"I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors." - Thomas Jefferson (appears in the Jefferson Memorial)

Pigs must be flying, and it must be as cool in Hades as it was yesterday in the Northwest. You got it: Your scribe has become a candidate for office.

Do not expect that anything about this site or any other Ridenbaugh Press activities will change as a consequence. (Possibly, maybe, an iota more sympathy for those who put their names on the line …) None of what follows in this post is of any broad Northwest significance; but we thought it should be noted here by way of full disclosure.

What we’re talking about: A seat (the office is called “director”), nonpartisan and unpaid, on a seven-member local board governing a district that doesn’t exist. Yet.

Our city of residence, Carlton, Oregon, population 1,500 or so, has a volunteer fire department, managed by a part-time and paid (and quite professional) chief. Two things about it are a mess. One is the governance structure, which combines in-city coverage run by the city of Carlton with coverage in an unincorporated rural area governed by its own appointive board. The other mess is inadequate building and equipment; the fire station is not much more than a single good ground shake from serious damage, possibly human injury. The need to address both concerns is broadly acknowledged and accepted locally.

Three local issues are planned for the November general election ballot. One would establish a single new district covering the city and rural area; another would finance the district’s improvements; and the third would elect seven members to a new district governing board (taking office only if the other two pass). I helped out a bit with the petition drive to get these items on the ballot. Midday Monday, I got the word from people at city hall that only three candidates had filed for the board seats, and the deadline for filing was Tuesday afternoon – would I add my name? I agreed.

After that came the rush: By 5 p.m. Tuesday, 10 candidates filed for the seven seats. My analysis of this election is that (a) the district probably will be created, this based on the very positive reaction locally to the petition campaign; and (b) that my odds of joining the new board are less than even, partly because I’m a good deal newer to town than most of the other contenders. The district should be well served regardless, since some solid community people wound dominating the filings.

We’ve watched politics for three decades now, from almost every angle – except that of candidate. So something may be learned from the experience. We’ll keep you apprised.

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Sometimes political campaigns aren’t altogether what they’re supposedly about. Sometimes you have to makes connections and pull pieces together.

In Oregon, for example, there’s Measure 48, and then there’s a set of ads that have begun appearing on another, apparently unrelated subject. We’re betting they’re closely related.

Go back to our post yesterday on 48 – the TABOR-derived spending cap – and the quotes from its Oregon petitioner, Don McIntire. Who does he see as his opponent in the battle over the ballot issue? Not someone most Oregonians probably would cite: “the real leader of the government class in Oregon – Tim Nesbitt, recent President of the Oregon AFL-CIO. I will debate Mr. Nesbitt as many times as he would like between now and election day.”

All of that was largely in response to Governor Ted Kulongoski’s offer to debate the man most responsible for underwriting the Measure 48 campaign, New York businessman Howard Rich. Kulongoski’s move drew fresh attention to the non-indigenous nature of the initiative, that it’s a clone of brethern circulating in a bunch of states, all funded by Rich and associations he’s closely linked to.

McIntire’s comments sounded like an attempt to swing the spotlight in another direction. In Oregon, unions had been peripheral in the discussion about Measure 48 up to that point, but McIntire went well out of his way to make them central.

But in a bigger context, his comments look in no way accidental.

In the last couple of weeks, Oregonians have been seeing print (in the Portland Oregonian and Eugene Register-Guard) and broadcast ads blasting unions, especially government-based unions, but in a generic way.

The ads came from the Center for Union Facts, which runs a web site which includes a fair amount of useful neutral information about unions alongside questionable or discredited material plus its opinion material, which includes audio, video and text items which focus on union corruption and (in the video segments) take direct shots at the character of union members. (The video now on display certainly does, taking aim two female workers designed to push your infuriate buttons; it concludes, “your tax dollars are funding outrageous benefit backages and poor service.”) The site proclaims the organization as not anti-union, only anti-corruption, but the opinion material available there belies that. The union-critical ads running in Oregon are just the latest generation; earlier versions were rolled out in February in larger metro areas.

