Took a bit, but the transcript of the state Senate Democratic primary chat between Tim Sheldon, often blasted in-party as too pro-Republican, and challenger Kyle Taylor Lucas, is posted on the Olympian site.

Top reader question: “Sen. Sheldon, in the past you’ve explained some of you more controversial votes by saying the 35th District is much more conservative than other parts of Washington. This implies that your votes are based on what your district believes, rather than what you believe. What votes would have changed had you voted your conscience, rather than what you believed was the will of your district?”

His answer: “I can’t think of a bill I personally disagreed with.” Make of that what you will.

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Alex LaBeau, for quite a few years the top lobbyist at the Idaho Statehouse for realtor interests, has been hired as the new president of the Idaho Association of Commerce & Industry, replacing its veteran leader, Steve Ahrens.

Idaho Association of Commerce & IndustryIACI is one of the two or three most influential organizations in Idaho politics (and some say you can strike the “two or three”), partly because of some skilled leaders (such as Ahrens) and partly because of its membership, which includes a large chunk of the state’s leading business community. It rarely loses at the Idaho Legislature, and it does well in negotiations with state agencies and other groups as well. The sucession, once Ahrens announced his retirement earlier this year, has been closely watched, and a number of names have been floated.

One of those most floated in recent weeks (whatever the validity) was Brian Whitlock, who was a chief of staff and budget official for former Governor Dirk Kempthorne. That makes him very well connected, close to many of the people in power (albeit less so to the new Risch Administration). The IACI choice for LaBeau sends a somewhat different message.

Not that LaBeau isn’t well connected. (For that matter, as the government guy for the Association of Realtors, he has been an active participant in IACI committees and decision-making.) But he’s known (well known) in governmental circles more as a solid lobbyist and widely respected – put another way, a pro at doing the sort of things IACI expects its government affairs operation to do, whoever’s in power at the time. That may be sound thinking for the long run.

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Not bad: A total of what will be five debates – counting one earlier this summer at Mount Hood – for the two major candidates for Oregon governor. It’s a good number; most states don’t get that many. More would always be nicer, and Republican challenger Ron Saxton was at one point talking as many as eight (and evidently would like one located east of the Cascades, which none now are). But Democratic Governor Ted Kulongoski, who for a time pulled the office-keeps-me-too-busy bit during the primary election, certainly can’t, with this number of debate, be accused of hiding from the opposition.

Three of them apparently will originated somewhere in or around Portland, and be hosted by Oregon Public Broadcasting, KGW-TV with the Oregonian, and the Portland City Club, from September 28 to October 17. The last will be in Medford about a week later.

The minor party candidates won’t be included.

Neither campaign seems to be saying a lot about it; neither website refers to be the debates (yet), so there’s not a lot of spin out. Loosely, we’ll suggest this: Kulongoski, who has been getting some pretty good poll data and as governor has the excuse to duck most debates, wound up accepting more of these meetings that he really had to. Presumably, he/his staff did that because they figure there’s some advantage to be gained. We have reason to believe (see previous posts) that base turnout is a key component of that campaign. Do they see the debates as a useful tactic in that strategy?

Regardless, it means Oregonians will get to see and hear a good deal from their candidates for gov this year. Two of them, anyway.

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Senator Larry Craig and his staff – and they wouldn’t be alone – must still be wondering about just what the hell happened at their town hall meeting Tuesday night in Coeur d’Alene. They’d have good reason to, because a significant issue rides on it: To what extent did it reflect a substantial strain, or just fluke fissure, in the community?

Craig has taken heat for a few years now from parts of the conservative community – which for most of his years in Congress has given him unqualified support – for his stand on immigration and illegal aliens, a stance bearing some resemblance to that of President George W. Bush. Yes, there are a lot of people in this country who aren’t supposed to be, and that fact – and border security – need to be dealt with more effectively, Craig has suggested. But he also suggests that there’s no reason for a panic reaction, either.

As he was quoted by the Coeur d’Alene Press: “You can’t go door to door and force between 8 million and 10 million people to leave at gunpoint. For 20 years, immigration laws have failed. We know there’s a problem and we’re working on it. The first step is securing the border and we’re doing that.”

