation interests. In the case of Metro, the clout is pretty well divided. There’s a substantial development community with considerable force, but also a strong voter populace with (especially in Portland but some other places too) a strong environmental ethic.

Bragdon won election originally as the environmental candidate running against development interests. But he evidently concluded that trench warfare would lead to no progress for anyone. The Oregonian‘s sum-up of his approach at present: “Using incentives, Metro councilors intend to stay true to a vision of a vibrant, green metropolis without aggravating cranky voters. They hope it will break stalemates over land use and environmental protections that have stalled the Legislature and divided Oregonians. If successful, their methods could be copied elsewhere. The movement has gained a little traction. Metro recently persuaded builders to support a construction tax that jump-starts planning in new suburbs. New transportation money has been tied to economic development. And instead of banning construction on sensitive land, Metro officials are staging an eco-friendly design competition and doling out cleanup grants.”

More challenges are around the bend, including a large bond issue for land purchases. But the fact that Metro isn’t a whole lot more controversial than it is a remarkable feat by itself.

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Transition day is here. For a second time, Idaho has sent to Washington a new Interior secretary, and at the same time got a new governor.

Kempthorne confirmed, with Crapo, wife Patricia, Craig, Frist

(photo from office of Senator Larry Craig; Senator Mike Crapo, Kempthorne, wife Patricia, Craig, Senator Bill Frist)

Figure on much celebration in the two spheres, of Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne and new Governor Jim Risch. But expect action to be deliberate for the time being.

And don’t figure on a special legislative session on property tax law revision right away, if at all. The terms for one set down so far by Risch (sound terms, similar to those which ruled the recent successful six-hour special session in Oregon) are not easy to meet, oculd take a while to reach, and might not be met at all.

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Northwest blogging has arrived: A blog has been formally banned, albeit only in a courthouse. That appears to be the case, at least, in the case of the Spokesman Review’s Huckleberries Online, run by Dave Oliveria, which evidently has incurred enough wrath from the Kootenai County Commission, or at least a commissioner, to be cut off from the courthouse’s Internet roster.

This sort of thing never ends well. For the banner, that is.

Prediction here is that this is the Huckleberries’ page views from Coeur d’Alene shoots through the roof in the next few days.

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The Democrats were overjoyed. One campaign aide was almost literally dancing down a Boise street, so happy was he about the choice the Republicans had made of who would represent them in the general election for the 1st congressional district seat. Worst candidate of the bunch, he said; others would have been tougher, but this one was so bad that the election would be a slam dunk. Big sigh of relief.

That’s right: I’m talking about May 1994, when Helen Chenoweth was nominated by the Republicans for a seat in Congress. She went on, as we know now, to serve three terms before leaving of her own volition (in honor of a campaign pledge). She turned out not be an easy mark at all: She defeated incumbent Democrat Larry La Rocco.

This is worth bearing in mind as we hear, today, the terrific opportunity being placed before Idaho Democrats with the nomination of Bill Sali to that same seat, and of a highly presentable Democrat, Larry Grant, to oppose him.

And that word is being spread far and wide. You see is in emails and blogs. And you see it implied in quotes like this one from Idaho Democratic Chair Richard Stallings: “The Republicans have made a lot of mistakes in recent years, but nominating their 1st Congressional District candidate last night was a serious misstep. They have chosen a nominee who is despised within their own party – and with good reason. Bill Sali is one of the most divisive personalities in Idaho politics.”

A Daily Kos web site diary post about the race (which otherwise includes quite a few useful bits and pieces) actually includes the line, “The only problem for Grant currently is money.”

Well, no. It isn’t his only problem. This could be the most competitive race in the 1st since at least 1998 and maybe earlier, which means a Grant win is viable – could happen. But the odds still run the other way, and Democrats would not be well-served to ignore the obstacles before them.

Start with the basics: The district.

The DKos item remarked of the Idaho 1st, “This Congressional district was represented by a Democrat before the 1994 “Gingrich Revolution”, Larry LaRocco. He won in 1990 in an upset, in a district virtually similar to now, that gave George Bush, Sr. 64% in 1988. Our current Bush got 68% in 2004. Jim Matheson and Chet Edwards represent equally “red” districts – and have won and kept their seats. Neither will ever be “safe” incumbents, but neither are they easy to beat. Idaho’s Republican, sure, but the vast majority of voters (and 57% of Idaho Republicans) want stable leadership first. And they’re not adverse to electing Democrats statewide, either, as Governor Cecil Andrus and current Education chief Marilyn Howard can attest to.”