What is the Center for Union Facts? The Center told the Oregonian that it does not disclosure its donors; and here as in the initiative world, a great deal of the money picture has a furtive and secretive sense to it. It has disclosed its executive director is Rick Berman, a Washington attorney and lobbyist. Researchers at Sourcewatch describe it as “a secretive front group for individuals and industries opposed to union activities. It is part of lobbyist Rick Berman’s family of front groups including the Employment Policies Institute. The domain name www.unionfacts.com was registered to Berman & Co. in May 2005.”

Okay, so who is Berman and his company? Sourcewatch again: “Berman & Co., a Washington, DC public affairs firm owned by lobbyist Rick Berman, represents the tobacco industry as well as hotels, beer distributors, taverns, and restaurant chains. Berman & Co. lobbies for companies such as Cracker Barrel, Hooters, International House of Pancakes, Olive Garden, Outback Steakhouse, Red Lobster, Steak & Ale, TGI Friday’s, Uno’s Restaurants, and Wendy’s. It also operates a network of several front groups, web sites, and think tanks that work to keep wages low for restaurants and to block legislation on food safety, secondhand cigarette smoke, and drunk driving.”

Remember the discussion around Oregon about smoking regulation, lottery profits and the minimum wage? Suddenly, all these pieces start rolling into focus, on top of the whole matter of reduced government regulation of business – inevitably a key fallout of Measure 48, if it passes.

Are there other possible connections to Oregon business-related activities? About about the struggles Wal-Mart has been facing in the state as it tries to plant additional stores, especially in the Portland area?

Look on the Union Facts press release page and you’ll see headlines of five releases, two of them about Wal-Mart (“State should spurn anti-Wal-Mart bill,” “Beating up on Wal-Mart”). Wal-Mart’s heavy resistance to union organizing gives it a logical place in this world, certainly. The company has denied being part of Berman’s efforts, but the ties and connections are too numerous and obvious to miss. A number of top Wal-Mart executives Berman worked closely together for years. And the Detroit Free Press on May 24 reported that money may not have been exchanged, “Wal-Mart said it has a relationship in which it exchanges union information with Berman, the group’s head.”

Wal-Mart, you’ll recall, has some links to the ballot-issue-pushing Americans for Limited Government, too.

This isn’t, of course, about Wal-Mart, or any one of these people or groups or issues. It’s broader. Consider the question: Why is all this stuff being pushed, so hard, on a national level (attempts at disguise notwithstanding), now?

Writing at the TPM Cafe blog, labor activist Frank Joyce could be on to something.

There’s something happening here and it’s not just about Wal Mart. My theory is that what Berman’s telling these guys is that workers and citizens are getting restless. His story must be that they are getting so restless that the attack better be kicked up a notch lest unions start to look good to workers in spite of all their flaws and weaknesses. I think Berman is absolutely right about the restless part.

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UPDATE: We’ll leave the post here intact, partly because the national issue is still worth noting. However, the premise – a question about whether Idaho Senator Mike Crapo is the senator who placed a secret hold on a contractor database bill – appears to have been resolved. His communications director, Susan Wheeler, just sent us this note: “Senator Crapo does not normally confirm or deny if he is the Senator who placed a hold on legislation. However, given that the Majority Leader has asked Senators to disclose such information, Senator Crapo has instructed me to let you know that he is not the Senator who placed the hold.”

Could Mike Crapo be the mystery senator? The one the whole blogosphere, left and right, has been trying to track down and wail upon if cornered?

Idahoans may want to know.

Here’s the background. Earlier this year two U.S. senators from distant poles, Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn and Illinois Democrat Barack Obama, got together on a bill to bring some transparency to the federal government. It would set up an online database, accessible to and searchable by the public, of all federal contractors – who gets the money, how much and for what. It would be free to the public. A lot of people from the left and right quickly seized on the idea as a way to monitor spending and possible corruption. It got widespread support in the Senate, cleared the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee with a unanimous vote in favor, and seemed set for a favorable Senate floor vote. But then a senator placed a “secret hold” on the bill – a procedural that freezes it in place for the rest of the term, unless the senator releases the hold. No reason need be given, or was (as is usual in these cases).

Who was the senator? No one would say. So a bunch of national political blogs, some each from the left and right, began collecting, and urging their readers to collect, statements from senators either acknowleding the secret hold or flatly denying having done it.

