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Posts published in July 2006

Rallying round

In case you were wondering what conservative Oregon spokesman like Lars Larson have to say about conservative gubernatorial candidate Mary Starrett, wonder no more. Just click over to Larson's web site and hear for youself - in his interview with Starrett.

The gubernatorial race presents a tug for Oregon conservatives. They could vote for the most conservative candidate of the group, Constitution Party nominee Starrett. Or, they could vote for a (presumably) more centrust Ron Saxton, the Republican Party nominee, who stands a far better chance of actually winning.

Most Republicans seem to be breaking Saxton's way (as, post-primary, most Oregonians left of center broke for Democratic nominee incumbent Ted Kulongoski). But where would someone like Larson, with his big radio audience, go?

Larson appears clearly in the Saxton camp. You can tell from the audio clips on Saxton's site, which center on the Oregon National Guard and its deployment or prospective deployment to Iraq and on immigration issues. On these subjects, Starrett's view is distinctly anti-Bush Administration: She would rather the guard not leave Oregon at all, an unconventional view across most of the spectrum. Larson's lead-in line on the site: "Hear what Mary Starrett says about Iraq and the Oregon National Guard. You might not believe your ears."

It's still July. The intensity is yet to come.

Impending deadline

We're only about a week off from the last candidate filing deadline in the Northwest, Washington's, while will put some closure to the shape of races to come.

Some candidates already have had to find their way, or not, to the ballot: those would be the minor party candidates. Secretary of State Sam Reed lists them this way:

U.S. Senator:
Bruce Guthrie – Libertarian Party
Aaron Dixon – Green Party
Robin Adair – Independent Candidate

U.S. Representative, 7th District:
Linnea Noreen – Independent Candidate

U.S. Representative, 8th District:
Bruce White – Libertarian Party

Due to insufficient signatures the following two candidates did not qualify:
Jonathan Wright - Libertarian Party Candidate for Senator, 30th Legislative District
Douglas Revelle - Green Party Candidate for U.S. Representative, 2nd District

Might there be some signifiance in the filings for Senate and 8th district, the two major races where a close race seems a not-unreasonable prospect? Could be. Has been, sometimes, in the past. (We'll return to this later.)

Too bad Reed, in his roster of candidates, didn't note comparisons with years past. Our sense is that there are fewer from the minor parties in Washington than in most years.

The major parties have until the end of next week (meaning Friday) - in theory at least. For the most part, a candidate for a substantial office who hasn't surfaced by now is probably just a placeholder, keeping the alternative in place in case the probable winner somehow blows up.

But people do surface, or drop out, at the end. Next week will nonetheless be a time of some drama for the parties, as everyone watches the score cards fill.

Solving property taxes

In this season of campaigns and initiatives and increasing housing prices, property taxes make a convenient target. Nobody likes them - well, nobody likes taxes generally, but especially not property taxes - and of a sudden everyone seems to have their pet approach for solving the property tax problem.

Which is a problem. But in trying to throw money at it - with the idea of swapping out sales tax money for property tax money - the various advocates may have a case of bad aim.

The impetus isn't hard to understand. It grows out of all those stories, dripping out one by one, about people whose houses, new or used, have gained a whole lot of value in the last few years, and who are seeing their property taxes shooting through the roof. Butch Otter, the Republican nominee for governor, is among them, having just lost an appeal of the increase that will cost him tens of thousands of dollars. Prop tax fury is rampaging, especially in the Panhandle and parts of southwest Idaho.

So what if I were to tell you that, over the past seven years, the total amount of money collected from property taxes has risen by about a third - averaged out, about 5% growth a year, or less - no spectacular growth at all? And that it would be considerably less if you took out all the new growth, especially around the Boise and Coeur d'Alene regions, that have added so heavily to the increase? (more…)

Sonics to Sooners

You've gotta love the naivete of this comment on the Seattle Times sports forum, about the sale of the Seattle SuperSonics and the WNBA's Seattle Storm basketball teams:

"I can't believe anyone would take away the Sonics. How dare they!! How can someone do that to people. And how dare Schultz. The Key was built 10 years ago! You don't become team owners to make a profit, you do it for the love of the game. I call for an immediate boycott of Starbucks."

The love of the game. That's why people play pickup basketball games, or maybe why they play in neighborhood leagues. Pro ball is money, a lot of it. Did you catch the sale price, in the announcement of the Basketball Club of Seattle (led by Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz, hence the coffee-house reference) transfer to the Professional Basketball Club LLC of Oklahoma? It was $350 million. This is big business. Love of the game may have lured (probably did) some of these business people into the arena, but it is hardly the key factor.

The sales terms apparently provide that the Sonics and Storm will stay at Seattle for a year under present conditions. During that time, negotiations will presumably be undertaken for financing of a new arena. If those efforts fall through, the new owners will be at liberty to move the team to Oklahoma. (The official site did, however, indicate an intention to maintain present agreements until 2010.)

All this will, of course, throw the heat back on state and local officials: How many hundreds of millions of public money will they be willing to throw the way of the new owners to keep the teams at Seattle?