Where to start? The district is geographically similar to 1990 (on a map you could hardly tell the difference), but its people are much changed. Since 1990, the great bulk of the growth in Idaho, a fast-growing state, has been in the 1st, in places like Meridian, Post Falls, Eagle, Kuna, Hayden. Look at those precincts with newly-minted Idahoans and you will find Republican conservatism of an angry, unyielding sort. This is the kind of place Sali has represented in the Idaho House for 16 years, and it likes him just fine. The kind of conservative places that Grant hails from – Fruitland – is more like the 1st used to be than the way it is now.

The 1990 election should not be used, anymore, as any kind of a political baseline. With hindsight it looks increasingly like an aberration, and apart from the results (the single best Democrats in Idaho have had since 1958) it represented an unusually low voter turnout owing to a confluence of factors, a perfect storm. Perfect storms happen, but they are, definitionally, rare.

Do Matheson and Edwards represent similarly red districts? No. Matheson’s Central Salt Lake is politically competitive, and Edwards has been in office since 1990, when his historically Democratic slice of Texas was still electing Democrats, and has been skilled enough to hang on since.

An in electing Howard, Idahoans elected just about the least partisan Democrat around – she is an educator, not a political animal – to the lowest-ranking statewide position. Congress? Governor? Not since 1992. And look at the party margins in the legislature and in the courthouses for a real dose of reality.

1st district breakout by countyThe argument for Sali’s weakness has one statistical component: His win by just 26% of the vote, suggesting that 74% of Republican voters wanted someone else. Sounds good, but there are a few problems with this line of analysis. First, the same could have been said of any of the six candidates, had they won – none were so much better known than the others that any was breaking out into a big lead. That’s not necessarily a political problem. Second, who knows for how many voters Sali may have been an acceptable second choice?

If Sali’s 26% representated only a very narrow base, you might expect that to be picked up in narrow, spotty wins geographically around the district. it is true that four of the candidates won counties. Robert Vasquez took Canyon, Owyhee and Boise, near his home turf; Skip Brandt took Idaho, Clearwater, Benewah and Lewis, in his north-central stomping ground; and Sheila Sorensen took Latah, Shoshone, Valley and Adams. But Sali took eight counties, and the biggest prizes, Ada and Kootenai, across the district. Now ask yourself: would the Vasquez voters in Canyon (especially, but probably also the others too) have much problem with switching in the general to Sali? Didn’t think so. About the Brandt voters? Not really. And the Sorensen counties? Well, any decently-campaigning Democrat ought to take Latah and Shoshone anyway (and Grant likely will), but that’s not where most of the votes are. The votes are concentrated in Ada and Kootenai, which Sali won decisively, and Canyon, where he came in second to a candidate whose supporters mostly should find the transition easy.

But none of all this goes to the core of the Democrats’ strategic problem.

The core of the brief against Sali, and the reason for the post-election delight, is personal and specific to him. Had, say, state Controller Keith Johnson been nominated, the race might have boiled down to policy specifics and a referendum on Republicans in Washington. That would be a difficult argument for 1st District Democrats to win, even this year. Sali’s nomination throws in an extra factor – his deficiencies as a legislator (addressed in an earlier post). The problem will be getting the people of the 1st District to grasp it.

Sali’s strategy is clear enough already: This is a race, he will say, between conservative me and liberal Grant. He began pounding that in on election night, and he has continued doing it, and likely will use all his resources to continue doing it up to November. That’s a familiar argument, and a whole lot of 1st district voters who have been accustomed to voting for conservative Republicans will probably link onto it. Why should this latest Republican be any different? He will not sell himself personally (to the voter electorate at large); he will simply argue for voting for another conservative Republican, as this district has every time save two in the last 40 years. This is a realistic strategy, and it easily could work.

Explaining why Sali is different, in a way that’s compelling and can’t be dismissed as simple snark, will be challenging. It’s possible – this is a race Grant could win. But the path to getting there is disconcertingly complex – more complex than it is for Sali.

If Idaho Democrats do display the kind of political skills needed to win this race, they could in fact be on the first step back to competitiveness in Idaho. But that will come with careful planning and hard work; premature celebration won’t help.