Over the last few days, senator after senator has been crossed off the list, having issued clear denials. Washington’s Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, and Oregon’s Gordon Smith and Ron Wyden, were quickly eliminated. When a caller contacted Idaho’s Larry Craig, spokesman Dan Whiting’s response was, “of course not.”

But then, on the tally web page, there was this: “Sen. Crapo’s spokeswoman Susan Wheeler tell us ‘It’s not Sen. Crapo’s practice to confirm or deny any hold on any bill.’ So that’s a refusal to answer.”

Among the 100 members of the Senate, there are four others – Robert Byrd, Judd Gregg, Orrin Hatch and Ted Stevens – for whom answers have not been obtained. Mike Crapo at present is the only senator, according to the tally, who has refused to answer.

We’ll be watching.

UPDATE: Coburn has accused Stevens of being the secret-hold senator. Stevens isn’t saying.

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Pobably there are a few things about the opposition on Measure 48 that its in-state petitioner and veteran initiative organizer, Don McIntire, can’t stand. In his current released on the subject, he didn’t seem happy about much. But what probably irritated most was the particular place the spotlight was pointing.

It was pointed by Governor Ted Kulongoski, whose re-elect campaign has been getting persistently savvier, and which on Tuesday made perhaps its smartest move yet. (Except that this latest bit isn’t yet posted on its website; the material here on his statements comes via Blue Oregon.) Here’s Kulongoski’s note to Howard Rich, a New York City businessman who has underwritten an estimated $1.1 million of the Measure 48 – TABOR – proposal. (And no, it isn’t a “Rainy Day Amendment,” and we will keep on noting that.)

Since you are the chief financial backer of Oregon ballot Measure 48, I invite you to Oregon to publicly debate the merits of the measure. You have already put $1.1 million dollars into this effort, so I am certain that you can afford the price of a plane ticket. …

For too long out-of-state special interests have used Oregon as a laboratory for their failed ideas. As Governor, I feel it is my obligation to stand up to the special interest groups you fund and protect the most vulnerable in our population – kids and seniors – who depend on services you are proposing to cut.

Your subordinates may try to help you avoid the publicity by offering to debate in your stead. I do not see such an arrangement as acceptable. If you are willing to pour millions into our state as a social experiment, the least you can do is come here and explain in person to Oregon voters why the face of our future is so important to you.

I welcome my Republican opponent join me in this discussion with you, but while he opposes this measure, he refuses to campaign against it. Please contact my campaign as soon as possible so that we can finalize arrangements for the forum.

Governor Ted Kulongoski

Rich, of course, declined. He’s not much on public appearances or statements, just likes to drop several hundred thou or a million in a state and watch the fireworks: “I’m happy that I could help out the local group in Oregon–they’ve faced a real uphill climb against public employee unions and special interests. The fact is, though, that the local group has done all the heavy lifting, and the result of their hard work is that voters will have a say in state spending in the fall. It sounds to me like the Governor is afraid to debate local leaders like Don McIntire, or face up to the 162,000 Oregon voters who have already signed the petition.”

But as Kulongoski noted, the heavy financing of petition signature-gathering and campaigning is the reason Measure 48 is on the ballot: It wasn’t a home-grown invention. Similar ballot issues have been paid for in Nebraska, Oklahoma, Montana and elsewhere, also underwritten with Rich money. To imagine him as anything less than the prime reason it’s on the Oregon ballot is to ignore a lot of external evidence.

This does not, of course, sit well with McIntire, who has been more thoroughly responsible for the presence of a number of previous ballot issues in Oregon. In a rebuttal of sorts posted on Oregon Catalyst, he accuses Kulogoski of four factual errors . . . except that they turn out to be not factual errors at all, but at most differences of opinion.

