Press "Enter" to skip to content

Posts published in September 2006

No sale

This isn't a runaway; at this writing, the Alexander-Groen contest for Washington Supreme Court isn't yet settled. But while a broad swath of opinion suggested that the swampingly large pileof money supporting John Groen's effort to oust incumbent Chief Justice Gerry Alexander would be enough to prevail, indications now are that ... it was not.

Gerry Alexander Several possible conclusions can be drawn from this. We'll highlight two that could be significant for the election, and the election cycle, ahead.

One is that the message got through that a narrow band of interests was the basis of the Groen candidacy, and that was wrong. This may be somewhat unfair to Groen, who likely has interests and abilities well beyond those of concern to his supporters. But it isn't unfair to the movement that backed him, and to them this result - so far (with thousands of ballots yet to come), an Alexander win at about 53% - serves as a rebuke.

Separately, this race together with the other one hotly contested, involving Justice Susan Owens and her main chellenger, state Senator Stephen Johnson, should generate concern to Washington's Republicans. The judicial positions are of course nonpartisan, but to a considerable degree the lines behind the incumbents and the challengers seem to have matched with partisan lines - Democrats probably voted strongly for the incumbents and Republicans for the challengers.

Considering that neither party had within its own ranks any strong primary contests (the U.S. Senate primaries were non-events), the judicial battles served to a degree as useful surrogates. in that battle, the challengers (the Republican side) had significant advantages. In seat 8 (Alexander-Groen) the challenger had a huge money advantage, and in seat 2 (Owens-Johnson) the incumbent was considered the most liberal member of the court and his challenger won a raft of newspaper endorsements, along with other advantages. Neither were enough. To be sure: The Owens-Johnson battle isn't over, since she didn't reach 50% of the vote (other candidates were also running) and will face Johnson again in November. But the margin at present is 45.6% to 32.6% - a big lead, hardly a promising start for Johnson.

An early indicator for November 7 in Washington? Wouldn't be surprised.

Back channel?

So why, coincident with his refusal to join in a debate on Idaho Public Television (sponsored by the Idaho Press Club and the League of Women Voters), did Republican gubernatorial candidate C.L. "Butch" Otter agree to a debate with Democratic candidate Jerry Brady on KTVB-TV?

There's been a lot of discussion about that. There's the idea that Otter has effectively taken a shot at the Idaho Press Club, but that doesn't seem right; he's gotten some bad press this year all right, but the Press Club isn't responsible for that and he'd be facing journalists at the KTVB event too.

Then there's the idea, floating as well, that he's just more comfortable with Boise's Channel 7; a number of people who have been key long-time staff there have had substantial conservative and Republican associations. That's not an accusation of skewed journalism, but even if the product is solidly neutral, there may be on a personal level a feeling of greater comfort for Republican politicians.

We were inclined to dismiss that theory too, but the surfacing Wednesday of the Otter-KTVB emails, by rival KBCI-TV does give us pause. Someone apparently leaked a batch of communications (18 faxed pages) between Otter's campaign and people either at KTVB or associated with its planned debate, written and sent in August and early September. (more…)

Sprawling out

Agreat deal of the residential development growth in the Boise area has centered on projects to the east, north and west. But let us not forget the south.

Pleasant Valley South LLC is asking for zoning permission and annexation for about 800 acres south of Boise, along the southern reaches of Cole Road (due south by a miles or so of Governor Jim Risch's residence). Some business development and about 1,800 homes would be built there, presumably providing residence for about 5,500 people. The legal process involved is underway at Boise city hall.

Boise is already considering annexation of an area just north of that.

The right, not the ability

Comedian Ron White has a crowd-pleasing bit about his arrest for drunken behavior at a New York bar, and his conversation during that event with the police. Alcohol had loosened his tongue, and he baited them, playing the smartass. As he recalled, "I knew I had the right to keep silent. I had the right. I just didn't have the ability."