That seems hard to argue with, reflecting a general reality we’ve managed to live with for a long time, and yet the reaction has suggested it’s an edgy statement. In some places, as at Bonners Ferry and Sandpoint, audiences have been fine with it. In some places in southern Idaho, reaction was angrier. But the reaction at – and yes, this is where it was – the Human Rights Education Institute at Coeur d’Alene, was something else again.

The Press said that “of nearly 60 people in attendance, many wanted action, including immediate deportation. They said it was a crisis that was going to bankrupt the country and cited numerous examples of problems in Southern California, including drugs, rape, and gangs. Some went so far as to say he wasn’t doing his job to uphold and protect the Constitution and has failed the citizens of Idaho.” (Robert Vasquez, a Canyon County commissioner and recent congressional candidate, has for some years been saying the same thing; this year his message has expanded across more territory.)

The spearhead of the protest or at least the loudest protester apparently was Stan Hess, a candidate for office, opposing Denny Hague for a seat on the North Idaho College Board of Trustees. The Press said he “erupted with anger over the immigration issue. He screamed at Craig and the citizens, who tried to boo him down. Then Hess confronted a woman and yelled at her only a few inches away from her face. Several people stood up to diffuse the confrontation. Craig’s handlers said they were moments away from calling the police. Hess, who also blasted NIC professor and longtime Human Rights advocate Tony Stewart, stormed out of the meeting.”

And Hess is who, exactly?

Spokesman-Review blogger Dave Oliveria located an online bio, one written in what’s itnended to be a favorable tone, posted on the web site of the Adelaide Institute. The Wikipedia describes that organization as “a Holocaust revisionist group in Australia and is considered to be both a hate group and anti-Semitic by Australian and international human rights groups.” The Hess bio describes him as a Florida native who grew up in Texas, once enamored of leftist politics but switched to the very hard right, getting involved in anti-immigration issues in California and Alabama. And it notes, “For the last few years Stan has been a board member of the European American Cultural Council, a contributor to Community News, and the Idaho representative of EURO, the Civil rights organization founded by David Duke.” Yes, that David Duke.

It may be, as Oliveria suggests, that Hess’ performance at the Craig town hall provided ample information about who not to vote for in the NIC trustee election. Additionally, though, it – and the not-so-divergent views of others in the audience – shows that razing an Aryan Nations encampment has not yet erased some ugly strains in northern Idaho.

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The new round of Survey USA reports – we noted presidential popularity in the Northwest a few days back – are out, with mostly good news for the area’s governors.

The most critical situation is that of Oregon, where Democratic Governor Ted Kulongoski has had to deal with low poll approval numbers for some time now. They got especially bad earlier this summer, but now seem on an uptick – 44% approval, 47% disapproval. Not good, but better than where he was, and very close to where he was toward the end of last year.

SUSA approval chart

In Washington, Democrat Christine Gregoire has improved her numbers considerably from the early part of her term; on taking office in January 2005 her approval/disapproval according to SUSA were a horrible 34%/58%. Early this year the lines crossed, however, and excepting one month (June) her favorables have steadily grown. She now stands at 51%/45% – not great, but a lot better than a year ago.

Idaho Governor Jim Risch, in office only since May, has a shorter track record, so you can’t really do an analysis based on trend lines. The current snapshot – 53% favorable, 32% unfavorable – is certainly positive enough, though, enough to rank him as the 18th most popular governor in the country. (Gregoire is 31st and Kulongoski 36th.)

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Down at the very end of U.S. Highway 30 at Astoria, close to where it meets U.S. 101 and the Pacific Ocean, there is a tricky little roundabout, a circle where four roads come together; you use the circle to get from the road you’re on to the road you’re headed.

That is not an unusual roundabout, either, and in Washington and Oregon you’ll find them in some unexpected locations. (We distinctly remember getting discombobulated at one in Arlington, Washington.) In Oregon, there are enough roundabouts that you can expect questions about their proper use on your driver’s license exam. (And be aware there’s a distinction between a roundabout and a traffic circle.)