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We don’t get enough explanations of the way things really work in the world, including the government world, and so we often get an understanding of things no more sophisticated than you can put on a bumper sticker.

Hanging around politics and you’ll often hear the call to save our tax dollars by cutting back on the number of bureaucrats in government. Okay – that sounds appealing. What happens if we try to translate that into reality?

In Washington state government, there’s a logical place to look for them. Tht state has something called the Washington Management Service, into which management-level people are grouped; the idea was to train a large group of state workers in management skills. The WMS has about 5,400 people in it. So when Governor Chris Gregoire called for cutting back 1,000 “middle managers” – her version of cutting back on the bureaucrats – the WMS is where she headed.

In an excellent column today, Peter Callaghan points out that this seems simpler than it is. The MWS has come to include a lot more people than just middle managers; many are people doing important work whom the state would like to keep, but expects to lose owing to low salaries; many of these people are bumped into the WMS, not to become middle managers but to increase their pay. And so we have – and this was a focus for Callaghan – “all eight of the senior [prison] chaplains have been told their jobs will be eliminated to help the department meet its quota for mid-management reductions. That leaves just one chaplain for every 1,000 inmates. ”

That’s how to cut bloated bureaucracy? Well, no . . . and this should constitute a lesson for any political figure who thinks the job of cutting – which certainly often has merit – is either simple or easy.

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For quite a few Republicans, the situation has turned agonizing. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the situation will turn them.

The locus of agony is Bill Sali, who with 25.8% of the vote yesterday won the Republican nomination for the Idaho 1st district U.S. House seat. (Incumbent C.L. “Butch” Otter is running instead for governor, or so the paperwork says; Otter himself was on the far side of the country on election day and unavailable for conversation with Idahoans.)

Sali is typically described as a very conservative Republican, but that has nothing to do with the concern afoot. Nor does it have to do with his stands on issues or with his voting record, neither of which is very different from scores of other very conservative Republicans who have served with him in the Idaho House over the last 16 years.

It has more to do with something apparent to people who have worked around the Statehouse, apparent to Republicans and Democrats and liberal and conservatives alike. We have no interest in piling on or slinging mud, but there’s a broadly-held reality here that experienced Idaho political people know and that most Idahoans do not, and now it has become of importance. (We should add here: We have no personal animus against Sali; our dealings with him, mainly from some years back, have been cordial enough.) There is no gentle way to put this:

Sali was not remotely competent as a state legislator. To watch him stand to debate was to see the House chamber almost physically turn off: Members would pick up reading material, stroll away, get on the phone. To see him carry a piece of legislation was to see that bill’s chances of passage instantly halved. Skillful legislators build bridges; over 16 years, Sali steadily burned them. To hear Statehouse staff gossip about him (which they’re technically not supposed to do about any legislator, but of course like people everywhere will from time to time) is to join in either nervous laugher or an uneasy sense in the pit of the stomach. When the Republican leader of the Idaho House, Bruce Newcomb, last month raged against Sali by spluttering, “That idiot is just an absolute idiot,” his choice of perjorative was revealing: It was simply the first that came to mind. Were you somehow to poll a broad crossection of the legislators, staffers, lobbyists, reporters and other Statehouse types who have watched doings in the chambers over the last decade and a half, and asked them who was the least effective legislator in all that time of all the hundreds who have passed through, Sali would be much the best bet to top the list – and that is not at all an exaggeration. This does not have to do with extremism or choice of issues. This has to do with raw ability to do the job.

That is a considerable part of the reason people like Newcomb, who patiently developed admired leadership skills over many years, and doubtless his predecessor as speaker Mike Simpson, now congressman in the other House district, have such bad cases of heartburn today. To Simpson, a highly skilled legislator. who according to lore once threatened to pitch Sali out of a Statehouse window, is probably spending the day in a dizzy nausea as he mulls the idea of co-legislating with him.