Now federal prosecutors are jumping into the ability of people to maintain their rights, and it should chill anyone interested in preserving their rights should they ever have a run-in with the law.

One of our well-known rights, as anyone who has watched a police show in the last generation well knows, is the right to be represented by an attorney, to the point that one will be appointed and paid by the state if one cannot otherwise be afforded. The idea is that people charged with a crime ought to have some support and counsel on which they can rely and in whom they can confide, so they aren't simply railroaded by overmatching expertise. That is why attorney-client confidentiality is so strictly protected in legal proceedings.

Or at least it has been. But suppose you're in a legal jam and you want the advice of a lawyer. How candid will you be with that lawyer - and, as a result, how effective can he be - if you knew that everything you said might wind up in the hands of the prosecutors? That pretty much wipes out your right to legal help, doesn't it? Under those conditions, you'd probably be as well off representing yourself. (Which - don't get us wrong - is poorly.)

Can't happen because of the attorney-client privilege, you say? Guess again.

The Eugene Register Guard reports about Roseburg attorney David Terry, apparently the lawyer for several people who have been either suspected or charged with drug offenses. On September 13, the RG says, "More than a dozen [federal] agents with a search warrant approved by a federal magistrate judge walked into the office of David Terry just after 7 a.m. and seized financial, property, business, travel and personal records of 17 people. Terry, a lawyer for 27 years, is not charged with any crime. However, he is obviously the unnamed 'Attorney A' in a 196-page federal indictment issued Wednesday that named 12 men allegedly involved in an international conspiracy to smuggle marijuana and cocaine, grow marijuana and make methamphetamine." (more…)

In the center of the boom

Sometimes the pieces come together in ways you didn't quite foresee. Well, maybe you did; we didn't.

We know about the significance of the housing boom, out of which the air now begins to leak. Housing - the financial deals being made, the money arising from seemingly nowhere, the tremendous number of houses being built nationally which has fostered a real boom in construction activity - is the underpinning for the largest share of prosperity the region and the nation has.

We also know that one of the hottest-button political issues on the scene today is that of what to do about people who are in this country illegally. And we've heard no end of political rhetoric on that subject. But their presence in this country is hardly new; is there any reason we should be more concerned, or that their presence is in some way more significant, than it was 10 or 20 years ago?

To put these pieces together, check out a Seattle Times report today about something really significant: The overwhelming numbers of illegal aliens who are employed in housing construction projects.

A quote from Jim Nietmann, who manages construction of thousands of houses - currently at Issaquah: "If I look outside my window right now it looks like we're south of the border ... Easily half are from Mexico, and they're fueling our industry." The article also suggests that five times as many people here illegally are working in construction, as opposed to agriculture.

Spin out the implications. Matters of the border tend to get more complex the more closely you look at them.

Alternative financing

In today's Danny Westneat column bemoaning the attempt by the Building Industry Association of Washington to buy a seat on the Washington Supreme Court - and yes, that is what it is trying to do - appear two notably useful points.

One is the unprecedented nature of the seven-figure sums raised for a Supreme Court candidate, in this case a challenger to an incumbent (and broadly respected) chief justice. The incumbent is Gerry Alexander; the challenger is John Groen, whose signs are closely-placed all over the state, and broadcast ads on whose behalf are spaced even more closely. Apart from the ugly nature of the campaign, which last week dominated politics in Washington state, is the idea that one narrow group would spend the concentrated funds to place its own partisan - and Groen is a former counsel for BIAW and served on its board - in office. They may get it done, too, since Washington voters have been inundated with anti-Alexander ads drastically outnumbering those on the opopsition (which are mostly anti-Groen).

Westneat points out: "A single special interest, the Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW), has directed more than $1 million trying to buy its handpicked candidate, Redmond lawyer John Groen, a seat on the state Supreme Court. The special-interest spending for a judgeship is unprecedented. If you add in $357,000 spent mostly on Groen's behalf by a national business group, Americans Tired of Lawsuit Abuse, these two fat cats have spent more trying to get their guy on the court than all nine candidates themselves combined."