On this point, an AP story in the Sporting News said: "Until then, Seattle, come support your teams!" Easy for them to say - it's not their tax bucks on the line.

The sale may cut both ways. On one hand, the new owners probably have no particular incentive other than financial to keep the teams in the Northwest, so their presumptive threats of a move would hardly be empty. On the other hand - these guys have no native loyalty to Seattle anyway.

Business properties change hands regularly these days. Anyone who invests too much in a really long-term dependance on a business relationship is running a fool's errand, and that is most likely the conclusion we'll all reach a year from now. That and an answer to this question: Can a pro basketball team make money based out of Seattle? If the answer to that business question is yes - as we suspect it is - then Seattle probably will have a pro basketball team around, whether it's called the SuperSonics and owned by a pack of Sooner dudes, or not.

Incumbent track

Tje general take on the general election for all major offices in Oregon save governor - in other words, the U.S. House races - has been that the incumbents are likely to easily win re-election to all five.

The campaign finance reports just out, covering the period up through the end of June, do nothing to shake that view.

One set of numbers is respectably close, and it may signal the most interesting of the five races. In District 4, where Democrat Peter DeFazio has been entrenched for a couple of decades, the money ballot is just close enough that you can't say - as it stands - that money will be reason the race unfolds as it does. To DeFazio's $507,886 total raised so far and his $367,754 cash on hand, Republican James Feldkammp, running a rematch this cycle, has raised $322,787 and has $240,170 still available. That's enough to run a respectable race. It's probably not enough to unseat an incumbent who has accumulated no new big problems in his latest term and has been winning solidly election after election, including easily defeating Feldkamp last time.

From there, things get really boring. Portland Democrat Earl Blumenauer has no meaningful opposition at all. Democrat David Wu in the 1st district has outraised his Republican opponent, state Representative Derrick Kitts, by nearly 10-1 ($1,149,770 to $116,662); it's a race with low buzz so far. In district 5, Darlene Hooley outpaces her Republican opponent, Mike Erickson, nearly 3-1 ($855,276 to $311,817).

The lone Republican in the delegation, the 2nd district's Greg Walden, has raised $923,193 to Democrat Carol Voisin's $8,923. She's widely described as a quality candidate, but the financial fall ain't there.

You don't have to outraise your opponent to win. But it sure helps if his financial resources aren't completely swamping yours.

A financial post mortem and look ahead

Notable numbers in the FEC reports just filed by Idaho congressional candidates - those competing in the May primary and still still headed to November.

Here's the number that most aggressively jumps out: $552,612. That's the amount Bill Sali, winner of the Republican nomination for the 1st congressional district, raised so far in this cycle. That's an almost astonishing amount for a primary contest, which almost all of it was raised for. And Sali didn't just sit on it: He spent $464,124, leaving him with (as of the end of last month) a modest $91,790 on hand. Our guess: He was told, "Spend it on the primary, that's likely your real battle" - with the promise that more will be coming for the general if needed.

The only one of his competitors to spend in that same ballpark was Sheila Sorensen, who raised and spent just shy of $400,000. But more than half of what she raised - $210,500 - was in the form of a loan from the candidate. She raised well less than half what Sali did, and less than Canyon C0unty Commissioner Robert Vasquez, who raised $302,975 (and apparently put in not a dime of his own).

On the Democratic side, nominee Larry Grant raised a respectable $216,515, had spent about two-thirds of it by the end of last month, and has $73,982 left over. In theory, that puts Grant and Sali on a similar playing field as they begin the general. In practice, Sali can return to some awfully deep pockets for another round, and he probably will. And Grant has more grueling fundraising ahead.

Over the second district, things are a little more modest, as Republican Representative Mike Simpson has spent only $229,569 (smallish for an incumbent), and his Democratic challenger Jim Hansen $50,658.

Wine amd definition

Yet another mini-area now has formal designation as a specific wine-growing area: The Eola-Amity Hills viticultural area in the northern Willamette Valley in Oregon. The designation is published today by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.

Also out today, a proposed designation of a Snake River Valley' viticultural area in southwestern Idaho and southeastern Oregon.

These designations - a string of them for small sub-regions now, in Washington and in Oregon, may go some distance toward raising the visbility and cachet of wines from that area. And if recent reports about climate warming in California's Napa Valley are anywhere near accurate, and recent loosening of wine sales rules continue around the country, that could become a valuable thing indeed.

Toward a Westmoreland resolution

Some months back, University of Oregon President Dave Frohnmayer seemed to be headed for a crash in a battle with a group of students and others over a shift in student housing.

Dave FrohnmayerWe noted in January that as Frohnmayer was searching for ways to physically expand the campus, and searching for money to buy additional property, he seized on the idea of selling a 400-unit student housing development named Westmoreland, which among other things provided about half of the married student housing on campus. The result was major-league uproar on campus.

An update: The deal is going forward, following a Friday approval by the state Board of Higher Education, and will raise $18.5 million for the university. (The student member of the board was the lone "no" vote.) But the uproar seems to be settling, in large part because Frohnmayer appears to have listened and borne in mind the issues asosciated with the sale. As a result, the circumstances surrounding the sale lo9ok different now.