But he also hones his point: “But perhaps that’s what you’re so afraid of—that hardworking taxpayers might just put an end to your government gravy train. We all know who pulls the strings here in Oregon, and forgive us, Governor, if we say publicly it’s not you. Union bosses and special interests are openly running your campaign, so we, in turn, realize why you’re doing their dirty work. You want to keep spending recklessly, and you want the taxpayers to just shut up.” McIntire concludes that what he wants is also a debate – between himself and “the real leader of the government class in Oregon – Tim Nesbitt, recent President of the Oregon AFL-CIO. I will debate Mr. Nesbitt as many times as he would like between now and election day. Oregonians would be well served to find out more about the ‘power behind the throne’ in our state. I suspect such a series of debates would reveal much about what’s really wrong in Oregon. If Mr. Nesbitt is unavailable or unwilling, I’d even take on the second in command, Governor Kulongski.”

Is anti-union feeling so strong in Oregon that this sort of rhetoric sells? Doubtful; if it did, conservative Republicans would employ it more openly and would be more successful at the polls. (It’s been used in several ballot campaigns before but generally hasn’t been central to the success of those that have passed.)

Kulongoski’s spotlight on Rich, on the other hand, is an invitation for Oregonians to band together against the east coast outsider who would manipulate them with his money. By developing a running battle between himself and the (fill in the negative adjective) outsider, he’s set himself up as Oregon’s champion. It’s a brilliant move.

For his part, Republican Ron Saxton probably ought to be giving strong consideration to getting into it, lest he allow Kulongoski to very efficiently redefine himself in a way that will be hard to match. Or even compete with.

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Two new, and essentially conflicting, polls on the Maria Cantwell-Mike McGavick Senate race. Both show Cantwell ahead; they differ sharply on the spread.

The new Strategic Vision poll gives her a five-point lead, 48%-43%. That’s actually up from a four-point lead a month ago. SV polls mainly for Republicans.

The latest Survey USA poll puts Cantwell ahead 56% to 39% – a 17-point lead.

Our suspicion is that the current reality lies in between.

Both polls were conducted during the period when McGavick’s confessional (from last week) was making the media rounds.

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The Rob Brading campaign seems to be almost on to something – almost. Tactically, it knows it has to do battle with the library Internet porn charge poured down from an ally of its opponent, Oregon House Speaker Karen Minnis. But the strategic element hasn’t quite been there. Yet. But could be. May be that Oregon’s premier legislative race – and if it wasn’t before, it surely is now – hangs on it.

It hangs on a question of power.

Karen MinnisKaren Minnis has been speaker of the House for four years, and she is no figurehead. In close alliance with Majority Leader Wayne Scott, she runs the House; her effectiveness in the role is acknowledged by her critics. Her effectiveness is widely bemoaned, in fact, by many Democrats.

As makes sense, she plays this up in her district (the 49th, in eastern Multnomah County, including Troutdale and Wood Village and part of Gresham). Watch her campaign video for a good sense of how. In a short but effective string of examples, she shows people from the district talking about problems they have faced, and how Minnis helped them through her work in the House. It’s cleanly produced and an effective declaration of usefulness and effectiveness. And at the end of it one of the (unnamed) people adds, “They say Karen’s in for the fight of her political life. I can’t see how that’s true. She’s never stopped fighting for us.”

Rob BradingIt’s an interesting acknowledgement, and probably necessary. Two years ago, when Minnis was coming off her first term as speaker, she drew a little-known opponent – Brading – who ran an enthusiastic but lightly funded and organized campaign against her. Minnis won, but it’s a tossup which candidate was more surprised at the close margin, just 53.4% for a solidly established House speaker who drastically outspent her opponent, who never seemed to have delivered a real blow of his own.

Or, in a backhanded way, did he? The most notable incident of the campaign came when Minnis, in an unusual acknowledgement of her opposition, suggested that in his service on a library advisory board, Brading should have pressed for more efforts to keep children from accessing porn at Internet-linked library computers. The implication that Brading is okay with kids viewing porn was too much, and he demanded an apology from Minnis, and got one. The subject was not revisited. That cycle.

This cycle, the subject is back courtesy of Friends for Safer Libraries, which seems set up as a group aimed at keeping kids away from Internet porn at Multnomah County libraries – that’s what its web site suggests – but also has released a flyer making the same accusation against Brading that Minnis made two years ago, and apologized for – and goes further, even accusing him of being “responsible for children viewing internet porn in our county library.” (That last is false by any reasonable construction, since Brading was only on an advisory, not governing, board.) Minnis’ reaction on this one was: Not my doing, I don’t know anything about it. The problem is that she is linked to the Friends through Chuck Adams, a veteran consultant whom she paid $86,000 for campaign services earlier this cycle. Turns out that Adams is also a consultant, receiving thousands of dollars, from the Friends. It’s not a conclusive link, but it’s enough to sustain suspicion.