Let's put on a wider-angle lens: What's happening in this race has been happening for a decade and more in the case of ballot issues - narrow interest groups, or individual people of wealth, subsidizing ad campaigns that, for a short run at least, can influence enough voters to pass an issue or elect a candidate. (Oregon saw it earlier this year when Republican gubernatorial candidate Kevin Mannix was overwhelmingly and massively unwritten by a single welathy friend, who didn't even, any longer, live in Oregon.) Increasingly, our system of electoral politics is being gamed by a handful of people who don't parting with wads of cash in the interest of making a good investment - a government that will see things their way.

Is there a way out? (more…)

Shifts at Lee

One of the largest media companies operating in the Northwest, Lee Enterprises, seems to be shifting direction a bit.

For the last few years, it has been expanding steadily in the region, picking up properties here and there; the largest in recent years was the big acquisition of almost all of the newspapers in south-central Idaho. In Washington, it owns the daily at Longview; in Oregon, the dailies at Corvallis, Albany and Coos Bay (the latter a recent buy from Pulitzer). It also has owned a bunch of other properties in the region.

So the recent word of a big selloff of many of its operations in the region draws some natural interest. None of those daily newspapers were among the items sold. But it is selling a group of small commercial publications - 13 in all - at Spokane, Kennewick, Moses Lake, Wenatchee and Walla Walla. Some printing businesses will be sold, and ownership interst in the Little Nickel and Nickel Ads Classified operations housed at Seattle and Portland.

And one substantial general newspaper property, the Newport (Oregon) News-Times, will be sold to News Media Corporation. News Media currently has two properties in the Northwest, both Oregon coastal papers, the Florence Siuslaw News and the Waldport South Lincoln County News.

What does it mean? Is there some pullback from the Northwest? Or just a reshuffle of the books?

Sali-Grant 1: punchless

At a table in the back of the room, the organizers had popcorn poured into a big bowl, ready for people to munch as they watched the contest at the other side of the room. (It was, after ll, ne in a series of North Idaho College popform forums.) This meet-up between the two main candidates for the 1st congresional district was the first big Idaho debate of the general election season, and much anticipated as a prospective definer of candidacies.

And since Republican Bill Sali had a reputation as a bomb-thrower, and since he went all ninja on his fellow Republicans in their primary debate (albeit quite effectively), and since Grant had a public persona to define, the stage seemed set for a slugarama.

We didn't need the popcorn.

Sali Grant debate

It turned out to be a studiously competent discussion of philosophy and outlook.

Sali's performance in this debate was simply best piece of sustained public speaking we've ever seen from him. (Maybe he's done better elsewhere, but this is the best we've seen.) And please draw no implications of faint praise, either. He did exactly what he needed to do, which was to reassure the many conservative Republicans in the district that he is of a piece with the conservative Republicans they've been sending to Congress for so many years. He did that while sounding cool and mainstream, and the rhetoric about not accepting the status quo and shaking up procedures in Congress - which in other contexts could sound edgy - here, in this context, sounded a little perfunctory. But he walked the line with skill, sticking to his ideological approach while presenting it in such a moderate way that you were left with little to feel uneasy about. On top of that, Sali delivered on the heart-warming stuff, connecting with surprising skill on an emotional level. And he had a good close, too: "We need a simpler life with less government, and that's the direction I'm going to take you in as your next congressman."

Sali seemed to play down (not to the point of ducking) his signature issues, abortion and gay marriage; in this debate, they became barely a footnote. Asked a pointed question about the English-as-official-language proposal he endorsed, Sali spoke about his father, who in his early years spoke German but made a point of learning English. (His argument didn't really cover the full sense of the objections to the proposal, but it worked on an empotional level.)

He did all that without a single attack - not so much as a side-comment - on Grant. Toward the end, speaking on the subject of competition, he said that Grant had made him a better prospective public servant by becoming his opponent. Nor did he attack anyone else, not even anyone named Clinton or Kennedy.