The Eugene Register-Guard reported it this way:

The vote came after UO President Dave Frohnmayer told the board the university will increase the compensation it will pay to current and former Westmoreland residents. Students who left after the plan to sell the 404-unit complex was announced in October or who leave before the deal closes will receive $300 to help cover moving expenses, up from the $150 previously offered.

That's on top of the two-year rent freeze for students who stay at Westmoreland under the new owner, waiver of application fees to move back into the complex and assistance with child care costs for former Westmoreland residents. Frohnmayer said he decided to boost the compensation after hearing students speak of the difficulties they face moving to different housing. He pledged additional help if necessary.

Evidently, Frohnmayer showed down a bit from his speed of last fall, when he seemed intent on simply ramming through the sale, and worked out ways to help the students while still getting the deal done. It sounds like a case study in getting some things dnoe while not at the same time undoing others.

On clarity

At his appearance Thursday at Cathlamet, and evidently eslewhere too, Washington Republican Senate candidate Mike McGavick sent notice to area Democrats: no, I do not now support and never have supported privatization of Washington's universities. That statement was clear.

Less so, however, his statement from four years ago that led to the accusation.

Washington Democrats have been smacking McGavick upside the head with comments from his speech to the Seattle Chamber of Commerce in 2002, which were reported in the Seattle Times as backing a reorganization of governance and financing of higher education, and in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer of supporting privatization.

Okay: Take this test and see what you think. The Times' David Postman performed the excellent service of reviewing - since the speech was captured on tape, and has been archived at TVW - the speech and pulling out the relevant quotes. There are two. Here they area, separated by elipses:

And here's the suggestion. It is time to explore seriously whether over the next decade we should either string the string or cut the cord and let the University of Washington and Washington State University operate more privately. Get them out of the budget fight and let them move on. . . . We need to explore independence for those institutions.

Reading those quotes, our first thought was: Huh? "String the string or cut the cord?" "More privately?" "Explore independence"? What the hell does all that mean? It sounds like CEO-speak freed from the constraints of possible inquiry by shareholders. It doesn't match well with the realities of university governance; you can't imagine a regent using such verbiage, whatever his views on restructuring. The truth is, no one but McGavick really knows what he was talking about.

McGavick said within a year of that 2002 speech that he wasn't calling for privatization. Our guess is that he wasn't, or at least wasn't intending to. But his words were so open-ended that you (and he) really can't blame the Democrats for trying to pin him to the wall with them.

A case study for clarity in political speak.

Past one mark

The Weslund campaign seems to be returning to form. The independent campaign for Oregon governor said today it has reached 18,390 signatures - just past the number they need to win a spot on the November election ballot.

That, of course, would assume all of the signatures are valid, as almost certainly they are not. But it also gives the campaign six more weeks to gather more, which means you have say now that Westlund probably will be on the ballot.

It's quite a turnaround: The pace the campaign had held until only a month ago, when little more than 5,000 signatures had been gathered, was so spotty as to put ballot status in doubt. Now that it seems much more likely (assuming, again, they don't slack off between here and August 29), we can go back to the older question: just what impact will Weslund have in the increasingly complex governor's race?

On the Open Mike! tour

McGavick tourThe bus is unmissable: The McGavick tour machine is a bright red, just like the t-shirts some of the staff and volunteers wear, and like the buttons and frisbees. It's of a piece with the exclamation point, the effort to juice up energy.

It did some of that, partly because it was open and unscripted.

The extended statewide bus tour is a perennial in politics, for good reason. It does generate some energy, and it brings statewide candidates to places that ordinarily don't see a lot of statewide candidates. Places like southwest Washington's Cathlamet, where McGavick, the Republican nominee for the Senate in Washington, spent a couple of midday hours Thursday.

The day was longish to start with, out on the coast, and was scheduled to work through Longview and then another "open Mike" session at Vancouver, and then on the road again to Yakima (the candidate had an early Friday morning appearance there). The Cathlamet location was set up at the marina on the Columbia River, a spot pleasant when it began under cloudy skies and drizzle, and better when it turned sunny and warmer.

Hamburgers, chips and drinks were available and local volunteers had the structure of the event well in hand. But it should be noted, in this time of bubble candidates, that the event was as billed open. The people who showed up, just showed up: About a dozen students working on a civics project, about as many area supporters, and a few Democrats. A Democratic worker dutifully videotaped it all; McGavick pointedly noted that he'd become a fixture on the stops. (Give McGavick a point for not trying to kick him out; give the Democrats a point for being on the ball.) And Democrats, not just supporters or students, got to ask questions. (more…)

Persistent leads

You'll be seeing some numbers hitting in the next day or two on the congressional races, but those are only rough estimates. The official filings are due for a few more days.

The bottom line still gives incumbent Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell a big money advantage. She apparently still has $6 million on hand after paying a lot of expenses and her first big media buy. Republican challenge Mike McGavick has about $1 million.

More to come.