Idaho, like most of the Rocky Mountain states, never has been much for roundabouts – if any have existed at all in the Gem State up to the last couple of years, we can’t think where they are. (If anyone does know, please advise. The loop on the south side of the Clearwater River bridge at Lewiston doesn’t count.)

But that’s changing. The city of Nampa, which is doing a massive re-do of transportation (and understandably, given the explosive growth there), has just opened its first roundabout, at Amity Road and Happy Valley Road. More are planned for construction before long. And not only that, others are planned for Ada County.

Will be interesting to see how they work in Nampa, Boise and Meridian. Most places we’ve spotted them in Washington and Oregon, they’ve been in substantial-traffic but smaller communities, since the circles do require a considerable traffic stop or slowdown.

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We’ve long argued that the proper format for candidate debates is the simpler the better: Clear away everyone but the two (or more) candidates and a moderate to keep the peace and guide the discussion. Start with a general topic or proposition, and then – within the general bounds of civility and time fairness – let the candidates have at it. You’d get much better insight into the candidates and their ideas that way – and even much better drama – than through the usual glorified press conference approach that characterizes most debates.

The new proposal by Governor Jim Risch for his lieutenant governor debate with Democrat Larry La Rocco (as reported on Spokesman-Review reporter Betsy Russell’s blog), however, takes things in the other direction – no candidate interaction at all, and nothing left but two glorified press conferences. Risch’s proposal calls for two half-hour sessions in which each candidate would be questioned by reporters, with the other candidate entirely absent.

She said Risch’s spokesman (and his son) Jason Risch explained the idea was proposed “due to the disruptive nature of previous experiences with the opposition.” Russell did not indicate that he elaborated.

The proposal was rejected by Elinor Chehey, the veteran coordinator of debates for the League of Women Voters.

A pile of questions come to mind. Let’s sift through some of the more pertinent.

Before going further, this disclosure is necessary: I had a particular involvement with Risch’s last round of general election debates for the office of lieutenant governor, in 2002. I was manager of the campaign for his general election opponent, Democrat Bruce Perry, an attorney with good campaigning skills but who was lightly organized, far less funded than Risch, and less well known, running in a very Republican state in what turned out to be a Republican year nationally. We viewed the debates – if memory serves, three joint debate appearances with Risch – as an important opportunity to cut into his advantages. We did not think that would be easy. Risch is not only above-average smart but also (even in the context of experienced politicians) above-average articulate, and well-disciplined candidate as well. We prepared intensively, with the hope of hitting a hot button and getting him to lose his cool. He never did. (At most, he looked a little tense at times.) We got the sense that Risch tried to push Perry’s buttons too, understandably, and Perry similarly kept his cool. Our internal assessment was that we “won” one debate, and more or less drew even in the other two. (We never heard how Risch viewed them, though based on some circumstancial evidence we speculated his take was similar.) In the end, it didn’t much matter. Risch won the race decisively.

In reflection: Both sides took the debates seriously and fared respectably, no one emerged wounded, and neither did anyone misbehave. Nor were there any accusations to that effect at the time, or since.

Does Risch’s concern about the civility of the upcoming debate have to do with his experience from four years ago? So far as we can tell, both campaigns for lieutenant governor behaved in 2002 with civility. (Risch’s view, of course, could vary.)

Might he be referring to previous, legislative debates? He debated La Rocco 20 years ago in a race for the state Senate; but our recollection is that debate was also civil enough. (Risch won that race as well.) Risch has participated in quite a few debates over the years, and (so far as we can recall) never emerged damaged from any of them. Political debates in Idaho, those involving Risch and not, have almost always been civil to the point of being snooze-inducing, and Risch is a more than capable public speaker. So one question would be: What exactly is it he’s so concerned about?

We know that his initial request for a format change this year has been rejected. So a second question would be: What if he insists?

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The first television spot from Democratic challenger Darcy Burner – opposing Republican incumbent Dave Reichert in Washington’s 8th congressional district – is out. And is it ever controversial.

Among Democrats.

What should a challenger Democrat do this year, by way of message? There’s a great to-and-fro on the subject, and analysis of this opener ad from every which direction, up on the MyDD Democratic political site. It’s a good discussion of campaign strategy and tactics, and the debate shows why these things remain more art than science.