Brading has taken the Friends to court, and not yet gotten satisfaction. He wants the flyer withdrawn, but the judge refused that request; besides, that equine has already fled the containment.

More important, his real focused target logically would be Minnis.

There’s some reason to think that Minnis’ use – abuse – of the issue two years ago hurt her in the campaign, and helped Brading then. If so, the reason would be that voters objected to the way Minnis conducted herself, maybe thinking a House speaker should be above that kind of behavior, even if apologized for. (You can see where the new video may have been shaped with some response to that feeling in mind.)

The sequence of events this year offers Brading a better narrative. This year’s scenario could be pitched: She abuses her power and doesn’t take responsibility, steps on people, stands by and does nothing while the district is misinformed on her behalf, and dodges the consequences. While two years ago, she at least apologizes, this year she can’t be bothered to do even that. Such a narrative would slice cleanly underneath the storyline she has developed (as in her video) so far – lift it up and toss it.

If the voters were irked two years ago, they might feel more strongly this time around.

Running a challenger campaign against an effective incumbent House speaker is tough. But give this one even odds at least: The raw materials for a powerful Brading assault that could sell in the evolving 49th are available.

UPDATE: Name correction on Adams.

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The mass media may not take note, but it should: The Northwest now has two Democratic-“netroots” endorsed U.S. House candidates. Darcy Burner, challenging Dave Reichert in the Washington 8th, was endorsed a while ago (and in our estimation remains the closest call of any House race in the Northwest). Today a second was added: Larry Grant, the Democrat running in the open Idaho 1st, against Republican Bill Sali. There are 18 such candidates nationally, so it’s not a massive group – each one gets some genuine attention.

Meaning what? These races essentially are being put on the national liberal net network, backed specifically by blogs such as Daily Kos, My DD and Swing State Project, all among the most visited political web sites in the country. That translates to putting these candidates consistently in front of hundreds of thousands (at the least) very active activists, who have demonstrated an impressive track record in generating money and on-ground support for favored candidates, as well as putting the opposition under an atomic microscope. Such support is not enough to win an unwinnable race. It can be enough to matter if the race tightens on its own merits. (Republicans, by the way, do not yet appear to have any direct counterpart.)

And in Grant’s race? We’ve suggested before that the dynamics of the race presently favor Sali, and still think so, but that does not mean the dynamics cannot change. Given the nature of the year, the nature of Sali, and other intriguing elements, that is certainly possible. And if it does – if the race looks as if it’s closing at the end – this kind of support can be very important. It has been in other House races around the country.

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Afascinating report in the Seattle Times suggests that Initiative 933 – the land use measure – has thinner support in that state than most people probably have supposed.

I-933 is the spawn of Oregon’s Measure 37 from 2004, aimed at limiting governmental enforcement of land use rules. The Oregon measure passed easily in that state. The Washington provisions are somewhat different, in part reflecting differences in the two states’ laws, and partly other considerations, but the overall intent is the same. In Oregon, measure got support from a wide range of people and groups traditionally active in the property rights movement.

In Washington . . . apparently, not so much.

The Times piece by Eric Pryne notes, “The state’s leading developers are providing scant backing for a measure opponents label a ‘developers’ initiative.’ They offer varying explanations.
The Building Industry Association of Washington says it has higher priorities this year. The Washington Association of Realtors says its members are deeply divided on I-933.”

And, in another irony, the initiative’s main organizational backer is the Washington Farm Bureau – an organization that in Oregon was deeply divided on the measure, and probably more opposed than in favor. The Washington campaign seems to be taking on a flavor unexpected a few months ago.

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It was a long day at the Idaho Statehouse. A bill of some significance, House Bill 1, a property tax measure proposed by Governor Jim Risch, was passed. We were struck most especially, however, by three other things.

