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Posts published in August 2006

Measure rundown

There's the line of thought that in states like Oregon, where ballot issues pop up by the bushel, you're better off voting against all of them. (There's a good argument about just that on Blue Oregon.) Evidently, a lot of people do; something like two-thirds of them tend to fail. It's a reasonable default situation.

That said, not all do, and not all should. And blanket voting is simply another way of saying one is unwilling to do the work of separating the crystalline from the crud.

Herewith, an early and quick rundown of the measures that make the Oregon ballot this year, our take on what lies ahead. Expect the biggest debate on Measure 48; hope for spirited debate on all, especially the most obscure (and sometimes treacherous) financial measures.

Measure Will it pass? Should it pass?
39 - No eminent domain for private sales yes yes
40 - Constitution: Elect Supreme Court, Appeals by district yes close call
41 - Allow state tax deduction equal to federal exemption unclear no
42 - Ban insurance company use of credit scores for rates yes yes
43 - Parental notification on abortion of minor children yes leaning yes
44 - Expand Oregon prescription drug program yes yes
45 - Constitution: State legislators term limits close call no
46 - Constitution: Procedure on campaign finance law probably no
47 - Campaign finance rules, adds requirements probably no
48 - Constitution: TABOR state spending limits leaning no no


Comments not only welcome, but encouraged. Consider the above a first take likedly to be extended and revised a couple of months from now.

Echoes from Hells

reviewHistory usually does not repeat itself, exactly, but it does send waves of recollection off into the future. We have a hard time learning from history, it seems, until after it smacks us more than once.

Brooks bookUseful history books can at least soften the shock, and Karl Brooks' new (and first) book on the Hells Canyon controversy may do that, since its timeliness has worked out well. One of the underreported developments in Idaho and Oregon now underway is the renewal of Idaho Power Company's licenses for the Brownlee, Oxbow and Hells Canyon Dams on the Snake River; the almost certain ultimate approval of those renewals does not lessen their importance (or render insignificant the terms attached). The lack of current controversy would seem to tell many Idahoans and Oregonians that the dams on the Snake involve no dispute.

But they once did, ferocious dispute indeed, and not where you might think. The battle running from the late 40s to the late 50s centered not on the environmental question that might be a centerpiece today - whether to build a dam (or more than one) on such a fine stream of freeflowing river. The issue then was over whether the federal government or Idaho Power, both experienced dam builders, should do the job - and win control of a key piece of electric generation in the Northwest.

Our Paradox Politics touched on the subject briefly, from the standpoint of Idaho politics. But now Karl Brooks has given it the full book treatment, and this thorough review turns out to be unexpectedly timely. (more…)

No 1 – in West Nile

Acuriousity - or is there a reason behind it? On surface at least, it seems one of the more counterintuitive health factoids around.

mosquitoHealth officials are saying that Idaho is the worst state in the nation for serious outbreaks of West Nile virus. That seems odd right on the surface. The virus is spread by mosquitos, and Idaho isn't an especially big mosquito state - mostly, it's dry, which tends to discourage the pests. On the other hand, this is a wetter year than most.

There is an excellent Ada County web site tracking West Nile developments in southwest Idaho, where it seems most prevalent. Statewide, as of yesterday, it shows 54 cases of West Nile determined among humans so far this year.

Not good news for the spread of this thing, for anyone in the west.

The TABOR line

Though it was apparently in a specially-released state, it isn't on Ron Saxton's web site, much though we looked. But maybe there's good reason for that . . .

Ron SaxtonThe topic is the state spending initiative, slated as Measure 48, and certain to be hotly debated between here and November. We have no hesitation in declaring this one a dog of the most mongrelly sort, for this reason: It's been tried elsewhere and failed abysmally. (We've addressed this before.) Under the label TABOR (Taxpayers Bill of Rights), it was passed in Colorado in 1992 with strong support from the elected leadership of the Republican-led state. By 2005 those same officials, including Republican Governor Bill Owens, were supporting a ballot issue to table TABOR - put it on hold for five years - because the state's finances had fallen to ruin because of it. One of the other political effects of TABOR was to help shift a state that seemed strongly Republican into one, in the last few years, moving fast into the blue column - anti-TABOR Democrats won a Senate seat there in 2004 and have swept the state legislature.

But in other states which haven't yet experienced the wonders of TABOR, there's still a strong Republican base in support of it. Now, in Oregon, it's qualified for ballot status, and will be a top subject of discussion. So, if you're Ron Saxton, Republican nominee for governor, what do you do? Agree with the Democratic incumbent, Ted Kulongoski, that it shouldn't be passed, and thereby drive a wedge between your most enthusiastic party members and yourself (and united them with minor-party candidate Mary Starrett)? Or endorse it, risk losing the Great Middle, and support what you know isn't supportable? (more…)

Switching sides

It's an indication of changing times, when politicians which sides. Tony Edmondson's change and appointment today is among the more noteworthy.

Tony EdmondsonIt would be a small point if he were new to electoral politics and if he lived in a place where Democrats were not an exotic species. In this case: Edmundson has been a local government official, on city council and (as a Republican) on county commission, f0r quite a few years, and active on a range of civic activities. And this isn't in a place where you say lightly that you're a Democrat: This is Weiser in Washington County, where Democrats haven't gotten elected to the legislature in decades, seldom get winning votes for major office and aren't often seen at the courthouse either.