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While most of the attention in Washington politics has gravitated either to the race for the U.S. Senate or the House in the 8th (or less commonly 5th) district, there are still races for the state legislature on the ballot. And the Washington state legislature is still a fairly closely-split pair of chambers.

Will it remain so after the November election? Will the slim Democratic advantages in the House and Senate remain, be expanded, or be reversed?

We’ll return to this, but one intriguing starting-point is the spreadsheet put together by the proprietor of The Moderate Washingtonian. a blog from Federal Way.

TMW offers this site description: “Outlook on politics and elections in the state of Washington from an overall centrist viewpoint. My views tend to be libertarian in nature, but at the same time are largely nonpartisan.” That seems reasonably close to what we read there, which tends more toward polling and statistical information than toward any partisanship.

There are two spreadsheets, one each for House and Senate.

The balance is closest in the Senate, where the party leads by 26-23, and one of its members (Tim Sheldon) often leaves the reservation. There, TMW is projecting three Democratic pickups, for what would be a 29-20 margin. All three seats projected to switch are in the Seattle suburbs. The seat being vacated by Republican Stephen Johnson on the east side (District 47) has been trending Democratic; the seat being defended by Republican Like Esser against R-turned-D legislator Rodney Tom (District 48) also is estimated to flip. The third was home to the closest legislative race in the state, District 26 (mostly just across Puget Sound from Seattle), where Republican Bob Oke, now retiring, squeaked by, and which also seems to be trending D.

TMW also estimates that that the House, now 55-43 in Democratic control, would go to 57-41. The sense is that three seats would flip from R to D control, and the Ds would lose one (the seat now held by Tom).

The Moderate is updated periodically. We’ll be checking back, and filling in.

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Since July 25, when Idaho Governor Jim Risch called a special legislative session and released the one piece of legislation it will be allowed to consider, two conflicting tendencies have been headed for a showdown. Come Friday, when the session convenes and the dramatic choice is made, we all get to learn something – through this conflict – about the character of Idaho politics.

The conflict is not over the core subject of the session, which is property taxes, which have been rising rapidly in a number of parts of Idaho, and which in many cases has caused a great deal of distress. A combination of factors, including but not limited to the recent boom in housing sales prices and therefore values, has made that a widespread concern. The question is what exactly to do about it.

Risch’s proposal, released in detail when he called the session, is summed up on his web site:
“Removing the 3-mil maintenance and operations levy will reduce property taxes statewide by $260 million. Risch proposes adding one-cent to the sales tax to bring in $210 million annually. The net overall reduction in taxes is $50 million. The one-cent sales tax increase would be effective October 1 if passed by the special session of the Idaho Legislature. The governor would use $50 million of the surplus to make up the difference between the property tax cut and the sales tax increase. He would also transfer $100 million to an education ‘rainy day’ savings account to protect education funding from any future economic downturn. The state’s fiscal year ended with just over $200 million more in the bank than projected. The proposal also includes an advisory vote on the November 2006 ballot.” None of that is in dispute, either.

The issues are whether this is the best way to ease the property tax explosion; and if so, whether legislators will insist on considering options. Risch’s legislative call appears ironclad: Either approve his idea, or go home having done nothing.

That would reflect badly on many legislators, of course, and also on Risch, who at this point has stake much of his prestige on this whole effort working. At his inaugural, he said he would not call a special session unless he was believed it would get the job done. At his call, he was joined by a large batch of legislators, including leadership, who pledged support.

It may pan out that way – certainly the pressure from Risch and leadership is intense. But there is a countervailing force that has gathered some steam of its own in the weeks since the call.

Idahoans have started to see report after report saying that Risch’s proposal might not be an especially good deal for them. Most of them have pointed out that while property taxpayers generally would, yes, get a cut, the tradeoff would be a sales tax increase that would cost many of them more than the cut would save. The Spokane Spokesman-Review has posted an on-line calculator allowing site visitors to work out, roughly, for themselves how they would come out.