Mark RicksSympathy for Mark Ricks. You had to feel for Idaho’s new lieutenant governor, just appointed, Mark Ricks. His appointment by Risch some weeks backwas supposed to be mainly an honorary thing; it expires in January. But here comes this session, just one day but very rugged, and it put him through the mill. Neither he nor Risch, who appointed him, could have expected anything like it.

Only one bill was on the agenda, but it was controversial. Everyone seems to want to do something about property taxes, but over the last month a large protest around the state developed against Risch’s proposal, which involves moving much of the cost of paying for public schools from the local property tax to the state sales tax. That protest in advance included press conferences and “pork BBQ” lunches, but it was only a warm up. Once the session started, Democrats, first in the House and then even more forcefully in the Senate, used almost every parliamentary device in the rule book to block the bill. Some of those devices, including obscire protests, hadn’t been tried in a generation or more. A Senate session expected to last maybe two or three hours went on, and on. A session launched at 8 a.m. and originally expected to be over at least by late afternoon, wrapped at about a quarter past 11 at night.

Ricks presided over just about all of the Senate session. Years ago, as a senator and a majority leader, he periodically presided over the Senate, and knew the rules and presided fluently. But he left the Senate 12 years ago, and he is 82 years old now, and the procedures don’t roll out quite so easily. And this was his first day on the job in a dozen years. From time to time, he would sound confused and – you could hear it from a distance – call out for help.

No matter. Ricks, a courteous man with a positive outlook, managed to keep both his perspective and his humor throughout what had to be a rough experience. He emerged as a class act.

Idaho capitol interiorRespect in the morning. Ricks kept his cool (as generally, so did House Speaker Bruce Newcomb in his swan song). But Republicans were infuriated, especially in the Senate, by what the Democrats were doing. The small minority (13 of 70 in the House, seven of 35 in the Senate) lodged protest after protest. They forced votes that usually get unanomous consent. They forced the reading of the (long) bill. None of it changed the ultimate outcome, since the bill passed both House and Senate with strong margins.

What the Democrats did was hardly without effect, though. When the session opened the conventional wisdom was that it would be a quickie slam dunk, that the votes were lined up – Risch would not have called the session unless he believed they were – and that it would all over over in four or five hours, easily and painlessly. By forcing the agony, the Democrats gave themselves time to define the issue and forced the Republicans to respond to them. By blocking the Republicans, over and over, by simply making life that one day uncomfortable for them, they sent a stunning message: “We don’t care anymorewhether you’re mad or not. We won’t be rolled again without a fight. Cross us at your peril.”

Not only that: By protesting as they did, they redefined the issue, they recast it, they set up a redefintion for themselves and for the Republicans, and they set up a campaign issue they can ride on for the next couple of months. It was the single most powerful political piece of work Idaho’s Democrats have done in more than a decade.

They provided ample warning to the opposition. An anecdote from amidst the Senate debates: Around midafternoon, the Senate Democratic leadership called out for pizzas to be delivered for their caucus, for that evening. They asked Republican leadership if they wanted to order pizzas too, but were told: Why bother? We’ll be out of here by then. That evening, after the Democrats had snacked and Republicans were getting hungry, Ricks was moved (apparently semiseriously) to ask if the Democrats had any of that pizza left. (They didn’t.)

Those tough Democrats in Washington state, or in quite a few other places, would have understood. So, for that matter, would a lot of Republican strategists from the last generation. A certain helping of ruthlessness – which the Senate Democratic caucus displayed on Friday – is an essential component to political power; you get no respect without it. (Ask Cecil Andrus, who had it and got it.) As infuriated as they made the Republicans, the Democrats on Friday roared out of Rodney Dangerfield territory, and that may yield returns in newfound support and caution when Republicans meet up with them. Want further evidence of the significance of this? Anyone who watched Friday’s presentation would get a politically clear distinction between what the two parties stood for, courtesy primarily of the Democrats – and the Democrats would not be hurt by the definition.

Followup will be needed for this to have real impact. But it was quite a start.

A real tax talk.Most of the legislators, wrapped up in the partisan battle, may not have realized how much genuinely good discussion about the Idaho tax system this debate prompted.

