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Posts published in August 2006

Calling the WA legislature

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.

An effective protest?

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. (more…)

Crunchy chat

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.

The mind of Kelly Clark

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? (more…)

A methodical Big Look

Their task is large, and they've been given substantial time - about three years - to undertake it. Not such a bad idea, then, that the Big Lookers take their time and move cautiously, even if there's some short-term downside to be had.

Big Look meetingThe immediate concern would have to do results - not many yet, and not a lot to talk about either - and bogging down. A state committee to look at the land use picture in Oregon over the next three years; you can understand where some skepticism might arise since, half a year into its existence, it is still working out the question of how to go about its work. Matters of substance have barely entered the room yet.

For the moment, though, we'll place our bets on some actual results emerging from the Oregon Task Force on Land Use Planning - "Big Look." The group met in Salem Friday, and a review of their minutes to date and their actions at the meeting suggest, rather than a bogging down, a steady pace toward clarification and working out a path to an answer.

These committee members aren't for the most part political people, and the conversations they're having - to judge from the Friday meeting - sound informal, thoughtful and searching toward ideas, for all that they're being recorded and closely watched by an audience. These people aren't staking out positions, as legislators might. Their process seems an evolution.

As such, it's not roaring ahead, but it's not glacial, either. In the course of a couple of meetings they've worked out six areas of intersecting concern with land use: the economy; the role of state and local governments; citizen involvement; infrastructure and finance; growth management; and benefits and burdens. You could split the subject in other ways too, presumably, but these seem a reasonable start. Most of the concerns most people have about the subject of land use regulation in Oregon could fit in those areas. And there's early recongition that they will overlap, repeatedly.

At this stage, they're working in considerable part on information gathering and figuring out how to handle the flood of information they are sure to get. While they're holding their meetings this year around the state - the last was in Lincoln City, and upcoming in Pendleton, Medford and Gresham - they're not seeking lots of opinions, yet. They will later. But first they're trying to develop a base of knowledge and a framework to hang it on, and their moves toward developing it to date seem almost stately.

Given enough time, and the 2009 delivery date may be enough, these guys could produce something interesting.

SUSA: Riding above and below the wave

Latest polling numbers on approval of President George W. Bush show no great change or surprise from the last few months. But it's been a while since we've posted the Survey USA numbers, so here's a recap.

In Oregon, Bush is at 33% approval and 64% disapproval. That's not quite as negative for Bush as the 31%-67% numbers from May, but it is more negative than in June or July, when the negatives had softened slightly. Only 10 other states currently view Bush more negatively.

In Washington (Bush's 13th-worst state), the picture is closely similar, at 34% favorable, 64% unfavorable. As in Oregon, a slight move toward a more favorable view of Bush in mid-summer snapped back in August.

Finally, Idaho remains positively disposed toward Bush, the president's second-best state (after Utah), where he gets 56% approval and 41% disapproval - one of four states where he tops the 50% favorable mark. In contrast to most states, Bush gained in approval in August over the previous couple of months.

Nationally, Bush is at 38% favorable, 60% unfavorable.

Out too soon

In the category of good intentions gone awry, place an Oregon corrections program aimed at providing alcohol and drug treatment for inmates. A perfectly sound idea, it has created some awful problems because it has allowed a number of inmates, including some violent offenders, to get out of incarceration much earlier than expected - to the surprise of judges, prosecutors, victims and others.

The biggest problem here (alongside some bad calls on releases) seems to be transparency. The program got almost no attention when it was approved in the Oregon Legislature, and the man in whose department it is operated, Max Williams, is the former legislator who championed it. That may have led to an internal cultural problem: This is our program, we started it, we know how to operate it. That shut-down attitude - reporters have had to deal with persistent blocks in their requests for state information and documents on this program - apparently has led to denials, maybe including self-denial, that problems with the program are significant.

We're not talking about an epidemic of bad early releases, but we are talking about considerably more than the odd fluke or two, and some of those people reoffend as soon as they're able. This could have a bearing on the governor's race, since Governor Ted Kulongoski (a lawyer, a former attorney general and a former Supreme Court justice) is involved in this, in a mixed way - partly defending the program and partly acknowledging some need for fixes.