“Despite my nearly 40-year identification with the Republican party, I find that my centrist views have been pushed aside," he said in explaining the switch. (Notice was sent by e-mail; no links available yet.)

The Idaho Democrats wasted no time with their new acquisition. He will replace Robert Barowsky, a former sheriff, as candidate for state Senate in District 9, opposing Republican incumbent Monty Pearce.

Pearce, naturally, gets the odds in this very Republican district. But Edmondson's switch changes the district's coloration one more little bit.

District delimiters

You have to wonder if the advocates of the just-certified Initiative 24 recognize the double-edged nature of their proposal.

The initiative's idea is this: The members of Oregon's Supreme Court, which has seven justices, and Court of Appeals, which has 10, would be elected from districts around Oregon, rather than at large. The effort seems to have special appeal among people in rural areas, especially east of the Cascades: The justices and judges always seem to come from the Portland-Salem axis - and if not exactly all of them, then certainly a whole lot of them. You can understand the frustration.

One problem with the idea though is that, once elected, the judges and justices are going to live in and operate out of Salem anyway. If they weren't Willamette Valley types before their election, they will be afterward. Unlike state legislators or even members of Congress, they won't be headed back to their districts to hear from constituents.

The up-side to the initiative, from the rural interest viewpoint, is that they'd be guaranteed a presence on the court. The downside is the limitation of that presence. On even the 10-member Court of Appeals, all of Oregon east of the Cascades would get just about . . . one seat. And that's as much as they'd ever be able to get; under the present plan, you could in theory elect judge after judge from the big wide open. They'd get less than that on the Supreme Court. Meantime, under the new plan, the Portland metro area's domination of the courts would be locked in.

Before Oregonians cast their ballots on 24, someone might want to point this out.

Sinking roots

In launching a partial defense against the idea - cited here some days ago - that Idaho Democrats have a tough job ahead in trying to capture the 1st District U.S. House seat, the Red State Rebels site acknowledges some of the difficulties. It adds, "What Randy doesn't mention (and maybe doesn't know, since he's moved to Oregon) is that the Idaho Democratic Party is more organized this year than it's been since I've lived here (17 years)."

Actually, we did know that- at least in part. Certainly the central offices and party organizations are better staffed and more active than in many years, and currently more active - by all appearances - than the Republicans. There is some serious organization building going on. Those are positive developments for the party, but most of the people heavily involved with these activities (and we've talked this over with not only some of the Idaho but also some Democratic organizers elsewhere) is that this is a long-term investment, not something likely to pay big dividends in a single election cycle.

That said, we will admit to being surprised - that's putting it mildly - at what we saw at the new web site of the Idaho County Democrats, which we ran across the other day. Go on, take a look - it's worth a moment or two. Especially if you know something about Idaho County. (more…)

Crime times

An intriguing factoid, from today's Idaho Statesman:

"Unlike many Treasure Valley and Idaho cities that experienced a drop in crime in 2005, felony cases in fast-growing Eagle rose about 13 percent, mirroring the city's population growth for the same time period."

A lot of these, the story makes clear, are not violent crimes, but rather theft of credit cards and money. Still: What makes Eagle different?

Salary, bonus, donation

Mike McGavick, the Republican running for the U.S. Senate in Washington, sounds in his statement of response to the current campaign hiccup as if he's almost throwing a tantrum.

You consider the words )from David Postman's blog): "This is a politically motivated character attack. The allies of the incumbent senator have found yet another avenue to continue their daily personal attacks on me. Today's action further demonstrates how far my opposition will go in attacking my character and the character of Safeco, one of the Northwest's great companies. These allegations regarding my compensation are without merit and obviously politically inspired. It is sad that my opponents insist on dragging Safeco into the mean-spirited political process."

We may be uninclined to accept his critics' point here entirely at face value, either, but they do have one, and it extends far beyond the person of McGavick and (legal) personhood of SafeCo, of which McGavick was until recently the chief operating officer.

Consider this scenario:

An ambitious publicly-held corporation (as are they all) decides it wants serious political leverage. The best place to get that is a seat the U.S. Senate, which a century ago businesses routinely bought and sold. So a plan is hatched: We'll hire a person with some political experience who can be groomed to run for the Senate, and we'll pay him the stratospheric set of wages and bonuses and options that CEOs tend to get these days. That money - tens of millions, enough to bankroll a fat campaign - once in his pockets, can be used to whatever degree to self-fund a Senate race. The corporation can even write it off - and keep its hands off the campaign finance system altogether. You can see it now: Dozens of corporate CEO types around the country sweeping into the Senate . . .

It's a plausible scenario. No reason it can't happen. Except that it might not if it goes too public.

But no. We're not saying that has happened in the case of Safeco and McGavick, the key evidence of which is that, although Safeco paid McGavick handsomely in the manner to which CEOs are accustomed these days - this year alone he pulled in $28 million - he has not (yet) dumped his millions into a Senate race in which he is (so far) being heavily outspent by his opponent, Democratic incumbent Maria Cantwell.

Therein lies the problem for McGavick - and the likely reason for his intense reaction. If he has any intention of using his millions to help self-fund as the race hits critical, the lawsuit filed today by Emma Schwartzman will make doing so a whole lot more difficult. (more…)