Idaho’s tax system, split principally among property, income and sales taxes, in general comes in for praise – from other states and from tax professionals – because of its balanced nature. At the same time, almost no one thinks it’s perfect.

A reality moment: Tax policy is best conceived as a never-ending project in working out who should be paying what portion, and how to assess it. There is no one perfect answer, ever, if one were found it soon would be obsolete. But the work of making it better requires more than considering the narrow merits of this bill or that. It requires a broad view, a larger sense of how the taxes interact and work together and who gets affected and how.

Partly because this bill was explicitly about the relationship between the property and sales tax (and, to an extent, their involvement with public schools financing), it afforded a great opportunity to discuss that broader picture. And a lot of legislators jumped in, to excellent effect. Some of the best debate (on both sides) was amidst the most heated partisanship: The emotion seemed to break down the formalities a little, and watchers and listeners were treated, over the course of hours, to a great overview of taxation in Idaho. (Yeah, yeah – but if you’re going to be an active citizen and vote on these issues and officeholders, you need to eat your spinach. And this was nutritious spinach.)

Probably hardly any legislators want to, uh, pick up where they left off Friday. But if they can remember the experience of a large-scale discussion of taxation, there might be some long-range benefits from the remarkable debate we saw on Friday.

VOTE NOTE: Did anyone else notice that the vote in the House was 47-23 and in the Senate 24-11? So what, you say? In each chamber, the vote in favor was exactly enough for a two-thirds majority; a lot of one vote in either place would, if extended out to procedural votes, have been enough to stop HB1 cold. This thing was calculated precisely.

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Maybe, as Oregon Secretary of State Bill Bradbury and his staff considered the complaint filed last Friday against Mary Starrett, the name Douglas Patterson came up as well. If it did, it easily could have prompted the line of though that led to a decision keeping Starrett on the general election ballot for governor.

On Friday attorney Kelly Clerk, representing three northwest Oregon clients, filed a complaint with the secretary of state’s office. He said that the Constitution Party of Oregon, which nominated Starrett for governor, had not followed proper procedures in offering notice of its upcoming nominating convention. Whether it did or not remains in dispute. Assuming the secretary of state’ s office also perceived a violation, Clark wrote, it should strike Starrett from the ballot, as having been improperly nominated.

Mary StarrettStarrett has some strategic political significance here. Her odds of actually coming close to winning are not good – most political observers probably would agree (she would not) that she will get more than 1% but less than 10% of the vote, well less than Democratic incumbent Ted Kulongoski or Republican nominee Ron Saxton. But her presence on the ballot as a skilled candidate and as a more-conservative alternative to Saxton creates problems for the Republicans, and if the race otherwise is close, she could cost him the win. May not turn out that way, but it’s a plausible scenario.

Bradbury’s decision was that whether or not procedures were violated, candidates should not be thrown off the ballot as a result. If the party really screwed up, some form of sanction might be considered – a fine, for instance – but the candidates shouldn’t be barred.

All of which has led to Starrett and the Constitution Party accusing Saxton or his backers of being behind the ballot challenge (no hard evidence of that has developed), and Republicans accusing Democrat Bradbury of giving Starrett a break.

In the process, everyone forgot about Douglas Patterson. And Dean Wolf.

He was another candidate nominated by the Constitution Party convention, for the 5th district congressional seat; Wolf is his counterpart in the 1st district. The question, unasked publicly: If Starrett should be thrown from the ballot, should not too Patterson and Wolf? And two state Senate candidats, Robert Simmering in District 16 and John Pivarnik in District 17?

Expand on that a bit. Why should the make-a-mistake-and-bar-the-candidates principle apply only to minor parties? Suppose the Democratic Party found a legal glitch in the way the Republicans processed their party’s business, should that be grounds for throwing all the Republican candidates off the ballot? (Or, of course, switch the parties if you like.)

It’s not hard to see how quickly mischief can develop from this approach. The state law doesn’t specify what sort of action should be imposed if a party failed to jump through its bureaucratic hoops, but something aimed more directly at a party’s structure would seem more appropriate.

Meantime, Starrett and her allies have something to be really, personally, steamed about.