It was a master performance. For anyone watching, Sali defined himself in a way that completely contradicted every news report thi year about how difficult he, as a legislator, has been to work with. If he continues doing that in his two or three (sounds as if there may be four debates in all) upcoming performances, he will have positioned himself as simply a likable conservative Republican, which is all he really needs to do to win.

Grant's performance was generally good too, if a little less sweeping.

From a launch that was a bit stiff, he gradually warmed to the audience and got better, it seemed, with every question or comment. By the end he was bordering eloquent, and beginning to convey well to the audience his passion for the race - his concern about the country's direction and what needs to be done to correct it, "to restore this country to the greatness and respect it deserves" (a good line). Like Sali, he did all that without ever going on the attack, at least against anyone personally. This was Grant's first real debate of this sort, and he did well. If he picks up next time with his end point in Coeur d'Alene, putting the corporate attorney further behind and focusing on the passion he clearly feels in this campaign, he will doubtless impress the next audience ven more.

There were no substantial gaffes or glitches. (There were not a lot of very quotable lines, either.) It was a low key Friday night entertainment. It was, however, good civics.

NOTES: Post-debate reports varied widely in focus on various topics. A useful scattering of reactions and observations shows up on Dave Olivieria's Huckleberries, with the added interest that Oliveria was one of the panelists (and asked the only questions to elicit gasps from the audience). Julie Fanselow, blogger for Red State Rebels and the Grant campaign, observes that "Analysis by Randy Stapilus that goes on just a bit too much about how Bill Sali didn't alienate the crowd. But Stapilus is right: This race is Sali's to lose if he can convince Idahoans he is a happy-go-lucky conservative and not the extreme and divisive figure he's been in the Idaho Legislature."

Failed to note in the original post that the debate was sponsored by the Coeur d'Alene Tribe (which had a large presence in the room) and North Idaho College. The Panhandle doesn't always get debates held locally; maybe the involvement of these two substantial local organizations helped pull off this one. Then again, neither of these two candidates were trying to duck.

How involved

As nuts and bolts time arrives in this year's cycle, watch for the involvement of church organizations in Republican campaigns. We'll be watching the playout, for example, in Oregon's House District 30, where Loaded Orygun may have caught a tax-exempt religious organization directly working on the campaign of a Republican legislative candidate.

The seat is open. The Democrat in the race is David Edwaards, the Republican Everett Curry. Loaded Orygun said that it was told about a phone calling operation in the district on behalf of Oregon Right to Life which, after checking phone numbers, traced back to the Bob Cryder Team Ministries, which has been registered as a religious organization. Such a listing allows for substantial tax advantages, and there are consequences for directly engaging in political activity.

There are questions here. The posting about the calls led to a long list of comments (worth reading), the last of which (as we read them) offered a cautionary note: Under some circumstances, a religious organization can rent out its phone lines for political groups as long as it does do in an even-handed and free-market fashion. Not knowing the rest of the details yet, we'll contnt ourselves with watching, for the moment.

But don't expect this will be the last post on this subject.

Road signs

Road-tripping around rural Washington the last couple of days, we spotted political signs here and there, but not quite the indications of super-high interest.

Most signs we saw in driving about 500 miles of east-of-Cascades Washington highways this week, from Goldendale to Colville, were about local races. Second was judicial - the striking visibility of judicial races was especially notable in Spokane, where most of the judicial candidates had posted billboards in the central city area. (Not a commonplace.) Congressional and even legislative candidates were back in the pack.

Of course, we're just now coming up on the primary, not the general, so that may be a factor.

Around the 5th district, from Okanogan to Republic to Spokane, we did see a number of signs. We were interested that the number of signs for incumbent Republican Cathy McMorris and challenging Democrat Peter Goldmark were roughly balanced. And the Goldmark signs were posted on a surprising number of ranch properties. Maybe his cowboy-hat image is catching on in some of those quarters.