Press "Enter" to skip to content

Posts published in September 2006

DUI, a real impact

As discussion of a 13-year-old DUI slowly abates in the Washington Senate race, consider a case from the other end of the Megler Bridge.

Willis Van Dusen has been mayor of Astoria for almost 16 years - elected four times - and has been highly popular. The city has seen a great resurgence in this decade, and clearly Van Dusen, known locally as a great cheerleader for his city, can take some credit for that. He is on the ballot again in November, and when he filed most Astorians probably figured he'd cruise to a fifth term, rolling over his two challengers.

Instead, there was the matter of a pickup that Van Dusen, riding his motorcycle, collided with on September 4. Police found the pickup driver was not entirely blameless, but the attention focused on Van Dusen, who - police said - seemed thoroughly intoxicated and refused to allow a blood alcohol test. He was charged with driving under the influence.

That isn't all. As the Daily Astorian has noted, Van Dusen has two earlier DUIs on his record, in 1989 in Umatilla County and in Astoria 12 years ago.

You just see a tragedy for Astoria here. The city has apparently had a good mayor, a major contributor to the city's new growth and prosperity ... but how can he stay on after this? (He apparently has not withdrawn his re-election bid.)

Today, he released an open letter acknowledging, "I need help," and saying he was enrolling in a treatment facility for alcohol abuse, and didn't know how long he would stay there. Meantime, the council president will act as mayor.

Astoria is not a large city; its 10,000 or so people are perched near the ocean some distance from metro areas. The question has to arise: Given Van Dusen's history, did no one see this coming? Could nothing have been done? (Or did someone try, and the offer refused?) Why did the problem have to go so far?

There will be no evading another question, though: What does Astoria do now?

Idaho heads to mail voting

Not a lot of note of this yet in the mass media, but steps already underway make it likely that at least parts of Idaho will move to voting by mail in another couple of years, and most or all of the state a few elections after that.

votingThere's nothing official, yet. At present, voting by mail is allowed only in specific cases, as in absentee or overseas voting. But developments this summer make it look like Idaho will be joining Oregon - which went statewide with mail 14 years ago - and Washington - where the bulk of the state's voters will be casting ballots that way this year.

In Washington, such criticism as there is of mail voting is coming from Republican activists concerned about the potential for fraud. But support for voting by mail is bipartisan in Oregon, and so it is in Idaho.

The bill proposal making the rounds, and likely to be introduced next legislative session, is local option, allowing counties to switch to mail voting. It is being promoted by county clerks, whose state organization this year unanimously passed a resolution in favor. A web site in support of the idea has been set up. (more…)

Sports arena documents: An update

Those following public records coulod easily burn out on the very long-running case that Armen Yousoufian has prosecuted against King County for quite a long time now. But it's worth tracking, because some significant public records issues are at stake.

The case has to do with the efforts of Yousoufian, a King County real estate businessman, to find out more about how local sports stadiums were being financed: "In 1997 I became involved in open government activism when I asked King County Executive Ron Sims for sports stadium documents. I was stonewalled." His effort to uncover what a bunch of people, evidently including a bunch of people at King County, do not want the public to know, has attracted the sympathy and support of several news organizations.

If this piques your interest at all, and it should if you have an interest in open government, run over to Yousoufian's blog, and follow the links.

Top 10 OR xgr: The premier races

Of the 75 Oregon state legislative seats up for grabs this year - 15 Senate, 60 House - just six - all in the House are completely unopposed. That's a record for civic involvement neither Idaho nor Washington comes close to matching.

Oregon House ChamberBut it's not, to be fair, an indicator that very many legislative seats will change hands. Odds are that as in recent years, the number of seats where that happens will be relatively small. Our best projections call for little change in either Senate or House overall. Bearing all factors in mind, we think most likely either no change or a seat in one direction or the other (more likely Democratic) in the Senate, and some Democratic pickup in the House, though the crystal ball still hazes when it gets close to the finish line - whether or not Republicans retain control.

A relatively small number of seats should decide the issue. What follow are the 10 we consider the top legislative races in the state, weighing closeness, intensity and significance. They're listed by district.

First, a wild card: House District 24, a seat reliably and easily held this decade by Republican Donna Nelson. All the statistics suggest she'll be returned again. Yet ... keep a look out for the contest being waged by Democrat Sal Peralta, a McMinnville businessman who has been chair of the Yamhill County Democrats, and this year has been running an unusually organized, thorough and energetic campaign. No wild projections here, but - keep it on your radar screen.