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Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed is figuring that when votes are cast for the September 19 primary, about 80-85% of them will be cast by mail. Only five counties – King, Kittitas, Klickitat, Island, Pierce – still allow the option of voting at a precinct polling location, and even there, he estimated fewer than a third of voters will choose that option.

For meaningful purposes, that will mean the mail voting option will get a good, solid test in Washington this year. It has worked well in Oregon; now we’ll see how well it exports.

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This one made us stop and pause. There is an inescapable element of political tactic here, and we’ll get to that, but also a more painful matter: Have we got to the point that candidates are bound to reveal their darkest, back-of-the-closet secrets to the world if they choose to run for office?

Mike McGavickWe suspect things haven’t gone quite that bad, but Mike McGavick, the Republican running for the Senate in Washington (and near-certain nominee), apparently does. And so, today, he decided to confess all, to the news media and directly to his supporters through a post on his blog. (He also says he had no indication that these items were slated for disclosure by Democrats, that he was beating them to the punch. That’s credible, since he makes no effort to excuse or minimize.)

You could say that in one astonishing shot he characterized himself as a drunk driver – testing .17, extremely drunk – a man who got a divorce because he and his wife simply came not to like each other much, a part-time father, a purveyor of a dishonest campaign tactic – in a U.S. Senate race, no less – and a corporate exec who, Enron-style, first said the business was fully righted and then proceeded to lay off 500 employees who weren’t expecting it.

You could say that – it would be an intepretation which may get out there and take hold. It would not be a fair interpretation. Three of these incidents were incidents, one-time events, and McGavick indicates remorse for each. The other – about his first marriage – is an essentially private matter, and what he describes is unfortunately familiar to a lot of people. He suggests he has learned and grown. “Here it is,” he writes. “I have lots of faults, and I have made some mistakes that I deeply regret.”

He confesses to driving drunk once in 1993 and getting caught, paying a fine and going through the legal process. Not admirable for the first part, but there was atonement, and when he admits this offense out of the blue – it hadn’t been made public before – says he hasn’t done it since, you tend to believe him. Taken as a whole, you get the sense of a flawed and normal human being; nothing here stands as a disqualifier for office. (A strong suggestion here: If you read my summary a couple of paragraphs up, pause now and click the link to McGavick’s own statement, so you can get a full and proper sense of it.)

There is also a certain amount of gruesome credibility in what he says here. At the end of his statement, he says, “My pledge to you is one of authenticity, civility and transparency.”

So that gets weighed against the information he’s now put out on the table. That and anything else that might emerge: Implicitly, he has now declared, this is it. He’s opened the door to a contention that it isn’t.

Assuming this is all, how does it play out in the political context?

By putting it out himself, and at once, he has avoided the usual call-and-response of negative news, and the run of negative headlines – the news now is that McGavick has made a remarkable personal confession – and the drip-drip-drip of one-at-a-time disclosures.

On the other hand, he has validated these reports, and if they’re used in future, he can’t say his past was misrepresented. He can be attacked on levels that matter to social conservatives (the DUI, the divorce), to good-government people (the campaign ad) and critics of big business (the SafeCo incident). The latter two, at least, do seem from this perspective to be fair grist for his opposition; they relate to how he handled responsibility at important junctures, a reasonable area of assessment for a candidate for the U.S. Senate.

So what do to the Democrats do with all this?

Probably not much they wouldn’t have been doing anyway, in truth. There’s not much reason to think they would have made a deal about the divorce. They have already been after him on the SafeCo front, clearly plan to come back for more, and McGavick has just provided confirmation for one of the more serious charges. They were likely coming after him on the Gorton campaign, too; that wasn’t news to them. The ’93 DUI may or may not have been news to them; disclosing it now was probably a calculated gamble.

The first Democratic response? David Postman of the Seattle Times quotes a Democratic speaker: “From privatizing Social Security to drunk driving it becomes clearer every day that Mike McGavick and George Bush are cut from the same cloth.” Ouch.

Check out the comments sections at the Times and P-I and you won’t see a lot of sympathy for McGavick, even from Republicans (some of whose idea of defending this DUI was to bring up ye olde Chappaquiddick).

We’ll take no bets on how this plays out, but initial reaction is that McGavick has taken a helluva risk.

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