Its projected results appear to match with a study by University of Idaho agricultural economist Stephen Cooke, quoted as saying, “Business makes out like a bandit – they get a $100 million tax reduction. If the intention is to give middle-class homeowners tax relief, you can’t get there from here, according to my analysis, because you’re going to be raising their taxes next.”

There have been a string of other studies, and most suggest that business property taxpayers making out (to varying degrees) much better than homeowners under the Risch plan. There have also been complaints from educators, including the state university presidents, that the plan may have the effect of harming education.

Complicating this further is the release of a property tax cut plan from legislative Democrats, one which didn’t include a sales tax increase. The Democrats are small in number in the legislature, but they have pounded their plan around the state, and have set up a petition campaign for it. They also have gotten some good reviews. The Coeur d’Alene Press stunned quite a few people with its editorial in support of it: “It is the state Democrats, not the fiscally proud Republicans, who have tendered what appears to be the more palatable of two property-tax proposals. It is the Republicans, not the Democrats, who have embraced the concept of higher taxes as a greater good.”

Newspapers around the state tended to support Risch’s decisiveness when he first called the session, but the tone has changed. Most of the dailies have talen repeated shots at either the idea of the one-bill special session, or Risch’s proposal specifically, or both. The reaction has been almost uniform, and such letters to the editor on the subject as have appeared give credence to the idea that the criticism of both has, in the last two to three weeks, started to sink in more broadly.

Such will be the atmosphere when the Idaho Legislature convenes on Friday. It should be good drama, or if not good, then at least instructive.

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The Olympian newspaper at Washington’s capital has for some months been running Capitol Chat – live on-line chats with public people in the area. It’s been a nifty service, not (yet) much replicated by other regional newspapers. Some sessions have been livelier than others; the guests have ranged from House Speaker Frank Chopp to a local accountant (talking about income taxes) to oneof the newspaper’s photographers.

Tim SheldonCould be that the liveliest session they’ve had yet, and possibly the most significant, will be coming up Tuesday. That’s when third-term state Senator Tim Sheldon and his opponent in the Democratic primary, Kyle Taylor Lucas, joint chat with whoever types in.

Tim SheldonIt’s a hell of a contest, one of the most watchable in Washington state for next month’s primary, and with even some national resonance.

Sheldon is the sometimes-Democrat, sometimes-independent (as when he serves on the Mason County Commission) who has tended to support Republicans for major office (as in George W. Bush for president and Dino Rossi for governor) more than he has Democrats. Quite a few Democrats around Washington would like to see him bounced out of office. (Should note here: Sheldon has done the Olympian chat, by himself, before.)

First question: How will primary voters in rural west-Puget District 35 react? (Roughly, District 35 sits west and northwest of Olympia.)

Second question: How will they react to Lucas, who is best known to this point as the director of the state Indian Affairs office under former Governor Gary Locke?

Third question: Will the change in primary election procedure – in which, this time, the participants in this primary will be more closely limited to Democratic Party members than previously – work against Sheldon?

Fourth question: To what extent does someone – and it’s hard to be sure who it would be – try to turn this into another (local) Liberman-Lamont battle?

These last two mesh together. The Olympian quoted state Senator Karen Keiser, D-Kent, who heads the state Senate Democratic Campaign Committee. “What we see in Connecticut … may be emblematic. It may be a signal for all of us to pay attention to.” She also described District 35 as “‘ground zero’ for the effects of the pick-a-party primary, where party die-hards can make their preferences felt more strongly.”

This is a very hard-fought race. For a sense of how the internal struggle is playing out in the Democratic Party in the Northwest, there’ll be no better place to tune in midday Tuesday than on the Olympian‘s chat.

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On Friday, the ever-evolving Oregon governor’s race wheeled again as it spun – unpredictably – on the axis of one of the more intriguing personalities in recent Oregon politics: Kelly Clark.

Kelly Clark He is not an office holder, now, though he was a state representative in the late 80s and early 90s. A Republican, he was the most visible attorney (and evidently the lead) in the 2004 case against the Multnomah County Commission when it authorized same-sex marriage.