Most of the work that most people do is largely invisible to most of the outside world – even the work of public officials. When we elect people to do a job, we usually make that choice based on limited criteria. We see where they say they stand on a hot button issue or two. We observe if they’ve gaffed themselves during campaign season. We know what party they claim, and maybe a philosophical tag. Maybe we have a handle on their religious beliefs. But the jobs we ask these people to do – be it county commissioner, mayor, state senator, U.S. representative – encompasses much more than most of us typically observe. Unless you’re one of the several hundred people who hang around the Idaho Statehouse, for instance, you have little real idea what your legislator is like as a legislator. The public gets a few raw details – some of the pro or con votes, maybe an occasional juicy quote – but little view of the accumulated work that legislators do over the course of a session, and beyond. Among themselves, and within that world, there’s a common knowledge of who is contributing in a useful way (whatever their philosophical viewpoint) and who isn’t. The voting public only seldom gets access to that base of knowledge, which is one reason (we don’t mean to imply the only one) why strikingly useful legislators sometimes get dumped and useless legislative couch potatoes get returned year after year.

How, in our system, do you counter that? We have no idea. People like Newcomb and Simpson may be contemplating that question today too, but we doubt they have any magical answers either.

So let’s bring this back down to the question making its way around news reports and Boise’s downtown on this day-after: Will Sali’s nomination in the 1st district cause the Republican Party to split apart, with the prospect that many split off to vote for Democrat Larry Grant, or will its constituency largely line up behind him?

Our speculation, for now: More the latter than the former. The problem a lot of organization Republicans have had (for years – this is not new) with Sali has nothing to do with his opposition to abortion or his stand on other issues. It’s more specifically personal, and how can they – or Democrats, for that matter – get into that subject without sounding as if they are engaging in a personal attack? (Which, in a sense at least, they would be.) If Sali positions the general election campaign as consisting simply of another “conservative” Republican running against another “liberal” Democrat – which is the tack he took on election night – what exactly is the comeback that doesn’t sound petty, bitter or spiteful?

The root of this is that few voters really know much about their candidates, their elected officials or the jobs that they do. And until they take the trouble to learn before they vote, the Sali problem – in the broad sense – will go on.

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The distinction between two types of information gathering has to be made up at the top, because a failure to understand it will result in a failure to grasp the import of the incident.

Investigation is specific, and it what we want and sometimes don’t get enough of. A law has been broken, and an officer has to probe the circumstances; or maybe information has been received that a law may be broken, and officers are trying to head off an event violent or dangerous. The point here is specificity: The officers are working on a specific incident by a specific person or group of people.

The alternative is fishing: Throwing the nets out there to see what might be pulled in. As anyone who fishes knows, this may be an interesting line of endeavor but it is hardly efficient. In a law enforcement context, it means trolling for masses of information. Since few of us manage to go for long in our modern, law-strewn, society, without breaking one, the ultimate idea is to have something on everyone, so those in charge can pick and choose who to harass or put away, and the concept of a “law abiding citizen” who has nothing to fear from the government becomes a thing of the past. Or at least, that’s the logical end conclusion when law enforcement goes fishing instead of investigating.

With that in mind, consider this from a letter posted on the city of Portland web site, by Mayor Tom Potter.

On Thursday, May 11, 2006, a Special Agent of the Portland Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation stopped a City employee and showed her a badge and ID. He asked if she knew any City Council members. He asked if she would be willing to pass information to him relating to people who work for the City of Portland . He said that while he had duties in other areas, the agency was always interested in information relating to white collar crime and other things.

One important and legitimate role of the FBI is to investigate public corruption within government entities. For example, recently the FBI arrested a member of Congress for public corruption. But federal officials have told me they know of no public corruption in our city. Federal officials say they are conducting no investigation of the City of Portland.

The only conclusion I can draw is that the agent in question was trying to place an informant inside the offices of Portland ’s elected officials and employees, in order to inform on City Council and others.

The actions of the FBI – even if they are the actions of one agent acting on his own – come at an uneasy time for many Americans. In the past few weeks, we have learned that our phone records are not private, and conversations are monitored without warrants. Journalists exposing these actions have been threatened with prosecution.

Even if this incident is nothing more than the work of one overzealous agent, it represents an unacceptable mindset within the agency. When there is no information to indicate ANY public corruption on the part of City Council members or employees, the FBI has no legitimate role in surreptitiously monitoring elected officials and city employees. As a city, we will continue to cooperate with the FBI on investigating criminal activities and terrorism, to ensure our community is as safe as possible.

But in the absence of any reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing, I believe the FBI’s recent actions smack of “Big Brother.” Spying on local government without justification or cause is not acceptable to me. I hope it is not acceptable to you, either.

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