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Posts published in September 2006

Challenger ahead?

Polling numbers for U.S. House races, where much of the action is nationally (and to an extent in the Northwest) have been rare this year. But the firm Constituent Dynamics does have numbers up for about 30 House races around the country, including one in the Northwest.

That would be the premier race in the region, Washington's 8th congressional districts, between incumbent Republican Dave Reichert and Democratic challenger Darcy Burner. It shows a tight race with Burner ahead - 49% to 46%.

It's only one poll, and we don't know a lot about the methodology. But it is another chunk of evidence that this contest is very much up for grabs at least. And if it continues trending as it has, it could start to tilt Democratic in another few weeks.

On tenterhooks

Yes, it's a private-sector company, so it can do what it wants (as long as, it being publicly-held, stockholders are given first priority). But you have to wonder about a policy of water-torture information releases; it seems to do more all-around damage than good.

IntelTop officials at Intel Corporation, the world's largest computer chip manufacturer, which is Oregon's largest single private sector employer - of about 17,000 people mainly in the Washington County area - said Tuesday they are planning to lay off about a tenth of its total work force, about 10,500 people. That cutback is expected to occur over the next couple of years. Beyond that, the only detail released was: "Most job reductions this year will occur in management, marketing and information technology functions, reductions related to the previously announced sale of businesses, and attrition. In 2007, the reductions will be more broadly based as Intel improves labor efficiency in manufacturing, improves equipment utilization, eliminates organizational redundancies, and improves product design methods and processes."

There was nothing about just when or where these cuts would fall, just as there was none months ago when Intel announced a cut of about 1,000 companywide in management personnel. People in Hillsboro and Beaverton are going to be stunned, but not least because they have no idea what to expect. Other than that significant numbers of people locally probably will lose their jobs. Eventually.

There could be other impacts. Rob Enderle, principal analyst for the Enderle Group, was quoted as suggesting, "This is not the way you typically do layoffs to minimize the pain and maximize the productivity gains ... When you are cutting this many people and keeping them off balance for a fairly long period of time, it does tend to impact productivity over and beyond the layoffs."

A wire news story said that In Enderle's opinion, "Intel CEO Paul Otellini should have copied his counterpart Hewlett-Packard Mark Hurd, who made all of the large cuts for his company at once rather than allow the layoffs to linger."

By the carload

The numbers are large enough to give you pause about taking the ol' car out for a spin.

Prompted (presumably) by the Mike McGavick DUI admission, the Seattle Times set about considering just how many DUI cases the state of Washington has had in recent years. So: Since 2000 - in this decade so far - it has had 220,640 DUI cases. Not allowing for duplication, that's somewhere around eight out of every 100 people in the state.

But the total number of offenders isn't quite that large, of course. The Times also considered duplication, and it turns out that of the drunk drivers in those cases, more than 30,000 were charged with the offense more than once.

Pharma settlement

The proposed rule change considered this year by thr Washington Board of Pharmacy, to allow pharmacists to decide on their own whether to dispense certain legal prescription drugs, seems to bounce up against another state pharmacy rule, WAC 246-869-150, which says "The pharmacy must maintain at all times a representative assortment of drugs in order to meet the pharmaceutical needs of its patients."

pillsYou could theoretically establish different types or levels of pharmacies; some of that kind of thing already has been done. But for the time being, most people walking into a pharmacy with a legitimate prescription in hand have an expectation that they can get it filled at most any licensed pharmacy. That seems to be the point of WAC 246-869-150.

Some pharmacists - a number around the country - have a problem with dispensing certain drugs, especially some contraceptives. The point of the pharmacy board's proposed rule change was to allow them to decide not to. Deciding not to, of course, runs counter to the expectations of the patients.

That's the crux of the debate in Washington (as it will be elsewhere, no doubt). In going along on Thursday with language developed after a series of sessions mediated by the governor's office, the board opted for patient primacy.

There's always a certain tension in professional regulatory codes between on one hand protecting the interests of the professionals and on the other those of the public. But any board which seems to place internal interests first shouldn't be surprised when an external reaction develops.

This won't be the end of it, of course. The Washington Legislature will doubtless weigh in next session. But the Thursday decision may cap the most heated part of this debate, for a while anyway.

Protesting too much?

This space has not taken much notice of the formation in Idaho's 1st House district of Republicans for Grant - Larry Grant being the Democratic candidate for that congressional seat.

But we've lately begun to wonder why Idaho Republicans have started to take such extensive note of it. Do they know something we don't?

There is no voter registration by party in Idaho, which means that if you say you're a Republican, a Democrat, a Libertarian or most anything else, then you are. Most people are reasonably honest about it, and the people who signed on as Republicans for Grant have to be fairly described as Republicans - all or nearly all (there's one possible exception) have Republican activity, campaign work and in at least one case a major-office candidacy, in their background. We don't think their party affiliation is much arguable. And they are prominent people in the state, leaders in one way or another.

And Bill Sali, the long-time state representative from Kuna who is the Republican nominee, does have an unusual and striking set of weaknesses.

Set against that, three factors. First, all or nearly all of these people have crossed the line before, contributing to or at least openly supporting Democratic candidates from time to time. Their support of Grant is not precedent-shattering. Second, there are no Republican elected officials or leading party officials, or even former elected or leading party officials, on the list - that would be an eye-opener. Third, the "Republicans for" approach is far from new; a long list of Democratic candidates in past years have sported such committees. We can't think of one that proved decisive in a campaign, and some of those included people who were prominent statewide as Republicans. Most such groups faded from memory almost as soon as announced.

This one has not, at least so far. And for that Republicans - for Sali - are responsible.

First, even before the counter-group's announcement, there was Mike Simpson at the state Republican convention, saying there are no "Republicans for Grant," only Democrats for Grant.

Then, repeated low-level snipes at the members of the group. Then, acceleration.

Visits by Vice President Dick Cheney and House Speaker Dennis Hastert to pump up Sali's candidacy - not just to raise money, which would be the norm, but to call for Republican unity. Unity was the text and the subtext.

Saturday, former congressional (and legislative) candidate Dennis Mansfield released an e-mail exhaustively detailing the contributions to Democrats by members of Republicans for Grant. Today, an op-ed in the Idaho Statesman by Mansfield and another former congressional candidate, David Leroy, on the subject of Republican unity. They concluded, "This year we'll all work to elect Sali to Congress — to help the other three members of Idaho's delegation fight for Idaho's interests, and to help retain the all-important Republican majority in Congress. Republican Party members support Sali."

What's gotten interesting is this persistent call for unity, which to these ears has taken on an underlying tone of real concern.

That's what didn't happen in the races Leroy and Mansfield cite as past examples of the party coming together after a contested primary, in 2000 after C.L. "Butch" Otter won a contested Republican primary, or after Helen Chenoweth did it in 1994. In those races, the party did coalesce around the winner, and it was no big deal. It was simply assumed, and no national leaders or op-eds seemed to be needed to press the point home.

Which raises the question: Are these Republican leaders seeing something going on out there that hasn't surfaced yet?

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…)


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…)