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Posts published in September 2006

Open rules

After Washington Senate candidate Mike McGavick's multi-headed mea culpa, we heard from a veteran politics watcher and participant (not a Washingtonian) who compared it to a TV news "pledge to be fair, objective and accurate. The assumption has to be that others aren't. His point must be that there are others in politics who are phony, uncivil and secretive. Hard to believe."

McGavick's explicit point was that he'd erred and seen the light. His implicit point was both that he's better than that now, and that he's on a higher moral plane than those who do not similarly throw open their pasts.

McGavick at once acknowledged four events in his history of which he said he was sorry: three relating to a failed marriage, a campaign mistake and a failure as a SafeCoCEO which already were more or less public knowledge, and a fourth relating to a DUI which hadn't emerged. What McGavick did was more complex than the acknowledgement of a single past mistake. He seemed to be saying that these are the things I have done - and now we can close this subject of my personal failings and move on.

For this narrative of redemption to work on a political level, it has to appear clean and total. It cannot be a selective confession, but has to be absolute, witholding nothing; and it has to have marked a clean break with the past, so that the character flaws can be seen as being of the past and not of the present.

He may not have appreciated how high a bar he set for himself. (more…)

Terminology

Many of the voters who have supported term limits for legislative officials have had a bit of confusion: Many of them - according to polls taken in several states, and personal exposure in some elections past - were under the impression that the term limits would apply to members of Congress.

Support for the limits of congressional terms can draw on some indisputable evidence: the obscenely high, soviet-level re-elect rate for members of Congress in the last few decades, for example. The Northwest this year may emerge with no congressional seats changing party hands and just one, and then owing to a retirement, changing its occupant. (Actually, we see close to even odds for change in two seats, and a more distant shot in the case of a third.) The Northwest's Senate delegation has not changed since 2000, and in the last two election cycles only two House seats changed, both voluntary departures. Increasingly, it seems that members of Congress leave when they're good and ready.

The state legislatures, however, are another matter, and that is where the term limits issues on the ballots are targeted - constitutional provisions block them at the federal level.

Oregon voters passed a term limits initiative in 1992. A decade later, the state Supreme Court threw it out on a fairly technical (the "one subject") violation, and there have been no term limits in Oregon since (for the legislature). Under the original term limits, a total of 24 legislators were "term limited" in 1998 and 23 more in 2000.

The new initiative, which appears more stringent than the old, would throw out almost every current Oregon legislator over the next couple of election cycles. (A back-burner issue in the last few weeks, we will be hearing more about it next week; a full press aimed at term limit opponents is on its way, in and apart from the net. Bear in mind as you read about it, though, who has financial and lobbying interests at stake on both sides.)

You get the impression from this that Oregon's legislators (or those elsewhere) have been around practically forever. But turn the question around the other way - as we posed it for Congress - and the picture looks a lot different. (more…)