In a fascinating profile at that time on Clark, Taylor Clark of Willamette Week wrote, ” The question at this point seems not to be whether Clark’s mind is open, but what could possibly be going through it. He is a sex offender who has made a mint defending the sexually abused, and he’s also a former gay-rights advocate being paid to dismantle the biggest gay-rights victory in Oregon history. Clark sees no inconsistency, because in both cases he says he is motivated by the same dominating passion: disgust with the misuse of power. ‘I get to represent the little guy going up against the big guy,’ he says. ‘I absolutely love that, whether it’s the church, the government, insurance companies, banks.'”

Where in all this does his new action, announced on Friday, fit in? When he says he plans to file an action seeking to disqualify Constitution Party nominee Mary Starrett from the November general election ballot for an obscure gray-area possible legal violation, whose power abuse is it that he’s disgusted with?

His public statements so far seem to give little hint, only outlining the violation he or someone located.

That stems from a requirement (cited in a Secretary of State manual) of minor political parties, such as the Constitution, that “If a nominating convention is held, the following requirements must be met: The chair publishes notice of the minor political party nominating convention at least once in not less than three newspapers of general circulation in the electoral district. The notice must include all of the following information: time and place of the nominating convention and office or offices to which candidates will be nominated.”

The Associated Press quotes Clark as saying, “We searched every major newspaper, and we could not find any indication that they [the Oregon Constititution Party] publicized a notice of their convention.” If so, that might – there’s some uncertainty – be enough to toss Starrett off the ballot.

That’s countered by the Oregon Constitution Party’s Jack Brown, who said the party published notice in papers where the party was organized. Could it be that both are right – and that those are simply smaller newspapers? If so, that would seem to meet the “three newspapers of general circulation” requirement. Either way, we should get a clearer indication early next week. No doubt both sides are trying to nail down facts over the weekend. If the complaint does hold up, it would mark one of the most obscure election law violations ever to throw a statewide candidate off a ballot. (And at a fairly late stage in the process, too.)

Meantime, there’s the less documentable matter of motivation.

Starrett and the Constitution Party were quick to assign it: Clark, they suggested, was obviously a tool of the Ron Saxton Republican campaign.

The political logic is there. Since the dropout from the campaign of independent Ben Westlund, the weight of political opinion has been that Democratic Governor Ted Kulongoski – who may marginally have lost more campaign juice to Westlund than did Saxton – has gained momentum. Part of the reason has been the feisty campaign run by Starrett, who has been visible, a solid generator of press releases and easily the most quotable major candidate in the state. She stands to take a measurable slice of the conservative vote away from Saxton, a situation which must be giving his campaign fits. If only Starrett were out of the picture . . .

The Saxton campaign denies any involvement in the new challenge. The best piece of external evidence for that, it seems, is Kelly Clark.

The Willamette Week piece gives the relevant background. Read it and you come to the conclusion this is a guy who does things very much for his own reasons. A state senator at 30, positioned within his party as a Hatfield Republican just as that era was coming to an end, he was a vigorous backer of gay rights in anti-discrimination legislation when that made him unpopular within his caucus. But without any change of basic philosophical view, he had no trouble tearing into the Multnomah Commission two years ago and helping to prompt Measure 36.

Doesn’t fit the profile of a simple tool of a political campaign. Almost certainly, more is underlying this situation. Much more.

There is one other factor. The prospect of Starrett being forced from the ballot over a technicality is politically explosive. If she is forced out, the blowback could come to damage Saxton’s campaign even if he and if had nothing to do with it. If any evidence comes out that they did, the damage could be large enough that Saxton might not be able to recover.

SIDE NOTE: Anyone else notice this summary of the Oregon governor’s race in the conservative National Review? It says, “After posting a less-than-stellar performance in the Democratic primary, Kulongoski still has a lead over Republican nominee Ron Saxton in most polls, but the governor’s support is only in the low to mid 40s. Saxton, however, ruptured party unity when he came out against a spending-cap initiative on the November ballot that Oregon Republican activists have endorsed. This may confuse voters on the tax issue, which Saxton has tried to use against Kulongoski by criticizing the governor’s support of a failed 2004 tax-hike measure and talk of creating a state sales tax.”

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