All of which is mentioned here in part because it isn't (yet) visible many other places. This story was broken by the McMinnville News-Register, not one of the larger papers in the state; nevertheless, it threw in the resources to do a thorough job in its Thursday edition and will continue with another by Saturday.

By that time, it may not be publishing on this subject alone. Look for more on this in coming days.

The Weekly is a stranger

So there really has been a purge, one way or another, at the Seattle Weekly. What exactly caused it, and what its long-range results will be, are less than clear. But the departures should clarify things amply before long.

Seattle WeeklyNot having pounded the floors of its offices we make no assessment of who left at the request of management or of their own volition. But a whole lot of the most key people at the publication have departed following a change of ownership in January. Those include such familiar names as Editor-in-Chief Skip Berger, Managing Editor Chuck Taylor, Political Editor George Howland and - the most recent, on Tuesday- writer Geov Parrish. That's the core of the news/politics side of the publication. And besides them, there's the paper's publisher, production director, advertising director, design director and a bunch of others.

All of the departure statements we've seen have been vague enough to leave open multiple possible interpretations. Parrish's departure note, for example (this via Horse's Ass), says only, "it became clear that my journalistic priorities were not compatible with VVM’s current and future plans for Seattle Weekly. For this and other reasons, I feel it most appropriate to move on immediately."

What does all this translate to?

New Times Media of Phoenix, now Village Voice Media, which bought the Seattle Weekly in January and now owns a large string of "alternative" weeklies (New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, Houston, Dallas, Phoenix, Cleveland, among others) is reputedly strongly hierarchial. It also maintains that it is committed to alternative journalism and to investigative reporting.

With the new era about to begin, we'll all find out soon enough.

OR H17: Still out there

Speculating last month on Oregon State Representative Jeff Kropf's dropout from his race (to pursue his activities in talk radio), we suggested the late opening on the Republican side might offer some opening for a Democrat in this generally Republican district.

Now that the race is joined with a replacement Republican, our view is pretty much unchanged. The contest may lean Republican, but only just, and a Democratic win there is distinctly possible.

The big roadblock to that is the district itself. House District 17 runs through the eastern parts of Marion and Linn counties, up into the Cascades, and includes mainly farming and old-line timber communities, though there is some change in a number of the towns. Party registration in the district is 43% Republican to 34% Democratic, and though party registration figures aren't always a good guide to election results, this area has been voting more Republican than the state overall. It has not been doing so as overwhelmingly as, say, most areas east of the Cascades.

Meeting in Scio, the local Republicans have just replaced Kropf with Fred Girod of Lyons, a dentist who served in the House in the early 90s. Girod has campaigned before and served in the House before, and that's a plus.

There are also minuses. He has had some conflicts locally, notably earlier this month with the Stayton City Council, which denied an application of his to build a commercial center there; it said he was effectively asking the city to rezone a key area. He's been out of office for quite a while, and his name ID may not be especially high. He is starting a race from scratch; there is, for example, no web site up yet.

The Democrat, Dan Thackaberry, had run a quiet campaign up until Kropf's departure - maybe reflecting the consensus that Kropf was highly likely to win. he appears to have ramped up rapidly since, and he has something of a base to work from . He's a farmer, which provides some business base and connections, and also a member of the city council at Lebanon, the largest city in the district - a decent homre base from which to start. Thackaberry's web site calls him "Farmer Dan," and he appears to come off as friendly and easy going. His head start on Girod is not large, but it is real.

Still a small Republican edge here, but not a district to write off.

Edging up

The 8th U.S. House district in Washington feels ever more closely competitive - you get the sense in writings and in speech and in tone.

Just-out revised national ranking from the National Journal's list of most-competitive races, there's the Dave Reichert (R)/Darcy Burner (D) matchup at number 19, up from 24 in the last ranking. the attached note says, "Reichert has had to switch votes on stem-cell research. Like the Philly suburbs, this is a district that's poised to switch if there's a Democratic wave."

That's really the key. If there is no Democratic wave on November 7, Reichert probably prevails. But if there is, as indicators now suggest, Burner is very well positioned.

This is the only Northwest House race on the Journal's top 50 most competive.