Our pick Idaho races will appear next week, and Washington races soon after that state's primary.

blue glass Senate District 7, incumbent Vicki Walker, D-Eugene; challenger Jim Torrey, R-Eugene. Ain't gonna be anybody disputing this race's place on this list. Walker has been a boat-rocker among Democrats for years, a rare legislator on the verge of breaking out as a true statewide figure, who almost filed for governor against incumbent Democrat Ted Kulongoski. Which hasn't stopped TedK from campainging with her this season, and for good cause: She faces one of the best (maybe the best) legislative candidates the Republicans have recruited this year. Torrey, with a reputation as a moderate Republican (or define him as you will; his campaign materials have a Saxton-type sound to them), was mayor of Eugene for a decade and still would be if he'd wanted it. This looks like the Democratic Senate seat most at risk; at present, it feels too close to call. (more…)

Deinstitutionalizing debates

For a generation, Idaho has had a fine feature in its political campaigns that many other states do not: An informal yet institutionalized structure of televised political debates that major office candidates as a matter of course take part in. In many states, the decision of whether the participate is renegotiated every election cycle; in Idaho, for many years, declining to participate simply isn't done.

Well, it's done now.

The debates have been set up through the League of Women Voters and Idaho Public Television. There's nothing necessarily sacred about their doing the debates, and over the years other groups and broadcasters have aired other debates as well. (When it comes to debates, the more the merrier, we always say.) But the IPTV-League debates have a special place, partly because they offer historical continuity - they've been done continuously for a long time now - and because they are a complete set. A commercial broadcaster might be interested in a race for governor or Congress, but might be less inclined to put an hour of prime time into a contest for, say, state controller or treasurer. The IPTV debates have created a framework of expectations: A run for major office on a major party ticket will mean you're expected to show up at a particular time and place organized by a group of people who have developed standing over an extended period.

This year, more than before, that's being challenged. Some days ago, Jim Risch, the current Idaho governor running as a Republican for the office of lieutenant governor, backed out of the IPTV debate, instead saying that he'll accept an invitation to appear at a KTVB-TV debate. And today, Republican gubernatorial nominee C.L. "Butch" Otter said he will do the same thing.

They're still appearing at debates, true. And the KTVB debates - they've done them a number of times over the years - certainly are professional too.

But those pullouts seriously weaken a debate structure under pressure in recent years. Its backers will have to do some hard thinking over the next cycle to make sure it doesn't weaken further in 2008.

A Sali-Grant shift?

The new Greg Smith & Associates poll, just out this afternoon, has one startling result in it, one certain to start some debate rolling among Idaho political watchers.

It is so startling because little else in it is.

The last Smith poll, using the same methodology, emerged in early July. In the 1st District U.S. House race, the premier contest at the monent, that poll gave Republican Bill Sali a lead of 41% to 25% over Democrat Larry Grant, with the remainder (34%) undecided. The new poll, conducted shortly before Labor Day, gives Grant a lead - 22% to 14%. And 61% undecided.

That's a double-headed stunner. If the numbers are right, then the number of undecideds in the race has nearly doubled, with almost all of that increase coming out of Sali's hide. It doesn't reflect acceleration on Grant's part; his numbers are almost identical, even down by a hair. Nevertheless, if a mass of former Sali backers have started easing away, that ought to be a cause for deep concern on the part of that campaign. (Could it be related to the recent defensiveness we've noted earlier?)

Are the numbers right? Well, you're never wise to put too much weight on any one single poll result. But consider this: All the other races polled both months - governor and lieutenant governor - show results almost unchanged from six weeks ago. And in two other races just polled, 2nd District U.S. House and superintendent of public instruction, the results show strong Republican leads, as you'd expect. Smith suggested that "The change is clearly a result of changing voter sentiment, not a change in polling methodology.”

We'd like to see whether this result is backed up a second time, or whether the next Smith poll swings back somewhat in the 1st CD. But the moment, with caveats noted, the poll suggests the 1st is a district to watch - one with a substantial number of voters not nailed down.

In the other results, there's less of note.

Office Republican % Democrat %
Govenor Butch Otter 42% Jerry Brady 18%
Lt Gov Jim Risch 46% Larry La Rocco 23%
1st US House Bill Sali 14% Larry Grant 22%
2nd US House Mike Simpson 61% Jim Hansen 19%
Supt Publ Instr Tom Luna 40% Jana Jones 29%

No great surprises elsewhere, other than that the number of undecideds is holding fairly strong elsewhere, too. This may be an unsettled, and unsettling election cycle yet.

UPDATE: The Sali campaign apparently doesn't handle bad news very well. It shot out a release contending, "The methodology used was so bad that Channel Seven, who commissioned the poll in the first place, has decided not to go with its obviously faulty results. We do not intend to release the results of our own internal polling at this time, for reasons of our own; but suffice it to say that our polling, using credible methodology and done by one of the most experienced and respected polling firms in the nation, bears no resemblance to Greg Smith's conclusions."

First, the Sali campaign had no issue with Smith's numbers in July, which resulted from the same methodology (and showed Sali in a more favorable light). Second, the easiest refutation of Smith's results would be release of the campaign's internal polls, which the campaign says it has conducted, but which it is not releasing. Campaigns often release at least the base numbers - if, that is, releasing them puts the campaign in a favorable light. Campaigns that sit on poll numbers typically do so because they don't look so hot - an argument in favor of Smith's numbers.

The emotional response suggests that Smith's results may have touched a nerve.

