Writings and observations

As in, the need for: You really need to check out the information around a factoid before deciding what weight or interpretation to give it.

Googling around this evening, we came across this item from the D.C. newspaper The Hill in a Google list: “… Butch Otter (R-Idaho) faces a tough race and is therefore putting his job on the line.”

Stuffed with righteous indignation about how full of it The Hill was, we turned to the story (about how this election cycle marks the first time in three decades that more U.S. representatives are running for governor of their state than for the Senate), and saw the full quote:

“Every congressional gubernatorial candidate except Rep. Butch Otter (R-Idaho) faces a tough race and is therefore putting his job on the line. One of them — Rep. Tom Osborne (R-Neb.) — already lost in a primary.”

Oh. Never mind.

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Idaho

The next newspaper up for sale in the Seattle area is – no, not the Post Intelligencer, but rather the suburban daily to the east across the water, the King County Journal.

King County JournalIt never seems to have had an easy history. It started with great, bright promise: two small east King newspapers, the Eastside Journal and the Bellevue American, were sold to a new publishing group which turned them into the daily Bellevue Journal-American. We remember visiting their offices in the late 70s (in a beautiful woodsy setting); the place was full of ambition and seemed ready to vault ahead. And the timing would seem to have been perfect, since the Eastside then was just on the edge of the fierce growth that continues today. We would have guessed then, if we’d known how Bellevue, Renton, and the other communities in the area were about to grow, that the J-A would become an extremely successful paper, its circulation well over 100,000.

The King County Journal, which is its renamed successor today (and consisting as well of merged local papers), is well short of that. Not a bad newspaper for its area, and something like the 7th-largest daily in the state, it does seem to have a limited ambition, operating in the shadows of the behemoths across the water. Its owner, in recent years Horvitz Newspapers (led by Peter Horvitz), has put money into it – a big $20 million plant project just a few years ago – and tried various combination and approaches, but the papers never quite seem to have found their niche.

Usually newspaper companies describe the reasons for putting papers on the block in terms of corporate strategic planning – “this paper didn’t mesh with our long-term corporate plan.” Horvitz, who in the past has been quoted as saying the papers never have been as profitable as he would like, was more blunt in his announcement.

The paper said “Horvitz said he and his board of directors decided to sell because the company doesn’t have the resources to achieve the paper’s potential.” That’s a remarkable statement. And more: He was quoted directly as saying, “We’re proud of the significant progress these newspapers have made over many years, especially in a very difficult economic and competitive environment, and we believe that much progress can be made in future years if King County Journal Newspapers is owned by a company that can continue to make the necessary investments in the newspapers.”

In other words: Don’t buy these papers with the idea you can make any quick bucks, and expect to pour money in before you get much out. If that’s not the most conventional commentary an owner might offer before sale, Horvitz’ statement does have an uncommon ring of painful and precise truth.

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Washington

Astate like Idaho which has no formal party registration gets its members informally, very informally, through self-definition. If you think of yourself as a Republican, or as a Democrat, then you are. And in Idaho, to judge at least from voting results, a good many more people self-define as Rs than as Ds.

That’s why you want to be very careful when you say publicly the kind of thing U.S. Representative Mike Simpson said at last weekend’s state GOP convention.

He was talking about the candidacy of Bill Sali for the other U.S. House seat; he opposed Sali in the primary but now supports him as the Republican nominee, against Democrat Larry Grant. So much was a normal pitch for party unity. Then, according to several reports, he added: “I’ve heard some talk about Republicans for Grant. There is no such thing as a Republican for Grant. They are Democrats.”

We’ve written in the last few days about a subtext of “purification” in the current Idaho Republican Party, and this may be the clearest instance of it: You have to vote not just for nearly all Republicans, but every single one, or you’re no Republican at all. Cross the line once and you’re outta here.

Is that reaction over-sensitive, the misreading of an independent viewpoint? Well, consider the testimony of Bubblehead, a blogger, a retired submarine officer and a self-described lifel0ng Republican who has voted mostly Republican and never Democratic for president. [The point came via Red State Rebels.] After meeting and talking with both Sali and Grant, he decided to support Grant.

After hearing about Simpson’s line, Bubblehead responded: “I’ll be honest – this upsets me quite a bit. I feel I’ve done enough for my country to be accepted as a member of either one of the two main political parties, no matter who I happen to vote for in one election. And anyway — who is Mike Simpson to throw me out of my own party?” After which he goes on to rant about Simpson and the party. The seeds of a larger-purpose walkout may have been planted.

No one knows yet, or will for a while, what sort of crossover vote Grant may attract. But if it is substantial, Simpson – and some other Republican leaders – may wish the congressman could take his words back.

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Idaho

File this one under “money ain’t everything,” a substantial little subcategory of this site’s political analysis section.

To be clear: Money can be important in political campaigns, and it’s surely helpful not to be seriously outspent. But money buys elections only in the odd or unuusal case. Usually, money follows credibility – the person considered the likely winner anyway – or other strengths. The big money people usually want a reason to believe the person can win before they’ll invest; so, ordinarily, do small contributors. When such consideratons are thrown to the wind and a candidate gets big bucks anyway, more often than not they do little good.

Case in point is this morning’s Oregonian piece on a city council race in Beaverton, the Portland suburb which has been in legal conflict for a few years now with a near neighbor, the shoe-making Nike Corporation, and its honcho, Phil Knight. The issues have had to do with such matters as annexation and an ugly legal battle since over origins of the annexation attempt. But for Knight it seems to have gotten personal, with the elected city officials.

In this year’s Beaverton city elections, Knight decided to stake an opponent, named Bob Burke, to one of the council members seeking re-election, Betty Bode, who was first elected in 2002. Burke consequently was able to spend $64,905, of which more than $60,000 (some of it in-kind) came from Knight or other Nike sources. That swamped Bode’s campaign, which spent $15,825.

The catch was, the voters didn’t feel like ousting Bode. So they didn’t, re-electing her with 59.1% of the vote – a strong win even against a relatively minor opponent. The Oregonian calculated that Burke spent more than $13 per vote, to Bode’s $2.21 per vote.

The paper quoted Nike officials as saying the campaign shows to Beaverton that Nike is willing to spend its money on local political races. The numbers suggest the larger lesson, though, is that Knight and the corporation will be wasting their money, however much they spend, unless their preferred candidates already have a strong rationale within the community for winning.

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Oregon