OR 5th: Hammer/tongs

Turn on Portland-area TV and, apart from the ubiquitous Ron Saxton ads (we can all repeat them now by heart, one, two. - ) viewers are observing one of the most hardcore pairing of attack ads Oregon has seen in a while - certainly outdoing the ads from the Republican gubernatorial primary.

Darlene HooleyA few months back, this looked like a quiet, unremarkable congressional race, as the others in Oregon are shaping up to be. (The race in the 4th, between incumbent Democrat Peter DeFazio and Republicam challenger Jim Feldkamp, which started earlier, doesn't look as if it's taking off.) In the 5th, Democrat Darlene Hooley, who has built a solid case out of Clackamas County, has over the last decade consistently won short of landslides but with a solid core in what otherwise looks like a marginally Republican district. She easily put away a skilled and experienced challenger two years ago. And Portland businessman Mike Erickson is less well known - his ads start with the question, "Who is Mike Erickson?" - and started relatively late in the season.

Mike EricksonWhat has changed the dynamic, simply, is money: Erickson is pouring a pile of his own, about $800,000 so far, into the race, essentially to buy radio and TV time. Some of these ads, which start with the "Who is" line, are simply warm backgrounders on how he grew up as a son of a policeman, founded a successful business, and has been giving back to the community. But on the tube you can spot the ads gone negative: Accusing Hooley of missing loads of votes and, it suggests, when she votes, she's just a tool of Democratic leadership. As presented, it's rough stuff.

The Hooley campaign has not sat idle. It has started running counter ads, and they are at least a match for Erickson's. They first dispute the vote-missing data, then blast at controversies from Erickson's past campaigns. They accuse him of faking and forgery and such, and ask: Do you see a pattern?

Not to leave that latter part hanging, we can recommend a piece in the Salem Statesman Journal about the controversies past which gives everyone an airing and, while not completely clearing everything up, does sketch out the situation. For present purposes, we'd say Erickson's level of culpability in these case is a little hard to assess without a much closer look. But we also find completely credible Erickson's reaction, cited in the story, to bringing up the whole thing: "Erickson is nervous about discussing his past political campaigns and tenure as Portland State University student body president and said he almost didn't run for fear that past controversies would be dredged up in this race."

A challenger running against an entrenched incumbent in a year not favorable for his own party is running steeply uphill; what Erickson is carrying as well is some weighty baggage. To what extent will his $800K make the journey easier? (As of June 30, Hooley had $855,980 in cash on hand herself; she's hardly underfunded.) How far will that late money get you?

We'll be back. Only the opening act has come on stage so far.

Thanks, but …

Okay, this one definitely qualifies as a mistake - a case where the appropriate response would have been a diplomatic version of, "please, don't do me any favors."

It was a debatable issue in the case of some other recent political visits. When President George W. Bush visited the Seattle area to raise money for Washington Senate Mike McGavick, that was a marginal call; money was raised and the base was stirred, but in an area where Bush's favorables are down below the tank, the Democrats probably gained as much. When Vice President Dick Cheney last month did a fundraiser for Idaho 1st District Republican Bill Sali, that was probably a small net plus, but not by much: It roiled the Democrats, and even in Idaho Cheney's favorables aren't all that good.

If these were marginal cases, what was Washington's 8th District Republican, Dave Reichert, thinking of when his campaign set up Bush advisor Karl Rove to raise money for him?

Karl RoveRove will, to be sure, be visiting on September 15 first to fund raise for the state Republican Party. They might have been wiser to leave it at that. If there's anyone in Washington more likely to boil the blood of Democrats - and a lot of independents - in Washington more than Bush and Cheney, that would be Rove, the architect of recent Republican campaigns, as ideal a symbol as Democrats could wish for in blasting away at Republican control in Washington.

Rove has had legal problems and - his success as a campaign strategist notwithstanding - loads of negative headlines. (The online story about the event on the Seattle Times web site is accompanied by a link to another story: "Rove denies holding exorcism in Hillary Clinton's former office.") Money will be raised, but Reichert is already sitting on a large pile of money; even if he's not been raising it lately as fast as his opponent, that's not critical. If he ultimately loses, the reason will have little or nothing to do with being outspent. It will have to do with being swept out of office as part of a reaction to events in Washington which are controlled by the people Karl Rove helped into office.

Unwise move.

‘not political’

Musician Curtis Stigers, one of Boise's better-known and best musical exports, is back in his hometown this summer, and busy. He describes his activities and the reasons for them in an op-ed piece in today's Idaho Statesman, and what he has to say makes good sense - all of it save one point.

He talks first about a benefit concert for Victor Pacania, the long-time host of a long-running local Saturday morning music program (much enjoyed by us, among many other listeners) called "Private Idaho." Pacania is undergoing treatment for pancreatic cancer, is without benefit of health insurance, and needs what help he can get.

Stigers goes on to talk about another benefit concert set for this weekend, on quite a different subject: a proposed cyanide leach mine in the mountains northeast of Boise at Atlanta. (more…)